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Damaged Goods Upton Sinclair

Chapter V

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So inevitably there had been a discussion of the whole question between the two men. The doctor had granted the first request, but refused the second. In the first place, he said, there was a rule of professional secrecy which would prevent him. And when the father-in-law requested to know if the rule of professional secrecy compelled him to protect a criminal against honest people, the doctor answered that even if his ethics permitted it, he would still refuse the request. "I would reproach myself forever," he said, "if I had aided you to obtain such a divorce."

"Then," cried the old man, vehemently, "because you profess such and such theories, because the exercise of your profession makes you the constant witness of such miseries--therefore it is necessary that my daughter should continue to bear that man's name all her life!"

The doctor answered, gently, "Sir, I understand and respect your grief. But believe me, you are not in a state of mind to decide about these matters now."

"You are mistaken," declared the other, controlling himself with an effort. "I have been thinking about nothing else for days. I have discussed it with my daughter, and she agrees with me. Surely, sir, you cannot desire that my daughter should continue to live with a man who has struck her so brutal, so cowardly, a blow."

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"If I refuse your request," the doctor answered, "it is in the interest of your daughter." Then, seeing the other's excitement returning, he continued, "In your state of mind, Monsieur Loches, I know that you will probably be abusing me before five minutes has passed. But that will not trouble me. I have seen many cases. And since I have made the mistake of letting myself be trapped into this discussion, I must explain to you the reason for my attitude. You ask of me a certificate so that you may prove in court that your son-in-law is afflicted with syphilis."

"Precisely," said the other.

"And have you not reflected upon this--that at the same time you will be publicly attesting that your daughter has been exposed to the contagion? With such an admission, an admission officially registered in the public records, do you believe that she will find it easy to re-marry later on?"

"She will never re-marry," said the father.

"She says that today, but can you affirm that she will say the same thing five years from now, ten years from now? I tell you you will not obtain that divorce, because I will most certainly refuse you the necessary certificate."

"Then," cried the other, "I will find other means of establishing proofs. I will have the child examined by another doctor!"

The other answered. "Then you do not find that that poor little one has been already sufficiently handicapped at the outset of its life? Your granddaughter has a physical defect. Do you wish to add to that a certificate of hereditary syphilis, which will follow her all her life?"

Monsieur Loches sprang from his chair. "You mean that if the victims seek to defend themselves, they will be struck the harder! You mean that the law gives me no weapon against a man who, knowing his condition, takes a young girl, sound, trusting, innocent, and befouls her with the result of his debauches--makes her the mother of a poor little creature, whose future is such that those who love her the most do not know whether they ought to pray for her life, or for her immediate deliverance? Sir," he continued, in his orator's voice, "that man has inflicted upon the woman he has married a supreme insult. He has made her the victim of the most odious assault. He has degraded her--he has brought her, so to speak, into contact with the woman of the streets. He has created between her and that common woman I know not what mysterious relationship. It is the poisoned blood of the prostitute which poisons my daughter and her child; that abject creature, she lives, she lives in us! She belongs to our family--he has given her a seat at our hearth! He has soiled the imagination and the thoughts of my poor child, as he has soiled her body. He has united forever in her soul the idea of love which she has placed so high, with I know not what horrors of the hospitals. He has tainted her in her dignity and her modesty, in her love as well as in her baby. He has struck her down with physical and moral decay, he has overwhelmed her with vileness. And yet the law is such, the customs of society are such, that the woman cannot separate herself from that man save by the aid of legal proceedings whose scandal will fall upon herself and upon her child!"

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Damaged Goods
Upton Sinclair

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