/*bootstrap*/ My Maugham Collection Concordance Library: The Razor's Edge – Chapter Two
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The Razor's Edge – Chapter Two

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I did not see Elliott till he came to London towards the end of June in the following year. I asked him whether Larry had after all gone to Paris. 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 for wanting to spend a couple of years in Paris and I was prepared to launch him. I told him to let me know the moment he arrived, but it was only when Louisa wrote and told me he was there that I knew he'd come. I wrote to him care of the American Express, which was the address she gave me, and asked him to come and dine to meet some of the people I thought he ought to know; I thought I'd try him out first with the Franco-American set, Emily de Montadour and Gracie de Château-Gaillard and so on, and d'you know what he answered? He said he was sorry he couldn'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 he expected this communication to fill me. He raised a supercilious eyebrow when he observed that I took it with calm.

"He replied to my letter on a sheet of nasty paper with the heading of a cafe in the Latin Quarter and when I wrote back I asked him to let me know where he was staying. I felt I must do something about him for Isabel's sake, and I thought perhaps he was shy—I mean I couldn't believe that any young fellow in his senses could come to Paris without evening clothes, and in any case there are tolerable tailors there, so I asked him to lunch and said it would be quite a small party, and would you believe it, not only did he ignore my request to give me some other address 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 a thoroughly undesirable young man and I think it would be a great mistake for Isabel to marry him. After all, if he led a normal sort of life I'd have ran across him at the Ritz bar or at Fouquet's or somewhere."

I go sometimes to these fashionable places myself, but I go to others also, and it happened that I spent several days in Paris early in the autumn of that year on my way to Marseilles, where I was proposing to take one of the Messagerie ships for Singapore. I dined one evening with friends in Montparnasse and after dinner we went to the Dôme to drink a glass of beer. Presently my wandering eye caught sight of Larry sitting by himself at a little marble-topped table on the crowded terrace, He was looking idly at the people who strolled up and down enjoying the coolness of the night after a sultry day. I left my party and went up to him. His face lit up when he saw me and he gave me an engaging smile. He asked 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 just have 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 at some place on the boulevard. I rejoined my friends. We sat on talking. When next I looked for Larry he had gone.


I spent the next morning very pleasantly. I went to the Luxembourg and passed an hour looking at some pictures I liked. Then I strolled in the gardens, recapturing the memories of my youth. Nothing had changed. They might have been the same students who walked along the gravel paths in pairs, eagerly discussing the writers who excited them. They might have been the same children who trundled the same hoops under the watchful eyes of the same nurses. They might have been the same old men who basked in the sunshine, reading the morning paper. They might have been the same middle-aged women in mourning who sat on the free benches and gossiped with one another about the price of food and the misdeeds of servants. Then I went to the Odéon and looked at the new books in the galleries and I saw the lads who like myself thirty years before were trying under the petulant eyes of the smock-frocked attendants to read as much as they could of books they could not afford to buy. Then I strolled leisurely along those dear, dingy streets till I came to the Boulevard du Montparnasse and so to the Dôme. Larry was waiting. We had a drink and walked along to a restaurant where we could lunch in the open air.

He was perhaps a little paler than I remembered him and this made his very dark eyes, in their deep orbits, more striking; but he had the same self-possession, curious in one so young, and the same ingenuous smile. When he ordered his lunch I noticed that he spoke French fluently and with 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 at Marvin 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 a disinclination to tell exactly where he lived.

"Elliott was rather put out that the only address you gave was the American 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 a grand time in Chicago. They're coming over next year to stay with Elliott."

"That'll be nice for you."

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

He was curious to know about my journey in China and listened attentively to what I told him; but when I tried to get him to talk about himself, I failed. He was so un-communicative that I was forced to the conclusion that he had asked me to lunch with him merely to enjoy my company. I was pleased, but baffled. We had no sooner finished our coffee 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 not see him again.


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 have to eke out my knowledge or what passed during the few weeks they spent there by the exercise of my imagination. They landed at Cherbourg and Elliott, always considerate, went to meet them. They passed through the customs. The train started. Elliott with some complacency told them that he 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, he was very sharp with her.

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

He gave the clothes they were wearing a disparaging glance.

"Of course you'll want to buy some new frocks. On mature consideration I'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 you tomorrow 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 determined that you shall be a credit to me. Oh, and Louisa, I've arranged several parties for you and I've told my French friends that Myron was an ambassador, which, of course, he would have been if he'd lived a little longer, and it makes a better effect. I don't suppose it'll come up, but I 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 ambassador has more prestige than the widow of a minister."

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

"There's Larry."

It had hardly stopped when she sprang out and ran to meet him. He threw his arms around 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 hand to shake. It was ten o'clock at night.

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

"I should be charmed, but Larry has given me to understand that he doesn'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 dis-miss him, but Larry grinned 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 Elliott with dignity.

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

"Yes, do, Larry," said Isabel.

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

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

Next morning at eleven, having finished dressing, for he was not an early riser, he sent a note to his sister, via his man Joseph and her maid Antoinette, to ask her to come to the library so that they could have a talk. When she appeared he closed the door carefully and, putting a 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 and the plans he had made to establish him in a fit and proper manner. "I even had my eye on a rez-de-chaussée that would have been the very thing for him. It belongs to the young Marquis de Rethel and he wanted to sublet it because he'd been appointed to the embassy at Madrid."

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

"What the object of coming to Paris is if you're not going to take advantage of what Paris has to give you is beyond my comprehension. I don'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't be surprised if he was living with some little trollop in a studio in Montmartre."

"Oh, Elliott."

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

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

Elliott by a shrug of the shoulders gave her to understand that there was 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 to come to Europe sooner than they had at first intended. She had found herself in ill-health, and the doctors had informed her that she was suffering from diabetes. It was not serious, and by attention to her diet and taking moderate doses of insulin there was no reason why she should not live for a good many years, but the knowledge that she had an incurable disease made her anxious to see Isabel settled. They had talked the matter over. Isabel was sensible. She had agreed that if Larry refused to come back to Chicago at the end of the two years in Paris they had agreed upon and get a job, there was only one thing to do and that was to break with him. But it offended Mrs. Bradley's sense of personal dignity' that they should wait till the appointed time and then come to fetch him, like a fugitive from justice, back to his own country. She felt that Isabel would put herself in a humiliating position. But it was very natural that they should spend the summer in Europe, where Isabel had not been since she was a child. After their visit in Paris they could go to some watering-place suitable to Mrs. Bradley's complaint, then on to the Austrian Tyrol for a while and from there travel slowly through Italy. Mrs. Bradley's intention was to ask Larry to accompany them, so that he and Isabel could see whether the long separation had left their feelings unchanged. It would be manifest in due course whether Larry, having had his fling, was prepared to accept the responsibilities of life.

"Henry Maturin was sore with him for turning down the position he offered him, but Gray has talked him round, and he can go into the business 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 was giving a big luncheon on the following day and at the end of the wed; a grand dinner party. He was taking them to a reception at the Château-Gaillards and he had got cards for them to a ball that the Rothschilds 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 it wouldn't help to give him the cold shoulder. It would only make Isabel obstinate."

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

Larry came to lunch at the appointed time, and Elliott, whose manners were admirable, was pointedly cordial to him. It was not difficult, since Larry was so gay, in such high spirits that it would have needed a much more ill-natured man than Elliott not to be charmed with him. The conversation dealt with Chicago and their common friends there, so that there was not much for Elliott to do other than to look amiable and pretend to be interested in the concerns of persons whom he thought of no social consequence. He did not mind listening; indeed, he thought it rather touching to hear them tell of this young couple's engagement, that young couple's marriage, and another young couple's divorce. Who had ever heard of them? He knew that that pretty little Marquise de Clinchant had tried to poison herself because her lover, the Prince de Colombey, had left her to marry the daughter of a South American millionaire. That was something to talk about. Looking at Larry, he was obliged to admit that there was something peculiarly attractive in him; with his deep-set strangely black eyes, his high cheekbones, pale skin 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 the period he would look extravagantly romantic. He remembered his notion of getting him off with a distinguished Frenchwoman and he smiled slyly on reflecting that he was expecting at dinner on Saturday Marie Louise de Florimond, who combined irreproachable connections with notorious immorality. She was forty, but looked ten years younger; she had the delicate beauty of her ancestress painted by Nattier which, owing to Elliott himself, now hung in one of the great American collections; and her sexual voracity was insatiable. Elliott decided to put Larry next to her. 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 he thought Isabel might like. Isabel was very pretty, and as he was an Englishman, and well off, it wouldn't matter that she had no fortune. Mellowed by the excellent Montrachet with which they had started lunch and by the fine Bordeaux that followed, Elliott thought with tranquil pleasure of the possibilities that presented themselves to his mind. If things turned out as he thought they very well might, dear Louisa would have no more cause for anxiety. She had always slightly disapproved of him; poor dear, she was very provincial; but he was fond of her. It would be a satisfaction to him to arrange everything for her by help of his knowledge of the world.

To waste no time, Elliott had arranged to take his ladies to look at clothes immediately after lunch, so as they got up from table he intimated to Larry with the tact of which he was a master that he must make himself scarce, but at the same time he asked him with pressing affability to come to the two grand parties he had arranged. He need hardly have taken so much trouble, since Larry accepted both invitations with alacrity.

But Elliott's plan failed. He was relieved when Larry appeared at the dinner party in a very presentable dinner-jacket, for he had been a little nervous that he would wear the same blue suit that he had worn at lunch; and after dinner, getting Marie Louise de Florimond into a corner, 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 your cup 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 has never 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 dirty work for you, my poor Elliott."

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

Elliott chuckled.

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

"Why I like you, Elliott, is that you have the morals of a bawdy-house keeper. You don't want him to marry your niece. Why not? He is well bred and quite charming.

But he's really too innocent. I don't think he had the 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 is that 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 to let Madame de Florimond get away without a dig. He smiled genially.

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

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

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

But if Madame de Florimond carped, the rest of Elliott's friends were delighted both with Isabel and with Larry. They liked her fresh prettiness. her abounding health and her vitality; they liked his picturesque 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 correctly enough but with an unabashed American accent. Elliott entertained them lavishly. Isabel, pleased with her new clothes and her new hats, amused by all the gaiety Elliott provided and happy to be with Larry, thought she had never enjoyed herself so much.


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

"When is he coining back to Chicago?"

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

"Haven't you asked him?"


"Are you scared to?"

"No, of course not."

Mrs. Bradley, lying on a chaise longue, in a modish dressing-gown that Elliott 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, Larry was always rather silent. When we talk I think I do most of the talking."

"What has he been doing with himself?"

"I don't really know. I don't think anything very much.

I suppose he's been 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 her nostrils, 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 with a 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 her daughter, but Isabel would not meet her eyes. Mrs. Bradley gave her an affectionate smile. "If you don't want to be late for lunch you'd better go and have your bath."

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

"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 café they liked the look of. They sat down on the terrace and ordered a couple of Dubonnets. Then they took another cab and went to a restaurant. Isabel had a healthy appetite and she enjoyed the good things Larry ordered for her. She enjoyed looking at the people sitting cheek by jowl with them, for the place was packed, and it made her laugh to see the intense pleasure they so obviously took in their food; but she enjoyed above all sitting at a tiny table alone with Larry. She loved the amusement in his eyes while she chattered away gaily. It was enchanting to feel so much at home with him. But at the back of her mind was a vague dis-quiet, for though he seemed very much at home too, she felt it was not so much with her as with the surroundings. She had been faintly disturbed by what her mother had said, and though seeming to prattle so guilelessly she observed his every expression. He was not quite the same as when he had left Chicago, but she couldn't tell in what the difference lay. He looked exactly as she remembered him, as young, as frank, but his expression was changed. It was not that he was more serious, his face in repose had always been serious, it had a calmness that was new to her; it was as though he had settled something with 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 stroll through 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 you live."

"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 with an artist's model."

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

He took her through narrow, tortuous streets, dingy notwithstanding the streak of blue sky that showed between the high houses, and after a while 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 desk and behind it a man in shirt-sleeves, with a waistcoat in thin black and yellow stripes and a dirty apron, reading a paper. Larry asked for his key, 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 honest purpose.

They climbed up two flights of stairs, on which was a threadbare red carpet, and Larry unlocked his door. Isabel entered a smallish room with two windows. They looked out on the grey apartment house opposite, on the ground floor of which was a stationer's shop. There was a single bed in the room, with a night table beside it, a heavy wardrobe with a large mirror, an upholstered but straight-backed armchair and a table between the 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 I can 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 the Sorbonne." He pointed to a door she had not noticed. "It's got a bathroom. I can get breakfast here and I generally dine at that restaurant 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 old bachelors in government offices and a retired actress at the Odéon; the only other room with a bath is occupied by a kept woman whose gentleman friend comes to see her every other Thursday; I suppose a few transients. It's a very quiet and respectable place."

Isabel was a trifle disconcerted and because she knew Larry noticed it and 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?"



"I thought I’d like to."

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

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

"I've been reading a good deal. Eight or ten hours a day. I've attended lectures at the Sorbonne. I think I've read everything that's important in French literature and I can read Latin, at least Latin prose, almost as easily as I can read French. Of course Greek's more difficult. But I have a very good teacher. Until you came here I used to go to him three 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 enormous fun. You can't imagine what a thrill it is to read the Odyssey in the original. It makes you feel as if you only had to get on tiptoe and stretch out your hands to touch the stars."

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

"I've been reading Spinoza the last month or two. I don't suppose I understand very much of it yet, but it fills me with exultation. It's like 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 you feel 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'd give it up as a bad job."

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

"What do you expect to find in them?"

"The answers to my questions." He gave her a glance that was almost playful, so that except that she knew him so well, she might have thought he was speaking in jest.

"I want to make up my mind whether God is or God is not. I want to find out why evil exists. I want to know whether I have an immortal soul or whether when I die it's the end."

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

"But Larry," she smiled. "People have been asking those questions for thousands of years. If they could be answered, surely they'd have been answered 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 other hand you might say that if men have been asking them for thousands of years it proves that they can't help asking them and have to go on asking them. Besides, it's not true that no one has found the answers.There are more answers than questions, and lots of people have found answers that were perfectly satisfactory for them. Old Ruysbroek for instance."

"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 things sophomores get excited about and then when they leave college they forget about them. They have to earn a living."

"I don't blame them. You see, I'm in the happy position that I have enough to live on. If I hadn't I'd have had to do like everybody else and 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 what to 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. Your place 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 backwater just when we're living through the most wonderful adventure the world has ever known? Europe's finished. We're the greatest, the most powerful people in the world. We're going forward by leaps and bounds. We've got everything. It's your duty to take part in the development of your country. You've forgotten, you don't know how thrilling life is in America today. Are you sure you're not doing this because you haven't the 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 from your responsibilities? Is it more than just a sort of laborious idleness? What would happen to America if everyone shirked as you're shirking?"

"You're very severe, honey," he smiled. "The answer to that is that everyone doesn't feel like me. Fortunately for themselves, perhaps, most people are prepared to follow the normal course; what you forget is that I want to learn as passionately as—Gray, for instance, wants to make pots of money. Am I really a traitor to my country because I want to spend a few years educating myself? It may be that when I'm through I shall have something to give that people will be glad to take. It's only a chance, of course, but if I fail I shall be no worse off than a man who'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't if she could. She'd think it wrong to help you to live without doing anything."

"I wouldn't want to take anything from your mother,” said Larry. "I've got three thousand a year. That's plenty in Paris. We could have a little 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 reason why 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 our honeymoon 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 the world together?"

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

"I went all through Italy last October like that. I had a wonderful time. 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 a baby? Violet Tomlinson had one last year and she did it as cheaply as she could and it cost her twelve hundred and fifty. And what d'you think a nurse costs?"

She grew more vehement as one idea after another occurred to her. "You're so impractical. You don't know what you're asking me to do. I'm young, I want to have fun. I want to do all the things 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 as the rest of her crowd? D'you know what it means, Larry, to buy your friends' old dresses when they're sick of them and be thankful when someone out of pity makes you a present of a new one? I couldn't even afford to go to a decent hairdresser to have my hair properly done. I don't want to go about in street-cars and omnibuses; I want to have my own car. And what d'you suppose I'd find to do with myself all day long while you were reading at the Library? Walk about the streets window-shopping or sit in the Luxembourg Garden seeing that my children didn'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 friends would ask us now and then for his sake, but we couldn't go because I wouldn't have the clothes to go in, and we wouldn't go because we couldn't afford to return their hospitality. I don't want to know a lot of scrubby, unwashed people; I've got nothing to say to them and they've got nothing to say to me. I want to live, Larry." She grew suddenly conscious of the look in his eyes, tender as it always was when fixed on her, but gently amused. "You think I'm silly, don't you? You think I'm being 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 went up 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 you in 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 go without anything, I'd look upon it as wonderful fun, because I'd know that it was only a question of time and you'd make good. But this means living in a sordid beastly way all our lives with nothing to look forward 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 to questions that you say yourself are insoluble. It's so wrong. A man ought to work. That's what he's here for. That's how he contributes to the welfare of the community."

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

"There must be brokers and it's a perfectly decent and honourable way of earning a living."

"You've drawn a very black picture of life in Paris on a moderate income. You know, it isn't really like that. One can dress very nicely without going to Chanel. And all the interesting people don't live in the neighbourhood of the Arc de Triomphe and the Avenue Foch. In fact few interesting people do, because interesting people generally don't have a lot of money. I know quite a number of people here, painters and writers and students, French, English, American, and what not, whom I think you'd find much more amusing than Elliott's seedy marquises and long-nosed duchesses. You've got a quick mind and a lively sense of humour. You'd enjoy Hearing them swap ideas across the dinner table even though the wine was only vin ordinaire and you didn't have a butler and 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'd love to meet interesting people."

"Yes, in a Chanel dress. D'you think they wouldn't catch on to it that you looked upon it as a sort of cultured slumming? They wouldn't be at their ease, any more than you would, and you wouldn't get anything out of it except to tell Emily de Montadour and Gracie de Chateau-Gaillard afterwards what fun you'd had meeting a lot of weird bohemians in the Latin Quarter."

Isabel slightly shrugged her shoulders.

"I dare say you're right. They're not the sort of people I've been brought up with. They're not the sort of people I have anything in common with."

"Where does that leave us?"

"Just where we started. I've lived m Chicago ever since I can remember. Allmy 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's never going to get any better. I couldn't leave her even if I wanted to."

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

Isabel hesitated. She loved Larry. She wanted to marry him. She wanted him with all the power of her senses. She knew that he desired her. She couldn't believe that when it came to a showdown he wouldn't weaken. She was 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-fashioned French sulphur matches that fill your nostrils with an acrid odour, and lit his pipe. Then, passing her, he went over and stood by one of the windows.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 looked in the mirror over the chimney-piece, but she did not see herself. Her heart was beating madly and she was sick with apprehension. He turned at last.

"I wish I could make you see how much fuller the life I offer you is than anything you have a conception of. I wish I could make you see how exciting the life of the spirit is and how rich in experience. It's illimitable. 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 infinity surrounds you. You're intoxicated by the boundless space. You feel such a sense of exhilaration that you wouldn't exchange it for all the power and glory in 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're asking something of me that I'm not fitted for, that I'm not interested in and don't want to be interested in? How often have I got to repeat to you that I'm just an ordinary, normal girl, I'm twenty, in ten years I shall 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 not going to lead you anywhere. For your own sake I beseech you to give it up. Be a man, Larry, and do a man's work. You're just wasting the precious years that others are doing so much with. Larry, if you love me you won't give me up for a dream. You've had your fling. Come back with us to America."

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

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

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

"How can you laugh? Don't you realize this is desperately serious? We've come to the cross-roads and what we do now is going to affect our whole lives."

"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 most terrible nonsense all the time."

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

She slowly slipped her engagement ring off her finger.

She placed it on the palm of her hand and looked at it.

It was a square-cut ruby set in a thin 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 is right without making someone else unhappy."

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

"Here you are, Larry."

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

"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 right hand.

"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 not cried. Nothing seemed to be changed except that now she wasn't going to marry Larry. She could hardly believe that everythmg was over and done with. She resented a httle the fact that they hadn't had a terrific scene. They had talked it all over almost as coolly as though they had been discussing the taking of a house.

She felt let down, but at the same time was conscious of a slight sense of satisfaction because they had behaved in such a civilized way. She would have given a lot to know exactly what Larry was feeling. But it was always difficult to know that; his smooth face, his dark eyes were a mask that she was aware even she, who had known him for so many years, could not penetrate. She had taken off her hat and laid it on the bed. Now, standing before the mirror, she put it on again.

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


"I thought it might be a relief to you." He made no reply. She turned round 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 at the desk he enveloped them both in a look of conniving archness. It was impossible 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," she said.

They took a taxi to the Ritz and had a drink. They spoke of indifferent things, without apparent constraint, like two old friends who saw one another every day. Though Larry was naturally silent, Isabel was a talkative girl, with an ample fund of chit-chat, and she was determined that 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 him and her pride constrained her to act so that he should not suspect that she was hurt and unhappy. Presently she suggested that he should drive her 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.


When Isabel entered the drawing-room she found that some people had dropped in to tea. There were two American women who lived in Paris, exquisitely gowned, with strings of pearls round their necks, diamond bracelets on their wrists and costly rings on their fingers. Though the hair of one was darkly hennaed and that of the other unnaturally golden they were strangely alike. They had the same heavily mascaraed eyelashes, the same brightly painted lips, the same rouged cheeks, the same slim figures, maintained at the cost of extreme mortification, the same clear, harp features, the same hungry restless eyes; and you could not but be conscious that their lives were a desperate struggle to maintain their fading charms. They talked with inanity in a loud, metallic voice without a moment's pause, as though afraid that if they were silent for an instant the machine would run down and the artificial construction which was all they were would fall to pieces. There was also a secretary from the American Embassy, suave, silent, for he could not get a word in, and very much the man of the world, and a small dark Rumanian prince, all bows and servility, with little darting black eyes and a clean-shaven swarthy face, who was for ever jumping up to hand a teacup, pass a plate of cakes, or light a cigarette, and who shamelessly dished out to those present the most flattering, the most gross compliments. He was paying for all the dinners he had received from the objects of his adulation and for all the dinners he hoped to receive.

Mrs. Bradley, seated at the tea table and dressed to please Elliott somewhat more grandly than she thought suitable to the occasion, performed her duties as hostess with her usual civil but rather indifferent composure. What she thought of her brother's guests I can only imagine. I never knew her more than slightly and she was a woman who kept herself to herself. She was not a stupid woman; in all the years she had lived in foreign capitals she had met innumerable people of all kinds and I think she summed them up shrewdly enough according to the standards of the small Virginian town where she was born and bred. I think she got a certain amount of amusement from observing their antics and I don't believe she took their airs and graces any more seriously than she took the aches and pains of the characters in a novel which she knew from the beginning (otherwise she wouldn't have read it) would end happily. Paris, Rome, Peking had had no more effect on her Americanism than Elliott's devout Catholicism on her robust, but not inconvenient, Presbyterian faith.

Isabel, with her youth, her strapping good looks and her vitality brought a breath of fresh air into that meretricious atmosphere. She swept in like a young earth goddess. The Rumanian prince leapt to his feet to draw forward a chair for her and with ample gesticulation did his shift. The two American ladies, with shrill amiabilities on their lips, looked her up and down, took in the details of her dress and perhaps in their hearts felt a pang of dismay at being confronted with her exuberant youth. The American diplomat smiled to himself as he saw how false and haggard she made them look. But Isabel thought they were grand; she liked their rich clothes and expensive pearls and felt a twinge of envy for their sophisticated poise. She wondered if she would ever achieve that supreme elegance. Of course the little Rumanian was quite ridiculous, but he was rather sweet and even if he didn't mean the charming things he said it was nice to listen to them. The conversation which her entrance had interrupted was resumed and they talked so brightly, with so much conviction that what they were saying was worth saying, that you almost thought they were talking sense. They talked of the parties they had been to and the parties they were going to. They gossiped about the latest scandal. They tore their friends to pieces. They bandied great names from one to the other. They seemed to know everybody. They were in on all the secrets. Almost in a breath they touched upon the latest play, the latest dressmaker, the latest portrait painter, and the latest mistress of the latest premier. One would have thought there was nothing they didn't know. Isabel listened with ravishment. It all seemed to her wonderfully civilized. This really was life. It gave her a thrilling sense of being in the midst of things. This was real. The setting was perfect. That spacious room with the Savonnerie carpet on the floor, the lovely drawings on the richly-panelled walls, the petit-point chairs on which they sat, the priceless pieces of marquetry, commodes and occasional tables, every piece worthy to go into a museum; it must have cost a fortune, that room, but it was worth it. Its beauty, its discretion struck her as never before because she had still so vividly in her mind the shabby little hotel room, with its iron bed and that hard, comfortless chair in which he had sat, that room that Larry saw nothing wrong in. It was bare, 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 two poor painted drabs to the door. "I knew them when they first settled in Paris. I never dreamt they'd turn out as well as they have. It's amazing, the adaptability of our women. You'd hardly know now they were Americans and Middle West into the bargain."

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

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

Mrs. Bradley pursed her lips.

"I'm afraid I've been a sad disappointment to you, Elliott, but to tell you 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," said Isabel.

"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 very unconventional."

Isabel giggled. She kept her gaze on Elliott, for she knew her mother's eyes 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 the conclusion 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 I never thought so much of Greek art myself. Some of that Hellenistic stuff has a certain decadent charm that's rather attractive. But Phidias: 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." The girl 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 prepared to make the best of it, but I never thought it a good match. He wasn't really up to your mark, and the way he's been behaving in Paris is a pretty clear indication that he'll never amount to anything. With your looks 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."


I had come back from the East and was spending some time in London just then. It was perhaps a fortnight after the events I have just related that Elliott called me up one morning. I was not surprised to hear his voice, for I knew that he was in the habit of coming to England to enjoy the fag end of the season. He told me that Mrs. Bradley and Isabel were with him and if I would drop in that evening at six for a drink they would be glad to see me. They were, of course, staying at Claridge's. I was at that time living not far from there, so I strolled down Park Lane and through the quiet, dignified streets of Mayfair till I came to the hotel. Elliott had his usual suite. It was panelled in brown wood like the wood of a cigar box and furnished with quiet sumptuousness. He was alone when I was ushered in. Mrs. Bradley and Isabel had gone shopping and he was expecting them at any minute. He told me that Isabel had broken her engagement to Larry.

Elliott with his romantic and highly conventional sense of how people should comport themselves under given circumstances had been disconcerted by the young people's behaviour. Not only had Larry come to lunch the very day after the break, but he had acted as though his position were unchanged. He was as pleasant, attentive and soberly gay as usual. He treated Isabel with the same comradely affectionateness with which he had always treated her. He seemed neither harassed, upset nor woe-begone. Nor did Isabel appear dispirited. She looked as happy, she laughed as lightly, she jested as merrily as though she had not just taken a decisive and surely searing step m her life. Elliott could not make head or tail of it. From such scraps of their conversation as he caught he gathered that they had no intention of breaking any of the dates they had made. On the first opportunity he talked it over with his sister.

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

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

"Then you've brought her up extremely badly, Louisa. And besides, it is 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 that by comparison a bucking steer is easy to manage. And as to knowing what goes 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 to tell."

"Is she cut up?"

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

"Well, take my word for it, if you let them go on like this they'll go off 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 a country where every facility is afforded to sexual irregularity and every obstacle put in the way of marriage."

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

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

It was then he put forward a scheme that would interrupt Isabel's continued intercourse with Larry, which was so repugnant to his sense of what was fitting. The Paris season was drawing to a close and all the best people were arranging to go to watering places or to Deauville before repairing for the rest or the summer to their ancestral chateaus in Touraine, Anjou or Brittany, Ordinarily Elliott went to London at the end of June, but his family feeling was strong and his affection for his sister and Isabel sincere; he had been quite ready to sacrifice himself and remain in Paris, if they wished it, when no one who was anyone was there; but he found himself now in the agreeable situation of being able to do what was best for others and at the same time what was convenient to himself. He proposed to Mrs. Bradley that the three of them should go to London immediately, where the season was still in full swing and where new interests and new friends would distract Isabel's mind from her unfortunate entanglement. According to the papers the great specialist on Mrs. Bradley's disease was then in the British capital and the desirability of consult-ing him would reasonably account for their precipitate departure and override any disinclination to leave Paris that Isabel might have. Mrs. Bradley fell in with the plan. She was puzzled by Isabel. She could not make up her mind whether she was as carefree as she seemed or whether, hurt, angry or heartsick, she was putting on a bold front to conceal her wounded feelings. Mrs. Bradley could only agree with Elliott that it would do Isabel good to see new people and new places.

Elliott got busy on the telephone and when Isabel, who had been spending the day at Versailles with Larry, came home, he was able to tell her that he had made an appointment for her mother to see the celebrated doctor three days from then, that he had engaged a suite at Claridge's and that they were starting on the next day but one. Mrs. Bradley watched her daughter while this intelligence was being somewhat smugly imparted 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 cried with her usual rather breathless impetuosity. "Of course, you mustn't miss the chance. And it'll be grand going to London. How long are we going to stay?"

"It would be useless to come back to Paris," said Elliott. "There won't be a soul here in a week. I want you to stay with me at Claridge's for the rest of the season. There are always some good balls in July and of course there's Wimbledon. And then Goodwood and Cowes. I'm sure the Ellinghams will be glad to have us on their yacht for Cowes and the Bantocks always have a large party for Goodwood."

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

Elliott had just finished telling me all this when mother and daughter came in. I had not seen them for more than eighteen months. Mrs. Bradley was a little thinner than before and more pasty-faced; she looked tired and none too well. But Isabel was blooming. With her high colour, the rich brown of her hair, her shining hazel eyes, her clear skin, she gave an impression of such youth, of so much enjoyment of the mere fact of being alive, that you felt half inclined to laugh with delight. She gave me the rather absurd notion of a pear, golden and luscious, perfectly ripe and simply asking to be eaten. She radiated warmth so that you thought that if you held out your hands you could feel its comfort. She looked taller than when I had last seen her, whether because she wore higher heels or because the clever dressmaker had cut her frock to conceal her youthful plumpness I don't know, and she held herself with the graceful ease of a girl who has played outdoor games since childhood. She was in short sexually a very attractive young woman. Had I 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 received from Mrs. Bradley in Chicago, I asked them all three to come to a play with 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've already let my friends know we're here and I presume that in a day or two we shall be fixed up for the rest of the season."

I understood by this that Elliott meant that then they would have no time for the likes of me and I laughed.

Elliott gave me a glance in which I discerned a certain hauteur.

"But of course you'll generally find us here about six o'clock and we shall always be glad to see you," he said graciously, but with the evident 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 hear they 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 never been able to paint and never will be able to paint. I am not interested in the English school."


During the next four weeks I saw little of Elliott and his relations. He did them proud. He took them for a week-end to a grand house in Sussex and for another week-end to an even grander one in Wiltshire. He took them to the royal box at the opera as guests of a minor princess of the House of Windsor. He took them to lunch and dine with the great. Isabel went to several balls. He entertained at Claridge's a series of guests whose names made a fine show in the paper next day. He gave supper parties at Giro's and the Embassy. In fact he did all the right things and Isabel would have had to be much more sophisticated than she was not to have been a trifle dazzled by the splendour and elegance he provided for her delectation. Elliott could flatter himself that he was taking all this trouble from the purely unselfish motive of distracting Isabel's mind from an unfortunate love affair; but I had a notion he got besides a good deal of satisfaction out of letting his sister see with her own eyes how familiar he was with the illustrious and fashionable. He was an admirable host and he took a delight in displaying his virtuosity.

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

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


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

"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? The gardens should be at their best just now and you could see Queen Elizabeth's bed."

The notion suited her and we fixed a day. But when the day came the weather, which had been fine and warm, broke; the sky was grey and a drizzling rain was falling. I called up and asked her if she wouldn't prefer to lunch in town.

"We shouldn't be able to sit in the gardens and the pictures will be so dark, 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 ate tolerably and we went straight there. On the way Isabel talked with her usual vivacity of the parties she had been to and the people she had met. She had been enjoying herself, but her comments on the various acquaintances she had made suggested to me that she had shrewdness and a quick eye for the absurd. The bad weather kept visitors away and we were the only occupants of the dining-room. The hotel specialized in homely English fare and we had a cut off a leg of excellent lamb with green peas and new potatoes and a deep-dish apple pie with Devonshire cream 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 coffee-room where there were armchairs in which we could sit in comfort. It was chilly in there, but the fire was laid, so I put a match to it. The flames 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 her talk with Larry of which I have done my best faithfully to inform the reader. It may surprise the reader that she should have chosen to tell so much to someone whom she knew so little. I don't suppose I had seen her 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 will tell you, people do tell a writer things that they don't tell others. I don't know why, unless it is that having read one or two of his books they feel on peculiarly intimate terms with him; or it may be that they dramatize themselves and, seeing themselves as it were as characters in a novel, are ready to be as open with him as they imagine the characters of his invention are. And I think that Isabel felt that I liked Larry and her, and that their youth touched me, and that I was sympathetic to their distresses. She could not expect to find a friendly listener in Elliott who was disinclined to trouble himself with a young man who had spurned the best chance a young man ever had of getting into society. Nor could her mother help her. Mrs. Bradley had high principles and common sense. Her common sense assured her that if you wanted to get on in this world you must accept its conventions, and not to do what everybody else did clearly pointed to instability. Her high principles led her to believe that a man's duty was to go to work in a business where by energy and initiative he had a chance of earning enough money to keep his wife and family in accordance with the standards of his station, give his sons such an education as would enable them on reaching man's estate to make an honest living, and on his death leave his widow adequately provided for.

Isabel had a good memory and the various turns of the long discussion had engraved themselves upon it. I listened in silence till she had finished. 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 at least had found an answer to the questions he was asking, and she repeated 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 the first indication I had of the turn Larry's reflection was taking, and while she went on with her story, though still listening attentively, part of my mind busied itself with the possibilities that reference of his had suggested. I did not want to make too much of it, for it might be that he had only mentioned the name of the Ecstatic Teacher to make an argumentative point; it might also have a significance that had escaped Isabel. When he answered her question by saying Ruysbroek was just a guy he hadn't known in college he evidently meant to throw her off 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 he tells you is true his loafing seems to involve some very strenuous work."

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

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

"Poor Larry," she giggled. "You're not going to suggest that he's learning 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 are possessed by an urge so strong to do some particular thing that they can't help themselves, they've got to do it. They're prepared to sacrifice 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 an ignoble desire."

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

"Perhaps he is. Perhaps it will be sufficient satisfaction merely to know, as it's a sufficient satisfaction to an artist to produce a work of 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 back from 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 to him. I have an inkling that he had a definite idea of what he wanted and felt he couldn't get it at a university. You know, in learning there's the lone wolf as well as the wolf who runs in the pack. I think Larry is one 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 said he had nothing to write about."

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

Isabel made a gesture of impatience. She was in no mood even for the mildest 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 perfectly normal boy and there was no reason to suppose he wouldn't become a perfectly normal man. After all you're a novelist, you ought to be able to 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 notice of what I said.

"Are you unhappy?"

"No, not exactly unhappy. When Larry isn't there I'm all right; it's when 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 a horse for months; it's not pain, it's not at all unbearable, but you're conscious of it. I shall get over it all right. I hate the idea of Larry making such a mess of 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 you he indicated it pretty plainly. God."

"God!" she cried. But it was an exclamation of in-credulous surprise. Our use 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 serious again and I felt in her whole attitude something like fear. "What on earth makes you think that?"

"I'm only guessing. But you asked me to tell you what I thought as a novelist. Unfortunately you don't know what experience he had in the war that so profoundly rnoved him. I think it was some sudden shock for which he was unprepared. I suggest to you that whatever it was that happened to Larry filled him with a sense of the transiency of life, and an anguish to be sure that there was a compensation for the sin and sorrow of the world."

I could see that Isabel didn't like the turn I had given the conversation. 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. I want to have fun."

"It looks as though there were complete incompatibility of temper between you. It's much better that you should have found it out before marriage."

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

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

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

"You're like two friends who want to take their holiday together, but one of them wants to climb Greenland's icy mountains while the other wants to fish off India's coral strand. Obviously it's not going to work."

"Anyway, I might get a sealskin coat off Greenland's icy mountains, and I think it's very doubtful if there are any fish off India's coral strand."

"That remains to be seen."

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

"I don't forget that at all. Years ago, when I was young, I knew a man who was a doctor, and not a bad one either, but he didn't practise. He spent years burrowing away in the library of the British Museum and at long intervals produced a huge pseudo-scientific, pseudo-philosophical book that nobody read and that he had to publish at his own expense. He wrote four or five of them before he died and they were absolutely worthless. He had a son who wanted to go into the army, but there was no money to send him to Sandhurst, so he had to enlist. He was killed in the war. He had a daughter too. She was very pretty and I was rather taken with her. She went on the stage, but she had no talent and she traipsed around the provinces playing small parts in second-rate companies at a miserable salary. His wife, after years of dreary, sordid drudgery broke down in health and the girl had to come home and nurse her 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 you decide to leave the beaten track. Many are called but few are chosen."

"Mother and Uncle Elliott approve of what I've done.

Do you approve too?"

"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 pleasant smile. "I should like to have your approval. You do think I've done right, don't you?"

"I think you've done right for you," I said, fairly confident that she would 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, she nodded.

"I know it's only horse sense. I know that every reasonable person would agree that I've done the only possible thing. I know that from every practical standpoint, from the standpoint of worldly wisdom, from the standpoint of common decency, from the standpoint of what's right and wrong, I've done what I ought to do. And yet at the bottom of my heart I've got an uneasy feeling that if I were better, if I were more disinterested, more unselfish, nobler, I'd marry Larry and lead his life. 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 he wouldn't have hesitated to do what you want."

"I've said that to myself too. But it doesn't help. I suppose it's more in 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 casual conversation about people we both knew but in whose affairs we were not intimately concerned, and even when she narrated to me her talk with Larry Isabel had spoken with a sort of breezy gaiety, enlivening it with humour, 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 strangely does when I am confronted with deep and genuine human emotion. I find it terrible 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 keep longing for him."

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

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

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

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

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

"Mamma and Elliott thought it very wrong of me to go about with him afterwards as though nothing had happened, but I didn't take it very seriously. I kept on thinking up to the end that he'd yield. I couldn't believe that when he'd got it into his thick head that I meant what I said 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 we couldn't spend my last evening in Paris together. When I told them, Uncle Elliott said it was most improper and Mamma said she thought it unnecessary. When Mamma says something is unnecessary it means she thoroughly disapproves. Uncle Elliott asked me what the idea was and I said we were going to dine somewhere and then make a tour of the night clubs. He told Mamma she ought to forbid me to go. Mamma said, 'Will you pay 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 seem to 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 into her room to say good night to her. I'd made up a bit; you know, you have to in Paris or else you look so naked, and when she saw the dress I had on, I had an uneasy suspicion from the way she took me in from top to toe that she had a pretty shrewd idea what I was after. But she didn't say anything. She just kissed me and said she hoped I'd have a good time."

"What were you after?"

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

"I didn't think I was looking too bad and it was my last chance. Larry had reserved a table at Maxim's. We had lovely things to eat, all the things I particularly liked, and we had champagne. We talked our heads off, at least I did, and I made Larry laugh. One of the things I've liked about him is that I can always amuse him. We danced. When we'd had enough of that we went on to the Chateau de Madrid. We found some people we knew and joined them and we had more champagne. Then we all went to the Acacia. Larry dances quite well, and we fit. The heat and the music and the wine—I was getting a bit light-headed. I felt absolutely reckless. 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 the back of my mind all the time. I thought I'd get him to come home with me and once I'd got him there, well, it was almost inevitable that the inevitable 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 knew there was no risk. When we were back in America I thought I'd write and say I was going to have a baby. He'd be obliged to come back and marry me, and when I'd got him home I didn't believe it would be hard to keep him there, especially with Mamma ill. 'What a fool I am not to have thought of that before,' I said to myself. 'Of course that'll settle everything.' 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, so we'd better go. We got into a taxi. I nestled close to him and he put his arms around me and kissed me. He kissed me, he kissed me—oh, it was heaven. 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 as we 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 was laying a trap for him; I felt I couldn't play him such a dirty trick. It was like taking candy off a child. D'you know what I did? I said, 'Oh well, perhaps you'd better not. Mamma's not very well tonight and if she's fallen asleep I don't want to wake her up. Good night.' I put my face up for him to kiss and pushed him out of the door. That was the end of that."

"Are you sorry?" I asked.

"I'm neither pleased nor sorry. I just couldn't help myself. It wasn't me that did what I did. It was just an impulse that took possession of me and acted for me."

She grinned. "I suppose you'd call it my better nature."

"I suppose you would."

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

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

"You know, when one's in love,' I said, "and things go all wrong, one's terribly unhappy and one thinks one won't ever get over it. But you'll be 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 to find 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 of unrequited love I immediately got on an ocean liner."

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

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