The Penalty eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 311 pages of information about The Penalty.
and Barbara were in the leading cab, a brand-new one smelling of leather, and of the gardenia which Barbara was wearing.  The filth of the East Side came no nearer to them than the tires of the cab.  They were, you may say, insulated, enfortressed against squalor, poverty, crime, and discontent.  They were almost free to do as they pleased, as indeed their expedition proved, and yet, such is the natural charity of the human heart, they could not look from the windows of the cab and remain untroubled, or fail to understand a little of those motives which turn the minds of the unfortunate to thoughts of anarchy.  There was no whole tragedy unrolled before their eyes, not even a completed episode in one.  It so happened that they saw no one in tears or in liquor; on the contrary, they saw many who laughed, many children playing games with and tricks upon one another.  Yet in its mirth the region was mirthless; its energy was not physical, but nervous.  It had an air of living intensely in the present, for fear of remembering, for fear of looking ahead.  And it needed but a misunderstanding or a catchword to turn in a moment from recreation to violence.  Indeed, the mere fact of their own passing in the highly polished cab with its wake of burned gas and Havana tobacco turned many a smile into a scowl or a jeer.

Often the driver throttled his car to a snail’s pace or brought it to a full stop to avoid running over one of those children who, so far as self-preservation goes, appear to be deaf, dumb, blind, and without powers of locomotion; and during one of these halts a little girl, walking slowly backward, her eyes upon another little girl who for no apparent cause was making a series of malevolent faces at her, collided with one of the tires and fell on her back directly in front of the stationary car.  Instantly she began to screech, and the street, hitherto but scatteringly occupied, filled with raging people.

The driver from his seat, Bruce from one window, Savage from the other, attempted to explain to deaf ears.  Their voices were drowned in a torrent of abuse.

Barbara, at first only exasperated by the stupidity of the crowd, sitting very still and erect, had upon her face that expression of bored contempt with which aristocrats in the French Revolution are said to have gone to the guillotine.  Then that was shouted in her ear which, though but half, understood, turned her scarlet with anger.  Unfortunately Savage, hitherto patiently self-controlled, had heard the compounded epithet hurled at Barbara, and in a moment his fighting blood was beyond control, and he was out of the cab raining heavy blows upon a bloated chalky-white face, and receiving worse than he gave from a dozen fists and feet.  Strong as a bull, always in training, his strength was beaten and kicked from him in twenty seconds, and with Bruce and the driver—­who, bravely enough, if reluctantly, had leaped to his assistance—­things were no better.

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The Penalty from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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