Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/73

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MARGARET BLAKE

39

laughing. Maggie was at last beyond the pale even of scandal. Her performances had ceased to be an outrage and were now regarded as a habit. Nowhere did I hear any bitterness; no one suggested a committee. When she appeared in public, people smiled involuntarily and somewhat shyly, as though to say, “I’m trying not to hurt your feelings, but, really, you are so droll.” And Maggie joined in their amusement with as much heartiness and as much readiness as she would have joined them in a foot race. She always relished a joke on herself just a little more than a joke on someone else.

I think Maggie had achieved just about what she felt she was honestly entitled to in being regarded as funny. She had always seemed amusing to herself. Whenever any one expressed admiration for her arm or leg, as I did several times in the old days when she and Howard and I were together, she would toss it out with a clumsy gesture and laugh, as much as to say: “Glad you like it, pal. All I’ve ever noticed is that it’s big.” I do not recall that she had any vanity. I suppose that was because she had never failed to please, and therefore had not felt it necessary to appraise, assemble, and mobilize her charms.

I went to see Maggie again, and she welcomed me as usual with gingerbread and buttermilk. To her I never grew up. I recall how clean and pretty the house was. The children were well behaved. She still called each boy by his father’s full name, and they quite naturally called each other in the same way. She asked a great many questions about the little college, and said she wanted all the boys to go there if I recommended it.

I told her I had seen Hodge working on a farm near the college. He was employed as a labourer, probably at about ten dollars a month. I asked him what became of the money he got for his farm. He merely grunted. He had become more silent and sullen than ever. I think he indulged in a drunken orgy to exhaust the pent-up anguish of self-accusation and spent all his money.

In after years, whenever I came across the statement in print, “The woman always pays,” I couldn’t help thinking of Maggie and laughing. That doesn’t prove that the statement isn’t true, but it certainly was not in her case. Maggie