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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Web Of Life - Part 2 - Chapter 3
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The Web Of Life - Part 2 - Chapter 3 Post by :kmorrell Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :February 2011 Read :2158

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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 show-case and smoked a bad cigar. Sommers thought he detected a malicious grin on the clerk's face when Jelly questioned him one day about his practice. The successful physician seemed to sum him up in a final speech.

"What people want hereabouts is a practical, smart man. They don't take much stock in schools or training; it's the _man they want."

Leaving the clear impression that the young doctor was not the man for their money, he grasped his black bag and lounged out of the door, puffing at his cigar and spitting as he went. The Keystone, also, did not find Sommers the man they could rely upon. When the overfed daughter of the family at his table was taken ill with a gastric fever, the anxious mamma sent for Jelly. Webber took this occasion to give him advice. Apparently his case was exciting sympathy in the hotel,--at least Miss M'Gann and the clerk had consulted about it.

"You don't get acquainted with the folks," Webber explained. "You go and shut yourself up in your room after every meal, instead of talking to people and being sociable like the rest of us. And you haven't formed any church connection. That helps a man, especially in your profession. You ought to get connected with a good church, and go to the meetings and church sociables. Join the young people's clubs and make yourself agreeable. It don't make any difference how much you know in this world. What people want is a good, open-hearted fellow, who meets 'em easily and keeps in sight."

'In different circles, different customs,' thought Sommers. 'Lindsay frequents dinners, and I must attend church sociables!'

"You and Mrs. Sommers hold yourselves apart," Webber went on with friendly warmth, "as if you were too good for ordinary company. Now I know you don't really think so at all. As soon as you break the ice, you will be all right. There was Lemenueville. He started in here the right way, took to the Presbyterian church, the fashionable one on Parkside Avenue, and made himself agreeable. He's built up a splendid practice, right there in that congregation!"

"Are there any good churches left?" Sommers inquired.

"Well, I shouldn't be bashful about cutting into the Presbyterian. You're as good as Lemenueville."

Decidedly, Sommers thought, this simple society had its own social habits. If he did not take this well-meant advice, he must justify himself by his own method. He made up his mind to go to the next meeting of the medical society. His clothes were a trifle shabby, but as the meeting was in the evening, he could go in his evening dress--drop in casually, as it were, from an evening entertainment. That silly bit of pride, however, angered him with himself. He went in his shabby everyday suit. The experience was the most uncomfortable one he had had. The little groups of young doctors did not open to him. They had almost forgotten him. Even his old colleagues at the hospital scarcely recognized him, and when they did stop to chat after the meeting, they examined him indifferently, as if they were making notes. Lindsay had probably spread his story, with some imaginative details. According to the popular tale Sommers had been "thrown down" by Miss Hitchcock because he had mixed himself up with a married woman. Then he had been discharged by Lindsay for the same reason, and had sunk, had run away with the woman, and had come back to Chicago penniless. The woman was supporting him, some one said. Enough of this pretty tale could be read in the bearing of the men to make Sommers sorry that he had come, and sorrier that he had come in the hope of bettering his condition. He slipped out unobserved and walked the six miles back to the Keystone.

The fight was on; he was placed, as he had wished, without handicap; he closed his jaws and summoned all his will to take the consequences. The pity was that he had brought himself to make any concessions to the obsequiousness of the world. As he passed down Michigan Avenue he overtook a shabby laboring man, who begged of him. Sommers found out that he was a striker, a fireman on the Illinois Central, who had lost his job by being blacklisted after the strike. He had walked the streets since the middle of July.

"You were a fool," Sommers remarked calmly, "to think that you and yours could make any impression on the General Managers' Association. You have had your lesson, and the next time you find yourself hanging on to the world, no matter how, don't kick over the traces. There's a quarter. It's more than I can afford to give, and I think you're a fool."

The man hesitated.

"I don't want none of your money," he growled at last. "If you had to work for a living, you silk stocking--"

"Come, don't call me names. I am a fool, too. I am in the same boat. I'd give a good deal for a job, any job to earn my living. I didn't say it wasn't natural what you did, but it's against the facts, against the facts."

The man stared, took the quarter, and dived into a cross street.

"I have lost twenty cents by walking home," Sommers reported to Alves, "but I have realized--a few facts."

The following day, as Sommers was passing the drug store, the clerk beckoned to him. A messenger had just come, asking for immediate help. A woman was very ill--third house north on Parkside Avenue.

"There's your chance," the clerk grinned. "They're rich and Jelly's people. He won't be back before two. Just show Dr. Sommers the way," he added, to the servant who had brought the message.

Sommers had his doubts about going, for Jelly was an "eclectic" and probably would refuse to consult with him. The matter seemed urgent, however, and he followed the servant. The case, he found on examination, was serious and at a critical stage. It was an affair of mismanaged confinement. Jelly, Sommers could see, was brutally ignorant. The woman, if she survived, would probably be an invalid for life. He did what he could and remained in the house, waiting for Jelly, who would be sure to come. About three the black-whiskered doctor arrived and hurried upstairs, his sallow face scowling. Sommers explained what he had done, and suggested that a certain operation was necessary at once to save matters at all. Jelly interrupted him.

"See here, young feller, this is my case, and you're not wanted, nor your advice. You can send your bill to me."

Sommers knew that he should bow and withdraw. Jelly was within his professional rights, but the man's brutal ignorance maddened him, and he spoke recklessly.

"A first-year interne could tell you the same thing. The woman has been nearly killed, if you want to know the truth. And I don't know that I shall leave you to complete the job."

"What are you going to do about it?" Jelly asked insolently.

Sommers paused. He was clearly in the wrong, professionally. There was not a well-trained doctor in Chicago who would abet him in his act. But it mattered little; his own desperate situation gave him a kind of freedom.


"I shall present the facts to her husband." He found the husband in the room below and stated the case.

"What I am doing," he concluded, "is entirely unprofessional, but it's the thing I should want any man to do for me. You needn't take my word, but call up either Dr. Fitz or Dr. Sloper by telephone, and ask one of them to come out at once. They are the best surgeons in the city. As to Dr. Jelly, I prefer not to say anything, and I don't expect you to take my advice."

The husband was anxious and worried. All doctors seemed to him a game of chance.

"She's always hankered after the Science people; but she kind of took to Jelly, and our friends think an awful sight of him," he remarked doubtfully.

"You are taking tremendous risks," Sommers urged.

"Well, I'll see Jelly."

Sommers waited until the man returned.

"Well, I guess it isn't so bad as you think. We'll wait a day or two, I guess. I am obliged to you for your kindness."

Sommers made no reply and left the house. The only result of this affair was that he found it disagreeable to call at the drug store. Besides, it was useless; no practice had come from his assiduous attendance. Finally, he saw one morning that his modest sign no longer waved from the pendent ladder. He did not take the trouble to inquire why it had been removed.

* * * * *

The winter was wearing on,--the slow, penurious winter of exhaustion after the acute fury of the spring and summer. These were hard times in earnest, not with the excitement of failures and bankruptcies, but with the steady grind of low wages, no employment, and general depression. The papers said things would be better in the fall, when the republican candidates would be elected. But it was a long time to wait for activity. Meanwhile the streets down town were filled with hungry forms, the remnant of the World's Fair mob swelled by the unemployed strikers. The city was poor, too. The school funds were inadequate. The usual increase in salary could not be paid. Instead, the board resolved to reduce the pay of the grade teachers, who had the lowest wages. Alves received but forty dollars a month now, and had been refused a night school for which she had applied.

When Alves timidly suggested that it would be cheaper for them to rent one of the many empty cottages in the vast region south of the parks, he put her off. That would be too much like the experience in the Ninety-first Street cottage, and he fought against the idea. There were a few dollars still left from the sale of his horse, his microscope, and other possessions. A few dollars each week came in from some work he had found in preparing plates for a professor of anatomy in the new university. Some weeks he could almost pay his board without drawing from his capital. They would hang on in this way.

Not that the Keystone Hotel was in itself very attractive. In spite of Webber's advice, he and Alves found it hard to mix with the other "guests." After they had been in the house several months, he fancied that the people avoided them. The harmless trio left their table, and in place of them came a succession of transient boarders. For a time he thought he was oversensitive, inclined to suspect his neighbors of avoiding him. But one evening Alves came into their room, where he was working at the anatomy plates, her face flushed with an unusual distress.

"What reason have they?" Sommers asked, going directly to the heart of the matter.

"None--unless Miss M'Gann has been talking carelessly. And she knows nothing--"

"No, she knows nothing," the doctor replied, looking at Alves intently. "And there is nothing to be known."

"We think not!" she exclaimed. "I am not so sure that an unpleasant story couldn't be made."

"What do you mean?" he asked sharply.

"Why, the--my husband's condition--the death, our going away so quickly afterward. There are elements there of a good-sized boarding-house scandal."

"Yes, there are elements!" Sommers admitted, putting away his work. "We may as well leave as soon as we can. You are right; we had better fight it out alone."

"Yes, _alone_," she responded, with a glad note in her voice.

The next afternoon they looked at the cheap, flimsy cottages they passed in their walk with more interest than ever. The only places they could afford were far removed from the populous districts where patients live. They would have to pay for heat, too, and though they could starve the body, they could not freeze. So the matter was put off for the present, and they drew into themselves more and more, leaving the Keystone people to chatter as they willed.

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Part II Chapter IV The great strike was fast being forgotten, as a cause argued and lost or won as you looked at it. A commission was holding many meetings these months, and going over the debris, taking voluminous testimony. It was said to be prejudiced in favor of the strikers, but the victors cared little. Its findings in the shape of a report would lie on the table in the halls of Congress, neither house being so constituted that it could make any political capital by taking the matter up. The Association of General Managers had lapsed. It had been
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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
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