Chapter 24
7 mins to read
1840 words

With his miniature leather brief-case in his hand Richard Diver walked from the seventh arrondisement—where he left a note for Maria Wallis signed “Dicole,” the word with which he and Nicole had signed communications in the first days of love—to his shirt-makers where the clerks made a fuss over him out of proportion to the money he spent. Ashamed at promising so much to these poor Englishmen, with his fine manners, his air of having the key to security, ashamed of making a tailor shift an inch of silk on his arm. Afterward he went to the bar of the Crillon and drank a small coffee and two fingers of gin.

As he entered the hotel the halls had seemed unnaturally bright; when he left he realized that it was because it had already turned dark outside. It was a windy four o’clock night with the leaves on the Champs Élysées singing and falling, thin and wild. Dick turned down the Rue de Rivoli, walking two squares under the arcades to his bank where there was mail. Then he took a taxi and started up the Champs Élysées through the first patter of rain, sitting alone with his love.

Back at two o’clock in the Roi George corridor the beauty of Nicole had been to the beauty of Rosemary as the beauty of Leonardo’s girl was to that of the girl of an illustrator. Dick moved on through the rain, demoniac and frightened, the passions of many men inside him and nothing simple that he could see.

Rosemary opened her door full of emotions no one else knew of. She was now what is sometimes called a “little wild thing”—by twenty-four full hours she was not yet unified and she was absorbed in playing around with chaos; as if her destiny were a picture puzzle—counting benefits, counting hopes, telling off Dick, Nicole, her mother, the director she met yesterday, like stops on a string of beads.

When Dick knocked she had just dressed and been watching the rain, thinking of some poem, and of full gutters in Beverly Hills. When she opened the door she saw him as something fixed and Godlike as he had always been, as older people are to younger, rigid and unmalleable. Dick saw her with an inevitable sense of disappointment. It took him a moment to respond to the unguarded sweetness of her smile, her body calculated to a millimeter to suggest a bud yet guarantee a flower. He was conscious of the print of her wet foot on a rug through the bathroom door.

“Miss Television,” he said with a lightness he did not feel. He put his gloves, his brief-case on the dressing-table, his stick against the wall. His chin dominated the lines of pain around his mouth, forcing them up into his forehead and the corner of his eyes, like fear that cannot be shown in public.

“Come and sit on my lap close to me,” he said softly, “and let me see about your lovely mouth.”

She came over and sat there and while the dripping slowed down outside—drip—dri-i-ip, she laid her lips to the beautiful cold image she had created.

Presently she kissed him several times in the mouth, her face getting big as it came up to him; he had never seen anything so dazzling as the quality of her skin, and since sometimes beauty gives back the images of one’s best thoughts he thought of his responsibility about Nicole, and of the responsibility of her being two doors down across the corridor.

“The rain’s over,” he said. “Do you see the sun on the slate?”

Rosemary stood up and leaned down and said her most sincere thing to him:

“Oh, we’re such actors —you and I.”

She went to her dresser and the moment that she laid her comb flat against her hair there was a slow persistent knocking at the door.

They were shocked motionless; the knock was repeated insistently, and in the sudden realization that the door was not locked Rosemary finished her hair with one stroke, nodded at Dick who had quickly jerked the wrinkles out of the bed where they had been sitting, and started for the door. Dick said in quite a natural voice, not too loud:

“—so if you don’t feel up to going out, I’ll tell Nicole and we’ll have a very quiet last evening.”

The precautions were needless for the situation of the parties outside the door was so harassed as to preclude any but the most fleeting judgments on matters not pertinent to themselves. Standing there was Abe, aged by several months in the last twenty-four hours, and a very frightened, concerned colored man whom Abe introduced as Mr. Peterson of Stockholm.

“He’s in a terrible situation and it’s my fault,” said Abe. “We need some good advice.”

“Come in our rooms,” said Dick.

Abe insisted that Rosemary come too and they crossed the hall to the Divers’ suite. Jules Peterson, a small, respectable Negro, on the suave model that heels the Republican party in the border States, followed.

It appeared that the latter had been a legal witness to the early morning dispute in Montparnasse; he had accompanied Abe to the police station and supported his assertion that a thousand-franc note had been seized out of his hand by a Negro, whose identification was one of the points of the case. Abe and Jules Peterson, accompanied by an agent of police returned to the bistro and too hastily identified as the criminal a Negro, who, so it was established after an hour, had only entered the place after Abe left. The police had further complicated the situation by arresting the prominent Negro restaurateur, Freeman, who had only drifted through the alcoholic fog at a very early stage and then vanished. The true culprit, whose case, as reported by his friends, was that he had merely commandeered a fifty-franc note to pay for drinks that Abe had ordered, had only recently and in a somewhat sinister rôle, reappeared upon the scene.

In brief, Abe had succeeded in the space of an hour in entangling himself with the personal lives, consciences, and emotions of one Afro-European and three Afro-Americans inhabiting the French Latin quarter. The disentanglement was not even faintly in sight and the day had passed in an atmosphere of unfamiliar Negro faces bobbing up in unexpected places and around unexpected corners, and insistent Negro voices on the phone.

In person, Abe had succeeded in evading all of them, save Jules Peterson. Peterson was rather in the position of the friendly Indian who had helped a white. The Negroes who suffered from the betrayal were not so much after Abe as after Peterson, and Peterson was very much after what protection he might get from Abe.

Up in Stockholm Peterson had failed as a small manufacturer of shoe polish and now possessed only his formula and sufficient trade tools to fill a small box; however, his new protector had promised in the early hours to set him up in business in Versailles. Abe’s former chauffeur was a shoemaker there and Abe had handed Peterson two hundred francs on account.

Rosemary listened with distaste to this rigmarole; to appreciate its grotesquerie required a more robust sense of humor than hers. The little man with his portable manufactory, his insincere eyes that, from time to time, rolled white semicircles of panic into view; the figure of Abe, his face as blurred as the gaunt fine lines of it would permit—all this was as remote from her as sickness.

“I ask only a chance in life,” said Peterson with the sort of precise yet distorted intonation peculiar to colonial countries. “My methods are simple, my formula is so good that I was drove away from Stockholm, ruined, because I did not care to dispose of it.”

Dick regarded him politely—interest formed, dissolved, he turned to Abe:

“You go to some hotel and go to bed. After you’re all straight Mr. Peterson will come and see you.”

“But don’t you appreciate the mess that Peterson’s in?” Abe protested.

“I shall wait in the hall,” said Mr. Peterson with delicacy. “It is perhaps hard to discuss my problems in front of me.”

He withdrew after a short travesty of a French bow; Abe pulled himself to his feet with the deliberation of a locomotive.

“I don’t seem highly popular to-day.”

“Popular but not probable,” Dick advised him. “My advice is to leave this hotel—by way of the bar, if you want. Go to the Chambord, or if you’ll need a lot of service, go over to the Majestic.”

“Could I annoy you for a drink?”

“There’s not a thing up here,” Dick lied.

Resignedly Abe shook hands with Rosemary; he composed his face slowly, holding her hand a long time and forming sentences that did not emerge.

“You are the most—one of the most——”

She was sorry, and rather revolted at his dirty hands, but she laughed in a well-bred way, as though it were nothing unusual to her to watch a man walking in a slow dream. Often people display a curious respect for a man drunk, rather like the respect of simple races for the insane. Respect rather than fear. There is something awe-inspiring in one who has lost all inhibitions, who will do anything. Of course we make him pay afterward for his moment of superiority, his moment of impressiveness. Abe turned to Dick with a last appeal.

“If I go to a hotel and get all steamed and curry-combed, and sleep awhile, and fight off these Senegalese—could I come and spend the evening by the fireside?”

Dick nodded at him, less in agreement than in mockery and said: “You have a high opinion of your current capacities.”

“I bet if Nicole was here she’d let me come back.”

“All right.” Dick went to a trunk tray and brought a box to the central table; inside were innumerable cardboard letters.

“You can come if you want to play anagrams.”

Abe eyed the contents of the box with physical revulsion, as though he had been asked to eat them like oats.

“What are anagrams? Haven’t I had enough strange——”

“It’s a quiet game. You spell words with them—any word except alcohol.”

“I bet you can spell alcohol,” Abe plunged his hand among the counters. “Can I come back if I can spell alcohol?”

“You can come back if you want to play anagrams.”

Abe shook his head resignedly.

“If you’re in that frame of mind there’s no use—I’d just be in the way.” He waved his finger reproachfully at Dick. “But remember what George the third said, that if Grant was drunk he wished he would bite the other generals.”

With a last desperate glance at Rosemary from the golden corners of his eyes, he went out. To his relief Peterson was no longer in the corridor. Feeling lost and homeless he went back to ask Paul the name of that boat.

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Chapter 25
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1541 words
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