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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Web Of Life - Part 2 - Chapter 2
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The Web Of Life - Part 2 - Chapter 2 Post by :badcat1 Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :February 2011 Read :3154

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The Web Of Life - Part 2 - Chapter 2

Part II Chapter II

The Keystone Hotel was in full blast when the doctor and Alves returned from Wisconsin. Miss M'Gann met them and introduced them to the large, parlor-floor room she had engaged for them. The newcomers joined the household that was taking the air on the stone steps of the hotel. The step below Miss M'Gann's was held by a young man who seemed to share with Miss M'Gann the social leadership of the Keystone. He was with the Baking Powder Trust, he told Sommers. He was tall and fair, with reddish hair that massed itself above his forehead in a shiny curl, and was supplemented by a waving auburn mustache. His scrupulous dress, in the fashion of the foppish clerk, gave an air of distinction to the circle on the steps. Most of this circle were so average as scarcely to make an impression at first sight,--a few young women who earned their livelihood in business offices, a few decayed, middle-aged bachelors, a group of widows whose incomes fitted the rates of the Keystone, and several families that had given up the struggle with maids-of-all-work. One of these latter,--father, mother, and daughter--had seats at table with Sommers and Alves. The father, a little, bald-headed man with the air of a furtive mouse, had nothing to say; the mother was a faded blond woman, who shopped every day with the daughter; the daughter, who was sixteen, had the figure of a woman of twenty, and the assurance born in hotels and boarding-houses. Her puffy rounded face, set in a thick roll of blond hair, had the expression of a precocious doll. When she had sounded Alves on the subject of silk waists, she relapsed into silence and stared amiably at the doctor.

Sommers arranged to hang his little celluloid sign, _Howard Sommers, M. D., Physician and Surgeon_, beneath his window. The proprietor of the Keystone thought it gave a desirable, professional air to the house. But Webber, the young man in the Baking Powder Trust, was sceptical of its commercial value to the doctor. Certainly the results from its appearance were not ascertainable. Sommers had no patients. The region about the Keystone was a part of the World's Fair territory, and had been greatly overbuilt. It had shrunk in these stagnant months to one-tenth of its possible population. There was, besides, an army of doctors, at least one for every five families Sommers judged from the signs. They were for the most part graduates of little, unknown medical schools or of drug stores. Lindsay had once said that this quarter of the city was a nest of charlatans. The two or three physicians of the regular school had private hospitals, sanitariums, or other means of improving their business. Many of the doctors used the drug stores as offices and places of rendezvous. Their signs hung, one below another, from a long crane at the entrances of the stores. It was an impartial, hospitable method of advertising one's services. There was one such bulletin at the shop on the corner of the neighboring avenue; the names were unfamiliar and foreign,--Jelly, Zarnshi, Pasko, Lemenueville. Sommers suspected that their owners had taken to themselves _noms de guerre_.

At first Sommers avoided these places, and got the few drugs he needed at a well-known pharmacy in the city. He had an idea that matters would improve when people returned from the country or the seashore. But these people did not take long vacations. He had had but one case, the wife of a Swedish janitor in a flat-building, and he had reason to believe that his services had not pleased. Every morning, as Alves hurried to reach the Everglade School, his self-reproach increased. He hated to think that she was in the same treadmill in which he had found her. His failure was a matter of pride, also; he began to suspect that the people in the house talked about it. When Webber spoke to him of Dr. Jelly's success, he felt that the Keystone people had been making comparisons. They were walking to the railroad station after breakfast--the clerk on his way south to the baking powder works; he, for a daily paper. The young clerk nodded to a black-whiskered, sallow man, and said:

"He's Doc. Jelly, and has the biggest practice around here. He's thick with the drug-store people,--has an interest in it, I have heard. I haven't seen your sign over there. Why don't you hang it out?"

Sommers did not like to say that it was in bad professional form. After he had left the friendly clerk, however, he walked over to the drug store and made some inquiries in a general way. The place was a shameful pretence of a prescription pharmacy. Cigars, toilet articles, and an immense soda-water fountain took up three-fourths of the floor space. A few dusty bottles were ranged on some varnished oak shelves; there was also a little closet at one side, where the blotchy-faced young clerk retired to compound prescriptions. The clerk hailed him affably, calling him by his name. He seemed to know that Sommers used up-town pharmacies and had no practice; and he, too, good-naturedly offered his advice.

"Goin' to settle in the neighborhood? Shall be glad to have your slab to add to the collection." He pointed jocularly to the filigree-work of signs that were pendent above the door.

"Well, I am not settled yet," Sommers replied, as easily as he could.

"Mostly homeopaths hereabouts," the clerk went on, rolling out a handful of cigars for a purchaser to make his selection. "Makes no difference, I say; any one with a diploma is welcome to hang out and try his chances with the rest. But all these"--he waved the hand which held the cigars at the signs--"are fine men. They do a rushin' business."

Sommers left the shop; he was not quite ready to do a "rushin' business" and to advertise for it from the corner drug store. As he retreated the clerk looked at him with a cynical smile. In the clerk's vernacular, he wasn't "in the push," not "the popular choice."

These days Sommers had so little to do that he could meet Alves at the close of the afternoon session. At first he had gone to the Everglade School and waited while the pupils bustled out. He disliked seeing her in the performance of her petty duties, giving commands and reproofs. The principal and the teachers stared at them when they walked away from the school, and he gathered that his appearance there was embarrassing to Alves. So they came to have a rendezvous at the rear of a vacant lot not far from the deserted cottage, which lifted its ill-favored roof above the scrub oaks. Then they would traverse the familiar walks in and out of the deserted streets.

When he told her of his conversation with Webber and the drug clerk's remarks, she counselled unexpectedly:

"Why don't you do it? Miss M'Gann says they all do it in Chicago,--that is, the doctors who aren't swells."

He smiled sadly at the idea that his holding aloof from this advertising custom might be set down to his ambition of being a "swell doctor." The method, however, seemed entirely proper to Alves, who hadn't the professional prejudices, and whose experience with the world had taught her to make the fight in any possible way, in any vulgar way that custom had pointed out.

"Well, if you want me to," he conceded drearily.

"It isn't a great matter," she replied. "I don't _want you to do anything that you don't feel like doing. Only," she sighed, "there's so much opposition to married women's teaching, and we must live somehow."

"I'll do it to-morrow," Sommers replied quickly, stung by the unintentional implication of the speech.

They walked to their favorite haunt on the lake shore, beneath the crumbling walls of the little convent. During these hot September days this spot had become the brightest place in their lives. They had come there to find themselves, to avoid the world. They had talked and planned, had been silent, had loved, and had rested. Today they watched the fiery sun sinking in its bed of shining dust, and did not speak. Alves was unusually weary, and he was sad over the decision he had just made, weakly, it seemed to him. A good deal of the importance of his revolt against commercial medicine disappeared. Lindsay tried oily, obsequious means of attracting attention. He was to hang his sign from a corner store. Some dim idea of the terrible spectre that haunts the days and nights of those without capital or position confronted him. If he had never been rich, he had always the means to give him time to look about, to select from a number of opportunities. If he could manage to wait, even six months, some hospital place might turn up. His old associates at Philadelphia would have him in mind. He did not dare to write them of his necessity; even his friends would be suspicious of his failure to gain a foothold in this hospitable, liberal metropolis.

He rose at last to escape these gloomy thoughts. Alves followed him without a word. He did not offer her his arm, as he was wont to do when they walked out here beyond the paths where people came. She respected his mood, and falling a step behind, followed the winding road that led around the ruined Court of Honor to the esplanade. As they gained the road by a little footpath in the sandy bank, a victoria approached them. The young woman who occupied it glanced hastily at Sommers and half bowed, but he had turned back to give Alves his hand. The carriage drove on past them, then stopped.

"That lady wishes to speak to you," Alves said.

"I think not," Sommers replied quickly, turning in the opposite direction. As they walked away the carriage started, and when Alves looked around it had already passed over the rough wooden bridge that crossed the lagoon.

"Was it some one you knew?" she asked indifferently.

"It was Miss Hitchcock," Sommers replied shortly. He told her something about the Hitchcocks. "She was the first woman I knew in Chicago," he concluded musingly. Alves looked at him with troubled eyes, and then was silent. Territories unknown in her experience were beginning to reveal themselves in the world of this man.

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The Web Of Life - Part 2 - Chapter 3 The Web Of Life - Part 2 - Chapter 3

The Web Of Life - Part 2 - Chapter 3
Part II Chapter III The next day Sommers applied at the drug store for permission to hang his sign beneath the others. The question was referred to Jelly, who seemed to be the silent partner in the business, and in a few days consent was given. The little iron sign with gilt letters shone with startling freshness beneath the larger ones above. But no immediate results were visible. Sommers dropped into the store as nonchalantly as he could almost daily, but there were no calls for him. He met Jelly, who looked him over coldly, while he lopped over the glass
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Part II Chapter I "Next week Monday is the tenth," Alves announced, glancing at the calendar that hung beside the writing-table. "Well?" Sommers answered. He was preparing to make the daily trip to the post-office on the other side of Perota Lake. "The Chicago schools open this year on the tenth," Alves continued slowly. "What difference does that make?" For reply Alves took from the drawer of the table the old leather purse that was their bank. The mute action made Sommers smile, but he opened the purse and counted the bills. Then he shoved them back into the purse, and
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