With his cap, Dick slapped the snow from his dark blue ski-suit before going inside. The great hall, its floor pockmarked by two decades of hobnails, was cleared for the tea dance, and four-score young Americans, domiciled in schools near Gstaad, bounced about to the frolic of “Don’t Bring Lulu,” or exploded violently with the first percussions of the Charleston. It was a colony of the young, simple, and expensive—the Sturmtruppen of the rich were at St. Moritz. Baby Warren felt that she had made a gesture of renunciation in joining the Divers here.
Dick picked out the two sisters easily across the delicately haunted, soft-swaying room—they were poster-like, formidable in their snow costumes, Nicole’s of cerulean blue, Baby’s of brick red. The young Englishman was talking to them; but they were paying no attention, lulled to the staring point by the adolescent dance.
Nicole’s snow-warm face lighted up further as she saw Dick. “Where is he?”
“He missed the train—I’m meeting him later.” Dick sat down, swinging a heavy boot over his knee. “You two look very striking together. Every once in a while I forget we’re in the same party and get a big shock at seeing you.”
Baby was a tall, fine-looking woman, deeply engaged in being almost thirty. Symptomatically she had pulled two men with her from London, one scarcely down from Cambridge, one old and hard with Victorian lecheries. Baby had certain spinsters’ characteristics—she was alien from touch, she started if she was touched suddenly, and such lingering touches as kisses and embraces slipped directly through the flesh into the forefront of her consciousness. She made few gestures with her trunk, her body proper—instead, she stamped her foot and tossed her head in almost an old-fashioned way. She relished the foretaste of death, prefigured by the catastrophes of friends—persistently she clung to the idea of Nicole’s tragic destiny.
Baby’s younger Englishman had been chaperoning the women down appropriate inclines and harrowing them on the bob-run. Dick, having turned an ankle in a too ambitious telemark, loafed gratefully about the “nursery slope” with the children or drank kvass with a Russian doctor at the hotel.
“Please be happy, Dick,” Nicole urged him. “Why don’t you meet some of these ickle durls and dance with them in the afternoon?”
“What would I say to them?”
Her low almost harsh voice rose a few notes, simulating a plaintive coquetry: “Say: ‘Ickle durl, oo is de pwettiest sing.’ What do you think you say?”
“I don’t like ickle durls. They smell of castile soap and peppermint. When I dance with them, I feel as if I’m pushing a baby carriage.”
It was a dangerous subject—he was careful, to the point of self-consciousness, to stare far over the heads of young maidens.
“There’s a lot of business,” said Baby. “First place, there’s news from home—the property we used to call the station property. The railroads only bought the centre of it at first. Now they’ve bought the rest, and it belonged to Mother. It’s a question of investing the money.”
Pretending to be repelled by this gross turn in the conversation, the Englishman made for a girl on the floor. Following him for an instant with the uncertain eyes of an American girl in the grip of a life-long Anglophilia, Baby continued defiantly:
“It’s a lot of money. It’s three hundred thousand apiece. I keep an eye on my own investments but Nicole doesn’t know anything about securities, and I don’t suppose you do either.”
“I’ve got to meet the train,” Dick said evasively.
Outside he inhaled damp snowflakes that he could no longer see against the darkening sky. Three children sledding past shouted a warning in some strange language; he heard them yell at the next bend and a little farther on he heard sleigh-bells coming up the hill in the dark. The holiday station glittered with expectancy, boys and girls waiting for new boys and girls, and by the time the train arrived, Dick had caught the rhythm, and pretended to Franz Gregorovius that he was clipping off a half-hour from an endless roll of pleasures. But Franz had some intensity of purpose at the moment that fought through any superimposition of mood on Dick’s part. “I may get up to Zurich for a day,” Dick had written, “or you can manage to come to Lausanne.” Franz had managed to come all the way to Gstaad.
He was forty. Upon his healthy maturity reposed a set of pleasant official manners, but he was most at home in a somewhat stuffy safety from which he could despise the broken rich whom he re-educated. His scientific heredity might have bequeathed him a wider world but he seemed to have deliberately chosen the standpoint of an humbler class, a choice typified by his selection of a wife. At the hotel Baby Warren made a quick examination of him, and failing to find any of the hall-marks she respected, the subtler virtues or courtesies by which the privileged classes recognized one another, treated him thereafter with her second manner. Nicole was always a little afraid of him. Dick liked him, as he liked his friends, without reservations.
For the evening they were sliding down the hill into the village, on those little sleds which serve the same purpose as gondolas do in Venice. Their destination was a hotel with an old-fashioned Swiss tap-room, wooden and resounding, a room of clocks, kegs, steins, and antlers. Many parties at long tables blurred into one great party and ate fondue—a peculiarly indigestible form of Welsh rarebit, mitigated by hot spiced wine.
It was jolly in the big room; the younger Englishman remarked it and Dick conceded that there was no other word. With the pert heady wine he relaxed and pretended that the world was all put together again by the gray-haired men of the golden nineties who shouted old glees at the piano, by the young voices and the bright costumes toned into the room by the swirling smoke. For a moment he felt that they were in a ship with landfall just ahead; in the faces of all the girls was the same innocent expectation of the possibilities inherent in the situation and the night. He looked to see if that special girl was there and got an impression that she was at the table behind them—then he forgot her and invented a rigmarole and tried to make his party have a good time.
“I must talk to you,” said Franz in English. “I have only twenty-four hours to spend here.”
“I suspected you had something on your mind.”
“I have a plan that is—so marvellous.” His hand fell upon Dick’s knee. “I have a plan that will be the making of us two.”
“Dick—there is a clinic we could have together—the old clinic of Braun on the Zugersee. The plant is all modern except for a few points. He is sick—he wants to go up in Austria, to die probably. It is a chance that is just insuperable. You and me—what a pair! Now don’t say anything yet until I finish.”
From the yellow glint in Baby’s eyes, Dick saw she was listening.
“We must undertake it together. It would not bind you too tight—it would give you a base, a laboratory, a centre. You could stay in residence say no more than half the year, when the weather is fine. In winter you could go to France or America and write your texts fresh from clinical experience.” He lowered his voice. “And for the convalescence in your family, there are the atmosphere and regularity of the clinic at hand.” Dick’s expression did not encourage this note so Franz dropped it with the punctuation of his tongue leaving his lip quickly. “We could be partners. I the executive manager, you the theoretician, the brilliant consultant and all that. I know myself—I know I have no genius and you have. But, in my way, I am thought very capable; I am utterly competent at the most modern clinical methods. Sometimes for months I have served as the practical head of the old clinic. The professor says this plan is excellent, he advises me to go ahead. He says he is going to live forever, and work up to the last minute.”
Dick formed imaginary pictures of the prospect as a preliminary to any exercise of judgment.
“What’s the financial angle?” he asked.
Franz threw up his chin, his eyebrows, the transient wrinkles of his forehead, his hands, his elbows, his shoulders; he strained up the muscles of his legs, so that the cloth of his trousers bulged, pushed up his heart into his throat and his voice into the roof of his mouth.
“There we have it! Money!” he bewailed. “I have little money. The price in American money is two hundred thousand dollars. The innovation—ary—” he tasted the coinage doubtfully, “—steps, that you will agree are necessary, will cost twenty thousand dollars American. But the clinic is a gold mine—I tell you, I haven’t seen the books. For an investment of two hundred and twenty thousand dollars we have an assured income of—”
Baby’s curiosity was such that Dick brought her into the conversation.
“In your experience, Baby,” he demanded, “have you found that when a European wants to see an American very pressingly it is invariably something concerned with money?”
“What is it?” she said innocently.
“This young Privat-dozent thinks that he and I ought to launch into big business and try to attract nervous breakdowns from America.”
Worried, Franz stared at Baby as Dick continued:
“But who are we, Franz? You bear a big name and I’ve written two textbooks. Is that enough to attract anybody? And I haven’t got that much money—I haven’t got a tenth of it.” Franz smiled cynically. “Honestly I haven’t. Nicole and Baby are rich as Croesus but I haven’t managed to get my hands on any of it yet.”
They were all listening now—Dick wondered if the girl at the table behind was listening too. The idea attracted him. He decided to let Baby speak for him, as one often lets women raise their voices over issues that are not in their hands. Baby became suddenly her grandfather, cool and experimental.
“I think it’s a suggestion you ought to consider, Dick. I don’t know what Doctor Gregory was saying—but it seems to me—”
Behind him the girl had leaned forward into a smoke ring and was picking up something from the floor. Nicole’s face, fitted into his own across the table—her beauty, tentatively nesting and posing, flowed into his love, ever braced to protect it.
“Consider it, Dick,” Franz urged excitedly. “When one writes on psychiatry, one should have actual clinical contacts. Jung writes, Bleuler writes, Freud writes, Forel writes, Adler writes—also they are in constant contact with mental disorder.”
“Dick has me,” laughed Nicole. “I should think that’d be enough mental disorder for one man.”
“That’s different,” said Franz cautiously.
Baby was thinking that if Nicole lived beside a clinic she would always feel quite safe about her.
“We must think it over carefully,” she said.
Though amused at her insolence, Dick did not encourage it.
“The decision concerns me, Baby,” he said gently. “It’s nice of you to want to buy me a clinic.”
Realizing she had meddled, Baby withdrew hurriedly:
“Of course, it’s entirely your affair.”
“A thing as important as this will take weeks to decide. I wonder how I like the picture of Nicole and me anchored to Zurich—” He turned to Franz, anticipating: “—I know. Zurich has a gashouse and running water and electric light—I lived there three years.”
“I will leave you to think it over,” said Franz. “I am confident—”
One hundred pair of five-pound boots had begun to clump toward the door, and they joined the press. Outside in the crisp moonlight, Dick saw the girl tying her sled to one of the sleighs ahead. They piled into their own sleigh and at the crisp-cracking whips the horses strained, breasting the dark air. Past them figures ran and scrambled, the younger ones shoving each other from sleds and runners, landing in the soft snow, then panting after the horses to drop exhausted on a sled or wail that they were abandoned. On either side the fields were beneficently tranquil; the space through which the cavalcade moved was high and limitless. In the country there was less noise as though they were all listening atavistically for wolves in the wide snow.
In Saanen, they poured into the municipal dance, crowded with cow herders, hotel servants, shop-keepers, ski teachers, guides, tourists, peasants. To come into the warm enclosed place after the pantheistic animal feeling without, was to reassume some absurd and impressive knightly name, as thunderous as spurred boots in war, as football cleats on the cement of a locker-room floor. There was conventional yodelling, and the familiar rhythm of it separated Dick from what he had first found romantic in the scene. At first he thought it was because he had hounded the girl out of his consciousness; then it came to him under the form of what Baby had said: “We must think it over carefully—” and the unsaid lines back of that: “We own you, and you’ll admit it sooner or later. It is absurd to keep up the pretense of independence.”
It had been years since Dick had bottled up malice against a creature—since freshman year at New Haven when he had come upon a popular essay about “mental hygiene.” Now he lost his temper at Baby and simultaneously tried to coop it up within him, resenting her cold rich insolence. It would be hundreds of years before any emergent Amazons would ever grasp the fact that a man is vulnerable only in his pride, but delicate as Humpty-Dumpty once that is meddled with—though some of them paid the fact a cautious lip-service. Doctor Diver’s profession of sorting the broken shells of another sort of egg had given him a dread of breakage. But:
“There’s too much good manners,” he said on the way back to Gstaad in the smooth sleigh.
“Well, I think that’s nice,” said Baby.
“No, it isn’t,” he insisted to the anonymous bundle of fur. “Good manners are an admission that everybody is so tender that they have to be handled with gloves. Now, human respect—you don’t call a man a coward or a liar lightly, but if you spend your life sparing people’s feelings and feeding their vanity, you get so you can’t distinguish what should be respected in them.”
“I think Americans take their manners rather seriously,” said the elder Englishman.
“I guess so,” said Dick. “My father had the kind of manners he inherited from the days when you shot first and apologized afterward. Men armed—why, you Europeans haven’t carried arms in civil life since the beginning of the eighteenth century—”
“Not actually, perhaps—”
“Not actually. Not really.”
“Dick, you’ve always had such beautiful manners,” said Baby conciliatingly.
The women were regarding him across the zoo of robes with some alarm. The younger Englishman did not understand—he was one of the kind who were always jumping around cornices and balconies, as if they thought they were in the rigging of a ship—and filled the ride to the hotel with a preposterous story about a boxing match with his best friend in which they loved and bruised each other for an hour, always with great reserve. Dick became facetious.
“So every time he hit you you considered him an even better friend?”
“I respected him more.”
“It’s the premise I don’t understand. You and your best friend scrap about a trivial matter—”
“If you don’t understand, I can’t explain it to you,” said the young Englishman coldly.
—This is what I’ll get if I begin saying what I think, Dick said to himself.
He was ashamed at baiting the man, realizing that the absurdity of the story rested in the immaturity of the attitude combined with the sophisticated method of its narration.
The carnival spirit was strong and they went with the crowd into the grill, where a Tunisian barman manipulated the illumination in a counterpoint, whose other melody was the moon off the ice rink staring in the big windows. In that light, Dick found the girl devitalized, and uninteresting—he turned from her to enjoy the darkness, the cigarette points going green and silver when the lights shone red, the band of white that fell across the dancers as the door to the bar was opened and closed.
“Now tell me, Franz,” he demanded, “do you think after sitting up all night drinking beer, you can go back and convince your patients that you have any character? Don’t you think they’ll see you’re a gastropath?”
“I’m going to bed,” Nicole announced. Dick accompanied her to the door of the elevator.
“I’d come with you but I must show Franz that I’m not intended for a clinician.”
Nicole walked into the elevator.
“Baby has lots of common sense,” she said meditatively.
“Baby is one of—”
The door slashed shut—facing a mechanical hum, Dick finished the sentence in his mind, “—Baby is a trivial, selfish woman.”
But two days later, sleighing to the station with Franz, Dick admitted that he thought favorably upon the matter.
“We’re beginning to turn in a circle,” he admitted. “Living on this scale, there’s an unavoidable series of strains, and Nicole doesn’t survive them. The pastoral quality down on the summer Riviera is all changing anyhow—next year they’ll have a Season.”
They passed the crisp green rinks where Wiener waltzes blared and the colors of many mountain schools flashed against the pale-blue skies.
“—I hope we’ll be able to do it, Franz. There’s nobody I’d rather try it with than you—”
Good-by, Gstaad! Good-by, fresh faces, cold sweet flowers, flakes in the darkness. Good-by, Gstaad, good-by!