Tender is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

VI

It was May when he next found her. The luncheon in Zurich was a council of caution; obviously the logic of his life tended away from the girl; yet when a stranger stared at her from a nearby table, eyes burning disturbingly like an uncharted light, he turned to the man with an urbane version of intimidation and broke the regard.

“He was just a peeper,” he explained cheerfully. “He was just looking at your clothes. Why do you have so many different clothes?”

“Sister says we’re very rich,” she offered humbly. “Since Grandmother is dead.”

“I forgive you.”

He was enough older than Nicole to take pleasure in her youthful vanities and delights, the way she paused fractionally in front of the hall mirror on leaving the restaurant, so that the incorruptible quicksilver could give her back to herself. He delighted in her stretching out her hands to new octaves now that she found herself beautiful and rich. He tried honestly to divorce her from any obsession that he had stitched her together — glad to see her build up happiness and confidence apart from him; the difficulty was that, eventually, Nicole brought everything to his feet, gifts of sacrificial ambrosia, of worshipping myrtle.

The first week of summer found Dick re-established in Zurich. He had arranged his pamphlets and what work he had done in the Service into a pattern from which he intended to make his revise of “A Psychology for Psychiatrists.” He thought he had a publisher; he had established contact with a poor student who would iron out his errors in German. Franz considered it a rash business, but Dick pointed out the disarming modesty of the theme.

“This is stuff I’ll never know so well again,” he insisted. “I have a hunch it’s a thing that only fails to be basic because it’s never had material recognition. The weakness of this profession is its attraction for the man a little crippled and broken. Within the walls of the profession he compensates by tending toward the clinical, the ‘practical’— he has won his battle without a struggle.

“On the contrary, you are a good man, Franz, because fate selected you for your profession before you were born. You better thank God you had no ‘bent’— I got to be a psychiatrist because there was a girl at St. Hilda’s in Oxford that went to the same lectures. Maybe I’m getting trite but I don’t want to let my current ideas slide away with a few dozen glasses of beer.”

“All right,” Franz answered. “You are an American. You can do this without professional harm. I do not like these generalities. Soon you will be writing little books called ‘Deep Thoughts for the Layman,’ so simplified that they are positively guaranteed not to cause thinking. If my father were alive he would look at you and grunt, Dick. He would take his napkin and fold it so, and hold his napkin ring, this very one —” he held it up, a boar’s head was carved in the brown wood —“and he would say, ‘Well my impression is —’ then he would look at you and think suddenly ‘What is the use?’ then he would stop and grunt again; then we would be at the end of dinner.”

“I am alone to-day,” said Dick testily. “But I may not be alone to-morrow. After that I’ll fold up my napkin like your father and grunt.”

Franz waited a moment.

“How about our patient?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Well, you should know about her by now.”

“I like her. She’s attractive. What do you want me to do — take her up in the edelweiss?”

“No, I thought since you go in for scientific books you might have an idea.”

“— devote my life to her?”

Franz called his wife in the kitchen: “Du lieber Gott! Bitte, bringe Dick noch ein Glas-Bier.”

“I don’t want any more if I’ve got to see Dohmler.”

“We think it’s best to have a program. Four weeks have passed away — apparently the girl is in love with you. That’s not our business if we were in the world, but here in the clinic we have a stake in the matter.”

“I’ll do whatever Doctor Dohmler says,” Dick agreed.

But he had little faith that Dohmler would throw much light on the matter; he himself was the incalculable element involved. By no conscious volition of his own, the thing had drifted into his hands. It reminded him of a scene in his childhood when everyone in the house was looking for the lost key to the silver closet, Dick knowing he had hid it under the handkerchiefs in his mother’s top drawer; at that time he had experienced a philosophical detachment, and this was repeated now when he and Franz went together to Professor Dohmler’s office.

The professor, his face beautiful under straight whiskers, like a vine-overgrown veranda of some fine old house, disarmed him. Dick knew some individuals with more talent, but no person of a class qualitatively superior to Dohmler.

— Six months later he thought the same way when he saw Dohmler dead, the light out on the veranda, the vines of his whiskers tickling his stiff white collar, the many battles that had swayed before the chink-like eyes stilled forever under the frail delicate lids —

“ . . . Good morning, sir.” He stood formally, thrown back to the army.

Professor Dohmler interlaced his tranquil fingers. Franz spoke in terms half of liaison officer, half of secretary, till his senior cut through him in mid-sentence.

“We have gone a certain way,” he said mildly. “It’s you, Doctor Diver, who can best help us now.”

Routed out, Dick confessed: “I’m not so straight on it myself.”

“I have nothing to do with your personal reactions,” said Dohmler. “But I have much to do with the fact that this so-called ‘transference,’” he darted a short ironic look at Franz which the latter returned in kind, “must be terminated. Miss Nicole does well indeed, but she is in no condition to survive what she might interpret as a tragedy.”

Again Franz began to speak, but Doctor Dohmler motioned him silent.

“I realize that your position has been difficult.”

“Yes, it has.”

Now the professor sat back and laughed, saying on the last syllable of his laughter, with his sharp little gray eyes shining through: “Perhaps you have got sentimentally involved yourself.”

Aware that he was being drawn on, Dick, too, laughed.

“She’s a pretty girl — anybody responds to that to a certain extent. I have no intention —”

Again Franz tried to speak — again Dohmler stopped him with a question directed pointedly at Dick. “Have you thought of going away?”

“I can’t go away.”

Doctor Dohmler turned to Franz: “Then we can send Miss Warren away.”

“As you think best, Professor Dohmler,” Dick conceded. “It’s certainly a situation.”

Professor Dohmler raised himself like a legless man mounting a pair of crutches.

“But it is a professional situation,” he cried quietly.

He sighed himself back into his chair, waiting for the reverberating thunder to die out about the room. Dick saw that Dohmler had reached his climax, and he was not sure that he himself had survived it. When the thunder had diminished Franz managed to get his word in.

“Doctor Diver is a man of fine character,” he said. “I feel he only has to appreciate the situation in order to deal correctly with it. In my opinion Dick can co-operate right here, without any one going away.”

“How do you feel about that?” Professor Dohmler asked Dick.

Dick felt churlish in the face of the situation; at the same time he realized in the silence after Dohmler’s pronouncement that the state of inanimation could not be indefinitely prolonged; suddenly he spilled everything.

“I’m half in love with her — the question of marrying her has passed through my mind.”

“Tch! Tch!” uttered Franz.

“Wait.” Dohmler warned him. Franz refused to wait: “What! And devote half your life to being doctor and nurse and all — never! I know what these cases are. One time in twenty it’s finished in the first push — better never see her again!”

“What do you think?” Dohmler asked Dick.

“Of course Franz is right.”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 19:06