At two o’clock that night the phone woke Nicole and she heard Dick answer it from what they called the restless bed, in the next room.
“Oui, oui . . . mais à qui est-ce-que je parle? . . . Oui . . .” His voice woke up with surprise. “But can I speak to one of the ladies, Sir the Officer? They are both ladies of the very highest prominence, ladies of connections that might cause political complications of the most serious. . . . It is a fact, I swear to you. . . . Very well, you will see.”
He got up and, as he absorbed the situation, his self-knowledge assured him that he would undertake to deal with it — the old fatal pleasingness, the old forceful charm, swept back with its cry of “Use me!” He would have to go fix this thing that he didn’t care a damn about, because it had early become a habit to be loved, perhaps from the moment when he had realized that he was the last hope of a decaying clan. On an almost parallel occasion, back in Dohmler’s clinic on the Zurichsee, realizing this power, he had made his choice, chosen Ophelia, chosen the sweet poison and drunk it. Wanting above all to be brave and kind, he had wanted, even more than that, to be loved. So it had been. So it would ever be, he saw, simultaneously with the slow archaic tinkle from the phone box as he rang off.
There was a long pause. Nicole called, “What is it? Who is it?”
Dick had begun to dress even as he hung up the phone.
“It’s the poste de police in Antibes — they’re holding Mary North and that Sibley-Biers. It’s something serious — the agent wouldn’t tell me; he kept saying ‘pas de mortes — pas d’automobiles’ but he implied it was just about everything else.”
“Why on earth did they call on YOU? It sounds very peculiar to me.”
“They’ve got to get out on bail to save their faces; and only some property owner in the Alpes Maritimes can give bail.”
“They had their nerve.”
“I don’t mind. However I’ll pick up Gausse at the hotel —”
Nicole stayed awake after he had departed wondering what offense they could have committed; then she slept. A little after three when Dick came in she sat up stark awake saying, “What?” as if to a character in her dream.
“It was an extraordinary story —” Dick said. He sat on the foot of her bed, telling her how he had roused old Gausse from an Alsatian coma, told him to clean out his cash drawer, and driven with him to the police station.
“I don’t like to do something for that Anglaise,” Gausse grumbled.
Mary North and Lady Caroline, dressed in the costume of French sailors, lounged on a bench outside the two dingy cells. The latter had the outraged air of a Briton who momentarily expected the Mediterranean fleet to steam up to her assistance. Mary Minghetti was in a condition of panic and collapse — she literally flung herself at Dick’s stomach as though that were the point of greatest association, imploring him to do something. Meanwhile the chief of police explained the matter to Gausse who listened to each word with reluctance, divided between being properly appreciative of the officer’s narrative gift and showing that, as the perfect servant, the story had no shocking effect on him. “It was merely a lark,” said Lady Caroline with scorn. “We were pretending to be sailors on leave, and we picked up two silly girls. They got the wind up and made a rotten scene in a lodging house.”
Dick nodded gravely, looking at the stone floor, like a priest in the confessional — he was torn between a tendency to ironic laughter and another tendency to order fifty stripes of the cat and a fortnight of bread and water. The lack, in Lady Caroline’s face, of any sense of evil, except the evil wrought by cowardly Provençal girls and stupid police, confounded him; yet he had long concluded that certain classes of English people lived upon a concentrated essence of the anti-social that, in comparison, reduced the gorgings of New York to something like a child contracting indigestion from ice cream.
“I’ve got to get out before Hosain hears about this,” Mary pleaded. “Dick, you can always arrange things — you always could. Tell ’em we’ll go right home, tell ’em we’ll pay anything.”
“I shall not,” said Lady Caroline disdainfully. “Not a shilling. But I shall jolly well find out what the Consulate in Cannes has to say about this.”
“No, no!” insisted Mary. “We’ve got to get out to-night.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” said Dick, and added, “but money will certainly have to change hands.” Looking at them as though they were the innocents that he knew they were not, he shook his head: “Of all the crazy stunts!”
Lady Caroline smiled complacently.
“You’re an insanity doctor, aren’t you? You ought to be able to help us — and Gausse has GOT to!”
At this point Dick went aside with Gausse and talked over the old man’s findings. The affair was more serious than had been indicated — one of the girls whom they had picked up was of a respectable family. The family were furious, or pretended to be; a settlement would have to be made with them. The other one, a girl of the port, could be more easily dealt with. There were French statutes that would make conviction punishable by imprisonment or, at the very least, public expulsion from the country. In addition to the difficulties, there was a growing difference in tolerance between such townspeople as benefited by the foreign colony and the ones who were annoyed by the consequent rise of prices. Gausse, having summarized the situation, turned it over to Dick. Dick called the chief of police into conference.
“Now you know that the French government wants to encourage American touring — so much so that in Paris this summer there’s an order that Americans can’t be arrested except for the most serious offenses.”
“This is serious enough, my God.”
“But look now — you have their Cartes d’Identité?”
“They had none. They had nothing — two hundred francs and some rings. Not even shoe-laces that they could have hung themselves with!”
Relieved that there had been no Cartes d’Identité Dick continued.
“The Italian Countess is still an American citizen. She is the grand-daughter —” he told a string of lies slowly and portentously, “of John D. Rockefeller Mellon. You have heard of him?”
“Yes, oh heavens, yes. You mistake me for a nobody?”
“In addition she is the niece of Lord Henry Ford and so connected with the Renault and Citroën companies —” He thought he had better stop here. However the sincerity of his voice had begun to affect the officer, so he continued: “To arrest her is just as if you arrested a great royalty of England. It might mean — War!”
“But how about the Englishwoman?”
“I’m coming to that. She is affianced to the brother of the Prince of Wales — the Duke of Buckingham.”
“She will be an exquisite bride for him.”
“Now we are prepared to give —” Dick calculated quickly, “one thousand francs to each of the girls — and an additional thousand to the father of the ‘serious’ one. Also two thousand in addition, for you to distribute as you think best —” he shrugged his shoulders, “— among the men who made the arrest, the lodging-house keeper and so forth. I shall hand you the five thousand and expect you to do the negotiating immediately. Then they can be released on bail on some charge like disturbing the peace, and whatever fine there is will be paid before the magistrate tomorrow — by messenger.”
Before the officer spoke Dick saw by his expression that it would be all right. The man said hesitantly, “I have made no entry because they have no Cartes d’Identité. I must see — give me the money.”
An hour later Dick and M. Gausse dropped the women by the Majestic Hotel, where Lady Caroline’s chauffeur slept in her landaulet.
“Remember,” said Dick, “you owe Monsieur Gausse a hundred dollars a piece.”
“All right,” Mary agreed, “I’ll give him a check to-morrow — and something more.”
“Not I!” Startled, they all turned to Lady Caroline, who, now entirely recovered, was swollen with righteousness. “The whole thing was an outrage. By no means did I authorize you to give a hundred dollars to those people.”
Little Gausse stood beside the car, his eyes blazing suddenly.
“You won’t pay me?”
“Of course she will,” said Dick.
Suddenly the abuse that Gausse had once endured as a bus boy in London flamed up and he walked through the moonlight up to Lady Caroline.
He whipped a string of condemnatory words about her, and as she turned away with a frozen laugh, he took a step after her and swiftly planted his little foot in the most celebrated of targets. Lady Caroline, taken by surprise, flung up her hands like a person shot as her sailor-clad form sprawled forward on the sidewalk.
Dick’s voice cut across her raging: “Mary, you quiet her down! or you’ll both be in leg-irons in ten minutes!”
On the way back to the hotel old Gausse said not a word, until they passed the Juan-les-Pins Casino, still sobbing and coughing with jazz; then he sighed forth:
“I have never seen women like this sort of women. I have known many of the great courtesans of the world, and for them I have much respect often, but women like these women I have never seen before.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54