"But this is the important thing: Is he an honest doctor?"
"How do you mean 'honest'? Depends on what you mean."
"Suppose you were sick. Would you call him in? Would you let me call him in?"
"Not if I were well enough to cuss and bite, I wouldn't! No, SIR! I wouldn't have the old fake in the house. Makes me tired, his everlasting palavering and soft-soaping. He's all right for an ordinary bellyache or holding some fool woman's hand, but I wouldn't call him in for an honest-to-God illness, not much I wouldn't, NO-sir! You know I don't do much back-biting, but same time — — I'll tell you, Carrrie: I've never got over being sore at Westlake for the way he treated Mrs. Jonderquist. Nothing the matter with her, what she really needed was a rest, but Westlake kept calling on her and calling on her for weeks, almost every day, and he sent her a good big fat bill, too, you can bet! I never did forgive him for that. Nice decent hard-working people like the Jonderquists!"
In her batiste nightgown she was standing at the bureau engaged in the invariable rites of wishing that she had a real dressing-table with a triple mirror, of bending toward the streaky glass and raising her chin to inspect a pin-head mole on her throat, and finally of brushing her hair. In rhythm to the strokes she went on:
"But, Will, there isn't any of what you might call financial rivalry between you and the partners — Westlake and McGanum — is there?"
He flipped into bed with a solemn back-somersault and a ludicrous kick of his heels as he tucked his legs under the blankets. He snorted, "Lord no! I never begrudge any man a nickel he can get away from me — fairly."
"But is Westlake fair? Isn't he sly?"
"Sly is the word. He's a fox, that boy!"
She saw Guy Pollock's grin in the mirror. She flushed.
Kennicott, with his arms behind his head, was yawning:
"Yump. He's smooth, too smooth. But I bet I make prett' near as much as Westlake and McGanum both together, though I've never wanted to grab more than my just share. If anybody wants to go to the partners instead of to me, that's his business. Though I must say it makes me tired when Westlake gets hold of the Dawsons. Here Luke Dawson had been coming to me for every toeache and headache and a lot of little things that just wasted my time, and then when his grandchild was here last summer and had summer-complaint, I suppose, or something like that, probably — you know, the time you and I drove up to Lac-qui-Meurt — why, Westlake got hold of Ma Dawson, and scared her to death, and made her think the kid had appendicitis, and, by golly, if he and McGanum didn't operate, and holler their heads off about the terrible adhesions they found, and what a regular Charley and Will Mayo they were for classy surgery. They let on that if they'd waited two hours more the kid would have developed peritonitis, and God knows what all; and then they collected a nice fat hundred and fifty dollars. And probably they'd have charged three hundred, if they hadn't been afraid of me! I'm no hog, but I certainly do hate to give old Luke ten dollars' worth of advice for a dollar and a half, and then see a hundred and fifty go glimmering. And if I can't do a better 'pendectomy than either Westlake or McGanum, I'll eat my hat!"
As she crept into bed she was dazzled by Guy's blazing grin. She experimented:
"But Westlake is cleverer than his son-in-law, don't you think?"
"Yes, Westlake may be old-fashioned and all that, but he's got a certain amount of intuition, while McGanum goes into everything bull-headed, and butts his way through like a damn yahoo, and tries to argue his patients into having whatever he diagnoses them as having! About the best thing Mac can do is to stick to baby-snatching. He's just about on a par with this bone-pounding chiropractor female, Mrs. Mattie Gooch."
"Mrs. Westlake and Mrs. McGanum, though — they're nice. They've been awfully cordial to me."
"Well, no reason why they shouldn't be, is there? Oh, they're nice enough — though you can bet your bottom dollar they're both plugging for their husbands all the time, trying to get the business. And I don't know as I call it so damn cordial in Mrs. McGanum when I holler at her on the street and she nods back like she had a sore neck. Still, she's all right. It's Ma Westlake that makes the mischief, pussyfooting around all the time. But I wouldn't trust any Westlake out of the whole lot, and while Mrs. McGanum SEEMS square enough, you don't never want to forget that she's Westlake's daughter. You bet!"
"What about Dr. Gould? Don't you think he's worse than either Westlake or McGanum? He's so cheap — drinking, and playing pool, and always smoking cigars in such a cocky way — — "
"That's all right now! Terry Gould is a good deal of a tin-horn sport, but he knows a lot about medicine, and don't you forget it for one second!"
She stared down Guy's grin, and asked more cheerfully, "Is he honest, too?"
"Ooooooooooo! Gosh I'm sleepy!" He burrowed beneath the bedclothes in a luxurious stretch, and came up like a diver, shaking his head, as he complained, "How's that? Who? Terry Gould honest? Don't start me laughing — I'm too nice and sleepy! I didn't say he was honest. I said he had savvy enough to find the index in 'Gray's Anatomy,' which is more than McGanum can do! But I didn't say anything about his being honest. He isn't. Terry is crooked as a dog's hind leg. He's done me more than one dirty trick. He told Mrs. Glorbach, seventeen miles out, that I wasn't up-to-date in obstetrics. Fat lot of good it did him! She came right in and told me! And Terry's lazy. He'd let a pneumonia patient choke rather than interrupt a poker game."
"Oh no. I can't believe — — "
"Well now, I'm telling you!"
"Does he play much poker? Dr. Dillon told me that Dr. Gould wanted him to play — — "
"Dillon told you what? Where'd you meet Dillon? He's just come to town."
"He and his wife were at Mr. Pollock's tonight."
"Say, uh, what'd you think of them? Didn't Dillon strike you as pretty light-waisted?"
"Why no. He seemed intelligent. I'm sure he's much more wide-awake than our dentist."
"Well now, the old man is a good dentist. He knows his business. And Dillon — — I wouldn't cuddle up to the Dillons too close, if I were you. All right for Pollock, and that's none of our business, but we — — I think I'd just give the Dillons the glad hand and pass 'em up."
"But why? He isn't a rival."
"That's — all — right!" Kennicott was aggressively awake now. "He'll work right in with Westlake and McGanum. Matter of fact, I suspect they were largely responsible for his locating here. They'll be sending him patients, and he'll send all that he can get hold of to them. I don't trust anybody that's too much hand-in-glove with Westlake. You give Dillon a shot at some fellow that's just bought a farm here and drifts into town to get his teeth looked at, and after Dillon gets through with him, you'll see him edging around to Westlake and McGanum, every time!"
Carol reached for her blouse, which hung on a chair by the bed. She draped it about her shoulders, and sat up studying Kennicott, her chin in her hands. In the gray light from the small electric bulb down the hall she could see that he was frowning.
"Will, this is — I must get this straight. Some one said to me the other day that in towns like this, even more than in cities, all the doctors hate each other, because of the money — — "
"Who said that?"
"It doesn't matter."
"I'll bet a hat it was your Vida Sherwin. She's a brainy woman, but she'd be a damn sight brainier if she kept her mouth shut and didn't let so much of her brains ooze out that way."
"Will! O Will! That's horrible! Aside from the vulgarity — — Some ways, Vida is my best friend. Even if she HAD said it. Which, as a matter of fact, she didn't." He reared up his thick shoulders, in absurd pink and green flannelette pajamas. He sat straight, and irritatingly snapped his fingers, and growled:
"Well, if she didn't say it, let's forget her. Doesn't make any difference who said it, anyway. The point is that you believe it. God! To think you don't understand me any better than that! Money!"
("This is the first real quarrel we've ever had," she was agonizing.)
He thrust out his long arm and snatched his wrinkly vest from a chair. He took out a cigar, a match. He tossed the vest on the floor. He lighted the cigar and puffed savagely. He broke up the match and snapped the fragments at the foot-board.
She suddenly saw the foot-board of the bed as the foot-stone of the grave of love.
The room was drab-colored and ill-ventilated — Kennicott did not "believe in opening the windows so darn wide that you heat all outdoors." The stale air seemed never to change. In the light from the hall they were two lumps of bedclothes with shoulders and tousled heads attached.
She begged, "I didn't mean to wake you up, dear. And please don't smoke. You've been smoking so much. Please go back to sleep. I'm sorry."