"CARRIE'S all right. She's finicky, but she'll get over it. But I wish she'd hurry up about it! What she can't understand is that a fellow practising medicine in a small town like this has got to cut out the highbrow stuff, and not spend all his time going to concerts and shining his shoes. (Not but what he might be just as good at all these intellectual and art things as some other folks, if he had the time for it!)" Dr. Will Kennicott was brooding in his office, during a free moment toward the end of the summer afternoon. He hunched down in his tilted desk-chair, undid a button of his shirt, glanced at the state news in the back of the Journal of the American Medical Association, dropped the magazine, leaned back with his right thumb hooked in the arm-hole of his vest and his left thumb stroking the back of his hair.
"By golly, she's taking an awful big chance, though. You'd expect her to learn by and by that I won't be a parlor lizard. She says we try to 'make her over.' Well, she's always trying to make me over, from a perfectly good M. D. into a damn poet with a socialist necktie! She'd have a fit if she knew how many women would be willing to cuddle up to Friend Will and comfort him, if he'd give 'em the chance! There's still a few dames that think the old man isn't so darn unattractive! I'm glad I've ducked all that woman-game since I've been married but — — Be switched if sometimes I don't feel tempted to shine up to some girl that has sense enough to take life as it is; some frau that doesn't want to talk Longfellow all the time, but just hold my hand and say, 'You look all in, honey. Take it easy, and don't try to talk.'
"Carrie thinks she's such a whale at analyzing folks. Giving the town the once-over. Telling us where we get off. Why, she'd simply turn up her toes and croak if she found out how much she doesn't know about the high old times a wise guy could have in this burg on the Q.T., if he wasn't faithful to his wife. But I am. At that, no matter what faults she's got, there's nobody here, no, nor in Minn'aplus either, that's as nice-looking and square and bright as Carrie. She ought to of been an artist or a writer or one of those things. But once she took a shot at living here, she ought to stick by it. Pretty — — Lord yes. But cold. She simply doesn't know what passion is. She simply hasn't got an i-dea how hard it is for a full-blooded man to go on pretending to be satisfied with just being endured. It gets awful tiresome, having to feel like a criminal just because I'm normal. She's getting so she doesn't even care for my kissing her. Well — —
"I guess I can weather it, same as I did earning my way through school and getting started in practise. But I wonder how long I can stand being an outsider in my own home?"
He sat up at the entrance of Mrs. Dave Dyer. She slumped into a chair and gasped with the heat. He chuckled, "Well, well, Maud, this is fine. Where's the subscription-list? What cause do I get robbed for, this trip?"
"I haven't any subscription-list, Will. I want to see you professionally."
"And you a Christian Scientist? Have you given that up? What next? New Thought or Spiritualism?"
"No, I have not given it up!"
"Strikes me it's kind of a knock on the sisterhood, your coming to see a doctor!"
"No, it isn't. It's just that my faith isn't strong enough yet. So there now! And besides, you ARE kind of consoling, Will. I mean as a man, not just as a doctor. You're so strong and placid."
He sat on the edge of his desk, coatless, his vest swinging open with the thick gold line of his watch-chain across the gap, his hands in his trousers pockets, his big arms bent and easy. As she purred he cocked an interested eye. Maud Dyer was neurotic, religiocentric, faded; her emotions were moist, and her figure was unsystematic — splendid thighs and arms, with thick ankles, and a body that was bulgy in the wrong places. But her milky skin was delicious, her eyes were alive, her chestnut hair shone, and there was a tender slope from her ears to the shadowy place below her jaw.
With unusual solicitude he uttered his stock phrase, "Well, what seems to be the matter, Maud?"
"I've got such a backache all the time. I'm afraid the organic trouble that you treated me for is coming back."
"Any definite signs of it?"
"N-no, but I think you'd better examine me."
"Nope. Don't believe it's necessary, Maud. To be honest, between old friends, I think your troubles are mostly imaginary. I can't really advise you to have an examination."
She flushed, looked out of the window. He was conscious that his voice was not impersonal and even.
She turned quickly. "Will, you always say my troubles are imaginary. Why can't you be scientific? I've been reading an article about these new nerve-specialists, and they claim that lots of 'imaginary' ailments, yes, and lots of real pain, too, are what they call psychoses, and they order a change in a woman's way of living so she can get on a higher plane — — "
"Wait! Wait! Whoa-up! Wait now! Don't mix up your Christian Science and your psychology! They're two entirely different fads! You'll be mixing in socialism next! You're as bad as Carrie, with your 'psychoses.' Why, Good Lord, Maud, I could talk about neuroses and psychoses and inhibitions and repressions and complexes just as well as any damn specialist, if I got paid for it, if I was in the city and had the nerve to charge the fees that those fellows do. If a specialist stung you for a hundred-dollar consultation-fee and told you to go to New York to duck Dave's nagging, you'd do it, to save the hundred dollars! But you know me — I'm your neighbor — you see me mowing the lawn — you figure I'm just a plug general practitioner. If I said, 'Go to New York,' Dave and you would laugh your heads off and say, 'Look at the airs Will is putting on. What does he think he is?'
"As a matter of fact, you're right. You have a perfectly well-developed case of repression of sex instinct, and it raises the old Ned with your body. What you need is to get away from Dave and travel, yes, and go to every dog-gone kind of New Thought and Bahai and Swami and Hooptedoodle meeting you can find. I know it, well 's you do. But how can I advise it? Dave would be up here taking my hide off. I'm willing to be family physician and priest and lawyer and plumber and wet-nurse, but I draw the line at making Dave loosen up on money. Too hard a job in weather like this! So, savvy, my dear? Believe it will rain if this heat keeps — — "