Adam's enigmatic friend, Ben, has gotten a job as caretaker at the church Adam
Ben made quite an effort to fit in socially at Highminster. He wanted to be
able to converse intelligently with the people there and to talk about things of
interest to them. He knew that the congregation had many medical doctors and
dentists. Dr. Smythe, the trustee who hired him, was a psychiatrist in fact.
So Ben borrowed some textbooks on medical science from Adam and read from them
a great deal.
Dr. Smythe was talking with a physician at one social function. Ben was
stacking some chairs nearby. He could overhear the conversation of the other two:
"This patient of mine has severe allergies," the physician was explaining. "It
runs in her family. They must all have high serum levels of... of..." The man
stopped to think. "It's just slipped my mind - the name of the antibody that
mediates allergic reactions. It's hardly a term I use every day."
Smythe offered no suggestion.
Ben saw here an opportunity to be helpful. He had recently done some reading
on the subject and was in a position to comment knowledgeably.
"It's called 'reagin'," he said as he put some more chairs in place.
The startled physician looked at the janitor, sized up who it was that had
spoken, and reluctantly admitted, "That's right."
As he continued his work, Ben went on to explain, "It fixes itself to the
surface of basophilic leukocytes and tissue mast cells beneath the mucosa of the
respiratory tract. When an allergen diffuses across the mucous membrane and
contacts the reaginic antibody on the cell surface, the cells secrete histamine
which causes the unpleasant symptoms of allergies. The problem can be remedied
by a drug that can raise the level of cyclic A M P within the cell. It inhibits
the secretion of histamine."
The two doctors said nothing immediately. Ben tried to think of some
self-effacing remark to give in response to the gratitude that would undoubtedly
be shown for the information provided. Instead, Smythe said to his colleague,
"Let's go over to the other side of the room."
Ben paused from his work. He could not understand what he had done wrong. The
two men were obviously offended. He resumed his duties with unresolved
People at Highminster often lionized each other at their formal gatherings. Ben
had heard Nobleworth say great things about Smythe - about his many years of
distinguished service to his profession. The physician was highly spoken of too.
Ben thought only one explanation could account for the offense he had caused
these men so dedicated to their fields: the information he conveyed must have
been incorrect. So he checked his source again. It revealed that he had made no
mistake. In fact, he had quoted the text verbatim. And it was the most recent
edition on the subject.