It was late afternoon when they wound up the discussion as to what Dick should do, he must be most kind and yet eliminate himself. When the doctors stood up at last, Dick’s eyes fell outside the window to where a light rain was falling — Nicole was waiting, expectant, somewhere in that rain. When, presently, he went out buttoning his oil-skin at the throat, pulling down the brim of his hat, he came upon her immediately under the roof of the main entrance.
“I know a new place we can go,” she said. “When I was ill I didn’t mind sitting inside with the others in the evening — what they said seemed like everything else. Naturally now I see them as ill and it’s — it’s —”
“You’ll be leaving soon.”
“Oh, soon. My sister, Beth, but she’s always been called Baby, she’s coming in a few weeks to take me somewhere; after that I’ll be back here for a last month.”
“The older sister?”
“Oh, quite a bit older. She’s twenty-four — she’s very English. She lives in London with my father’s sister. She was engaged to an Englishman but he was killed — I never saw him.”
Her face, ivory gold against the blurred sunset that strove through the rain, had a promise Dick had never seen before: the high cheek- bones, the faintly wan quality, cool rather than feverish, was reminiscent of the frame of a promising colt — a creature whose life did not promise to be only a projection of youth upon a grayer screen, but instead, a true growing; the face would be handsome in middle life; it would be handsome in old age: the essential structure and the economy were there.
“What are you looking at?”
“I was just thinking that you’re going to be rather happy.”
Nicole was frightened: “Am I? All right — things couldn’t be worse than they have been.”
In the covered woodshed to which she had led him, she sat cross- legged upon her golf shoes, her burberry wound about her and her cheeks stung alive by the damp air. Gravely she returned his gaze, taking in his somewhat proud carriage that never quite yielded to the wooden post against which he leaned; she looked into his face that always tried to discipline itself into molds of attentive seriousness, after excursions into joys and mockeries of its own. That part of him which seemed to fit his reddish Irish coloring she knew least; she was afraid of it, yet more anxious to explore — this was his more masculine side: the other part, the trained part, the consideration in the polite eyes, she expropriated without question, as most women did.
“At least this institution has been good for languages,” said Nicole. “I’ve spoken French with two doctors, and German with the nurses, and Italian, or something like it, with a couple of scrub- women and one of the patients, and I’ve picked up a lot of Spanish from another.”
He tried to arrange an attitude but no logic seemed forthcoming.
“— Music too. Hope you didn’t think I was only interested in ragtime. I practise every day — the last few months I’ve been taking a course in Zurich on the history of music. In fact it was all that kept me going at times — music and the drawing.” She leaned suddenly and twisted a loose strip from the sole of her shoe and then looked up. “I’d like to draw you just the way you are now.”
It made him sad when she brought out her accomplishments for his approval.
“I envy you. At present I don’t seem to be interested in anything except my work.”
“Oh, I think that’s fine for a man,” she said quickly. “But for a girl I think she ought to have lots of minor accomplishments and pass them on to her children.”
“I suppose so,” said Dick with deliberated indifference.
Nicole sat quiet. Dick wished she would speak so that he could play the easy rôle of wet blanket, but now she sat quiet.
“You’re all well,” he said. “Try to forget the past; don’t overdo things for a year or so. Go back to America and be a débutante and fall in love — and be happy.”
“I couldn’t fall in love.” Her injured shoe scraped a cocoon of dust from the log on which she sat.
“Sure you can,” Dick insisted. “Not for a year maybe, but sooner or later.” Then he added brutally: “You can have a perfectly normal life with a houseful of beautiful descendants. The very fact that you could make a complete comeback at your age proves that the precipitating factors were pretty near everything. Young woman, you’ll be pulling your weight long after your friends are carried off screaming.”
— But there was a look of pain in her eyes as she took the rough dose, the harsh reminder.
“I know I wouldn’t be fit to marry any one for a long time,” she said humbly.
Dick was too upset to say any more. He looked out into the grain field trying to recover his hard brassy attitude.
“You’ll be all right — everybody here believes in you. Why, Doctor Gregory is so proud of you that he’ll probably —”
“I hate Doctor Gregory.”
“Well, you shouldn’t.”
Nicole’s world had fallen to pieces, but it was only a flimsy and scarcely created world; beneath it her emotions and instincts fought on. Was it an hour ago she had waited by the entrance, wearing her hope like a corsage at her belt?
. . . Dress stay crisp for him, button stay put, bloom narcissus — air stay still and sweet.
“It will be nice to have fun again,” she fumbled on. For a moment she entertained a desperate idea of telling him how rich she was, what big houses she lived in, that really she was a valuable property — for a moment she made herself into her grandfather, Sid Warren, the horse-trader. But she survived the temptation to confuse all values and shut these matters into their Victorian side-chambers — even though there was no home left to her, save emptiness and pain.
“I have to go back to the clinic. It’s not raining now.”
Dick walked beside her, feeling her unhappiness, and wanting to drink the rain that touched her cheek.
“I have some new records,” she said. “I can hardly wait to play them. Do you know —”
After supper that evening, Dick thought, he would finish the break; also he wanted to kick Franz’s bottom for having partially introduced him to such a sordid business. He waited in the hall. His eyes followed a beret, not wet with waiting like Nicole’s beret, but covering a skull recently operated on. Beneath it human eyes peered, found him and came over:
“Il fait beau temps.”
“Vous êtes ici maintenant?”
“Non, pour la journée seulement.”
“Ah, bon. Alors — au revoir, Monsieur.”
Glad at having survived another contact, the wretch in the beret moved away. Dick waited. Presently a nurse came downstairs and delivered him a message.
“Miss Warren asks to be excused, Doctor. She wants to lie down. She wants to have dinner upstairs to-night.”
The nurse hung on his response, half expecting him to imply that Miss Warren’s attitude was pathological.
“Oh, I see. Well —” He rearranged the flow of his own saliva, the pulse of his heart. “I hope she feels better. Thanks.”
He was puzzled and discontent. At any rate it freed him.
Leaving a note for Franz begging off from supper, he walked through the countryside to the tram station. As he reached the platform, with spring twilight gilding the rails and the glass in the slot machines, he began to feel that the station, the hospital, was hovering between being centripetal and centrifugal. He felt frightened. He was glad when the substantial cobble-stones of Zurich clicked once more under his shoes.
He expected to hear from Nicole next day but there was no word. Wondering if she was ill, he called the clinic and talked to Franz.
“She came downstairs to luncheon yesterday and to-day,” said Franz. “She seemed a little abstracted and in the clouds. How did it go off?”
Dick tried to plunge over the Alpine crevasse between the sexes.
“We didn’t get to it — at least I didn’t think we did. I tried to be distant, but I didn’t think enough happened to change her attitude if it ever went deep.”
Perhaps his vanity had been hurt that there was no coup de grâce to administer.
“From some things she said to her nurse I’m inclined to think she understood.”
“It was the best thing that could have happened. She doesn’t seem over-agitated — only a little in the clouds.”
“All right, then.”
“Dick, come soon and see me.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08