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Chapter 16


Chapter XVI

Pete did not consider that he had ruined Maggie.  If he had
thought that her soul could never smile again, he would have
believed the mother and brother, who were pyrotechnic over the
affair, to be responsible for it.

Besides, in his world, souls did not insist upon being able to smile.
"What deh hell?"

He felt a trifle entangled.  It distressed him.  Revelations
and scenes might bring upon him the wrath of the owner of the
saloon, who insisted upon respectability of an advanced type.

"What deh hell do dey wanna raise such a smoke about it fer?"
demanded he of himself, disgusted with the attitude of the family.
He saw no necessity for anyone's losing their equilibrium merely
because their sister or their daughter had stayed away from home.

Searching about in his mind for possible reasons for their conduct,
he came upon the conclusion that Maggie's motives were correct,
but that the two others wished to snare him.  He felt pursued.

The woman of brilliance and audacity whom he had met in the
hilarious hall showed a disposition to ridicule him.

"A little pale thing with no spirit," she said.  "Did you note
the expression of her eyes?  There was something in them about
pumpkin pie and virtue.  That is a peculiar way the left corner
of her mouth has of twitching, isn't it?  Dear, dear, my cloud-
compelling Pete, what are you coming to?"

Pete asserted at once that he never was very much interested
in the girl.  The woman interrupted him, laughing.

"Oh, it's not of the slightest consequence to me, my dear young man.
You needn't draw maps for my benefit.  Why should I be concerned about it?"

But Pete continued with his explanations.  If he was laughed
at for his tastes in women, he felt obliged to say that they were
only temporary or indifferent ones.

The morning after Maggie had departed from home, Pete stood
behind the bar.  He was immaculate in white jacket and apron and
his hair was plastered over his brow with infinite correctness.
No customers were in the place.  Pete was twisting his napkined
fist slowly in a beer glass, softly whistling to himself and
occasionally holding the object of his attention between his eyes
and a few weak beams of sunlight that had found their way over
the thick screens and into the shaded room.

With lingering thoughts of the woman of brilliance and
audacity, the bartender raised his head and stared through the
varying cracks between the swaying bamboo doors.  Suddenly
the whistling pucker faded from his lips.  He saw Maggie walking
slowly past.  He gave a great start, fearing for the previously-
mentioned eminent respectability of the place.

He threw a swift, nervous glance about him, all at once
feeling guilty.  No one was in the room.

He went hastily over to the side door.  Opening it and looking
out, he perceived Maggie standing, as if undecided, on the corner.
She was searching the place with her eyes.

As she turned her face toward him Pete beckoned to her
hurriedly, intent upon returning with speed to a position behind
the bar and to the atmosphere of respectability upon which the
proprietor insisted.

Maggie came to him, the anxious look disappearing from her
face and a smile wreathing her lips.

"Oh, Pete--," she began brightly.

The bartender made a violent gesture of impatience.

"Oh, my Gawd," cried he, vehemently.  "What deh hell do yeh
wanna hang aroun' here fer?  Do yeh wanna git me inteh trouble?"
he demanded with an air of injury.

Astonishment swept over the girl's features.  "Why, Pete! yehs tol' me--"

Pete glanced profound irritation.  His countenance reddened
with the anger of a man whose respectability is being threatened.

"Say, yehs makes me tired.  See?  What deh hell deh yeh wanna
tag aroun' atter me fer?  Yeh'll git me inteh trouble wid deh ol'
man an' dey'll be hell teh pay!  If he sees a woman roun' here
he'll go crazy an' I'll lose me job!  See?  Yer brudder come in
here an' raised hell an' deh ol' man hada put up fer it!  An' now
I'm done!  See?  I'm done."

The girl's eyes stared into his face.  "Pete, don't yeh remem--"

"Oh, hell," interrupted Pete, anticipating.

The girl seemed to have a struggle with herself.  She was apparently
bewildered and could not find speech.  Finally she asked in a low voice:
"But where kin I go?"

The question exasperated Pete beyond the powers of endurance.
It was a direct attempt to give him some responsibility in a matter
that did not concern him.  In his indignation he volunteered information.

"Oh, go teh hell," cried he.  He slammed the door furiously
and returned, with an air of relief, to his respectability.

Maggie went away.

She wandered aimlessly for several blocks.  She stopped once
and asked aloud a question of herself: "Who?"

A man who was passing near her shoulder, humorously took the
questioning word as intended for him.

"Eh?  What?  Who?  Nobody!  I didn't say anything,"
he laughingly said, and continued his way.

Soon the girl discovered that if she walked with such
apparent aimlessness, some men looked at her with calculating eyes.
She quickened her step, frightened.  As a protection, she adopted
a demeanor of intentness as if going somewhere.

After a time she left rattling avenues and passed between rows
of houses with sternness and stolidity stamped upon their features.
She hung her head for she felt their eyes grimly upon her.

Suddenly she came upon a stout gentleman in a silk hat and a
chaste black coat, whose decorous row of buttons reached from his
chin to his knees.  The girl had heard of the Grace of God and she
decided to approach this man.

His beaming, chubby face was a picture of benevolence and
kind-heartedness.  His eyes shone good-will.

But as the girl timidly accosted him, he gave a convulsive
movement and saved his respectability by a vigorous side-step.
He did not risk it to save a soul.  For how was he to know that
there was a soul before him that needed saving?

Stephen Crane

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