An American Tragedy Chapter 36

Nevertheless hours and even days, and finally a week and then ten days, passed without any word from him as to the whereabouts of a doctor to whom she could go. For although having said so much to her he still did not know to whom to apply. And each hour and day as great a menace to him as to her. And her looks as well as her inquiries registering how intense and vital and even clamorous at moments was her own distress. Also he was harried almost to the point of nervous collapse by his own inability to think of any speedy and sure way by which she might be aided. Where did a physician live to whom he might send her with some assurance of relief for her, and how was he to find out about him?

After a time, however, in running over all the names of those he knew, he finally struck upon a forlorn hope in the guise of Orrin Short, the young man conducting the one small “gents’ furnishing store” in Lycurgus which catered more or less exclusively to the rich youths of the city—a youth of about his own years and proclivities, as Clyde had guessed, who ever since he had been here had been useful to him in the matter of tips as to dress and style in general. Indeed, as Clyde had for some time noted, Short was a brisk, inquiring and tactful person, who, in addition to being quite attractive personally to girls, was also always most courteous to his patrons, particularly to those whom he considered above him in the social scale, and among these was Clyde. For having discovered that Clyde was related to the Griffiths, this same Short had sought, as a means for his own general advancement in other directions, to scrape as much of a genial and intimate relationship with him as possible, only, as Clyde saw it, and in view of the general attitude of his very high relatives, it had not, up to this time at least, been possible for him to consider any such intimacy seriously. And yet, finding Short so very affable and helpful in general, he was not above reaching at least an easy and genial surface relationship with him, which Short appeared to accept in good part. Indeed, as at first, his manner remained seeking and not a little sycophantic at times. And so it was that among all those with whom he could be said to be in either intimate or casual contact, Short was about the only one who offered even a chance for an inquiry which might prove productive of some helpful information.

In consequence, in passing Short’s place each evening and morning, once he thought of him in this light, he made it a point to nod and smile in a most friendly manner, until at least three days had gone by. And then, feeling that he had paved the way as much as his present predicament would permit, he stopped in, not at all sure that on this first occasion he would be able to broach the dangerous subject. The tale he had fixed upon to tell Short was that he had been approached by a young working-man in the factory, newly-married, who, threatened with an heir and not being able to afford one as yet, had appealed to him for information as to where he might now find a doctor to help him. The only interesting additions which Clyde proposed to make to this were that the young man, being very poor and timid and not so very intelligent, was not able to speak or do much for himself. Also that he, Clyde, being better informed, although so new locally as not to be able to direct him to any physician (an after-thought intended to put the idea into Short’s mind that he himself was never helpless and so not likely ever to want such advice himself), had already advised the young man of a temporary remedy. But unfortunately, so his story was to run, this had already failed to work. Hence something more certain—a physician, no less—was necessary. And Short, having been here longer, and, as he had heard him explain, hailing previously from Gloversville, it was quite certain, as Clyde now argued with himself, that he would know of at least one—or should. But in order to divert suspicion from himself he was going to add that of course he probably could get news of some one in his own set, only, the situation being so unusual (any reference to any such thing in his own world being likely to set his own group talking), he preferred to ask some one like Short, who as a favor would keep it quiet.

As it chanced on this occasion, Short himself, owing to his having done a very fair day’s business, was in an exceedingly jovial frame of mind. And Clyde having entered, to buy a pair of socks, perhaps, he began: “Well, it’s good to see you again, Mr. Griffiths. How are you? I was just thinking it’s about time you stopped in and let me show you some of the things I got in since you were here before. How are things with the Griffiths Company anyhow?”

Short’s manner, always brisk, was on this occasion doubly reassuring, since he liked Clyde, only now the latter was so intensely keyed up by the daring of his own project that he could scarcely bring himself to carry the thing off with the air he would have liked to have employed.

Nevertheless, being in the store and so, seemingly, committed to the project, he now began: “Oh, pretty fair. Can’t kick a bit. I always have all I can do, you know.” At the same time he began nervously fingering some ties hung upon movable nickeled rods. But before he had wasted a moment on these, Mr. Short, turning and spreading some boxes of very special ties from a shelf behind him on the glass case, remarked: “Never mind looking at those, Mr. Griffiths. Look at these. These are what I want to show you and they won’t cost you any more. Just got ’em in from New York this morning.” He picked up several bundles of six each, the very latest, as he explained. “See anything else like this anywhere around here yet? I’ll say you haven’t.” He eyed Clyde smilingly, the while he wished sincerely that such a young man, so well connected, yet not rich like the others, would be friends with him. It would place him here.

Clyde, fingering the offerings and guessing that what Short was saying was true, was now so troubled and confused in his own mind that he could scarcely think and speak as planned. “Very nice, sure,” he said, turning them over, feeling that at another time he would have been pleased to possess at least two. “I think maybe I’ll take this one, anyhow, and this one, too.” He drew out two and held them up, while he was thinking how to broach the so much more important matter that had brought him here. For why should he be troubling to buy ties, dilly-dallying in this way, when all he wanted to ask Short about was this other matter? Yet how hard it was now—how very hard. And yet he really must, although perhaps not so abruptly. He would look around a little more at first in order to allay suspicion—ask about some socks. Only why should he be doing that, since he did not need anything, Sondra only recently having presented him with a dozen handkerchiefs, some collars, ties and socks. Nevertheless every time he decided to speak he felt a sort of sinking sensation at the pit of his stomach, a fear that he could not or would not carry the thing off with the necessary ease and conviction. It was all so questionable and treacherous—so likely to lead to exposure and disgrace in some way. He would probably not be able to bring himself to speak to Short to-night. And yet, as he argued with himself, how could the occasion ever be more satisfactory?

Short, in the meantime having gone to the rear of the store and now returning, with a most engaging and even sycophantic smile on his face, began with: “Saw you last Tuesday evening about nine o’clock going into the Finchleys’ place, didn’t I? Beautiful house and grounds they have there.”

Clyde saw that Short really was impressed by his social station here. There was a wealth of admiration mingled with a touch of servility. And at once, because of this, he took heart, since he realized that with such an attitude dominating the other, whatever he might say would be colored in part at least by his admirer’s awe and respect. And after examining the socks and deciding that one pair at least would soften the difficulty of his demand, he added: “Oh, by the way, before I forget it. There’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you about. Maybe you can tell me what I want to know. One of the boys at the factory—a young fellow who hasn’t been married very long—about four months now, I guess—is in a little trouble on account of his wife.” He paused, because of his uncertainty as to whether he could succeed with this now or not, seeing that Short’s expression changed ever so slightly. And yet, having gone so far, he did not know how to recede. So now he laughed nervously and then added: “I don’t know why they always come to me with their troubles, but I guess they think I ought to know all about these things.” (He laughed again.) “Only I’m about as new and green here as anybody and so I’m kinda stumped. But you’ve been here longer than I have, I guess, and so I thought I might ask you.”

His manner as he said this was as nonchalant as he could make it, the while he decided now that this was a mistake—that Short would most certainly think him a fool or queer. Yet Short, taken back by the nature of the query, which he sensed as odd coming from Clyde to him (he had noted Clyde’s sudden restraint and slight nervousness), was still so pleased to think that even in connection with so ticklish a thing as this, he should be made the recipient of his confidence, that he instantly recovered his former poise and affability, and replied: “Why, sure, if it’s anything I can help you with, Mr. Griffiths, I’ll be only too glad to. Go ahead, what is it?”

“Well, it’s this way,” began Clyde, not a little revived by the other’s hearty response, yet lowering his voice in order to give the dreadful subject its proper medium of obscurity, as it were. “His wife’s already two months gone and he can’t afford a kid yet and he doesn’t know how to get rid of it. I told him last month when he first came to me to try a certain medicine that usually works”—this to impress Short with his own personal wisdom and resourcefulness in such situations and hence by implication to clear his own skirts, as it were—“But I guess he didn’t handle it right. Anyhow he’s all worked up about it now and wants to see some doctor who could do something for her, you see. Only I don’t know anybody here myself. Haven’t been here long enough. If it were Kansas City or Chicago now,” he interpolated securely, “I’d know what to do. I know three or four doctors out there.” (To impress Short he attempted a wise smile.) “But down here it’s different. And if I started asking around in my crowd and it ever got back to my relatives, they wouldn’t understand. But I thought if you knew of any one you wouldn’t mind telling me. I wouldn’t really bother myself, only I’m sorry for this fellow.”

He paused, his face, largely because of the helpful and interested expression on Short’s, expressing more confidence than when he had begun. And although Short was still surprised he was more than pleased to be as helpful as he could.

“You say it’s been two months now.”


“And the stuff you suggested didn’t work, eh?”


“She’s tried it again this month, has she?”


“Well, that is bad, sure enough. I guess she’s in bad all right. The trouble with this place is that I haven’t been here so very long either, Mr. Griffiths. I only bought this place about a year and a half ago. Now, if I were over in Gloversville—” He paused for a moment, as though, like Clyde, he too were dubious of the wisdom of entering upon details of this kind, but after a few seconds continued: “You see a thing like that’s not so easy, wherever you are. Doctors are always afraid of getting in trouble. I did hear once of a case over there, though, where a girl went to a doctor—a fellow who lived a couple miles out. But she was of pretty good family too, and the fellow who took her to him was pretty wel-lknown about there. So I don’t know whether this doctor would do anything for a stranger, although he might at that. But I know that sort of thing is going on all the time, so you might try. If you wanta send this fellow to him, tell him not to mention me or let on who sent him, ’cause I’m pretty well-known around there and I wouldn’t want to be mixed up in it in case anything went wrong, you see. You know how it is.”

And Clyde, in turn, replied gratefully: “Oh, sure, he’ll understand all right. I’ll tell him not to mention any names.” And getting the doctor’s name, he extracted a pencil and notebook from his pocket in order to be sure that the important information should not escape him.

Short, sensing his relief, was inclined to wonder whether there was a working-man, or whether it was not Clyde himself who was in this scrape. Why should he be speaking for a young working-man at the factory? Just the same, he was glad to be of service, though at the same time he was thinking what a bit of local news this would be, assuming that any time in the future he should choose to retail it. Also that Clyde, unless he was truly playing about with some girl here who was in trouble, was foolish to be helping anybody else in this way—particularly a working-man. You bet he wouldn’t.

Nevertheless he repeated the name, with the initials, and the exact neighborhood, as near as he could remember, giving the car stop and a description of the house. Clyde, having obtained what he desired, now thanked him, and then went out while the haberdasher looked after him genially and a little suspiciously. These rich young bloods, he thought. That’s a funny request for a fellow like that to make of me. You’d think with all the people he knows and runs with here he’d know some one who would tip him off quicker than I could. Still, maybe, it’s just because of them that he is afraid to ask around here. You don’t know who he might have got in trouble—that young Finchley girl herself, even. You never can tell. I see him around with her occasionally, and she’s gay enough. But, gee, wouldn’t that be the…