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The Razor's Edge – Chapter Three

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(i)

For ten years after this I saw neither Isabel nor Larry. I continued to see Elliott, and indeed, for a reason that I shall tell later, more frequently than before, and from time to time I learnt from him what was happening 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 run across him. We don't move in the same circles," he added, not without complacency. "It's very sad that he should have gone so completely to seed. He comes of a very good family. I'm sure I could have made something of him if he'd put himself in my hands. Anyhow it was a lucky escape for Isabel."

My circle of acquaintance was not so restricted as Elliott's and I knew a number of persons in Paris whom he would have thought eminently undesirable. On my brief but not infrequent sojourns 1 asked one or other of them whether he had run across Larry or had news of him; a few knew him casually, but none could claim any intimacy with him and I could find nobody to give me news of him, I went to the restaurant at which he habitually dined, but found he had not been there for a long time, and they thought he must have gone away. I never saw him at any of the cafes on the Boulevard du Montparnasse which people who live in the neighbourhood are apt to go to.

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

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

"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. I had a notion it would give me an opportunity to sort my thoughts and come to terms with myself."

I was silent. I wondered whether that was the only reason for this unexpected step or whether it was connected with Isabel's refusal to marry 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 persuade themselves that it's only sensible to do what they want, I suppose that's why there are so many disastrous marriages. They are like those who 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 believe that a crook is a crook first and a friend afterwards, they are convinced that, however dishonest he may be with others, he won't be so with them. Larry was strong enough to refuse to sacrifice for Isabel's sake the life that he thought was the life for him, but it may be that to lose her was bitterer to endure than he had expected. It may be that like 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 tranks and got the American Express to store them. Then I put an extra suit and some linen in a grip and started off. My Greek teacher had a sister who was married to the manager of a mine near Lens and he gave me a letter to him. D'you know Lens?"

"No."

"It's in the North of France, not far from the Belgian border. I only spent a night there, at the station hotel, and next day I took a local to 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's house, rows and rows of trim little two-storey houses, all alike, exactly alike, and it's so monotonous it makes your heart sink. There's a newish, ugly church and several bars. It was bleak and cold when I got there and a thin rain was falling. I went to the manager's office and sent in my letter. He was a little, fat man with red cheeks and the look of a guy who enjoys his food. They were short of labour, a lot of miners had been killed in the war, and there were a good many Poles working there, two or three hundred, I should think. He asked me one or two questions, he didn't much like my being an American, he seemed to think it rather fishy, but his brother-in-law's letter spoke well of me and anyhow he was glad to have me. He wanted to give me a job on the surface, but I told him I wanted to work down below. He said I'd find it hard if I wasn't used to it, but I told him I was prepared for that, so then 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; he asked me if I'd done anything about finding a lodging, and when I told him I hadn't he wrote an address on a piece of paper and said that if I went there the woman of the house would let me have a bed. She was the widow of a miner who'd been killed and her two sons were working in the mine.

"I took up my grip and went on my way. I found the house, and the door was opened for me by a tall, gaunt woman with greying hair and big, dark eyes. 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 missing front teeth. She told me she hadn't a room, but there were two beds in a room she'd let to a Pole and I could have the other one. Her two sons had one of the upstairs rooms and she had the other. The room she showed me was on the ground floor and supposed, I imagined, to be the living-room; I should have liked a room to myself, but I thought I'd better not be fussy; and the drizzle had turned into a steady, light rain and I was wet already. I didn't want to go farther and get soaked to the skin. So I said that would suit me and I settled in. They used the kitchen as a living-room. It had a couple of rickety armchairs in it. There was a coal shed in the yard which was also the bathhouse. The two boys and the Pole had taken their lunch with them, but she said I could eat with her at midday. I sat in the kitchen afterwards smoking and while she went on with her work she told me all about herself and her family. The others came in at the end of their shift. The Pole first and then the two boys. The Pole passed through the kitchen, nodded to me without 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 the shed. The two boys were tall good-looking fellows notwithstanding the grime on their faces, and seemed inclined to be friendly. They looked upon me as a freak because I was American. One of them was nineteen, off to 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 of those difficult Polish names, but they called him Kosti. He was a big fellow, two or three inches taller than me, and heavily built. He had a pale fleshy face with a broad short nose and a big mouth. His eyes were blue and because he hadn't been able to wash the coal dust off his eyebrows and eyelashes he looked as if he was made up. The black lashes made the blue of his eyes almost startling. He was an ugly, uncouth fellow. The two boys after they'd changed their clothes went out. The Pole sat on in the kitchen, smoking a pipe and reading the paper. I had a book in my pocket, so I took it out and began reading too. I noticed that 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 the Princesse de Clèves that I'd bought at the station in Paris because it was 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 good French, with hardly a trace of Polish accent. 'Now I don't read anything but the newspaper and detective stories.'

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

" 'You don't know what you're in for. No one would go to work in a mine who could do anything else. But that's your affair and doubtless you have 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 Grands Boulevards. Have you ever been to Larue's? It was my favourite restaurant.'

"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 on talking in a desultory fashion and then the two boys came in. We had supper and when we'd finished Kosti asked me if I'd like to come to the bistro with him and have a beer. It was just a rather large room with a bar at one end of it and a number of marble-topped tables with wooden chairs around them. There was a mechanical piano and someone had put a coin in the slot and it was braying out a dance tune. Only three tables were occupied besides ours. Kosti asked me if I played belote. I'd learnt it with some of my student friends, so I said I did and he proposed that we should play for the beer. I agreed and he called for cards. I lost a beer and a second beer. Then he proposed that we should play for money. He had good cards and I had bad luck. We were playing for very small stakes, but I lost several francs. This and the beer put him 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 a man of education. When he spoke again of Paris it was to ask me if I knew so and so and so and so, American women I had met at Elliott's when Aunt Louisa and Isabel were staying with him. He appeared to know them better than I did and I wondered how it was that he found himself in his present position. It wasn't late, but we had to get up at the crack of dawn.

" '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 what he 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 was a general under the Czar and I was a cavalry officer in the last war. I couldn't stand Pilsudski. We arranged to kill him, but someone gave us away. He shot those of us he caught. I managed to get across the frontier just in time. There was nothing for me but the Foreign Legion or 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 had said nothing, but now, putting his elbow on the marble-tapped table, he said:

" 'Try to push my hand back.'

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

" 'You're pretty strong,' he was good enough to say.

'There aren't many men who keep up as long as that.

Listen, my helper's no good, he's a puny little Frenchman, he hasn't got the strength of a louse. You come along with me tomorrow and I'll get the foreman to let me have you instead.'

" '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 1 took a note out of my wallet. Wc went home 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 foreman and I was made his helper. At that time Kosti was working in a space about the size of a hotel bathroom and one got to it through a tunnel so low that you had to crawl through it on your hands and knees. It was as hot as hell in there and we worked in nothing but our pants. There was something terribly repulsive in that great white fat torso of Kosti's; he looted like a huge slug.The row of the pneumatic cutter in that narrow space was deafening. My job was to gather the blocks of coal that he hacked away and load a basket with them and drag the basket through the tunnel to its mouth, where it could be loaded into a truck when the train came along at intervals on its way to the elevators. It's the only coal mine I've ever known, so I don't know if that's the normal practice. It seemed amateurish to me and it was damned hard work. At half time we knocked off for a rest and ate our lunch and smoked. I wasn't sorry when we were through for the day, and gosh, it was good to have a bath. I thought I'd never get my feet clean; they were as black as 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 carried the coal to the elevators were hauled by a tractor and the driver was a poor mechanic and the engine was always breaking down. Once he couldn't get it going and he didn't seem to know what to do. Well, I'm a pretty good mechanic, so I had a look at it and in half an hour I got it working. The foreman told the manager and he sent for me and asked me if I knew about cars. The result was that he gave me the mechanic's job; of course it was monotonous, but it was easy, and because they didn't have any more engine trouble they were pleased with me.

"Kosti was as sore as hell at my leaving him. I suited him and he'd got used 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 with him. He was a funny fellow. He was the sort of man who'd have appealed to you. He didn't mix with the Poles and we didn't go to the cafés they went to. He couldn't forget he was a nobleman and had been a cavalry officer and he treated them like dirt. Naturally they resented it, but they couldn't do anything about it; he was as strong as an ox, and if it had ever come to a scrap, knives or no knives, he'd have been a match for half a dozen of them together. I got to know some of them all the same, and they told me he'd been a cavalry officer all right in one of the smart regiments, but it was a lie about his having left Poland for political reasons. He'd been kicked out of the Officers' Club at Warsaw and cashiered because he'd been caught cheating at cards. They warned me against 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 few francs 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 a run of bad luck or that I didn't play as well as he did. But after that I kept my eyes skinned and I was dead sure he was cheating, but d'you know, for the life of me I couldn't see how he did it. Gosh, he was clever. I knew he simply couldn't have the best cards all the time. I watched him like a lynx. He was as cunning as a fox and I guess he saw I'd been put wise to him. One night, after we’d been playing for a while, he looked at me with that rather cruel, sarcastic smile of his which 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 them and he told me to choose one; I did, and it was the card I'd named. He did two or three more tricks and then he asked me if I played poker. I said I did and he dealt me a hand. When I looked at it I saw I'd got four aces and a king.

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

" 'My whole stack,' I answered.

" 'You'd be silly.' He put down the hand he'd dealt himself. It was a straight flush. How it was done I don't know. He laughed at my amazement. '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 conclusion that he cheated not so much for the money as for the fun of it. It gave him a queer satisfaction to know that he was making a fool of me, and I think he got a lot of amusement out of knowing that I was on to what he was doing and couldn't see how it was done.

"But that was only one side of him and it was the other side that made him so interesting to me. I couldn't reconcile the two. Though he boasted he never read anything but the paper and detective stories he was a cultivated man. He was a good talker, caustic, harsh, cynical, but it was exhilarating to listen to him. He was a devout Catholic and had a crucifix hanging over his bed, and he went to Mass every Sunday regularly. On Saturday nights he used to get drunk. The bistro we went to was crammed jammed full then, and the air was heavy with smoke. There were quiet, middle-aged miners with their families and there were groups of young fellows kicking up a hell of a row, and there were men with sweaty faces round tables playing belote with loud shouts, while their wives sat by, a little behind them, and watched. The crowd and the noise had a strange effect on Kosti and he'd grow serious and start talking—of all unlikely subjects—of mysticism. I knew nothing of it then 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 Boehme the shoemaker and Meister Ecknart. It was fantastic to hear that great hulking bum, who'd been thrown out of his own world, that sardonic, bitter down-and-out, speaking of the ultimate reality of things and the blessednessof union with God. It was all new to me and I was confused and excited, I was like someone who's lain awake in a darkened room and suddenly a chink of light shoots through the curtains and he knows he only has to draw them and there the country will be spread before him in the glory of the dawn. But if I tried to get him on the subject when he 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 I was saying?' he snapped.

"But I knew he was lying. He knew perfectly well what he was talking about. 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. There was more to it than that. The first time he talked in that way he said something that I've never forgotten, because it horrified me; he said that the world isn't a creation, for out of nothing nothing comes; but a manifestation of the eternal nature; well, that was all right, but then he 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 the accompaniment of dance tunes on the mechanical piano."

(ii)

To give the reader a moment's rest I am starting here upon a new section, but I am doing it only for his convenience; the conversation was uninterrupted. I may take this opportunity to say that Larry spoke without haste, often choosing his words with care, and though of course I do not pretend to report them exactly, I have tried to reproduce not only the matter, but the manner of his discourse. His voice, rich in tone, had a musical quality that was grateful to the ear; and as he talked, without gesticulation of any kind, puffing away at his pipe and stopping now and again to relight it, he looked you in the face with a pleasant, 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 to leave the world above ground and go down hundreds of feet in a rickety elevator, crowded with miners in their grimy overalls, into the bowels of the earth. It was spring all right, but it seemed to come shyly in that grim and sordid landscape as though unsure of a welcome. It was like a flower, a daffodil or a lily, growing in a pot on the window-sill of a slum dwelling and you wondered what it did there. One Sunday morning 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 the harvest in, but it was early for that, and besides, Kosti couldn't go back to Poland.

"'Where are you going?' I asked.

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

"It didn't take 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 was willing to take my grip in exchange for a rucksack. I gave the clothes I didn't want or couldn't carry on my back to the younger of Madame Leclerc's sons who was about my size. Kosti left a bag, packed what he wanted in his rucksack and the day after, as soon as the old girl had given us our coffee, we started off.

"We weren't in any hurry as we knew we couldn't get taken on at a farm at least until the hay was ready to cut, and so we dawdled along through France and Belgium by way of Namur and Liège and got into Germany through Aachen. We didn't do more than ten or twelve miles a day. When we liked the look of a village we stopped there. There was always some kind of an inn where we could get beds and an alehouse where we could get something to cat and beer to drink. On the whole we had fine weather. It was grand to be out in the open air after all those months in the mine. I don't think I'd ever realized before how good a green meadow is to look at and how lovely a tree is when the leaves aren't out yet, but the branches are veiled in a faint green mist. Kosti started to teach me German and I believe he spoke it as well as he spoke French. As we trudged along he would tell me the German for the various objects we passed, a cow, a horse, a man and so on, and then make me repeat simple German sentences. It made the time pass and by the time we got 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, on account of the Eleven Thousand Virgins, he said, and when we got there he went on a bat. I didn't see him for three days and when he turned up at the room we'd taken in a sort of workmen's rooming-house he was very surly. 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 for twenty-four hours, and then we started to walk down the valley of the Rhine towards Darmstadt, where he said the country was good and we stood the best chance of getting work.

"I never enjoyed anything more. The fine weather held and we wandered through towns and villages. When there were sights to see we stopped off and looked at them. We put up where we could and once or twice we slept in a loft on the hay. We ate at wayside inns and when we got in the wine country we turned from beer to wine. We made friends with the people in the taverns we drank in. Kosti had a sort of rough joviality that inspired them with confidence and he'd play skat with them, that's a German card game, and skin them with such bluff good humour, with the earthy jokes they appreciated, that they hardly minded losing their pfennigs to him. I practised my German on them. I'd bought a little English-German conversation grammar at Cologne and I was getting on pretty well. And then at night, when he'd got a couple of litres of white wine inside him, Kosti would talk in a morbid way of the flight from the Alone to the Alone, of the Dark Night of the Soul and of the 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, he grew so angry that he could have hit me.

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

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

"We'd taken our time, the spring was pretty well over and the trees were in full leaf. The grapes in the vine-yards were beginning to fill out. We kept 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 better start looking for a job. Our money was getting short. I had half a dozen travellers' cheques in my pocket, but I'd made up my mind not to use them if I could possibly help it. When we saw a farmhouse that looked promising we stopped and asked if they wanted a couple of hands. I dare say we didn't look very inviting. We were dusty and sweaty and dirty. Kosti looked a terrible ruffian and I don't suppose I looked much better either. We were turned down time after time. At one place the farmer said he'd take Kosti but couldn't do with me and Kosti said we were buddies and wouldn't separate. I told him to go ahead, but he wouldn't. I was surprised. I knew Kosti had taken a fancy to me, though I couldn't imagine why, as I didn't begin to be the kind of guy he had any use for, but I would never have thought he liked me well enough to refuse a job on my account. I felt rather conscience-stricken as we walked on, because I didn't really like him, in fact 1 found him rather repulsive, but when I tried to say something to show I was pleased with what he'd done, he bit my head off.

"But at last our luck turned. We'd just gone through a Village in a hollow and we came to a rambling farmhouse that didn't look so bad. We knocked at the door and a woman opened it. We offered ourselves as usual. We said we didn't want any wages, but were willing to work for our board and lodging, and to my surprise instead of slamming the door in our face, she told us to wait. She called to someone inside the house and presently a man came out. He had a good stare at us and asked us where we came from. He asked to see our papers. He gave me another stare when he saw I was American. He didn't seem to like it very much, but anyhow he asked us to come in and have a glass of wine. He took us into the kitchen and we sat down. The woman brought a flagon and some glasses. He told us that his hired man had been gored by a bull and was in hospital and wouldn't be fit for anything till after the harvest was in. With so many men killed, and others going into the factories that were springing up along the Rhine, it was the devil's own job to get labour. We knew that and had been counting on it. Well, to make a long story short he said he'd take us. There was plenty of room in the house, but I suppose he didn't fancy having us there; anyway he told us there were two beds in the hayloft and that was 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 the evenings I used to wander about and dream. It was a good life.

"The household consisted of old Becker, his wife, his widowed daughter-in-law and her children. Becker was a heavy, grey-haired man in his late forties; he'd been through the war and still limped from a wound in the leg. It hurt him a lot and he drank to kill the pain. He was generally high by the time he got to bed. Kosti got on with him fine and they used to go down to the inn together after supper to play skat and swill wine. Frau Becker had been a hired girl. They'd got her out of an orphanage and Becker had married her soon after his wife's death. She was 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. It didn't take Kosti long to come to the conclusion that there was something doing there. I told him not to be a fool. We had a good job and we didn't want to lose it. He only jeered at me; he said Becker wasn't satisfying her and she was asking for it. I knew it was useless to appeal to his sense of decency, but I told him to be careful; it might be that Becker wouldn't see what he was after, but there was his daughter-in-law, and she wasn't missing anything.

"Ellie, that was her name, was a thickset, big young woman, well under thirty, with black eyes and black hair, a sallow square face and a sullen look. She still wore mourning for her husband killed at Verdun. She was very devout and on Sunday mornings trudged down to the village to early Mass and again in the afternoon to vespers. She had three children, one of whom had been born after her husband's death, and she never spoke at meals except to scold them. She did little work on the farm, but spent most of her time looking after the kids, and in the evening sat by herself in the sitting-room, with the door open so that she could hear if one of them was crying, and read novels. The two women hated one another. Ellie despised Fran Becker because she was a foundling and had been a servant, and bitterly resented her being the mistress of the house and in a position to give orders.

"Ellie was the daughter of a prosperous farmer and had brought a good dowry with her. She hadn't gone to the village school, but to Zwingenberg, the nearest town, where there was a girl's gymnasium, and she'd got quite a good education. Poor Frau Becker had come to the farm when she was fourteen and if she could read and write that's about all she 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's wife. Then Ellie would look at her husband's identification disc which she wore on a steel chain round her wrist and with a bitter look on her sullen face say:

" 'Not a farmer's wife. Only a farmer's widow. Only the widow of a hero who 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 go back to America or I'd be put in jail. That's how they explained that I didn't care to go down to the inn and drink with Becker and Kosti. They thought I didn't want to attract attention to myself and have the village constable asking questions. When Ellie found out I was trying to learn German she brought out her old schoolbooks and said she'd teach me. So after supper she and I would go in the sitting-room, leaving Frau Becker in the kitchen, and I'd read aloud to her while she corrected my accent and tried to make me understand words I couldn't get the sense of. I guessed she was doing it not so much to help me as to put something over on Frau Becker.

"All this time Kosti was trying to make Frau Becker and wasn't getting anywhere. She was a jolly, merry woman and quite prepared to joke and laugh with him, and he had a way with him with women. I guess she knew what he was after and I dare say she was flattered, but when he started pinching her she told him to keep his hands to himself and smacked his face. And I 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 occurred to me that—well, that Frau Becker had fallen for me. It made me rather uncomfortable. For one thing she was a lot older than me, and then old Becker had been very decent to us. She dished out the food at table and I couldn't help noticing that she helped me more liberally than the others, and she seemed to me to look for opportunities of being alone with me. She'd smile at me in what I suppose you d call a provocative manner. She'd ask me if I had a girl, and say that a young fellow like me must suffer for the want of it in a place like that. You know the sort of thing. I only had three shirts and they were pretty well worn. Once she said it was a disgrace that I should wear such rags and if I'd bring them along she'd mend them. Ellie heard her and next time we were alone said that if I had anything to mend she'd do it. I said it didn't matter. But a day or two later I found that my socks had been darned and my shirts patched and put back on the bench in the loft on which we kept our things; but which of them had done it I don't know. Of course I didn't take Frau Becker seriously; she was a good-natured old soul and I thought it might be just motherli-ness on her part; but then one day Kosti 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 my mother.'

" 'What of it? You go ahead, my boy, I won't stand in your way. She's not so 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 I know there are as good fish in the sea as ever came out. I don't blame her. You're young. I've been young too. Jeunesse ne dure qu'un moment.'

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

I couldn't help smiling. I could imagine what Larry had looked like then, in his patched shirt and shorts, his face and neck burnt brown by the hot sun of the Rhine valley, with his lithe slim body and his black eyes in their deep sockets. I could well beheve that the sight of him set the matronly Frau Becker, so blonde, so full-breasted, all of a flutter with desire.

"Well, what happened?" I asked.

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

"One night I was awakened. At the first moment I couldn't make out what it was; I was only half awake. I felt a hot hand on my mouth and I realized somebody was in bed with me, I tore the hand away and then a mouth was pressed to mine, two arms were thrown round me and I felt Frau Becker'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 and her hands travelled over my body and she twined her legs in mine."

Larry stopped. 1 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 in the bed next to mine. The situation of Joseph has always seemed to me faintly ridiculous. I was only just twenty-three. I couldn't make a scene and kick her out. I didn't want to hurt her feelings. I did what was expected of me.

"Then she slipped out of bed and tiptoed out of the loft. I can tell you, I heaved a sigh of relief. You know, I'd been scared. 'Gosh,' I said, 'what a risk to take!' I thought it likely that Becker had come home drunk and fallen asleep in a stupor, but they slept in the same bed, 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'd been awake she'd have heard Frau Becker go downstairs and out of the house. And then, suddenly, something struck me. When Frau Becker was in bed with me I'd felt a piece of metal against my skin. I'd paid no attention, you know one doesn't in those circumstances, and I'd never thought of asking myself what the devil it was. And now it flashed across me. I was sitting on the side of my bed thinking and worrying about the consequences of all this and it was such a shock that I jumped up. The piece of metal was Ellie's husband's identification disc that she wore round her wrist and it wasn't Frau Becker that had been in bed with 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 faint element 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 was going to lead to. I didn't like Ellie. I thought her a most unpleasant female."

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

"It was pitch dark. She never said a word except to tell me to keep my trap shut. They were both big stout women. I thought Frau Becker had her eye on me. It never occurred to me for a moment that Ellie gave me a thought. She was always thinking of her husband. I lit a cigarette and thought the position over and the more I thought of it the less I liked it. 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 at the mine I used to have to shake the life out him to get him up in time to go to work. But I was thankful now that he slept so heavily. I lit my lantern and dressed, bundled my things into my rucksack—I hadn't got much, so it didn't take a minute—and slipped my arms through the straps. I walked across the loft in my stocking feet and didn't put my shoes 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 I turned in the direction of the village. I walked fast as I wanted to get through it before anyone was up and about. It was only twelve miles to Zwingenberg and I got there just as it was stirring. I shall never forget that walk. There wasn't a sound except my footsteps on the road and now and then the crowing of a cock in a farm. Then the first greyness when it wasn't yet light and not quite dark, and the first hint of dawn, and the sunrise with the birds all starting to sing, and that lush green country, meadows and woods and the wheat in the fields silvery gold in the cool light of the beginning day. I got a cup of coffee at Zwingenberg and a roll, then I went to the post office and sent a wire to the American Express to have my clothes and my books sent to Bonn."

"Why Bonn?" I interrupted.

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

"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 to know that when he felt like telling you something he did, but when he didn't he would turn off questions with a cool pleasantry that made it useless to insist. For I must remind the reader that he narrated all this to me ten years after it happened. Till then, when I once more came in 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 me of Larry, I should doubtless have forgotten his existence.

(iii)

Isabel was married to Gray Maturin early in the June of the year after the termination of her engagement to Larry. Though Elliott hated leaving Paris at a moment when the season was at its height and he must miss a number of grand parties, his family feeling was too strong to allow him to neglect what he thought a social duty. Isabel's brothers were unable to leave their distant posts and so it behoved him to make the irksome journey to Chicago to give his niece away. Remembering that French aristocrats had gone to the guillotine in all their finery, he made a special journey to London to get himself a new morning coat, a dove-grey double-breasted waistcoat and a silk hat. On his return to Paris he invited me to come and see them on. He was in a state of perturbation because the grey pearl he usually wore in his necktie would not make any sort of effect against the pale grey tie he had chosen as suitable to the festive occasion. I suggested his emerald-and-diamond pin.

"If I were a guest—yes," he said. "But in the particular position I shall occupy I feel that a pearl is indicated."

He was much pleased with the marriage, which concorded with all his ideas of propriety, and he spoke of it with the unctuousness of a dowager duchess expressing herself on the suitability of a union between a scion of the La Rochefoucaulds with a daughter of the Montmorencys. As a visible mark of his satisfaction he was taking over as a wedding present, sparing no expense, a fine portrait by Nattier of a princess of the House of France.

It appeared that Henry Maturin had bought for the young couple a house in Astor Street so that they should be close to where Mrs. Bradley lived and not too far from his own palatial residence on Lake Shore Drive. By a happy chance, in which I suspected the deft complicity of Elliott, Gregory Brabazon was in Chicago at the time the purchase was made and the decoration was entrusted to him. When Elliott returned to Europe and, throwing in his hand so far as the season in Paris was concerned, came straight to London, he brought photographs of the result. Gregory Brabazon had let himself go. In the drawing-room he had gone all George the Second and it was very grand. In the library, which was to be Gray's den, he had been inspired by a room in the Amalienburg Palace at Munich, and except that there was no place in it for books it was perfect. Save for the twin beds, Louis Quinze visiting Madame de Pompadour would have found himself perfectly at home in the bedroom Gregory had provided for this young American couple, but Isabel's bathroom would have been an eye-opener to him; it was all glass—walls, ceiling and bath—and on the walls silver fish meandered profusely among gilded aquatic plants.

"Of course it's a tiny house," said Elliott, "but Henry told me the decoration set him back a hundred thousand dollars. A fortune to some people."

The ceremony was performed with such pomp as the Episcopalian church could afford.

"Not like a wedding at Notre Dame," he told me complacently, "but for a Protestant affair it didn't lack style."

The press had behaved very handsomely and Elliott negligently tossed the cuttings to me. He showed me photographs of Isabel, hefty but handsome in her wedding-dress, and Gray, a massive but fine figure of a man, a trifle self-conscious in his formal clothes. There was a group of the young couple with bridesmaids and another group with Mrs. Bradley in a sumptuous garment and Elliott holding his new top-hat with a grace that 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's pretty well. Of course the whole thing was a strain on her, but now it's all over she'll be able to rest up."

A year later Isabel was delivered of a daughter, to whom, following the fashion of the moment, she gave the name of Joan; and after an interval of 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 pressure soon afterwards retired, so that he entered into sole possession of the business over which he had always exercised despotic control. He realized the ambition he had long entertained and took Gray into partnership 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 fervour.

"Henry Maturin can't live for ever, high blood pressure, you know, and by the 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 from time 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 lived in a style that Elliott gladly admitted was eminently suitable; they entertained lavishly and were lavishly entertained; he told me with satisfaction that Isabel and Gray hadn't dined by themselves once in three months. Their whirl of gaiety was interrupted by the death of Mrs. Maturin, that colour-less, highborn lady whom Henry Maturin had married for her connection when he was making a place for himself in the city to which his father had come as a country bumpkin; and out of respect for her memory for a year the young couple never entertained more than six people 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 enough to permit of general conversation and yet large enough to give the impression of a party."

Gray was wonderfully generous to his wife. On the birth of their first child he gave her a square-cut diamond ring and on the birth of her second a sable coat. He was too busy to leave Chicago much, but such holidays as he could take they spent at Henry Maturin's imposing house at Marvin. Henry could deny nothing to the son whom he adored and one Christmas gave him a plantation in South Carolina so that he could get a fortnight's duck-shooting in the season.

"Of course our merchant princes correspond to those great patrons of the arts of the Italian Renaissance who made fortunes by commerce. The Medici, for instance. Two kings of France were not too proud to marry the daughters of that illustrious family and I foresee the day when the crowned heads of Europe will seek the hands of our dollar princesses. What was it Shelley said? 'The world's great age begins anew, the golden years return.'"

Henry Maturin had for many years looked after Mrs. Bradley's and Elliott's investments and they had a well-justified confidence in his acumen. He had never countenanced speculation and had put their money into sound securities, but with the great increase in values they found their comparatively modest fortunes increased in a manner that both surprised and delighted them. Elliott told me that, without stirring a finger, he was nearly twice as rich in 1926 as he had been in 1918. He was sixty-five, his hair was grey, his face lined and there were pouches under his eyes, but he bore his years gallantly; he was as slim and held himself as erectly as ever; he had always been moderate in his habits and taken care of his appearance. He had no intention of submitting to the ravages of time so long as he could have his clothes made by the best tailor in London, his hair dressed and his face shaved by his own particular barber and a masseur to come in every morning to keep his elegant body in perfect condition. He had long forgotten that he had ever so far demeaned himself as to engage in a trade, and without ever saying so outright, for he was not so stupid as to tell a lie that might be found out, he was inclined to suggest that in his youth he had been in the diplomatic service. I must admit that if I had ever had occasion to draw a portrait of an ambassador I should without hesitation have chosen Elliott as my model.

But things were changing. Such of the great ladies who had advanced Elliott's career as were still alive were well along in years. The English peeresses, having lost their lords, had been forced to surrender their mansions to daughters-in-law, and had retired to villas at Cheltenham or to modest houses in Regent's Park. Stafford House was turned into a museum, Curzon House became the seat of an organization, Devonshire House was for sale. The yacht on which Elliott had been in the habit of staying at Cowes had passed into other hands. The fashionable persons who occupied the stage had no use for the elderly man that Elliott now was. They found him tiresome and ridiculous. They were still willing to come to his elaborate luncheon parties at Claridge's but he was quick-witted enough to know that they came to meet one another rather than to see him. He could no longer pick and choose among the invitations that once had littered his writing-table, and much more often than he would have liked anyone to know he suffered the humiliation of dining by himself in the privacy of his suite. Women of rank in England, when a scandal has closed the doors of society to them, develop an interest in the arts and surround themselves with painters, writers and musicians. Elliott was too proud thus to humiliate himself.

"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 has its tailors, its bootmakers and its hatters, and I trust they'll last my time, but except for them it's finished. My dear fellow, do you know that the St. Erths have women to wait at table?"

This he said when we were walking away from Carlton House Terrace after a luncheon party at which an unfortunate incident had occurred. Our noble host had a well-known collection of pictures, and a young American who was there, Paul Barton by name, expressed a desire to 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 money for 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 jovial marquess, and guessed that it was he who had bought the picture. He was furious at hearing himself, Virginian born and the descendant of a signatory of the Declaration, thus described. He had never in his life suffered so great an affront. And what made it worse off was that Paul Barton was the object of his virulent hatred. He was a young man who had appeared in London soon after the war. He was twenty-three, blond, very good-looking, charming, a beautiful dancer and had an ample fortune. He had brought a letter of introduction to Elliott, who with the kindness of heart natural to him had presented him to several of his friends. Not content with this he had given him some valuable hints on conduct. Delving back into his own experience, he had shown him how it was possible, by paying small attentions to old ladies and by lending a willing ear to distinguished men, however tedious, for a stranger to make his way in society.

But it was a different world that Paul Barton entered from that into which, a generation before, Elliott Templeton had penetrated by means of dogged perseverance. It was a world bent on amusing itself. Paul Barton's high spirits, pleasing exterior and engaging manner did for him in a few weeks what Elliott had achieved only after years of industry and determination. Soon he no longer needed Elliott's help and took small 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 did not ask people to a party because he liked them, but because they helped to make it go, and since Paul Barton was popular he continued to invite him on occasion to his weekly luncheons; but the successful young man was generally engaged and twice he threw Elliott over at the last moment. Elliott had done this himself too often not to know it was because he had just had a more tempting invitation.

"I don't ask you to believe it," Elliott told me, fuming, "but it's God'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 by his belief that Paul Barton had asked about the picture maliciously, having somehow learnt that Elliott had bought it, and would make a funny story 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 the world I detest and despise it's snobbishness. He'd have been nowhere except for me. Would you believe it, his father makes office furniture. Office furniture." He put withering scorn into the two words. "And when I tell people he simply doesn't exist in America, his origins couldn't be more humble, they don't seem to care. Take my word for it, my dear fellow, English society is as dead as the dodo."

Nor did Elliott find France much better. There the great ladies of his youth, 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 with splendour, but at their parties Elliott was confounded to meet politicians who spoke French with a vulgar accent, journalists whose table manners were deplorable, and even actors. The scions of princely families thought it no shame to marry the daughters of shopkeepers. It was true Paris was gay, but with what a shoddy gaiety! The young, devoted to the mad pursuit of pleasure, thought nothing more amusing than to go from one stuffy little night club to another, drinking champagne at a hundred francs a bottle and dancing close-packed with the riff-raff of the town till five o'clock in the morning. The smoke, the heat, the noise made Elliott's head ache. This was not the Paris that he had accepted thirty years before as his spiritual home. This was not the Paris that good Americans went to when they died.

(iv)

But Elliott had a flair. An inner monitor suggested to him that the Riviera was on the point of becoming once more the resort of rank and fashion. He knew the coast well from having often spent a few days in Monte Carlo at the Hotel de Paris on his way back from Rome, whither his duties at the papal court had called him, or at Cannes in the villa of one or the other of his friends. But that was in the winter, and of late rumours had reached him that it was beginning to be well spoken of as a summer resort. The big hotels were remaining open; their summer visitors were listed in the social columns of the Paris Herald and Elliott read the familiar names with approval.

"The world is too much with me," he said. "I have now reached a time of life when I am prepared to enjoy the beauties of nature."

The remark may seem obscure. It isn't really. Elliott had always felt that nature was an impediment to the social life, and he had no patience with people who could bother to go to see a lake or a mountain when they had before their eyes a Regency commode or a painting by Watteau. He had at the time a considerable sum of money to spend. Henry Maturin, urged by his son and exasperated by the sight of his friends on the stock exchange who were making fortunes overnight, had surrendered at last to the current of events and, abandoning little by little his old conservatism, had seen no reason why he too should not get on the band wagon. He wrote to Elliott that he was as much opposed to gambling as he had ever been, but this was not gambling, it was an affirmation of his belief in the inexhaustible resources of the country. His optimism was based on common sense. He could see nothing to halt the progress of America. He ended by saying that he had bought on margin a number of sound securities for dear Louisa Bradley and was glad to be able to tell Elliott that she now had a profit of twenty thousand dollars. Finally, if Elliott wanted to make a little money and would allow him to act according to his judgment, he was confident that he would not be disappointed. Elliott, apt to use hackneyed quotations, remarked that he could resist anything but temptation; the consequence of which was that from then on, instead of turning to the social intelligence as he had done for many years when the Herald was brought him with his breakfast, he gave his first attention to the reports of the stock market. So successful were Henry Maturin's transactions on his behalf that now Elliott found himself with the tidy sum of fifty thousand dollars which he had done nothing to earn.

He decided to take his profit and buy a house on the Riviera. As a refuge from the world he chose Antibes, which held a strategic position between Cannes and Monte Carlo so that it could be conveniently reached from either; but whether it was the hand of Providence or his own sure instinct that led him to choose a spot that was soon to become the centre of fashion, it is impossible to say. To live in a villa with a garden had a suburban vulgarity that revolted his fastidious taste, so he acquired two houses in the old town looking on the sea, knocked them into one, and installed central heating, bathrooms and the sanitary conveniences that American example has forced on a recalcitrant. Pickling was all the rage just then, so he furnished the house with old Provençal furniture duly pickled and, surrendering discreetly to modernity, with modem fabrics. He was still unwilling to accept such painters as Picasso and Braque—"horrors, my dear fellow, horrors"—whom certain misguided enthusiasts were making such a fuss about, but felt himself at long last justified in extending his patronage to the Impressionists and so adorned his walls with some very pretty pictures. I remember a Monet of people rowing on a river, a Pissarro of a quay and a bridge on the Seine, a Tahitian landscape by Gauguin and a charming Renoir of a young girl in profile with long yellow hair hanging down her back. His house when finished was fresh and gay, unusual, and simple with that simplicity that you knew could only have been achieved at great expense.

Then began the most splendid period of Elliott's life. He brought his excellent chef down from Paris and it was soon acknowledged that he had the best cuisine on the Riviera. He dressed his butler and his footman in white with gold straps on their shoulders. He entertained with a magnificence that never overstepped the bounds of good taste. The shores of the Mediterranean were littered with royalties from all parts of Europe: some lured there on account of the climate, some in exile, and some because a scandalous past or an unsuitable marriage made it more convenient for them to inhabit a foreign country. There were Romanoffs from Russia, Hapsburgs from Austria, Bourbons from Spain, the two Sicilys and Parma; there were princes of the House of Windsor and princes of the House of Bragança; there were Royal Highnesses from Sweden and Royal Highnesses from Greece: Elliott entertained them. There were princes and princesses not of royal blood, dukes and duchesses, marquesses and marchionesses, from Austria, Italy, Spain, Russia and Belgium: Elliott entertained them. In winter the King of Sweden and the King of Denmark made sojourns on the coast; now and then Alfonso of Spain paid a hurried visit: Elliott entertained them. I never ceased to admire the way in which, while he bowed with courtly grace to these exalted personages, he managed to maintain the independent demeanour of the citizen of a country where all men are said to be born equal.

I had then, after some years of travel, bought a house on Cap Ferrat and thus saw a good deal of Elliott. I had risen so high in his good graces that sometimes he invited me to his very grandest parties.

"Come as a favour to me, my dear fellow," he would say. "Of course I know just as well as you do that royalties ruin a party. But other people like to meet them and I think one owes it to oneself to show the poor things some attention. Though heaven knows they don't deserve it. They're the most ungrateful people in the world; they'll use you, and when they have no further use for you they'll cast you aside like a frayed shirt; they'll accept innumerable favours from you, but there's not one of them who'd cross the road to do the smallest thing for you in return."

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 had been a cavalry officer before entering the Church and in the war had commanded a regiment. He was a rubicund, stoutish man, who affected the rough-and-ready language of the barracks, and his austere, cadaverous vicar general was always on pins and needles lest he should say something scandalous. He listened with a deprecating smile when his superior told his favourite stories. But the bishop conducted his diocese with remarkable competence and his eloquence in the pulpit was no less moving than his sallies at the luncheon table were amusing. He approved of Elliott for his pious generosity to the Church and liked him for his amiability and the good food he provided; and the two became good friends. Elliott could thus flatter himself that he was making the best of both worlds and, if I may venture so to put it, effecting a very satisfactory working arrangement between God and Mammon.

Elliott was house-proud and he was anxious to show his new house to his sister; he had always felt a certain reserve in her approval of him and he wanted her to see the style in which he now lived and the friends he hobnobbed with. It was the definitive answer to her hesitations. She would have to admit that he had made good. He wrote and asked her to come over with Gray and Isabel, not to stay with him, for he had no room, but to stay as his guests at the near-by Hotel du Cap. Mrs. Bradley replied that her travelling days were over, for her health was indifferent and she thought she was better off at home; and in any case it was impossible for Gray to absent himself from Chicago; business was booming 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 wrote to Isabel. She replied by cable that, though her mother was so far from well that she had to stay in bed one day a week, she was in no immediate danger 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 after things, there was no reason why he should not take a holiday; so, not that summer but the next, she and Gray would come over.

On October the 23rd, 1929, the New York market broke.

(v)

I was in London then and at first we in England did not realize how grave the situation was nor how distressing its results would be. For my own part though chagrined at losing a considerable sum, it was for the most part paper profits that I lost, and when the dust had settled I found myself little the poorer in cash. I knew that Elliott had been gambling heavily and feared that he was badly hit, but I did not see him till we both returned to the Riviera for Christmas. He told me then that Henry Maturin was dead and Gray ruined.

I know little of business matters and I dare say that my account of the events, given me by Elliott, will seem confused. So far as I could make out the catastrophe that had befallen the firm was due in part to Henry Maturin's self-will and in part to Gray's rashness. Henry Maturin at first would not believe that the break was serious, but persuaded himself that it was a plot of the New York brokers to put a quick one over their provincial brethren, and setting his teeth he poured forth money to support the market. He raged against the Chicago brokers who were letting themselves be stampeded by those scoundrels in New York. He had always prided himself on the fact that none of his smaller clients, widows with settled incomes, retired officers and such like, had ever lost a penny by following his advice, and now, instead of letting them take a loss, he supported their accounts out of his own pocket. He said he was prepared to go broke, he could make another fortune, but he could never hold up his head again if the little people who trusted him lost their all. He thought he was magnanimous; he was only vain. His great fortune melted and one night he had a heart attack. He was in his sixties, he had always worked hard, played hard, eaten too much and drunk heavily; after a few hours of agony he died of coronary thrombosis.

Gray was left to deal with the situation alone. He had been speculating extensively on the side, without the knowledge of his father, and was personally in the greatest difficulty. His efforts to extricate himself failed. The banks would not lend him money; older men on the exchange told him that the only thing was to throw up the sponge. I am not clear about the rest of the story. He was unable to meet his obligations and was, I understand, declared bankrupt; he had already mortgaged his own house and was glad to hand it over to the mortgagees; his father's house on Lake Shore Drive and the house at Marvin were sold for what they would fetch; Isabel sold her jewels: all that was left them was the plantation in South Carolina, which was settled on Isabel and for which a 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 to the shorn lamb."

I did not question him further, for his financial affairs were no business of mine, but whatever his losses were I presumed that like the rest of us he had suffered.

The depression did not at first hit the Riviera badly. I heard of two or three people who had lost a good deal, many villas remained closed for the winter and several were put up for sale. The hotels were far from full 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 reaches from Toulon to the Italian border there were forty-eight thousand properties, large and small, to be sold. The shares of the Casino slumped. The great hotels put down their prices in a vain attempt to attract. The only foreigners to be seen were those who had always been so poor that they couldn't be poorer, and they spent no money because they had no money to spend. The shopkeepers were in despair. But Elliott neither diminished his staff nor lessened their wages as many did; he continued to provide choice food and choice wines to royal and titled persons. He bought himself a large new car, which he imported from America and on which he had to pay a heavy duty. He gave generously to the charity the bishop had organized to provide free meals for the families of the worldess. In fact he lived as though there had never been 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 go to England except for a fortnight once a year to buy clothes, but he still transferred his establishment to his apartment in Paris for three months in the autumn and for May and June, these being the periods when the Riviera was deserted by Elliott's friends; he liked the summer there, partly on account of the bathing, but chiefly, I think, because the hot weather gave him the opportunity to indulge in a gaiety of dress that his sense of decorum had always forced him to eschew. He would appear then in trousers of startling colour, red, blue, green or yellow, and with them wear singlets of contrasting hue, mauve, violet, puce or harlequin, and would accept the compliments his attire clamoured for with the deprecating grace of an actress who is told that she has played a new rôle divinely.

I happened to be spending a day in Paris in the spring on my way back to Cap Ferrat and had asked Elliott to lunch with me. We met in the Ritz bar, no longer thronged with college boys come from America to have a good time, but as deserted as a playwright after the first night of an unsuccessful play. We had a cocktail, a trans-atlantic habit to which Elliott had at last become reconciled, and ordered our lunch. When we had finished, he suggested that we should go round the curio shops, and though I told him I had no money to spend I was glad enough to accompany him. We walked through the Place Vendôme and he asked if I would mind going in to Charvet's for a moment; he had ordered some things and wanted to know if they were ready. It appeared that he was having some vests made, and some drawers, and he was having his initials embroidered on them. The vests had not come in yet, but the drawers were there and the shop assistant asked Elliott if he would like to 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, looked exactly 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 the initials was a count's crown. I did not say a word.

"Very nice, very nice," said Elliott. "Well, when the undershirts are ready you'll send them along."

We left the shop and Elliott, as he walked away, turned to me with a smile.

"Did you notice the crown? To tell you the truth, I’d forgotten about it when I asked you to come in to Charvet's. I don't think I've had occasion to tell you that His Holiness has been graciously pleased to revive 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 de Lauria who came over to England in the suite of Philip the Second and married a maid of honour of Queen Mary's."

"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. I thought it a bore having to go because of course Rome is empty then, but it was fortunate for me that my sense of duty prevailed over my desire for worldly pleasures. My friends at the Vatican told me that the crash was coming and strongly advised me to sell all my American securities. The Catholic Church has the wisdom of twenty centuries behind it and I didn't hesitate for a moment. I cabled to Henry Maturin to sell everything and buy gold, and I cabled to Louisa to tell her to do the same. Henry cabled back asking me if I was crazy and said he'd do nothing until I confirmed the instructions. I immediately cabled in the most peremptory manner, telling him to carry them out and to cable me that he had done so. Poor Louisa paid no attention to my advice and suffered 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 lost nothing; in fact I had made what you would probably call a packet. I was able some time later to buy back my securities for a fraction of their original cost, and since I owed it all to what I can only describe as the direct interposition of Providence I felt it only right and proper that 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 land in the Pontine Marshes and it was represented to me that His Holiness was 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, an exact copy of one I knew in Provence, and perfect m every detail, which, though I say it myself, is a gem. It is dedicated to St. Martin because I was lucky enough to find an old stained-glass window representing St. Martin in the act of cutting his cloak in two to give half of it to a naked beggar, and as the symbolism seemed so apt I bought it and placed it over the high altar."

I didn't interrupt Elliott to ask him what connection he saw between the Saint's celebrated action and the rake-off on the pretty penny he had made by selling out in the nick of time which, like an agent's commission, he was paying to a higher power. But to a prosaic person like me symbolism is often obscure. He went on.

"When I was privileged to show the photographs to the Holy Father, he was gracious enough to tell me that he could see at a glance that I was a man of impeccable taste, and he added that it was a pleasure to him to find in this degenerate age someone who combined devotion to the Church with such rare artistic gifts. A memorable experience, my dear fellow, a memorable experience. But no one was more surprised than I when shortly afterwards it was intimated to me that he had been pleased to confer a title upon me. As an American citizen I feel it more modest not to use it, except of course at the Vatican, so I have forbidden my Joseph to address me as Monsieur le Comte, and I trust you will respect my confidence. I don't wish it bruited abroad. But I would not like His Holiness to think that I do not value the honour that he has done me and it is purely out of respect for him that I have the crown embroidered on my personal linen. I don't mind telling you that I take a modest pride in concealing my rank under the sober pin-stripe of an American gentleman."

We parted. Elliott told me he would come down to the Riviera at the end of June. He did not do so. He had just made his arrangements to transfer his staff from Paris, intending to drive down leisurely in his car so that everything should be in perfect order on his arrival, when he received a cable from Isabel to say that her mother had suddenly taken a turn for the worse. Elliott, besides being fond of his sister, had, as I have said, a strong strain of family feeling. He took the first ship out of Cherbourg and from New York went to Chicago. He wrote to tell me that Mrs. 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 case he felt it his sad duty to remain with her till the end. He said he found the great heat more supportable than he had expected, but the lack of congenial society only tolerable because at such a moment he had in any case no heart for it. He said he was disappointed with the way his fellow-countrymen had reacted to the depression; he would have expected them to take their misfortune with more equanimity. Knowing that nothing is easier than to bear other people's calamities with fortitude, I thought that Elliott, richer now than he had ever been in his life, was perhaps hardly entitled to be severe. He ended by giving me messages for several of his friends and bade me by no means forget to explain to everyone I met why it was that his house must remain closed for the summer.

Little more than a month later I received another letter from him to tell me that Mrs. Bradley had died. He wrote with sincerity and emotion. I should never have thought him capable of expressing himself with such dignity, real feeling and simplicity, had 1 not long known that notwithstanding his snobbishness and his absurd affectations Elliott was a kindly, affectionate and honest man. In the course of this letter he told me that Mrs. Bradley's affairs appeared to be in some disorder. Her elder son, a diplo-matist, being chargé d'affaires in Tokyo during the absence of the ambassador, had been of course unable to leave his post. Her second son, Templeton, who had been in the Philippines when I first knew the Bradleys, had been in due course recalled to Washington and occupied a responsible position in the State Department. He had come with his wife to Chicago when his mother's condition was recognized as hopeless, but had been obliged to return to the capital immediately after the funeral. In these circumstances Elliott felt that he must remain in America until things were straightened out. Mrs. Bradley had divided her fortune equally between her three children, but it appeared that her losses in the crash of ‘29 had been substantial. Fortunately they had found a purchaser for the farm at Marvin. Elliott in his letter referred to it as dear Louisa's country place.

"It is always sad when a family has to part with its ancestral home," he wrote, "but of late years I have seen this forced upon so many of my English friends that I feel that my nephews and Isabel must accept the inevitable 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 one of which Mrs. Bradley lived and build in their stead a great block of apartments, but it had been held up by her obstinate determination to die in the house in which she had lived. But no sooner was the breath out of her body than the promoters came forward with an offer and it was promptly accepted. Yet even at that Isabel was left very ill provided for.

After the crash Gray had tried to get a job, even as a clerk in the office of such of the brokers as had weathered the storm, but there was no business. He applied to his old friends to give him something to do, however humble and however badly paid, but he applied in vain. His frenzied efforts to stave off the disaster that finally overwhelmed him, the burden of anxiety, the humiliation, resulted in a nervous breakdown and he began to have headaches so severe that he was incapacitated for twenty-four hours and as limp as a wet rag when they ceased. It had appeared to Isabel that they could not do better than go down with the children to the plantation in South Carolina till Gray regained his health. In its day it had brought in a hundred thousand dollars a year for its rice crop, but for long now had been no more than a wilderness of 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 on since the crash and there they proposed to return till conditions improved and Gray could find employment.

"I couldn't allow that," Elliott wrote. "Why, my dear fellow, they live like pigs. Isabel without a maid, no governess for the children, and only a couple of coloured women to look after them. So I've offered them my apartment in Paris and proposed that they should stay there till things change in this fantastic country. I shall provide them with a staff, as a matter of fact my kitchen-maid is a very good cook, so I shall leave her with them and I can easily find someone to take her place. I shall arrange to settle the accounts myself so that Isabel can spend her small income on her clothes and the menus plaisirs of the family. This means of course that I shall spend much more of my time on the 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'm really more at home on the Riviera. It's the only place remaining where I can meet people who speak my own language. I dare say I shall go to Paris now and then for a few days, but when I do, I don't in the least mind pigging it at the Ritz. I'm glad to say that I've at long last persuaded Gray and Isabel to accede to my wishes and I'm bringing them all over as soon as the necessary arrangements can be made. The furniture and the pictures (very poor in quality, my dear fellow, and of the most doubtful authenticity') are being sold the week after next and meanwhile, as I thought to live in the house till the last moment would be painful to them, I have brought them to stay with me at the Drake. I shall settle them in when we get to Paris and then come down to the Riviera. Don't forget to remember me to your royal neighbour."

Who could deny that Elliott, that arch-snob, was also the kindest, most considerate and generous of men?

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