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 to 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 a 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 adrenaline, 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 you 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 Chilian 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 Señor Pardo y Cuidad 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: Señor Pardo y Cuidad Real, a handsome iron-gray Spaniard, noble of carriage, with all the appurtenances of wealth and power, raged up and down his suite in the Hôtel de 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! “—Señor, 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 Chili. 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 that 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 Chili 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 the forties 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 collect 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 Génevois; 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 medicine 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 Señor Pardo y Cuidad Real and they talked.
“We have large estates in Chili—” 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.
“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 fervor. 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 Señor Pardo y Cuidad Real—throughout this hotel there were many chambers wherein 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 sanitariums or tuberculosis resorts in the mountains, people who are no longer persona gratis 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 toward 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.”
“Il 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 whiskeys; 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 high-ball 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.”
Some one had brought a phonograph into the bar and they sat listening to The Wedding of the Painted Doll.