About a year and a half before, Doctor Dohmler had some vague correspondence with an American gentleman living in Lausanne, a Mr. Devereux Warren, of the Warren family of Chicago. A meeting was arranged and one day Mr. Warren arrived at the clinic with his daughter Nicole, a girl of sixteen. She was obviously not well and the nurse who was with her took her to walk about the grounds while Mr. Warren had his consultation.
Warren was a strikingly handsome man looking less than forty. He was a fine American type in every way, tall, broad, well-made —“un homme très chic,” as Doctor Dohmler described him to Franz. His large gray eyes were sun-veined from rowing on Lake Geneva, and he had that special air about him of having known the best of this world. The conversation was in German, for it developed that he had been educated at Göttingen. He was nervous and obviously very moved by his errand.
“Doctor Dohmler, my daughter isn’t right in the head. I’ve had lots of specialists and nurses for her and she’s taken a couple of rest cures but the thing has grown too big for me and I’ve been strongly recommended to come to you.”
“Very well,” said Doctor Dohmler. “Suppose you start at the beginning and tell me everything.”
“There isn’t any beginning, at least there isn’t any insanity in the family that I know of, on either side. Nicole’s mother died when she was eleven and I’ve sort of been father and mother both to her, with the help of governesses — father and mother both to her.”
He was very moved as he said this. Doctor Dohmler saw that there were tears in the corners of his eyes and noticed for the first time that there was whiskey on his breath.
“As a child she was a darling thing — everybody was crazy about her, everybody that came in contact with her. She was smart as a whip and happy as the day is long. She liked to read or draw or dance or play the piano — anything. I used to hear my wife say she was the only one of our children who never cried at night. I’ve got an older girl, too, and there was a boy that died, but Nicole was — Nicole was — Nicole —”
He broke off and Doctor Dohmler helped him.
“She was a perfectly normal, bright, happy child.”
Doctor Dohmler waited. Mr. Warren shook his head, blew a long sigh, glanced quickly at Doctor Dohmler and then at the floor again.
“About eight months ago, or maybe it was six months ago or maybe ten — I try to figure but I can’t remember exactly where we were when she began to do funny things — crazy things. Her sister was the first one to say anything to me about it — because Nicole was always the same to me,” he added rather hastily, as if some one had accused him of being to blame, “— the same loving little girl. The first thing was about a valet.”
“Oh, yes,” said Doctor Dohmler, nodding his venerable head, as if, like Sherlock Holmes, he had expected a valet and only a valet to be introduced at this point.
“I had a valet — been with me for years — Swiss, by the way.” He looked up for Doctor Dohmler’s patriotic approval. “And she got some crazy idea about him. She thought he was making up to her — of course, at the time I believed her and I let him go, but I know now it was all nonsense.”
“What did she claim he had done?”
“That was the first thing — the doctors couldn’t pin her down. She just looked at them as if they ought to know what he’d done. But she certainly meant he’d made some kind of indecent advances to her — she didn’t leave us in any doubt of that.”
“Of course, I’ve read about women getting lonesome and thinking there’s a man under the bed and all that, but why should Nicole get such an idea? She could have all the young men she wanted. We were in Lake Forest — that’s a summer place near Chicago where we have a place — and she was out all day playing golf or tennis with boys. And some of them pretty gone on her at that.”
All the time Warren was talking to the dried old package of Doctor Dohmler, one section of the latter’s mind kept thinking intermittently of Chicago. Once in his youth he could have gone to Chicago as fellow and docent at the university, and perhaps become rich there and owned his own clinic instead of being only a minor shareholder in a clinic. But when he had thought of what he considered his own thin knowledge spread over that whole area, over all those wheat fields, those endless prairies, he had decided against it. But he had read about Chicago in those days, about the great feudal families of Armour, Palmer, Field, Crane, Warren, Swift, and McCormick and many others, and since that time not a few patients had come to him from that stratum of Chicago and New York.
“She got worse,” continued Warren. “She had a fit or something — the things she said got crazier and crazier. Her sister wrote some of them down —” He handed a much-folded piece of paper to the doctor. “Almost always about men going to attack her, men she knew or men on the street — anybody —”
He told of their alarm and distress, of the horrors families go through under such circumstances, of the ineffectual efforts they had made in America, finally of the faith in a change of scene that had made him run the submarine blockade and bring his daughter to Switzerland.
“— on a United States cruiser,” he specified with a touch of hauteur. “It was possible for me to arrange that, by a stroke of luck. And, may I add,” he smiled apologetically, “that as they say: money is no object.”
“Certainly not,” agreed Dohmler dryly.
He was wondering why and about what the man was lying to him. Or, if he was wrong about that, what was the falsity that pervaded the whole room, the handsome figure in tweeds sprawling in his chair with a sportsman’s ease? That was a tragedy out there, in the February day, the young bird with wings crushed somehow, and inside here it was all too thin, thin and wrong.
“I would like — to talk to her — a few minutes now,” said Doctor Dohmler, going into English as if it would bring him closer to Warren.
Afterward when Warren had left his daughter and returned to Lausanne, and several days had passed, the doctor and Franz entered upon Nicole’s card:
Diagnostic: Schizophrénie. Phase aiguë en décroissance. La peur des hommes est un symptôme de la maladie, et n’est point constitutionnelle. . . . Le pronostic doit rester réservé.*
* Diagnosis: Divided Personality. Acute and down-hill phase of the illness. The fear of men is a symptom of the illness and is not at all constitutional. . . . The prognosis must be reserved.
And then they waited with increasing interest as the days passed for Mr. Warren’s promised second visit.
It was slow in coming. After a fortnight Doctor Dohmler wrote. Confronted with further silence he committed what was for those days “une folie,” and telephoned to the Grand Hotel at Vevey. He learned from Mr. Warren’s valet that he was at the moment packing to sail for America. But reminded that the forty francs Swiss for the call would show up on the clinic books, the blood of the Tuileries Guard rose to Doctor Dohmler’s aid and Mr. Warren was got to the phone.
“It is — absolutely necessary — that you come. Your daughter’s health — all depends. I can take no responsibility.”
“But look here, Doctor, that’s just what you’re for. I have a hurry call to go home!”
Doctor Dohmler had never yet spoken to any one so far away but he dispatched his ultimatum so firmly into the phone that the agonized American at the other end yielded. Half an hour after this second arrival on the Zurichsee, Warren had broken down, his fine shoulders shaking with awful sobs inside his easy fitting coat, his eyes redder than the very sun on Lake Geneva, and they had the awful story.
“It just happened,” he said hoarsely. “I don’t know — I don’t know.
“After her mother died when she was little she used to come into my bed every morning, sometimes she’d sleep in my bed. I was sorry for the little thing. Oh, after that, whenever we went places in an automobile or a train we used to hold hands. She used to sing to me. We used to say, ‘Now let’s not pay any attention to anybody else this afternoon — let’s just have each other — for this morning you’re mine.’” A broken sarcasm came into his voice. “People used to say what a wonderful father and daughter we were — they used to wipe their eyes. We were just like lovers — and then all at once we were lovers — and ten minutes after it happened I could have shot myself — except I guess I’m such a Goddamned degenerate I didn’t have the nerve to do it.”
“Then what?” said Doctor Dohmler, thinking again of Chicago and of a mild pale gentleman with a pince-nez who had looked him over in Zurich thirty years before. “Did this thing go on?”
“Oh, no! She almost — she seemed to freeze up right away. She’d just say, ‘Never mind, never mind, Daddy. It doesn’t matter. Never mind.’”
“There were no consequences?”
“No.” He gave one short convulsive sob and blew his nose several times. “Except now there’re plenty of consequences.”
As the story concluded Dohmler sat back in the focal armchair of the middle class and said to himself sharply, “Peasant!”— it was one of the few absolute worldly judgments that he had permitted himself for twenty years. Then he said:
“I would like for you to go to a hotel in Zurich and spend the night and come see me in the morning.”
“And then what?”
Doctor Dohmler spread his hands wide enough to carry a young pig.
“Chicago,” he suggested.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54