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Thorne Smith


A Shocking Discovery

WHEN Tim Willows discovered he was going to become a mother he nearly went mad. Sally was forced to lock up all the grog and to take a day off from the office in order to be with the semi-demented prospective mother of her child.

"I won't be a mother," Tim assured her in a trembling voice. "I'll do something terrible to myself. A lake—that's it. You'll find me in a lake. All wet."

"Now don't work yourself up, dear," said Sally soothingly. "It will be bad for baby. Let me give you this footstool, sweetheart. It will make you much more comfortable. And I'll get you a little shawl."

In response to these tender endearments, Tim Willows unleashed a scream of rage and dashed about the room looking for something to break. He picked up a clock, considered it, then returned it to its place. The clock was too expensive. Anyway he liked that clock. Finally he selected a large china vase. It made a very satisfactory sound when it crashed against the floor. He danced madly on the fragments, then fell exhausted into a deep chair.

"I can't stand it," he gasped. "I can't. Footstools and shawls. Oh, God."

"You should be ashamed of yourself to carry on like that," admonished Sally. "One would think you were demeaning yourself to be the mother of my child."

Once more Tim's scream of impotent rage rang through the house. Springing up, he seized upon another china vase, which he shattered against the floor. The first one had proved efficacious. Why not this one?

"Thank God, they're gone," said Sally, as she led the trembling man back to his chair. "I've always felt like smashing them myself, but never could work up the courage. If it hadn't been for baby, they might have remained in the Willows family for generations. What are you hoping for, dear, a boy or a girl?"

"A gorilla," gritted Tim. "A monster. A two-headed calf."

"Don't be silly, sweetheart," Sally told him. "You should have nothing but sweet and fragrant thoughts now. I'll get you a book about it—The Program of a Prospective Mother. You'll love it. It will do you good."

Weakly, Tim looked round the room for another vase, then abandoned the idea through sheer physical lassitude.

"You stop calling me 'dear' and 'sweetheart' and all those things," he muttered darkly. "And if you bring that book into this house, I'll burn it up on the front lawn and dance round the fire naked, screaming the vilest words I can muster."

"But, Tim, precious," explained Sally, patiently, "neither of us knows the first thing about motherhood, or childbirth or anything along those lines."

"Don't want to know," snapped Tim. "Bring me a book on how to forestall a prospective infant and you'll be doing a guy a good turn. I feel like going upstairs and wringing that damn little idol's neck. Of all the tricks to play on a self-respecting man. It was a bad day for us when that libidinous uncle of mine conceived the bright idea of sending him to us."

"Don't talk disparagingly of Mr. Ram at this critical time," said Sally. "We'll be needing all the luck he can bring us. They say the first one is always the hardest."

"What?" ejaculated Tim. "The first one? Do you think for a moment I'd have another, assuming I have this one?"

"I see no reason why you shouldn't," replied Sally, callously. "I see no reason why you shouldn't have several. It's high time we were doing something in the line of babies. Neither of us is getting any younger."

"That's right!" cried Tim. "Make a regular Negro mammy out of me. Make me bear such a brood of children I won't know exactly how many I have. I suppose you're hoping for twins to begin with."

"Twins would be awfully cute," admitted Sally. "While you're at it, you might as well make up for lost time."

"You seem to regard me as a sort of factory," Tim observed bitterly. "If I bear one very small and reluctant baby, you can consider yourself lucky."

"Nonsense," replied Sally, cheerfully. "I expect great things from you."

"So did Dr. Jordan," said Tim. "And he got much more than he expected."

"Everyone will be so pleased and excited when they find out," Sally observed with a bright, anticipatory smile. "All the girls. Think of it."

"I'll not even listen to it, much less think of it," retorted Tim. "If you breathe a word of this to a single living soul, I'll do something desperate and you'll be eternally sorry. Just stick that in your hatband and keep it there as a reminder."

"Oh, we'll have to let them know," protested Sally.

"That's just what we won't have to do," said Tim. "Let 'em find out for themselves. They'll know soon enough. God, what a thing to have happened to a man. I guess I'm the first member of my sex ever to have gotten this way."

"You should be proud of the fact," replied Sally. "And think of my feelings. I'll be the first woman ever to have become a father."

Tim looked at her hatefully.

"That's right," he muttered. "Go on and gloat. Feel proud and chesty. You should be ashamed of yourself for getting me in this ridiculous, not to say dangerous, condition. Suppose you lose me?"

"We must take our chances on that," said Sally, with what Tim felt was altogether too much complacency.

"You mean I must take my chances," he retorted with mild sarcasm. "You are taking no chances. It's pretty soft for you."

"I'll be very upset and nervous," replied Sally.

"Bah!" exclaimed Tim. "You'll probably get squiffed and celebrate with Steve Jones. But believe me, I'm going to make you pay through the nose for the dirty trick you've played on me. When a woman's this way she has to be humored. You know that as well as I do. At any time of the day or night, you must humour a prospective mother. And I'm going to have cravings. I'm going to think of the strangest damn things."

"All right," agreed Sally. "That's good with me. I'd do almost anything to have a baby."

"Except have one," put in Tim.

"It's not my fault," said Sally. "It's a physical impossibility. And Tim, dear, you will continue to write copy for me to take to the office?"

"Inasmuch as our bread and butter depend on it, I guess I'll have to," replied Tim. "At any rate, it will take my mind off of the horrible condition I'm in. But tell me, don't you know the first thing about childbirth, Sally?"

"Well, I know the first thing," she admitted. "That is, how to go about starting one."

"Don't be facetious," said her husband. "I know all about that, too. What I mean is, doesn't it hurt a bit?"

"From all that I've heard," she told him, "it's not what you might call a soothing experience."

"And you get awfully large, don't you?" Tim continued, with the fascination of horror in his voice.

"Tremendous," said Sally, warming to the subject. "And sometimes sick in the morning."

"I'm that now," put in Tim. "Very."

"Then you must be a shade pregnant," Sally observed with assurance. "It's almost a sure sign."

Tim brightened a little.

"But, Sally," he said, "you're not absolutely sure I'm going to be a mother, are you? There might be some mistake. I mean it's just possible?"

"Of course, there's just a chance," replied Sally. "That's why I have to take you to a doctor."

"What!" cried Tim. "And be examined? Never in this life. I won't stand for that."

He shrank back in his chair and looked miserable. The thought of the doctor revolted him. Was ever a man in such a fix? Strange that at that moment his thoughts should revert to Claire Meadows. He wondered what she would think of the situation. A strange woman.

"But you must, Tim, darling," laughed Sally. "Don't be so stupid. Everyone goes to a doctor. It's the only thing to do. Especially with us. We don't know a darned thing about it. Have to get some honest-to-God advice. Have to learn things and find out what you must do with yourself—what to eat and what not to eat, and, most important of all, how much you can drink, if any."

"Hope he doesn't stop my grog," said Tim. "That is, not entirely. Before we go to this doctor, you've got to give me a drink or so. Otherwise I'll call the whole childbirth off."

Sally agreed because she realised that it would be in all likelihood the last time the poor devil would be able to indulge. It seemed a shame to stop Tim's grog. He enjoyed it so. Give him a bottle and a book, and life for him was complete. He demanded of it nothing more.

Peter brought a fresh bottle of rye and some glasses and a siphon. After he had deposited these on a convenient table he stood looking appreciatively at the remains of the shattered vases. He was glad, but at the same time uneasy. If they began breaking up the household effects, they'd soon be eating off the floor like animals.

"I broke them, Peter," offered Tim, in what he hoped was a sweet voice. "I did it in a fit of rage. And I knew you didn't like them. You can clear away the remains later."

"Thank you, Miss Sally," said Peter. "They were horrid things. Remember when they were bought. His great-aunt, Mrs. Ames Willows, brought them home one day. They occasioned a great disturbance. Mr. Ames went on a bender for a month. It didn't take much to send him off, he was so highstrung." Peter paused and gazed reflectively at the table. "He was fond of the bottle, too," he added significantly.

"Listen, Sally," said Tim, when Peter had left the room. "I've had something on my mind I've been wanting to tell you for a long time. Now that I'm in this serious condition, I think I will."

"Shoot, old kid," replied Sally, as she sipped the highball.

"Well, you know the night I nearly murdered Carl Bentley?" he began.

"I'll never forget it," said Sally.

"Well, that night," continued Tim, "I drifted quite accidentally over to Claire Meadows' house and—and I didn't act quite right. I guess I was a bit unfaithful."

"If you can only guess about it," said Sally, "it mustn't have been much of a party."

"It was more like a dream," replied Tim in a low voice. "Like being inevitably guided in a dream. No power to control circumstances and no desire, Sally. But it was real, all right. You know I was in a bit of a fog—a dense fog, in fact."

He gulped down his drink and looked at Sally out of her own limpid, brown eyes. She in turn was regarding him with affectionate amusement.

"Pregnancy," she remarked easily, "is already making an honester man of you." She paused to refill the glasses. "You know," she continued quite seriously, "I can't find it in me to blame you for being unfaithful with Claire Meadows. To me she is the most irresistible woman in town. Anyway, I wasn't doing so well myself that night. As a matter of fact, I started you out on the primrose path. It's a funny thing, though. It's insight, that's what it is. When I first met Claire Meadows many months ago, I had the weirdest feeling that some day you two were going to get together. She's the sort of person who'd appreciate you and your silly attitude toward life and things. Yet, I had the comforting feeling, also, that she was not the woman you should have married. I'm that woman, or, at least, I was. Both of you are too hard-boiled and at the same time too idealistic. You'd burn each other up. You'd hurt each other terribly in some fool way." Once more Sally paused and a slow smile, a wicked smile, crooked the lips that had once been Tim's. "Just the same, Tim," she resumed, "I'm much obliged for the tip. Think I'll drop round to see Claire Meadows some night. She must be missing you, old thing."

"And me in this condition!" Tim cried indignantly. "You'll do no such thing, Sally Willows. Now that you've got me all funny the way I am, I'll be damned if I'll stand for any monkey business. I'll abort myself, or whatever it is you do."

"Now don't get yourself all worked up and nervous over nothing," said Sally, soothingly. "Of course, I was only joking. I wouldn't think of doing such a thing."

"And you're not going about with a lot of light women, when I get all fat and ugly," continued Tim, getting himself all fumed up and excited at the ghastly ramifications of his condition. "Give me another drink. I'm terribly cast down. I'll stand for no messing about. Do you understand that?"

"Of course, I do, dear," said Sally, smiling in spite of herself. "Don't worry your head about me. I've learned my lesson. I almost made you a murderer once, and I did make you an adulterer. You're indebted to me for the latter although you may deny it."

"This is the weirdest darn conversation that ever took place between man and wife," replied Tim, somewhat mollified, as he reached for the bottle.

"No question about it," agreed Sally. "But I'll try not to think of it any more. You get sort of goofy if you do."

Under the influence of the bottle, and morally liberated by his confession, Tim's spirits rose until, by the time he had reached the doctor's office, they had become rather unruly, almost boisterous.

"Hello, Doc.!" he cried, throwing his arms round the neck of the astounded physician. "My wife, here, tells me I'm a wee bit pregnant. Not much, Doc., not much, but enough—almost too much. What about it, Doc., do you think I'm elected? Do I look sort of preggy?"

"That's a silly word," commented Sally. "Sounds like baby talk."

Tim was almost convulsed. He released the doctor and flung himself upon Sally.

"That's just what it is," he cried. "It's baby talk, and it's all your fault, or at least, I think it is. Somebody blundered."

At this point the doctor interposed in a suave voice while still adjusting his collar. Addressing himself in low tones to Sally, he suggested politely, "This is a mental case, I perceive?"

"Alcoholic," replied Sally briefly. "Also somewhat pregnant."

"And mental, too, Doc.," interpolated Tim. "Don't forget that. I'm entirely mad, I assure you. And I'm going to have a mad baby—a regular monster."

The doctor ignored Tim and turned once more to Sally.

"And the object of your visit, sir, is exactly what?" he asked.

"Absolutely no object," put in Tim. "Just a visit. We thought you might like to know about me, that's all."

"And to congratulate us, perhaps," added Sally, who was feeling quite giddy herself.

"Yes," declared Tim. "We thought you might slip us a snifter. Doctors have lots of whisky. They love it."

"May I ask just who you are?" demanded the doctor, his disgust getting the better of his professional urbanity.

"Oh, we thought you knew that," exclaimed Sally. "Everyone knows us. We're the Willowses. This is my husband—I mean my wife, Mrs. Tim Willows. I'm Tim, himself, in the flesh."

The doctor was undecided whether to call for assistance and forcibly eject this peculiar couple or to try to get rid of them peaceably.

"I presume, then," he observed, "that you would like me to—er—run over Mrs. Willows?"

"What's that?" demanded Tim. "Run over? Does the man think he's a lawn mower or a sort of human Juggernaut? I didn't come here to be run over."

"Are babies in your line, Doctor?" asked Sally, also ignoring her husband.

"I'm an obstetrician, if that's what you mean, sir," replied the doctor with dignity.

"He's a what?" demanded Tim.

Both Sally and the doctor looked at Tim wearily.

"You wouldn't understand, dear," she told him. "He obsteterates, does this doctor, so it seems that we've come to the right place."

"Well, that's nice to know, at any rate," commented Tim, seating himself in a most uncomfortable chair.

"Could you tell me just when you noticed you were in this condition?" asked the doctor.

"Never noticed it at all, Doc.," answered Tim. "It sort of crept up on me like a—a—er—thief in the night."

"Or a wolf in the fold," added Sally.

"I don't seem to find this very helpful," said the doctor, rather impatiently. "I had better examine Mrs. Willows."

"One minute, Doc.," interposed Tim, holding up a restraining hand. "Before we go any further, I'd like to know how much it's going to set me back to have this baby. Because if it costs too darned much, we'll waive the baby and buy a new car."

When Tim discovered it would cost about five hundred dollars to cover the entire expense involved in presenting his wife with a child, he was terribly shocked.

"What!" he exclaimed. "All that money for the fun of suffering like hell? Why, it's a racket, a regular racket. Women should be paid to have babies, and as for a man, why he should be elected mayor, to say the least."

The doctor, becoming more aroused, informed Tim definitely and categorically that personally it was a matter of the most abysmal indifference to him whether he, Tim, had a baby or not.

"That's not very neighbourly of you, Doc.," Tim replied. "If women didn't have babies you'd be out of luck. You'd probably have to become a magician and pull rabbits and things out of hats. It isn't an easy life."

"I could find something better to do than that," replied the doctor, stung by Tim's remark.

"For example?" asked Tim challengingly.

"Mrs. Willows," the doctor explained, "if you and your husband dropped in merely to pay me a personal call, I must remind you that in spite of my gratification there are other demands on my time. Do you wish to be examined or not?"

"Suppose I don't pass this examination," demanded Tim, "won't I be able to have a baby, then? Is it a written or verbal examination? It doesn't matter, though, because I don't know the first thing about childbirth. Why don't you examine my wife instead—I mean, my husband? He's nearly as dumb as I am, but at least he knows something. The whole damn business is Greek to me. I was never intended to be a mother, and if it hadn't been for my innocence, which is a nice word for ignorance, I wouldn't be the way I am now. You men seem to think that all a woman has to do is to toss off a baby and call it a day. Let me tell you right here, Doctor whatever-your-name-is, it's men like you and my husband, lecherous, low-down, licentious bums———"

"Madam, madam," objected the doctor. "I've never experienced such a thing in my life. You must endeavour to calm yourself. We must endeavour to calm each other. In all my professional experience, I've never encountered a prospective mother who was quite so casual and unsympathetic, quite so hardened. It isn't natural. We must endeavour to correct your mental attitude. Do you, or do you not, wish to be examined? If you don't, well and good, but if you do, I urge you to come inside with me. Mr. Willows can come with you if you want him."

The doctor's voice was shaking a little and his nerves were beginning to jump. He realised how important it was for him to keep strict check on himself. Once let a woman get talking among her friends about the unfeeling methods of a doctor and he might just as well abandon his practice and move to another town.

"I wouldn't let that guy in on my examination for anything in the world," proclaimed Tim resolutely. "He'd gloat, that's what he'd do, and I'll have no gloating."

"Be a good girl and go with the doctor," said Sally coaxingly. "I'll give you something when we get home if you do, otherwise, no—not a drop."

Tim rose from the chair and suspiciously followed the distracted doctor into his private office. A long, oddly twisted glass tube attracted his wandering attention.

"What's this thing for?" he demanded, seizing upon the tube and examining it critically.

Unfortunately the tube slipped from Tim's careless grasp and crashed against the tiled floor with a loud report. The doctor froze in his tracks and hunched his back. Low, clucking sounds came from him. His fingers were twitching spasmodically. But he did not even turn round as he asked in a strained voice, "What was that, Mrs. Willows?"

"Sorry," replied Tim casually. "It was some silly-looking object. Didn't have any sense to it, seemingly. You're well rid of it, Doctor."

At this remark, the doctor renewed his clucking. He was gallantly striving to pull himself together. Sally, sitting outside, on hearing the report, naturally assumed that either the doctor had shot Tim or Tim had shot the doctor. She sprang from the chair and popped into the room.

"What's that?" she demanded tragically.

The doctor jumped and spun about, then settled shudderingly to rest.

"Don't startle me so!" he exclaimed. "I'm not at all used to such conduct."

"No," put in Tim easily. "Don't startle the doctor any more. He can't stand it. You know, I think we'd better examine him first before he examines me. He doesn't strike me as being any too good at present. No control."

This observation had the effect of starting the doctor off on his clucking again. He went to a shelf and, taking down a bottle, poured out a drink.

"A small sedative," he muttered.

"Just what we need," cried Tim, snatching up the bottle and taking an avid gulp. "A rose by another name would taste as strong."

He passed the bottle to Sally, who followed his example, smacking Tim's lips at the end of the operation. The doctor rushed up and forcibly retrieved his property.

"You mustn't do that," he chided. "It's aot the way to act, not at all the way to act."

"Pardon me," replied Sally sweetly. "I thought the drinks were on the house."

At this moment Tim pressed a button on a switchboard and from somewhere in the room a dynamo began to tear through its paces. The button seemed to be in some way connected with the doctor, because he began to jump up and down as if he were riding an invisible pogo stick.

"Keep away! Keep away!" he shouted. "You'll burn yourself to a crisp. The X-ray's gone mad."

"What a fascinating life a doctor leads," commented Tim, above the hum of the dynamo.

This restarted the clucking on the part of the doctor, who was sliding along the wall in the direction of the button. When the switch was turned off, he carefully mopped his face with his handkerchief and took a deep breath.

"Another mild sedative," suggested Sally, presenting herself before the weary man with a glass half filled with whisky.

"Thanks," he muttered, as he tremblingly reached for the glass. "The effect of the first one was spoiled. I do wish we could get along with this examination."

"Directly, Doctor, directly," said Tim, in a soothing voice. "What you need is a good rest. Can't burn the candle at both ends, you know. Your nerves are all shot."

"Yes," added Sally, solicitously. "What you need is a nice long rest." She took a sip from the bottle, then passed it on to Tim. "Would you like to lie down for a moment before you go on? Must get over that shaking. You're not addicted to drugs, are you, Doctor?"

This time the physician's clucking was not only excited but also bitter. He pawed at the air.

"Please go away," he said, in a pleading voice. "Don't talk to me now."

"It's drugs, I'm afraid," murmured Sally, going to the door. "Something should be done."

When Sally had closed the door, the doctor turned to Tim and spoke in a deadly voice.

"Lie down on that table," he said, "and for God's sweet sake, Mrs. Willows, stop fluttering about."

Tim looked at the table suspiciously.

"What are you going to do to me?" he asked.

"That's my business," replied the doctor coldly.

"Not entirely," replied Tim. "I'm in on it, also."

"Are you going to lie down on that table?" demanded the doctor, advancing on Tim with a distracted look in his eye.

"Suppose I don't?" Tim temporised.

"Suppose you don't what?" continued the doctor.

"Lie down on that table," Tim replied.

"If you don't lie down on that table, do you know what I'm going to do?" asked the doctor.

"I don't know," replied Tim.

"Well, I'll tell you," said the doctor, licking his dry lips. "I'm going to damn well hurl you down on that table, Mrs. Willows. I'm going to get you down on that table if it's the last thing I do on earth."

"Oh, Doctor!" exclaimed Tim coyly.

The doctor stood clucking at Tim.

"Get down on that table," he grated.

Momentarily overawed, Tim hitched himself upon the table and sat there swinging his legs.

"Be reasonable, Doc.," he said. "Let's talk this matter over."

"Flat on your back," replied the doctor implacably.

"Just give me a hint," Tim pleaded.

"Down there, down," answered the doctor.

Tim sank back on the table.

"After all, Doctor," he said, "I'm not exactly a dog. Not quite."

The doctor extended his hands.

Exactly thirty seconds later Sally was startled by the sound of a maddened scream, followed by a tremendous crashing of glass. Once more the scream was repeated, then gave way to Tim's deep-throated roaring. The door burst open and the doctor hurtled out with a look of congealed horror on his face. Immediately behind him appeared an infuriated Tim. With one hand he clutched at his clothing and with the other he carved great slices of air with a wicked-looking operating knife. The doctor jumped behind Sally and clung to her for protection.

"Speak to her, Mr. Willows," he chattered. "Reason with her if you can. The poor woman has gone mad."

The shock of suddenly confronting himself restored Tim to his senses. He halted and looked accusingly at the doctor.

"Of all the things to do with a body," Tim exploded, pointing the knife at the trembling man. "Of all the low-life tricks. He might be a doctor, but he's certainly not a gentleman."

"She doesn't understand, Mr. Willows," hastily put in the doctor. "She's just like a savage."

"What did he do?" asked Sally.

"What did he do?" repeated Tim indignantly. "What didn't he do. That guy did plenty. What a way to carry on. You're a fast worker. Doc. I'll have to say that much for you. But life is not all play, Doc. You'd better remember that."

"I thought you knew," explained Sally. "You poor dear."

"Poor dear, hell," snapped Tim. "I almost murdered the man. It's a nice time to tell me about it." He looked at the doctor and a grin spread over his flushed face. "Sorry, Doc.," he said. "There seems to have been a slight misunderstanding. We were both right according to our standards."

By this time the doctor himself was in need of medical assistance. Between them they dragged him to his study and dumped him down on the sofa. He was making ineffectual passes at the air with a pair of limp hands. Sally brought the bottle from the almost demolished laboratory and she and Tim took a drink. Then they stood looking speculatively at the doctor.

"Better ring for the maid," said Tim in a low voice. "There doesn't seem to be any secretary knocking about. I thought all doctors managed a secretary by some hook or crook."

"She's sick," gasped the doctor, his professional pride forcing him to speak.

"She would be," replied Tim. "Bathe his temples, Sally, with that grog. He'd chatter the neck off the bottle if you tried to give him a drink."

"Make a try at it," whispered the doctor. "Don't waste the stuff. It's good."

"What thrift," said Tim admiringly.

"All right now?" asked Sally, after she had succeeded in feeding the man a drink.

"Better," whispered the doctor.

"Then I guess we'd better be going," she continued, rather lamely. "We'll come back another time for that examination."

"Okay, Doc.?" asked Tim.

They left the doctor clucking wildly on the sofa.

"A most embarrassing experience," observed Tim as they quietly let themselves out of the house.

"What I want to know is," demanded Sally, "how do you expect to have a baby if you won't let a doctor come near you?"

"By long distance," replied Tim. "Or like a woman of the Stone Age. I feel like eating some pineapple."

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