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THE SECRET AT THE CROSSROADS

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The next I saw of him was in the drug store, making up a chill tonic for a late customer, the blacksmith’s son. A couple of wall-lamps with tin reflectors showed a surprisingly neat stock of drugs and sundries, though with the usual excess of patent nostrums.

After young Comer left, Agard and I sat on the porch.

He kindled a smudge. I removed my coat, took a chew of his tobacco, and tilted back my chair. He had become so friendly that all my suspicion melted into a sensation of being at home. I knew the accent he spoke, could foretell his very phrases, make the responses—and the old stirring of the pines and the chirp of frogs set me aching for I know not what.

I told Agard why I was going to Bell’s.

“Well, I expect you better start your treatment on me,” he laughed. “I’ve been feelin’ mighty no-account lately. Can’t hardly keep up to my work a-tall.”

I assured him that he hadn’t the “hookworm look” about the eyes, but in my mind I was not so certain. I promised to leave him a test treatment if he so desired.

I was naturally curious about this man’s medical education and practice. His being druggist and so-called “Doctor” in one would not pass as the conventional thing in some places. It savoured just a trifle of the quack. I wished to establish his ethical background.

I got a very candid story. He had started out as prescription clerk, he said, then druggist. He had been importuned again and again to recommend remedies, had seen a local need, and had “read medicine.” He had attended brief sessions at Louisville, Kentucky. Though lacking a degree, he had passed the State licensing board’s examination and was freely entitled to practise. He was not, however, a member of any regular medical association, so far as I could infer.

I persuaded myself that he was doing more good than harm, though as a rule I am opposed to all forms of empiricism in my profession.

We had sat for a half-hour or so, when he apologized that he had been losing a good deal of sleep and would have to “look around a little” and go to bed.

Just as I was rising to follow the hint, a gun went off somewhere in the woods. In the moment of silence that followed its echo there came to our ears a duller cadence, along the road