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Dawn O'Hara Edna Ferber

The Test

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"Kleine, I see that you know me not," he said, in German, and the saying it was as tender as is a mother when she reproves a child that she loves. "This fight against the world, those years of unhappiness and misery, they have made you suspicious and lacking in trust, is it not so? You do not yet know the perfect love that casts out all doubt. Dawn, I ask you in the name of all that is reasoning, and for the sake of your happiness and mine, to divorce this man Peter Orme--this man who for almost ten years has not been your husband--who never can be your husband. I ask you to do something which will bring suffering to no one, and which will mean happiness to many. Let me make you happy--you were born to be happy--you who can laugh like a girl in spite of your woman's sorrows--"

But I sank into a chair and hid my face in my hands so that I might be spared the beauty and the tenderness of his eyes. I tried to think of all the sane and commonplace things in life. Somewhere in my inner consciousness a cool little voice was saying, over and over again:

"Now, Dawn, careful! You've come to the crossroads at last. Right or left? Choose! Now, Dawn, careful!" and the rest of it all over again.

When I lifted my face from my hands at last it was to meet the tenderness of Von Gerhard's gaze with scarcely a tremor.

"You ought to know," I said, very slowly and evenly, "that a divorce, under these circumstances, is almost impossible, even if I wished to do what you suggest. There are certain state laws--"

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An exclamation of impatience broke from him. "Laws! In some states, yes. In others, no. It is a mere technicality--a trifle! There is about it a bit of that which you call red tape. It amounts to nothing--to that!" He snapped his fingers. "A few months' residence in another state, perhaps. These American laws, they are made to break."

"Yes; you are quite right," I said, and I knew in my heart that the cool, insistent little voice within had not spoken in vain. "But there are other laws--laws of honor and decency, and right living and conscience--that cannot be broken with such ease. I cannot marry you. I have a husband."

"You can call that unfortunate wretch your husband! He does not know that he has a wife. He will not know that he has lost a wife. Come, Dawn--small one--be not so foolish. You do not know how happy I will make you. You have never seen me except when I was tortured with doubts and fears. You do not know what our life will be together. There shall be everything to make you forget--everything that thought and love and money can give you. The man there in the barred room--"

At that I took his dear hands in mine and held them close as I miserably tried to make him hear what that small, still voice had told me.

"There! That is it! If he were free, if he were able to stand before men that his actions might be judged fairly and justly, I should not hesitate for one single, precious moment. If he could fight for his rights, or relinquish them, as he saw fit, then this thing would not be so monstrous. But, Ernst, can't you see? He is there, alone, in that dreadful place, quite helpless, quite incapable, quite at our mercy. I should as soon think of hurting a little child, or snatching the pennies from a blind man's cup. The thing is inhuman! It is monstrous! No state laws, no red tape can dissolve such a union."

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Dawn O'Hara
Edna Ferber

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