The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham, from Project Gutenberg Canada (2024)


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Title: The Razor's Edge
Author: Maugham, W. Somerset [William Somerset] (1874-1965)
Date of first publication: 1944
Edition used as base for this ebook:Philadelphia: The Blakiston Company, 1944
Date first posted: 5 November 2017
Date last updated: 5 November 2017
Project Gutenberg Canada ebook #1478

This ebook was produced byAl Haines, Cindy Beyer, Mark Akrigg& the Online Distributed Proofreading Canada Teamat http://www.pgdpcanada.net

Publisher's Note:

Obvious typographical errors have been silently corrected.

As part of the conversion of the book to its new digitalformat, we have made certain minor adjustments in itslayout, and have added a table of contents.

by W. Somerset Maugham

The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over;
thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.

KATHA-UPANISHAD

CONTENTS

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

THE RAZOR'S EDGE

Chapter One

(i)

I have never begun a novel with more misgiving. If I call it a novel itis only because I don't know what else to call it. I have little storyto tell and I end neither with a death nor a marriage. Death ends allthings and so is the comprehensive conclusion of a story, but marriagefinishes it very properly too and the sophisticated are ill-advised tosneer at what is by convention termed a happy ending. It is a soundinstinct of the common people which persuades them that with this allthat needs to be said is said. When male and female, after whatevervicissitudes you like, are at last brought together they have fulfilledtheir biological function and interest passes to the generation that isto come. But I leave my reader in the air. This book consists of myrecollections of a man with whom I was thrown into close contact only atlong intervals, and I have little knowledge of what happened to him inbetween. I suppose that by the exercise of invention I could fill thegaps plausibly enough and so make my narrative more coherent; but I haveno wish to do that. I only want to set down what I know of my ownknowledge.

Many years ago I wrote a novel called The Moon and Sixpence. In that Itook a famous painter, Paul Gauguin, and, using the novelist'sprivilege, devised a number of incidents to illustrate the character Ihad created on the suggestions afforded me by the scanty facts I knewabout the French artist. In the present book I have attempted to donothing of the kind. I have invented nothing. To save embarrassment topeople still living I have given to the persons who play a part in thisstory names of my own contriving, and I have in other ways taken painsto make sure that no one should recognize them. The man I am writingabout is not famous. It may be that he never will be. It may be thatwhen his life at last comes to an end he will leave no more trace of hissojourn on earth than a stone thrown into a river leaves on the surfaceof the water. Then my book, if it is read at all, will be read only forwhat intrinsic interest it may possess. But it may be that the way oflife that he has chosen for himself and the peculiar strength andsweetness of his character may have an ever-growing influence over hisfellow men so that, long after his death perhaps, it may be realizedthat there lived in this age a very remarkable creature. Then it will bequite clear of whom I write in this book and those who want to know atleast a little about his early life may find in it something to theirpurpose. I think my book, within its acknowledged limitations, will be auseful source of information to my friend's biographers.

I do not pretend that the conversations I have recorded can be regardedas verbatim reports. I never kept notes of what was said on this or theother occasion, but I have a good memory for what concerns me, andthough I have put these conversations in my own words they faithfullyrepresent, I believe, what was said. I remarked a little while back thatI have invented nothing; I want now to modify that statement. I havetaken the liberty that historians have taken from the time of Herodotusto put into the mouths of the persons of my narrative speeches that Idid not myself hear and could not possibly have heard. I have done thisfor the same reasons as the historians have, to give liveliness andverisimilitude to scenes that would have been ineffective if they hadbeen merely recounted. I want to be read and I think I am justified indoing what I can to make my book readable. The intelligent reader willeasily see for himself where I have used this artifice, and he is atperfect liberty to reject it.

Another reason that has caused me to embark upon this work withapprehension is that the persons I have chiefly to deal with areAmerican. It is very difficult to know people and I don't think one canever really know any but one's own countrymen. For men and women are notonly themselves; they are also the region in which they were born, thecity apartment or the farm in which they learnt to walk, the games theyplayed as children, the old wives' tales they overheard, the food theyate, the schools they attended, the sports they followed, the poets theyread, and the God they believed in. It is all these things that havemade them what they are and these are things that you can't come to knowby hearsay, you can only know them if you have lived them. You can onlyknow them if you are them. And because you cannot know persons of anation foreign to you except from observation, it is difficult to givethem credibility in the pages of a book. Even so subtle and careful anobserver as Henry James, though he lived in England for forty years,never managed to create an Englishman who was through and throughEnglish. For my part, except in a few short stories I have neverattempted to deal with any but my own countrymen, and if I have venturedto do otherwise in short stories it is because in them you can treatyour characters more summarily. You give the reader broad indicationsand leave him to fill in the details. It may be asked why, if I turnedPaul Gauguin into an Englishman, I could not do the same with thepersons of this book. The answer is simple: I couldn't. They would notthen have been the people they are. I do not pretend that they areAmerican as Americans see themselves; they are American seen through anEnglish eye. I have not attempted to reproduce the peculiarities oftheir speech. The mess English writers make when they try to do this isonly equalled by the mess American writers make when they try toreproduce English as spoken in England. Slang is the great pitfall.Henry James in his English stories made constant use of it, but neverquite as the English do, so that instead of getting the colloquialeffect he was after, it too often gives the English reader anuncomfortable jolt.

(ii)

In 1919 I happened to be in Chicago on my way to the Far East, and forreasons that have nothing to do with this narrative I was staying therefor two or three weeks. I had recently brought out a successful noveland being for the moment news I had no sooner arrived than I wasinterviewed. Next morning my telephone rang. I answered.

"Elliott Templeton speaking."

"Elliott? I thought you were in Paris."

"No, I'm visiting with my sister. We want you to come along and lunchwith us today."

"I should love to."

He named the hour and gave me the address.

I had known Elliott Templeton for fifteen years. He was at this time inhis late fifties, a tall, elegant man with good features and thickwaving dark hair only sufficiently graying to add to the distinction ofhis appearance. He was always beautifully dressed. He got hishaberdashery at Charvet's, but his suits, his shoes and his hats inLondon. He had an apartment in Paris on the Rive Gauche in thefashionable Rue St. Guillaume. People who did not like him said he was adealer, but this was a charge that he resented with indignation. He hadtaste and knowledge, and he did not mind admitting that in bygone years,when he first settled in Paris, he had given rich collectors who wantedto buy pictures the benefit of his advice; and when through his socialconnections he heard that some impoverished nobleman, English or French,was disposed to sell a picture of first-rate quality he was glad to puthim in touch with the directors of American museums who, he happened toknow, were on the lookout for a fine example of such and such a master.There were many old families in France and some in England whosecirc*mstances compelled them to part with a signed piece of Buhl or awriting-table made by Chippendale himself if it could be done quietly,and they were glad to know a man of great culture and perfect mannerswho could arrange the matter with discretion. One would naturallysuppose that Elliott profited by the transactions, but one was toowell-bred to mention it. Unkind people asserted that everything in hisapartment was for sale and that after he had invited wealthy Americansto an excellent lunch, with vintage wines, one or two of his valuabledrawings would disappear or a marquetry commode would be replaced by onein lacquer. When he was asked why a particular piece had vanished hevery plausibly explained that he hadn't thought it quite up to his markand had exchanged it for one of much finer quality. He added that it wastiresome always to look at the same things.

"Nous autres américains, we Americans," he said, "like change. It isat once our weakness and our strength."

Some of the American ladies in Paris, who claimed to know all about him,said that his family was quite poor and if he was able to live in theway he did it was only because he had been very clever. I do not knowhow much money he had, but his ducal landlord certainly made him pay alot for his apartment and it was furnished with objects of value. On thewalls were drawings by the great French masters, Watteau, Fragonard,Claude Lorrain and so on; Savonnerie and Aubusson rugs displayed theirbeauty on the parquet floors; and in the drawing-room there was a LouisQuinze suite in petit point of such elegance that it might well havebelonged, as he claimed, to Madame de Pompadour. Anyhow he had enough tolive in what he considered was the proper style for a gentleman withouttrying to earn money, and the method by which he had done so in the pastwas a matter which, unless you wished to lose his acquaintance, you werewise not to refer to. Thus relieved of material cares he gave himselfover to the ruling passion of his life, which was social relationships.His business connections with the impecunious great both in France andin England had secured the foothold he had obtained on his arrival inEurope as a young man with letters of introduction to persons ofconsequence. His origins recommended him to the American ladies of titleto whom he brought letters, for he was of an old Virginian family andthrough his mother traced his descent from one of the signatories of theDeclaration of Independence. He was well favoured, bright, a gooddancer, a fair shot and a fine tennis player. He was an asset at anyparty. He was lavish with flowers and expensive boxes of chocolate, andthough he entertained little, when he did it was with an originalitythat pleased. It amused these rich ladies to be taken to Bohemianrestaurants in Soho or bistros in the Latin Quarter. He was alwaysprepared to make himself useful and there was nothing, however tiresome,that you asked him to do for you that he would not do with pleasure. Hetook an immense amount of trouble to make himself agreeable to ageingwomen, and it was not long before he was the ami de la maison, thehousehold pet, in many an imposing mansion. His amiability was extreme;he never minded being asked at the last moment because someone hadthrown you over and you could put him next to a very boring old lady andcount on him to be as charming and amusing with her as he knew how.

In two or more years, both in London to which he went for the last partof the season and to pay a round of country house visits in the earlyautumn, and in Paris, where he had settled down, he knew everyone whom ayoung American could know. The ladies who had first introduced him intosociety were surprised to discover how wide the circle of hisacquaintance had grown. Their feelings were mixed. On the one hand theywere pleased that their young protégé had made so great a success and onthe other a trifle nettled that he should be on such intimate terms withpersons with whom their own relations had remained strictly formal.Though he continued to be obliging and useful to them, they wereuneasily conscious that he had used them as stepping-stones to hissocial advancement. They were afraid he was a snob. And of course hewas. He was a colossal snob. He was a snob without shame. He would putup with any affront, he would ignore any rebuff, he would swallow anyrudeness to get asked to a party he wanted to go to or to make aconnection with some crusty old dowager of great name. He wasindefatigable. When he had fixed his eye on his prey he hunted it withthe persistence of a botanist who will expose himself to dangers offlood, earthquake, fever and hostile natives to find an orchid ofpeculiar rarity. The war of 1914 gave him his final chance. When itbroke out he joined an ambulance corps and served first in Flanders andthen in the Argonne; he came back after a year with a red ribbon in hisbuttonhole and secured a position in the Red Cross in Paris. By then hewas in affluent circ*mstances and he contributed generously to the goodworks patronized by persons of consequence. He was always ready with hisexquisite taste and his gift for organization to help in any charitablefunction that was widely publicized. He became a member of the two mostexclusive clubs in Paris. He was ce cher Elliott to the greatestladies in France. He had finally arrived.

(iii)

When I first met Elliott I was just a young author like another and hetook no notice of me. He never forgot a face and when I ran across himhere or there he shook hands with me cordially, but showed no desire tofurther our acquaintance; and if I saw him at the opera, say, he beingwith a person of high rank, he was apt not to catch sight of me. Butthen I happened to make a somewhat startling success as a playwright,and presently I became aware that Elliott regarded me with a warmerfeeling. One day I received a note from him asking me to lunch atClaridge's, where he lived when in London. It was a small party and nota very smart one, and I conceived the notion that he was trying me out.But from then on, since my success had brought me many new friends, Ibegan to see him more frequently. Shortly after this I spent some weeksof the autumn in Paris and met him at the house of a commonacquaintance. He asked me where I was staying and in a day or two Ireceived another invitation to lunch, this time at his apartment; when Iarrived I was surprised to see that it was a party of considerabledistinction. I giggled to myself. I knew that with his perfect sense ofsocial relations he had realized that in English society as an author Iwas not of much account, but that in France, where an author justbecause he is an author has prestige, I was. During the years thatfollowed our acquaintance became fairly intimate without ever developinginto friendship. I doubt whether it was possible for Elliott Templetonto be a friend. He took no interest in people apart from their socialposition. When I chanced to be in Paris or he in London, he continued toask me to parties when he wanted an extra man or was obliged toentertain travelling Americans. Some of these were, I suspected, oldclients and some were strangers sent to him with letters ofintroduction. They were the cross of his life. He felt he had to dosomething for them and yet was unwilling to have them meet his grandfriends. The best way of disposing of them of course was to give themdinner and take them to a play, but that was often difficult when he wasengaged every evening for three weeks ahead, and also he had an inklingthat they would scarcely be satisfied with that. Since I was an authorand so of little consequence he didn't mind telling me his troubles onthis matter.

"People in America are so inconsiderate in the way they give letters.It's not that I'm not delighted to see the people who are sent to me,but I really don't see why I should inflict them on my friends."

He sought to make amends by sending them great baskets of roses and hugeboxes of chocolate, but sometimes he had to do more. It was then,somewhat naïvely after what he had told me, that he asked me to come tothe party he was organizing.

"They want to meet you so much," he wrote to flatter me. "Mrs. So and Sois a very cultivated woman and she's read every word you've written."

Mrs. So and So would then tell me she'd so much enjoyed my book Mr.Perrin and Mr. Traill and congratulate me on my play The Mollusc. Thefirst of these was written by Hugh Walpole and the second by HubertHenry Davies.

(iv)

If I have given the reader an impression that Elliott Templeton was adespicable character I have done him an injustice.

He was for one thing what the French call serviable, a word for which,so far as I know, there is no exact equivalent in English. Thedictionary tells one that serviceable in the sense of helpful,obliging and kind is archaic. That is just what Elliott was. He wasgenerous, and though early in his career he had doubtless showeredflowers, candy and presents on his acquaintances from an ulteriormotive, he continued to do so when it was no longer necessary. It causedhim pleasure to give. He was hospitable. His chef was as good as any inParis and you could be sure at his table of having set before you theearliest delicacies of the season. His wine proved the excellence of hisjudgment. It is true that his guests were chosen for their socialimportance rather than because they were good company, but he took careto invite at least one or two for their powers of entertainment, so thathis parties were almost always amusing. People laughed at him behind hisback and called him a filthy snob, but nevertheless accepted hisinvitations with alacrity. His French was fluent and correct and hisaccent perfect. He had taken great pains to adopt the manner of speechas it is spoken in England and you had to have a very sensitive ear tocatch now and then an American intonation. He was a good talker if onlyyou could keep him off the subject of dukes and duch*esses, but evenabout them, now that his position was unassailable, he allowed himself,especially when you were alone with him, to be amusing. He had apleasantly malicious tongue and there was no scandal about these exaltedpersonages that did not reach his ears. From him I learnt who was thefather of the Princess X's last child and who was the mistress of theMarquis de Y. I don't believe even Marcel Proust knew more of the innerlife of the aristocracy than Elliott Templeton.

When I was in Paris we used often to lunch together, sometimes at hisapartment and sometimes at a restaurant. I like to wander about theantiquity shops, occasionally to buy but more often to look, and Elliottwas always enchanted to go with me. He had knowledge and a real love ofbeautiful objects. I think he knew every shop of the kind in Paris andwas on familiar terms with the proprietor. He adored haggling and whenwe started out would say to me:

"If there's anything you want don't try to buy it yourself. Just give mea hint and let me do the rest."

He would be delighted when he had got for me something I fancied forhalf the asking price. It was a treat to watch him bargain. He wouldargue, cajole, lose his temper, appeal to the seller's better nature,ridicule him, point out the defects of the object in question, threatennever to cross his threshold again, sigh, shrug his shoulders, admonish,start for the door in frowning anger and when finally he had won hispoint shake his head sadly as though he accepted defeat withresignation. Then he would whisper to me in English:

"Take it with you. It would be cheap at double the money."

Elliott was a zealous Catholic. He had not lived long in Paris before hemet an abbé who was celebrated for his success in bringing infidels andheretics back to the fold. He was a great diner out and a noted wit. Heconfined his ministrations to the rich and the aristocratic. It wasinevitable that Elliott should be attracted by a man who, though ofhumble origins, was a welcome guest in the most exclusive houses, and heconfided to a wealthy American lady who was one of the abbé's recentconverts that, though his family had always been Episcopalian, he hadfor long been interested in the Catholic Church. She asked Elliott tomeet the abbé at dinner one evening, just the three of them, and theabbé was scintillating. Elliott's hostess brought the conversationaround to Catholicism and the abbé spoke of it with unction, but withoutpedantry, as a man of the world, though a priest, speaking to anotherman of the world. Elliott was flattered to discover that the abbé knewall about him.

"The duch*esse de Vendôme was speaking of you the other day. She told methat she thought you highly intelligent."

Elliott flushed with pleasure. He had been presented to Her RoyalHighness, but it had never occurred to him that she would give him asecond thought. The abbé spoke of the faith with wisdom and benignity;he was broad-minded, modern in his outlook and tolerant. He made theChurch seem to Elliott very like a select club that a well-bred man owedit to himself to belong to. Six months later he was received into it.His conversion, combined with the generosity he showed in hiscontributions to Catholic charities, opened several doors that had beenclosed to him before.

It may be that his motives in abandoning the faith of his fathers weremixed, but there could be no doubt of his devoutness when he had doneso. He attended Mass every Sunday at the church frequented by the bestpeople, went to confession regularly and made periodical visits to Rome.In course of time he was rewarded for his piety by being made a papalchamberlain, and the assiduity with which he performed the duties of hisoffice was rewarded by the order of, I think, the Holy Sepulchre. Hiscareer as a Catholic was in fact no less successful than his career asan homme du monde.

I often asked myself what was the cause of the snobbishness thatobsessed this man who was so intelligent, so kindly and so cultivated.He was no upstart. His father had been president of one of the southernuniversities and his grandfather a divine of some eminence. Elliott wastoo clever not to see that many of the persons who accepted hisinvitations did so only to get a free meal and that of these some werestupid and some worthless. The glamour of their resounding titlesblinded him to their faults. I can only guess that to be on terms ofintimate familiarity with these gentlemen of ancient lineage, to be thefaithful retainer of their ladies gave him a sensation of triumph thatnever palled; and I think that at the back of it all was a passionateromanticism that led him to see in the weedy little French duke thecrusader who had gone to the Holy Land with Saint Louis and in theblustering, fox-hunting English earl the ancestor who had attended Henrythe Eighth to the Field of the Cloth of Gold. In the company of such asthese he felt that he lived in a spacious and gallant past. I think whenhe turned the pages of the Almanach de Gotha his heart beat warmly asone name after another brought back to him recollections of old wars,historic sieges and celebrated duels, diplomatic intrigues and the loveaffairs of kings. Such anyhow was Elliott Templeton.

(v)

I was having a wash and a brush up before starting out to go to theluncheon Elliott had invited me to when they rang up from the desk tosay that he was below. I was a little surprised, but as soon as I wasready went down.

"I thought it would be safer if I came and fetched you," he said as weshook hands. "I don't know how well you know Chicago."

He had the feeling I have noticed in some Americans who have lived manyyears abroad that America is a difficult and even dangerous place inwhich the European cannot safely be left to find his way about byhimself.

"It's early yet. We might walk part of the way," he suggested.

There was a slight nip in the air, but not a cloud in the sky, and itwas pleasant to stretch one's legs.

"I thought I'd better tell you about my sister before you meet her,"said Elliott as we walked along. "She's stayed with me once or twice inParis, but I don't think you were there at the time. It's not a bigparty, you know. Only my sister and her daughter Isabel and GregoryBrabazon."

"The decorator?" I asked.

"Yes. My sister's house is awful, and Isabel and I want her to have itdone over. I happened to hear that Gregory was in Chicago and so I gother to ask him to lunch today. He's not quite a gentleman, of course,but he has taste. He did Raney Castle for Mary Olifant and St. ClementTalbot for the St. Erths. The duch*ess was delighted with him. You'll seeLouisa's house for yourself. How she can have lived in it all theseyears I shall never understand. For the matter of that how she can livein Chicago I shall never understand either."

It appeared that Mrs. Bradley was a widow with three children, two sonsand a daughter; but the sons were much older and married. One was in agovernment post in the Philippines and the other, in the diplomaticservice as his father had been, was at Buenos Aires. Mrs. Bradley'shusband had occupied posts in various parts of the world, and afterbeing first secretary in Rome for some years was made minister to one ofthe republics on the west coast of South America and had there died.

"I wanted Louisa to sell the house in Chicago when he passed over,"Elliott went on, "but she had a sentiment about it. It had been in theBradley family for quite a long while. The Bradleys are one of theoldest families in Illinois. They came from Virginia in 1839 and took upland about sixty miles from what is now Chicago. They still own it."Elliott hesitated a little and looked at me to see how I would take it."The Bradley who settled here was what I suppose you might call afarmer. I'm not sure whether you know, but about the middle of lastcentury, when the Middle West began to be opened up, quite a number ofVirginians, younger sons of good family, you know, were tempted by thelure of the unknown to leave the fleshpots of their native state. Mybrother-in-law's father, Chester Bradley, saw that Chicago had a futureand entered a law office here. At all events he made enough money toleave his son very adequately provided for."

Elliott's manner, rather than his words, suggested that perhaps it wasnot quite the thing for the late Chester Bradley to have left thestately mansion and the broad acres he had inherited to enter an office,but the fact that he had amassed a fortune at least partly compensatedfor it. Elliott was none too pleased when on a later occasion Mrs.Bradley showed me some snapshots of what he called their "place" in thecountry, and I saw a modest frame house with a pretty little garden, butwith a barn and a cowhouse and hog pens within a stone's throw,surrounded by a desolate waste of flat fields. I couldn't help thinkingthat Mr. Chester Bradley knew what he was about when he abandoned thisto make his way in the city.

Presently we hailed a taxi. It put us down before a brownstone house,narrow and rather high, and you ascended to the front door by a flightof steep steps. It was in a row of houses, in a street that led off LakeShore Drive, and its appearance, even on that bright autumn day, was sodrab that you wondered how anyone could feel any sentiment about it. Thedoor was opened by a tall and stout Negro butler with white hair, and wewere ushered into the drawing-room. Mrs. Bradley got up from her chairas we came in and Elliott presented me to her. She must have been ahandsome woman when young, for her features, though on the large side,were good and she had fine eyes. But her sallowish face, almostaggressively destitute of make-up, had sagged and it was plain that shehad lost the battle with the corpulence of middle age. I surmised thatshe was unwilling to accept defeat, for when she sat down she sat veryerect in a straight-backed chair which the cruel armour of her corsetsdoubtless made more comfortable than an upholstered one. She wore a bluegown, heavily braided, and her high collar was stiff with whalebone. Shehad a fine head of white hair tightly marcelled and intricately dressed.Her other guest had not arrived and while waiting for him we talked ofone thing and another.

"Elliott tells me that you came over by the southern route," said Mrs.Bradley. "Did you stop in Rome?"

"Yes, I spent a week there."

"And how is dear Queen Margherita?"

Somewhat surprised by her question, I said I didn't know.

"Oh, didn't you go and see her? Such a very nice woman. She was so kindto us when we were in Rome. Mr. Bradley was first secretary. Why didn'tyou go and see her? You're not like Elliott, so black that you can't goto the Quirinal?"

"Not at all," I smiled. "The fact is I don't know her."

"Don't you?" said Mrs. Bradley as though she could hardly believe herears. "Why not?"

"To tell you the truth authors don't hobnob with kings and queens as ageneral rule."

"But she's such a sweet woman," Mrs. Bradley expostulated, as though itwere very hoity-toity of me not to know that royal personage. "I'm sureyou'd like her."

At this moment the door was opened and the butler ushered in GregoryBrabazon.

Gregory Brabazon, notwithstanding his name, was not a romantic creature.He was a short, very fat man, as bald as an egg except for a ring ofblack curly hair round his ears and at the back of his neck, with a red,naked face that looked as though it were on the point of breaking outinto a violent sweat, quick gray eyes, sensual lips and a heavy jowl. Hewas an Englishman and I had sometimes met him at bohemian parties inLondon. He was very jovial, very hearty and laughed a great deal, butyou didn't have to be a great judge of character to know that his noisyfriendliness was merely cover for a very astute man of business. He hadbeen for some years the most successful decorator in London. He had agreat booming voice and little fat hands that were wonderfullyexpressive. With telling gestures, with a spate of excited words hecould thrill the imagination of a doubting client so that it was almostimpossible to withhold the order he seemed to make it a favour toaccept.

The butler came in again with a tray of co*cktails.

"We won't wait for Isabel," said Mrs. Bradley as she took one.

"Where is she?" asked Elliott.

"She went to play golf with Larry. She said she might be late."

Elliott turned to me.

"Larry is Laurence Darrell. Isabel is supposed to be engaged to him."

"I didn't know you drank co*cktails, Elliott," I said.

"I don't," he answered grimly, as he sipped the one he had taken, "butin this barbarous land of prohibition what can one do?" He sighed."They're beginning to serve them in some houses in Paris. Evilcommunications corrupt good manners."

"Stuff and nonsense, Elliott," said Mrs. Bradley.

She said it good-naturedly enough, but with a decision that suggested tome that she was a woman of character and I suspected from the look shegave him, amused but shrewd, that she had no illusions about him. Iwondered what she would make of Gregory Brabazon. I had caught theprofessional look he gave the room as he came in and the involuntarylifting of his bushy eyebrows. It was indeed an amazing room. The paperon the walls, the cretonne of the curtains and on the upholsteredfurniture were of the same pattern; on the walls were oil paintings inmassive gold frames that the Bradleys had evidently bought when theywere in Rome. Virgins of the school of Raphael, Virgins of the school ofGuido Reni, landscapes of the school of Zuccarelli, ruins of the schoolof Pannini. There were the trophies of their sojourn in Peking,blackwood tables too profusely carved, huge cloisonné vases, and therewere the purchases they had made in Chili or Peru, obese figures in hardstone and earthenware vases. There was a Chippendale writing-table and amarquetry vitrine. The lampshades were of white silk on which someill-advised artist had painted shepherds and shepherdesses in Watteaucostumes. It was hideous and yet, I don't know why, agreeable. It had ahomely, lived-in air and you felt that that incredible jumble had asignificance. All those incongruous objects belonged together becausethey were part of Mrs. Bradley's life.

We had just finished our co*cktails when the door was flung open and agirl came in, followed by a boy.

"Are we late?" she asked. "I've brought Larry back. Is there anythingfor him to eat?"

"I expect so," smiled Mrs. Bradley. "Ring the bell and tell Eugene toput another place."

"He opened the door for us. I've already told him."

"This is my daughter Isabel," said Mrs. Bradley, turning to me. "Andthis is Laurence Darrell."

Isabel gave me a rapid handshake and turned impetuously to GregoryBrabazon.

"Are you Mr. Brabazon? I've been crazy to meet you. I love what you'vedone for Clementine Dormer. Isn't this room terrible? I've been tryingto get Mamma to do something about it for years and now you're inChicago it's our chance. Tell me honestly what you think of it."

I knew that was the last thing Brabazon would do. He gave Mrs. Bradley aquick glance, but her impassive face told him nothing. He decided thatIsabel was the person who counted and broke into a boisterous laugh.

"I'm sure it's very comfortable and all that," he said, "but if you askme point-blank, well, I do think it's pretty awful."

Isabel was a tall girl with the oval face, straight nose, fine eyes andfull mouth that appeared to be characteristic of the family. She wascomely though on the fat side, which I ascribed to her age, and Iguessed that she would fine down as she grew older. She had strong, goodhands, though they also were a trifle fat, and her legs, displayed byher short skirt, were fat too. She had a good skin and a high colour,which exercise and the drive back in an open car had doubtlessheightened. She was sparkling and vivacious. Her radiant health, herplayful gaiety, her enjoyment of life, the happiness you felt in herwere exhilarating. She was so natural that she made Elliott, for all hiselegance, look rather tawdry. Her freshness made Mrs. Bradley, with herpasty, lined face, look tired and old.

We went down to lunch. Gregory Brabazon blinked when he saw thedining-room. The walls were papered with a dark red paper that imitatedstuff and hung with portraits of grim, sour-faced men and women, verybadly painted, who were the immediate forbears of the late Mr. Bradley.He was there, too, with a heavy moustache, very stiff in a frock coatand a white starched collar. Mrs. Bradley, painted by a French artist ofthe nineties, hung over the chimney piece in full evening dress of paleblue satin with pearls round her neck and a diamond star in her hair.With one bejewelled hand she fingered a lace scarf so carefully paintedthat you could count every stitch and with the other negligently held anostrich-feather fan. The furniture, of black oak, was overwhelming.

"What do you think of it?" asked Isabel of Gregory Brabazon as we satdown.

"I'm sure it cost a great deal of money," he answered.

"It did," said Mrs. Bradley. "It was given to us as a wedding present byMr. Bradley's father. It's been all over the world with us. Lisbon,Peking, Quito, Rome. Dear Queen Margherita admired it very much."

"What would you do if it was yours?" Isabel asked Brabazon, but beforehe could answer, Elliott answered for him.

"Burn it," he said.

The three of them began to discuss how they would treat the room.Elliott was all for Louis Quinze, while Isabel wanted a refectory tableand Italian chairs. Brabazon thought Chippendale would be more inkeeping with Mrs. Bradley's personality.

"I always think that's so important," he said, "a person's personality."He turned to Elliott. "Of course you know the duch*ess of Olifant?"

"Mary? She's one of my most intimate friends."

"She wanted me to do her dining-room and the moment I saw her I saidGeorge the Second."

"How right you were. I noticed the room the last time I dined there.It's in perfect taste."

So the conversation went on. Mrs. Bradley listened, but you could nottell what she was thinking. I said little and Isabel's young man, Larry,I'd forgotten his surname, said nothing at all. He was sitting on theother side of the table between Brabazon and Elliott and every now andthen I glanced at him. He looked very young. He was about the sameheight as Elliott, just under six feet, thin and loose-limbed. He was apleasant-looking boy, neither handsome nor plain, rather shy and in noway remarkable. I was interested in the fact that though, so far as Icould remember, he hadn't said half a dozen words since entering thehouse, he seemed perfectly at ease and in a curious way appeared to takepart in the conversation without opening his mouth. I noticed his hands.They were long, but not large for his size, beautifully shaped and atthe same time strong. I thought that a painter would be pleased to paintthem. He was slightly built but not delicate in appearance; on thecontrary I should have said he was wiry and resistant. His face, gravein repose, was tanned, but otherwise there was little colour in it, andhis features, though regular enough, were undistinguished. He had ratherhigh cheekbones and his temples were hollow. He had dark brown hair witha slight wave in it. His eyes looked larger than they really werebecause they were deep-set in the orbits and his lashes were thick andlong. His eyes were peculiar, not of the rich hazel that Isabel sharedwith her mother and her uncle, but so dark that the iris made one colourwith the pupil and this gave them a peculiar intensity. He had a naturalgrace that was attractive and I could see why Isabel had been taken byhim. Now and again her glance rested on him for a moment and I seemed tosee in her expression not only love but fondness. Their eyes met andthere was in his a tenderness that was beautiful to see. There isnothing more touching than the sight of young love, and I, a middle-agedman then, envied them, but at the same time, I couldn't imagine why, Ifelt sorry for them. It was silly because, so far as I knew, there wasno impediment to their happiness; their circ*mstances seemed easy andthere was no reason why they should not marry and live happily everafterwards.

Isabel, Elliott and Gregory Brabazon went on talking of the redecorationof the house, trying to get out of Mrs. Bradley at least an admissionthat something should be done, but she only smiled amiably.

"You mustn't try to rush me. I want to have time to think it over." Sheturned to the boy. "What do you think of it all, Larry?"

He looked round the table, a smile in his eyes.

"I don't think it matters one way or the other," he said.

"You beast, Larry," cried Isabel. "I particularly told you to back usup."

"If Aunt Louisa is happy with what she's got what is the object ofchanging?"

His question was so much to the point and so sensible that it made melaugh. He looked at me then and smiled.

"And don't grin like that just because you've made a very stupidremark," said Isabel.

But he only grinned the more, and I noticed then that he had small andwhite and regular teeth. There was something in the look he gave Isabelthat made her flush and catch her breath. Unless I was mistaken she wasmadly in love with him, but I don't know what it was that gave me thefeeling that in her love for him there was also something maternal. Itwas a little unexpected in so young a girl. With a soft smile on herlips she directed her attention once more to Gregory Brabazon.

"Don't pay any attention to him. He's very stupid and entirelyuneducated. He doesn't know anything about anything except flying."

"Flying?" I said.

"He was an aviator in the war."

"I should have thought he was too young to have been in the war."

"He was. Much too young. He behaved very badly. He ran away from schooland went to Canada. By lying his head off he got them to believe he waseighteen and got into the air corps. He was fighting in France at thetime of the armistice."

"You're boring your mother's guests, Isabel," said Larry.

"I've known him all my life, and when he came back he looked lovely inhis uniform, with all those pretty ribbons on his tunic, so I just saton his doorstep, so to speak, till he consented to marry me just to havea little peace and quiet. The competition was awful."

"Really, Isabel," said her mother.

Larry leant over towards me.

"I hope you don't believe a word she says. Isabel isn't a bad girlreally, but she's a liar."

Luncheon was finished and soon after Elliott and I left. I had told himbefore that I was going to the museum to look at the pictures and hesaid he would take me. I don't particularly like going to a gallery withanyone else, but I could not say I would sooner go alone and so acceptedhis company. On our way we spoke of Isabel and Larry.

"It's rather charming to see two young things so much in love with oneanother," I said.

"They're much too young to marry."

"Why? It's such fun to be young and in love and to marry."

"Don't be ridiculous. She's nineteen and he's only just twenty. Hehasn't got a job. He has a tiny income, three thousand a year Louisatells me, and Louisa's not a rich woman by any manner of means. Sheneeds all she has."

"Well, he can get a job."

"That's just it. He's not trying to. He seems to be quite satisfied todo nothing."

"I daresay he had a pretty rough time in the war. He may want a rest."

"He's been resting for a year. That's surely long enough."

"I thought he seemed a nice sort of boy."

"Oh, I have nothing against him. He's quite well-born and all that sortof thing. His father came from Baltimore. He was assistant professor ofRomance languages at Yale or something like that. His mother was aPhiladelphian of old Quaker stock."

"You speak of them in the past. Are they dead?"

"Yes, his mother died in childbirth and his father about twelve yearsago. He was brought up by an old college friend of his father's who's adoctor at Marvin. That's how Louisa and Isabel knew him."

"Where's Marvin?"

"That's where the Bradley place is. Louisa spends the summer there. Shewas sorry for the child. Dr. Nelson's a bachelor and didn't know thefirst thing about bringing up a boy. It was Louisa who insisted that heshould be sent to St. Paul's and she always had him out here for hisChristmas vacation." Elliott shrugged a Gallic shoulder. "I should havethought she would foresee the inevitable result."

We had now arrived at the museum and our attention was directed to thepictures. Once more I was impressed by Elliott's knowledge and taste. Heshepherded me around the rooms as though I were a group of tourists, andno professor of art could have discoursed more instructively than hedid. Making up my mind to come again by myself when I could wander atwill and have a good time, I submitted; after a while he looked at hiswatch.

"Let us go," he said. "I never spend more than one hour in a gallery.That is as long as one's power of appreciation persists. We will finishanother day."

I thanked him warmly when we separated. I went my way perhaps a wiserbut certainly a peevish man.

When I was saying good-bye to Mrs. Bradley she told me that next dayIsabel was having a few of her young friends in to dinner and they weregoing on to dance afterwards and if I would come Elliott and I couldhave a talk when they had gone.

"You'll be doing him a kindness," she added. "He's been abroad so long,he feels rather out of it here. He doesn't seem able to find anyone hehas anything in common with."

I accepted and before we parted on the museum steps Elliott told me hewas glad I had.

"I'm like a lost soul in this great city," he said. "I promised Louisato spend six weeks with her, we hadn't seen one another since 1912, butI'm counting the days till I can get back to Paris. It's the only placein the world for a civilized man to live. My dear fellow, d'you know howthey look upon me here? They look upon me as a freak. Savages."

I laughed and left.

(vi)

The following evening, having refused Elliott's telephoned offer tofetch me, I arrived quite safely at Mrs. Bradley's house. I had beendelayed by someone who had come to see me and was a trifle late. So muchnoise came from the sitting-room as I walked upstairs that I thought itmust be a large party and I was surprised to find that there were,including myself, only twelve people. Mrs. Bradley was very grand ingreen satin with a dog collar of seed pearls round her neck, and Elliottin his well-cut dinner jacket looked elegant as he alone could look.When he shook hands with me my nostrils were assailed by all theperfumes of Arabia. I was introduced to a stoutish, tall man with a redface who looked somewhat ill at ease in evening clothes. He was a Dr.Nelson, but at the moment that meant nothing to me. The rest of theparty consisted of Isabel's friends, but their names escaped me as soonas I heard them. The girls were young and pretty and the men young andupstanding. None of them made any impression on me except one boy andthat only because he was so tall and so massive. He must have been sixfoot three or four and he had great broad shoulders. Isabel was lookingvery pretty; she was dressed in white silk, with a long, hobbled skirtthat concealed her fat legs; the cut of her frock showed that she hadwell-developed breasts; her bare arms were a trifle fat, but her neckwas lovely. She was excited and her fine eyes sparkled. There was nodoubt about it, she was a very pretty and desirable young woman, but itwas obvious that unless she took care she would develop an unbecomingcorpulence.

At dinner I found myself placed between Mrs. Bradley and a shy drab girlwho seemed even younger than the others. As we sat down, to make the wayeasier Mrs. Bradley explained that her grandparents lived at Marvin andthat she and Isabel had been at school together. Her name, the only oneI heard mentioned, was Sophie. A lot of chaff was bandied across thetable, everyone talked at the top of his voice and there was a greatdeal of laughter. They seemed to know one another very well. When I wasnot occupied with my hostess I attempted to make conversation with myneighbor, but I had no great success. She was quieter than the rest. Shewas not pretty, but she had an amusing face, with a little tilted nose,a wide mouth and greenish blue eyes; her hair, simply done, was of asandy brown. She was very thin and her chest was almost as flat as aboy's. She laughed at the badinage that went on, but in a manner thatwas a little forced so that you felt she wasn't as much amused as shepretended to be. I guessed that she was making an effort to be a goodsport. I could not make out if she was a trifle stupid or only painfullytimid and, having tried various topics of conversation only to have themdropped, for want of anything better to say I asked her to tell me whoall the people at table were.

"Well, you know Dr. Nelson," she said, indicating the middle-aged manwho was opposite me on Mrs. Bradley's other side. "He's Larry'sguardian. He's our doctor at Marvin. He's very clever, he inventsgadgets for planes that no one will have anything to do with and when heisn't doing that he drinks."

There was a gleam in her pale eyes as she said this that made me suspectthat there was more in her than I had at first supposed. She went on togive me the names of one young thing after another, who their parentswere, and in the case of the men what college they had been to and whatwork they did. It wasn't very illuminating.

"She's very sweet," or: "He's a very good golfer."

"And who is that big fellow with the eyebrows?"

"That? Oh, that's Gray Maturin. His father's got an enormous house onthe river at Marvin. He's our millionaire. We're very proud of him. Hegives us class. Maturin, Hobbes, Rayner and Smith. He's one of therichest men in Chicago and Gray's his only son."

She put such a pleasant irony into that list of names that I gave her aninquisitive glance. She caught it and flushed.

"Tell me more about Mr. Maturin."

"There's nothing to tell. He's rich. He's highly respected. He built usa new church at Marvin and he's given a million dollars to theUniversity of Chicago."

"His son's a fine-looking fellow."

"He's nice. You'd never think his grandfather was shanty Irish and hisgrandmother a Swedish waitress in an eating house."

Gray Maturin was striking rather than handsome. He had a rugged,unfinished look; a short blunt nose, a sensual mouth and the floridIrish complexion; a great quantity of raven black hair, very sleek, andunder heavy eyebrows clear, very blue eyes. Though built on so large ascale he was finely proportioned, and stripped he must have been a finefigure of a man. He was obviously very powerful. His virility wasimpressive. He made Larry who was sitting next to him, though only threeor four inches shorter, look puny.

"He's very much admired," said my shy neighbor. "I know several girlswho would stop at nothing short of murder to get him. But they haven't achance."

"Why not?"

"You don't know anything, do you?"

"How should I?"

"He's so much in love with Isabel, he can't see straight, and Isabel'sin love with Larry."

"What's to prevent him from setting to and cutting Larry out?"

"Larry's his best friend."

"I suppose that complicates matters."

"If you're as high-principled as Gray is."

I was not sure whether she said this in all seriousness or whether therewas in her tone a hint of mockery. There was nothing saucy in hermanner, forward or pert, and yet I got the impression that she waslacking neither in humour nor in shrewdness. I wondered what she wasreally thinking while she made conversation with me, but that I knew Ishould never find out. She was obviously unsure of herself and Iconceived the notion that she was an only child who had lived a secludedlife with people a great deal older than herself. There was a modesty,an unobtrusiveness about her that I found engaging, but if I was rightin thinking that she had lived much alone I guessed that she had quietlyobserved the older persons she lived with and had formed decidedopinions upon them. We who are of mature age seldom suspect howunmercifully and yet with what insight the very young judge us. I lookedagain into her greenish blue eyes.

"How old are you?" I asked.

"Seventeen."

"Do you read much?" I asked at a venture.

But before she could answer, Mrs. Bradley, attentive to her duties as ahostess, drew me to her with some remark and before I could disengagemyself dinner was at an end. The young people went off at once towherever they were going and the four of us who were left went up to thesitting-room.

I was surprised that I had been asked to this party, for after a littledesultory conversation they began to talk of a matter that I should havethought they would have preferred to discuss in private. I could notmake up my mind whether it would be more discreet in me to get up and goor whether, as a disinterested audience of one, I was useful to them.The question at issue was Larry's odd disinclination to go to work, andit had been brought to a point by an offer from Mr. Maturin, the fatherof the boy who had been at dinner, to take him into his office. It was afine opportunity. With ability and industry Larry could look forward tomaking in due course a great deal of money. Young Gray Maturin was eagerfor him to take it.

I cannot remember all that was said, but the gist of it is clear in mymemory. On Larry's return from France Dr. Nelson, his guardian, hadsuggested that he should go to college, but he had refused. It wasnatural that he should want to do nothing for a while; he had had a hardtime and had been twice, though not severely, wounded. Dr. Nelsonthought that he was still suffering from shock and it seemed a good ideathat he should rest till he had completely recovered. But the weekspassed into months and now it was over a year since he'd been out ofuniform. It appeared that he had done well in the air corps and on hisreturn he cut something of a figure in Chicago, the result of which wasthat several businessmen offered him positions. He thanked them, butrefused. He gave no reason except that he hadn't made up his mind whathe wanted to do. He became engaged to Isabel. This was no surprise toMrs. Bradley since they had been inseparable for years and she knew thatIsabel was in love with him. She was fond of him and thought he wouldmake Isabel happy.

"Her character's stronger than his. She can give him just what helacks."

Though they were both so young Mrs. Bradley was quite willing that theyshould marry at once, but she wasn't prepared that they should do sountil Larry had gone to work. He had a little money of his own, but evenif he had had ten times more than he had she would have insisted onthis. So far as I could gather, what she and Elliott wished to find outfrom Dr. Nelson was what Larry intended to do. They wanted him to usehis influence to get him to accept the job that Mr. Maturin offered him.

"You know I never had much authority over Larry," he said. "Even as aboy he went his own way."

"I know. You let him run wild. It's a miracle he's turned out as well ashe has."

Dr. Nelson, who had been drinking quite heavily, gave her a sour look.His red face grew a trifle redder.

"I was very busy. I had my own affairs to attend to. I took him becausethere was nowhere else for him to go and his father was a friend ofmine. He wasn't easy to do anything with."

"I don't know how you can say that," Mrs. Bradley answered tartly. "Hehas a very sweet disposition."

"What are you to do with a boy who never argues with you, but doesexactly what he likes and when you get mad at him just says he's sorryand lets you storm? If he'd been my own son I could have beaten him. Icouldn't, beat a boy who hadn't got a relation in the world and whosefather had left him to me because he thought I'd be kind to him."

"That's neither here nor there," said Elliott, somewhat irritably. "Theposition is this: he's dawdled around long enough; he's got a finechance of a position in which he stands to make a lot of money and if hewants to marry Isabel he must take it."

"He must see that in the present state of the world," Mrs. Bradley putin, "a man has to work. He's perfectly strong and well now. We all knowhow after the war between the states there were men who never did astroke after they came back from it. They were a burden to theirfamilies and useless to the community."

Then I added my word.

"But what reason does he give for refusing the various offers that aremade him?"

"None. Except that they don't appeal to him."

"But doesn't he want to do anything?"

"Apparently not."

Dr. Nelson helped himself to another highball. He took a long drink andthen looked at his two friends.

"Shall I tell you what my impression is? I daresay I'm not a great judgeof human nature, but at any rate after thirty-odd years of practice Ithink I know something about it. The war did something to Larry. Hedidn't come back the same person that he went. It's not only that he'solder. Something happened that changed his personality."

"What sort of thing?" I asked.

"I wouldn't know He's very reticent about his war experiences." Dr.Nelson turned to Mrs. Bradley. "Has he ever talked to you about them,Louisa?"

She shook her head.

"No. When he first came back we tried to get him to tell us some of hisadventures, but he only laughed in that way of his and said there wasnothing to tell. He hasn't even told Isabel. She's tried and tried, butshe hasn't got a thing out of him."

The conversation went on in this unsatisfactory way and presently Dr.Nelson, looking at his watch, said he must go. I prepared to leave withhim, but Elliott pressed me to stay. When he had gone, Mrs. Bradleyapologized for troubling me with their private affairs and expressed herfear that I had been bored.

"But you see it's all very much on my mind," she finished,

"Mr. Maugham is very discreet, Louisa; you needn't be afraid of tellinghim anything. I haven't the feeling that Bob Nelson and Larry are veryclose, but there are some things that Louisa and I thought we'd betternot mention to him."

"Elliott."

"You've told him so much, you may as well tell him the rest. I don'tknow whether you noticed Gray Maturin at dinner?"

"He's so big, one could hardly fail to."

"He's a beau of Isabel's. All the time Larry was away he was veryattentive. She likes him and if the war had lasted much longer she mightvery well have married him. He proposed to her. She didn't accept andshe didn't refuse. Louisa guessed she didn't want to make up her mindtill Larry came home."

"How is it that he wasn't in the war?" I asked.

"He strained his heart playing football. It's nothing serious, but thearmy wouldn't take him. Anyhow when Larry came home he had no chance.Isabel turned him down flat."

I didn't know what I was expected to say to that, so I said nothing.Elliott went on. With his distinguished appearance and his Oxford accenthe couldn't have been more like an official of high standing at theForeign Office.

"Of course Larry's a very nice boy and it was damned sporting of him torun away and join the air corps, but I'm a pretty good judge ofcharacter...." He gave a knowing little smile and made the onlyreference I ever heard him make to the fact that he had made a fortuneby dealing in works of art. "Otherwise I shouldn't have at this moment atidy sum in gilt-edged securities. And my opinion is that Larry willnever amount to very much. He has no money to speak of and no position.Gray Maturin is a very different proposition. He has a good old Irishname. They've had a bishop in the family, and a dramatist and severaldistinguished soldiers and scholars."

"How do you know all that?" I asked.

"It's the sort of thing one knows," he answered casually. "As a matterof fact I happened to be glancing through the Dictionary of NationalBiography the other day at the club and I came across the name."

I didn't think it was my business to repeat what my neighbor at dinnerhad told me of the shanty Irishman and the Swedish waitress who wereGray's grandfather and grandmother. Elliott proceeded.

"We've all known Henry Maturin for many years. He's a very fine man anda very rich one. Gray's stepping into the best brokerage house inChicago. He's got the world at his feet. He wants to marry Isabel andone can't deny that from her point of view it would be a very goodmatch. I'm all in favour of it myself and I know Louisa is too."

"You've been away from America so long, Elliott," said Mrs. Bradley,with a dry smile, "you've forgotten that in this country girls don'tmarry because their mothers and their uncles are in favour of it."

"That is nothing to be proud of, Louisa," said Elliott sharply. "As theresult of thirty years' experience I may tell you that a marriagearranged with proper regard to position, fortune and community ofcirc*mstances has every advantage over a love match. In France, whichafter all is the only civilized country in the world, Isabel would marryGray without thinking twice about it; then, after a year or two, if shewanted it, she'd take Larry as her lover, Gray would install a prominentactress in a luxurious apartment, and everyone would be perfectlyhappy."

Mrs. Bradley was no fool. She looked at her brother with sly amusem*nt.

"The objection to that, Elliott, is that as the New York plays only comehere for limited periods, Gray could only hope to keep the tenants ofhis luxurious apartment for a very uncertain length of time. That wouldsurely be very unsettling for all parties."

Elliott smiled.

"Gray could buy a seat on the New York stock exchange. After all, if youmust live in America I can't see any object in living anywhere but inNew York."

I left soon after this, but before I did Elliott, I hardly know why,asked me if I would lunch with him to meet the Maturins, father and son.

"Henry is the best type of the American businessman," he said, "and Ithink you ought to know him. He's looked after our investments for manyyears."

I hadn't any particular wish to do this, but no reason to refuse, so Isaid I would be glad to.

(vii)

I had been put up for the length of my stay at a club which possessed agood library and next morning I went there to look at one or two of theuniversity magazines that for the person who does not subscribe to themhave always been rather hard to come by. It was early and there was onlyone other person there. He was seated in a big leather chair absorbed ina book. I was surprised to see it was Larry. He was the last person Ishould have expected to find in such a place. He looked up as I passed,recognized me and made as if to get up.

"Don't move," I said, and then almost automatically: "What are youreading?"

"A book," he said, with a smile, but a smile so engaging that the rebuffof his answer was in no way offensive.

He closed it and looking at me with his peculiarly opaque eyes held itso that I couldn't see the title.

"Did you have a good time last night?" I asked.

"Wonderful. Didn't get home till five."

"It's very strenuous of you to be here so bright and early."

"I come here a good deal. Generally I have the place to myself at thistime."

"I won't disturb you."

"You're not disturbing me," he said, smiling again, and now it occurredto me that he had a smile of great sweetness. It was not a brilliant,flashing smile, it was a smile that lit his face as with an inner light.He was sitting in an alcove made by jutting out shelves and there was achair next to him. He put his hand on the arm. "Won't you sit down for aminute?"

"All right."

He handed me the book he was holding.

"That's what I was reading."

I looked at it and saw it was William James's Principles ofPsychology. It is, of course, a standard work and important in thehistory of the science with which it deals; it is moreover exceedinglyreadable; but it is not the sort of book I should have expected to seein the hands of a very young man, an aviator, who had been dancing tillfive in the morning.

"Why are you reading this?" I asked.

"I'm very ignorant."

"You're also very young," I smiled.

He did not speak for so long a time that I began to find the silenceawkward and I was on the point of getting up and looking for themagazines I had come to find. But I had a feeling that he wanted to saysomething. He looked into vacancy, his face grave and intent, and seemedto meditate. I waited. I was curious to know what it was all about. Whenhe began to speak it was as though he continued the conversation withoutawareness of that long silence.

"When I came back from France they all wanted me to go to college. Icouldn't. After what I'd been through I felt I couldn't go back toschool. I learnt nothing at my prep school anyway. I felt I couldn'tenter into a freshman's life. They wouldn't have liked me. I didn't wantto act a part I didn't feel. And I didn't think the instructors wouldteach me the sort of things I wanted to know."

"Of course I know that this is no business of mine," I said, "but I'mnot convinced you were right. I think I understand what you mean and Ican see that, after being in the war for two years, it would have beenrather a nuisance to become the sort of glorified schoolboy anundergraduate is during his first and second years. I can't believe theywouldn't have liked you. I don't know much about American universities,but I don't believe American undergraduates are very different fromEnglish ones, perhaps a little more boisterous and a little moreinclined to horseplay, but on the whole very decent, sensible boys, andI take it that if you don't want to lead their lives they're quitewilling, if you exercise a little tact, to let you lead yours. I neverwent to Cambridge as my brothers did. I had the chance, but I refusedit. I wanted to get out into the world. I've always regretted it. Ithink it would have saved me a lot of mistakes. You learn more quicklyunder the guidance of experienced teachers. You waste a lot of timegoing down blind alleys if you have no one to lead you."

"You may be right. I don't mind if I make mistakes. It may be that inone of the blind alleys I may find something to my purpose."

"What is your purpose?"

He hesitated a moment.

"That's just it. I don't quite know it yet."

I was silent, for there didn't seem to be anything to say in answer tothat. I, who from a very early age have always had before me a clear anddefinite purpose, was inclined to feel impatient; but I chid myself; Ihad what I can only call an intuition that there was in the soul of thatboy some confused striving, whether of half-thought-out ideas or ofdimly felt emotions I could not tell, that filled him with arestlessness that urged him he did not know whither. He strangelyexcited my sympathy. I had never before heard him speak much and it wasonly now that I became conscious of the melodiousness of his voice. Itwas very persuasive. It was like balm. When I considered that, hisengaging smile and the expressiveness of his very black eyes I couldwell understand that Isabel was in love with him. There was indeedsomething very lovable about him. He turned his head and looked at mewithout embarrassment, but with an expression in his eyes that was atonce scrutinizing and amused.

"Am I right in thinking that after we all went off to dance last nightyou talked about me?"

"Part of the time."

"I thought that was why Uncle Bob had been pressed to come to dinner. Hehates going out."

"It appears that you've got the offer of a very good job."

"A wonderful job."

"Are you going to take it?"

"I don't think so."

"Why not?"

"I don't want to."

I was butting into an affair that was no concern of mine, but I had anotion that just because I was a stranger from a foreign country Larrywas not disinclined to talk to me about it.

"Well, you know when people are no good at anything else they becomewriters," I said, with a chuckle.

"I have no talent."

"Then what do you want to do?"

He gave me his radiant, fascinating smile.

"Loaf," he said.

I had to laugh.

"I shouldn't have thought Chicago the best place in the world to do thatin," I said. "Anyhow, I'll leave you to your reading. I want to have alook at the Yale Quarterly."

I got up. When I left the library Larry was still absorbed in WilliamJames's book. I lunched by myself at the club and since it was quiet inthe library went back there to smoke my cigar and idle an hour or twoaway, reading and writing letters. I was surprised to see Larry stillimmersed in his book. He looked as if he hadn't moved since I left him.He was still there when about four I went away. I was struck by hisevident power of concentration. He had neither noticed me go nor come. Ihad various things to do during the afternoon and did not go back to theBlackstone till it was time to change for the dinner party I was goingto. On my way I was seized with an impulse of curiosity. I dropped intothe club once more and went into the library. There were quite a numberof people there then, reading the papers and what not. Larry was stillsitting in the same chair, intent on the same book. Odd!

(viii)

Next day Elliott asked me to lunch at the Palmer House to meet the elderMaturin and his son. We were only four. Henry Maturin was a big man,nearly as big as his son, with a red fleshy face and a great jowl, andhe had the same blunt, aggressive nose, but his eyes were smaller thanhis son's, not so blue and very, very shrewd. Though he could not havebeen much more than fifty he looked ten years older and his hair,rapidly thinning, was snow-white. At first sight he was notprepossessing. He looked as though for many years he had done himselftoo well, and I received the impression of a brutal, clever, competentman who, in business matters at all events, would be pitiless. At firsthe said little and I had a notion that he was taking my measure. I couldnot but perceive that he looked upon Elliott as something of a joke.Gray, amiable and polite, was almost completely silent and the partywould have been sticky if Elliott, with his perfect social tact, hadn'tkept up a flow of easy conversation. I guessed that in the past he hadacquired a good deal of experience in dealing with Middle Westernbusinessmen who had to be cajoled into paying a fancy price for an oldmaster. Presently Mr. Maturin began to feel more at his ease and he madeone or two remarks that showed he was brighter than he looked and indeedhad a dry sense of humour. For a while the conversation turned on stocksand shares. I should have been surprised to discover that Elliott wasvery knowledgeable on the subject if I had not long been aware that forall his nonsense he was nobody's fool. It was then that Mr. Maturinremarked:

"I had a letter from Gray's friend Larry Darrell this morning."

"You didn't tell me, Dad," said Gray.

Mr. Maturin turned to me.

"You know Larry, don't you?" I nodded. "Gray persuaded me to take himinto my business. They're great friends. Gray thinks the world of him."

"What did he say, Dad?"

"He thanked me. He said he realized it was a great chance for a youngfellow and he'd thought it over very carefully and had come to theconclusion he'd be a disappointment to me and thought it better torefuse."

"That's very foolish of him," said Elliott.

"It is," said Mr. Maturin.

"I'm awfully sorry, Dad," said Gray. "It would have been grand if wecould have worked together."

"You can lead a horse to the water, but you can't make him drink."

Mr. Maturin looked at his son while he said this and his shrewd eyessoftened. I realized that there was another side to the hardbusinessman; he doted on this great hulking son of his. He turned to meonce more.

"D'you know, that boy did our course in two under par on Sunday. He beatme seven and six. I could have brained him with my niblick. And to thinkthat I taught him to play golf myself."

He was brimming over with pride. I began to like him.

"I had a lot of luck, Dad."

"Not a bit of it. Is it luck when you get out of a bunker and lay yourball six inches from the hole? Thirty-five yards if it was an inch, theshot was. I want him to go into the amateur championship next year."

"I shouldn't be able to spare the time."

"I'm your boss, ain't I?"

"Don't I know it! The hell you raise if I'm a minute late at theoffice."

Mr. Maturin chuckled.

"He's trying to make me out a tyrant," he said to me. "Don't you believehim. I'm my business, my partners are no good, and I'm very proud of mybusiness. I've started this boy of mine at the bottom and I expect himto work his way up just like any young fellow I've hired, so that whenthe time comes for him to take my place he'll be ready for it. It's agreat responsibility, a business like mine. I've looked after theinvestments of some of my clients for thirty years and they trust me. Totell you the truth, I'd rather lose my own money than see them losetheirs."

Gray laughed.

"The other day when an old girl came in and wanted to invest a thousanddollars in a wildcat scheme that her minister had recommended he refusedto take the order, and when she insisted he gave her such hell that shewent out sobbing. And then he called up the minister and gave him helltoo."

"People say a lot of hard things about us brokers, but there are brokersand brokers. I don't want people to lose money, I want them to make it,and the way they act, most of them, you'd think their one object in lifewas to get rid of every cent they have."

****

"Well, what did you think of him?" Elliott asked me as we walked awayafter the Maturins had left us to go back to the office.

"I'm always glad to meet new types. I thought the mutual affection offather and son was rather touching. I don't know that that's so commonin England."

"He adores that boy. He's a queer mixture. What he said about hisclients was quite true. He's got hundreds of old women, retired servicemen and ministers whose savings he looks after. I'd have thought theywere more trouble than they're worth, but he takes pride in theconfidence they have in him. But when he's got some big deal on and he'sup against powerful interests there isn't a man who can be harder andmore ruthless. There's no mercy there then. He wants his pound of fleshand there's nothing much he'll stop at to get it. Get on the wrong sideof him and he'll not only ruin you, but get a big laugh out of doingit."

On getting home Elliott told Mrs. Bradley that Larry had refused HenryMaturin's offer. Isabel had been lunching with girl friends and came inwhile they were still talking about it. They told her. I gathered fromElliott's account of the conversation that ensued that he had expressedhimself with considerable eloquence. Though he had certainly not done astroke of work for ten years, and the work by which he had amassed anample competence had been far from arduous, he was firmly of opinionthat for the run of mankind industry was essential. Larry was aperfectly ordinary young fellow, of no social consequence, and there wasno possible reason why he shouldn't conform with the commendable customsof his country. It was evident to a man as clear-sighted as Elliott thatAmerica was entering upon a period of prosperity such as it had neverknown. Larry had a chance of getting in on the ground floor, and if hekept his nose to the grindstone he might well be many times amillionaire by the time he was forty. If he wanted to retire then andlive like a gentleman, in Paris, say, with an apartment in the Avenue duBois and a château in Touraine, he (Elliott) would have nothing to sayagainst it. But Louisa Bradley was more succinct and more unanswerable.

"If he loves you, he ought to be prepared to work for you."

I don't know what Isabel answered to all this, but she was sensibleenough to see that her elders had reason on their side. All the youngmen of her acquaintance were studying to enter some profession oralready busy in an office. Larry could hardly expect to live the rest ofhis life on his distinguished record in the air corps. The war was over,everyone was sick of it and anxious only to forget about it as quicklyas possible. The result of the discussion was that Isabel agreed to havethe matter out with Larry once and for all. Mrs. Bradley suggested thatIsabel should ask him to drive her down to Marvin. She was ordering newcurtains for the living-room and had mislaid the measurements, so shewanted Isabel to take them again.

"Bob Nelson will give you luncheon," she said.

"I have a better plan than that," said Elliott. "Put up a luncheonbasket for them and let them lunch on the stoop and after lunch they cantalk."

"That would be fun," said Isabel.

"There are few things so pleasant as a picnic lunch eaten in perfectcomfort," Elliott added sententiously. "The old duch*esse d'Uzès used totell me that the most recalcitrant male becomes amenable to suggestionin these conditions. What will you give them for luncheon?"

"Stuffed eggs and a chicken sandwich."

"Nonsense. You can't have a picnic without pâté de foie gras. You mustgive them curried shrimps to start with, breast of chicken in aspic,with a heart-of-lettuce salad for which I'll make the dressing myself,and after the pâté if you like, as a concession to your Americanhabits, an apple pie."

"I shall give them stuffed eggs and a chicken sandwich, Elliott," saidMrs. Bradley with decision.

"Well, mark my words, it'll be a failure and you'll only have yourselfto blame."

"Larry eats very little, Uncle Elliott," said Isabel, "and I don'tbelieve he notices what he eats."

"I hope you don't think that is to his credit, my poor child," her unclereturned.

But what Mrs. Bradley said they should have was what they got. WhenElliott later told me the outcome of the excursion he shrugged hisshoulders in a very French way.

"I told them it would be a failure. I begged Louisa to put in a bottleof the Montrachet I sent her just before the war, but she wouldn'tlisten to me. They took a thermos of hot coffee and nothing else. Whatwould you expect?"

It appeared that Louisa Bradley and Elliott were sitting by themselvesin the living-room when they heard the car stop at the door and Isabelcome into the house. It was just after dark and the curtains were drawn.Elliott was lounging in an armchair by the fireside reading a novel andMrs. Bradley was at work on a piece of tapestry that was to be made intoa fire screen. Isabel did not come in, but went on up to her room.Elliott looked over his spectacles at his sister.

"I expect she's gone to take off her hat. She'll be down in a minute,"she said.

But Isabel did not come. Several minutes passed.

"Perhaps she's tired. She may be lying down."

"Wouldn't you have expected Larry to come in?"

"Don't be exasperating, Elliott."

"Well, it's your business, not mine."

He returned to his book. Mrs. Bradley went on working. But when half anhour had gone by she got up suddenly.

"I think perhaps I'd better go up and see that she's all right. If she'sresting I won't disturb her."

She left the room, but in a very short while came down again.

"She's been crying. Larry's going to Paris. He's going to be away fortwo years. She's promised to wait for him."

"Why does he want to go to Paris?"

"It's no good asking me questions, Elliott. I don't know. She won't tellme anything. She says she understands and she isn't going to stand inhis way. I said to her, 'If he's prepared to leave you for two years hecan't love you very much.' 'I can't help that,' she said, 'the thingthat matters is that I love him very much.' 'Even after what'shappened today?' I said. 'Today's made me love him more than ever Idid,' she said, 'and he does love me, Mamma. I'm sure of that.'"

Elliott reflected for a while.

"And what's to happen at the end of two years?"

"I tell you I don't know, Elliott."

"Don't you think it's very unsatisfactory?"

"Very."

"There's only one thing to be said and that is that they're both veryyoung. It won't hurt them to wait two years and in that time a lot mayhappen."

They agreed that it would be better to leave Isabel in peace. They weregoing out to dinner that night.

"I don't want to upset her," said Mrs. Bradley. "People would onlywonder if her eyes were all swollen."

But next day after luncheon, which they had by themselves, Mrs. Bradleybrought the subject up again. But she got little out of Isabel.

"There's really nothing more to tell you than I've told you already,Mamma," she said.

"But what does he want to do in Paris?"

Isabel smiled, for she knew how preposterous her answer would seem toher mother.

"Loaf."

"Loaf? What on earth do you mean?"

"That's what he told me."

"Really I have no patience with you. If you had any spirit, you'd havebroken off your engagement there and then. He's just playing with you."

Isabel looked at the ring she wore on her left hand.

"What can I do? I love him."

Then Elliott entered the conversation. He approached the matter with hisfamous tact, "Not as if I was her uncle, my dear fellow, but as a man ofthe world speaking to an inexperienced girl," but he did no better thanher mother had done. I received the impression that she had told him, nodoubt politely but quite unmistakably, to mind his own business. Elliotttold me all this later on in the day in the little sitting-room I had atthe Blackstone.

"Of course Louisa is quite right," he added. "It's all veryunsatisfactory, but that's the sort of thing you run up against whenyoung people are left to arrange their marriages on no better basis thanmutual inclination. I've told Louisa not to worry; I think it'll turnout better than she expects. With Larry out of the way and young GrayMaturin on the spot--well, if I know anything about my fellow creaturesthe outcome is fairly obvious. When you're eighteen your emotions areviolent, but they're not durable."

"You're full of worldly wisdom, Elliott," I smiled.

"I haven't read my La Rochefoucauld for nothing. You know what Chicagois; they'll be meeting all the time. It flatters a girl to have a man sodevoted to her, and when she knows there isn't one of her girl friendswho wouldn't be only too glad to marry him--well, I ask you, is it inhuman nature to resist the temptation of cutting out everyone else? Imean, it's like going to a party where you know you'll be bored todistraction and the only refreshments will be lemonade and biscuits; butyou go because you know your best friends would give their eyeteeth toand haven't been asked."

"When does Larry go?"

"I don't know. I don't think that's been decided yet." Elliott took along, thin cigarette case in platinum and gold out of his pocket andextracted an Egyptian cigarette. Not for him were Fatimas,Chesterfields, Camels or Lucky Strikes. He looked at me with a smilefull of insinuation. "Of course I wouldn't care to say so to Louisa, butI don't mind telling you that I have a sneaking sympathy for the youngfellow. I understand that he got a glimpse of Paris during the war, andI can't blame him if he was captivated by the only city in the world fitfor a civilized man to live in. He's young and I have no doubt he wantsto sow his wild oats before he settles down to married life. Verynatural and very proper. I'll keep an eye on him. I'll introduce him tothe right people; he has nice manners and with a hint or two from mehe'll be quite presentable; I can guarantee to show him a side of Frenchlife that very few Americans have a chance of seeing. Believe me, mydear fellow, the average American can get into the kingdom of heavenmuch more easily than he can get into the Boulevard St. Germain. He'stwenty and he has charm. I think I could probably arrange a liaison forhim with an older woman. It would form him. I always think there's nobetter education for a young man than to become the lover of a woman ofa certain age and of course, if she is the sort of person I have inview, a femme du monde, you know, it would immediately give him asituation in Paris."

"Did you tell that to Mrs. Bradley?" I asked, smiling.

Elliott chuckled.

"My dear fellow, if there's one thing I pride myself on it's my tact. Idid not tell her. She wouldn't understand, poor dear. It's one of thethings I've never understood about Louisa; though she's lived half herlife in diplomatic society, in half the capitals of the world, she'sremained hopelessly American."

(ix)

That evening I went to dine at a great stone house on Lake Shore Drivewhich looked as though the architect had started to build a medievalcastle and then, changing his mind in the middle, had decided to turn itinto a Swiss chalet. It was a huge party and I was glad when I got intothe vast and sumptuous drawing-room, all statues, palms, chandeliers,old masters, and overstuffed furniture, to see that there were at leasta few people I knew. I was introduced by Henry Maturin to his thin,raddled, frail wife. I said how d'you do to Mrs. Bradley and Isabel.Isabel was looking very pretty in a red silk dress that suited her darkhair and rich hazel eyes. She appeared to be in high spirits and no onecould have guessed that she had so recently gone through a harassingexperience. She was talking gaily to the two or three young men, Grayamong them, who surrounded her. She sat at dinner at another table and Icould not see her, but afterwards, when we men, after lingeringinterminably over our coffee, liqueurs and cigars, returned to thedrawing-room I had a chance to speak to her. I knew her too little tosay anything directly about what Elliott had told me, but I hadsomething to say that I thought she might be glad to hear.

"I saw your young man the other day in the club," I remarked casually.

"Oh, did you?"

She spoke as casually as I had, but I perceived that she was instantlyalert. Her eyes grew watchful and I thought I read in them somethinglike apprehension.

"He was reading in the library. I was very much impressed by his powerof concentration. He was reading when I went in soon after ten, he wasstill reading when I went back after lunch and he was reading when Iwent in again on my way out to dinner. I don't believe he'd moved fromhis chair for the best part of ten hours."

"What was he reading?"

"William James's Principles of Psychology."

She looked down so that I had no means of knowing how what I had saidaffected her, but I had a notion that she was at once puzzled andrelieved. I was at that moment fetched by my host to play bridge and bythe time the game broke up Isabel and her mother had gone.

(x)

A couple of days later I went to say good-bye to Mrs. Bradley andElliott. I found them sitting over a cup of tea. Isabel came in shortlyafter me. We talked about my approaching journey, I thanked them fortheir kindness to me during my stay in Chicago and after a decentinterval got up to go.

"I'll walk with you as far as the drugstore," said Isabel. "I've justremembered there's something I want to get."

The last words Mrs. Bradley said to me were: "You will give my love todear Queen Margherita the next time you see her, won't you?"

I had given up disclaiming any acquaintance with that august lady andanswered glibly that I would be sure to.

When we got into the street Isabel gave me a sidelong smiling glance.

"D'you think you could drink an ice-cream soda?" she asked me.

"I could try," I answered prudently.

Isabel did not speak till we reached the drugstore, and I, havingnothing to say, said nothing. We went in and sat at a table on chairswith twisted wire backs and twisted wire legs. They were veryuncomfortable. I ordered two ice-cream sodas. There were a few people atthe counters buying; two or three couples were seated at other tables,but they were busy with their own concerns; and to all intents andpurposes we were alone. I lit a cigarette and waited while Isabel withevery appearance of satisfaction sucked at a long straw. I had a notionthat she was nervous.

"I wanted to talk to you," she said abruptly.

"I gathered that," I smiled.

For a moment or two she looked at me reflectively.

"Why did you say that about Larry at the Satterthwaites' the nightbefore last?"

"I thought it would interest you. It occurred to me that perhaps youdidn't quite know what his idea of loafing was."

"Uncle Elliott's a terrible gossip. When he said he was going to theBlackstone to have a chat with you I knew he was going to tell you allabout everything."

"I've known him a good many years, you know. He gets a lot of fun out oftalking about other people's business."

"He does," she smiled. But it was only a gleam. She looked at mesteadily and her eyes were serious. "What do you think of Larry?"

"I've only seen him three times. He seems a very nice boy."

"Is that all?"

There was a note of distress in her voice.

"No, not quite. It's hard for me to say; you see, I know him so little.Of course, he's attractive. There's something modest and friendly andgentle in him that is very appealing. He's got a lot of self-possessionfor so young a man. He isn't quite like any of the other boys I've methere."

While I was thus fumblingly trying to put into words an impression thatwas not distinct in my own mind, Isabel looked at me intently. When Ihad finished she gave a little sigh, as if of relief, and then flashed acharming, almost roguish smile at me.

"Uncle Elliott says he's often been surprised at your power ofobservation. He says nothing much escapes you, but that your great assetas a writer is your common sense."

"I can think of a quality that would be more valuable," I answereddryly. "Talent, for instance."

"You know, I have no one to talk this over with. Mamma can only seethings from her own point of view. She wants my future to be assured."

"That's natural, isn't it?"

"And Uncle Elliott only looks at it from the social side. My ownfriends, those of my generation, I mean, think Larry's a washout. Ithurts terribly."

"Of course."

"It's not that they're not nice to him. One can't help being nice toLarry. But they look upon him as a joke. They josh him a lot and itexasperates them that he doesn't seem to care. He only laughs. You knowhow things are at present?"

"I only know what Elliott has told me."

"May I tell you exactly what happened when we went down to Marvin?"

"Of course."

I have reconstructed Isabel's account partly from my recollection ofwhat she then said to me and partly with the help of my imagination. Butit was a long talk that she and Larry had, and I have no doubt that theysaid a great deal more than I now propose to relate. I suspect that aspeople do on these occasions they not only said much that wasirrelevant, but said the same things over and over again.

When Isabel awoke and saw that it was a fine day she gave Larry a ringand, telling him that her mother wanted her to go to Marvin to dosomething for her, asked him to drive her down. She took the precautionto add a thermos of martinis to the thermos of coffee her mother hadtold Eugene to put in the basket. Larry's roadster was a recentacquisition and he was proud of it. He was a fast driver and the speedat which he went exhilarated them both. When they arrived, Isabel, withLarry to write down the figures, measured the curtains that were to bereplaced. Then they set out the luncheon on the stoop. It was shelteredfrom any wind there was and the sun of the Indian summer was good tobask in. The house, on a dirt road, had none of the elegance of the oldframe houses of New England and the best you could say of it was that itwas roomy and comfortable, but from the stoop you had a pleasing view ofa great red barn with a black roof, a clump of old trees and beyondthem, as far as the eye could reach, brown fields. It was a dulllandscape, but the sunshine and the glowing tints of the waning yeargave it that day an intimate loveliness. There was an exhilaration inthe great space that was spread before you. Cold, bleak and dreary as itmust have been in winter, dry, sunbaked and oppressive as it may havebeen in the dog days, just then it was strangely exciting, for thevastness of the view invited the soul to adventure.

They enjoyed their lunch like the healthy young things they were andthey were happy to be together. Isabel poured out the coffee and Larrylit his pipe.

"Now go right ahead, darling," he said, with an amused smile in hiseyes.

Isabel was taken aback.

"Go right ahead about what?" she asked with as innocent a look as shecould assume.

He chuckled.

"Do you take me for a perfect fool, honey? If your mother didn't knowperfectly well the measurements of the living-room windows I'll eat myhat. That isn't why you asked me to drive you down here."

Recovering her self-assurance, she gave him a brilliant smile.

"It might be that I thought it would be nice if we spent a day togetherby ourselves."

"It might be, but I don't think it is. My guess is that Uncle Elliotthas told you that I've turned down Henry Maturin's offer."

He spoke gaily and lightly and she found it convenient to continue inthe same tone.

"Gray must be terribly disappointed. He thought it would be grand tohave you in the office. You must get down to work sometime and thelonger you leave it the harder it'll be."

He puffed at his pipe and looked at her, tenderly smiling, so that shecould not tell if he was serious or not.

"Do you know, I've got an idea that I want to do more with my life thansell bonds."

"All right then. Go into a law office or study medicine."

"No, I don't want to do that either."

"What do you want to do then?"

"Loaf," he replied calmly.

"Oh, Larry, don't be funny. This is desperately serious."

Her voice quivered and her eyes filled with tears.

"Don't cry, darling. I don't want to make you miserable."

He went and sat down beside her and put his arm around her. There was atenderness in his voice that broke her and she could no longer hold backher tears. But she dried her eyes and forced a smile to her lips.

"It's all very fine to say you don't want to make me miserable. You aremaking me miserable. You see, I love you."

"I love you too, Isabel."

She sighed deeply. Then she disengaged herself from his arm and drewaway from him.

"Let's be sensible. A man must work, Larry. It's a matter ofself-respect. This is a young country and it's a man's duty to take partin its activities. Henry Maturin was saying only the other day that wewere beginning an era that would make the achievements of the past looklike two bits. He said he could see no limit to our progress and he'sconvinced that by 1930 we shall be the richest and greatest country inthe world. Don't you think that's terribly exciting?"

"Terribly."

"There's never been such a chance for a young man. I should have thoughtyou'd be proud to take part in the work that lies before us. It's such awonderful adventure."

He laughed lightly.

"I daresay you're right. The Armours and the Swifts will pack more andbetter meat, the McCormicks will make more and better harvesters, andHenry Ford will turn out more and better cars. And everyone'll getricher and richer."

"And why not?"

"As you say, and why not? Money just doesn't happen to interest me."

Isabel giggled.

"Darling, don't talk like a fool. One can't live without money."

"I have a little. That's what gives me the chance to do what I want."

"Loaf?"

"Yes," he answered, smiling.

"You're making it so difficult for me, Larry," she sighed.

"I'm sorry. I wouldn't if I could help it."

"You can help it."

He shook his head. He was silent for a while, lost in thought. When atlast he spoke it was to say something that startled her.

"The dead look so terribly dead when they're dead."

"What do you mean exactly?" she asked, troubled.

"Just that." He gave her a rueful smile. "You have a lot of time tothink when you're up in the air by yourself. You get odd ideas."

"What sort of ideas?"

"Vague," he said, smiling. "Incoherent. Confused."

Isabel thought this over for a while.

"Don't you think if you took a job they might sort themselves out andyou'd know where you were?"

"I've thought of that. I had a notion that I might go to work with acarpenter or in a garage."

"Oh, Larry, people would think you were crazy."

"Would that matter?"

"To me, yes."

Once more silence fell upon them. It was she who broke it. She sighed.

"You're so different from what you were before you went out to France."

"That's not strange. A lot happened to me then, you know."

"Such as?"

"Oh, just the ordinary casual run of events. My greatest friend in theair corps was killed saving my life. I didn't find that easy to getover."

"Tell me, Larry."

He looked at her with deep distress in his eyes.

"I'd rather not talk about it. After all, it was only a trivialincident."

Emotional by nature, Isabel's eyes again filled with tears.

"Are you unhappy, darling?"

"No," he answered, smiling. "The only thing that makes me unhappy isthat I'm making you unhappy." He took her hand and there was somethingso friendly in the feel of his strong firm hand against hers, somethingso intimately affectionate, that she had to bite her lips to preventherself from crying. "I don't think I shall ever find peace till I makeup my mind about things," he said gravely. He hesitated. "It's verydifficult to put into words. The moment you try you feel embarrassed.You say to yourself: 'Who am I that I should bother my head about this,that and the other? Perhaps it is only because I'm a conceited prig.Wouldn't it be better to follow the beaten track and let what's comingto you come?' And then you think of a fellow who an hour before was fullof life and fun, and he's lying dead; it's all so cruel and someaningless. It's hard not to ask yourself what life is all about andwhether there's any sense to it or whether it's all a tragic blunder ofblind fate."

It was impossible not to be moved when Larry, with that wonderfullymelodious voice of his, spoke, haltingly as though he forced himself tosay what he would sooner have left unsaid and yet with such an anguishedsincerity; and for a while Isabel did not trust herself to speak.

"Would it help you if you went away for a bit?"

She put the question with a sinking heart. He took a long time toanswer.

"I think so. You try to be indifferent to public opinion, but it's noteasy. When it's antagonistic it arouses antagonism in you and thatdisturbs you."

"Why don't you go then?"

"Well, on account of you."

"Let's be frank with one another, darling. There's no place for me inyour life just now."

"Does that mean you don't want to be engaged to me any more?"

She forced a smile to her trembling lips.

"No, foolish, it means I'm prepared to wait."

"It may be a year. It may be two."

"That's all right. It may be less. Where d'you want to go?"

He looked at her intently as though he were trying to see into herinmost heart. She smiled lightly to hide her deep distress.

"Well, I thought I'd start by going to Paris. I know no one there.There'd be no one to interfere with me. I went to Paris several times onleave. I don't know why, but I've got it into my head that thereeverything that's muddled in my mind would grow clear. It's a funnyplace, it gives you the feeling that there you can think out yourthoughts to the end. I think there I may be able to see my way beforeme."

"And what's to happen if you don't?"

He chuckled.

"Then I shall fall back on my good American horse sense, give it up as abad job and come back to Chicago and take any work I can get."

****

The scene had affected Isabel too much for her to be able to tell it tome without getting somewhat emotional, and when she finished she lookedat me pitifully.

"Do you think I did right?"

"I think you did the only thing you could do, but what's more I thinkyou've been wonderfully kind, generous and understanding."

"I love him and I want him to be happy. And you know, in a way I'm notsorry he should go. I want him to be out of this hostile atmosphere, andthat not only for his sake, but for mine too. I can't blame people whenthey say he'll never amount to anything; I hate them for it, and yet allthe time deep down in me I have an awful fear that they're right. Butdon't say I'm understanding. I don't begin to understand what he'safter."

"Perhaps you understand with your heart rather than with your reason," Ismiled. "Why don't you marry him right away and go off to Paris withhim?"

The shadow of a smile came into her eyes.

"There's nothing I'd like to do more. But I couldn't. And you know,though I hate to acknowledge it, I do really think he's better offwithout me. If Dr. Nelson is right and he's suffering from delayed shocksurely new surroundings and new interests will cure him, and when he'sgot his balance again he'll come back to Chicago and go into businesslike everybody else. I wouldn't want to marry an idler."

Isabel had been brought up in a certain way and she accepted theprinciples that had been instilled into her. She did not think of money,because she had never known what it was not to have all she needed, butshe was instinctively aware of its importance. It meant power, influenceand social consequence. It was the natural and obvious thing that a manshould earn it. That was his plain life's work.

"It doesn't surprise me that you don't understand Larry," I said,"because I'm pretty sure he doesn't understand himself. If he's reticentabout his aims it may be that it's because they're obscure to him. Mindyou, I hardly know him and this is only guesswork: isn't it possiblethat he's looking for something, but what it is he doesn't know, andperhaps he isn't even sure it's there? Perhaps whatever it is thathappened to him during the war has left him with a restlessness thatwon't let him be. Don't you think he may be pursuing an ideal that ishidden in a cloud of unknowing--like an astronomer looking for a starthat only a mathematical calculation tells him exists?"

"I feel that something's troubling him."

"His soul? It may be that he's a little frightened of himself. It may bethat he has no confidence in the authenticity of the vision that hedimly perceives in his mind's eye."

"He gives me such an odd impression sometimes; he gives me theimpression of a sleep-walker who's suddenly wakened in a strange placeand can't think where he is. He was so normal before the war. One of thenice things about him was his enormous zest for life. He was soscatter-brained and gay, it was wonderful to be with him; he was sosweet and ridiculous. What can have happened to change him so much?"

"I wouldn't know. Sometimes a very small thing will have an effect onyou out of all proportion to the event. It depends on the circ*mstancesand your mood at the time. I remember going to mass on All Saints' Day,which the French called the Day of the Dead, in a village church thatthe Germans had knocked about a bit on their first advance into France.It was filled with soldiers and with women in black. In the graveyardwere rows of little wooden crosses and as the sad, solemn service wenton, and women wept and men too, I had a feeling that perhaps those menwho lay under the little crosses were better off than we who lived. Itold a friend what I felt and he asked me what I meant. I couldn'texplain and I saw that he thought me a perfect damned fool. And Iremember after a battle seeing a pile of dead French soldiers heapedupon one another. They looked like the marionettes in a bankrupt puppetshow that had been cast pell-mell into a dusty corner because they wereof no use any more. I thought then just what Larry said to you: the deadlook so awfully dead."

I do not want the reader to think I am making a mystery of whatever itwas that happened to Larry during the war that so profoundly affectedhim, a mystery that I shall disclose at a convenient moment. I don'tthink he ever told anybody. He did, however, many years later tell awoman, Suzanne Rouvier, whom Larry and I both knew, about the youngairman who had met his death saving his life. She repeated it to me andso I can only relate it at second hand. I have translated it from herFrench. Larry had apparently struck up a great friendship with anotherboy in his squadron. Suzanne knew him only by the ironical nickname bywhich Larry spoke of him.

"He was a little chap with red hair, an Irishman. We used to call himPatsy," Larry said, "and he had more vitality than anyone I've everknown. Gosh, he was a live wire. He had a funny face and a funny grin,so that it made you laugh just to look at him. He was a harum-scarumdevil and he'd do the craziest things; he was always getting hell fromthe higher-ups. He was absolutely without fear and when he'd escapeddeath by a hair's breadth he'd grin all over his face as if it was thebest joke in the world. But he was a natural-born flyer and up in theair he was cool and wary. He taught me a lot. He was a bit older than meand he took me under his wing; it was rather comic really, because I wasa good six inches taller than he was and if it had come to a scrap Icould have knocked him out cold. Once in Paris when he was drunk and Iwas afraid he was going to get into trouble I did.

"I felt a bit out of it when I joined the squadron and I was afraid Iwouldn't make good, and he just joshed me into having confidence inmyself. He was funny about the war, he had no feeling of hatred for theJerries; he loved a scrap and to fight them tickled him to death. Hesimply couldn't look upon bringing down one of their planes as anythingbut a practical joke. He was impudent and wild and irresponsible, butthere was something so genuine about him that you couldn't help likinghim. He'd give you his last penny as freely as he'd take yours. And ifyou were lonely or homesick or scared, and I was sometimes, he'd see itand with his ugly little face puckered up with laughter he'd say justthe right thing to make you feel all right again."

Larry puffed at his pipe and Suzanne waited for him to go on.

"We used to wangle it so that we could get our leave together, and whenwe went to Paris he went wild. We had a grand time. We were due for aspot of leave early in March, in 'eighteen that was, and we made ourplans beforehand. There wasn't a thing we weren't going to do. The daybefore we were to go we were sent up to fly over the enemy lines andbring back reports of what we saw. Suddenly we came bang up against someGerman planes, and before we knew where we were we were in the middle ofa dogfight. One of them came after me, but I got in first. I took a lookto see if he was going to crash and then out of the corner of my eye Isaw another plane on my tail. I dived to get away from him, but he wason to me like a flash and I thought I was done for; then I saw Patsycome down on him like a streak of lightning and give him all he'd got.They'd had enough and sheered off and we made for home. My machine hadgot pretty well knocked about and I only just made it. Patsy got inbefore me. When I got out of my plane they'd just got him out of his. Hewas lying on the ground and they were waiting for the ambulance to comeup. When he saw me he grinned.

"'I got that blighter who was on your tail,' he said.

"'What's the matter, Patsy?' I asked.

"'Oh, it's nothing. He winged me.'

"He was looking deathly white. Suddenly a strange look came over hisface. It had just come to him that he was dying, and the possibility ofdeath had never so much as crossed his mind. Before they could stop himhe sat up and gave a laugh.

"'Well, I'm jiggered,' he said.

"He fell back dead. He was twenty-two. He was going to marry a girl inIreland after the war."

****

The day after my talk with Isabel I left Chicago for San Francisco,where I was to take ship for the Far East.


Chapter Two

(i)

I did not see Elliott till he came to London towards the end of June ofthe following year. I asked him whether Larry had after all gone toParis. He had. I was faintly amused at Elliott's exasperation with him.

"I had a kind of sneaking sympathy for the boy. I couldn't blame him forwanting to spend a couple of years in Paris and I was prepared to launchhim. I told him to let me know the moment he arrived, but it was onlywhen Louisa wrote and told me he was there that I knew he'd come. Iwrote to him care of the American Express, which was the address shegave me, and asked him to come and dine to meet some of the people Ithought he ought to know; I thought I'd try him out first with theFranco-American set, Emily de Montadour and Gracie de Château-Gaillardand so on, and d'you know what he answered? He said he was sorry hecouldn't come, but he hadn't brought any evening clothes with him."

Elliott looked me full in the face to see the stupefaction with which heexpected this communication to fill me. He raised a supercilious eyebrowwhen he observed that I took it with calm.

"He replied to my letter on a sheet of nasty paper with the heading of acafé in the Latin Quarter and when I wrote back I asked him to let meknow where he was staying. I felt I must do something about him forIsabel's sake, and I thought perhaps he was shy--I mean I couldn'tbelieve that any young fellow in his senses could come to Paris withoutevening clothes, and in any case there are tolerable tailors there, so Iasked him to lunch and said it would be quite a small party, and wouldyou believe it, not only did he ignore my request to give me some otheraddress than the American Express, but he said he never ate luncheon.That finished him as far as I was concerned."

"I wonder what he's been doing with himself."

"I don't know, and to tell you the truth I don't care. I'm afraid he's athoroughly undesirable young man and I think it would be a great mistakefor Isabel to marry him. After all, if he led a normal sort of life I'dhave run across him at the Ritz bar or at Fouquet's or somewhere."

I go sometimes to these fashionable places myself, but I go to othersalso, and it happened that I spent several days in Paris early in theautumn of that year on my way to Marseilles, where I was proposing totake one of the Messagerie ships for Singapore. I dined one evening withfriends in Montparnasse and after dinner we went to the Dôme to drink aglass of beer. Presently my wandering eye caught sight of Larry sittingby himself at a little marble-topped table on the crowded terrace. Hewas looking idly at the people who strolled up and down enjoying thecoolness of the night after a sultry day. I left my party and went up tohim. His face lit up when he saw me and he gave me an engaging smile. Heasked me to sit down, but I said I couldn't as I was with a party.

"I just wanted to say how d'you do to you," I said.

"Are you staying here?" he asked.

"Only for a very few days."

"Will you lunch with me tomorrow?"

"I thought you never lunched."

He chuckled.

"You've seen Elliott. I don't generally, I can't afford the time, I justhave a glass of milk and a brioche, but I'd like you to lunch with me."

"All right."

We arranged to meet at the Dôme next day to have an apéritif and eat atsome place on the boulevard. I rejoined my friends. We sat on talking.When next I looked for Larry he had gone.

(ii)

I spent the next morning very pleasantly. I went to the Luxembourg andpassed an hour looking at some pictures I liked. Then I strolled in thegardens, recapturing the memories of my youth. Nothing had changed. Theymight have been the same students who walked along the gravel paths inpairs, eagerly discussing the writers who excited them. They might havebeen the same children who trundled the same hoops under the watchfuleyes of the same nurses. They might have been the same old men whobasked in the sunshine reading the morning paper. They might have beenthe same middle-aged women in mourning who sat on the free benches andgossiped with one another about the price of food and the misdeeds ofservants. Then I went to the Odéon and looked at the new books in thegalleries and I saw the lads who like myself thirty years before weretrying under the petulant eyes of the smock-frocked attendants to readas much as they could of books they could not afford to buy. Then Istrolled leisurely along those dear, dingy streets till I came to theBoulevard du Montparnasse and so to the Dôme. Larry was waiting. We hada drink and walked along to a restaurant where we could lunch in theopen air.

He was perhaps a little paler than I remembered him and this made hisvery dark eyes, in their deep orbits, more striking; but he had the sameself-possession, curious in one so young, and the same ingenuous smile.When he ordered his lunch I noticed that he spoke French fluently andwith a good accent. I congratulated him on it.

"I knew a certain amount of French before, you know," he explained,"Aunt Louisa had a French governess for Isabel, and when they were atMarvin she used to make us talk French with her all the time."

I asked him how he liked Paris.

"Very much."

"D'you live in Montparnasse?"

"Yes," he said, after a moment's hesitation which I interpreted into adisinclination to tell exactly where he lived.

"Elliott was rather put out that the only address you gave was theAmerican Express."

Larry smiled but did not answer.

"What do you do with yourself all the time?"

"I loaf."

"And you read?"

"Yes, I read."

"Do you ever hear from Isabel?"

"Sometimes. We're neither of us great letter writers. She's having agrand time in Chicago. They're coming over next year to stay withElliott."

"That'll be nice for you."

"I don't believe Isabel's ever been to Paris. It'll be fun taking heraround."

He was curious to know about my journey in China and listenedattentively to what I told him; but when I tried to get him to talkabout himself, I failed. He was so uncommunicative that I was forced tothe conclusion that he had asked me to lunch with him merely to enjoy mycompany. I was pleased, but baffled. We had no sooner finished ourcoffee than he called for the bill, paid it and got up.

"Well, I must be off," he said.

We parted. I knew no more of what he was up to than before. I did notsee him again.

(iii)

I was not in Paris in the spring when, sooner than they had planned,Mrs. Bradley and Isabel arrived to stay with Elliott; and again I haveto eke out my knowledge of what passed during the few weeks they spentthere by the exercise of my imagination. They landed at Cherbourg andElliott, always considerate, went to meet them. They passed through thecustoms. The train started. Elliott with some complacency told them thathe had engaged a very good lady's maid to look after them and when Mrs.Bradley said that was quite unnecessary, since they didn't need one, hewas very sharp with her.

"Don't be tiresome the moment you arrive, Louisa. No one can be wellturned out without a maid, and I've engaged Antoinette not only for yoursake and Isabel's, but for mine. It would mortify me that you shouldn'tbe perfectly dressed."

He gave the clothes they were wearing a disparaging glance.

"Of course you'll want to buy some new frocks. On mature considerationI've come to the conclusion that you can't do better than Chanel."

"I always used to go to Worth," said Mrs. Bradley.

She might as well not have spoken, for he took no notice.

"I've talked to Chanel myself and I've made an appointment for youtomorrow at three. Then there are hats. Obviously Reboux."

"I don't want to spend a lot of money, Elliott."

"I know. I am proposing to pay for everything myself. I'm determinedthat you shall be a credit to me. Oh, and Louisa, I've arranged severalparties for you and I've told my French friends that Myron was anambassador, which, of course, he would have been if he'd lived a littlelonger, and it makes a better effect. I don't suppose it'll come up, butI thought I'd better warn you."

"You're ridiculous, Elliott."

"No, I'm not. I know the world. I know that the widow of an ambassadorhas more prestige than the widow of a minister."

As the train steamed into the Gare du Nord, Isabel, who was standing atthe window, called out:

"There's Larry."

It had hardly stopped when she sprang out and ran to meet him. He threwhis arms round her.

"How did he know you were coming?" Elliott asked his sister acidly.

"Isabel wirelessed him from the ship."

Mrs. Bradley kissed him affectionately, and Elliott gave him a limp handto shake. It was ten o'clock at night.

"Uncle Elliott, can Larry come to lunch tomorrow?" cried Isabel, her armin the young man's, her face eager and her eyes shining.

"I should be charmed, but Larry has given me to understand that hedoesn't eat lunch."

"He will tomorrow, won't you, Larry?"

"I will," he smiled.

"I shall look forward to seeing you at one o'clock then."

He stretched out his hand once more, intending to dismiss him, but Larrygrinned at him impudently.

"I'll help with the luggage and get a cab for you."

"My car is waiting and my man will see to the luggage," said Elliottwith dignity.

"That's fine. Then all we've got to do is to go. If there's room for meI'll come as far as your door with you."

"Yes, do, Larry," said Isabel.

They walked down the platform together, followed by Mrs. Bradley andElliott. Elliott's face bore a look of frigid disapproval.

"Quelles manières," he said to himself, for in certain circ*mstanceshe felt he could express his sentiments more forcibly in French.

Next morning at eleven, having finished dressing, for he was not anearly riser, he sent a note to his sister, via his man Joseph and hermaid Antoinette, to ask her to come to the library so that they couldhave a talk. When she appeared he closed the door carefully and, puttinga cigarette into an immensely long agate holder, lit it and sat down.

"Am I to understand that Isabel and Larry are still engaged?" he asked.

"So far as I know."

"I'm afraid I haven't a very good account to give you of the young man."He told her then how he had been prepared to launch him in society andthe plans he had made to establish him in a fit and proper manner. "Ieven had my eye on a rez-de-chaussée that would have been the verything for him. It belongs to the young Marquis de Rethel and he wantedto sublet it because he'd been appointed to the embassy at Madrid."

But Larry had refused his invitations in a manner that made it quiteclear that he did not want his help.

"What the object of coming to Paris is if you're not going to takeadvantage of what Paris has to give you is beyond my comprehension. Idon't know what he does with himself. He doesn't seem to know anybody.Do you know where he lives?"

"The only address we've ever had is the American Express."

"Like a travelling salesman or a school teacher on vacation. I shouldn'tbe surprised if he was living with some little trollop in a studio inMontmartre."

"Oh, Elliott."

"What other explanation can there be for the mystery he's making of hisdwelling place and for his refusal to consort with people of his ownclass?"

"It doesn't sound like Larry. And last night, didn't you get theimpression that he was just as much in love with Isabel as ever? Hecouldn't be so false."

Elliott by a shrug of the shoulders gave her to understand that therewas no limit to the duplicity of men.

"What about Gray Maturin? Is he still in the picture?"

"He'd marry Isabel tomorrow if she'd have him."

Mrs. Bradley told him then why they had come to Europe sooner than theyhad at first intended. She had found herself in ill-health, and thedoctors had informed her that she was suffering from diabetes. It wasnot serious and by attention to her diet and taking moderate doses ofinsulin there was no reason why she should not live for a good manyyears, but the knowledge that she had an incurable disease made heranxious to see Isabel settled. They had talked the matter over. Isabelwas sensible. She had agreed that if Larry refused to come back toChicago at the end of the two years in Paris they had agreed upon andget a job, there was only one thing to do and that was to break withhim. But it offended Mrs. Bradley's sense of personal dignity that theyshould wait till the appointed time and then come to fetch him, like afugitive from justice, back to his own country. She felt that Isabelwould put herself in a humiliating position. But it was very naturalthat they should spend the summer in Europe, which Isabel had not beento since she was a child. After their visit in Paris they could go tosome watering place suitable to Mrs. Bradley's complaint, then on to theAustrian Tyrol for a while and from there travel slowly through Italy.Mrs. Bradley's intention was to ask Larry to accompany them, so that heand Isabel could see whether the long separation had left their feelingsunchanged. It would be manifest in due course whether Larry, having hadhis fling, was prepared to accept the responsibilities of life.

"Henry Maturin was sore with him for turning down the position heoffered him, but Gray has talked him round, and he can go into thebusiness the moment he comes back to Chicago."

"Gray's a very nice fellow."

"He certainly is." Mrs. Bradley sighed. "I know he'd make Isabel happy."

Elliott then told her what parties he had arranged for them. He wasgiving a big luncheon on the following day and at the end of the week agrand dinner party. He was taking them to a reception at theChâteau-Gaillards' and he had got cards for them to a ball that theRothschilds were giving.

"You'll ask Larry, won't you?"

"He tells me he hasn't any evening clothes," Elliott sniffed.

"Well, ask him all the same. After all, he is a nice boy, and itwouldn't help to give him the cold shoulder. It would only make Isabelobstinate."

"Of course I'll ask him if you wish it."

Larry came to lunch at the appointed time, and Elliott, whose mannerswere admirable, was pointedly cordial to him. It was not difficult,since Larry was so gay, in such high spirits that it would have needed amuch more ill-natured man than Elliott not to be charmed with him. Theconversation dealt with Chicago and their common friends there, so thatthere was not much for Elliott to do other than to look amiable andpretend to be interested in the concerns of persons whom he thought ofno social consequence. He did not mind listening; indeed, he thought itrather touching to hear them tell of this young couple's engagement,that young couple's marriage, and another young couple's divorce. Whohad ever heard of them? He knew that that pretty little Marquise deClinchant had tried to poison herself because her lover, the Prince deColombey, had left her to marry the daughter of a South Americanmillionaire. That was something to talk about. Looking at Larry, hewas obliged to admit that there was something peculiarly attractive inhim; with his deep-set, strangely black eyes, his high cheekbones, paleskin and mobile mouth he reminded Elliott of a portrait by Botticelli,and it occurred to him that if he were dressed in the costume of theperiod he would look extravagantly romantic. He remembered his notion ofgetting him off with a distinguished Frenchwoman and he smiled slyly onreflecting that he was expecting at dinner on Saturday Marie Louise deFlorimond, who combined irreproachable connections with notoriousimmorality. She was forty, but looked ten years younger; she had thedelicate beauty of her ancestress painted by Nattier which, owing toElliott himself, now hung in one of the great American collections; andher sexual voracity was insatiable. Elliott decided to put Larry next toher. He knew she would waste no time in making her desires clear to him.He had already invited a young attaché at the British Embassy whom hethought Isabel might like. Isabel was very pretty, and as he was anEnglishman, and well off, it wouldn't matter that she had no fortune.Mellowed by the excellent Montrachet with which they had started lunchand by the fine Bordeaux that followed, Elliott thought with tranquilpleasure of the possibilities that presented themselves to his mind. Ifthings turned out as he thought they very well might, dear Louisa wouldhave no more cause for anxiety. She had always slightly disapproved ofhim; poor dear, she was very provincial; but he was fond of her. Itwould be a satisfaction to him to arrange everything for her by help ofhis knowledge of the world.

To waste no time, Elliott had arranged to take his ladies to look atclothes immediately after lunch, so as they got up from table heintimated to Larry with the tact of which he was a master that he mustmake himself scarce, but at the same time he asked him with pressingaffability to come to the two grand parties he had arranged. He needhardly have taken so much trouble, since Larry accepted both invitationswith alacrity.

But Elliott's plan failed. He was relieved when Larry appeared at thedinner party in a very presentable dinner jacket, for he had been alittle nervous that he would wear the same blue suit that he had worn atlunch; and after dinner, getting Marie Louise de Florimond into acorner, he asked her how she had liked his young American friend.

"He has nice eyes and good teeth."

"Is that all? I put him beside you because I thought he was just yourcup of tea."

She looked at him suspiciously.

"He told me he was engaged to your pretty niece."

"Voyons, ma chère, the fact that a man belongs to another woman hasnever prevented you from taking him away from her if you could."

"Is that what you want me to do? Well, I'm not going to do your dirtywork for you, my poor Elliott."

Elliott chuckled.

"The meaning of that, I presume, is that you tried your stuff and foundthere was nothing doing."

"Why I like you, Elliott, is that you have the morals of a bawdy-housekeeper. You don't want him to marry your niece. Why not? He is well bredand quite charming. But he's really too innocent. I don't think he hadthe least suspicion of what I meant."

"You should have been more explicit, dear friend."

"I have enough experience to know when I'm wasting my time. The fact isthat he has eyes only for your little Isabel, and between you and me,she has twenty years advantage over me. And she's sweet."

"Do you like her dress? I chose it for her myself."

"It's pretty and it's suitable. But of course she has no chic."

Elliott took this as a reflection on himself, and he was not prepared tolet Madame de Florimond get away without a dig. He smiled genially.

"One has to have reached your ripe maturity to have your chic, dearfriend," he said.

Madame de Florimond wielded a bludgeon rather than a rapier. Her retortmade Elliott's Virginian blood boil.

"But I'm sure that in your fair land of gangsters [vôtre beau paysd'apaches] they will hardly miss something that is so subtle and soinimitable."

But if Madame de Florimond carped, the rest of Elliott's friends weredelighted both with Isabel and with Larry. They liked her freshprettiness, her abounding health and her vitality; they liked hispicturesque appearance, his good manners and his quiet, ironic humour.Both had the advantage of speaking good and fluent French. Mrs. Bradley,after living so many years in diplomatic circles, spoke it correctlyenough but with an unabashed American accent. Elliott entertained themlavishly. Isabel, pleased with her new clothes and her new hats, amusedby all the gaiety Elliott provided and happy to be with Larry, thoughtshe had never enjoyed herself so much.

(iv)

Elliott was of opinion that breakfast was a meal that you should shareonly with total strangers, and then only if there was no help for it, soMrs. Bradley, somewhat against her will, and Isabel, far fromdispleased, were obliged to have theirs in their bedrooms. But Isabel,when she awoke, sometimes told Antoinette, the grand maid Elliott hadengaged for them, to take her café au lait into her mother's room sothat she could talk to her while she had it. In the busy life she led itwas the only moment of the day in which she could be alone with her. Onesuch morning, when they had been in Paris nearly a month, after Isabelhad done narrating the events of the previous night, most of which sheand Larry had spent going the round of the night clubs with a party offriends, Mrs. Bradley let fall the question she had had in mind to askever since their arrival.

"When is he coming back to Chicago?"

"I don't know. He hasn't spoken of it."

"Haven't you asked him?"

"No."

"Are you scared to?"

"No, of course not."

Mrs. Bradley, lying on a chaise longue, in a modish dressing-gown thatElliott had insisted on giving her, was polishing her nails.

"What do you talk about all the time when you're alone?"

"We don't talk all the time. It's nice to be together. You know, Larrywas always rather silent. When we talk I think I do most of thetalking."

"What has he been doing with himself?"

"I don't really know. I don't think anything very much. I suppose he'sbeen having a good time."

"And where is he living?"

"I don't know that either."

"He seems very reticent, doesn't he?"

Isabel lit a cigarette and, as she blew a cloud of smoke from hernostrils, looked coolly at her mother.

"What exactly do you mean by that, Mamma?"

"Your uncle Elliott thinks he has an apartment and is living there witha woman."

Isabel burst out laughing.

"You don't believe that, do you?"

"No, I honestly don't." Mrs. Bradley looked reflectively at her nails."Don't you ever talk to him about Chicago?"

"Yes, a lot."

"Hasn't he given any sort of indication that he intends to come back?"

"I can't say he has."

"He will have been gone two years next October."

"I know."

"Well, it's your business, dear, and you must do what you think right.But things don't get any easier by putting them off." She glanced at herdaughter, but Isabel would not meet her eyes. Mrs. Bradley gave her anaffectionate smile. "If you don't want to be late for lunch you'd bettergo and have your bath."

"I'm lunching with Larry. We're going to some place in the LatinQuarter."

"Enjoy yourself."

An hour later Larry came to fetch her. They took a cab to the Pont St.Michel and sauntered up the crowded boulevard till they came to a caféthey liked the look of. They sat down on the terrace and ordered acouple of Dubonnets. Then they took another cab and went to arestaurant. Isabel had a healthy appetite and she enjoyed the goodthings Larry ordered for her. She enjoyed looking at the people sittingcheek by jowl with them, for the place was packed, and it made her laughto see the intense pleasure they so obviously took in their food; butshe enjoyed above all sitting at a tiny table alone with Larry. Sheloved the amusem*nt in his eyes while she chattered away gaily. It wasenchanting to feel so much at home with him. But at the back of her mindwas a vague disquiet, for though he seemed very much at home too, shefelt it was not so much with her as with the surroundings. She had beenfaintly disturbed by what her mother had said, and though seeming toprattle so guilelessly she observed his every expression. He was notquite the same as when he had left Chicago, but she couldn't tell inwhat the difference lay. He looked exactly as she remembered him, asyoung, as frank, but his expression was changed. It was not that he wasmore serious, his face in repose had always been serious, it had acalmness that was new to her; it was as though he had settled somethingwith himself and were at ease in a way he had never been before.

When they had finished lunch he suggested that they should take a strollthrough the Luxembourg.

"No, I don't want to go and look at pictures."

"All right then, let's go and sit in the gardens."

"No, I don't want to do that either. I want to go and see where youlive."

"There's nothing to see. I live in a scrubby little room in a hotel."

"Uncle Elliott says you've got an apartment and are living in sin withan artist's model."

"Come on then and see for yourself," he laughed. "It's only a step fromhere. We can walk."

He took her through narrow, tortuous streets, dingy notwithstanding thestreak of blue sky that showed between the high houses, and after awhile stopped at a small hotel with a pretentious façade.

"Here we are."

Isabel followed him into a narrow hall, on one side of which was a deskand behind it a man in shirt sleeves, with a waistcoat in thin black andyellow stripes and a dirty apron, reading a paper. Larry asked for hiskey, and the man handed it to him from the rack immediately behind him.He gave Isabel an inquisitive glance that turned into a knowing smirk.It was clear that he thought she was going to Larry's room for no honestpurpose.

They climbed up two flights of stairs, on which was a threadbare redcarpet, and Larry unlocked his door. Isabel entered a smallish room withtwo windows. They looked out on the gray apartment house opposite, onthe ground floor of which was a stationer's shop. There was a single bedin the room, with a night table beside it, a heavy wardrobe with a largemirror, an upholstered but straight-backed armchair and a table betweenthe windows on which were a typewriter, papers and a number of books.The chimney piece was piled with paper-bound volumes.

"You sit in the armchair. It's not very comfortable, but it's the best Ican offer."

He drew up another chair and sat down.

"Is this where you live?" asked Isabel.

He chuckled at the look on her face.

"It is. I've been here ever since I came to Paris."

"But why?"

"It's convenient. It's near the Bibliothèque Nationale and theSorbonne." He pointed to a door she had not noticed. "It's got abathroom. I can get breakfast here and I generally dine at thatrestaurant where we had lunch."

"It's awfully sordid."

"Oh no, it's all right. It's all I want."

"But what sort of people live here?"

"Oh, I don't know. Up in the attics a few students. Two or three oldbachelors in government offices and a retired actress at the Odéon; theonly other room with a bath is occupied by a kept woman whose gentlemanfriend comes to see her every other Thursday; I suppose a fewtransients. It's a very quiet and respectable place."

Isabel was a trifle disconcerted and because she knew Larry noticed itand was amused she was half inclined to take offence.

"What's that great big book on the table?" she asked.

"That? Oh, that's my Greek dictionary."

"Your what?" she cried.

"It's all right. It won't bite you."

"Are you learning Greek?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"I thought I'd like to."

He was looking at her with a smile in his eyes and she smiled back athim.

"Don't you think you might tell me what you've been up to all the timeyou've been in Paris?"

"I've been reading a good deal. Eight or ten hours a day. I've attendedlectures at the Sorbonne. I think I've read everything that's importantin French literature and I can read Latin, at least Latin prose, almostas fluently as I can read French. Of course Greek's more difficult. ButI have a very good teacher. Until you came here I used to go to himthree evenings a week."

"And what is that going to lead to?"

"The acquisition of knowledge," he smiled.

"It doesn't sound very practical."

"Perhaps it isn't and on the other hand perhaps it is. But it's enormousfun. You can't imagine what a thrill it is to read the Odyssey in theoriginal. It makes you feel as if you only had to get on tiptoe andstretch out your hands to touch the stars."

He got up from his chair, as though impelled by an excitement thatseized him, and walked up and down the small room.

"I've been reading Spinoza the last month or two. I don't suppose Iunderstand very much of it yet, but it fills me with exultation. It'slike landing from your plane on a great plateau in the mountains.Solitude, and an air so pure that it goes to your head like wine and youfeel like a million dollars."

"When are you coming back to Chicago?"

"Chicago? I don't know. I haven't thought of it."

"You said that if you hadn't got what you wanted after two years you'dgive it up as a bad job."

"I couldn't go back now. I'm on the threshold. I see vast lands of thespirit stretching out before me, beckoning, and I'm eager to travelthem."

"What do you expect to find in them?"

"The answers to my questions." He gave her a glance that was almostplayful, so that except that she knew him so well, she might havethought he was speaking in jest. "I want to make up my mind whether Godis or God is not. I want to find out why evil exists. I want to knowwhether I have an immortal soul or whether when I die it is the end."

Isabel gave a little gasp. It made her uncomfortable to hear Larry saysuch things, and she was thankful that he spoke so lightly, in the toneof ordinary conversation, that it was possible for her to overcome herembarrassment.

"But Larry," she smiled, "people have been asking those questions forthousands of years. If they could be answered, surely they'd have beenanswered by now."

Larry chuckled.

"Don't laugh as if I'd said something idiotic," she said sharply.

"On the contrary I think you've said something shrewd. But on the otherhand you might say that if men have been asking them for thousands ofyears it proves that they can't help asking them and have to go onasking them. Besides, it's not true that no one has found the answers.There are more answers than questions, and lots of people have foundanswers that were perfectly satisfactory for them. Old Ruysbroek forinstance."

"Who was he?"

"Oh, just a guy I didn't know at college," Larry answered flippantly.

Isabel didn't know what he meant, but passed on.

"It all sounds so adolescent to me. Those are the sort of thingssophom*ores get excited about and then when they leave college theyforget about them. They have to earn a living."

"I don't blame them. You see, I'm in the happy position that I haveenough to live on. If I hadn't I'd have had to do like everybody elseand make money."

"But doesn't money mean anything to you?"

"Not a thing," he grinned.

"How long d'you think all this is going to take you?"

"I wouldn't know. Five years. Ten years."

"And after that? What are you going to do with all this wisdom?"

"If I ever acquire wisdom I suppose I shall be wise enough to know whatto do with it."

Isabel clasped her hands passionately and leant forwards in her chair.

"You're so wrong, Larry. You're an American. Your place isn't here. Yourplace is in America."

"I shall come back when I'm ready."

"But you're missing so much. How can you bear to sit here in a backwaterjust when we're living through the most wonderful adventure the worldhas ever known? Europe's finished. We're the greatest, the most powerfulpeople in the world. We're going forwards by leaps and bounds. We've goteverything. It's your duty to take part in the development of yourcountry. You've forgotten, you don't know how thrilling life is inAmerica today. Are you sure you're not doing this because you haven'tthe courage to stand up to the work that's before every American now?Oh, I know you're working in a way, but isn't it just an escape fromyour responsibilities? Is it more than just a sort of laboriousidleness? What would happen to America if everyone shirked as you'reshirking?"

"You're very severe, honey," he smiled. "The answer to that is thateveryone doesn't feel like me. Fortunately for themselves, perhaps, mostpeople are prepared to follow the normal course; what you forget is thatI want to learn as passionately as--Gray, for instance, wants to makepots of money. Am I really a traitor to my country because I want tospend a few years educating myself? It may be that when I'm through Ishall have something to give that people will be glad to take. It's onlya chance, of course, but if I fail I shall be no worse off than a manwho's gone into business and hasn't made a go of it."

"And what about me? Am I of no importance to you at all?"

"You're of very great importance. I want you to marry me."

"When? In ten years?"

"No. Now. As soon as possible."

"On what? Mamma can't afford to give me anything. Besides, she wouldn'tif she could. She'd think it wrong to help you to live without doinganything."

"I wouldn't want to take anything from your mother," said Larry. "I'vegot three thousand a year. That's plenty in Paris. We could have alittle apartment and a bonne à tout faire. We'd have such a lark,darling."

"But, Larry, one can't live on three thousand a year."

"Of course one can. Lots of people live on much less."

"But I don't want to live on three thousand a year. There's no reasonwhy I should."

"I've been living on half that."

"But how!"

She looked at the dingy little room with a shudder of distaste.

"It means I've got a bit saved up. We could go down to Capri for ourhoneymoon and then in the fall we'd go to Greece. I'm crazy to go there.Don't you remember how we used to talk about travelling all over theworld together?"

"Of course I want to travel. But not like that. I don't want to travelsecond-class on steamships and put up at third-rate hotels, without abathroom, and eat at cheap restaurants."

"I went all through Italy last October like that. I had a wonderfultime. We could travel all over the world on three thousand a year."

"But I want to have babies, Larry."

"That's all right. We'll take them along with us."

"You're so silly," she laughed. "D'you know what it costs to have ababy? Violet Tomlinson had one last year and she did it as cheaply asshe could and it cost her twelve hundred and fifty. And what d'you thinka nurse costs?" She grew more vehement as one idea after anotheroccurred to her. "You're so impractical. You don't know what you'reasking me to do. I'm young, I want to have fun. I want to do all thethings that people do. I want to go to parties, I want to go to dances,I want to play golf and ride horseback. I want to wear nice clothes.Can't you imagine what it means to a girl not to be as well dressed asthe rest of her crowd? D'you know what it means, Larry, to buy yourfriends' old dresses when they're sick of them and being thankful whensomeone out of pity makes you a present of a new one? I couldn't evenafford to go to a decent hairdresser to have my hair properly done. Idon't want to go about in street-cars and omnibuses; I want to have myown car. And what d'you suppose I'd find to do with myself all day longwhile you were reading at the Library? Walk about the streetswindow-shopping or sit in the Luxembourg Gardens seeing that my childrendidn't get into mischief? We wouldn't have any friends."

"Oh, Isabel," he interrupted.

"Not the sort of friends I'm used to. Oh yes, Uncle Elliott's friendswould ask us now and then for his sake, but we couldn't go because Iwouldn't have the clothes to go in, and we wouldn't go because wecouldn't afford to return their hospitality. I don't want to know a lotof scrubby, unwashed people; I've got nothing to say to them and they'vegot nothing to say to me. I want to live, Larry." She grew suddenlyconscious of the look in his eyes, tender as it always was when fixed onher, but gently amused "You think I'm silly, don't you? You think I'mbeing trivial and horrid."

"No, I don't. I think what you say is very natural."

He was standing with his back to the fireplace, and she got up and wentup to him so that they were face to face.

"Larry, if you hadn't a cent to your name and got a job that brought youin three thousand a year I'd marry you without a minute's hesitation.I'd cook for you, I'd make the beds, I wouldn't care what I wore, I'd gowithout anything, I'd look upon it as wonderful fun, because I'd knowthat it was only a question of time and you'd make good. But this meansliving in a sordid beastly way all our lives with nothing to lookforward to. It means that I should be a drudge to the day of my death.And for what? So that you can spend years trying to find answers toquestions that you say yourself are insoluble. It's so wrong. A manought to work. That's what he's here for. That's how he contributes tothe welfare of the community."

"In short it's his duty to settle down in Chicago and enter HenryMaturin's business. Do you think that by getting my friends to buy thesecurities that Henry Maturin is interested in I should add greatly tothe welfare of the community?"

"There must be brokers and it's a perfectly decent and honorable way ofearning a living."

"You've drawn a very black picture of life in Paris on a moderateincome. You know, it isn't really like that. One can dress very nicelywithout going to Chanel. And all the interesting people don't live inthe neighborhood of the Arc de Triomphe and the Avenue Foch. In fact fewinteresting people do, because interesting people generally don't have alot of money. I know quite a number of people here, painters and writersand students, French, English, American, and what not, whom I thinkyou'd find much more amusing than Elliott's seedy marquises andlong-nosed duch*esses. You've got a quick mind and a lively sense ofhumour. You'd enjoy hearing them swap ideas across the dinner table eventhough the wine was only vin ordinaire and you didn't have a butlerand a couple of footmen to wait on you."

"Don't be stupid, Larry. Of course I would. You know I'm not a snob. I'dlove to meet interesting people."

"Yes, in a Chanel dress. D'you think they wouldn't catch on to it thatyou looked upon it as a sort of cultured slumming? They wouldn't be attheir ease, any more than you would, and you wouldn't get anything outof it except to tell Emily de Montadour and Grade de Château-Gaillardafterwards what fun you'd had meeting a lot of weird bohemians in theLatin Quarter."

Isabel slightly shrugged her shoulders.

"I daresay you're right. They're not the sort of people I've beenbrought up with. They're not the sort of people I have anything incommon with."

"Where does that leave us?"

"Just where we started. I've lived in Chicago ever since I can remember.All my friends are there. All my interests are there. I'm at home there.It's where I belong and it's where you belong. Mamma's ill and she'snever going to get any better. I couldn't leave her even if I wantedto."

"Does that mean that unless I'm prepared to come back to Chicago youdon't want to marry me?"

Isabel hesitated. She loved Larry. She wanted to marry him. She wantedhim with all the power of her senses. She knew that he desired her. Shecouldn't believe that when it came to a showdown he wouldn't weaken. Shewas afraid, but she had to risk it.

"Yes, Larry, that's just what it does mean."

He struck a match on the chimney piece, one of those old-fashionedFrench sulphur matches that fill your nostrils with an acrid odour, andlit his pipe. Then, passing her, he went over and stood by one of thewindows. He looked out. He was silent for what seemed an endless time.She stood as she had stood before, when she was facing him, and lookedin the mirror over the chimney piece, but she did not see herself. Herheart was beating madly and she was sick with apprehension. He turned atlast.

"I wish I could make you see how much fuller the life I offer you isthan anything you have a conception of. I wish I could make you see howexciting the life of the spirit is and how rich in experience. It'sillimitable. It's such a happy life. There's only one thing like it,when you're up in a plane by yourself, high, high, and only infinitysurrounds you. You're intoxicated by the boundless space. You feel sucha sense of exhilaration that you wouldn't exchange it for all the powerand glory of the world. I was reading Descartes the other day. The ease,the grace, the lucidity. Gosh!"

"But Larry," she interrupted him desperately, "don't you see you'reasking something of me that I'm not fitted for, that I'm not interestedin and don't want to be interested in? How often have I got to repeat toyou that I'm just an ordinary, normal girl, I'm twenty, in ten years Ishall be old, I want to have a good time while I have the chance. Oh,Larry, I do love you so terribly. All this is just trifling. It's notgoing to lead you anywhere. For your own sake I beseech you to give itup. Be a man, Larry, and do a man's work. You're just wasting theprecious years that others are doing so much with. Larry, if you love meyou won't give me up for a dream. You've had your fling. Come back withus to America."

"I can't, darling. It would be death to me. It would be the betrayal ofmy soul."

"Oh, Larry, why d'you talk in that way? That's the way hystericalhighbrow women talk. What does it mean? Nothing. Nothing. Nothing."

"It happens to mean exactly what I feel," he answered, his eyestwinkling.

"How can you laugh? Don't you realize this is desperately serious? We'vecome to the crossroads and what we do now is going to affect our wholelives."

"I know that. Believe me, I'm perfectly serious."

She sighed.

"If you won't listen to reason there's nothing more to be said."

"But I don't think it's reason. I think you've been talking the mostterrible nonsense all the time."

"I?" If she hadn't been so miserable she would have laughed. "My poorLarry, you're as crazy as a coot."

She slowly slipped her engagement ring off her finger. She placed it onthe palm of her hand and looked at it. It was a square-cut ruby set in athin platinum band and she had always liked it.

"If you loved me you wouldn't make me so unhappy."

"I do love you. Unfortunately sometimes one can't do what one thinks isright without making someone else unhappy."

She stretched out her hand on which the ruby was resting and forced asmile to her trembling lips.

"Here you are, Larry."

"It's no good to me. Won't you keep it as a memento to our friendship?You can wear it on your little finger. Our friendship needn't stop, needit?"

"I shall always care for you, Larry."

"Then keep it. I should like you to."

She hesitated for an instant, then put it on the finger of her righthand.

"It's too large."

"You can have it altered. Let's go to the Ritz bar and have a drink."

"All right."

She was a trifle taken aback that it had all gone so easily. She had notcried. Nothing seemed to be changed except that now she wasn't going tomarry Larry. She could hardly believe that everything was over and donewith. She resented the fact a little that they hadn't had a terrificscene. They had talked it all over almost as coolly as though they hadbeen discussing the taking of a house. She felt let down, but at thesame time was conscious of a slight sense of satisfaction because theyhad behaved in such a civilized way. She would have given a lot to knowexactly what Larry was feeling. But it was always difficult to knowthat; his smooth face, his dark eyes were a mask that she was aware evenshe, who had known him for so many years, could not penetrate. She hadtaken off her hat and laid it on the bed. Now, standing before themirror, she put it on again.

"Just as a matter of interest," she said, arranging her hair, "did youwant to break our engagement?"

"No."

"I thought it might be a relief to you." He made no reply. She turnedround with a gay smile on her lips. "Now I'm ready."

Larry locked the door behind him. When he handed the key to the man atthe desk he enveloped them both in a look of conniving archness. It wasimpossible for Isabel not to guess what he thought they had been up to.

"I don't believe that old fellow would bet much on my virginity," shesaid.

They took a taxi to the Ritz and had a drink. They spoke of indifferentthings, without apparent constraint, like two old friends who saw oneanother every day. Though Larry was naturally silent, Isabel was atalkative girl, with an ample fund of chit-chat, and she was determinedthat no silence should fall between them that might be hard to break.She wasn't going to let Larry think she felt any resentment towards himand her pride constrained her to act so that he should not suspect thatshe was hurt and unhappy. Presently she suggested that he should driveher home. When he dropped her at the door she said to him gaily,

"Don't forget that you're lunching with us tomorrow."

"You bet your life I won't."

She gave him her cheek to kiss and passed through the porte cochère.

(v)

When Isabel entered the drawing-room she found that some people haddropped in to tea. There were two American women who lived in Paris,exquisitely gowned, with strings of pearls round their necks, diamondbracelets on their wrists and costly rings on their fingers. Though thehair of one was darkly hennaed and that of the other unnaturally goldenthey were strangely alike. They had the same heavily mascaraedeyelashes, the same brightly painted lips, the same rouged cheeks, thesame slim figures, maintained at the cost of extreme mortification, thesame clear, sharp features, the same hungry restless eyes; and you couldnot but be conscious that their lives were a desperate struggle tomaintain their fading charms. They talked with inanity in a loud,metallic voice without a moment's pause, as though afraid that if theywere silent for an instant the machine would run down and the artificialconstruction which was all they were would fall to pieces. There wasalso a secretary from the American Embassy, suave, silent, for he couldnot get a word in, and very much the man of the world, and a small darkRumanian prince, all bows and servility, with little darting black eyesand a clean-shaven swarthy face, who was forever jumping up to hand ateacup, pass a plate of cakes, or light a cigarette and who shamelesslydished out to those present the most flattering, the most grosscompliments. He was paying for all the dinners he had received from theobjects of his adulation and for all the dinners he hoped to receive.

Mrs. Bradley, seated at the tea table and dressed to please Elliottsomewhat more grandly than she thought suitable to the occasion,performed her duties as hostess with her usual civil but ratherindifferent composure. What she thought of her brother's guests I canonly imagine. I never knew her more than slightly and she was a womanwho kept herself to herself. She was not a stupid woman; in all theyears she had lived in foreign capitals she had met innumerable peopleof all kinds and I think she summed them up shrewdly enough according tothe standards of the small Virginian town where she was born and bred. Ithink she got a certain amount of amusem*nt from observing their anticsand I don't believe she took their airs and graces any more seriouslythan she took the aches and pains of the characters in a novel which sheknew from the beginning (otherwise she wouldn't have read it) would endhappily. Paris, Rome, Peking had had no more effect on her Americanismthan Elliott's devout Catholicism on her robust, but not inconvenient,Presbyterian faith.

Isabel, with her youth, her strapping good looks and her vitalitybrought a breath of fresh air into that meretricious atmosphere. Sheswept in like a young earth goddess. The Rumanian prince leapt to hisfeet to draw forward a chair for her and with ample gesticulation didhis shift. The two American ladies, with shrill amiabilities on theirlips, looked her up and down, took in the details of her dress andperhaps in their hearts felt a pang of dismay at being thus confrontedwith her exuberant youth. The American diplomat smiled to himself as hesaw how false and haggard she made them look. But Isabel thought theywere grand; she liked their rich clothes and expensive pearls and felt atwinge of envy for their sophisticated poise. She wondered if she wouldever achieve that supreme elegance. Of course the little Rumanian wasquite ridiculous, but he was rather sweet and even if he didn't mean thecharming things he said it was nice to listen to them. The conversationwhich her entrance had interrupted was resumed and they talked sobrightly, with so much conviction that what they were saying was worthsaying, that you almost thought they were talking sense. They talked ofthe parties they had been to and the parties they were going to. Theygossiped about the latest scandal. They tore their friends to pieces.They bandied great names from one to the other. They seemed to knoweverybody. They were in on all the secrets. Almost in a breath theytouched upon the latest play, the latest dressmaker, the latest portraitpainter, and the latest mistress of the latest premier. One would havethought there was nothing they didn't know. Isabel listened withravishment. It all seemed to her wonderfully civilized. This really waslife. It gave her a thrilling sense of being in the midst of things.This was real. The setting was perfect. That spacious room with theSavonnerie carpet on the floor, the lovely drawings on the richlypanelled walls, the petit point chairs on which they sat, thepriceless pieces of marquetry, commodes and occasional tables, everypiece worthy to go into a museum; it must have cost a fortune, thatroom, but it was worth it. Its beauty, its discretion struck her asnever before because she had still so vividly in her mind the shabbylittle hotel room, with its iron bed and that hard, comfortless chair inwhich she had sat, that room that Larry saw nothing wrong in. It wasbare, cheerless and horrid. It made her shudder to remember it.

The party broke up and Isabel was left with her mother and Elliott.

"Charming women," said Elliott when he came back from seeing the twopoor painted drabs to the door. "I knew them when they first settled inParis. I never dreamt they'd turn out as well as they have. It'samazing, the adaptability of our women. You'd hardly know they wereAmericans now and Middle West into the bargain."

Mrs. Bradley, raising her eyebrows, without speaking gave him a lookwhich he was too quick-witted not to understand.

"No one could ever say that of you, my poor Louisa," he continued halfacidly and half affectionately. "Though heaven knows, you've had everychance."

Mrs. Bradley pursed her lips.

"I'm afraid I've been a sad disappointment to you, Elliott, but to tellyou the truth I'm very satisfied with myself as I am."

"Tous les goûts sont dans la nature," Elliott murmured.

"I think I ought to tell you that I'm no longer engaged to Larry," saidIsabel.

"Tut," cried Elliott. "That'll put my luncheon table out for tomorrow.How on earth am I going to get another man at this short notice?"

"Oh, he's coming to lunch all right."

"After you've broken off your engagement? That sounds veryunconventional."

Isabel giggled. She kept her gaze on Elliott, for she knew her mother'seyes were fixed upon her and she didn't want to meet them.

"We haven't quarrelled. We talked it over this afternoon and came to theconclusion we'd made a mistake. He doesn't want to come back to America;he wants to stop on in Paris. He's talking of going to Greece."

"What on earth for? There's no society in Athens. As a matter of fact Inever thought so much of Greek art myself. Some of that Hellenisticstuff has a certain decadent charm that's rather attractive. ButPhidias: no, no."

"Look at me, Isabel," said Mrs. Bradley.

Isabel turned and with a faint smile on her lips faced her mother. Mrs.Bradley gave her a scrutinizing stare, but all she said was, "H'm." Thegirl hadn't been crying, that she saw; she looked calm and composed.

"I think you're well out of it, Isabel," said Elliott. "I was preparedto make the best of it, but I never thought it a good match. He wasn'treally up to your mark, and the way he's been behaving in Paris is apretty clear indication that he'll never amount to anything. With yourlooks and your connections you can aspire to something better than that.I think you've behaved in a very sensible manner."

Mrs. Bradley gave her daughter a glance that was not devoid of anxiety.

"You haven't done this on my account, Isabel?"

Isabel shook her head decidedly.

"No, darling, I've done it entirely on my own."

(vi)

I had come back from the East and was spending some time in London justthen. It was perhaps a fortnight after the events I have just relatedthat Elliott called me up one morning. I was not surprised to hear hisvoice, for I knew that he was in the habit of coming to England to enjoythe fa*g end of the season. He told me that Mrs. Bradley and Isabel werewith him and if I would drop in that evening at six for a drink theywould be glad to see me. They were, of course, staying at Claridge's. Iwas at that time living not far from there, so I strolled down Park Laneand through the quiet, dignified streets of Mayfair till I came to thehotel. Elliott had his usual suite. It was panelled in brown wood likethe wood of a cigar box and furnished with quiet sumptuousness. He wasalone when I was ushered in. Mrs. Bradley and Isabel had gone shoppingand he was expecting them at any minute. He told me that Isabel hadbroken her engagement to Larry.

Elliott with his romantic and highly conventional sense of how peopleshould comport themselves under given circ*mstances had beendisconcerted by the young people's behaviour. Not only had Larry come tolunch the very day after the break, but he had acted as though hisposition were unchanged. He was as pleasant, attentive and soberly gayas usual. He treated Isabel with the same comradely affectionatenesswith which he had always treated her. He seemed neither harassed, upsetnor woebegone. Nor did Isabel appear dispirited. She looked as happy,she laughed as lightly, she jested as merrily as though she had not justtaken a decisive and surely searing step in her life. Elliott could notmake head or tail of it. From such scraps of their conversation as hecaught he gathered that they had no intention of breaking any of thedates they had made. On the first opportunity he talked it over with hissister.

"It's not decent," he said. "They can't run around together as if theywere still engaged. Larry really should have more sense of propriety.Besides, it damages Isabel's chances. Young Fotheringham, that boy atthe British Embassy, is obviously taken with her; he's got money andhe's very well connected; if he knew the coast was clear I wouldn't beat all surprised if he made her an offer. I think you ought to talk toher about it."

"My dear, Isabel's twenty and she has a technique for telling you tomind your own business without offensiveness which I've always foundvery difficult to cope with."

"Then you've brought her up extremely badly, Louisa. And besides, itis your business."

"That is a point on which you and she would certainly differ."

"You're trying my patience, Louisa."

"My poor Elliott, if you'd ever had a grown-up daughter you'd know thatby comparison a bucking steer is easy to manage. And as to knowing whatgoes on inside her--well, it's much better to pretend you're the simple,innocent old fool she almost certainly takes you for."

"But you have talked the matter over with her?"

"I tried to. She laughed at me and told me there was really nothing totell."

"Is she cut up?"

"I wouldn't know. All I do know is that she eats well and sleeps like achild."

"Well, take my word for it, if you let them go on like this they'll gooff one of these days and get married without saying a word to anybody."

Mrs. Bradley permitted herself to smile.

"It must be a relief to you to think that at present we're living in acountry where every facility is afforded to sexual irregularity andevery obstacle put in the way of marriage."

"And quite rightly. Marriage is a serious matter on which rest thesecurity of the family and the stability of the state. But marriage canonly maintain its authority if extraconjugal relations are not onlytolerated but sanctioned. Prostitution, my poor Louisa----"

"That'll do, Elliott," interrupted Mrs. Bradley. "I'm not interested inyour views on the social and moral value of promiscuous fornication."

It was then he put forward a scheme that would interrupt Isabel'scontinued intercourse with Larry that was so repugnant to his sense ofwhat was fitting. The Paris season was drawing to a close and all thebest people were arranging to go to watering places or to Deauvillebefore repairing for the rest of the summer to their ancestral châteauxin Touraine, Anjou or Brittany. Ordinarily Elliott went to London at theend of June, but his family feeling was strong and his affection for hissister and Isabel sincere; he had been quite ready to sacrifice himselfand remain in Paris, if they wished it, when no one who was anyone wasthere; but he found himself now in the agreeable situation of being ableto do what was best for others and at the same time what was convenientto himself. He proposed to Mrs. Bradley that the three of them should goto London immediately, where the season was still in full swing andwhere new interests and new friends would distract Isabel's mind fromher unfortunate entanglement. According to the papers the greatspecialist on Mrs. Bradley's disease was then in the British capital andthe desirability of consulting him would reasonably account for theirprecipitate departure and override any disinclination to leave Paristhat Isabel might have. Mrs. Bradley fell in with the plan. She waspuzzled by Isabel. She could not make up her mind whether she was ascarefree as she seemed or whether, hurt, angry or heartsick, she wasputting on a bold front to conceal her wounded feelings. Mrs. Bradleycould only agree with Elliott that it would do Isabel good to see newpeople and new places.

Elliott got busy on the telephone and when Isabel, who had been spendingthe day at Versailles with Larry, came home, he was able to tell herthat he had made an appointment for her mother to see the celebrateddoctor three days from then, that he had engaged a suite at Claridge'sand that they were starting on the next day but one. Mrs. Bradleywatched her daughter while this intelligence was being somewhat smuglyimparted to her by Elliott, but she did not turn a hair.

"Oh, darling, I'm so glad you're going to see that doctor," she criedwith her usual rather breathless impetuosity. "Of course, you mustn'tmiss the chance. And it'll be grand going to London. How long are wegoing to stay?"

"It would be useless to come back to Paris," said Elliott. "There won'tbe a soul here in a week. I want you to stay with me at Claridge's forthe rest of the season. There are always some good balls in July and ofcourse there's Wimbledon. And then Goodwood and Cowes. I'm sure theEllinghams will be glad to have us on their yacht for Cowes and theBantocks always have a large party for Goodwood."

Isabel appeared to be delighted and Mrs. Bradley was reassured. Itlooked as though she were not giving Larry a thought.

Elliott had just finished telling me all this when mother and daughtercame in. I had not seen them for more than eighteen months. Mrs. Bradleywas a little thinner than before and more pasty-faced; she looked tiredand none too well. But Isabel was blooming. With her high colour, therich brown of her hair, her shining hazel eyes, her clear skin she gavean impression of such youth, of so much enjoyment of the mere fact ofbeing alive that you felt half inclined to laugh with delight. She gaveme the rather absurd notion of a pear, golden and luscious, perfectlyripe and simply asking to be eaten. She radiated warmth so that youthought that if you held out your hands you could feel its comfort. Shelooked taller than when I had last seen her, whether because she worehigher heels or because the clever dressmaker had cut her frock toconceal her youthful plumpness I don't know, and she held herself withthe graceful ease of a girl who has played outdoor games sincechildhood. She was in short sexually a very attractive young woman. HadI been her mother I should have thought it high time she was married.

Glad of the opportunity to repay some of the kindness I had receivedfrom Mrs. Bradley in Chicago, I asked them all three to come to a playwith me one evening. I arranged to give a luncheon for them.

"You'll be wise to get in at once, my dear fellow," said Elliott. "I'vealready let my friends know we're here and I presume that in a day ortwo we shall be fixed up for the rest of the season."

I understood by this that Elliott meant that then they would have notime for the likes of me and I laughed. Elliott gave me a glance inwhich I discerned a certain hauteur.

"But of course you'll generally find us here about six o'clock and weshall always be glad to see you," he said graciously, but with theevident intention of putting me, as an author, in my humble place.

But the worm sometimes turns.

"You must try to get in touch with the St. Olpherds," I said. "I hearthey want to dispose of their Constable of Salisbury Cathedral."

"I'm not buying any pictures just now."

"I know, but I thought you might dispose of it for them."

A steely glitter came into Elliott's eyes.

"My dear fellow, the English are a great people, but they have neverbeen able to paint and never will be able to paint. I am not interestedin the English school."

(vii)

During the next four weeks I saw little of Elliott and his relations. Hedid them proud. He took them for a week end to a grand house in Sussexand for another week end to an even grander one in Wiltshire. He tookthem to the royal box at the opera as guests of a minor princess of theHouse of Windsor. He took them to lunch and dine with the great. Isabelwent to several balls. He entertained at Claridge's a series of guestswhose names made a fine show in the paper next day. He gave supperparties at Ciro's and the Embassy. In fact he did all the right thingsand Isabel would have had to be much more sophisticated than she was notto have been a trifle dazzled by the splendour and elegance he providedfor her delectation. Elliott could flatter himself that he was takingall this trouble from the purely unselfish motive of distractingIsabel's mind from an unfortunate love affair; but I had a notion he gotbesides a good deal of satisfaction out of letting his sister see withher own eyes how familiar he was with the illustrious and fashionable.He was an admirable host and he took a delight in displaying hisvirtuosity.

I went to one or two of his parties myself and now and again I droppedin at Claridge's at six o'clock. I found Isabel surrounded by strappingyoung men in beautiful clothes who were in the Household Brigade or byelegant young men in less beautiful clothes from the Foreign Office. Itwas on one of these occasions that she drew me aside.

"I want to ask you something," she said. "D'you remember that evening wewent to a drugstore and had an ice-cream soda?"

"Perfectly."

"You were very nice and helpful then. Will you be nice and helpfulagain?"

"I'll do my best."

"I want to talk to you about something. Couldn't we lunch one day?"

"Almost any day you like."

"Somewhere quiet."

"What d'you say to driving down to Hampton Court and lunching there? Thegardens should be at their best just now and you could see QueenElizabeth's bed."

The notion suited her and we fixed a day. But when the day came theweather, which had been fine and warm, broke; the sky was gray and adrizzling rain was falling. I called up and asked her if she wouldn'tprefer to lunch in town.

"We shouldn't be able to sit in the gardens and the pictures will be sodark, we shan't see a thing."

"I've sat in lots of gardens and I'm fed to the teeth with old masters.Let's go anyway."

"All right."

I fetched her and we drove down. I knew a small hotel where one atetolerably and we went straight there. On the way Isabel talked with herusual vivacity of the parties she had been to and the people she hadmet. She had been enjoying herself, but her comments on the variousacquaintances she had made suggested to me that she had shrewdness and aquick eye for the absurd. The bad weather had kept visitors away and wewere the only occupants of the dining room. The hotel specialized inhomely English fare and we had a cut off a leg of excellent lamb withgreen peas and new potatoes and a deep-dish apple pie with Devonshirecream to follow. With a tankard of pale ale it made an excellent lunch.When we had finished I suggested that we should go into the empty coffeeroom where there were armchairs in which we could sit in comfort. It waschilly in there, but the fire was laid, so I put a match to it. Theflames made the dingy room more companionable.

"That's that," I said. "Now tell me what you want to talk to me about."

"It's the same as last time," she chuckled. "Larry."

"So I guessed."

"You know that we've broken off our engagement."

"Elliott told me."

"Mamma's relieved and he's delighted."

She hesitated for a moment and then embarked upon the account of hertalk with Larry of which I have done my best faithfully to inform thereader. It may surprise the reader that she should have chosen to tellso much to someone whom she knew so little. I don't suppose I had seenher a dozen times and, except for that one occasion at the drugstore,never alone. It did not surprise me. For one thing, as any writer willtell you, people do tell a writer things that they don't tell others. Idon't know why, unless it is that having read one or two of his booksthey feel on peculiarly intimate terms with him; or it may be that theydramatize themselves and, seeing themselves as it were characters in anovel, are ready to be as open with him as they imagine are to him thecharacters of his invention. And I think that Isabel felt that I likedLarry and her, and that their youth touched me, and that I wassympathetic to their distresses. She could not expect to find a friendlylistener in Elliott who was disinclined to trouble himself with a youngman who had spurned the best chance a young man ever had of getting intosociety. Nor could her mother help her. Mrs. Bradley had high principlesand common sense. Her common sense assured her that if you wanted to geton in this world you must accept its conventions, and not to do whateverybody else did clearly pointed to instability. Her high principlesled her to believe that a man's duty was to go to work in a businesswhere by energy and initiative he had a chance of earning enough moneyto keep his wife and family in accordance with the standards of hisstation, give his sons such an education as would enable them onreaching man's estate to make an honest living, and on his death leavehis widow adequately provided for.

Isabel had a good memory and the various turns of the long discussionhad engraved themselves upon it. I listened in silence till she hadfinished. She only interrupted herself once to ask me a question.

"Who was Ruysdael?"

"Ruysdael? He was a Dutch landscape painter. Why?"

She told me that Larry had mentioned him. He had said that Ruysdael atleast had found an answer to the questions he was asking, and sherepeated to me his flippant reply when she had enquired who he was.

"What d'you suppose he meant?"

I had an inspiration.

"Are you sure he didn't say Ruysbroek?"

"He might have. Who was he?"

"He was a Flemish mystic who lived in the fourteenth century."

"Oh," she said with disappointment.

It meant nothing to her. But it meant something to me. That was thefirst indication I had of the turn Larry's reflection was taking, andwhile she went on with her story, though still listening attentively,part of my mind busied itself with the possibilities that reference ofhis had suggested. I did not want to make too much of it, for it mightbe that he had only mentioned the name of the Ecstatic Teacher to makean argumentative point; it might also have a significance that hadescaped Isabel. When he answered her question by saying Ruysbroek wasjust a guy he hadn't known in college he evidently meant to throw heroff the scent.

"What do you make of it all?" she asked when she had come to an end.

I paused before replying.

"D'you remember his saying that he was just going to loaf? If what hetells you is true his loafing seems to involve some very strenuouswork."

"I'm sure it's true. But don't you see that if he'd worked as hard atany productive form of work he'd be earning a decent income?"

"There are people who are strangely constituted. There are criminalswho'll work like beavers to contrive schemes that land them in prisonand they no sooner get out than they start all over again and again landin prison. If they put as much industry, as much cleverness, resourceand patience into honest practices they could make a handsome living andoccupy important positions. But they're just made that way. They likecrime."

"Poor Larry," she giggled. "You're not going to suggest that he'slearning Greek to cook up a bank robbery."

I laughed too.

"No, I'm not. What I'm trying to tell you is that there are men who arepossessed by an urge so strong to do some particular thing that theycan't help themselves, they've got to do it. They're prepared tosacrifice everything to satisfy their yearning."

"Even the people who love them?"

"Oh, yes."

"Is that anything more than plain selfishness?"

"I wouldn't know," I smiled.

"What can be the possible use of Larry's learning dead languages?"

"Some people have a disinterested desire for knowledge. It's not anignoble desire."

"What's the good of knowledge if you're not going to do anything withit?"

"Perhaps he is. Perhaps it will be sufficient satisfaction merely toknow, as it's a sufficient satisfaction to an artist to produce a workof art. And perhaps it's only a step towards something further."

"If he wanted knowledge why couldn't he go to college when he came backfrom the war? It's what Dr. Nelson and Mamma wanted him to do."

"I talked to him about that in Chicago. A degree would be of no use tohim. I have an inkling that he had a definite idea of what he wanted andfelt he couldn't get it at a university. You know, in learning there'sthe lone wolf as well as the wolf who runs in the pack. I think Larry isone of those persons who can go no other way than their own."

"I remember once asking him if he wanted to write. He laughed and saidhe had nothing to write about."

"That's the most inconclusive reason for not writing that I've everheard," I smiled.

Isabel made a gesture of impatience. She was in no mood even for themildest jest.

"What I can't make out is why he should have turned out like this.Before the war he was just like everybody else. You wouldn't think it,but he plays a very good game of tennis and he's quite a decent golfer.He used to do all the things the rest of us did. He was a perfectlynormal boy and there was no reason to suppose he wouldn't become aperfectly normal man. After all you're a novelist, you ought to be ableto explain it."

"Who am I to explain the infinite complexities of human nature?"

"That's why I wanted to talk to you today," she added, taking no noticeof what I said.

"Are you unhappy?"

"No, not exactly unhappy. When Larry isn't there I'm all right; it'swhen I'm with him that I feel so weak. Now it's just a sort of ache,like the stiffness you get after a long ride when you haven't been on ahorse for months; it's not pain, it's not at all unbearable, but you'reconscious of it. I shall get over it all right. I hate the idea of Larrymaking such a mess or his life."

"Perhaps he won't. It's a long, arduous road he's starting to travel,but it may be that at the end of it he'll find what he's seeking."

"What's that?"

"Hasn't it occurred to you? It seems to me that in what he said to youhe indicated it pretty plainly. God."

"God!" she cried. But it was an exclamation of incredulous surprise. Ouruse of the same word, but in such a different sense, had a comic effect,so that we were obliged to laugh. But Isabel immediately grew seriousagain and I felt in her whole attitude something like fear. "What onearth makes you think that?"

"I'm only guessing. But you asked me to tell you what I thought as anovelist. Unfortunately you don't know what experience he had in the warthat so profoundly moved him. I think it was some sudden shock for whichhe was unprepared. I suggest to you that whatever it was that happenedto Larry filled him with a sense of the transiency of life and ananguish to be sure that there was a compensation for the sin and sorrowof the world."

I could see that Isabel didn't like the turn I had given theconversation. It made her feel shy and awkward.

"Isn't all that awfully morbid? One has to take the world as it comes.If we're here, it's surely to make the most of life."

"You're probably right."

"I don't pretend to be anything but a perfectly normal, ordinary girl. Iwant to have fun."

"It looks as though there were complete incompatibility of temperbetween you. It's much better that you should have found it out beforemarriage."

"I want to marry and have children and live----"

"In that state of life in which a merciful Providence has been pleasedto place you," I interrupted, smiling.

"Well, there's no harm in that, is there? It's a very pleasant state andI'm quite satisfied with it."

"You're like two friends who want to take their holiday together, butone of them wants to climb Greenland's snowy mountains while the otherwants to fish off India's coral strand. Obviously it's not going towork."

"Anyway I might get a sealskin coat off Greenland's snowy mountains, andI think it's very doubtful if there are any fish off India's coralstrand."

"That remains to be seen."

"Why d'you say that?" she asked, frowning a little. "All the time youseem to be making some sort of mental reservation. Of course I know thatI'm not playing the star part in this. Larry's got that. He's theidealist, he's the dreamer of a beautiful dream, and even if the dreamdoesn't come true it's rather thrilling to have dreamt it. I'm cast forthe hard, mercenary, practical part. Common sense is never verysympathetic, is it? But what you forget is that it's I who'd have topay. Larry would sweep along, trailing clouds of glory, and all there'dbe left for me would be to tag along and make both ends meet. I want tolive."

"I don't forget that at all. Years ago, when I was young, I knew a manwho was a doctor, and not a bad one either, but he didn't practice. Hespent years burrowing away in the library of the British Museum and atlong intervals produced a huge pseudoscientific, pseudophilosophicalbook that nobody read and that he had to publish at his own expense. Hewrote four or five of them before he died and they were absolutelyworthless. He had a son who wanted to go into the army, but there was nomoney to send him to Sandhurst, so he had to enlist. He was killed inthe war. He had a daughter too. She was very pretty and I was rathertaken with her. She went on the stage, but she had no talent and shetraipsed around the provinces playing small parts in second-ratecompanies at a miserable salary. His wife, after years of dreary, sordiddrudgery broke down in health and the girl had to come home and nurseher and take on the drudgery her mother no longer had the strength for.Wasted, thwarted lives and all to no purpose. It's a toss-up when youdecide to leave the beaten track. Many are called but few are chosen."

"Mother and Uncle Elliott approve of what I've done. Do you approvetoo?"

"My dear, what can that matter to you? I'm almost a stranger to you."

"I look upon you as a disinterested observer," she said, with a pleasantsmile. "I should like to have your approval. You do think I've doneright, don't you?"

"I think you've done right for you," I said, fairly confident that shewould not catch the slight distinction I made in my reply.

"Then why have I a bad conscience?"

"Have you?"

With a smile still on her lips, but a slightly rueful smile now, shenodded.

"I know it's only horse sense. I know that every reasonable person wouldagree that I've done the only possible thing. I know that from everypractical standpoint, from the standpoint of worldly wisdom, from thestandpoint of common decency, from the standpoint of what's right andwrong, I've done what I ought to do. And yet at the bottom of my heartI've got an uneasy feeling that if I were better, if I were moredisinterested, more unselfish, nobler, I'd marry Larry and lead hislife. If I only loved him enough I'd think the world well lost."

"You might put it the other way about. If he loved you enough hewouldn't have hesitated to do what you want."

"I've said that to myself too. But it doesn't help. I suppose it's morein woman's nature to sacrifice herself than in a man's." She chuckled."Ruth and the alien corn and all that sort of thing."

"Why don't you risk it?"

We had been talking quite lightly, almost as if we were having a casualconversation about people we both knew but in whose affairs we were notintimately concerned, and even when she narrated to me her talk withLarry Isabel had spoken with a sort of breezy gaiety, enlivening it withhumour, as if she did not want me to take what she said too seriously.But now she went pale.

"I'm afraid."

For a while we were silent. A chill went down my spine as it strangelydoes when I am confronted with deep and genuine human emotion. I find itterrible and rather awe-inspiring.

"Do you love him very much?" I asked at last.

"I don't know. I'm impatient with him. I'm exasperated with him. I keeplonging for him."

Silence again fell upon us. I didn't know what to say. The coffee roomin which we sat was small, and heavy lace curtains over the window shutout the light. On the walls, covered with yellow marbled paper, were oldsporting prints. With its mahogany furniture, its shabby leather chairsand its musty smell it was strangely reminiscent of a coffee room in aDickens novel. I poked the fire and put more coal on it. Isabel suddenlybegan to speak.

"You see, I thought when it came to a showdown he'd knuckle under. Iknew he was weak."

"Weak?" I cried. "What made you think that? A man who for a yearwithstood the disapproval of all his friends and associates because hewas determined to go his own way."

"I could always do anything I wanted with him. I could turn him round mylittle finger. He was never a leader in the things we did. He justtagged along with the crowd."

I had lit a cigarette and watched the smoke ring I had made. It grewlarger and larger and then faded away into the air.

"Mamma and Elliott thought it very wrong of me to go about with himafterwards as though nothing had happened, but I didn't take it veryseriously. I kept on thinking up to the end that he'd yield. I couldn'tbelieve that when he'd got it into his thick head that I meant what Isaid he wouldn't give in." She hesitated and gave me a smile of roguish,playful malice. "Will you be awfully shocked if I tell you something?"

"I think it very unlikely."

"When we decided to come to London I called Larry and asked him if wecouldn't spend my last evening in Paris together. When I told them,Uncle Elliott said it was most improper and Mamma said she thought itunnecessary. When Mamma says something is unnecessary it means shethoroughly disapproves. Uncle Elliott asked me what the idea was and Isaid we were going to dine somewhere and then make a tour of the nightclubs. He told Mamma she ought to forbid me to go. Mamma said, 'Will youpay any attention if I forbid you to go?' 'No, darling,' I said, 'none.'Then she said, 'That is what I imagined. In that case there doesn't seemto be much point in my forbidding it.'"

"Your mother appears to be a woman of enormous sense."

"I don't believe she misses much. When Larry called for me I went intoher room to say good night to her. I'd made up a bit; you know, you haveto in Paris or else you look so naked, and when she saw the dress I hadon, I had an uneasy suspicion from the way she took me in from top totoe that she had a pretty shrewd idea what I was after. But she didn'tsay anything. She just kissed me and said she hoped I'd have a goodtime."

"What were you after?"

Isabel looked at me doubtfully, as though she couldn't quite decide howfrank she was prepared to be.

"I didn't think I was looking too bad and it was my last chance. Larryhad reserved a table at Maxim's. We had lovely things to eat, all thethings I particularly liked, and we had champagne. We talked our headsoff, at least I did, and I made Larry laugh. One of the things I'veliked about him is that I can always amuse him. We danced. When we'd hadenough of that we went on to the Château de Madrid. We found some peoplewe knew and joined them and we had more champagne. Then we all went tothe Acacia. Larry dances quite well, and we fit. The heat and the musicand the wine--I was getting a bit lightheaded. I felt absolutelyreckless. I danced with my face against Larry's and I knew he wanted me.God knows, I wanted him. I had an idea. I suppose it had been at theback of my mind all the time. I thought I'd get him to come home with meand once I'd got him there, well, it was almost inevitable that theinevitable should happen."

"Upon my word you couldn't put it more delicately."

"My room was quite a way from Uncle Elliott's and Mamma's, so I knewthere was no risk. When we were back in America I thought I'd write andsay I was going to have a baby. He'd be obliged to come back and marryme, and when I'd got him home I didn't believe it would be hard to keephim there, especially with Mamma ill. 'What a fool I am not to havethought of that before,' I said to myself. 'Of course that'll settleeverything.' When the music stopped I just stayed there in his arms.Then I said it was getting late and we had to take the train at noon, sowe'd better go. We got into a taxi. I nestled close to him and he puthis arms around me and kissed me. He kissed me, he kissed me--oh, it washeaven. It hardly seemed a moment before the taxi stopped at the door.Larry paid it.

"'I shall walk home,' he said.

"The taxi rattled off and I put my arms round his neck.

"'Won't you come up and have one last drink?' I said.

"'Yes, if you like,' he said.

"He'd rung the bell and the door swung open. He switched on the light aswe stepped in. I looked into his eyes. They were so trusting, so honest,so--so guileless; he so obviously hadn't the smallest idea that I waslaying a trap for him; I felt I couldn't play him such a dirty trick. Itwas like taking candy off a child. D'you know what I did? I said, 'Ohwell, perhaps you'd better not. Mamma's not very well tonight and ifshe's fallen asleep I don't want to wake her up. Good night.' I put myface up for him to kiss and pushed him out of the door. That was the endof that."

"Are you sorry?" I asked.

"I'm neither pleased nor sorry. I just couldn't help myself. It wasn'tme that did what I did. It was just an impulse that took possession ofme and acted for me." She grinned. "I suppose you'd call it my betternature."

"I suppose you would."

"Then my better nature must take the consequences. I trust in the futureit'll be more careful."

That was in effect the end of our talk. It may be that it was someconsolation to Isabel to have been able to speak to someone with entirefreedom, but that was all the good I had been able to do her. Feeling Ihad been inadequate, I tried to say at least some small thing that wouldgive her comfort.

"You know, when one's in love," I said, "and things go all wrong, one'sterribly unhappy and one thinks one won't ever get over it. But you'llbe astounded to learn what the sea will do."

"What do you mean?" she smiled.

"Well, love isn't a good sailor and it languishes on a sea voyage.You'll be surprised when you have the Atlantic between you and Larry tofind how slight the pang is that before you sailed seemed intolerable."

"Do you speak from experience?"

"From the experience of a stormy past. When I suffered from the pangs ofunrequited love I immediately got on an ocean liner."

The rain showed no sign of letting up, so we decided that Isabel couldsurvive without seeing the noble pile of Hampton Court or even QueenElizabeth's bed and drove back to London. I saw her two or three timesafter that, but only when other people were present, and then, havinghad enough of London for a while, I set off for the Tyrol.


Chapter Three

(i)

For ten years after this I saw neither Isabel nor Larry. I continued tosee Elliott and indeed, for a reason that I shall tell later, morefrequently than before, and from time to time I learnt from him what washappening to Isabel. But of Larry he could tell me nothing.

"For all I know he's still living in Paris, but I'm not likely to runacross him. We don't move in the same circles," he added, not withoutcomplacency. "It's very sad that he should have gone so completely toseed. He comes of a very good family. I'm sure I could have madesomething of him if he'd put himself in my hands. Anyhow it was a luckyescape for Isabel."

My circle of acquaintance was not so restricted as Elliott's and I knewa number of persons in Paris whom he would have thought eminentlyundesirable. On my brief but not infrequent sojourns I asked one orother of them whether he had run across Larry or had news of him; a fewknew him casually, but none could claim any intimacy with him and Icould find nobody to give me news of him. I went to the restaurant atwhich he habitually dined, but found he had not been there for a longtime, and they thought he must have gone away. I never saw him at any ofthe cafés on the Boulevard du Montparnasse which people who live in theneighbourhood are apt to go to.

His intention, after Isabel left Paris, was to go to Greece, but this heabandoned. What he actually did he told me himself many years later, butI will relate it now because it is more convenient to place events asfar as I can in chronological order. He stayed on in Paris during thesummer and worked without a break till autumn was well advanced.

"I thought I needed a rest from books then," he said, "I'd been workingfrom eight to ten hours a day for two years. So I went to work in a coalmine."

"You did what?" I cried.

He laughed at my astonishment.

"I thought it would do me good to spend a few months in manual labour. Ihad a notion it would give me an opportunity to sort my thoughts andcome to terms with myself."

I was silent. I wondered whether that was the only reason for thisunexpected step or whether it was connected with Isabel's refusal tomarry him. The fact was, I didn't know at all how deeply he loved her.Most people when they're in love invent every kind of reason to persuadethemselves that it's only sensible to do what they want. I supposethat's why there are so many disastrous marriages. They are like thosewho put their affairs in the hands of someone they know to be a crook,but who happens to be an intimate friend because, unwilling to believethat a crook is a crook first and a friend afterwards, they areconvinced that, however dishonest he may be with others, he won't be sowith them. Larry was strong enough to refuse to sacrifice for Isabel'ssake the life that he thought was the life for him, but it may be thatto lose her was bitterer to endure than he had expected. It may be thatlike most of us he wanted to eat his cake and have it.

"Well, go on," I said.

"I packed my books and my clothes in a couple of trunks and got theAmerican Express to store them. Then I put an extra suit and some linenin a grip and started off. My Greek teacher had a sister who was marriedto the manager of a mine near Lens and he gave me a letter to him. D'youknow Lens?"

"No."

"It's in the North of France, not far from the Belgian border. I onlyspent a night there, at the station hotel, and next day I took a localto the place where the mine was. Ever been to a mining village?"

"In England."

"Well, I suppose it's much the same. There's the mine and the manager'shouse, rows and rows of trim little two-story houses, all alike, exactlyalike, and it's so monotonous it makes your heart sink. There's anewish, ugly church and several bars. It was bleak and cold when I gotthere and a thin rain was falling. I went to the manager's office andsent in my letter. He was a little, fat man with red cheeks and the lookof a guy who enjoys his food. They were short of labour, a lot of minershad been killed in the war, and there were a good many Poles workingthere, two or three hundred, I should think. He asked me one or twoquestions, he didn't much like my being an American, he seemed to thinkit rather fishy, but his brother-in-law's letter spoke well of me andanyhow he was glad to have me. He wanted to give me a job on thesurface, but I told him I wanted to work down below. He said I'd find ithard if I wasn't used to it, but I told him I was prepared for that, sothen he said I could be helper to a miner. That was boy's work really,but there weren't enough boys to go round. He was a nice fellow; heasked me if I'd done anything about finding a lodging, and when I toldhim I hadn't, he wrote an address on a piece of paper and said that if Iwent there the woman of the house would let me have a bed. She was thewidow of a miner who'd been killed and her two sons were working in themine.

"I took up my grip and went on my way. I found the house, and the doorwas opened for me by a tall, gaunt woman with graying hair and big, darkeyes. She had good features and she must have been nice-looking once.She wouldn't have been bad then in a haggard way except for two missingfront teeth. She told me she hadn't a room, but there were two beds in aroom she'd let to a Pole and I could have the other one. Her two sonshad one of the upstairs rooms and she had the other. The room she showedme was on the ground floor and supposed, I imagined, to be theliving-room; I should have liked a room to myself, but I thought I'dbetter not be fussy; and the drizzle had turned into a steady, lightrain and I was wet already. I didn't want to go further and get soakedto the skin. So I said that would suit me and I settled in. They usedthe kitchen as a living-room. It had a couple of rickety armchairs init. There was a coal shed in the yard which was also the bathhouse. Thetwo boys and the Pole had taken their lunch with them, but she said Icould eat with her at midday. I sat in the kitchen afterwards smokingand while she went on with her work she told me all about herself andher family. The others came in at the end of their shift. The Pole firstand then the two boys. The Pole passed through the kitchen, nodded to mewithout speaking when our landlady told him I was to share his room,took a great kettle off the hob and went off to wash himself in theshed. The two boys were tall good-looking fellows notwithstanding thegrime on their faces, and seemed inclined to be friendly. They lookedupon me as a freak because I was American. One of them was nineteen, offto his military service in a few months, and the other eighteen.

"The Pole came back and then they went to clean up. The Pole had one ofthose difficult Polish names, but they called him Kosti. He was a bigfellow, two or three inches taller than me, and heavily built. He had apale fleshy face with a broad short nose and a big mouth. His eyes wereblue and because he hadn't been able to wash the coal dust off hiseyebrows and eyelashes he looked as if he was made up. The black lashesmade the blue of his eyes almost startling. He was an ugly, uncouthfellow. The two boys after they'd changed their clothes went out. ThePole sat on in the kitchen, smoking a pipe and reading the paper. I hada book in my pocket, so I took it out and began reading too. I noticedthat he glanced at me once or twice and presently he put his paper down.

"'What are you reading?' he asked.

"I handed him the book to see for himself. It was a copy of thePrincesse de Clèves that I'd bought at the station in Paris because itwas small enough to put in my pocket. He looked at it, then at me,curiously, and handed it back. I noticed an ironical smile on his lips.

"'Does it amuse you?'

"'I think it's very interesting--even absorbing.'

"'I read it at school at Warsaw. It bored me stiff.' He spoke very goodFrench, with hardly a trace of Polish accent. 'Now I don't read anythingbut the newspaper and detective stories.'

"Madame Duclerc, that was our old girl's name, with an eye on the soupthat was cooking for supper, sat at the table darning socks. She toldKosti that I had been sent to her by the manager of the mine andrepeated what else I had seen fit to tell her. He listened, puffing awayat his pipe, and looked at me with brilliantly blue eyes. They were hardand shrewd. He asked me a few questions about myself. When I told him Ihad never worked in a mine before his lips broke again into an ironicalsmile.

"'You don't know what you're in for. No one would go to work in a minewho could do anything else. But that's your affair and doubtless youhave your reasons. Where did you live in Paris?'

"I told him.

"'At one time I used to go to Paris every year, but I kept to the GrandsBoulevards. Have you ever been to Larue's? It was my favoriterestaurant.'

"That surprised me a bit because, you know, it's not cheap."

"Far from it."

"I fancy he saw my surprise, for he gave me once more his mocking smile,but evidently didn't think it necessary to explain further. We went ontalking in a desultory fashion and then the two boys came in. We hadsupper and when we'd finished Kosti asked me if I'd like to come to thebistro with him and have a beer. It was just a rather large room witha bar at one end of it and a number of marble-topped tables with woodenchairs around them. There was a mechanical piano and someone had put acoin in the slot and it was braying out a dance tune. Only three tableswere occupied besides ours. Kosti asked me if I played belote. I'dlearnt it with some of my student friends, so I said I did and heproposed that we should play for the beer. I agreed and he called forcards. I lost a beer and a second beer. Then he proposed that we shouldplay for money. He had good cards and I had bad luck. We were playingfor very small stakes, but I lost several francs. This and the beer puthim in a good humour and he talked. It didn't take me long to guess,both by his way of expressing himself and by his manners, that he was aman of education. When he spoke again of Paris it was to ask me if Iknew so and so and so and so, American women I had met at Elliott's whenAunt Louisa and Isabel were staying with him. He appeared to know thembetter than I did and I wondered how it was that he found himself in hispresent position. It wasn't late, but we had to get up at the crack ofdawn.

"'Let's have one more beer before we go,' said Kosti.

"He sipped it and peered at me with his shrewd little eyes. I knew whathe reminded me of then, an ill-tempered pig.

"'Why have you come here to work in this rotten mine?' he asked me.

"'For the experience.'

"'Tu es fou, mon petit,' he said.

"'And why are you working in it?'

"He shrugged his massive, ungainly shoulders.

"'I entered the nobleman's cadet school when I was a kid, my father wasa general under the Czar and I was a cavalry officer in the last war. Icouldn't stand Pilsudski. We arranged to kill him, but someone gave usaway. He shot those of us he caught. I managed to get across thefrontier just in time. There was nothing for me but the Foreign Legionor a coal mine. I chose the lesser of two evils.'

"I had already told Kosti what job I was to have in the mine and he hadsaid nothing, but now, putting his elbow on the marble-topped table, hesaid:

"'Try to push my hand back.'

"I knew the old trial of strength and I put my open palm against his. Helaughed. 'Your hand won't be as soft as that in a few weeks.' I pushedwith all my might, but I could make no effect against his huge strengthand gradually he pressed my hand back and down to the table.

"'You're pretty strong,' he was good enough to say. 'There aren't manymen who keep up as long as that. Listen, my helper's no good, he's apuny little Frenchman, he hasn't got the strength of a louse. You comealong with me tomorrow and I'll get the foreman to let me have youinstead.'

"'I'd like that,' I said. 'D'you think he'll do it?'

"'For a consideration. Have you got fifty francs to spare?'

"He stretched out his hand and I took a note out of my wallet. We wenthome and to bed. I'd had a long day and I slept like a log."

"Didn't you find the work terribly hard?" I asked Larry.

"Back-breaking at first," he grinned. "Kosti worked it with the foremanand I was made his helper. At that time Kosti was working in a spaceabout the size of a hotel bathroom and one got to it through a tunnel solow that you had to crawl through it on your hands and knees. It was ashot as hell in there and we worked in nothing but our pants. There wassomething terribly repulsive in that great white fat torso of Kosti's;he looked like a huge slug. The row of the pneumatic cutter in thatnarrow space was deafening. My job was to gather the blocks of coal thathe hacked away and load a basket with them and drag the basket throughthe tunnel to its mouth, where it could be loaded into a truck when thetrain came along at intervals on its way to the elevators. It's the onlycoal mine I've ever known, so I don't know if that's the normalpractice. It seemed amateurish to me and it was damned hard work. Athalf time we knocked off for a rest and ate our lunch and smoked. Iwasn't sorry when we were through for the day, and gosh, it was good tohave a bath. I thought I'd never get my feet clean; they were as blackas ink. Of course my hands blistered and they got as sore as the devil,but they healed. I got used to the work."

"How long did you stick it out?"

"I was only kept on that job for a few weeks. The trucks that carriedthe coal to the elevators were hauled by a tractor and the driver was apoor mechanic and the engine was always breaking down. Once he couldn'tget it going and he didn't seem to know what to do. Well, I'm a prettygood mechanic, so I had a look at it and in half an hour I got itworking. The foreman told the manager and he sent for me and asked me ifI knew about cars. The result was that he gave me the mechanic's job; ofcourse it was monotonous, but it was easy, and because they didn't haveany more engine trouble they were pleased with me.

"Kosti was as sore as hell at my leaving him. I suited him and he'd gotused to me. I got to know him pretty well, working with him all day,going to the bistro with him after supper, and sharing a room withhim. He was a funny fellow. He was the sort of man who'd have appealedto you. He didn't mix with the Poles and we didn't go to the cafés theywent to. He couldn't forget he was a nobleman and had been a cavalryofficer and he treated them like dirt. Naturally they resented it, butthey couldn't do anything about it; he was as strong as an ox, and if ithad ever come to a scrap, knives or no knives, he'd have been a matchfor half a dozen of them together. I got to know some of them all thesame, and they told me he'd been a cavalry officer all right in one ofthe smart regiments, but it was a lie about his having left Poland forpolitical reasons. He'd been kicked out of the Officers' Club at Warsawand cashiered because he'd been caught cheating at cards. They warned meagainst playing with him. They said that was why he fought shy of them,because they knew too much about him and wouldn't play with him.

"I'd been losing to him consistently, not much, you know, just a fewfrancs a night, but when he won he always insisted on paying for drinks,so it didn't amount to anything really. I thought I was just having arun of bad luck or that I didn't play as well as he did. But after thatI kept my eyes skinned and I was dead sure he was cheating, but d'youknow, for the life of me I couldn't see how he did it. Gosh, he wasclever. I knew he simply couldn't have the best cards all the time. Iwatched him like a lynx. He was as cunning as a fox and I guess he sawI'd been put wise to him. One night, after we'd been playing for awhile, he looked at me with that rather cruel, sarcastic smile of hiswhich was the only way he knew how to smile, and said:

"'Shall I show you a few tricks?'

"He took the pack of cards and asked me to name one. He shuffled themand he told me to choose one; I did, and it was the card I'd named. Hedid two or three more tricks and then he asked me if I played poker. Isaid I did and he dealt me a hand. When I looked at it I saw I'd gotfour aces and a king.

"'You'd be willing to bet a good deal on that hand, wouldn't you?' heasked.

"'My whole stack,' I answered.

"'You'd be silly.' He put down the hand he'd dealt himself. It was astraight flush. How it was done I don't know. He laughed at myamazement. 'If I weren't an honest man I'd have had your shirt by now.'

"'You haven't done so badly as it is,' I grinned.

"'Chicken feed. Not enough to buy a dinner at Larue's.'

"We continued to play pretty well every night. I came to the conclusionthat he cheated not so much for the money as for the fun of it. It gavehim a queer satisfaction to know that he was making a fool of me, and Ithink he got a lot of amusem*nt out of knowing that I was on to what hewas doing and couldn't see how it was done.

"But that was only one side of him and it was the other side that madehim so interesting to me. I couldn't reconcile the two. Though heboasted he never read anything but the paper and detective stories hewas a cultivated man. He was a good talker, caustic, harsh, cynical, butit was exhilarating to listen to him. He was a devout Catholic and had acrucifix hanging over his bed, and he went to Mass every Sundayregularly. On Saturday nights he used to get drunk. The bistro we wentto was crammed jammed full then, and the air was heavy with smoke. Therewere quiet, middle-aged miners with their families, and there weregroups of young fellows kicking up a hell of a row, and there were menwith sweaty faces round tables playing belote with loud shouts, whiletheir wives sat by, a little behind them, and watched. The crowd and thenoise had a strange effect on Kosti and he'd grow serious and starttalking--of all unlikely subjects--of mysticism. I knew nothing of itthen but an essay of Maeterlinck's on Ruysbroek that I'd read in Paris.But Kosti talked of Plotinus and Denis the Areopagite and Jacob Boehmethe shoemaker and Meister Eckhart. It was fantastic to hear that greathulking bum, who'd been thrown out of his own world, that sardonic,bitter down-and-out speaking of the ultimate reality of things and theblessedness of union with God. It was all new to me and I was confusedand excited. I was like someone who's lain awake in a darkened room andsuddenly a chink of light shoots through the curtains and he knows heonly has to draw them and there the country will be spread before him inthe glory of the dawn. But when I tried to get him on the subject whenhe was sober he got mad at me. His eyes were spiteful.

"'How should I know what I was talking about when I didn't know what Iwas saying?' he snapped.

"But I knew he was lying. He knew perfectly well what he was talkingabout. He knew a lot. Of course he was soused, but the look in his eyes,the rapt expression on his ugly face weren't due only to drink. Therewas more to it than that. The first time he talked in that way he saidsomething that I've never forgotten, because it horrified me; he saidthat the world isn't a creation, for out of nothing nothing comes, but amanifestation of the eternal nature; well, that was all right, but thenhe added that evil is as direct a manifestation of the divine as good.They were strange words to hear in that sordid, noisy café, to theaccompaniment of dance tunes on the mechanical piano."

(ii)

To give the reader a moment's rest I am starting here upon a newsection, but I am doing it only for his convenience; the conversationwas uninterrupted. I may take this opportunity to say that Larry spokewithout haste, often choosing his words with care, and though of courseI do not pretend to report them exactly, I have tried to reproduce notonly the matter, but the manner of his discourse. His voice, rich intone, had a musical quality that was grateful to the ear; and as hetalked, without gesticulation of any kind, puffing away at his pipe andstopping now and again to relight it, he looked you in the face with apleasant, often whimsical expression in his dark eyes.

"Then the spring came, late in that flat, dismal part of the country,cold and rainy still; but sometimes a fine warm day made it hard toleave the world above ground to go down hundreds of feet in a ricketyelevator, crowded with miners in their grimy overalls, into the bowelsof the earth. It was spring all right, but it seemed to come shyly inthat grim and sordid landscape as though unsure of a welcome. It waslike a flower, a daffodil or a lily, growing in a pot on the window sillof a slum dwelling and you wondered what it did there. One Sundaymorning we were lying in bed, we always slept late on Sunday morning,and I was reading, when Kosti said to me out of a blue sky:

"'I'm getting out of here. D'you want to come with me?'

"I knew a lot of the Poles went back to Poland in the summer to get theharvest in, but it was early for that, and besides, Kosti couldn't goback to Poland.

"'Where are you going?' I asked.

"'Tramping. Across Belgium and into Germany and down the Rhine. We couldget work on a farm that would see us through the summer.'

"It didn't take me a minute to make up my mind.

"'It sounds fine,' I said.

"Next day we told the foreman we were through. I found a fellow who waswilling to take my grip in exchange for a rucksack. I gave the clothes Ididn't want or couldn't carry on my back to the younger of MadameDuclerc's sons who was about my size. Kosti left a bag, packed what hewanted in his rucksack and the day after, as soon as the old girl hadgiven us our coffee, we started off.

"We weren't in any hurry as we knew we couldn't get taken on at a farmat least until the hay was ready to cut, and so we dawdled along throughFrance and Belgium by way of Namur and Liège and got into Germanythrough Aachen. We didn't do more than ten or twelve miles a day. Whenwe liked the look of a village we stopped there. There was always somekind of an inn where we could get beds and an alehouse where we couldget something to eat and beer to drink. On the whole we had fineweather. It was grand to be out in the open air after all those monthsin the mine. I don't think I've ever realized before how good a greenmeadow is to look at and how lovely a tree is when the leaves aren't outyet, but when the branches are veiled in a faint green mist. Kostistarted to teach me German and I believe he spoke it as well as he spokeFrench. As we trudged along he would tell me the German for the variousobjects we passed, a cow, a horse, a man and so on, and then make merepeat simple German sentences. It made the time pass and by the time wegot into Germany I could at least ask for the things I wanted.

"Cologne was a bit out of our way, but Kosti insisted on going there, onaccount of the Eleven Thousand Virgins, he said, and when we got therehe went on a bat. I didn't see him for three days and when he turned upat the room we'd taken in a sort of workmen's rooming-house he was verysurly. He'd got in a fight and he had a black eye and a cut on his lip.He wasn't a pretty object, I can tell you. He went to bed fortwenty-four hours, and then we started to walk down the valley of theRhine towards Darmstadt, where he said the country was good and we stoodthe best chance of getting work.

"I never enjoyed anything more. The fine weather held and we wanderedthrough towns and villages. When there were sights to see we stopped offand looked at them. We put up where we could and once or twice we sleptin a loft on the hay. We ate at wayside inns and when we got in the winecountry we turned from beer to wine. We made friends with the people inthe taverns we drank in. Kosti had a sort of rough joviality thatinspired them with confidence and he'd play skat with them, that's aGerman card game, and skin them with such bluff good humour, with theearthy jokes they appreciated, that they hardly minded losing theirpfennigs to him. I practised my German on them. I'd bought a littleEnglish-German conversation grammar at Cologne and I was getting onpretty well. And then at night, when he'd got a couple of litres ofwhite wine inside him, Kosti would talk in a strange morbid way of theflight from the Alone to the Alone, of the Dark Night of the Soul and ofthe final ecstasy in which the creature becomes one with the Beloved.But when in the early morning, as we walked through the smiling country,with the dew still on the grass, I tried to get him to tell me more, hegrew so angry that he could have hit me.

"'Shut up, you fool,' he said. 'What do you want with all that stuff andnonsense? Come, let's get on with our German.'

"You can't argue with a man who's got a fist like a steam hammer andwouldn't think twice about using it. I'd seen him in a rage. I knew hewas capable of laying me out cold and leaving me in a ditch and Iwouldn't have put it past him to empty my pockets while I was out. Icouldn't make head or tail of him. When wine had loosened his tongue andhe spoke of the Ineffable, he shed the rough obscene language that heordinarily used, like the grimy overalls he wore in the mine, and he waswell spoken and even eloquent. I couldn't believe he wasn't sincere. Idon't know how it occurred to me, but I got the idea somehow that he'dtaken on that hard, brutal labour of the mine to mortify his flesh. Ithought he hated that great, uncouth body of his and wanted to tortureit and that his cheating and his bitterness and his cruelty were therevolt of his will against--oh, I don't know what you'd call it--againsta deep-rooted instinct of holiness, against a desire for God thatterrified and yet obsessed him.

"We'd taken our time, the spring was pretty well over and the trees werein full leaf. The grapes in the vineyards were beginning to fill out. Wekept to the dirt roads as much as we could and they were getting dusty.We were in the neighbourhood of Darmstadt and Kosti said we'd betterstart looking for a job. Our money was getting short. I had half a dozentravellers' cheques in my pocket, but I'd made up my mind not to usethem if I could possibly help it. When we saw a farmhouse that lookedpromising we stopped and asked if they wanted a couple of hands. Idaresay we didn't look very inviting. We were dusty and sweaty anddirty. Kosti looked a terrible ruffian and I don't suppose I looked muchbetter either. We were turned down time after time. At one place thefarmer said he'd take Kosti but couldn't do with me and Kosti said wewere buddies and wouldn't separate. I told him to go ahead, but hewouldn't. I was surprised. I knew Kosti had taken a fancy to me, thoughI couldn't imagine why, as I didn't begin to be the kind of guy he hadany use for, but I would never have thought he liked me well enough torefuse a job on my account. I felt rather conscience-stricken as wewalked on, because I didn't really like him, in fact I found him ratherrepulsive, but when I tried to say something to show I was pleased withwhat he'd done, he bit my head off.

"But at last our luck turned. We'd just gone through a village in ahollow and we came to a rambling farmhouse that didn't look so bad. Weknocked at the door and a woman opened it. We offered ourselves asusual. We said we didn't want any wages, but were willing to work forour board and lodging, and to my surprise instead of slamming the doorin our face, she told us to wait. She called to someone inside the houseand presently a man came out. He had a good stare at us and asked uswhere we came from. He asked to see our papers. He gave me another starewhen he saw I was American. He didn't seem to like it much, but anyhowhe asked us to come in and have a glass of wine. He took us into thekitchen and we sat down. The woman brought a flagon and some glasses. Hetold us that his hired man had been gored by a bull and was in hospitaland wouldn't be fit for anything till after the harvest was in. With somany men killed, and others going into the factories that were springingup along the Rhine, it was the devil's own job to get labour. We knewthat and had been counting on it. Well, to make a long story short hesaid he'd take us. There was plenty of room in the house, but I supposehe didn't fancy having us there; anyway he told us there were two bedsin the hayloft and that's where we were to sleep.

"The work wasn't hard. There were the cows to look after and the hogs;the machinery was in a bad way, and we had to do something about that;but I had some leisure. I loved the sweet-smelling meadows and in theevenings I used to wander about and dream. It was a good life.

"The household consisted of old Becker, his wife, his widoweddaughter-in-law and her children. Becker was a heavy, gray-haired man inthe late forties; he'd been through the war and still limped from awound in the leg. It hurt him a lot and he drank to kill the pain. Hewas generally high by the time he got to bed. Kosti got on with him fineand they used to go down to the inn together after supper to play skatand swill wine. Frau Becker had been a hired girl. They'd got her out ofan orphanage and Becker had married her soon after his wife's death. Shewas a good many years younger than he was, rather handsome in a way,full-blown, with red cheeks and fair hair and a hungry sensual look. Itdidn't take Kosti long to come to the conclusion that there wassomething doing there. I told him not to be a fool. We had a good joband we didn't want to lose it. He only jeered at me; he said Beckerwasn't satisfying her and she was asking for it. I knew it was uselessto appeal to his sense of decency, but I told him to be careful; itmight be that Becker wouldn't see what he was after, but there was hisdaughter-in-law and she wasn't missing anything.

"Ellie, that was her name, was a thickset, big young woman, well underthirty, with black eyes and black hair, a sallow square face and asullen look. She still wore mourning for her husband killed at Verdun.She was very devout and on Sunday mornings trudged down to the villageto early Mass and again in the afternoon to vespers. She had threechildren, one of whom had been born after her husband's death, and shenever spoke at meals except to scold them. She did a little work on thefarm, but spent most of her time looking after the kids, and in theevening sat by herself in the sitting-room, with the door open so thatshe could hear if one of them was crying, and read novels. The two womenhated one another. Ellie despised Frau Becker because she was afoundling and had been a servant, and bitterly resented her being themistress of the house and in a position to give orders.

"Ellie was the daughter of a prosperous farmer and had brought a gooddowry with her. She hadn't gone to the village school, but toZwingenberg, the nearest town, where there was a girl's gymnasium andshe'd got quite a good education. Poor Frau Becker had come to the farmwhen she was fourteen and if she could read and write that's about allshe could do. That was another cause of discord between the two women.Ellie lost no opportunity of showing off her knowledge, and Frau Becker,red in the face with anger, would ask what use it was to a farmer'swife. Then Ellie would look at her husband's identification disc whichshe wore on a steel chain round her wrist and with a bitter look on hersullen face say:

"'Not a farmer's wife. Only a farmer's widow. Only the widow of a herowho gave his life for his country.'

"Poor old Becker had his work cut out to keep the peace between them."

"But what did they make of you?" I interrupted Larry.

"Oh, they thought I'd deserted from the American Army and couldn't goback to America or I'd be put in jail. That's how they explained that Ididn't care to go down to the inn and drink with Becker and Kosti. Theythought I didn't want to attract attention to myself and have thevillage constable asking questions. When Ellie found out I was trying tolearn German she brought out her old schoolbooks and said she'd teachme. So after supper she and I would go in the sitting-room, leaving FrauBecker in the kitchen, and I'd read aloud to her while she corrected myaccent and tried to make me understand words I couldn't get the senseof. I guessed she was doing it not so much to help me as to putsomething over on Frau Becker.

"All this time Kosti was trying to make Frau Becker and wasn't gettinganywhere. She was a jolly, merry woman and quite prepared to joke andlaugh with him, and he had a way with women. I guess she knew what hewas after and I daresay she was flattered, but when he started pinchingher she told him to keep his hands to himself and smacked his face. AndI bet it was a good hard smack."

Larry hesitated a little and smiled rather shyly.

"I've never been the sort who thinks women are after me, but it occurredto me that--well, that Frau Becker had fallen for me. It made me ratheruncomfortable. For one thing she was a lot older than me, and then oldBecker had been very decent to us. She dished out the food at table andI couldn't help noticing that she helped me more liberally than theothers, and she seemed to me to look for opportunities of being alonewith me. She'd smile at me in what I suppose you'd call a provocativemanner. She'd ask me if I had a girl and say that a young fellow like memust suffer for the want of it in a place like that. You know the sortof thing. I only had three shirts and they were pretty well worn. Onceshe said it was a disgrace that I should wear such rags and if I'd bringthem along she'd mend them. Ellie heard her and next time we were alonesaid that if I had anything to mend she'd do it. I said it didn'tmatter. But a day or two later I found that my socks had been darned andmy shirts patched and put back on the bench in the loft on which we keptour things; but which of them had done it I didn't know. Of course Ididn't take Frau Becker seriously; she was a good-natured old soul and Ithought it might be just motherliness on her part; but then one dayKosti said to me:

"'Listen, it's not me she wants; it's you. I haven't got a chance.'

"'Don't talk such nonsense,' I said to him. 'She's old enough to be mymother.'

"'What of it? You go ahead, my boy, I won't stand in your way. She's notso young as she might be, but she's a fine figure of a woman.'

"'Oh, shut up.'

"'Why d'you hesitate? Not on my account, I hope. I'm a philosopher and Iknow there are as good fish in the sea as ever came out. I don't blameher. You're young. I've been young too. Jeunesse ne dure qu'unmoment.'

"I wasn't too pleased that Kosti was so sure of what I didn't want tobelieve. I didn't quite know how to deal with the situation, and then Irecalled various things that hadn't struck me at the time. Things saidby Ellie that I hadn't paid much attention to. But now I understood themand I was pretty sure that she too knew what was happening. She'd turnup suddenly in the kitchen when Frau Becker and I happened to be alone.I got the impression that she was watching us. I didn't like it. Ithought she was out to catch us, I knew she hated Frau Becker, and ifshe had half a chance she'd make trouble. Of course I knew she couldn'tcatch us, but she was a malevolent creature and I didn't know what liesshe mightn't invent and pour into old Becker's ears. I didn't know whatto do except to pretend I was such a fool I didn't see what the old girlwas up to. I was happy at the farm and enjoying the work and I didn'twant to go till after we'd got the harvest in."

I couldn't help smiling. I could imagine what Larry had looked likethen, in his patched shirt and shorts, his face and neck burnt brown bythe hot sun of the Rhine valley, with his lithe slim body and his blackeyes in their deep sockets. I could well believe that the sight of himset the matronly Frau Becker, so blond, so full-breasted, all of aflutter with desire.

"Well, what happened?" I asked.

"Well, the summer wore on. We worked like demons there. We cut andstacked the hay. Then the cherries were ripe, Kosti and I got up onladders and picked them, and the two women put them in great baskets andold Becker took them into Zwingenberg and sold them. Then we cut therye. And of course there were always the animals to look after. We wereup before dawn and we didn't stop work till nightfall. I supposed FrauBecker had given me up as a bad job; as far as I could without offendingher, I kept her at arm's length. I was too sleepy to read much German inthe evenings and soon after supper I'd take myself off to our loft andfall into bed. Most evenings Becker and Kosti went to the inn down inthe village, but I was fast asleep by the time Kosti came back. It washot in the loft and I slept naked.

"One night I was awakened. At the first moment I couldn't make out whatit was; I was only half awake. I felt a hot hand on my mouth and Irealized somebody was in bed with me. I tore the hand away and then amouth was pressed to mine, two arms were thrown round me and I felt FrauBecker's great breasts against my body.

"'Sei still,' she whispered. 'Be quiet.'

"She pressed up against me and kissed my face with hot, full lips andher hands travelled over my body and she twined her legs in mine."

Larry stopped. I giggled.

"What did you do?"

He gave me a deprecating smile. He even flushed a little.

"What could I do? I could hear Kosti breathing heavily in his sleep inthe bed next to mine. The situation of Joseph has always seemed to mefaintly ridiculous. I was only just twenty-three. I couldn't make ascene and kick her out. I didn't want to hurt her feelings. I did whatwas expected of me.

"Then she slipped out of bed and tiptoed out of the loft. I can tellyou, I heaved a sigh of relief. You know, I'd been scared. 'Gosh,' Isaid, 'what a risk to take!' I thought it likely that Becker had comehome drunk and fallen asleep in a stupor, but they slept in the samebed, and it might be that he'd woken up and seen his wife wasn't there.And there was Ellie. She always said she didn't sleep well. If she'dbeen awake she'd have heard Frau Becker go downstairs and out of thehouse. And then, suddenly, something struck me. When Frau Becker was inbed with me I'd felt a piece of metal against my skin. I'd paid noattention, you know one doesn't in those circ*mstances, and I'd neverthought of asking myself what the devil it was. And now it flashedacross me. I was sitting on the side of my bed thinking and worryingabout the consequences of all this and it was such a shock that I jumpedup. The piece of metal was Ellie's husband's identification disc thatshe wore round her wrist and it wasn't Frau Becker that had been in bedwith me. It was Ellie."

I roared with laughter. I couldn't stop.

"It may seem funny to you," said Larry. "It didn't seem funny to me."

"Well, now you look back on it, don't you think there is just a faintelement of the humorous about it?"

An unwilling smile played on his lips.

"Perhaps. But it was an awkward situation. I didn't know what it wasgoing to lead to. I didn't like Ellie. I thought her a most unpleasantfemale."

"But how could you mistake one for the other?"

"It was pitch dark. She never said a word except to tell me to keep mytrap shut. They were both big stout women. I thought Frau Becker had hereye on me. It never occurred to me for a moment that Ellie gave me athought. She was always thinking of her husband. I lit a cigarette andthought the position over and the more I thought of it the less I likedit. It seemed to me that the best thing I could do was to get out.

"I'd often cursed Kosti because he was so hard to wake. When we were atthe mine I used to have to shake the life out of him to get him up intime to go to work. But I was thankful now that he slept so heavily. Ilit my lantern and dressed, bundled my things into my rucksack--I hadn'tgot much, so it didn't take a minute--and slipped my arms through thestraps. I walked across the loft in my stocking feet and didn't put myshoes on till I got to the bottom of the ladder. I blew out the lantern.It was a dark night, with no moon, but I knew my way to the road and Iturned in the direction of the village. I walked fast as I wanted to getthrough it before anyone was up and about. It was only twelve miles toZwingenberg and I got there just as it was stirring. I shall neverforget that walk. There wasn't a sound except my footsteps on the roadand now and then the crowing of a co*ck in a farm. Then the firstgrayness when it wasn't yet light and not quite dark, and the first hintof dawn, and the sunrise with the birds all starting to sing, and thatlush green country, meadows and woods and the wheat in the fieldssilvery gold in the cool light of the beginning day. I got a cup ofcoffee at Zwingenberg and a roll, then I went to the post office andsent a wire to the American Express to have my clothes and my books sentto Bonn."

"Why Bonn?" I interrupted.

"I'd taken a fancy to it when we stopped off there on our tramp down theRhine. I liked the way the light shone on the roofs and the river, andits old narrow streets, and its villas and gardens and avenues ofchestnut trees and the rococo buildings of the university. It struck methen it wouldn't be a bad place to stay in for a bit. But I thought I'dbetter present a respectable appearance when I got there, I looked likea tramp and I didn't think I'd inspire much confidence if I went to apension and asked for a room, so I took a train to Frankfurt and boughtmyself a grip and a few clothes. I stayed in Bonn off and on for ayear."

"And did you get anything out of your experience, at the mine, I mean,and on the farm?"

"Yes," said Larry, nodding his head and smiling.

But he didn't tell me what it was and I knew him well enough by then toknow that when he felt like telling you something he did, but when hedidn't he would turn off questions with a cool pleasantry that made ituseless to insist. For I must remind the reader that he narrated allthis to me ten years after it happened. Till then, when I once more camein contact with him, I had no notion where he was or how he was engaged.For all I knew he might be dead. Except for my friendship with Elliott,who kept me posted with the course of Isabel's life and so reminded meof Larry, I should doubtless have forgotten his existence.

(iii)

Isabel was married to Gray Maturin early in the June of the year afterthe termination of her engagement to Larry. Though Elliott hated leavingParis at a moment when the season was at its height and he must miss anumber of grand parties, his family feeling was too strong to allow himto neglect what he thought a social duty. Isabel's brothers were unableto leave their distant posts and so it behooved him to make the irksomejourney to Chicago to give his niece away. Remembering that Frencharistocrats had gone to the guillotine in all their finery, he made aspecial journey to London to get himself a new morning coat, a dove-graydouble-breasted waistcoat and a silk hat. On his return to Paris heinvited me to come and see them on. He was in a state of perturbationbecause the gray pearl he usually wore in his necktie would not make anysort of effect against the pale gray tie he had chosen as suitable tothe festive occasion. I suggested his emerald-and-diamond pin.

"If I were a guest--yes," he said. "But in the particular position Ishall occupy I feel that a pearl is indicated."

He was much pleased with the marriage, which concorded with all hisideas of propriety, and he spoke of it with the unctuousness of adowager duch*ess expressing herself on the suitability of a union betweena scion of the La Rochefoucaulds with a daughter of the Montmorencys. Asa visible mark of his satisfaction he was taking over as a weddingpresent, sparing no expense, a fine portrait by Nattier of a princess ofthe House of France.

It appeared that Henry Maturin had bought for the young couple a housein Astor Street so that they should be close to where Mrs. Bradley livedand not too far from his own palatial residence on Lake Shore Drive. Bya happy chance, in which I suspected the deft complicity of Elliott,Gregory Brabazon was in Chicago at the time the purchase was made andthe decoration was entrusted to him. When Elliott returned to Europeand, throwing in his hand so far as the season in Paris was concerned,came straight to London he brought photographs of the result. GregoryBrabazon had let himself go. In the drawing-room and dining-room he hadgone all George the Second and it was very grand. In the library, whichwas to be Gray's den, he had been inspired by a room in the AmalienburgPalace at Munich, and except that there was no place in it for books itwas perfect. Save for the twin beds, Louis Quinze visiting Madame dePompadour would have found himself perfectly at home in the bedroomGregory had provided for this young American couple, but Isabel'sbathroom would have been an eye-opener to him; it was all glass--walls,ceiling and bath--and on the walls silver fish meandered profusely amonggilded aquatic plants.

"Of course it's a tiny house," said Elliott, "but Henry told me thedecoration set him back a hundred thousand dollars. A fortune to somepeople."

The ceremony was performed with such pomp as the Episcopal church couldafford.

"Not like a wedding at Nôtre Dame," he told me complacently, "but for aProtestant affair it didn't lack style."

The press had behaved very handsomely and Elliott negligently tossed thecuttings to me. He showed me photographs of Isabel, hefty but handsomein her wedding dress, and Gray, a massive but fine figure of a man, atrifle self-conscious in his formal clothes. There was a group of theyoung couple with the bridesmaids and another group with Mrs. Bradley ina sumptuous garment and Elliott holding his new silk hat with a gracethat only he could have achieved. I asked how Mrs. Bradley was.

"She's lost a good deal of weight and I don't like her colour, but she'spretty well. Of course the whole thing was a strain on her, but now it'sall over she'll be able to rest up."

A year later Isabel was delivered of a daughter, to whom, following thefashion of the moment, she gave the name of Joan; and after an intervalof two years she had another daughter whom, following another fashion,she called Priscilla.

One of Henry Maturin's partners died and the other two under pressuresoon afterwards retired, so that he entered into sole possession of thebusiness over which he had always exercised despotic control. Herealized the ambition he had long entertained and took Gray intopartnership with him. The firm had never been so prosperous.

"They're making money hand over fist, my dear fellow," Elliott told me."Why, Gray at the age of twenty-five is making fifty thousand a year,and that's only a beginning. The resources of America are inexhaustible.It isn't a boom, it's just the natural development of a great country."

His chest swelled with an unwonted patriotic fervor.

"Henry Maturin can't live forever, high blood pressure, you know, and bythe time Gray's forty he should be worth twenty million dollars.Princely, my dear fellow, princely."

Elliott kept up a fairly regular correspondence with his sister and fromtime to time as the years went on passed on to me what she told him.Gray and Isabel were very happy, and the babies were sweet. They livedin a style that Elliott gladly admitted was eminently suitable; theyentertained lavishly and were lavishly entertained; he told me withsatisfaction that Isabel and Gray hadn't dined by themselves once inthree months. Their whirl of gaiety was interrupted by the death of Mrs.Maturin, that colourless, highborn lady whom Henry Maturin had marriedfor her connection when he was making a place for himself in the city towhich his father had come as a country bumpkin; and out of respect forher memory for a year the young couple never entertained more than sixpeople to dinner.

"I've always said that eight was the perfect number," said Elliott,determined to look on the bright side of things. "It's intimate enoughto permit of general conversation and yet large enough to give theimpression of a party."

Gray was wonderfully generous to his wife. On the birth of their firstchild he gave her a square-cut diamond ring and on the birth of hersecond a sable coat. He was too busy to leave Chicago much, but suchholidays as he could take they spent at Henry Maturin's imposing houseat Marvin. Henry could deny nothing to the son whom he adored and oneChristmas gave him a plantation in South Carolina so that he could get afortnight's duck shooting in the season.

"Of course our merchant princes correspond to those great patrons of thearts of the Italian Renaissance who made fortunes by commerce. TheMedici, for instance. Two kings of France were not too proud to marrythe daughters of that illustrious family and I foresee the day when thecrowned heads of Europe will seek the hands of our dollar princesses.What was it Shelley said? 'The world's great age begins anew, The goldenyears return.'"

Henry Maturin had for many years looked after Mrs. Bradley's andElliott's investments and they had a well-justified confidence in hisacumen. He had never countenanced speculation and had put their moneyinto sound securities, but with the great increase in values they foundtheir comparatively modest fortunes increased in a manner that bothsurprised and delighted them. Elliott told me that, without stirring afinger, he was nearly twice as rich in 1926 as he had been in 1918. Hewas sixty-five, his hair was gray, his face lined and there were pouchesunder his eyes, but he bore his years gallantly; he was as slim and heldhimself as erectly as ever; he had always been moderate in his habitsand taken care of his appearance. He had no intention of submitting tothe ravages of time so long as he could have his clothes made by thebest tailor in London, his hair dressed and his face shaved by his ownparticular barber and a masseur to come in every morning to keep hiselegant body in perfect condition. He had long forgotten that he hadever so far demeaned himself as to engage in a trade, and without eversaying so outright, for he was not so stupid as to tell a lie that mightbe found out, he was inclined to suggest that in his youth he had beenin the diplomatic service. I must admit that if I had ever had occasionto draw a portrait of an ambassador I would without hesitation havechosen Elliott as my model.

But things were changing. Such of the great ladies who had advancedElliott's career as were still alive were well along in years. TheEnglish peeresses, having lost their lords, had been forced to surrendertheir mansions to daughters-in-law, and had retired to villas atCheltenham or to modest houses in Regent's Park. Stafford House wasturned into a museum, Curzon House became the seat of an organization,Devonshire House was for sale. The yacht on which Elliott had been inthe habit of staying at Cowes had passed into other hands. Thefashionable persons who occupied the stage had no use for the elderlyman that Elliott now was. They found him tiresome and ridiculous. Theywere still willing to come to his elaborate luncheon parties atClaridge's, but he was quick-witted enough to know that they came tomeet one another rather than to see him. He could no longer pick andchoose among the invitations that once had littered his writing-table,and much more often than he would have liked anyone to know he sufferedthe humiliation of dining by himself in the privacy of his suite. Womenof rank in England, when a scandal has closed the doors of society tothem, develop an interest in the arts and surround themselves withpainters, writers and musicians. Elliott was too proud thus to humiliatehimself.

"The death duties and the war profiteers have ruined English society,"he told me. "People don't seem to mind who they know. London still hasits tailors, its bootmakers and its hatters, and I trust they'll last mytime, but except for them it's finished. My dear fellow, do you knowthat the St. Erths have women to wait at table."

This he said when we were walking away from Carlton House Terrace aftera luncheon party at which an unfortunate incident had occurred. Ournoble host had a well-known collection of pictures and a young American,Paul Barton by name, who was there for the first time expressed a desireto see them.

"You've got a Titian, haven't you?"

"We had. It's in America now. Some old Jew offered us a packet of moneyfor it and we were damned hard up at the time, so my governor sold it."

I noticed that Elliott, bristling, threw a venomous glance at the jovialmarquess and guessed that it was he that had bought the picture. He wasfurious at hearing himself, Virginian born and the descendant of asignatory of the Declaration, thus described. He had never in his lifesuffered so great an affront. And what made it worse was that PaulBarton was the object of his virulent hatred. He was a young man who hadappeared in London soon after the war. He was twenty-three, blond, verygood-looking, charming, a beautiful dancer and with an ample fortune. Hehad brought a letter of introduction to Elliott, who with the kindnessof heart natural to him had presented him to various of his friends. Notcontent with this he had given him some valuable hints on conduct.Delving back into his own experience, he had shown him how it waspossible, by paying small attentions to old ladies and by lending awilling ear to distinguished men, however tedious, for a stranger tomake his way in society.

But it was a different world that Paul Barton entered from that intowhich, a generation before, Elliott Templeton had penetrated by means ofdogged perseverance. It was a world bent on amusing itself. PaulBarton's high spirits, pleasing exterior and engaging manner did for himin a few weeks what Elliott had achieved only after years of industryand determination. Soon he no longer needed Elliott's help and tooksmall pains to conceal the fact. He was pleasant to him when they met,but in an offhand way that deeply offended the older man. Elliott didnot ask people to a party because he liked them, but because they helpedto make it go, and since Paul Barton was popular he continued to invitehim on occasion to his weekly luncheons; but the successful young manwas generally engaged and twice he threw Elliott over at the lastmoment. Elliott had done this himself too often not to know it wasbecause he had just had a more tempting invitation.

"I don't ask you to believe it," Elliott told me, fuming, "but it'sGod's truth that when I see him now he patronizes me. ME. Titian.Titian," he spluttered. "He wouldn't know a Titian if he saw one."

I had never seen Elliott so angry and I guessed his wrath was caused byhis belief that Paul Barton had asked about the picture maliciously,having somehow learnt that Elliott had bought it, and would make a funnystory at his expense out of the noble lord's reply.

"He's nothing but a dirty little snob, and if there's one thing in theworld I detest and despise it's snobbishness. He'd have been nowhereexcept for me. Would you believe it, his father makes office furniture.Office furniture." He put withering scorn into the two words. "And whenI tell people he simply doesn't exist in America, his origins couldn'tbe more humble, they don't seem to care. Take my word for it, my dearfellow, English society is as dead as the dodo."

Nor did Elliott find France much better. There the great ladies of hisyouth, if still alive, were given over to bridge (a game he loathed),piety and the care of their grandchildren. Manufacturers, Argentines,Chileans, American women separated or divorced from their husbands,inhabited the stately houses of the aristocracy and entertained withsplendour, but at their parties Elliott was confounded to meetpoliticians who spoke French with a vulgar accent, journalists whosetable manners were deplorable, and even actors. The scions of princelyfamilies thought it no shame to marry the daughters of shopkeepers. Itwas true Paris was gay, but with what a shoddy gaiety! The young,devoted to the mad pursuit of pleasure, thought nothing more amusingthan to go from one stuffy little night club to another, drinkingchampagne at a hundred francs a bottle and dancing close-packed with theriffraff of the town till five o'clock in the morning. The smoke, theheat, the noise made Elliott's head ache. This was not the Paris that hehad accepted thirty years before as his spiritual home. This was not theParis that good Americans went to when they died.

(iv)

But Elliott had a flair. An inner monitor suggested to him that theRiviera was on the point of becoming once more the resort of rank andfashion. He knew the coast well from having often spent a few days inMonte Carlo at the Hôtel de Paris on his way back from Rome to which hisduties at the papal court had called him or at Cannes at the villa ofone or the other of his friends. But that was in the winter, and of laterumours had reached him that it was beginning to be well spoken of as asummer resort. The big hotels were remaining open; their summer visitorswere listed in the social columns of the Paris Herald and Elliott readtheir familiar names with approval.

"The world is too much with me," he said. "I have now reached a time oflife when I am prepared to enjoy the beauties of nature."

The remark may seem obscure. It isn't really. Elliott had always feltthat nature was an impediment to the social life, and he had no patiencewith people who could bother to go to see a lake or a mountain when theyhad before their eyes a Regency commode or a painting by Watteau. He hadat the time a considerable sum of money to spend. Henry Maturin, urgedby his son and exasperated by the sight of his friends on the stockexchange who were making fortunes overnight, had surrendered at last tothe current of events and, abandoning little by little his oldconservatism, had seen no reason why he too should not get on the bandwagon. He wrote to Elliott that he was as much opposed to gambling as hehad ever been, but this was not gambling, it was an affirmation of hisbelief in the inexhaustible resources of the country. His optimism wasbased on common sense. He could see nothing to halt the progress ofAmerica. He ended by saying that he had bought on margin a number ofsound securities for dear Louisa Bradley and was glad to be able to tellElliott that she now had a profit of twenty thousand dollars. Finally,if Elliott wanted to make a little money and would allow him to actaccording to his judgement, he was confident that he would not bedisappointed. Elliott, apt to use hackneyed quotations, remarked that hecould resist anything but temptation; the consequence of which was thatfrom then on, instead of turning to the social intelligence as he haddone for many years when the Herald was brought him with hisbreakfast, he gave his first attention to the reports of the stockmarket. So successful were Henry Maturin's transactions on his behalfthat now Elliott found himself with the tidy sum of fifty thousanddollars which he had done nothing to earn.

He decided to take his profit and buy a house on the Riviera. As arefuge from the world he chose Antibes, which held a strategic positionbetween Cannes and Monte Carlo so that it could be conveniently reachedfrom either; but whether it was the hand of Providence or his own sureinstinct that led him to choose a spot that was soon to become thecentre of fashion, it is impossible to say. To live in a villa with agarden had a suburban vulgarity that revolted his fastidious taste, sohe acquired two houses in the old town looking on the sea, knocked theminto one, and installed central heating, bathrooms and the sanitaryconveniences that American example has forced on a recalcitrantcontinent. Pickling was all the rage just then, so he furnished thehouse with old Provençal furniture duly pickled and, surrenderingdiscreetly to modernity, with modern fabrics. He was still unwilling toaccept such painters as Picasso and Braque--"horrors, my dear fellow,horrors"--whom certain misguided enthusiasts were making such a fussabout, but felt himself at long last justified in extending hispatronage to the Impressionists and so adorned his walls with some verypretty pictures. I remember a Monet of people rowing on a river, aPissarro of a quay and a bridge on the Seine, a Tahitian landscape byGauguin and a charming Renoir of a young girl in profile with longyellow hair hanging down her back. His house when finished was fresh andgay, unusual, and simple with that simplicity that you knew could onlyhave been achieved at great expense.

Then began the most splendid period of Elliott's life. He brought hisexcellent chef down from Paris and it was soon acknowledged that he hadthe best cuisine on the Riviera. He dressed his butler and his footmanin white with gold straps on their shoulders. He entertained with amagnificence that never overstepped the bounds of good taste. The shoresof the Mediterranean were littered with royalties from all parts ofEurope. Some lured there on account of the climate, some in exile, andsome because a scandalous past or an unsuitable marriage made it moreconvenient for them to inhabit a foreign country. There were Romanoffsfrom Russia, Hapsburgs from Austria, Bourbons from Spain, the twoSicilys and Parma; there were princes of the House of Windsor andprinces of the House of Bragança; there were Royal Highnesses fromSweden and Royal Highnesses from Greece: Elliott entertained them. Therewere princes and princesses not of royal blood, dukes and duch*esses,marquesses and marchionesses from Austria, Italy, Spain, Russia andBelgium: Elliott entertained them. In winter the King of Sweden and theKing of Denmark made sojourns on the coast; now and then Alfonso ofSpain paid a hurried visit: Elliott entertained them. I never ceased toadmire the way in which, when he bowed with courtly grace to theseexalted personages, he managed to maintain the independent demeanor ofthe citizen of a country in which all men are said to be born equal.

I had then, after some years of travel, bought a house on Cap Ferrat andthus saw a good deal of Elliott. I had risen so high in his good gracesthat sometimes he invited me to his very grandest parties.

"Come as a favour to me, my dear fellow," he would say. "Of course Iknow just as well as you do that royalties ruin a party. But otherpeople like to meet them and I think one owes it to oneself to show thepoor things some attention. Though heaven knows they don't deserve it.They're the most ungrateful people in the world; they'll use you, andwhen they have no further use for you they'll cast you aside like afrayed shirt; they'll accept innumerable favours from you, but there'snot one of them who'd cross the road to do the smallest thing for you inreturn."

Elliott had taken pains to get on good terms with the local authorities,and the prefect of the district and the bishop of the diocese,accompanied by his vicar general, often graced his table. The bishop hadbeen a cavalry officer before entering the Church and in the war hadcommanded a regiment. He was a rubicund, stoutish man, who affected therough-and-ready language of the barracks, and his austere, cadaverousvicar general was always on pins and needles lest he should saysomething scandalous. He listened with a deprecating smile when hissuperior told his favourite stories. But the bishop conducted hisdiocese with remarkable competence and his eloquence in the pulpit wasno less moving than his sallies at the luncheon table were amusing. Heapproved of Elliott for his pious generosity to the Church and liked himfor his amiability and the good food he provided; and the two becamegood friends. Elliott could thus flatter himself that he was making thebest of both worlds and, if I may venture so to put it, effecting a verysatisfactory working arrangement between God and Mammon.

Elliott was house-proud and he was anxious to show his new house to hissister; he had always felt a certain reserve in her approval of him andhe wanted her to see the style in which he now lived and the friends hehobnobbed with. It was the definitive answer to her hesitations. Shewould have to admit that he had made good. He wrote and asked her tocome over with Gray and Isabel, not to stay with him, for he had noroom, but to stay as his guests at the near-by Hôtel du Cap. Mrs.Bradley replied that her travelling days were over, for her health wasindifferent and she thought she was better off at home; and in any caseit was impossible for Gray to absent himself from Chicago; business wasbooming and he was making a great deal of money and had to stay put.Elliott was attached to his sister and her letter alarmed him. He wroteto Isabel. She replied by cable that, though her mother was so far fromwell that she had to stay in bed one day a week, she was in no immediatedanger and indeed with care might be expected to live a long time yet;but that Gray needed a rest and, with his father there to look afterthings, there was no reason why he should not take a holiday; so, notthat summer but the next, she and Gray would come over.

On October the 23d, 1929, the New York market broke.

(v)

I was in London then and at first we in England did not realize howgrave the situation was nor how distressing its results would be. For myown part though chagrined at losing a considerable sum, it was for themost part paper profits that I lost, and when the dust had settled Ifound myself little the poorer in cash. I knew that Elliott had beengambling heavily and feared that he was badly hit, but I did not see himtill we both returned to the Riviera for Christmas. He told me then thatHenry Maturin was dead and Gray ruined.

I know little of business matters and I daresay that my account of theevents, told me by Elliott, will seem confused. So far as I could makeout the catastrophe that had befallen the firm was due in part to HenryMaturin's self-will and in part to Gray's rashness. Henry Maturin atfirst would not believe that the break was serious, but persuadedhimself that it was a plot of the New York brokers to put a quick oneover their provincial brethren, and setting his teeth he poured forthmoney to support the market. He raged against the Chicago brokers whowere letting themselves be stampeded by those scoundrels in New York. Hehad always prided himself on the fact that none of his smaller clients,widows with settled incomes, retired officers and such like, had everlost a penny by following his advice, and now, instead of letting themtake a loss, he supported their accounts out of his own pocket. He saidhe was prepared to go broke, he could make another fortune, but he couldnever hold up his head again if the little people who trusted him losttheir all. He thought he was magnanimous; he was only vain. His greatfortune melted and one night he had a heart attack. He was in hissixties, he had always worked hard, played hard, eaten too much anddrunk heavily; after a few hours of agony he died of coronarythrombosis.

Gray was left to deal with the situation alone. He had been speculatingextensively on the side, without the knowledge of his father, and waspersonally in the greatest difficulty. His efforts to extricate himselffailed. The banks would not lend him money; older men on the exchangetold him that the only thing was to throw in the sponge. I am not clearabout the rest of the story. He was unable to meet his obligations andwas, I understand, declared bankrupt; he had already mortgaged his ownhouse and was glad to hand it over to the mortgagees; his father's houseon Lake Shore Drive and the house at Marvin were sold for what theywould fetch; Isabel sold her jewels: all that was left them was theplantation in South Carolina, which was settled on Isabel but for whicha purchaser could not be found. Gray was wiped out.

"And what about you, Elliott?" I asked.

"Oh, I'm not complaining," he answered airily. "God tempers the wind tothe shorn lamb."

I did not question him further, for his financial affairs were nobusiness of mine, but whatever his losses were I presumed that like therest of us he had suffered.

The depression did not at first hit the Riviera badly. I heard of two orthree people who had lost a good deal, many villas remained closed forthe winter and several were put up for sale. The hotels were far fromfull and the Casino at Monte Carlo complained that the season was poor.But it was not for a couple of years that the draught made itself felt.Then an estate agent told me that on the stretch of coast that reachesfrom Toulon to the Italian border there were forty-eight thousandproperties, large and small, to be sold. The shares of the Casinoslumped. The great hotels put down their prices in a vain attempt toattract. The only foreigners to be seen were those who had always beenso poor that they couldn't be poorer, and they spent no money becausethey had no money to spend. The shopkeepers were in despair. But Elliottneither diminished his staff nor lessened their wages as many did; hecontinued to provide choice food and choice wines to royal and titledpersons. He bought himself a large new car, which he imported fromAmerica and on which he had to pay a tremendous duty. He gave generouslyto the charity the bishop had organized to provide free meals for thefamilies of the workless. In fact he lived as though there had neverbeen a crisis and half the world were not staggering from its effects.

I discovered the reason by chance: Elliott had by this time ceased to goto England except for a fortnight once a year to buy clothes, but hestill transferred his establishment to his apartment in Paris for threemonths in the autumn and for May and June, these being the periods whenthe Riviera was deserted by Elliott's friends; he liked the summerthere, partly on account of the bathing, but chiefly, I think, becausethe hot weather gave him the opportunity to indulge in a gaiety of dressthat his sense of decorum had always forced him to eschew. He wouldappear then in trousers of startling colour, red, blue, green or yellow,and with them wear singlets of contrasting hue, mauve, violet, puce orharlequin, and would accept the compliments his attire clamoured forwith the deprecating grace of an actress who is told that she has playeda new role divinely.

I happened to be spending a day in Paris in the spring on my way back toCap Ferrat and had asked Elliott to lunch with me. We met in the Ritzbar, no longer thronged with college boys come from America to have agood time, but as deserted as a playwright after the first night of anunsuccessful play. We had a co*cktail, a transatlantic habit with whichElliott had at last become reconciled, and ordered our lunch. When wehad finished, he suggested that we should go round the curio shops, andthough I told him I had no money to spend I was glad enough to accompanyhim. We walked through the Place Vendôme and he asked if I would mindgoing into Charvet's for a moment; he had ordered some things and wantedto know if they were ready. It appeared that he was having someundershirts made, and some drawers, and he was having his initialsembroidered on them. The undershirts had not come in yet, but thedrawers were there and the shop assistant asked Elliott if he would liketo see them.

"I would," said he, and when the man had gone to fetch them added to me:"I have them made to order on a pattern of my own."

They were brought, and to me, except that they were of silk, lookedexactly like the drawers I had frequently bought for myself at Macy's;but what caught my eye was that above the intertwined E. T. of theinitials was a count's crown. I did not say a word.

"Very nice, very nice," said Elliott. "Well, when the undershirts areready you'll send them along."

We left the shop and Elliott, as he walked away, turned to me with asmile.

"Did you notice the crown? To tell you the truth, I'd forgotten about itwhen I asked you to come in to Charvet's. I don't think I've hadoccasion to tell you that His Holiness has been graciously pleased torevive in my favour my old family title."

"Your what?" I said, startled out of my politeness.

Elliott raised a disapproving eyebrow.

"Didn't you know? I am descended in the female line from the Count deLauria who came over to England in the suite of Philip the Second andmarried a maid of honour of Queen Mary."

"Our old friend Bloody Mary?"

"That, I believe, is what heretics call her," Elliott answered, stiffly."I don't think I ever told you that I spent September of '29 in Rome. Ithought it a bore having to go because of course Rome is empty then, butit was fortunate for me that my sense of duty prevailed over my desirefor worldly pleasures. My friends at the Vatican told me that the crashwas coming and strongly advised me to sell all my American securities.The Catholic Church has the wisdom of twenty centuries behind it and Ididn't hesitate for a moment. I cabled to Henry Maturin to selleverything and buy gold, and I cabled to Louisa to tell her to do thesame. Henry cabled back asking me if I was crazy and said he'd donothing until I confirmed the instructions. I immediately cabled in themost peremptory manner, telling him to carry them out and to cable methat he had done so. Poor Louisa paid no attention to my advice andsuffered for it."

"So when the crash came you were sitting pretty?"

"An Americanism, my dear fellow, which I see no occasion for you to use,but it expresses my situation with a good deal of accuracy. I lostnothing; in fact I had made what you would probably call a packet. I wasable some time later to buy back my securities for a fraction of theiroriginal cost, and since I owed it all to what I can only describe asthe direct interposition of Providence I felt it only right and properthat I should do something for Providence in return."

"Oh, and how did you set about that?"

"Well, you know that the Duce has been reclaiming great tracts of landin the Pontine Marshes and it was represented to me that His Holinesswas gravely concerned at the lack of places of worship for the settlers.So, to cut a long story short, I built a little Romanesque church, anexact copy of one I knew in Provence, and perfect in every detail,which, though I say it myself, is a gem. It is dedicated to St. Martinbecause I was lucky enough to find an old stained-glass windowrepresenting St. Martin in the act of cutting his cloak in two to givehalf of it to a naked beggar, and as the symbolism seemed so apt Ibought it and placed it over the high altar."

I didn't interrupt Elliott to ask him what connection he saw between theSaint's celebrated action and the rake-off on the pretty penny he hadmade by selling out in the nick of time which, like an agent'scommission, he was paying a higher power. But to a prosaic person likeme symbolism is often obscure. He went on.

"When I was privileged to show the photographs to the Holy Father, hewas gracious enough to tell me that he could see at a glance that I wasa man of impeccable taste, and he added that it was a pleasure to him tofind in this degenerate age someone who combined devotion to the Churchwith such rare artistic gifts. A memorable experience, my dear fellow, amemorable experience. But no one was more surprised than I when shortlyafterwards it was intimated to me that he had been pleased to confer atitle upon me. As an American citizen I feel it more modest not to useit, except of course at the Vatican, and I have forbidden my Joseph toaddress me as Monsieur le Comte, and I trust you will respect myconfidence. I don't wish it bruited abroad. But I would not like HisHoliness to think that I do not value the honour that he has done me andit is purely out of respect for him that I have the crown embroidered onmy personal linen. I don't mind telling you that I take a modest pridein concealing my rank under the sober pin stripe of an Americangentleman."

We parted. Elliott told me he would come down to the Riviera at the endof June. He did not do so. He had just made his arrangements to transferhis staff from Paris, intending to drive down leisurely in his car sothat everything should be in perfect order on his arrival, when hereceived a cable from Isabel to say that her mother had suddenly taken aturn for the worse. Elliott, besides being fond of his sister, had, as Ihave said, a strong sense of family feeling. He took the first ship outof Cherbourg and from New York went to Chicago. He wrote to tell me thatMrs. Bradley was very ill and grown so thin that it was a shock to him.She might last a few weeks longer or even a few months, but in any casehe felt it his sad duty to remain with her till the end. He said hefound the great heat more supportable than he had expected, but the lackof congenial society only tolerable because at such a moment he had inany case no heart for it. He said he was disappointed with the way hisfellow-countrymen had reacted to the depression; he would have expectedthem to take their misfortune with more equanimity. Knowing that nothingis easier than to bear other people's calamities with fortitude, Ithought that Elliott, richer now than he had ever been in his life, wasperhaps hardly entitled to be severe. He ended by giving me messages toseveral of his friends and bade me by no means to forget to explain toeveryone I met why it was that his house must remain closed for thesummer.

Little more than a month later I received another letter from him totell me that Mrs. Bradley had died. He wrote with sincerity and emotion.I would never have thought him capable of expressing himself with suchdignity, real feeling and simplicity, had I not long known thatnotwithstanding his snobbishness and his absurd affectations Elliott wasa kindly, affectionate and honest man. In the course of this letter hetold me that Mrs. Bradley's affairs appeared to be in some disorder. Herelder son, a diplomatist, being chargé d'affaires in Tokyo during theabsence of the ambassador, had been of course unable to leave his post.Her second son, Templeton, who had been in the Philippines when I firstknew the Bradleys, had been in due course recalled to Washington andoccupied a responsible position in the State Department. He had comewith his wife to Chicago when his mother's condition was recognized ashopeless, but had been obliged to return to the capital immediatelyafter the funeral. In these circ*mstances Elliott felt that he mustremain in America until things were straightened out. Mrs. Bradley haddivided her fortune equally between her three children, but it appearedthat her losses in the crash of '29 had been substantial. Fortunatelythey had found a purchaser for the farm at Marvin. Elliott in his letterreferred to it as dear Louisa's country place.

"It is always sad when a family has to part with its ancestral home," hewrote, "but of late years I have seen this forced upon so many of myEnglish friends that I feel that my nephews and Isabel must accept theinevitable with the same courage and resignation that they have.Noblesse oblige."

They had been lucky too in disposing of Mrs. Bradley's house in Chicago.There had long been a scheme afoot to tear down the row of houses in oneof which Mrs. Bradley lived and build in their stead a great block ofapartments, but it had been held up by her obstinate determination todie in the house in which she had lived. But no sooner was the breathout of her body than the promoters came forward with an offer and it waspromptly accepted. But even at that Isabel was left very ill providedfor.

After the crash Gray had tried to get a job, even as a clerk in theoffice of such of the brokers as had weathered the storm, but there wasno business. He applied to his old friends to give him something to do,however humble and however badly paid, but he applied in vain. Hisfrenzied efforts to stave off the disaster that finally overwhelmed him,the burden of anxiety, the humiliation, resulted in a nervous breakdownand he began to have headaches so severe that he was incapacitated fortwenty-four hours and as limp as a wet rag when they ceased. It hadappeared to Isabel that they could not do better than go down with thechildren to the plantation in South Carolina till Gray regained hishealth. In its day it had brought in a hundred thousand dollars a yearfor its rice crop, but for long now had been no more than a wildernessof marsh and gumwood, useful only to sportsmen who wanted to shoot duck,and no purchaser could be found for it. There they had lived off and onsince the crash and there they proposed to return till conditionsimproved and Gray could find employment.

"I couldn't allow that," Elliott wrote. "Why, my dear fellow, they livelike pigs. Isabel without a maid, no governess for the children, andonly a couple of coloured women to look after them. So I've offered themmy apartment in Paris and proposed that they should stay there tillthings change in this fantastic country. I shall provide them with astaff, as a matter of fact my kitchen maid is a very good cook, so Ishall leave her with them and I can easily find someone to take herplace. I shall arrange to settle the accounts myself so that Isabel canspend her small income on her clothes and the menus plaisirs of thefamily. This means of course that I shall spend much more of my time onthe Riviera and so hope to see a great deal more of you, my dear fellow,than I have in the past. London and Paris being now what they are I'mreally more at home on the Riviera. It's the only place remaining whereI can meet people who speak my own language. I daresay I shall go toParis now and then for a few days, but when I do, I don't in the leastmind pigging it at the Ritz. I'm glad to say that I've at long lastpersuaded Gray and Isabel to accede to my wishes and I'm bringing themall over as soon as the necessary arrangements can be made. Thefurniture and the pictures (very poor in quality, my dear fellow, and ofthe most doubtful authenticity) are being sold the week after next andmeanwhile, as I thought to live in the house till the last moment wouldbe painful to them, I have brought them to stay with me at the Drake. Ishall settle them in when we get to Paris and then come down to theRiviera. Don't forget to remember me to your royal neighbour."

Who could deny that Elliott, that arch-snob, was also the kindest, mostconsiderate and generous of men?


Chapter Four

(i)

Elliott, having installed the Maturins in his spacious apartment on theLeft Bank, returned to the Riviera at the end of the year. He hadplanned his house to suit his own convenience and there was no room init for a family of four, so that, even if he had wanted to, he could nothave had them to stay with him there. I do not think he regretted it. Hewas well aware that as a man by himself he was a more desirable assetthan if he must be accompanied by a niece and a nephew, and he couldhardly expect to arrange his own distinguished little parties (a matterover which he took immense trouble) if he had to count invariably on thepresence of two house guests.

"It's much better for them to settle down in Paris and accustomthemselves to civilized life. Besides, the two girls are old enough togo to school and I've found one not far from my apartment which I'massured is very select."

In consequence of this I did not see Isabel till the spring when,because I had some work to do that made it desirable for me to spendsome weeks there, I went to Paris and took a couple of rooms in a hoteljust out of the Place Vendôme. It was a hotel I frequented, not only forits convenient situation, but because it had an air. It was a big oldhouse built around a courtyard and it had been an inn for close upon twohundred years. The bathrooms were far from luxurious and the plumbingfar from satisfactory; the bedrooms with their iron beds, painted white,their old-fashioned white counterpanes and their huge armoires à glacehad a poverty-stricken look; but the parlours were furnished with fineold furniture. The sofa, the armchairs, dated from the gaudy reign ofNapoleon the Third, and, though I could not say they were comfortable,they had a florid charm. In that room I lived in the past of the Frenchnovelists. When I looked at the Empire clock under its glass case Ithought that a pretty woman in ringlets and a flounced dress might havewatched the minute hand move as she waited for a visit from Rastignac,the well-born adventurer whose career in novel after novel Balzacfollowed from his humble beginnings to his ultimate grandeur. Dr.Bianchon, the physician who was so real to Balzac that when he lay dyinghe said: "Only Bianchon can save me," might well have come into thatroom to feel the pulse and look at the tongue of a noble dowager fromthe provinces who had come to Paris to see an attorney about a lawsuitand had called in a doctor for a passing ailment. At that bureau alovesick woman in a crinoline, her hair parted in the middle, may havewritten a passionate letter to her faithless lover or a peppery oldgentleman in a green frock coat and a stock indited an angry epistle tohis extravagant son.

The day after my arrival I called up Isabel and asked if she would giveme a cup of tea if I came along at five. It was ten years since I'd seenher. She was reading a French novel when I was ushered into thedrawing-room by a staid butler and getting up she took both my hands andgreeted me with a warm and winning smile. I had never seen her more thana dozen times, and only twice alone, but she made me feel at once thatwe were not casual acquaintances but old friends. The ten years that hadpassed had reduced the gulf that separated the young girl from themiddle-aged man and I was no longer conscious of the disparity of agebetween us. With the delicate flattery of a woman of the world shetreated me as if I were her contemporary, and in five minutes we werechatting as frankly and as unconstrainedly as though we were playmateswho had been in the habit of meeting without interruption. She hadacquired ease, self-possession and assurance.

But what chiefly struck me was the change in her appearance. Iremembered her as a pretty, bouncing girl who threatened to run to fat;I do not know whether, realizing this she had taken heroic measures toreduce her weight or whether it was an unusual, though happy, accidentof child-bearing; but now she was as slender as anyone could wish. Themode of the moment accentuated this. She was in black, and at a glance Inoticed that her silk dress, neither too plain nor too fancy, had beenmade by one of the best dressmakers in Paris, and she wore it with thecareless confidence of a woman to whom it is second nature to wearexpensive clothes. Ten years before, even with Elliott to advise, herfrocks had been somewhat on the showy side and she had worn them asthough she were not quite at home in them. Marie Louise de Florimondcould not have said now that she lacked chic. She had chic to the tipsof her rose-painted nails. Her features had fined down and it occurredto me that she had as pretty and as straight a nose as I had ever seenon a woman's face. There was not a line on her forehead or under herhazel eyes, and though her skin had lost the fresh bloom of extremeyouth, its texture was as fine as ever; it obviously owed something nowto lotions, creams and massage, but they had given it a soft,transparent delicacy that was singularly attractive. Her thin cheekswere very faintly rouged and her mouth was painted with discretion. Shewore her bright brown hair bobbed as was the fashion of the moment andmarcelled. She had no rings on her fingers, and I remembered thatElliott had told me that she had sold her jewellery; her hands, thoughnot remarkably small, were well made. At that period women wore shortfrocks in the daytime and I saw that her legs in champagne-colouredstockings were shapely, long and slender. Legs are the undoing of many acomely woman; Isabel's legs, as a girl her most unfortunate trait, werenow uncommonly good. In fact from the pretty girl whose glowing health,high spirits and brilliant colour had given her attractiveness she wasbecome a beautiful woman. That she owed her beauty in some degree toart, discipline and mortification of the flesh did not seem to matter.The result was vastly satisfactory. It might be that the grace of hergestures, the felicity of her carriage, had been acquired by takingthought, but they had a look of perfect spontaneity. I conceived thenotion that these four months in Paris had put the finishing touches toa work of conscious art that had been years in the making. Elliott, evenin his most censorious mood, could not but have approved of her; I, aperson less difficult to please, found her ravishing.

Gray had gone to Mortefontaine to play golf, but she told me he would bein presently.

"And you must see my two little girls. They've gone to the TuileriesGardens, but they ought to be in soon. They're sweet."

We talked of one thing and another. She liked being in Paris and theywere very comfortable in Elliott's apartment. Before leaving them he hadmade them acquainted with such of his friends as he thought they wouldlike and they had already a pleasant circle of acquaintances. He hadpressed them to entertain as abundantly as he had been in the habit ofdoing.

"You know, it tickles me to death to think that we're living like quiterich people when really we're absolutely broke."

"Is it as bad as that?"

She chuckled, and now I remembered the light, gay laugh that I had foundso pleasing in her ten years before.

"Gray hasn't a penny and I have almost exactly the income Larry had whenhe wanted me to marry him and I wouldn't because I thought we couldn'tpossibly live on it and now I've got two children besides. It's ratherfunny, isn't it?"

"I'm glad you can see the joke of it."

"What news have you of Larry?"

"I? None. I haven't set eyes on him since before you were last in Paris.I knew slightly some of the people he used to know and I did ask themwhat had become of him, but that was years ago. No one seemed to knowanything about him. He just vanished."

"We know the manager of the bank in Chicago where Larry has his accountand he told us that every now and then he got a draft from some queerplace. China, Burma, India. He seems to have been getting around."

I did not hesitate to put the question that came to the tip of mytongue. After all, if you want to know something the best way is to ask.

"D'you wish now that you had married him?"

She smiled engagingly.

"I've been very happy with Gray. He's been a wonderful husband. Youknow, until the crash came we had a grand time together. We like thesame people, and we like doing the same things. He's very sweet. Andit's nice being adored; he's just as much in love with me now as when wefirst married. He thinks I'm the most wonderful girl in the world. Youcan't imagine how kind and considerate he is. It was quite absurd howgenerous he was; you see, he thought nothing was too good for me. D'youknow, he's never said an unkind or harsh thing to me all these yearswe've been married. Oh, I've been very lucky."

I asked myself if she thought she'd answered my question. I changed theconversation.

"Tell me about your little girls."

As I spoke the doorbell rang.

"Here they are. You shall see for yourself."

In a moment they came in followed by a nursery governess and I wasintroduced first to Joan, the elder, and then to Priscilla. Each in turngave a polite little knick as she took my hand. One was eight and theother six. They were tall for their age; Isabel of course was tall andGray, I remembered, was immense; but they were pretty only in the wayall children are pretty. They looked frail. They had their father'sblack hair and their mother's hazel eyes. The presence of a stranger didnot make them shy, and they talked eagerly to her of their doings in thegardens. They cast eager eyes on the dainties Isabel's cook had providedfor tea, but which neither of us had touched, and being given permissionto have one thing were thrown into a small agony of doubt as to which tochoose. It was pleasant to see the demonstrative affection they had fortheir mother and the three of them clustered together made a charmingpicture. When they had eaten the little cake each had selected, Isabelsent them away and they went without a word of expostulation. I receivedthe impression that she was bringing them up to do as they were told.

When they were gone I said the usual things one says to a mother abouther children and Isabel accepted my compliments with evident, butsomewhat casual, pleasure. I asked her how Gray was liking Paris.

"Well enough. Uncle Elliott left us a car so he can go and play golfalmost every day and he's joined the Travellers Club and he plays bridgethere. Of course, Uncle Elliott's offer to support us in this apartmenthas been a godsend. Gray's nerves went all to pieces and he still hasthose terrible headaches; even if he could get a job he isn't really fitto take it; and naturally that worries him. He wants to work, he feelshe ought to, and it humiliates him not to be wanted. You see, he feelsit's a man's business to work and if he can't work he may just as wellbe dead. He can't bear his feeling of being a drug on the market, and Ionly got him to come here by persuading him that rest and change wouldbring him back to normalcy. But I know he won't be really happy till hegets back into harness."

"I'm afraid you've had a very rough time these last two and a halfyears."

"Well, you know, when the crash came at first I simply couldn't believeit. It seemed inconceivable to me that we should be ruined. I couldunderstand that other people should be ruined, but that we shouldbe--well, it just seemed impossible. I went on thinking that somethingwould happen to save us at the last moment. And then, when the finalblow came, I felt that life wasn't worth living any more, I didn't thinkI could face the future; it was too black. For a fortnight I wasabsolutely miserable. God, it was awful, having to part with everything,knowing there wouldn't be any fun any more, having to do withouteverything I liked--and then at the end of a fortnight I said: 'Oh, tohell with it, I'm not going to give it another thought,' and I promiseyou I never have. I don't regret anything. I had a lot of fun while itlasted and now it's gone, it's gone."

"It's obvious that ruin is easier to bear in a luxurious apartment in afashionable quarter, with a competent butler and an excellent cook freeand for nothing, and when one can cover one's haggard bones with a dressby Chanel, isn't it?"

"Lanvin," she giggled. "I see you haven't changed much in ten years. Idon't suppose you'll believe me, being a cynical brute, but I'm not sureif I'd have accepted Uncle Elliott's offer except for Gray and thechildren. On my twenty-eight hundred a year we could have managedperfectly well on the plantation and we'd have grown rice and rye andcorn and kept pigs. After all I was born and raised on a farm inIllinois."

"In a manner of speaking," I smiled, knowing that in point of fact shehad been born in an expensive clinic in New York.

At this point Gray came in. It is true that I had only seen him two orthree times twelve years before, but I had seen a photograph of him withhis bride (Elliott kept it in a splendid frame on his piano along withsigned photographs of the King of Sweden, the Queen of Spain and the Ducde Guise) and I had a fair recollection of him. I was taken aback. Hishair had receded on the temples and there was a small bald patch on thecrown, his face was puffy and red, and he had a double chin. He had puton a lot of weight during years of good living and hard drinking andonly his great height saved him from being grossly obese. But the thingI most noticed was the expression of his eyes. I remembered quite wellthe trusting, open frankness of their Irish blue, when the world wasbefore him and he hadn't a care in the world; now I seemed to see inthem a sort of puzzled dismay, and even if I hadn't known the facts Ithink I might have guessed that something had occurred to destroy hisconfidence in himself and in the ordered course of events. I felt a kindof diffidence in him, as though he had done wrong, though unwittingly,and were ashamed. It was plain that his nerve was shaken. He greeted mewith pleasant cordiality and indeed seemed as glad to see me as if Iwere an old friend, but I had the impression that his rather noisyheartiness was a habit of manner that scarcely corresponded with hisinner feeling.

Drinks were brought in and he mixed us a co*cktail. He'd played a coupleof rounds of golf and was satisfied with his game. He went into somewhatverbose detail over the difficulties he had surmounted over one of theholes and Isabel listened with an appearance of lively interest. After afew minutes, having made a date to take them to dine and see a play, Ileft.

(ii)

I fell into the habit of dropping in to see Isabel three or four times aweek in the afternoon after my day's work was over. She was generallyalone at that hour and glad to have a gossip. The persons to whomElliott had introduced her were much older than she and I discoveredthat she had few friends of her own generation. Mine were for the mostpart busy till dinnertime and I found it more agreeable to talk withIsabel than to go to my club and play bridge with rather grouchyFrenchmen who did not particularly welcome the intrusion of a stranger.Her charming way of treating me as if she and I were of an age madeconversation easy and we joked and laughed and chaffed one another,chatting now about ourselves, now about our common acquaintances, nowabout books and pictures, so that the time passed very agreeably. One ofthe defects of my character is that I can never grow used to theplainness of people; however sweet a disposition a friend of mine mayhave, years of intimacy can never reconcile me to his bad teeth orlopsided nose: on the other hand I never cease to delight in hiscomeliness and after twenty years of familiarity I am still able to takepleasure in a well-shaped brow or the delicate line of a cheek-bone. SoI never came into Isabel's presence without feeling anew a little thrillof pleasure in the perfection of her oval face, in the creamy delicacyof her skin and in the bright warmth of her hazel eyes.

Then a very unexpected thing happened.

(iii)

In all big cities there are self-contained groups that exist withoutinter-communication, small worlds within a greater world that lead theirlives, their members dependent upon one another for companionship, asthough they inhabited islands separated from each other by anunnavigable strait. Of no city, in my experience, is this more true thanof Paris. There high society seldom admits outsiders into its midst, thepoliticians live in their own corrupt circle, the bourgeoisie, great andsmall, frequent one another, writers congregate with writers (it isremarkable in André Gide's Journal to see with how few people he seemsto have been intimate who did not follow his own calling), paintershobnob with painters and musicians with musicians. The same thing istrue of London, but in a less marked degree; there birds of a featherflock much less together, and there are a dozen houses where at the sametable you may meet a duch*ess, an actress, a painter, a member ofParliament, a lawyer, a dressmaker and an author.

The events of my life have led me at one time and another to dwelltransitorily in pretty well all the worlds of Paris, even (throughElliott) in the closed world of the Boulevard St. Germain; but thatwhich I like best, better than the discreet circle that has its centrein what is now called the Avenue Foch, better than the cosmopolitan crewthat patronized Larue's and the Café de Paris, better than the noisysordid gaiety of Montmartre, is that section of which the artery is theBoulevard du Montparnasse. In my youth I spent a year in a tinyapartment near the Lion de Belfort, on the fifth floor, from which I hada spacious view of the cemetery. Montparnasse has still for me thetranquil air of a provincial town that was characteristic of it then.When I pass through the dingy narrow Rue d'Odessa I remember with a pangthe shabby restaurant where we used to foregather to dine, painters andillustrators and sculptors, I, but for Arnold Bennett on occasion, theonly writer, and sit late discussing excitedly, absurdly, angrilypainting and literature. It is still a pleasure to me to stroll down theboulevard and look at the young people who are as young as I was thenand invent stories for myself about them. When I have nothing better todo I take a taxi and go and sit in the old Café du Dôme. It is no longerwhat it was then, the meeting place exclusively of Bohemia; the smalltradesmen of the neighbourhood have taken to visiting it, and strangersfrom the other side of the Seine come to it in the hope of seeing aworld that has ceased to exist. Students come to it still, of course,painters and writers, but most of them are foreigners; and when you sitthere you hear around you as much Russian, Spanish, German and Englishas French. But I have a notion that they are saying very much the samesort of things as we said forty years ago, only they speak of Picassoinstead of Manet and of André Breton instead of Guillaume Apollinaire.My heart goes out to them.

When I had been in Paris about a fortnight I was sitting one evening atthe Dôme and since the terrace was crowded I had been forced to take atable in the front row. It was fine and warm. The plane trees were justbursting into leaf and there was in the air that sense of leisure,lightheartedness and alacrity that was peculiar to Paris. I felt atpeace with myself, but not lethargically, with exhilaration rather.Suddenly a man, walking past me, stopped and with a grin that displayeda set of very white teeth said: "Hello!" I looked at him blankly. He wastall and thin. He wore no hat and he had a mop of dark brown hair thatbadly needed cutting. His upper lip and his chin were concealed by athick brown beard. His forehead and his neck were deeply tanned. He worea frayed shirt, without a tie, a brown, threadbare coat and a pair ofshabby gray slacks. He looked a bum and to the best of my belief I hadnever seen him before. I put him down for one of those good-for-nothingswho have gone to the devil in Paris and I expected him to pull ahard-luck story to wheedle a few francs out of me for a dinner and abed. He stood in front of me, his hands in his pockets, showing hiswhite teeth, with a look of amusem*nt in his dark eyes.

"You don't remember me?" he said.

"I've never set eyes on you in my life."

I was prepared to give him twenty francs, but I wasn't prepared to lethim get away with the bluff that we knew one another.

"Larry," he said.

"Good God! Sit down." He chuckled, stepped forward and took the emptychair at my table. "Have a drink." I beckoned to the waiter. "How couldyou expect me to recognize you with all that hair on your face?"

The waiter came and he ordered an orangeade. Now that I looked at him Iremembered the peculiarity of his eyes, which came from the black of theiris being as black as that of the pupil and which gave them at onceintensity and opaqueness.

"How long have you been in Paris?" I asked.

"A month."

"Are you going to stay?"

"For a while."

While I asked these questions my mind was busy. I noticed that the cuffsof his trousers were ragged and that there were holes in the elbows ofhis coat. He looked as destitute as any beachcomber I had ever met in anEastern port. It was hard in those days to forget the depression and Iwondered whether the crash of '29 had left him penniless. I didn't muchlike the thought of that and not being a person to beat about the bush Iasked him outright:

"Are you down and out?"

"No, I'm all right. What makes you think that?"

"Well, you look as if you could do with a square meal and the thingsyou've got on are only fit for the garbage can."

"Are they as bad as all that? I never thought about it. As a matter offact I have been meaning to get myself a few odds and ends, but I neverseem able to get down to it."

I thought he was shy or proud and I didn't see why I should put up withthat sort of nonsense.

"Don't be a fool, Larry. I'm not a millionaire, but I'm not poor. Ifyou're short of cash let me lend you a few thousand francs. That won'tbreak me."

He laughed outright.

"Thanks a lot, but I'm not short of cash. I've got more money than I canspend."

"Notwithstanding the crash?"

"Oh, that didn't affect me. Everything I had was in government bonds. Idon't know whether they went down in value, I never enquired, but I doknow that Uncle Sam went on paying up on the coupons like the decent oldparty he is. In point of fact I've been spending so little during thelast few years, I must have quite a bit in hand."

"Where have you come from now then?"

"India."

"Oh, I heard you'd been there. Isabel told me. She apparently knows themanager of your bank in Chicago."

"Isabel? When did you last see her?"

"Yesterday."

"She's not in Paris?"

"She is indeed. She's living in Elliott Templeton's apartment."

"That's grand. I'd love to see her."

Though I was watching his eyes pretty closely while we were exchangingthese remarks I could discern only a natural surprise and pleasure, butno feeling more complicated.

"Gray's there too. You know they're married?"

"Yes, Uncle Bob--Dr. Nelson, my guardian--wrote and told me, but he diedsome years ago."

It occurred to me that with this break in what appeared his only linkwith Chicago and his friends there he probably knew nothing of what hadhappened. I told him of the birth of Isabel's two daughters, of thedeath of Henry Maturin and Louisa Bradley, of Gray's complete ruin andof Elliott's generosity.

"Is Elliott here too?"

"No."

For the first time in forty years Elliott was not spending the spring inParis. Though looking younger he was now seventy and as usual with menof that age there were days when he felt tired and ill. Little by littlehe had given up taking any but walking exercise. He was nervous abouthis health and his doctor came to see him twice a week to thrust into analternate buttock a hypodermic needle with the fashionable injection ofthe moment. At every meal, at home or abroad, he took from his pocket alittle gold box from which he extracted a tablet which he swallowed withthe reserved air of one performing a religious rite. His doctor hadrecommended him to take the cure at Montecatini, a watering place in thenorth of Italy, and after this he proposed to go to Venice to look for afont of a design suitable to his Romanesque church. He was lessunwilling to leave Paris unvisited since each year he found it sociallymore unsatisfactory. He did not like old people, and resented it when hewas invited to meet only persons of his own age, and the young he foundvapid. The adornment of the church he had built was now a main interestof his life and here he could indulge his ineradicable passion forbuying works of art with the comfortable assurance that he was doing itto the glory of God. He had found in Rome an early altar ofhoney-coloured stone and had been dickering in Florence for six monthsfor a triptych of the Siennese school to put over it.

Then Larry asked me how Gray was liking Paris.

"I'm afraid he's feeling rather lost here."

I tried to explain to him how Gray had struck me. He listened to me withhis eyes fixed on my face with a meditative, unblinking gaze thatsuggested to me, I don't know why, that he was listening to me not withhis ears, but some inner, more sensitive organ of hearing. It was queerand not very comfortable.

"But you'll see for yourself," I finished.

"Yes, I'd love to see them. I suppose I shall find the address in thephone book."

"But if you don't want to scare them out of their wits and drive thechildren into screaming hysterics, I think you'd be wise to have yourhair cut and your beard shaved."

He laughed.

"I've been thinking of it. There's no object in making myselfconspicuous."

"And while you're about it you might get yourself a new outfit."

"I suppose I am a bit shabby. When I came to leave India I found that Ihad nothing but the clothes I stand up in."

He looked at the suit I was wearing and asked me who my tailor was. Itold him, but added that he was in London and so couldn't be of much useto him. We dropped the subject and he began to talk again of Gray andIsabel.

"I've been seeing quite a lot of them," I said. "They're very happytogether. I've never had a chance of talking to Gray alone, and anyway Idaresay he wouldn't talk to me about Isabel, but I know he's devoted toher. His face is rather sullen in repose and his eyes are harassed, butwhen he looks at Isabel such a gentle, kind look comes into them, it'srather moving. I have a notion that all through their trouble she stoodby him like a rock and he never forgets how much he owes her. You'llfind Isabel changed." I didn't tell him she was beautiful as she hadnever been before. I wasn't sure he had the discernment to see how thepretty, strapping girl had made herself into the wonderfully graceful,delicate and exquisite woman. There are men who are affronted by theaids that art can supply to feminine nature. "She's very good to Gray.She's taking infinite pains to restore his confidence in himself."

But it was growing late and I asked Larry if he would come along theboulevard and dine with me.

"No, I don't think I will, thanks," he answered. "I must be off."

He got up, nodded in a friendly way, and stepped out onto the pavement.

(iv)

I saw Gray and Isabel next day and told them that I had seen Larry. Theywere as surprised as I had been.

"It'll be wonderful to see him," said Isabel. "Let's call him up atonce."

Then I remembered that I hadn't thought of asking him where he wasstaying. Isabel gave me hell.

"I'm not sure he'd have told me if I had," I protested, laughing."Probably my subconscious had something to do with it. Don't youremember, he never liked telling people where he lived. It was one ofhis oddities. He may walk in at any moment."

"That would be like him," said Gray. "Even in the old days you couldnever count on his being where you expected him to be. He was here todayand gone tomorrow. You'd see him in a room and think in a moment you'dgo and say hello to him and when you turned round he'd disappeared."

"He always was the most exasperating fellow," said Isabel. "It's no gooddenying that. I suppose we shall just have to wait till it suits him toturn up."

He didn't come that day, nor the next, nor the day after. Isabel accusedme of having invented the story to annoy. I promised her I hadn't andsought to give her reasons why he hadn't shown up. But they wereimplausible. Within myself I wondered whether on thinking it over hehadn't made up his mind that he just didn't want to see Gray and Isabeland had wandered off somewhere or other away from Paris. I had a feelingalready that he never took root anywhere, but was always prepared at amoment's notice, for a reason that seemed good to him or on a whim, tomove on.

He came at last. It was a rainy day and Gray hadn't gone toMortefontaine. The three of us were together, Isabel and I drinking acup of tea, Gray sipping a whiskey and Perrier, when the butler openedthe door and Larry strolled in. Isabel with a cry sprang to her feet andthrowing herself into his arms kissed him on both cheeks. Gray, his fatred face redder than ever, warmly wrung his hand.

"Gee, I'm glad to see you, Larry," he said, his voice choked withemotion.

Isabel bit her lip and I saw she was constraining herself not to cry.

"Have a drink, old man," said Gray unsteadily.

I was touched by their delight at seeing the wanderer. It must have beenpleasant for him to perceive how much he meant to them. He smiledhappily. It was plain to me that he was, however, completelyself-possessed. He noticed the tea things.

"I'll have a cup of tea," he said.

"Oh gosh, you don't want tea," cried Gray. "Let's have a bottle ofchampagne."

"I'd prefer tea," smiled Larry.

His composure had on the others the effect he may have intended. Theycalmed down, but looked at him still with fond eyes. I don't mean tosuggest that he responded to their natural exuberance with an ungraciouscoldness; on the contrary, he was as cordial and charming as one couldwish; but I was conscious in his manner of something that I could onlydescribe as remoteness and I wondered what it signified.

"Why didn't you come and see us at once, you horror?" cried Isabel, witha pretence of indignation. "I've been hanging out of the window for thelast five days to see you coming and every time the bell rang my heartleapt to my mouth and I had all I could do to swallow it again."

Larry chuckled.

"Mr. M. told me I looked so tough that your man would never let methrough the door. I flew over to London to get some clothes."

"You needn't have done that," I smiled. "You could have got areach-me-down at the Printemps or the Belle Jardinière."

"I thought if I was going to do it at all, I'd better do the thing instyle. I haven't bought any European clothes for ten years. I went toyour tailor and said I wanted a suit in three days. He said it wouldtake a fortnight, so we compromised on four. I got back from London anhour ago."

He wore a blue serge that nicely fitted his slim figure, a white shirtwith a soft collar, a blue silk tie and brown shoes. He had had his haircut short and shaved off the hair on his face. He looked not only neat,but well-groomed. It was a transformation. He was very thin; hischeekbones were more prominent, his temples hollower and his eyes in thedeep sockets larger than I remembered them; but notwithstanding helooked very well; he looked, indeed, with his deeply sunburnt, unlinedface, amazingly young. He was a year younger than Gray, they were bothin their early thirties, but whereas Gray looked ten years more than hisage, Larry looked ten years less. Gray's movements, owing to his greatbulk, were deliberate and rather heavy; but Larry's were light and easy.His manner was boyish, gay and debonair, but withal it had a serenitythat I was peculiarly conscious of and that I did not recollect in thelad I had known before. And as the conversation proceeded, flowingwithout difficulty as was natural in old friends with so many commonmemories, with bits of news about Chicago thrown in by Gray and Isabel,trivial gossip, one thing leading to another, with airy laughter, myimpression persisted that in Larry, though his laughter was frank and helistened with evident pleasure to Isabel's breezy chatter, there was avery singular detachment. I did not feel that he was playing a part, hewas too natural for that and his sincerity was obvious; I felt thatthere was something within him, I don't know whether to call it anawareness or a sensibility or a force, that remained strangely aloof.

The children were brought in, made known to Larry and gave him theirpolite little knicks. He held out his hand, looking at them with anengaging tenderness in his soft eyes, and they took it, staring at himgravely. Isabel brightly told him they were getting on nicely with theirlessons, gave them a cookie each and sent them away.

"I'll come and read to you for ten minutes when you're in bed."

She did not at that moment want to be interrupted in her pleasure atseeing Larry. The little girls went up to say good night to theirfather. It was charming to see the love that lit up the red face of thatgross man as he took them in his arms and kissed them. No one could helpseeing that he proudly adored them and when they were gone he turned toLarry and with a sweet slow smile on his lips said:

"They're not bad kids, are they?"

Isabel gave him an affectionate glance.

"If I let Gray have his way he'd spoil them to death. He'd let me starveto death, that great brute, to feed the children on caviar and pâté defoie gras."

He looked at her with a smile and said: "You're a liar and you know it.I worship the ground you tread on."

There was a responsive smile in Isabel's eyes. She knew that and wasglad of it. A happy couple.

She insisted that we should stay to dinner. I, thinking they wouldprefer to be by themselves, made excuses, but she would not listen tothem.

"I'll tell Marie to put another carrot in the soup and there'll beplenty for four. There's a chicken and you and Gray can eat the legswhile Larry and I eat the wings, and she can make the souffle largeenough for all of us."

Gray too seemed to want me to stay, so I let myself be persuaded to dowhat I wanted to.

While we waited Isabel told Larry at length what I had already told himin brief. Though she narrated the lamentable story as gaily as possibleGray's face assumed an expression of sullen melancholy. She tried tocheer him up.

"Anyhow it's all over now. We've fallen on our feet and we've got thefuture before us. As soon as things improve, Gray's going to get asplendid job and make millions."

co*cktails were brought in and a couple did something to raise the poorfellow's spirits. I saw that Larry, though he took one, scarcely touchedit, and when Gray, unobservant, offered him another he refused. Wewashed our hands and sat down to dinner. Gray had ordered a bottle ofchampagne, but when the butler began to fill Larry's glass he told himhe didn't want any.

"Oh, but you must have some," cried Isabel. "It's Uncle Elliott's bestand he only gives it to very special guests."

"To tell you the truth I prefer water. After having been in the East solong it's a treat to drink water that's safe."

"This is an occasion."

"All right, I'll drink a glass."

The dinner was excellent, but Isabel noticed, as I did too, that Larryate very little. It struck her, I suppose, that she had been doing allthe talking and that Larry had had no chance to do more than listen, sonow she began to question him on his actions during the ten years sinceshe had seen him. He answered with his cordial frankness, but so vaguelyas not to tell us much.

"Oh, I've been loafing around, you know. I spent a year in Germany andsome time in Spain and Italy. And I knocked about the East for a bit."

"Where have you just come from now?"

"India."

"How long were you there?"

"Five years."

"Did you have fun?" asked Gray. "Shoot any tigers?"

"No," Larry smiled.

"What on earth were you doing with yourself in India for five years?"said Isabel.

"Playing about," he answered, with a smile of kindly mockery.

"What about the Rope Trick?" asked Gray. "Did you see that?"

"No, I didn't."

"What did you see?"

"A lot."

I put a question to him then.

"Is it true that the Yogis acquire powers that would seem to ussupernatural?"

"I wouldn't know. All I can tell you is that it's commonly believed inIndia. But the wisest don't attach any importance to powers of thatsort; they think they're apt to hinder spiritual progress. I rememberone of them telling me of a Yogi who came to the bank of a river; hehadn't the money to pay the ferryman to take him across and the ferrymanrefused to take him for nothing, so he stepped on the water and walkedupon its surface to the other side. The Yogi who told me shrugged hisshoulders rather, scornfully. 'A miracle like that,' he said, 'is worthno more than the penny it would have cost to go on the ferryboat.'"

"But d'you think the Yogi really walked over the water?" asked Gray.

"The Yogi who told me implicitly believed it."

It was a pleasure to hear Larry talk, because he had a wonderfullymelodious voice; it was light, rich without being deep, and with asingular variety of tone. We finished dinner and went back to thedrawing-room to have our coffee. I had never been to India and was eagerto hear more of it.

"Did you come in contact with any writers and thinkers?" I asked.

"I notice that you make a distinction between the two," said Isabel totease me.

"I made it my business to," Larry answered.

"How did you communicate with them? In English?"

"The most interesting, if they spoke at all, didn't speak it very welland understood less. I learnt Hindustani. And when I went south I pickedup enough Tamil to get along pretty well."

"How many languages d'you know now, Larry?"

"Oh, I don't know. Half a dozen or so."

"I want to know more about the Yogis," said Isabel. "Did you get to knowany of them intimately?"

"As intimately as you can know persons who pass the best part of theirtime in the Infinite," he smiled. "I spent two years in the Ashrama ofone."

"Two years? What's an Ashrama?"

"Well, I suppose you might call it a hermitage. There are holy men wholive alone, in a temple, in the forest or on the slopes of theHimalayas. There are others who attract disciples. A charitable personto acquire merit builds a room, large or small, for a Yogi whose pietyhas impressed him to live in, and the disciples live with him, sleepingon the veranda or in the cookhouse if there is one or under the trees. Ihad a tiny hut in the compound just big enough for my camp bed, a chairand a table, and a bookshelf."

"Where was this?" I inquired.

"In Travancore, a beautiful country of green hills and valleys and softflowing rivers. Up in the mountains there are tigers, leopards,elephants and bison, but the Ashrama was on a lagoon and all around itgrew coconuts and areca palms. It was three or four miles from thenearest town, but people used to come from there, and even from muchfurther, on foot or by bullock cart, to hear the Yogi talk when he wasinclined to, or just to sit at his feet and share with one another thepeace and blessedness that was irradiated from his presence as itsfragrance is wafted upon the air by the tuberose."

Gray moved uneasily in his chair. I guessed that the conversation wastaking a turn that he found uncomfortable.

"Have a drink?" he said to me.

"No, thanks."

"Well, I'm going to have one. What about you, Isabel?"

He raised his great weight from the chair and went over to the table onwhich stood whiskey and Perrier and glasses.

"Were there other white men there?"

"No. I was the only one."

"How could you stand it for two years?" cried Isabel.

"They passed like a flash. I've spent days that seemed to beunconscionably longer."

"What did you do with yourself all the time?"

"I read. I took long walks. I went out in a boat on the lagoon. Imeditated. Meditation is very hard work; after two or three hours of ityou're as exhausted as if you'd driven a car five hundred miles, and allyou want to do is to rest."

Isabel frowned slightly. She was puzzled and I'm not sure that shewasn't a trifle scared. I think she was beginning to have a notion thatthe Larry who had entered the room a few hours before, though unchangedin appearance and seemingly as open and friendly as he had ever been,was not the same as the Larry, so candid, easy and gay, wilful to hermind but delightful, that she had known in the past. She had lost himbefore, and on seeing him again, taking him for the old Larry, she had afeeling that, however altered the circ*mstances, he was still hers; andnow, as though she had sought to catch a sunbeam in her hand and itslipped through her fingers as she grasped it, she was a trifledismayed. I had looked at her a good deal that evening, which was alwaysa pleasant thing to do, and had seen the fondness in her eyes as theyrested on his trim head, with the small ears close to the skull, and howthe expression in them changed when they dwelt on his hollow temples andthe thinness of his cheek. She glanced at his long, lean hands, whichnotwithstanding their emaciation were strong and virile. Then her gazelingered on his mobile mouth, well-shaped, full without being sensual,and on his serene brow and clean-cut nose. He wore his new clothes notwith the bandbox elegance of Elliott, but with a sort of loosecarelessness as though he had worn them every day for a year. I feltthat he aroused in Isabel motherly instincts I had never felt in herrelation with her children. She was an experienced woman; he stilllooked a boy; and I seemed to read in her air the pride of a mother forher grown-up son because he is talking intelligently and others arelistening to him as if he made sense. I don't think the import of whathe said penetrated her consciousness.

But I was not done with my questioning.

"What was your Yogi like?"

"In person, d'you mean? Well, he wasn't tall, neither thin nor fat,palish brown in colour and clean-shaven, with close-cropped white hair.He never wore anything but a loincloth, and yet he managed to look astrim and neat and well dressed as a young man in one of Brooks Brothers'advertisem*nts."

"And what had he got that particularly attracted you?"

Larry looked at me for a full minute before answering. His eyes in theirdeep sockets seemed as though they were trying to pierce to the depthsof my soul.

"Saintliness."

I was slightly disconcerted by his reply. In that room, with its finefurniture, with those lovely drawings on the walls, the word fell like aplop of water that has seeped through the ceiling from an overflowingbath.

"We've all read about the saints, St. Francis, St. John of the Cross,but that was hundreds of years ago. I never thought it possible to meetone who was alive now. From the first time I saw him I never doubtedthat he was a saint. It was a wonderful experience."

"And what did you gain from it?"

"Peace," he said casually, with a light smile. Then, abruptly, he roseto his feet. "I must go."

"Oh, not yet, Larry," cried Isabel. "It's quite early."

"Good night," he said, smiling still, taking no notice of herexpostulation. He kissed her on the cheek. "I'll see you again in a dayor two."

"Where are you staying? I'll call you."

"Oh, don't bother to do that. You know how difficult it is to get a callthrough in Paris, and in any case our telephone is generally out oforder."

I laughed inwardly at the neatness with which Larry had got out ofgiving an address. It was a queer kink of his to make a secret of hisabode. I suggested that they should all dine with me next evening butone in the Bois de Boulogne. It was very pleasant in that balmy springweather to eat out-of-doors, under the trees, and Gray could drive usthere in the coupé. I left with Larry and would willingly have walked away with him, but as we got into the street he shook hands with me andwalked quickly off. I got into a taxi.

(v)

We had arranged to meet at the apartment and have a co*cktail beforestarting. I arrived before Larry. I was taking them to a very smartrestaurant and expected to find Isabel arrayed for the occasion; withall the women dressed up to the nines I was confident she would not wishto be outshone. But she had on a plain woolen frock.

"Gray's got one of his headaches," she said. "He's in agony. I can'tpossibly leave him. I told the cook she could go out when she'd giventhe children their supper and I must make something for him myself andtry to get him to take it. You and Larry had better go alone."

"Is Gray in bed?"

"No, he won't ever go to bed when he has his headaches. God knows, it'sthe only place for him, but he won't. He's in the library."

This was a little panelled room, brown and gold, that Elliott had foundin an old château. The books were protected from anyone who wanted toread them by gilt latticework, and locked up, but this was perhaps aswell, as they consisted for the most part of illustrated p*rnographicworks of the eighteenth century. In their contemporary morocco, however,they made a very pretty effect. Isabel led me in. Gray was sittinghumped up in a big leather chair, with picture papers scattered on thefloor beside him. His eyes were closed and his usually red face had agray pallor. It was evident that he was in great pain. He tried to getup, but I stopped him.

"Have you given him any aspirin?" I asked Isabel.

"That never does any good. I have an American prescription, but thatdoesn't help either."

"Oh, don't bother, darling," said Gray. "I shall be all right tomorrow."He tried to smile. "I'm sorry to make such a nuisance of myself," hesaid to me. "You all go out to the Bois."

"I wouldn't dream of it," said Isabel. "D'you think I should enjoymyself when I knew you were suffering the tortures of the damned?"

"Poor slu*t, I think she loves me," said Gray, his eyes closed.

Then his face was suddenly contorted and you could almost see thelancinating pain that pierced his head. The door was softly opened andLarry stepped in. Isabel told him what was the matter.

"Oh, I am sorry," he said, giving Gray a look of commiseration. "Isn'tthere anything one can do to relieve him?"

"Nothing," said Gray, his eyes still closed. "The only thing you can anyof you do for me is to leave me alone; go off and have a good time byyourselves."

I thought myself that was really the only sensible course to take, but Ididn't suppose Isabel could square it with her conscience.

"Will you let me see if I can help you?" asked Larry.

"No one can help me," said Gray wearily. "It's just killing me andsometimes I wish to God it would."

"I was wrong in saying that perhaps I could help you. What I meant wasthat perhaps I could help you to help yourself."

Gray slowly opened his eyes and looked at Larry.

"How can you do that?"

Larry took what looked like a silver coin out of his pocket and put itin Gray's hand.

"Close your fingers on it tightly and hold your hand palm downwards.Don't fight against me. Make no effort, but hold the coin in yourclenched fist. Before I count twenty your hand will open and the coinwill drop out of it."

Gray did as he was told. Larry seated himself at the writing-table andbegan to count. Isabel and I remained standing. One, two, three, four.Till he got up to fifteen there was no movement in Gray's hand, then itseemed to tremble a little and I had the impression, I can hardly say Isaw, that the clenched fingers were loosening. The thumb moved away fromthe fist. I distinctly saw the fingers quiver. When Larry reachednineteen the coin fell out of Gray's hand and rolled to my feet. Ipicked it up and looked at it. It was heavy and misshapen, and in boldrelief on one side of it was a youthful head which I recognized as thatof Alexander the Great. Gray stared at his hand with perplexity.

"I didn't let the coin drop," he said. "It fell out of itself."

He was sitting with his right arm resting on the arm of the leatherchair.

"Are you quite comfortable in that chair?" asked Larry.

"As comfortable as I can be when my head's giving me hell."

"Well, let yourself go quite slack. Take it easy. Do nothing. Don'tresist. Before I count twenty your right arm will rise from the arm ofthe chair until your hand is above your head. One, two, three, four."

He spoke the numbers slowly in that silver-toned, melodious voice ofhis, and when he had reached nine we saw Gray's hand rise, only justperceptibly, from the leather surface on which it rested until it wasperhaps an inch above it. It stopped for a second.

"Ten, eleven, twelve."

There was a little jerk and then slowly the whole arm began to moveupwards. It wasn't resting on the chair any more. Isabel, a littlescared, took hold of my hand. It was a curious effect. It had nolikeness to a voluntary movement. I've never seen a man walking in hissleep, but I can imagine that he would move in just the same strange waythat Gray's arm moved. It didn't look as though the will were the motivepower. I should have thought it would be hard to raise the arm so slowlyand so evenly by a conscious effort. It gave the impression that asubconscious force, independent of the mind, was raising it. It was thesame sort of movement as that of a piston moving very slowly back andforth in a cylinder.

"Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen."

The words fell, slow, slow, slow, like drops of water in a basin from adefective faucet. Gray's arm rose, rose, till his hand was above hishead, and as Larry reached the number he had said it fell of its ownweight on to the arm of the chair.

"I didn't lift my arm," said Gray. "I couldn't help its rising likethat. It did it of its own accord."

Larry faintly smiled.

"It's of no consequence. I thought it might give you confidence in me.Where's that Greek coin?"

I gave it to him.

"Hold it in your hand." Gray took it. Larry glanced at his watch. "It'sthirteen minutes past eight. In sixty seconds your eyelids will grow soheavy that you'll be obliged to close them and then you'll sleep. You'llsleep for six minutes. At eight twenty you'll wake and you'll have nomore pain."

Neither Isabel nor I spoke. Our eyes were on Larry. He said nothingmore. He fixed his gaze on Gray, but did not seem to look at him; heseemed rather to look through and beyond him. There was something eeryin the silence that fell upon us; it was like the silence of flowers ina garden at nightfall. Suddenly I felt Isabel's hand tighten. I glancedat Gray. His eyes were closed. He was breathing easily and regularly; hewas asleep. We stood there for a time that seemed interminable. I badlywanted a cigarette, but did not like to light one. Larry was motionless.His eyes looked into I knew not what distance. Except that they wereopen he might have been in a trance. Suddenly he appeared to relax; hiseyes took on their normal expression and he looked at his watch. As hedid so, Gray opened his eyes.

"Gosh," he said, "I believe I dropped off to sleep." Then he started. Inoticed that his face had lost its ghastly pallor. "My headache's gone."

"That's fine," said Larry. "Have a cigarette and then we'll all go outto dinner."

"It's a miracle. I feel perfectly swell. How did you do it?"

"I didn't do it. You did it yourself."

Isabel went to change and meanwhile Gray and I drank a co*cktail. Thoughit was plain that Larry did not wish it, Gray insisted on talking ofwhat had just happened. He couldn't make it out at all.

"I didn't believe you could do a thing, you know," he said. "I just gavein because I felt too lousy to argue."

He went on to describe the onset of his headaches, the anguish heendured and the wreck he was when the attack subsided. He could notunderstand how it was that just then he felt his usual robust self.Isabel came back. She was wearing a dress I had not seen before; itreached to the ground, a white sheath of what I think is calledmarocain, with a flare of black tulle, and I could not but think shewould be a credit to us.

It was very gay at the Château de Madrid and we were in high spirits.Larry talked amusing nonsense in a way I had not heard him do before andhe made us laugh. I had a notion he was doing this with the idea ofdiverting our minds from the exhibition of his unexpected power. ButIsabel was a determined woman. She was prepared to play ball with him aslong as it suited her convenience, but she did not lose sight of herdesire to satisfy her curiosity. When we had finished dinner and weredrinking coffee and liqueurs and she might well have supposed that thegood food, the one glass of wine he drank and the friendly talk hadweakened his defences she fixed her bright eyes on Larry.

"Now tell us how you cured Gray's headache."

"You saw for yourself," he answered, smiling.

"Did you learn to do that sort of thing in India?"

"Yes."

"He suffers agonies. D'you think you could cure him permanently?"

"I don't know. I might be able to."

"It would make a difference to his whole life. He couldn't expect tohold a decent job when he may be incapacitated for forty-eight hours.And he'll never be happy till he's at work again."

"I can't work miracles, you know."

"But it was a miracle. I saw it with my own eyes."

"No, it wasn't. I merely put an idea in old Gray's head and he did therest himself." He turned to Gray. "What are you doing tomorrow?"

"Playing golf."

"I'll look in at six and we'll have a talk." Then, giving Isabel hiswinning smile: "I haven't danced with you for ten years, Isabel. Wouldyou care to see if I still know how to?"

(vi)

After that we saw a good deal of Larry. For the next week he came to theapartment every day and for half an hour shut himself up with Gray inthe library. It appeared that he wanted to persuade him--that was how hesmilingly put it--out of having those shattering megrims, and Grayconceived a childlike trust in him. From the little Gray said I got theidea that he was trying besides to restore his broken confidence inhimself. About ten days later Gray had another headache, and it sohappened that Larry was not to come till the evening. It was not a verybad one, but Gray was so confident now in Larry's odd power that hethought if Larry could be got hold of he could take it away in a fewminutes. But neither I, whom Isabel called on the phone, nor they knewwhere he lived. When Larry at last came and relieved Gray of his pain,Gray asked him for his address so that in case of need he could summonhim at once. Larry smiled.

"Call the American Express and leave a message. I'll call them everymorning."

Isabel asked me later why Larry made a secret of his address. He haddone that before and then it had turned out that he lived without anymystery in a third-rate hotel in the Latin Quarter.

"I haven't a notion," I said in answer. "I can only suggest somethingvery fanciful and there's probably nothing in it. It may be that somequeer instinct urges him to carry over to his dwelling place someprivacy of his spirit."

"What in God's name d'you mean by that?" she cried rather irritably.

"Hasn't it struck you that when he's with us, easy as he is to get onwith, friendly and sociable, one's conscious of a sort of detachment inhim, as though he weren't giving all of himself, but withheld in somehidden part of his soul something, I don't know what it is--a tension, asecret, an aspiration, a knowledge--that sets him apart?"

"I've known Larry all my life," she said impatiently.

"Sometimes he reminds me of a great actor playing perfectly a part in atrumpery play. Like Eleanora Duse in La Locandièra."

Isabel pondered over this for a moment.

"I suppose I know what you mean. One's having fun, and one thinks he'sjust like one of us, just like everybody else, and then suddenly youhave the feeling that he's escaped you like a smoke ring that you try tocatch in your hands. What do you think it can be that makes him soqueer?"

"Perhaps something so commonplace that one simply doesn't notice it."

"Such as?"

"Well, goodness, for instance."

Isabel frowned.

"I wish you wouldn't say things like that. It gives me a nasty feelingin the pit of my stomach."

"Or is it a little pain in the depth of your heart?"

Isabel gave me a long look as though she were trying to read mythoughts. She took a cigarette from the table beside her and, lightingit, leant back in her chair. She watched the smoke curl up into the air.

"Do you want me to go?" I asked.

"No."

I was silent for a moment, watching her, and I took my pleasure in thecontemplation of her shapely nose and the exquisite line of her jaw.

"Are you very much in love with Larry?"

"God damn you, I've never loved anyone else in all my life."

"Why did you marry Gray?"

"I had to marry somebody. He was mad about me and Mamma wanted me tomarry him. Everybody told me I was well rid of Larry. I was very fond ofGray; I'm very fond of him still. You don't know how sweet he is. No onein the world could be so kind and so considerate. He looks as though hehad an awful temper, doesn't he? With me he's always been angelic. Whenwe had money, he wanted me to want things so that he could have thepleasure of giving them to me. Once I said it would be fun if we couldhave a yacht and go round the world, and if the crash hadn't come he'dhave bought one."

"He sounds almost too good to be true," I murmured.

"We had a grand time. I shall always be grateful to him for that. Hemade me very happy."

I looked at her, but did not speak.

"I suppose I didn't really love him, but one can get on all rightwithout love. At the bottom of my heart I hankered for Larry, but aslong as I didn't see him it didn't really bother me. D'you remembersaying to me that with three thousand miles of ocean between, the pangsof love become quite tolerable? I thought it a beastly cynical remarkthen, but of course it's true."

"If it's a pain to see Larry, don't you think it would be wiser not tosee him?"

"But it's a pain that's heaven. Besides, you know what he is. Any day hemay vanish like a shadow when the sun goes in and we may not see himagain for years."

"Have you never thought of divorcing Gray?"

"I've got no reason for divorcing him."

"That doesn't prevent your countrywomen from divorcing their husbandswhen they have a mind to."

She laughed.

"Why d'you suppose they do it?"

"Don't you know? Because American women expect to find in their husbandsa perfection that English women only hope to find in their butlers."

Isabel gave her head such a haughty toss that I wondered she didn't geta crick in the neck.

"Because Gray isn't articulate you think there s nothing to him."

"You're wrong there," I interrupted quickly. "I think there's somethingrather moving about him. He has a wonderful faculty of love. One onlyhas to glance at his face when he's looking at you to see how deeply,how devotedly he's attached to you. He loves his children much more thanyou do."

"I suppose you're going to say now that I'm not a good mother."

"On the contrary I think you're an excellent mother. You see thatthey're well and happy. You watch over their diet and take care thattheir bowels act regularly. You teach them to behave nicely and you readto them and make them say their prayers. If they were sick you'd sendfor a doctor at once and nurse them with care. But you're not wrapped upin them as Gray is."

"It's unnecessary that one should be. I'm a human being and I treat themas human beings. A mother only does her children harm if she makes themthe only concern of her life."

"I think you're quite right."

"And the fact remains that they worship me."

"I've noticed that. You're their ideal of all that's graceful andbeautiful and wonderful. But they're not cosy and at their ease with youas they are with Gray. They worship you, that's true; but they lovehim."

"He's very lovable."

I liked her saying that. One of her most amiable traits was that she wasnever affronted by the naked truth.

"After the crash Gray went all to pieces. For weeks he worked at theoffice till midnight. I used to sit at home in an agony of fear, I wasafraid he'd blow his brains out, he was so ashamed. You see, they'd beenso proud of the firm, his father and Gray, they were proud of theirintegrity and the sureness of their judgement. It wasn't so much thatwe'd lost all our money, what he couldn't get over was that all thosepeople who'd trusted him had lost theirs. He felt that he ought to havehad more foresight. I couldn't get him to see that he wasn't to blame."

Isabel took a lipstick out of her bag and painted her lips.

"But that's not what I wanted to tell you. The one thing we had left wasthe plantation and I felt that the only chance for Gray was to get away,so we parked the children with Mamma and went down there. He'd alwaysliked it, but we'd never been there by ourselves; we'd taken a crowdwith us and had a grand time. Gray's a good shot, but he hadn't theheart to shoot then. He used to take a boat and go out on the marsh byhimself for hours at a time and watch the birds. He'd wander up and downthe canals with the pale rushes on each side of him and only the bluesky above. On some days the canals are as blue as the Mediterranean. Heused not to say much when he came back. He'd say it was swell. But Icould see what he felt. I knew that his heart was moved by the beautyand the vastness and the stillness. There's a moment just before sunsetwhen the light on the marsh is lovely. He used to stand and look at itand it filled him with bliss. He took long rides in those solitary,mysterious woods; they're like the woods in a play of Maeterlinck's, sogray, so silent, it's almost uncanny; and there's a moment in spring--ithardly lasts more than a fortnight--when the dogwood bursts into flower,and the gum trees burst into leaf, and their young fresh green againstthe gray of the Spanish moss is like a song of joy; the ground iscarpeted with great white lilies and wild azalea. Gray couldn't say whatit meant to him, but it meant the world. He was drunk with theloveliness of it. Oh, I know I don't put it well, but I can't tell youhow moving it was to see that great hulk of a man uplifted by an emotionso pure and so beautiful that it made me want to cry. If there is a Godin heaven Gray was very near Him then."

Isabel had grown a trifle emotional while she told me this and taking atiny handkerchief she carefully wiped away a tear that glistened at thecorner of each eye.

"Aren't you romanticising?" I said, smiling. "I have a notion thatyou're ascribing to Gray thoughts and emotions that you would haveexpected him to have."

"How should I have seen them if they hadn't been there? You know what Iam. I'm never really happy unless I feel the cement of a sidewalk undermy feet and there are large plate-glass windows all along the streetwith hats to look at and fur coats and diamond bracelets andgold-mounted dressingcases."

I laughed and we were silent for a moment. Then she went back to what wehad been talking of before.

"I'd never divorce Gray. We've been through too much together. And he'sabsolutely dependent upon me. It's rather flattering, you know, and itgives you a sense of responsibility. And besides..."

"Besides what?"

She gave me a sidelong glance and there was a roguish twinkle in hereyes. I had a notion she didn't quite know how I would take what she hadin mind to say.

"He's wonderful in bed. We've been married for ten years and he's aspassionate a lover as he was at the beginning. Didn't you say in a playonce than no man wants the same woman longer than five years? Well, youdidn't know what you were talking about. Gray wants me as much as whenwe were first married. He's made me very happy in that way. Although youwouldn't think it to look at me, I'm a very sensual woman."

"You're quite wrong, I would think it."

"Well, it's not an unattractive trait, is it?"

"On the contrary." I gave her a searching look. "Do you regret youdidn't marry Larry ten years ago?"

"No. It would have been madness. But of course if I'd known then what Iknow now I'd have gone away and lived with him for three months, andthen I'd have got him out of my system for good and all."

"I think it's lucky for you you didn't make the experiment; you mighthave found yourself bound to him by bonds you couldn't break."

"I don't think so. It was merely a physical attraction. You know, oftenthe best way to overcome desire is to satisfy it."

"Has it ever struck you that you're a very possessive woman? You've toldme that Gray has a deep strain of poetic feeling and you've told me thathe's an ardent lover; and I can well believe that both mean a lot toyou; but you haven't told me what means much more to you than both ofthem put together--your feeling that you hold him in the hollow of thatbeautiful but not so small hand of yours. Larry would always haveescaped you. D'you remember that Ode of Keats'? 'Bold Lover, never,never canst thou kiss, though winning near the goal.'"

"You often think you know a great deal more than you do," she said, atrifle acidly. "There's only one way a woman holds a man and you knowit. And let me tell you this: it's not the first time she goes to bedwith him that counts, it's the second. If she holds him then she holdshim for good."

"You do pick up the most extraordinary bits of information."

"I get around and I keep my eyes and ears open."

"May I enquire how you acquired that one?"

She gave me her most teasing smile.

"From a woman I made friends with at a dress show. The vendeuse toldme she was the smartest kept woman in Paris, so I made up my mind I'dgot to know her. Adrienne de Troye. Ever heard of her?"

"Never."

"How your education has been neglected. She's forty-five and not evenpretty, but she looks much more distinguished than any of UncleElliott's duch*esses. I sat down beside her and put on my impulsivelittle-American-girl act. I told her I had to speak to her because I'dnever seen anyone more ravishing in my life. I told her she had theperfection of a Greek cameo."

"The nerve you've got."

"She was rather stiff at first and stand-offish, but I ran on in mysimple naïve way and she thawed. Then we had quite a nice little chat.When the show was over I asked her if she wouldn't come to lunch with meat the Ritz one day. I told her I'd always admired her wonderful chic."

"Had you ever seen her before?"

"Never. She wouldn't lunch with me, she said they had such malicioustongues in Paris, it would compromise me, but she was pleased that I'dasked her, and when she saw my mouth quiver with disappointment sheasked me if I wouldn't come and lunch with her in her house. She pattedmy hand when she saw I was simply overwhelmed by her affability."

"And did you go?"

"Of course I went. She has a dear little house off the Avenue Foch andwe were waited on by a butler who's the very image of George Washington.I stayed till four o'clock. We took our hair down and our stays off, andhad a thorough girls' gossip. I learnt enough that afternoon to write abook."

"Why don't you? It's just the sort of thing to suit the Ladies' HomeJournal."

"You fool," she laughed.

I was silent for a moment. I pursued my thoughts.

"I wonder if Larry was ever really in love with you," I saidpresently.

She sat up. Her expression lost its amenity. Her eyes were angry.

"What are you talking about? Of course he was in love with me. D'youthink a girl doesn't know when a man's in love with her?"

"Oh, I daresay he was in love with you after a fashion. He didn't knowany girl so intimately as he knew you. You'd played around togethersince you were children. He expected himself to be in love with you. Hehad the normal sexual instinct. It seemed such a natural thing that youshould marry. There wouldn't have been any particular difference in yourrelations except that you lived under the same roof and went to bedtogether."

Isabel, to some extent mollified, waited for me to go on and, knowingthat women are always glad to listen when you discourse upon love, Iwent on.

"Moralists try to persuade us that the sexual instinct hasn't got sovery much to do with love. They're apt to speak of it as if it were anepiphenomenon."

"What in God's name is that?"

"Well, there are psychologists who think that consciousness accompaniesbrain processes and is determined by them, but doesn't itself exert anyinfluence on them. Something like the reflection of a tree in water; itcouldn't exist without the tree, but it doesn't in any way affect thetree. I think it's all stuff and nonsense to say that there can be lovewithout passion; when people say love can endure after passion is deadthey're talking of something else, affection, kindliness, community oftaste and interest, and habit. Especially habit. Two people can go onhaving sexual intercourse from habit in just the same way as they growhungry at the hour they're accustomed to have their meals. Of coursethere can be desire without love. Desire isn't passion. Desire is thenatural consequence of the sexual instinct and it isn't of any moreimportance than any other function of the human animal. That's why womenare foolish to make a song and dance when their husbands have anoccasional flutter when the time and the place are propitious."

"Does that apply only to men?"

I smiled.

"If you insist I'll admit that what is sauce for the gander is sauce forthe goose. The only thing to be said against it is that with a man apassing connection of that sort has no emotional significance, whilewith a woman it has."

"It depends on the woman."

I wasn't going to let myself be interrupted.

"Unless love is passion, it's not love, but something else; and passionthrives not on satisfaction, but on impediment. What d'you suppose Keatsmeant when he told the lover on his Grecian urn not to grieve? 'Foreverwilt thou love, and she be fair!' Why? Because she was unattainable andhowever madly the lover pursued she still eluded him. For they were bothimprisoned in the marble of what I suspect was an indifferent work ofart. Your love for Larry and his for you were as simple and natural asthe love of Paolo and Francesca and Romeo and Juliet. Fortunately foryou it didn't come to a bad end. You made a rich marriage and Larryroamed the world to seek out what song the Sirens sang. Passion didn'tenter into it."

"How d'you know?"

"Passion doesn't count the cost. Pascal said that the heart has itsreasons that reason takes no account of. If he meant what I think, hemeant that when passion seizes the heart it invents reasons that seemnot only plausible but conclusive to prove that the world is well lostfor love. It convinces you that honour is well sacrificed and that shameis a cheap price to pay. Passion is destructive. It destroyed Antony andCleopatra, Tristan and Isolde, Parnell and Kitty O'Shea. And if itdoesn't destroy it dies. It may be then that one is faced with thedesolation of knowing that one has wasted the years of one's life, thatone's brought disgrace upon oneself, endured the frightful pang ofjealousy, swallowed every bitter mortification, that one's expended allone's tenderness, poured out all the riches of one's soul on a poordrab, a fool, a peg on which one hung one's dreams, who wasn't worth astick of chewing gum."

Before I finished this harangue I knew very well that Isabel wasn'tpaying any attention to me, but was occupied with her own reflections.But her next remark surprised me.

"Do you think Larry is a virgin?"

"My dear, he's thirty-two."

"I'm certain he is."

"How can you be?"

"That's the kind of thing a woman knows instinctively."

"I knew a young man who had a very prosperous career for some years byconvincing one beautiful creature after another that he'd never had awoman. He said it worked like a charm."

"I don't care what you say. I believe in my intuition."

It was growing late, Gray and Isabel were dining with friends, and shehad to dress. I had nothing to do and so walked in the pleasant springevening up the Boulevard Raspail. I have never believed very much inwomen's intuition; it fits in too neatly with what they want to believeto persuade me that it is trustworthy; and as I thought of the end of mylong talk with Isabel I couldn't but laugh. It put me in mind of SuzanneRouvier and it occurred to me that I had not seen her for several days.I wondered if she was doing anything. If not, she might like to dinewith me and go to a movie. I stopped a prowling taxi and gave theaddress of her apartment.

(vii)

I mentioned Suzanne Rouvier at the beginning of this book. I had knownher for ten or twelve years and at the date which I have now reached shemust have been not far from forty. She was not beautiful; in fact shewas rather ugly. She was tall for a Frenchwoman, with a short body, longlegs and long arms; and she held herself gawkily as though she didn'tknow how to cope with the length of her limbs. The colour of her hairchanged according to her whim, but most often was of a reddish brown.She had a small square face, with very prominent cheekbones vividlyrouged, and a large mouth with heavily painted lips. None of this soundsattractive, but it was; it is true that she had a good skin, strongwhite teeth and big, vividly blue eyes. They were her best features andshe made the most of them by painting her eyelashes and her eyelids. Shehad a shrewd, roving, friendly look and she combined great good naturewith a proper degree of toughness. In the life she had led she needed tobe tough. Her mother, the widow of a small official in the government,had on his death returned to her native village in Anjou to live on herpension and when Suzanne was fifteen had apprenticed her to a dressmakerin the neighbouring town, which was near enough for her to be able tocome home on Sundays. It was during her fortnight's holiday, when shehad reached the age of seventeen, that she was seduced by an artist whowas spending his summer in the village to paint landscape. She alreadyknew very well that without a penny to bless herself with her chance ofmarriage was remote and when the painter, at the end of the summer,proposed taking her to Paris she consented with alacrity. He took her tolive with him in a rabbit warren of studios in Montmartre, and she spenta very pleasant year in his company.

At the end of this he told her that he had not sold a single canvas andcould no longer afford the luxury of a mistress. She had been expectingthe news for some time and was not disconcerted by it. He asked her ifshe wanted to go home and when she said she didn't, told her thatanother painter in the same block would be glad to have her. The man henamed had made a pass at her two or three times and though she hadrebuffed him it had been with so much good humour that he was notaffronted. She did not dislike him and so accepted the proposition withplacidity. It was convenient that she did not have to go to the expenseof taking a taxi to transport her trunk. Her second lover, a good dealolder than the first, but still presentable, painted her in everyconceivable position, clothed and in the nude; and she passed two happyyears with him. She was proud to think that with her as a model he hadmade his first real success and she showed me a reproduction cut out ofan illustrated paper of the picture that had brought it about. It hadbeen purchased by an American gallery. It was a nude, life-size, and shewas lying in something of the same position as Manet's Olympe. Theartist had been quick to see that there was something modern and amusingin her proportions, and, fining down her thin body to emaciation, he hadelongated her long legs and arms, he had emphasised her high cheekbonesand made her blue eyes extravagantly large. From the reproduction Inaturally could not tell what the colour was like, but I was sensible ofthe elegance of the design. The picture brought him sufficient notorietyto enable him to marry an admiring widow with money, and Suzanne, wellaware that a man had to think of his future, accepted the rupture oftheir cordial relations without acrimony.

For by now she knew her value. She liked the artistic life, it amusedher to pose, and after the day's work was over she found it pleasant togo to the café and sit with painters, their wives and mistresses, whilethey discussed art, reviled dealers, and told bawdy stories. On thisoccasion, having seen the break coming, she had made her plans. Shepicked out a young man who was unattached and who, she thought, hadtalent. She chose her opportunity when he was alone at the café,explained the circ*mstances and without further preamble suggested thatthey should live together.

"I'm twenty and a good housekeeper. I'll save you money there and I'llsave you the expense of a model. Look at your shirt, it's a disgrace,and your studio is a mess. You want a woman to look after you."

He knew she was a good sort. He was amused at her proposal and she sawhe was inclined to accept.

"After all, there's no harm in trying," she said. "If it doesn't work weshall neither of us be worse off than we are now."

He was a non-representative artist and he painted portraits of her insquares and oblongs. He painted her with one eye and no mouth. Hepainted her as a geometrical arrangement in black and brown and gray. Hepainted her in a crisscross of lines through which you vaguely saw ahuman face. She stayed with him for a year and a half and left him ofher own accord.

"Why?" I asked her. "Didn't you like him?"

"Yes, he was a nice boy. I didn't think he was getting any further. Hewas repeating himself."

She found no difficulty in discovering a successor. She remainedfaithful to artists.

"I've always been in painting," she said. "I was with a sculptor for sixmonths, but I don't know why, it said nothing to me."

She was pleased to think that she had never separated from a lover withunpleasantness. She was not only a good model, but a good housewife. Sheloved working about the studio she happened for a while to be living inand took pride in keeping it in apple-pie order. She was a good cook andcould turn out a tasty meal at the smallest possible cost. She mendedher lovers' socks and sewed buttons on their shirts.

"I never saw why because a man was an artist he shouldn't be neat andtidy."

She only had one failure. This was a young Englishman who had more moneythan anyone she had known before and he had a car.

"But it didn't last long," she said. "He used to get drunk and then hewas tiresome. I wouldn't have minded that if he'd been a good painter,but, my dear, it was grotesque. I told him I was going to leave him andhe began to cry. He said he loved me.

"'My poor friend,' I said to him. 'Whether you love me or not isn't ofthe smallest consequence. What is of consequence is that you have notalent. Return to your own country and go into the grocery business.That is all you're fit for.'"

"What did he say to that?" I asked.

"He flew into a passion and told me to get out. But it was good advice Igave him, you know. I hope he took it, he wasn't a bad fellow; only abad artist."

Common sense and good nature will do a lot to make the pilgrimage oflife not too difficult to a light woman, but the profession Suzanne hadadopted has its ups and downs like any other. There was the Scandinavianfor instance. She was so imprudent as to fall in love with him.

"He was a god, my dear," she told me. "He was immensely tall, as tall asthe Eiffel Tower, with great broad shoulders and a magnificent chest, awaist that you could almost put your hands round, a belly flat, but flatlike the palm of my hand, and muscles like a professional athlete's. Hehad golden, wavy hair and a skin of honey. And he didn't paint badly. Iliked his brush work, it was bold and dashing, and he had a rich vividpalet."

She made up her mind to have a child by him. He was against it, but shetold him she would take the responsibility of it.

"He liked it well enough when it was born. Oh, such a lovely baby, rosy,fair-haired and blue-eyed like her papa. It was a girl."

Suzanne lived with him for three years.

"He was a little stupid and sometimes he bored me, but he was very sweetand so beautiful that I didn't really mind."

Then he got a telegram from Sweden to say his father was dying and hemust come back at once. He promised to return, but she had a premonitionthat he never would. He left her all the money he had. She didn't hearfrom him for a month and then she got a letter from him saying that hisfather had died, leaving his affairs in confusion, and that he felt ithis duty to remain by his mother and go into the lumber business. Heenclosed a draft for ten thousand francs. Suzanne was not the woman togive way to despair. She came to the conclusion very quickly that achild would hamper her activities and so took the baby girl down to hermother's and left her, along with the ten thousand francs, in her care.

"It was heart-rending, I adored that child, but in life one has to bepractical."

"What happened then?" I asked.

"Oh, I got along. I found a friend."

But then came her typhoid. She always spoke of it as "my typhoid" as amillionaire might speak of "my place at Palm Beach" or "my grouse moor."She nearly died of it and was in the hospital for three months. When sheleft she was nothing but skin and bones, as weak as a rat, and sonervous that she could do nothing but cry. She wasn't much use to anyonethen, she wasn't strong enough to pose and she had very little money.

"Oh la, la," she said, "I passed through some hard times. Luckily Ihad good friends. But you know what artists are, it's a struggle forthem to make both ends meet anyway. I was never a pretty woman, I hadsomething of course, but I wasn't twenty any more. Then I ran into thecubist I'd been with; he'd been married and divorced since we livedtogether, he'd given up cubism and become a surrealist. He thought hecould use me and said he was lonely; he said he'd give me board andlodging and I promise you, I was glad to accept."

Suzanne stayed with him till she met her manufacturer. The manufacturerwas brought to the studio by a friend on the chance that he might buyone of the ex-cubist's pictures, and Suzanne, anxious to effect a sale,set herself out to be as agreeable to him as she knew how. He could notmake up his mind to buy on the spur of the moment, but said he wouldlike to come and see the pictures again. He did, a fortnight later, andthis time she received the impression that he had come to see her ratherthan works of art. When he left, still without buying, he pressed herhand with unnecessary warmth. Next day the friend who had brought himwaylaid her when she was on her way to market to buy the day'sprovisions and told her that the manufacturer had taken a fancy to herand wanted to know if she would dine with him next time he came toParis, because he had a proposition to make to her.

"What does he see in me, d'you suppose?" she asked.

"He's an amateur of modern art. He's seen portraits of you. You intriguehim. He's a provincial and a businessman. You represent Paris to him,art, romance, everything that he misses in Lille."

"Has he money?" she asked in her sensible way.

"Plenty."

"Well, I'll dine with him. There's no harm hearing what he's got tosay."

He took her to Maxim's, which impressed her; she had dressed veryquietly, and she felt as she looked at the women around her that shecould pass very well for a respectable married woman. He ordered abottle of champagne and this persuaded her that he was a gentleman. Whenthey came to coffee he put his proposition before her. She thought itvery handsome. He told her that he came to Paris regularly once afortnight to attend a board meeting and it was tiresome in the eveningto dine alone and if he felt the need of feminine society to go to abrothel. Being a married man with two children he thought that anunsatisfactory arrangement for a man in his position. Their commonfriend had told him all about her and he knew she was a woman ofdiscretion. He was no longer young and he had no wish to get entangledwith a giddy girl. He was something of a collector of the modern schooland her connection with it was sympathetic to him. Then he came down tobrass tacks. He was prepared to take an apartment for her and furnish itand provide her with an income of two thousand francs a month. In returnfor this he wished to enjoy her company for one night every fourteendays. Suzanne had never had the spending of so much money in her lifeand she quickly reckoned that on such a sum she could not only live anddress as such an advancement in the world evidently demanded, butprovide for her daughter and put away something for a rainy day. But shehesitated for a moment. She had always been "in painting," as she putit, and there was no doubt in her mind that it was a come down to be themistress of a businessman.

"C'est à prendre ou à laisser," he said. "You can take it or leaveit."

He was not repulsive to her and the rosette of the Legion of Honour inhis buttonhole proved that he was a man of distinction. She smiled.

"Je prends," she replied. "I'll take it."

(viii)

Though Suzanne had always lived in Montmartre she decided that it wasnecessary to break with the past and so took an apartment inMontparnasse in a house just off the boulevard. It consisted of tworooms, a tiny kitchen and a bathroom; it was on the sixth floor, butthere was a lift. To her a bathroom and a lift, even though it only heldtwo persons and moved at a snail's pace and you had to walk downstairs,represented not only luxury but style.

For the first few months of their union Monsieur Achille Gauvain, forsuch was his name, put up at a hotel on his fortnightly visits to Parisand, after spending such part of the night with Suzanne as his amorousinclination demanded, returned to it to sleep by himself till it wastime for him to get up and catch his train to return to his businessaffairs and the sober pleasures of family life; but then Suzanne pointedout to him that he was throwing away money to no purpose and it would beboth more economical and more comfortable if he stayed in the apartmenttill morning. He could not but see the force of this. He was flatteredat Suzanne's thoughtfulness for his comfort--it was true, there wasnothing agreeable in going out into the street and finding a taxi on acold winter night--and he approved of her disinclination to put him touseless expense. It was a good woman who counted not only her ownpennies but her lover's.

Monsieur Achille had every reason to feel pleased with himself. Ingeneral they went to dine at one of the better restaurants inMontparnasse, but now and then Suzanne prepared dinner for him in theapartment. The tasty food she gave him was very much to his liking. Onwarm evenings he would dine in his shirt sleeves and feel deliciouslywanton and bohemian. He had always had an inclination for buyingpictures, but Suzanne would let him buy nothing that she did not approveof and he soon found reason to trust her judgement. She would have notruck with dealers, but took him to the studios of the painters and thusenabled him to buy pictures for half the money he would otherwise havehad to pay. He knew that she was putting something aside and when shetold him that year by year she was buying a bit of land in her nativevillage he felt a thrill of pride. He knew the desire to own land thatis in the heart of every person of French blood, and his esteem for herwas increased because she possessed it too.

On her side Suzanne was well satisfied. She was neither faithful to himnor unfaithful; that is to say, she took care not to form any permanentconnection with another man, but if she came across one who took herfancy she was not averse to going to bed with him. But it was a point ofhonour with her not to let him stay all night. She felt she owed that tothe man of means and position who had settled her life in such anassured and respectable manner.

I had come to know Suzanne when she was living with a painter whohappened to be an acquaintance of mine and had often sat in his studiowhile she posed; I continued to see her now and then at infrequentintervals, but did not enter upon terms of any intimacy with her tillshe moved to Montparnasse. It appeared then that Monsieur Achille, forthis was how she always spoke of him and how she addressed him, had readone or two of my books in translation and one evening he invited me todine with them at a restaurant. He was a little man, half a head shorterthan Suzanne, with iron-gray hair and a neat gray moustache. He was onthe plump side, and he had a potbelly, but only to the extent of givinghim an air of substance. He walked with the short fat man's strut and itwas plain that he was not displeased with himself. He gave me a finedinner. He was very polite. He told me he was glad I was a friend ofSuzanne's, he could see at a glance that I was comme il faut and hewould be glad to think that I should see something of her. His affairs,alas! kept him tied to Lille and the poor girl was too often alone; itwould be a comfort to him to know that she was in touch with a man ofeducation. He was a businessman, but he had always admired artists.

"Ah, mon cher monsieur, art and literature have always been the twinglories of France. Along with her military prowess, of course. And I, amanufacturer of woolen goods, have no hesitation in saying that I putthe painter and the writer on a level with the general and thestatesman."

No one could say handsomer than that.

Suzanne would not hear of having a maid to do the housework, partly foreconomy's sake and partly because (for reasons best known to herself)she didn't want anyone poking her nose into what was nobody's businessbut her own. She kept the tiny apartment, furnished in the most modernstyle of the moment, clean and neat and she made all her ownunderclothes. But even then, now that she no longer posed, time hungheavily on her hands, for she was an industrious woman; and presentlythe idea occurred to her that, after having sat to so many painters,there was no reason why she should not paint too. She bought canvases,brushes and paints and forthwith set to work. Sometimes when I was totake her out to dinner I would go early and find her in a smock busilyat work. Just as the embryo in the womb recapitulates in brief theevolution of the species, so did Suzanne recapitulate the styles of allher lovers. She painted landscape like the landscape painter,abstractions like the cubist and with the help of picture postcardssailing boats lying at anchor like the Scandinavian. She could not draw,but she had an agreeable sense of colour and if her pictures were notvery good she got a lot of fun out of painting them.

Monsieur Achille encouraged her. It gave him a sense of satisfactionthat his mistress should be an artist. It was on his insistence that shesent a canvas to the autumn salon and they were both very proud when itwas hung. He gave her one bit of good advice.

"Don't try to paint like a man, my dear," he said. "Paint like a woman.Don't aim to be strong; be satisfied to charm. And be honest. Inbusiness sharp practice sometimes succeeds, but in art honesty is notonly the best but the only policy."

At the time of which I write the connection had lasted for five years totheir mutual content.

"Evidently he doesn't thrill me," said Suzanne. "But he's intelligentand in a good position. I've reached an age when it's necessary for meto think of my situation."

She was sympathetic and understanding and Monsieur Achille conceived ahigh opinion of her judgement. She lent a willing ear when he discussedwith her his business and domestic affairs. She condoled with him whenhis daughter failed in an examination and rejoiced with him when his songot engaged to a girl with money. He had himself married the only childof a man in his own line of business and the amalgamation of two rivalfirms had been a source of profit to both parties. It was naturally asatisfaction to him that his son was sensible enough to see that thesoundest basis of a happy marriage is community of financial interests.He confided to Suzanne his ambition to marry his daughter into thearistocracy.

"And why not, with her fortune?" said Suzanne.

Monsieur Achille made it possible for Suzanne to send her own daughterto a convent where she would receive a good education, and he promisedthat at due proper age he would pay to have her suitably trained to earnher living as a typist and stenographer.

"She's going to be a beauty when she grows up," Suzanne told me, "butevidently it won't hurt her to have an education and to be able to pounda typewriter. Of course she's so young it's too soon to tell, it may bethat she'll have no temperament."

Suzanne had delicacy. She left it to my intelligence to infer hermeaning. I inferred it all right.

(ix)

A week or so after I had so unexpectedly run into Larry, Suzanne and Ione night, having dined together and gone to a movie, were sitting inthe Sélect on the Boulevard du Montparnasse, having a glass of beer,when he strolled in. She gave a gasp and to my surprise called out tohim. He came up to the table, kissed her and shook hands with me. Icould see that she could hardly believe her eyes.

"May I sit down?" he said. "I haven't had any dinner and I'm going tohave something to eat."

"Oh, but it's good to see you, mon petit," she said, her eyessparkling. "Where have you sprung from? And why have you given no signof life all these years? My God, how thin you are. For all I know youmight have been dead."

"Well, I wasn't," he answered, his eyes twinkling, "How is Odette?"

That was the name of Suzanne's daughter.

"Oh, she's growing a big girl. And pretty. She still remembers you."

"You never told me you knew Larry," I said to her.

"Why should I? I never knew you knew him. We're old friends."

Larry ordered himself eggs and bacon. Suzanne told him all about herdaughter and then about herself. He listened in his smiling, charmingway while she chattered. She told him that she had settled down and waspainting. She turned to me.

"I'm improving, don't you think? I don't pretend I'm a genius, but Ihave as much talent as many of the painters I've known."

"D'you sell any pictures?" asked Larry.

"I don't have to," she answered airily. "I have private means."

"Lucky girl."

"No, not lucky: clever. You must come and see my pictures."

She wrote down her address on a piece of paper and made him promise togo. Suzanne, excited, went on talking nineteen to the dozen. Then Larryasked for his bill.

"You're not going?" she cried.

"I am," he smiled.

He paid and with a wave of the hand left us. I laughed. He had a waythat always amused me of being with you one moment and withoutexplanation gone the next. It was so abrupt; it was almost as if he hadfaded into the air.

"Why did he want to go away so quickly?" said Suzanne with vexation.

"Perhaps he's got a girl waiting for him," I replied mockingly.

"That's an idea like another." She took her compact out of her bag andpowdered her face. "I pity any woman who falls in love with him. Oh la,la."

"Why do you say that?"

She looked at me for a minute with a seriousness I had not often seen inher.

"I very nearly fell in love with him myself once. You might as well fallin love with a reflection in the water or a ray of sunshine or a cloudin the sky. I had a narrow escape. Even now when I think of it I trembleat the danger I ran."

Discretion be blowed. It would have been inhuman not to want to knowwhat this was all about. I congratulated myself that Suzanne was a womanwho had no notion of reticence.

"How on earth did you ever get to know him?" I asked.

"Oh, it was years ago. Six years, seven years, I forget. Odette was onlyfive. He knew Marcel when I was living with him. He used to come to thestudio and sit while I was posing. He'd take us out to dinner sometimes.You never knew when he'd come. Sometimes not for weeks and then two orthree days running. Marcel used to like to have him there; he said hepainted better when he was there. Then I had my typhoid. I went througha bad time when I came out of the hospital." She shrugged her shoulders."But I've already told you all that. Well, one day I'd been round thestudios trying to get work and no one wanted me, and I'd had nothing buta glass of milk and a croissant all day and I didn't know how I wasgoing to pay for my room, and I met him accidentally on the BoulevardClichy. He stopped and asked me how I was and I told him about mytyphoid and then he said to me: 'You look as if you could do with asquare meal.' And there was something in his voice and in the look ofhis eyes that broke me; I began to cry.

"We were next door to La Mère Mariette and he took me by the arm and satme down at a table. I was so hungry I was ready to eat an old boot, butwhen the omelette came I felt I couldn't eat a thing. He forced me totake a little and he gave me a glass of burgundy. I felt better then andI ate some asparagus. I told him all my troubles. I was too weak to holda pose. I was just skin and bone and I looked terrible; I couldn'texpect to get a man. I asked him if he'd lend me the money to go back tomy village. At least I'd have my little girl there. He asked me if Iwanted to go and I said of course not, Mamma didn't want me, she couldhardly live on her pension with prices the way they were, and the moneyI'd sent for Odette had all been spent, but if I appeared at the doorshe could hardly refuse to take me in, she'd see how ill I looked. Helooked at me for a long time, and I thought he was going to say hecouldn't lend me anything. Then he said:

"'Would you like me to take you down to a little place I know in thecountry, you and the kid? I want a bit of a holiday.'

"I could hardly believe my ears. I'd known him for ages and he'd nevermade a pass at me.

"'In the condition I'm in?' I said. I couldn't help laughing. 'My poorfriend,' I said, 'I'm no use to any man just now.'

"He smiled at me. Have you ever noticed what a wonderful smile he's got?It's as sweet as honey.

"'Don't be so silly,' he said. 'I'm not thinking of that.'

"I was crying so hard by then, I could hardly speak. He gave me money tofetch the child and we all went to the country together. Oh, it wascharming, the place he took us to."

Suzanne described it to me. It was three miles from a little town thename of which I have forgotten and they took a car out to the inn. Itwas a ramshackle building on a river with a lawn that ran down to thewater. There were plane trees on the lawn and they had their meals intheir shade. In summer artists came there to paint, but it was early forthat yet and they had the inn to themselves. The fare was famous and onSundays people used to drive from here and there to lunch with abandon,but on weekdays their peace was seldom disturbed. With the rest, thegood food and wine, Suzanne grew stronger, and she was happy to have herchild with her.

"He was sweet with Odette and she adored him. I had to prevent her frommaking a nuisance of herself, but he never seemed to mind how much shepestered him. It used to make me laugh, they were like two childrentogether."

"What did you do with yourselves?" I asked.

"Oh, there was always something to do. We used to take a boat and fishand sometimes we'd get the patron to lend us his Citroën and we'd gointo town. Larry liked it. The old houses and the place. It was soquiet that your footsteps on the cobblestones were the only sound youheard. There was a Louis Quatorze hôtel de ville and an old church andat the edge of the town was the château with a garden by Le Nôtre. Whenyou sat at the café on the place you had the feeling that you hadstepped back three hundred years and the Citroën at the curb didn't seemto belong to this world at all."

It was after one of these outings that Larry told her the story of theyoung airman which I narrated at the beginning of this book.

"I wonder why he told you," I said.

"I haven't an idea. They'd had a hospital in the town during the war andin the cemetery there were rows and rows of little crosses. We went tosee it. We didn't stay long, it gave me the creeps--all those poor boyslying there. Larry was very silent on the way home. He never ate much,but at dinner he hardly touched a thing. I remember so well, it was abeautiful, starry night and we sat on the riverbank, it was pretty withthe poplars silhouetted against the darkness, and he smoked his pipe.And suddenly, à propos de bottes, he told me about his friend and howhe died to save him." Suzanne took a swig of beer. "He's a strangecreature. I shall never understand him. He used to like to read to me.Sometimes in the daytime, while I sewed things for the little one, andin the evening after I'd put her to bed."

"What did he read?"

"Oh, all sorts of things. Letters of Madame de Sévigné and bits ofSaint-Simon. Imagine toi, I who'd never read anything before but thenewspaper and now and then a novel when I heard them talk about it inthe studios and didn't want them to think me a fool! I had no ideareading could be so interesting. Those old writers, they weren't suchfatheads as one would think."

"Who would think?" I chuckled.

"Then he made me read with him. We read Phèdre and Bérénice. He tookthe men's parts and I took the women's. You can't think how amusing itwas," she added naïvely. "He used to look at me so strangely when Icried at the pathetic parts. Of course it was only because I hadn't gotmy strength. And you know, I've still got the books. Even now I can'tread some of the letters of Madame de Sévigné that he read to me withouthearing his lovely voice and without seeing the river flowing so quietlyand the poplars on the opposite bank, and sometimes I can't go on, itgives me such a pain in my heart. I know now that those were thehappiest weeks I ever spent in my life. That man, he's an angel ofsweetness."

Suzanne felt she was growing sentimental and feared (wrongly) that Ishould laugh at her. She shrugged her shoulders and smiled.

"You know, I've always made up my mind that when I've reached thecanonical age and no man wants to sleep with me any more I shall make mypeace with the Church and repent of my sins. But the sins I committedwith Larry nothing in the world will ever induce me to repent of. Never,never, never!"

"But as you've described it I can see nothing you can possibly have torepent of."

"I haven't told you the half of it yet. You see, I have a naturally goodconstitution and being out in the air all day, eating well, sleepingwell, with not a care in the world, in three or four weeks I was asstrong as ever I'd been. And I was looking well; I had colour in mycheeks and my hair had recovered its sheen. I felt twenty. Larry swam inthe river every morning and I used to watch him. He has a beautifulbody, not an athlete's like my Scandinavian, but strong and of aninfinite grace.

"He'd been very patient while I was so weak, but now that I wasperfectly well I saw no reason to keep him waiting any longer. I gavehim a hint or two that I was ready for anything, but he didn't seem tounderstand. Of course you Anglo-Saxons are peculiar, you're brutal andat the same time you're sentimental; there's no denying it, you're notgood lovers. I said to myself, 'Perhaps it's his delicacy, he's done somuch for me, he's let me have the child here, it may be that he hasn'tthe heart to ask me for the return that is his right.' So one night, aswe were going to bed, I said to him, 'D'you want me to come to your roomtonight?'"

I laughed.

"You put it a bit bluntly, didn't you?"

"Well, I couldn't ask him to come to mine, because Odette was sleepingthere," she answered ingenuously. "He looked at me with those kind eyesof his for a moment, then he smiled. 'D'you want to come?' he said.

"'What do you think--with that fine body of yours?'

"'All right, come then.'

"I went upstairs and undressed and then I slipped along the passage tohis room. He was lying in bed reading and smoking a pipe. He put downhis pipe and his book and moved over to make room for me."

Suzanne was silent for a while and it went against my grain to ask herquestions. But after a while she went on.

"He was a strange lover. Very sweet, affectionate and even tender,virile without being passionate, if you understand what I mean, andabsolutely without vice. He loved like a hotblooded schoolboy. It wasrather funny and rather touching. When I left him I had the feeling thatI should be grateful to him rather than he to me. As I closed the door Isaw him take up his book and go on reading from where he had left off."

I began to laugh.

"I'm glad it amuses you," she said a trifle grimly. But she was notwithout a sense of humour. She giggled. "I soon discovered that if Iwaited for an invitation I might wait indefinitely, so when I felt likeit I just went into his room and got into bed. He was always very nice.He had in short natural human instincts, but he was like a man sopreoccupied that he forgets to eat, yet when you put a good dinnerbefore him he eats it with appetite. I know when a man's in love withme, and I should have been a fool if I'd believed that Larry loved me,but I thought he'd get into the habit of me. One has to be practical inlife and I said to myself that it would suit me very well if when wewent back to Paris he took me to live with him. I knew he'd let me havethe child and I should have liked that. My instinct told me I'd be sillyto fall in love with him, you know women are very unfortunate, so oftenwhen they fall in love they cease to be lovable, and I made up my mindto be on my guard."

Suzanne inhaled the smoke of her cigarette and blew it out through hernose. It was growing late and many of the tables were now empty, butthere was still a group of people hanging around the bar.

"One morning, after breakfast, I was sitting on the riverbank sewing,and Odette was playing with some bricks he'd bought her when Larry cameup to me."

"'I've come to say good-bye to you,' he said.

"'Are you going somewhere?' I said, surprised.

"'Yes.'

"'Not for good?' I said.

"'You're quite well now. Here's enough money to keep you for the rest ofthe summer and to start you off when you get back to Paris.'

"For a moment I was so upset I didn't know what to say. He stood infront of me, smiling in that candid way of his.

"'Have I done something to displease you?' I asked him.

"'Nothing. Don't think that for a moment. I've got work to do. We've hada lovely time down here. Odette, come and say good-bye to your uncle.'

"She was too young to understand. He took her up in his arms and kissedher; then he kissed me and walked back into the hotel; in a minute Iheard the car drive away. I looked at the banknotes I had in my hand.Twelve thousand francs. It came so quickly I hadn't time to react. 'Zutalors,' I said to myself. I had at least one thing to be thankful for,I hadn't allowed myself to fall in love with him. But I couldn't makehead or tail of it."

I was obliged to laugh.

"You know, at one time I made quite a little reputation for myself as ahumorist by the simple process of telling the truth. It came as such asurprise to most people that they thought I was being funny."

"I don't see the connection."

"Well, Larry is, I think, the only person I've ever met who's completelydisinterested. It makes his actions seem peculiar. We're not used topersons who do things simply for the love of God whom they don't believein."

Suzanne stared at me.

"My poor friend, you've had too much to drink."


Chapter Five

(i)

I dawdled over my work in Paris. It was very agreeable in thespringtime, with the chestnuts in the Champs Elysées in bloom and thelight in the streets so gay. There was pleasure in the air, a lighttransitory pleasure, sensual without grossness, that made your step morespringy and your intelligence more alert. I was happy in the variouscompany of my friends and, my heart filled with amiable memories of thepast, I regained in spirit at least something of the glow of youth. Ithought I should be a fool to allow work to interfere with a delight inthe passing moment that I might never enjoy again so fully.

Isabel, Gray, Larry and I went for excursions to places of interestwithin convenient distance. We went to Chantilly and Versailles, to St.Germain and Fontainebleau. Wherever we went, we lunched well andcopiously. Gray ate largely to satisfy his enormous frame and was apt todrink a little too much. His health, whether owing to Larry's treatmentor merely to the course of time, was certainly improved. He ceased tohave racking headaches and his eyes were losing the look of bewildermentthat when first I saw him on coming to Paris had been so distressing. Hedid not talk much except now and then to tell a long-winded story, butlaughed with great loud guffaws at the nonsense Isabel and I talked. Heenjoyed himself. Though not amusing, he was so good-humoured and soeasily pleased that it was impossible not to like him. He was the kindof man with whom one would have hesitated to pass a lonely evening, butwith whom one might cheerfully have looked forward to spending sixmonths.

His love for Isabel was a delight to see; he adored her beauty andthought her the most brilliant, fascinating creature in the world; andhis devotion, his doglike devotion to Larry was touching. Larry appearedto enjoy himself too; I had a notion that he looked upon this time as aholiday that he was taking from whatever projects he had in mind and wasserenely making the most of it. He did not talk very much either, but itdidn't matter, his company was sufficient conversation; he was so easy,so pleasantly cheerful that you did not ask more of him than what hegave, and I well knew that if the days we spent together were so happyit was due to his being with us. Though he never said a brilliant or awitty thing, we'd have been dull without him.

It was on the return from one of these jaunts that I witnessed a scenethat somewhat startled me. We had been to Chartres and were on our wayback to Paris. Gray was driving and Larry was sitting beside him; Isabeland I were at the back. We were tired after the long day. Larry sat withhis arm stretched out along the top of the front seat. His shirt cuffwas pulled back by his position and displayed his slim, strong wrist andthe lower part of his brown arm lightly covered with fine hairs. The sunshone goldly upon them. Something in Isabel's immobility attracted myattention, and I glanced at her. She was so still that you might havethought her hypnotized. Her breath was hurried. Her eyes were fixed onthe sinewy wrist with its little golden hairs and on that long,delicate, but powerful hand, and I have never seen on a humancountenance such a hungry concupiscence as I saw then on hers. It was amask of lust. I would never have believed that her beautiful featurescould assume an expression of such unbridled sensuality. It was animalrather than human. The beauty was stripped from her face; the look uponit made her hideous and frightening. It horribly suggested the bitch inheat and I felt rather sick. She was unconscious of my presence; she wasconscious of nothing but the hand, lying along the rim so negligently,that filled her with frantic desire. Then as it were a spasm twitchedacross her face, she gave a shudder and shutting her eyes sank back intothe corner of the car.

"Give me a cigarette," she said in a voice I hardly recognized, it wasso raucous.

I got one out of my case and lit it for her. She smoked it greedily. Forthe rest of the drive she looked out of the window and never said aword.

When we arrived at their house Gray asked Larry to drive me back to myhotel and then take the car to the garage. Larry got into the driver'sseat and I sat myself beside him. As they crossed the pavement Isabeltook Gray's arm and, snuggling up to him, gave him a look which I couldnot see, but whose sense I could divine. I guessed that he would have apassionate bedfellow that night, but would never know to what prickingsof conscience he owed her ardor.

June was approaching its end and I had to get back to the Riviera.Friends of Elliott, who were going to America, had lent the Maturinstheir villa at Dinard and they were going there with the children assoon as their school closed. Larry was staying in Paris to work, but wasbuying himself a second-hand Citroën and had promised to spend a fewdays with them in August. On my last night in Paris I asked the three ofthem to dine with me.

It was on that night that we met Sophie Macdonald.

(ii)

Isabel had conceived the desire to make a tour of the tough joints andbecause I had some acquaintance with them she asked me to be theirguide. I did not much like the notion, because in places of that sort inParis they are apt to make their disapproval of sightseers from anotherworld unpleasantly obvious. But Isabel insisted. I warned her that itwould be very boring and begged her to dress plainly. We dined late,went to the Folies Bergères for an hour and then set out. I took themfirst to a cellar near Nôtre Dame frequented by gangsters and theirmolls where I knew the proprietor, and he made room for us at a longtable at which were sitting some very disreputable people, but I orderedwine for all of them and we drank one another's healths. It was hot,smoky and dirty. Then I took them to the Sphynx where women, naked undertheir smart, tawdry evening dresses, their breasts, nipples and all,exposed, sit in a row on two benches opposite one another and when theband strikes up dance together listlessly with their eyes on the lookoutfor the men who sit round the dance hall at marble-topped tables. Weordered a bottle of warm champagne. Some of the women gave Isabel theeye as they passed us and I wondered if she knew what it meant.

Then we went on to the Rue de Lappe. It is a dingy, narrow street andeven as you enter it you get the impression of sordid lust. We went intoa café. There was the usual young man, pale and dissipated, playing thepiano, while another man, old and tired, scraped away on a fiddle and athird made discordant noise on a saxophone. The place was packed and itlooked as though there wasn't a vacant table, but the patron, seeingthat we were customers with money to spend, unceremoniously turned acouple out, making them take seats at a table already occupied, andsettled us down. The two persons who were hustled away did not take itwell and they made remarks about us that were far from complimentary. Alot of people were dancing, sailors with the red pompon on their hats,men mostly with their caps on and handkerchiefs round their necks, womenof mature age and young girls, painted to the eyes, bareheaded, in shortskirts and coloured blouses. Men danced with podgy boys with made-upeyes; gaunt, hard-featured women danced with fat women with dyed hair;men danced with women. There was a froust of smoke and liquor and ofsweating bodies. The music went on interminably and that unsavory mobproceeded round the room, the sweat shining on their faces, with asolemn intensity in which there was something horrible. There were a fewbig men of brutal aspect, but for the most part they were puny andill-nourished. I watched the three who were playing. They might havebeen robots, so mechanical was their performance, and I asked myself ifit was possible that at one time, when they were setting out, they hadthought they might be musicians whom people would come from far to hearand to applaud. Even to play the violin badly you must take lessons andpractice: did that fiddler go to all that trouble just to play fox trotstill the small hours of the morning in that stinking squalor? The musicstopped and the pianist wiped his face with a dirty handkerchief. Thedancers slouched or sidled or squirmed back to their tables. Suddenly weheard an American voice.

"For Christ's sake."

A woman got up from one of the tables across the room. The man she waswith tried to stop her, but she pushed him aside and staggered acrossthe floor. She was very drunk. She came up to our table and stood infront of us, swaying a little and grinning stupidly. She seemed to findthe sight of us vastly amusing. I glanced at my companions. Isabel wasstaring at her blankly, Gray had a sullen frown on his face and Larrygazed as though he couldn't believe his eyes.

"Hello," she said.

"Sophie," said Isabel.

"Who the hell did you think it was?" she gurgled. She grabbed the waiterwho was passing. "Vincent, fetch me a chair."

"Fetch one yourself," he said, snatching himself away from her.

"Salaud," she cried, spitting at him.

"T'en fais pas, Sophie," said a big fat fellow with a great head ofgreasy hair, who was sitting next to us in his shirt sleeves. "Here's achair."

"Fancy meeting you all like this," she said, still swaying. "Hello,Larry. Hello, Gray." She sank into the chair which the man who hadspoken placed behind her. "Let's all have a drink. Patron," shescreamed.

I had noticed that the proprietor had his eye on us and now he came up.

"You know these people, Sophie?" he asked, addressing her in thefamiliar second person singular.

"Ta gueule," she laughed drunkenly. "They're my childhood's friends.I'm buying a bottle of champagne for them. And don't you bring us anyurine de cheval. Bring us something one can swallow without vomiting."

"You're drunk, my poor Sophie," he said.

"To hell with you."

He went off, glad enough to sell a bottle of champagne--we for safety'ssake had been drinking brandy and soda--and Sophie stared at me dullyfor a moment.

"Who's your friend, Isabel?"

Isabel told her my name.

"Oh? I remember, you came to Chicago once. Bit of a stuffed shirt,aren't you?"

"Maybe," I smiled.

I had no recollection of her, but that was not surprising, since I hadnot been to Chicago for more than ten years and had met a great manypeople then and a great many since.

She was quite tall and, when standing, looked taller still, for she wasvery thin. She wore a bright green silk blouse, but it was crumpled andspotted, and a short black skirt. Her hair, cut short and looselycurled, but tousled, was brightly hennaed. She was outrageously made up,her cheeks rouged to the eyes, and her eyelids, upper and lower, heavilyblued; her eyebrows and eyelashes were thick with mascara and her mouthscarlet with lipstick. Her hands, with their painted nails, were dirty.She looked more of a slu*t than any woman there and I had a suspicionthat she was not only drunk but doped. But one couldn't deny that therewas a certain vicious attractiveness about her; she held her head withan arrogant tilt and her make-up accentuated the startling greenness ofher eyes. Sodden with drink as she was, she had a bold-facedshamelessness that I could well imagine appealed to all that was base inmen. She embraced us in a sardonic smile.

"I can't say you seem so terribly pleased to see me," she said.

"I heard you were in Paris," said Isabel lamely, a chilly smile on herface.

"You might have called me. I'm in the phone book."

"We haven't been here very long."

Gray came to the rescue.

"Are you having a good time over here, Sophie?"

"Fine. You went bust, Gray, didn't you?"

His face flushed a deeper red.

"Yes."

"Tough on you. I guess it's pretty grim in Chicago right now. Lucky forme I got out when I did. For Christ's sake why doesn't that bastardbring us something to drink?"

"He's just coming," I said, seeing the waiter threading his way throughthe tables with glasses and a bottle of wine on a tray.

My remark drew her attention to me.

"My loving in-laws kicked me out of Chicago. Said I was gumming up theirf---- reputations." She giggled savagely. "I'm a remittance man."

The champagne came and was poured up. With a shaking hand she raised aglass to her lips.

"To hell with stuffed shirts," she said. She emptied the glass andglanced at Larry. "You don't seem to have much to say for yourself,Larry."

He had been looking at her with an impassive face. He had not taken hiseyes off her since she had appeared. He smiled amiably.

"I'm not a very talkative guy."

The music struck up again and a man came over to us. He was a tallishfellow and well built, with a great hooked nose, a mat of shining blackhair and great sensual lips. He looked like an evil Savonarola. Likemost of the men there he wore no collar and his tight-fitting coat wasclosely buttoned to give him a waist.

"Come on, Sophie. We're going to dance."

"Go away. I'm busy. Can't you see I'm with friends?"

"J'm en fous de tes amis. To hell with your friends. You're dancing."

He took hold of her arm but she snatched it away.

"Fous moi la paix, espèce de con," she cried with sudden violence.

"Merde."

"Mange."

Gray did not understand what they were saying, but I saw that Isabel,with that strange knowledge of obscenity that the most virtuous womenseem to possess, understood perfectly and her face went hard with afrown of disgust. The man raised his arm with his hand open, the hornyhand of a workman, and was about to slap her, when Gray half raisedhimself from his chair.

"Allaiz vous ong," he shouted, with his execrable accent.

The man stopped and threw Gray a furious glance.

"Take care, Coco," said Sophie, with a bitter laugh. "He'll lay you outcold."

The man took in Gray's great height and weight and strength. He shruggedhis shoulders sullenly and, throwing a filthy word at us, slunk off.Sophie giggled drunkenly. The rest of us were silent. I refilled herglass.

"You living in Paris, Larry?" she asked after she had drained it.

"For the present."

It's always difficult to make conversation with a drunk, and there's nodenying it, the sober are at a disadvantage with him. We went on talkingfor a few minutes in a dreary, embarrassed way. Then Sophie pushed backher chair.

"If I don't go back to my boy friend he'll be as mad as hell. He's asulky brute, but Christ, he's a good screw." She staggered to her feet."So long, folks. Come again. I'm here every night."

She pushed her way through the dancers and we lost sight of her in thecrowd. I almost laughed at the icy scorn on Isabel's classic features.None of us said a word.

"This is a foul place," said Isabel suddenly. "Let's go."

I paid for our drinks and for Sophie's champagne and we trouped out. Thecrowd was on the dance floor and we got out without remark. It was aftertwo, and to my mind time to go to bed, but Gray said he was hungry, so Isuggested that we should go to Graf's in Montmartre and get something toeat. We were silent as we drove up. I sat beside Gray to direct him. Wereached the garish restaurant. There were still people sitting on theterrace. We went in and ordered bacon and eggs and beer. Isabel,outwardly at least, had regained her composure. She congratulated me,somewhat ironically perhaps, on my acquaintance with the moredisreputable parts of Paris.

"You asked for it," I said.

"I've thoroughly enjoyed myself. I've had a grand evening."

"Hell," said Gray. "It stank. And Sophie."

Isabel shrugged an indifferent shoulder.

"D'you remember her at all?" she asked me. "She sat next to you thefirst night you came to dinner with us. She hadn't got that awful redhair then. Its natural colour is dingy beige."

I threw my mind back. I had a recollection of a very young girl withblue eyes that were almost green and an attractive tilt to her head. Notpretty, but fresh and ingenuous, with a mixture of shyness and pertnessthat I found amusing.

"Of course I remember. I liked her name. I had an aunt called Sophie."

"She married a boy called Bob Macdonald."

"Nice fellow," said Gray.

"He was one of the best-looking boys I ever saw. I never understood whathe saw in her. She married just after I did. Her parents were divorcedand her mother married a Standard Oil man in China. She lived with herfather's people at Marvin and we used to see a lot of her then, butafter she married she dropped out of our crowd somehow. Bob Macdonaldwas a lawyer, but he wasn't making much money, and they had a walk-upapartment on the North Side. But it wasn't that. They didn't want to seeanybody. I never saw two people so crazy about one another. Even afterthey'd been married two or three years and had a baby they'd go to thepictures and he'd sit with his arm round her waist and she with her headon his shoulder just like lovers. They were quite a joke in Chicago."

Larry listened to what Isabel said, but made no comment. His face wasinscrutable.

"What happened then?" I asked.

"One night they were driving back to Chicago in a little open car theyhad and they had the baby with them. They always had to take the babyalong because they hadn't any help, Sophie did everything herself, andanyway they worshipped it. And a bunch of drunks in a great sedandriving at eighty miles an hour crashed into them head on. Bob and thebaby were killed outright, but Sophie only had concussion and a rib ortwo broken. They kept it from her as long as they could that Bob and thebaby were dead, but at last they had to tell her. They say it was awful.She nearly went crazy. She shrieked the place down. They had to watchher night and day and once she nearly succeeded in jumping out of thewindow. Of course we did all we could, but she seemed to hate us. Aftershe came out of the hospital they put her in a sanatorium and she wasthere for months.

"Poor thing."

"When they let her go she started to drink, and when she was drunk she'dgo to bed with anyone who asked her. It was terrible for her in-laws.They're very nice quiet people and they hated the scandal. At first weall tried to help her, but it was impossible; if you asked her to dineshe'd arrive plastered and she was quite likely to pass out before theevening was over. Then she got in with a rotten crowd and we had to dropher. She was arrested once for driving a car when she was drunk. She waswith a dago she'd picked up in a speak-easy and it turned out that hewas wanted by the cops."

"But had she money?" I asked.

"There was Bob's insurance; the people who owned the car that smashedinto them were insured and she got something from them. But it didn'tlast long. She spent it like a drunken sailor and in two years she wasbroke. Her grandmother wouldn't have her back at Marvin. Then herin-laws said they'd make her an allowance if she'd go and live abroad. Isuppose that's what she's living on now."

"The wheel comes full circle," I remarked. "There was a time when theblack sheep of the family was sent from my country to America; nowapparently he's sent from your country to Europe."

"I can't help feeling sorry for her," said Gray.

"Can't you?" said Isabel coolly. "I can. Of course it was a shock and noone could have sympathized with Sophie more than I did. We'd known oneanother always. But a normal person recovers from a thing like that. Ifshe went to pieces it's because there was a rotten streak in her. Shewas naturally unbalanced; even her love for Bob was exaggerated. Ifshe'd had character she'd have been able to make something of life."

"If pots and pans... Aren't you very hard, Isabel?" I murmured.

"I don't think so. I have common sense and I see no reason to besentimental about Sophie. God knows, no one could be more devoted toGray and the babes than I am, and if they were killed in a motoraccident I should go out of my mind, but sooner or later I'd pull myselftogether. Isn't that what you'd wish me to do, Gray, or would you preferme to get blind every night and go to bed with every apache in Paris?"

Gray then came as near to making a humorous remark as I ever heard him.

"Of course I'd prefer you to hurl yourself on my funeral pyre in a newMolyneux dress, but as that's not done any more, I guess the best thingyou could do would be to take to bridge. And I'd like you to remembernot to go an original no-trump on less than three and a half to fourquick tricks."

It was not the occasion for me to point out to Isabel that her love forher husband and her children, though sincere enough, was scarcelypassionate. Perhaps she read the thought that was passing through mymind, for she addressed me somewhat truculently.

"What have you got to say?"

"I'm like Gray, I'm sorry for the girl."

"She's not a girl, she's thirty."

"I suppose it was the end of the world for her when her husband and herbaby were killed. I suppose she didn't care what became of her and flungherself into the horrible degradation of drink and promiscuouscopulation to get even with life that had treated her so cruelly. She'dlived in heaven and when she lost it she couldn't put up with the commonearth of common men, but in despair plunged headlong into hell. I canimagine that if she couldn't drink the nectar of the gods any more shethought she might as well drink bathroom gin."

"That's the sort of thing you say in novels. It's nonsense and you knowit's nonsense. Sophie wallows in the gutter because she likes it. Otherwomen have lost their husbands and children. It wasn't that that madeher evil. Evil doesn't spring from good. The evil was there always. Whenthat motor accident broke her defences it set her free to be herself.Don't waste your pity on her; she's now what at heart she always was."

All this time Larry had remained silent. He seemed to be in a brownstudy and I thought he hardly heard what we were saying. Isabel's wordswere followed by a brief silence. He began to speak, but in a strange,toneless voice, as though not to us, but to himself; his eyes seemed tolook into the dim distance of past time.

"I remember her when she was fourteen with her long hair brushed backoff her forehead and a black bow at the back, with her freckled, seriousface. She was a modest, high-minded, idealistic child. She readeverything she could get hold of and we used to talk about books."

"When?" asked Isabel, with a slight frown.

"Oh, when you were out being social with your mother. I used to go up toher grandfather's and we'd sit under a great elm they had there and readto one another. She loved poetry and wrote quite a lot herself.

"Plenty of girls do that at that age. It's pretty poor stuff."

"Of course it's a long time ago and I daresay I wasn't a very goodjudge."

"You couldn't have been more than sixteen yourself."

"Of course it was imitative. There was a lot of Robert Frost in it. ButI have a notion it was rather remarkable for so young a girl. She had adelicate ear and a sense of rhythm. She had a feeling for the sounds andscents of the country, the first softness of spring in the air and thesmell of the parched earth after rain."

"I never knew she wrote poetry," said Isabel.

"She kept it a secret, she was afraid you'd all laugh at her. She wasvery shy."

"She's not that now."

"When I came back from the war she was almost grown-up. She'd read a lotabout the condition of the working classes and she'd seen something ofit for herself in Chicago. She'd got on to Carl Sandburg and was writingsavagely in free verse about the misery of the poor and the exploitationof the working classes. I daresay it was rather commonplace, but it wassincere and it had pity in it and aspiration. At that time she wanted tobecome a social worker. It was moving, her desire for sacrifice. I thinkshe was capable of a great deal. She wasn't silly or mawkish, but shegave one the impression of a lovely purity and a strange loftiness ofsoul. We saw a lot of one another that year."

I could see that Isabel listened to him with growing exasperation. Larryhad no notion that he was driving a dagger in her heart and with hisevery detached word twisting it in the wound. But when she spoke it waswith a faint smile on her lips.

"How did she come to choose you for her confidant?"

Larry looked at her with his trustful eyes.

"I don't know. She was a poor girl among all of you who had plenty ofdough, and I didn't belong. I was there just because Uncle Bob practicedat Marvin. I suppose she felt that gave us something in common."

Larry had no relations. Most of us have at least cousins whom we mayhardly know, but who at least give us a sense that we are part of thehuman family. Larry's father had been an only son, his mother an onlydaughter; his grandfather on one side, the Quaker, had been lost at seawhen still a young man and his grandfather on the other side had neitherbrother nor sister. No one could be more alone in the world than Larry.

"Did it ever occur to you that Sophie was in love with you?" askedIsabel.

"Never," he smiled.

"Well, she was."

"When he came back from the war as a wounded hero half the girls inChicago had a crush on Larry," said Gray in his bluff way.

"This was more than a crush. She worshipped you, my poor Larry. D'youmean to say you didn't know it?"

"I certainly didn't and I don't believe it."

"I suppose you thought she was too high-minded."

"I can still see that skinny little girl with the bow in her hair andher serious face whose voice trembled with tears when she read that odeof Keats' because it was so beautiful. I wonder where she is now."

Isabel gave a very slight start and threw him a suspicious enquiringglance.

"It's getting frightfully late and I'm so tired I don't know what to do.Let's go."

(iii)

On the following evening I took the Blue train to the Riviera and two orthree days later went over to Antibes to see Elliott and give him newsof Paris. He looked far from well. The cure at Montecatini had not donehim the good he expected, and his subsequent wanderings had exhaustedhim. He found a baptismal font in Venice and then went on to Florence tobuy the triptych he had been negotiating for. Anxious to see theseobjects duly placed, he went down to the Pontine Marshes and put up at amiserable inn where the heat had been hard to bear. His preciouspurchases were a long time on the way, but determined not to leave tillhe had accomplished his purpose, he stayed on. He was delighted with theeffect when at last everything was in order, and he showed me with pridethe photographs he had taken. The church, though small, had dignity, andthe restrained richness of the interior was proof of Elliott's goodtaste.

"I saw an early Christian sarcophagus in Rome that took my fancy and Ideliberated a long time about buying it, but in the end I thought betterof it."

"What on earth did you want with an early Christian sarcophagus,Elliott?"

"To put myself in it, my dear fellow. It was of a very good design and Ithought it would balance the font on the other side of the entrance, butthose early Christians were stumpy little fellows and I wouldn't havefitted in. I wasn't going to lie there till the Last Trump with my kneesdoubled up to my chin like a foetus. Most uncomfortable."

I laughed, but Elliott was serious.

"I had a better idea. I've made all arrangements, with some difficulty,but that was to be expected, to be buried in front of the altar at thefoot of the chancel steps, so that when the poor peasants of the PontineMarshes come up to take Holy Communion they'll clump over my bones withtheir heavy shoes. Rather chic, don't you think? Just a plain stone slabwith my name on it and a couple of dates. Si monumentum quoeris,circ*mspice. If you seek his monument, look around, you know."

"I do know enough Latin to understand a hackneyed quotation, Elliott, Isaid tartly.

"I beg your pardon, my dear fellow. I'm so accustomed to the crassignorance of the upper classes, I forgot for the moment that I wastalking to an author."

He scored.

"But what I wanted to say to you was this," he continued. "I've leftproper instructions in my will, but I want you to see they're carriedout. I will not be buried on the Riviera among a lot of retired colonelsand middle-class French people."

"Of course I'll do what you wish, Elliott, but I don't think we needplan for anything like that for many years to come."

"I'm getting on, you know, and to tell you the truth I shan't be sorryto go. What are those lines of Landor's? I've warmed both hands..."

Though I have a bad verbal memory, the poem is very short and I was ableto repeat it.

"I strove with none, for none was worth my strife.
Nature I loved, and, next to Nature, Art;
I warmed both hands before the fire of Life;
It sinks, and I am ready to depart."

"That's it," he said.

I could not but reflect that it was only by a violent stretch of theimagination that Elliott could fit the stanza to himself.

"It expresses my sentiments exactly," he said, however. "The only thingI could add to it is that I've always moved in the best society inEurope."

"It would be difficult to squeeze that into a quatrain."

"Society is dead. At one time I had hopes that America would take theplace of Europe and create an aristocracy that the hoi polloi wouldrespect, but the depression has destroyed any chance of that. My poorcountry is becoming hopelessly middle-class. You wouldn't believe it, mydear fellow, but last time I was in America a taxi driver addressed meas brother."

But though the Riviera, still shaken by the crash of '29, was not whatit was, Elliott continued to give parties and go to parties. He hadnever frequented Jews, making an exception only for the family ofRothschild, but the grandest parties were being given now by members ofthe chosen race, and when there was a party Elliott could not bear notto go to it. He wandered through these gatherings, graciously shakingthe hand of one or kissing that of another, but with a kind of forlorndetachment like an exiled royalty who felt a trifle embarrassed to findhimself in such company. The exiled royalties, however, had the time oftheir lives and to meet a film star seemed the height of theirambitions. Nor had Elliott ever looked with approval on the modernpractice of treating members of the theatrical profession as personswhom you met socially, but a retired actress had built herself asumptuous residence in his immediate neighbourhood and kept open house.Cabinet ministers, dukes, great ladies stayed with her for weeks on end.Elliott became a constant visitor.

"Of course it's a very mixed crowd," he told me, "but one doesn't haveto talk to people one doesn't want to. She's a compatriot of mine and Ifeel I ought to help her out. It must be a relief to her house guests tofind someone who can talk their own language."

Sometimes he was obviously so far from well that I asked him why hedidn't take things more easily.

"My dear fellow, at my age one can't afford to fall out. You don't thinkthat I've moved in the highest circles for nearly fifty years withoutrealizing that if you're not seen everywhere you're forgotten."

I wondered if he realized what a lamentable confession he was thenmaking. I had not the heart to laugh at Elliott any more; he seemed tome a profoundly pathetic object. Society was what he lived for, a partywas the breath of his nostrils, not to be asked to one was an affront,to be alone was a mortification; and, an old man now, he was desperatelyafraid.

So the summer passed. Elliott spent it scurrying from one end of theRiviera to the other, lunching in Cannes, dining in Monte Carlo andexercising all his ingenuity to fit in a tea party here and a co*cktailparty there; and however tired he felt, taking pains to be affable,chatty and amusing. He was full of gossip and you could trust him toknow the details of the latest scandal before anyone but the partiesimmediately concerned. He would have stared at you with frank amazementhad you suggested to him that his existence was futile. He would havethought you distressingly plebeian.

(iv)

The autumn came and Elliott decided to go to Paris for a while, partlyto see how Isabel, Gray and the children were getting on, and partly tomake what he called acte de présence in the capital. Then he meant togo to London to order some new clothes and incidentally to look up someold friends. My own plan was to go straight to London, but he asked meto drive up with him to Paris and since that is an agreeable thing to doI consented and, having done so, saw no reason why I should not spend atleast a few days in Paris myself. We made the journey by easy stages,stopping at places where the food was good; Elliott had something thematter with his kidneys and drank nothing but Vichy, but always insistedon choosing my half-bottle of wine for me and, too good-natured togrudge me a pleasure he could not share, got a genuine satisfaction outof my enjoyment of a fine vintage. He was so generous that I haddifficulty in persuading him to let me pay my share of the expenses.Though I grew a little tired of his stories of the great whom he hadknown in the past I liked the trip. Much of the country we passedthrough, just touched with the beginning of its autumn beauty, was verylovely. Having lunched at Fontainebleau, we did not arrive in Paris tillafternoon. Elliott dropped me at my modest, old-fashioned hotel and wentround the corner to the Ritz.

We had warned Isabel of our arrival, so I was not surprised to find anote from her awaiting me, but I was surprised at its contents.

"Come round the moment you get in. Something terrible has happened.Don't bring Uncle Elliott. For God's sake come as soon as you can."

I am not less curious than anyone else, but I had to have a wash and puton a clean shirt; then I took a taxi and went round to the apartment inthe Rue St. Guillaume. I was shown into the drawing-room. Isabel sprangto her feet.

"Where have you been all this time? I've been waiting for hours."

It was five o'clock and, before I could answer, the butler brought inthe tea things. Isabel, her hands clenched, watched him with impatience.I couldn't imagine what was the matter.

"I've only just arrived. We dawdled over lunch at Fontainebleau."

"God, how slow he is. Maddening!" said Isabel.

The man placed the salver with the teapot and the sugar basin and thecups on the table and with what really was exasperating deliberationarranged around it plates of bread and butter, cake and cookies. He wentout and closed the door behind him.

"Larry's going to marry Sophie Macdonald."

"Who's she?"

"Don't be so stupid," cried Isabel, her eyes flashing with anger. "Thatdrunken slu*t we met at that filthy café you took us to. God knows whyyou took us to a place like that. Gray was disgusted."

"Oh, you mean your Chicago friend?" I said, ignoring her unjustreproach. "How d'you know?"

"How should I know? He came and told me himself yesterday afternoon.I've been frantic ever since."

"Supposing you sat down, gave me a cup of tea and told me all about it."

"Help yourself."

She sat behind the tea table and watched me irritably while I pouredmyself out a cup. I made myself comfortable in a small sofa by thefireplace.

"We haven't seen so much of him lately, since we came back from Dinard,I mean; he came up there for a few days, but wouldn't stay with us, hestayed at a hotel. He used to come down to the beach and play with thechildren. They're crazy about him. We played golf at St. Briac. Grayasked him one day if he'd seen Sophie again.

"'Yes, I've seen her several times,' he said.

"'Why?' I asked.

"'She's an old friend,' he said.

"'If I were you I wouldn't waste my time on her,' I said.

"Then he smiled. You know how he smiles, as though he thought what you'dsaid funny, though it isn't funny at all.

"'But you're not me,' he said.

"I shrugged my shoulders and changed the conversation. I never gave thematter another thought. You can imagine my horror when he came here andtold me they were going to be married.

"'You can't, Larry,' I said. 'You can't.'

"'I'm going to,' he said as calmly as if he said he was going to have asecond helping of potatoes. 'And I want you to be very nice to her,Isabel.'

"'That's asking too much,' I said: 'You're crazy. She's bad, bad, bad.'"

"What makes you think that?" I interrupted.

Isabel looked at me with flashing eyes.

"She's soused from morning till night. She goes to bed with every toughwho asks her."

"That doesn't mean she's bad. Quite a number of highly respectedcitizens get drunk and have a liking for rough trade. They're badhabits, like biting one's nails, but I don't know that they're worsethan that. I call a person bad who lies and cheats and is unkind."

"If you're going to take her part I'll kill you."

"How did Larry meet her again?"

"He found her address in the phone book. He went to see her. She wassick, and no wonder, with the life she leads. He got a doctor and hadsomeone in to look after her. That's how it started. He says she's givenup drink; the damned fool thinks she's cured."

"Have you forgotten what Larry did for Gray? He's cured him, hasn't he?"

"That's different. Gray wanted to be cured. She doesn't."

"How d'you know?"

"Because I know women. When a woman goes to pieces like that she's donefor; she can never get back. If Sophie's what she is, it's because shewas like that always. D'you think she'll stick to Larry? Of course not.Sooner or later she'll break out. It's in her blood. It's a brute shewants, that's what excites her, and it's a brute she'll go after. She'lllead Larry a hell of a life."

"I think that's very probable, but I don't know what you can do aboutit. He's going into this with his eyes open."

"I can do nothing about it, but you can."

"I?"

"Larry likes you and he listens to what you say. You're the only personwho has any influence over him. You know the world. Go to him and tellhim that he can't make such a fool of himself. Tell him that it'll ruinhim."

"He'll only tell me that it's no business of mine and he'll be quiteright."

"But you like him, at least you're interested in him, you can't sit byand let him make a hopeless mess of his life."

"Gray's his oldest and most intimate friend. I don't think it'll do anygood, but I should have thought Gray was the best person to speak tohim."

"Oh, Gray," she said impatiently.

"You know it may not turn out so badly as you think. I've known two orthree fellows, one in Spain and two in the East, who married whor*s andthey made them very good wives. They were grateful to their husbands,for the security they gave them, I mean, and they of course knew whatpleases a man."

"You make me tired. D'you think I sacrificed myself to let Larry fallinto the hands of a raging nymphomaniac?"

"How did you sacrifice yourself?"

"I gave Larry up for the one and only reason that I didn't want to standin his way."

"Come off it, Isabel. You gave him up for a square-cut diamond and asable coat."

The words were hardly out of my mouth when a plate of bread and buttercame flying at my head. By sheer luck I caught the plate, but the breadand butter was scattered on the floor. I got up and put the plate backon the table.

"Your uncle Elliott wouldn't have thanked you if you'd broken one of hisCrown Derby plates. They were made for the third Duke of Dorset andthey're almost priceless."

"Pick up the bread and butter," she snapped.

"Pick it up yourself," I said, seating myself again on the sofa.

She got up and, fuming, picked up the scattered pieces.

"And you call yourself an English gentleman," she exclaimed, savagely.

"No, that's a thing I've never done in all my life."

"Get the hell out of here. I never want to see you again. I hate thesight of you."

"I'm sorry for that, because the sight of you always gives me pleasure.Have you ever been told that your nose is exactly like that of thePsyche in the museum of Naples, and that's the loveliest representationof virginal beauty that ever existed. You've got exquisite legs, so longand shapely, and I never cease to be surprised at them, because theywere thick and lumpy when you were a girl. I can't imagine how've youmanaged it."

"An iron will and the grace of God," she said angrily.

"But of course your hands are your most fascinating feature. They're soslim and so elegant."

"I was under the impression you thought them too big."

"Not for your height and build. I'm always amazed at the infinite gracewith which you use them. Whether by nature or by art you never make agesture without imparting beauty to it. They're like flowers sometimesand sometimes like birds on the wing. They're more expressive than anywords you can say. They're like the hands in El Greco's portraits; infact, when I look at them I'm almost inclined to believe Elliott'shighly improbable story of your having an ancestor who was a Spanishgrandee."

She looked up crossly.

"What are you talking about? That's the first I've heard of it."

I told her about the Count de Lauria and Queen Mary's maid of honourfrom whose issue in the female line Elliott traced his descent.Meanwhile Isabel contemplated her long fingers and her manicured,painted nails with complacency.

"One must be descended from someone," she said. Then with a tinychuckle, giving me a mischievous look in which no trace of rancourremained, she added, "You lousy bastard."

So easy is it to make a woman see reason if you only tell her the truth.

"There are moments when I don't positively dislike you," said Isabel.

She came and sat on the sofa beside me and, slipping her arm throughmine, leant over to kiss me. I withdrew my cheek.

"I will not have my face smeared with lipstick," I said. "If you want tokiss me, kiss me on the lips, which is what a merciful Providenceintended them for."

She giggled and, her hand turning my head towards her, with her lipspressed a thin layer of paint on mine. The sensation was far fromunpleasant.

"Now you've done that, perhaps you'll tell me what it is you want."

"Advice."

"I'm quite willing to give you that, but I don't think for a momentyou'll take it. There's only one thing you can do and that is to makethe best of a bad job."

Flaring up again, she snatched her arm away and, getting up, flungherself into a chair on the other side of the fireplace.

"I'm not going to sit by and let Larry ruin himself. I'll stick atnothing to prevent him from marrying that slu*t."

"You won't succeed. You see, he's enthralled by one of the most powerfulemotions that can beset the human breast."

"You don't mean to say you think he's in love with her?"

"No. That would be trifling in comparison."

"Well?"

"Have you ever read the New Testament?"

"I suppose so."

"D'you remember how Jesus was led into the wilderness and fasted fortydays? Then, when he was a-hungered, the devil came to him and said: Ifthou be the son of God, command that these stones be made bread. ButJesus resisted the temptation. Then the devil set him on a pinnacle ofthe temple and said to him: If thou be the son of God, cast thyselfdown. For angels had charge of him and would bear him up. But againJesus resisted. Then the devil took him into a high mountain and showedhim the kingdoms of the world and said that he would give them to him ifhe would fall down and worship him. But Jesus said: Get thee hence,Satan. That's the end of the story according to the good simple Matthew.But it wasn't. The devil was sly and he came to Jesus once more andsaid: If thou wilt accept shame and disgrace, scourging, a crown ofthorns and death on the cross thou shalt save the human race, forgreater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for hisfriends. Jesus fell. The devil laughed till his sides ached, for he knewthe evil men would commit in the name of their redeemer."

Isabel looked at me indignantly.

"Where on earth did you get that?"

"Nowhere. I've invented it on the spur of the moment."

"I think it's idiotic and blasphemous."

"I only wanted to suggest to you that self-sacrifice is a passion sooverwhelming that beside it even lust and hunger are trifling. It whirlsits victim to destruction in the highest affirmation of his personality.The object doesn't matter; it may be worth while or it may be worthless.No wine is so intoxicating, no love so shattering, no vice socompelling. When he sacrifices himself man for a moment is greater thanGod, for how can God, infinite and omnipotent, sacrifice himself? Atbest he can only sacrifice his only begotten son."

"Oh, Christ, how you bore me," said Isabel.

I paid no attention.

"How can you suppose that common sense or prudence will have any effecton Larry when he's in the grip of a passion like that? You don't knowwhat he's been seeking all these years. I don't know either, I onlysuspect. All these years of labour, all these experiences he garneredweigh nothing in the balance now they're set against his desire--oh,it's more than a desire, his urgent, clamorous need to save the soul ofa wanton woman whom he'd known as an innocent child. I think you'reright, I think he's undertaking a hopeless job; with his acutesensibility he'll suffer the tortures of the damned; his life's work,whatever it may be, will remain undone. The ignoble Paris killedAchilles by shooting an arrow in his heel. Larry lacks just that touchof ruthlessness that even the saint must have to win his halo."

"I love him," said Isabel. "God knows, I ask nothing of him. I expectnothing. No one could love anyone more unselfishly than I love him. He'sgoing to be so unhappy."

She began to cry and, thinking it would do her good, I let her be. Idiverted myself idly with the idea that had sprung so unexpectedly intomy mind. I played with it. I couldn't but surmise that the devil,looking at the cruel wars that Christianity has occasioned, thepersecutions, the tortures Christian has inflicted on Christian, theunkindness, the hypocrisy, the intolerance, must consider the balancesheet with complacency. And when he remembers that it has laid uponmankind the bitter burden of the sense of sin that has darkened thebeauty of the starry night and cast a baleful shadow on the passingpleasures of a world to be enjoyed, he must chuckle as he murmurs: givethe devil his due.

Presently Isabel took a handkerchief from her bag and a mirror and,looking at herself, carefully wiped the corner of her eyes.

"Damned sympathetic, aren't you?" she snapped.

I looked at her pensively, but did not answer. She powdered her face andpainted her lips.

"You said just now you suspected what he's been after all these years.What did you mean?"

"I can only guess, you know, and I may be quite wrong. I think he's beenseeking for a philosophy, or maybe a religion, and a rule of lifethat'll satisfy both his head and his heart."

Isabel considered this for a moment. She sighed.

"Don't you think it's very strange that a country boy from Marvin,Illinois, should have a notion like that?"

"No stranger than that Luther Burbank who was born on a farm inMassachusetts should have produced a seedless orange or that Henry Fordwho was born on a farm in Michigan should have invented a Tin Lizzie."

"But those are practical things. That's in the American tradition."

I laughed.

"Can anything in the world be more practical than to learn how to liveto best advantage?"

Isabel gave a gesture of lassitude.

"What do you want me to do?"

"You don't want to lose Larry altogether, do you?"

She shook her head.

"You know how loyal he is: if you won't have anything to do with hiswife he won't have anything to do with you. If you've got any senseyou'll make friends with Sophie. You'll forget the past and be as niceto her as you can be when you like. She's going to be married and Isuppose she's buying some clothes. Why don't you offer to go shoppingwith her? I think she'd jump at it."

Isabel listened to me with narrowed eyes. She seemed intent upon what Iwas saying. For a moment she pondered, but I could not guess what waspassing through her mind. Then she surprised me.

"Will you ask her to lunch? It would be rather awkward for me after whatI said to Larry yesterday."

"Will you behave if I do?"

"Like an angel of light," she answered with her most engaging smile.

"I'll fix it up right away."

There was a phone in the room. I soon found Sophie's number, and afterthe usual delay which those who use the French telephone learn to put upwith patiently, I got her. I mentioned my name.

"I've just arrived in Paris," I said, "and heard that you and Larry aregoing to be married. I want to congratulate you. I hope you'll be veryhappy." I smothered a cry as Isabel, who was standing by me, gave thesoft of my arm a vicious pinch. "I'm only here for a very short time andI wonder if you and Larry will come and lunch with me the day aftertomorrow at the Ritz. I'm asking Gray and Isabel and Elliott Templeton."

"I'll ask Larry. He's here now." There was a pause. "Yes, we shall beglad to."

I fixed an hour, made a civil remark, and replaced the receiver on itsstand. I caught an expression in Isabel's eyes that caused me somemisgiving.

"What are you thinking?" I asked her. "I don't quite like the look ofyou."

"I'm sorry; I thought that was the one thing about me you did like."

"You haven't got some nefarious scheme that you're hatching, Isabel?"

She opened her eyes very wide.

"I promise you I haven't. As a matter of fact I'm terribly curious tosee what Sophie looks like now Larry has reformed her. All I hope isthat she won't come to the Ritz with a mask of paint on her face."

(v)

My little party did not go too badly. Gray and Isabel arrived first;Larry and Sophie Macdonald five minutes later. Isabel and Sophie kissedeach other warmly and Isabel and Gray congratulated her on herengagement. I caught the appraising sweep of the eyes with which Isabeltook in Sophie's appearance. I was shocked at it. When I saw her in thatdive in the Rue de Lappe, outrageously painted, with hennaed hair, inthe bright green coat, though she looked outrageous and was very drunk,there was something provocative and even basely alluring in her; but nowshe looked drab and, though certainly a year or two younger than Isabel,much older. She still had that gallant tilt of her head, but now, Idon't know why, it was pathetic. She was letting her hair go back to itsnatural colour and it had the slatternly look that hair has when it hasbeen dyed and left to grow. Except for a streak of red on her lips shehad no make-up on. Her skin was rough and it had an unhealthy pallor. Iremembered how vividly green her eyes had looked, but now they were paleand gray. She wore a red dress, obviously brand-new, with hat, shoes andbag to match; I don't pretend to know anything about women's clothes,but I had a feeling that it was fussy and too elaborate for theoccasion. On her breast was a piece of showy artificial jewellery suchas you buy in the Rue de Rivoli. Beside Isabel, in black silk, with astring of cultured pearls round her neck and in a very smart hat, shelooked cheap and dowdy.

I ordered co*cktails, but Larry and Sophie refused them. Then Elliottarrived. His progress through the vast foyer was, however, impeded bythe hands he had to shake and the hands he had to kiss as he saw oneperson after the other whom he knew. He behaved as though the Ritz werehis private house and he were assuring his guests of his pleasure thatthey had been able to accept his invitation. He had been told nothingabout Sophie except that she had lost her husband and child in a motoraccident and was now going to marry Larry. When at last he reached us hecongratulated them both with the elaborate graciousness of which he wasa master. We went in to the dining-room and since we were four men andtwo women I placed Isabel and Sophie opposite one another at the roundtable, with Sophie between Gray and myself; but the table was smallenough for the conversation to be general. I had already ordered theluncheon and the wine waiter came along with the wine card.

"You don't know anything about wine, my dear fellow," said Elliott."Give me the wine card, Albert." He turned over the pages. "I drinknothing but Vichy myself, but I can't bear to see people drink wine thatisn't perfect."

He and Albert, the wine waiter, were old friends and after an animateddiscussion they decided on the wine I should give my guests. Then heturned to Sophie.

"And where are you going for your honeymoon, my dear?"

He glanced at her dress and an almost imperceptible raising of hiseyebrows showed me that he had formed an unfavourable opinion of it.

"We're going to Greece."

"I've been trying to get there for ten years," said Larry, "but somehowI've never been able to manage it."

"It ought to be lovely at this time of year," said Isabel, with a showof enthusiasm.

She remembered, as I remembered, that that was where Larry proposed totake her when he wanted her to marry him. It seemed to be an idée fixewith Larry to go to Greece on a honeymoon.

The conversation flowed none too easily and I would have found it adifficult row to hoe if it hadn't been for Isabel. She was on her bestbehaviour. Whenever silence seemed to threaten us and I racked my brainfor something fresh to talk about, she broke in with facile chatter. Iwas grateful to her. Sophie hardly spoke except when she was spoken toand then it seemed an effort to her. The spirit had gone out of her. Youwould have said that something had died in her and I asked myself ifLarry wasn't putting her to a strain greater than she could support. Ifas I suspected she had doped as well as drunk, the sudden deprivationmust have worn her nerves to a frazzle. Sometimes I intercepted a lookbetween them. In his I saw tenderness and encouragement, but in hers anappeal that was pathetic. It may be that Gray with his sweetness ofdisposition instinctively felt what I thought I saw, for he began totell her how Larry had cured him of the headaches that had incapacitatedhim and went on to say how much he had depended on him and how much heowed him.

"Now I'm fit as a flea," he continued. "As soon as ever I can get a jobI'm going back to work. I've got several irons in the fire and I'mhoping to land something before very long. Gosh, it'll be good to beback home again."

Gray meant well, but what he had said was perhaps not very tactful if,as I supposed, Larry to cure Sophie of her aggravated alcoholism hadused with her the same method of suggestion--for that to my mind waswhat it was--that had been successful with Gray.

"You never have headaches now, Gray?" asked Elliott.

"I haven't had one for three months and if I think one's coming on Itake hold of my charm and I'm all right." He fished out of his pocketthe ancient coin Larry had given him. "I wouldn't sell it for a milliondollars."

We finished luncheon and coffee was served. The wine waiter came up andasked whether we wanted liqueurs. We all refused except Gray, who saidhe would have a brandy. When the bottle was brought Elliott insisted onlooking at it.

"Yes, I can recommend that. That'll do you no harm."

"A little glass for Monsieur?" asked the waiter.

"Alas, it's forbidden me."

Elliott told him at some length that he was having trouble with hiskidneys and that his doctor would not allow him to drink alcohol.

"A tear of zubrovka could do Monsieur no harm. It's well known to bevery good for the kidneys. We have just received a consignment fromPoland."

"Is that true? It's hard to get nowadays. Let me have a look at abottle."

The wine waiter, a portly, dignified creature with a long silver chainround his neck, went away to fetch it, and Elliott explained that it wasthe Polish form of vodka but in every way vastly superior.

"We used to drink it at the Radziwills' when I stayed with them for theshooting. You should have seen those Polish princes putting it away; I'mnot exaggerating when I tell you that they'd drink it by the tumblerwithout turning a hair. Good blood, of course; aristocrats to the tipsof their fingers. Sophie, you must try it, and you too, Isabel. It's anexperience no one can afford to miss."

The wine waiter brought the bottle. Larry, Sophie and I refused to betempted, but Isabel said she would like to try it. I was surprised, forhabitually she drank very little and she had had two co*cktails and twoor three glasses of wine. The waiter poured out a glass of pale greenliquid and Isabel sniffed it.

"Oh, what a lovely smell."

"Hasn't it?" cried Elliott. "That's the herbs they put in it; it's theythat give it its delicate taste. Just to keep you company I'll have adrop. It can't hurt me for once."

"It tastes divine," said Isabel. "It's like mother's milk. I've nevertasted anything so good."

Elliott raised his glass to his lips.

"Oh, how it brings back the old days. You people who never stayed withthe Radziwills don't know what living is. That was the grand style.Feudal, you know. You might have thought yourself back in the MiddleAges. You were met at the station by a carriage with six horses andpostilions. And at dinner a footman in livery behind every person."

He went on to describe the magnificence and luxury of the establishmentand the brilliance of the parties; and the suspicion, doubtlessunworthy, occurred to me that the whole thing was a put-up job betweenElliott and the wine waiter to give Elliott an opportunity to discourseupon the grandeur of this princely family and the host of Polisharistocrats he hobnobbed with in their castle. There was no stoppinghim.

"Another glass, Isabel?"

"Oh, I daren't. But it is heavenly. I'm so glad to know about it; Gray,we must get some."

"I'll have some sent round to the apartment."

"Oh, Uncle Elliott, would you?" cried Isabel enthusiastically. "You areso kind to us. You must try it, Gray; it smells of freshly mown hay andspring flowers, of thyme and lavender, and it's so soft on the palateand so comfortable, it's like listening to music by moonlight."

It was unlike Isabel to gush inordinately and I wondered if she was atrifle tight. The party broke up. I shook hands with Sophie.

"When are you going to be married?" I asked her.

"The week after next. I hope you'll come to the wedding."

"I'm afraid I shan't be in Paris. I'm leaving for London tomorrow."

While I was saying good-bye to the rest of my guests Isabel took Sophieaside and talked to her for a minute, then turned to Gray.

"Oh, Gray, I'm not coming home just yet. There's a dress show atMolyneux's and I'm taking Sophie to it. She ought to see the new models.

"I'd love to," said Sophie.

We parted. I took Suzanne Rouvier out to dinner that night and nextmorning started for England.

(vi)

Elliott arrived at Claridge's a fortnight later and shortly afterwards Idropped in to see him. He had ordered himself several suits of clothesand at what I thought excessive length told me in detail what he hadchosen and why. When at last I could get a word in I asked him how thewedding had gone off.

"It didn't go off," he answered grimly.

"What do you mean?"

"Three days before it was to take place Sophie disappeared. Larry huntedeverywhere for her."

"What an extraordinary thing! Did they have a row?"

"No. Far from it. Everything had been arranged. I was going to give heraway. They were taking the Orient Express immediately after the wedding.If you ask me, I think Larry's well out of it."

I guessed that Isabel had told Elliott everything.

"What exactly happened?" I asked.

"Well, you remember that day we lunched at the Ritz with you. Isabeltook her to Molyneux's. D'you remember the dress Sophie wore?Deplorable. Did you notice the shoulders? That's how you tell if a dressis well made, by the way it fits over the shoulders. Of course, poorgirl, she couldn't afford Molyneux's prices, and Isabel, you know howgenerous she is, and after all they've known one another since they werechildren, Isabel offered to give her a dress so that at least she'd havesomething decent to be married in. Naturally she jumped at it. Well, tocut a long story short, Isabel asked her to come to the apartment oneday at three so that they could go together for the final fitting.Sophie came all right, but unfortunately Isabel had to take one of thechildren to the dentist's and didn't get in till after four and by thattime Sophie had gone. Isabel thought she'd got tired of waiting and hadgone on to Molyneux's, so she went there at once, but she hadn't come.At last she gave her up and went home again. They were all going to dinetogether and Larry came along at dinnertime and the first thing sheasked him was where Sophie was.

"He couldn't understand it and he rang up her apartment, but there wasno reply, so he said he'd go down there. They held dinner up as long asthey could, but neither of them turned up and so they had dinner bythemselves. Of course you know what Sophie's life was before you raninto her in the Rue de Lappe; that was a most unfortunate idea of yoursto take them down there. Well, Larry spent all night going around herold haunts, but couldn't find her anywhere. He went to the apartmenttime after time, but the concierge said she hadn't been in. He spentthree days hunting for her. She'd just vanished. Then on the fourth dayhe went to the apartment again and the concierge told him she'd beenin and packed a bag and gone away in a taxi."

"Was Larry awfully upset?"

"I didn't see him. Isabel tells me he was rather."

"She didn't write or anything?"

"Nothing."

I thought it over.

"What do you make of it?" I said.

"My dear fellow, exactly what you make of it. She couldn't stick it out;she went on the booze again."

That was obvious, but for all that it was strange. I couldn't see whyshe had chosen just that moment to skip.

"How is Isabel taking it?"

"Of course she's sorry, but she's a sensible girl and she told me shealways thought it would be a disaster if Larry married a woman likethat."

"And Larry?"

"Isabel's been very kind to him. She says that what makes it difficultis that he won't discuss it. He'll be all right, you know; Isabel sayshe was never in love with Sophie. He was only marrying her out of a sortof misguided chivalry."

I could see Isabel putting a brave face on a turn of events that wascertainly causing her a great deal of satisfaction. I well knew thatnext time I saw her she would not fail to point out to me that she hadknown all along what would happen.

But it was nearly a year before I saw her again and though by that timeI could have told her something about Sophie that would have set herthinking, the circ*mstances were such that I had no inclination to. Istayed in London till nearly Christmas and then, wanting to get home,went straight down to the Riviera without stopping in Paris. I set towork on a novel and for the next few months lived in retirement. I sawElliott now and then. It was obvious that his health was failing, and itpained me that he persisted notwithstanding in leading a social life. Hewas vexed with me because I would not drive thirty miles to go to theconstant parties he continued to give. He thought it very conceited ofme to prefer to sit at home and work.

"It's an unusually brilliant season, my dear fellow," he told me. "It'sa crime to shut yourself up in your house and miss everything that'sgoing on. And why you had to choose a part of the Riviera to live inthat's completely out of fashion I shan't be able to understand if Ilive to be a hundred."

Poor nice silly Elliott; it was very clear that he would live to no suchage.

By June I had finished the rough draft of my novel and thought Ideserved a holiday, so, packing a bag, I got on the cutter from which insummer we used to bathe in the Baie des Fosses and set sail along thecoast towards Marseilles. There was only a fitful breeze and for themost part we chugged along with the motor auxiliary. We spent a night inthe harbour at Cannes, another at Sainte Maxime, and a third at Sanary.Then we got to Toulon. That is a port I have always had an affectionfor. The ships of the French fleet give it an air at once romantic andcompanionable, and I am never tired of wandering about its old streets.I can linger for hours on the quay, watching the sailors on shore leavestrolling about in pairs or with their girls, and the civilians whosaunter back and forth as though they had nothing in the world to do butenjoy the pleasant sunshine. Because of all these ships and theferryboats that take the bustling crowd to various points of the vastharbour, Toulon gives you the effect of a terminal to which all the waysof the wide world converge; and as you sit in a café, your eyes a littledazzled by the brightness of sea and sky, your fancy takes goldenjourneys to the uttermost parts of the earth. You land in a longboat ona coral beach, fringed with coconut palms, in the Pacific; you step offthe gangway on to the dock at Rangoon and get into a rickshaw; you watchfrom the upper deck the noisy, gesticulating crowd of Negroes as yourship is made fast to the pier at Port au Prince.

We got in latish in the morning and towards the middle of the afternoonI landed and walked along the quay, looking at the shops, at the peoplewho passed me and at the people sitting under the awning in the cafés.Suddenly I saw Sophie and at the same moment she saw me. She smiled andsaid hello. I stopped and shook hands with her. She was by herself at asmall table with an empty glass before her.

"Sit down and have a drink," she said.

"You have one with me," I replied, taking a chair.

She wore the striped blue-and-white jersey of the French sailor, a pairof bright red slacks and sandals through which protruded the paintednails of her big toes. She wore no hat, and her hair, cut very short andcurled, was of so pale a gold that it was almost silver. She was asheavily made up as when we had run across her at the Rue de Lappe. Shehad had a drink or two as I judged from the saucers on the table, butshe was sober. She did not seem displeased to see me.

"How are all the folks in Paris?" she asked.

"I think they're all right. I haven't seen any of them since that day weall lunched together at the Ritz."

She blew a great cloud of smoke from her nostrils and began to laugh.

"I didn't marry Larry after all."

"I know. Why not?"

"Darling, when it came to the point I couldn't see myself being MaryMagdalen to his Jesus Christ. No, sir."

"What made you change your mind at the last moment?"

She looked at me mockingly. With that audacious tilt of the head, withher small breasts and narrow flanks, in that get-up, she looked like avicious boy; but I must admit that she was much more attractive than inthe red dress, with its dismal air of provincial smartness, in which Ihad last seen her. Face and neck were deeply burnt by the sun, andthough the brownness of her skin made the rouge on her cheeks and theblack of her eyebrows more aggressive, the effect in its vulgar way wasnot without lure.

"Would you like me to tell you?"

I nodded. The waiter brought the beer I had ordered for myself and thebrandy and seltzer for her. She lit a caporal from one she had justfinished.

"I hadn't had a drink for three months. I hadn't had a smoke." She sawmy faint look of surprise and laughed. "I don't mean cigarettes. Opium.I felt awful. You know, sometimes when I was alone I'd shriek the placedown; I'd say, 'I can't go through with it, I can't go through with it.'It wasn't so bad when I was with Larry, but when he wasn't there it washell."

I was looking at her and when she mentioned opium I scanned her moresharply; I noticed the pin-point pupils that showed she was smoking itnow. Her eyes were startlingly green.

"Isabel was giving me my wedding dress. I wonder what's happened to itnow. It was a peach. We'd arranged that I should pick her up and we'd goto Molyneux's together. I will say this for Isabel, what she doesn'tknow about clothes isn't worth knowing. When I got to the apartment thatman they have said she'd had to take Joan to the dentist's and had lefta message that she'd be in directly. I went into the living-room. Thecoffee things were still on the table and I asked the man if I couldhave a cup. Coffee was the only thing that kept me going. He said he'dbring me some and took the empty cups and the coffee pot away. He left abottle on the tray. I looked at it, and it was that Polish stuff you'dall talked about at the Ritz."

"Zubrovka. I remember Elliott saying he'd sent Isabel some."

"You'd all raved about how good it smelt and I was curious. I took outthe cork and had a sniff. You were quite right; it smelt damned good. Ilit a cigarette and in a few minutes the man came in with the coffee.That was good too. They talk a lot about French coffee, they can haveit; give me American coffee. That's the only thing I miss here. ButIsabel's coffee wasn't bad, I was feeling lousy, and after I'd had a cupI felt better. I looked at that bottle standing there. It was a terribletemptation, but I said, 'To hell with it, I won't think of it,' and Ilit another cigarette. I thought Isabel would be in any minute, but shedidn't come; I got frightfully nervous; I hate being kept waiting andthere was nothing to read in the room. I started walking about andlooking at the pictures, but I kept on seeing that damned bottle. Then Ithought I'd just pour out a glass and look at it. It had such a prettycolour."

"Pale green."

"That's right. It's funny, its colour is just like its smell. It's likethat green you sometimes see in the heart of a white rose. I had tosee if it tasted like that, I thought just a taste couldn't hurt me; Ionly meant to take a sip and then I heard a sound, I thought it wasIsabel coming in and I swallowed the glassful because I didn't want herto catch me. But it wasn't Isabel after all. Gosh, it made me feel good,I hadn't felt like that since I'd gone on the wagon. I really began tofeel alive again. If Isabel had come in then I suppose I'd be married toLarry now. I wonder how it would have turned out."

"And she didn't come in?"

"No, she didn't. I was furious with her. Who did she think she was,keeping me waiting like that? And then I saw that the liqueur glass wasfull again; I suppose I must have poured it out without thinking, but,believe it or not, I didn't know I had. It seemed silly to pour it backagain, so I drank it. There's no denying it, it was delicious. I felt adifferent woman; I felt like laughing and I hadn't felt like that forthree months. D'you remember that old cissie saying he'd seen fellas inPoland drink it by the tumbler without turning a hair? Well, I thought Icould take what any Polish son of a bitch could take and you may as wellbe hanged for a sheep as a lamb, so I emptied the dregs of my coffee inthe fireplace and filled the cup to the brim. Talk of mother's milk--myarse. Then I don't quite know what happened, but I don't believe therewas much left in the bottle by the time I was through. Then I thoughtI'd get out before Isabel came in. She nearly caught me. Just as I gotout of the front door I heard Joanie's voice. I ran up the stairs andwaited till they were safely in the apartment and then I dashed down andgot into a taxi. I told the driver to drive like hell and when he askedwhere to I burst out laughing in his face. I felt like a milliondollars."

"Did you go back to your apartment?" I asked, though I knew she hadn't.

"What sort of a damn fool d'you take me for? I knew Larry would come andlook for me. I didn't dare go to any of the places I used to go to, so Iwent to Hakim's. I knew Larry'd never find me there. Besides, I wanted asmoke."

"What's Hakim's?"

"Hakim's. Hakim's an Algerian and he can always get you opium if you'vegot the dough to pay for it. He was quite a friend of mine. He'll getyou anything you want, a boy, a man, a woman or a nigg*r. He always hashalf a dozen Algerians on tap. I spent three days there. I don't knowhow many men I didn't have." She began to giggle. "All shapes, sizes andcolours. I made up for lost time all right. But you know, I was scared.I didn't feel safe in Paris, I was afraid Larry'd find me, besides Ihadn't got any money left, those bastards you have to pay them to go tobed with you, so I got out, I went back to the apartment and gave theconcierge a hundred francs and told her if anyone came and asked forme to say I'd gone away. I packed my things and that night I took thetrain to Toulon. I didn't feel really safe till I got here."

"And have you been here ever since?"

"You betcha, and I'm going to stay here. You can get all the opium youwant, the sailors bring it back from the East, and it's good stuff, notthat muck they sell you in Paris. I've got a room at the hotel. Youknow, the Commerce et la Marine. When you go in there at night thecorridors just reek of it." She sniffed voluptuously. "Sweet and acrid,and you know they're smoking in their rooms, and it gives you a nicehomey feeling. And they don't mind who you take in with you. They comeand thump at your door at five in the morning to get the sailors up togo back to their ships, so you don't have to worry about that." Andthen, without transition: "I saw a book of yours in the store just alongthe quay; if I'd known I was going to see you I'd have bought it and gotyou to sign it."

When passing the bookshop I had stopped to look in the window and hadnoticed among other new books the translation of a novel of mine thathad recently appeared.

"I don't suppose it would have amused you much," I said.

"I don't know why it shouldn't. I can read, you know."

"And you can write too, I believe."

She gave me a rapid glance and began to laugh.

"Yeah, I used to write poetry when I was a kid. I guess it was prettyterrible, but I thought it fine. I suppose Larry told you." Shehesitated for a moment. "Life's hell anyway, but if there is any fun tobe got out of it, you're only a god-damn fool if you don't get it." Shethrew back her head defiantly. "If I buy that book will you write init?"

"I'm leaving tomorrow. If you really want it, I'll get you a copy andleave it at your hotel."

"That'd be swell."

Just then a naval launch came up to the quay and a crowd of sailorstumbled out of it. Sophie embraced them with a glance.

"That'll be my boy friend." She waved her arm at someone. "You can standhim a drink and then you better scram. He's a Corsican and as jealous asour old friend Jehovah."

A young man came up to us, hesitated when he saw me, but on a beckoninggesture came up to our table. He was tall, swarthy, clean-shaven withsplendid dark eyes, an aquiline nose and raven black, wavy hair. He didnot look more than twenty. Sophie introduced me as an American friend ofher childhood.

"Dumb but beautiful," she said to me.

"You like 'em tough, don't you?"

"The tougher the better."

"One of these days you'll get your throat cut."

"I wouldn't be surprised," she grinned. "Good riddance to bad rubbish."

"One's going to speak French, isn't one?" the sailor said sharply.

Sophie turned upon him a smile in which there was a trace of mockery.She spoke a fluent and slangy French, with a strong American accent, butthis gave the vulgar and obscene colloquialisms that she commonly used acomic tang, so that you could not help but laugh.

"I was telling him that you were beautiful, but to spare your modesty Iwas saying it in English." She addressed me. "And he's strong. He hasthe muscles of a boxer. Feel them."

The sailor's sullenness was dispelled by the flattery and with acomplacent smile he flexed his arm so that the biceps stood out.

"Feel it," he said. "Go on, feel it."

I did so and expressed a proper admiration. We chatted for a fewminutes. I paid for the drinks and got up.

"I must be going."

"It's nice to have seen you. Don't forget the book."

"I won't."

I shook hands with them both and strolled off. On my way I stopped atthe bookshop, bought the novel and wrote Sophie's name and my own. Then,because it suddenly occurred to me and I could think of nothing else, Iwrote the first line of Ronsard's lovely little poem which is in all theanthologies:

"Mignonne, allons voir si la rose...."

I left it at the hotel. It is on the quay and I have often stayed therebecause when you are awakened at dawn by the clarion that calls the menon night leave back to duty the sun rising mistily over the smooth waterof the harbour invests the wraithlike ships with a shrouded loveliness.Next day we sailed for Cassis, where I wanted to buy some wine, and thento Marseilles to take up a new sail that we had ordered. A week later Igot home.

(vii)

I found a message from Joseph, Elliott's manservant, to tell me thatElliott was ill in bed and would be glad to see me, so next day I droveover to Antibes. Joseph, before taking me up to see his master, told methat Elliott had had an attack of uremia and that his doctor took agrave view of his condition. He had come through it and was gettingbetter, but his kidneys were diseased and it was impossible that heshould ever completely recover. Joseph had been with Elliott for fortyyears and was devoted to him, but though his manner was regretful it wasimpossible not to notice the inner satisfaction with which, like so manymembers of his class, catastrophe in the house filled him.

"Ce pauvre monsieur," he sighed. "Evidently he had his manias but atbottom he was good. Sooner or later one must die."

He spoke already as though Elliott were at his last gasp.

"I'm sure he's provided for you, Joseph," I said grimly.

"One must hope it," he said mournfully.

I was surprised when he ushered me into the bedroom to find Elliott veryspry. He was pale and looked old, but was in good spirits. He was shavedand his hair was neatly brushed. He wore pale blue silk pyjamas, on thepocket of which were embroidered his initials surmounted by his count'scrown. These, much larger and again with the crown, were heavilyembroidered on the turned-down sheet.

I asked him how he felt.

"Perfectly well," he said cheerfully. "It's only a temporaryindisposition. I shall be up and about again in a few days. I've got theGrand Duke Dimitri lunching with me on Saturday and I've told my doctorhe must put me to rights by then at all costs."

I spent half an hour with him and on my way out asked Joseph to let meknow if Elliott had a relapse. I was astonished a week later when I wentto lunch with one of my neighbours to find him there. Dressed for aparty, he looked like death.

"You oughtn't to be out, Elliott," I told him.

"Oh, what nonsense, my dear fellow. Frieda is expecting the PrincessMafalda. I've known the Italian royal family for years, ever since poorLouisa was en poste at Rome, and I couldn't let poor Frieda down."

I did not know whether to admire his indomitable spirit or to lamentthat at his age, stricken with mortal illness, he should still retainhis passion for society. You would never have thought he was a sick man.Like a dying actor when he has the grease paint on his face and steps onthe stage, who forgets for the time being his aches and pains, Elliottplayed his part of the polished courtier with his accustomed assurance.He was infinitely amiable, flatteringly attentive to the proper peopleand amusing with that malicious irony a which he was an adept. I think Ihad never seen him display his social gift to greater advantage. Whenthe Royal Highness had departed (and the grace with which Elliott bowed,managing to combine respect for her exalted rank with an old man'sadmiration for a comely young woman, was a sight to see) I was notsurprised to hear our hostess tell him that he had been the life andsoul of the party.

A few days later he was in bed again and his doctor forbade him to leavehis room. Elliott was exasperated.

"It's too bad this should happen just now. It's a particularly brilliantseason."

He reeled off a long list of persons of importance who were spending thesummer on the Riviera.

I went to see him every three or four days. Sometimes he was in bed, butsometimes he lay on a chaise longue in a gorgeous dressing-gown. Heseemed to have an inexhaustible supply of them, for I do not rememberthat I ever saw him in the same one twice. On one of these occasions, itwas the beginning of August by now, I found Elliott unusually quiet.Joseph had told me when he let me into the house that he seemed a littlebetter; I was surprised then that he was so listless. I tried to amusehim with such gossip of the coast as I had picked up, but he was plainlyuninterested. There was a slight frown between his eyes, and asullenness in his expression that was unusual with him.

"Are you going to Edna Novemali's party?" he asked me suddenly.

"No, of course not."

"Has she asked you?"

"She's asked everybody on the Riviera."

The Princess Novemali was an American of immense wealth who had marrieda Roman prince, but not an ordinary prince such as go for two a penny inItaly, but the head of a great family and the descendant of acondottière who had carved out a principality for himself in thesixteenth century. She was a woman of sixty, a widow, and since theFascist regime demanded too large a slice of her American income to suither, she had left Italy and built herself, on a fine estate behindCannes, a Florentine villa. She had brought marble from Italy with whichto line the walls of her great reception rooms and imported painters topaint the ceilings. Her pictures, her bronzes were uncommonly fine andeven Elliott, though he didn't like Italian furniture, was obliged toadmit that hers was magnificent. The gardens were lovely and theswimming-pool must have cost a small fortune. She entertained largelyand you never sat down to less than twenty at table. She had arranged togive a fancy-dress party on the night of the August full moon andalthough it was still three weeks ahead nothing else was being talked ofon the Riviera. There were to be fireworks and she was bringing down acoloured orchestra from Paris. The exiled royalties were telling oneanother with envious admiration that it would cost her more than theyhad to live on for a year.

"It's princely," they said.

"It's crazy," they said.

"It's in bad taste," they said.

"What are you going to wear?" Elliott asked me.

"But I told you, Elliott, I'm not going. You don't think I'm going todress myself up in fancy dress at my time of life."

"She hasn't asked me," he said hoarsely.

He looked at me with haggard eyes.

"Oh, she will," I said coolly. "I daresay all the invitations haven'tgone out yet."

"She's not going to ask me." His voice broke. "It's a deliberateinsult."

"Oh, Elliott, I can't believe that. I'm sure it's only an oversight."

"I'm not a man that people overlook."

"Anyhow you wouldn't have been well enough to go."

"Of course I should. The best party of the season! If I were on mydeathbed I'd get up for it. I've got the costume of my ancestor, theCount de Lauria, to wear."

I did not quite know what to say and so remained silent.

"Paul Barton was in to see me just before you came," Elliott saidsuddenly.

I cannot expect the reader to remember who this was, since I had to lookback myself to see what name I had given him. Paul Barton was the youngAmerican whom Elliott had introduced into London society and who hadaroused his hatred by dropping him when he no longer had any use forhim. He had been somewhat in the public eye of late, first because hehad adopted British nationality and then because he had married thedaughter of a newspaper magnate who had been raised to the peerage. Withthis influence behind him and with his own adroitness it was evidentthat he would go far. Elliott was very bitter.

"Whenever I wake up in the night and hear a mouse scratching away in thewainscot I say, That's Paul Barton climbing.' Believe me, my dearfellow, he'll end up in the House of Lords. Thank God, I shan't be aliveto see it."

"What did he want?" I asked, for I knew as well as Elliott that thisyoung man did nothing for nothing.

"I'll tell you what he wanted," said Elliott, snarling. "He wanted toborrow my Count de Lauria costume."

"Nerve!"

"Don't you see what it means? It means he knew Edna hadn't asked me andwasn't going to ask me. She put him up to it. The old bitch. She'd neverhave got anywhere without me. I gave parties for her. I introduced herto everyone she knows. She sleeps with her chauffeur; you knew that ofcourse. Disgusting! He sat there and told me that she's having the wholegarden illuminated and there are going to be fireworks. I lovefireworks. And he told me that Edna was being pestered by people whowere asking for invitations, but she had turned them all down becauseshe wanted the party to be really brilliant. He spoke as though therewere no question of my being invited."

"And are you lending him the costume?"

"I'd see him dead and in hell first. I'm going to be buried in it."Elliott, sitting up in bed, rocked to and fro like a woman distraught."Oh, its so unkind," he said. "I hate them, I hate them all. They wereglad enough to make a fuss of me when I could entertain them, but nowI'm old and sick they have no use for me. Not ten people have called toinquire since I've been laid up, and all this week only one miserablebunch of flowers. I've done everything for them. They've eaten my foodand drunk my wine. I've run their errands for them. I've made theirparties for them. I've turned myself inside out to do them favours. Andwhat have I got out of it? Nothing, nothing, nothing. There's not one ofthem who cares if I live or die. Oh, it's so cruel." He began to cry.Great heavy tears trickled down his withered cheeks. "I wish to God I'dnever left America."

It was lamentable to see that old man, with the grave yawning in frontof him, weep like a child because he hadn't been asked to a party,shocking and at the same time almost intolerably pathetic.

"Never mind, Elliott," I said, "it may rain on the night of the party.That'll bitch it."

He caught at my words like the drowning man we've all heard about at astraw. He began to giggle through his tears.

"I've never thought of that. I'll pray to God for rain as I've neverprayed before. You're quite right; that'll bitch it."

I managed to divert his frivolous mind into another channel and lefthim, if not cheerful, at least composed. But I was not willing to letthe matter rest, so on getting home I called up Edna Novemali and,saying I had to come to Cannes next day, asked if I could lunch withher. She sent a message that she'd be pleased but there'd be no party.Nevertheless when I arrived I found ten people there besides herself.She was not a bad sort, generous and hospitable, and her only gravefault was her malicious tongue. She could not help saying beastly thingsabout even her intimate friends, but she did this because she was astupid woman and knew no other way to make herself interesting. Sinceher slanders were repeated she was often not on speaking terms with theobjects of her venom, but she gave good parties and most of them foundit convenient after a while to forgive her. I did not want to exposeElliott to the humiliation of asking her to invite him to her big do andso waited to see how the land lay. She was excited about it and theconversation at luncheon was concerned with nothing else.

"Elliott will be delighted to have an opportunity to wear his Philip theSecond costume," I said as casually as I could.

"I haven't asked him," she said.

"Why not?" I replied with an air of surprise.

"Why should I? He doesn't count socially any more. He's a bore and asnob and a scandalmonger."

Since these accusations could with equal truth be brought against her, Ithought this a bit thick. She was a fool.

"Besides," she added, "I want Paul to wear Elliott's costume. He'll looksimply divine in it."

I said nothing more, but determined by hook or by crook to get poorElliott the invitation he hankered after. After luncheon Edna took herfriends out into the garden. That gave me the chance I was looking for.On one occasion I had stayed in the house for a few days and knew itsarrangement. I guessed that there would still be a number of invitationcards left over and that they would be in the secretary's room. Iwhipped along there, meaning to slip one in my pocket, write Elliott'sname on it and post it. I knew he was much too ill to go, but it wouldmean a great deal to him to receive it. I was taken aback when I openedthe door to find Edna's secretary at her desk. I had expected her to bestill at lunch. She was a middle-aged Scotch woman, called Miss Keith,with sandy hair, a freckled face, pince-nez and an air of determinedvirginity. I collected myself.

"The Princess is taking the crowd around the garden, so I thought I'dcome in and smoke a cigarette with you."

"You're welcome."

Miss Keith spoke with a Scottish burr and when she indulged in the dryhumour which she reserved for her favourites she so broadened it as tomake her remarks extremely amusing, but when you were overcome withlaughter she looked at you with pained surprise as though she thoughtyou daft to see anything funny in what she said.

"I suppose this party is giving you a hell of a lot of work, MissKeith," I said.

"I don't know whether I'm standing on my head or on my heels."

Knowing I could trust her, I went straight to the point.

"Why hasn't the old girl asked Mr. Templeton?"

Miss Keith permitted a smile to cross her grim features.

"You know what she is. She's got a down on him. She crossed his name outon the list herself."

"He's dying, you know. He'll never leave his bed again. He's awfullyhurt at being left out."

"If he wanted to keep in with the Princess he'd have been wiser not totell everyone that she goes to bed with her chauffeur. And him with awife and three children."

"And does she?"

Miss Keith looked at me over her pince-nez.

"I've been a secretary for twenty-one years, my dear sir, and I've madeit a rule to believe all my employers as pure as the driven snow. I'lladmit that when one of my ladies found herself three months gone in thefamily way when his lordship had been shooting lions in Africa for six,my faith was sorely tried, but she took a little trip to Paris, a veryexpensive little trip it was too, and all was well. Her ladyship and Ishared a deep sigh of relief."

"Miss Keith, I didn't come here to smoke a cigarette with you, I came tosnitch an invitation card and send it to Mr. Templeton myself."

"That would have been a very unscrupulous thing to do."

"Granted. Be a good sport, Miss Keith. Give me a card. He won't come andit'll make the poor old man happy. You've got nothing against him, haveyou?"

"No, he's always been very civil to me. He's a gentleman, I will saythat for him, and that's more than you can say for most of the peoplewho come here and fill their fat bellies at the Princess's expense."

All important persons have about them someone in a subordinate positionwho has their ear. These dependents are very susceptible to slights and,when they are not treated as they think they should be, will bywell-directed shafts, constantly repeated, poison the minds of theirpatrons against those who have provoked their animosity. It is well tokeep in with them. This Elliott knew better than anybody and he hadalways a friendly word and a cordial smile for the poor relation, theold maidservant or the trusted secretary. I was sure he had oftenexchanged pleasant badinage with Miss Keith and at Christmas had notforgotten to send her a box of chocolates, a vanity case or a handbag.

"Come on, Miss Keith, have a heart."

Miss Keith fixed her pince-nez more firmly on her prominent nose.

"I am sure you wish me to do nothing disloyal to my employer, Mr.Maugham, besides which the old cow would fire me if she found out I'ddisobeyed her. The cards are on the desk in their envelopes. I am goingto look out of the window partly to stretch my legs which are crampedfrom sitting too long in one position and also to observe the beauty ofthe prospect. What happens when my back is turned neither God nor mancan hold me responsible for."

When Miss Keith resumed her seat the invitation was in my pocket.

"It's been nice to see you, Miss Keith," I said, holding out my hand."What are you wearing at the fancy-dress party?"

"I am a minister's daughter, my dear sir," she replied. "I leave suchfoolishness to the upper classes. When I have seen that therepresentatives of the Herald and the Mail get a good supper and abottle of our second-best champagne, my duties will be terminated and Ishall retire to the privacy of my bedchamber with a detective story."

(viii)

A couple of days later, when I went to see Elliott, I found him beaming.

"Look," he said, "I've had my invitation. It came this morning."

He took the card out from under his pillow and showed it to me.

"It's what I told you," I said. "You see, your name begins with a T. Thesecretary has evidently only just reached you."

"I haven't answered yet. I'll do it tomorrow."

I had a moment's fright at that.

"Would you like me to answer it for you? I could post it when I leaveyou."

"No, why should you? I'm quite capable of answering invitations myself."

Fortunately, I thought, the envelope would be opened by Miss Keith andshe would have the sense to suppress it. Elliott rang the bell.

"I want to show you my costume."

"You're not thinking of going, Elliott?"

"Of course I am. I haven't worn it since the Beaumonts' ball."

Joseph answered the bell and Elliott told him to bring the costume. Itwas in a large flat box, wrapped in tissue paper. There were long whitesilk hose, padded trunks of cloth of gold slashed with white satin, adoublet to match, a cloak, a ruff to wear round the neck, a flat velvetcap and a long gold chain from which hung the order of the GoldenFleece. I recognized it as a copy of the gorgeous dress worn by Philipthe Second in Titian's portrait at the Prado, and when Elliott told meit was exactly the costume the Count de Lauria had worn at the weddingof the King of Spain with the Queen of England I could not but thinkthat he was giving rein to his imagination.

On the following morning while I was having breakfast I was called tothe telephone. It was Joseph to tell me that Elliott had had anotherattack during the night and the doctor, hurriedly summoned, doubtedwhether he would last through the day. I sent for the car and drove overto Antibes. I found Elliott unconscious. He had resolutely refused tohave a nurse, but found one there, sent for by the doctor from theEnglish hospital between Nice and Beaulieu, and was glad to see her. Iwent out and telegraphed to Isabel. She and Gray were spending thesummer with the children at the inexpensive seaside resort of La Baule.It was a long journey and I was afraid they would not get to Antibes intime. Except for her two brothers, whom he had not seen for years, shewas Elliott's only living relative.

But the will to live was strong in him or it may be that the doctor'smedicaments were effective, for during the course of the day he rallied.Though shattered, he put on a bold front and amused himself by askingthe nurse indecent questions about her sex life. I stayed with him mostof the afternoon and next day, on going to see him again, found him,though very weak, sufficiently cheerful. The nurse would only let mestay with him a short time. I was worried not to have received an answerto my telegram. Not knowing Isabel's address at La Baule I had sent itto Paris and feared that the concierge had delayed to forward it. Itwas not till two days later that I got a reply to say that they werestarting at once. As ill luck would have it, Gray and Isabel were on amotor trip in Brittany and had only just had my wire. I looked up thetrains and saw that they could not arrive for at least thirty-six hours.

Early next morning Joseph called me again to tell me that Elliott hadhad a very bad night and was asking for me. I hurried over. When Iarrived Joseph took me aside.

"Monsieur will excuse me if I speak to him on a delicate subject," hesaid to me. "I am of course a freethinker and believe all religion isnothing but a conspiracy of the priests to gain control over the people,but Monsieur knows what women are. My wife and the chambermaid insistthat the poor gentleman should receive the last sacraments and evidentlythe time is growing short." He looked at me in rather a shamefaced way."And the fact remains, one never knows, perhaps it is better, if one'sgot to die, to regularize one's situation with the Church."

I understood him perfectly. However freely they mock, most Frenchmen,when the end comes, prefer to make their peace with the faith that ispart of their blood and bones.

"Do you want me to suggest it to him?"

"If Monsieur would have the goodness."

It was not a job I much fancied, but after all Elliott had been for manyyears a devout Catholic, and it was fitting that he should conform tothe obligations of his faith. I went up to his room. He was lying on hisback, shrivelled and wan, but he was perfectly conscious. I asked thenurse to leave us alone.

"I'm afraid you're very ill, Elliott," I said. "I was wondering, I waswondering if you wouldn't like to see a priest?"

He looked at me for a minute without answering.

"D'you mean to say I'm going to die?"

"Oh, I hope not. But it's just as well to be on the safe side."

"I understand."

He was silent. It is a terrible moment when you have to tell someonewhat I had just told Elliott. I could not look at him. I clenched myteeth because I was afraid I was going to cry. I was sitting on the edgeof the bed, facing him, with my arm outstretched for support.

He patted my hand.

"Don't be upset, my dear fellow. Noblesse oblige, you know."

I laughed hysterically.

"You ridiculous creature, Elliott."

"That's better. Now call up the bishop and say that I wish to make myconfession and receive Extreme Unction. I would be grateful if he'd sendthe Abbé Charles. He's a friend of mine."

The Abbé Charles was the bishop's vicar general whom I have had occasionto mention before. I went downstairs and telephoned. I spoke to thebishop himself.

"Is it urgent?" he asked.

"Very."

"I will attend to it at once."

The doctor arrived and I told him what I had done. He went up with thenurse to see Elliott and I waited on the ground floor in thedining-room. It is only twenty minutes' drive from Nice to Antibes andlittle more than half an hour later a large black sedan drew up at thedoor. Joseph came to me.

"C'est Monseigneur en personne, Monsieur," he said in a flurry. "It'sthe bishop himself."

I went out to receive him. He was not as usual accompanied by his vicargeneral, but, why I did not know, by a young abbé who bore a casket thatcontained, I supposed, the utensils needed to administer the sacrament.The chauffeur followed with a shabby black valise. The bishop shookhands with me and presented his companion.

"How is our poor friend?"

"I'm afraid he's very ill, Monseigneur."

"Will you be so obliging as to show us into a room where we can enrobe."

"The dining-room is here, Monseigneur, and the drawing-room is on thenext floor."

"The dining-room will do very well."

I ushered him in. Joseph and I waited in the hall. Presently the dooropened and the bishop came out, followed by the abbé holding in bothhands the chalice on which rested a little platter on which lay theconsecrated wafer. They were covered by a cambric napkin so fine that itwas transparent. I had never seen the bishop but at a dinner or luncheonparty, and a very good trencherman he was, who enjoyed his food and aglass of good wine, telling funny and sometimes ribald stories withverve. He had struck me then as a sturdy, thickset man of no more thanaverage height. Now, in surplice and stole, he looked not only tall, butstately. His red face, puckered as a rule malicious yet kindly laughter,was grave. There was in his appearance nothing left of the cavalryofficer he had once been; he looked, what indeed he was, a greatdignitary of the Church. I was hardly surprised to see Joseph crosshimself. The bishop inclined his head in a slight bow.

"Conduct me to the sick man," he said.

I made way for him to ascend the stairs before me, but he bade meprecede him. We went up in a solemn silence. I entered Elliott's room.

"The bishop has come himself, Elliott."

Elliott struggled to raise himself to a sitting position.

"Monseigneur, this is an honour I did not venture to expect."

"Do not move, my friend." The bishop turned to the nurse and me. "Leaveus." And then to the abbé: "I will call you when I am ready."

The abbé glanced around and I guessed that he was looking for a place toset down the chalice. I pushed aside the tortoise-shell-backed brusheson the dressing-table. The nurse went downstairs and I led the abbé intothe adjoining room which Elliott used as a study. The windows were opento the blue sky and he went over and stood by one of them. I sat down. Arace of Stars was in progress and their sails gleamed dazzling whiteagainst the azure. A big schooner with a black hull, her red sailsspread, was beating up against the breeze towards the harbour. Irecognized her for a lobster boat, bringing a catch from Sardinia tosupply the gala dinners at the casinos with a fish course. Through theclosed door I could hear the muffled murmur of voices. Elliott wasmaking his confession. I badly wanted a cigarette, but feared the abbéwould be shocked if I lit one. He stood motionless, looking out, aslender young man, and his thick waving black hair, his fine dark eyes,his olive skin revealed his Italian origin. There was the quick fire ofthe South in his aspect and I asked myself what urgent faith, whatburning desire had caused him to abandon the joys of common life, thepleasures of his age and the satisfaction of his senses, to devotehimself to the service of God.

Suddenly the voices in the next room were still and I looked at thedoor. It was opened and the bishop appeared.

"Venez," he said to the priest.

I was left alone. I heard the bishop's voice once more and I knew he wassaying the prayers that the Church has ordained should be said for thedying. Then there was another silence and I knew that Elliott waspartaking of the body and the blood of Christ. From I know not whatfeeling, inherited, I suppose, from far away ancestors, though not aCatholic I can never attend Mass without a sense of tremulous awe whenthe little tinkle of the servitor's bell informs me of the Elevation ofthe Host; and now, similarly, I shivered as though a cold wind ranthrough me, I shivered with fear and wonder. The door was opened oncemore.

"You may come in," said the bishop.

I entered. The abbé was covering the cup and the little gilt plate onwhich had lain the consecrated wafer with the cambric cloth. Elliott'seyes shone.

"Conduct Monseigneur to his car," he said.

We descended the stairs. Joseph and the maids were waiting in the hall.The maids were crying. There were three of them and one after the otherthey came forward and, dropping to their knees, kissed the bishop'sring. He blessed them with two fingers. Joseph's wife nudged him and headvanced, fell to his knees too and kissed the ring. The bishop faintlysmiled.

"You are a freethinker, my son?"

I could see Joseph making an effort over himself.

"Yes, Monseigneur."

"Do not let it trouble you. You have been a good and faithful servant toyour master. God will overlook the errors of your understanding."

I went out into the street with him and opened the door of his car. Hegave me a bow and as he stepped in smiled indulgently.

"Our poor friend is very low. His defects were of the surface; he wasgenerous of heart and kindly towards his fellow men."

(ix)

Thinking that Elliott might want to be alone after the ceremony in whichhe had taken part, I went up to the drawing-room and began to read, butno sooner had I settled myself than the nurse came in to tell me that hewanted to see me. I climbed the flight of stairs to his room. Whetherowing to a shot that the doctor had given him to help him to support theordeal before him or whether owing to excitement of it, he was calmlycheerful and his eyes were bright.

"A great honour, my dear fellow," he said. "I shall enter the kingdom ofheaven with a letter of introduction from a prince of the Church. Ifancy that all doors will be open to me."

"I'm afraid you'll find the company very mixed," I smiled.

"Don't you believe it, my dear fellow. We know from Holy Writ that thereare class distinctions in heaven just as there are on earth. There areseraphim and cherubim, archangels and angels. I have always moved in thebest society in Europe and I have no doubt that I shall move in the bestsociety in heaven. Our Lord has said: The House of my Father hath manymansions. It would be highly unsuitable to lodge the hoi polloi in away to which they're entirely unaccustomed."

I suspected that Elliott saw the celestial habitations in the guise ofthe châteaux of a Baron de Rothschild with eighteenth-century panellingon the walls, Buhl tables, marquetry cabinets and Louis Quinze suitescovered With their original petit point.

"Believe me, my dear fellow," he went on after a pause, "there'll benone of this damned equality in heaven."

He dropped off quite suddenly into a doze. I sat down with a book. Heslept off and on. At one o'clock the nurse came in to tell me thatJoseph had luncheon ready for me. Joseph was subdued.

"Fancy Monseigneur the Bishop coming himself. It is a great honour hehas done our poor gentleman. You saw me kiss his ring?"

"I did."

"It's not a thing I would have done of myself. I did it to satisfy mypoor wife."

I spent the afternoon in Elliott's room. In the course of it a telegramcame from Isabel to say that she and Gray would arrive by the Blue Trainnext morning. I could hardly hope they would be in time. The doctorcame. He shook his head. Towards sunset Elliott awoke and was able totake a little nourishment. It seemed to give him a momentary strength.He beckoned to me and I went up to the bed. His voice was very weak.

"I haven't answered Edna's invitation."

"Oh, don't bother about that now, Elliott."

"Why not? I've always been a man of the world; there's no reason why Ishould forget my manners as I'm leaving it. Where is the card?"

It was on the chimney piece and I put it in his hand, but I doubtwhether he could see it.

"You'll find a pad of writing paper in my study. If you'll get it I'lldictate my answer."

I went into the next room and came back with writing materials. I satdown by the side of his bed.

"Are you ready?"

"Yes."

His eyes were closed, but there was a mischievous smile on his lips andI wondered what was coming.

"Mr. Elliott Templeton regrets that he cannot accept Princess Novemali'skind invitation owing to a previous engagement with his Blessed Lord."

He gave a faint, ghostly chuckle. His face was of a strange blue-white,ghastly to behold, and he exhaled the nauseating stench peculiar to hisdisease. Poor Elliott who had loved to spray himself with the perfumesof Chanel and Molyneux. He was still holding the purloined invitationcard and, thinking it incommoded him, I tried to take it out of hishand, but he tightened his grip on it. I was startled to hear him speakquite loudly.

"The old bitch," he said.

These were the last words he spoke. He sank into a coma. The nurse hadbeen up with him all the previous night and looked very tired, so I senther to bed, promising to call her if necessary, and said I would sit up.There was indeed nothing to do. I lit a shaded lamp and read till myeyes ached and then, turning it off, I sat in darkness. The night waswarm and the windows wide open. At regular intervals the flash of thelighthouse swept the room with a passing glimmer. The moon, which whenfull would look upon the vacuous, noisy gaiety of Edna Novemali'sfancy-dress party, set, and in the sky, a deep, deep blue, the countlessstars shone with their terrifying brilliance. I think I may have droppedoff into a light sleep but my senses were still awake, and I wassuddenly startled into intense consciousness by a hurried, angry sound,the most awe-inspiring sound that anyone can hear, the death rattle. Iwent over to the bed and by the gleam of the lighthouse felt Elliott'spulse. He was dead. I lit the lamp by his bedside and looked at him. Hisjaw had fallen. His eyes were open and before closing them I stared intothem for a minute. I was moved and I think a few tears trickled down mycheeks. An old, kind friend. It made me sad to think how silly, uselessand trivial his life had been. It mattered very little now that he hadgone to so many parties and had hobnobbed with all those princes, dukesand counts. They had forgotten him already.

I saw no reason to wake the exhausted nurse and so returned to my chairby the window. I was asleep when she came in at seven. I left her to dowhatever she thought fit and had breakfast, then I went to the stationto meet Gray and Isabel. I told them that Elliott was dead and sincethere was no room for them in his house asked them to stay with me, butthey preferred to go to a hotel. I went back to my own house to have abath, shave and change.

In the course of the morning Gray called me to say that Joseph had giventhem a letter addressed to me that Elliott had entrusted to him. Sinceit might contain something for my eyes alone I said I would drive overat once, and so less than an hour later I once more entered the house.The letter, marked on the envelope: To be delivered immediately aftermy death, contained instructions for his obsequies. I knew that he hadset his heart on being buried in the church that he had built and I hadalready told Isabel. He wished to be embalmed and mentioned the name ofthe firm to which the operation should be given. "I have madeenquiries," he continued, "and I am informed that they make a very goodjob of it. I trust you to see that it is not scamped. I desire to bedressed in the dress of my ancestor the Count de Lauria, with his swordby my side and the order of the Golden Fleece on my breast. I leave thechoice of my coffin to you. It should be unpretentious but suitable tomy position. In order to give no one unnecessary trouble I desire thatThomas Cook and Son should make all arrangements for the transportationof my remains and that one of their men should accompany the coffin toits final resting place."

I remembered that Elliott had said he wanted to be buried in that fancydress of his, but took it for a passing whim and I had not thought hemeant it seriously. Joseph was insistent that his wishes be carried outand there seemed no reason why they should not be. The body was dulyembalmed and then I went with Joseph to dress it in those absurdclothes. It was a gruesome business. We slipped his long legs into thewhite silk hose and pulled the cloth of gold trunks over them. It was ajob to get his arms through the sleeves of the doublet. We fixed thegreat starched ruff and draped the satin cape over his shoulders.Finally we placed the flat velvet cap on his head and the collar of theGolden Fleece round his neck. The embalmer had rouged his cheeks andreddened his lips. Elliott, the costume too large now for his emaciatedframe, looked like a chorus man in an early opera of Verdi's. The sadDon Quixote of a worthless purpose. When the undertaker's men had puthim in the coffin I laid the property sword down the length of his body,between his legs, with his hands on the pommel as I have seen the swordlaid on the sculptured tomb of a Crusader.

Gray and Isabel went to Italy to attend the funeral.


Chapter Six

(i)

I feel it right to warn the reader that he can very well skip thischapter without losing the thread of such story as I have to tell, sincefor the most part it is nothing more than the account of a conversationthat I had with Larry. I should add, however, that except for thisconversation I should perhaps not have thought it worth while to writethis book.

(ii)

That autumn, a couple of months after Elliott's death, I spent a week inParis on my way to England. Isabel and Gray, after their grim journey toItaly, had returned to Brittany, but were now once more settled in theapartment in the Rue St. Guillaume. She told me the details of his will.He had left a sum of money for Masses to be said for his soul in thechurch he had built and a further sum for its upkeep. He had bequeatheda handsome amount to the Bishop of Nice to be spent on charitablepurposes. He had left me the equivocal legacy of his eighteenth-centuryp*rnographic library and a beautiful drawing by Fragonard of a satyrengaged with a nymph on a performance that is usually conducted inprivate. It was too indecent to hang on my walls and I am not one togloat upon obscenity in private. He had provided generously for hisservants. His two nephews were to have ten thousand dollars each and theresidue of his estate went to Isabel. What this amounted to she did nottell me and I did not inquire; I gathered from her complacency that itwas quite a lot of money.

For long, ever since he had regained his health, Gray had been impatientto go back to America and get to work again, and though Isabel wascomfortable enough in Paris, his restlessness had affected her too. Hehad for some time been in communication with his friends, but the bestopening that presented itself was contingent on his putting in aconsiderable amount of capital. That he had not got, but Elliott's deathhad put Isabel in possession of very much more than was needed and Graywith her approval was starting negotiations with the view, if everythingturned out as well as it was represented, of leaving Paris and going tolook into the matter for himself. But before that was possible there wasmuch to attend to. They had to come to a reasonable agreement with theFrench Treasury over the inheritance tax. They had to get rid of thehouse at Antibes and the apartment in the Rue St. Guillaume. They had toarrange for a sale at the Hôtel Drouot of Elliott's furniture, picturesand drawings. They were valuable and it seemed wise to wait till springwhen the great collectors were likely to be in Paris. Isabel was notsorry to spend another winter there; the children by now could chatterFrench as easily as they could chatter English and she was glad to letthem have a few more months at a French school. They had grown in threeyears and were now long-legged, skinny, vivacious little creatures, withlittle at present of their mother's beauty, but with nice manners and aninsatiable curiosity.

So much for that.

(iii)

I met Larry by chance. I had asked Isabel about him and she told me thatsince their return from La Baule they had seen little of him. She andGray had by now made a number of friends for themselves, people of theirown generation, and they were more often engaged than during thepleasant weeks when the four of us were so much together. One evening Iwent to the Théâtre Français to see Bérénice. I had read it of course,but had never seen it played and since it is seldom given I wasunwilling to miss the opportunity. It is not one of Racine's best plays,for the subject is tenuous to support five acts, but it is moving andcontains passages that are justly famous. The story is founded on abrief passage in Tacitus: Titus, who loved Bérénice, Queen of Palestine,with passion and who even, as was supposed, had promised her marriage,for reasons of state sent her away from Rome during the first days ofhis reign in despite of his desires and in despite of hers. For theSenate and the people of Rome were violently opposed to their Emperor'salliance with a foreign queen. The play is concerned with the strugglein his breast between love and duty, and when he falters, it is Bérénicewho in the end, assured that he loves her, confirms his purpose andseparates herself from him forever.

I suppose only a Frenchman can appreciate to the full the grace andgrandeur of Racine and the music of his verse, but even a foreigner,once he has accustomed himself to the periwigged formality of the style,can hardly fail to be moved by his passionate tenderness and by thenobility of his sentiment. Racine knew as few have done how much dramais contained in the human voice. To me at all events the roll of thosemellifluous Alexandrines is a sufficient substitute for action, and Ifind the long speeches, working up with infinite skill to the expectedclimax, every bit as thrilling as any hair-raising adventure of themovies.

There was an interval after the third act and I went out to smoke acigarette in the foyer over which presides Houdon's Voltaire with histoothless, sardonic grin. Someone touched me on the shoulder. I turnedround, perhaps with a slight movement of annoyance, for I wanted to beleft with the exaltation with which those sonorous lines had filled me,and saw Larry. As always, I was glad to see him. It was a year since Ihad set eyes on him and I suggested that at the end of the play weshould meet and have a glass of beer together. Larry said he was hungry,for he had had no dinner, and proposed that we should go to Montmartre.We found one another in due course and stepped out into the open. TheThéâtre Français has a musty fug that is peculiar to it. It isimpregnated with the body odour of those unnumbered generations ofsour-faced, unwashed women called ouvreuses who show you to your seatand domineeringly await their tip. It was a relief to get into the freshair, and since the night was fine we walked. The arc lamps in the Avenuede l'Opéra glared so defiantly that the stars above, as though too proudto compete, shrouded their brightness in the dark of their infinitedistance. As we walked we spoke of the performance we had just seen.Larry was disappointed. He would have liked it to be more natural, thelines spoken as people naturally speak and the gestures less theatrical.I thought his point of view mistaken. It was rhetoric, magnificentrhetoric, and I had a notion that it should be spoken rhetorically. Iliked the regular thump of the rhymes; and the stylized gestures, handeddown in a long tradition, seemed to me to suit the temper of that formalart. I could not but think that that was how Racine would have wishedhis play to be played. I had admired the way in which the actors hadcontrived to be human, passionate and true within the limitations thatconfined them. Art is triumphant when it can use convention as aninstrument of its own purpose.

We reached the Avenue de Clichy and went into the Brasserie Graf. It wasnot long past midnight and it was crowded, but we found a table andordered ourselves eggs and bacon. I told Larry I had seen Isabel.

"Gray will be glad to get back to America," he said. "He's a fish out ofwater here. He won't be happy till he's at work again. I daresay he'llmake a lot of money."

"If he does it'll be due to you. You not only cured him in body, but inspirit as well. You restored his confidence in himself."

"I did very little. I merely showed him how to cure himself."

"How did you learn to do that little?"

"By accident. It was when I was in India. I'd been suffering frominsomnia and happened to mention it to an old Yogi I knew and he saidhe'd soon settle that. He did just what you saw me do with Gray and thatnight I slept as I hadn't slept for months. And then, a year later itmust have been, I was in the Himalayas with an Indian friend of mine andhe sprained his ankle. It was impossible to get a doctor and he was ingreat pain. I thought I'd try to do what the old Yogi had done, and itworked. You can believe it or not, he was completely relieved of thepain." Larry laughed. "I can assure you, no one was more surprised thanI. There's nothing to it really; it only means putting the idea into thesufferer's mind."

"Easier said than done."

"Would it surprise you if your arm raised itself from the table withoutany volition of yours?"

"Very much."

"It will. My Indian friend told people what I'd done when we got back tocivilization and brought others to see me. I hated doing it, because Icouldn't quite understand it, but they insisted. Somehow or other, I didthem good. I found I was able to relieve people not only of pain but offear. It's strange how many people suffer from it. I don't only meanfear of closed spaces and fear of heights, but fear of death and what'sworse, fear of life. Often they're people who seem in the best ofhealth, prosperous, without any worry, and yet they're tortured by it.I've sometimes thought it was the most besetting humour of men, and Iasked myself at one time if it was due to some deep animal instinct thatman has inherited from that primeval something that first felt thethrill of life."

I was listening to Larry with expectation, for it was not often that hespoke at any length, and I had an inkling that for once he feltcommunicative. Perhaps the play we had just seen had released someinhibition and the rhythm of its sonorous cadences, as music will, hadovercome his instinctive reserve. Suddenly I realized that something washappening to my hand. I had not given another thought to Larry'shalf-laughing question. I was conscious that my hand no longer rested onthe table, but was raised an inch above it without my willing it. I wastaken aback. I looked at it and saw that it trembled slightly. I felt aqueer tingling in the nerves of my arm, a little jerk, and my hand andforearm lifted of themselves, I to the best of my belief neither aidingnor resisting, until they were several inches from the table. Then Ifelt my whole arm being raised from the shoulder.

"This is very odd," I said.

Larry laughed. I made the slightest effort of will and my hand fell backon to the table.

"It's nothing," he said. "Don't attach any importance to it."

"Were you taught that by the Yogi you spoke to us about when you firstcame back from India?"

"Oh no, he had no patience with that kind of thing. I don't know whetherhe believed that he possessed the powers that some Yogis claim to have,but he would have thought it puerile to exercise them."

Our eggs and bacon arrived and we ate them with good appetite. We drankour beer. We neither of us spoke. He was thinking of I knew not what andI was thinking of him. We finished. I lit a cigarette and he lit a pipe.

"What made you go to India in the first place?" I asked abruptly.

"Chance. At least I thought so at the time. Now I'm inclined to think itwas the inevitable outcome of my years in Europe. Almost all the peoplewho've had most effect on me I seem to have met by chance, yet lookingback it seems as though I couldn't but have met them. It's as if theywere waiting there to be called upon when I needed them. I went to Indiabecause I wanted a rest. I'd been working very hard and wished to sortout my thoughts. I got a job as a deck hand on one of thosepleasure-cruise ships that go around the world. It was going to the Eastand through the Panama Canal to New York. I hadn't been to America forfive years and I was homesick. I was depressed. You know how ignorant Iwas when we first met in Chicago all those years ago. I'd read an awfullot in Europe and seen a lot, but I was no nearer than when I started towhat I was looking for."

I wanted to ask him what that was, but had a feeling that he'd justlaugh, shrug his shoulders and say it was a matter of no consequence.

"But why did you go as a deck hand?" I asked instead. "You had money."

"I wanted the experience. Whenever I've got waterlogged spiritually,whenever I've absorbed all I can for the time, I've found it useful todo something of that sort. That winter, after Isabel and I broke off ourengagement, I worked in a coal mine near Lens for six months."

It was then that he told me of those incidents that I have narrated in aprevious chapter.

"Were you sore when Isabel threw you over?"

Before he answered he looked at me for some time with those strangelyblack eyes of his that seemed then to look inwards rather than out.

"Yes. I was very young. I'd made up my mind that we were going to marry.I'd made plans for the life that we were going to lead together. Iexpected it to be lovely." He laughed faintly. "But it takes two to makea marriage just as it takes two to make a quarrel. It had never occurredto me that the life I offered Isabel was a life that filled her withdismay. If I'd had any sense I'd never have suggested it. She was tooyoung and ardent. I couldn't blame her. I couldn't yield."

It's just possible that the reader will remember that on his flight fromthe farm, after that grotesque encounter with the farmer's widoweddaughter-in-law, he had gone to Bonn. I was anxious to get him tocontinue, but knew I must be careful not to ask more direct questionsthan I could help.

"I've never been to Bonn," I said. "When I was a boy I spent some timeas a student at Heidelberg. It was, I think, the happiest time of mylife."

"I liked Bonn. I spent a year there. I got a room in the house of thewidow of one of the professors at the university who took in a couple ofboarders. She and her two daughters, both of them middle-aged, did thecooking and the housework. I found my fellow boarder was a Frenchman andI was disappointed at first because I wanted to speak nothing butGerman; but he was an Alsatian and he spoke German, if not morefluently, with a better accent than he spoke French. He was dressed likea German pastor and I was surprised to find out after a few days that hewas a Benedictine monk. He'd been granted leave of absence from hismonastery to make researches at the university library. He was a verylearned man, but he didn't look it any more than he looked like my ideaof a monk. He was a tall, stout fellow, with sandy hair, prominent blueeyes and a red, round face. He was shy and reserved and didn't seem towant to have anything much to do with me, but he was very polite in arather elaborate way and always took a civil part in the conversation attable; I only saw him then; as soon as we had finished dinner he wentback to work at the library, and after supper, when I sat in the parlourimproving my German with whichever of the two daughters wasn't washingup, he retired to his room.

"I was surprised when one afternoon, after I'd been there at least amonth, he asked me if I'd care to take a walk with him. He said he couldshow me places in the neighbourhood that he didn't think I'd be likelyto discover for myself. I'm a pretty good walker, but he could outwalkme any day. We must have covered a good fifteen miles on that firstwalk. He asked me what I was doing in Bonn and I said I'd come to learnGerman and get to know something about German literature. He talked veryintelligently. He said he'd be glad to help me in any way he could.After that we went for walks two or three times a week. I discoveredthat he'd taught philosophy for some years. When I was in Paris I'd reada certain amount, Spinoza and Plato and Descartes, but I hadn't read anyof the great German philosophers and I was only too glad to listen whilehe talked about them. One day, when we'd made an excursion across theRhine and were sitting in a beer garden drinking a glass of beer, heasked me if I was a Protestant.

"'I suppose so,' I said.

"He gave me a quick look and I thought I saw in his eyes the glimmer ofa smile. He began to talk about Aeschylus; I'd been learning Greek, youknow, and he knew the great tragedians as I could never hope to knowthem. It was inspiring to hear him. I wondered why he'd suddenly askedme that question. My guardian, Uncle Bob Nelson, was an agnostic, but hewent to church regularly because his patients expected it of him andsent me to Sunday school for the same reason. Martha, our help, was arigid Baptist and she used to frighten my childhood by telling me of thehell fire to which the sinner would be condemned to all eternity. Shetook a real delight in picturing to me the agonies that would be enduredby the various people in the village whom for some reason or other shehad it in for.

"By winter I'd gotten to know Father Ensheim very well. I think he wasrather a remarkable man. I never saw him vexed. He was good-natured andkindly, far more broad-minded than I would have expected, andwonderfully tolerant. His erudition was prodigious and he must haveknown how ignorant I was, but he used to talk to me as though I were aslearned as he. He was very patient with me. He seemed to want nothingbut to be of service to me. One day, I don't know why, I had an attackof lumbago and Frau Grabau, my landlady, insisted on putting me to bedwith hot-water bottles. Father Ensheim, hearing I was laid up, came intomy room to see me after supper. Except that I was in a good deal of painI felt perfectly well. You know what bookish people are, they'reinquisitive about books, and as I put down the book I was reading whenhe came in, he took it up and looked at the title. It was a book aboutMeister Eckhart that I'd found at a bookseller's in the town. He askedme why I was reading it, and I told him I'd been going through a certainamount of mystical literature and told him about Kosti and how he'daroused my interest in the subject. He surveyed me with his prominentblue eyes and there was a look in them that I can only describe asamused tenderness. I had the feeling that he found me rather ridiculous,but felt so much loving-kindness towards me that he didn't like me anythe less. Anyhow I've never much minded if people thought me a bit of afool.

"'What are you looking for in these books?' he asked me.

"'If I knew that,' I answered, 'I'd at least be on the way to findingit.'

"'Do you remember my asking you if you were a Protestant? You said yousupposed so. What did you mean by that?'

"'I was brought up as one,' I said.

"'Do you believe in God?' he asked.

"I don't like personal questions and my first impulse was to tell himthat was no business of his. But there was so much goodness in hisaspect that I felt it impossible to affront him. I didn't know what tosay; I didn't want to answer yes and I didn't want to answer no. It mayhave been the pain I was suffering that enabled me to speak or it mayhave been something in him. Anyhow I told him about myself."

Larry hesitated for a moment and when he went on I knew he wasn'tspeaking to me but to the Benedictine monk. He had forgotten me. I don'tknow what there was in the time or the place that enabled him to speak,without my prompting, of what his natural reticence had so longconcealed.

"Uncle Bob Nelson was very democratic and he sent me to high school atMarvin. It was only because Louisa Bradley nagged him into it that whenI was fourteen he let me go to St. Paul's. I wasn't very good atanything, either at work or games, but I fitted in all right. I think Iwas an entirely normal boy. I was crazy about aviation. Those were theearly days of flying and Uncle Bob was as excited about it as I was; heknew some of the airmen and when I said I wanted to learn to fly he saidhe'd fix it for me. I was tall for my age and when I was sixteen I couldeasily pass for eighteen. Uncle Bob made me promise to keep it a secret,because he knew everyone would be down on him like a ton of bricks forletting me go, but as a matter of fact he helped me to get over toCanada and gave me a letter to someone he knew, and the result was thatby the time I was seventeen I was flying in France.

"They were terrible gimcrack planes we flew in then and you practicallytook your life in your hands each time you went up. The heights we gotto were absurd, judged by present standards, but we didn't know anybetter and thought it wonderful. I loved flying. I couldn't describe thefeeling it gave me, I only knew I felt proud and happy. In the air, 'wayup, I felt that I was part of something very great and very beautiful. Ididn't know what it was all about, I only knew that I wasn't alone anymore, by myself as I was, two thousand feet up, but that I belonged. Ican't help it if it sounds silly. When I was flying above the clouds andthey were like an enormous flock of sheep below me I felt that I was athome with infinitude."

Larry paused. He gazed at me from the caverns of his impenetrable eyes,but I did not know whether he saw me.

"I'd known that men had been killed by the hundred thousand, but Ihadn't seen them killed. It didn't mean very much to me. Then I saw adead man with my own eyes. The sight filled me with shame."

"Shame?" I exclaimed involuntarily.

"Shame, because that boy, he was only three or four years older than me,who'd had such energy and daring, who a moment before had had so muchvitality, who'd been so good, was now just mangled flesh that looked asif it had never been alive."

I didn't say anything. I had seen dead men when I was a medical studentand I had seen many more during the war. What had dismayed me was howtrifling they looked. There was no dignity in them. Marionettes that theshowman had thrown into the discard.

"I didn't sleep that night. I cried. I wasn't frightened for myself; Iwas indignant; it was the wickedness of it that broke me. The war cameto an end and I went home. I'd always been keen on mechanics and ifthere was nothing doing in aviation, I'd intended to get into anautomobile factory. I'd been wounded and had to take it easy for awhile. Then they wanted me to go to work. I couldn't do the sort of workthey wanted me to do. It seemed futile. I'd had a lot of time to think.I kept on asking myself what life was for. After all it was only by luckthat I was alive; I wanted to make something of my life, but I didn'tknow what. I'd never thought much about God. I began to think about himnow. I couldn't understand why there was evil in the world. I knew I wasvery ignorant; I didn't know anyone I could turn to and I wanted tolearn, so I began to read at haphazard.

"When I told Father Ensheim all this he asked me: 'Then you've beenreading for four years? Where have you got?'

"'Nowhere,' I said.

"He looked at me with an air of such radiant benignity that I wasconfused. I didn't know what I'd done to arouse so much feeling in him.He softly drummed his fingers on the table as though he were turning anotion over in his mind.

"'Our wise old Church," he said then, 'has discovered that if you willact as if you believed belief will be granted to you; if you pray withdoubt, but pray with sincerity, your doubt will be dispelled; if youwill surrender yourself to the beauty of that liturgy the power of whichover the human spirit has been proved by the experience of the ages,peace will descend upon you. I am returning to my monastery in a littlewhile. Why don't you come and spend a few weeks with us? You can work inthe fields with our lay brothers; you can read in our library. It willbe an experience no less interesting than working in a coal mine or on aGerman farm.'

"'Why do you suggest it?' I asked.

"'I've been observing you for three months,' he said. 'Perhaps I knowyou better than you know yourself. The distance that separates you fromfaith is no greater than the thickness of a cigarette paper.'

"I didn't say anything to that. It gave me a funny sort of feeling, asthough someone had got hold of my heartstrings and were giving them atug. At last I said I'd think about it. He dropped the subject. For therest of Father Ensheim's stay in Bonn we never spoke of anythingconnected with religion again, but as he was leaving he gave me theaddress of his monastery and told me if I made up my mind to come I hadonly to write him a line and he'd make arrangements. I missed him morethan I expected. The year wore on and it was midsummer. I liked it wellenough in Bonn. I read Goethe and Schiller and Heine. I read Hölderlinand Rilke. Still I wasn't getting anywhere. I thought a lot of whatFather Ensheim had said and at last I decided to accept his offer.

"He met me at the station. The monastery was in Alsace and the countrywas pretty. Father Ensheim presented me to the abbot and then showed meto the cell that had been assigned to me. It had a narrow iron bed, acrucifix on the wall, and by way of furniture only the barestnecessities. The dinner bell rang and I made my way to the refectory. Itwas a huge vaulted chamber. The abbot stood at the door with two monks,one of whom held a basin and the other a towel, and the abbot sprinkleda few drops of water on the hands of the guests by way of washing themand dried them with the towel one of the two monks handed him. Therewere three guests besides myself, two priests who were passing that wayand had stopped off for dinner and an elderly, grouchy Frenchman who wasmaking a retreat.

"The abbot and the two priors, senior and junior, sat at the head of theroom, each at his separate table; the fathers along the two sides of thewalls, while the novices, the lay brothers and the guests sat at tablesin the middle. Grace was said and we ate. A novice took up his positionnear the refectory door and in a monotonous voice read from an edifyingwork. When we had finished grace was said again. The abbot, FatherEnsheim, the guests and the monk in charge of them went into a smallroom where we had coffee and talked of casual things. Then I went backto my cell.

"I stayed there three months. I was very happy. The life exactly suitedme. The library was good and I read a great deal. None of the fatherstried in any way to influence me, but they were glad to talk to me. Iwas deeply impressed by their learning, their piety and theirunworldliness. You mustn't think it was an idle life they led. They wereconstantly occupied. They farmed their own land and worked it themselvesand they were glad to have my help. I enjoyed the splendour of theservices, but the one I liked best of all was Matins. It was at four inthe morning. It was wonderfully moving to sit in the church with thenight all around you while the monks, mysterious in their habits, theircowls drawn over their heads, sang with their strong male voices theplain song of the liturgy. There was something reassuring in theregularity of the daily round, and notwithstanding all the energy thatwas displayed, notwithstanding the activity of thought, you had anabiding sense of repose."

Larry smiled a trifle ruefully.

"Like Rolla, I've come too late into a world too old. I should have beenborn in the Middle Ages when faith was a matter of course; then my waywould have been clear to me and I'd have sought to enter the order. Icouldn't believe. I wanted to believe, but I couldn't believe in a Godwho wasn't better than the ordinary decent man. The monks told me thatGod had created the world for his glorification. That didn't seem to mea very worthy object. Did Beethoven create his symphonies for hisglorification? I don't believe it. I believe he created them because themusic in his soul demanded expression and then all he tried to do was tomake them as perfect as he knew how.

"I used to listen to the monks repeating the Lord's Prayer; I wonderedhow they could continue to pray without misgiving to their heavenlyfather to give them their daily bread. Do children beseech their earthlyfather to give them sustenance? They expect him to do it, they neitherfeel gratitude to him for doing so nor need to, and we have only blamefor a man who brings children into the world that he can't or won'tprovide for. It seemed to me that if an omnipotent creator was notprepared to provide his creatures with the necessities, material andspiritual, of existence he'd have done better not to create them."

"Dear Larry," I said, "I think it's just as well you weren't born in theMiddle Ages. You'd undoubtedly have perished at the stake."

He smiled.

"You've had a great deal of success," he went on. "Do you want to bepraised to your face?"

"It only embarrasses me."

"That's what I should have thought. I couldn't believe that God wantedit either. We didn't think much in the air corps of a fellow who wangleda cushy job out of his C.O. by buttering him up. It was hard for me tobelieve that God thought much of a man who tried to wangle salvation byfulsome flattery. I should have thought the worship most pleasing to himwas to do your best according to your lights.

"But that wasn't the chief thing that bothered me: I couldn't reconcilemyself with that preoccupation with sin that, so far as I could tell,was never entirely absent from the monks' thoughts. I'd known a lot offellows in the air corps. Of course they got drunk when they got achance, and had a girl whenever they could and used foul language; wehad one or two bad hats: one fellow was arrested for passing rubbercheques and was sent to prison for six months; it wasn't altogether hisfault; he'd never had any money before, and when he got more than he'dever dreamt of having, it Went to his head. I'd known bad men in Parisand when I got back to Chicago I knew more, but for the most part theirbadness was due to heredity, which they couldn't help, or to theirenvironment, which they didn't choose: I'm not sure that society wasn'tmore responsible for their crimes than they were. If I'd been God Icouldn't have brought myself to condemn one of them, not even the worst,to eternal damnation. Father Ensheim was broad-minded; he thought thathell was the deprivation of God's presence, but if that is such anintolerable punishment that it can justly be called hell, can oneconceive that a good God can inflict it? After all, he created men, ifhe so created them that it was possible for them to sin, it was becausehe willed it. If I trained a dog to fly at the throat of any strangerwho came into my back yard, it wouldn't be fair to beat him when he didso.

"If an all-good and all-powerful God created the world, why did hecreate evil? The monks said, so that man by conquering the wickedness inhim, by resisting temptation, by accepting pain and sorrow andmisfortune as the trials sent by God to purify him, might at long lastbe made worthy to receive his grace. It seemed to me like sending afellow with a message to some place and just to make it harder for himyou constructed a maze that he had to get through, then dug a moat thathe had to swim and finally built a wall that he had to scale. I wasn'tprepared to believe in an all-wise God who hadn't common sense. I didn'tsee why you shouldn't believe in a God who hadn't created the world, buthad to make the best of the bad job he'd found, a being enormouslybetter, wiser and greater than man, who strove with the evil he hadn'tmade and who might be hoped in the end to overcome it. But on the otherhand I didn't see why you should.

"Those good fathers had no answers that satisfied either my head or myheart to the questions that perplexed me. My place was not with them.When I went to say good-bye to Father Ensheim he didn't ask me whether Ihad profited by the experience in the way he had been so sure I would.He looked at me with inexpressible kindness.

"'I'm afraid I've been a disappointment to you, Father,' I said.

"'No,' he answered. 'You are a deeply religious man who doesn't believein God. God will seek you out. You'll come back. Whether here orelsewhere only God can tell.'"

(iv)

"I settled down in Paris for the rest of the winter. I knew nothing ofscience, and I thought the time had come when I must acquire at least anodding acquaintance with it. I read a lot. I don't know that I learntmuch except that my ignorance was abysmal. But I knew that before. Whenthe spring came I went to the country and stayed at a little inn on ariver near one of those beautiful old French towns where life doesn'tseem to have moved for two hundred years."

I guessed that this was the summer Larry had spent with Suzanne Rouvier,but I did not interrupt him.

"After that I went to Spain. I wanted to see Velasquez and El Greco. Iwondered if art could point out the way to me that religion hadn't. Iwandered about a bit and then came to Seville. I liked it and thoughtI'd spend the winter there."

I had myself been to Seville when I was twenty-three and I too had likedit. I liked its white, tortuous streets, its cathedral, and thewide-spreading plain of the Guadalquivir; but I liked also thoseAndalusian girls with their grace and their gaiety, with their darkshining eyes, the carnation in their hair stressing its blackness and bythe contrast itself more vivid; I liked the rich colour of their skinsand the inviting sensuality of their lips. Then indeed to be young wasvery heaven. When Larry went there he was only a little older than I hadbeen and I could not but ask myself whether it was possible that he hadremained indifferent to the lure of those enchanting creatures. Heanswered my unspoken question.

"I ran across a French painter I'd known in Paris, a fellow calledAuguste Cottet who'd kept Suzanne Rouvier at one time. He'd come toSeville to paint and was living with a girl he'd picked up there. Heasked me to go with them one evening to Eretania to listen to aflamenco singer and they brought along with them a friend of hers. Shewas the prettiest little thing you ever saw. She was only eighteen.She'd got into trouble with a boy and had had to leave her nativevillage because she was going to have a baby. The boy was doing hismilitary service. After she had the baby she put it out to nurse and gota job in the tobacco factory. I took her home with me. She was very gayand very sweet, and after a few days I asked her if she'd like to comeand live with me. She said she would, so we took a couple of rooms in acasa de' huéspedes, a bedroom and a sitting-room. I told her she couldleave her job, but she didn't want to, and that suited me because itleft me my days to myself. We had the use of the kitchen, so she used tomake my breakfast for me before she went to work and then at middayshe'd come back and cook the lunch and in the evening we'd dine at arestaurant and go to a movie or to some place to dance. She looked uponme as a lunatic because I had a rubber bath and insisted on having acold sponge every morning. The baby was farmed out in a village a fewmiles from Seville and we used to go and see it on Sundays. She made nosecret of the fact that she was living with me to make enough money tofurnish the lodging in a tenement they were going to take when her boyfriend was through with his military service. She was a dear littlething and I'm sure she's made her Paco a good wife. She was cheerful,good-tempered and affectionate. She looked upon what you delicately callsexual congress as a natural function of the body like any other. Shetook pleasure in it and she was happy to give pleasure. She was ofcourse a little animal, but a very nice, attractive, domesticatedanimal.

"Then one evening she told me that she'd had a letter from Paco inSpanish Morocco, where he was doing his service, to say that he was tobe released and would arrive in Cadiz in a couple of days. She packedher belongings next morning, slipped her money in her stocking and Itook her to the station. She gave me a hearty kiss as I put her into therailway carriage, but she was too excited at the thought of seeing herlover again to have a thought for me and I'm pretty sure that before thetrain was well out of the station she'd forgotten my existence.

"I stayed on in Seville and in the fall I set out on the journey thatlanded me in India."

(v)

It was getting late. The crowd had thinned out and only a few tableswere occupied. The people who had been sitting there because they hadnothing else to do had gone home. Those who had been to a play or apicture and had come to have a drink or a bite to eat had left. Now andthen latecomers straggled in. I saw a tall man, evidently an Englishman,come in with a young rough. He had the long, washed-out face withthinning wavy hair of the British intellectual and evidently sufferedfrom the delusion common to many that when you are abroad no one youknow at home can possibly recognize you. The young rough greedily ate agreat plate of sandwiches while his companion watched him with amusedbenevolence. What an appetite! I saw one man whom I knew by sightbecause we went to the same barber's at Nice. He was stout, elderly andgray-haired, with a puffy red face and heavy pouches under his eyes. Hewas a Middle Western banker who had left his native city after the crashrather than face an investigation. I do not know whether he hadcommitted any crime; if he had, he was perhaps too small fry to put theauthorities to the trouble of extraditing him. He had a pompous mannerand the false heartiness of a cheap politician, but his eyes werefrightened and unhappy. He was never quite drunk and never quite sober.He was always with some harlot who was obviously getting all she couldout of him, and he was now with two painted middle-aged women whotreated him with a mockery they didn't trouble to conceal while he, onlyhalf understanding what they said, giggled fatuously. The gay life! Iwondered if he wouldn't have done better to stay at home and take hismedicine. One day women would have squeezed him dry and then there wouldbe nothing left for him but the river or an overdose of veronal.

Between two and three there was a slight increase of custom and Isupposed the night clubs were closing their doors. A bunch of youngAmericans strolled in, very drunk and noisy, but they didn't stay long.Not far from us two fat, sombre women, tightly fitted into mannishclothes, sat side by side, drinking whiskies and sodas in gloomysilence. A party in evening dress put in an appearance, what they callin French gens du monde, who had evidently been doing the rounds andnow wanted a spot of supper to finish up with. They came and went. Mycuriosity had been excited by a little man, quietly dressed, who hadbeen sitting there for an hour or more with a glass of beer in front ofhim reading the paper. He had a neat black beard and wore pince-nez. Atlast a woman came in and joined him. He gave her a nod devoid offriendliness and I conjectured that he was annoyed because she had kepthim waiting. She was young, rather shabby, but heavily painted, andlooked very tired. Presently I noticed her take something out of her bagand hand it to him. Money. He looked at it and his face darkened. Headdressed her in words I could not hear, but from her manner I guessedthey were abusive, and she seemed to be making excuses. Suddenly heleant over and gave her a resounding smack on the cheek. She gave a cryand began to sob. The manager, drawn by the disturbance, came up to seewhat was the matter. It looked as if he were telling them to get out ifthey couldn't behave. The girl turned on him and shrilly, so that oneheard every word, told him in foul language to mind his own business.

"If he slapped my face it's because I deserved it," she cried.

Women! I had always thought that to live on a woman's immoral earningsyou must be a strapping flashy fellow with sex appeal, ready with yourknife or your gun; it was astonishing that such a puny creature, whomight have been a lawyer's clerk from his appearance, could get afooting in such an overcrowded profession.

(vi)

The waiter who had served us was going off duty and to get his tippresented the bill. We paid and ordered coffee.

"Well?" I said.

I felt that Larry was in the mood to talk and I knew that I was in themood to listen.

"Aren't I boring you?"

"No."

"Well, we got to Bombay. The ship was stopping there for three days togive the tourists a chance to see the sights and make excursions. On thethird day I got the afternoon off and went ashore. I walked about for awhile, looking at the crowd: what a conglomeration! Chinese,Mohammedans, Hindus, Tamils as black as your hat; and those great humpedbullocks with their long horns that draw the carts! Then I went toElephanta to see the caves. An Indian had joined us at Alexandria forthe passage to Bombay and the tourists were rather sniffy about him. Hewas a fat little man with a brown round face and he wore a thick tweedsuit of black and green check and a clerical collar. I was having abreath of air on deck one night and he came up and spoke to me. I didn'twant to talk to anyone just then, I wanted to be alone; he asked me alot of questions and I'm afraid I was rather short with him. Anyhow Itold him I was a student working my passage back to America.

"'You should stop off in India,' he said. 'The East has more to teachthe West than the West conceives.'

"'Oh yes?' I said.

"'At any rate,' he went on, 'be sure you go and see the caves atElephanta. You'll never regret it.'" Larry interrupted himself to ask mea question. "Have you ever been to India?"

"Never."

"Well, I was looking at the colossal image with its three heads which isthe great sight at Elephanta and wondering what it was all about when Iheard someone behind me say: 'I see you've taken my advice.' I turnedround and it took me a minute to recognize who it was that had spoken tome. It was the little man in the heavy check suit and the clericalcollar, but now he was wearing a long saffron robe, the robe, I knewlater, of the Ramakrishna Swamis; and instead of the funny, splutteringlittle guy he'd been before, he was dignified and rather splendid. Weboth stared at the colossal bust.

"'Brahma, the Creator,' he said. 'Vishnu the Preserver and Siva theDestroyer. The three manifestations of the Ultimate Reality.'

"'I'm afraid I don't quite understand,' I said.

"I'm not surprised,' he answered, with a little smile on his lips and atwinkle in his eyes, as though he were gently mocking me. 'A God thatcan be understood is no God. Who can explain the Infinite in words?'

"He joined the palms of his hands together and with just the indicationof a bow strolled on. I stayed looking at those three mysterious heads.Perhaps because I was in a receptive mood, I was strangely stirred. Youknow how sometimes you try to recall a name; it's on the tip of yourtongue, but you just can't get it: that was the feeling I had then. WhenI came out of the caves I sat for a long while on the steps and lookedat the sea. All I knew about Brahmanism were those verses of Emerson andI tried to remember them. It exasperated me that I couldn't and when Iwent back to Bombay I went into a bookshop to see if I could find avolume of poetry that had them in. They're in the Oxford Book ofEnglish Verse. D'you remember them?

"They reckon ill who leave me out;
When me they fly, I am the wings;
I am the doubter and the doubt,
And I the hymn the Brahmin sings.

"I had supper in a native eating-house and then, as I didn't have to beon board till ten, I went and walked on the Maidan and looked at thesea. I thought I'd never seen so many stars in the sky. The cool wasdelicious after the heat of the day. I found a public garden and sat ona bench. It was very dark there and silent white figures flitted to andfro. That wonderful day, with the brilliant sunshine, the coloured,noisy crowds, the smell of the East, acrid and aromatic, enchanted me;and like an object, a splash of colour that a painter puts in to pullhis composition together, those three enormous heads of Brahma, Vishnuand Siva gave a mysterious significance to it all. My heart began tobeat like mad because I'd suddenly become aware of an intense convictionthat India had something to give me that I had to have. It seemed to methat a chance was offered to me and I must take it there and then or itwould never be offered me again. I made up my mind quickly. I decidednot to go back to the ship. I'd left nothing there but a few things in agrip. I walked slowly back to the native quarter and looked about for ahotel. I found one after a while and took a room. I had the clothes Istood up in, some loose cash, my passport and my letter of credit; Ifelt so free, I laughed out loud.

"The ship was sailing at eleven and just to be on the safe side I stayedin my room till then. I went down to the quay and watched her pull out.After that I went to the Ramakrishna Mission and routed out the Swamiwho'd spoken to me at Elephanta. I didn't know his name, but I explainedthat I wanted to see the Swami who'd just arrived from Alexandria. Itold him I'd decided to stay in India and asked him what I ought to see.We had a long talk and at last he said he was going to Benares thatnight and asked me if I'd like to go with him. I jumped at it. We wentthird-class. The carriage was full of people eating and drinking andtalking and the heat was terrific. I didn't get a wink of sleep and nextmorning I was pretty tired, but the Swami was as fresh as a daisy. Iasked him how come and he said: 'By meditation on the formless one; Ifound rest in the Absolute.' I didn't know what to think, but I couldsee with my own eyes that he was as alert and wide awake as though he'dhad a good night's sleep in a comfortable bed.

"When at last we got to Benares a young man of my own age came to meetmy companion and the Swami asked him to find me a room. His name wasMahendra and he was a teacher at the university. He was a nice, kindly,intelligent fellow and he seemed to take as great a fancy to me as Itook to him. That evening he took me out in a boat on the Ganges; it wasa thrill for me, very beautiful with the city crowding down to thewater's edge, and awe-inspiring; but next morning he had somethingbetter to show me, he fetched me at my hotel before dawn and took me outon the river again. I saw something I could never have believedpossible, I saw thousands upon thousands of people come down to taketheir lustral bath and pray. I saw one tall gaunt fellow, with a mass oftangled hair and a great ragged beard, with nothing but a jock-strap tocover his nakedness, stand with his long arms outstretched, his head up;and in a loud voice pray to the rising sun. I can't tell you what animpression it made on me. I spent six months in Benares and I went overand over again on the Ganges at dawn to see that strange sight. I nevergot over the wonder of it. Those people believed not halfheartedly, notwith reservation or uneasy doubt, but with every fibre of their being.

"Everyone was very kind to me. When they discovered I hadn't come toshoot tigers or to buy or sell anything, but only to learn, they dideverything to help me. They were pleased that I should wish to learnHindustani and found teachers for me. They lent me books. They werenever tired of answering my questions. Do you know anything aboutHinduism?"

"Very little," I answered.

"I should have thought it would interest you. Can there be anything morestupendous than the conception that the universe has no beginning and noend, but passes everlastingly from growth to equilibrium, fromequilibrium to decline, from decline to dissolution, from dissolution togrowth, and so on to all eternity?"

"And what do the Hindus think is the object of this endless recurrence?"

"I think they'd say that such is the nature of the Absolute. You see,they believe that the purpose of creation is to serve as a stage for thepunishment or reward of the deeds of the soul's earlier existences."

"Which presupposes belief in the transmigration of souls."

"It's a belief held by two thirds of the human race."

"The fact that a great many people believe something is no guarantee ofits truth."

"No, but at least it makes it worthy of consideration. Christianityabsorbed so much of Neo-Platonism, it might very easily have absorbedthat too, and in point of fact there was an early Christian sect thatbelieved in it, but it was declared heretical. Except for thatChristians would believe in it as confidently as they believe in theresurrection of Christ."

"Am I right in thinking that it means that the soul passes from body tobody in an endless course of experience occasioned by the merit ordemerit of previous works?"

"I think so."

"But you see, I'm not only my spirit but my body, and who can decide howmuch I, my individual self, am conditioned by the accident of my body?Would Byron have been Byron but for his club foot, or DostoyevskiDostoyevski without his epilepsy?"

"The Indians wouldn't speak of an accident. They would answer that it'syour actions in previous lives that have determined your soul to inhabitan imperfect body." Larry drummed idly on the table and, lost inthought, gazed into space. Then, with a faint smile on his lips and areflective look in his eyes, he went on. "Has it occurred to you thattransmigration is at once an explanation and a justification of the evilof the world? If the evils we suffer are the result of sins committed inour past lives we can bear them with resignation and hope that if inthis one we strive towards virtue our future lives will be lessafflicted. But it's easy enough to bear our own evils, all we need forthat is a little manliness; what's intolerable is the evil, often sounmerited in appearance, that befalls others. If you can persuadeyourself that it is the inevitable result of the past you may pity, youmay do what you can to alleviate, and you should, but you have no causeto be indignant."

"But why didn't God create a world free from suffering and misery at thebeginning when there was neither merit nor demerit in the individual todetermine his actions?"

"The Hindus would say that there was no beginning. The individual soul,co-existent with the universe, has existed from all eternity and owesits nature to some prior existence."

"And does the belief in the transmigration of souls have a practicaleffect on the lives of those who believe it? After all, that is thetest."

"I think it has. I can tell you of one man I know personally on whoselife it certainly had a very practical effect. The first two or threeyears I was in India I lived mostly in native hotels, but now and thensomeone asked me to stay with him and once or twice I lived in grandeuras the guest of a maharajah. Through one of my friends in Benares I gotan invitation to stay in one of the smaller northern states. The capitalwas lovely; 'a rose-red city half as old as time.' I was recommended tothe Minister of Finance. He'd had a European education and had been toOxford. When you talked to him you got the impression of a progressive,intelligent and enlightened man; and he had the reputation of being anextremely efficient minister and a clever, astute politician. He woreEuropean clothes and was very natty in appearance. He was rather anice-looking fellow, a little on the stout side as Indians tend tobecome in middle age, with a close-cropped, neat moustache. He oftenasked me to go to his house. He had a large garden and we'd sit underthe shade of great trees and talk. He had a wife and two grown-upchildren. You'd have taken him for just the ordinary, rather commonplaceAnglicized Indian and I was staggered when I found out that in a year,when he reached the age of fifty, he was going to resign his profitableposition, dispose of his property to his wife and children and go outinto the world as a wandering mendicant. But the most surprising partwas that his friends, and the maharajah, accepted it as a settled thingand looked upon it not as an extraordinary proceeding but as a verynatural one.

"One day I said to him: 'You, who are so liberal, who know the world,who've read so much, science, philosophy, literature--do you in yourheart of hearts believe in reincarnation?'

"His whole face changed. It became the face of a visionary.

"'My dear friend,' he said, 'if I didn't believe in it life would haveno meaning for me.'"

"And do you believe in it, Larry?" I asked.

"That's a very difficult question to answer. I don't think it's possiblefor us Occidentals to believe in it as implicitly as these Orientals do.It's in their blood and bones. With us it can only be an opinion. Ineither believe in it nor disbelieve in it."

He paused for a moment and with his face resting on his hand looked downat the table. Then he leant back.

"I should like to tell you of a very strange experience I had once. Iwas practicing meditation one night in my little room at the Ashrama asmy Indian friends had taught me to do. I had lit a candle and wasconcentrating my attention on its flame, and after a time, through theflame, but quite clearly, I saw a long line of figures one behind theother. The foremost was an elderly lady in a lace cap with gray ringletsthat hung down over her ears. She wore a tight black bodice and a blacksilk flounced skirt--the sort of clothes, I think, they wore in theseventies, and she was standing full face to me in a gracious, diffidentattitude, her arms hanging straight down her sides with the palmstowards me. The expression on her lined face was kindly, sweet and mild.Immediately behind her, but sideways so that I saw his profile, with agreat hooked nose and thick lips, was a tall gaunt Jew in a yellowgabardine with a yellow skullcap on his thick dark hair. He had thestudious look of a scholar and an air of grim and at the same timepassionate austerity. Behind him, but facing me and as distinct asthough there were no one between us, was a young man with a cheerfulruddy countenance, whom you couldn't have taken for anything but anEnglishman of the sixteenth century. He stood firmly on his feet, hislegs a little apart, and he had a bold, reckless, wanton look. He wasdressed all in red, grandly as though it were a court dress, withbroad-toed velvet shoes on his feet and a flat velvet cap on his head.Behind those three there was an endless chain of figures, like a queueoutside a movie house, but they were dim and I couldn't see what theylooked like. I was only aware of their vague shapes and of the movementthat passed through them like wheat waving in a summer breeze. In alittle while, I don't know whether it was in a minute, or five, or ten,they faded slowly into the darkness of the night and there was nothingbut the steady flame of the candle."

Larry gave a little smile.

"Of course it may be that I'd fallen into a doze and dreamt. It may bethat my concentration on that feeble flame had induced a sort ofhypnotic condition in me and that those three figures that I saw asdistinctly as I see you were recollections of pictures preserved in mysubconscious. But it may be that they were myself in past lives. It maybe that I was not so very long ago an old lady in New England and beforethat a Levantine Jew and somewhere back, soon after Sebastian Cabot hadsailed from Bristol, a gallant at the Court of Henry Prince of Wales."

"What eventually happened to your friend of the rose-red city?"

"Two years later I was down south at a place called Madura. One night inthe temple someone touched me on the arm. I looked around and saw abearded man with long black hair, dressed in nothing but a loincloth,with the staff and the begging bowl of the holy man. It was not till hespoke that I recognized him. It was my friend. I was so astounded that Ididn't know what to say. He asked me what I'd been doing and I told him;he asked me where I was going and I said to Travancore; he told me to goand see Shri Ganesha. 'He will give you what you're looking for,' hesaid. I asked him to tell me about him, but he smiled and said I'd findout all that was necessary for me to know when I saw him. I'd got overmy surprise by then and asked him what he was doing in Madura. He saidhe was making a pilgrimage on foot to the holy places of India. I askedhim how he ate and how he slept. He told me that when anyone offered himshelter he slept on the veranda, but otherwise under a tree or in theprecincts of a temple; and as for food, if people offered him a meal heate it and if they didn't he went without. I looked at him: 'You've lostweight,' I said. He laughed and answered that he felt all the better forit. Then he said good-bye to me--it was funny to hear that guy in aloincloth say, 'Well, so long, old chap'--and stepped into that part ofthe temple where I couldn't follow him.

"I stayed in Madura for some time. I think it's the only temple in Indiain which the white man can walk about freely so long as he doesn't enterthe holy of holies. At nightfall it was packed with people. Men, womenand children. The men, stripped to the waist, wore dhoties, and theirforeheads, and often their chests and arms, were thickly smeared withthe white ash of burnt cow dung. You saw them making obeisance at oneshrine or another and sometimes lying full length on the ground, facedownwards, in the ritual attitude of prostration. They prayed andrecited litanies. They called to one another, greeted one another,quarrelled with one another, heatedly argued with one another. There wasan ungodly row, and yet in some mysterious way God seemed to be near andliving.

"You pass through long halls, the roof supported by sculptured columns,and at the foot of each column a religious mendicant is seated; each hasin front of him a bowl for offerings or a small mat on which thefaithful now and again throw a copper coin. Some are clad; some arealmost naked. Some look at you vacantly as you pass; some are reading,silently or aloud, and appear unconscious of the streaming throng. Ilooked for my friend among them; I never saw him again. I suppose heproceeded on the journey to his goal."

"And what was that?"

"Liberation from the bondage of rebirth. According to the Vedantists theself, which they call the atman and we call the soul, is distinct fromthe body and its senses, distinct from the mind and its intelligence; itis not part of the Absolute, for the Absolute, being infinite, can haveno parts, but the Absolute itself. It is uncreated; it has existed frometernity and when at last it has cast off the seven veils of ignorancewill return to the infinitude from which it came. It is like a drop ofwater that has arisen from the sea and in a shower has fallen into apuddle, then drifts into a brook, finds its way into a stream, afterthat into a river, passing through mountain gorges and wide plains,winding this way and that, obstructed by rocks and fallen trees, till atlast it reaches the boundless seas from which it rose."

"But that poor little drop of water, when it has once more become onewith the sea, has surely lost its individuality."

Larry grinned.

"You want to taste sugar, you don't want to become sugar. What isindividuality but the expression of our egoism? Until the soul has shedthe last trace of that it cannot become one with the Absolute."

"You talk very familiarly of the Absolute, Larry, and it's an imposingword. What does it actually signify to you?"

"Reality. You can't say what it is; you can only say what it isn't. It'sinexpressible. The Indians call it Brahman. It's nowhere and everywhere.All things imply and depend upon it. It's not a person, it's not athing, it's not a cause. It has no qualities. It transcends permanenceand change; whole and part, finite and infinite. It is eternal becauseits completeness and perfection are unrelated to time. It is truth andfreedom."

"Golly," I said to myself, but to Larry: "But how can a purelyintellectual conception be a solace to the suffering human race? Menhave always wanted a personal God to whom they can turn in theirdistress for comfort and encouragement."

"It may be that at some far distant day greater insight will show themthat they must look for comfort and encouragement in their own souls. Imyself think that the need to worship is no more than the survival of anold remembrance of cruel gods that had to be propitiated. I believe thatGod is within me or nowhere. If that's so, whom or what am I toworship--myself? Men are on different levels of spiritual development,and so the imagination of India has evolved the manifestations of theAbsolute that are known as Brahma, Vishnu, Siva and by a hundred othernames. The Absolute is in Isvara, the creator and ruler of the world,and it is in the humble fetish before which the peasant in his sunbakedfield places the offering of a flower. The multitudinous gods of Indiaare but expedients to lead to the realization that the self is one withthe supreme self."

I looked at Larry reflectively.

"I wonder just what it was that attracted you to this austere faith," Isaid.

"I think I can tell you. I've always felt that there was somethingpathetic in the founders of religion who made it a condition ofsalvation that you should believe in them. It's as though they neededyour faith to have faith in themselves. They remind you of those oldpagan gods who grew wan and faint if they were not sustained by theburnt offerings of the devout. Advaita doesn't ask you to take anythingon trust; it asks only that you should have a passionate craving to knowReality; it states that you can experience God as surely as you canexperience joy or pain. And there are men in India today--hundreds ofthem for all I know--who have the certitude that they have done so. Ifound something wonderfully satisfying in the notion that you can attainReality by knowledge. In later ages the sages of India in recognition ofhuman infirmity admitted that salvation may be won by the way of loveand the way of works, but they never denied that the noblest way, thoughthe hardest, is the way of knowledge, for its instrument is the mostprecious faculty of man, his reason."

(vii)

I must interrupt myself to make it plain that I am not attempting hereto give anything in the nature of a description of the philosophicalsystem known as Vedanta. I have not the knowledge to do so, but even ifI had this would not be the proper place for it. Our conversation was along one and Larry told me a great deal more than I have felt itpossible to set down in what after all purports to be a novel. Myconcern is with Larry. I would not have touched on such an intricatesubject at all except that it seemed to me that without at least someslight account of his speculations and the singular experiences thatwere perhaps occasioned by them I could not give plausibility to theline of conduct which he was led to adopt and with which I shallpresently acquaint the reader. It irks me that I cannot hope with anywords of mine to give an idea of the pleasantness of his voice thatinvested even his most casual utterances with persuasiveness or of theconstant change in his expression, from grave to gently gay, fromreflective to playful, that accompanied his thoughts like the ripple ofa piano when the violins with a great sweep sing the several themes of aconcerto. Although he spoke of serious things he spoke of them quitenaturally, in a conversational tone, with a certain diffidence, perhaps,but without any more constraint than if he had been speaking of theweather and the crops. If I have given the impression that there wasanything didactic in his manner the fault is mine. His modesty was asevident as his sincerity.

There was no more than a sprinkling of people in the café. Theroisterers had long since departed. The sad creatures who make abusiness of love had gone to their sordid dwellings. Now and then atired-looking man came in to have a glass of beer and a sandwich, orone, who seemed only half awake, for a cup of coffee. White-collarworkers. One had been on a night shift and was going home to bed; theother, roused by the call of an alarm clock, was on his unwilling way tothe long day's labour. Larry appeared as unconscious of the time as ofthe surroundings. I have found myself in the course of my life in manystrange situations. More than once I have been within a hair's breadthof death. More than once I have touched hands with romance and known it.I have ridden a pony through Central Asia along the road that Marco Polotook to reach the fabulous lands of Cathay; I have drunk a glass ofRussian tea in a prim parlour in Petrograd while a soft-spoken littleman in a black coat and striped trousers told me how he had assassinateda grand duke; I have sat in a drawing-room in Westminster and listenedto the serene geniality of a piano trio of Haydn's while the bombs werecrashing without; but I do not think I have ever found myself in astranger situation than when I sat on the red-plush seats of that garishrestaurant for hour after hour while Larry talked of God and eternity,of the Absolute and the weary wheel of endless becoming.

(viii)

Larry had been silent for a few minutes, and unwilling to hurry him, Iwaited. Presently he gave me a friendly little smile as though he hadsuddenly once more become aware of me.

"When I got down to Travancore I found I needn't have asked forinformation about Shri Ganesha. Everyone knew of him. For many yearshe'd lived in a cave in the hills, but finally he'd been persuaded tomove down to the plain where some charitable person had given him a plotof land and had built a little adobe house for him. It was a long wayfrom Trivandrum, the capital, and it took me all day, first by train andthen by bullock cart, to get to the Ashrama. I found a young man at theentrance of the compound and asked him if I could see the Yogi. I'dbrought with me the basket of fruit which is the customary gift tooffer. In a few minutes the young man came back and led me into a longhall with windows all around it. In one corner Shri Ganesha sat in theattitude of meditation on a raised dais covered with a tiger skin. 'I'vebeen expecting you,' he said. I was surprised, but supposed my friend ofMadura had told him something about me. But he shook his head when Imentioned his name. I presented my fruit and he told the young man totake it away. We were left alone and he looked at me without speaking. Idon't know how long the silence lasted. It might have been for half anhour. I've told you what he looked like; what I haven't told you is theserenity that he irradiated, the goodness, the peace, the selflessness.I was hot and tired after my journey, but gradually I began to feelwonderfully rested. Before he'd said another word I knew that this wasthe man I'd been seeking."

"Did he speak English?" I interrupted.

"No. But, you know, I'm pretty quick at languages, I'd picked up enoughTamil to understand and make myself understood in the South. At last hespoke.

"'What have you come here for?' he asked.

"I began to tell him how I'd come to India and how I'd passed my timefor three years; how, on report of their wisdom and sanctity, I'd goneto one holy man after another and had found no one to give me what Ilooked for. He interrupted me.

"'All that I know. There is no need to tell me. What have you come herefor?'

"'So that you may be my Guru,' I answered.

"'Brahman alone is the Guru,' he said.

"He continued to look at me with a strange intensity and then suddenlyhis body became rigid, his eyes seemed to turn inwards and I saw thathe'd fallen into the trance which the Indians call Samadhi and in whichthey hold the duality of subject and object vanishes and you becomeKnowledge Absolute. I was sitting cross-legged on the floor, in front ofhim, and my heart beat violently. After how long a time I don't know hesighed and I realized that he had recovered normal consciousness. Hegave me a glance sweet with loving-kindness.

"'Stay,' he said. 'They will show you where you may sleep.'

"I was given as a dwelling place the shack in which Shri Ganesha hadlived when first he came down to the plain. The hall in which he nowpassed both day and night had been built when disciples gathered aroundhim and more and more people, attracted by his fame, came to visit him.So that I mightn't be conspicuous I adopted the comfortable Indian dressand got so sunburnt that unless your attention was drawn to me you mighthave taken me for a native. I read a great deal. I meditated. I listenedto Shri Ganesha when he chose to talk; he didn't talk very much, but hewas always willing to answer questions and it was wonderfully inspiringto listen to him. It was like music in your ears. Though in his youth hehad himself practiced very severe austerities he did not enjoin them onhis disciples. He sought to wean them from the slavery of selfhood,passion and sense and told them that they could acquire liberation bytranquillity, restraint, renunciation, resignation, by steadfastness ofmind and by an ardent desire for freedom. People used to come from thenear-by town three or four miles away, where there was a famous templeto which great crowds flocked once a year for a festival; they came fromTrivandrum and from far-off places to tell him their troubles, to askhis advice, to listen to his teaching; and all went away strengthened insoul and at peace with themselves. What he taught was very simple. Hetaught that we are all greater than we know and that wisdom is the meansto freedom. He taught that it is not essential to salvation to retirefrom the world, but only to renounce the self. He taught that work donewith no selfish interest purifies the mind and that duties areopportunities afforded to man to sink his separate self and become onewith the universal self. But it wasn't his teaching that was soremarkable; it was the man himself, his benignity, his greatness ofsoul, his saintliness. His presence was a benediction. I was very happywith him. I felt that at last I had found what I wanted. The weeks, themonths passed with unimaginable rapidity. I proposed to stay either tillhe died and he told us that he did not intend very much longer toinhabit his perishable body, or till I received illumination, that statewhen you have at last burst the bonds of ignorance, and know with acertainty there is no disputing that you and the Absolute are one."

"And then?"

"Then, if what they say is true, there is nothing more. The soul'scourse on earth is ended and it will return no more."

"And is Shri Ganesha dead?" I asked.

"Not so far as I know."

As he spoke he saw what was implied in my question and gave a lightlaugh. He went on after a moment's hesitation, but in such a manner asled me at first to suppose that he wished to avoid answering the secondquestion that he well knew was on the tip of my tongue, the question, ofcourse, whether he had received illumination.

"I didn't stay at the Ashrama continuously. I was lucky enough to makethe acquaintance of a native forestry officer whose permanent residencewas on the outskirts of a village at the foot of the mountains. He was adevotee of Shri Ganesha and when he could get away from his work cameand spent two or three days with us. He was a nice fellow and we hadlong talks. He liked to practice his English on me. After I'd known himfor some time, he told me that the forestry service had a bungalow up inthe mountains and if ever I wanted to go there to be by myself he wouldgive me the key. I went there now and then. It was a two-day journey;first you had to go by bus to the forestry officer's village, then youhad to walk, but when you got there it was magnificent in its grandeurand its solitude. I took what I could in a knapsack on my back and hireda bearer to carry provisions for me, and I stayed till they wereexhausted. It was only a log cabin with a cookhouse behind it and forfurniture there was nothing but a trestle bed on which to put yoursleeping mat, a table and a couple of chairs. It was cool up there andat times it was pleasant to light a fire at night. It gave me awonderful thrill to know that there wasn't a living soul within twentymiles of me. At night I used often to hear the roar of a tiger or theracket of elephants as they crashed through the jungle. I used to takelong walks in the forest. There was one place where I loved to sitbecause from it I saw the mountains spread before me and below, a laketo which at dusk the wild animals, deer, pig, bison, elephant, leopardcame to drink.

"When I'd been at the Ashrama just two years I went up to my forestretreat for a reason that'll make you smile. I wanted to spend mybirthday there. I got there the day before. Next morning I awoke beforedawn and I thought I'd go and see the sunrise from the place I've justtold you about. I knew the way blindfold. I sat down under a tree andwaited. It was night still, but the stars were pale in the sky, and daywas at hand. I had a strange feeling of suspense. So gradually that Iwas hardly aware of it light began to filter through the darkness,slowly, like a mysterious figure slinking between the trees. I felt myheart beating as though at the approach of danger. The sun rose."

Larry paused and a rueful smile played on his lips.

"I have no descriptive talent, I don't know the words to paint apicture, I can't tell you, so as to make you see it, how grand the sightwas that was displayed before me as the day broke in its splendour.Those mountains with their deep jungle, the mist still entangled in thetreetops, and the bottomless lake far below me. The sun caught the lakethrough a cleft in the heights and it shone like burnished steel. I wasravished with the beauty of the world. I'd never known such exaltationand such a transcendent joy. I had a strange sensation, a tingling thatarose in my feet and travelled up to my head, and I felt as though Iwere suddenly released from my body and as pure spirit partook of aloveliness I had never conceived. I had a sense that a knowledge morethan human possessed me, so that everything that had been confused wasclear and everything that had perplexed me was explained. I was so happythat it was pain and I struggled to release myself from it, for I feltthat if it lasted a moment longer I should die; and yet it was suchrapture that I was ready to die rather than forego it. How can I tellyou what I felt? No words can tell the ecstasy of my bliss. When I cameto myself I was exhausted and trembling. I fell asleep.

"It was high noon when I woke. I walked back to the bungalow, and I wasso light at heart that it seemed to me that I hardly touched the ground.I made myself some food, gosh, I was hungry, and I lit my pipe."

Larry lit his pipe now.

"I dared not think that this was illumination that I, Larry Darrell ofMarvin, Illinois, had received when others striving for it for years,with austerity and mortification, still waited."

"What makes you think that it was anything more than a hypnoticcondition induced by your state of mind combined with the solitude, themystery of the dawn and the burnished steel of your lake?"

"Only my overwhelming sense of its reality. After all it was anexperience of the same order as the mystics have had all over the worldthrough all the centuries. Brahmins in India, Sufis in Persia, Catholicsin Spain, Protestants in New England; and so far as they've been able todescribe what defies description they've described it in similar terms.It's impossible to deny the fact of its occurrence; the only difficultyis to explain it. If I was for moment one with the Absolute or if it wasan inrush from the subconscious of an affinity with the universal spiritwhich is latent in all of us, I wouldn't know."

Larry paused for an instant and threw me a quizzical glance.

"By the way, can you touch your little finger with your thumb?" heasked.

"Of course," I said with a laugh, proving it with the appropriateaction.

"Are you aware that that's something that only man and the primates cando? It's because the thumb is opposable to the other digits that thehand is the admirable instrument it is. Isn't it possible that theopposable thumb, doubtless in a rudimentary form, was developed in theremote ancestor of man and the gorilla in certain individuals, and was acharacteristic that only became common to all after innumerablegenerations? Isn't it at least possible that these experiences ofoneness with Reality that so many diverse persons have had point to adevelopment in the human consciousness of a sixth sense which in thefar, far future will be common to all men so that they may have asdirect a perception of the Absolute as we have now of the objects ofsenses?"

"And how would you expect that to affect them?" I asked.

"I can as little tell you that as the first creature that found it couldtouch its little finger with its thumb could have told you what infiniteconsequences were entailed in that insignificant action. So far as I'mconcerned I can only tell you that the intense sense of peace, joy andassurance that possessed me in that moment of rapture abides with mestill and that the vision of the world's beauty is as fresh and vividnow as when first my eyes were dazzled by it."

"But Larry, surely your idea of the Absolute forces you to believe thatthe world and its beauty are merely an illusion--the fabric of Maya."

"It's a mistake to think that the Indians look upon the world as anillusion; they don't; all they claim is that it's not real in the samesense as the Absolute. Maya is only a speculation devised by thoseardent thinkers to explain how the Infinite could produce the Finite.Samkara, the wisest of them all, decided that it was an insolublemystery. You see, the difficulty is to explain why Brahman, which isBeing, Bliss and Intelligence, which is unalterable, which ever is andforever maintains itself in rest, which lacks nothing and needs nothingand so knows neither change nor strife, which is perfect, should createthe world. Well, if you ask that question the answer you're generallygiven is that the Absolute created the world in sport without referenceto any purpose. But when you think of flood and famine, of earthquakeand hurricane and all the ills that flesh is heir to, your moral senseis outraged at the idea that so much that is shocking can have beencreated in play. Shri Ganesha had too much kindliness of heart tobelieve that; he looked upon the world as the expression of the Absoluteand as the overflow of its perfection. He taught that God cannot helpcreating and that the world is the manifestation of his nature. When Iasked how, if the world was a manifestation of the nature of a perfectbeing, it should be so hateful that the only reasonable aim man can setbefore him is to liberate himself from its bondage, Shri Ganeshaanswered that the satisfactions of the world are transitory and thatonly the Infinite gives enduring happiness. But endless duration makesgood no better, nor white any whiter. If the rose at noon has lost thebeauty it had at dawn, the beauty it had then was real. Nothing in theworld is permanent, and we're foolish when we ask anything to last, butsurely we're still more foolish not to take delight in it while we haveit. If change is of the essence of existence one would have thought itonly sensible to make it the premise of our philosophy. We can one of usstep into the same river twice, but the river flows on and the otherriver we step into is cool and refreshing too.

"The Aryans when they first came down into India saw that the world weknow is but an appearance of the world we know not; but they welcomed itas gracious and beautiful; it was only centuries later, when theexhaustion of conquest, when the debilitating climate had sapped theirvitality so that they became a prey to invading hordes, that they sawonly evil in life and craved for liberation from its return. But whyshould we of the West, we Americans especially, be daunted by decay anddeath, hunger and thirst, sickness, old age, grief and delusion? Thespirit of life is strong in us. I felt more alive then, as I sat in mylog cabin smoking my pipe, than I had ever felt before. I felt in myselfan energy that cried out to be expended. It was not for me to leave theworld and retire to a cloister, but to live in the world and love theobjects of the world, not indeed for themselves, but for the Infinitethat is in them. If in those moments of ecstasy I had indeed been onewith the Absolute, then, if what they said was true, nothing could touchme and when I had worked out the karma of my present life I shouldreturn no more. The thought filled me with dismay. I wanted to liveagain and again. I was willing to accept every sort of life, no matterwhat its pain and sorrow; I felt that only life after life, life afterlife could satisfy my eagerness, my vigour and my curiosity.

"Next morning I started down the mountain and the day after arrived atthe Ashrama. Shri Ganesha was surprised to see me in European clothes.I'd put them on at the forestry officer's bungalow when I started uphillbecause it was colder there and hadn't thought to change them.

"'I've come to bid you farewell, master,' I said. 'I am going back to myown people.'

"He did not speak. He was sitting, as ever, cross-legged on the tigerskin on the dais. A stick of incense burnt in the brazier before it andscented the air with its faint fragrance. He was alone as he had been onthe first day I saw him. He looked at me with an intensity so piercingthat I had the impression he saw into the deepest recesses of my being.I know he knew what had happened.

"'It is well,' he said. 'You have been gone long enough.'

"I went down on my knees and he gave me his blessing. When I rose to myfeet my eyes were filled with tears. He was a man of noble and saintlycharacter. I shall always look upon it as a privilege to have known him.I said good-bye to the devotees. Some had been there for years; some hadcome after me. I left my few belongings and my books, thinking theymight be useful to someone, and with my knapsack on my back, in the sameold slacks and brown coat I had arrived in, a battered topee on my head,I trudged back to the town. A week later I boarded a ship at Bombay andlanded at Marseilles."

Silence fell upon us as we pursued our separate reflections; but, tiredthough I was, there was one more point which I very much wanted to putto him, and it was I who finally spoke.

"Larry, old boy," I said, "this long quest of yours started with theproblem of evil. It was the problem of evil that urged you on. You'vesaid nothing all this time to indicate that you've reached even atentative solution of it."

"It may be that there is no solution or it may be that I'm not cleverenough to find it. Ramakrishna looked upon the world as the sport ofGod. 'It is like a game,' he said. 'In this game there are joy andsorrow, virtue and vice, knowledge and ignorance, good and evil. Thegame cannot continue if sin and suffering are altogether eliminated fromthe creation.' I would reject that with all my strength. The best I cansuggest is that when the Absolute manifested itself in the world evilwas the natural correlation of good. You could never have had thestupendous beauty of the Himalayas without the unimaginable horror of aconvulsion of the earth's crust. The Chinese craftsman who makes a vasein what they call eggshell porcelain can give it a lovely shape,ornament it with a beautiful design, stain it a ravishing colour andgive it a perfect glaze, but from its very nature he can't make itanything but fragile. If you drop it on the floor it will break into adozen fragments. Isn't it possible in the same way that the values wecherish in the world can only exist in combination with evil?"

"It's an ingenious notion, Larry. I don't think it's very satisfactory."

"Neither do I," he smiled. "The best to be said for it is that whenyou've come to the conclusion that something is inevitable all you cando is to make the best of it."

"What are your plans now?"

"I've got a job of work to finish here and then I shall go back toAmerica."

"What to do?"

"Live."

"How?"

He answered very coolly, but with an impish twinkle in his eyes, for heknew very well how little I expected such a reply.

"With calmness, forebearance, compassion, selflessness and continence."

"A tall order," I said. "And why continence? You're a young man; is itwise to attempt to suppress what with hunger is the strongest instinctof the human animal?"

"I am in the fortunate position that sexual indulgence with me has beena pleasure rather than a need. I know by personal experience that innothing are the wise men of India more dead right than in theircontention that chastity intensely enhances the power of the spirit."

"I should have thought that wisdom consisted in striking a balancebetween the claims of the body and the claims of the spirit."

"That is just what the Indians maintain that we in the West haven'tdone. They think that we with our countless inventions, with ourfactories and machines and all they produce, have sought happiness inmaterial things, but that happiness rests not in them, but in spiritualthings. And they think the way we have chosen leads to destruction."

"And are you under the impression that America is a suitable place topractice the particular virtues you mentioned?"

"I don't see why not. You Europeans know nothing about America. Becausewe amass large fortunes you think we care for nothing but money. We carenothing for it; the moment we have it we spend it, sometimes well andsometimes ill, but we spend it. Money is nothing to us; it's merely thesymbol of success. We are the greatest idealists in the world; I happento think that we've set our ideal on the wrong objects; I happen tothink that the greatest ideal man can set before himself isself-perfection."

"It's a noble one, Larry."

"Isn't it worth while to try to live up to it?"

"But can you for a moment imagine that you, one man, can have any effecton such a restless, busy, lawless, intensely individualistic people asthe people of America? You might as well try to hold back the waters ofthe Mississippi with your bare hands."

"I can try. It was one man who invented the wheel. It was one man whodiscovered the law of gravitation. Nothing that happens is withouteffect. If you throw a stone in a pond the universe isn't quite the sameas it was before. It's a mistake to think that those holy men of Indialead useless lives. They are a shining light in the darkness. Theyrepresent an ideal that is a refreshment to their fellows; the commonrun may never attain it, but they respect it and it affects their livesfor good. When a man becomes pure and perfect the influence of hischaracter spreads so that they who seek truth are naturally drawn tohim. It may be that if I lead the life I've planned for myself it mayaffect others; the effect may be no greater than the ripple caused by astone thrown in a pond, but one ripple causes another, and that one athird; it's just possible that a few people will see that my way of lifeoffers happiness and peace, and that they in their turn will teach whatthey have learnt to others."

"I wonder if you have any idea what you're up against, Larry. You know,the Philistines have long since discarded the rack and stake as a meansof suppressing the opinions they feared: they've discovered a much moredeadly weapon of destruction--the wisecrack."

"I'm a pretty tough guy," smiled Larry.

"Well, all I can say is that it's damned lucky for you that you have aprivate income."

"It's been of great use to me. Except for that I shouldn't have beenable to do all I've done. But my apprenticeship is over. From now on itcan only be a burden to me. I shall rid myself of it."

"That would be very unwise. The only thing that may make the kind oflife you propose possible is financial independence."

"On the contrary, financial independence would make the life I proposemeaningless."

I couldn't restrain a gesture of impatience.

"It may be all very well for the wandering mendicant in India; he cansleep under a tree and the pious are willing enough to acquire merit byfilling his begging bowl with food. But the American climate is far fromsuitable for sleeping out in the open, and though I don't pretend toknow much about America, I do know that if there's one thing yourcountrymen are agreed upon it's that if you want to eat you must work.My poor Larry, you'd be sent to the workhouse as a vagrant before everyou got into your stride."

He laughed.

"I know. One must adapt oneself to one's environment and of course I'dwork. When I get to America I shall try to get a job in a garage. I'm apretty good mechanic and I don't think it ought to be difficult."

"Wouldn't you then be wasting energy that might be more usefullyemployed in other ways?"

"I like manual labour. Whenever I've got waterlogged with study I'vetaken a spell of it and found it spiritually invigorating. I rememberreading a biography of Spinoza and thinking how silly the author was tolook upon it as a terrible hardship that in order to earn his scantyliving Spinoza had to polish lenses. I'm sure it was a help to hisintellectual activity, if only because it diverted his attention for awhile from the hard work of speculation. My mind is free when I'mwashing a car or tinkering with a carburetor and when the job's done Ihave the pleasant sensation of having accomplished something. NaturallyI wouldn't want to stay in a garage indefinitely. It's many years sinceI was in America and I must learn it afresh. I shall try to get work asa truck driver. In that way, in course of time, I should be able totravel from end to end of the country."

"You've forgotten perhaps the most important use of money. It savestime. Life is so short, and there's so much to do, one can't afford towaste a minute; and just think how much you waste, for instance, inwalking from place to place instead of going by bus and in going by businstead of by taxi."

Larry smiled.

"True enough and I hadn't thought of it, but I could cope with thatdifficulty by having my own taxi."

"What d'you mean by that?"

"Eventually I shall settle in New York, among other reasons because ofits libraries; I can live on very little, I don't mind where I sleep andI'm quite satisfied with one meal a day; by the time I've seen all Iwant to of America I should be able to have saved enough to buy a taxiand become a taxi driver."

"You ought to be shut up, Larry. You're as crazy as a loon."

"Not at all. I'm very sensible and very practical. As an owner-driver Iwould need to work only for as many hours as would provide for my boardand lodging and for the depreciation on the car. The rest of my time Icould devote to other work and if I wanted to go anywhere in a hurry Icould always go in my taxi."

"But, Larry, a taxi is just as much of a possession as a governmentbond," I said, to tease him. "As an owner-driver you'd be a capitalist."

He laughed.

"No. My taxi would be merely the instrument of my labour. It would be anequivalent to the staff and the begging bowl of the wanderingmendicant."

On this note of banter our conversation ended. I had noticed for sometime that people were coming into the café with greater frequency. Oneman in evening dress sat down not far from us and ordered himself asubstantial breakfast. He had the tired but satisfied mien of one wholooks back upon a night of amorous dalliance with complacency. A few oldgentlemen, early risers because old age needs little sleep, weredrinking their café au lait with deliberation while throughthick-lensed spectacles they read the morning paper. Younger men, someof them neat and spruce, others in threadbare coats, hurried in todevour a roll and swallow a cup of coffee on their way to a shop or anoffice. An old crone entered with a pile of newspapers and went aroundoffering them for sale, vainly as far I could see, at the varioustables. I looked out of the great plate-glass windows and saw that itwas broad daylight. A minute or two later the electric light was turnedoff except at the rear of the huge restaurant. I looked at my watch. Itwas past seven o'clock.

"What about a spot of breakfast?" I said.

We had croissants, all crisp and hot from the bakers, and café aulait. I was tired and listless, and felt certain I looked like thewrath of God, but Larry seemed as fresh as ever. His eyes were shining,there wasn't a line on his smooth face, and he didn't look a day morethan twenty-five. The coffee revived me.

"Will you allow me to give you a piece of advice, Larry? It's notanything I give often."

"It's not anything I often take," he answered with a grin.

"Will you think very carefully before you dispossess yourself of yourvery small fortune? When it's gone, it's gone forever. A time may comewhen you'll want money very badly, either for yourself or for somebodyelse, and then you'll bitterly regret that you were such a fool."

There was a glint of mockery in his eyes as he answered, but it wasdevoid of malice.

"You attach more importance to money than I do."

"I can well believe it," I answered tartly. "You see, you've always hadit and I haven't. It's given me what I value almost more than anythingelse in life--independence. You can't think what a comfort it's been tome to think that if I wanted to I could tell anyone in the world to goto hell."

"But I don't want to tell anyone in the world to go to hell, and if Idid, the lack of a bank balance wouldn't prevent me. You see, money toyou means freedom; to me it means bondage."

"You're an obstinate brute, Larry."

"I know. I can't help it. But in any case I have plenty of time tochange my mind if I want to. I'm not going back to America till nextspring. My friend Auguste Cottet, the painter, has lent me a cottage atSanary and I'm going to spend the winter there."

Sanary is an unpretentious seaside resort on the Riviera, between Bandoland Toulon, and it is frequented by artists and writers who do not carefor the garish mummery of St. Tropez.

"You'll like it if you don't mind its being as dull as ditchwater."

"I have work to do. I've collected a lot of material and I'm going towrite a book."

"What's it about?"

"You'll see when it comes out," he smiled.

"If you'd like to send it to me when it's finished I think I can get itpublished for you."

"You needn't bother about that. I have some American friends who run asmall press in Paris and I've arranged with them to print it for me."

"But you can't expect a book brought out like that to have any sale andyou won't get any reviews."

"I don't care if it's reviewed and I don't expect it to sell. I'm onlyprinting enough copies to send to my friends in India and the few peopleI know in France who might be interested in it. It's of no particularimportance. I'm only writing it to get all that material out of the way,and I'm publishing it because I think you can only tell what a thing'slike when you see it in print."

"I see the point of both those reasons."

We had finished our breakfast by now and I called the waiter for thebill. When it came I passed it over to Larry.

"If you're going to chuck your money down the drain you can damn wellpay for my breakfast."

He laughed and paid. I was stiff from sitting for so long and as wewalked out of the restaurant my sides ached. It was good to get into thefresh clean air of the autumn morning. The sky was blue, and the Avenuede Clichy, a sordid thoroughfare by night, had a mild jauntiness, like apainted, haggard woman walking with a girl's springy step, that was notdispleasing. I signalled a passing taxi.

"Can I give you a lift?" I asked Larry.

"No. I shall walk down to the Seine and have a swim at one of the baths,then I must go to the Bibliothèque, I've got some research to do there."

We shook hands and I watched him cross the road with his long-legged,loose stride. I, being made of stuff less stern, stepped into the taxiand returned to my hotel. When I got into my sitting-room I noticed thatit was after eight.

"This is a nice hour for an elderly gentleman to get home," I remarkeddisapprovingly to the nude lady (under a glass case) who had since theyear 1813 been lying on the top of the clock in what I should havethought was a position of extreme discomfort.

She continued to look at her gilt bronze face in a gilt bronze mirrorand all the clock said was: tick, tick. I turned on a hot bath. When Ihad lain in it till it was tepid, I dried myself, swallowed a sleepingtablet and taking to bed with me Valéry's Le Cimitière Marin, whichhappened to be on the night table, read till I fell asleep.


Chapter Seven

(i)

One morning, six months later, in April, I was busy writing in my studyon the roof of my house at Cap Ferrat when a servant came up to say thatthe police of St. Jean (my neighbouring village) were below and wishedto see me. I was vexed at being interrupted and could not imagine whatthey wanted. My conscience was at ease and I had already given mysubscription to the Benevolent Fund. In return I had received a card,which I kept in my car so that if I was stopped for exceeding the speedlimit or found parked on the wrong side of a street I couldunostentatiously let it be seen while producing my driving licence andso escape with an indulgent caution. I thought it more likely then thatone of my servants had been the victim of an anonymous denunciation,that being one of the amenities of French life, because her papers werenot in order; but being on good terms with the local cops, whom I neverallowed to leave my house without a glass of wine to speed them on theirway, I anticipated no great difficulty. But they, for they worked inpairs, had come on a very different errand.

After we had shaken hands and inquired after our respective healths, thesenior of the two, he was called a brigadier and had one of the mostimposing moustaches I ever saw, fished a notebook out of his pocket. Heturned over the pages with a dirty thumb.

"Does the name Sophie Macdonald say something to you?" he asked.

"I know a person of that name," I replied cautiously.

"We have just been in telephonic communication with the police stationat Toulon and the chief inspector requests you to betake yourself there[vous prie de vous y rendre] without delay."

"For what reason?" I asked. "I am only slightly acquainted with Mrs.Macdonald."

I jumped to the conclusion that she had got into trouble, probablyconnected with opium, but I didn't see why I should be mixed up in it.

"That is not my affair. There is no doubt that you have had dealingswith this woman. It appears that she has been missing from her lodgingfor five days and a body has been fished out of the harbour which thepolice have reason to believe is hers. They want you to identify it."

A cold shiver passed through me. I was not, however, too much surprised.It was likely enough that the life she led would incline her in a momentof depression to put an end to herself.

"But surely she can be identified by her clothes and her papers."

"She was found stark naked with her throat cut."

"Good God!" I was horrified. I reflected for an instant. For all I knewthe police could force me to go and I thought I had better submit withgood grace. "Very well. I will take the first train I can."

I looked up a timetable and found that I could catch one that would getme to Toulon between five and six. The brigadier said he would phonethe chief inspector to that effect and asked me on my arrival to gostraight to the police station. I did no more work that morning. Ipacked a few necessary things in a suitcase and after luncheon drove tothe station.

(ii)

On presenting myself at the headquarters of the Toulon police I wasimmediately ushered into the room of the chief inspector. He was sittingat a table, a heavy, swarthy man of saturnine appearance whom I took tobe a Corsican. He threw me, perhaps from force of habit, a suspiciousglance; but noticing the ribbon of the Legion of Honour, which I hadtaken the precaution to put in my buttonhole, with an unctuous smileasked me to sit down and proceeded to make profuse apologies for havingbeen obliged to incommode a person of my distinction. Adopting a similartone, I assured him that nothing could make me happier than to be ofservice to him. Then we got down to brass tacks and he resumed hisbrusque, rather insolent manner. Looking at some papers before him, hesaid:

"This is a dirty business. It appears that the woman Macdonald had avery bad reputation. She was a drunkard, a dope fiend and anymphomaniac. She was in the habit of sleeping not only with sailors offthe ships, but with the riffraff of the town. How does it happen that aperson of your age and respectability should be acquainted with such acharacter?"

I was inclined to tell him that it was no business of his, but from adiligent perusal of hundreds of detective stories I have learnt that itis well to be civil with the police.

"I knew her very little. I met her when she was a girl in Chicago, whereshe afterwards married a man of good position. I met her again in Parisa year or so ago through friends of hers and mine."

I had been wondering how on earth he had ever connected me with Sophie,but now he pushed forward a book.

"This volume was found in her room. If you will kindly look at thededication you will see that it hardly suggests that your acquaintancewith her was as slight as you claim."

It was the translation of that novel of mine that she had seen in thebookshop window and asked me to write in. Under my own name I hadwritten "Mignonne, allons voir si la rose," because it was the firstthing that occurred to me. It certainly looked a trifle familiar.

"If you are suggesting that I was her lover, you are mistaken."

"It would be no affair of mine," he replied, and then with a gleam inhis eye: "And without wishing to say anything offensive to you I mustadd that from what I have heard of her proclivities I should not say youwere her type. But it is evident that you would not address a perfectstranger as mignonne."

"That line, monsieur le commissaire, is the first of a celebrated poemby Ronsard, whose works I am certain are familiar to a man of youreducation and culture. I wrote it because I felt sure she knew the poemand would recall the following lines, which might suggest to her thatthe life she was leading was, to say the least of it, indiscreet."

"Evidently I have read Ronsard at school, but with all the work I haveto do I confess that the lines you refer to have escaped my memory."

I repeated the first stanza and knowing very well he had never heard thepoet's name till I mentioned it, had no fear that he would recall thelast one which can hardly be taken as an incitement to virtue.

"She was apparently a woman of some education. We found a number ofdetective stories in her room and two or three volumes of poetry. Therewas a Baudelaire and a Rimbaud and an English volume by someone calledEliot. Is he known?"

"Widely."

"I have no time to read poetry. In any case I cannot read English. If heis a good poet it is a pity he doesn't write in French, so that educatedpeople could read him."

The thought of my chief inspector reading The Waste Land filled mewith pleasure. Suddenly he pushed a snapshot towards me.

"Have you any idea who that is?"

I immediately recognized Larry. He was in bathing trunks, and thephotograph, a recent one, had been taken, I guessed, during the summerpart of which he had spent with Isabel and Gray at Dinard. My firstimpulse was to say I did not know, for I wanted nothing less than to getLarry mixed up in this hateful business, but I reflected that if thepolice discovered his identity my assertion would look as if I thoughtthere was something to hide.

"He's an American citizen called Laurence Darrell."

"It was the only photograph found among the woman's effects. What wasthe connection between them?"

"They both came from the same village near Chicago. They were childhoodfriends."

"But this photograph was taken not long ago, I suspect at a seasideresort in the North or on the West of France. It would be easy todiscover the exact place. What is he, this individual?"

"An author," I said boldly. The inspector slightly raised his bushyeyebrows and I guessed that he did not attribute high morality tomembers of my calling. "Of independent means," I added to make it soundmore respectable.

"Where is he now?"

Again I was tempted to say I didn't know, but again decided that itwould only make things awkward if I did. The French police may have manyfaults, but their system enables them to find anyone they want towithout delay.

"He's living at Sanary."

The inspector looked up and it was clear that he was interested.

"Where?"

I had remembered Larry telling me that Auguste Cottet had lent him hiscottage and on my return at Christmas had written to ask him to come andstay with me for a while, but as I fully expected he had refused. I gavethe inspector his address.

"I'll telephone to Sanary and have him brought here. It might be worthwhile to question him."

I could not but see that the inspector thought that here might be asuspect, but I was only inclined to laugh; I was convinced that Larrycould easily prove that he had nothing to do with the affair. I wasanxious to hear more about Sophie's lamentable end, but the inspectoronly told me in somewhat greater detail what I already knew. Twofishermen had brought the body in. It was a romantic exaggeration of mylocal policeman's that it was stark naked. The murderer had left girdleand brassière. If Sophie had been dressed in the same way as I had seenher he had had to strip her only of her slacks and her jersey. There wasnothing to identify her and the police had inserted a description in thelocal paper. This had brought a woman to the station who kept a smallrooming-house in a back street, what the French call a maison depasse, to which men could bring women or boys. She was an agent of thepolice, who liked to know who frequented her house and what for. Sophiehad been turned out of the hotel on the quay at which she was livingwhen I ran across her because her conduct was more scandalous than eventhe tolerant proprietor could put up with. She had offered to engage aroom with a tiny sitting-room beside it in the house of the woman I havejust mentioned. It was more profitable to let it two or three times anight for short periods, but Sophie offered to pay so handsomely thatthe woman consented to rent it to her by the month. She came to thepolice station now to state that her tenant had been absent for severaldays; she had not bothered, thinking she had gone for a trip toMarseilles or to Villefranche, where ships of the British fleet hadlately arrived, an event that always attracted women, young and old,from all along the coast; but she had read the description of thedeceased in the paper and thought it might apply to her tenant. She hadbeen taken to see the body and after a trifling hesitation declared itwas that of Sophie Macdonald.

"But if the body's been identified what do you want me for?"

"Madame Bellet is a woman of high honorability and excellent character,"said the inspector, "but she may have reasons for identifying the deadwoman that we do not know; and in any case I think she should be seen bysomeone who was more closely connected with her so that the fact may beconfirmed."

"Do you think you have any chance of catching the murderer?"

The inspector shrugged his massive shoulders.

"Naturally we are making enquiries. We have questioned a number ofpersons at the bars she used to go to. She may have been killed out ofjealousy by a sailor whose ship has already left the port or by agangster for whatever money she had on her. It appears that she alwayshad on her a sum that would seem large to a man of that sort. It may bethat some people have a strong suspicion who the culprit is, but in thecircles she moved in it is unlikely that anyone will speak unless it isto his advantage. Consorting with the bad characters she did, such anend as she has come to was only too probable."

I had nothing to say to this. The inspector asked me to come nextmorning at nine o'clock, by which time he would have seen "thisgentleman of the photograph," after which a policeman would take us tothe morgue to see the body.

"And how about burying her?"

"If after identifying the body you claim it as friends of the deceasedand are prepared to undertake the expense of the funeral yourselves, youwill receive the necessary authorization."

"I'm sure that Mr. Darrell and I would like to have it as soon aspossible."

"I quite understand. It is a sad story and it is better that the poorwoman should be laid to rest without delay. And that reminds me that Ihave here the card of an undertaker who will arrange the matter for youon reasonable terms and with despatch. I will just write a line on it sothat he may give you every attention."

I was pretty sure he would get a rake-off on the amount paid, but Ithanked him warmly, and when he had ushered me out with every expressionof esteem I went forthwith to the address on the card. The undertakerwas brisk and businesslike. I chose a coffin, neither the cheapest northe most expensive, accepted his offer to get me two or three wreathsfrom a florist of his acquaintance--"to save monsieur a painful duty andout of respect for the dead," he said--and arranged for the hearse to beat the morgue at two o'clock next day. I could not but admire hisefficiency when he told me that I need not trouble to see about a grave,he would do all that was necessary, and "Madame was a Protestant, Iassume"; furthermore he would, if I wished it, have a pastor waiting atthe cemetery to read the burial service. But since I was a stranger anda foreigner he was sure that I would not take it amiss if he asked me tobe good enough to give him a cheque in advance. He named a larger sumthan I had expected, evidently expecting me to beat him down, and Idiscerned a look of surprise, perhaps even of disappointment, on hisface when I took out my cheque book and wrote out a cheque withoutdemur.

I took a room at a hotel and next morning returned to the policestation. I was kept waiting for some time and then was bidden to go intothe chief inspector's office. I found Larry, looking grave anddistressed, sitting in the chair I had sat in the day before. Theinspector greeted me with joviality. I might have been a long-lostbrother.

"Well, mon cher monsieur, your friend has answered all the questionsit was my duty to put him with the utmost frankness. I have no reason todisbelieve his statement that he had not seen this poor woman foreighteen months. He has accounted for his movements during the last weekin a perfectly satisfactory manner as well as for the fact that hisphotograph was found in her room. It was taken at Dinard and he happenedto have it in his pocket one day when he was lunching with her. I havehad excellent reports of the young man from Sanary and I am besides, Isay it without vanity, a good judge of character myself; I am convincedthat he is incapable of committing a crime of this nature. I haveventured to offer him my sympathy that a friend of his childhood,brought up with all the advantages of a healthy family life, should haveturned out so badly. But such is life. And now, my dear gentlemen, oneof my men will accompany you to the morgue and when you have identifiedthe body, your time is at your own disposal. Go and have a good lunch. Ihave a card here of the best restaurant in Toulon and I will just writea word on it which will assure you of the patron's best attention. Agood bottle of wine will do you both good after this harrowingexperience."

He was by now positively beaming with good will. We walked to themortuary with a policeman. They were not doing a lively business in thatestablishment. There was a body on one slab only. We went up to it andthe mortuary attendant uncovered the head. It was not a pleasant sight.The sea water had taken the curl out of the dyed silvery hair and it wasplastered dankly on the skull. The face was horribly swollen and it wasghastly to look at, but there was no doubt that it was Sophie's. Theattendant drew the covering sheet down to show us what we both wouldrather not have seen, the horrid gash across the throat that stretchedfrom ear to ear.

We went back to the station. The chief inspector was busy, but we saidwhat we had to say to an assistant; he left us and presently returnedwith the necessary papers. We took them to the undertaker.

"Now let's have a drink," I said.

Larry hadn't uttered a word since we left the police station to go tothe mortuary except on our return there to declare that he identifiedthe body as that of Sophie Macdonald. I led him down to the quay and wesat at the café at which I had sat with her. A strong mistral wasblowing and the harbour, usually so smooth, was flecked with white foam.The fishing-boats were gently rocking. The sun shone brightly and, asalways happens with a mistral, every object in sight had a peculiarsparkling sharpness as though you looked at it through glasses focussedwith more than common accuracy. It gave an impression of anerve-racking, throbbing vitality to what you saw. I drank a brandy andsoda, but Larry never touched the one I had ordered for him. He sat inmoody silence and I did not disturb him.

Presently I looked at my watch.

"We'd better go and have something to eat," I said. "We've got to be atthe mortuary at two."

"I'm hungry, I didn't have any breakfast."

Having judged from his appearance that the chief inspector knew wherethe food was good, I took Larry to the restaurant he had told us of.Knowing that Larry seldom ate meat, I ordered an omelette and a grilledlobster and then, asking for the wine list, chose, again following thepoliceman's counsel, a vintage wine. When it appeared I poured out aglass for Larry.

"You damn well drink it," I said. "It may suggest a topic ofconversation to you."

He obediently did as I bade him.

"Shri Ganesha used to say that silence also is conversation," hemurmured.

"That suggests a jolly social garnering of intellectual dons at theUniversity of Cambridge."

"I'm afraid you'll have to stand the racket of this funeral byyourself," he said. "I haven't any money."

"I'm quite prepared to do that," I answered. Then the implication of hisremark hit me. "You haven't been and gone and done it really?"

He did not answer for a moment. I noticed the whimsical, teasing glintin his eyes.

"You haven't got rid of your money?"

"Every cent except what I need to last me till my ship comes in."

"What ship?"

"The man who has the next cottage to mine at Sanary is the Marseillesagent of a line of freighters that run from the Near East to New York.They've cabled him from Alexandria that they've had to put a couple ofmen off there sick from a ship that's coming on to Marseilles and askedhim to get two more to take their place. He's a buddy of mine and he'spromised to get me on. I'm giving him my old Citroën as a partingpresent. When I step on board I shall have nothing but the clothes Istand up in and a few things in a grip."

"Well, it's your own money. You're free, white and twenty-one."

"Free is the right word. I've never been happier or felt moreindependent in my life. When I get to New York I shall have my wages andthey'll carry me on till I can get a job."

"What about your book?"

"Oh, it's finished and printed. I made a list of people I wanted it sentto and you ought to get a copy in a day or two."

"Thank you."

There was not much more to say and we finished our meal in amiablesilence. I ordered coffee. Larry lit a pipe and I a cigar. I looked athim thoughtfully. He felt my eyes upon him and threw me a glance; hisown were lit with an impish twinkle.

"If you feel like telling me I'm a damned fool, don't hesitate. Iwouldn't in the least mind."

"No, I don't particularly feel like that. I was only wondering if yourlife wouldn't have fallen into a more perfect pattern if you'd marriedand had children like everybody else."

He smiled. I must have remarked twenty times on the beauty of his smile,it was so cosy, trustful and sweet, it reflected the candour, thetruthfulness of his charming nature, but I must do so once again, fornow, besides all that, there was in it something rueful and tender.

"It's too late for that now. The only woman I've met whom I could havemarried was poor Sophie."

I looked at him with amazement.

"Can you say that after all that's happened?"

"She had a lovely soul, fervid, aspiring and generous. Her ideals weregreathearted. There was even at the end a tragic nobility in the way shesought destruction."

I was silent. I did not know what to make of these strange assertions.

"Why didn't you marry her then?" I asked.

"She was a child. To tell you the truth, it never occurred to me when Iused to go over to her grandfather's and we read poetry together underthe elm tree that there was in that skinny brat the seed of spiritualbeauty."

I could not but think it surprising that at this juncture he made nomention of Isabel. He could not have forgotten that he had been engagedto her and I could only suppose that he regarded the episode as afoolishness without consequence of two young things not old enough toknow their own minds. I was ready to believe that the suspicion hadnever so much as fugitively crossed his mind that ever since she hadbeen eating her heart out for him.

It was time for us to go. We walked to the square where Larry had lefthis car, very shabby now, and drove to the mortuary. The undertaker wasas good as his word. The businesslike efficiency with which everythingwas accomplished, under that garish sky, with the violent wind bendingthe cypresses of the cemetery, added a last note of horror to theproceedings. When it was all over the undertaker shook hands with uscordially.

"Well, gentlemen, I hope you are satisfied. It went very well."

"Very well," I said.

"Monsieur will not forget that I am always at his disposition if he hasneed of my services. Distance is no object."

I thanked him. When we came to the gate of the cemetery Larry asked meif there was anything further I wanted him for.

"Nothing."

"I'd like to get back to Sanary as soon as possible."

"Drop me at my hotel, will you?"

We spoke never a word as we drove. When we arrived I got out. We shookhands and he went off. I paid my bill, got my bag and took a taxi to thestation. I too wanted to get away.

(iii)

A few days later I started for England. My intention had been to gostraight through, but after what had happened I particularly wanted tosee Isabel and so decided to stop in Paris for twenty-four hours. Iwired to her to ask if I could come in late in the afternoon and stay todinner; when I reached my hotel I found a note from her to say that sheand Gray were dining out, but that she would be very glad to see me if Iwould come not before half past five as she had a fitting.

It was chilly and raining off and on quite heavily, so that I presumedGray would not have gone to Mortefontaine to play golf. This did notsuit me very well, since I wanted to see Isabel alone, but when Iarrived at the apartment the first thing she said was that Gray was atthe Travellers playing bridge.

"I told him not to be too late if he wanted to see you, but we're notdining till nine, which means we needn't get there before nine-thirty,so we've got plenty of time for a good talk. I've got all sorts ofthings to tell you."

They had sublet the apartment and the sale of Elliott's collection wasto take place in a fortnight. They wanted to attend it and were movinginto the Ritz. Then they were sailing. Isabel was selling everythingexcept the modern pictures that Elliott had had in his house at Antibes.Though she didn't much care for them she thought quite rightly that theywould be a prestige item in their future home.

"It's a pity poor Uncle Elliott wasn't more advanced. Picasso, Matisseand Rouault, you know. I suppose his pictures are good in their way, butI'm afraid they'll seem rather old-fashioned."

"I wouldn't bother about that if I were you. Other painters will comealong in a few years and Picasso and Matisse won't seem any more up todate than your Impressionists."

Gray was in the process of concluding his negotiations and with thecapital provided by Isabel was to enter a flourishing business asvice-president. It was connected with oil and they were to live atDallas.

"The first thing we shall have to do is to find a suitable house. I wanta nice garden so that Gray can have somewhere to potter about when hecomes home from work and I must have a really large living-room so thatI can entertain."

"I wonder you don't take Elliott's furniture over with you."

"I don't think it would be very suitable. I shall make it all modern,with perhaps just a little touch of Mexican here and there to give it anote. As soon as I get to New York I'll find out who is the decoratoreveryone's going to now."

Antoine, the manservant, brought in a tray with an array of bottles andIsabel, always tactful, knowing that nine men out of ten are convincedthey can mix a better co*cktail than any woman (and they're right), askedme to shake a couple. I poured out the gin and the Noilly-Prat and addedthe dash of absinthe that transforms a dry Martini from a nondescriptdrink to one for which the gods of Olympus would undoubtedly haveabandoned their home-brewed nectar, a beverage that I have alwaysthought must have been rather like Coca-Cola. I noticed a book on thetable as I handed Isabel her glass.

"Hulloa," I said. "Here's Larry's book."

"Yes, it came this morning, but I've been so busy, I had a thousandthings to do before lunch and I was lunching out and I was at Molyneux'sthis afternoon. I don't know when I shall have a moment to get down toit."

I thought with melancholy how an author spends months writing a book,and maybe puts his heart's blood into it, and then it lies about unreadtill the reader has nothing else in the world to do. It was a volume ofthree hundred pages nicely printed and neatly bound.

"I suppose you know Larry has been in Sanary all the winter. Did you seehim by any chance?"

"Yes, we were at Toulon together only the other day."

"Were you? What were you doing there?"

"Burying Sophie."

"She's not dead?" cried Isabel.

"If she hadn't been we'd have had no plausible reason to bury her."

"That's not funny." She paused for a second. "I'm not going to pretendI'm sorry. A combination of drink and dope, I suppose."

"No, she had her throat cut and was thrown into the sea stark naked."

Like the brigadier at St. Jean I found myself impelled a trifle toexaggerate her undress.

"How horrible! Poor thing. Of course leading the life she did she wasbound to come to a bad end."

"That's what the commissaire de police at Toulon said."

"Do they know who did it?"

"No, but I do. I think you killed her."

She gave me a stare of amazement.

"What are you talking about?" Then with the ghost of a chuckle: "Guessagain; I have a cast-iron alibi."

"I ran across her at Toulon last summer. I had a long talk with her."

"Was she sober?"

"Sufficiently. She told me how it happened that she'd disappeared sounaccountably just a few days before she was going to be married toLarry."

I noticed Isabel's face stiffen. I proceeded to tell her exactly whatSophie had told me. She listened warily.

"I've thought of her story a good deal since then and the more I'vethought about it the more convinced I am that there's something fishyabout it. I've lunched here twenty times and you never have liqueurs forluncheon. You'd been lunching alone. Why should there have been a bottleof zubrovka on the tray with the coffee cup?"

"Uncle Elliott had just sent it to me. I wanted to see if I liked it asmuch as when I'd had it at the Ritz."

"Yes, I remember how you raved about it then. I was surprised, as younever drink liqueurs anyway; you're much too careful of your figure forthat. I had at the time an impression that you were trying to tantalizeSophie. I thought it was just malice."

"Thank you."

"On the whole you're very good at keeping appointments. Why should youhave gone out when you were expecting Sophie for something so importantto her and interesting to you as a fitting of her wedding dress?"

"She told you that herself. I wasn't happy about Joan's teeth. Ourdentist is very busy and I just had to take the time he could give me."

"When one goes to a dentist one makes the next appointment beforeleaving."

"I know. But he called me up in the morning and said he had to break it,but could give me three o'clock that afternoon instead, so of course Ijumped at it."

"Couldn't the governess have taken Joan?"

"She was scared, poor darling, I felt she'd be happier if I went withher."

"And when you came back and found the bottle of zubrovka three partsempty and Sophie gone, weren't you rather surprised?"

"I thought she'd got tired of waiting and gone on to Molyneux's byherself. I couldn't make it out when I went there and they told me shehadn't been."

"And the zubrovka?"

"Well, I did notice that a good deal had been drunk. I thought Antoinehad drunk it and I very nearly spoke to him about it, but Uncle Elliottwas paying for him and he was a friend of Joseph's, so I thought I'dbetter ignore it. He's a very good servant and if he takes a little nipnow and then who am I to blame him?"

"What a liar you are, Isabel."

"Don't you believe me?"

"Not for a moment."

Isabel got up and walked over to the chimney piece. There was a woodfire and it was pleasant on that dreary day. She stood with one elbow onthe mantle shelf in a graceful attitude which it was one of her mostcharming gifts to be able to assume without any appearance of intention.Like most French women of distinction she dressed in black in thedaytime, which peculiarly suited her rich colouring, and on thisoccasion she wore a dress the expensive simplicity of which displayed toadvantage her slender figure. She puffed at her cigarette for a minute.

"There's no reason why I shouldn't be perfectly frank with you. It wasmost unfortunate that I had to go out and of course Antoine should neverhave left the liqueur and the coffee things in the room. They ought tohave been taken away when I went out. When I came back and saw thebottle was nearly empty of course I knew what had happened, and whenSophie disappeared I guessed she'd gone off on a bat. I didn't sayanything about it because I thought it would only distress Larry, and hewas worried enough as it was."

"Are you sure the bottle wasn't left there on your explicitinstructions?"

"Quite."

"I don't believe you."

"Don't then." She flung the cigarette viciously into the fire. Her eyeswere dark with anger. "All right, if you want the truth you can have itand to hell with you. I did it and I'd do it again. I told you I'd stickat nothing to prevent her from marrying Larry. You wouldn't do a thing,either you or Gray. You just shrugged your shoulders and said it was aterrible mistake. You didn't care a damn. I did."

"If you'd left her alone she'd be alive now."

"Married to Larry and he'd be utterly miserable. He thought he'd make anew woman of her. What fools men are! I knew that sooner or later she'dbreak down. It stuck out a mile. You saw yourself when we were alllunching together at the Ritz how jittery she was. I noticed you lookingat her when she was drinking her coffee; her hand was shaking so, shewas afraid to take the cup with one hand, she had to put both her handsto it to get it up to her mouth. I noticed her watching the wine whenthe waiter filled our glasses; she followed the bottle with thosehorrible washed-out eyes of hers like a snake following the flutteringof a new-fledged chick and I knew she'd give her soul for a drink."

Isabel faced me now, her eyes flashing with passion, and her voice washarsh. She couldn't get the words out quickly enough.

"The idea came to me when Uncle Elliott made all that fuss about thatdamned Polish liqueur. I thought it beastly, but I pretended it was themost wonderful stuff I'd ever tasted. I was certain that if she got achance she'd never have the strength to resist. That's why I took her tothe dress show. That's why I offered to make her a present of herwedding dress. That day, when she was going to have the last fitting, Itold Antoine I'd have the zubrovka after lunch and then I told him I wasexpecting a lady and to ask her to wait and offer her some coffee and toleave the liqueur in case she fancied a glass. I did take Joan to thedentist's, but of course we hadn't an appointment and he couldn't seeus, so I took her to a newsreel. I'd made up my mind that if I foundSophie hadn't touched the stuff I'd make the best of things and try tobe friends with her. That's true, I swear it. But when I got home andsaw the bottle I knew I'd been right. She'd gone and I'd have bet anymoney in the world she'd gone for good."

Isabel was actually panting when she finished.

"That's more or less what I imagined had happened," I said. "You see, Iwas right; you cut her throat as surely as if you'd drawn the knifeacross it with your own hands."

"She was bad, bad, bad. I'm glad she's dead." She threw herself into achair. "Give me a co*cktail, damn you."

I went over and mixed another.

"You are a mean devil," she said as she took it from me. Then sheallowed herself to smile. Her smile was like a child's that knows it'sbeen naughty, but thinks it can wheedle you by its ingenuous charm notto be cross. "You won't tell Larry, will you?"

"I wouldn't dream of it."

"Cross your heart? Men are so untrustworthy."

"I promise you I won't. But even if I wanted to, I shouldn't have anopportunity as I don't suppose I shall ever see him again in my life."

She sat bolt upright.

"What do you mean?"

"At this moment he's on a freighter, either as a deck hand or a stoker,on his way to New York."

"You don't mean that? What a strange creature he is! He was up here afew weeks ago for something he had to look up at the public library inconnection with his book, but he never said a word about going toAmerica. I'm glad; that means we shall see him."

"I doubt it. His America will be as remote from your America as the Gobidesert."

Then I told her what he had done and what he intended to do. Shelistened to me open-mouthed. Consternation was written on her face. Sheinterrupted me now and then with an interjection: "He's crazy. He'scrazy." When I had finished she hung her head and I saw two tearstrickle down her cheeks.

"Now I really have lost him."

She turned away from me and, leaning her face against the back of thechair, wept. Her lovely face was twisted with the grief she did not careto hide. There was nothing I could do. I didn't know what vain,conflicting hopes she had cherished that my tidings had finallyshattered. I had a vague notion that to see him occasionally, at leastto know that he was part of her world, had been a bond of union, howevertenuous, that his action had finally severed so that she knew herselfforever bereft. I wondered what unavailing regret afflicted her. Ithought it would do her good to cry. I picked up Larry's book and lookedat the table of contents. My copy had not arrived when I left theRiviera and I could not now hope to get it for several days. It was notin the least the sort of thing I expected. It was a collection of essaysof about the same length as those in Lytton Strachey's EminentVictorians, upon a number of famous persons. The choice he had madepuzzled me. There was one on Sulla, the Roman dictator who, havingachieved absolute power, resigned it to return to private life; therewas one on Akbar, the Mogul conqueror who won an empire; there was oneon Rubens, there was one on Goethe and there was one on the LordChesterfield of the Letters. It was obvious that each of the essays hadneeded a tremendous amount of reading and I was no longer surprised thatit had taken Larry so long to produce this book, but I could not see whyhe had thought it worth while to give it so much time or why he hadchosen those particular men to study. Then it occurred to me that everyone of them in his own way had made a supreme success of life and Iguessed that this was what had interested Larry. He was curious to seewhat in the end it amounted to.

I skimmed a page to see how he wrote. His style was scholarly, but lucidand easy. There was nothing in it of the pretentiousness or the pedantrythat too often characterises the writing of the amateur. One could tellthat he had frequented the best authors as assiduously as ElliottTempleton frequented the nobility and gentry. I was interrupted by asigh from Isabel. She sat up and finished with a grimace the co*cktailwhich was now lukewarm.

"If I don't stop crying my eyes'll be terrible and we're going out todinner tonight." She took a mirror out of her bag and looked at herselfanxiously. "Yes, half an hour with an ice bag over my eyes, that's whatI want." She powdered her face and reddened her lips. Then she looked atme reflectively. "Do you think any the worse of me for what I did?"

"Would you care?"

"Strange as it may seem to you, I would. I want you to think well ofme."

I grinned.

"My dear, I'm a very immoral person," I answered. "When I'm really fondof anyone, though I deplore his wrongdoing it doesn't make me less fondof him. You're not a bad woman in your way and you have every grace andevery charm. I don't enjoy your beauty any the less because I know howmuch it owes to the happy combination of perfect taste and ruthlessdetermination. You only lack one thing to make you completelyenchanting."

She smiled and waited.

"Tenderness."

The smile died on her lips and she gave me a glance that was totallylacking in amenity, but before she could collect herself to reply Graylumbered into the room. In the three years he had been in Paris Gray hadput on a good many pounds, his face had grown redder and his hair wasthinning rapidly, but he was in rude health and in high spirits. He wasunaffectedly pleased to see me. Gray's conversation was composed ofclichés. However shopworn, he uttered them with an obvious convictionthat he was the first person to think of them. He never went to bed, buthit the hay, where he slept the sleep of the just; if it rained, itrained to beat the band and to the very end Paris to him was Gay Paree.But he was so kindly, so unselfish, so upright, so reliable, sounassuming that it was impossible not to like him. I had a realaffection for him. He was excited now over their approaching departure.

"Gosh, it'll be great to get into harness again," he said. "I'm feelingmy oats already."

"Is it all settled then?"

"I haven't signed on the dotted line yet, but it's on ice. The fella I'mgoing in with was a roommate of mine at college, and he's a good scout,and I'm dead sure he wouldn't hand me a lemon. But as soon as we get toNew York I'll fly down to Texas to give the outfit the once-over, andyou bet I'll keep my eyes peeled for a nigg*r in the woodpile before Icough up any of Isabel's dough."

"Gray's a very good businessman, you know," she said.

"I wasn't raised in a barn," he smiled.

He went on to tell me at somewhat excessive length about the business hewas entering, but I understand little of such matters and the onlyconcrete fact I gathered was that he stood a good chance of making a lotof money. He grew so interested in what he was saying that presently heturned to Isabel and said:

"Look here, why shouldn't we cut this lousy party and us three go andhave a slap-up dinner at the Tour d'Argent by ourselves?"

"Oh, darling, we can't do that. They're giving the party for us."

"Anyhow I couldn't come now," I interrupted. "When I heard you werefixed up this evening I called up Suzanne Rouvier and arranged to takeher out."

"Who's Suzanne Rouvier?" asked Isabel.

"Oh, one of Larry's gals," I said to tease her.

"I always suspected Larry had a little floozie tucked away somewhere,"said Gray, with a fat chuckle.

"Nonsense," snapped Isabel. "I know all about Larry's sex life. Thereisn't any."

"Well, let's have one more drink before we part," said Gray.

We had it and then I said good-bye to them. They came into the hall withme and while I was putting on my coat Isabel slipped her arm throughGray's and, nestling up to him, looked into his eyes with an expressionthat imitated very well the tenderness I had accused her of lacking.

"Tell me, Gray--frankly--do you think I'm hard-boiled?"

"No, darling, far from it. Why, has anybody been saying you were?"

"No."

She turned her head away so that he shouldn't see, and in a manner thatElliott would certainly have thought very unladylike put out her tongueat me.

"It's not the same thing," I murmured as I stepped out of the door andclosed it behind me.

(iv)

When I passed through Paris again the Maturins had gone and other peoplelived in Elliott's apartment. I missed Isabel. She was good to look atand easy to talk to. She was quick on the uptake and bore no malice. Ihave never seen her since. I am a poor and dilatory correspondent andIsabel was no letter writer. If she could not communicate with you bytelephone or telegram she did not communicate with you. I had aChristmas card from her that Christmas with a pretty picture on it of ahouse with a Colonial portico surrounded by live oaks, which I took tobe the house on the plantation that they had been unable to sell whenthey wanted the money and which now they were probably willing to keep.The postmark showed that it had been posted at Dallas, so I concludedthat the deal had gone through satisfactorily and they were settledthere.

I have never been to Dallas, but I suppose that, like other Americancities I know, it has a residential district within easy motoringdistance of the business section and the country club where the affluenthave fine houses in large gardens with a handsome view of hill or dalefrom the living-room windows. In such a district and in such a house,furnished from cellar to attic in the latest mode by the mostfashionable decorator in New York, Isabel certainly dwells. I can onlyhope that her Renoir, her flower piece by Manet, her landscape by Monetand her Gauguin do not look too dated. The dining-room is doubtless of aconvenient size for the women's luncheons which she gives at frequentintervals and at which the wine is good and the food superlative. Isabellearnt a great deal in Paris. She would not have settled on the houseunless she had seen at a glance that the living-room would do very wellfor the sub-deb dances which it would be her pleasant duty to give asher daughters grew older. Joan and Priscilla must be now of amarriageable age. I am sure that they have been admirably brought up;they have been sent to the best schools and Isabel has taken care thatthey should acquire the accomplishments that must make them desirable inthe eyes of eligible young men. Though I suppose Gray by now is still alittle redder in the face, more jowly, balder and a good deal heavier, Ican't believe that Isabel has changed. She is still more beautiful thanher daughters. The Maturins must be a great asset to the community and Ihave little doubt that they are as popular as they deserve to be. Isabelis entertaining, gracious, complaisant and tactful; and Gray, of course,is the quintessence of the Regular Guy.

(v)

I continued to see Suzanne Rouvier from time to time until an unexpectedchange in her condition caused her to leave Paris and she too went outof my life. One afternoon, roughly two years after the events that Ihave just related, having spent an hour pleasantly browsing over thebooks in the galleries of the Odéon and with nothing to do for a while,I thought I would call on Suzanne. I had not seen her for six months.She opened the door, a pallet on her thumb and a paintbrush between herteeth, clad in a smock covered with paint.

"Ah, c'est vous, cher ami. Entrez, je vous en prie."

I was a little surprised at this formal address, for generally we spoketo one another in the second person singular, but I stepped into thesmall room that served both as living-room and studio. There was acanvas on the easel.

"I'm so busy, I don't know which way to turn, but sit down and I will goon with my work. I haven't a moment to waste. You wouldn't believe it,but I'm giving a one-man show at Meyerheim's, and I have to get thirtycanvases ready."

"At Meyerheim's? That's wonderful. How on earth have you managed that?"

For Meyerheim is not one of those fly-by-night dealers in the Rue deSeine who have a small shop that is always on the verge of closing forlack of money to pay the rent. Meyerheim has a fine gallery on themoneyed side of the Seine and he has an international reputation. Anartist whom he takes up is well on the way to fortune.

"Monsieur Achille brought him to see my work and he thinks I have a lotof talent."

"À d'autres, ma vieille," I replied, which I think can best betranslated by: "Tell that to the marines, old girl."

She threw me a glance and giggled.

"I'm going to be married."

"To Meyerheim?"

"Don't be an idiot." She put down her brushes and her pallet. "I've beenworking all day and I deserve a rest. Let us have a little glass ofporto and I'll tell you about it."

One of the less agreeable features of French life is that you are apt tobe pressed to drink a glass of vinegary port at an unseasonable hour.You must resign yourself to it. Suzanne fetched a bottle and twoglasses, filled them and sat down with a sigh of relief.

"I've been standing for hours and my varicose veins are aching. Well,it's like this. Monsieur Achille's wife died at the beginning of thisyear. She was a good woman and a good Catholic, but he did not marry herfrom inclination, he married her because it was good business, andthough he esteemed and respected her it would be an exaggeration to saythat her death left him inconsolable. His son is suitably married and isdoing well in the firm and now a marriage has been arranged between hisdaughter and a count, Belgian it is true, but authentic, with a verypretty château in the neighbourhood of Namur. Monsieur Achille thoughthis poor wife would not wish the happiness of two young people to bedeferred on her account, so the marriage, notwithstanding that they arein mourning, is to take place as soon as the financial arrangements arecompleted. Evidently Monsieur Achille will be lonely in that large houseat Lille, and he needs a woman not only to minister to his comfort, butalso to run the important establishment necessary to his position. Tocut a long story short, he has asked me to take the place of his poorwife, for as he very reasonably said: 'I married the first time toeliminate competition between two rival firms, and I do not regret it,but there is no reason why I should not marry the second time to pleasemyself.'"

"I congratulate you," said I.

"Evidently I shall miss my liberty. I have enjoyed it. But one has tothink of the future. Between ourselves, I don't mind telling you that Ishall never see forty again. Monsieur Achille is at a dangerous age;where should I be if he suddenly took it into his head to run after agirl of twenty? And then there is my daughter to think of. She is nowsixteen and promises to be as beautiful as her father. I have given hera good education. But it is no good denying facts that stare you in theface; she has neither the talent to be an actress nor the temperament tobe a whor* like her poor mother: I ask you then, what has she to lookforward to? A secretaryship or a job in the post office. MonsieurAchille has very generously agreed that she should live with us and haspromised to give her a handsome dot so that she can make a goodmarriage. Believe me, my dear friend, people can say what they like, butmarriage still remains the most satisfactory profession a woman canadopt. Obviously when my daughter's welfare was concerned I could nothesitate to accept a proposition even at the cost of certainsatisfactions which in any case, as the years go by, I should find itmore difficult to obtain; for I must tell you that when I am married Ipropose to be of a ferocious virtue [d'une vertu farouche], for mylong experience has convinced me that the only basis of a happy marriageis complete fidelity on both sides."

"A highly moral sentiment, my pretty," I said. "And will MonsieurAchille continue to make his fortnightly visits to Paris on business?"

"Oh, la, la, for whom do you take me, my little one? The first thing Isaid to Monsieur Achille when he asked for my hand was: 'Now listen, mydear, when you come to Paris for your board meetings it is understoodthat I come too. I am not going to trust you here by yourself.' 'Youcannot imagine that I am capable of committing follies at my age,' heanswered. 'Monsieur Achille,' I said to him, 'you are a man in the primeof life and no one knows better than I that you have a passionatetemperament. You have a fine presence and a distinguished air. You haveeverything to please a woman; in short I think it better that you shouldnot be exposed to temptation.' In the end he agreed to give up his placeon the board to his son, who will come to Paris instead of his father.Monsieur Achille pretended to think me unreasonable, but he was in pointof fact enormously flattered." Suzanne gave a sigh of satisfaction."Life would be even harder for us poor women than it is if it were notfor the unbelievable vanity of men."

"All that is very fine, but what has it got to do with your having aone-man show at Meyerheim's?"

"You are a little stupid today, my poor friend. Have I not told you foryears that Monsieur Achille is a highly intelligent man? He has hisposition to think of and the people of Lille are censorious. MonsieurAchille wishes me to take the place in society which as the wife of aman of his importance it will be my right to occupy. You know what theseprovincials are, they love to poke their long noses in other people'saffairs, and the first thing they will ask is: who is Suzanne Rouvier?Well, they will have their answer. She is the distinguished painterwhose recent show at the Meyerheim Gallery had a remarkable andwell-deserved success. 'Madame Suzanne Rouvier, the widow of an officerin the colonial infantry, has with the courage characteristic of ourFrench women for some years supported herself and a charming daughterdeprived too soon of a father's care by means of her talent, and we arehappy to know that the general public will soon have the opportunity toappreciate the delicacy of her touch and the soundness of her techniqueat the galleries of the ever perspicacious Monsieur Meyerheim.'"

"What gibberish is that?" I said, pricking up my ears.

"That, my dear, is the advance publicity that Monsieur Achille isputting out. It will appear in every paper in France of any consequence.He has been magnificent. Meyerheim's terms were onerous, but MonsieurAchille accepted them as if they were a bagatelle. There will be achampagne d'honneur at the private view and the Minister of Fine Arts,who is under an obligation to Monsieur Achille, will open the exhibitionwith an eloquent speech in which he will dwell upon my virtues as awoman and my talent as a painter and which he will end with thedeclaration that the state, whose duty and privilege it is to rewardmerit, has bought one of my pictures for the national collections. AllParis will be there and Meyerheim is looking after the critics himself.He has guaranteed that their notices will be not only favourable butlengthy. Poor devils, they earn so little, it is a charity to give theman opportunity of making something on the side."

"You've deserved it all, my dear. You've always been a good sort."

"Et ta soeur," she replied, which is untranslatable. "But that's notall. Monsieur Achille has bought in my name a villa on the coast at St.Rafael, so I shall take my place in Lille society not only as adistinguished artist, but as a woman of property. In two or three yearshe is going to retire and we shall live on the Riviera like gentlefolks[comme des gens bien]. He can paddle in the sea and catch shrimpswhile I devote myself to my art. Now I will show you my pictures."

Suzanne had been painting for several years and she had worked throughthe manner of her various lovers to arrive at a style of her own. Shestill could not draw, but she had acquired a pretty sense of colour. Sheshowed me landscapes that she had painted while staying with her motherin the province of Anjou, bits of the gardens at Versailles and theforest at Fontainebleau, street scenes that had taken her fancy in thesuburbs of Paris. Her painting was vaporous and unsubstantial, but ithad a flowerlike grace and even a certain careless elegance. There wasone picture that took my fancy and because I thought she would bepleased I offered to buy it. I cannot remember whether it was called AGlade in the Forest or The White Scarf and subsequent examination hasleft me uncertain to this day. I asked the price, which was reasonable,and said I would take it.

"You're an angel," she cried. "My first sale. Of course you can't haveit till after the show, but I'll see that it gets into the papers thatyou've bought it. After all, a little publicity can do you no harm. I'mglad you've chosen that one, I think it's one of my best." She took ahand mirror and looked at the picture in it. "It has charm," she said,screwing up her eyes. "No one can deny that. Those greens--how rich theyare and yet how delicate! And that white note in the middle, that is areal find; it ties the picture together, it has distinction. There'stalent there, there can be no doubt of it, there's real talent."

I saw that she was already a long way on the road to being aprofessional painter.

"And now, my little one, we've gossiped long enough, I must get back towork."

"And I must be going," I said.

"À propos, is that poor Larry still among the Redskins?"

For that was the disrespectful way in which she was accustomed to referto the inhabitants of God's Own Country.

"So far as I know."

"It must be hard for someone like him who is so sweet and gentle. If onecan believe the movies life is terrible over there with all thosegangsters and cowboys and Mexicans. Not that those cowboys haven't aphysical attraction which says something to you. Oh, la, la. But itappears that it is excessively dangerous to go out into the streets ofNew York without a revolver in your pocket."

She came to the door to see me out and kissed me on both cheeks.

"We've had some good times together. Keep a good recollection of me."

(vi)

This is the end of my story. I have heard nothing of Larry, nor indeeddid I expect to. Since he generally did what he proposed, I think itlikely that on his return to America he got a job in a garage and thendrove a truck till he had acquired the knowledge he wanted of thecountry from which he had for so many years absented himself. When hehad done that he may very well have carried out his fantastic suggestionof becoming a taxi driver: true, it was only a random idea thrown acrossa café table in jest, but I wouldn't be altogether surprised if he hadput it into effect; and I have never since taken a taxi in New Yorkwithout glancing at the driver on the chance that I might meet Larry'sgravely smiling, deep-set eyes. I never have. War broke out. He wouldhave been too old to fly, but he may be once more driving a truck, athome or abroad; or he may be working in a factory. I should like tothink that in his leisure hours he is writing a book in which he istrying to set forth whatever life has taught him and the message he hasto deliver to his fellowmen; but if he is, it may be long before it isfinished. He has plenty of time, for the years have left no mark on himand to all intents and purposes he is still a young man.

He is without ambition and he has no desire for fame; to become anythingof a public figure would be deeply distasteful to him; and so it may bethat he is satisfied to lead his chosen life and be no more than justhimself. He is too modest to set himself up as an example to others; butit may be he thinks that a few uncertain souls, drawn to him like mothsto a candle, will be brought in time to share his own glowing beliefthat ultimate satisfaction can only be found in the life of the spirit,and that by himself following with selflessness and renunciation thepath of perfection he will serve as well as if he wrote books oraddressed multitudes.

But this is conjecture. I am of the earth, earthy; I can only admire theradiance of such a rare creature, I cannot step into his shoes and enterinto his inmost heart as I sometimes think I can do with persons morenearly allied to the common run of men. Larry has been absorbed, as hewished, into that tumultuous conglomeration of humanity, distracted byso many conflicting interests, so lost in the world's confusion, sowistful of good, so co*cksure on the outside, so diffident within, sokind, so hard, so trustful and so cagey, so mean, and so generous, whichis the people of the United States. That is all I can tell of him: Iknow it is very unsatisfactory; I can't help it. But as I was finishingthis book, uneasily conscious that I must leave my reader in the air andseeing no way to avoid it, I looked back with my mind's eye on my longnarrative to see if there was any way in which I could devise a moresatisfactory ending; and to my intense surprise it dawned upon me thatwithout in the least intending to I had written nothing more nor lessthan a success story. For all the persons with whom I have beenconcerned got what they wanted: Elliott social eminence; Isabel anassured position backed by a substantial fortune in an active andcultured community; Gray a steady and lucrative job, with an office togo to from nine till six every day; Suzanne Rouvier security; Sophiedeath; and Larry happiness. And however superciliously the highbrowscarp, we the public in our heart of hearts all like a success story; soperhaps my ending is not so unsatisfactory after all.

[End of The Razor's Edge, by W. Somerset Maugham]

The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham,
from Project Gutenberg Canada (2024)

FAQs

Is The Razor's Edge a true story? ›

Maugham begins by characterising his story as not really a novel but a thinly veiled true account.

What is the rationale of the title The Razor's Edge? ›

The Razor's Edge was one of the first Western novels to propose non-Western solutions to society's ills. Its title comes from a passage in one of the Upanishads, which constitute a class of Hindu sacred literature: “The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.

What is the writing style of Somerset Maugham? ›

Maugham's plain prose style became known for its lucidity, but his reliance on clichés attracted adverse critical comment.

Is The Razors Edge worth reading? ›

The death and destruction he observed changed him, and placed a barrier between him and all the friends he had before the war. The experience caused him to think deeply about what he valued, and the result is a story that is contemplative and engaging. I wholly enjoyed the book and recommend it to anyone.

What is the message of the razor's edge? ›

The main message of The Razor's Edge is to find one's true purpose and live a meaningful life.

What is the summary of the razor's edge? ›

The Razor's Edge tells the story of Larry Darrell, an American pilot traumatized by his experiences in World War I, who sets off in search of some transcendent meaning in his life.

What is the meaning of razor edge? ›

1. having an extremely sharp edge or blade. 2. extremely incisive.

What is the spiritual meaning of the razor's edge? ›

In the Razor's Edge, Maugham examines the meanings of salvation through society's departure from spiritual gain in favor of material gain and expectations, criticizing the shift yet also addressing acceptance in how one chooses to find their own life meanings.

What is the meaning of maugham? ›

writes (books or stories or articles or the like) professionally (for pay)

Why is H not pronounced in Thomas? ›

Thomas ultimately comes from the Aramaic word תאומא‎ or תאמא‎. This passed into Ancient Greek as Θωμᾶς. Theta (θ/Θ) was originally pronounced as an aspirated ("harsh") t-sound, [tʰ], similar to the "t" in English top. When Latin borrowed words with this sound in it from Greek, they spelled the sound "th", hence Thōmās.

What religion was Somerset Maugham? ›

In The Summing Up (1938) and A Writer's Notebook (1949) Maugham explains his philosophy of life as a resigned atheism and a certain skepticism about the extent of man's innate goodness and intelligence; it is this that gives his work its astringent cynicism.

Who are the characters in the letter by Somerset Maugham? ›

The characters are firmly drawn with Maugham's usual economy: the husband Robert Crosbie, a big fellow, gentle but stupid; the wife Leslie Crosbie, outwardly graceful and fragile, inwardly made of steel; the lover Geoff Hammond, a handsome and dashing ex-soldier; and the Crosbies' lawyer, the discreet and worldly-wise ...

What kind of writer was Somerset Maugham? ›

Somerset Maugham (1874 – 1965) was a British playwright, novelist and short story writer.

Who was the real Larry Darrell? ›

Several biographers have suggested that Maugham based the character of his hero, Larry Darrell (Tyrone Power), on Christopher Isherwood, and the character of the arch-snob, Elliott Templeton (Clifton Webb), on Sir Henry “Chips” Channon (an American-born anti-American Member of Parliament).

Why did Bill Murray do razor's Edge? ›

Murray wanted to play the part because "it was a different kind of character, calmer, more self-aware."

Is Razors Edge nonfiction? ›

The Razor's |Edge, he says, is written as a novel, but is in fact a true story, with just the names changed. As in some of the short stories, Maugham the author is a character, meeting and commenting on the other characters, yet not personally involved in the events.

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