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Damaged Goods Upton Sinclair

Chapter II

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He remembered something he had read in one of the medical books. "Dr. Ricord maintains that after a certain period the disease is no longer contagious. He has proven his contentions by examples. Today you produce new examples to show that he is wrong! Now, I want to do what's right, but surely I have the right to think it over. And when I think it over, I realize that all the evils with which you threaten me are only probable evils. In spite of your desire to terrify me, you have been forced to admit that possibly my marriage would not have any troublesome consequence for my wife."

The doctor found difficulty in restraining himself. But he said, "Go on. I will answer you afterwards."

And George blundered ahead in his desperation. "Your remedies are powerful, you tell me; and for the calamities of which you speak to befall me, I would have to be among the rare exceptions--also my wife would have to be among the number of those rare exceptions. If a mathematician were to apply the law of chance to these facts, the result of his operation would show but slight chance of a catastrophe, as compared with the absolute certainty of a series of misfortunes, sufferings, troubles, tears, and perhaps tragic accidents which the breaking of my engagement would cause. So I say that the mathematician--who is, even more than you, a man of science, a man of a more infallible science--the mathematician would conclude that wisdom was not with you doctors, but with me."

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"You believe it, sir!" exclaimed the other. "But you deceive yourself." And he continued, driving home his point with a finger which seemed to George to pierce his very soul. "Twenty cases identical with your own have been patiently observed, from the beginning to the end. Nineteen times the woman was infected by her husband; you hear me, sir, nineteen times out of twenty! You believe that the disease is without danger, and you take to yourself the right to expose your wife to what you call the chance of your being one of those exceptions, for whom our remedies are without effect. Very well; it is necessary that you should know the disease which your wife, without being consulted, will run a chance of contracting. Take that book, sir; it is the work of my teacher. Read it yourself. Here, I have marked the passage."

He held out the open book; but George could not lift a hand to take it.

"You do not wish to read it?" the other continued. "Listen to me." And in a voice trembling with passion, he read: "'I have watched the spectacle of an unfortunate young woman, turned into a veritable monster by means of a syphilitic infection. Her face, or rather let me say what was left of her face, was nothing but a flat surface seamed with scars.'"

George covered his face, exclaiming, "Enough, sir! Have mercy!"

But the other cried, "No, no! I will go to the very end. I have a duty to perform, and I will not be stopped by the sensibility of your nerves."

He went on reading: "'Of the upper lip not a trace was left; the ridge of the upper gums appeared perfectly bare.'" But then at the young man's protests, his resolution failed him. "Come," he said, "I will stop. I am sorry for you--you who accept for another person, for the woman you say you love, the chance of a disease which you cannot even endure to hear described. Now, from whom did that woman get syphilis? It is not I who am speaking, it is the book. 'From a miserable scoundrel who was not afraid to enter into matrimony when he had a secondary eruption.' All that was established later on--'and who, moreover, had thought it best not to let his wife be treated for fear of awakening her suspicions!'"

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Damaged Goods
Upton Sinclair

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