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Damaged Goods Upton Sinclair

Chapter VI

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His thoughts came back to Therese. He was curious about her and the life she lived. "Tell me a little about it," he said. "How you came to be doing this." And he added, "Don't think I want to preach; I'd really like to understand."

"Oh, it's a common story," she said--"nothing especially romantic. I came to Paris when I was a girl. My parents had died, and I had no friends, and I didn't know what to do. I got a place as a nursemaid. I was seventeen years old then, and I didn't know anything. I believed what I was told, and I believed my employer. His wife was ill in a hospital, and he said he wanted to marry me when she died. Well, I liked him, and I was sorry for him--and then the first thing I knew I had a baby. And then the wife came back, and I was turned off. I had been a fool, of course. If I had been in her place should have done just what she did."

The girl was speaking in a cold, matter-of-fact voice, as of things about which she was no longer able to suffer. "So, there I was--on the street," she went on. "You have always had money, a comfortable home, education, friends to help you--all that. You can't imagine how it is to be in the world without any of these things. I lived on my savings as long as I could; then I had to leave my baby in a foundling's home, and I went out to do my five hours on the boulevards. You know the game, I have no doubt."

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Yes, George knew the game. Somehow or other he no longer felt bitter towards this poor creature. She was part of the system of which he was a victim also. There was nothing to be gained by hating each other. Just as the doctor said, what was needed was enlightenment. "Listen," he said, "why don't you try to get cured?"

"I haven't got the price," was the answer.

"Well," he said, hesitatingly, "I know a doctor--one of the really good men. He has a free clinic, and I've no doubt he would take you in if I asked him to."

"YOU ask him?" echoed the other, looking at George in surprise.

The young man felt somewhat uncomfortable. He was not used to playing the role of the good Samaritan. "I--I need not tell him about us," he stammered. "I could just say that I met you. I have had such a wretched time myself, I feel sorry for anybody that's in the same plight. I should like to help you if I could."

The girl sat staring before her, lost in thought. "I have treated you badly, I guess," she said. "I'm sorry. I'm ashamed of myself."

George took a pencil and paper from his pocket and wrote the doctor's address. "Here it is," he said, in a business-like way, because he felt that otherwise he could become sentimental. He was half tempted to tell the woman what had happened to him, and all about Henriette and the sick child; but he realized that that would not do. So he rose and shook hands with her and left.

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Damaged Goods
Upton Sinclair

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