They were waiting for him and incomplete without him. He was still the incalculable element; Miss Warren and the young Italian wore their anticipation as obviously as Nicole. The salon of the hotel, a room of fabled acoustics, was stripped for dancing but there was a small gallery of Englishwomen of a certain age, with neckbands, dyed hair and faces powdered pinkish gray; and of American women of a certain age, with snowy-white transformations, black dresses and lips of cherry red. Miss Warren and Marmora were at a corner table—Nicole was diagonally across from them forty yards away, and as Dick arrived he heard her voice:
“Can you hear me? I’m speaking naturally.”
“Hello, Doctor Diver.”
“You realize the people in the centre of the floor can’t hear what I say, but you can?”
“A waiter told us about it,” said Miss Warren. “Corner to corner—it’s like wireless.”
It was exciting up on the mountain, like a ship at sea. Presently Marmora’s parents joined them. They treated the Warrens with respect—Dick gathered that their fortunes had something to do with a bank in Milan that had something to do with the Warren fortunes. But Baby Warren wanted to talk to Dick, wanted to talk to him with the impetus that sent her out vagrantly toward all new men, as though she were on an inelastic tether and considered that she might as well get to the end of it as soon as possible. She crossed and recrossed her knees frequently in the manner of tall restless virgins.
“—Nicole told me that you took part care of her, and had a lot to do with her getting well. What I can’t understand is what we’re supposed to do—they were so indefinite at the sanitarium; they only told me she ought to be natural and gay. I knew the Marmoras were up here so I asked Tino to meet us at the funicular. And you see what happens—the very first thing Nicole has him crawling over the sides of the car as if they were both insane—”
“That was absolutely normal,” Dick laughed. “I’d call it a good sign. They were showing off for each other.”
“But how can I tell? Before I knew it, almost in front of my eyes, she had her hair cut off, in Zurich, because of a picture in ‘Vanity Fair.'”
“That’s all right. She’s a schizoid—a permanent eccentric. You can’t change that.”
“What is it?”
“Just what I said—an eccentric.”
“Well, how can any one tell what’s eccentric and what’s crazy?”
“Nothing is going to be crazy—Nicole is all fresh and happy, you needn’t be afraid.”
Baby shifted her knees about—she was a compendium of all the discontented women who had loved Byron a hundred years before, yet, in spite of the tragic affair with the guards’ officer there was something wooden and onanistic about her.
“I don’t mind the responsibility,” she declared, “but I’m in the air. We’ve never had anything like this in the family before—we know Nicole had some shock and my opinion is it was about a boy, but we don’t really know. Father says he would have shot him if he could have found out.”
The orchestra was playing “Poor Butterfly”; young Marmora was dancing with his mother. It was a tune new enough to them all. Listening, and watching Nicole’s shoulders as she chattered to the elder Marmora, whose hair was dashed with white like a piano keyboard, Dick thought of the shoulders of a violin, and then he thought of the dishonor, the secret. Oh, butterfly—the moments pass into hours—
“Actually I have a plan,” Baby continued with apologetic hardness. “It may seem absolutely impractical to you but they say Nicole will need to be looked after for a few years. I don’t know whether you know Chicago or not—”
“Well, there’s a North Side and a South Side and they’re very much separated. The North Side is chic and all that, and we’ve always lived over there, at least for many years, but lots of old families, old Chicago families, if you know what I mean, still live on the South Side. The University is there. I mean it’s stuffy to some people, but anyhow it’s different from the North Side. I don’t know whether you understand.”
He nodded. With some concentration he had been able to follow her.
“Now of course we have lots of connections there—Father controls certain chairs and fellowships and so forth at the University, and I thought if we took Nicole home and threw her with that crowd—you see she’s quite musical and speaks all these languages—what could be better in her condition than if she fell in love with some good doctor—”
A burst of hilarity surged up in Dick, the Warrens were going to buy Nicole a doctor—You got a nice doctor you can let us use? There was no use worrying about Nicole when they were in the position of being able to buy her a nice young doctor, the paint scarcely dry on him.
“But how about the doctor?” he said automatically.
“There must be many who’d jump at the chance.”
The dancers were back, but Baby whispered quickly:
“This is the sort of thing I mean. Now where is Nicole—she’s gone off somewhere. Is she upstairs in her room? What am I supposed to do? I never know whether it’s something innocent or whether I ought to go find her.”
“Perhaps she just wants to be by herself—people living alone get used to loneliness.” Seeing that Miss Warren was not listening he stopped. “I’ll take a look around.”
For a moment all the outdoors shut in with mist was like spring with the curtains drawn. Life was gathered near the hotel. Dick passed some cellar windows where bus boys sat on bunks and played cards over a litre of Spanish wine. As he approached the promenade, the stars began to come through the white crests of the high Alps. On the horseshoe walk overlooking the lake Nicole was the figure motionless between two lamp stands, and he approached silently across the grass. She turned to him with an expression of: “Here you are,” and for a moment he was sorry he had come.
“Your sister wondered.”
“Oh!” She was accustomed to being watched. With an effort she explained herself: “Sometimes I get a little—it gets a little too much. I’ve lived so quietly. To-night that music was too much. It made me want to cry—”
“This has been an awfully exciting day.”
“I don’t want to do anything anti-social—I’ve caused everybody enough trouble. But to-night I wanted to get away.”
It occurred to Dick suddenly, as it might occur to a dying man that he had forgotten to tell where his will was, that Nicole had been “re-educated” by Dohmler and the ghostly generations behind him; it occurred to him also that there would be so much she would have to be told. But having recorded this wisdom within himself, he yielded to the insistent face-value of the situation and said:
“You’re a nice person—just keep using your own judgment about yourself.”
“You like me?”
“Would you—” They were strolling along toward the dim end of the horseshoe, two hundred yards ahead. “If I hadn’t been sick would you—I mean, would I have been the sort of girl you might have—oh, slush, you know what I mean.”
He was in for it now, possessed by a vast irrationality. She was so near that he felt his breathing change but again his training came to his aid in a boy’s laugh and a trite remark.
“You’re teasing yourself, my dear. Once I knew a man who fell in love with his nurse—” The anecdote rambled on, punctuated by their footsteps. Suddenly Nicole interrupted in succinct Chicagoese: “Bull!”
“That’s a very vulgar expression.”
“What about it?” she flared up. “You don’t think I’ve got any common sense—before I was sick I didn’t have any, but I have now. And if I don’t know you’re the most attractive man I ever met you must think I’m still crazy. It’s my hard luck, all right—but don’t pretend I don’t know—I know everything about you and me.”
Dick was at an additional disadvantage. He remembered the statement of the elder Miss Warren as to the young doctors that could be purchased in the intellectual stockyards of the South Side of Chicago, and he hardened for a moment. “You’re a fetching kid, but I couldn’t fall in love.”
“You won’t give me a chance.”
The impertinence, the right to invade implied, astounded him. Short of anarchy he could not think of any chance that Nicole Warren deserved.
“Give me a chance now.”
The voice fell low, sank into her breast and stretched the tight bodice over her heart as she came up close. He felt the young lips, her body sighing in relief against the arm growing stronger to hold her. There were now no more plans than if Dick had arbitrarily made some indissoluble mixture, with atoms joined and inseparable; you could throw it all out but never again could they fit back into atomic scale. As he held her and tasted her, and as she curved in further and further toward him, with her own lips, new to herself, drowned and engulfed in love, yet solaced and triumphant, he was thankful to have an existence at all, if only as a reflection in her wet eyes.
“My God,” he gasped, “you’re fun to kiss.”
That was talk, but Nicole had a better hold on him now and she held it; she turned coquette and walked away, leaving him as suspended as in the funicular of the afternoon. She felt: There, that’ll show him, how conceited; how he could do with me; oh, wasn’t it wonderful! I’ve got him, he’s mine. Now in the sequence came flight, but it was all so sweet and new that she dawdled, wanting to draw all of it in.
She shivered suddenly. Two thousand feet below she saw the necklace and bracelet of lights that were Montreux and Vevey, beyond them a dim pendant of Lausanne. From down there somewhere ascended a faint sound of dance music. Nicole was up in her head now, cool as cool, trying to collate the sentimentalities of her childhood, as deliberate as a man getting drunk after battle. But she was still afraid of Dick, who stood near her, leaning, characteristically, against the iron fence that rimmed the horseshoe; and this prompted her to say: “I can remember how I stood waiting for you in the garden—holding all my self in my arms like a basket of flowers. It was that to me anyhow—I thought I was sweet—waiting to hand that basket to you.”
He breathed over her shoulder and turned her insistently about; she kissed him several times, her face getting big every time she came close, her hands holding him by the shoulders.
“It’s raining hard.”
Suddenly there was a booming from the wine slopes across the lake; cannons were shooting at hail-bearing clouds in order to break them. The lights of the promenade went off, went on again. Then the storm came swiftly, first falling from the heavens, then doubly falling in torrents from the mountains and washing loud down the roads and stone ditches; with it came a dark, frightening sky and savage filaments of lightning and world-splitting thunder, while ragged, destroying clouds fled along past the hotel. Mountains and lake disappeared—the hotel crouched amid tumult, chaos and darkness.
By this time Dick and Nicole had reached the vestibule, where Baby Warren and the three Marmoras were anxiously awaiting them. It was exciting coming out of the wet fog—with the doors banging, to stand and laugh and quiver with emotion, wind in their ears and rain on their clothes. Now in the ballroom the orchestra was playing a Strauss waltz, high and confusing.
…For Doctor Diver to marry a mental patient? How did it happen? Where did it begin?
“Won’t you come back after you’ve changed?” Baby Warren asked after a close scrutiny.
“I haven’t got any change, except some shorts.”
As he trudged up to his hotel in a borrowed raincoat he kept laughing derisively in his throat.
“Big chance—oh, yes. My God!—they decided to buy a doctor? Well, they better stick to whoever they’ve got in Chicago.” Revolted by his harshness he made amends to Nicole, remembering that nothing had ever felt so young as her lips, remembering rain like tears shed for him that lay upon her softly shining porcelain cheeks…the silence of the storm ceasing woke him about three o’clock and he went to the window. Her beauty climbed the rolling slope, it came into the room, rustling ghostlike through the curtains…
…He climbed two thousand meters to Rochers de Naye the following morning, amused by the fact that his conductor of the day before was using his day off to climb also.
Then Dick descended all the way to Montreux for a swim, got back to his hotel in time for dinner. Two notes awaited him.
“I’m not ashamed about last night—it was the nicest thing that ever happened to me and even if I never saw you again, Mon Capitaine, I would be glad it happened.”
That was disarming enough—the heavy shade of Dohmler retreated as Dick opened the second envelope:
DEAR DOCTOR DIVER: I phoned but you were out. I wonder if I may ask you a great big favor. Unforeseen circumstances call me back to Paris, and I find I can make better time by way of Lausanne. Can you let Nicole ride as far as Zurich with you, since you are going back Monday? and drop her at the sanitarium? Is this too much to ask?
BETH EVAN WARREN.
Dick was furious—Miss Warren had known he had a bicycle with him; yet she had so phrased her note that it was impossible to refuse. Throw us together! Sweet propinquity and the Warren money!
He was wrong; Baby Warren had no such intentions. She had looked Dick over with worldly eyes, she had measured him with the warped rule of an Anglophile and found him wanting—in spite of the fact that she found him toothsome. But for her he was too “intellectual” and she pigeonholed him with a shabby-snobby crowd she had once known in London—he put himself out too much to be really of the correct stuff. She could not see how he could be made into her idea of an aristocrat.
In addition to that he was stubborn—she had seen him leave her conversation and get down behind his eyes in that odd way that people did, half a dozen times. She had not liked Nicole’s free and easy manner as a child and now she was sensibly habituated to thinking of her as a “gone coon”; and anyhow Doctor Diver was not the sort of medical man she could envisage in the family.
She only wanted to use him innocently as a convenience.
But her request had the effect that Dick assumed she desired. A ride in a train can be a terrible, heavy-hearted or comic thing; it can be a trial flight; it can be a prefiguration of another journey just as a given day with a friend can be long, from the taste of hurry in the morning up to the realization of both being hungry and taking food together. Then comes the afternoon with the journey fading and dying, but quickening again at the end. Dick was sad to see Nicole’s meagre joy; yet it was a relief for her, going back to the only home she knew. They made no love that day, but when he left her outside the sad door on the Zurichsee and she turned and looked at him he knew her problem was one they had together for good now.