Mr. Witherspoon's Heart Trouble

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Mr. Witherspoon's Heart Trouble  (1909) 
by Arthur Stanwood Pier
Extracted from Collier's magazine, 30 October 1909, pp. 17-19. Accompanying illustrations by Gayle Hoskins omitted.

Mr. Ezra Witherspoon, the gruff old banker and leading citizen of the town, always ridiculed physicians—especially his close chum, Dr. Deever. But he undertakes to be sick, for the succor of young Dr. Blakeley. Stanwood Pier describes the impossible symptoms which attempt to derange his health, and which lead the young doctor's wife to hope that they will result in a "nice long illness." … (From the description in the "Contents" page.)


Mr. Witherspoon's Heart Trouble

By ARTHUR STANWOOD PIER

MR. EZRA WITHERSPOON was a man of importance in Valdevia. In fact, that prosperous California community, which devoted itself to the cultivation of oranges and tourists, acknowledged Mr. Witherspoon as its most eminent citizen. He was president of the largest bank and of the Chamber of Commerce, he owned the most modern business block, he had twice been mayor, and his Valencia dates always brought the top prices in the New York market. A round and beaming face and a round and comfortable body gave him an engaging appearance: he had passed threescore and ten, but his cheerfulness of soul had kept him young.

Besides being the leading citizen, he was eccentric; he declared always a lively antipathy to doctors, and yet had as his most intimate friend Dr. Jacob Deever, with whom he engaged once a week in a game of chess. These occasions afforded him opportunity to rail at the medical profession. The doctor would retort that Ezra was a tough old nut, but that he would go to pieces some day, and that he was just the kind to fly to patent-medicines for relief.

"You needed a wife to keep you from getting so cranky, Ezra," Dr. Deever once remarked reflectively. "But the most cranky thing about you was that you'd never get a wife."

Whenever in the course of his practise the physician came upon a case which required the skill of a specialist and the expense involved was greater than the patient's resources, he would appeal to Mr. Witherspoon. With much grumbling Mr. Witherspoon would write a check payable to the doctor. Then the doctor would go to the patient and say something like this: "Through the kindness of a friend, I have a fund on which I am at liberty to draw in just such cases as yours, and so we'll have you sent to San Francisco where Dr. So-and-So will operate on you." Thus Mr. Witherspoon enjoyed playing in secret the part of Providence.

He was in the bank one day looking out of the window and reluctantly deciding in his capacity of tree warden that the fine old pepper tree in front of the Witherspoon Block must come down. It was dying in spite of the surgery that had been exercised upon it. Through its thin branches Mr. Witherspoon could read the sign on one of the second-story windows—Richard Blakeley. M.D.

"He's been here a year and hasn't yet begun to make his way?" Mr. Witherspoon had asked.

"Only with me," Dr. Deever had replied. "I've tried to give him a lift when I could. He's had a fine medical education—Johns Hopkins—and knows much more about some things than I do—so I help myself when I give him a lift."

This was the conversation which the sight of Blakeley's sign recalled to Mr. Witherspoon's mind: he stood meditating for a few moments and then he proceeded to act on a prankish and benevolent impulse.

He had just climbed the first flight of stairs in the Witherspoon Block when Lew Kramer emerged from Dr. Blakeley's office. Lew Kramer was a tall, stoop-shouldered man with crafty eyes and an assuming, jocular air unpleasing to Mr. Witherspoon.

"Ha, out collecting your rents, Mr. Witherspoon, I suppose?" Kramer said with sly facetiousness.

To have a sordid purpose attributed to him when his mind was filled with benevolent and innocent glee irritated Mr. Witherspoon. He replied coldly:

"No, Mr. Kramer. I never have to dun my tenants."

"Well," said Kramer, "I wish I never did. I have to jolt 'em now and then."

MR. WITHERSPOON entered Dr. Blakeley's office. It was unoccupied: on a slate hanging by the door was written: "Back at eleven." It was five minutes of eleven. Mr. Witherspoon stepped over to the table to pick up a magazine and saw, spread on top, a bill from L. Kramer, provision merchant, to Dr. R. Blakeley for twenty-five dollars and fifteen cents, and below, written in red ink: "Pay this at once."

Mr. Witherspoon retired to a chair with a magazine and an opinion of Kramer.

He remembered now that Blakeley was in arrears on the rent. "He must be hard up, poor devil," thought Mr. Witherspoon. "Good heavens, when he comes in and sees that bill and then sees me, he'll think I've come to dun him, too. I won't be here when he sees that bill, I wouldn't want him to think I'd seen it—"

He was replacing the magazine on the table when Blakeley entered.

"Oh, Dr. Blakeley," said Mr. Witherspoon. "I called to see you about a couple of little matters."

The young man, whose first expression had been cheerful and welcoming, drooped visibly. He was a dark, slender young man, and he looked now at his caller with anxious eyes. Mr. Witherspoon knew that to Blakeley had occurred the same suspicion which had passed through Kramer's mind.

"Come into my office, won't you?" said Blakeley. He put his hat on the table, and as he did so caught sight of Kramer's bill. Mr. Witherspoon saw his sudden flush, saw him catch up the paper and thrust it into his pocket.

The inner office was fitted up with glass cabinets filled with shining instruments: there was a glass operating table, there was also an X-ray machine. Mr. Witherspoon gave expression to his interest in a manner which Blakeley interpreted as disparaging.

"Got all the up-to-date trumperies and trappings, haven't you? My old friend, Jacob Deever, manages to get along without the half of these contraptions."

"I've tried to equip myself as well as I could," the young man replied stiffly.

"Oh, I'm not criticizing. I'm admiring. I expect you have to use all these things in your business?"

"Most of them I've never had any opportunity to use," said Blakeley with some bitterness.

"Folks aren't so obliging as they might be, eh? Not cordial about having you open 'em up?" .

THIS mild humor half disarmed Blakeley of suspicion. The young man smiled and exclaimed with friendly though discouraged frankness:

"Oh, I suppose I'm a fool. I go into debt to buy instruments that I may never have a chance to use—it's a sort of passion; I'm just like a collector, I guess."

"Could you use all these things if you had to?"

"I wouldn't be afraid to try."

"Hm!" said Mr. Witherspoon. "That's a funny little thing. What's it for?"

"That's a little tube for transfusing blood. Blood coagulates if it touches anything but the lining of the blood vessel; to transfuse it successfully it has to be conveyed from one blood vessel to another without any medium. The thing is to pass one vessel through the tube and then lap it back, like a cuff, over the end of the tube—then apply it to the other vessel. I assisted at a couple of such operations in Baltimore; I've thought I might some time be able to do the operation myself."

"I see," said Mr. Witherspoon. He sat down and changed the subject abruptly. "There are two matters I want to talk to you about. Dr. Blakeley. One is that big pepper tree out in front of your window. It's got to come down."

Blakeley seemed not to grasp the solemn significance of this. "Has it?" he said. "Too bad—fine old tree."

"Yes, it is a fine old tree," agreed Mr. Witherspoon. "And I realize perfectly that the desirability of these rooms will be decreased by its removal."

"Oh, not seriously, I guess."

"Considerably. That tree shades you from the summer sun and secludes you from the noise and traffic of the street. I estimate that it is worth five dollars a month to these rooms. When it is taken down your rent will be reduced by five dollars a month."

Blakeley stared; certainly there was no guile in the old man's calm eyes. "Why, thank you, Mr. Witherspoon. I never should have dreamed of asking for any rebate because of the tree. Rut I won't refuse to accept such a generous reduction."

"That is the first matter about which I wanted to speak to you. There is, I regret to say, another."

So it was coming now. Blakeley sighed inwardly, thinking of the hundred dollars that he owed on the rent, and the fifty dollars that he had in the bank, and the Kramer bill that was in his pocket.

"I am seventy-three years of age," said Mr. Witherspoon impressively, "and I have never been under a doctor's care for a day. I find, however, that the time has come when I must consult a physician. You seem to be one who is competent: you inspire me with confidence. I wish to have you treat my case."

"Where is the trouble?" asked Blakeley, preserving professional calm under this unexpected shock of good fortune.

"I am sometimes dizzy when I rise from my chair," said Mr. Witherspoon. "Sometimes I have a pain here." He placed his hand on his stomach. "I seem to be more short of breath than I ought to be. I lie awake at night a good deal. Frequent pains in the head and back. Sometimes a difficulty in taking a long breath. Occasionally an agitation of the heart."

He paused. Blakeley looked perplexed.

"What was the immediate cause which made you feel that you must consult a doctor this morning?"

"Pain," prevaricated Mr. Witherspoon. "A sharp pain here." He laid his hand on his ample abdominal rotundity.

"You still have it?"

"No. It comes in spasms. I'm enjoying a little freedom just now."

"Sharp, is it, or a dull, heavy pain?"

"Sharp at times, and at times dull and heavy. Ah! There it is again." Mr. Witherspoon tapped a spot regretfully.

Blakeley looked thoughtful. "I think," he said, "I'll have to give you a thorough overhauling. That's the only way in which I can ascertain your condition."

Mr. Witherspoon stirred uneasily. "Oh. I guess I don't need that. Just give me some kind of a little tonic, and I'll be all right."

"I can't prescribe for you until I've made a thorough examination," said Blakeley. "Your case seems to present contradictory features. I want to test your heart, your lungs, and your kidneys. Now if you'll kindly take off your coat."

Mr. Witherspoon submitted, viewing with apprehension the stethoscope which the doctor produced.

"If you find there's something serious the matter—something I wouldn't be apt to know about—I'd just as soon you wouldn't tell me," he suggested.

"Oh, you don't look as if you had anything serious the matter with you," Blakeley assured him cheerfully, and indeed the examination proved this to the doctor's satisfaction and greatly to Mr. Witherspoon's reassurance. In the end the patient was provided with a prescription and an injunction to take the tablets every three hours and to drink water frequently between meals.

"And now, Dr. Blakeley," said Mr. Witherspoon, as he rose to depart, "will you kindly tell me what your usual terms are—for a patient who calls on you in your office?"

"Two dollars."

"I want you in my case then to make it five," said Mr. Witherspoon. "I consider that a man should pay for his health in some proportion to his means. I am aware that you doctors do a great deal of charity work. The well-to-do among your patients should be willing to assist you in bearing that burden. If two dollars is your usual rate, I must insist upon being charged at a five-dollar rate. My self-esteem requires it."

"But that is contrary to my idea—" began Blakeley.

"Then in making out the bill write on it: 'By special request,’" interrupted Mr. Witherspoon.

He departed, and some time later in the day. as he was driving on a lonely road, he flung an unopened bottle of tablets off into an orange orchard.

HAVING made out a check for the amount which he owed Kramer. Richard Blakeley wrote on the bill: "Your insolence is insufferable; I herewith close all dealings with you." Then he mounted his bicycle and rode home to the little bungalow on the edge of the town.

His wife was out in her sunbonnet and apron, playing the hose on the dusty road.

"Some news this morning," Richard said, as he leaned his bicycle against the curb. "Feeling strong, Kate?"

"Oh, Dick, what's happened now?"

Richard took the hose from her hands, laid it on the grass, and led her up on the piazza.

"We're down to our last twenty-five," he said. "And we won't buy anything more at Kramer's—ever."

He told her what Kramer had done; she exclaimed: "How horrid!" grew red with anger, and was even more angry when Richard told her what he had written. "It wasn't nearly enough!" she cried. "Oh, I wish you'd turned it over to me. But that's just like you—you're always too soft."

"I was severe and dignified. But that isn't all there was to it, Kate."

"What else?"

"Why, when I came in to my office and found the bill, old man Witherspoon was there, and he couldn't have helped seeing it. You know, I'm a hundred behind with him."

"Oh, isn't it miserable!" Kate wailed, rocking back and forth. "I suppose he evicted you at once and there's going to be a sheriff's sale and—"

"Of course I expected he would jump me for that hundred. Instead he had strayed in, first of all, to tell me he was going to knock five dollars a month off my rent because that gloomy old tree that shuts out all the light has to come down, and, in the second place, he wanted some medicine. I've got him for a patient."

"But he doesn't believe in doctors; Mrs. Wood told me that was one of his eccentricities."

"I guess that maybe he never felt sick before." said Richard complacently. "Anyway he came to me for medicine, and said that as he was rich and his life was valuable he wanted to be charged at the rate of five dollars a visit instead of two dollars."

"Mow wonderful! And he never asked you for the rent at all?"

"No."

"I do wish there were some way of spreading it round town that you've had Mr. Witherspoon for a patient. He has so much influence. People would he sure to follow his lead."

"You mustn't mention it to a soul. If Mr. Witherspoon chooses to talk—"

"But he won't: he'll he ashamed to have it known that he's consulted a doctor."

"It won't do for us to spread the information."

"It would be such splendid advertising. I hope anyway he will have a nice long illness. What's the matter with him, Dick?"

"I don't know. It may be serious, or it may not."

"I hope it will he frightfully serious and that you'll pull him through, and that every one will talk about it. But I suppose it won't turn out that way at all. I suppose he'll just sneak into your office once in a while to get some medicine, and he'll never tell anybody that is what he went in for. People who know his antipathy for doctors will just suspect he's dunning you for the rent, and instead of its being a good advertisement it will he a bad one."

"Mow awful to be such a pessimist!" exclaimed Richard. "And with twenty-five dollars in the bank."

That evening when Richard and Kate were sitting on their piazza, Dr. Deever came by in his automobile. Richard waved to him: the old man stopped his ear and got out.

"Well," he said, as he came up the walk, "I congratulate you, Dr. Blakeley—though I admit I feel a little sore. I've been waiting for just that chance all these years."

"What chance?" asked Richard.

"To get Ezra Witherspoon into my office as a patient. I hear that he's come down and recognized the profession at last."

"How did you hear that?"

"He told me—he's telling it all over town. Says you're the one real doctor in the place—as if he'd given any of the rest of us a trial!" Dr. Deever laughed. "It's all right, so long as he had the sense to pick on you, and not Dolan or Wagner. Extraordinary thing that he should go round advertising the fact that he's been to a physician. I always felt he'd some day come to it, but it would be surreptitiously. No, not at all: he wants everybody to know about it, he wants everybody to go to you and get health."

"That's fine; hope they'll all come," laughed Richard.

When Dr. Deever had departed, Kate flung her arms about her husband. "Oh, Dick, now you are going to be recognized! Oh, isn't it splendid!"

"Queer," said Richard, affecting calmness. "Old man Witherspoon must be a queer old duck. I do feel just a little sorry for Dr. Deever, too."

"Why should you?"

"He's the one man that's been decent to me since I've been here. He's a fine old man. And he and Mr. Witherspoon have always been great friends. I could see he felt hurt at having Witherspoon go to me instead of to him. Sort of intimation that he's superannuated—don't you see?"

"Well, you'd have been superannuated long before your time, if somebody hadn't come to you soon," replied his wife.

THE leaves of the walnut tree rustled in the breeze against the wire screen of Mr. Witherspoon's sleeping porch, and the mocking-birds began their midnight caroling. Mr. Witherspoon stirred and woke. The full moon shone through the branches: in the absence of all human sound there was the peacefulness of night in the garden, and yet the sweet and rising clamor of the mocking-birds. Two were somewhere hidden in the tree just over Mr. Witherspoon's head, one crying in hurried, ardent accents: "Peter, Peter, Peter!" and the other urging with equal haste: "Do it, do it, do it!" The dialogue quickened in its blithe impatience and then trilled into a gay harmonious song. Mr. Witherspoon lay listening to the melody and looking out at the moonlit sprays of leaves in an unregretful wakefulness.

But when the chickens lifted up their voices, he was annoyed. They introduced a note of commerce and utility into the orchestra of night. They caused Mr. Witherspoon to close his eyes and seek oblivion again. It did not come; but he had always accepted sleeplessness like other trials with serenity, and he fell contentedly into a mood of meditation. He considered the tranquillity of his life: there was no possible event which could disturb his declining years. At the close of all he would have good friends to care for him—Jacob Deever and—

At this point he laughed silently. He had forgotten that he had a doctor, and that the doctor wasn't Jake Deever. He reviewed with unction Dr. Deever's efforts to suppress all signs of jealousy and wounded sensitiveness, and his own malicious jabs at his old friend; often he had enforced his enthusiastic laudation of Blakelev on people in Dr. Deever's presence, declaring that he had been fortunate to find a physician who immediately understood his case. Dr. Deever's manner had of late taken on an unaccustomed constraint which intimated pique and increased Mr. Witherspoon's inward enjoyment. He was having the pleasure of innocently baiting an old friend and of improving a worthy young man's chances in life. Why not let the good work proceed? He turned on the electric light and took down the telephone, which stood on the table beside his bed. He called up Dr. Blakeley's house.

"Is this Dr. Blakeley?" he asked. "This is Mr. Witherspoon. Will you please come to my house at once? … Yes. I'm suffering a good deal … All right. Please hurry."

He replaced the telephone, and pressed a bell. Presently a light flashed in the house, and Matsu, Mr. Witherspoon's Japanese boy, appeared.

"I've had to send for the doctor, Matsu," said Mr. Witherspoon. "I want you to be ready to let him in when he comes. Dr. Blakeley, not Dr. Deever."

"You sick?" asked Matsu, with the cheerful smile which he regarded as always appropriate when addressing his master.

"Yes. Very. Bring me my cigars, will you?"

When he had comfortably bolstered himself up in bed with a lighted cigar in his mouth, he dismissed Matsu and took up the volume of "Tom Jones" which was his favorite bedtime reading. Soon he forgot that the mocking-birds were singing, that he was sick, that the doctor was coming; he snorted once or twice in thorough enjoyment, let his cigar go out. paused to light it again—and then be heard the peal of the door-bell.

When Richard Blakeley came out on the screened porch he found Mr. Witherspoon finishing his cigar.

"You must be better," he said.

"I'm resting a little easier," replied Mr. Witherspoon. "It wasn't the pain so much this time as the awful dizziness. I couldn't sleep and by and by my head seemed to revolve, slowly at first and then faster and faster and faster—not my head only, but everything, so that I had to spread myself out in the bed and hang on for dear life; and the faster I went the harder it was for me to breathe and hang on: it was terrible. At last I sat up and turned on the light: that seemed to help a little: but whenever I lay down there would be that frightful vertigo again. So I've just been sitting up smoking and waiting for you."

"I shouldn't wonder if you smoked too much," said Blakeley. "Sounds to me like a tobacco heart. How many cigars do you smoke a day?"

"Ten or twelve."

"Has there been any recurrence of those pains which you were having?"

"Yes, but they haven't been quite so severe. I had some pain to-night—just at the back of my head, along with the dizziness."

Further examination did not elucidate the nature of the attack. Blakeley admitted that he was puzzled.

"Lie down now and see if that dizzy sensation comes on," he suggested.

Mr. Witherspoon complied. Yes, it was just as bad as ever. The doctor would have to give him something: he couldn't stand it, he couldn't sleep.

"It seems as if I needed both a stimulant and a sedative." suggested Mr. Witherspoon. Blakeley mixed some medicine in a tumbler. "Take a teaspoonful of this: I'll wait and see if it produces any effect."

"Is it likely to put me to sleep?"

"It ought to do that."

"Will it make me feel bad when I wake up?"

"There's no reason why it should."

"All right. But there's a matter I want to talk with you about before you put me to sleep. What's your regular charge for a visit at night?"

"Five dollars."

"I want you to make it fifteen with me. I consider I'm worth it. I expect I'm likely to want you a good deal at night."

"Oh, I don't believe so. As far as I can see, you're in first-rate condition."

"I feel differently. I've reached a time when I expect to be breaking up pretty fast. If these turns keep on taking me, I'll be sending for you right along. How did you come—got a horse?"

"No. I rode my bicycle."

"That all you have to get round on! Covering the distances you have to out here, you ought to have an automobile."

"It would be a convenience," admitted Blakeley.

"It's a good four miles from here to town," continued Mr. Witherspoon. "Look here. When I want you at night, I want you quick and I want you bad. You buy yourself an automobile to-morrow. I'll lend you the money."

"You're very generous, but I couldn't do it. Why, Mr. Witherspoon, I don't know-when I could ever repay the loan. I—you know it's quite a struggle to keep even on the rent." Blakeley was red with embarrassment and gratitude.

Mr. Witherspoon looked at him and smiled, then opened a drawer in the table by the bed and took out a check-book.

"Hand me that fountain pen, will you?" he asked.

He wrote with slow, careful fingers.

"There." He tore off the check and passed it over to Blakeley. "I guess you can get a good car for that."

"Look here," said Blakeley. "I can't take this, Mr. Witherspoon. I can't be under such obligations to you. I—"

"You're not being under obligations to me. I'm doing it as a kind of life insurance for myself. I tell you, when I want a doctor on a dark night, I want him quicker than any bicycle can bring him. Now you talk about not being able to pay me back. That's all right: take your own time about it. You're going to build up a practise here. This automobile may accelerate success for you, but it would come anyway. One teaspoonful of this medicine, did you say, doctor?"

"Yes," replied Blakeley, and he was so dazed that he did not observe the really deft manner in which the patient returned the untouched spoonful to the glass. The old man lay back on his pillow and closed his eyes.

"I'm beginning to feel drowsy already," he murmured. "That's pretty powerful stuff, I guess."

"I'll turn out the light," said Blakeley. He did so and sat quiet in the darkness, watching the old face dimly outlined on the white pillow. Mr. Witherspoon opened his eyes.

"I'll be asleep in a moment," he said drowsily. "There's one matter I wanted to speak about. Fifteen dollars for a night visit—remember. By special request. You'll repay that loan all the sooner if you make your charges reasonable—by special request."

He closed his eyes; he breathed evenly, placidly. The minutes passed; he did not stir. "Asleep?" asked the doctor softly. There was no answer; Blakeley stole away.

After he had gone Mr. Witherspoon sat up in bed, turned on the light, and poured the contents of the tumbler out on the tiled floor of the porch. Then he took up "Tom Jones" again: the arrival of the doctor had interrupted him at a most entertaining place.

FOR some days Mr. Lew Kramer had been anxiously watching for an appropriate moment. He thought it had come when as he stood in the doorway of his provision store he saw Mr. Witherspoon approaching along the sidewalk, he stepped out with what he conceived to be a brisk and pleasing friendliness.

"Mr. Witherspoon," he said. "I notice that for some time now we've not had any orders from your house. I hope you've had no occasion to be dissatisfied?"

Mr. Witherspoon fixed his calm eyes on the grocer's face.

"I met you one day after you'd come out of Dr. Blakeley's office," he said. "I was going in myself to consult Dr. Blakeley, who is my physician. I saw the insolent message which you had laid on his table for his patients to read. I made up my mind then that I would have no more dealings with you."

He walked away. At that moment Blakeley in his new car came down the street, and, seeing Mr. Witherspoon, drew up at the curb. Mr. Witherspoon climbed in beside him.

Kramer was surly with his shop-boys and gloomy with his customers all that morning. At noon when he went home for luncheon his wife bothered him. She told him that she didn't think Dr. Deever understood the baby's case, the poor little thing was pining away, she wanted to call in Dr. Blakeley. Mr. Witherspoon had Dr. Blakeley as his physician, so she had been told, though he had known Dr. Deever all his life. Everybody was saying that Dr. Blakeley had wonderful skill and knowledge.

Kramer scoffed at her, called Witherspoon an old fool and Blakeley a whipper-snapper, and declared that Dr. Deever was all right and would pull the baby through. But his heart was less confident than his words, and when he looked at the baby, their only child, he felt with a chill and silencing conviction that its life was doomed; its white and waxen face was death-like. Images that the thought of death evoked—the white hearse, the little child in the white coffin, the closed carriage with his wife by his side—invaded the mind of the unimaginative, sordid man and terrified him; at his store that afternoon he was strangely quiet and subdued.

That evening Mr. Witherspoon and Dr. Deever engaged in their weekly game of chess. The doctor played worse than usual and was checkmated three times within an hour.

"I'm too tired to play to-night," he declared irritably.

Mr. Witherspoon surveyed him with a gay and bantering humor.

"I don't know why I'm not tired, too," he said. "Had to send for Dr. Blakeley again last night. Sixth time in two weeks I've had to have him in the middle of the night. I may be breaking up fast physically, but I still seem as brisk as ever mentally. Hey, Jake?"

"Oh, yes. I guess there's nothing much the matter with you anyway, Ezra."

"Well, I'm not worrying. Blakeley seems to understand my case. I have every confidence in him. If he can't cure the disease. I'll know anyway that all's been done that could be. Some satisfaction in that. Have another drink, Jake."

Mr. Witherspoon shoved the bottle of whisky over to his guest. His eyes twinkled with malicious enjoyment as they rested on the doctor's gloomy face, which betrayed an injured sensitiveness.

"I was thinking of asking a favor of you," Dr. Deever said at last slowly. "The kind you've often listened to before. But I guess maybe it's of no use now. I guess you've lost confidence in me, Ezra."

"Oh, I don't know why you should think that. I've never yet let you practise on me, so I've had no occasion to lose confidence in you, Jake. What's the trouble?"

Dr. Deever preserved a resentful silence for a moment: then he spoke grudgingly. "It's a case for which there seems to me only one hope. Baby dying of anemia. It's possible transfusion of blood might save it. It's a rare and delicate operation, as you may know: in fact, there's only one man in this part of the country who has performed it, and that's Carter over at Sonia."

"People poor?" asked Mr. Witherspoon.

"Not poor exactly, but they can't quite meet Carter's price. It's Kramer, the provision man."

"Oh," said Mr. Witherspoon. "I don't care much about him."

"The baby's an only child. Mrs. Kramer's a good woman, and I don't like to see a human life go out if there's a way of saving it. Here I think there's just that one way."

"Go ahead. Telegraph for Carter."

The resentment on the doctor's face cleared: gratitude shone there.

"Thank you. Ezra. I'd rather telephone. If you'll allow me, I'll do it now."

The effort was unsuccessful. Dr. Carter was reported to be attending a convention in the North; he would be away for a week.

"Can't you wait a week?" asked Mr. Witherspoon.

"The child will be dead in three days."

"Why don't yon call in Dr. Blakeley?"

The question stung Dr. Deever to the quick. He made no effort to conceal his bitterness: he pulled at his gray beard with trembling fingers.

"Dr. Blakeley is no doubt a wonderful young man." His voice shook angrily. "I believe I am entitled to the credit of having first brought him to your notice. But even Dr. Blakeley can not perform miracles of surgery by instinct."

"I don't know much about miracles of surgery," said Mr. Witherspoon calmly. "But he has the instruments for transfusing blood. I saw the tiny little things in his office once and asked him what they were for. He told me all about it. He said he assisted at operations of that kind back in the East, and he thought he could do them himself if necessary."

Dr. Deever stopped stroking his beard; be clutched it in his fist and sat with his head bowed in thought. Then, without a word, he rose and went again to the telephone.

"Is that Dr. Blakeley?" Mr. Witherspoon heard him say. "This is Dr. Deever. I must see you at once on an important matter. I will be at your office in half an hour."

BLAKELEY'S hands trembled a little as he arranged the instruments. It was the first serious operation that he had been called on to do since he had come to Valdevia, and he could not help wishing that for his first something less delicate and difficult had ocered. He knew that the old doctor had little confidence in his ability to do what was required, and had turned to him only as a last resort: Dr. Deever had intimated that quite plainly. Dr. Deever came in from the next room.

"Miss Felton will be ready for us; we will pick her up at the hospital." he said.

"Who will give the blood, the father or the mother?" asked Blakeley.

"The father."

"It's not very good blood, I'm afraid." Blakeley closed his medicine case.

"There's no time to take a culture of it. Kramer looks healthy enough."

Blakeley smiled. "Oh, yes, I suppose he is. We must chance that any way."

In front of the building two automobiles were standing.

"We'd better take my car," said Dr. Deever. "I'll drive, so as to give your hands a rest."

"I'd rather be doing something with them." replied Blakeley. "So we'll take my machine, if you don't mind."

As they sped down the street, Blakeley's first exultant triumph, with which he had heard Dr. Deever's message, vanished; in its place came a serious and solemn consciousness of responsibility. And that was followed by an intent effort of memory; his mind was busy recreating the scene of those operations at which he had assisted more than a year before, recalling the details of the procedure, reviewing the movements of the surgeon's fingers as they had passed the blood vessel through the tube and turned it back, cufflike, over the end—and then he remembered that he had had a part to play on those occasions and had needed some preliminary instruction. So he explained to Dr. Deever what he wanted him to do: the old man listened attentively. They stopped at the hospital and got the nurse: in a few moments more they were at Kramer's house. The door was opened for them before the sound of the motor had ceased. Kramer stood in the hall. His face was pale and haggard, his eyes were frightened, his manner was cringing. While Dr. Deever was taking off his overcoat, he muttered in Blakeley's ear: "Say, doctor, I guess I owe you an apology. I thought of coming round and telling you. I—well."

Blakeley said nothing and kept an impassive face. Kramer lapsed into foolish jocularity.

"Well, you get a chance to get back at me to-night, don't you? I don't know how much you're going to do to me, but I've made up my mind to stand it. I expect to be hurt, but I'll be game."

His cowardly agitation was so apparent that it intensified Blakeley's scorn. He turned his back on the man and followed Dr. Deever upstairs.

In the room where the operation was to take place, Blakeley cast off his human prejudices and became the surgeon with an impersonal view of the human objects before him. Through his mind passed a swift résumé of that former operation in which he had taken part; he was unaware of the abject, quivering Kramer, the piteous mother, the attentive old doctor. The preparations were made, the work began.

THE next evening the Valdevia "Chronicle" bore on its first page the account of "an interesting and successful operation performed on the infant son of Mr. and Mrs Lew Kramer, corner of Vine and Lemon, by Dr. Richard Blakeley, assisted by Dr. Deever. A few drops of blood were transfused from the veins of the father into those of the child, with almost instantaneous and marvelous effect; the baby, whose life had been despaired of, is now pronounced out of danger. This is the first operation of the kind that has ever been performed in the county, and because of its exceedingly rare and delicate nature the talented young surgeon is receiving today the highest encomiums from his friends and professional confrères."

"Isn't it a splendid advertisement for you, Richard!" cried his wife, and without waiting to hear his muttered curse, she exclaimed: "But, oh, Richard, I don't care so much about that, but I am glad you saved the little baby's life."

He looked at her and smiled; he put his arm round her, drew her to him, and kissed her.

"What lots and lots of roses!" he said after a moment, surveying the display; everywhere jars and vases were filled. "You must have stripped the garden."

"Mrs. Kramer brought them to me. She said she felt as if she wanted to pour everything she had at my feet. And, oh, Richard, didn't that make me feel proud!"

"Huh!" said Richard. "I expect to get a bill from Kramer for taking an ounce of his blood. I'll probably find it on my office table to-morrow."

DR. RICHARD BLAKELEY'S practise was established. In his motor-car he was kept speeding from one patient to another. His fame extended to the neighboring towns; he was summoned to Petersville and Lamia and Del Oro to perform operations. He had paid off almost his entire indebtedness to Mr. Witherspoon—who, for some time now, had required no medical attention. Indeed, Mr. Witherspoon had declared that despite every expectation of his own he was a well man once more, as healthy as he had ever been—wholly owing to Dr. Blakeley's shrewd diagnosis and intelligent treatment.

As Richard's star ascended, Dr. Deever's declined. The old man was getting old, people said. He was aware of their reluctant distrust, he was hurt by it. he was hurt almost as much as he was touched by the young man's efforts to restore to him those patients who were trying to desert. That wounded his pride. He could afford to retire from active practise; but he loved his work and the sense of responsibility it gave him: he felt good for a long time yet and he had nothing else to interest him. His wife was dead, his children were grown up and scattered, he had only his profession.

To Ezra Witherspoon he would naturally have communicated the thoughts which were distressing him, but Ezra's conduct had been slighting and unsympathetic. He did not notice that of late his old friend had ceased to throw out remarks such as had wounded him in the past, or that while they sat over their chess Mr. Witherspoon's eyes were often watching him with a disturbed, uneasy expression. Mr. Witherspoon nearly always won at chess now.

One evening Dr. Deever pushed the board aside with a discouraged gesture.

"I'm getting old, I guess, Ezra. I don't seem to take as much interest in the game."

"Oh, you've been working too hard, that's all," said Mr. Witherspoon cheerfully.

"Working too hard! I don't have any work now. I've outlived my usefulness, I guess. People seem to think I have anyway."

"Pshaw!" said Mr. Witherspoon helplessly. "Pshaw!"

It was no doubt an act of Providence which laid Mr. Witherspoon low the following week. He could not remember having committed any offense against the prudent order of his life, yet he woke up one night with a chill and with sincere and wretched pains: he at once summoned Dr. Deever by telephone and then miserably waited, groaning instead of reading "Tom Jones."

Dr. Deever arrived and proceeded in silence to make his patient more comfortable. When he had done this, he asked, not without bitterness:

"How did you happen to send for me, Ezra? Couldn't you get Blakeley?"

"Damn Blakeley!" cried Mr. Witherspoon from beneath the heap of blankets under which he was now sweltering. "I sent for him when I had nothing the matter with me—I invented pains and diseases for myself, just to help the young man along: and anybody but an old fool like you and a young one like him would have known it. When I'm really sick—you're the only doctor I want, Jake."

Dr. Deever did not answer; he felt under the bed-clothes, found and pressed a feverish hand.

"And so long as I live, Jake," continued Mr. Witherspoon, answering the pressure, "I don't want any more talk from you about your having outlived your usefulness. For I'm depending on you to see me through."

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1926.


The author died in 1966, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 50 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.