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|Damaged Goods||Upton Sinclair|
|Page 2 of 9||
She quickly saw that something was wrong. "You don't seem very cheerful," she said. "What's the matter?"
And the man, staring at her, suddenly blurted out, "Don't you know what you did to me?"
"What I did to you?" Therese repeated wonderingly.
"You must know!" he insisted.
And then she tried to meet his gaze and could not. "Why--" she stammered.
There was silence between them. When George spoke again his voice was low and trembling. "You ruined my whole life," he said--"not only mine, but my family's. How could you do it?"
She strove to laugh it off. "A cheerful topic for an afternoon stroll!"
For a long while George did not answer. Then, almost in a whisper, he repeated, "How could you do it?"
"Some one did it to me first," was the response. "A man!"
"Yes," said George, "but he didn't know."
"How can you tell whether he knew or not?"
"You knew?" he inquired, wonderingly.
Therese hesitated. "Yes, I knew," she said at last, defiantly. "I have known for years."
"And I'm not the only man."
She laughed. "I guess not!"
There followed a long pause. At last he resumed, "I don't want to blame you; there's nothing to be gained by that; it's done, and can't be undone. But sometimes I wonder about it. I should like to understand--why did you do it?"
"Why? That's easy enough. I did it because I have to live."
"You live that way?" he exclaimed.
"Why of course. What did you think?"
"I thought you were a--a--" He hesitated.
"You thought I was respectable," laughed Therese. "Well, that's just a little game I was playing on you."
"But I didn't give you any money!" he argued.
"Not that time," she said, "but I thought you would come back."
He sat gazing at her. "And you earn your living that way still?" he asked. "When you know what's the matter with you! When you know--"
"What can I do? I have to live, don't I?"
"But don't you even take care of yourself? Surely there must be some way, some place--"
"The reformatory, perhaps," she sneered. "No, thanks! I'll go there when the police catch me, not before. I know some girls that have tried that."
"But aren't you afraid?" cried the man. "And the things that will happen to you! Have you ever talked to a doctor--or read a book?"
"I know," she said. "I've seen it all. If it comes to me, I'll go over the side of one of the bridges some dark night."
George sat lost in thought. A strange adventure it seemed to him--to meet this girl under such different circumstances! It was as if he were watching a play from behind the scenes instead of in front. If only he had had this new view in time--how different would have been his life! And how terrible it was to think of the others who didn't know--the audience who were still sitting out in front, watching the spectacle, interested in it!"
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