Feeling good from the rosy wine at lunch, Nicole Diver folded her arms high enough for the artificial camellia on her shoulder to touch her cheek, and went out into her lovely grassless garden. The garden was bounded on one side by the house, from which it flowed and into which it ran, on two sides by the old village, and on the last by the cliff falling by ledges to the sea.
Along the walls on the village side all was dusty, the wriggling vines, the lemon and eucalyptus trees, the casual wheel-barrow, left only a moment since, but already grown into the path, atrophied and faintly rotten. Nicole was invariably somewhat surprised that by turning in the other direction past a bed of peonies she walked into an area so green and cool that the leaves and petals were curled with tender damp.
Knotted at her throat she wore a lilac scarf that even in the achromatic sunshine cast its color up to her face and down around her moving feet in a lilac shadow. Her face was hard, almost stern, save for the soft gleam of piteous doubt that looked from her green eyes. Her once fair hair had darkened, but she was lovelier now at twenty-four than she had been at eighteen, when her hair was brighter than she.
Following a walk marked by an intangible mist of bloom that followed the white border stones she came to a space overlooking the sea where there were lanterns asleep in the fig trees and a big table and wicker chairs and a great market umbrella from Sienna, all gathered about an enormous pine, the biggest tree in the garden. She paused there a moment, looking absently at a growth of nasturtiums and iris tangled at its foot, as though sprung from a careless handful of seeds, listening to the plaints and accusations of some nursery squabble in the house. When this died away on the summer air, she walked on, between kaleidoscopic peonies massed in pink clouds, black and brown tulips and fragile mauve-stemmed roses, transparent like sugar flowers in a confectioner’s window — until, as if the scherzo of color could reach no further intensity, it broke off suddenly in mid-air, and moist steps went down to a level five feet below.
Here there was a well with the boarding around it dank and slippery even on the brightest days. She went up the stairs on the other side and into the vegetable garden; she walked rather quickly; she liked to be active, though at times she gave an impression of repose that was at once static and evocative. This was because she knew few words and believed in none, and in the world she was rather silent, contributing just her share of urbane humor with a precision that approached meagreness. But at the moment when strangers tended to grow uncomfortable in the presence of this economy she would seize the topic and rush off with it, feverishly surprised with herself — then bring it back and relinquish it abruptly, almost timidly, like an obedient retriever, having been adequate and something more.
As she stood in the fuzzy green light of the vegetable garden, Dick crossed the path ahead of her going to his work house. Nicole waited silently till he had passed; then she went on through lines of prospective salads to a little menagerie where pigeons and rabbits and a parrot made a medley of insolent noises at her. Descending to another ledge she reached a low, curved wall and looked down seven hundred feet to the Mediterranean Sea.
She stood in the ancient hill village of Tarmes. The villa and its grounds were made out of a row of peasant dwellings that abutted on the cliff — five small houses had been combined to make the house and four destroyed to make the garden. The exterior walls were untouched so that from the road far below it was indistinguishable from the violet gray mass of the town.
For a moment Nicole stood looking down at the Mediterranean but there was nothing to do with that, even with her tireless hands. Presently Dick came out of his one-room house carrying a telescope and looked east toward Cannes. In a moment Nicole swam into his field of vision, whereupon he disappeared into his house and came out with a megaphone. He had many light mechanical devices.
“Nicole,” he shouted, “I forgot to tell you that as a final apostolic gesture I invited Mrs. Abrams, the woman with the white hair.”
“I suspected it. It’s an outrage.”
The ease with which her reply reached him seemed to belittle his megaphone, so she raised her voice and called, “Can you hear me?”
“Yes.” He lowered the megaphone and then raised it stubbornly. “I’m going to invite some more people too. I’m going to invite the two young men.”
“All right,” she agreed placidly.
“I want to give a really BAD party. I mean it. I want to give a party where there’s a brawl and seductions and people going home with their feelings hurt and women passed out in the cabinet de toilette. You wait and see.”
He went back into his house and Nicole saw that one of his most characteristic moods was upon him, the excitement that swept everyone up into it and was inevitably followed by his own form of melancholy, which he never displayed but at which she guessed. This excitement about things reached an intensity out of proportion to their importance, generating a really extraordinary virtuosity with people. Save among a few of the tough-minded and perennially suspicious, he had the power of arousing a fascinated and uncritical love. The reaction came when he realized the waste and extravagance involved. He sometimes looked back with awe at the carnivals of affection he had given, as a general might gaze upon a massacre he had ordered to satisfy an impersonal blood lust.
But to be included in Dick Diver’s world for a while was a remarkable experience: people believed he made special reservations about them, recognizing the proud uniqueness of their destinies, buried under the compromises of how many years. He won everyone quickly with an exquisite consideration and a politeness that moved so fast and intuitively that it could be examined only in its effect. Then, without caution, lest the first bloom of the relation wither, he opened the gate to his amusing world. So long as they subscribed to it completely, their happiness was his preoccupation, but at the first flicker of doubt as to its all- inclusiveness he evaporated before their eyes, leaving little communicable memory of what he had said or done.
At eight-thirty that evening he came out to meet his first guests, his coat carried rather ceremoniously, rather promisingly, in his hand, like a toreador’s cape. It was characteristic that after greeting Rosemary and her mother he waited for them to speak first, as if to allow them the reassurance of their own voices in new surroundings.
To resume Rosemary’s point of view it should be said that, under the spell of the climb to Tarmes and the fresher air, she and her mother looked about appreciatively. Just as the personal qualities of extraordinary people can make themselves plain in an unaccustomed change of expression, so the intensely calculated perfection of Villa Diana transpired all at once through such minute failures as the chance apparition of a maid in the background or the perversity of a cork. While the first guests arrived bringing with them the excitement of the night, the domestic activity of the day receded past them gently, symbolized by the Diver children and their governess still at supper on the terrace.
“What a beautiful garden!” Mrs. Speers exclaimed.
“Nicole’s garden,” said Dick. “She won’t let it alone — she nags it all the time, worries about its diseases. Any day now I expect to have her come down with Powdery Mildew or Fly Speck, or Late Blight.” He pointed his forefinger decisively at Rosemary, saying with a lightness seeming to conceal a paternal interest, “I’m going to save your reason — I’m going to give you a hat to wear on the beach.”
He turned them from the garden to the terrace, where he poured a cocktail. Earl Brady arrived, discovering Rosemary with surprise. His manner was softer than at the studio, as if his differentness had been put on at the gate, and Rosemary, comparing him instantly with Dick Diver, swung sharply toward the latter. In comparison Earl Brady seemed faintly gross, faintly ill-bred; once more, though, she felt an electric response to his person.
He spoke familiarly to the children who were getting up from their outdoor supper.
“Hello, Lanier, how about a song? Will you and Topsy sing me a song?”
“What shall we sing?” agreed the little boy, with the odd chanting accent of American children brought up in France.
“That song about ‘Mon Ami Pierrot.’”
Brother and sister stood side by side without self-consciousness and their voices soared sweet and shrill upon the evening air.
“Au clair de la lune
Mon Ami Pierrot
Prête-moi ta plume
Pour écrire un mot
Ma chandelle est morte
Je n’ai plus de feu
Ouvre-moi ta porte
Pour l’amour de Dieu.”
The singing ceased and the children, their faces aglow with the late sunshine, stood smiling calmly at their success. Rosemary was thinking that the Villa Diana was the centre of the world. On such a stage some memorable thing was sure to happen. She lighted up higher as the gate tinkled open and the rest of the guests arrived in a body — the McKiscos, Mrs. Abrams, Mr. Dumphry, and Mr. Campion came up to the terrace.
Rosemary had a sharp feeling of disappointment — she looked quickly at Dick, as though to ask an explanation of this incongruous mingling. But there was nothing unusual in his expression. He greeted his new guests with a proud bearing and an obvious deference to their infinite and unknown possibilities. She believed in him so much that presently she accepted the rightness of the McKiscos’ presence as if she had expected to meet them all along.
“I’ve met you in Paris,” McKisco said to Abe North, who with his wife had arrived on their heels, “in fact I’ve met you twice.”
“Yes, I remember,” Abe said.
“Then where was it?” demanded McKisco, not content to let well enough alone.
“Why, I think —” Abe got tired of the game, “I can’t remember.”
The interchange filled a pause and Rosemary’s instinct was that something tactful should be said by somebody, but Dick made no attempt to break up the grouping formed by these late arrivals, not even to disarm Mrs. McKisco of her air of supercilious amusement. He did not solve this social problem because he knew it was not of importance at the moment and would solve itself. He was saving his newness for a larger effort, waiting a more significant moment for his guests to be conscious of a good time.
Rosemary stood beside Tommy Barban — he was in a particularly scornful mood and there seemed to be some special stimulus working upon him. He was leaving in the morning.
“Home? I have no home. I am going to a war.”
“What war? Any war. I haven’t seen a paper lately but I suppose there’s a war — there always is.”
“Don’t you care what you fight for?”
“Not at all — so long as I’m well treated. When I’m in a rut I come to see the Divers, because then I know that in a few weeks I’ll want to go to war.”
“You like the Divers,” she reminded him.
“Of course — especially her — but they make me want to go to war.”
She considered this, to no avail. The Divers made her want to stay near them forever.
“You’re half American,” she said, as if that should solve the problem.
“Also I’m half French, and I was educated in England and since I was eighteen I’ve worn the uniforms of eight countries. But I hope I did not give you the impression that I am not fond of the Divers — I am, especially of Nicole.”
“How could any one help it?” she said simply.
She felt far from him. The undertone of his words repelled her and she withdrew her adoration for the Divers from the profanity of his bitterness. She was glad he was not next to her at dinner and she was still thinking of his words “especially her” as they moved toward the table in the garden.
For a moment now she was beside Dick Diver on the path. Alongside his hard, neat brightness everything faded into the surety that he knew everything. For a year, which was forever, she had had money and a certain celebrity and contact with the celebrated, and these latter had presented themselves merely as powerful enlargements of the people with whom the doctor’s widow and her daughter had associated in a hôtel-pension in Paris. Rosemary was a romantic and her career had not provided many satisfactory opportunities on that score. Her mother, with the idea of a career for Rosemary, would not tolerate any such spurious substitutes as the excitations available on all sides, and indeed Rosemary was already beyond that — she was In the movies but not at all At them. So when she had seen approval of Dick Diver in her mother’s face it meant that he was “the real thing”; it meant permission to go as far as she could.
“I was watching you,” he said, and she knew he meant it. “We’ve grown very fond of you.”
“I fell in love with you the first time I saw you,” she said quietly. He pretended not to have heard, as if the compliment were purely formal.
“New friends,” he said, as if it were an important point, “can often have a better time together than old friends.”
With that remark, which she did not understand precisely, she found herself at the table, picked out by slowly emerging lights against the dark dusk. A chord of delight struck inside her when she saw that Dick had taken her mother on his right hand; for herself she was between Luis Campion and Brady.
Surcharged with her emotion she turned to Brady with the intention of confiding in him, but at her first mention of Dick a hard-boiled sparkle in his eyes gave her to understand that he refused the fatherly office. In turn she was equally firm when he tried to monopolize her hand, so they talked shop or rather she listened while he talked shop, her polite eyes never leaving his face, but her mind was so definitely elsewhere that she felt he must guess the fact. Intermittently she caught the gist of his sentences and supplied the rest from her subconscious, as one picks up the striking of a clock in the middle with only the rhythm of the first uncounted strokes lingering in the mind.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54