Bill Todd -- Innovative Morality: A Short Novel of the Thirties
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 Chapter 14

A Question of Honor

Dr. Stowe, playing alone with Mr. Eliot, knew that something was wrong. Eliot, on the thirteenth hole was only two over par. That could happen only if he were too absorbed in some weighty matter to theorize about his swing. Dr. Stowe had his suspicions.

It was so useful to have been a dentist. Not only were there the horrors, complete with blood and pus, which were revealed when people opened their mouths. There were the other horrors when people opened their mouths to speak about themselves, their spouses, or their attitudes toward the world at large. The dentist should never recoil in such a way as to give the impression that a mouth is too far gone to be treated.

After his initial surprise, concealed as usual, at being introduced to the lady he had seen with Sink a number of times, he watched her closely at dinner. His suspicion was that, whatever was now exercising Mr. Eliot, it had begun at that dinner.

It hadn't been easy to watch. Conversing with Eloise Eliot, he couldn't be caught looking at her husband. He also had to pretend not to notice when she herself snatched uneasy glances in the direction of Lee and her husband. But, of course, he didn't have to see very much to know what was going on.

Having observed Lee from his vantage point in the sports equipment closet, Dr. Stowe knew what she was like with Sink. There was nothing approaching flattery, although she teased him in ways that indicated a certain solid respect. Sink was obviously taken with her, as any sane man would be, but Lee's feelings for him were harder to guess.

At dinner, Lee was much more attentive to Warren than she ever was to Sink. At first, Dr. Stowe had questioned her sincerity. But, toward the end of dinner, he began to wonder. Indeed, it all made sense. Not only was Warren off any scale of attractiveness on which Eloise could be accomodated, he was an attractive man on any scale at all. Younger women were aften attracted to such men. Why not Lee?

By the time they got to the fifteenth hole, Dr. Stowe was expecting some sort of admission, perhaps a confession, or even an outbust of euphoria. When Eliot hit one of his grounders off the tee, and didn't bother to say that it was only what he deserved, Dr. Stowe felt it coming.

Eliot, standing with his driver in his hand, asked casually,

"By the way, Lee, I was wondering what sorts of pills a chap should take if he wanted to do away with himself without leaving anything particularly ugly behind."

Dr. Stowe uttered an obscenity, one he hadn't realized that he had known. When he did manage to splutter out something, he wasn't sure what, Eliot responded easily,

"I've dishonored myself, and I don't see an alternative."

"I think I know what you've done, Warren, and I wouldn't even put it in the same category with dishonor."

"This isn't the only thing. During the war, I was young enough to go, but I took advantage of the fact that men with children could get deferments."

"You and ten million other men! Besides, I bet that was Eloise."

"It may have been. I've let her dictate too much to me."

"And now you've gone out on your own. Congratulations!"

"I didn't know you'd take this view of the matter, Lee."

"You sound as if you're disappointed in me, Warren."

Eliot laughed and replied,

"I may have been taking myself too seriously."

"If you really want pills, you should go to Dr. Sam Woodger."

Eliot swore, and they both laughed.

Dr. Stowe waited until the seventeenth tee. Then, after much thought, he asked,

"Are you aware of Woodger's recent activities?"

"You mean, that awful business about Hitler and the Nazis?"

"None other."

"Hasn't he been on that for some time?"

"Almost since Hitler came to power. But he's now raising money for Nazi and anti-Semitic organizations in America."

"I wonder if that's illegal. I think it is illegal to raise money for the communists, and the Nazis are even worse."

"I don't know if it is illegal. I, of course, refused when he wanted money. You may hear from him."

"Since he was our doctor for so long, I'll be polite. But I'll make it clear that I have an extreme distaste for Hitler. I think I can say it in such a way that he won't argue."

"You probably can. I've had to resort to increasingly blatant expedients to get him off Nazi subjects. I'll soon be feigning toothaches."

"He'll try to cure your toothache. Not being a dentist won't stop him."

"I suppose it's safer, if less dignified, to claim diarrhea and rush for the men's room."

"Yes. He'll want to cure that, too, but he won't intervene directly."

As they prepared to hit from the eighteenth tee, Dr. Stowe realized that he had missed his chance. He had brought up the subject, but then let it drop. Standing with his ball teed up, he thought one last time and then said,

"Look, Warren, there's something that will cause trouble, but I think I have to tell you. When Woodger asked me for money, he claimed that you'd already contributed."

Although a fair-skinned man, Eliot suddenly went reddish- black, probably because of a rush of blood. Before he could say anything, Dr. Stowe continued,

"I didn't believe him, and said so. He backed down a little and said that it was actually Eloise who had contributed."

Dr. Stowe then hit his ball, but barely got it off the tee. He wasn't sure whether his partner, still silent, would hit the ball or throw his driver down the fairway.

In the event, Mr. Eliot, looking shaky, took a couple of practice swings. He then stood to the ball and hit one of his better drives. As they stepped off the tee, he said,

"Thanks for telling me, Lee. I'll work out what I have to do."

Dr. Stowe nodded silently in return. His friend would surely realize that he had no monopoly on dishonorable behavior.

Mr. Eliot left in his car as soon as they had finished. Dr. Stowe, as usual, crossed to the clubhouse and mounted the stairs to the lounge. He there found Dr. Sam Woodger. Just as he was expecting to fend off some more Nazism, the other said,

"I saw you just now with Warren Eliot. I bet he didn't tell you where he was going."

"No, he's probably going home."

"More liikely, he's rushing off to his Jewish mistress."

"God, Sam, why do you think that?"

"He's been seen with her all over the place. They seem to think that, if they go to Newton or Wellesley, no one will recognize them."

"Men like Warren just don't do that."

"It's sex, that's all. Haven't you heard that it makes the world go round?"

"Other things help the world go round."

"Yes, but I remember telling you that Eloise Eliot was fixated on Sink."

"I do remember that, but I'm not entirely convinced."

"Well, we know the Eliots aren't fixated on each other. So they look elsewhere, Eloise to Sink and Warren to his Jewess."

"I am sure that Sink isn't having an affair with Eloise!"

"That's because he wouldn't dream of it. But that doesn't stop her wishing."

"I bet she's fixated on you, Sam. Why else would she contribute to one of your organizations?"

Woodger immediately puffed up, but, before he could respond, Dr. Stowe added,

"This business about Hitler and the Nazis is your eccentricity. He's an entirely European product, and this idea of one man expressing the whole nation is totally alien to the average American. If Hitler were American, you wouldn't like him yourself."

For the first time in their long friendship, Woodger sat silently, literally scratching his head. Dr. Stowe took advantage of the pause to point out,

"If you get contributions, it's because of the force of your own personality. With Eloise, there's also a sexual element."

"I would never touch Eloise!"

"Certainly not. However, as you pointed out with regard to Sink, we don't know what goes on in her fantasies."

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