One morning a week later, stopping at the desk for his mail, Dick became aware of some extra commotion outside: Patient Von Cohn Morris was going away. His parents, Australians, were putting his baggage vehemently into a large limousine, and beside them stood Doctor Ladislau protesting with ineffectual attitudes against the violent gesturings of Morris, senior. The young man was regarding his embarkation with aloof cynicism as Doctor Diver approached.
“Isn’t this a little sudden, Mr. Morris?”
Mr. Morris started as he saw Dick — his florid face and the large checks on his suit seemed to turn off and on like electric lights. He approached Dick as though to strike him.
“High time we left, we and those who have come with us,” he began, and paused for breath. “It is high time, Doctor Diver. High time.”
“Will you come in my office?” Dick suggested.
“Not I! I’ll talk to you, but I’m washing my hands of you and your place.”
He shook his finger at Dick. “I was just telling this doctor here. We’ve wasted our time and our money.”
Doctor Ladislau stirred in a feeble negative, signalling up a vague Slavic evasiveness. Dick had never liked Ladislau. He managed to walk the excited Australian along the path in the direction of his office, trying to persuade him to enter; but the man shook his head.
“It’s you, Doctor Diver, YOU, the very man. I went to Doctor Ladislau because you were not to be found, Doctor Diver, and because Doctor Gregorovius is not expected until the nightfall, and I would not wait. No, sir! I would not wait a minute after my son told me the truth.”
He came up menacingly to Dick, who kept his hands loose enough to drop him if it seemed necessary. “My son is here for alcoholism, and he told us he smelt liquor on your breath. Yes, sir!” He made a quick, apparently unsuccessful sniff. “Not once, but twice Von Cohn says he has smelt liquor on your breath. I and my lady have never touched a drop of it in our lives. We hand Von Cohn to you to be cured, and within a month he twice smells liquor on your breath! What kind of cure is that there?”
Dick hesitated; Mr. Morris was quite capable of making a scene on the clinic drive.
“After all, Mr. Morris, some people are not going to give up what they regard as food because of your son —”
“But you’re a doctor, man!” cried Morris furiously. “When the workmen drink their beer that’s bad ‘cess to them — but you’re here supposing to cure —”
“This has gone too far. Your son came to us because of kleptomania.”
“What was behind it?” The man was almost shrieking. “Drink — black drink. Do you know what color black is? It’s black! My own uncle was hung by the neck because of it, you hear? My son comes to a sanitarium, and a doctor reeks of it!”
“I must ask you to leave.”
“You ASK me! We ARE leaving!”
“If you could be a little temperate we could tell you the results of the treatment to date. Naturally, since you feel as you do, we would not want your son as a patient —”
“You dare to use the word temperate to me?”
Dick called to Doctor Ladislau and as he approached, said: “Will you represent us in saying good-by to the patient and to his family?”
He bowed slightly to Morris and went into his office, and stood rigid for a moment just inside the door. He watched until they drove away, the gross parents, the bland, degenerate offspring: it was easy to prophesy the family’s swing around Europe, bullying their betters with hard ignorance and hard money. But what absorbed Dick after the disappearance of the caravan was the question as to what extent he had provoked this. He drank claret with each meal, took a nightcap, generally in the form of hot rum, and sometimes he tippled with gin in the afternoons — gin was the most difficult to detect on the breath. He was averaging a half- pint of alcohol a day, too much for his system to burn up.
Dismissing a tendency to justify himself, he sat down at his desk and wrote out, like a prescription, a régime that would cut his liquor in half. Doctors, chauffeurs, and Protestant clergymen could never smell of liquor, as could painters, brokers, cavalry leaders; Dick blamed himself only for indiscretion. But the matter was by no means clarified half an hour later when Franz, revivified by an Alpine fortnight, rolled up the drive, so eager to resume work that he was plunged in it before he reached his office. Dick met him there.
“How was Mount Everest?”
“We could very well have done Mount Everest the rate we were doing. We thought of it. How goes it all? How is my Kaethe, how is your Nicole?”
“All goes smooth domestically. But my God, Franz, we had a rotten scene this morning.”
“How? What was it?”
Dick walked around the room while Franz got in touch with his villa by telephone. After the family exchange was over, Dick said: “The Morris boy was taken away — there was a row.”
Franz’s buoyant face fell.
“I knew he’d left. I met Ladislau on the veranda.”
“What did Ladislau say?”
“Just that young Morris had gone — that you’d tell me about it. What about it?”
“The usual incoherent reasons.”
“He was a devil, that boy.”
“He was a case for anesthesia,” Dick agreed. “Anyhow, the father had beaten Ladislau into a colonial subject by the time I came along. What about Ladislau? Do we keep him? I say no — he’s not much of a man, he can’t seem to cope with anything.” Dick hesitated on the verge of the truth, swung away to give himself space within which to recapitulate. Franz perched on the edge of a desk, still in his linen duster and travelling gloves. Dick said:
“One of the remarks the boy made to his father was that your distinguished collaborator was a drunkard. The man is a fanatic, and the descendant seems to have caught traces of vin-du-pays on me.”
Franz sat down, musing on his lower lip. “You can tell me at length,” he said finally.
“Why not now?” Dick suggested. “You must know I’m the last man to abuse liquor.” His eyes and Franz’s glinted on each other, pair on pair. “Ladislau let the man get so worked up that I was on the defensive. It might have happened in front of patients, and you can imagine how hard it could be to defend yourself in a situation like that!”
Franz took off his gloves and coat. He went to the door and told the secretary, “Don’t disturb us.” Coming back into the room he flung himself at the long table and fooled with his mail, reasoning as little as is characteristic of people in such postures, rather summoning up a suitable mask for what he had to say.
“Dick, I know well that you are a temperate, well-balanced man, even though we do not entirely agree on the subject of alcohol. But a time has come — Dick, I must say frankly that I have been aware several times that you have had a drink when it was not the moment to have one. There is some reason. Why not try another leave of abstinence?”
“Absence,” Dick corrected him automatically. “It’s no solution for me to go away.”
They were both chafed, Franz at having his return marred and blurred.
“Sometimes you don’t use your common sense, Dick.”
“I never understood what common sense meant applied to complicated problems — unless it means that a general practitioner can perform a better operation than a specialist.”
He was seized by an overwhelming disgust for the situation. To explain, to patch — these were not natural functions at their age — better to continue with the cracked echo of an old truth in the ears.
“This is no go,” he said suddenly.
“Well, that’s occurred to me,” Franz admitted. “Your heart isn’t in this project any more, Dick.”
“I know. I want to leave — we could strike some arrangement about taking Nicole’s money out gradually.”
“I have thought about that too, Dick — I have seen this coming. I am able to arrange other backing, and it will be possible to take all your money out by the end of the year.”
Dick had not intended to come to a decision so quickly, nor was he prepared for Franz’s so ready acquiescence in the break, yet he was relieved. Not without desperation he had long felt the ethics of his profession dissolving into a lifeless mass.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54