At four o’clock next afternoon a station taxi stopped at the gate and Dick got out. Suddenly off balance, Nicole ran from the terrace to meet him, breathless with her effort at self-control.
“Where’s the car?” she asked.
“I left it in Arles. I didn’t feel like driving any more.”
“I thought from your note that you’d be several days.”
“I ran into a mistral and some rain.”
“Did you have fun?”
“Just as much fun as anybody has running away from things. I drove Rosemary as far as Avignon and put her on her train there.” They walked toward the terrace together, where he deposited his bag. “I didn’t tell you in the note because I thought you’d imagine a lot of things.”
“That was very considerate of you.” Nicole felt surer of herself now.
“I wanted to find out if she had anything to offer — the only way was to see her alone.”
“Did she have — anything to offer?”
“Rosemary didn’t grow up,” he answered. “It’s probably better that way. What have you been doing?”
She felt her face quiver like a rabbit’s.
“I went dancing last night — with Tommy Barban. We went —”
He winced, interrupting her.
“Don’t tell me about it. It doesn’t matter what you do, only I don’t want to know anything definitely.”
“There isn’t anything to know.”
“All right, all right.” Then as if he had been away a week: “How are the children?”
The phone rang in the house.
“If it’s for me I’m not home,” said Dick turning away quickly. “I’ve got some things to do over in the work-room.”
Nicole waited till he was out of sight behind the well; then she went into the house and took up the phone.
“Nicole, comment vas-tu?”
“Meet me here in Cannes,” he suggested. “I’ve got to talk to you.”
“Tell me you love me.” Without speaking she nodded at the receiver; he repeated, “Tell me you love me.”
“Oh, I do,” she assured him. “But there’s nothing to be done right now.”
“Of course there is,” he said impatiently. “Dick sees it’s over between you two — it’s obvious he has quit. What does he expect you to do?”
“I don’t know. I’ll have to —” She stopped herself from saying “— to wait until I can ask Dick,” and instead finished with: “I’ll write and I’ll phone you to-morrow.”
She wandered about the house rather contentedly, resting on her achievement. She was a mischief, and that was a satisfaction; no longer was she a huntress of corralled game. Yesterday came back to her now in innumerable detail — detail that began to overlay her memory of similar moments when her love for Dick was fresh and intact. She began to slight that love, so that it seemed to have been tinged with sentimental habit from the first. With the opportunistic memory of women she scarcely recalled how she had felt when she and Dick had possessed each other in secret places around the corners of the world, during the month before they were married. Just so had she lied to Tommy last night, swearing to him that never before had she so entirely, so completely, so utterly . . . .
. . . then remorse for this moment of betrayal, which so cavalierly belittled a decade of her life, turned her walk toward Dick’s sanctuary.
Approaching noiselessly she saw him behind his cottage, sitting in a steamer chair by the cliff wall, and for a moment she regarded him silently. He was thinking, he was living a world completely his own and in the small motions of his face, the brow raised or lowered, the eyes narrowed or widened, the lips set and reset, the play of his hands, she saw him progress from phase to phase of his own story spinning out inside him, his own, not hers. Once he clenched his fists and leaned forward, once it brought into his face an expression of torment and despair — when this passed its stamp lingered in his eyes. For almost the first time in her life she was sorry for him — it is hard for those who have once been mentally afflicted to be sorry for those who are well, and though Nicole often paid lip service to the fact that he had led her back to the world she had forfeited, she had thought of him really as an inexhaustible energy, incapable of fatigue — she forgot the troubles she caused him at the moment when she forgot the troubles of her own that had prompted her. That he no longer controlled her — did he know that? Had he willed it all? — she felt as sorry for him as she had sometimes felt for Abe North and his ignoble destiny, sorry as for the helplessness of infants and the old.
She went up putting her arm around his shoulder and touching their heads together said:
“Don’t be sad.”
He looked at her coldly.
“Don’t touch me!” he said.
Confused she moved a few feet away.
“Excuse me,” he continued abstractedly. “I was just thinking what I thought of you —”
“Why not add the new classification to your book?”
“I have thought of it —‘Furthermore and beyond the psychoses and the neuroses —’”
“I didn’t come over here to be disagreeable.”
“Then why DID you come, Nicole? I can’t do anything for you any more. I’m trying to save myself.”
“From my contamination?”
“Profession throws me in contact with questionable company sometimes.”
She wept with anger at the abuse.
“You’re a coward! You’ve made a failure of your life, and you want to blame it on me.”
While he did not answer she began to feel the old hypnotism of his intelligence, sometimes exercised without power but always with substrata of truth under truth which she could not break or even crack. Again she struggled with it, fighting him with her small, fine eyes, with the plush arrogance of a top dog, with her nascent transference to another man, with the accumulated resentment of years; she fought him with her money and her faith that her sister disliked him and was behind her now; with the thought of the new enemies he was making with his bitterness, with her quick guile against his wine-ing and dine-ing slowness, her health and beauty against his physical deterioration, her unscrupulousness against his moralities — for this inner battle she used even her weaknesses — fighting bravely and courageously with the old cans and crockery and bottles, empty receptacles of her expiated sins, outrages, mistakes. And suddenly, in the space of two minutes she achieved her victory and justified herself to herself without lie or subterfuge, cut the cord forever. Then she walked, weak in the legs, and sobbing coolly, toward the household that was hers at last.
Dick waited until she was out of sight. Then he leaned his head forward on the parapet. The case was finished. Doctor Diver was at liberty.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54