Now just as Mr. Cowlishaw was personally conducting to the door the greatest centre-forward that the Five Towns had ever seen, there was another ring at the door and-Mr. Cowlishaw found himself in the double difficulty of speeding his first visitor and welcoming his second all in the same breath.
The second was a visitor beyond Mr. Cowlishaw's hopes. No other than Mrs. Simeon Clowes, mayoress of Hanbridge; a tall and well-built, handsome, downright woman, of something more than fifty and something less than sixty.
She eyed him interrogatively and firmly. She probed into his character, and he felt himself pierced.
"You are Mr. Cowlishaw?" she began.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Clowes," he replied. "Yes, I am. Can I be of any service to you?'"
"That depends," she said.
He asked her to step in, and in she stepped.
"Have you had any experience in taking teeth out?" she asked in the surgery. Her hand stroked her left cheek.
"Oh, yes," he said eagerly. "But of course, we try to avoid extraction as much as possible."
"If you're going to talk like that," she said coldly, and even bitterly, "I'd better go."
He wondered what she was driving at.
"Naturally," he said, summoning all his latent powers of diplomacy, "there are cases in which extraction is unfortunately necessary.".
"How many teeth have you extracted?" she inquired.
"I really couldn't say," he lied. "very many."
"Because," she said, "you don't look as if you could say 'Booh!' to a goose."
"I think I can say 'Booh!' to a goose," he said.
"Don't fancy, Mr. Cowlishaw, that if I laugh I'm not in the most horrible pain. I am. When I tell you I couldn't go with Mr. Clowes to the match-"
"Will you take this seat?" he said, indicating the chair of chairs; "then I can examine."
She obeyed. "I do hate the horrid, velvety feeling of these chairs," she said; "It's most creepy."
"I shall have to trouble you to take your bonnet off."
She removed her bonnet, and he took it as he might have taken his first-born, and laid it gently to rest on his cabinet.
"Now," he said soothingly, "kindly open your mouth wide."
Like all women of strong and generous character, Mrs. Simeon Clowes had a large mouth. She obediently extended it to
dimensions which must be described as august, at the same time pointing with her gloved and chubby finger to a particular part of it.
"Yes, yes," murmured Mr. Cowlishaw, assuming a tranquility which he did not feel. This was the first time he had ever looked into the mouth of a mayoress, and the prospect troubled him.
He put his little ivory-handled mirror into that mouth and studied its secrets.
"I see," he said, withdrawing the mirror. "Exposed nerve. Quite simple. Merely wants stopping. When I've done with it the tooth will be as sound as ever it was. All your other teeth are excellent."
Mrs. Clowes arose violently out of the chair.
"Now just listen to me, young man," she said. "I don't want any stopping; I won't have any stopping; I want that tooth out. I've already quarrelled with one dentist this afternoon because he refused to take it out. I came to you because you're young, and I thought you'd be more reasonable. Surely a body can decide whether she'll have a tooth out or not! It's my tooth. What's a dentist for? In my young days dentists never did anything else but take teeth out. All I wish to know is, will you take it out or will you not?"
"It's really a pity -"
"That's my affair, isn't it?" she stopped him, and moved towards her bonnet.
"If you insist," he said quickly, "I will extract."
"Well," she said, "if you don't call this insisting, what do you call insisting? Let me tell you I didn't have a wink of sleep last night."
The mayoress resumed her seat, taking her gloves off.
"It's decided then?" she questioned.
"Certainly," said he. "Is your heart good?"
"Is my heart good?" she repeated. "Young man, what business is that of yours? It's my tooth I want you to deal with, not my heart!"
"I must give you gas," said Mr. Cowlishaw, faintly.
"Gas!" she exclaimed. "You'll give me no gas, young man. No! My heart is not good. I should die under gas. I couldn't bear the idea of gas, you must take it out without gas, and you mustn't hurt me, I'm a perfect baby, and you mustn't on any account hurt me."
The moment was crucial. Supposing that he refused - a promising career, might be nipped in the bud. Whereas, if he accepted the task, the patronage of the aristocracy of Hanbridge was within his grasp. But the tooth was colossal, monumental.
"Very well, Madam," he said, for he was a brave young man.
But he was in panic. He wanted a stiff drink. If he failed to wrench the monument out at the first pull, the result would be absolute disaster; in an instant he would have ruined the practice which had cost him so dear. However, having consented, he was obliged to go through with the affair.
He took every precaution. He chose the most vicious instrument. He applied to the vicinity of the tooth the very latest substitute for cocaine; he prepared cotton wool and warm water in a glass. And at length, when he could delay the fatal essay no longer, he said:
"Now I think we are ready."
"You won't hurt me?" she asked anxiously.
"Not a bit," he replied, with an admirable simulation of gaiety.
"Because if you do -"
He laughed. But it was a hysterical laugh. All his nerves were on edge. He had a sick feeling. Making a great effort, he pulled himself together and said:
"When I count one I shall take hold; when I count two you must hold very tight to the chair; and when I count three, out it will come."
Then he encircled her head with his left arm - brutally, as dentists are always brutal in the thrilling crisis, "Wider!" he shouted. And he took possession of that tooth...
"One - two -" He didn't know what he was doing.
There was no three. There was a slight shriek and a thud on the floor. Mrs. Simeon Clowes jumped up and briskly rang a bell. The attendant rushed in. The attendant saw Mrs. Clowes gurgling into a handkerchief which she pressed to her mouth with one hand while with the other, in which she had her bonnet, she was fanning the face of Mr. Cowlishaw. Mr. Cowlishaw had fainted from nervous excitement. But his unconscious hand held the forceps; and the forceps, victorious, held the monumental tooth.
"O-p-pen the window," spluttered Mrs. Clowes to the attendant. "He's gone off; he'll come to in a minute."
(From "Tales of the Five Towns" by Arnold Bennett)