Kurt smiled tentatively, waiting for my thanks and congratulations for his efficiency and generosity. He must have been put out by the expression of blank horror on my face, because he hurried on. Above all, I must not worry. These unfortunate things happened in life. They were painful and untidy. He himself was most distressed that so happy a relationship, one of the happiest in his experience, should come to an end. As, alas, it had to. He added finally that he hoped I understood.
I nodded and got to my feet. I picked up the envelope, took one last look at the golden hair, the mouth I had loved, the strong shoulders, and, feeling the tears coming, I walked quickly out of the room and shut the door softly behind me.
Before 1 met Kurt, I had been a bird with a wing down. Now I had been shot in the other.
Six: Go West, Young Woman
AT the end of August, when all this happened, Zürich was as gay as this sullen city can be. The clear, glacier water of the lake was bright with sailing-boats and water skiers, the public beaches were thronged with golden bathers, and the glum Bahnhofplatz, and the Bahnhofstrasse that is the pride of the town, clattered with ruck-sacked Jugend who had business with the mountains. The healthy, well-ordered carnival atmosphere rasped on my raw nerves and filled my sick heart with mixed anguish. This was the Kurt's-eye view of life—Naturfreude, the simple existence of simple animals. He and I had shared such a life, and on the surface it had been good. But blond hair and clear eyes and sunburn are no thicker than the paint on a woman's face. They are just another kind of gloss. A trite reflection, of course, but I had now been let down both by the worldliness of Derek and by the homespun of Kurt, and I was prepared to lose confidence in every man. It wasn't that I had expected Kurt to marry me, or Derek. I had just expected them to be kind and to behave like that idiotic word “gentlemen”—to be gentle with me, as I, I thought, had been gentle with them. That, of course, had been the trouble. I had been too gentle, too accommodating. I had had the desire to please (and to take pleasure, but that had been secondary), and that had marked me as easy meat, expendable. Well, that was the end of that! From now on I would take and not give. The world had shown me its teeth. I would show mine. I had been wet behind the ears. Now I was dry. I stuck my chin out like a good little Canadian (well, a fairly good little Canadian!), and, having learned to take it, decided for a change to dish it out.
The business of my abortion, not to mince words, was good training for my new role. The concierge at my hotel looked at me with the world-weary eyes of all concierges and said that the hotel doctor was on holiday but that there was another who was equally proficient. (Did he know? Did he guess?) Dr. Süsskind examined me and asked if I had enough money. When I said I had, he seemed disappointed. The gynecologist was more explicit. It seemed that he had a chalet. Hotels in Zürich were so expensive. Would I not care to have a period of rest before the operation? I looked at him with stony eyes and said that the British Consul, who was my uncle, had invited me to recuperate with his family and I would be glad if I could enter the clinic without any delay. It was he who had recommended Dr. Süsskind. No doubt Herr Doktor Braunschweig knew the Consul?
My hocus-pocus was just good enough. It had been delivered with my new decisive manner, and the gambit had been thought out beforehand. The bifocals registered shock. There were coolly fervent explanations and a hasty telephone call to the clinic. Yes, indeed. Tomorrow afternoon. Just with my overnight things.
It was as mentally distressing but as physically painless as I had expected, and three days later I was back in my hotel. My mind was made up. I flew back to England, stayed at the new circular Ariel Hotel near London Airport until I had got rid of my few small belongings and paid my bills, and then I made an appointment with the nearest Vespa dealer, in Hammersmith, and went to see him.
My plan was to go off on my own, for at least a year, and see the other half of the world. I had had London. Life there had hit me with a hard left and right, and I was groggy on my feet. I decided that I just didn't belong to the place. I didn't understand Derek's sophisticated world, and I didn't know how to manage the clinical, cold-eyed, modern “love” that Kurt had offered me. I told myself that it was because I had too much “heart.” Neither of these men had wanted my heart; they had just wanted my body. The fact that I fell back on this age-old moan of the discarded woman to explain my failure to hold either of these men, was, I later decided, a more important clue to my failure than this business of “heart.” The truth of the matter was that I was just too simple to survive in the big-town jungle. I was easy prey for the predators. I was altogether too “Canadian” to compete with Europe. So be it! I was simple, so I would go back to the simple lands. But not to sit and mope and vegetate. I would go there to explore, to adventure. I would follow the fall right down through America, working my way as waitress, baby-sitter, receptionist, until I got to Florida, and there I would get a job on a newspaper and sit in the sunshine until the spring. And then I would think again.
Once I had made up my mind, the details of my plan absorbed me, driving out my misery, or at least keeping it at bay, and anesthetizing my sense of sin and shame and failure. I went to the American Automobile Association in Pall Mall, joined it and got the maps I needed, and talked to them about transport. The prices of secondhand cars in America were too high, as were the running costs, and I suddenly fell in love with the idea of a motor scooter. At first it seemed ridiculous, the idea of taking on the great transcontinental highways with such a tiny machine, but the thought of being out in the open air, doing around a hundred miles to the gallon, not having to worry about garages, traveling light and, let's admit it, being something of a sensation wherever I went, made up my mind, and the Hammersmith dealer did the rest.
I knew something about machinery—every North American child is brought up with motor cars—and I weighed up the attractions of the little 125-c.c. model and of the sturdier, faster 150-c.c. Gran Sport. Of course, I plumped for the sporty one with its marvelous acceleration and a top speed of nearly sixty. It would only do around eighty miles to the gallon, compared with the smaller one's hundred, but I told myself that gas was cheap in America and that I must have the speed or I would take months to get south. The dealer was enthusiastic. He pointed out that in bad weather, or if I got tired, I could just put the thing on a train for a stretch. He could get about thirty pounds' purchase tax off the price of one hundred and ninety pounds by delivering it to a ship that would get it over to Canada in ten days. That would give me extra money to spend on spares and deluxe accessories. I didn't need any pressuring. We did one or two runs up and down the bypass, with the dealer sitting on the back, and the Vespa went like a bird and was as easy to drive as a bicycle. So I signed up for it, bought a leopard-skin cover for the seat and spare wheel, racy-looking deluxe wheel-trims, a rear mirror, a luggage rack, white saddlebags that went beautifully with the silver finish of the body, a Perspex sports windscreen, and a white crash helmet that made me feel like Pat Moss. The dealer gave me some good ideas about clothes, and I went to a store and bought white overalls with plenty of zips, some big goggles with soft fur round the edges, and a rather dashing pair of lined black kid motorcycling gloves. After this I sat down in my hotel with the maps and planned my route for the first stage down from Quebec. Then I booked myself on the cheapest Trans-Canada flight to Montreal, cabled Aunt Florence, and, on a beautiful first-of-September morning, I was off.
It was strange and lovely to be back after nearly six years. My aunt said she could hardly recognize me, and I was certainly surprised by Quebec. When I had left it, the fortress had seemed vast and majestic. Now it seemed like a large toy edifice out of Disneyland. Where it had been awesome, I found, irreverently, that it looked made out of papier-mâché. And the giant battles between the faiths, in which I had once thought myself to be on the point of being crushed, and the deep schisms between the Canadiennes and the rest, were now reduced, with my new perspective, to parish-pump squabbling. Half ashamed, I found myself contemptuous of the screaming provincialism of the town, of the dowdy peasants who lived in it, and of the all-pervading fog of snobbery and petit bourgeoisie. No wonder, a child of all this, that I had been ill equipped for the great world outside! The marvel was that I had survived at all.
I was careful to keep these thoughts from my aunt, though 1 suspect that she was just as startled and perhaps shocked by the gloss that my “finishing” in Europe had achieved. She must have found me very much the town mouse, however gangling and simple I might feel inside, and she plied me with questions to discover how the gloss went, how much I had been sullied by the fast life I must have led. She would have fainted at the truth, and I was careful to say that, while there had been flirtations, I had returned unharmed and heart-whole from the scarlet cities across the water. No, there had not even been a temporary engagement. No lord, not even a commoner, I could truthfully say, had proposed to me, and I had left no boy-friend behind. I don't think she believed this. She was complimentary about my looks. I had become “une belle fille.” It seemed that I had developed “beaucoup de tempérament”—a French euphemism for “sex appeal”—or at any rate the appearance of it, and it seemed incredible to her that at twenty-three there was no man in my life. She was horrified at my plans and painted a doomful picture of the dangers that awaited me on the road. America was full of gangsters. I would be knocked down on the highway and “ravagée.” Anyway it was unladylike to travel on a scooter. She hoped that I would be careful to ride sidesaddle. I explained that my Vespa was a most respectable machine and, when I went to Montreal and, thrilling with every mile, rode it back to the house, in my full regalia, she was slightly mollified, while commenting dubiously that I would “faire sensation.”
And then, on September the fifteenth, I drew a thousand dollars in American Express travelers' checks from my small bank balance, scientifically packed my saddlebags with what I thought would be a minimum wardrobe, kissed Aunt Florence good-by, and set off down the Saint Lawrence on Route 2.
Route 2 from Quebec southward to Montreal could be one of the most beautiful roads in the world if it weren't for the clutter of villas and bathing huts that have mushroomed along it since the war. It follows the great river exactly, clinging to the north bank, and I knew it well from bathing picnics as a child. But the Saint Lawrence Seaway had been opened since then, and the steady stream of big ships with their thudding engines and haunting sirens and whistles were a new thrill.
The Vespa hummed happily along at about forty. I had decided to stick to an average daily run of between a hundred and fifty and two hundred miles, or about six hours' actual driving, but I had no intention of being bound by any schedule. I wanted to see everything. If there was an intriguing side road, I would go up it, and, if I came to a beautiful or interesting place, I would stop and look at it.
A good invention in Canada and the northern part of the States is the “picnic area”—clearings carved out of the forest or beside a lake or river, with plenty of isolated rough-hewn benches and tables tucked away among the trees for privacy. I proposed to use these for luncheon every day when it wasn't raining, not buying expensive foods at stores, but making egg-and-bacon sandwiches on toast before I left each night's motel. They, with fruit and a Thermos of coffee, would be my midday meal and I would make up each evening with a good dinner. I budgeted for a daily expenditure of fifteen dollars. Most motels cost eight dollars single, but there are state taxes added, so I made it nine plus coffee and a roll for breakfast. Gas would not be more than a dollar a day, and that left five for luncheon and dinner, an occasional drink, and the few cigarettes I smoked. I wanted to try and keep inside this. The Esso map and route I had, and the A.A.A. literature, listed countless sights to see after I had crossed the border—I would be going right through the Indian country of Fennimore Cooper, and then across some of the great battlefields of the American Revolution, for instance—and many of them cost around a dollar entrance fee. But I thought I would get by, and if on some days I didn't, I would eat less on others.