Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/66

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Maggie had performed to produce a child without being married. So I slipped over there that afternoon to see it. Maggie welcomed me just as usual. I found no change of any kind in her. The baby cried when it waked, and she picked it up as though she were going to toss it into the air like a ball. She raised it above her head, then brought it to her breast and fed it.

“You’ve got a good appetite, Sam Hodge,” she said. I winced when the name was pronounced, but I soon got over it. She always called the baby Sam Hodge. I examined this new and scandalous arrival with great care. There seemed to be nothing illegitimate about him. In spite of the fact that I had liked Howard Blake and didn’t care about Sam Hodge one way or the other, this baby was beyond question adorable.

The following day I was sent to town to buy some supplies at the store. While I was there Maggie came in on a similar errand. The clerk started, then stiffened and stared. Maggie was smiling at him with her eyes and ordering “a side of bacon.” The clerk was rummaging through such few ideas as had ever lodged in his head to determine whether he could sell a side of bacon to the mother of an illegitimate child. I don’t think he decided that he could, but he was unable to think of any reason why he couldn’t, so he reluctantly performed the task. By the time she had got down her list to coffee and soap, however, the shock was over, and the clerk was agreeable.

I have often wondered since then how much of just that sort of thing Maggie had to confront. She could scarcely avoid ten human contacts a month even though living far from the town and on her own farm. All of them must have been about the same as that with the grocer’s clerk, and perhaps some of them were much worse. Whatever they were, Maggie never mentioned them, and I honestly believe, after years of mature deliberation, that they made no impression upon her whatever. I think she was glad to have another boy whether it was legitimate or not. Nature seemed to exact no penalty from her for the fulfilment of this desire, and if society wanted to, she was willing to let them enjoy it. There was another phase of her character at work for her defence also. Women simply did not exist for her. She