Nicole awoke late, murmuring something back into her dream before she parted her long lashes tangled with sleep. Dick’s bed was empty — only after a minute did she realize that she had been awakened by a knock at their salon door.
“Entrez!” she called, but there was no answer, and after a moment she slipped on a dressing-gown and went to open it. A sergent-de- ville confronted her courteously and stepped inside the door.
“Mr. Afghan North — he is here?”
“What? No — he’s gone to America.”
“When did he leave, Madame?”
He shook his head and waved his forefinger at her in a quicker rhythm.
“He was in Paris last night. He is registered here but his room is not occupied. They told me I had better ask at this room.”
“Sounds very peculiar to me — we saw him off yesterday morning on the boat train.”
“Be that as it may, he has been seen here this morning. Even his carte d’identité has been seen. And there you are.”
“We know nothing about it,” she proclaimed in amazement.
He considered. He was an ill-smelling, handsome man.
“You were not with him at all last night?”
“We have arrested a Negro. We are convinced we have at last arrested the correct Negro.”
“I assure you that I haven’t an idea what you’re talking about. If it’s the Mr. Abraham North, the one we know, well, if he was in Paris last night we weren’t aware of it.”
The man nodded, sucked his upper lip, convinced but disappointed.
“What happened?” Nicole demanded.
He showed his palms, puffing out his closed mouth. He had begun to find her attractive and his eyes flickered at her.
“What do you wish, Madame? A summer affair. Mr. Afghan North was robbed and he made a complaint. We have arrested the miscreant. Mr. Afghan should come to identify him and make the proper charges.”
Nicole pulled her dressing-gown closer around her and dismissed him briskly. Mystified she took a bath and dressed. By this time it was after ten and she called Rosemary but got no answer — then she phoned the hotel office and found that Abe had indeed registered, at six-thirty this morning. His room, however, was still unoccupied. Hoping for a word from Dick she waited in the parlor of the suite; just as she had given up and decided to go out, the office called and announced:
“Meestaire Crawshow, un nègre.”
“On what business?” she demanded.
“He says he knows you and the doctaire. He says there is a Meestaire Freeman into prison that is a friend of all the world. He says there is injustice and he wishes to see Meestaire North before he himself is arrested.”
“We know nothing about it.” Nicole disclaimed the whole business with a vehement clap of the receiver. Abe’s bizarre reappearance made it plain to her how fatigued she was with his dissipation. Dismissing him from her mind she went out, ran into Rosemary at the dressmaker’s, and shopped with her for artificial flowers and all- colored strings of colored beads on the Rue de Rivoli. She helped Rosemary choose a diamond for her mother, and some scarfs and novel cigarette cases to take home to business associates in California. For her son she bought Greek and Roman soldiers, a whole army of them, costing over a thousand francs. Once again they spent their money in different ways and again Rosemary admired Nicole’s method of spending. Nicole was sure that the money she spent was hers — Rosemary still thought her money was miraculously lent to her and she must consequently be very careful of it.
It was fun spending money in the sunlight of the foreign city with healthy bodies under them that sent streams of color up to their faces; with arms and hands, legs and ankles that they stretched out confidently, reaching or stepping with the confidence of women lovely to men.
When they got back to the hotel and found Dick, all bright and new in the morning, both of them had a moment of complete childish joy.
He had just received a garbled telephone call from Abe who, so it appeared, had spent the forenoon in hiding.
“It was one of the most extraordinary telephone conversations I’ve ever held.”
Dick had talked not only to Abe but to a dozen others. On the phone these supernumeraries had been typically introduced as: “— man wants to talk to you is in the teput dome, well he says he was in it — what is it?
“Hey, somebody, shut-up — anyhow, he was in some shandel-scandal and he kaa POS-sibly go home. My own PER-sonal is that — my personal is he’s had a —” Gulps sounded and thereafter what the party had, rested with the unknown.
The phone yielded up a supplementary offer:
“I thought it would appeal to you anyhow as a psychologist.” The vague personality who corresponded to this statement was eventually hung on to the phone; in the sequence he failed to appeal to Dick, as a psychologist, or indeed as anything else. Abe’s conversation flowed on as follows:
“Who are you?”
“Well.” There were interpolated snorts of laughter.
“Well, I’ll put somebody else on the line.”
Sometimes Dick could hear Abe’s voice, accompanied by scufflings, droppings of the receiver, far-away fragments such as, “No, I don’t, Mr. North . . . .” Then a pert decided voice had said: “If you are a friend of Mr. North you will come down and take him away.”
Abe cut in, solemn and ponderous, beating it all down with an overtone of earth-bound determination.
“Dick, I’ve launched a race riot in Montmartre. I’m going over and get Freeman out of jail. If a Negro from Copenhagen that makes shoe polish — hello, can you hear me — well, look, if anybody comes there —” Once again the receiver was a chorus of innumerable melodies.
“Why you back in Paris?” Dick demanded.
“I got as far as Evreux, and I decided to take a plane back so I could compare it with St. Sulpice. I mean I don’t intend to bring St. Sulpice back to Paris. I don’t even mean Baroque! I meant St. Germain. For God’s sake, wait a minute and I’ll put the chasseur on the wire.”
“For God’s sake, don’t.”
“Listen — did Mary get off all right?”
“Dick, I want you to talk with a man I met here this morning, the son of a naval officer that’s been to every doctor in Europe. Let me tell you about him —”
Dick had rung off at this point — perhaps that was a piece of ingratitude for he needed grist for the grinding activity of his mind.
“Abe used to be so nice,” Nicole told Rosemary. “So nice. Long ago — when Dick and I were first married. If you had known him then. He’d come to stay with us for weeks and weeks and we scarcely knew he was in the house. Sometimes he’d play — sometimes he’d be in the library with a muted piano, making love to it by the hour — Dick, do you remember that maid? She thought he was a ghost and sometimes Abe used to meet her in the hall and moo at her, and it cost us a whole tea service once — but we didn’t care.”
So much fun — so long ago. Rosemary envied them their fun, imagining a life of leisure unlike her own. She knew little of leisure but she had the respect for it of those who have never had it. She thought of it as a resting, without realizing that the Divers were as far from relaxing as she was herself.
“What did this to him?” she asked. “Why does he have to drink?”
Nicole shook her head right and left, disclaiming responsibility for the matter: “So many smart men go to pieces nowadays.”
“And when haven’t they?” Dick asked. “Smart men play close to the line because they have to — some of them can’t stand it, so they quit.”
“It must lie deeper than that.” Nicole clung to her conversation; also she was irritated that Dick should contradict her before Rosemary. “Artists like — well, like Fernand don’t seem to have to wallow in alcohol. Why is it just Americans who dissipate?”
There were so many answers to this question that Dick decided to leave it in the air, to buzz victoriously in Nicole’s ears. He had become intensely critical of her. Though he thought she was the most attractive human creature he had ever seen, though he got from her everything he needed, he scented battle from afar, and subconsciously he had been hardening and arming himself, hour by hour. He was not given to self-indulgence and he felt comparatively graceless at this moment of indulging himself, blinding his eyes with the hope that Nicole guessed at only an emotional excitement about Rosemary. He was not sure — last night at the theatre she had referred pointedly to Rosemary as a child.
The trio lunched downstairs in an atmosphere of carpets and padded waiters, who did not march at the stomping quick-step of those men who brought good food to the tables whereon they had recently dined. Here there were families of Americans staring around at families of Americans, and trying to make conversation with one another.
There was a party at the next table that they could not account for. It consisted of an expansive, somewhat secretarial, would- you-mind-repeating young man, and a score of women. The women were neither young nor old nor of any particular social class; yet the party gave the impression of a unit, held more closely together for example than a group of wives stalling through a professional congress of their husbands. Certainly it was more of a unit than any conceivable tourist party.
An instinct made Dick suck back the grave derision that formed on his tongue; he asked the waiter to find out who they were.
“Those are the gold-star muzzers,” explained the waiter.
Aloud and in low voices they exclaimed. Rosemary’s eyes filled with tears.
“Probably the young ones are the wives,” said Nicole.
Over his wine Dick looked at them again; in their happy faces, the dignity that surrounded and pervaded the party, he perceived all the maturity of an older America. For a while the sobered women who had come to mourn for their dead, for something they could not repair, made the room beautiful. Momentarily, he sat again on his father’s knee, riding with Moseby while the old loyalties and devotions fought on around him. Almost with an effort he turned back to his two women at the table and faced the whole new world in which he believed.
— Do you mind if I pull down the curtain?
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50