Frau Kaethe Gregorovius overtook her husband on the path of their villa.
“How was Nicole?” she asked mildly; but she spoke out of breath, giving away the fact that she had held the question in her mind during her run.
Franz looked at her in surprise.
“Nicole’s not sick. What makes you ask, dearest one?”
“You see her so much—I thought she must be sick.”
“We will talk of this in the house.”
Kaethe agreed meekly. His study was over in the administration building and the children were with their tutor in the living-room; they went up to the bedroom.
“Excuse me, Franz,” said Kaethe before he could speak. “Excuse me, dear, I had no right to say that. I know my obligations and I am proud of them. But there is a bad feeling between Nicole and me.”
“Birds in their little nests agree,” Franz thundered. Finding tone inappropriate to the sentiment he repeated his command in the spaced and considered rhythm with which his old master, Doctor Dohmler, could cast significance on the tritest platitude.” Birds—in—their—nests—agree!”
“I realize that. You haven’t seen me fail in courtesy toward Nicole.”
“I see you failing in common sense. Nicole is half a patient—she will possibly remain something of a patient all her life. In the absence of Dick I am responsible.” He hesitated; sometimes as a quiet joke he tried to keep news from Kaethe. “There was a telegram from Rome this morning. Dick has had grippe and is starting home to-morrow.”
Relieved, Kaethe pursued her course in a less personal tone:
“I think Nicole is less sick than anyone thinks—she only cherishes her illness as an instrument of power. She ought to be in the cinema, like your Norma Talmadge—that’s where all American women would be happy.”
“Are you jealous of Norma Talmadge, on a film?”
“I don’t like Americans. They’re selfish, selfish!”
“You like Dick?”
“I like him,” she admitted. “He’s different, he thinks of others.”
—And so does Norma Talmadge, Franz said to himself. Norma Talmadge must be a fine, noble woman beyond her loveliness. They must compel her to play foolish roles: Norma Talmadge must be a woman whom it would be a great privilege to know.
Kaethe had forgotten about Norma Talmadge, a vivid shadow that she had fretted bitterly upon one night as they were driving home from the movies in Zurich.
“Dick married Nicole for her money,” she said.
“That was his weakness—you hinted as much yourself one night.”
“You’re being malicious.”
“I shouldn’t have said that,” she retracted. “We must all live together like birds, as you say. But it’s difficult when Nicole acts as—when Nicole pulls herself back a little, as if she were holding her breath—as if I smelt bad!”
Kaethe had touched a material truth. She did most of her work herself and, frugal, she bought few clothes. An American shop-girl, laundering two changes of underwear every night, would have noticed a hint of yesterday’s reawakened sweat about Kaethe’s person, less a smell than an ammoniacal reminder of the eternity of toil and decay. To Franz this was as natural as the thick dark scent of Kaethe’s hair, and he would have missed it equally; but to Nicole, born hating the smell of a nurse’s fingers dressing her, it was an offence only to be endured.
“And the children,” Kaethe continued. “She doesn’t like them to play with our children—” but Franz had heard enough:
“Hold your tongue—that kind of talk can hurt me professionally, since we owe this clinic to Nicole’s money. Let us have lunch.”
Kaethe realized that her outburst had been ill-advised, but Franz’s last remark reminded her that other Americans had money, and a week later she put her dislike of Nicole into new words.
The occasion was the dinner they tendered the Divers upon Dick’s return. Hardly had their footfalls ceased on the path when she shut the door and said to Franz:
“Did you see around his eyes? He’s been on a debauch.”
“Go gently,” Franz requested. “Dick told me about that as soon as he came home. He was boxing on the trans-Atlantic trip. The American passengers box a lot on these trans-Atlantic ships.”
“I believe that?” she scoffed. “It hurts him to move one of his arms and he has an unhealed scar on his temple—you can see where the hair’s been cut away.”
Franz had not noticed these details.
“But what?” Kaethe demanded. “Do you think that sort of thing does the clinic any good? The liquor I smelt on him to-night, and several other tunes since he’s been back.”
She slowed her voice to fit the gravity of what she was about to say: “Dick is no longer a serious man.”
Frank rocked his shoulders up the stairs, shaking off her persistence. In their bedroom he turned on her.
“He is most certainly a serious man and a brilliant man. Of all the men who have recently taken their degrees in neuropathology in Zurich, Dick has been regarded as the most brilliant—more brilliant than I could ever be.”
“It’s the truth—the shame would be not to admit it. I turn to Dick when cases are highly involved. His publications are still standard in their line—go into any medical library and ask. Most students think he’s an Englishman—they don’t believe that such thoroughness could come out of America.” He groaned domestically, taking his pyjamas from under the pillow, “I can’t understand why you talk this way, Kaethe—I thought you liked him.”
“For shame!” Kaethe said. “You’re the solid one, you do the work. It’s a case of hare and tortoise—and in my opinion the hare’s race is almost done.”
“Very well, then. It’s true.”
With his open hand he pushed down air briskly.
The upshot was that they had exchanged viewpoints like debaters. Kaethe admitted to herself that she had been too hard on Dick, whom she admired and of whom she stood in awe, who had been so appreciative and understanding of herself. As for Franz, once Kaethe’s idea had had time to sink in, he never after believed that Dick was a serious person. And as time went on he convinced himself that he had never thought so.
Dick told Nicole an expurgated version of the catastrophe in Rome—in his version he had gone philanthropically to the rescue of a drunken friend. He could trust Baby Warren to hold her tongue, since he had painted the disastrous effect of the truth upon Nicole. All this, however, was a low hurdle compared with the lingering effect of the episode upon him.
In reaction he took himself for an intensified beating in his work, so that Franz, trying to break with him, could find no basis on which to begin a disagreement. No friendship worth the name was ever destroyed in an hour without some painful flesh being torn—so Franz let himself believe with ever-increasing conviction that Dick travelled intellectually and emotionally at such rate of speed that the vibrations jarred him; this was a contrast that had previously been considered a virtue in their relation. So, for the shoddiness of needs, are shoes made out of last year’s hide.
Yet it was May before Franz found an opportunity to insert the first wedge. Dick came into his office white and tired one noon and sat down, saying:
“Well, she’s gone.”
“The heart quit.”
Dick sat exhausted in the chair nearest the door. During three nights he had remained with the scabbed anonymous woman-artist he had come to love, formally to portion out the adrenalin, but really to throw as much wan light as he could into the darkness ahead.
Half appreciating his feeling, Franz travelled quickly over an opinion:
“It was neuro-syphilis. All the Wassermans we took won’t tell me differently. The spinal fluid—”
“Never mind,” said Dick. “Oh, God, never mind! If she cared enough about her secret to take it away with her, let it go at that.”
“You better lay off for a day.”
“Don’t worry, I’m going to.”
Franz had his wedge; looking up from the telegram that he was writing to the woman’s brother he inquired: “Or do ou want to take a little trip?”
“I don’t mean a vacation. There’s a case in Lausanne. I’ve been on the phone with a Chilean all morning—”
“She was so damn brave,” said Dick. “And it took her so long.” Franz shook his head sympathetically and Dick got himself together. “Excuse me for interrupting you.”
“This is just a change. The situation is a father’s problem with his son—the father can’t get the son up here. He wants somebody to come down there.”
“What is it? Alcoholism? Homosexuality? When you say Lausanne—”
“A little of everything.”
“I’ll go down. Is there any money in it?”
“Quite a lot, I’d say. Count on staying two or three days, and get the boy up here if he needs to be watched. In any case take your time, take your ease; combine business with pleasure.”
After two hours’ train sleep Dick felt renewed, and he approached the interview with Senor Pardo y Ciudad Real in good spirits.
These interviews were much of a type. Often the sheer hysteria of the family representative was as interesting psychologically as the condition of the patient. This one was no exception: Senor Pardo y Ciudad Real, a handsome iron-grey Spaniard, noble of carriage, with all the appurtenances of wealth and power, raged up and down his suite in the Hotel des Trois Mondes and told the story of his son with no more self-control than a drunken woman.
“I am at the end of my invention. My son is corrupt. He was corrupt at Harrow, he was corrupt at King’s College, Cambridge. He’s incorrigibly corrupt. Now that there is this drinking it is more and more obvious how he is, and there is continual scandal. I have tried everything—I worked out a plan with a doctor friend of mine, sent them together for a tour of Spain. Every evening Francisco had an injection of cantharides and then the two went together to a reputable bordello—for a week or so it seemed to work but the result was nothing. Finally last week in this very room, rather in that bathroom”—he pointed at it, “—I made Francisco strip to the waist and lashed him with a whip—”
Exhausted with his emotion he sat down and Dick spoke:
“That was foolish the trip to Spain was futile also—” He struggled against an upsurging hilarity—that any reputable medical man should have lent himself to such an amateurish experiment! “—Senor, I must tell you that in these cases we can promise nothing. In the case of the drinking we can often accomplish something—with proper co-operation. The first thing is to see the boy and get enough of his confidence to find whether he has any insight into the matter.”
—The boy, with whom he sat on the terrace, was about twenty, handsome and alert.
“I’d like to know your attitude,” Dick said. “Do you feel that the situation is getting worse? And do you want to do anything about it?”
“I suppose I do,” said Francisco, “I am very unhappy.”
“Do you think it’s from the drinking or from the abnormality?”
“I think the drinking is caused by the other.” He was serious for a while—suddenly an irrepressible facetiousness broke through and he laughed, saying, “It’s hopeless. At King’s I was known as the Queen of Chile. That trip to Spain—all it did was to make me nauseated by the sight of a woman.”
Dick caught him up sharply.
“If you’re happy in this mess, then I can’t help you and I’m wasting my time.”
“No, let’s talk—I despise most of the others so.” There was some manliness in the boy, perverted now into an active resistance to his father. But he had the typically roguish look in his eyes that homosexuals assume in discussing the subject.
“It’s a hole-and-corner business at best,” Dick told him. “You’ll spend your life on it, and its consequences, and you won’t have time or energy for any other decent or social act. If you want to face the world you’ll have to begin by controlling your sensuality—and, first of all, the drinking that provokes it—”
He talked automatically, having abandoned the case ten minutes before. They talked pleasantly through another hour about the boy’s home in Chile and about his ambitions. It was as close as Dick had ever come to comprehending such a character from any but the pathological angle—he gathered that this very charm made it possible for Francisco to perpetrate his outrages and, for Dick, charm always had an independent existence, whether it was the mad gallantry of the wretch who had died in the clinic this morning, or the courageous grace which this lost young man brought to a drab old story. Dick tried to dissect it into pieces small enough to store away, realizing that the totality of a life may be different in quality from its segments, and also that life during one’s late thirties seemed capable of being observed only in segments. His love for Nicole and Rosemary, his friendship with Abe North, with Tommy Barban in the broken universe of the war’s ending—in such contacts the personalities had seemed to press up so close to him that he became the personality itself; there seemed some necessity of taking all or nothing; it was as if for the remainder of his life he was condemned to carry with him the egos of certain people, early met and early loved, and to be only as complete as they were complete themselves. There was some element of loneliness involved—so easy to be loved—so hard to love.
As he sat on the veranda with young Francisco, a ghost of the past swam into his ken. A tall, singularly swaying male detached himself from the shrubbery and approached Dick and Francisco with feeble resolution. For a moment he formed such an apologetic part of the vibrant landscape that Dick scarcely remarked him—then Dick was on his feet, shaking hands with an abstracted air, thinking, “My God, I’ve stirred up a nest!” and trying to recollect the man’s name.
“This is Doctor Diver, isn’t it?”
“Well, well—Mr Dumphry, isn’t it?”
“Royal Dumphry. I had the pleasure of having dinner one night in that lovely garden of yours.”
“Of course.” Trying to dampen Mr Dumphry’s enthusiasm, Dick went into impersonal chronology. “It was in nineteen—twenty-four—or twenty-five—”
He had remained standing, but Royal Dumphry, shy as he had seemed at first, was no laggard with his pick and spade; he spoke to Francisco in a flip, intimate manner, but the latter, ashamed of him, joined Dick in trying to freeze him away.
“Doctor Diver—one thing I want to say before you go. I’ve never forgotten that evening in your garden—how nice you and your wife were. To me it’s one of the finest memories in my life, one of the happiest ones. I’ve always thought of it as the most civilized gathering of people that I have ever known.”
Dick continued a crab-like retreat toward the nearest door of the hotel.
“I’m glad you remembered it so pleasantly. Now I’ve got to see—”
“I understand,” Royal Dumphry pursued sympathetically “I hear he’s dying.”
“Perhaps I shouldn’t have said that—but we have the same physician.”
Dick paused, regarding him in astonishment. “Who’re you talking about?”
“Why, your wife’s father—perhaps I—”
“I suppose—you mean I’m the first person—”
“You mean my wife’s father is here, in Lausanne.”
“Why, I thought you knew—I thought that was why you were here.”
“What doctor is taking care of him?”
Dick scrawled the name in a notebook, excused himself, and hurried to a telephone booth.
It was convenient for Doctor Dangeu to see Doctor Diver at his house immediately.
Doctor Dangeu was a young Genevois; for a moment he was afraid that he was going to lose a profitable patient, but, when Dick reassured him, he divulged the fact that Mr Warren was indeed dying.
“He is only fifty but the liver has stopped restoring itself; the precipitating factor is alcoholism.”
“The man can take nothing except liquids—I give him three days, or at most, a week.”
“Does his elder daughter, Miss Warren, know his condition?”
“By his own wish no one knows except the man-servant. It was only this morning I felt I had to tell him—he took it excitedly, although he has been in a very religious and resigned mood from the beginning of his illness.”
Dick considered: “Well—” he decided slowly, “in any case I’ll take care of the family angle. But I imagine they would want a consultation.”
“As you like.”
“I know I speak for them when I ask you to call in one of the best-known medical men around the lake—Herbrugge, from Geneva.”
“I was thinking of Herbrugge.”
“Meanwhile I’m here for a day at least and I’ll keep in touch with you.”
That evening Dick went to Senor Pardo y Ciudad Real and they talked.
“We have large estates in Chile—” said the old man. “My son could well be taking care of them. Or I can get him in any one of a dozen enterprises in Paris—” He shook his head and paced across the windows against a spring rain so cheerful that it didn’t even drive the swans to cover. “My only son! Can’t you take him with you?”
The Spaniard knelt suddenly at Dick’s feet. &
#8220;Can’t you cure my only son? I believe in you—you can take him with you, cure him.”
“It’s impossible to commit a person on such grounds. I wouldn’t if I could.”
The Spaniard got up from his knees.
“I have been hasty—I have been driven—”
Descending to the lobby Dick met Doctor Dangeu in the elevator,
“I was about to call your room,” the latter said. “Can we speak out on the terrace?”
“Is Mr Warren dead?” Dick demanded.
“He is the same—the consultation is in the morning. Meanwhile he wants to see his daughter—your wife—with the greatest fervour. It seems there was some quarrel—”
“I know all about that.”
The doctors looked at each other, thinking.
“Why don’t you talk to him before you make up your mind?” Dangeu suggested. “His death will be graceful—merely a weakening and sinking.”
With an effort Dick consented.
The suite in which Devereux Warren was gracefully weakening and sinking was of the same size as that of the Senor Pardo y Ciudad Real—throughout this hotel there were many chambers where rich ruins, fugitives from justice, claimants to the thrones of mediatized principalities, lived on the derivatives of opium or barbitol listening eternally, as to an inescapable radio, to the coarse melodies of old sins. This corner of Europe does not so much draw people as accept them without inconvenient questions. Routes cross here—people bound for private sanatoriums or tuberculosis resorts in the mountains, people who are no longer persona grata in France or Italy.
The suite was darkened. A nun with a holy face was nursing the man whose emaciated fingers stirred a rosary on the white sheet. He was still handsome and his voice summoned up a thick burr of individuality as he spoke to Dick, after Dangeu had left them together.
“We get a lot of understanding at the end of life. Only now, Doctor Diver, do I realize what it was all about.”
“I’ve been a bad man. You must know how little right I have to see Nicole again, yet a Bigger Man than either of us says to forgive and to pity.” The rosary slipped from his weak hands and slid off the smooth bed covers. Dick picked it up for him. “If I could see Nicole for ten minutes I would go happy out of the world.”
“It’s not a decision I can make for myself,” said Dick. “Nicole is not strong.” He made his decision, but pretended to hesitate. “I can put it up to my professional associate.”
“What your associate says goes with me—very well, Doctor. Let me tell you my debt to you is so large—”
Dick stood up quickly.
“I’ll let you know the result through Doctor Dangeu.”
In his room he called the clinic on the Zugersee. After a long time Kaethe answered from her own house.
“I want to get in touch with Franz.”
“Franz is up on the mountain. I’m going up myself—is it something I can tell him, Dick?”
“It’s about Nicole—her father is dying here in Lausanne. Tell Franz that, to show him it’s important; and ask him to phone me from up there.”
“Tell him I’ll be in my room here at the hotel from three to five, and again from seven to eight, and after that to page me in the dining-room.”
In plotting these hours he forgot to add that Nicole was not to be told; when he remembered it he was talking into a dead telephone. Certainly Kaethe should realize.
… Kaethe had no exact intention of telling Nicole about the call when she rode up the deserted hill of mountain wild-flowers and secret winds, where the patients were taken to ski in winter and to climb in spring. Getting off the train she saw Nicole shepherding the children through some organized romp. Approaching, she drew her arm gently along Nicole’s shoulder, saying: “You are clever with children—you must teach them more about swimming in the summer.”
In the play they had grown hot, and Nicole’s reflex in drawing away from Kaethe’s arm was automatic to the point of rudeness. Kaethe’s hand fell awkwardly into space, and then she, too, reacted, verbally, and deplorably.
“Did you think I was going to embrace you?” she demanded sharply. “It was only about Dick, I talked on the phone to him and I was sorry—”
“Is anything the matter with Dick?”
Kaethe suddenly realized her error, but she had taken a tactless course and there was no choice but to answer as Nicole pursued her with reiterated questions: “… then why were you sorry?”
“Nothing about Dick. I must talk to Franz.”
“It is about Dick.”
There was terror in her face and collaborating alarm in the faces of the Diver children, near at hand. Kaethe collapsed with: “Your father is ill in Lausanne—Dick wants to talk to Franz about it.”
“Is he very sick?” Nicole demanded—just as Franz came up with his hearty hospital manner. Gratefully Kaethe passed the remnant of the buck to him, but the damage was done.
“I’m going to Lausanne,” announced Nicole.
“One minute,” said Franz. “I’m not sure it’s advisable. I must first talk on the phone to Dick.”
“Then I’ll miss the train down,” Nicole protested, “and then I’ll miss the three o’clock from Zurich. If my father is dying I must——” She left this in the air, afraid to formulate it. “I must go. I’ll have to run for the train.” She was running even as she spoke towards the sequence of flat cars that crowned the bare hill with bursting steam and sound. Over her shoulder she called back, “If you phone Dick tell him I’m coming, Franz!”
… Dick was in his own room in the hotel reading the New York Herald when the swallow-like nun rushed in—simultaneously the phone rang.
“Is he dead?” Dick demanded of the nun, hopefully.
“Monsieur, il est parti—he has gone away.”
“II est parti—his man and his baggage have gone away, too!”
It was incredible. A man in that condition to arise and depart.
Dick answered the phone-call from Franz. “You shouldn’t have told Nicole,” he protested.
“Kaethe told her, very unwisely.”
“I suppose it was my fault. Never tell a thing to a woman till it’s done. However, I’ll meet Nicole… say, Franz, the craziest thing has happened down here—the old boy took up his bed and walked…”
“At what? What did you say?”
“I say he walked, old Warren—he walked!”
“But why not?”
“He was supposed to be dying of general collapse… he got up and walked away, back to Chicago, I guess… I don’t know, the nurse is here now… I don’t know, Franz—I’ve just heard about it… Call me later.”
He spent the better part of two hours tracing Warren’s movements. The patient had found an opportunity between the change of day and night nurses to resort to the bar, where he had gulped down four whiskys; he paid his hotel bill with a thousand-dollar note, instructing the desk that the change should be sent after him, and departed, presumably for America. A last-minute dash by Dick and Dangeu to overtake him at the station resulted only in Dick’s failing to meet Nicole; when they did meet in the lobby of the hotel she seemed suddenly tired, and there was a tight purse to her lips that disquieted him.
“How’s father?” she demanded.
“He’s much better. He seemed to have a good deal of reserve energy after all.” He hesitated, breaking it to her easy. “In fact, he got up and went away.”
Wanting a drink, for the chase had occupied the dinner hour, he led her, puzzled, toward the grill, and continued as they occupied two leather easy chairs and ordered a highball and a glass of beer: “The man who was taking care of him made a wrong prognosis or something—wait a minute, I’ve hardly had time to think the thing out myself.”
“He got the evening train for Paris.”
They sat silent. From Nicole flowed a vast tragic apathy.
“It was instinct,” Dick said finally. “He was really dying, but he tried to get a resumption of rhythm—he’s not the first person that ever walked off his death-bed—like an old clock—you know, you shake it and somehow from sheer habit it gets going again. Now your father——”
“Oh, don’t tell me,” she said.
“His principal fuel was fear,” he continued. “He got afraid, and off he went. He’ll probably live till ninety—”
“Please don’t tell me any more,” she said. “Please don’t—I couldn’t stand any more.”
“All right. The little devil I came down to see is hopeless. We may as well go back to-morrow.”
“I don’t see why you have to—come in contact with all this,” she burst forth.
“Oh, don’t you? Sometimes I don’t either.”
She put her hand on his.
“Oh, I’m sorry I said that, Dick.”
Someone had brought a phonograph into the bar and they sat listening to “The Wedding of the Painted Doll.”
One morning a week later, stopping at the desk for his mail, Dick became aware of some extra commotion outside: Patient Von Cohn Morris was going away. His parents, Australians, were putting his baggage vehemently into a large limousine, and beside them stood Doctor Lladislau, protesting with ineffectual attitudes against the violent gesturings of Morris, senior. The young man was regarding his embarkation with aloof cynicism as Doctor Diver approached.
“Isn’t this a little sudden, Mr Morris?”
Mr Morris started as he saw Dick—his florid face and the large checks on his suit seemed to turn off and on like electric lights. He approached Dick as though to strike him.
“High time we left, we and those who have come with us,” he began, and paused for breath. “It is high time, Doctor Diver. High time.”
“Will you come into my office?” Dick suggested.
“Not I! I’ll talk to you, but I’m washing my hands of you and your place.”
“I’m sorry about that.”
He shook his finger at Dick. “I was just telling this doctor here. We’ve wasted our time and our money.”
Doctor Lladislau stirred in a feeble negative, signalling up a vague Slavic evasiveness. Dick had never liked Lladislau. He managed to walk the excited Australian along the path in the direction of his office, trying to persuade him to enter; but the man shook his head.
“It’s you, Doctor Diver, you, the very man. I went to Doctor Lladislau because you were not to be found, Doctor Diver, and because Doctor Gregorovius is not expected until the nightfall, and I would not wait. No, sir! I would not wait a minute after my son told me the truth.”
He came up menacingly to Dick, who kept his hands loose enough to drop him if it seemed necessary. “My son is here for alcoholism, and he told us he smelt liquor on your breath. Yes, sir!” He made a quick, apparently unsuccessful sniff. “Not once, but twice Von Cohn says he has smelt liquor on your breath. I and my lady have never touched a drop it of in our lives. We hand Von Cohn to you to be cured, and within a month he twice smells liquor on your breath! What kind of cure is that there?”
Dick hesitated; Mr Morris was quite capable of making a scene on the clinic drive.
“After all, Mr Morris, some people are not going to give up what they regard as food because of your son—”
“But you’re a doctor, man!” cried Morris furiously. “When the workmen drink their beer that’s bad cess to them—but you’re here supposing to cure—”
“This has gone too far. Your son came to us because of kleptomania.”
“What was behind it?” The man was almost shrieking. “Drink—black drink. Do you know what colour black is? It’s black! My own uncle was hung by the neck because of it, you hear! My son comes to a sanatorium, and a doctor reeks of it!”
“I must ask you to leave.”
“You ask me! We are leaving!”
“If you could be a little temperate we could tell you the results of the treatment to date. Naturally, since you feel as you do, we would not want your son as a patient—”
“You dare to use the word temperate to me?”
Dick called to Doctor Lladislau and, as he approached, said: “Will you represent us in saying good-bye to the patient and to his family?”
He bowed slightly to Morris and went into his office, and stood rigid for a moment just inside the door. He watched until they drove away, the gross parents, the bland, degenerate offspring: it was easy to prophesy the family’s swing around Europe, bullying their betters with hard ignorance and hard money. But the question that absorbed Dick after the disappearance of the caravan was to what extent he had provoked this. He drank claret with each meal, took a night-cap, generally in the form of hot rum, and sometimes he tippled with gin in the afternoons—gin was the most difficult to detect on the breath. He was averaging a half-pint of alcohol a day, too much for his system to burn up.
Dismissing a tendency to justify himself, he sat down at his desk and wrote out, like a prescription, a regime that would cut his liquor in half. Doctors, chauffeurs, and Protestant clergymen could never smell of liquor, as could painters, brokers, cavalry leaders; Dick blamed himself only for indiscretion. But the matter was by no means clarified half an hour later when Franz, revivified by an Alpine fortnight, rolled up the drive, so eager to resume work that he was plunged in it before he reached his office. Dick met him there.
“How was Mount Everest?”
“We could very well have done Mount Everest the rate we were doing. We thought of it. How goes it all? How is my Kaethe, how is your Nicole?”
“All goes smooth domestically. But my God, Franz, we had a rotten scene this morning.” “How? What was it?”
Dick walked around the room while Franz got in touch with his villa by telephone. After the family exchange was over, Dick said: “The Morris boy was taken away—there was a row.”
Franz’s buoyant face fell.
“I knew he’d left. I met Lladislau on the veranda.”
“What did Lladislau say?”
“Just that young Morris had gone—that you’d tell me about it. What about it?”
“The usual incoherent reasons.”
“He was a devil, that boy.”
“He was a case for anesthesia,” Dick agreed. “Anyhow, the father had beaten Lladislau into a colonial subject by the time I came along. What about Lladislau? Do we keep him? I say no—he’s not much of a man, he can’t seem to cope with anything.” Dick hesitated on the verge of the truth, swung away to give himself space within which to recapitulate. Franz perched on the edge of a desk, still in his linen duster and travelling gloves. Dick said:
“One of the remarks the boy made to his father was that your distinguished collaborator was a drunkard. The man is a fanatic, and the descendant seems to have caught traces of vin-du-pays on me.”
Franz sat down, musing on his lower lip. “You can tell me at length,” he said finally.
“Why not now?” Dick suggested. “You must know I’m the last man to abuse liquor.” His eyes and Franz’s glinted on each other, pair on pair. “Lladislau let the man get so worked up that I was on the defensive. It might have happened in front of patients, and you can imagine how hard it could be to defend yourself in a situation like that!”
Franz took off his gloves and coat. He went to the door and told the secretary, “Don’t disturb us.” Coming back into the room he flung himself at the long table and fooled with his mail, reasoning as little as is characteristic of people in such postures, rather summoning up a suitable mask for what he had to say.
“Dick, I know well that you are a temperate, well-balanced man, even though we do not entirely agree on the subject of alcohol. But a time has come—Dick, I must say frankly that I have been aware several times that you have had a drink when it was not the moment to have one. There is some reason. Why not try another leave of abstinence?”
“Absence,” Dick corrected him automatically. “It’s no solution for me to go away.”
They were both chafed, Franz at having his return marred and blurred.
“Sometimes you don’t use your common sense, Dick.”
“I never understood what common sense meant applied to complicated problems—unless it means that a general practitioner can perform a better operation than a specialist.”
He was seized by an overwhelming disgust for the situation. To explain, to patch—these were not natural functions at their age—better to continue with the cracked echo of an old truth in the ears.
“This is no go,” he said suddenly.
“Well, that’s occurred to me,” Franz admitted. “Your heart isn’t in this project any more, Dick.”
“I know. I want to leave—we could strike some arrangement about taking Nicole’s money out gradually.”
“I have thought about that, too, Dick—I have seen this coming. I am able to arrange other backing, and it will be possible to take all your money out by the end of the year.”
Dick had not intended to come to a decision so quickly, nor was he prepared for Franz’s so ready acquiescence in the break, yet he was relieved. Not without desperation he had long felt the ethics of his profession dissolving into a lifeless mass.
The Divers would return to the Riviera, which was home. The Villa Diana had been rented again for the summer, so they divided the intervening time between German spas and French cathedral towns, where they were always happy for a few days. Dick wrote a little with no particular method; it was one of those parts of life that are an awaiting; not upon Nicole’s health, which seemed to thrive on travel, nor upon work, but simply an awaiting. The factor that gave purposefulness to the period was the children.
Dick’s interest in them increased with their ages, now seven and nine. He managed to reach them over the heads of employees on the principle that both the forcing of children and the fear of forcing them were inadequate substitutes for the long, careful watchfulness, the checking and balancing and reckoning of accounts, to the end that there should be no slip below a certain level of duty. He came to know them much better than Nicole did, and in expansive moods over the wines of several countries he talked and played with them at length. They had that wistful charm, almost sadness, peculiar to children who have learned early not to cry or laugh with abandon; they were apparently moved to no extremes of emotion, but were content with a simple regimen and the simple pleasures allowed them. They lived on the even tenor found advisable in the experience of old families of the Western world, brought up rather than brought out. Dick thought, for example, that nothing was more conducive to the development of observation than compulsory silence.
Lanier was an unpredictable boy with an inhuman curiosity. “Well, how many Pomeranians would it take to lick a lion, father?” was typical of the questions with which he harassed Dick. Topsy was easier. She was seven and very fair and exquisitely made like Nicole, and in the past Dick had worried about that. Lately she had become as robust as any American child. He was satisfied with them both, but conveyed the fact to them only in a tacit way. They were not let off breaches of good conduct—“Either one learns politeness at home,” Dick said, “or the world teaches it to you with a whip and you may get hurt in the process. What do I care whether Topsy “adores” me or not? I’m not bringing her up to be my wife.”
Another element that distinguished this summer and autumn for the Divers was a plenitude of money. Owing to the sale of their interest in the clinic, and to developments in America, there was now so much that the mere spending of it, the care of goods, was an absorption in itself. The style in which they travelled seemed fabulous.
Regard them, for example, as the train slows up at Boyen, where they are to spend a fortnight visiting. The shifting from the wagon-lit has begun at the Italian frontier. The governess’s maid and Madame Diver’s maid have come up from second class to help with the baggage and the dogs. Mlle Bellois will superintend the hand-luggage, leaving the Sealyhams to one maid and the pair of Pekingese to the other. It is not necessarily poverty of spirit that makes a woman surround herself with life—it can be a superabundance of interest and, except during her flashes of illness, Nicole was capable of being curator of it all. Presently from the van would be unloaded four wardrobe trunks, a shoe trunk, three hat trunks and two hat boxes, a chest of servants’ trunks, a portable filing cabinet, a medicine case, a spirit-lamp container, a picnic set, four tennis rackets in presses and cases, a phonograph, a typewriter. Distributed among the spaces reserved for family and entourage were two dozen supplementary grips, satchels, and packages, each one numbered, down to the tag on the cane case. Thus, all of it could be checked up in two minutes on any station platform, some for storage, some for accompaniment from the “light trip list” or the “heavy trip list”, constantly revised and carried on metal-edged plaques in Nicole’s purse. She had devised the system as a child when travelling with her failing mother. It was equivalent to the system of a regimental supply officer who must think of the bellies and equipment of three thousand men.
The Divers flocked from the train into the early-gathered twilight of the valley. The village people watched the debarkation with an awe akin to that which followed the Italian pilgrimages of Lord Byron a century before. Their hostess was the Contessa di Minghetti, lately Mary North. The journey that had begun in a room over the shop of a paper-hanger in Newark had ended in an extraordinary marriage.
“Conte di Minghetti” was merely a papal title; the wealth of Mary’s husband flowed from his being ruler-owner of manganese deposits in south-western Asia. He was not quite light enough to travel in a pullman south of Mason-Dixon; he was of the Kabyle-Berber-Sabaean-Hindu strain that belts across North Africa and Asia, more sympathetic to the European than the mongrel faces of the ports.
When those princely households, one of the East, one of the West, faced each other on the station platform, the splendour of the Divers seemed pioneer simplicity by comparison. Their hosts were accompanied by an Italian major-domo carrying a staff, by a quartet of turbaned retainers on motor-cycles, and by two half-veiled females who stood respectfully a little behind Mary and salaamed at Nicole, making her jump with the gesture.
To Mary as well as to the Divers the greeting was faintly comic; Mary gave an apologetic, belittling giggle; yet her voice, as she introduced her husband by his Asiatic title, flew proud and high.
In their rooms as they dressed for dinner Dick and Nicole grimaced at each other in an awed way: such rich as want to be thought democratic pretend in private to be swept off their feet by swank.
“Little Mary North knows what she wants,” Dick muttered through his shaving cream. “Abe educated her, and now she’s married to a Buddha. If Europe ever goes Bolshevik she’ll turn up as the bride of Stalin.”
Nicole looked around from her dressing-case. “Watch your tongue, Dick, will you?” But she laughed. “They’re very swell. The warships all fire at them or salute them or something. Mary rides in the royal bus in London.”
“All right,” he agreed. As he heard Nicole at the door asking for pins, he called, “I wonder if I could have some whisky; I feel the mountain air.”
“She’ll see to it,” presently Nicole called through the bathroom door. “It was one of those women who were at the station. She has her veil off.”
“What did Mary tell you about life?” he asked.
“She didn’t say so much. She was interested in high life—she asked me a lot of questions about my genealogy and all that sort of thing, as if I knew anything about it. But it seems the bridegroom has two very tan children by another marriage—one of them ill with some Asiatic thing they can’t diagnose. I’ve got to warn the children. Sounds very peculiar to me. Mary will sec how we’d feel about it.” She stood worrying a minute.
“She’ll understand,” Dick reassured her. “Probably the child’s in bed.”
At dinner Dick talked to Hosain, who had been at an English public school. Hosain wanted to know about stocks and about Hollywood, and Dick, whipping up his imagination with champagne, told him preposterous tales.
“Billions?” Hosain demanded.
“Trillions,” Dick assured him.
“I didn’t truly realize——”
“Well, perhaps millions,” Dick conceded. “Every hotel guest is assigned a harem—or what amounts to a harem.”
“Other than the actors and directors?”
“Every hotel guest—even travelling salesmen. Why, they tried to send me up a dozen candidates, but Nicole wouldn’t stand for it.”
Nicole reproved him when they were in their room alone. “Why so many highballs? Why did you use your word spic in front of him?”
“Excuse me, I meant smoke. The tongue slipped.”
“Dick, this isn’t faintly like you.”
“Excuse me again. I’m not much like myself any more.”
That night Dick opened a bathroom window, giving on a narrow and tubular court of the chateau, grey as rats but echoing at the moment to plaintive and peculiar music, sad as a flute. Two men were chanting in an Eastern language or dialect full of k’s and l’s—he leaned out but he could not sec them; there was obviously a religious significance in the sounds, and tired and emotionless he let them pray for him, too, but what for, save that he should not lose himself in his increasing melancholy, he did not know.
Next day, over a thinly-wooded hillside, they shot scrawny birds, distant poor relations to the partridge. It was done in a vague imitation of the English manner, with a corps of inexperienced beaters whom Dick managed to miss by firing only directly overhead.
On their return Lanier was waiting in their suite.
“Father, you said tell you immediately if we were near the sick boy.”
Nicole whirled about, immediately on guard.
“—so, Mother,” Lanier continued, turning to her, “the boy takes a bath every evening and to-night he took his bath just before mine and I had to take mine in his water, and it was dirty.”
“What? Now what?”
“I saw them take Tony out of it, and then they called me into it and the water was dirty.”
“But—did you take it?”
“Heavens!” she exclaimed to Dick.
He demanded: “Why didn’t Lucienne draw your bath?”
“Lucienne can’t. It’s a funny heater—it reached out of itself and burned her arm last night and she’s afraid of it, to one of those two women——”
“You go in this bathroom and take a bath now.”
“Don’t say I told you,” said Lanier from the doorway.
Dick went in and sprinkled the tub with sulphur; closing the door, he said to Nicole:
“Either we speak to Mary or we’d better get out.”
She agreed and he continued: “People think their children are constitutionally cleaner than other people’s, and their diseases are less contagious.”
Dick came in and helped himself from the decanter, chewing a biscuit savagely in the rhythm of the pouring water in the bathroom.
“Tell Lucienne that she’s got to learn about the heater—” he suggested. At that moment the Asiatic woman came in person to the door.
Dick beckoned her inside and closed the door.
“Is the little sick boy better?” he inquired pleasantly.
“Better, yes, but he still has the eruptions frequently.”
“That’s too bad—I’m very sorry. But you see our children mustn’t be bathed in his water. That’s out of the question—I’m sure your mistress would be furious if she had known you had done a thing like that.”
“I?” She seemed thunderstruck. “Why, I merely saw your maid had difficulty with the heater—I told her about it and started the water.”
“But with a sick person you must empty the bathwater entirely out, and clean the tub.”
Chokingly the woman drew a long breath, uttered a convulsed sob and rushed from the room.
“She mustn’t get up on western civilization at our expense,” he said grimly.
At dinner that night he decided that it must inevitably be a truncated visit: about his own country Hosain seemed to have observed only that there were many mountains and some goats and herders of goats. He was a reserved young man—to draw him out would have required the sincere effort that Dick now reserved for his family. Soon after dinner Hosain left Mary and the Divers to themselves, but the old unity was split—between them lay the restless social fields that Mary was about to conquer. Dick was relieved when, at nine-thirty, Mary received and read a note and got up.
“You’ll have to excuse me. My husband is leaving on a short trip—and I must be with him.”
Next morning, hard on the heels of the servant bringing coffee, Mary entered their room. She was dressed and they were not dressed, and she had the air of having been up for some time. Her face was toughened with quiet, jerky fury.
“What is this story about Lanier having been bathed in a dirty bath?”
Dick began to protest, but she cut through:
“What is this story that you commanded my husband’s sister to clean Lanier’s tub?”
She remained on her feet staring at them, as they sat impotent as idols in their beds, weighed by their trays. Together they exclaimed: “His sister!”
“That you ordered one of his sisters to clean out a tub!”
“We didn’t—” their voices rang together saying the same thing, “—I spoke to the native servant——”
“You spoke to Hosain’s sister.”
Dick could only say: “I supposed they were two maids.”
“You were told they were Himadoun.”
“What?” Dick got out of bed and into a robe.
“I explained it to you at the piano night before last. Don’t tell me you were too merry to understand.”
“What was that you said? I didn’t hear the beginning. I didn’t connect the—we didn’t make any connexion, Mary. Well, all we can do is see her and apologize.”
“See her and apologize! I explained to you that when the oldest member of the family—when the oldest one marries, well, the two oldest sisters consecrate themselves to being Himadoun, to being his wife’s ladies-in-waiting.”
“Was that why Hosain left the house last night?”
Mary hesitated; then nodded.
“He had to—they all left. His honour makes it necessary.”
Now both the Divers were up and dressing; Mary went on:
“And what’s all that about the bath water? As if a thing like that could happen in this house! We’ll ask Lanier about it.”
Dick sat on the bedside indicating in a private gesture to Nicole that she should take over. Meanwhile, Mary went to the door and spoke to an attendant in Italian.
“Wait a minute,” Nicole said. “I won’t have that.”
“You accused us,” answered Mary in a tone she had never used to Nicole before. “Now I have a right to see.”
“I won’t have the child brought in.” Nicole threw on her clothes as though they were chain mail.
“That’s all right,” said Dick. “Bring Lanier in. We’ll settle this bath-tub matter—fact or myth.”
Lanier, half clothed mentally and physically, gazed at the angered faces of the adults.
“Listen, Lanier,” Mary demanded, “how did you come to think you were bathed in water that had been used before?”
“Speak up,” Dick added.
“It was just dirty, that was all.”
“Couldn’t you hear the new water running, from your room, next door?”
Lanier admitted the possibility, but reiterated his point—the water was dirty. He was a little awed; he tried to see ahead:
“It couldn’t have been running, because——”
They pinned him down.
He stood in his little kimono arousing the sympathy of his parents and further arousing Mary’s impatience—then he said:
“The water was dirty, it was full of soap-suds.”
“When you’re not sure what you’re saying——” Mary began, but Nicole interrupted.
“Stop it, Mary. If there were dirty suds in the water it was logical to think it was dirty. His father told him to come——”
“There couldn’t have been dirty suds in the water.”
Lanier looked reproachfully at his father, who had betrayed him. Nicole turned him about by the shoulders and sent him out of the room; Dick broke the tenseness with a laugh.
Then, as if the sound recalled the past, the old friendship, Mary guessed how far from them she had gone and said in a mollifying tone: “It’s always like that with children.”
Her uneasiness grew as she remembered the past. “You’d be silly to go—Hosain wanted to make this trip, anyhow. After all, you’re my guests and you just blundered into the thing.” But Dick, made more angry by this obliqueness and the use of the word blunder, turned away and began arranging his effects, saying:
“It’s too bad about the young women. I’d like to apologize to the one who came in here.”
“If you’d only listened on the piano seat!”
“But you’ve gotten so damned dull, Mary. I listened as long as I could.”
“Be quiet!” Nicole advised him.
“I return his compliment,” said Mary bitterly. “Good-bye, Nicole.” She went out.
After all that there was no question of her coming to see them off; the major-domo arranged the departure. Dick left formal notes for Hosain and the sisters. There was nothing to do except to go, but all of them, especially Lanier, felt bad about it.
“I insist,” insisted Lanier on the train, “that it was dirty bath water.”
“That’ll do,” his father said. “You better forget it—unless you want me to divorce you. Did you know there was a new law in France that you can divorce a child?”
Lanier roared with delight and the Divers were unified again—Dick wondered how many more times it could be done.
Nicole went to the window and bent over the sill to take a look at the rising altercation on the terrace; the April sun shone pink on the saintly face of Augustine, the cook, and blue on the butcher’s knife she waved in her drunken hand. She had been with them since their return to Villa Diana in February.
Because of an obstruction of an awning she could see only Dick’s head and his hand holding one of his heavy canes with a bronze knob on it. The knife and the cane, menacing each other, were like tripod and short sword in a gladiatorial combat. Dick’s words reached her first:
“—care how much kitchen wine you drink, but when I find you digging into a bottle of Chablis Mouton——”
“You talk about drinking!” Augustine cried, flourishing her sabre. “You drink—all the time!”
Nicole called over the awning: “What’s the matter, Dick?” and he answered in English:
“The old girl has been polishing off the vintage wines. I’m firing her—at least I’m trying to.”
“Heavens! Well, don’t let her reach you with that knife.”
Augustine shook her knife up at Nicole. Her old mouth was made of two small intersecting cherries.
“I would like to say, Madame, if you knew that your husband drinks over at his Bastide comparatively as a day-labourer—”
“Shut up and get out!” interrupted Nicole. “We’ll get the gendarmes.”
“You’ll get the gendarmes! With my brother in the corps! You—a disgusting American?”
In English Dick called up to Nicole:
“Get the children away from the house till I settle this.”
“—disgusting Americans who come here and drink up our finest wines,” screamed Augustine with the voice of the commune.
Dick mastered a firmer tone.
“You must leave now! I’ll pay you what we owe you.”
“Very sure you’ll pay me! And let me tell you—” she came close and waved the knife so furiously that Dick raised his stick, whereupon she rushed into the kitchen and returned with the carving-knife reinforced by a hatchet.
The situation was not prepossessing. Augustine was a strong woman and could be disarmed only at the risk of serious results to herself—and severe legal complications which were the lot of one who molested a French citizen. Trying a bluff, Dick called up to Nicole:
“Phone the poste de police.” Then to Augustine, indicating her armament, “This means arrest for you.”
“Ha-ha!” she laughed demoniacally; nevertheless, she came no nearer. Nicole phoned the police, but was answered with what was almost an echo of Augustine’s laugh. She heard mumbles and passings of the word around—the connexion was suddenly broken.
Returning to the window, she called down to Dick: “Give her something extra!”
“If I could get to that phone!” As this seemed impracticable, Dick capitulated. For fifty francs, increased to a hundred as he succumbed to the idea of getting her out hastily, Augustine yielded her fortress, covering the retreat with stormy grenades of “Salaud!” She would leave only when her nephew could come for her baggage. Waiting cautiously in the neighbourhood of the kitchen, Dick heard a cork pop, but he yielded the point. There was no further trouble. When the nephew arrived, all apologetic, Augustine bade Dick a cheerful convivial good-bye and called up, “Au revoir, Madame! Bonne chance!” to Nicole’s window.
The Divers went to Nice and dined on a bouillabaisse, which is a stew of rock fish and small lobsters highly seasoned with saffron, and a bottle of cold Chablis. He expressed pity for Augustine.
“I’m not sorry a bit,” said Nicole.
“I’m sorry—and yet I wish I’d shoved her over the cliff.”
There was little they dared talk about in these days; seldom did they find the right word when it counted, it rived always a moment too late when one could not reach the other any more. To-night Augustine’s outburst had shaken them from their separate reveries; with the burn and ill of the spiced broth and the parching wine they talked.
“We can’t go on like this?” Nicole suggested. “Or can we?—what do you think?” Startled that for the moment Dick did not deny it, she continued, “Some of the tune I think it’s my fault—I’ve ruined you.”
“So I’m ruined, am I?” he inquired pleasantly.
“I didn’t mean that. But you used to want to create things—now you seem to want to smash them up.”
She trembled at criticizing him in these broad terms, but lis enlarging silence frightened her even more. She guessed that something was developing behind the silence, behind he hard, blue eyes, the almost unnatural interest in the children. Uncharacteristic bursts of temper surprised her—he would suddenly unroll a long scroll of contempt for some person, race, class, way of life, way of thinking. It was as though an incalculable story was telling itself inside him, about which she could only guess in the moments when it broke through the surface.
“After all, what do you get out of this?” she demanded.
“Knowing you’re stronger every day. Knowing that your illness follows the law of diminishing returns.”
His voice came to her from far off, as though he were speaking of something remote and academic; her alarm made her exclaim, “Dick!’ and she thrust her hand forward to his across the table. A reflex pulled Dick’s hand back and he added: “There’s the whole situation to think of, isn’t there? There’s not just you.” He covered her hand with his and said in the old pleasant voice of a conspirator for pleasure, mischief, profit, and delight:
“See that boat out there?”
It was the motor yacht of T.F.Golding lying placid among the little swells of the Nicean bay, constantly bound upon a romantic voyage that was not dependent upon actual motion. “We’ll go out there now and ask the people on board what’s the matter with them. We’ll find out if they’re happy.”
“We hardly know him,” Nicole objected.
“He urged us. Besides, Baby knows him—she practically married him, doesn’t she—didn’t she?”
When they put out from the port in a hired launch it was already summer dusk and lights were breaking out in spasms along the rigging of the Margin. As they drew up alongside, Nicole’s doubts reasserted themselves.
“He’s having a party——”
“It’s only a radio,” he guessed.
They were hailed—a huge white-haired man in a white suit looked down at them, calling:
“Do I recognize the Divers?”
“Boat ahoy, Margin!”
Their boat moved under the companionway; as they mounted Golding doubled his huge frame to give Nicole a hand.
“Just in time for dinner.”
A small orchestra was playing astern:
“I’m yours for the asking,
But till then you cant ask me to behave——”
And as Golding’s cyclonic arms blew them aft without touching them, Nicole was sorrier they had come, and more impatient at Dick. Having taken up an attitude of aloofness from the gay people here, at the time when Dick’s work and her health were incompatible with going about, they had a reputation as refusers. Riviera replacements during the ensuing years interpreted this as a vague unpopularity. Nevertheless, having taken such a stand, Nicole felt it should not be cheaply compromised for a momentary self-indulgence.
As they passed through the principal salon they saw ahead of them figures that seemed to dance in the half-light of the circular stern. This was an illusion made by the enchantent of the music, the unfamiliar lighting, and the surrounding presence of water. Actually, save for some busy stewards, the guests loafed on a wide divan that followed the curve of the deck. There were a white, a red, a blurred dress and the laundered chests of several men, of whom one, detaching and identifying himself, brought from Nicole a rare little cry of delight.
Brushing aside the Gallicism of his formal dip at her hand, Nicole pressed her face against his. They sat, or rather lay down together, on the Antoninian bench. His handsome face was so dark as to have lost the pleasantness of deep tan, without attaining the blue beauty of Negroes—it was just worn leather. The foreignness of his depigmentation by unknown suns, his nourishment by strange soils, his tongue awkward with the curl of many dialects, his reactions attuned to odd alarms—these things fascinated and rested Nicole; in the moment of meeting she lay on his bosom, spiritually, going out and out… Then self-preservation reasserted itself and, retiring to her own world, she spoke lightly.
“You look just like all the adventurers in the movies—but why do you have to stay away so long?”
Tommy Barban looked at her, uncomprehending but alert; the pupils of his eyes flashed.
“Five years,” she continued, in throaty mimicry of nothing. “Much too long. Couldn’t you only slaughter a certain number of creatures and then come back, and breathe our air for a while?”
In her cherished presence Tommy Europeanized himself quickly.
“Mais pour nous autres heros il faut du temps, Nicole. Nous ne pouvons pas faire de petits exercices d’heroisme—il faut faire les grandes compositions.”
“Talk English to me, Tommy.”
“Parlez francais avec moi, Nicole.”
“But the meanings are different. In French you can be heroic and gallant with dignity, and you know it. But in English you can’t be heroic and gallant without being a little absurd, and you know that, too. That gives me an advantage.”
“But after all—” He chuckled suddenly. “Even in English I’m brave, heroic, and all that.”
She pretended to be groggy with wonderment, but he was not abashed.
“I only know what I see in the cinema,” he said.
“Is it all like the movies?”
“The movies aren’t so bad. Now this Ronald Colman—have you seen his pictures about the Bataillon d’Afrique? They’re not bad at all.”
“Very well, whenever I go to the movies I’ll know you’re going through just that sort of thing at that moment.”
As she spoke Nicole was aware of a small, pale, pretty young woman with lovely metallic hair, almost green in the deck lights, who had been sitting on the other side of Tommy and might have been part either of their conversation or of the one next to them. She had obviously had a monopoly of Tommy, for now she abandoned hope of his attention with what was once called ill grace, and petulantly crossed the crescent of the deck.
“After all, I am a hero,” Tommy said calmly, only half joking. “I have ferocious courage, usually, something like a lion, something like a drunken man.”
Nicole waited until the echo of his boast had died away in his mind—she knew he had probably never made such a statement before. Then she looked among the strangers and found, as usual, the fierce neurotics pretending calm, liking the country only in horror of the city, of the sound of their own voices which had set the tone and pitch. She asked:
“Who is the woman in white?”
“The one who was beside me? Lady Caroline Sibley-Biers.” They listened for a moment to her voice across the way:
“The man’s a scoundrel, but he’s a cat of the stripe. We sat up all night playing two-handed chemin-de-fer, and he owes me a mille Swiss.”
Tommy laughed and said: “She is now the wickedest woman in London—whenever I come back to Europe there is a new crop of the wickedest women from London. She’s the very latest—though I believe there is now one other who’s considered almost as wicked.”
Nicole glanced again at the woman across the deck. She was fragile, tubercular—it was incredible that such narrow shoulders, such puny arms could bear aloft the pennon of decadcnce, last ensign of the fading empire. Her resemblance was rather to one of John Held’s flat-chested flappers than to the hierarchy of tall languid blondes who had posed for painters and novelists since before the war.
Golding approached, fighting down the resonance of his huge bulk, which transmitted his will as through a gargantuan amplifier, and Nicole, still reluctant, yielded to his reiterated points: that the Margin was starting for Cannes immediately after dinner; that they could always pack in some caviare and champagne, even though they had dined; that in any case Dick was now on the phone, telling their chauffeur in Nice to drive their car back to Cannes and leave it in front of the Cafe des Allies, where the Divers could retrieve it.
They moved into the dining salon and Dick was placed next to Lady Caroline. Nicole saw that his usually ruddy face was drained of blood; he talked in a dogmatic voice, of which only snatches reached Nicole:
“…It’s all right for you English, you’re doing a dance of death…. Sepoys in the ruined fort, I mean Sepoys at the gate and gaiety in the fort and all that. The green hat, the crushed hat, no future.”
Lady Caroline answered him in short sentences spotted with the terminal “What?” the double-edged “Quite!” the depressing “Cheerio!” that always had a connotation of imminent peril, but Dick appeared oblivious to the warning signals. Suddenly he made a particularly vehement pronouncement, the purport of which eluded Nicole, but she saw the young woman turn dark and sinewy, and heard her answer sharply:
“After all, a chep’s a chep and a chum’s a chum.”
Again he had offended someone—couldn’t he hold his tongue a little longer? How long? To death then.
At the piano, a fair-haired young Scotsman from the orchestra (entitled by its drum “The Ragtime College Jazzes of Edinboro”) had begun singing in a Danny Deever monotone, accompanying himself with low chords on the piano. He pronounced his words with great precision, as though they impressed him almost intolerably:
“There was a young lady from hell,
Who jumped at the sound of a bell,
Because she was bad—bad—bad,
She jumped at the sound of a bell,
From hell (BOOMBOOM)
From hell (TOOTTOOT)
There was a young lady from hell——”
“What is all this?” whispered Tommy to Nicole.
The girl on the other side of him supplied the answer:
“Caroline Sibley-Biers wrote the words. He wrote the music.”
“Quel enfantillage!” Tommy murmured as the next verse began, hinting at the jumpy lady’s further predilections. “On dirait qu’il recite Racine!”
On the surface, at least, Lady Caroline was paying no attention to the performance of her work. Glancing at her again, Nicole found herself impressed, neither with the character nor the personality, but with the sheer strength derived from an attitude; Nicole thought that she was formidable, and she was confirmed in this point of view as the party rose from table. Dick remained in his seat wearing an odd expression; then he crashed into words with a harsh ineptness.
“I don’t like innuendo in these deafening English whispers.”
Already half-way out of the room Lady Caroline turned and walked back to him; she spoke in a low clipped voice purposely audible to the whole company.
“You came to me asking for it—disparaging my country—men, disparaging my friend, Mary Minghetti. I simply said you were observed associating with a questionable crowd in Lausanne. Is that a deafening whisper? Or does it simply deafen you?”
“It’s still all not loud enough,” said Dick, a little too late. “So I am actually a notorious—”
Golding crushed out the phrase with his voice, saying “What! What!” and moved his guests on out, with the threat of his powerful body. Turning the corner of the door, Nicole saw that Dick was still sitting at the table. She was furious at the woman for her preposterous statement, equally furious at Dick for having brought them there, for having become fuddled, for having untipped the capped barbs of his irony, for having come off humiliated. She was a little more annoyed because she knew that her taking possession of Tommy Barban on their arrival had first irritated the Englishwoman.
A moment later she saw Dick standing in the gangway, apparently in complete control of himself as he talked with Golding; then for half an hour she did not see him anywhere about the deck and she broke out of an intricate Malay game, played with string and coffee beans, and said to Tommy:
“I’ve got to find Dick.”
Since dinner the yacht had been in motion westward. The fine night streamed away on either side, the Diesel engines pounded softly, there was a spring wind that blew Nicole’s hair abruptly when she reached the bow, and she had a sharp lessening of anxiety when she saw Dick standing in the angle by the flagstaff. His voice was serene as he recognized her.
“It’s a nice night.”
“I was worried.”
“Oh, you were worried?”
“Oh, don’t talk that way. It would give me so much pleasure to think of a little something I could do for you, Dick.”
He turned away from her, toward the veil of starlight over Africa.
“I believe that’s true, Nicole. And sometimes I believe that the littler it was, the more pleasure it would give you.”
“Don’t talk like that—don’t say such things.”
His face, wan in the light that the white spray caught and tossed back to the brilliant sky, had none of the lines of annoyance she had expected. It was even detached; his eyes focused upon her gradually as upon a chessman to be moved; in the same slow manner he caught her wrist and drew her near.
“You ruined me, did you?” he inquired blandly. “Then we’re both ruined. So——”
Cold in terror, she put her other wrist into his grip. All right, she would go with him—again she felt the beauty of the night vividly in one moment of complete response and abnegation—all right, then
—but now she was unexpectedly free and Dick turned his back, sighing, “Tch! tch!”
Tears streamed down Nicole’s face. In a moment she heard someone approaching; it was Tommy.
“You found him! Nicole thought maybe you jumped overboard, Dick,” he said, “because that little English poule slanged you.”
“It’d be a good setting to jump overboard,” said Dick mildly.
“Wouldn’t it?” agreed Nicole hastily. “Let’s borrow life-preservers and jump over. I think we should do something spectacular. I feel that all our lives have been too restrained.”
Tommy sniffed from one to the other, trying to breathe in the situation with the night. “We’ll go ask the Lady Beer-and-Ale what to do—she should know the latest things. And we should memorize her song “There was a young lady from l’enfer.” I shall translate it and make a fortune from its success at the Casino.”
“Are you rich, Tommy?” Dick asked him as they retraced the length of the boat.
“Not as tilings go now. I got tired of the brokerage business and went away. But I have good stocks in the hands of friends who are holding them for me. All goes well.”
“Dick’s getting rich,” Nicole said. In reaction her voice had begun to tremble.
On the after deck Golding had fanned three pairs of dancers into action with his colossal paws. Nicole and Tommy joined them and Tommy remarked: “Dick seems to be drinking.”
“Only moderately,” she said loyally.
“There are those who can drink and those who can’t. Obviously Dick can’t. You ought to tell him not to.”
“I!” she exclaimed in amazement. “I tell Dick what he should do or shouldn’t do!”
But in a reticent way Dick was still vague and sleepy when they reached the pier at Cannes. Golding buoyed him down into the launch of the Margin, whereupon Lady Caroline shifted her place conspicuously. On the deck he bowed good-bye with exaggerated formality, and for a moment he seemed about to speed her with a salty epigram, but the bone of Tommy’s arm went into the soft part of his and they walked to the Divers’ car.
“I’ll drive you home,” Tommy suggested.
“Don’t bother—we can get a cab.”
“I’d like to, if you can put me up.”
On the back seat of the car Dick remained quiescent until the yellow monolith of Golfe Juan was passed, and then the constant carnival at Juan les Pins, where the night was musical and strident in many languages. When the car turned up the hill toward Tarmes, he sat up suddenly, prompted by the tilt of the vehicle, and delivered a peroration:
“A charming representative of the—” he stumbled momentarily, “—firm of—bring me Brains addled a l’Anglaise.”
Then he went into an appeased sleep, belching now and then contentedly into the soft, warm darkness.
Next morning Dick came early into Nicole’s room. “I waited till I heard you up. Needless to say I feel badly about the evening—but how about no post-mortems?”
“I’m agreed,” she answered coolly, carrying her face to the mirror.
“Tommy drove us home? Or did I dream it?”
“You know he did.”
“Seems probable,” he admitted, “since I just heard him coughing. I think I’ll call on him.”
She was glad when he left her, for almost the first time in her life—his awful faculty of being right seemed to have deserted him at last.
Tommy was stirring in his bed, waking for cafe au lait.
“Feel all right?” Dick asked.
When Tommy complained of a sore throat he seized at a professional attitude.
“Better have a gargle or something.”
“You have one?”
“Oddly enough I haven’t—probably Nicole has.”
“Don’t disturb her.”
“How is she?”
Dick turned around slowly. “Did you expect her to be dead because I was tight?” His tone was pleasant. “Nicole is now made of—of Georgia pine, which is the hardest wood known, except lignum vitae from New Zealand——”
Nicole, going downstairs, heard the end of the conversation. She knew, as she had always known, that Tommy loved her; she knew he had come to dislike Dick, and that Dick had realized it before he did, and would react in some positive way to the man’s lonely passion. This thought was succeeded by a moment of sheerly feminine satisfaction. She leaned over her children’s breakfast table and told off instructions to the governess, while upstairs two men were concerned about her.
Later in the garden she was happy; she did not want anything to happen, but only for the situation to remain in suspension as the two men tossed her from one mind to another; she had not existed for a long time, even as a ball.
“Nice, Rabbits, isn’t it—Or is it? Hey, Rabbit—hey you! Is it nice?—hey? Or does it sound very peculiar to you?”
The rabbit, after an experience of practically nothing else and cabbage leaves, agreed after a few tentative shiftings of the nose.
Nicole went on through her garden routine. She left the flowers she cut in designated spots to be brought to the house later by the gardener. Reaching the sea-wall, she fell into a communicative mood and no one to communicate with; so she stopped and deliberated. She was somewhat shocked at the idea of being interested in another man—but other women have lovers—why not me? In the fine spring morning the inhibitions of the male world disappeared and she reasoned as gaily as a flower, while the wind blew her hair until her head moved with it. Other women have had lovers—the same forces that last night had made her yield to Dick up to the point of death, now kept her head nodding to the wind, content and happy with the logic of, Why shouldn’t I?
She sat upon the low wall and looked down upon the sea. But from another sea, the wide swell of fantasy, she had fished out something tangible to lay beside the rest of her loot. If she need not, in her spirit, be for ever one with Dick as he had appeared last night, she must be something in addition, not just an image on his mind, condemned to endless parades around the circumference of a medal.
Nicole had chosen this part of the wall on which to sit because the cliff shaded to a slanting meadow with a cultivated vegetable garden. Through a cluster of boughs she saw two men carrying rakes and spades and talking in a counterpoint of Nicois and Provencal. Attracted by their words and gestures she caught the sense:
“I laid her down here.”
“I took her behind the vines there.”
“She doesn’t care—neither docs he. It was that sacred dog. Well, I laid her down here—”
“You got the rake?”
“You got it yourself, you clown.”
“Well, I don’t care where you laid her down. Until that night I never even felt a woman’s breast against my chest since I married—twelve years ago. And now you tell me——”
“But listen about the dog—”
Nicole watched them through the boughs; it seemed all right what they were saying—one thing was good for one person, another for another. Yet it was a man’s world she had overheard; going back to the house, she became doubtful again.
Dick and Tommy were on the terrace. She walked through them and into the house, brought out a sketch-pad and began a head of Tommy.
“Hands never idle—distaff flying,” Dick said lightly. How could he talk so trivially with the blood still drained down from his cheeks so that the auburn lather of beard showed red as his eyes? She turned to Tommy, saying:
“I can always do something. I used to have a nice active little Polynesian ape and juggle him around for hours till people began to make the most dismal rough jokes—”
She kept her eyes resolutely away from Dick. Presently he excused himself and went inside. She saw him pour himself two glasses of water, and she hardened further.
“Nicole——” Tommy began, but interrupted himself to clear the harshness from his throat.
“I’m going to get you some special camphor rub,” she suggested. “It’s American—Dick believes in it. I’ll be just a minute.”
“I must go, really.”
Dick came out and sat down. “Believes in what?”
When she returned with the jar neither of the men had moved, though she gathered they had some sort of excited conversation about nothing.
The chauffeur was at the door, with a bag containing Tommy’s clothes of the night before. The sight of Tommy in clothes borrowed from Dick moved her sadly, falsely, as though Tommy were not able to afford such clothes.
“When you get to the hotel rub this into your throat and chest and then inhale it,” she said.
“Say, there,” Dick murmured as Tommy went down the steps, “don’t give Tommy the whole jar—it has to be ordered from Paris—it’s out of stock down here.”
Tommy came back within hearing and the three of them stood in the sunshine, Tommy squarely before the car, so that it seemed by leaning forward he would tip it upon his back.
Nicole stepped down to the path.
“Now catch it,” she advised him. “It’s extremely rare.”
She heard Dick grow silent at her side; she took a step off from him and waved as the car drove off with Tommy and the special camphor rub. Then she turned to take her own medicine.
“There was no necessity for that gesture,” Dick said. “There are four of us here—and for years whenever there’s a cough—”
They looked at each other.
“We can always get another jar——” then she lost her nerve and presently followed him upstairs, where he lay down on his own bed and said nothing.
“Do you want lunch to be brought up to you?” she asked.
He nodded and continued to lie quiescent, staring at the ceiling. Doubtfully she went to give the order. Upstairs again she looked into his room—the blue eyes, like searchlights, played on a dark sky. She stood a minute in the doorway, aware of the sin she had committed against him, half afraid to come in… She put out her hand as if to rub his head, but he turned away like a suspicious animal. Nicole could stand the situation no longer; in a kitchenmaid’s panic she ran downstairs, afraid of what the stricken man above would feed on while she must still continue her dry suckling at his lean chest.
In a week Nicole forgot her flash about Tommy—she had not much memory for people and forgot them easily. But in the first hot blast of June she heard he was in Nice. He wrote a little note to them both—and she opened it under the parasol, together with other mail they had brought from the house. After reading it she tossed it over to Dick, and in exchange he threw a telegram into the lap of her beach pyjamas:
“Dears will be at Gausses to-morrow unfortunately without mother am counting on seeing you. ROSEMARY.”
“I’ll be glad to see her,” said Nicole grimly.
But she went to the beach with Dick next morning with a renewal of her apprehension that Dick was contriving at some desperate solution. Since the evening on Golding’s yacht she had sensed what was going on. So delicately balanced was she between an old foothold that had always guaranteed her security, and the imminence of a leap from which she must alight changed in the very chemistry of blood and muscle, that she did not dare bring the matter into the true forefront of consciousness. The figures of Dick and herself, mutating, undefined, appeared as spooks caught up into a fantastic dance. For months every word had seemed to have an overtone of some other meaning, soon to be resolved under circumstances that Dick would determine. Though this state of mind was perhaps more hopeful—the long years of sheer being had had an enlivening effect on the parts of her nature that early illness had killed and that Dick had not reached, through no fault of his, but simply because no one nature can extend entirely inside another—it was still disquieting. The most unhappy aspect of their relations was Dick’s growing indifference, at present expressed by too much drinking. Nicole did not know whether she was to be crushed or spared—Dick’s voice, throbbing with insincerity, confused the issue; she couldn’t guess how he was going to behave next upon the tortuously slow unrolling of the carpet, or what would happen at the end, at the moment of the leap.
For what might occur thereafter she had no anxiety—she suspected that that would be the lifting of a burden, an unblinding of eyes. Nicole had been designed for change, for flight, with money as fins and wings. The new state of things would be no more than if a racing chassis, concealed for years under the body of a family limousine, should be stripped to its original self. Nicole could feel the fresh breeze already—it was the wrench she feared, and the dark manner of its coming.
The Divers went out on the beach with her white suit and his white trunks very white against the colour of their bodies. Nicole saw Dick peer about for the children among the confused shapes and shadows of many umbrellas, and as his mind temporarily left her, ceasing to grip her, she looked at him with detachment and decided that he was seeking his children, not protectively but for protection. Probably it was the beach he feared, like a deposed ruler secretly visiting an old court. She had come to hate his world with its delicate jokes and politenesses, forgetting that for many years it was the only world open to her. Let him look at it—his beach, perverted now to the tastes of the tasteless; he could search it for a day and find no stone of the Chinese wall he had once erected around it, no footprint of an old friend.
For a moment Nicole was sorry it was so; remembering the glass he had raked out of the old trash-heap, remembering the sailor trunks and sweaters they had bought in a Nice back street—garments that afterwards ran through a vogue in silk among the Paris couturiers—remembering the simple little French girls climbing on the breakwaters crying “Dites done! Dites done!” like birds, and the ritual of the morning time, the quiet restful extraversion towards sea and sun—many inventions of his, buried deeper than the sand under the span of so few years… Now the swimming place was a “club”, though, like the international society it represented, it would be hard to say who was not admitted.
Nicole hardened again as Dick knelt on the straw mat and looked about for Rosemary. Her eyes followed his, searching among the new paraphernalia, the trapezes over the water, the swinging rings, the portable bath-houses, the floating towers, the searchlights from last night’s fetes, the modernistic buffet, white with a hackneyed motif of endless handlebars.
The water was almost the last place he looked for Rosemary, because few people swam any more in that blue paradise, children and one exhibitionist valet who punctuated the morning with spectacular dives from a fifty-foot rock—most of Gausse’s guests stripped the concealing pyjamas from their flabbiness only for a short hangover dip at one o’clock.
“There she is,” Nicole remarked.
She watched Dick’s eyes following Rosemary’s track from raft to raft; but the sigh that rocked out of her bosom was something left over from five years ago.
“Let’s swim out and speak to Rosemary,” he suggested.
“We’ll both go.” She struggled a moment against his pronouncement, but eventually they swam out together, tracing Rosemary by the school of little fish who followed her, talcing their dazzle from her, the shining spoon of a trout hook.
Nicole stayed in the water while Dick hoisted himself up beside Rosemary and the two sat dripping and talking, exactly as if they had never loved or touched each other. Rosemary was beautiful—her youth was a shock to Nicole, who rejoiced, however, that the young girl was less slender by a hairline than herself. Nicole swam around in little rings listening to Rosemary, who was acting amusement, joy, and expectation—more confident than she had been five years ago.
“I miss Mother so, but she’s meeting me in Paris, Monday.”
“Five years ago you came here,” said Dick. “And what a funny little thing you were, in one of those hotel peignoirs!”
“How you remember things! You always did—and always the nice things.”
Nicole saw the old game of flattery beginning again and she dived under water, coming up again to hear:
“I’m going to pretend it’s five years ago and I’m a girl of eighteen again. You could always make me feel some you know, kind of, you know, kind of happy way—you and Nicole. I feel as if you’re still on the beach there, under one of those umbrellas—the nicest people I’d ever known, maybe ever will.”
Swimming away, Nicole saw that the cloud of Dick’s heart-sickness had lifted a little as he began to play with Rosemary, bringing out his old expertness with people, a tarnished object of art; she guessed that with a drink or so he would have done his stunts on the swinging rings for her, fumbling through stunts he had once done with ease. She noticed that this summer, for the first time, he avoided high diving.
Later, as she dodged her way from raft to raft, Dick overtook her.
“Some of Rosemary’s friends have a speed-boat, the one out there. Do you want to aquaplane? I think it would be amusing.”
Remembering that once he could stand on his hands on a chair at the end of a board, she indulged him as she might have indulged Lanier. Summer before last on the Zugersee they had played at that pleasant water game, and Dick had lifted a two-hundred-pound man from the board on to his shoulders and stood up. But women marry all their husbands’ talents and naturally, afterwards, are not so impressed with them as they may keep up the pretence of being. Nicole had not even pretended to be impressed, though she had said “Yes” to him, and “Yes, I think so, too.”
She knew, though, that he was somewhat tired, that it was only the closeness of Rosemary’s exciting youth that prompted the impending effort—she had seen him draw the same inspiration from the new bodies of her children and she wondered coldly if he would make a spectacle of himself. The Divers were older than the others in the boat—the young people were polite, deferential, but Nicole felt an undercurrent of “Who are these Numbers, anyhow?” and she missed Dick’s easy talent of taking control of situations and making them all right—he had concentrated on what he was going to try to do.
The motor throttled down two hundred yards from shore and one of the young men dived flat over the edge. He swam at the aimless, twisting board, steadied it, climbed slowly to his knees on it—then got on his feet as the boat accelerated. Leaning back, he swung his light vehicle ponderously from side to side in slow, breathless arcs that rode the trailing side-swell at the end of each swing. In the direct wake of the boat he let go his rope, balanced for a moment, then back-flipped into the water, disappearing like a statue of glory, and reappearing as an insignificant head while the boat made the circle back to him.
Nicole refused her turn; then Rosemary rode the board neatly and conservatively, with facetious cheers from her admirers. Three of them scrambled egotistically for the honour of pulling her into the boat, managing, among them, to bruise her knee and hip against the side.
“Now you, Doctor,” said the Mexican at the wheel.
Dick and the last young man dived over the side and swam to the board. Dick was going to try his lifting trick and Nicole began to watch with smiling scorn. This physical showing-off for Rosemary irritated her most of all.
When the men had ridden long enough to find their balance, Dick knelt, and putting the back of his neck in the other man’s crotch, found the rope through his legs, and slowly began to rise.
The people in the boat, watching closely, saw that he was having difficulties. He was on one knee: the trick was to straighten all the way up in the same motion with which he left his kneeling position. He rested for a moment, then his face contracted as he put his heart into the strain, and lifted.
The board was narrow, the man, though weighing less than a hundred and fifty, was awkward with his weight and grabbed clumsily at Dick’s head. When, with a last wrenching effort of his back, Dick stood upright, the board slid sidewise and the pair toppled into the sea.
In the boat Rosemary exclaimed: “Wonderful! They almost had it.”
But as they came back to the swimmers Nicole watched for a sight of Dick’s face. It was full of annoyance as she expected, because he had done the thing with ease only two years ago.
The second time he was more careful. He rose a little, testing the balance of his burden, settled down again on his knee; then, grunting “Alley oop!” began to rise—but before he could really straighten out, his legs suddenly buckled and he shoved the board away with his feet to avoid being struck as they fell off.
This time when the Baby Car came back it was apparent to all the passengers that he was angry.
“Do you mind if I try that once more?” he called, treading water. “We almost had it then.”
“Sure. Go ahead.”
To Nicole he looked white-around-the-gills, and she cautioned him:
“Don’t you think that’s enough for now?”
He didn’t answer. The first partner had had plenty and was hauled over the side, the Mexican driving the motor-boat obligingly took his place.
He was heavier than the first man. As the boat gathered motion, Dick rested for a moment, belly-down on the board. Then he got beneath the man and took the rope, and his muscles flexed as he tried to rise.
He could not rise. Nicole saw him shift his position and strain upward again, but at the instant when the weight of his partner was full upon his shoulders he became immovable. He tried again—lifting an inch, two inches—Nicole felt the sweat glands of her forehead open as she strained with him—then he was simply holding his ground, then he collapsed back down on his knees with a smack, and they went over, Dick’s head barely missing a kick of the board.
“Hurry back!” Nicole called to the driver; even as she spoke she saw him slide under water and she gave a little cry; but he came up again and turned on his back, and the Mexican swam near to help. It seemed for ever till the boat reached them, but when they came alongside at last and Nicole saw Dick floating exhausted and expressionless, alone with the water and the sky, her panic changed suddenly to contempt.
“We’ll help you up, Doctor… Get his foot… all right… now altogether….”
Dick sat panting and looking at nothing.
“I knew you shouldn’t have tried it,” Nicole could not help saying.
“He tired himself the first two times,” said the Mexican.
“It was a foolish thing,” Nicole insisted. Rosemary tactfully said nothing.
After a minute Dick got his breath, panting, “I couldn’t have lifted a paper doll that time.”
An explosive little laugh relieved the tension caused by his failure. They were all attentive to Dick as he disembarked at the dock. But Nicole was annoyed—everything he did annoyed her now.
She sat with Rosemary under an umbrella while Dick went to the buffet for a drink. He returned presently with some sherry for them.
“The first drink I ever had was with you,” Rosemary said, and with a spurt of enthusiasm she added, “Oh, I’m so glad to see you and know you’re all right. I was worried—” Her sentence broke as she changed direction—“that maybe you wouldn’t be.”
“Did you hear I’d gone into a process of deterioration?”
“Oh, no. I simply—just heard you’d changed. And I’m glad to see with my own eyes it isn’t true.”
“It is true,” Dick answered, sitting down with them. “The change came a long way back—but at first it didn’t show. The manner remains intact for some time after the morale cracks.”
“Do you practise on the Riviera?” Rosemary demanded hastily.
“It’d be a good ground to find likely specimens.” He nodded here and there at the people milling about in the golden sand. “Great candidates. Notice our old friend, Mrs Abrams, playing duchess to Mary North’s queen? Don’t get jealous about it—think of Mrs Abrams’s long climb up the back stairs of the Ritz on her hands and knees and all the carpet dust she had to inhale.”
Rosemary interrupted him. “But is that really Mary North?” She was regarding a woman sauntering in their direction, followed by a small group who behaved as if they were accustomed to being looked at. When they were ten feet away, Mary’s glance flickered fractionally over the Divers, one of those unfortunate glances that indicate to the glanced-upon that they have been observed but are to be overlooked, the sort of glance that neither the Divers nor Rosemary Hoyt had ever permitted themselves to throw at anyone in their lives. Dick was amused when Mary perceived Rosemary, changed her plans, and came over. She spoke to Nicole with pleasant heartiness, nodded unsmilingly to Dick as if he were somewhat contagious—whereupon he bowed in ironic respect—as she greeted Rosemary.
“I heard you were here. For how long?”
“Until to-morrow,” Rosemary answered.
She, too, saw how Mary had walked through the Divers to talk to her, and a sense of obligation kept her unenthusiastic. No, she could not dine to-night.
Mary turned to Nicole, her manner indicating affect on blended with pity.
“How are the children?” she asked.
They came up at the moment, and Nicole gave ear to a request that she overrule the governess on a swimming point.
“No,” Dick answered for her. “What Mademoiselle says must go.”
Agreeing that one must support delegated authority, Nicole refused their request, whereupon Mary—who in the manner of an Anita Loos heroine had dealings only with Faits Accomplis, who indeed could not have house-broken a French poodle puppy—regarded Dick as though he were guilty of a most flagrant bullying. Dick, chafed by the tiresome performance, inquired with mock solicitude:
“How are your children—and their aunts?”
Mary did not answer; she left them, first draping a sympathetic hand over Lanier’s reluctant head. After she had gone Dick said: ” When I think of the time I spent working over her.”
“I like her,” said Nicole.
Dick’s bitterness had surprised Rosemary, who had thought of him as all-forgiving, all-comprehending. Suddenly she recalled what it was she had heard about him. In conversation with some State Department people on the boat—Europeanized Americans who had reached a position where they could scarcely have been said to belong to any nation at all, at least not to any great power, though perhaps to a Balkan-like state composed of similar citizens—the name of the ubiquitously renowned Baby Warren had occurred and it was remarked that Baby’s younger sister had thrown herself away on a dissipated doctor. “He’s not received anywhere any more,” the woman said.
The phrase disturbed Rosemary. She could not place the Divers as living in any relation to society where such a fact, if fact it was, could have any meaning, yet the hint of a hostile and organized public opinion rang in her ears. “He’s not received anywhere any more.” She pictured Dick climbing the steps of a mansion, presenting cards, and being told by a butler: “We’re not receiving you any more”; then proceeding down an avenue only to be told the same thing by the countless other butlers of countless Ambassadors, Ministers, Charges d’Affaires…
Nicole wondered how she could get away. She guessed that Dick, stung into alertness, would grow charming and would make Rosemary respond to him. Sure enough, in a moment his voice managed to qualify everything unpleasant he had said:
“Mary’s all right—she’s done very well. But it’s hard to go on liking people who don’t like you.”
Rosemary, falling into line, swayed toward Dick and crooned:
“Oh, you’re so nice. I can’t imagine anybody not forgiving you anything, no matter what you did to them.” Then feeling that her exuberance had transgressed on Nicole’s rights, she looked at the sand exactly between them: “I wanted to ask you both what you thought of my latest pictures—if you saw them.”
Nicole said nothing, having seen one of them and thought little about it.
“It’ll take a few minutes to tell you,” Dick said. “Let’s suppose that Nicole says to you that Lanier is ill. What do you do in life? What does anyone do? They act—face, voice, words—the face shows sorrow, the voice shows shock, the words show sympathy.”
“But, in the theatre, no. In the theatre all the best comediennes have built up their reputations by burlesquing the correct emotional responses—fear and love and sympathy.”
“I see.” Yet she did not quite see.
Losing the thread of it, Nicole’s impatience increased as Dick continued:
“The danger to an actress is in responding. Again, let’s suppose that somebody told you, “Your lover is dead.” In life you’d probably go to pieces. But on the stage you’re trying to entertain—the audience can do the “responding” for themselves. First the actress has lines to follow, then she has to get the audience’s attention back on herself, away from the murdered Chinese or whatever the thing is. So she must do something unexpected. If the audience thinks the character is hard she goes soft on them—if they think she’s soft she goes hard. You go all out of character—you understand?”
“I don’t quite,” admitted Rosemary. “How do you mean out of character?”
“You do the unexpected thing until you’ve manoeuvred be audience back from the objective fact to yourself. Then you slide into character again.”
Nicole could stand no more. She stood up sharply, making an attempt to conceal her impatience. Rosemary, who had been for a few minutes half-conscious of this, turned in a conciliatory way to Topsy.
“Would you like to be an actress when you grow up? I link you’d make a fine actress.”
Nicole stared at her deliberately and in her grandfather’s voice said, slow and distinct:
“It’s absolutely out to put such ideas in the heads of other people’s children. Remember, we may have quite different plans for them.” She turned sharply to Dick. “I’m going to take the car home. I’ll send Michelle for you and the children.”
“You haven’t driven for months,” he protested.
“I haven’t forgotten how.”
Without a glance at Rosemary, whose face was “responding” violently, Nicole left the umbrella.
In the bath-house she changed to pyjamas, her expression still hard as a plaque. But as she turned into the road of arched pines and the atmosphere changed—with a squirrel’s flight on a branch, a wind nudging at the leaves, a cock splitting distant air, with a creep of sunlight transpiring through the immobility—then the voices of the beach receded. Nicole relaxed and felt new and happy; her thoughts were clear as good bells—she had a sense of being cured and in a new way. Her ego began blooming like a great rich rose as she scrambled back along the labyrinths in which she had wandered for years. She hated the beach, resented the places where she had played planet to Dick’s sun.
“Why, I’m almost complete,” she thought. “I’m practically standing alone, without him.” And like a happy child, wanting the completion as soon as possible, and knowing vaguely that Dick had planned for her to have it, she lay on her bed as soon as she got home and wrote Tommy Barban in Nice a short provocative letter.
But that was for the daytime—toward evening, with the inevitable diminution of nervous energy, her spirits flagged and the arrows flew a little in the twilight. She was afraid of what was in Dick’s mind; again she felt that a plan underlay his current actions and she was afraid of his plans—they worked well and they had an all-inclusive logic about them which Nicole was not able to command. She had somehow given over the thinking to him, and in his absences her every action seemed automatically governed by what he would like, so that now she felt inadequate to match her intentions against his. Yet think she must; she knew at last the number on the dreadful door of fantasy, the threshold to the escape that was no escape; she knew that for her the greatest sin now and in the future was to delude herself. It had been a long lesson but she had learned it. Either you think—or eke others have to think for you and take power from you, pervert and discipline your natural tastes, civilize and sterilize you.
They had a tranquil supper with Dick drinking much beer and being cheerful with the children in the dusky room. Afterward he played some Schubert songs and some new jazz from America that Nicole hummed in her harsh, sweet contralto over his shoulder.
“Thank y’ father—r
Thank y’ mother—r
Thanks for meetingup with one another——”
“I don’t like that one,” Dick said, starting to turn the page. “Oh, play it!” she exclaimed. “Am I going through the rest of life flinching at the word “father”?”
“—Thank the horse that pulled the buggy that night!
Thank you both for being justabit tight——”
Later they sat with the children on the Moorish roof and watched the fireworks of two casinos, far apart, far down on the shore. It was lonely and sad to be so empty-hearted toward each other.
Next morning, back from shopping in Cannes, Nicole found a note saying that Dick had taken the small car and gone up into Provence for a few days by himself. Even as she read it the phone rang—it was Tommy Barban from Monte Carlo, saying that he had received her letter and was driving over. She felt her lips’ warmth in the receiver as she welcomed his coming.
She bathed and anointed herself and covered her body with a layer of powder, while her toes crunched another pile on a bath towel. She looked microscopically at the lines of her flanks, wondering how soon the fine, slim edifice would begin to sink squat and earthward. In about six years, but now I’ll do—in fact I’ll do as well as anyone I know.
She was not exaggerating. The only physical disparity between Nicole at present and the Nicole of five years before was simply that she was no longer a young girl. But she was enough ridden by the current youth worship, the moving pictures with their myriad faces of girl-children, blandly represented as carrying on the work and wisdom of the world, to feel a jealousy of youth.
She put on the first ankle-length day dress that she had owned for many years and crossed herself reverently with Chanel Sixteen. When Tommy drove up at one o’clock she had made her person into the trimmest of gardens.
How good to have things like this, to be worshipped again, to pretend to have a mystery! She had lost two of the great arrogant years in the life of a pretty girl—now she felt like making up for them; she greeted Tommy as if he were one of many men at her feet, walking ahead of him instead of beside him as they crossed the garden toward the market umbrella. Attractive women of nineteen and of twenty-nine are alike in their breezy confidence; on the contrary, the exigent womb of the twenties does not pull the outside world centripetally around itself. The former are ages of insolence, comparable the one to a young cadet, the other to a fighter strutting after combat.
But whereas a girl of nineteen draws her confidence from a surfeit of attention, a woman of twenty-nine is nourished on subtler stuff. Desirous, she chooses her aperitifs wisely or, content, she enjoys the caviare of potential power. Happily she does not seem, in either case, to anticipate the subsequent years when her insight will often be blurred by panic, by the fear of stopping or the fear of going on. But on the landings of nineteen or twenty-nine she is pretty sure that there are no bears in the hall.
Nicole did not want any vague spiritual romance—she wanted an “affair”; she wanted a change. She realized, thinking with Dick’s thoughts, that from a superficial view it was a vulgar business to enter, without emotion, into an indulgence that menaced all of them. On the other hand, she blamed Dick for the immediate situation, and honestly thought that such an experiment might have a therapeutic value. All summer she had been stimulated by watching people do exactly what they were tempted to do and pay no penalty for it—moreover, in spite of her intention of no longer lying to herself, she preferred to consider that she was merely feeling her way and that at any moment she could withdraw…
In the light shade Tommy caught her up in his white-duck arms and pulled her around to him, looking at her eyes.
“Don’t move,” he said. “I’m going to look at you a great deal from now on.”
There was some scent on his hair, a faint aura of soap from his white clothes. Her lips were tight, not smiling, and they both simply looked for a moment.
“Do you like what you see?” she murmured.
“Very well,” and she asked again in French. “Do you like what you see?”
He pulled her closer.
“I like whatever I see about you.” He hesitated. “I thought I knew your face but it seems there are some things I didn’t know about it. When did you begin to have white crook’s eyes?”
She broke away, shocked and indignant, and cried in English:
“Is that why you wanted to talk French?” Her voice quieted as the butler came with sherry. “So you could be offensive more accurately?”
She parked her small seat violently on the cloth-of-silver chair cushion.
“I have no mirror here,” she said, again in French, but decisively, “but if my eyes have changed it’s because I’m well again. And being well perhaps I’ve gone back to my true self—I suppose my grandfather was a crook and I’m a crook by heritage, so there we are. Does that satisfy your logical mind?”
He scarcely seemed to know what she was talking about.
“Where’s Dick—is he lunching with us?”
Seeing that his remark had meant comparatively little to him she suddenly laughed away its effect.
“Dick’s on a tour,” she said. “Rosemary Hoyt turned up, and either they’re together or she upset him so much that he wants to go away and dream about her.”
“You know, you’re a little complicated after all.”
“Oh, no,” she assured him hastily. “No, I’m not really—I’m just a—I’m just a whole lot of different simple people.”
Marius brought out melon and an ice pail, and Nicole, thinking irresistibly about her crook’s eyes, did not answer; he gave one an entire nut to crack, this man, instead of giving it in fragments to pick at for meat.
“Why didn’t they leave you in your natural state?” Tommy demanded presently. “You are the most dramatic person I have known.”
She had no answer.
“All this taming of women!” he scoffed.
“In any society there are certain——” She felt Dick’s ghost prompting at her elbow, but she subsided at Tommy’s overtone:
“I’ve brutalized many men into shape but I wouldn’t take a chance on half the number of women. Especially this “kind” bullying—what good does it do anybody?—you or him or anybody?”
Her heart leaped and then sank faintly with a sense of what she owed Dick.
“I suppose I’ve got——”
“You’ve got too much money,” he said impatiently. “That’s the crux of the matter. Dick can’t beat that.”
She considered while the melons were removed.
“What do you think I ought to do?”
For the first time in ten years she was under the sway of a personality other than her husband’s. Everything Tommy said to her became part of her for ever.
They drank the bottle of wine while a faint wind rocked the pine needles and the sensuous heat of early afternoon made blinding freckles on the checkered luncheon cloth. Tommy came over behind her and laid his arms along hers, clasping her hands. Their cheeks touched and then their lips and she gasped half with passion for him, half with the sudden surprise of its force.
“Can’t you send the governess and the children away for the afternoon?”
“They have a piano lesson. Anyhow I don’t want to stay here.”
“Kiss me again.”
A little later, riding toward Nice, she thought: So I have white crook’s eyes, have I? Very well then, better a sane crook than a mad puritan.
His assertion seemed to absolve her from all blame or responsibility and she had a thrill of delight in thinking of herself in a new way. New vistas appeared ahead, peopled with the faces of many men, none of whom she need obey or even love. She drew in her breath, hunched her shoulders with a wiggle, and turned to Tommy.
“Have we got to go all the way to your hotel at Monte Carlo?”
He brought the car to a stop with a squeak of tyres.
“No!” he answered. “And, my God, I have never been so happy as I am this minute.”
They had passed through Nice following the blue coast ad began to mount to the middling-high Corniche. Now Tommy turned sharply down to the shore, ran out a blunt peninsula, and stopped in the rear of a small shore hotel.
Its tangibility frightened Nicole for a moment. At the desk an American was arguing interminably with the clerk about the rate of exchange. She hovered, outwardly tranquil but inwardly miserable, as Tommy filled out the police blanks—his real, hers false. Their room was a Mediterranean room, almost ascetic, almost clean, darkened to the glare of the sea. Simplest of pleasures—simplest of places. Tommy ordered two cognacs and, when the door closed behind the waiter, he sat in the only chair, dark, scarred, and handsome, his eye-rows arched and upcurling, a fighting Puck, an earnest Satan.
Before they had finished the brandy they suddenly moved together and met standing up; then they were sitting on the bed and he kissed her hardy knees. Struggling a little still, like a decapitated animal, she forgot about Dick and her new white eyes, forgot Tommy himself, and sank deeper and deeper into the minutes and the moment.
…When he got up to open a shutter and find out what caused the increasing clamour below their windows, his figure was darker and stronger than Dick’s, with high lights along the rope-twists of muscle. Momentarily he had forgotten her too—almost in the second of his flesh breaking from hers she had a foretaste that things were going to be different from what she had expected. She felt the nameless fear which precedes all emotions, joyous or sorrowful, inevitably as a hum of thunder precedes a storm.
Tommy peered cautiously from the balcony and reported:
“All I can see is two women on the balcony below this. They’re talking about weather and tipping back and forth in American rocking-chairs.”
“Making all that noise?”
“The noise is coming from somewhere below them. Listen.”
“Oh, way down South in the land of cotton
Hotels bum and business rotten
Nicole flung her arms wide on the bed and stared at the ceiling; the powder had dampened on her to make a milky surface. She liked the bareness of the room, the sound of the single fly navigating overhead. Tommy brought the chair over to the bed and swept the clothes off it to sit down; she liked the economy of the weightless dress and espadrilles that mingled with his ducks upon the floor.
He inspected the oblong white torso joined abruptly to the brown limbs and head, and said, laughing gravely:
“You are all new like a baby.”
“With white eyes.”
“I’ll take care of that.”
“It’s very hard taking care of white eyes—especially the ones made in Chicago.”
“I know all the old Languedoc peasant remedies.”
“Kiss me, on the lips, Tommy.”
“That’s so American,” he said, kissing her nevertheless. “When I was in America last there were girls who would tear you apart with their lips, tear themselves too, until their faces were scarlet with the blood around the lips all brought out in a patch—but nothing further.”
Nicole leaned up on one elbow.
“I like this room,” she said.
He looked around.
“I find it somewhat meagre. Darling, I’m glad you wouldn’t wait until we got to Monte Carlo.”
“Why only meagre? Why, this is a wonderful room, Tommy—like the bare tables in so many Cezannes and Picassos.”
“I don’t know.” He did not try to understand her. “There’s that noise again. My God, has there been a murder?”
He went to the window and reported once more:
“It seems to be two American sailors fighting and a lot more cheering them on. They are from your battleship off shore.” He wrapped a towel around himself and went farther out on the balcony. “They have poules with them. I have heard about this now—the women follow them from place to place wherever the ship goes. But what women! One would think with their pay they could find better women! Why, the women who followed Kornilov! Why, we never looked at anything less than a ballerina!”
Nicole was glad he had known so many women, so that the word itself meant nothing to him; she would be able to hold him so long as the person in her transcended the universals of her body.
“Hit him where it hurts!”
“Hey, what I tell you get inside that right!”
“Come on, Dulschmit, you son!”
Tommy turned away.
“This place seems to have outlived its usefulness, you agree?”
She agreed, but they clung together for a moment before dressing, and then for a while longer it seemed as good enough a place as any….
Dressing at last Tommy exclaimed:
“My God, those two women in the rocking-chairs on the balcony below us haven’t moved. They’re trying to talk this matter out of existence. They’re here on an economical holiday, and all the American navy and all the whores in Europe couldn’t spoil it.”
He came over gently and surrounded her, pulling the shoulder strap of her slip into place with his teeth; then a sound split the air outside: Cr-ACK-BOOM-M-m-m! It was the battleship sounding a recall.
Now, down below their window, it was pandemonium indeed—for the boat was moving to shores as yet unannounced. Waiters called accounts and demanded settlements in impassioned voices; there were oaths and denials, the tossing of bills too large and change too small; pass-outs were assisted to the boats, and the voices of the naval police chopped with quick commands through all voices. There were cries, tears, shrieks, promises as the first launch shoved off and the women crowded forward on the wharf, screaming and waving.
Tommy saw a girl rush out upon the balcony below waving a napkin, and before he could see whether or not the rocking Englishwomen gave in at last and acknowledged her presence, there was a knock at their own door. Outside, excited female voices made them agree to unlock it, disclosing two girls, young, thin, and barbaric, unfound rather than lost, in the hall. One of them wept chokingly.
“Kwee wave off your porch?” implored the other in passionate American. “Kwee please? Wave at the boy friends? Kwee, please. The other rooms is all locked.”
“With pleasure,” Tommy said.
The girls rushed out on the balcony and presently their voices struck a loud treble over the din.
“By, Charlie! Charlie, look up!”
“Send a wire gen’al alivery Nice!”
“Charlie! He don’t see me.”
One of the girls hoisted her skirt suddenly, pulled and ripped at her pink step-ins, and tore them to a sizable flag; then, screaming “Ben! Ben!” she waved it wildly. As Tommy and Nicole left the room it still fluttered against the blue sky. Oh, say can you see the tender colour of remembered flesh?—while at the stern of the battleship rose in rivalry the Star Spangled Banner.
They dined at the new Beach Casino at Monte Carlo… much later they swam in Beaulieu in a roofless cavern of white moonlight formed by a circlet of pale boulders about a cup of phosphorescent water, facing Monaco and the blur of Mentone. She liked his bringing her there to the eastward vision and the novel tricks of wind and water; it was all as new as they were to each other. Symbolically she lay across his saddle-bow as surely as if he had wolfed her away from Damascus and they had come out upon the Mongolian plain. Moment by moment all that Dick had taught her fell away and she was ever nearer to what she had been in the beginning, prototype of that obscure yielding up of swords that was going on in the world about her. Tangled with love in the moonlight she welcomed the anarchy of her lover.
They awoke together to find the moon gone down and the air cool. She struggled up demanding the time and Tommy called it roughly at three.
“I’ve got to go home then.”
“I thought we’d sleep in Monte Carlo.”
“No. There’s a governess and the children. I’ve got to roll before daylight.”
“As you like.”
They dipped for a second, and when he saw her shivering he rubbed her briskly with a towel. As they got into the car with their heads still damp, their skins fresh and glowing, they were loath to start back. It was very bright where they were and as Tommy kissed her she felt him losing himself in the whiteness of her cheeks and her white teeth and her cool brow and the hand that touched his face. Still attuned to Dick, she waited for interpretation or qualification; but none was forthcoming. Reassured sleepily and happily that none would be, she sank low in the seat and drowsed until the sound of the motor changed and she felt them climbing toward Villa Diana. At the gate she kissed him an almost automatic good-bye. The sound of her feet on the walk was changed, the night noises of the garden were suddenly in the past, but she was glad, none the less, to be back. The day had progressed at a staccato rate, and in spite of its satisfactions she was not habituated to such strain.
At four o’clock next afternoon a station taxi stopped at the gate and Dick got out. Suddenly off balance, Nicole ran from the terrace to meet him, breathless with her effort at self-control.
“Where’s the car?” she asked.
“I left it in Aries. I didn’t feel like driving any more.”
“I thought from your note that you’d be several days.”
“I ran into a mistral and some rain.”
“Did you have fun?”
“Just as much fun as anybody has running away from things. I drove Rosemary as far as Avignon and put her on her train there.” They walked toward the terrace together, where he deposited his bag. “I didn’t tell you in the note because I thought you’d imagine a lot of things.”
“That was very considerate of you.” Nicole felt surer of herself now.
“I wanted to find out if she had anything to offer—the only way was to see her alone.”
“Did she have—anything to offer?”
“Rosemary didn’t grow up,” he answered. “It’s probably better that way. What have you been doing?”
She felt her face quiver like a rabbit’s.
“I went dancing last night—with Tommy Barban. We went—”
He winced, interrupting her.
“Don’t tell me about it. It doesn’t matter what you do, only I don’t want to know anything definitely.”
“There isn’t anything to know.”
“All right, all right.” Then as if he had been away a week: “How are the children?”
The phone rang in the house.
“If it’s for me I’m not home,” said Dick, turning away quickly. “I’ve got some things to do over in the work-room.”
Nicole waited till he was out of sight behind the well; then she went into the house and took up the phone.
“Nicole, comment vas-tu?”
“Meet me here in Cannes,” he suggested. “I’ve got to talk to you.”
“Tell me you love me.” Without speaking she nodded at the receiver; he repeated, “Tell me you love me.”
“Oh, I do,” she assured him. “But there’s nothing to be done right now.”
“Of course there is,” he said impatiently. “Dick sees it’s over between you two—it’s obvious he has quit. What docs he expect you to do?”
“I don’t know. I’ll have to—” She stopped herself from saying “—to wait until I can ask Dick,” and instead finished with: “I’ll write and I’ll phone you to-morrow.”
She wandered about the house rather contentedly, resting on her achievement. She was a mischief, and that was a satisfaction; no longer was she a huntress of corralled game. Yesterday came back to her now in innumerable detail—detail that began to overlay her memory of similar moments when her love for Dick was fresh and intact. She began to slight that love, so that it seemed to have been tinged with sentimental habit from the first. With the opportunistic memory of women she scarcely recalled how she had felt when she and Dick had possessed each other in secret places around the corners of the world, during the month before they were married. Just so had she lied to Tommy last night, swearing to him that never before had she so entirely, so completely, so utterly…
…then remorse for this moment of betrayal, which so cavalierly belittled a decade of her life, turned her walk toward Dick’s sanctuary.
Approaching noiselessly she saw him behind his cottage, sitting in a steamer chair by the cliff wall, and for a moment she regarded him silently. He was thinking, he was living a world completely his own, and in the small motions of his face, the brow raised or lowered, the eyes narrowed or widened, the lips set and reset, the play of his hands, she saw him progress from phase to phase of his own story spinning out inside him, his own, not hers. Once he clenched his fists and leaned forward, once it brought into his face an expression of torment and despair—when this passed its stamp lingered in his eyes. For almost the first time in her life she was sorry for him—it is hard for those who have once been mentally afflicted to be sorry for those who are well, and though Nicole often paid lip service to the fact that he had led her back to the world she had forfeited, she had thought of him really as an inexhaustible energy, incapable of fatigue—she forgot the troubles she caused him at the moment when she forgot the troubles of her own that had prompted her. That he no longer controlled her—did he know that? Had he willed it all?—she felt as sorry for him as she had sometimes felt for Abe North and his ignoble destiny, sorry as for the helplessness of infants and the old.
She went up to him and, putting her arm around his shoulder and touching their heads together, said:
“Don’t be sad.”
He looked at her coldly.
“Don’t touch me!” he said.
Confused she moved a few feet away.
“Excuse me,” he continued abstractedly. “I was just thinking what I thought of you—”
“Why not add the new classification to your book?”
“I have thought of it—‘Furthermore and beyond the psychoses and the neuroses—’”
“I didn’t come over here to be disagreeable.”
“Then why did you come, Nicole? I can’t do anything for you any more. I’m trying to save myself.”
“From my contamination?”
“My profession throws me in contact with questionable company sometimes.”
She wept with anger at the abuse.
“You’re a coward! You’ve made a failure of your life, and you want to blame it on me.”
While he did not answer she began to feel the old hypnotism of his intelligence, sometimes exercised without power but always with substrata of truth under truth which she could not break, or even crack. Again she struggled with it, fighting him with her small, fine eyes, with the plush arrogance of a top dog, with her nascent transference to another man, with the accumulated resentment of years; she fought him with her money and her faith that her sister disliked him and was behind her now; with the thought of the new enemies he was making with his bitterness, with her quick guile against his wining and dining slowness, her health and beauty against his physical deterioration, her unscrupulousness against his moralities—for this inner battle she used even her weaknesses, fighting bravely and courageously with the old cans and crockery and bottles, the empty receptacles of her expiated sins, outrages, mistakes. And suddenly, in the space of two minutes, she achieved her victory and justified herself to herself without lie or subterfuge, cut the cord for ever. Then she walked, weak in the legs and sobbing coolly, toward the household that was hers at last.
Dick waited until she was out of sight. Then he leaned his head forward on the parapet. The case was finished. Doctor Diver was at liberty.
At two o’clock that night the phone woke Nicole and she heard Dick answer it from what they called the restless bed, in the next room.
“Oui, oui… mais a qui est-ce-que je parle?… Oui…” His voice woke up with surprise. “But can I speak to one of the ladies, Sir the Officer? They are both ladies of the very highest prominence, ladies of connexions that might cause political complications of the most serious… It is a fact, I swear to you… Very well, you will see.”
He got up and, as he absorbed the situation, his self-knowledge assured him that he would undertake to deal with it—the old fatal pleasingness, the old forceful charm, swept back with its cry of “Use me!” He would have to go fix this thing that he didn’t care a damn about, because it had early become a habit to be loved, perhaps from the moment when he had realized that he was the last hope of a decaying clan. On an almost parallel occasion, back in Dohmler’s clinic on the Zurichsee, realizing this power, he had made his choice, chosen Ophelia, chosen the sweet poison and drunk it. Wanting above all to be brave and kind, he had wanted, even more than that, to be loved. So it had been. So it would ever be, he saw, simultaneously with the slow archaic tinkle from the phone box as he rang off.
There was a long pause. Nicole called, “What is it? Who is it?”
Dick had begun to dress even as he hung up the phone.
“It’s the poste de police in Antibes—they’re holding Mary North and that Sibley-Biers. It’s something serious—the agent wouldn’t tell me; he kept saying “pas de morts—pas d’automobiles,” but he implied it was just about everything else.”
“Why on earth did they call on you? It sounds very peculiar to me.”
“They’ve got to get out on bail to save their faces; and only some property owner in the Alpes Maritimes can give bail.”
“They had their nerve.”
“I don’t mind. However, I’ll pick up Gausse at the hotel——”
Nicole stayed awake after he had departed, wondering what offence they could have committed; then she slept. A little after three when Dick came in she sat up stark awake, saying “What?” as if to a character in her dream.
“It was an extraordinary story—” Dick said. He sat on the foot of her bed, telling her how he had roused old Gausse from an Alsatian coma, told him to clean out his cash drawer, and driven with him to the police station.
“I don’t like to do something for that Anglaise,” Gausse grumbled.
Mary North and Lady Caroline, dressed in the costume of French sailors, lounged on a bench outside the two dingy cells. The latter had the outraged air of a Briton who momentarily expected the Mediterranean fleet to steam up to her assistance. Mary Minghetti was in a condition of panic and collapse—she literally flung herself at Dick’s stomach as though that were the point of greatest association, imploring him to do something. Meanwhile the chief of police explained the matter to Gausse, who listened to each word with reluctance, divided between being properly appreciative of the officer’s narrative gift and showing that, as the perfect servant, the story had no shocking effect on him.
“It was merely a lark,” said Lady Caroline with scorn. “We were pretending to be sailors on leave, and we picked up two silly girls. They got the wind up and made a rotten scene in a lodging house.”
Dick nodded gravely, looking at the stone floor, like a priest in the confessional—he was torn between a tendency to ironic laughter and another tendency to order fifty stripes of the cat and a fortnight of bread and water. The lack, in Lady Caroline’s face, of any sense of evil, except the evil wrought by cowardly Provencal girls and stupid police, confounded him; yet he had long concluded that certain classes of English people lived upon a concentrated essence of the anti-social that, in comparison, reduced the gorgings of New York to something like a child contracting indigestion from ice cream.
“I’ve got to get out before Hosain hears about this,” Mary pleaded. “Dick, you can always arrange things—you always could. Tell ’em we’ll go right home, tell ’em we’ll pay anything.”
“I shall not,” said Lady Caroline disdainfully. “Not a shilling. But I shall jolly well find out what the Consulate in Cannes has to say about this.”
“No, no!” insisted Mary. “We’ve got to get out to-night.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” said Dick, and added, “but money will certainly have to change hands.” Looking at them as though they were the innocents that he knew they were not, he shook his head: “Of all the crazy stunts!”
Lady Caroline smiled complacently.
“You’re an insanity doctor, aren’t you? You ought to be able to help us—and Gausse has got to!”
At this point Dick went aside with Gausse and talked over the old man’s findings. The affair was more serious than had been indicated—one of the girls whom they had picked up was of a respectable family. The family were furious, or pretended to be; a settlement would have to be made with them. The other one, a girl of the port, could be more easily dealt with. There were French statutes that would make conviction punishable by imprisonment or, at the very least, public expulsion from the country. In addition to the difficulties, there was a growing difference in tolerance between such townspeople as benefited by the foreign colony and the ones who were annoyed by the consequent rise of prices. Gausse, having summarized the situation, turned it over to Dick. Dick called the chief of police into conference.
“Now you know that the French government wants to encourage American touring—so much so that in Paris this summer there’s an order that Americans can’t be arrested except for the most serious offences.”
“This is serious enough, my God.”
“But look now—you have their cartes d’identite?”
“They had none. They had nothing—two hundred francs and some rings. Not even shoe—laces that they could have hung themselves with!”
Relieved that there had been no cartes d’identite Dick continued.
“The Italian countess is still an American citizen. She is the grand-daughter—” he told a string of lies slowly and portentously, “—of John D. Rockefeller Mellon. You have heard of him?”
“Yes, oh heavens, yes. You mistake me for a nobody?”
“In addition she is the niece of Lord Henry Ford and so connected with the Renault and Citroen companies—” He thought he had better stop here. However, the sincerity of his voice had begun to affect the officer, so he continued:
“To arrest her is just as if you arrested a great royalty of England. It might mean—War!”
“But how about the Englishwoman?”
“I’m coming to that. She is affianced to the brother of the Prince of Wales—the Duke of Buckingham.”
“She will be an exquisite bride for him.”
“Now we are prepared to give—” Dick calculated quickly, “one thousand francs to each of the girls—and an additional thousand to the father of the “serious” one. Also two thousand in addition, for you to distribute as you think best—” he shrugged his shoulders, “—among the men who made the arrest, the lodging-house keeper, and so forth. I shall hand you the five thousand and expect you to do the negotiating immediately. Then they can be released on bail on some charge like disturbing the peace, and whatever fine there is will be paid before the magistrate to-morrow—by messenger.”
Before the officer spoke Dick saw by his expression that it would be all right. The man said hesitantly, “I have made no entry because they have no cartes d’identite. I must see—give me the money.”
An hour later Dick and M. Gausse dropped the women by the Majestic Hotel, where Lady Caroline’s chauffeur slept in her landaulet.
“Remember,” said Dick, “you owe M. Gausse a hundred dollars apiece.”
“All right,” Mary agreed, “I’ll give him a cheque tomorrow—and something more.”
“Not I!” Startled, they all turned to Lady Caroline, who, now entirely recovered, was swollen with righteousness. “The whole thing was an outrage. By no means did I authorize you to give a hundred dollars to those people.”
Little Gausse stood beside the car, his eyes blazing suddenly.
“You won’t pay me?”
“Of course she will,” said Dick.
Suddenly the abuse that Gausse had once endured as a bus boy in London flamed up and he walked through the moonlight up to Lady Caroline.
He whipped a string of condemnatory words about her and, as she turned away with a frozen laugh, he took a step after her and swiftly planted his little foot in the most celebrated of targets. Lady Caroline, taken by surprise, flung up her hands like a person shot as her sailor-clad form sprawled forward on the sidewalk.
Dick’s voice cut across her raging: “Mary, you quiet her down! or you’ll both be in leg-irons in ten minutes!”
On the way back to the hotel old Gausse said not a word, until they passed the Juan-les-Pins Casino, still sobbing and coughing with jazz; then he sighed forth:
“I have never seen women like this sort of women. I have known many of the great courtesans of the world, and for them I have much respect often, but women like these women I have never seen before.”
Dick and Nicole were accustomed to go together to the barber, and have haircuts and shampoos in adjoining rooms. From Dick’s side Nicole could hear the snip of shears, the count of changes, the Voilai and Pardons. The day after his return they went down to be shorn and washed in the perfumed breeze of the fans.
In front of the Carleton Hotel, its windows as stubbornly blank to the summer as so many cellar doors, a car passed them and Tommy Barban was in it. Nicole’s momentary glimpse of his expression, taciturn and thoughtful and, in the second of seeing her, wide-eyed and alert, disturbed her. She wanted to be going where he was going. The hour with the hair-dresser seemed one of the wasteful intervals that composed her life, another little prison. The coiffeuse in her white Uniform, faintly sweating lip-rouge and cologne, reminded her of many nurses.
In the next room Dick dozed under an apron and a lather of soap. The mirror in front of Nicole reflected the passage between the men’s side and the women’s, and Nicole started up at the sight of Tommy entering and wheeling sharply into the men’s shop. She knew with a flush of joy that there was going to be some sort of showdown.
She heard fragments of its beginning.
“Hello, I want to see you.”
“… perfectly agreeable.”
In a minute Dick came into Nicole’s booth, his expression emerging annoyed from behind the towel of his hastily rinsed face.
“Your friend has worked himself up into a state. He wants to see us together, so I agreed to have it over with. Come along!”
“But my hair—it’s half cut.”
“Never mind—come along!”
Resentfully she had the staring coiffeuse remove the towels.
Feeling messy and unadorned she followed Dick from the hotel. Outside Tommy bent over her hand.
“We’ll go to the Cafe des Allies,” said Dick.
“Wherever we can be alone,” Tommy agreed.
Under the arching trees, central in summer, Dick asked: “Will you take anything, Nicole?”
“A citron presse.”
“For me a demi,” said Tommy.
“The Blackenwite with siphon,” said Dick.
“Il n’y a plus de Blackenwite. Nous n’avons que le Johnny Walkair.”
“She’s—not—wired for sound
but on the quiet
you ought to try it——”
“Your wife does not love you,” said Tommy suddenly. “She loves me.”
The two men regarded each other with a curious impotence of expression. There can be little communication between men in that position, for their relation is indirect, and consists of how much each of them has possessed or will possess of the woman in question, so that their emotions pass through her divided self as through a bad telephone connexion.
“Wait a minute,” Dick said. “Donnez-moi du gin et du siphon.”
“All right, go on, Tommy.”
“It’s very plain to me that your marriage to Nicole has run its course. She is through. I’ve waited five years for that to be so.”
“What does Nicole say?”
They both looked at her.
“I’ve gotten very fond of Tommy, Dick.”
“You don’t care for me any more,” she continued. “It’s all just habit. Things were never the same after Rosemary.”
Unattracted to this angle, Tommy broke in sharply with:
“You don’t understand Nicole. You treat her always like a patient because she was once sick.”
They were suddenly interrupted by an insistent American, of sinister aspect, vending copies of the Herald and of the Times fresh from New York.
“Got everything here, Buddies,” he announced. “Been here long?”
“Cessez cela! Allez ouste!” Tommy cried; and then to Dick, “Now no woman would stand such——”
“Buddies,” interrupted the American again. “You think I’m wasting my time—but lots of others don’t.” He brought a grey clipping from his purse—it cartooned millions of Americans pouring from liners with bags of gold. “You think I’m not going to get part of that? Well, I am. I’m just over from Nice for the Tour de France.”
As Tommy got him off with a fierce “allez-vous en,” Dick called after him, “When does the Tour de France get here?”
“Any minute now, Buddy.”
He departed at last with a cheery wave and Tommy returned to Dick.
“Elle doit avoir plus avec moi qu’avec vous.”
“Speak English! What do you mean ‘doit avoir’?”
“‘Doit avoir?’ Would have more happiness with me.”
“You’d be new to each other. But Nicole and I have had much happiness together, Tommy.”
“L’amour de famille,” Tommy said, scoffing.
“If you and Nicole married wouldn’t that be ‘l’amour de famille’?” The increasing commotion made him break off; presently it came to a serpentine head on the promenade and a group, presently a crowd, of people sprung from hidden siestas lined the kerbstone.
Boys sprinted past on bicycles, automobiles jammed with elaborate betasselled sportsmen slid up the street, high horns tooted to announce the approach of the race, and unsuspected cooks in undershirts appeared at restaurant doors as around a bend a procession came into sight. First was a lone cyclist, in a red jersey, toiling intent and confident out of the westering sun, passing to the melody of a high chattering cheer. Then three together in a harlequinade of faded colour, legs caked yellow with dust and sweat, faces expressionless, eyes heavy and endlessly tired.
Tommy faced Dick, saying: “I think Nicole wants a divorce—I suppose you’ll make no obstacles?”
A troupe of fifty more swarmed after the first bicycle racers, strung out over two hundred yards; a few were smiling and self-conscious, a few obviously exhausted, most of them indifferent and weary. A retinue of small boys passed, a few defiant stragglers, a light truck carried the victims of accident and defeat. They were back at the table. Nicole wanted Dick to take the initiative, but he seemed content to sit with his face half-shaved matching her hair half-washed.
“Isn’t it true you’re not happy with me any more?” Nicole continued. “Without me you could get to your work again—you could work better if you didn’t worry about me.”
Tommy moved impatiently.
“That is so useless. Nicole and I love each other, that’s all there is to it.”
“Well, then,” said the Doctor, “since it’s all settled, suppose we go back to the barber shop.”
Tommy wanted a row: “There are several points—”
“Nicole and I will talk things over,” said Dick equitably. “Don’t worry—I agree in principle, and Nicole and I understand each other. There’s less chance of unpleasantness if we avoid a three-cornered discussion.”
Unwillingly acknowledging Dick’s logic, Tommy was moved by an irresistible racial tendency to chisel for an advantage.
“Let it be understood that from this moment,” he said, “I stand in the position of Nicole’s protector until details can be arranged. And I shall hold you strictly accountable for any abuse of the fact that you continue to inhabit the same house.”
Dick nodded and walked off toward the hotel, with Nicole’s whitest eyes following him.
“He was fair enough,” Tommy conceded. “Darling, will we be together to-night?”
“I suppose so.”
So it had happened—and with a minimum of drama; Nicole felt outguessed, realizing that from the episode of the camphor-rub, Dick had anticipated everything. But also she felt happy and excited, and the odd little wish that she could tell Dick all about it faded quickly. But her eyes followed his figure until it became a dot and mingled with the other dots in the summer crowd.
The day before doctor Diver left the Riviera he spent all his time with his children. He was not young any more with a lot of nice thoughts and dreams to have about himself, so he wanted to remember them well. The children had been told that this winter they would be with their aunt in London and that soon they were going to come and see him in America. Fraulein was not to be discharged without his consent.
He was glad he had given so much to the little girl. About the boy he was more uncertain—always he had been uneasy about what he had to give to the ever-climbing, ever-clinging, breast-searching young. But, when he said good-bye to them, he wanted to lift their beautiful heads off their necks and hold them close for hours.
He embraced the old gardener who had made the first garden at Villa Diana six years ago; he kissed the Provencal girl who helped with the children. She had been with them for almost a decade and she fell on her knees and cried until Dick jerked her to her feet and gave her three hundred francs. Nicole was sleeping late, as had been agreed upon—he left a note for her and one for Baby Warren, who was just back from Sardinia and staying at the house. Dick took a big drink from a bottle of brandy three feet high, holding ten quarts, that someone had presented them with.
Then he decided to leave his bags by the station in Cannes and take a last look at Gausse’s beach.
The beach was peopled with only an advance guard of children when Nicole and her sister arrived that morning. A white sun, chivied of outline by a white sky, boomed over a windless day. Waiters were putting extra ice into the bar; an American photographer from the AP worked with his equipment in a precarious shade and looked up quickly at every footfall descending the stone steps. At the hotel his prospective subjects slept late in darkened rooms upon their recent opiate of dawn.
When Nicole started out on the beach she saw Dick, not dressed for swimming, sitting on a rock above. She shrank back in the shadow of her dressing-tent. In a minute Baby joined her, saying:
“Dick’s still there.”
“I saw him.”
“I think he might have the delicacy to go.”
“This is his place—in a way, he discovered it. Old Gausse always says he owes everything to Dick.”
Baby looked calmly at her sister.
“We should have let him confine himself to his bicycle excursions,” she remarked. “When people are taken out of their depths they lose their heads, no matter how charming a bluff they put up.”
“Dick was a good husband to me for six years,” Nicole said. “All that time I never suffered a minute’s pain because of him, and he always did his best never to let anything hurt me.”
Baby’s lower jaw projected slightly as she said:
“That’s what he was educated for.”
The sisters sat in silence, Nicole wondering in a tired way about things, Baby considering whether or not to marry the latest candidate for her hand and money, an authenticated Hapsburg. She was not quite thinking about it. Her affairs had long shared such a sameness that, as she dried out, they were more important for their conversational value than for themselves. Her emotions had their truest existence in the telling of them.
“Is he gone?” Nicole asked after a while. “I think his train leaves at noon.”
“No. He’s moved up higher on the terrace and he’s talking to some women. Anyhow there are so many people now that he doesn’t have to see us.”
He had seen them though, as they left their pavilion, and he followed them with his eyes until they disappeared again. He sat with Mary Minghetti, drinking anisette.
“You were like you used to be the night you helped us,” she was saying, “except at the end, when you were horrid about Caroline. Why aren’t you nice like that always? You can be.”
It seemed fantastic to Dick to be in a position where Mary North could tell him about things.
“Your friends still like you, Dick. But you say awful things to people when you’ve been drinking. I’ve spent most of my time defending you this summer.”
“That remark is one of Doctor Eliot’s classics.”
“It’s true. Nobody cares whether you drink or not——” She hesitated, “Even when Abe drank hardest, he never offended people like you do.”
“You’re all so dull,” he said.
“But we’re all there is!” cried Mary. “If you don’t like nice people, try the ones who aren’t nice, and see how you like that! All people want is to have a good time and if you make them unhappy you cut yourself off from nourishment.”
“Have I been nourished?” he asked.
Mary was having a good time, though she did not know it, as she had sat down with him only out of fear. Again she refused a drink and said: “Self-indulgence is back of it. Of course, after Abe you can imagine how I feel about it—since I watched the progress of a good man towards alcoholism——”
Down the steps tripped Lady Caroline Sibley-Biers with blithe theatricality.
Dick felt fine—he was already well in advance of the day, arrived at where a man should be at the end of a good dinner, yet he showed only a fine, considered, restrained interest in Mary. His eyes, for the moment clear as a child’s, asked her sympathy and stealing over him he felt the old necessity of convincing her that he was the last man in the world and she was the last woman.
… Then he would not have to look at those two other figures, a man and a woman, black and white and metallic against the sky…
“You once liked me, didn’t you?” he asked.
“Liked you—I loved you. Everybody loved you. You could’ve had anybody you wanted for the asking——”
“There has always been something between you and me.”
She bit eagerly. “Has there, Dick?”
“Always—I knew your troubles and how brave you were about them.” But the old interior laughter had begun inside him and he knew he couldn’t keep it up much longer.
“I always thought you knew a lot,” Mary said enthusiastically. “More about me than anyone has ever known. Perhaps that’s why I was so afraid of you when we didn’t get along so well.”
His glance fell soft and kind upon hers, suggesting an emotion underneath; their glances married suddenly, bedded, strained together. Then, as the laughter inside of him became so loud that it seemed as if Mary must hear it, Dick switched off the light and they were back in the Riviera sun.
“I must go,” he said. As he stood up he swayed a little; he did not feel well any more—his blood raced slow. He raised his right hand and with a papal cross he blessed the beach from the high terrace. Faces turned upward from several umbrellas.
“I’m going to him,” Nicole got to her knees.
“No, you’re not,” said Tommy, pulling her down firmly. “Let well enough alone.”
Nicole kept in touch with Dick after her new marriage; there were letters on business matters, and about the children. When she said, as she often did, “I loved Dick and I’ll never forget him,” Tommy answered, “Of course not—why should you?”
Dick opened an office in Buffalo, but evidently without success. Nicole did not find what the trouble was, but she heard a few months later that he was in a little town named Batavia, New York, practising general medicine, and later that he was in Lockport, doing the same thing. By accident she heard more about his life there than anywhere: that he bicycled a lot, was much admired by the ladies, and always had a big stack of papers on his desk that were known to be an important treatise on some medical subject, almost in process of completion. He was considered to have fine manners and once made a good speech at a public health meeting on the subject of drugs; but he became entangled with a girl who worked in a grocery store, and he was also involved in a lawsuit about some medical question; so he left Lockport.
After that he didn’t ask for the children to be sent to America and didn’t answer when Nicole wrote asking him if he needed money. In the last letter she had from him he told her that he was practising in Geneva, New York, and she got the impression that he had settled down with someone to keep house for him. She looked up Geneva in an atlas and found it was in the heart of the Finger Lakes section and considered a pleasant place. Perhaps, so she liked to think, his career was biding its time, again like Grant’s in Galena; his latest note was post-marked from Hornell, New York, which is some distance from Geneva and a very small town; in any case he is almost certainly in that section of the country, in one town or another.