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Damaged Goods Upton Sinclair

Chapter VI

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So the poor girl retold the story of her life. She spoke in a matter-of-fact voice, and when she came to tell how she had been obliged to leave her baby in the foundling asylum, she was surprised that Monsieur Loches showed horror. "What could I do?" she demanded. "How could I have taken care of it?"

"Didn't you ever miss it?" he asked.

"Of course I missed it. But what difference did that make? It would have died of hunger with me."

"Still," he said, "it was your child--"

"It was the father's child, too, wasn't it? Much attention he paid to it! If I had been sure of getting money enough, I would have put it out to nurse. But with the twenty-five or thirty francs a month I could have earned as a servant, could I have paid for a baby? That's the situation a girl faces--so long as I wanted to remain honest, it was impossible for me to keep my child. You answer, perhaps, 'You didn't stay honest anyway.' That's true. But then--when you are hungry, and a nice young fellow offers you dinner, you'd have to be made of wood to refuse him. Of course, if I had had a trade--but I didn't have any. So I went on the street--You know how it is."

"Tell us about it," said the doctor. "This gentleman is from the country."

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"Is that so?" said the girl. "I never supposed there was anyone who didn't know about such things. Well, I took the part of a little working-girl. A very simple dress--things I had made especially for that--a little bundle in a black napkin carried in my hand--so I walked along where the shops are. It's tiresome, because to do it right, you have to patter along fast. Then I stop before a shop, and nine times out of ten, there you are! A funny thing is that the men--you'd imagine they had agreed on the words to approach you with. They have only two phrases; they never vary them. It's either, 'You are going fast, little one.' Or it's, 'Aren't you afraid all alone?' One thing or the other. One knows pretty well what they mean. Isn't it so?" The girl paused, then went on. "Again, I would get myself up as a young widow. There, too, one has to walk fast: I don't know why that should be so, but it is. After a minute or two of conversation, they generally find out that I am not a young widow, but that doesn't make any difference--they go on just the same."

"Who are the men?" asked the deputy. "Clerks? Traveling salesmen?"

"Not much," she responded. "I keep a lookout for gentlemen--like yourself."

"They SAY they are gentlemen," he suggested.

"Sometimes I can see it," was the response. "Sometimes they wear orders. It's funny--if they have on a ribbon when you first notice them, they follow you, and presto--the ribbon is gone! I always laugh over that. I've watched them in the glass of the shop windows. They try to look unconcerned, but as they walk along they snap out the ribbon with their thumb--as one shells little peas, you know."

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Damaged Goods
Upton Sinclair

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