/*bootstrap*/ My Maugham Collection Concordance Library: The Razor's Edge – Chapter Four
Newly Added: Francis de Croisset

Follow by Email

The Razor's Edge – Chapter Four

Novels > The Razor's Edge >


(i)

Elliot, having installed the Maturins in his spacious apartment on the Left Bank, returned to the Riviera at the end of the year. He had planned his house to suit his own convenience and there was no room in it for a family of four, so that, even if he had wanted to, he could not have had them to stay with him there. I do not think he regretted it. He was well aware that as a man by himself he was a more desirable asset than if he must be accompanied by a niece and a nephew, and he could hardly expect to arrange his own distinguished little parties (a matter over which he took immense trouble) if he had to count invariably on the presence of two house guests.

"It's much better for them to settle down in Paris and accustom themselves to civilized life. Besides, the two girls are old enough to go to school and I've found one not far from my apartment which I'm assured is very select."

In consequence of this I did not see Isabel till the spring when, because I had some work to do that made it desirable for me to spend some weeks there, I went to Paris and took a couple of rooms in a hotel just out of the Place Vendôme. It was a hotel I frequented, not only for its convenient situation, but because it had an air. It was a big old house built around a courtyard and it had been an inn for close upon two hundred years. The bathrooms were far from luxurious and the plumbing far from satisfactory; the bedrooms with their iron beds, painted white, their old-fashioned white counterpanes and their huge armoires à glace had a poverty-stricken look; but the parlours were furnished with fine old furniture. The sofa, the armchairs, dated from the gaudy reign of Napoleon the Third, and, though I could not say they were comfortable, they had a florid charm. In that room I lived in the past of the French novelists. When I looked at the Empire clock under its glass case I thought that a pretty woman in ringlets and a flounced dress might have watched the minute hand move as she waited for a visit from Rastignac, the well-born adventurer whose career in novel after novel Balzac followed from his humble beginnings to his ultimate grandeur. Dr. Bianchon, the physician who was so real to Balzac that when he lay dying he said: "Only Bianchon can save me," might well have come into that room to feel the pulse and look at the tongue of a noble dowager from the provinces who had come to Paris to see an attorney about a lawsuit and had called in a doctor for a passing ailment. At that bureau a lovesick woman in a crinoline, her hair parted in the middle, may have written a passionate letter to her faith-less lover or a peppery old gentleman in a green frock coat and a stock indited an angry epistle to his extravagant son.

The day after my arrival I called up Isabel and asked if she would give me a cup of tea if I came along at five. It was ten years since I'd seen her. She was reading a French novel when I was ushered into the drawing-room by a staid butler and getting up she took both my hands and greeted me with a warm and winning smile. I had never seen her more than a dozen times, and only twice alone, but she made me feel at once that we were not casual acquaintances but old friends. The ten years that had passed had reduced the gulf that separated the young girl from the middle-aged man and I was no longer conscious of the disparity of age between us. With the delicate flattery of a woman of the world she treated me as if I were her con-temporary, and in five minutes we were chatting as frankly and as unconstrainedly as though we were playmates who had been in the habit of meeting without interruption. She had acquired ease, self-possession and assurance.

But what chiefly struck me was the change in her appearance. I remember her as a pretty, bouncing girl who threatened to run to fat; I do not know whether, realizing this, she had taken heroic measures to reduce her weight or whether it was an unusual, though happy, accident of childbearing; but now she was as slender as anyone could wish. The mode of the moment accentuated this. She was in black, and at a glance I noticed that her silk dress, neither too plain nor too fancy, had been made by one of the best dressmakers in Paris, and she wore it with the careless confidence of a woman to whom it is second nature to wear expensive clothes. Ten years before, even with Elliott to advise, her frocks had been somewhat on the showy side and she had worn them as though she were not quite at home in them, Marie Louise de Florimond could not have said now that she lacked chic. She had chic to the tips of her rose-painted nails. Her features had fined down and it occurred to me that she had as pretty and as straight a nose as I had ever seen on a woman's face. There was not a line on her forehead or under her hazel eyes, and though her skin had lost the fresh bloom of extreme youth, its texture was as fine as ever; it obviously owed something now to lotions, creams and massage, but they had given it a soft, transparent delicacy that was singularly attractive. Her thin cheeks were very faintly rouged and her mouth was painted with discretion. She wore her bright brown hair bobbed as was the fashion of the moment and marcelled. She had no rings on her fingers, and I remembered that Elliott had told me that she had sold her jewellery; her hands, though not remarkably small, were well made. At that period women wore short frocks in the day-time and I saw that her legs in champagne-coloured stockings were shapely, long and slender. Legs are the undoing of many a comely woman; Isabel's legs, as a girl her most unfortunate trait, were now uncommonly good. In fact from the pretty girl whose glowing health, high spirits and brilliant colour had given her attractiveness she was become a beautiful woman. That she owed her beauty in some degree to art, discipline and mortification of the flesh did not seem to matter. The result was vastly satisfactory. It might be that the grace of her gestures, the felicity of her carnage, had been acquired by taking thought, but they had a Took of perfect spontaneity. I conceived the notion that these four months in Paris had put the finishing touches to a work of conscious art that had been years in the making. Elliott, even in his most censorious mood, could not but have approved of her; I, a person less difficult to please, found her ravishing.

Gray had gone to Mortefontaine to play golf, but she told me he would be in presently.

"And you must see my two little girls. They've gone to the Tuileries Gardens, but they ought to be in soon. They’re sweet."

We talked of one thing and another. She liked being in Paris and they were very comfortable in Elliott's apartment. Before leaving them he had made them acquainted with such of his friends as he thought they would like and they had already a pleasant circle of acquaintances. He had pressed them to entertain as abundantly as he had been in the habit of doing.

"You know, it tickles me to death to think that we're living like quite rich people when really we're absolutely broke."

"Is it as bad as that?"

She chuckled, and now I remembered the light, gay laugh that I had found so pleasing in her ten years before.

“Gray hasn't a penny and I have almost exactly the income Larry had when he wanted me to marry him and I wouldn't because I thought we couldn't possibly live on it and now I've got two children besides. It's rather funny, isn't it?"

“I’m glad you can see the joke of it."

"What news have you of Larry?"

"I? None. I haven't set eyes on him since before you were last in Paris. I knew slightly some of the people he used to know and I did ask them what had become of him, but that was years ago. No one seemed to know anything about him. He just vanished."

"We know the manager of the bank in Chicago where Larry has his account and he told us that every now and then he got a draft from some queer place. China, Burma, India. He seems to have been getting around."

I did not hesitate to put the question that came to the tip of my tongue. After all, if you want to know something the best way is to ask.

"D'you wish now that you had married him?"

She smiled engagingly.

"I've been very happy with Gray. He's been a wonderful husband. You know, until the crash came we had a grand time together. We like the same people, and we like doing the same things. He's very sweet. And it's nice being adored; he's just as much in love with me now as when we first married. He thinks I'm the most wonderful girl in the world. You can't imagine how kind and considerate he is. It was quite absurd how generous he was; you see, he thought nothing was too good for me. D'you know, he's never said an unkind or harsh thing to me all these years we've been married. Oh, I've been very lucky."

I asked myself if she thought she'd answered my question. I changed the conversation.

"Tell me about your little girls."

As I spoke the doorbell rang.

"Here they are. You shall see for yourself."

In a moment they came in followed by a nursery governess and I was introduced first to Joan, the elder, and then to Priscilla. Each in turn gave a polite little knick as she took my hand. One was eight and the other six. They were tall for their age; Isabel of course was tall and Gray. I remembered, was immense; but they were pretty only in the way all children are pretty. They looked frail. They had their father's black hair and their mother's hazel eyes. The presence of a stranger did not make them shy, and they talked eagerly to her of their doings in the gardens. They cast eager eyes on the dainties Isabel's cook had provided for tea, but which neither of us had touched, and being given permission to have one thing were thrown into a small agony of doubt as to which to choose. It was pleasant to see the demonstrative affection they had for their mother and the three of them clustered together made a charming picture. When they had eaten the little cake each had selected, Isabel sent them away and they went without a word of expostulation. I received the impression that she was bringing them up to do as they were told. When they were gone I said the usual things one says to a mother about her children and Isabel accepted my compliments with evident, but somewhat casual, pleasure. I asked her how Gray was liking Paris.

"Well enough. Uncle Elliott left us a car so he can go and play golf almost every day and he's joined the Travellers' Club and he plays bridge there. Of course, Uncle Elliott's offer to support us in this apartment has been a godsend. Gray's nerves went all to pieces and he still has those terrible headaches; even if he could get a job he isn't really fit to take it; and naturally that worries him. He wants to work, he feels he ought to, and it humiliates him not to be wanted. You see, he feels it's a man's business to work and if he can't work he may just as well be dead. He can't bear his feeling of being a dmg on the market, and I only got him to come here by persuading him that rest and change would bring him back to normalcy. But I know he won't be happy till he gets back into harness."

"I'm afraid you've had a very rough time these last two and a half years."

"Well, you know, when the crash came at first I simply couldn't believe it. It seemed inconceivable to me that we should be ruined. I could understand that other people should be ruined, but that we should be—well, it just seemed impossible. I went on thinking that something would happen to save us at the last moment. And then, when the final blow came, I felt that life wasn't worth living any more, I didn't think I could face the future; it was too black. For a fortnight I was absolutely miserable. God, it was awful, having to part with everything, knowing there wouldn't be any fun any more, having to do without everything I liked—and then at the end of a fortnight I said: 'Oh, to hell with it, I'm not going to give it another 'thought,' and I promise you I never have. I don't regret anything. I had a lot of fun while it lasted and now it's gone, it's gone."

"It's obvious that ruin is easier to bear in a luxurious apartment in a fashionable quarter, with a competent butler and an excellent cook free and for nothing, and when one can cover one's haggard bones with a dress by Chanel, isn't it?"

"Lanvin," she giggled. "I see you haven't changed much in ten years. I don't suppose you'll believe me, being a cynical brute, but I'm not sure if I'd have accepted Uncle Elliott's offer except for Gray and the children. On my twenty-eight hundred a year we could have managed perfectly well on the plantation and we'd have grown rice and rye and corn and kept pigs. After all I was born and raised on a farm in Illinois."

"In a manner of speaking," I smiled, knowing that in point of fact she had been born in an expensive clinic in New York.

At this point Gray came in. It is true that I had only seen him two or three times twelve years before, but I had seen a photograph of him with his bride (Elliott kept it in a splendid frame on his piano along with signed photographs of the King of Sweden, the Queen of Spain and the Duc de Guise) and I had a fair recollection of him. I was taken aback. His hair had receded on the temples and there was a small bald patch on the crown, his face was puffy and red, and he had a double chin. He had put on a lot of weight during years of good living and hard drinking and only his great height saved him from being grossly obese. But the thing I most noticed was the expression of his eyes. I remembered quite well the trusting, open frankness of their Irish blue, when the world was before him and he hadn't a care in the world; now I seemed to see in them a sort of puzzled dismay, and even if I hadn't known the facts I think I might have guessed that something had occurred to destroy his confidence in himself and in the ordered course of events. I felt a kind of diffidence in him, as though he had done wrong, though unwittingly, and were ashamed. It was plain that his nerve was shaken. He greeted me with pleasant cordiality and indeed seemed as glad to see me as if I were an old friend, but I had the impression that his rather noisy heartiness was a habit of manner that scarcely corresponded with his inner feeling.

Drinks were brought in and he mixed us a cocktail. He'd played a couple of rounds of golf and was satisfied with his game. He went into somewhat verbose detail over the difficulties he had surmounted over one of the holes and Isabel listened with an appearance of lively interest. After a few minutes, having made a date to take them to dine and see a play, I left.

(ii)

I fell into the habit of dropping in to see Isabel three or four times a week in the afternoon after my day's work was over. She was generally alone at that hour and glad to have a gossip. The persons to whom Elliott had introduced her were much older than she and I discovered that she had few friends of her own generation. Mine were for the most part busy till dinnertime and 1 found it more agreeable to talk with Isabel than to go to my club and play bridge with rather grouchy Frenchmen who did not particularly welcome the intrusion of a stranger. Her charming way of treating me as if she and I were of an age made conversation easy and we joked and laughed and chaffed one another, chatting now about ourselves, now about our common acquaintances, now about books and pictures, so that the time passed very agreeably. One of the defects of my character is that I can never grow used to the plainness of people; however sweet a disposition a friend of mine may have, years of intimacy can never reconcile me to his bad teeth or lopsided nose: on the other hand I never cease to delight in his comeliness and after twenty years of familiarity I am still able to take pleasure in a well-shaped brow or the delicate line of a cheekbone. So I never came into Isabel's presence without feeling anew a little thrill of pleasure in the perfection of her oval face, in the creamy delicacy of her skin and in the bright warmth of her hazel eyes.

Then a very unexpected thing happened.

(iii)

In all big cities there are self-contained groups that exist without intercommunication, small worlds within a greater world that lead their lives, their members dependent upon one another for companionship, as though they inhabited islands separated from each other by an unnavigable strait. Of no city, in my experience, is this more true than of Paris. There high society seldom admits outsiders into its midst, the politicians live in their own corrupt circle, the bourgeoisie, great and small, frequent one another, writers congregate with writers (it is remarkable in Andre Gide's Journal to see with how few people he seems to have been intimate who did not follow his own calling), painters hobnob with painters and musicians with musicians. The same thing is true of London, but in a less marked degree; there birds of a feather flock much less together, and there are a dozen houses where at the same table you may meet a duchess, an actress, a painter, a member of Parliament, a lawyer, a dressmaker and an author.

The events of my life have led me at one time and another to dwell transitorily in pretty well all the worlds of Paris, even (through Elliott) in the closed world of the Boulevard St. Germain; but that which I like best, better than the discreet circle that has its centre in what is now called the Avenue Foch, better than the cosmopolitan crew that patronize Larue's and the Café de Paris, better than the noisy sordid gaiety of Montmartre, is that section of which the artery is the Boulevard du Montparnasse. In my youth I spent a year in a tiny apartment near the Lion de Belfort, on the fifth floor, from which I had a spacious view of the cemetery. Montparnasse has still for me the tranquil air of a provincial town that was characteristic of it then. When I pass through the dingy narrow Rue d'Odessa I remember with a pang the shabby restaurant where we used to foregather to dine, painters and illustrators and sculptors, I, but for Arnold Bennett on occasion, the only writer, and sit late discussing excitedly, absurdly, angrily, painting and literature. It is still a pleasure to me to stroll down the boulevard and look at the young people who are as young as I was then and invent stories for myself about them. When I have nothing better to do I take a taxi and go and sit in the old Cafe du Dome. It is no longer what it was then, the meeting place exclusively of Bohemia; the small trades-men of the neighbourhood have taken to visiting it, and strangers from the other side of the Seine come to it in the hope of seeing a world that has ceased to exist. Students come to it still, of course, painters and writers, but most of them are foreigners; and when you sit there you hear around you as much Russian, Spanish, German and English as French. But I have a notion that they are saying very much the same sort of things as we said forty years ago, only they speak of Picasso instead of Manet and of André Breton instead of Guillaume Apollinaire. My heart goes out to them.

When I had been in Paris about a fortnight I was sitting one evening at the Dôme and since the terrace was crowded I had been forced to take a table in the front row. It was fine and warm. The plane trees were just bursting into leaf and there was in the air that sense of leisure, lightheartedness and alacrity that was peculiar to Paris. I felt at peace with myself, but not lethargically, with exhilaration rather. Suddenly a man walking past me, stopped and with a grin that displayed a set of very white teeth said: ''Hello!" I looked at him blankly. He was tall and thin. He wore no hat and he had a mop of dark brown hair that badly needed cutting. His upper lip and his chin were concealed by a thick brown beard. His forehead and his neck were deeply tanned. He wore a frayed shirt, without a tie, a brown, threadbare coat and a pair of shabby grey slacks. He looked a bum and to the best of my belief I had never seen him before. I put him down for one of those good-for-nothings who have gone to the devil in Paris and I expected him to pull a hard-luck story to wheedle a few francs out of me for a dinner and a bed. He stood in front of me, his hands in his pockets, showing his white teeth, with a look of amusement in his dark eyes.

"You don't remember me?" he said.

"I've never set eyes on you in my life."

I was prepared to give him twenty francs, but I wasn't prepared to let him get away with the bluff that we knew one another.

"Larry," he said.

"Good God! Sit down." He chuckled, stepped forward and took the empty chair at my table. "Have a drink."

I beckoned to the waiter. "How could you expect me to recognize you with all that hair on your face?"

The waiter came and he ordered an orangeade. Now that I looked at him I remembered the peculiarity of his eyes, which came from the black of the iris being as black as that of the pupil and which gave them at once intensity and opaqueness.

"How long have you been in Paris?" I asked.

"A month."

"Are you going to stay?"

"For a while."

While I asked these questions my mind was busy. I noticed that the cuffs of his trousers were ragged and that there were holes in the elbows of his coat. He looked as destitute as any beachcomber I had ever met in an Eastern port. It was hard in those days to forget the depression and I wondered whether the crash of '29 had left him penniless. I didn't much like the thought of that and not being a person to beat about the bush I asked him outright:

"Are you down and out?"

"No, I'm all right. What makes you think that?"

"Well, you look as if you could do with a square meal and the things you've got on are only fit for the garbage can."

"Are they as bad as all that? I never thought about it. As a matter of fact I have been meaning to get myself a few odds and ends, but I never seem able to get down to it."

I thought he was shy or proud and I didn't see why I should put up with that sort of nonsense.

"Don't be a fool, Larry. I'm not a millionaire, but I'm not poor. If you're short of cash let me lend you a few thousand francs. That won't break me."

He laughed outright.

"Thanks a lot, but I'm not short of cash. I've got more money than I can spend."

"Notwithstanding the crash?"

"Oh, that didn't affect me. Everything I had was in government bonds. I don't know whether they went down in value, I never enquired, but I do know that Uncle Sam went on paying up on the coupons like the decent old party he is. In point of fact I've been spending so little during the last few years, I must have quite a bit in hand."

"Where have you come from now then?"

"India."

"Oh, I heard you'd been there. Isabel told me. She apparently knows the manager of your bank in Chicago."

"Isabel? When did you last see her?"

"Yesterday."

"She's not in Paris?"

"She is indeed. She's living in Elliott Templeton's apartment."

"That's grand. I'd love to see her."

Though I was watching his eyes pretty closely while we were exchanging these remarks I could discern only a natural surprise and pleasure, but no feeling more complicated.

"Gray's there too. You know they're married?"

"Yes, Uncle Bob—Dr. Nelson, my guardian—wrote and told me, but he died some years ago."

It occurred to me that with this break in what appeared his only link with Chicago and his friends there he probably knew nothing of what had happened. I told him of the birth of Isabel's two daughters, of the death of Henry Maturin and Louisa Bradley, of Gray's ruin and of Elliott's generosity.

"Is Elliott here too?"

"No."

For the first time in forty years Elliott was not spending the spring in Paris. Though looking younger he was now seventy and as usual with men of that age there were days when he felt tired and ill. Little by little he had given up taking any but walking exercise. He was nervous about his health and his doctor came to see him twice a week to thrust into an alternate buttock a hypodermic needle with the fashionable injection of the moment. At every meal, at home or abroad, he took from his pocket a little gold box from which he extracted a tablet which he swallowed with the reserved air of one performing a religious rite. His doctor had recommended him to take the cure at Montecatini, a watering-place in the north of Italy, and after this he proposed to go to Venice to look for a font of a design suitable to his Romanesque church. He was less unwilling to leave Paris unvisited since each year he found it socially more unsatisfactory. He did not like old people, and resented it when he was invited to meet only persons of his own age, and the young he found vapid. The adornment of the church he had built was now a main interest of his life and here he could indulge his ineradicable passion for buying works of art with the comfortable assurance that he was doing it to the glory of God. He had found in Rome an early altar of honey-coloured stone and had been dickering in Florence for six months for a triptych of the Siennese school to put over it.

Then Larry asked me how Gray was liking Paris.

"I'm afraid he's feeling rather lost here."

I tried to explain to him how Gray had struck me. He listened to me with his eyes fixed on my face in a meditative, unblinking gaze that suggested to me, i don't know why, that he was listening to me not with his ears, but with some inner more sensitive organ of hearing. It was queer and not very comfortable.

"But you'll see for yourself," I finished.

"Yes, I'd love to see them. I suppose I shall find the address in the phone book."

"But if you don't want to scare them out of their wits and drive the children into screaming hysterics, I think you'd be wise to have your hair cut and your beard shaved."

He laughed.

"I've been thinking of it. There's no object in making myself conspicuous."

"And while you're about it you might get yourself a new outfit."

"I suppose I am a bit shabby. When I came to leave India I found that I had nothing but the clothes I stand up in."

He looked at the suit I was wearing and asked me who my tailor was. I told him, but added that he was in London and so couldn't be of much use to him. We dropped the subject and he began to talk again of Gray and Isabel.

"I've been seeing quite a lot of them," I said. "They're very happy together. I've never had a chance of talking to Gray alone, and anyway I dare say he wouldn't talk to me about Isabel, but I know he's devoted to her. His face is rather sullen in repose and his eyes are harassed, but when he looks at Isabel such a gentle, kind look comes into them, it's rather moving. I have a notion that all through their trouble she stood by him like a rock and he never forgets how much he owes her. You'll find Isabel changed." I didn't tell him she was beautiful as she had never been before. I wasn't sure he had the discernment to see how the pretty, strapping girl had made herself into the wonderfully graceful, delicate and exquisite woman. There are men who are affronted by the aids that art can supply to feminine nature. "She's very good to Gray. She's taking infinite pains to restore his confidence in himself."

But it was growing late and I asked Larry if he would come along the boulevard and dine with me.

"No, I don't think I will, thanks," he answered. "I must be off."

He got up, nodded in a friendly way, and stepped out on to the pavement.

(iv)

I saw Gray and Isabel next day and told them that I had seen Larry. They were as much surprised as I had been.

"It'll be wonderful to see him,*' said Isabel. "Let's call him up at once."

Then I remembered that I hadn't thought of asking him where he was staying. Isabel gave me hell.

"I'm not sure he'd have told me if I had," I protested, laughing. "Probably my subconscious had something to do with it. Don't you remember, he never liked telling people where he lived. It was one of his oddities. He may walk in at any moment."

"That would be like him," said Gray. "Even in the old days you could never count on his being where you expected him to be. He was here today and gone tomorrow. You'd see him in a room and think in a moment you'd go and say hello to him and when you turned round he'd disappeared."

"He always was the most exasperating fellow," said Isabel. "It's no good denying that. I suppose we shall just have to wait till it suits him to turn up."

He didn't come that day, nor the next, nor the day after. Isabel accused me of having invented the story to annoy. I promised her I hadn't and sought to give her reasons why he hadn't shown up. But they were implausible. Within myself I wondered whether on thinking it over he hadn't made up his mind that he just didn't want to see Gray and Isabel and had wandered off somewhere or other away from Paris. I had a feeling already that he never took root anywhere, but was always prepared at a moment's notice, for a reason that seemed good to him or on a whim, to move on.

He came at last. It was a rainy day and Gray hadn't gone to Mortefontaine. The three of us were together, Isabel and I drinking a cup of tea, Gray sipping a whisky and Perrier, when the butler opened the door and Larry strolled in. Isabel with a cry sprang to her feet and throwing herself into his arras kissed him on both cheeks. Gray, his fat red face redder than ever, warmly wrung his hand.

"Gee, I'm glad to see you, Larry," he said, his voice choked with emotion.

Isabel bit her lip and I saw she was constraining herself not to cry.

"Have a drink, old man," said Gray unsteadily.

I was touched by their delight at seeing the wanderer. It must have been pleasant for him to perceive how much he meant to them. He smiled happily. It was plain to me that he was, however, completely self-possessed. He noticed the tea things.

"I'll have a cup of tea," he said.

"Oh, gosh, you don't want tea," cried Gray. "Let's have a bottle of champagne."

"I'd prefer tea," smiled Larry.

His composure had on the others the effect he may have intended. They calmed down, but looked at him still with fond eyes. I don't mean to suggest that he responded to their natural exuberance with an ungracious coldness; on the contrary, he was as cordial and charming as one could wish; but I was conscious in his manner of something that I could only describe as remoteness and I wondered what it signified.

"Why didn't you come and see us at once, you horror?" cried Isabel, with a pretence of indignation. "I've been hanging out of the window for the last five days to see you coming and every time the bell rang my heart leapt to my mouth and I had all I could do to swallow it again."

Larry chuckled.

"Mr. M. told me I looked so tough that your man would never let me through the door. I flew over to London to get some clothes."

"You needn't have done that," I smiled. "You could have got a reach-me-down at the Printemps or the Belle Jardinière."

"I thought if I was going to do it at all, I'd better do the thing in style. I haven't bought any European clothes for ten years. I went to your tailor and said I wanted a suit in three days. He said it would take a fortnight, so we compromised on four. I got back from London an hour ago."

He wore a blue serge that nicely fitted his slim figure, a white shirt with a soft collar, a blue silk tie and brown shoes. He had had his hair cut short and shaved off the hair on his face. He looked not only neat, but well-groomed. It was a transformation. He was very thin; his cheekbones were more prominent, his temples hollower and his eyes in the deep sockets larger than I remembered them; but notwithstanding he looked very well; he looked, indeed, with his deeply sunburnt, unlined face, amazingly young. He was a year younger than Gray, they were both in their early thirties, but whereas Gray looked ten years more than his age, Larry looked ten years less. Gray's movements, owing to his great bulk, were deliberate and rather heavy; but Larry's were light and easy. His manner was boyish, gay and debonair, but withal it had a serenity that I was peculiarly conscious of and that I did not recollect in the lad I had known before. And as the conversation proceeded, flowing without difficulty as was natural in old friends with so many common memories, with bits of news about Chicago thrown in by Gray and Isabel, trivial gossip, one thing leading to another, with airy laughter, my impression persisted that in Larry, though his laughter was frank and he listened with evident pleasure to Isabel's breezy chatter, there was a very singular detachment. I did feel that he was playing a part, he was too natural for that and his sincerity was obvious; I felt that there was something within him, I don't know whether to call it awareness or a sensibility or a force, that remained strangely aloof.

The children were brought in and made known to Larry, and gave him their polite little knicks. He held out his hand, looking at them with an engaging tenderness in his soft eyes, and they took it, staring at him gravely. Isabel brightly told him they were getting on nicely with their lessons, gave them a cookie each and sent them away.

"I’ll come and read to you for ten minutes when you're in bed."

She did not at that moment want to be interrupted in her pleasure at seeing Larry. The little girls went up to say good night to their father. It was charming to see the love that lit up the red face of that gross man as he took them in his arms and kissed them. No one could help seeing that he proudly adored them and when they were gone he turned to Larry and with a sweet slow smile on his lips said:

"They're not bad kids, are they?"

Isabel gave him an affectionate glance.

"If I let Gray have his way he'd spoil them to death. He'd let me starve, that great brute would, to feed the children on caviare and pâté de foie gras."

He looked at her with a smile and said: "You're a liar and you know it. I worship the ground you tread on."

There was a responsive smile in Isabel's eyes. She knew that and was glad of it. A happy couple.

She insisted that we should stay to dinner. I, thinking they would prefer to be by themselves, made excuses, but she would not listen to them.

"I'll tell Marie to put another carrot in the soup and there'll be plenty for four. There's a chicken and you and Gray can eat the legs while Larry and I eat the wings, and she can make the soufflé large enough for all of us."

Gray too seemed to want me to stay, so I let myself be persuaded to do what I wanted to.

While we waited Isabel told Larry at length what I had already told him in brief. Though she narrated the lamentable story as gaily as possible Gray's face assumed an expression of sullen melancholy. She tried to cheer him up.

"Anyhow it's all over now. We've fallen on our feet and we've got the future before us. As soon as things improve, Gray's going to get a splendid job and make millions."

Cocktails were brought in and a couple did something to raise the poor fellow's spirits. I saw that Larry, though he took one, scarcely touched it, and when Gray, unobservant, offered him another he refused. We washed our hands and sat down to dinner. Gray had ordered a bottle of champagne, but when the butler began to fill Larry's glass he told him he didn't want any.

"Oh, but you must have some," cried Isabel. "It's Uncle Elliott's best and he only gives it to very special guests."

"To tell you the truth I prefer water. After having been in the East so long it's a treat to drink water that's safe."

"This is an occasion."

"All right, I'll drink a glass."

The dinner was excellent, but Isabel noticed, as I did too, that Larry ate very little. It struck her, I suppose, that she had been doing all the talking and that Larry had had no chance to do more than listen, so now she began to question him on his actions during the ten years since she had seen him. He answered with his cordial frankness, but so vaguely as not to tell us much.

"Oh, I've been loafing around, you know. I spent a year in Germany and some time in Spain and Italy. And I knocked about the East for a bit."

"Where have you just come from now?"

"India."

"How long were you there?"

"Five years."

"Did you have fun?" asked Gray. "Shoot any tigers?"

"No," Larry smiled.

"What on earth were you doing with yourself in India for five years?" said Isabel.

"Playing about," he answered, with a smile of kindly mockery.

"What about the Rope Trick?" asked Gray. "Did you see that?"

"No, I didn't."

"What did you see?"

"A lot."

I put a question to him then.

"Is it true that the Yogis acquire powers that would seem to us supernatural?"

"I wouldn't know. All I can tell you is that it's commonly believed in India. But the wisest don't attach any importance to powers of that sort; they think they're apt to hinder spiritual progress. I remember one of them telling me of a Yogi who came to the bank of a river; he hadn't the money to pay the ferryman to take him across and the ferryman refused to take him for nothing, so he stepped on the water and walked upon its surface to the other side. The Yogi who told me shrugged his shoulders rather scornfully. 'A miracle like that,' he said 'is worth no more than the penny it would have cost to go on the ferryboat.'"

"But d'you think the Yogi really walked over the water?" asked Gray.

"The Yogi who told me believed it implicitly."

It was a pleasure to hear Larry talk, because he had a wonderfully melodious voice; it was light, rich without being deep, and with a singular variety of tone. We finished dinner and went back to the drawing-room to have our coffee. I had never been to India and was eager to hear more of it.

"Did you come in contact with any writers and thinkers?" I asked.

"I notice that you make a distinction between the two," said Isabel to tease me.

"I made it my business to," Larry answered.

"How did you communicate with them? In English?"

"The most interesting, if they spoke at all, didn't speak it very well and understood less. I learnt Hindustani. And when I went south I picked up enough Tamil to get along pretty well."

"How many languages d'you know now, Larry?"

"Oh, I don't know. Half a dozen or so.'"

"I want to know more about the Yogis," said Isabel. "Did you get to know any of them intimately?"

"As intimately as you can know persons who pass the best part of their time in the Infinite," he smiled. "I spent two years in the Ashrama of one."

"Two years? What's an Ashrama?"

"Well, I suppose you might call it a hermitage. There are holy men who live alone, in a temple, in the forest or on the slopes of the Himalayas. There are others who attract disciples. A charitable person to acquire merit builds a room, large or small, to lodge a Yogi whose piety has impressed him, and the disciples live with him, sleeping on the verandah or in the cookhouse if there is one or under the trees. I had a tiny hut in the compound just big enough for my camp bed, a chair and a table, and a bookshelf."

"Where was this?" I enquired.

"In Travancore, a beautiful country of green hills and valleys and soft-flowing rivers. Up in the mountains there are tigers, leopards, elephants and bison, but the Ashrama was on a lagoon and all around it grew coconuts and areca palms. It was three or four miles from the nearest town, but people used to come from there, and even from much farther, on foot or by bullock cart, to hear the Yogi talk when he was inclined to, or just to sit at his feet and share with one another the peace and blessedness that were radiated from his presence as fragrance is wafted upon the air by a tuberose."

Gray moved uneasily in his chair. I guessed that the conversation was taking a turn that he found uncomfortable.

"Have a drink?" he said to me.

"No, thanks."

"Well, I'm going to have one. What about you, Isabel?"

He raised his great weight from the chair and went over to the table on which stood whisky and Perrier and glasses.

"Were there other white men there?"

"No. I was the only one."

"How could you stand it for two years?" cried Isabel.

"They passed like a flash. I've spent days that seemed to be unconscionably longer."

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

"I read. I took long walks. I went out in a boat on the lagoon. I meditated. Meditation is very hard work; after two or three hours of it you're as exhausted as if you'd driven a car five hundred miles, and all you want to do is to rest."

Isabel frowned slightly. She was puzzled and I'm not sure that she wasn't a trifle scared. I think she was beginning to have a notion that the Larry who had entered the room a few hours before, though unchanged in appearance and seemingly as open and friendly as he had ever been, was not the same as the Larry, so candid, easy and gay, wilful to her mind but delightful, that she had known in the past. She had lost him before, and on seeing him again, taking him for the old Larry, she had a feeling that, however altered the circumstances, he was still hers; and now, as though she had sought to catch a sunbeam in her hand and it slipped through her fingers as she grasped it, she was a trifle dismayed. I had looked at her a good deal that evening, which was always a pleasant thing to do, and had seen the fondness in her eyes as they rested on his trim head, with the small ears close to the skull, and how the expression in them changed when they dwelt on his hollow temples and the thinness of his cheek. She glanced at his long lean hands, which notwithstanding their emaciation were strong and virile. Then her gaze lingered on his mobile mouth, well shaped, full without being sensual, and on his serene brow and clean-cut nose. He wore his new clothes not with the bandbox elegance of Elliott, but with a sort of loose carelessness as though he had worn them every day for a year. I felt that he aroused in Isabel motherly instincts I had never felt in her relation with her children. She was an experienced woman; he still looked a boy; and I seemed to read in her air the pride of a mother for her grown-up son because he is talking intelligently and others are listening to him as if he made sense. I don't think the import of what he said penetrated her consciousness.

But I was not done with my questioning.

"What was your Yogi like?"

"In person, d'you mean? Well, he wasn't tall, neither thin nor fat, palish brown in colour and clean-shaven, with close-cropped white hair. He never wore anything but a loincloth, and yet he managed to look as trim and neat and well dressed as a young man in one of Brooks Brothers' advertisements."

"And what had he got that particularly attracted you?"

Larry looked at me for a full minute before answering. His eyes in their deep sockets seemed as though they were trying to pierce to the depths of my soul.

"Saintliness."

I was slightly disconcerted by his reply. In that room, with its fine furniture, with those lovely drawings on the walls, the word fell like a plop of water that has seeped through the ceiling from an overflowing bath.

"We've all read about the saints, St. Francis, St. [ohn of the Cross, but that was hundreds of years ago. I never thought it possible to meet one who was alive now. From the first time I saw him I never doubted that he was a saint. It was a wonderful experience."

"And what did you gain from it?"

"Peace," he said casually, with a light smile. Then, abruptly, he rose to his feet. "I must go."

"Oh, not yet, Larry," cried Isabel. "It's quite early."

"Good night," he said, smiling still, taking no notice of her expostulation. He kissed her on the cheek. "I'll see you again in a day or two."

"Where are you staying? I'll call you."

"Oh, don't bother to do that. You know how difficult it is to get a call through in Paris, and in any case our telephone is generally out of order."

I laughed inwardly at the neatness with which Larry had got out of giving an address. It was a queer kink of his to make a secret of his abode. I suggested that they should all dine with me next evening but one in the Bois de Boulogne. It was very pleasant in that balmy spring weather to eat out-of-doors, under the trees, and Gray could drive us there in the coupe. I left with Larry and would willingly have walked some way with him, but as we got into the street he shook hands with me and walked quickly off. I got into a taxi.

(v)

We had arranged to meet at the apartment and have a cocktail before starting. I arrived before Larry. I was taking them to a very smart restaurant and expected to find Isabel arrayed for the occasion; with all the women dressed up to the nines I was confident she would not wish to be outshone. But she had on a plain woollen frock.

"Gray's got one of his headaches," she said. "He's in agony. I can't possibly leave him. I told the cook she could go out when she'd given the children their supper and I must make something for him myself and try to get him to take it. You and Larry had better go alone."

"Is Gray in bed?"

"No, he won't ever go to bed when he has his headaches. God knows, it's the only place for him, but he won't. He's in the library."

This was a little panelled room, brown and gold, that Elliott had found in an old château. The books were protected from anyone who wanted to read them by gilt latticework, and locked up, but this was perhaps as well, as they consisted for the most part of illustrated pornographic works of the eighteenth century. In their con-temporary morocco, however, they made a very pretty effect. Isabel led me in. Gray was sitting humped up in a big leather chair, with picture papers scattered on the floor beside him. His eyes were closed and his usually red face had a grey pallor. It was evident that he was in great pain. He tried to get up, but I stopped him.

"Have you given him any aspirin?" I asked Isabel.

"That never does any good. I have an American prescription, but that doesn't help either."

"Oh, don't bother, darling," said Gray. "I shall be all right tomorrow." He tried to smile. "I'm sorry to make such a nuisance of myself," he said to me. "You all go out to the Bois."

"I wouldn't dream of it," said Isabel. "D'you think I should enjoy myself when I knew you were suffering the tortures of the damned?"

"Poor slut, I think she loves me," said Gray, his eyes closed.

Then his face was suddenly contorted and you could almost see the lancinating pain that pierced his head. The door was softly opened and Larry stepped in. Isabel told him what was the matter.

"Oh, I am sorry," he said, giving Gray a look of commiseration. "Isn't there anything one can do to relieve him?"

"Nothing," said Gray, his eyes still closed. "The only thing you can any of you do for me is to leave me alone; go off and have a good time by yourselves."

I thought myself that was the only sensible course to take, but I didn't suppose Isabel could square it with her conscience.

"Will you let me see if I can help you?" asked Larry.

"No one can help me," said Gray wearily. "It's just killing me and sometimes I wish to God it would."

"I was wrong in saying that perhaps I could help you. What I meant was that perhaps I could help you to help yourself."

Gray slowly opened his eyes and looked at Larry.

"How can you do that?"

Larry took what looked like a silver coin out of his pocket and put it in Gray's hand.

"Close your fingers on it tightly and hold your hand palm downwards. Don't fight against me. Make no effort, but hold the coin in your clenched fist. Before I count twenty your hand will open and the coin will drop out of it."

Gray did as he was told. Larry seated himself at the writing-table and began to count. Isabel and I remained standing. One, two, three, four. Till he got up to fifteen there was no movement in Gray's hand, then it seemed to tremble a little and I had the impression, I can hardly say I saw, that the clenched fingers were loosening. The thumb moved away from the fist. I distinctly saw the fingers quiver. When Larry reached nineteen the coin fell out of Gray's hand and rolled to my feet. I picked it up and looked at it. It was heavy and misshapen, and in bold relief on one side of it was a youthful head which I recognized as that of Alexander the Great. Gray stared at his hand with perplexity.

"I didn't let the coin drop," he said. "It fell of itself."

He was sitting with his right arm resting on the arm of the leather chair.

"Are you quite comfortable in that chair?" asked Larry.

"As comfortable as I can be when my head's giving me hell."

"Well, let yourself go quite slack. Take it easy. Do nothing. Don't resist. Before I count twenty your right arm will rise from the arm of the chair until your hand is above your head. One, two, three, four."

He spoke the numbers slowly in that silver-toned, melodious voice of his, and when he had reached nine we saw Gray's hand rise, only just perceptibly, from the leather surface on which it rested until it was perhaps an inch above it. It stopped for a second.

"Ten, eleven, twelve."

There was a little jerk and then slowly the whole arm began to move upwards. It wasn't resting on the chair any more. Isabel, a little scared, took hold of my hand. It was a curious effect. It had no likeness to a voluntary movement. I've never seen a man walking in his sleep, but I can imagine that he would move in just the same strange way that Gray's arm moved. It didn't look as though the will were the motive power. I should have thought it would be hard to raise the arm so slowly and so evenly by a conscious effort. It gave the impression that a subconscious force, independent of the mind, was raising it. It was the same sort of movement as that of a piston moving very slowly back and forth in a cylinder.

"Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen."

The words fell, slow, slow, slow, like drops of water in a basin from a defective tap. Gray's arm rose, rose, till his hand was above his head, and as Larry reached the number he had said it fell of its own weight on to the arm of the chair.

"I didn't lift my arm," said Gray. "I couldn't help its rising like that. It did it of its own accord."

Larry faintly smiled.

"It's of no consequence. I thought it might give you confidence in me. Where's that Greek coin?"

I gave it to him.

"Hold it in your hand." Gray took it. Larry glanced at his watch. "It's thirteen minutes past eight. In sixty seconds your eyelids will grow so heavy that you'll be obliged to close them and then you'll sleep. You'll sleep for six minutes. At eight twenty you'll wake and you'll have no more pain."

Neither Isabel nor I spoke. Our eyes were on Larry. He said nothing more. He fixed his gaze on Gray, but did not seem to look at him; he seemed rather to look through and beyond him. There was something eerie in the silence that fell upon us; it was like the silence of flowers in a garden at nightfall. Suddenly I felt Isabel's hand tighten. I glanced at Gray. His eyes were closed. He was breathing easily and regularly; he was asleep. We stood there for a time that seemed interminable. I badly wanted a cigarette, but did not like to light one. Larry was motionless. His eyes looked into I knew not what distance. Except that they were open he might have been in a trance. Suddenly he appeared to relax; his eyes took on their normal expression and he looked at his watch. As he did so. Gray opened his eyes.

"Gosh," he said, "I believe I dropped off to sleep."

Then he started. I noticed that his face had lost its ghastly pallor. "My headache's gone."

"That's fine," said Larry. "Have a cigarette and then we'll all go out to dinner."

"It's a miracle. I feel perfectly swell. How did you do it?"

"I didn't do it. You did it yourself."

Isabel went to change and meanwhile Gray and I drank a cocktail. Though it was plain that Larry did not wish it, Gray insisted on talking of what had just happened. He couldn't make it out at all.

“I didn't believe you could do a thing, you know," he said. "I just gave in because I felt too lousy to argue."

He went on to describe the onset of his headaches, the anguish he endured and the wreck he was when the attack subsided. He could not understand how it was that just then he felt his usual robust self. Isabel came back. She was wearing a dress I had not seen before; it reached to the ground, a white sheath of what I think is called marocain, with a flare of black tulle, and I could not but think she would be a credit to us.

It was very gay at the Chateau de Madrid and we were in high spirits. Larry talked amusing nonsense in a way I had not heard him do before and he made us laugh. I had a notion he was doing this with the idea of diverting our minds from the exhibition of his unexpected power. But Isabel was a determined woman. She was prepared to play ball with him as long as it suited her convenience, but she did not lose sight of her desire to satisfy her curiosity. When we had finished dinner and were drinking coffee and liqueurs and she might well have supposed that the good food, the one glass of wine he drank and the friendly talk had weakened his defences she fixed her bright eyes on Larry.

"Now tell us how you cured Gray's headache."

"You saw for yourself," he answered, smiling.

"Did you learn to do that sort of thing in India?"

"Yes."

"He suffers agonies. D'you think you could cure him permanently?"

"I don't know. I might be able to."

"It would make a difference to his whole life. He couldn't expect to hold a decent job when he may be incapacitated for forty-eight hours. He'll never be happy till he's at work again."

"I can't work miracles, you know."

"But it was a miracle. I saw it with my own eyes."

"No, it wasn't. I merely put an idea in old Gray's head and he did the rest himself." He turned to Gray. "What are you doing tomorrow?"

"Playing golf."

"I'll look in at six and we'll have a talk." Then, giving Isabel his winning smile: "I haven't danced with you for ten years, Isabel. Would you care to see if I still know how to?"

(vi)

After that we saw a good deal of Larry. For the next week he came to the apartment every day and for half an hour shut himself up with Gray in the library. It appeared that he wanted to persuade him—that was how he smilingly put it—out of having those shattering megrims, and Gray conceived a childlike trust in him. From the little Gray said I got the idea that he was trying besides to restore his broken confidence in himself. About ten days later Gray had another headache, and it so happened that Larry was not to come till the evening. It was not a very bad one, but Gray was so confident now in Larry's odd power that he thought if Larry could be got hold of he could take it away in a few minutes. But neither I, whom Isabel called on the phone, nor they knew where he lived. When Larry at last came and relieved Gray of his pain, Gray asked him for his address so that in case of need he could summon him at once. Larry smiled.

"Call the American Express and leave a message. I'll call them every morning."

Isabel asked me later why Larry made a secret of his address. He had done that before and then it had turned out that he lived without any mystery in a third-rate hotel in the Latin Quarter.

"I haven't a notion," I said in answer. "I can only suggest something very fanciful and there's probably nothing in it. It may be that some queer instinct urges him to carry over to his dwelling-place some privacy of his spirit."

"What in God's name d'you mean by that?" she cried irritably.

"Hasn't it struck you that when he's with us, easy as he is to get on with, friendly and sociable, one's conscious of a sort of detachment in him, as though he weren't giving all of himself, but withheld in some hidden part of his soul something, I don't know what it is—a tension, a secret, an aspiration, a knowledge—that sets him apart?"

"I've known Larry all my life," she said impatiently.

"Sometimes he reminds me of a great actor playing perfectly a part in a trumpery play. Like Eleanora Duse in La Locandiera."

Isabel pondered over this for a moment.

"I suppose I know what you mean. One's having fun, and one thinks he's just like one of us, just like everybody else, and then suddenly you have the feeling that he's escaped you like a smoke ring that you try to catch in your hands. What do you think it can be that makes him so queer?"

"Perhaps something so commonplace that one simply doesn't notice it."

"Such as?"

"Well, goodness, for instance."

Isabel frowned.

"I wish you wouldn't say things like that. It gives me a nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach."

"Or is it a little pain in the depth of your heart?"

Isabel gave me a long look as though she were trying to read my thoughts. She took a cigarette from the table beside her and, lighting it, leant back in her ehair. She watched the smoke curl up into the air.

"Do you want me to go?" I asked.

"No."

I was silent for a moment, watching her, and I took my pleasure in the contemplation of her shapely nose and the exquisite line of her jaw.

"Are you very much in love with Larry?"

"God damn you, I've never loved anyone else in all my life."

"Why did you marry Gray?"

"I had to marry somebody. He was mad about me and Mamma wanted me to marry him. Everybody told me I was well rid of Larry. I was very fond of Gray; I'm very fond of him still. You don't know how sweet he is. No one in the world could be so kind and so considerate. He looks as though he had an awful temper, doesn't he? With me he's always been angelic. When we had money, he wanted me to want things so that he could have the pleasure of giving them to me. Once I said it would be fun if we could have a yacht and go round the world, and if the crash hadn't come he'd have bought one."

"He sounds almost too good to be true," I murmured.

"We had a grand time. I shall always be grateful to him for that. He made me very happy."

I looked at her but did not speak.

"I suppose I didn't really love him, but one can get on all right without love. At the bottom of my heart I hankered for Larry, but as long as I didn't see him it didn't really bother me. D'you remember saying to me that with three thousand miles of ocean between, the pangs of love become quite tolerable? I thought it a cynical remark then, but of course it's true."

"If it's a pain to see Larry, don't you think it would be wiser not to see him?"

"But it's a pain that's heaven. Besides, you know what he is. Any day he may vanish like a shadow when the sun goes in and we may not see him again for years."

"Have you never thought of divorcing Gray?"

"I've got no reason for divorcing him."

"That doesn't prevent your countrywomen from divorcing their husbands when they have a mind to."

She laughed.

"Why d'you suppose they do it?"

"Don't you know? Because American women expect to find in their husbands a perfection that English women only hope to find in their butlers."

Isabel gave her head such a haughty toss that I wondered she didn't get a crick in the neck.

"Because Gray isn't articulate you think there's nothing to him."

"You're wrong there," I interrupted quickly. "I think there's something rather moving about him. He has a wonderful faculty of love. One has only to glance at his face when he's looking at you to see how deeply, how devotedly he's attached to you. He loves his children much more than you do."

"I suppose you're going to say now that I'm not a good mother."

"On the contrary I think you're an excellent mother. You see that they're well and nappy. You watch over their diet and take care that their bowels act regularly. You teach them to behave nicely and you read to them and make them say their prayers. If they were sick you'd send for a doctor at once and nurse them with care. But you're not wrapped up in them as Gray is."

"It's unnecessary that one should be. I'm a human being and I treat them as human beings. A mother only does her children harm if she makes them the only concern of her life."

"I think you're quite right."

"And the fact remains that they worship me.”

"I've noticed that. You're their ideal of all that's graceful and beautiful and wonderful. But they're not cosy and at their ease with you as they are with Gray. They worship you, that's true; but they love him."

"He's very lovable."

I liked her for saying that. One of her most amiable traits was that she was never affronted by the naked truth.

"After the crash Gray went all to pieces. For weeks he worked at the office till midnight. I used to sit at home in an agony of fear, I was afraid he'd blow his brains out, he was so ashamed. You see, they'd been so proud of the firm, his father and Gray, they were proud of their integrity and the sureness of their judgment. It wasn't so much that we'd lost all our money, what he couldn't get over was that all those people who'd trusted him had lost theirs. He felt that he ought to have had more foresight. I couldn't get him to see that he wasn't to blame."

Isabel took a lipstick out of her bag and painted her lips.

"But that's not what I wanted to tell you. The one thing we had left was the plantation and I felt that the only chance for Gray was to get away, so we parked the children with Mamma and went down there. He'd always liked it, but we'd never been there by ourselves; we'd taken a crowd with us and had a grand time. Gray's a good shot, but he hadn't the heart to shoot then. He used to take a boat and go out on the marsh by himself for hours at a time and watch the birds. He'd wander up and down the canals with the pale rushes on each side of him and only the blue sky above. On some days the canals are as blue as the Mediterranean. He used not to say much when he came back. He'd say it was swell. But I could see what he felt. I knew that his heart was moved by the beauty and the vastness and the stillness. There's a moment just before sunset when the light on the marsh is lovely. He used to stand and look at it and it filled him with bliss. He took long rides in those solitary, mysterious woods; they're like the woods in a play of Maeterlinck's, so grey, so silent, it's almost uncanny; and there's a moment in spring—it hardly lasts more than a fortnight—when the dogwood bursts into flower, and the gum trees burst into leaf, and their young fresh green against the grey Spanish moss is like a song of joy; the ground is carpeted with great white lilies and wild azalea. Gray couldn't say what it meant to him, but it meant the world. He was drunk with the loveliness of it. Oh, I know I don't put it well, but I can't tell you how moving it was to see that great hulk of a man up-lifted by an emotion so pure and so beautiful that it made me want to cry. If there is a God in heaven Gray was very near Him then."

Isabel had grown a trifle emotional while she told me this and taking a tiny handkerchief she carefully wiped away a tear that glistened at the corner of each eye.

"Aren't you romanticizing?" I said, smiling. "I have a notion that you're ascribing to Gray thoughts and emotions that you would have expected him to have."

"How should I have seen them if they hadn't been there? You know what I am. I'm never really happy unless I feel the cement of a sidewalk under my feet and there are large plate-glass windows all along the street with hats to look at and fur coats and diamond bracelets and gold-mounted dressingcases."

I laughed and we were silent for a moment. Then she went back to what we had been talking of before.

"I'd never divorce Gray. We've been through too much together. And he's absolutely dependent upon me. It's rather flattering, you know, and it gives you a sense of responsibility. And besides . . ."

"Besides what?"

She gave me a sidelong glance and there was a roguish twinkle in her eyes. I had a notion she didn't quite know how I would take what she had in mind to say.

"He's wonderful in bed. We've been married for ten years and he's as passionate a lover as he was at the beginning. Didn't you say in a play once that no man wants the same woman longer than five years? Well, you didn't know what you were talking about. Gray wants me as much as when we were first married. He's made me very happy in that way. Although you wouldn't think it to look at me, I'm a very sensual woman."

"You're quite wrong, I would think it."

"Well, it's not an unattractive trait, is it?"

"On the contrary." I gave her a searching look. "Do you regret you didn't marry Larry ten years ago?"

"No. It would have been madness. But of course if I'd known then what I know now I'd have gone away and lived with him for three months, and then I'd have got him out of my system for good and all."

"I think it's lucky for you you didn't make the experiment; you might have found yourself bound to him by bonds you couldn't break."

"I don't think so. it was merely a physical attraction. You know, often the best way to overcome desire is to satisfy it."

"Has it ever struck you that you're a very possessive woman? You've told me that Gray has a deep strain of poetic feeling and you've told me that he's an ardent lover; and I can well believe that both mean a lot to you; but you haven't told me what means much more to you than both of them put together—your feeling that you hold him in the hollow of that beautiful but not so small hand of yours. Larry would always have escaped you. D'you remember that Ode of Keats's? 'Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss, though winning near the goal.' "

"You often think you know a great deal more than you do," she said, a trifle acidly. "There's only one way a woman holds a man and you know it. And let me tell you this: it's not the first time she goes to bed with him that counts, it's the second. If she holds him then she holds him for good."

"You do pick up the most extraordinary bits of information."

"I get around and I keep my eyes and ears open."

"May I enquire how you acquired that one?"

She gave me her most teasing smile.

"From a woman I made friends with at a dress show. The vendeuse told me she was the smartest kept woman in Paris, so I made up my mind I'd got to know her. Adrienne de Troye. Ever heard of her?"

"Never."

"How your education has been neglected! She's forty-five and not even pretty, but she looks much more distinguished than any of Uncle Elliott's duchesses. I sat down beside her and put on my impulsive little-American-girl act. I told her I had to speak to her because I'd never seen anyone more ravishing in my life. I told her she had the perfection of a Greek cameo."

"The nerve you've got."

"She was rather stiff at first and stand-offish, but I ran on in my simple naïve way and she thawed. Then we had quite a nice little chat. When the show was over I asked her if she wouldn't come to lunch with me at the Ritz one day. I told her I'd always admired her wonderful chic."

"Had you ever seen her before?"

"Never. She wouldn't lunch with me, she said they had such malicious tongues in Paris, it would compromise me, but she was pleased that I'd asked her, and when she saw my mouth quiver with disappointment she asked me if I wouldn't come and lunch with her in her house. She patted my hand when she saw I was simply overwhelmed by her affability."

"And did you go?"

"Of course I went. She has a dear little house off the Avenue Foch and we were waited on by a butler who's the very image of George Washington. I stayed till four o'clock. We took our hair down and our stays off, and had a thorough girls' gossip. I learnt enough that afternoon to write a book."

"Why don't you? It's just the sort of thing to suit the Ladies' Home Journal."

"You fool," she laughed.

I was silent for a moment. I pursued my thoughts.

"I wonder if Larry was ever really in love with you," I said presently.

She sat up. Her expression lost its amenity. Her eyes were angry.

"What are you talking about? Of course he was in love with me. D'you think a girl doesn't know when a man's in love with her?"

"Oh, I dare say he was in love with you after a fashion. He didn't know any girl so intimately as he knew you. You'd played around together since you were children. He expected himself to be in love with you. He had the normal sexual instinct. It seemed such a natural thing that you should many. There wouldn't have been any particular difference in your relations except that you lived under the same roof and went to bed together.”

Isabel, to some extent mollified, waited for me to go on and, knowing that women are always glad to listen when you discourse upon love, I went on.

"Moralists try to persuade us that the sexual instinct hasn't got so very much to do with love. They're apt to speak of it as if it were an epiphenomenon."

"What in God's name is that?"

"Well, there are psychologists who think that consciousness accompanies brain processes and is determined by them, but doesn't itself exert any influence on them. Something like the reflection of a tree in water; it couldn't exist without the tree, but it doesn't in any way affect the tree. I think it's all stuff and nonsense to say that there can be love without passion; when people say love can endure after passion is dead they're talking of something else, affection, kindliness, community of taste and interest, and habit. Especially habit. Two people can go on having sexual intercourse from habit in just the same way as they grow hungry at the hour they're accustomed to have their meals. Of course there can be desire without love. Desire isn't passion. Desire is the natural consequence of the sexual instinct and it isn't of any more importance than any other function of the human animal. That's why women are foolish to make a song and dance if their husbands have an occasional flutter when the time and the place are propitious."

"Does that apply only to men?"

I smiled.

"If you insist I'll admit that what is sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose. The only thing to be said against it is that with a man a passing connection of that sort has no emotional significance, while with a woman it has."

"It depends on the woman."

I wasn't going to let myself be interrupted. "Unless love is passion, it's not love, but something else; and passion thrives not on satisfaction, but on impediment. What d'you suppose Keats meant when he told the lover on his Grecian urn not to grieve? 'Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair!' Why? Because she was unattainable, and however madly the lover pursued she still eluded him. For they were both imprisoned in the marble of what I suspect was an indifferent work of art. Your love for Larry and his for you were as simple and natural as the love of Paolo and Francesca or Romeo and Juliet. Fortunately for you it didn't come to a bad end. You made a rich marriage and Larry roamed the world to find out what song the Sirens sang. Passion didn't enter into it."

"How d'you know?"

"Passion doesn't count the cost. Pascal said that the heart has its reasons that reason takes no account of. If he meant what I think, he meant that when passion seizes the heart it invents reasons that seem not only plausible but conclusive to prove that the world is well lost for love. It convinces you that honour is well sacrificed and that shame is a cheap price to pay. Passion is destructive. It destroyed Antony and Cleopatra, Tristan and Isolde, Parnell and Kitty O'Shea. And if it doesn't destroy it dies. It may be then that one is faced with the desolation of knowing that one has wasted the years of one's life, that one's brought disgrace upon oneself, endured the frightful pang of jealousy, swallowed every bitter mortification, that one's expended all one's tenderness, poured out all the riches of one's soul on a poor drab, a fool, a peg on which one hung one's dreams, who wasn't worth a stick of chewing gum."

Before I finished this harangue I knew very well that Isabel wasn't paying any attention to me, but was occupied with her own reflections. But her next remark surprised me.

"Do you think Larry is a virgin?"

"My dear, he's thirty-two."

"I'm certain he is."

"How can you be?"

"That's the kind of thing a woman knows instinctively."

"I knew a young man who had a very prosperous career for some years by convincing one beautiful creature after another that he'd never had a woman. He said it worked like a charm."

"I don't care what you say. I believe in my intuition."

It was growing late, Gray and Isabel were dining with friends, and she had to dress. I had nothing to do, so I walked in the pleasant spring evening up the Boulevard Raspail. I have never believed very much in women's intuition; it fits in too neatly with what they want to believe to persuade me that it is trustworthy; and as I thought of the end of my long talk with Isabel I couldn't help but laugh. It put me in mind of Suzanne Rouvier and it occurred to me that I hadn't seen her for several days. I wondered if she was doing anything. If not, she might like to dine with me and go to a movie. I stopped a prowling taxi and gave the address of her apartment.

(vii)

I mentioned Suzanne Rouvier at the beginning of this book. I had known her for ten or twelve years and at the date which I have now reached she must have been not far from forty. She was not beautiful; in fact she was rather ugly. She was tall for a Frenchwoman, with a short body, long legs and long arms, and she held herself gawkily as though she didn't know how to cope with the length of her limbs. The colour of her hair changed according to her whim, but most often it was a reddish brown. She had a small square face, with very prominent cheekbones vividly rouged, and a large mouth with heavily-painted lips. None of this sounds attractive, but it was; it is true that she had a good skin, strong white teeth and big, vividly blue eyes. They were her best feature, and she made the most of them by painting her eyelashes and her eyelids. She had a shrewd, roving, friendly look and she combined great good nature with a proper degree of toughness. In the life she had led she needed to be tough. Her mother, the widow of a small official in the government, had on his death returned to her native village in Anjou to live on her pension, and when Suzanne was fifteen she apprenticed her to a dressmaker in the neighbouring town, which was near enough for her to be able to come home on Sundays. It was during her fortnight's holiday, when she had reached the age of seventeen, that she was seduced by an artist who was spending his summer in the village to paint landscape. She already knew very well that without a penny to bless herself with her chance of marriage was remote and when the painter, at the end of the summer, proposed taking her to Paris she consented with alacrity. He took her to live with him in a rabbit-warren of studios in Montmartre, and she spent a very pleasant year in his company.

At the end of this he told her that he had not sold a single canvas and could no longer afford the luxury of a mistress. She had been expecting the news for some time and was not disconcerted by it. He asked her if she wanted to go home and when she said she didn't, told her that another painter in the same block would be glad to have her. The man he named had made a pass at her two or three times and though she had rebuffed him it had been with so much good humour that he was not affronted. She did not dislike him and so accepted the proposition with placidity. It was convenient that she did not have to go to the expense of taking a taxi to transport her trunk. Her second lover, a good deal older than the first, but still presentable, painted her in every conceivable position, clothed and in the nude; and she passed two happy years with him. She was proud to think that with her as a model he had made his first real success and she showed me a reproduction cut out of an illustrated paper of the picture that had brought it about. It had been purchased by an American gallery. It was a nude, life-size, and she was lying in something of the same position as Manet's Olympe. The artist had been quick to see that there was something modem and amusing in her proportions, and, fining down her thin body to emaciation, he had elongated her long legs and arms, he had emphasized her high cheekbones and made her blue eyes extravagantly large. From the reproduction I naturally could not tell what the colour was like, but I was sensible of the elegance of the design. The picture brought him sufficient notoriety to enable him to marry an admiring widow with money, and Suzanne, well aware that a man had to think of his future, accepted the rupture of their cordial relations without acrimony.

For by now she knew her value. She liked the artistic life, it amused her to pose, and after the day's work was over she found it pleasant to go to the cafe and sit with painters, their wives and mistresses, while they discussed art, reviled dealers, and told bawdy stories. On this occasion, having seen the break coming, she had made her plans. She picked out a young man who was unattached and who, she thought, had talent. She chose her opportunity when he was alone at the cafe, explained the circumstances and without further preamble suggested that they should live together.

"I'm twenty and a good housekeeper. I'll save you money there and I'll save you the expense of a model. Look at your shirt, it's a disgrace, and your studio is a mess. You want a woman to look after you."

He knew she was a good sort. He was amused at her proposal and she saw he was inclined to accept.

"After all, there's no harm in trying," she said. "If it doesn't work we shall neither of us be worse off than we are now."

He was a non-representative artist and he painted portraits of her in squares and oblongs. He painted her with one eye and no mouth. He painted her as a geometrical arrangement in black and brown and grey. He painted her in a criss-cross of lines through which you vaguely saw a human face. She stayed with him for a year and a half and left him of her own accord.

"Why?" I asked her. "Didn't you like him?"

"Yes, he was a nice boy. I didn't think he was getting any further. He was repeating himself."

She found no difficulty in discovering a successor. She remained faithful to artists.

"I've always been in painting," she said. "I was with a sculptor for six months, but I don't know why, it said nothing to me."

She was pleased to think that she had never separated from a lover with unpleasantness. She was not only a good model, but a good housewife. She loved working about the studio she happened for a while to be living in and took pride in keeping it in apple-pie order. She was a good cook and could turn out a tasty meal at the smallest possible cost. She mended her lovers' socks and sewed buttons on their shirts.

"I never saw why because a man was an artist he shouldn't be neat and tidy."

She only had one failure. This was a young Englishman who had more money than anyone she had known before and he had a car.

"But it didn't last long," she said. "He used to get drunk and then he was tiresome. I wouldn't have minded that if he'd been a good painter, but, my dear, it was grotesque. I told him I was going to leave him and he began to cry. He said he loved me.

" 'My poor friend, I said to him. 'Whether you love me or not isn't of the smallest consequence. What is of consequence is that you have no talent. Return to your own country and go into the grocery business. That is all you're fit for.' "

"What did he say to that?" I asked.

"He flew into a passion and told me to get out. But it was good advice I gave him, you know. I hope he took it, he wasn't a bad fellow; only a bad artist."

Common sense and good nature will do a lot to make the pilgrimage of life not too difficult to a light woman, but the profession Suzanne had adopted had its ups and downs like any other. There was the Scandinavian for instance. She was so imprudent as to fall in love with him.

"He was a god, my dear," she told me. "He was immensely tall, as tall as the Eiffel Tower, with great broad shoulders and a magnificent chest, a waist that you could almost put your hands round, a belly flat, but flat like the palm of my hand, and muscles like a professional athlete's. He had golden, wavy hair and a skin of honey. And he didn't paint badly. I liked his brush work, it was bold and dashing, and he had a rich vivid palette."

She made up her mind to have a child by him. He was against it, but she told him she would take the responsibility.

"He liked it well enough when it was born. Oh, such a lovely baby, rosy, fair-haired and blue-eyed like her papa. It was a girl."

Suzanne lived with him for three years.

"He was a little stupid and sometimes he bored me, but he was very sweet and so beautiful that I didn't really mind."

Then he got a telegram from Sweden to say his father was dying and he must come back at once. He promised to return, but she had a premonition that he never would. He left her all the money he had. She didn't hear from him for a month and then she got a letter from him saying that his father had died, leaving his affairs in confusion, and that he felt it his duty to remain by his mother and go into the lumber business. He enclosed a draft for ten thousand francs. Suzanne was not the woman to give way to despair. She came to the conclusion very quickly that a child would hamper her activities, so she took the baby girl down to her mother's and left her, along with the ten thousand francs, in her care.

"It was heart-rending, I adored that child, but in life one has to be practical."

"What happened then?" I asked.

"Oh, I got along. I found a friend."

But then came her typhoid. She always spoke of it as "my typhoid" as a millionaire might speak of "my place at Palm Beach" or "my grouse moor". She nearly died of it and was in the hospital for three months. When she left she was nothing but skin and bone, as weak as a rat, and so nervous that she could do nothing but cry. She wasn't much use to anyone then, she wasn't strong enough to pose and she had very little money.

"Oh la, la," she said, "I passed through some hard times.

Luckily I had good friends. But you know what artists are, it's a struggle for them to make both ends meet, anyway. I was never a pretty woman, I had something of course, but I wasn't twenty any more. Then I ran into the cubist I'd been with; he'd been married and divorced since we lived together, he'd given up cubism and become a surrealist. He thought he could use me and said he was lonely; he said he'd give me board and lodgings and I promise you, I was glad to accept."

Suzanne stayed with him till she met her manufacturer. The manufacturer was brought to the studio by a friend on the chance that he might buy one of the ex-cubist's pictures, and Suzanne, anxious to effect a sale, set herself out to be as agreeable to him as she knew how. He could not make up his mind to buy on the spur of the moment, but said he would like to come and see the pictures again. He did, a fortnight later, and this time she received the impression that he had come to see her rather than works of art. When he left, still without buying, he pressed her hand with unnecessary warmth. Next day the friend who had brought him waylaid her when she was on her way to market to buy the day's provisions and told her that the manufacturer had taken a fancy to her and wanted to know if she would dine with him next time he came to Paris, because he had a proposition to make to her.

"What does he see in me, d'you suppose?" she asked.

"He's an amateur of modern art. He's seen portraits of you. You intrigue him. He's a provincial and a businessman. You represent Paris to him, art, romance, everything that he misses in Lille."

"Has he money?" she asked in her sensible way.

"Plenty."

"Well, I'll dine with him. There's no harm hearing what he's got to say."

He took her to Maxim's, which impressed her; she had dressed very quietly, and she felt as she looked at the women around her that she could pass very well for a respectable married woman. He ordered a bottle of champagne, and this persuaded her that he was a gentleman. When they came to coffee he put his proposition before her. She thought it very handsome. He told her that he came to Paris regularly once a fortnight to attend a board meeting, and it was tiresome in the evening to dine alone and if he felt the need of feminine society to go to a brothel. Being a married man with two children, he thought that an unsatisfactory arrangement for a man in his position. Their common friend had told him all about her and he knew she was a woman of discretion. He was no longer young and he had no wish to get entangled with a giddy girl. He was something of a collector of the modern school and her connection with it was sympathetic to him. Then he came down to brass tacks. He was prepared to take an apartment for her and furnish it and provide her with an income of two thousand francs a month. In return for this he wished to enjoy her company for one night every fourteen days. Suzanne had never had the spending of so much money in her life, and she quickly reckoned that on such a sum she could not only live and dress as such an advancement in the world evidently demanded, but provide for her daughter and put away something for a rainy day. But she hesitated for a moment. She had always been "in painting", as she put it, and there was no doubt in her mind that it was a come-down to be the mistress of a businessman.

"C'est à prendre ou à laisser," he said. "You can take it or leave it."

He was not repulsive to her and the rosette of the Legion of Honour in his buttonhole proved that he was a man of distinction. She smiled.

"Je prends," she replied. "I'll take it."

(viii)

Though Suzanne had always lived in Montmartre, she decided that it was necessary to break with the past, so she took an apartment in Montparnasse in a house just off the boulevard. It consisted of two rooms, a tiny kitchen and a bathroom; it was on the sixth floor, but there was a lift. To her a bathroom and a lift, even though it only held two persons and moved at a snail's pace and you had to walk downstairs, represented not only luxury but style.

For the first few months of their union Monsieur Achille Gauvain, for such was his name, put up at an hotel on his fortnightly visits to Paris and, after spending such part of the night with Suzanne as his amorous inclination demanded, returned to it to sleep by himself till it was time for him to get up and catch his train to return to his business affairs and the sober pleasures of family life; but then Suzanne pointed out to him that he was throwing away money to no purpose and it would be both more economical and more comfortable if he stayed in the apartment till morning. He could not but see the force of this. He was flattered at Suzanne's thoughtful-ness for his comfort—it was true, there was nothing agreeable in going out into the street and finding a taxi on a cold winter night—and he approved of her disinclination to put him to useless expense. It was a good woman who counted not only her own pennies but her lover's. Monsieur Achille had every reason to feel pleased with himself. In general they went to dine at one of the better restaurants in Montparnasse, but now and then Suzanne prepared dinner for him in the apartment. The tasty food she gave him was very much to his liking. On warm evenings he would dine in his shirt-sleeves and feel deliciously wanton and bohemian. He had always had an inclination for buying pictures, but Suzanne would let him buy nothing that she did not approve of, and he soon found reason to trust her judgment. She would have no truck with dealers, but took him to the studios of the painters and thus enabled him to buy pictures for half the money he would otherwise have had to pay. He knew that she was putting something aside, and when she told him that year by year she was buying a bit of land in her native village, he felt a thrill of pride. He knew the desire to own land that is in the heart of every person of French blood, and his esteem for her was increased because she possessed it too.

On her side Suzanne was well satisfied. She was neither faithful to him nor unfaithful; that is to say, she took care not to form any permanent connection with another man, but if she came across one who took her fancy she was not averse from going to bed with him. But it was a point of honour with her not to let him stay all night. She felt she owed that to the man of means and position who had settled her life in such an assured and respectable manner.

I had come to know Suzanne when she was living with a painter who happened to be an acquaintance of mine and had often sat in his studio while she posed; I continued to see her now and then at irregular intervals, but did not enter upon terms of any intimacy with her till she moved to Montparnasse. It appeared that Monsieur Achille, for this was how she always spoke of him and how she addressed him, had read one or two of my books in translation, and one evening he invited me to dine with them at a restaurant. He was a little man, half a head shorter than Suzanne, with iron-grey hair and a neat grey moustache. He was on the plump side, and he had a pot-belly, but only to the extent of giving him an air of substance. He walked with the short fat man's strut and it was plain that he was not displeased with himself. He gave me a fine dinner. He was very polite. He told me he was glad I was a friend of Suzanne's, he could see at a glance that I was comme il faut and he would be glad to think that I should see something of her. His affairs, alas! kept him tied to Lille and the poor girl was too often alone; it would be a comfort to him to know that she was in touch with a man of education. He was a businessman, but he had always admired artists.

"Ah, mon cher monsieur, art and literature have always been the twin glories of France. Along with her military prowess, of course. And I, a manufacturer of woollen goods, have no hesitation in saying that I put the painter and the writer on a level with the general and the statesman."

No one could say handsomer than that.

Suzanne would not hear of having a maid to do the house-work, partly for economy's sake and partly because (for reasons best known to herself) she didn't want anyone poking her nose into what was nobody's business but her own. She kept the tiny apartment, furnished in the most modern style of the moment, clean and neat, and she made all her own underclothes. But even then, now that she no longer posed, time hung heavily on her hands, for she was an industrious woman; and presently the idea occurred to her that, after having sat to so many painters, there was no reason why she should not paint too. She bought canvases, bmshes and paints and forthwith set to work. Sometimes when I was to take her out to dinner I would go early and find her in a smock busily at work. Just as the embyro in the womb recapitulates in brief the evolution of the species, so did Suzanne recapitulate the styles of all her lovers. She painted landscape like the landscape painter, abstractions like the cubist, and with the help of picture postcards sailing-boats lying at anchor like the Scandinavian. She could not draw, but she had an agreeable sense of colour, and if her pictures were not very good she got a lot of fun out of painting them.

Monsieur Achille encouraged her. It gave him a sense of satisfaction that his mistress should be an artist. It was on his insistence that she sent a canvas to the autumn salon and they were both very proud when it was hung. He gave her one bit of good advice.

"Don't try to paint like a man, my dear," he said.

"Paint like a woman. Don't aim to be strong; be satisfied to charm. And be honest. In business sharp practice sometimes succeeds, but in art honesty is not only the best but the only policy."

At the time of which I write the connection had lasted for five years to their mutual content.

"Evidently he doesn't thrill me," said Suzanne. "But he's intelligent and in a good position. I've reached an age when it's necessary for me to think of my situation."

She was sympathetic and understanding and Monsieur Achille conceived a high opinion of her judgment. She lent a willing ear when he discussed with her his business and domestic affairs. She condoled with him when his daughter failed in an examination and rejoiced with him when his son got engaged to a girl with money. He had himself married the only child of a man in his own line of business and the amalgamation of two rival firms had been a source of profit to both parties. It was naturally a satisfaction to him that his son was sensible enough to see that the soundest basis of a happy marriage is community of financial interests. He confided to Suzanne his ambition to marry his daughter into the aristocracy.

"And why not, with her fortune?" said Suzanne.

Monsieur Achille made it possible for Suzanne to send her own daughter to a convent where she would receive a good education, and he promised that at the proper age he would pay to have her suitably trained to earn her living as a typist and stenographer.

"She's going to be a beauty when she grows up," Suzanne told me, "but evidently it won't hurt her to have an education and to be able to pound a typewriter. She's so young it's too soon to tell, but it may be that she'll have no temperament."

Suzanne had delicacy. She left it to my intelligence to infer her meaning. I inferred it all right.

(ix)

A week or so after I had so unexpectedly run into Larry, Suzanne and I one night, having dined together and gone to a movie, were sitting in the Select on the Boulevard du Montparnasse, having a glass of beer, when he strolled in. She gave a gasp and to my surprise called out to him.

He came up to the table, kissed her and shook hands with me. I could see that she could hardly believe her eyes.

"May I sit down?" he said. "I haven't had any dinner and I'm going to have something to eat."

"Oh, but it's good to see you, mon petit," she said, her eyes sparkling. "Where have you sprung from? And why have you given no sign of life all these years? My God, how thin you are! For all I knew you might have been dead."

"Well, I wasn't," he answered, his eyes twinkling. "How is Odette?"

That was the name of Suzanne's daughter.

"Oh, she's growing a big girl. And pretty. She still remembers you."

"You never told me you knew Larry," I said to her.

"Why should I? I never knew you knew him. We're old friends."

Larry ordered himself eggs and bacon. Suzanne told him all about her daughter and then about herself. He listened in his smiling, charming way while she chattered. She told him that she had settled down and was painting. She turned to me.

"I'm improving, don't you think? I don't pretend I'm a genius, but I have as much talent as many of the painters I've known."

"D'you sell any pictures?" asked Larry.

"I don't have to," she answered airily. "I have private means."

"Lucky girl."

"No, not lucky: clever. You must come and see my pictures."

She wrote down her address on a piece of paper and made him promise to go. Suzanne, excited, went on talking nineteen to the dozen. Then Larry asked for his bill.

"You're not going?" she cried.

"I am," he smiled.

He paid and with a wave of the hand left us. I laughed. He had a way that always amused me of being with you one moment and without explanation gone the next. It was so abrupt; it was almost as if he had faded into the air.

"Why did he want to go away so quickly?" said Suzanne, with vexation.

"Perhaps he's got a girl waiting for him," I replied mockingly.

"That's an idea like another." She took her compact out of her bag and powdered her face. "I pity any woman who falls in love with him. Oh la, la."

"Why do you say that?"

She looked at me for a minute with a seriousness I had not often seen in her.

"I very nearly fell in love with him myself once. You might as well fall in love with a reflection in the water or a ray of sunshine or a cloud in the sky. I had a narrow escape. Even now when I think of it I tremble at the danger I ran."

Discretion be blowed. It would have been inhuman not to want to know what this was all about. I congratulated myself that Suzanne was a woman who had no notion of reticence.

"How on earth did you ever get to know him?" I asked.

"Oh, it was years ago. Six years, seven years, I forget. Odette was only five. He knew Marcel when I was living with him. He used to come to the studio and sit while I was posing. He'd take us out to dinner sometimes. You never knew when he'd come. Sometimes not for weeks and then two or three days running. Marcel used to like to have him there; he said he painted better when he was there. Then I had my typhoid. I went through a bad time when I came out of the hospital." She shrugged her shoulders. "But I've already told you all that. Well, one day I'd been round the studios trying to get work and no one wanted me, and I'd had nothing but a glass of milk and a croissant all day and I didn't know how I was going to pay for my room, and I met him accidentally on the Boulevard Clichy. He stopped and asked me how I was and I told him about my typhoid, and then he said to me:

'You look as if you could do with a square meal.' And there was something in his voice and in the look of his eyes that broke me; I began to cry.

"We were next door to La Mère Mariette and he took me by the arm and sat me down at a table. I was so hungry I was ready to eat an old boot, but when the omelette came I felt I couldn't eat a thing. He forced me to take a little and he gave me a glass of burgundy. I felt better then and I ate some asparagus. I told him all my troubles. I was too weak to hold a pose. I was just skin and bone and I looked terrible; I couldn't expect to get a man. I asked him if he'd lend me the money to go back to my village. At least I'd have my little girl there. He asked me if 1 wanted to go, and I said of course not. Mamma didn't want me, she could hardly live on her pension with prices the way they were, and the money I'd sent for Odette had all been spent, but if I appeared at the door she would hardly refuse to take me in, she'd see how ill I looked. He looked at me for a long time, and I thought he was going to say he couldn't lend me anything. Then he said:

" 'Would you like me to take you down to a little place I know in the country, you and the kid? I want a bit of a holiday.'

"I could hardly believe my ears. I'd known him for ages and he'd never made a pass at me.

" 'In the condition I'm in?' I said. I couldn't help laughing.

'My poor friend, I said, 'I'm no use to any man just now.'

"He smiled at me. Have you ever noticed what a wonderful smile he's got? It's as sweet as honey.

" 'Don't be so silly, he said. 'I'm not thinking of that.'

"I was crying so hard by then, I could hardly speak. He gave me money to fetch the child and we all went to the country together. Oh, it was charming, the place he took us to."

Suzanne described it to me. It was three miles from a little town the name of which I have forgotten, and they took a car out to the inn. It was a ramshackle building on a river with a lawn that ran down to the water. There were plane trees on the lawn and they had their meals in their shade. In summer artists came there to paint, but it was early for that yet and they had the inn to themselves. The fare was famous, and on Sundays people used to drive from here and there to lunch with abandon, but on week-days their peace was seldom disturbed. With the rest and the food and wine, Suzanne grew stronger, and she was happy to have her child with her.

"He was sweet with Odette and she adored him. I had to prevent her from making a nuisance of herself, but he never seemed to mind how much she pestered him. It used to make me laugh, they were like two children together."

"What did you do with yourselves?" I asked.

"Oh, there was always something to do. We used to take a boat and fish and sometimes we'd get the patron to lend us his Citroen and we'd go into town, Larry liked it. The old houses and the place. It was so quiet that your footsteps on the cobblestones were the only sound you heard. There was a Louis Quatorze hôtel de ville and an old church, and at the edge of the town was the chateau with a garden by Le Nôtre. When you sat at the cafe on the place you had the feeling that you had stepped back three hundred years and the Citroën at the kerb didn't seem to belong to this world at all."

It was after one of these outings that Larry told her the story of the young airman which I narrated at the beginning of this book.

"I wonder why he told you," I said.

"I haven't an idea. They'd had a hospital in the town during the war and in the cemetery there were rows and rows of little crosses. We went to see it. We didn't stay long, it gave me the creeps—all those poor boys lying there. Larry was very silent on the way home. He never ate much, but at dinner he hardly touched a thing. I remember so well, it was a beautiful, starry night and we sat on the riverbank, it was pretty with the poplars silhouetted against the darkness, and he smoked his pipe. And suddenly, à propos de bottes, he told me about his friend and how he died to save him." Suzanne took a swig of beer. "He's a strange creature. I shall never understand him. He used to like to read to me. Sometimes in the daytime, while I sewed things for the little one, and in the evening after I'd put her to bed."

"What did he read?"

"Oh, all sorts of things. Letters of Madame de Sévigné and bits of Saint-Simon. Imagine-toi, I who'd never read anything before but the newspaper and now and then a novel when I heard them talk about it in the studios and didn't want them to think me a fool! I had no idea reading could be so interesting. Those old writers weren't such fatheads as one would think."

"Who would think?" I chuckled.

"Then he made me read with him. We read Phèdre and Bérénice. He took the men's parts and I took the women's. You can't think how amusing it was," she added naïvely. "He used to look at me so strangely when I cried at the pathetic parts. Of course it was only because I hadn't got my strength. And you know, I've still got the books. Even now I can't read some of the letters of Madame de Sévigné that he read to me without hearing his lovely voice and without seeing the river flowing so quietly and the poplars on the opposite bank, and sometimes I can't go on, it gives me such a pain in my heart. I know now that those were the happiest weeks I ever spent in my life. That man, he's an angel of sweetness."

Suzanne felt she was growing sentimental and feared (wrongly) that I should laugh at her. She shrugged her shoulders and smiled.

"You know, I've always made up my mind that when I've reached the canonical age and no man wants to sleep with me any more I shall make my peace with the Church and repent of my sins. But the sins I committed with Larry nothing in the world will ever induce me to repent of. Never, never, never!"

"But as you've described it I can see nothing you can possibly have to repent of."

"I haven't told you the half of it yet. You see, I have a naturally good constitution and being out in the air all day, eating well, sleeping well, with not a care in the world, in three or four weeks I was as strong as ever I'd been. And I was looking well; I had colour in my cheeks and my hair had recovered its sheen. I felt twenty. Larry swam in the river every morning and I used to watch him. He has a beautiful body, not an athlete's like my Scandinavian, but strong and of an infinite grace.

"He'd been very patient while I was so weak, but now that I was perfectly well I saw no reason to keep him waiting any longer, I gave him a hint or two that I was ready for anything, but he didn't seem to understand. Of course you Anglo-Saxons are peculiar, you're brutal and at the same time you're sentimental; there's no denying it, you're not good lovers. I said to myself, 'Perhaps it's his delicacy, he's done so much for me, he's let me have the child here, it may be that he hasn't the heart to ask me for the return that is his right.' So one night, as we were going to bed, I said to him, 'D'you want me to come to your room tonight?'"

I laughed.

"You put it a bit bluntly, didn't you?"

"Well, I couldn't ask him to come to mine, because Odette was sleeping there," she answered ingenuously.

"He looked at me with those kind eyes of his for a moment, then he smiled. 'D'you want to come,' he said.

" 'What do you think—with that fine body of yours?'

" 'All right, come then.'

"I went upstairs and undressed and then I slipped along the passage to his room. He was lying in bed reading and smoking a pipe. He put down his pipe and his book and moved over to make room for me."

Suzanne was silent for a while and it went against my grain to ask her questions. But after a while she went on.

"He was a strange lover. Very sweet, affectionate and even tender, virile without being passionate, if you understand what I mean, and absolutely without vice. He loved like a hot-blooded schoolboy. It was rather funny and rather touching. When I left him I had the feeling that I should be grateful to him rather than he to me. As I closed the door I saw him take up his book and go on reading from where he had left off."

I began to laugh.

"I'm glad it amuses you," she said a trifle grimly. But she was not without a sense of humour. She giggled. "I soon discovered that if I waited for an invitation I might wait indefinitely, so when I felt like it I just went into his room and got into bed. He was always very nice. He had in short natural human instincts, but he was like a man so preoccupied that he forgets to eat, vet when you put a good dinner before him he eats it with appetite. I know when a man's in love with me, and I should have been a fool if I'd believed that Larry loved me, but I thought he'd get into the habit of me. One has to be practical in life and I said to myself that it would suit me very well if when we went back to Paris he took me to live with him. I knew he'd let me have the child and I should have liked that. My instinct told me I'd be silly to fall in love with him, you know women are very unfortunate, so often when they fall in love they cease to be lovable, and I made up my mind to be on my guard."

Suzanne inhaled the smoke of her cigarette and blew it out through her nose. It was growing late and many of the tables were now empty, but there was still a group of people hanging around the bar.

"One morning, after breakfast, I was sitting on the riverbank sewing, and Odette was playing with some bricks he'd bought her when Larry came up to me.

" 'I've come to say good-bye to you, he said.

" 'Are you going somewhere?' I said, surprised.

" 'Yes.'

" 'Not for good?' I said.

" 'You're quite well now. Here's enough money to keep you for the rest of the summer and to start you off when you get back to Paris.'

"For a moment I was so upset I didn't know what to say. He stood in front of me, smiling in that candid way of his.

" 'Have I done something to displease you?' I asked him.

" 'Nothing. Don't think that for a moment. I've got work to do. We've had a lovely time down here. Odette, come and say good-bye to your uncle.'

"She was too young to understand. He took her up in his arms and kissed her; then he kissed me and walked back into the hotel; in a minute I heard the car drive away. I looked at the banknotes I had in my hand. Twelve thousand francs. It came so quickly I hadn't time to react. 'Zut alors,' I said to myself. I had at least one thing to be thankful for, I hadn't allowed myself to fall in love with him. But I couldn't make head or tail of it."

I was obliged to laugh.

"You know, at one time I made quite a little reputation for myself as a humorist by the simple process of telling the truth. It came as such a surprise to most people that they thought I was being funny."

"I don't see the connection."

"Well, Larry is, I think, the only person I've ever met who's completely disinterested. It makes his actions seem peculiar. We're not used to persons who do things simply for the love of God whom they don't believe in."

Suzanne stared at me.

"My poor friend, you've had too much to drink."

+-mymaughamcollection.blogspot.com-+
|                 |                |
|                \|/               |
|               \~|~/              |
|       ,#####\/  | ,\/§§§§        |
|       #  #\./#__|_§_\./          |
|       #  \./ # _|_§  \./         |
|       #  #/  #  | §   \          |
|       #  #   #  | `~§§§§§        |
+--------mmccl.blogspot.com--------+