Bill Todd -- Innovative Morality: A Short Novel of the Thirties
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 Chapter 5

An Assault

As Dr. Stowe sat down at the coctail table, his friend, Dr. Sam Woodger, asked,

"Lee, where on earth did you find that funny little golf partner I saw you with the other day?"

"He's a neighbor, Sam. His wife and Eloise Eliot decided that he should play golf, and Warren and I were elected. But it wasn't bad. He's nice enough, and he never delays us."

"Eloise is a woman who always has lots of plans for other people. If she ever does get Sink to marry Lucy, she'll next try to get him a job. She might succeed in getting him to work where the rest of us have failed."

"I can't quite imagine that, Sam. What sort of job could she get him or push him into?"

"She might insist that Warren set him up in business. Warren could afford to."

"I suppose, instead of working in a bookstore, Sink could own and run one. That might seem a little more meaningful."

"That's the sort of thing! Not great, perhaps, but it'd put him right on Main Street."

"I'd rather see Sink marry Mary."

"If he marries Mary, he won't get a dime from the Eliots."

"It's funny that Eloise doesn't see that it's Mary, not Lucy, who's marriageable."

"Eloise is sharp as a general thing, but most people aren't sharp about their own children."

"I wonder if I know Sink."

"You probably do, Lee. I think you're the exception to that rule."

"In a way, I'm surprised that Eloise wants Sink for either daughter. She doesn't value intellectual accomplishment much, but she wants what people would consider a brilliant marriage for Lucy. Sink's not young enough, rich enough, or handsome enough for that."

"Most likely, she's fallen in love with Sink herself. She can't have him, but might think that, if he marries Lucy, she could supply what Lucy might not, at least on the level of flirtation."

"My God, Sam, that's pretty extreme!"

"People think that matronly middle-aged women are too old and fat to fall in love. But they do! Eloise may not sleep with her husband any more, but sex drives don't just disappear."

"It's funny that you mention that. Our little golf partner, Mr. Rolfe, seems to have quite a sex drive himself."

"Did he tell you so?"

"Not in so many words, but it was pretty clear from some of the things he did say."

"Well, there you are! There are even instances of rape in old-age homes."

"I bet they hush them up very quickly."

"They may not have to. No one without some medical knowledge would think it possible."

"Did you have patients in nursing homes?"

"Sure. Old people often have lousy sinuses. And, of course, the nurses gossip. That's how I found out."

"Well, I haven't usually thought of old-age homes as dens of iniquity, but I suppose every institution has some problems."

"These are instances of disorder. Such things wouldn't happen if Hitler were in charge here."

"I bet he'd have senile old people executed. I'd be in danger."

Dr. Woodger was good enough to assure his friend that he wasn't in the least senile, and was thus in no danger of elimination, even in the Third Reich. He added,

"Besides, it's not really senility that's the problem. Almost any society can afford to support a few useless mouths. The real problem is people of any age who try to block progress. They're the ones who have to be eliminated."

On that note, Dr. Stowe rose and went out to the club's spacious front lawn. He there encountered three Eliots, Warren, Mary, and little Timmy. The latter was squatting on the grass as he played contentedly with a toy truck. Mary said quietly,

"Timmy's terribly good whenever his grandfather's with him."

Dr. Stowe, knowing that Timmy often wasn't good, nodded appreciatively. Whatever his quirks, Warren Eliot had a dignity, and even sternness, which might impress a child. And, then, there was Warren's other side. Once, when Dr. Stowe and Sink were guests at Sunday dinner, Warren had addressed Timmy,

"Go ahead and eat your peas. They have little or no taste."

The child was smart enough to appreciate that sort of humor, and had laughed and eaten half his peas. Now, however, Warren was leaving to play golf. Dr. Stowe was delighted to be left more or less alone with Mary, but he doubted that Timmy would continue to play harmlessly. As soon as her father left, Mary said,

"I'm supposed to go to the bookstore to replenish the family's reading matter, but I don't have the urge to do it just yet."

Dr. Stowe knew that the senior Eliots spent most of their time reading, and that they belonged to a private lending library run by a nearby bookstore. He remarked,

"It must take quite a few trips to keep them supplied."

"Yes. I always think there'll be nothing that they haven't already read, but there always seems to be. Dad likes what he calls pleasant murder mysteries. They're well-written and don't really have any blood. They're usually English, and the characters are all civilized. One just happens to murder one of the others."

"What does your mother read?"

Dr. Stowe was aware that this was a sensitive question, and Mary looked briefly embarrassed before answering,

"Romances. They're also English, often set in the past. The dashing man and the virtuous woman always find each other. Some of them manage not to be sentimental."

"I wouldn't have thought your mother to be a sentimental woman."

"She isn't, of course. She drives a much better bargain than any of those romantic ladies. I know something of that."

"But, still, you have a fairly good situation, don't you?"

"Certainly. I'm trusted, except where men are concerned. I did something very foolish, which was rather romantic. But Mother wants her romance to be limited to fiction, and it's thought that I might do something equally stupid in the future."

"Might you?"

"One can't really tell about oneself. Are you likely to run away with a chorus girl, Dr. Stowe?"

"In the extremely unlikely event that one wanted to run away with someone as old as I, I might well."

During their discussion of books, they had rather lost track of Timmy. They suddenly heard a woman's scream, and, looking toward the main drive, they saw two women. The younger one was on the ground holding her ankle. Timmy was nowhere to be seen, but Dr. Stowe suspected his complicity. Mary immediately rushed off to find Timmy while Dr. Stowe made for the two ladies.

The older woman, who was still standing, was quite elegantly dressed, probably for lunch in the more formal of the two dining rooms. But she was quite excited, and was waving her arms and shouting in a way that certainly diminished her dignity. The other woman, who appeared to be her daughter, was sitting on the grass cursing. With an odd set smile on her handsome face, it was obvious that she had a vibrant and engaging personality. When Dr. Stowe approached, she said,

"If I catch that little brute, I'll strangle him."

Dr. Stowe acted as if he had no idea what little brute she might have in mind, and asked her where she was hurt. She pointed to her ankle and asked,

"Are you a doctor?"

"A dentist, but we have medical training."

As he knelt to gently examine the ankle, his patient raised no objection, asking,

"Is it broken?"

Dr. Snowe meticulously examined the injured ankle and replied,

"Probably not. There doesn't seem to be any swelling, but we should put ice on it."

Another gentleman who had just come up went into the clubhouse for ice. Dr. Stowe, still holding the silken ankle protectively, asked how it had happened. The mother, no longer flapping her arms, explained,

"A rather cute little boy came up and asked for money. I told him that nice little boys don't ask strangers for money. He said he was a bad little boy. I said I was sure he wasn't. He then kicked Sybil hard in the ankle and ran off. If I weren't in a tight skirt, I'd have caught him and boxed his ears."

Dr. Stowe suspected that Timmy had been attracted by the appearance of affluence. He also wondered if the little boy, as a sensible precaution, chose women with tight skirts for his victims. At that moment, Dr. Sam Woodger came up. Turning the case over to him, Dr. Stowe went in search of Mary and Timmy.

It didn't take long. Timmy had run behind the main building of the clubhouse, and Mary had caught him there. She was trying to find out from him what had happened when Dr. Stowe suggested that they move up into the woods. He there enlightened Mary, who attempted to convince Timmy not to do such things. She ended by accusing him of being a bad boy, a charge he didn't seem inclined to dispute. She then said to Dr. Stowe,

"I suppose I'll have to find this woman and make Timmy apologize."

"He might just do the same thing again."

"Yes. I guess I'll have to go and apologize myself. I do hope her ankle isn't broken."

"I don't think it is. More to the point, I think she's just a guest, not a member."

"Are you sure?"

"She's quite striking-looking. I would've remembered her. And no new members have joined recently."

"So, you're suggesting that, if we now steal quietly away, we're not likely to meet her in the future."

"I shouldn't think so. This path here leads through the woods, and there's little chance of pursuit. Timmy can kick any squirrels or other animals we happen to meet."

Bill Todd -- Innovative Morality: A Short Novel of the Thirties
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