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Book two begins with a flashback to an earlier time in 1917. Dr. Richard Diver is only twenty-six years old when he first arrives in Zurich to study at a famous psychiatric clinic. He is considered handsome and clever by everyone and very lucky by many. Although a world war swirls around Switzerland, Dick escapes its turmoil. He is too much of an educational investment to be used as canon fodder; as a result, he arrives in Zurich to finish his advanced degree in psychiatry. He quickly proves that he is bright, eager, and not afraid of hard work; he is also willing to make personal sacrifices in order to get ahead in his career. Franz Gregorovius, one of the prominent psychiatrists at the clinic, quickly realizes the talent and determination of Dick Diver.
Dick is not lucky enough to be totally unscathed by the war. He had studied in Vienna before Freud was bombed in 1914. In fact, he actually started a book while there, but could not finish it because of his miserable living conditions; at times he felt he might freeze to death. Practical to the core, Dick decided that if he had to burn his books to keep warm, he would commit them to memory before they went up in flames. Later his stay in Zurich was interrupted when he was given orders to serve in a clinic in France during the war. When he returned to Zurich after the war, in 1919, he immediately went to see his friend Franz Gregorovius. He warns Dick to remember that the Zurich clinic is for rich people, not for soldiers wounded in war. He also questions Dick about his attachment to one of the patients, Nicole Warren. Dick and she have written to one another throughout his stay in France. He has also run into her once since her release from the hospital. Franz believes that Dick’s letters helped the girl to recover. He also believes that Dick is attracted to her beyond a doctor/patient level.
Franz tells Dick the story of Nicole’s background. Her handsome and nervous father brought her into the clinic when she was seventeen, claiming his daughter had been a wonderful child, perfect in every way. Then her mother had died and also her brother. About six to ten months before her first visit to the hospital, Nicole started doing bizarre things - like accusing the valet and other men of sexually accosting her. Her older sister started noticing that Nicole had "fits." The doctors hospitalized Nicole and observed the girl for several weeks; they then waited for her father to return and explain a few things.
Mr. Warren, a very wealthy man, was in no hurry to come back to the hospital, even though he was willing to pay any price to have his daughter “fixed” and back to normal. When he finally returned, he was more nervous than ever. When closely questioned, he finally confessed to having sexual relations with Nicole. He explained that “it just happened" after the mother had died. At first, she seemed not to mind what her father had done; in fact, she assured him that the sex did not matter. Soon, however, it became obvious that she minded very much. The doctor sent Nicole's father away, back to Chicago; he was not to see Nicole for a minimum of five years.
Franz and Dick discuss Nicole’s prognosis. She is young and very intelligent, but after two years of treatment, she is still fragile. They are, however, hopeful for her improvement. Dick says her letters to him refer to her illness in the past tense, which is a good sign. Franz worries that Nicole may be attracted to Dick; he warns that she must absolutely be discouraged from placing any romantic hopes on him. Dick promises to make himself as personally unappealing as possible to Nicole. Talk then turns to Dick’s plans for the future. He suggests that someday the two of them will be able to open a clinic, as they have discussed.
When Dick sees Nicole, she looks lovely and seems almost normal. Remembering Franz’s warning, Dick encourages the nurse to join them. Nicole, however, dismisses the nurse. She talks to Dick about music and things she wants to share with Dick. He finds himself wishing that he had just met Nicole and that his professional position did not stand between them as a couple. Dick tries to guard himself against his emotions. A month later, Dr. Dohmler and Franz summon Dick and tell him that Nicole is obviously in love with him; they warn Dick that he must discourage the girl. The next time he sees Nicole, he is rather cold and distant; it is painful for both of them. In the future, Nicole refuses to see Dick at all. Franz tells him it is all for the best.