"Being sorry 's all right, but I'm going to tell you one or two things. This falling for anybody's say-so about medical jealousy and competition is simply part and parcel of your usual willingness to think the worst you possibly can of us poor dubs in Gopher Prairie. Trouble with women like you is, you always want to ARGUE. Can't take things the way they are. Got to argue. Well, I'm not going to argue about this in any way, shape, manner, or form. Trouble with you is, you don't make any effort to appreciate us. You're so damned superior, and think the city is such a hell of a lot finer place, and you want us to do what YOU want, all the time — — "
"That's not true! It's I who make the effort. It's they — it's you — who stand back and criticize. I have to come over to the town's opinion; I have to devote myself to their interests. They can't even SEE my interests, to say nothing of adopting them. I get ever so excited about their old Lake Minniemashie and the cottages, but they simply guffaw (in that lovely friendly way you advertise so much) if I speak of wanting to see Taormina also."
"Sure, Tormina, whatever that is — some nice expensive millionaire colony, I suppose. Sure; that's the idea; champagne taste and beer income; and make sure that we never will have more than a beer income, too!"
"Are you by any chance implying that I am not economical?"
"Well, I hadn't intended to, but since you bring it up yourself, I don't mind saying the grocery bills are about twice what they ought to be."
"Yes, they probably are. I'm not economical. I can't be. Thanks to you!"
"Where d' you get that 'thanks to you'?"
"Please don't be quite so colloquial — or shall I say VULGAR?"
"I'll be as damn colloquial as I want to. How do you get that 'thanks to you'? Here about a year ago you jump me for not remembering to give you money. Well, I'm reasonable. I didn't blame you, and I SAID I was to blame. But have I ever forgotten it since — practically?"
"No. You haven't — practically! But that isn't it. I ought to have an allowance. I will, too! I must have an agreement for a regular stated amount, every month."
"Fine idea! Of course a doctor gets a regular stated amount! Sure! A thousand one month — and lucky if he makes a hundred the next."
"Very well then, a percentage. Or something else. No matter how much you vary, you can make a rough average for — — "
"But what's the idea? What are you trying to get at? Mean to say I'm unreasonable? Think I'm so unreliable and tightwad that you've got to tie me down with a contract? By God, that hurts! I thought I'd been pretty generous and decent, and I took a lot of pleasure — thinks I, 'she'll be tickled when I hand her over this twenty' — or fifty, or whatever it was; and now seems you been wanting to make it a kind of alimony. Me, like a poor fool, thinking I was liberal all the while, and you — — "
"Please stop pitying yourself! You're having a beautiful time feeling injured. I admit all you say. Certainly. You've given me money both freely and amiably. Quite as if I were your mistress!"
"I mean it! What was a magnificent spectacle of generosity to you was humiliation to me. You GAVE me money — gave it to your mistress, if she was complaisant, and then you — — "
"(Don't interrupt me!) — then you felt you'd discharged all obligation. Well, hereafter I'll refuse your money, as a gift. Either I'm your partner, in charge of the household department of our business, with a regular budget for it, or else I'm nothing. If I'm to be a mistress, I shall choose my lovers. Oh, I hate it — I hate it — this smirking and hoping for money — and then not even spending it on jewels as a mistress has a right to, but spending it on double-boilers and socks for you! Yes indeed! You're generous! You give me a dollar, right out — the only proviso is that I must spend it on a tie for you! And you give it when and as you wish. How can I be anything but uneconomical?"
"Oh well, of course, looking at it that way — — "
"I can't shop around, can't buy in large quantities, have to stick to stores where I have a charge account, good deal of the time, can't plan because I don't know how much money I can depend on. That's what I pay for your charming sentimentalities about giving so generously. You make me — — "
"Wait! Wait! You know you're exaggerating. You never thought about that mistress stuff till just this minute! Matter of fact, you never have 'smirked and hoped for money.' But all the same, you may be right. You ought to run the household as a business. I'll figure out a definite plan tomorrow, and hereafter you'll be on a regular amount or percentage, with your own checking account."
"Oh, that IS decent of you!" She turned toward him, trying to be affectionate. But his eyes were pink and unlovely in the flare of the match with which he lighted his dead and malodorous cigar. His head drooped, and a ridge of flesh scattered with pale small bristles bulged out under his chin.
She sat in abeyance till he croaked:
"No. 'Tisn't especially decent. It's just fair. And God knows I want to be fair. But I expect others to be fair, too. And you're so high and mighty about people. Take Sam Clark; best soul that ever lived, honest and loyal and a damn good fellow — — "
("Yes, and a good shot at ducks, don't forget that!")
("Well, and he is a good shot, too!) Sam drops around in the evening to sit and visit, and by golly just because he takes a dry smoke and rolls his cigar around in his mouth, and maybe spits a few times, you look at him as if he was a hog. Oh, you didn't know I was onto you, and I certainly hope Sam hasn't noticed it, but I never miss it."
"I have felt that way. Spitting — ugh! But I'm sorry you caught my thoughts. I tried to be nice; I tried to hide them."
"Maybe I catch a whole lot more than you think I do!"
"Yes, perhaps you do."
"And d' you know why Sam doesn't light his cigar when he's here?"
"He's so darn afraid you'll be offended if he smokes. You scare him. Every time he speaks of the weather you jump him because he ain't talking about poetry or Gertie — Goethe? — or some other highbrow junk. You've got him so leery he scarcely dares to come here."
"Oh, I AM sorry. (Though I'm sure it's you who are exaggerating now.")
"Well now, I don't know as I am! And I can tell you one thing: if you keep on you'll manage to drive away every friend I've got."
"That would be horrible of me. You KNOW I don't mean to Will, what is it about me that frightens Sam — if I do frighten him."
"Oh, you do, all right! 'Stead of putting his legs up on another chair, and unbuttoning his vest, and telling a good story or maybe kidding me about something, he sits on the edge of his chair and tries to make conversation about politics, and he doesn't even cuss, and Sam's never real comfortable unless he can cuss a little!"
"In other words, he isn't comfortable unless he can behave like a peasant in a mud hut!"
"Now that'll be about enough of that! You want to know how you scare him? First you deliberately fire some question at him that you know darn well he can't answer — any fool could see you were experimenting with him — and then you shock him by talking of mistresses or something, like you were doing just now — — "
"Of course the pure Samuel never speaks of such erring ladies in his private conversations!"
"Not when there's ladies around! You can bet your life on that!"
"So the impurity lies in failing to pretend that — — "
"Now we won't go into all that — eugenics or whatever damn fad you choose to call it. As I say, first you shock him, and then you become so darn flighty that nobody can follow you. Either you want to dance, or you bang the piano, or else you get moody as the devil and don't want to talk or anything else. If you must be temperamental, why can't you be that way by yourself?"
"My dear man, there's nothing I'd like better than to be by myself occasionally! To have a room of my own! I suppose you expect me to sit here and dream delicately and satisfy my 'temperamentality' while you wander in from the bathroom with lather all over your face, and shout, 'Seen my brown pants?'"
"Huh!" He did not sound impressed. He made no answer. He turned out of bed, his feet making one solid thud on the floor. He marched from the room, a grotesque figure in baggy union-pajamas. She heard him drawing a drink of water at the bathroom tap. She was furious at the contemptuousness of his exit. She snuggled down in bed, and looked away from him as he returned. He ignored her. As he flumped into bed he yawned, and casually stated: