Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/67

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



neither liked nor disliked them. They were blanks. Naturally they were the most aggressive in registering the outraged community’s feelings. I do not believe she was ever able to grasp the idea of a man disapproving of her, or ever believed that one really did. I learned in later years that she had been very much petted by an adoring father. Her two elder brothers had been very good to her. She married young, and her relations with her husband had been perfect. I doubt if she had ever of her own experience found any serious obstacle to pleasant relations with any man she ever met. I know of several in that community who cheated on weights and measures and had to be bargained with very carefully, and I know that they did not try to cheat her.

The very dissimilar behaviour of Bessie and Maggie under the test taught me something that I remembered to my profit in many a trying situation. The issue of life and death was within themselves. Up to that time I had thought the community killed Bessie and that with the same circumstances the community was able to kill any human it chose to slay. I learned that so far from killing Maggie, it couldn’t even bruise her. It is to be regretted that Maggie’s victory cannot be attributed to a great intellectual achievement. That would be far more dramatic. But I suppose many victories have been gained by simply not thinking at all.

Maggie never asked Sam Hodge to help her; she needed no help. But Sam always felt that he ought to have undertaken the expense of the child. At first he feared it would be demanded of him. In his own mind he was preparing to resist. Then when no demand of any kind was made, remorse overtook him. He became more sullen than ever. I don’t know why Sam didn’t marry Maggie. Perhaps he won her too easily, and it frightened him. He probably expected the use of some pressure at first and was instinctively resisting in his own mind. Afterward, I feel sure, he regretted that he didn’t marry her, not on moral grounds, but because he had let slip an opportunity to assure himself a happy life.

If Maggie had been silent and ashamed, it would have ruined her and protected him, but everyone knew she called the child Sam Hodge and that Sam had run away like a frightened dog. I have thought since, too, that if Sam had done very much for her, it would have been a serious injury