Chapter 12
4 mins to read
1224 words

The day before Doctor Diver left the Riviera he spent all his time with his children. He was not young any more with a lot of nice thoughts and dreams to have about himself, so he wanted to remember them well. The children had been told that this winter they would be with their aunt in London and that soon they were going to come and see him in America. Fräulein was not to be discharged without his consent.

He was glad he had given so much to the little girl—about the boy he was more uncertain—always he had been uneasy about what he had to give to the ever-climbing, ever-clinging, breast-searching young. But, when he said good-by to them, he wanted to lift their beautiful heads off their necks and hold them close for hours.

He embraced the old gardener who had made the first garden at Villa Diana six years ago; he kissed the Provençal girl who helped with the children. She had been with them for almost a decade and she fell on her knees and cried until Dick jerked her to her feet and gave her three hundred francs. Nicole was sleeping late, as had been agreed upon—he left a note for her, and one for Baby Warren who was just back from Sardinia and staying at the house. Dick took a big drink from a bottle of brandy three feet high, holding ten quarts, that some one had presented them with.

Then he decided to leave his bags by the station in Cannes and take a last look at Gausse’s Beach.

The beach was peopled with only an advance guard of children when Nicole and her sister arrived that morning. A white sun, chivied of outline by a white sky, boomed over a windless day. Waiters were putting extra ice into the bar; an American photographer from the A. and P. worked with his equipment in a precarious shade and looked up quickly at every footfall descending the stone steps. At the hotel his prospective subjects slept late in darkened rooms upon their recent opiate of dawn.

When Nicole started out on the beach she saw Dick, not dressed for swimming, sitting on a rock above. She shrank back in the shadow of her dressing-tent. In a minute Baby joined her, saying:

“Dick’s still there.”

“I saw him.”

“I think he might have the delicacy to go.”

“This is his place—in a way, he discovered it. Old Gausse always says he owes everything to Dick.”

Baby looked calmly at her sister.

“We should have let him confine himself to his bicycle excursions,” she remarked. “When people are taken out of their depths they lose their heads, no matter how charming a bluff they put up.”

“Dick was a good husband to me for six years,” Nicole said. “All that time I never suffered a minute’s pain because of him, and he always did his best never to let anything hurt me.”

Baby’s lower jaw projected slightly as she said:

“That’s what he was educated for.”

The sisters sat in silence; Nicole wondering in a tired way about things; Baby considering whether or not to marry the latest candidate for her hand and money, an authenticated Hapsburg. She was not quite think ing about it. Her affairs had long shared such a sameness, that, as she dried out, they were more important for their conversational value than for themselves. Her emotions had their truest existence in the telling of them.

“Is he gone?” Nicole asked after a while. “I think his train leaves at noon.”

Baby looked.

“No. He’s moved up higher on the terrace and he’s talking to some women. Anyhow there are so many people now that he doesn’t have to see us.”

He had seen them though, as they left their pavilion, and he followed them with his eyes until they disappeared again. He sat with Mary Minghetti, drinking anisette.

“You were like you used to be the night you helped us,” she was saying, “except at the end, when you were horrid about Caroline. Why aren’t you nice like that always? You can be.”

It seemed fantastic to Dick to be in a position where Mary North could tell him about things.

“Your friends still like you, Dick. But you say awful things to people when you’ve been drinking. I’ve spent most of my time defending you this summer.”

“That remark is one of Doctor Eliot’s classics.”

“It’s true. Nobody cares whether you drink or not—” She hesitated, “even when Abe drank hardest, he never offended people like you do.”

“You’re all so dull,” he said.

“But we’re all there is!” cried Mary. “If you don’t like nice people, try the ones who aren’t nice, and see how you like that! All people want is to have a good time and if you make them unhappy you cut yourself off from nourishment.”

“Have I been nourished?” he asked.

Mary was having a good time, though she did not know it, as she had sat down with him only out of fear. Again she refused a drink and said: “Self-indulgence is back of it. Of course, after Abe you can imagine how I feel about it—since I watched the progress of a good man toward alcoholism——”

Down the steps tripped Lady Caroline Sibly-Biers with blithe theatricality.

Dick felt fine—he was already well in advance of the day; arrived at where a man should be at the end of a good dinner, yet he showed only a fine, considered, restrained interest in Mary. His eyes, for the moment clear as a child’s, asked her sympathy and stealing over him he felt the old necessity of convincing her that he was the last man in the world and she was the last woman.

. . . Then he would not have to look at those two other figures, a man and a woman, black and white and metallic against the sky. . . .

“You once liked me, didn’t you?” he asked.

“ Liked you—I loved you. Everybody loved you. You could’ve had anybody you wanted for the asking——”

“There has always been something between you and me.”

She bit eagerly. “Has there, Dick?”

“Always—I knew your troubles and how brave you were about them.” But the old interior laughter had begun inside him and he knew he couldn’t keep it up much longer.

“I always thought you knew a lot,” Mary said enthusiastically. “More about me than any one has ever known. Perhaps that’s why I was so afraid of you when we didn’t get along so well.”

His glance fell soft and kind upon hers, suggesting an emotion underneath; their glances married suddenly, bedded, strained together. Then, as the laughter inside of him became so loud that it seemed as if Mary must hear it, Dick switched off the light and they were back in the Riviera sun.

“I must go,” he said. As he stood up he swayed a little; he did not feel well any more—his blood raced slow. He raised his right hand and with a papal cross he blessed the beach from the high terrace. Faces turned upward from several umbrellas.

“I’m going to him.” Nicole got to her knees.

“No, you’re not,” said Tommy, pulling her down firmly. “Let well enough alone.”

Read next chapter  >>
Chapter 13
1 min to read
335 words
Return to Tender is the Night