Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/72

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On my return, the first news I heard was that Maggie Blake had another baby. Another boy, and his name was Carl Stanton. There was one thing about Maggie’s illegitimate children: they had fathers. What their fathers lacked in legality they certainly made up for in definiteness. None ever denied her right to use his name for the child. Stanton was a lawyer, about thirty-five years of age. There was not much business for a lawyer, but he owned a farm and seemed to be comfortable financially. I think Stanton decided he would be more clever than the preceding fathers. He married very shortly after the child was born, but he didn’t marry Maggie. I learned afterward that he and the young lady to whom he became engaged about that time had a long talk on the subject of Maggie, and that she forgave him. Unfortunately, however, she was not content with forgiving him once; she continued to forgive him from time to time. Her generosity in this regard became irksome. Stanton was not happy in his home life. Then he adopted another course, which was probably carefully premeditated and approved as subtle strategy: he became a sort of pillar of respectability; he liked to talk to Bible classes or any other assemblage that would listen. And he began wearing a frock coat on formal occasions. He overdid the pose painfully and made himself ridiculous. All the while he was stupid enough to think he was handling his case much better than Hodge or Wickwire had handled theirs. To cap the climax, he ran for office, some petty county office that was usually the reward for personal popularity. As my father expressed it afterward, he didn’t get enough votes to wad a shotgun. For the remainder of his life he could be counted on to join any new movement that came along. If a crowd bolted the county Democratic convention, he bolted with them. If someone started a new benevolent or fraternal society, he was the first to join. If there was a Jinks for Governor Club or Bryan for President Club proposed, he immediately gave his whole-hearted support. I do not think I have ever known a more pathetic figure in the life of a community.

In spite of my anger and some disgust, my sympathy went out to Maggie in her new affliction; I waited to see how hard it would go with her this time. Imagine my astonishment, if you can, when I learned that the whole community was