When Germinie Lacerteux is left an orphan at the age of four, her sisters take care of her. At the age of fourteen, she is sent to Paris to live with an older sister who has settled with her husband in the city. Not wishing to pay for all the expenses of the child from their own meager income, the sister and her husband find Germinie a job as a waitress in a café. She has been working in the café for several months when she becomes pregnant. Germinie suffers many indignities at the hands of her relatives because she will not tell them that she has been raped by one of the waiters; they think she must have invited seduction. Her child is born dead, and giving birth almost kills Germinie. Finally, a retired actor takes pity on her and hires her as a maid and companion. For Germinie, this is a step up in the world, but the old actor dies within a few months. Germinie then fills a host of positions as maid to kept women and boarding school mistresses.
One day, Mademoiselle de Varandeuil’s maid dies suddenly. Through the influence of her sister, Germinie is given the position. Mademoiselle de Varandeuil is an old maid whose father prevented her from being anything but a servant to him until his death, so that she now has few friends and acquaintances. Other members of her family have died, and she is an old woman. She has a sufficient income to live fairly comfortably, but she cannot afford many extravagances. In her old age, she needs someone to look after her, as much a companion as a maidservant.
For a time after her entry into Mademoiselle de Varandeuil’s service, Germinie is a devoted Christian. She spends a great deal of time at church and goes to confession regularly. Through her devotions, she falls in love with a young priest, but he, sensing her state of mind, sends her to another confessor and refuses to speak to her. With that, Germinie’s devotions cease.
Germinie’s next devotion is to her sister’s niece, who had been left in her care when the mother died. Germinie’s happiness, however, is short-lived, for another sister takes the child to Africa. When word comes by letter that the child is ill and the sister’s husband out of work, Germinie sends everything she can spare to aid the stricken child and the family that is taking care of her. After depriving herself of necessities for two years, Germinie learns that the child died shortly after leaving Paris and that the letters from her sister and her husband were a ruse to get Germinie’s hard-earned money.
About that time, a dairy store opens very close to the house in which Germinie lives with Mademoiselle de Varandeuil. In her dealings with the store, Germinie finds a friend in Madame Jupillon, the proprietress. Madame Jupillon has a son, who is at a trade school learning to become a glove maker. Germinie is quite impressed by the youngster and often goes with his mother to see him on visiting days. One day, when Madame Jupillon is ill, Germinie goes to the school by herself. Upon arriving, she learns that the young man is in...
(The entire section is 1246 words.)