Through the open door curious eyes stared in at Maggie. Children ventured into the room and ogled her, as if they formed the front row at a theatre. Women, without, bended toward each other and whispered, nodding their heads with airs of profound philosophy. A baby, overcome with curiosity concerning this object at which all were looking, sidled forward and touched her dress, cautiously, as if investigating a red-hot stove. Its mother’s voice rang out like a warning trumpet. She rushed forward and grabbed her child, casting a terrible look of indignation at the girl.
Maggie’s mother paced to and fro, addressing the doorful of eyes, expounding like a glib showman at a museum. Her voice rang through the building.
“Dere she stands,” she cried, wheeling suddenly and pointing with dramatic finger. “Dere she stands! Lookut her! Ain’ she a dindy? An’ she was so good as to come home teh her mudder, she was! Ain’ she a beaut’? Ain’ she a dindy? Fer Gawd’s sake!”
The jeering cries ended in another burst of shrill laughter.
The girl seemed to awaken. “Jimmie—”
He drew hastily back from her.
“Well, now, yer a hell of a t’ing, ain’ yeh?” he said, his lips curling in scorn. Radiant virtue sat upon his brow and his repelling hands expressed horror of contamination.
Maggie turned and went.
The crowd at the door fell back precipitately. A baby falling down in front of the door, wrenched a scream like a wounded animal from its mother. Another woman sprang forward and picked it up, with a chivalrous air, as if rescuing a human being from an oncoming express train.
As the girl passed down through the hall, she went before open doors framing more eyes strangely microscopic, and sending broad beams of inquisitive light into the darkness of her path. On the second floor she met the gnarled old woman who possessed the music box.
“So,” she cried, “‘ere yehs are back again, are yehs? An’ dey’ve kicked yehs out? Well, come in an’ stay wid me teh-night. I ain’ got no moral standin’.”
From above came an unceasing babble of tongues, over all of which rang the mother’s derisive laughter.
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.