Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/65

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



was an interesting story, and she enjoyed hearing it. Her laugh was an expression of appreciation for the entertainment I had provided in telling it.

Everyone supposed about this time that Maggie and Sam Hodge would be married. They had been “keeping company” for about five months, but he suddenly ceased to visit her. Everyone who knew either of them asked the reason, but none was given. Hodge was sullen. Maggie said she didn’t know.

One day the news spread through the community that Maggie had a new baby. Old Doctor Wren said she made no secret about Sam Hodge being the father and asked him to file the birth certificate at the county seat: “Sam Hodge, Junior, son of Sam Hodge and Margaret Blake.” That is what he did. Later my father told me that it was taken before the grand jury, but as there seemed to be no complaint from any one, they didn’t know what to do about it, and so did nothing.

The child was born on a Monday. The following Sunday Maggie went to church as usual. She never failed to go to church. I was there with my parents. Everyone gasped except my father. I think he was amused. The preacher glowered at her, but made no reference to her presence. After church everyone scampered away instead of gathering in little groups as usual to talk. They were afraid Maggie might join one of the groups. She was very sociable. No one spoke to her, and very few looked at her. Those who did were hostile and tried to stare her out of countenance, but it couldn’t be done. She returned their gaze as steadily as a calf and very much as a calf might. Her eyes were always smiling; so she was the picture of good health, good humour, and boundless friendliness. There was nothing brazen or combative about her attitude.

On the way home from church I heard the word, “illegitimate” for the first time. It aroused my curiosity. I wanted to see what an illegitimate child would look like. A boy brought up, as I had been, on a remote farm works out his own jumbled ideas on social laws. No odium attached to an illegitimate child in my mind at the time. Since only married people had children, it seemed to me quite a remarkable feat