It was a damp April day, with long diagonal clouds over the Albishorn and water inert in the low places. Zurich is not unlike an American city. Missing something ever since his arrival two days before, Dick perceived that it was the sense he had had in finite French lanes that there was nothing more. In Zurich there was a lot besides Zurich — the roofs upled the eyes to tinkling cow pastures, which in turn modified hilltops further up — so life was a perpendicular starting off to a postcard heaven. The Alpine lands, home of the toy and the funicular, the merry-go-round and the thin chime, were not a being HERE, as in France with French vines growing over one’s feet on the ground.
In Salzburg once Dick had felt the superimposed quality of a bought and borrowed century of music; once in the laboratories of the university in Zurich, delicately poking at the cervical of a brain, he had felt like a toy-maker rather than like the tornado who had hurried through the old red buildings of Hopkins, two years before, unstayed by the irony of the gigantic Christ in the entrance hall.
Yet he had decided to remain another two years in Zurich, for he did not underestimate the value of toy-making, in infinite precision, of infinite patience.
To-day he went out to see Franz Gregorovius at Dohmler’s clinic on the Zurichsee. Franz, resident pathologist at the clinic, a Vaudois by birth, a few years older than Dick, met him at the tram stop. He had a dark and magnificent aspect of Cagliostro about him, contrasted with holy eyes; he was the third of the Gregoroviuses — his grandfather had instructed Krapaelin when psychiatry was just emerging from the darkness of all time. In personality he was proud, fiery, and sheeplike — he fancied himself as a hypnotist. If the original genius of the family had grown a little tired, Franz would without doubt become a fine clinician.
On the way to the clinic he said: “Tell me of your experiences in the war. Are you changed like the rest? You have the same stupid and unaging American face, except I know you’re not stupid, Dick.”
“I didn’t see any of the war — you must have gathered that from my letters, Franz.”
“That doesn’t matter — we have some shell-shocks who merely heard an air raid from a distance. We have a few who merely read newspapers.”
“It sounds like nonsense to me.”
“Maybe it is, Dick. But, we’re a rich person’s clinic — we don’t use the word nonsense. Frankly, did you come down to see me or to see that girl?”
They looked sideways at each other; Franz smiled enigmatically.
“Naturally I saw all the first letters,” he said in his official basso. “When the change began, delicacy prevented me from opening any more. Really it had become your case.”
“Then she’s well?” Dick demanded.
“Perfectly well, I have charge of her, in fact I have charge of the majority of the English and American patients. They call me Doctor Gregory.”
“Let me explain about that girl,” Dick said. “I only saw her one time, that’s a fact. When I came out to say good-by to you just before I went over to France. It was the first time I put on my uniform and I felt very bogus in it — went around saluting private soldiers and all that.”
“Why didn’t you wear it to-day?”
“Hey! I’ve been discharged three weeks. Here’s the way I happened to see that girl. When I left you I walked down toward that building of yours on the lake to get my bicycle.”
“— toward the ‘Cedars’?”
“— a wonderful night, you know — moon over that mountain —”
“— I caught up with a nurse and a young girl. I didn’t think the girl was a patient; I asked the nurse about tram times and we walked along. The girl was about the prettiest thing I ever saw.”
“She still is.”
“She’d never seen an American uniform and we talked, and I didn’t think anything about it.” He broke off, recognizing a familiar perspective, and then resumed: “— except, Franz, I’m not as hard- boiled as you are yet; when I see a beautiful shell like that I can’t help feeling a regret about what’s inside it. That was absolutely all — till the letters began to come.”
“It was the best thing that could have happened to her,” said Franz dramatically, “a transference of the most fortuitous kind. That’s why I came down to meet you on a very busy day. I want you to come into my office and talk a long time before you see her. In fact, I sent her into Zurich to do errands.” His voice was tense with enthusiasm. “In fact, I sent her without a nurse, with a less stable patient. I’m intensely proud of this case, which I handled, with your accidental assistance.”
The car had followed the shore of the Zurichsee into a fertile region of pasture farms and low hills, steepled with châlets. The sun swam out into a blue sea of sky and suddenly it was a Swiss valley at its best — pleasant sounds and murmurs and a good fresh smell of health and cheer.
Professor Dohmler’s plant consisted of three old buildings and a pair of new ones, between a slight eminence and the shore of the lake. At its founding, ten years before, it had been the first modern clinic for mental illness; at a casual glance no layman would recognize it as a refuge for the broken, the incomplete, the menacing, of this world, though two buildings were surrounded with vine-softened walls of a deceptive height. Some men raked straw in the sunshine; here and there, as they rode into the grounds, the car passed the white flag of a nurse waving beside a patient on a path.
After conducting Dick to his office, Franz excused himself for half an hour. Left alone Dick wandered about the room and tried to reconstruct Franz from the litter of his desk, from his books and the books of and by his father and grandfather; from the Swiss piety of a huge claret-colored photo of the former on the wall. There was smoke in the room; pushing open a French window, Dick let in a cone of sunshine. Suddenly his thoughts swung to the patient, the girl.
He had received about fifty letters from her written over a period of eight months. The first one was apologetic, explaining that she had heard from America how girls wrote to soldiers whom they did not know. She had obtained the name and address from Doctor Gregory and she hoped he would not mind if she sometimes sent word to wish him well, etc., etc.
So far it was easy to recognize the tone — from “Daddy-Long-Legs” and “Molly-Make-Believe,” sprightly and sentimental epistolary collections enjoying a vogue in the States. But there the resemblance ended.
The letters were divided into two classes, of which the first class, up to about the time of the armistice, was of marked pathological turn, and of which the second class, running from thence up to the present, was entirely normal, and displayed a richly maturing nature. For these latter letters Dick had come to wait eagerly in the last dull months at Bar-sur-Aube — yet even from the first letters he had pieced together more than Franz would have guessed of the story.
I thought when I saw you in your uniform you were so handsome. Then I thought Je m’en fiche French too and German. You thought I was pretty too but I’ve had that before and a long time I’ve stood it. If you come here again with that attitude base and criminal and not even faintly what I had been taught to associate with the role of gentleman then heaven help you. However you seem quieter than the others,
all soft like a big cat. I have only gotten to like boys who are rather sissies. Are you a sissy? There were some somewhere.
Excuse all this, it is the third letter I have written you and will send immediately or will never send. I’ve thought a lot about moonlight too, and there are many witnesses I could find if I could only be out of here.
They said you were a doctor, but so long as you are a cat it is different. My head aches so, so excuse this walking there like an ordinary with a white cat will explain, I think. I can speak three languages, four with English, and am sure I could be useful interpreting if you arrange such thing in France I’m sure I could control everything with the belts all bound around everybody like it was Wednesday. It is now Saturday and
you are far away, perhaps killed.
Come back to me some day, for I will be here always on this green hill. Unless they will let me write my father, whom I loved dearly. Excuse this. I am not myself today. I will write when I feel better.
Excuse all this.
I know introspection is not good for a highly nervous state like mine, but I would like you to know where I stand. Last year or whenever it was in Chicago when I got so I couldn’t speak to servants or walk in the street I kept waiting for some one to tell me. It was the duty of some one who understood. The blind must be led. Only no one would tell me everything — they would just tell me half and I was already too muddled to put two and two together. One man was nice — he was a French officer and he understood. He gave me a flower and said it was “plus petite et
moins entendue.” We were friends. Then he took it away. I grew sicker and there was no one to explain to me. They had a song about Joan of Arc that they used to sing at me but that was just mean — it would just make me cry, for there was nothing the matter with my head then. They kept making reference to sports, too, but I didn’t care by that time. So there was that day I went walking on Michigan Boulevard on and on for miles and finally they followed me in an automobile, but I wouldn’t get
in. Finally they pulled me in and there were nurses. After that time I began to realize it all, because I could feel what was happening in others. So you see how I stand. And what good can it be for me to stay here with the doctors harping constantly in the things I was here to get over. So today I have written my father to come and take me away. I am glad
you are so interested in examining people and sending them back. It must be so much fun.
And again, from another letter:
You might pass up your next examination and write me a letter. They just sent me some phonograph records in case I should forget my lesson and I broke them all so the nurse won’t speak to me. They were in English, so that the nurses would not understand. One doctor in Chicago said I was bluffing, but what he really meant was that I was a twin six and he had never seen one before. But I was very busy being mad then, so I didn’t care what he said, when I am very busy being mad I don’t usually care what they say, not if I were a million girls.
You told me that night you’d teach me to play. Well, I think love is all
there is or should be. Anyhow I am glad your interest in examinations keeps you busy.
Tout à vous,
There were other letters among whose helpless cæsuras lurked darker rhythms.
DEAR CAPTAIN DIVER:
I write to you because there is no one else to whom I can turn and it seems to me if this farcicle situation is apparent to one as sick as me it should be apparent to you. The mental trouble is all over and besides that I am completely broken and humiliated, if that was what they wanted. My family have shamefully neglected me, there’s no use asking them for help or pity. I have had enough and it is simply ruining my health and wasting my time pretending that what is the matter with my
head is curable.
Here I am in what appears to be a semi-insane-asylum, all because nobody saw fit to tell me the truth about anything. If I had only known what was going on like I know now I could have stood it I guess for I am pretty strong, but those who should have, did not see fit to enlighten me.
And now, when I know and have paid such a price for knowing, they sit there with their dogs lives and say I should believe what I did believe. Especially one does but I know now.
I am lonesome all the time far away from friends and family across the Atlantic I roam all over the place in a half daze. If you could get me a position as interpreter (I know French and German like a native, fair
Italian and a little Spanish) or in the Red Cross Ambulance or as a trained nurse, though I would have to train you would prove a great blessing.
Since you will not accept my explanation of what is the matter you could at least explain to me what you think, because you have a kind cat’s face, and not that funny look that seems to be so fashionable here. Dr. Gregory gave me a snapshot of you, not as handsome as you are in your uniform, but younger looking.
It was fine to have your postcard. I am so glad you take such interest in disqualifying nurses — oh, I understood your note very well indeed. Only I thought from the moment I met you that you were different.
I think one thing today and another tomorrow. That is really all that’s the matter with me, except a crazy defiance and a lack of proportion. I would gladly welcome any alienist you might suggest. Here they lie in their bath tubs and sing Play in Your Own Backyard as if I had my
backyard to play in or any hope which I can find by looking either backward or forward. They tried it again in the candy store again and I almost hit the man with the weight, but they held me.
I am not going to write you any more. I am too unstable.
And then a month with no letters. And then suddenly the change.
— I am slowly coming back to life . . .
— Today the flowers and the clouds . . .
— The war is over and I scarcely knew there was a war . . .
— How kind you have been! You must be very wise behind your face like a white cat, except you don’t look like that in the picture Dr. Gregory gave me . . .
— Today I went to Zurich, how strange a feeling to see a city again.
— Today we went to Berne, it was so nice with the clocks.
— Today we climbed high enough to find asphodel and edelweiss . . .
After that the letters were fewer, but he answered them all. There was one:
I wish someone were in love with me like boys were ages ago before I was sick. I suppose it will be years, though, before I could think of anything like that.
But when Dick’s answer was delayed for any reason, there was a fluttering burst of worry — like a worry of a lover: “Perhaps I have bored you,” and: “Afraid I have presumed,” and: “I keep thinking at night you have been sick.”
In actuality Dick was sick with the flu. When he recovered, all except the formal part of his correspondence was sacrificed to the consequent fatigue, and shortly afterward the memory of her became overlaid by the vivid presence of a Wisconsin telephone girl at headquarters in Bar-sur-Aube. She was red-lipped like a poster, and known obscenely in the messes as “The Switchboard.”
Franz came back into his office feeling self-important. Dick thought he would probably be a fine clinician, for the sonorous or staccato cadences by which he disciplined nurse or patient came not from his nervous system but from a tremendous and harmless vanity. His true emotions were more ordered and kept to himself.
“Now about the girl, Dick,” he said. “Of course, I want to find out about you and tell you about myself, but first about the girl, because I have been waiting to tell you about it so long.”
He searched for and found a sheaf of papers in a filing cabinet but after shuffling through them he found they were in his way and put them on his desk. Instead he told Dick the story.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54