FICTION

Call for the Old Doctor

A boy’s Imagination, the wildness of youth, a man’s foolish forties, old age — Here was a tragic four-generation jumble that only one man could solve

PAUL ERNEST May 1 1942
FICTION

Call for the Old Doctor

A boy’s Imagination, the wildness of youth, a man’s foolish forties, old age — Here was a tragic four-generation jumble that only one man could solve

PAUL ERNEST May 1 1942

Call for the Old Doctor

PAUL ERNEST

IT IS not good to see a face disintegrate, and when the face belongs to someone you love it is worse; it breaks your heart. Jean McKee had to make a great effort to keep her voice even as she said to her father, Dr. Goodman, “You’re not eating enough to keep a fly alive. Better have some more soup.”

“I’m not hungry,” the old man replied without interest.

Jean tried not to see how his neck had thinned and how his hands had begun to tremble and how his temples had hollowed. She clung to her smile.

“What are you up to in the laboratory these days?”

“Not working on anything right now,” said Goodman.

“I thought you had a new type of adhesive bandage in mind.”

“I’ve put that aside for awhile,” said Goodman. The luncheon was attractive in the glass walled sunroom of the Goodman house, and outdoors the warmth of spring was in the air; but Jean eyed her food with quite as much disinterest as her father, and felt chilled in spite of the warmth.

She’d known the answers before she asked. Not working on anything; not interested in anything; not doing anything—except sit around and catch up to his years. And she and Dave were largely responsible for this.

A year ago at seventy-two, mainly out of consideration for them, Goodman had retired from active duty as a country doctor and turned his practice over to his son-in-law, Dave McKee. He had done this, he said, to have more time to work in the laboratory he’d set up in the barn; and Jean and Dave had hoped he meant it, though each secretly feared that he did not. He had puttered around for about four months and then stalled. For forty-six

years he had cared for the ills of Barville, as reliable as the hills around the town; and he couldn’t, he simply could not, take the interest in the settled business of a laboratory that he had in broken bones set in cow sheds, child deliveries by kerosene lamp and appendectomies performed on kitchen tables.

So now he walked like a man of seventy-three, instead of the hale, straight laborer of a year ago who had seemed ageless; and he lived from day to day with that terrifying lack of interest; and it was like seeing a beautiful machine rust to uselessness when a drop of oil would save it.

If only she and Dave knew where to apply the lubricant, and of what it might consist!

“What are you doing this afternoon?” she asked brightly.

Her brightness was unreflected. “Think I’ll run down to Tom’s and get fitted for specs. The old eyes aren’t as good as they used to be.”

This was a scalpel thrust deep and then twisted, because last year Goodman had used glasses only to read the fine print of newspapers and even this slight surrender he had hidden from the world. Now he spoke openly of wearing them all the time.

Dave McKee came in from his noontime office in the side parlor for a bite of lunch. Dave was taut and lean and fit, with grey eyes clear as a good steel blade in constant use, and the contrast between her husband and her father smote Jean further.

Dave didn’t seem to notice anything, however, as he sat down. He was so preoccupied that Jean handed him a curious stare along with his plate of soup.

“Is anything wrong, Dave?” she asked.

“Eh?” Dave focused his gaze on her and shrugged. “No. Anyway I guess there’s nothing seriously wrong.”

“Nothing seriously wrong with whom?” Jean prodded. Her father was looking apathetically out the side window at the big apple tree.

“I was thinking of the little Barclay boy. His leg seems to be getting worse.”

Old Goodman continued to stare unseeingly at the tree.

“He limped badly when Mrs. Barclay brought him this morning.” Dave sighed. “I wish I’d been a doctor fifty years ago instead of now. There weren’t a lot of complicated ailments to diagnose then—the very existence of such ailments was unknown. All you had to bother with were things you could see and touch. Life must have been simple.”

Jean shot a look at her husband. This was scarcely a politic thing to say in front of an old-line country doctor. Goodman looked at Dave too, with some of the vagueness gone from his eyes.

“Simple?” he said.

DAVE waved an apologetic hand. “I don’t mean that in a belittling way. There were giants in medicine fifty years ago. And yet—wasn’t it rather simple? You knew what you knew and practiced accordingly, and if you failed no one blamed you because no one knew better. Now a universe of new knowledge has been compiled, and if a doctor doesn’t master it he is incompetent and a failure. With new knowledge have come new ills, which were ignored in the simple old days because they were beyond diagnosis.”

Old Doc Goodman’s heavy grey eyebrows drew down.

“Sounds to me as if you were hunting alibis,” he said drily. “Has something got you licked?”

“I wouldn’t exactly call it licked,” said Dave. “You aren’t licked when a thing is untraceable as well as incurable.”

“Such as?”

“The trouble with the Barclay boy’s leg.”

“I’ll have some more soup,” Goodman said to Jean. “What about the boy’s leg?”

“He limps,” said Dave. “He’s lame and he’s getting worse.”

“Well, what’s causing it?”

“Nothing.”

Goodman stared.

“I mean just that,” said Dave. “Nothing’s wrong with the leg. I thought there might be a splinter deep in his foot. X-rays show nothing. There are no external bruises. There’s no sign of bone injury. Nerve reaction is normal and there seems to be no pain. Yet he drags the leg and already the muscles are softening from lack of use.” Goodman stared some more, whether apathetically or thoughtfully you could not tell.

“It’s beyond me,” said Dave, and Jean’s mouth opened, for never before had she heard him come this close to surrender. “No doctor could cure this. Oh, well, he’s only six. I suppose he’ll grow out of it in time.”

He finished his lunch and went moodily out, leaving Goodman to stare out the window at a big apple tree that was almost as old as he was, a tree that should have been dead by now save that it still struggled to perform its function and supply fruit to an ungrateful world. Later the old doctor

got up and departed—to go to the oculist for those glasses, Jean supposed.

But he didn’t visit the oculist. He started off in the opposite direction after lighting one of the coal-black, ropelike cigars that Dave had told him months ago he must give up. The sun was warm wine and the grass seemed to push upward as you watched, but he paid little attention to kindly spring.

“So a doctor’s life was a cinch fifty years ago,” he growled aloud. “No complicated ailments to diagnose, didn’t even know of their existence. Huh ! People aren’t made of flesh and blood any more; doctors aren’t competent any more. And the Barclay boy is beyond cure. Huh !”

It was about the time the smaller children got out of school. He turned down Pine Street toward the Barclay house.

He’d noticed vaguely that something was the matter with Ed Barclay’s little boy, but hadn’t paid much attention. The name, Barclay, had brought to his uninterested mind matters having nothing to do with childish troubles; matters which had been town gossip for the last few months.

Barclay, in his early forties, had had a hard time for ten years. The drugstore he’d inherited had fed him well till 1931, when it had fainted into the arms of the bank. Barclay had become a clerk in his own store till finally, with sixteen hours work a day and heroic scrimping by Mary, his wife, he had got it

back again. Now it was coming fine; Ed Barclay was prospering; so what did the fool do but start chasing after shiftless Ames Blackwell’s gipsy - dark daughter, who was almost young enough to be Ed’s daughter too.

Old Doc Goodman trumpeted into an oversized handkerchief with a vigor he hadn’t shown in months. He had seen this so often. A man goes broke and he slaves and saves and his wife slaves and saves and he gets on his feet again; and his wife, naturally, is not well-dressed and her hair, naturally, is not expensively tended; so the idiot wanders away after dollar-fifty stockings over red heels and a ten dollar permanent wave over nothing at all . . .

This was all the name of Barclay had meant to Goodman till an hour ago at lunch. But now he stopped snorting over big Barclay’s defections because little Barclay was in sight down the street, coming home from school, and the old man wanted to observe how he walked.

HE LIMPED, all right. A block away Doc Goodman could see that. He moved with effort, and perhaps it was this effort that dragged at his little shoulders till they drooped as Goodman’s own had drooped lately, and that made his small face seem haggard and disquietingly mature. The old man watched till the youngster was up to him and then he leaned against the Barclay picket fence and said, “Hello. You’re Ed Barclay’s little boy, aren’t you?”

The lad nodded and stood there favoring his left leg. Half of Barville was in awe of the old doctor with the ferocious eyebrows, but no one under twelve with a clear conscience ever was afraid of him.

“How’d you know?” said the boy. “Do you know my dad?”

“Know him?” said Goodman. “I brought him into the world. Your mama too.”

“You mean, when they were babies?” The boy struggled with the fantastic idea that once his father and mother had been little—littler even than he was.

“Yep,” said Goodman. “What’s your name?” “Robert.”

“Let’s make it Bob. What’s wrong with your

A boy’s Imagination, the wildness of youth, a man’s foolish forties, old age — Here was a tragic four-generation jumble that only one man could solve

leg, Bob?”

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And now an odd thing happened. The boy suddenly did seem afraid, and the drawn look on his face deepened as if a shameful thing had been dragged to light.

“Nothing,” he said defiantly.

“Why do you limp if nothing’s the matter?”

“I don’t limp.”

“Let’s see you walk,” challenged Goodman. “Dare you to walk without limping!”

Bob took a dozen steps, jaw set. He made an effort that damped his upper lip and ridged the cords of his childish neck. And he limped.

“See?” he said, with such pleading in his eyes that Goodman turned away a moment to let him compose his face.

“Pretty good,” he said gruffly. “But it could be better. I’m a doctor —or anyway I was. Let’s have a look at the leg—”

Bob backed away. He backed faster when Goodman took a step toward him, then turned and ran as if from an ogre. He scudded unevenly across the lawn and into the house, shutting the door with a bang.

“What in tarnation—!” muttered Goodman.

He was as preoccupied for the rest of the day as Dave had been over the luncheon table; and he was still in a brown fog when Jean came into his room at ten that night when he should have been ready for bed. He wasn’t ready for bed and he glared at the glass she bore.

“Don’t want that,” he snapped with a wave of his veined old hand.

“Now, father.”

“I hate hot milk.”

“You know it makes you sleejl well.”

“Ummph.” He took the glass resentfully. “What’re you grinning at?”

Jean didn’t care to point out that his surliness was a lovely thing, that for weeks he had drunk his milk as meekly as a baby girl, and that if there was one thing above all others in the old warrior that alarmed her it was meekness. This was more like it.

Goodman didn’t hear her say goodnight or see her go out. He was seeing a little boy limp when there was apparently nothing to make him limp, and he was seeing terror and shame creep into childish eyes when the limp was mentioned.

Next morning he went to the Barville schoolyard and waited for Bobby Barclay to come along. He wanted to see if the boy limped at play, when he was too occupied to think consciously of his leg. But he was never to find this out—because the boy didn’t play.

He seemed to drag his foot worse as he approached the school than he had the day before, and the fear in his eyes seemed more obtrusive. As he got to the gate, moving reluctantly, half a dozen tykes his own age stopped their game and went toward him. Bobby moved faster, toward the school door.

“You lemme alone,” he cried, though none had touched him.

The puzzled old doctor saw the children ring around the boy, laugh-

ing, and imitating his limp, and heard one of them chant: “One-leg, one-leg, look at ol’ one-leg.”

“Lemme alone!”

Bob ran. The boy who had begun the chant shouldered him, but was unready for further violence. Bobby got clear, but after the weeping, hobbling boy the words pelted relentlessly. “One-leg, one-leg, look at ol’ one-leg.”

GOODMAN cursed under his breath as he stalked into the yard, but there was no real anger in him. He knew children’s ignorant, habitual cruelties too well to be upset by them. It was only when they grew up unchanged and became dictators that he was enraged. He got his hand on the shoulder of the little ringleader before he could turn from yelling after Bobby and see him.

“You shouldn’t tease him like that,” Goodman admonished. “It’s bad for him.”

The boy quailed and looked longingly after his escaping pals, while Goodman sought words understandable to a seven-year-old.

“You make his leg worse when you tease him about it. Besides, there’s nothing really wrong with it, you know. In a little while it will be well again.”

"No it won’t,” gulped the boy. “He’s gonna lose it. It’s gonna drop off.”

The old doctor blinked. “It’s

what?”

“It’s gonna drop off. He’s gonna lose it. My pa said so.”

“Your pa? What’s your name, son?”

The eyebrows cowed the boy.

“I’m Willie Stevens,” he admitted grudgingly.

“Oh. Your dad works in the hardware store. That right?”

The youngster nodded, and Goodman’s veined fist opened and released him. The boy sped for the school door, and the old man turned his large, dominant nose toward the centre of town.

He was a most perplexed man as he entered the Hardware Store and looked around for Jed Stevens. He wanted to laugh at Willie Stevens’ strange notion of that leg dropping off, yet he sensed that he was in contact with something that was far from being a laughing matter.

“Hi, Doc,” said Jed. He was a square-built man with a square, tired face He’d clerked here since he was fifteen and on a clerk’s wage he kept a wife and two children neat and reasonably happy. For this Goodman respected him; it seemed more admirable than to make three times as much and be unhappy about it as that idiot Barclay was doing.

“What’ll you have?” said Jed. “Can’t be cleavers or saws because you’ve retired from carvin’ people up.”

“That’s right,” said Goodman. “I didn’t come for tools. I came to talk to you about your Willie.”

Jed drew into himself a bit. “Willie doesn’t do anything he shouldn’t. What’s he done now?”

“Nothing serious. I heard him

teasing little Bob Barclay at the schoolyard. About his leg.”

“His leg? What’s the matter with Bob’s leg?”

“I’d like to know,” retorted Goodman. “Your Will said you’d told him Bob was going to lose it—that it was going to drop off.”

“Dropoff! Bobby’s leg? The kid’s gone crazy!” Jed was utterly mystified.

“You didn’t tell him anything like that?”

“Certainly not. You think I’m crazy too?”

“That’s what he told me,” persisted Goodman. “He said you told him Bob was going to lose his leg.” Jed laughed. “Of course I never said any such—” He stopped, and bis jaw dropped open. “Say, I may have the answer at that, I believe. He might have picked that out of something 1 said months ago. He must’ve been listening at the head of the stairs when he should have been in bed. I’ll tan his hide!”

“What did you say?” Goodman demanded impatiently.

“I can’t remember the exact words, but Joanna and 1 were talking about the Barclays. Everybody knows how Ed’s gone on the Blackwell girl who hangs around that juke-box joint up the highway most afternoons. Clean out of his mind. Actually talking of divorce. That’s what we were discussing, and Willie must have been listening in.”

“All right. What did he hear to give him such ideas?”

“As near as I can remember,” said Jed carefully, “I said something about divorce being near as bad as murder when there are kids in the family. I said, take Bobby Barclay for instance—if he lost his dad it would be as bad as losing a leg. That’s what Willie must have heard. Losing your pa is like losing a leg. And he heard us say that Bob ivas losing his pa. I suppose he told the other little imps at school and they’ve been yelling at Bob and waiting for him to lose his leg ever since.”

“I’ll be blasted !” said Goodman.

SUDDENLY he was remembering the old lady on the berry farm, one of his first cases. Her husband had died in the belief that she had poisoned him—and the charge had never been disproved. The dying man had called dowm a curse on everything she should try to swallow. From that hour the old lady had died slowly and inexorably of starvation, with no more physical reason for it than there was for Bobby’s limp.

“Don’t it beat all what kids’ll make of things?” said Jed. But the old doctor didn’t hear. He was sorting things in his mind, and out of the rummaging came a question.

“What’s a juke-box joint?”

“You know. A roadside place where they sell sandwiches and drinks and have a mechanical phonograph that young folks dance to. I guess most of ’em are okay, but the one out our main road ain’t a bit okay. Roadside Rest they call it. Hal Sweitzer runs it.”

Goodman nodded. He’d attended Hal Sweitzer’s birth in an odorous hill shack. In fact, few people walked around Barville whose birth he had not attended.

He went out marvelling for the thousandth time at the intricacy and the fatal susceptibility to suggestion of the human organism, whether it be six years old or sixty.

And he went out remembering what he could of Ames Blackwell’s girl, whose charms appeared to attract Ed Barclay so helplessly.

A few years ago, during her last year in high school, he had pulled Bess Blackwell through pneumonia contracted from wearing sandal shoes and cobweb underthings in winter. She was dark of hair and eyes, a tall girl with conformations never too concealed by clothes. She’d been disturbingly pretty even then, and was prettier now. Doc Goodman could look back through the years and remember many like Bess Blackwell—boys’ girls, boy-magnets who exist briefly like sand flies in every community and then fluff on to heaven knows where.

He got into his elderly, highwheeled car and drove out the highway toward Hal Sweitzer’s Roadside Rest, and as he drove he saw a little boy limping and rage rose in him against Ed Barclay, but it didn’t last. When biology made an ape out of a man he was to be helped, not censured.

It was the Hal Sweitzers who ran biology’s shadier retreats who should not be tolerated. Roadside Rest indeed!

There was frosty fire in the old man’s eyes as he went into Sweitzer’s place, and his shoulders were more erect than they had been in months. Later, when he came out, Hal, a fattish young man with sparse blond bristles on his upper lip, was rubbing his hands anxiously and bowing complete acquiescence.

Goodman went home feeling better than he had in a long time. “Oculist?” he snapped forgetfully, when Jean asked if he had been fitted with glasses yet. “Glasses? What do I want glasses for? I see all right.”

He marched to the laboratory in the carriage house whistling “Old Man River.” It was hideously off key. It was atrocious.

It was the most blessed harmony Jean had heard in years.

Goodman had half expected a telephone call that same afternoon, but it wasn’t till after three next day that his laboratory extension rang and Jean said in a mystified tone: “Someone named Hal called up. He said he didn’t have to talk to you— for me just to tell you, ‘right away’— and then he hung up.”

Goodman went downstairs for his car. “All right, you nosy old fool,” he said as he backed onto the driveway, “let’s see what a mess you can make of other folks’ affairs.”

BARCLAY’S drugstore was on Barville’s main corner. It didn’t go in much for frills. The window display had been the same as long as anyone could remember.

It was twenty-five to four, he noticed, as he walked to the cigar counter. Ed Barclay came from the rear counter. He was a roundheaded little man with a stubborn jaw, the kind of man who must be led away from a thing by being shoved earnestly toward it. Goodman had never seen his hair parted so

carefully over the thin spot in front, and had never seen his socks loose in a campus flop, and certainly had never seen anything like that striped tie before.

“Hello, Doc,” said Ed.

Goodman nodded. “Half a dozen stogies, Ed.”

Barclay passed them over. The store was deserted, which was not usual at this hour. Evidently the town of Barville was registering disapproval of Ed’s gallivanting where it hurt most—in the cash drawer.

“You’re looking better today, Doc,” said Ed.

Goodman glowered. “Better? What do you mean? Better than what?”

“I didn’t mean you weren’t looking all right before,” said Barclay, flustered. “I just meant—you look fine.”

“Ummph !” Doc. Goodman looked around for the boy Ed usually had helping him. “Ellis here?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Like to talk to you,” said Goodman. Barclay’s back went up like a cat’s. Evidently, since taking up with Ames Blackwell’s girl, he had been talked to a great deal by a lot of people, and wasn’t having any more of it.

“About your boy,” explained Goodman. “Suppose you turn the store over to Ellis and we’ll drive around the block. We can talk better if we have a little time and are by ourselves.”

Barclay looked puzzled. “You mean about Bob’s leg? I thought Dr. Dave was treating it.”

“He is,” said Goodman. “Dave’s the town sawbones now, and I don’t mix in. But I have an idea on Bob’s leg that Dave may have been too busy to think about.”

“Why can’t you tell me here?”

“I could. But it’s a complicated affair and there’s no reason to let the whole town in on it. As it would be with Ellis at the keyhole in the back room.”

Barclay winced. Evidently the town was already too much in his affairs to suit him. “Ellie,” he called. The rear door opened very promptly and Ellis came in, a lank youth in a white jacket that was too small for him. “I’ll be back in a little while, Ellis.”

Ed put on a hat with a downsweep to the brim that was in tune with the jaunty necktie, but not with the work-worn face in between, and got into the old doctor’s car. Goodman headed toward the country at a preoccupied thirty an hour and Ed waited, glancing at him from time to time.

“What’s the matter with Bob’s leg?” he asked finally.

As far as we can tell—nothing,” said Goodman.

“But he limps.”

“Sure. But it isn’t his leg, it’s his mind.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” said Ed.

Goodman swerved for a truck to pass him. “Psychology is a long word, but sometimes it sneaks out of the classroom and bites us, Ed. The idea has been painfully ground into Bob’s mind that he is losing the use of his leg. He’s convinced of it. So he’s losing it.”

“But that’s—”

“Grown men have done worse to themselves than Bobby, just because somebody told ’em something,” “Then Bob’ll get over this when whatever’s in his mind is forgotten?” “Maybe. Maybe not. Things go to pieces when they’re not used. Even legs. Disuse at this stage of rapid growth could leave him with a permanent disability.”

THEY went beyond the gas station on the main highway, and the Silver Keys Inn. About a half mile ahead a truck that had passed Goodman turned into the parking lot beside a low slab structure. That was Roadside Rest.

“Well, what you got in mind to do about it, Doc?” asked Ed humbly. “What’s eating the boy?”

“That’s what I wanted to take up with you,” said old Doc Goodman. He passed the Roadside Rest, then slowed. “Hey, don’t they sell drinks in there? Kind of warm, today. Let’s continue this over a couple of tall ones.”

He made a U turn that would have raised the hair of a motorcycle cop and drifted back to the parking lot. Barclay seemed about to protest, but didn’t.

“Ever been here, Ed?” Goodman asked casually.

Barclay moistened his lips. “Not in the afternoon. I ought to get back to the store, Doc.”

But Goodman was moving to get out of the right-hand door so Barclay had to move to give him room. He found himself going with the old doctor to the screen door.

“As near as I can figure,” said Goodman, “the trouble with Bob’s leg started at school with something his playmates have been dinging into his ears for weeks.”

Through the screen door drifted laughter and the mumble of young voices, mingled with dance music.

“They’ve been calling Bobby oneleg and telling him his leg was going to drop off,” Goodman went on easily. “Far as Bob can tell, they can prove it because of something else he thinks he’s losing. So he has taken it as gospel and he won’t be cured till he doesn’t believe it any more.”

The door banged behind them and they were shut in with the sounds. There was a long counter behind which were cases of soft drinks and the raw materials of sandwiches. In the centre of the floor was the juke box, a fearsome thing of chromium plate and red and yellow plastics with lights shining through. There were booths along the other wall, and from the end booth came the commotion of youngsters having an unrestrained and noisy good time.

Hal Sweitzer was at the far end of the counter. He came up to them with a wide smile.

“Well, Doc! Haven’t seen you here for a long time—”

Goodman’s old eyes took on a blue glare. Hal shut up. “What’ll it be?” he asked meekly.

“Two root beers,” said Goodman. “That all right with you, Ed?”

Ed didn’t answer, didn’t seem to hear. He was looking at the end booth as if he wanted very much not to look but couldn’t help himself.

There were three young fellows and girl in the booth, and only the

back of the girl’s head showed. Her hair was dark and lustrous. One of the three boys was a well-dressed slim blond kid who drove a truck on a night run; and possibly he was old enough to vote, but he certainly didn’t look it.

“What’s Gable got that I haven’t got?” he was hooting. “Ask ’em from here to Burlington, and you’ll get the answers.”

The girl giggled, “Don’t you hate yourself!” and the four howled.

She yanked at the boy’s hair, not too hard, and he yelled, “Aw, cut it out now. Help—you guys!”

Goodman glanced at Ed’s tie, a despairing bright banner under his middle-aged face, and then he looked away again, toward the rear booth. The scuffle taking place was probably not as promiscuous as it seemed, but it certainly didn’t present the girl as a thing subject to private ownership; as well try to own exclusively the Barville public square.

“The thing that Bobby has on his mind—” Goodman began, but he didn’t go on; obviously he didn’t exist for Ed. Nothing existed but the colt play and tumult in the rear booth; and Barclay’s lack of color was beyond a normal indoor pallor.

“Here you are,” said Hal, slapping down the two drinks.

Barclay looked at Hal without seeing him, and looked at old Doc Goodman without seeing him, and turned back toward the end booth, moving his neck as though his collar hurt him. He touched his tie as if wondering if it were still in place.

“That’s what you say!” laughed the girl, and the three boys laughed with her, and the truck driver put his hands on her arm and said, “Astaire? What’s Astaire got that I haven’t got? Come on, throw the feet.”

He hauled her, shrilling protests, from the seat, and she tossed the gipsy-dark hair out of her eyes and caught him to her in the middle of a dance step that made them look as if they had ten legs each. And they were young, how they were young, hardly half Ed Barclay’s age. Watching them, Barclay gulped.

Over the boy’s shoulder she suddenly saw Ed beside the tall, straight old man at the counter. She stopped so abruptly that the boy cried, “Hey, why the hydraulics?” and out of dark eyes waiting their cue she looked at Barclay.

“Hello, Eddie!” she said, after a moment, making a move to disentangle herself.

“Hello, Bessie,” Barclay said. He turned to Goodman. “I’ll have to get back. Elbe’s apt to sell carbolic for cough syrup.”

“Why sure, Ed,” said Goodman.

“Won’t you—join us, Eddie?” said the girl.

“I can’t, Bessie. Sorry.”

GOODMAN followed Barclay to the door. Barclay pushed out, and behind him Bess Blackwell stood a moment in uncertainty, and then, since there was nothing else to do, shrugged and went on dancing. The juke box pounded rhythm after Barclay, with young hilarity riding on its waves; and Goodman looked just once at bis face as they walked toward the old car, and then looked

away again, because Ed Barclay was saying good-by to youth, which is never a thing to watch.

“Why did you take me in there?” he said, when they were in the car. You could hear his heavy breathing.

“I thought we could talk in peace, but those hollering kids fixed that.” The old eyes twinkled. “Brats! Not past the spanking age.”

Barclay sighed deeply, and his hands relaxed. “About Bob’s leg,” he said, his voice sounding tired.

Old Doc Goodman told him then, and he saw Ed’s Adam’s apple move up and down and saw his face go whiter yet.

“Poor kid,” said Barclay huskily. “Poor little devil. And he never said a word.”

Goodman lied like a master. “Can’t imagine where the kids picked up the notion that you lost a leg if you lost a parent. Or where they got the idea that Bobby was going to lose his dad in the first place. Some gossip around town, no doubt. I wouldn’t know—I’m too old to get around much.”

Ed looked hard at him. “You’ll do,” he said steadily. “Well, I’ve got to get back to work.”

Goodman paused a moment in front of the store to light a stogie, so he saw Ed reach up to a shelf, and he grinned at what he saw. Ed was lifting down a huge box of candy.

A little boy’s limp would disappear because another person had got back a bit of the sense he was born with, and old Doc Goodman was largely responsible for these things. It wasn’t a bad day’s work, he thought; but then his shoulders straightened and his cigar cocked up at an angle because he was not yet through this day. He had problems of his own, at home. He had a long overdue ultimatum to deliver.

There was to be no more hot milk at night. That was flat.

If he didn’t feel like going to bed at ten he’d go to bed at twelve. Or two. If Jean or Dave dared to suggest a nap at five as if he were a child—

The old doctor’s face softened. Jean and Dave. Those two. So Dave had given it as his opinion that no doctor could cure Bobby Barclay’s leg, and had “supposed” he would “grow out of it in time.” Goodman had a large picture of Dr. Dave McKee, with his Puritan conscience, ever allowing a child to try to “grow out of” anything! But it was a wonderful thing to know that two people loved you enough to conspire to make you live again. And it made you feel pretty ashamed that a conspiracy had been needed; that with all there was to be done in the world you should do nothing but sit in the sun and chart your frailties . .

Nevertheless, there was a firm hand needed here. More from -exuberance than necessity, he trumpeted into his oversized handkerchief; and he marched with a firm step up the porch stairs.

“Jean,” roared old Doc Goodman before he had the door entirely open. “Jean! I’m hungry. And don’t tell me it’s five o’clock and I’ll spoil my dinner. I know what time it is just as well as you do. What you got in the icebox?”

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