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Damaged Goods Upton Sinclair

Chapter V

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But the doctor cried, "No, no, sir! Do not make a new law. We have too many already. There is no need of it. It would suffice that people should know a little better what syphilis is. The custom would establish itself very quickly for a suitor to add to all the other documents which he presents, a certificate of a doctor, as proof that he could be received into a family without bringing a pestilence with him. That would be very simple. Once let the custom be established, then the suitor would go to the doctor for a certificate of health, just as he goes to the priest for a certificate that he has confessed; and by that means you would prevent a great deal of suffering in the world. Or let me put it another way, sir. Nowadays, before you conclude a marriage, you get the lawyers of the two families together. It would be of at least equal importance to get their two doctors together. You see, sir, your inquiry concerning your son-in-law was far from complete. So your daughter may fairly ask you, why you, being a man, being a father who ought to know these things, did not take as much care of her health as you took of her fortune. So it is, sir, that I say to you, forgive!"

But Monsieur Loches said again, "Never!"

And again the doctor sat and watched him for a minute. "Come, sir," he began, finally, "since it is necessary to employ the last argument, I will do so. To be so severe and so pitiless-- are you yourself without sin?"

The other answered, "I have never had a shameful disease."

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"I do not ask you that," interrupted the doctor. "I ask you if you have never exposed yourself to the chance of having it." And then, reading the other's face, he went on, in a tone of quiet certainty. "Yes, you have exposed yourself. Then, sir, it was not virtue that you had; it was good fortune. That is one of the things which exasperate me the most--that term 'shameful disease' which you have just used. Like all other diseases, that is one of our misfortunes, and it is never shameful to be unfortunate-- even if one has deserved it." The doctor paused, and then with some excitement he went on: "Come, sir, come, we must understand each other. Among men the most exacting, among those who with their middle-class prudery dare not pronounce the name of syphilis, or who make the most terrifying faces, the most disgusted, when they consent to speak of it--who regard the syphilitic as sinners--I should wish to know how many there are who have never exposed thenselves to a similar misadventure. They and they alone have the right to speak. How many are there? Among a thousand men, are there four? Very well, then. Excepting those four, between all the rest and the syphilitic there is nothing but the difference of chance."

There came into the doctor's voice at this moment a note of intense feeling; for these were matters of which evidence came to him every day. "I tell you, sir, that such people are deserving of sympathy, because they are suffering. If they have committed a fault, they have at least the plea that they are expiating it. No, sir, let me hear no more of that hypocrisy. Recall your own youth, sir. That which afflicts your son-in-law, you have deserved it just as much as he--more than he, perhaps. Therefore, have pity on him; have for him the toleration which the unpunished criminal ought to have for the criminal less fortunate than himself upon whom the penalty has fallen. Is that not so?"

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Damaged Goods
Upton Sinclair

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