He found Nicole in the garden with her arms folded high on her shoulders. She looked at him with straight gray eyes, with a child’s searching wonder.
“I went to Cannes,” he said. “I ran into Mrs. Speers. She’s leaving to-morrow. She wanted to come up and say good-by to you, but I slew the idea.”
“I’m sorry. I’d like to have seen her. I like her.”
“Who else do you think I saw — Bartholomew Tailor.”
“I couldn’t have missed that face of his, the old experienced weasel. He was looking over the ground for Ciro’s Menagerie — they’ll all be down next year. I suspected Mrs. Abrams was a sort of outpost.”
“And Baby was outraged the first summer we came here.”
“They don’t really give a damn where they are, so I don’t see why they don’t stay and freeze in Deauville.”
“Can’t we start rumors about cholera or something?”
“I told Bartholomew that some categories died off like flies here — I told him the life of a suck was as short as the life of a machine-gunner in the war.”
“No, I didn’t,” he admitted. “He was very pleasant. It was a beautiful sight, he and I shaking hands there on the boulevard. The meeting of Sigmund Freud and Ward McAllister.”
Dick didn’t want to talk — he wanted to be alone so that his thoughts about work and the future would overpower his thoughts of love and to-day. Nicole knew about it but only darkly and tragically, hating him a little in an animal way, yet wanting to rub against his shoulder.
“The darling,” Dick said lightly.
He went into the house, forgetting something he wanted to do there, and then remembering it was the piano. He sat down whistling and played by ear:
“Just picture you upon my knee
With tea for two and two for tea
And me for you and you for me —”
Through the melody flowed a sudden realization that Nicole, hearing it, would guess quickly at a nostalgia for the past fortnight. He broke off with a casual chord and left the piano.
It was hard to know where to go. He glanced about the house that Nicole had made, that Nicole’s grandfather had paid for. He owned only his work house and the ground on which it stood. Out of three thousand a year and what dribbled in from his publications he paid for his clothes and personal expenses, for cellar charges, and for Lanier’s education, so far confined to a nurse’s wage. Never had a move been contemplated without Dick’s figuring his share. Living rather ascetically, travelling third-class when he was alone, with the cheapest wine, and good care of his clothes, and penalizing himself for any extravagances, he maintained a qualified financial independence. After a certain point, though, it was difficult — again and again it was necessary to decide together as to the uses to which Nicole’s money should be put. Naturally Nicole, wanting to own him, wanting him to stand still forever, encouraged any slackness on his part, and in multiplying ways he was constantly inundated by a trickling of goods and money. The inception of the idea of the cliff villa which they had elaborated as a fantasy one day was a typical example of the forces divorcing them from the first simple arrangements in Zurich.
“Wouldn’t it be fun if —” it had been; and then, “Won’t it be fun when —”
It was not so much fun. His work became confused with Nicole’s problems; in addition, her income had increased so fast of late that it seemed to belittle his work. Also, for the purpose of her cure, he had for many years pretended to a rigid domesticity from which he was drifting away, and this pretense became more arduous in this effortless immobility, in which he was inevitably subjected to microscopic examination. When Dick could no longer play what he wanted to play on the piano, it was an indication that life was being refined down to a point. He stayed in the big room a long time listening to the buzz of the electric clock, listening to time.
In November the waves grew black and dashed over the sea wall onto the shore road — such summer life as had survived disappeared and the beaches were melancholy and desolate under the mistral and rain. Gausse’s Hotel was closed for repairs and enlargement and the scaffolding of the summer Casino at Juan les Pins grew larger and more formidable. Going into Cannes or Nice, Dick and Nicole met new people — members of orchestras, restaurateurs, horticultural enthusiasts, shipbuilders — for Dick had bought an old dinghy — and members of the Syndicat d’Initiative. They knew their servants well and gave thought to the children’s education. In December, Nicole seemed well-knit again; when a month had passed without tension, without the tight mouth, the unmotivated smile, the unfathomable remark, they went to the Swiss Alps for the Christmas holidays.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50