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"But the judge kept me from thinking--I never
loved my father; he didn't care for me; all he wanted to do was to make
ten thousand barrels of beer a year and sell it; and the judge seemed
like a father to me till _she_ came and destroyed my faith in him."

"But--well, let Mrs. S. go. There are lots of good men and pure women in
the world. It's dangerous to think there aren't--especially for a
handsome young woman like you. You can't afford to keep in that kind of
a mood long."

She looked at him curiously. "That's what I like about you," she said
soberly. "You talk to me as if I had some sense--as if I was a human
being. If you were to flatter me, now, and make love to me, I never
would believe in any man again."

He smiled again in his frank, good way, and drew a picture from his
pocket. It was a picture of a woman bending down over a laughing, naked
child, sprawling frogwise in her lap. The woman's face was broad and
intellectual and handsome. The look of splendid maternity was in her
eyes. They both looked at the picture in silence. The girl sighed.

"I wish I was as good as that woman looks."

"You can be if you try."

"Not with a big Chicago brewer for a father and a husband that beats you
whenever the mood takes him."

"I admit that's hard. I think the atmosphere of that Heron Lake hotel
isn't any great help to you."

"Oh, they're a gay lot there! We fight like cats and dogs." A look of
slyness and boldness came over her face. "Mrs. Shellberg hates me as
hard as I do her. She used to go around telling, 'It's very peculiar,
you know'"--she imitated her rival's voice--"'but no matter which end of
the dining room I sit, all the men look that way!'"

The young lawyer laughed at her in spite of himself.

"But they don't, now. That's the reason she hates me," she said, in
conclusion. "The men don't notice her when I'm around."

To hear her fresh young lips utter those words with their vile
inflections was like taking a sudden glimpse into the underworld where
harlots dwell and the spirits of unrestrained lusts dance in the shadowy
recesses of the human heart.

Allen, hearing this fragmentary conversation, fascinated yet uneasy,
looked at the pair with wonder. They seemed unconscious of their public
situation.

The young lawyer looked straight before him while the girl, swept on by
her ignoble rage, displayed still more of the moral ulceration which had
been injected into her young life.

"I don't see what men find about her to like--unless it is her eyes.
She's got beautiful eyes. But she's vulgar--ugh! The stories she
tells--right before men, too! She'd kill any one that got ahead of her,
that woman would! And yet she'll come into my room and cry and cry and
say: 'Don't take him away from me! Leave him to me.' Ugh! It makes me
sick." She stamped her foot, then added, irrelevantly: "She wears a wig,
too. I suppose that old fool of a judge thinks it's her own hair."

The lawyer sat in stony silence. His grave face was accusing in its set
expression, and she felt it and was spurred on to do still deeper
injustice to herself--an insane perversity.

"Not that I care a cent--I'm not jealous of her. I ain't so bad off for
company as she is. She can't take anybody away from me, but she must go
and break down my faith in the judge."

She bit her lips to keep from crying out. She looked out of the window
again, seeking control.

The "divorce colony" never appeared more sickening in its inner
corruptions than when delineated by this dainty young girl. Allen could
see the swarming men about the hotels; he could see their hot, leering
eyes and smell their liquor-laden breaths as they named the latest
addition to the colony or boasted of their associations with those
already well known.

The girl turned suddenly to her companion.

"How do those people live out here on their farms?"

She pointed at a small shanty where the whole family stood to watch the
train go by.

"By eating boiled potatoes and salt pork."

"Salt pork!" she echoed, as if salt pork were old boot-heels or bark or
hay. "Why, it takes four hours for salt pork to digest!"

He laughed again at her childish irrelevancy. "So much the better for
the poor. Where'd you learn all that, anyway?"

"At school. Oh, you needn't look so incredulous! I went to boarding
school. I learned a good deal more than you think."

"Well, so I see. Now, I should have said pork digested in three hours,
speaking from experience."

"Well, it don't. What do the women do out here?"

"They work like the men, only more so."

"Do they have any new things?"

"Not very often, I'm afraid."

She sighed. After a pause she said:

"You were raised on a farm?"

"Yes. In Minnesota."

"Did you do work like that?" She pointed at a thrashing machine in the
field.

"Yes, I plowed and sowed and reaped and mowed. I wasn't on the farm for
my health."

"You're very strong, aren't you?" she asked admiringly.

"In a slab-sided kind of a way--yes."

Her eyes grew abstracted.

"I like strong men. Ollie was a little man, not any taller than I am,
but when he was drunk he was what men call a--a--holy terror. He struck
me with the water pitcher once--that was just before baby was born. I
wish he'd killed me." She ended in a sudden reaction to hopeless
bitterness. "It would have saved me all these months of life in this
terrible country."

"It might have saved you from more than you think," he said quietly,
tenderly.

"What do you mean?"

"You've been brought up against women and men who have defiled you.
They've made your future uncertain."

"Do you think it's so bad as that? Tell me!" she insisted, seeing his
hesitation.

"You're on the road to hell!" he said, in a voice that was very low, but
it reached her. It was full of pain and grave reprimand and gentleness.
"You've been poisoned. You're in need of a good man's help. You need the
companionship of good, earnest women instead of painted harlots."

Her voice shook painfully as she replied:

"You don't think I'm _all_ bad?"

"You're not bad at all--you're simply reckless. _You_ are not to blame.
It depends upon yourself now, though, whether you keep a true woman or
go to hell with Mrs. Shellberg."

The conductor eyed them as he passed, with an unpleasant light in his
eyes, and the drummers a few seats ahead turned to look at them. The tip
had passed along from lip to lip. They were like wild beasts roused by
the presence of prey. Their eyes gleamed with relentless lust. They eyed
the little creature with ravening eyes. Her helplessness was their
opportunity.

Allen, sitting there, saw the terror and tragedy of the girl's life. Her
reckless, prodigal girlhood; the coarse, rich father; the marriage, when
a thoughtless girl, with a drunken, dissolute boy; the quarrels, brutal
beatings; the haste to secure a divorce; the contamination of the
crowded hotels in Heron Lake--and this slender young girl, naturally
pure, alert, quick of impulse--she was like a lamb among lustful wolves.
His heart ached for her.

The deep, slow voice of the lawyer sounded on. His eyes turned toward
her had no equivocal look. He was a brother speaking to a younger
sister. The tears fell down her cheeks, upon her folded hands. Her
widely opened eyes seemed to look out into a night of storms.

"Oh, what shall I do?" she moaned. "I wish I was dead--and baby too!"

"Live for the baby--let him help you out."

"Oh, he can't! I don't care enough for him. I wish I was like other
mothers; but I'm not. I can't shut myself up with a baby. I'm too
young."

He saw that. She was seeking the love of a man, not the care of a child.
She had the wifely passion, but not the mother's love. He was silent;
the case baffled him.

"Oh, I wish you could help me. I wish I had you all the time. I do! I
don't care what you think, _I do, I do!_"

"Our home is open to you and baby, too," he said slowly. "My wife knows
about you, and----"

"Who told her--did you?" she flashed out again, angrily, jealously.

"Yes. My wife is my other self," he replied quietly.

She stared at him, breathing heavily, then looked out of the window
again. At last she turned to him. She seemed to refer to his invitation.

"Oh, this terrible land! Oh, I couldn't stay here. I'd go insane.
Perhaps I'm going insane anyway. Don't you think so?"

"No, I think you're a little nervous, that's all."

"Oh! Do you think I'll get my divorce?"

"Certainly, without question."

"Can I wait and go back with you?"

"I shall not return for several days. Perhaps you couldn't bear the wait
in this little town; it's not much like the city."

"Oh, dear! But I can't go about alone. I hate these men, they stare at
me so! I wish I was a man. It's awful to be a woman, don't you think so?
Please don't laugh."

The young lawyer was far from laughing, but this was her only way of
defending herself. These pert, birdlike ways formed her shield against
ridicule and misprision.

He said slowly, "Yes, it's an awful thing to be a woman, but it's an
awful responsibility to be a man."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that we are responsible as the dominant sex for every tragic,
incomplete woman's life."

"Don't you blame Mrs. Shellberg?" she said, forcing him to a concrete
example with savage swiftness.

"No. She had a poor father and a poor husband, and she must earn her own
living some way."

"She could cook, or nurse, or something like that."

"It isn't easy to find opportunity to cook or nurse. If it were as easy
to earn a living in a pure way as it is in a vicious way all men would
be rich and virtuous. But what had you planned to do after your
divorce?"

"Oh, I'm going to travel for two years. Then I'll try to settle down."

"What you need is a good husband and a little cottage where you'd have
to cook your own food--and tend the baby."

"I wouldn't cook for any man living," she broke in, to express her
bitterness that he could so coldly dispose of her future. "Oh, this
terrible train! Can't it go faster? If I'd realized what a trip this
was, I wouldn't have started."

"This is the route you all go," he replied with grim humor, and his
words pictured a ceaseless stream of divorcées.

She resented his classing her with the rest, but she simply said: "You
despise me, don't you?



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