The veranda of the central building was illuminated from open French windows, save where the black shadows of stripling walls and the fantastic shadows of iron chairs slithered down into a gladiola bed. From the figures that shuffled between the rooms Miss Warren emerged first in glimpses and then sharply when she saw him; as she crossed the threshold her face caught the room’s last light and brought it outside with her. She walked to a rhythm — all that week there had been singing in her ears, summer songs of ardent skies and wild shade, and with his arrival the singing had become so loud she could have joined in with it.
“How do you do, Captain,” she said, unfastening her eyes from his with difficulty, as though they had become entangled. “Shall we sit out here?” She stood still, her glance moving about for a moment. “It’s summer practically.”
A woman had followed her out, a dumpy woman in a shawl, and Nicole presented Dick: “Señora —”
Franz excused himself and Dick grouped three chairs together.
“The lovely night,” the Señora said.
“Muy bella,” agreed Nicole; then to Dick, “Are you here for a long time?”
“I’m in Zurich for a long time, if that’s what you mean.”
“This is really the first night of real spring,” the Señora suggested.
“At least till July.”
“I’m leaving in June.”
“June is a lovely month here,” the Señora commented. “You should stay for June and then leave in July when it gets really too hot.”
“You’re going where?” Dick asked Nicole.
“Somewhere with my sister — somewhere exciting, I hope, because I’ve lost so much time. But perhaps they’ll think I ought to go to a quiet place at first — perhaps Como. Why don’t you come to Como?”
“Ah, Como —” began the Señora.
Within the building a trio broke into Suppe’s “Light Cavalry.” Nicole took advantage of this to stand up and the impression of her youth and beauty grew on Dick until it welled up inside him in a compact paroxysm of emotion. She smiled, a moving childish smile that was like all the lost youth in the world.
“The music’s too loud to talk against — suppose we walk around. Buenas noches, Señora.”
“G’t night — g’t night.”
They went down two steps to the path — where in a moment a shadow cut across it. She took his arm.
“I have some phonograph records my sister sent me from America,” she said. “Next time you come here I’ll play them for you — I know a place to put the phonograph where no one can hear.”
“That’ll be nice.”
“Do you know ‘Hindustan’?” she asked wistfully. “I’d never heard it before, but I like it. And I’ve got ‘Why Do They Call Them Babies?’ and ‘I’m Glad I Can Make You Cry.’ I suppose you’ve danced to all those tunes in Paris?”
“I haven’t been to Paris.”
Her cream-colored dress, alternately blue or gray as they walked, and her very blonde hair, dazzled Dick — whenever he turned toward her she was smiling a little, her face lighting up like an angel’s when they came into the range of a roadside arc. She thanked him for everything, rather as if he had taken her to some party, and as Dick became less and less certain of his relation to her, her confidence increased — there was that excitement about her that seemed to reflect all the excitement of the world.
“I’m not under any restraint at all,” she said. “I’ll play you two good tunes called ‘Wait Till the Cows Come Home’ and ‘Good-by, Alexander.’”
He was late the next time, a week later, and Nicole was waiting for him at a point in the path which he would pass walking from Franz’s house. Her hair drawn back of her ears brushed her shoulders in such a way that the face seemed to have just emerged from it, as if this were the exact moment when she was coming from a wood into clear moonlight. The unknown yielded her up; Dick wished she had no background, that she was just a girl lost with no address save the night from which she had come. They went to the cache where she had left the phonograph, turned a corner by the workshop, climbed a rock, and sat down behind a low wall, facing miles and miles of rolling night.
They were in America now, even Franz with his conception of Dick as an irresistible Lothario would never have guessed that they had gone so far away. They were so sorry, dear; they went down to meet each other in a taxi, honey; they had preferences in smiles and had met in Hindustan, and shortly afterward they must have quarrelled, for nobody knew and nobody seemed to care — yet finally one of them had gone and left the other crying, only to feel blue, to feel sad.
The thin tunes, holding lost times and future hopes in liaison, twisted upon the Valais night. In the lulls of the phonograph a cricket held the scene together with a single note. By and by Nicole stopped playing the machine and sang to him.
“Lay a silver dollar
On the ground
And watch it roll
Because it’s round —”
On the pure parting of her lips no breath hovered. Dick stood up suddenly.
“What’s the matter, you don’t like it?”
“Of course I do.”
“Our cook at home taught it to me:
“A woman never knows
What a good man she’s got
Till after she turns him down . . .”
“You like it?”
She smiled at him, making sure that the smile gathered up everything inside her and directed it toward him, making him a profound promise of herself for so little, for the beat of a response, the assurance of a complimentary vibration in him. Minute by minute the sweetness drained down into her out of the willow trees, out of the dark world.
She stood up too, and stumbling over the phonograph, was momentarily against him, leaning into the hollow of his rounded shoulder.
“I’ve got one more record,” she said. “— Have you heard ‘So Long, Letty’? I suppose you have.”
“Honestly, you don’t understand — I haven’t heard a thing.”
Nor known, nor smelt, nor tasted, he might have added; only hot- cheeked girls in hot secret rooms. The young maidens he had known at New Haven in 1914 kissed men, saying “There!”, hands at the man’s chest to push him away. Now there was this scarcely saved waif of disaster bringing him the essence of a continent . . . .
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54