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The Razor's Edge – Chapter Six

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(i)

I feel it right to warn the reader that he can very well skip this chapter without losing the thread of such story as I have to tell, since for the most part it is nothing more than the account of a conversation that I had with Larry. I should add, however, that except for this conversation I should perhaps not have thought it worth while to write this book.

(ii)

That autumn, a couple of months after Elliott's death, I spent a week in Paris on my way to England. Isabel and Gray, after their grim journey to Italy, had returned to Brittany, but were now once more settled in the apartment in the Rue St. Guillaume. She told me the details of his will. He had left a sum of money for Masses to be said for his soul in the church he had built and a further sum for its upkeep. He had bequeathed a handsome amount to the Bishop of Nice to be spent on charitable purposes. He had left me the equivocal legacy of his eighteenth-century pornographic library and a beautiful drawing by Fragonard of a satyr engaged with a nymph on a performance that is usually conducted in private. It was too indecent to hang on my walls and I am not one to gloat upon obscenity in private. He had provided generously for his servants. His two nephews were to have ten thousand dollars each and the residue of his estate went to Isabel. What this amounted to she did not tell me and I did not inquire; I gathered from her complacency that it was quite a lot of money.

For long, ever since he had regained his health, Gray had been impatient to go back to America and get to work again, and though Isabel was comfortable enough in Paris, his restlessness had affected her too. He had for some time been in communication with his friends, but the best opening that presented itself was contingent on his putting in a considerable amount of capital. That he had not got, but Elliott's death had put Isabel in possession of very much more than was needed; and Gray with her approval was starting negotiations with the view, if everything turned out as well as it was represented, of leaving Paris and going to look into the matter for himself. But before that was possible there was much to attend to. They had to come to a reasonable agreement with the French Treasury over the inheritance tax. They had to get rid of the house at Antibes and the apartment in the Rue St. Guillaume. They had to arrange for a sale at the Hôtel Drouot of Elliott's furniture, pictures and drawing. These were valuable and it seemed wise to wait till spring when the great collectors were likely to be in Paris. Isabel was not sorry to spend another winter there; the children by now could chatter French as easily as they could chatter English and she was glad to let them have a few more months at a French school. They had grown in three years and were now long-legged, skinny, vivacious little creatures, with little at present of their mother's beauty, but with nice manners and an insatiable curiosity.

So much for that.

(iii)

I met Larry by chance. I had asked Isabel about him and she told me that since their return from La Baule they had seen little of him. She and Gray had by now made a number of friends for themselves, people of their own generation, and they were more often engaged than during the pleasant weeks when the four of us were so much together. One evening I went to the Théâtre Français to see Bérénice. I had read it of course, but had never seen it played, and since it is seldom given I was unwilling to miss the opportunity. It is not one of Racine's best plays, for the subject is too tenuous to support five acts, but it is moving and contains passages that are justly famous. The story is founded on a brief passage in Tacitus: Titus, who loved Bérénice, Queen of Palestine, with passion and who had even, as was supposed, promised her marriage, for reasons of state sent her away from Rome during the first days of his reign in despite of his desires and in despite of hers. For the Senate and the people of Rome were violently opposed to their Emperor's alliance with a foreign queen. The play is concerned with the struggle in his breast between love and duty, and when he falters, it is Bérénice who in the end, assured that he loves her, confirms his purpose and separates herself from him for ever.

I suppose only a Frenchman can appreciate to the full the grace and grandeur of Racine and the music of his verse, but even a foreigner, once he has accustomed himself to the periwigged formality of the style, can hardly fail to be moved by his passionate tenderness and by the nobility of his sentiment. Racine knew as few have done how much drama is contained in the human voice. To me at all events the roll of those mellifluous Alexandrines is a sufficient substitute for action, and I find the long speeches, worked up with infinite skill to the expected climax, every bit as thrilling as any hair-raising adventure of the movies.

There was an interval after the third act and I went out to smoke a cigarette in the foyer over which presides Houdon's Voltaire with his toothless, sardonic grin. Someone touched me on the shoulder, I turned round, perhaps with a slight movement of annoyance, for I wanted to be left with the exaltation with which those sonorous lines had filled me, and saw Larry. As always, 1 was glad to see him. It was a year since I had set eyes on him, and I suggested that at the end of the play we should meet and have a glass of beer together. Larry said he was hungry, for he had had no dinner, and proposed that we should go to Montmartre. We found one another in due course and stepped out into the open. The Théâtre Français has a musty fug that is peculiar to it. It is impregnated with the body odour of those unnumbered generations of sour-faced, unwashed women cailed ouvreuses who show you to your seat and domineeringly await their tip. It was a relief to get into the fresh air, and since the night was fine we walked. The arc lamps in the Avenue de l’Opéra glared so defiantly that the stars above, as though too proud to compete, shrouded their brightness in the dark of their infinite distance. As we walked we spoke of the performance we had just seen. Larry was disappointed. He would have liked it to be more natural, the lines spoken as people naturally speak and the gestures less theatrical. I thought his point of view mistaken. It was rhetoric, magnificent rhetoric, and I had a notion that it should be spoken rhetorically. I liked the regular thump of the rhymes; and the stylized gestures, handed down in a long tradition, seemed to me to suit the temper of that formal act. I could not but think that that was how Racine would have wished his play to be played. I had admired the way in which the actors had contrived to be human, passionate and true within the limitations that confined them. Art is triumphant when it can use convention as an instrument of its own purpose.

We reached the Avenue de Clichy and went into the Brasserie Graf. It was not long past midnight and the room was crowded, but we found a table and ordered ourselves eggs and bacon. I told Larry I had seen Isabel.

"Gray will be glad to get back to America," he said.

"He's a fish out or water here. He won't be happy till he's at work again. I dare say he'll make a lot of money."

"If he does it'll be due to you. You not only cured him m body, but in spirit as well. You restored his confidence in himself."

"I did very little. I merely showed him how to cure himself."

"How did you learn to do that little?"

"By accident. It was when I was in India. I'd been suffering from insomnia and happened to mention it to an old Yogi I knew and he said he'd soon settle that. He did just what you saw me do with Gray and that night I slept as I hadn't slept for months. And then, a year later it must have been, I was in the Himalayas with an Indian friend of mine and he sprained his ankle. It was impossible to get a doctor and he was in great pain. I thought I'd try to do what the old Yogi had done, and it worked. You can believe it or not, he was completely relieved of the pain."

Larry laughed. "I can assure you, no one was more surprised than I. There's nothing to it really; it only means putting the idea into the sufferer's mind."

"Easier said than done."

"Would it surprise you if your arm raised itself from the table without any volition of yours?"

"Very much."

"It will. My Indian friend told people what I'd done when we got back to civilization and he brought others to see me. I hated doing it, because I couldn't quite understand it, but they insisted. Somehow or other I did them good. I found I was able to relieve people not only of pain but of fear. It's strange how many people suffer from it. I don't mean fear of closed spaces and fear of heights, but fear of death and, what's worse, fear of life. Often they're people who seem in the best of health, prosperous, without any worry, and yet they're tortured by it. I've sometimes thought it was the most besetting humour of men, and I asked myself at one time if it was due to some deep animal instinct that man has inherited from that primeval something that first felt the thrill of life."

I was listening to Larry with expectation, for it was not often that he spoke at any length, and I had an inkling that for once he felt communicative. Perhaps the play we had just seen had released some inhibition and the rhythm of its sonorous cadences, as music will, had overcome his instinctive reserve. Suddenly I realized that something was happening to my hand. I had not given another thought to Larry's half-laughing question. I was conscious that my hand no longer rested on the table, but was raised an inch above it without my willing it. I was taken aback. I looked at it and saw that it trembled slightly. I felt a queer tingling in the nerves of my arm, a little jerk, and my hand and forearm lifted of themselves, I to the best of my belief neither aiding nor resisting, until they were several inches from the table. Then I felt my whole arm being raised from the shoulder.

"This is very odd," I said.

Larry laughed. I made the slightest effort of will and my hand fell back on to the table.

"It's nothing," he said. "Don't attach any importance to it."

"Were you taught that by the Yogi you spoke to us about when you first came back from India?"

"Oh no, he had no patience with that kind of thing. I don't know whether he believed that he possessed the powers that some Yogis claim to have, but he would have thought it puerile to exercise them,"

Our eggs and bacon arrived and we ate them with good appetite. We drank our beer. Neither of us spoke. Larry was thinking of I knew not what and I was thinking of him. We finished. I lit a cigarette and he lit a pipe.

"What made you go to India in the first place?" I asked abruptly.

"Chance. At least I thought so at the time. Now I'm inclined to think it was the inevitable outcome of my years in Europe. Almost all the people who’ve had most effect on me I seem to have met by chance, yet looking back it seems as though I couldn't but have met them. It's as if they were waiting there to be called upon when I needed them. I went to India because I wanted a rest. I'd been working very hard and wished to sort out my thoughts. I got a job as a deck hand on one of those pleasure-cruise ships that go around the world. It was going to the East and through the Panama Canal to New York. I hadn't been to America for five years and I was homesick. I was depressed. You know how ignorant I was when we first met in Chicago all those years ago. I'd read an awful lot in Europe and seen a lot, but I was no nearer than when I started to what I was looking for."

I wanted to ask him what that was, but had a feeling that he'd just laugh, shrug his shoulders and say it was a matter of no consequence.

"But why did you go as a deck hand?" I asked instead. "You had money."

"I wanted the experience. Whenever I've got waterlogged spiritually, whenever I've absorbed all I can for the time, I've found it useful to do something of that sort. That winter, after Isabel and I broke off our engagement, I worked in a coal-mine near Lens for six months."

It was then that he told me of those incidents that I have narrated in a previous chapter.

"Were you sore when Isabel threw you over?"

Before he answered he looked at me for some time with those strangely black eyes of his that seemed then to look inwards rather than out.

"Yes. I was very young. I'd made up my mind that we were going to marry. I'd made plans for the life that we were going to lead together. I expected it to be lovely."

He laughed faintly. "But it takes two to make a marriage just as it takes two to make a quarrel. It had never occurred to me that the life I offered Isabel was a life that filled her with dismay. If I'd had any sense I'd never have suggested it. She was too young and ardent. I couldn't blame her. I couldn't yield."

It's just possible that the reader will remember that on his flight from the farm, after that grotesque encounter with the farmer's widowed daughter-in-law, he had gone to Bonn. I was anxious to get him to continue, but knew I must be careful not to ask more direct questions than I could help.

"I've never been to Bonn," I said. "When I was a boy I spent some time as a student at Heidelberg. It was, I think, the happiest time of my life."

"I liked Bonn. I spent a year there. I got a room in the house of the widow of one of the professors at the university who took in a couple of boarders. She and her two daughters, both of them middle-aged, did the cooking and the house-work. I found my fellow boarder was a Frenchman and I was disappointed at first because I wanted to speak nothing but German; but he was an Alsatian and he spoke German, if not more fluently, with a better accent than he spoke French. He was dressed like a German pastor and I was surprised to find out after a few days that he was a Benedictine monk. He'd been granted leave of absence from his monastery to make researches at the university library. He was a very learned man, but he didn't look it any more than he looked like my idea of a monk. He was a tall, stout fellow, with sandy hair, prominent blue eyes and a red, round face. He was shy and reserved and didn't seem to want to have anything much to do with me, but he was very polite in a rather elaborate way and always took a civil part in the conversation at table; I only saw him then; as soon as we had finished dinner he went back to work at the library, and after supper, when I sat in the parlour improving my German with whichever of the two daughters wasn't washing up, he retired to his room.

"I was surprised when one afternoon, after I'd been there at least a month, he asked me if I'd care to take a walk with him. He said he could show me places in the neighbourhood that he didn't think I'd be likely to discover for myself. I'm a pretty good walker, but he could outwalk me any day. We must have covered a good fifteen miles on that first walk. He asked me what I was doing in Bonn, and I said I'd come to learn German and get to know something about German literature. He talked very intelligently. He said he'd be glad to help me in any way he could. After that we went for walks two or three times a week. I discovered that he'd taught philosophy for some years. When I was in Paris I'd read a certain amount, Spinoza and Plato and Descartes, but I hadn't read any of the great German philosophers and I was only too glad to listen while he talked about them. One day, when we'd made an excursion across the Rhine and were sitting in a beer-garden drinking a glass of beer, he asked me if I was a Protestant.

" 'I suppose so,' I said.

"He gave me a quick look and I thought I saw in his eyes the glimmer of a smile. He began to talk about Aeschylus; I'd been learning Greek, you know, and he knew the great tragedians as I could never hope to know them. It was inspiring to hear him. I wondered why he'd suddenly asked me that question. My guardian, Uncle Bob Nelson, was an agnostic, but he went to church regularly because his patients expected it of him and sent me to Sunday school for the same reason. Martha, our help, was a rigid Baptist and she used to frighten my childhood by telling me of the hell fire to which the sinner would be condemned to all eternity. She took a real delight in picturing to me the agonies that would be endured by the various people in the village whom for some reason or other she had had it in for.

"By winter I'd got to know Father Ensheim very well. I think he was rather a remarkable man. I never saw him vexed. He was good-natured and kindly, far more broad-minded than I would have expected, and wonderfully tolerant. His erudition was prodigious and he must have known how ignorant I was, but he used to talk to me as though I were as learned as he. He was very patient with me. He seemed to want nothing but to be of service to me. One day, I don't know why, I had an attack of lumbago and Frau Grabau, my landlady, insisted on putting me to bed with hot-water-bottles. Father Ensheim, hearing I was laid up, came into my room to see me, after supper. Except that I was in a good deal of pain I felt perfectly well. You know what bookish people are, they're inquisitive about books, and as I put down the book I was reading when he came in, he took it up and looked at the title. It was a book about Meister Eckhart that I'd found at a bookseller's in the town. He asked me why I was reading it, so I said that I'd been going through a certain amount of mystical literature and told him about Kosti and how he'd aroused my interest in the subject. He surveyed me with his prominent blue eyes and there was a look in them that I can only describe as amused tenderness. I had the feeling that he found me rather ridiculous, but felt so much loving-kindness towards me that he didn't like me any the less. Anyhow, I've never much minded if people thought me a bit of a fool.

" 'What are you looking for in these books?' he asked me.

" 'If I knew that,' I answered, 'I'd at least be on the way to finding it.'

" 'Do you remember my asking you if you were a Protestant?

You said you supposed so. What did you mean by that?'

" 'I was brought up as one,' I said.

" 'Do you believe in God?' he asked.

"I don't like personal questions and my first impulse was to tell him that was no business of his. But there was so much goodness in his aspect that I felt it impossible to affront him. I didn't know what to say; I didn't want to answer yes and I didn't want to answer no. It may have been the pain I was suffering that enabled me to speak or it may have been something in him. Anyhow, I told him about myself."

Larry hesitated for a moment, and when he went on I knew he wasn't speaking to me but to the Benedictine monk. He had forgotten me. I don't know what there was in the time or the place that enabled him to speak, without my prompting, of what his natural reticence had so long concealed.

"Uncle Bob Nelson was very democratic and he sent me to the high school at Marvin. It was only because Louisa Bradley nagged him into it that when I was fourteen he let me go to St. Paul's. I wasn't very good at anything, either at work or games, but I fitted in all right. I think I was an entirely normal boy. I was crazy about aviation. Those were the early days of flying and Uncle Bob was as excited about it as I was; he knew some of the airmen, and when I said I wanted to learn to fly he said he'd fix it for me. I was tall for my age and when I was sixteen I could easily pass for eighteen. Uncle Bob made me promise to keep it a secret, because he knew everyone would be down on him like a ton of bricks for letting me go, but as a matter of fact he helped me to get over to Canada and gave me a letter to someone he knew, and the result was that by the time I was seventeen I was flying in France.

"They were terrible gimcrack planes we flew in then, and you practically took your life in your hands each time you went up. The heights we got to were absurd, judged by present standards, but we didn't know any better and thought it wonderful. I loved flying. I couldn't describe the feeling it gave me, I only knew I felt proud and happy. In the air, 'way up, I felt that I was part of something very great and very beautiful. I didn't know what it was all about, I only knew that I wasn't alone any more, by myself as I was, two thousand feet up, but that I belonged. I can't help it if it sounds silly. When I was flying above the clouds and they were like an enormous nock of sheep below me I felt that I was at home with infinitude."

Larry paused. He gazed at me from the caverns of his impenetrable eyes, but I did not know whether he saw me.

"I'd known that men had been killed by the hundred thousand, but I hadn't seen them killed. It didn't mean very much to me. Then I saw a dead man with my own eyes. The sight filled me with shame."

"Shame?" I exclaimed involuntarily.

"Shame, because that boy, he was only three or four years older than me, who'd had such energy and daring, who a moment before had had so much vitality, who'd been so good, was now just mangled flesh that looked as if it had never been alive."

I didn't say anything. I had seen dead men when I was a medical student and I had seen many more during the war. What had dismayed me was how trifling they looked. There was no dignity in them. Marionettes that the show-man had thrown into the discard.

"I didn't sleep that night. I cried. I wasn't frightened for myself; I was indignant; it was the wickedness of it that broke me. The war came to an end and I went home. I'd always been keen on mechanics, and if there was nothing doing in aviation, I'd intended to get into an automobile factory. I'd been wounded and had to take it easy for a while, Then they wanted me to go to work. I couldn't do the sort of work they wanted me to do. It seemed futile. I'd had a lot of time to think. I kept on asking myself what life was for. After all it was only by luck that I was alive; I wanted to make something of my life, but I didn't know what. I'd never thought much about God. I began to think about Him now. I couldn't understand why there was evil in the world. I knew I was very ignorant; I didn't know anyone I could turn to and I wanted to learn, so I began to read at haphazard.

"When I told Father Ensheim all this he asked me: Then you've been reading for four years? Where have you got?'

" 'Nowhere,' I said.

"He looked at me with an air of such radiant benignity that I was confused. I didn't know what I'd done to arouse so much feeling in him. He softly drummed his fingers on the table as though he were turning a notion over in his mind.

" 'Our wise old Church,' he said then, 'has discovered that if you will act as if you believed belief will be granted to you; if you pray with doubt, but pray with sincerity, your doubt will be dispelled; if you will surrender yourself to the beauty of that liturgy the power of which over the human spirit has been proved by the experience of the ages, peace will descend upon you. I am returning to my monastery in a little while. Why don't you come and spend a few weeks with us? You can work in the fields with our lay brothers; you can read in our library. It will be an experience no less interesting than working in a coal mine or on a German farm.'

" 'Why do you suggest it?' I asked.

" 'I've been observing you for three months, he said.

'Perhaps I know you better than you know yourself. The distance that separates you from faith is no greater than the thickness of a cigarette paper.'

"I didn't say anything to that. It gave me a funny sort of feeling, as though someone had got hold of my heart-strings and were giving them a tug. At last I said I'd think about it. He dropped the subject. For the rest of Father Ensheim's stay in Bonn we never spoke of anything connected with religion again, but as he was leaving he gave me the address of his monastery and told me if I made up my mind to come I had only to write him a line and he'd make arrangements. I missed him more than I expected. The year wore on and it was midsummer. I liked it well enough in Bonn. I read Goethe and Schiller and Heine. I read Hölderlin and Rilke. Still I wasn't getting anywhere. I thought a lot of what Father Ensheim had said, and at last I decided to accept his offer.

"He met me at the station. The monastery was in Alsace and the country was pretty. Father Ensheim presented me to the abbot and then showed me to the cell that had been assigned to me. It had a narrow iron bed, a crucifix on the wall, and by way of furniture only the barest necessities. The dinner bell rang and I made my way to the refectory, It was a huge vaulted chamber. The abbot stood at the door with two monks, one of whom held a basin and the other a towel, and the abbot sprinkled a few drops of water on the hands of the guests by way of washing them and dried them with the towel one or the two monks handed him. There were three guests besides myself, two priests who were passing that way and had stopped off for dinner and an elderly, grouchy Frenchman who was making a retreat.

"The abbot and the two priors, senior and junior, sat at the head of the room, each at his separate table; the fathers along the two sides of the walls, while the novices, the lay brothers and the guests sat at tables in the middle. Grace was said and we ate. A novice took up his position near the refectory door and in a monotonous voice read from an edifying work. When we had finished grace was said again. The abbot. Father Ensheim, the guests and the monk in charge of them went into a small room where we had coffee and talked of casual things. Then I went back to my cell.

"I stayed there three months. I was very happy. The life exactly suited me. The library was good and I read a great deal. None of the fathers tried in any way to influence me, but they were glad to talk to me. I was deeply impressed by their learning, their piety and their unworldliness. You mustn't think it was an idle life they led. They were constantly occupied. They farmed their own land and worked it themselves and they were glad to have my help. I enjoyed the splendour of the services, but the one I liked best of all was Matins. It was at four in the morning. It was wonderfully moving to sit in the church with the night all around you while the monks, mysterious in their habits, their cowls drawn over their heads, sang with their strong male voices the plain song of the liturgy. There was something reassuring in the regularity of the daily round, and notwithstanding all the energy that was displayed, notwithstanding the activity of thought, you had an abiding sense of repose."

Larry smiled a trifle ruefully.

"Like Rolla, I've come too late into a world too old. I should have been born in the Middle Ages when faith was a matter of course; then my way would nave been clear to me and I'd have sought to enter the order. I couldn't believe. I wanted to believe, but I couldn't believe in a God who wasn't better than the ordinary decent man. The monks told me that God had created the world for his glorification. That didn't seem to me a very worthy object. Did Beethoven create his symphonies for his glorification? I don't believe it. I believe he created them because the music in his soul demanded expression and then all he tried to do was to make them as perfect as he knew how.

"I used to listen to the monks repeating the Lord's Prayer; I wondered how they could continue to pray without misgiving to their heavenly father to give them their daily bread. Do children beseech their earthly father to give them sustenance? They expect him to do it, they neither feel nor need to feel gratitude to him for doing it, and we have only blame for a man who brings children into the world that he can't or won't provide for. It seemed to me that if an omnipotent creator was not prepared to provide his creatures with the necessities of existence, material and spiritual, he'd have done better not to create them."

"Dear Larry," I said, "I think it's just as well you weren't born in the Middle Ages. You'd undoubtedly have perished at the stake."

He smiled.

"You've had a great deal of success," he went on. "Do you want to be praised to your face?"

"It only embarrasses me."

"That's what I should have thought. I couldn't believe that God wanted it either. We didn't think much in the air corps of a fellow who wangled a cushy job out of his CO. by buttering him up. It was hard for me to believe that God thought much of a man who tried to wangle salvation by fulsome flattery. I should have thought the worship most pleasing to him was to do your best according to your lights.

"But that wasn't the chief thing that bothered me: I couldn't reconcile myself with that preoccupation with sin which, so far as I could tell, was never entirely absent from the monks' thoughts. I'd known a lot of fellows in the air corps. Of course they got drunk when they got a chance, and had a girl whenever they could and used foul language; we had one or two bad hats: one fellow was arrested for passing rubber cheques and was sent to prison for six months; it wasn't altogether his fault; he'd never had any money before, and when he got more than he'd ever dreamt of having, it went to his head. I'd known bad men in Paris, and when I got back to Chicago I knew more, but for the most part their badness was due to heredity, which they couldn't help, or to their environment, which they didn't choose: I'm not sure that society wasn't more responsible for their crimes than they were. If I'd been God I couldn't have brought myself to condemn one of them, not even the worst, to eternal damnation. Father Ensheim was broad-minded; he thought that hell was the deprivation of God's presence, but if that is such an intolerable punishment that it can justly be called hell, can one conceive that a good God can inflict it? After all. He created men: if He so created them that it was possible for them to sin, it was because He willed it. If I trained a dog to fly at the throat of any stranger who came into my back yard, it wouldn't be fair to beat him when did so.

"If an all-good and all-powerful God created the world, why did He create evil? The monks said, so that man by conquering the wickedness in him, by resisting temptation, by accepting pain and sorrow and misfortune as the trials sent by God to purify him, might at long last be made worthy to receive His grace. It seemed to me like sending a fellow with a message to some place and just to make it harder for him you constructed a maze that he had to get through, then dug a moat that he had to swim and finally built a wall that he had to scale. I wasn't prepared to believe in an all-wise God who hadn't common sense. I didn't see why you shouldn't believe in a God who hadn't created the world, but had to make the best of the bad job he'd found, a being enormously better, wiser and greater than man, who strove with the evil he hadn't made and who you hoped might in the end overcome it. But on the other hand, I didn't see why you should.

"Those good fathers had no answers that satisfied either my head or my heart to the questions that perplexed me. My place was not with them. When I went to say good-bye to Father Ensheim he didn't ask me whether I had profited by the experience in the way he had been so sure I would. He looked at me with inexpressible kindness.

" 'I'm afraid I've been a disappointment to you, Father,' I said.

" 'No,' he answered. 'You are a deeply religious man who doesn't believe in God. God will seek you out. You'll come back. Whether here or elsewhere only God can tell.'

(iv)

"I settled down in Paris for the rest of the winter. I knew nothing of science, and I thought the time had come when I must acquire at least a nodding acquaintance with it. I read a lot. I don't know that I learnt much except that my ignorance was abysmal. But I knew that before. When the spring came I went to the country and stayed at a little inn on a river near one of those beautiful old French towns where life doesn't seem to have moved for two hundred years."

I guessed that this was the summer Larry had spent with Suzanne Rouvier, but I did not interrupt him.

"After that I went to Spain. I wanted to see Velasquez and El Greco. I wondered if art could point out the way to me that religion hadn't. I wandered about a bit and then came to Seville, I liked it and thought I'd spend the winter there."

I had myself been to Seville when I was twenty-three and I, too, had liked it. I liked its white, tortuous streets, its cathedral, and the wide-spreading plain of the Guadalquivir; but I liked also those Andalusian girls with their grace and their gaiety, with their dark shining eyes, the carnation in their hair stressing its blackness and by the contrast itself more vivid; I liked the rich colour of their skins and the inviting sensuality of their lips. Then indeed to be young was very heaven. When Larry went there he was only a little older than I had been and I could not but ask myself whether it was possible that he had remained indifferent to the lure of those enchanting creatures. He answered my unspoken question.

"I ran across a French painter I'd known in Paris, a fellow called Auguste Cottet, who'd kept Suzanne Rouvier at one time. He'd come to Seville to paint and was living with a girl he'd picked up there. He asked me to go with them one evening to Eretania to listen to a flamenco singer and they brought along with them a friend of hers. She was the prettiest little thing you ever saw. She was only eighteen. She'd got into trouble with a boy and had had to leave her native village because she was going to have a baby. The boy was doing his military service. After she had the baby she put it out to nurse and got a job in the tobacco factory. I took her home with me. She was very gay and very sweet, and after a few days I asked her if she'd like to come and live with me. She said she would, so we took a couple of rooms in a casa de huéspedes, a bedroom and a sitting-room. I told her she could leave her job, but she didn't want to, and that suited me because it left me my days to myself. We had the run of the kitchen, so she used to make my breakfast for me before she went to work and then at midday she'd come back and cook the lunch and in the evening we'd dine at a restaurant and go to a movie or to some place to dance. She looked upon me as a lunatic because I had a rubber bath and insisted on having a cold sponge every morning. The baby was farmed out in a village a few miles from Seville and we used to go and see it on Sundays. She made no secret of the fact that she was living with me to make enough money to furnish the lodging in a tenement they were going to take when her boy friend was through with his military service. She was a dear little thing and I'm sure she's made her Paco a good wife. She was cheerful, good-tempered and affectionate. She looked upon what you delicately call sexual congress as a natural function of the body like any other. She took pleasure in it and she was happy to give pleasure. She was of course a little animal, but a very nice, attractive, domesticated animal.

"Then one evening she told me that she'd had a letter from Paco in Spanish Morocco, where he was doing his service, to say that he was to be released and would arrive in Cadiz in a couple of days. She packed her belongings next morning and slipped her money in her stocking and I took her to the station. She gave me a hearty kiss as I put her into the railway carriage, but she was too excited at the thought of seeing her lover again to have a thought for me and I'm sure that before the train was out of the station she'd forgotten my existence.

"I stayed on in Seville and in the fall I set out on the journey that landed me in India."

(v)

It was getting late. The crowd had thinned out and only a few tables were occupied. The people who had been sitting there because they had nothing else to do had gone home. Those who had been to a play or a picture and had come to have a drink or a bite to eat had left. Now and then latecomers straggled in. I saw a tall man, evidently an Englishman, come in with a young rough. He had the long, washed-out face with thinning wavy hair of the British intellectual and evidently suffered from the delusion common to many that when you are abroad no one you know at home can possibly recognize you. The young rough greedily ate a great plate of sandwiches while his companion watched him with amused benevolence. What an appetite! I saw one man whom I knew by sight because he went to the same barber's at Nice. He was stout, elderly and grey-haired, with a puffy red face and heavy pouches under his eyes. He was a Middle Western banker who had left his native city after the crash rather than face an investigation. I do not know whether he had committed any crime; if he had, he was perhaps too small fry to put the authorities to the trouble of getting him extradited. He had a pompous manner and the false heartiness of a cheap politician, but his eyes were frightened and unhappy. He was never quite drunk and never quite sober. He was always with some harlot who was obviously getting all she could out of him, and he was now with two painted middle-aged women who treated him with a mockery they didn't trouble to conceal while he, only half understanding what they said, giggled fatuously. The gay life! I wondered if he wouldn't have done better to stay at home and take his medicine. One day his women would have squeezed him dry and then there would be nothing left for him but the river or an overdose of veronal.

Between two and three there was a slight increase of custom and I supposed that the night clubs were closing their doors. A bunch of young Americans strolled in, very drunk and noisy, but they didn't stay long. Not far from us two fat, sombre women, tightly fitted into mannish clothes, sat side by side, drinking whiskies and sodas in gloomy silence. A party in evening dress put in an appearance, what they call in French gens du monde, who had evidently been doing the rounds and now wanted a spot of supper to finish up with. They came and went. My curiosity had been excited by a little man, quietly dressed, who had been sitting there for an hour or more with a glass of beer in front of him reading the paper. He had a neat black beard and wore pince-nez. At last a woman came in and joined him. He gave her a nod devoid of friendliness and conjectured that he was annoyed because she had kept him waiting. She was young, rather shabby, but heavily painted, and looked very tired. Presently I noticed her take something out of her bag and hand it to him. Money. He looked at it and his face darkened. He addressed her in words I could not hear, but from her manner I guessed they were abusive, and she seemed to be making excuses. Suddenly he leant over and gave her a resounding smack on the cheek. She gave a cry and began to sob. The manager, drawn by the disturbance, came up to see what was the matter. It looked as if he were telling them to get out if they couldn't behave. The girl turned on him and shrilly, so that one heard every word, told him in foul language to mind his own business.

"If he slapped my face it's because I deserved it," she cried.

Women! I had always thought that to live on a woman's immoral earnings you must be a strapping flashy fellow with sex appeal, ready with your knife or your gun; it was astonishing that such a puny creature, who might have been a lawyer's clerk from his appearance, could get a footing in such an overcrowded profession.

(vi)

The waiter who had served us was going off duty and to get his tip presented the bill. We paid and ordered coffee.

"Well?" I said.

I felt that Larry was in the mood to talk and I knew that I was in the mood to listen.

"Aren't I boring you?"

"No."

"Well, we got to Bombay. The ship was stopping there for three days to give the tourists a chance to see the sights and make excursions. On the third day I got the afternoon off and went ashore. I walked about for a while,looking at the crowd: what a conglomeration! Chinese, Mohammedans, Hindus, Tamils as black as your hat; and those great humped bullocks with their long horns that draw the carts! Then I went to Elephanta to see the caves. An Indian had joined us at Alexandria for the passage to Bombay and the tourists were rather sniffy about him. He was a fat little man with a brown round face and he wore a thick tweed suit of black and green check and a clerical collar. I was having a breath of air on deck one night and he came up and spoke to me. I didn't want to talk to anyone just then, I wanted to be alone; he asked me a lot of questions and I'm afraid I was rather short with him. Anyhow I told him I was a student working my passage back to America.

" 'You should stop off in India,' he said. 'The East has more to teach the West than the West conceives.'

" 'Oh yes?' I said.

" 'At any rate,' he went on, 'be sure you go and see the caves at Elephanta. You'll never regret it.' " Larry interrupted himself to ask me a question. "Have you ever been to India?"

"Never."

"Well, I was looking at the colossal image with its three heads which is the great sight at Elephanta and wondering what it was all about when I heard someone behind me say: 'I see you've taken my advice.' I turned round and it took me a minute to realize who it was that had spoken to me. It was the little man in the heavy check suit and the clerical collar, but now he was wearing a long saffron robe, the robe, I knew later, of the Ramakrishna Swamis; and instead of the funny, spluttering little guy he'd been before, he was dignified and rather splendid. We both stared at the colossal bust.

" 'Brahma, the Creator,' he said. 'Vishnu the Preserver and Siva the Destroyer. The three manifestations of the Ultimate Reality.'

" 'I'm afraid I don't quite understand,' I said.

" 'I'm not surprised,' he answered, with a little smile on his lips and a twinkle in his eyes, as though he were gently mocking me. 'A God that can be understood is no God.

Who can explain the Infinite in words?'

"He joined the palms of his hands together and with just the indication of a bow strolled on. I stayed looking at those three mysterious heads. Perhaps because I was in a receptive mood, I was strangely stirred. You know how sometimes you try to recall a name; it's on the tip of your tongue, but you just can't get it: that was the feeling I had then. When I came out of the caves I sat for a long while on the steps and looked at the sea. All I knew about Brahminism were those verses of Emerson's and I tried to remember them. It exasperated me that I couldn't and when I went back to Bombay I went into a bookshop to see if I could find a volume of poetry that had them in. They're in the Oxford Book of English Verse. D'you remember them?

"They reckon ill who leave me out; When me they fly, I am the wings; I am the doubter and the doubt. And I the hymn the Brahmin sings.

"I had supper in a native eating-house and then, as I didn't have to be on board till ten, I went and walked on the Maidan and looked at the sea. I thought I'd never seen so many stars in the sky. The cool was delicious after the heat of the day. I found a public garden and sat on a bench. It was very dark there and silent white figures flitted to and fro. That wonderful day, with the brilliant sunshine, the coloured, noisy crowds, the smell of the East, acrid and aromatic, enchanted me; and like an object, a splash of colour that a painter puts in to pull his composition together, those three enormous heads of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva gave a mysterious significance to it all. My heart began to beat like mad, because I'd suddenly become aware of an intense conviction that India had something to give me that I had to have. It seemed to me that a chance was offered to me and I must take it there and then or it would never be offered me again. I made up my mind quickly. I decided not to go back to the ship. I'd left nothing there but a few things in a grip. I walked slowly back to the native quarter and looked about for an hotel. I found one after a while and took a room. I had the clothes I stood up in, some loose cash, my pass-port and my letter of credit; I felt so free, I laughed out loud.

"The ship was sailing at eleven and just to be on the safe side I stayed in my room till then. I went down to the quay and watched her pull out. After that I went to the Ramakrishna Mission and routed out the Swami who'd spoken to me at Elephanta. I didn't know his name, but I explained that I wanted to see the Swami who'd just arrived from Alexandria. I told him I'd decided to stay in India and asked him what I ought to see. We had a long talk and at last he said he was going to Benares that night and asked me if I'd like to go with him. I jumped at it. We went third-class. The carriage was full of people eating and drinking and talking and the heat was terrific. I didn't get a wink of sleep and next morning i was pretty tired, but the Swami was as fresh as a daisy. I asked him how come and he said: 'By meditation on the formless one; I found rest in the Absolute.' I didn't know what to think, but I could see with my own eyes that he was as alert and wide awake as though he'd had a good night's sleep in a comfortable bed.

"When at last we got to Benares a young man of my own age came to meet my companion and the Swami asked him to find me a room. His name was Mahendra and he was a teacher at the university. He was a nice, kindly, intelligent fellow and he seemed to take as great a fancy to me as I took to him. That evening he took me out in a boat on the Ganges; it was a thrill for me, very beautiful with the city crowding down to the water's edge, and awe-inspiring; but next morning he had something better to show me, he fetched me at my hotel before dawn and took me out on the river again. I saw something I could never have believed possible, I saw thousands upon thousands of people come down to take their lustral bath and pray. 1 saw one tall gaunt fellow, with a mass of tangled hair and a great ragged beard, with nothing but a jock-strap to cover his nakedness, stand with his long arms outstretched, his head up, and in a loud voice pray to the rising sun. I can't tell you what an impression it made on me. I spent six months in Benares and I went over and over again on the Ganges at dawn to see that strange sight, I never got over the wonder of it. Those people believed not halfheartedly, not with reservation or uneasy doubt, but with every fibre of their being.

"Everyone was very kind to me. When they discovered I hadn't come to shoot tigers or to buy or sell anything, but only to learn, they did everything to help me. They were pleased that I should wish to learn Hindustani, and found teachers for me. They lent me books. They were never tired of answering my questions. Do you know anything about Hinduism?"

"Very little," I answered.

"I should have thought it would interest you. Can there be anything more stupendous than the conception that the universe has no beginning and no end, but passes ever-lastingly from growth to equilibrium, from equilibrium to decline, from decline to dissolution, from dissolution to growth, and so on to all eternity?"

"And what do the Hindus think is the object of this endless recurrence?"

"I think they'd say that such is the nature of the Absolute. You see, they believe that the purpose of creation is to serve as a stage for the punishment or reward of the deeds of the soul's earlier existences."

"Which presupposes belief in the transmigration of souls."

"It's a belief held by two thirds of the human race."

"The fact that a great many people believe something is no guarantee of its truth."

"No, but at least it makes it worthy of consideration. Christianity absorbed so much of Neo-Platonism, it might very easily have absorbed that too, and in point of fact there was an early Christian sect that believed in it, but it was declared heretical. Except for that Christians would believe in it as confidently as they believe in the resurrection of Christ."

"Am I right in thinking that it means that the soul passes from body to body in an endless course of experience occasioned by the merit or demerit of previous works?"

"I think so."

"But you see, I'm not only my spirit but my body, and who can decide how much I, my individual self, am conditioned by the accident of my body? Would Byron have been Byron but for his club foot, or Dostoevsky Dostoevsky without his epilepsy?"

"The Indians wouldn't speak of an accident. They would answer that it's your actions in previous lives that have determined your soul to inhabit an imperfect body."

Larry drummed idly on the table and, lost in thought, gazed into space. Then, with a faint smile on his lips and a reflective look in his eyes, he went on. "Has it occurred to you that transmigration is at once an explanation and a justification of the evil of the world? If the evils we suffer are the result of sins committed in our past lives we can bear them with resignation and hope that if in this one we strive towards virtue our future lives will be less afflicted. But it's easy enough to bear our own evils, all we need for that is a little manliness; what's intolerable is the evil, often so unmerited in appearance, that befalls others. If you can persuade yourself that it is the inevitable result of the past you may pity, you may do what you can to alleviate, and you should, but you have no cause to be indignant."

"But why didn't God create a world free from suffering and misery at the beginning when there was neither merit nor demerit in the individual to determine his actions?"

"The Hindus would say that there was no beginning. The individual soul, co-existent with the universe, has existed from all eternity and owes its nature to some prior existence."

"And does the belief in the transmigration of souls have a practical effect on the lives of those who believe it? After all, that is the test."

"I think it has. I can tell you of one man I knew personally on whose life it certainly had a very practical effect. The first two or three years I was in India I lived mostly in native hotels, but now and then someone asked me to stay with him and once or twice I lived in grandeur as the guest of a maharajah. Through one of my friends in Benares 1 got an invitation to stay in one of the smaller northern states. The capital was lovely; 'a rose-bed city half as old as time'. I was recommended to the Minister of Finance. He'd had a European education and had been to Oxford. When you talked to him you got the impression of a progressive, intelligent and enlightened man; and he had the reputation of being an extremely efficient minister and a clever, astute politician. He wore European clothes and was very natty in appearance. He was rather a nice-looking fellow, a little on the stout side as Indians tend to become in middle age, with a close-cropped, neat moustache. He often asked me to go to his house. He had a large garden and we'd sit under the shade of great trees and talk. He had a wife and two grown-up children. You'd have taken him for just the ordinary, rather commonplace Anglicized Indian and I was staggered when I found out that in a year, when he reached the age of fifty, he was going to resign his profitable position, dispose of his property to his wife and children and go out into the world as a wandering mendicant. But the most surprising part was that his friends, and the maharajah, accepted it as a settled thing and looked upon it not as an extraordinary proceeding but as a natural one.

"One day I said to him: 'You, who are so liberal, who know the world, who've read so much, science, philosophy, literature—do you in your heart of hearts believe in re-incarnation?'

"His whole face changed. It became the face of a visionary.

" 'My dear friend,' he said, 'if I didn't believe in it life would have no meaning for me.' "

"And do you believe in it, Larry?" I asked.

"That's a very difficult question to answer. I don't think it's possible for us Occidentals to believe in it as implicitly as these Orientals do. It's in their blood and bones. With us it can only be an opinion. I neither believe in it nor disbelieve in it."

He paused for a moment and with his face resting on his hand looked down at the table. Then he leant back.

"I should like to tell you of a very strange experience I had once. I was practising meditation one night in my little room at the Ashrama as my Indian friends had taught me to do. 1 had lit a candle and was concentrating my attention on its flame, and after a time, through the flame, but quite clearly, I saw a long line of figures one behind the other. The foremost was an elderly lady in a lace cap with grey ringlets that hung down over her ears. She wore a tight black bodice and a black silk flounced skirt—the sort of clothes, I think, they wore in the seventies, and she was standing full face to me in a gracious, diffident attitude, her arms hanging straight down her sides with the palms towards me. The expression on her lined face was kindly, sweet and mild. Immediately behind her, but sideways so that I saw his profile, with a great hooked nose and thick lips, was a tall gaunt Jew in a yellow gabardine with a yellow skullcap on his thick dark hair. He had the studious look of a scholar and an air of grim and at the same time passionate austerity. Behind him, but facing me and as distinct as though there were no one between us, was a young man with a cheerful ruddy countenance, whom you couldn't have taken for anything but an Englishman of the sixteenth century. He stood firmly on his feet, his legs a little apart, and he had a bold, reckless wanton look. He was dressed all in red, grandly as though it were a court dress, with broad-toed velvet shoes on his feet and a flat velvet cap on his head. Behind those three there was an endless chain of figures, like a queue outside a movie house, but they were dim and I couldn't see what they looked like. I was only aware of their vague shapes and of the movement that passed through them like wheat waving in a summer breeze. In a little while, I don't know whether it was in a minute, or five, or ten, they faded slowly into the darkness of the night and there was nothing but the steady flame of the candle."

Larry gave a little smile.

"Of course it may be that I'd fallen into a doze and dreamt. It may be that my concentration on that feeble flame had induced a sort of hypnotic condition in me and that those three figures that I saw as distinctly as I see you were recollections of pictures preserved in my subconscious. But it may be that they were myself in past lives. It may be that I was not so very long ago an old lady in New England and before that a Levantine Jew and somewhere back, soon after Sebastian Cabot had sailed from Bristol, a gallant at the Court of Henry Prince of Wales."

"What eventually happened to your friend of the rose-red city?"

"Two years later I was down south at a place called Madura. One night in the temple someone touched me on the arm. I looked round and saw a bearded man with long black hair, dressed in nothing but a loincloth, with the staff and the begging-bowl of the holy man. It was not till he spoke that I recognized him. It was my friend. I was so astounded that I didn't know what to say. He asked me what I'd been doing and I told him; he asked me where I was going and I said to Travancore; he told me to go and see Shri Ganesha. 'He will give you what you're looking for,' he said. I asked him to tell me about him, but he smiled and said I'd find out all that was necessary for me to know when I saw him. I'd got over my surprise by then and asked him what he was doing in Madura. He said he was making a pilgrimage on foot to the holy places of India. I asked him how he ate and how he slept. He told me that when anyone offered him shelter he slept on the veranda, but otherwise under a tree or in the precincts of a temple; and as for food, if people offered him a meal he ate it and if they didn't he went without. I looked at him: 'You've lost weight,' I said. He laughed and answered that he felt all the better for it. Then he said good-bye to me—it was funny to hear that guy in a loincloth say, 'Well, so long, old chap'—and stepped into that part of the temple where I couldn't follow him.

"I stayed in Madura for some time. I think it's the only temple in India in which the white man can walk about freely so long as he doesn't enter the holy of holies. At nightfall it was packed with people. Men, women and children. The men, stripped to the waist, wore dhoties, and their foreheads, and often their chests and arms, were thickly smeared with the white ash of burnt cow dung. You saw them making obeisance at one shrine or another and sometimes lying full length on the ground, face downwards, in the ritual attitude of prostration. They prayed and recited litanies. They called to one another, greeted one another, quarrelled with one another, heatedly argued with one another. There was an ungodly row, and yet in some mysterious way God seemed to be near and living.

"You pass through long halls, the roof supported by sculptured columns, and at the foot of each column a religious mendicant is seated; each has in front of him a bowl for offerings or a small mat on which the faithful now and again throw a copper coin. Some are clad; some are almost naked. Some look at you vacantly as you pass; some are reading, silently or aloud, and appear unconscious of the streaming throng. I looked for my friend among them; I never saw him again. I suppose he proceeded on the journey to his goal."

"And what was that?"

"Liberation from the bondage of rebirth. According to the Vedantists the self, which they call the atman and we call the soul, is distinct from the body and its senses, distinct from the mind and its intelligence; it is not part of the Absolute, for the Absolute, being infinite, can have no parts, but the Absolute itself. It is uncreated; it has existed from eternity and when at last it has cast off the seven veils of ignorance will return to the infinitude from which it came. It is like a drop of water that has arisen from the sea and in a shower has fallen into a puddle, then drifts into a brook, finds its way into a stream, after that into a river, passing through mountain gorges and wide plains, winding this way and that, obstructed by rocks and fallen trees, till at last it reaches the boundless sea from which it rose."

"But that poor little drop of water, when it has once more become one with the sea, has surely lost its individuality."

Larry grinned.

"You want to taste sugar, you don't want to become sugar. What is individuality but the expression of our egoism? Until the soul has shed the last trace of that it cannot become one with the Absolute."

"You talk very familiarly of the Absolute, Larry, and it's an imposing word. What does it actually signify to you?"

"Reality. You can't say what it is; you can only say what it isn't. It's inexpressible. The Indians call it Brahman. It's nowhere and everywhere. All things imply and depend upon it. It's not a person, it's not a thing, it's not a cause. It has no qualities. It transcends permanence and change; whole and part, finite and infinite. It is eternal because its completeness and perfection are unrelated to time. It is truth and freedom."

"Golly!" I said to myself, but to Larry: "But how can a purely intellectual conception be a solace to the suffering human race? Men have always wanted a personal God to whom they can turn in distress for comfort and encouragement."

"It may be that at some far distant day greater insight will show them that they must look for comfort and encouragement in their own souls. I myself think that the need to worship is no more than the survival of an old remembrance of cruel gods that had to be propitiated. I believe that God is within me or nowhere. If that's so, whom or what am I to worship—myself? Men are on different levels of spiritual development, and so the imagination of India has evolved the manifestations of the Absolute that are known as Brahma, Vishnu, Siva and by a hundred other names. The Absolute is in Isvara, the creator and ruler of the world, and it is in the humble fetish before which the peasant in his sun-baked field places the offering of a flower. The multitudinous gods of India are but expedients to lead to the realization that the self is one with the supreme self."

I looked at Larry reflectively.

"I wonder just what it was that attracted you to this austere faith," I said.

"I think I can tell you. I've always felt that there was something pathetic in the founders of religion who made it a condition of salvation that you should believe in them. It's as though they needed your faith to have faith in themselves. They remind you of those old pagan gods who grew wan and faint if they were not sustained by the burnt offerings of the devout. Advaita doesn't ask you to take anything on trust; it asks only that you should have a passionate craving to know Reality; it states that you can experience God as surely as you can experience joy or pain. And there are men in India today—hundreds of them for all I know—who have the certitude that they have done so. I found something wonderfully satisfying in the notion that you can attain Reality by knowledge. In later ages the sages of India in recognition of human infirmity, admitted that salvation may be won by the way of love and the way of works, but they never denied that the noblest way, though the hardest, is the way of knowledge, for its instrument is the most precious faculty of man, his reason."

(vii)

I must interrupt myself to make it plain that I am not attempting here to give anything in the nature of a description of the philosophical system known as Vedanta. I have not the knowledge to do so, but even if I had this would not be the proper place for it. Our conversation was a long one and Larry told me a great deal more than I have felt it possible to set down in what after all purports to be a novel. My concern is with Larry. I should not have touched on such an intricate subject at all except that it seemed to me that without at least some slight account of his speculations and the singular experiences that were perhaps occasioned by them I could not give plausibility to the line of conduct which he was led to adopt and with which I shall presently acquaint the reader. It irks me that I cannot hope with any words of mine to give an idea of the pleasantness of his voice that invested even his most casual utterances with persuasiveness, or of the constant change in his expression, from grave to gently gay, from reflective to playful, that accompanied his thoughts like the ripple of a piano when the violins with a great sweep sing the several themes of a concerto. Although he spoke of serious things he spoke of them quite naturally, in a conversational tone, with a certain diffidence, perhaps, but without any more constraint than if he had been speaking of the weather and the crops. If I have given the impression that there was anything didactic in his manner the fault is mine. His modesty was as evident as his sincerity.

There was no more than a sprinkling of people in the café. The roisterers had long since departed. The sad creatures who make a business of love had gone to their sordid dwellings. Now and then a tired-looking man came in to have a glass of beer and a sandwich, or one, who seemed only half awake, for a cup of coffee. White-collar workers. One had been on a night shift and was going home to bed; the other, roused by the call of an alarm clock was on his unwilling way to the long day's labour. Larry appeared as unconscious of the time as of the surroundings. I have found myself in the course of my life in many strange situations. More than once I have been within a hair's breadth of death. More than once I have touched hands with romance and known it. I have ridden a pony through Central Asia along the road that Marco Polo took to reach the fabulous lands of Cathay; I have drunk a glass of Russian tea in a prim parlour in Petrograd while a soft-spoken little man in a black coat and striped trousers told me how he had assassinated a grand duke; I have sat in a drawing-room in Westminster and listened to the serene geniality of a piano trio of Haydn's while the bombs were crashing without; but I do not think I have ever found myself in a stranger situation than when I sat on the red-plush seats of that garish restaurant for hour after hour while Larry talked of God and eternity, of the Absolute and the weary wheel of endless becoming.

(viii)

Larry had been silent for a few minutes, and unwilling to hurry him, I waited. Presently he gave me a friendly little smile as though he had suddenly once more become aware of me.

"When I got down to Travancore I found I needn't have asked for information about Shri Ganesha. Everyone knew of him. For many years he'd lived in a cave in the hills, but finally he'd been persuaded to move down to the plain where some charitable person had given him a plot of land and had built a little adobe house for him. It was a long way from Trivandrum, the capital, and it took me all day, first by train and then by bullock cart, to get to the Ashrama. I found a young man at the entrance of the compound and asked him if I could see the Yogi. I'd brought with me the basket of fruit which is the customary gift to offer. In a few minutes the young man came back and led me into a long hall with windows all around it. In one corner Shri Ganesha sat in the attitude of meditation on a raised dais covered with a tiger skin. 'I've been expecting you, he said. I was surprised, but supposed my friend of Madura had told him something about me. But he shook his head when I mentioned his name. I presented my fruit and he told the young man to take it away. We were left alone and he looked at me without speaking. I don't know how long the silence lasted. It might nave been for half an hour. I've told you what he looked like; what I haven't told you is the serenity that he irradiated, the goodness, the peace, the selflessness. I was hot and tired after my journey, but gradually I began to feel wonderfully rested. Before he'd said another word I knew that this was the man I'd been seeking."

"Did he speak English?" I interrupted.

"No. But, you know, I'm pretty quick at languages, I'd picked up enough Tamil to understand and make myself understood in the South. At last he spoke.

" 'What have you come here for?' he asked.

"I began to tell him how I'd come to India and how I’d passed my time for three years; how, on report of their wisdom and sanctity, I'd gone to one holy man after another and had found no one to give me what I looked for. He interrupted me.

" 'All that I know. There is no need to tell me. What have you come here for?'

" 'So that you may be my Guru, I answered.

" 'Brahman alone is the Guru,' he said.

He continued to look at me with a strange intensity and then suddenly his body became rigid, his eyes seemed to turn inwards and I saw that he'd fallen into the trance which the Indians call Samadhi and in which they hold the duality of subject and object vanishes and you become Knowledge Absolute. I was sitting cross-legged on the floor, in front of him, and my heart beat violently. After how long a time I don't know he sighed and I realized that he had recovered normal consciousness. He gave me a glance sweet with loving-kindness.

" 'Stay, he said. 'They will show you where you may sleep.'

"I was given as a dwelling-place the shack in which Shri Ganesha had lived when first he came down to the plain. The hall in which he now passed both day and night had been built when disciples gathered around him and more and more people attracted by his fame, came to visit him. So that I mightn't be conspicuous I adopted the comfortable Indian dress and I got so sunburnt that unless your attention was drawn to me you might have taken me for a native. I read a great deal. I meditated. I listened to Shri Ganesha when he chose to talk; he didn't talk very much, but he was always willing to answer questions and it was wonderfully inspiring to listen to him. It was like music in your ears. Though in his youth he had himself practised very severe austerities he did not enjoin them on his disciples. He sought to wean them from the slavery of selfhood, passion and sense, and told them that they could acquire liberation by tranquillity, restraint, renunciation, resignation, by steadfastness of mind and by an ardent desire for freedom. People used to come from the near-by town three or four miles away, where there was a famous temple to which great crowds flocked once a year for a festival; they came from Trivandrum and from far-off places to tell him their troubles, to ask his advice, to listen to his teaching; and all went away strengthened in soul and at peace with themselves. What he taught was very simple. He taught that we are all greater than we know and that wisdom is the means to freedom. He taught that it is not essential to salvation to retire from the world, but only to renounce the self. He taught that work done with no selfish interest purifies the mind and that duties are opportunities afforded to man to sink his separate self and become one with the universal self. But it wasn't his teaching that was so remarkable; it was the man himself, his benignity, his greatness of soul, his saintliness. His presence was a benediction. I was very happy with him. I felt that at last I had found what I wanted. The weeks, the months passed with unimaginable rapidity. I proposed to stay either till he died and he told us that he did not intend very much longer to inhabit his perishable body, or till I received illumination, that state when you have at last burst the bonds of ignorance, and know with a certainty there is no disputing that you and the Absolute are one."

"And then?"

"Then, if what they say is true, there is nothing more. The soul's course on earth is ended and it will return no more."

"And is Shri Ganesha dead?" I asked.

"Not so far as I know."

As he spoke he saw what was implied in my question and gave a light laugh. He went on after a moment's hesitation, but in such a manner as led me at first to suppose that he wished to avoid answering the second question that he well knew was on the tip of my tongue, the question, of course, whether he had received illumination.

"I didn't stay at the Ashrama continuously. I was lucky enough to make the acquaintance of a native forestry officer whose permanent residence was on the outskirts of a village at the foot of the mountains. He was a devotee of Shri Ganesha and when he could get away from his work came and spent two or three days with us. He was a nice fellow and we had long talks. He liked to practise his English on me. After I'd known him for some time, he told me that the forestry service had a bungalow up in the mountains and if ever I wanted to go there to be by myself he would give me the key. I went there now and then. It was a two-day journey; first you had to go by bus to the forestry officer's village, then you had to walk, but when you got there it was magnificent in its grandeur and its solitude. I took what I could in a knapsack on my back and hired a bearer to carry provisions for me, and I stayed till they were exhausted. It was only a log cabin with a cookhouse behind it and for furniture there was nothing but a trestle bed on which to put your sleeping-mat, a table and a couple of chairs. It was cool up there and at times it was pleasant to light a fire at night. It gave me a wonderful thrill to know that there wasn't a living soul within twenty miles of me. At night I used often to hear the roar of a tiger or the racket of elephants as they crashed through the jungle. I used to take long walks in the forest. There was one place where 1 loved to sit because from it I saw the mountains spread before me and below, a lake to which at dusk the wild animals, deer, pig, bison, elephant, leopard came to drink.

"When I'd been at the Ashrama just two years I went up to my forest retreat for a reason that'll make you smile. I wanted to spend my birthday there. I got there the day before. Next morning I awoke before dawn and I thought I'd go and see the sunrise from the place I've just told you about. I knew the way blindfold. I sat down under a tree and waited. It was night still, but the stars were pale in the sky, and day was at hand. I had a strange feeling of suspense. So gradually that I was hardly aware of it light began to filter through the darkness, slowly, like a mysterious figure slinking between the trees. I felt my heart beating as though at the approach of danger. The sun rose."

Larry paused and a rueful smile played on his lips.

"I have no descriptive talent, I don't know the words to paint a picture; I can't tell you, so as to make you see it, ow grand the sight was that was displayed before me as the day broke in its splendour. Those mountains with their deep jungle, the mist still entangled in the treetops, and the bottomless lake far below me. The sun caught the lake through a cleft in the heights and it shone like burnished steel. I was ravished with the beauty of the world. I'd never known such exaltation and such a transcendent joy. I had a strange sensation, a tingling that arose in my feet and travelled up to my head, and I felt as though I were suddenly released from my body and as pure spirit partook of a loveliness I had never conceived. I had a sense that a knowledge more than human possessed me, so that everything that had been confused was clear and everything that had perplexed me was explained. I was so happy that it was pam and I straggled to release myself from it, for I felt that if it lasted a moment longer I should die; and yet it was such rapture that I was ready to die rather than forgo it. How can I tell you what I felt? No words can tell the ecstasy of my bliss. When I came to myself I was exhausted and trembling. I fell asleep.

"It was high noon when I woke. I walked back to the bungalow, and I was so light at heart that it seemed to me that I hardly touched the ground. I made myself some food, gosh, I was hungry, and I lit my pipe."

Larry lit his pipe now.

"I dared not think that this was illumination that I, Larry Darrell of Marvin, Illinois, had received when others striving for it for years, with austerity and mortification, still waited."

"What makes you think that it was anything more than a hypnotic condition induced by your state of mind combined with the solitude, the mystery of the dawn and the burnished steel of your lake?"

"Only my overwhelming sense of its reality. After all it was an experience of the same order as the mystics have had all over the world through all the centuries. Brahmins in India, Sufis in Persia, Catholics in Spain, Protestants in New England; and so far as they've been able to describe what defies description they've described it in similar terms. It's impossible to deny the fact of its occurrence; the only difficulty is to explain it. If I was for a moment one with the Absolute or if it was an inrush from the subconscious of an affinity with the universal spirit which is latent in all of us, I wouldn't know."

Larry paused for an instant and threw me a quizzical glance.

"By the way, can you touch your little finger with your thumb?" he asked. "Of course," I said with a laugh, proving it with the appropriate action.

"Are you aware that that's something that only man and the primates can do? It's because the thumb is opposable to the other digits that the hand is the admirable instrument it is. Isn’t it possible that the opposable thumb, doubtless in a rudimentary form, was developed in the remote ancestor of man and the gorilla in certain individuals, and was a characteristic that only became common to all after innumerable generations? Isn't it at least possible that these experiences of oneness with Reality that so many diverse persons have had point to a development in the human consciousness of a sixth sense which in the far, far future will be common to all men so that they may have as direct a perception of the Absolute as we have now of the objects of sense?"

"And how would you expect that to affect them?" I asked.

"I can as little tell you that as the first creature that found it could touch its little finger with its thumb could have told you what infinite consequences were entailed in that insignificant action. So far as I'm concerned I can only tell you that the intense sense of peace, joy and assurance that possessed me in that moment of rapture abides with me still and that the vision of the world's beauty is as fresh and vivid now as when first my eyes were dazzled by it."

"But Larry, surely your idea of the Absolute forces you to believe that the world and its beauty are merely an illusion—the fabric of Maya."

"It's a mistake to think that the Indians look upon the world as an illusion; they don't; all they claim is that it's not real in the same sense as the Absolute. Maya is only a speculation devised by those ardent thinkers to explain how the Infinite could produce the Finite. Samkara, the wisest of them all, decided that it was an insoluble mystery. You see, the difficulty is to explain why Brahman, which is Being, Bliss and Intelligence, which is unalterable, which ever is and forever maintains itself in rest, which lacks nothing and needs nothing and so knows neither charge nor strife, which is perfect, should create the world. Well, if you ask that question the answer you're generally given is that the Absolute created the world in sport without reference to any purpose. But when you think of flood and famine, of earthquake and hurricane and all the ills that flesh is heir to, your moral sense is outraged at the idea that so much that is shocking can have been created in play. Shri Ganesha had too much kindliness of heart to believe that; he looked upon the world as the expression of the Absolute and as the overflow of its perfection. He taught that God cannot help creating and that the world is the manifestation of his nature. When I asked how, if the world was a manifestation of the nature of a perfect being, it should be so hateful that the only reasonable aim man can set before him is to liberate himself from its bondage, Shri Ganesha answered that the satisfaction of the world are transitory and that only the Infinite gives enduring happiness. But endless duration makes good no better, nor white any whiter. If the rose at noon has lost the beauty it had at dawn, the beauty it had then was real. Nothing in the world is permanent, and we're foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we're still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it. If change is of the essence of existence one would have thought it only sensible to make it the premise of our philosophy. We can none of us step into the same river twice, but the river flows on and the other river we step into is cool and refreshing too.

"The Aryans when they first came down into India saw that the world we know is but an appearance of the world we know not; but they welcomed it as gracious and beautiful; it was only centuries later, when the exhaustion of conquest, when the debilitating climate had sapped their vitality so that they became a prey to invading hordes, that they saw only evil in life and craved for liberation from its return. But why should we of the West, we Americans especially, be daunted by decay and death, hunger and thirst, sickness, old age, grief and delusion? The spirit of life is strong in us. I felt more alive then, as I sat in my log cabin smoking my pipe, than I had ever felt before. I felt in myself an energy that cried out to be expended. It was not for me to leave the world and retire to a cloister, but to live in the world and love the objects of the world, not indeed for themselves, but for the Infinite that is in them. If in those moments of ecstasy I had indeed been one with the Absolute, then, if what they said was true, nothing could touch me and when I had worked out the karma of my present life I should return no more. The thought filled me with dismay. I wanted to live again and again. I was willing to accept every sort of life, no matter what its pain and sorrow; I felt that only life after life, life after life could satisfy my eagerness, my vigour and my curiosity.

"Next morning I started down the mountain and the day after arrived at the Ashrama. Shri Ganesha was surprised to see me in European clothes. I'd put them on at the forestry officer's bungalow when I started uphill because it was colder there and hadn't thought to change them.

"I’ve come to bid you farewell, master,' I said. 'I am going back to my own people.'

"He did not speak. He was sitting, as ever, cross-legged on the tiger skin on the dais. A stick of incense burnt in the brazier before it and scented the air with its faint fragrance. He was alone as he had been on the first day I saw him. He looked at me with an intensity so piercing that I had the impression he saw into the deepest recesses of my being. I know he knew what had happened.

" 'It is well,' he said. 'You have been gone long enough.'

"I went down on my knees and he gave me his blessing. When I rose to my feet my eyes were filled with tears. He was a man of noble and saintly character. I shall always look upon it as a privilege to have known him. I said good-bye to the devotees. Some had been there for years; some had come after me. I left my few belongings and my books, thinking they might be useful to someone, and with my knapsack on my back, in the same old slacks and brown coat I had arrived in, a battered topee on my head, I trudged back to the town. A week later I boarded a ship at Bombay and landed at Marseilles."

Silence fell upon us as we pursued our separate reflections; but, tired though I was, there was one more point which I very much wanted to put to him, and it was I who finally spoke.

"Larry, old boy," I said, "this long quest of yours started with the problem of evil. It was the problem of evil that urged you on. You've said nothing all this time to indicate that you've reached even a tentative solution of it."

"It may be that there is no solution or it may be that I'm not clever enough to find it. Ramakrishna looked upon the world as the sport of God. 'It is like a game,' he said. 'In this game there are joy and sorrow, virtue and vice, knowledge and ignorance, good and evil. The game cannot continue if sin and suffering are altogether eliminated from the creation.' I would reject that with all my strength. The best I can suggest is that when the Absolute manifested itself in the world evil was the natural correlation of good. You could never have had the stupendous beauty of the Himalayas without the unimaginable horror of a convulsion of the earth's crust. The Chinese crafts-man who makes a vase in what they call eggshell porcelain can give it a lovely shape, ornament it with a beautiful design, stain it a ravishing colour and give it a perfect glaze, but from its very nature he can't make it anything but fragile. If you drop it on the floor it will break into a dozen fragments. Isn't it possible in the same way that the values we cherish in the world can only exist in combination with evil?"

"It's an ingenious notion, Larry. I don't think it's very satisfactory."

"Neither do I," he smiled. "The best to be said for it is that when you've come to the conclusion that something is inevitable all you can do is to make the best of it."

"What are your plans now?"

"I've got a job of work to finish here and then I shall go back to America."

"What to do?"

"Live."

"How?"

He answered very coolly, but with an impish twinkle in his eyes, for he knew very well how little I expected such a reply.

"With calmness, forbearance, compassion, selflessness and continence."

"A tall order," I said. "And why continence? You're a young man; is it wise to attempt to suppress what with hunger is the strongest instinct of the human animal?"

"I am in the fortunate position that sexual indulgence with me has been a pleasure rather than a need. I know by personal experience that in nothing are the wise men of India more dead right than in their contention that chastity intensely enhances the power of the spirit."

"I should have thought that wisdom consisted in striking a balance between the claims of the body and the claims of the spirit."

"That is just what the Indians maintain that we in the West haven't done. They think that we with our countless inventions, with our factories and machines and all they produce, have sought happiness in material things, but that happiness rests not in them, but in spiritual things. And they think the way we have chosen leads to destruction."

"And are you under the impression that America is a suitable place to practise the particular virtues you mentioned?"

"I don't see why not. You Europeans know nothing about America. Because we amass large fortunes you think we care for nothing but money. We care nothing for it; the moment we have it we spend it, sometimes well sometimes ill, but we spend it. Money is nothing to us; it's merely the symbol of success. We are the greatest idealists in the world; I happen to think that we've set our ideal on the wrong objects; I happen to think that the greatest ideal man can set before himself is self-perfection."

"It's a noble one, Larry."

"Isn't it worth while to try to live up to it?"

"But can you for a moment imagine that you, one man, can have any effect on such a restless, busy, lawless, intensely individualistic people as the people of America? You might as well try to hold back the waters of the Mississippi with your bare hands."

"I can try. It was one man who invented the wheel. It was one man who discovered the law of gravitation. Nothing that happens is without effect. If you throw a stone in a pond the universe isn't quite the same as it was before. It's a mistake to think that those holy men of India lead useless lives. They are a shining light in the darkness. They represent an ideal that is a refreshment to their fellows; the common run may never attain it, but they respect it and it affects their lives for good. When a man becomes pure and perfect the influence of his character spreads so that they who seek truth are naturally drawn to him. It may be that if I lead the life I've planned for myself it may affect others; the effect may be no greater than the ripple caused by a stone thrown in a pond, but one ripple causes another, and that one a third; it's just possible that a few people will see that my way of life offers happiness and peace, and that they in their turn will teach what they have learnt to others."

"I wonder if you have any idea what you're up against, Larry. You know, the Philistines have long since discarded the rack and stake as a means of suppressing the opinions they feared: they've discovered a much more deadly weapon of destruction—the wisecrack."

"I'm a pretty tough guy," smiled Larry.

"Well, all I can say is that it's damned lucky for you that you have a private income."

"It's been of great use to me. Except for that I shouldn't have been able to do all I've done. But my apprenticeship is over. From now on it can only be a burden to me. I shall rid myself of it."

"That would be very unwise. The only thing that may make the kind of life you propose possible is financial independence."

"On the contrary, financial independence would make the life I propose meaningless."

I couldn't restrain a gesture of impatience.

"It may be ah very well for the wandering mendicant in India; he can sleep under a tree and the pious arc willing enough to acquire merit by filling his begging-bowl with food. But the American climate is far from suitable for sleeping out in the open, and though I don't pretend to know much about America, I do know that if there's one thing your countrymen are agreed upon it is that if you want to eat you must work. My poor Larry, you'd be sent to the workhouse as a vagrant before ever you got into your stride."

He laughed.

"I know. One must adapt oneself to one's environment and of course I'd work. When I get to America I shall try to get a job in a garage. I'm a pretty good mechanic and I don't think it ought to be difficult."

"Wouldn't you then be wasting energy that might be more usefully employed in other ways?"

"I like manual labour. Whenever I've got waterlogged with study I've taken a spell of it and found it spiritually invigorating. I remember reading a biography of Spinoza and thinking how silly the author was to look upon it as a terrible hardship that in order to earn his scanty living Spinoza had to polish lenses. I'm sure it was a help to his intellectual activity, if only because it diverted his attention for a while from the hard work of speculation. My mind is free when I'm washing a car or tinkering with a carburettor and when the job's done I have the pleasant sensation of having accomplished something. Naturally I wouldn't want to stay in a garage indefinitely. It's many years since I was in America and I must learn it afresh. I shall try to get work as a truck driver. In that way I should be able to travel from end to end of the country."

"You've forgotten perhaps the most important use of money. It saves time. Life is so short, and there's so much to do, one can't afford to waste a minute; and just think how much you waste, for instance, in walking from place to place instead of going by bus and in going by bus instead of by taxi."

Larry smiled.

"True enough and I hadn't thought of it, but I could cope with that difficulty by having my own taxi."

"What d'you mean by that?"

"Eventually I shall settle in New York, among other reasons because of its libraries; I can live on very little, I don't mind where I sleep and I'm quite satisfied with one meal a day; by the time I've seen all I want to of America I should be able to have saved enough to buy a taxi and become a taxi driver."

"You ought to be shut up, Larry. You're as crazy as a loon."

"Not at all. I'm very sensible and very practical. As an owner-driver I would need to work only for as many hours as would provide for my board and lodging and for the depreciation on the car. The rest of my time I could devote to other work and if I wanted to go anywhere in a hurry I could always go in my taxi."

"But, Larry, a taxi is just as much of a possession as a government bond," I said, to tease him. "As an owner-driver you'd be a capitalist."

He laughed.

"No. My taxi would be merely the instrument of my labour. It would be an equivalent to the staff and the begging-bowl of the wandering mendicant."

On this note of banter our conversation ended. I had noticed for some time that people were coming into the cafe with greater frequency. One man in evening dress sat down not far from us and ordered himself a substantial breakfast. He had the tired but satisfied mien of one who looks back with complacency upon a night of amorous dalliance. A few old gentlemen, early risers because old age needs little sleep, were drinking their café au lait with deliberation while through thick-lensed spectacles they read the morning paper. Younger men, some of them neat and spruce, others in threadbare coats, hurried in to devour a roll and swallow a cup of coffee on their way to a shop or an office. An old crone entered with a pile of newspapers and went round offering them for sale, vainly as far I could see, at the various tables. I looked out of the great plate glass windows and saw that it was broad daylight. A minute or two later the electric light was turned off except at the rear of the huge restaurant. I looked at my watch. It was past seven o'clock.

"What about a spot of breakfast?" I said.

We had croissants, all crisp and hot from the baker's, and café au lait. I was tired and listless, and felt certain I looked like the wrath of God, but Larry seemed as fresh as ever. His eyes were shining, there wasn't a line on his smooth face, and he didn't look a day more than twenty-five. The coffee revived me.

"Will you allow me to give you a piece of advice, Larry?

It's not a thing I give often."

"It's not a thing I often take," he answered with a grin.

"Will you think very carefully before you dispossess yourself of your very small fortune? When it's gone, it's gone for ever. A time may come when you'll want money very badly, either for yourself or for somebody else, and then you'll bitterly regret that you were such a fool."

There was a glint of mockery in his eyes as he answered, but it was devoid of malice.

"You attach more importance to money than I do."

"I can well believe it," I answered tartly, "You see, you've always had it and I haven't. It's given me what I value almost more than anything else in life—independence. You can't think what a comfort it's been to me to think that if I wanted to I could tell anyone in the world to go to hell."

"But I don't want to tell anyone in the world to go to hell, and if I did, the lack of a bank balance wouldn't prevent me. You see, money to you means freedom; to me it means bondage."

"You're an obstinate brute, Larry."

"I know. I can't help it. But in any case I have plenty of time to change my mind if I want to. I'm not going back to America till next spring. My friend Auguste Cottet, the painter, has lent me a cottage at Sanary and I'm going to spend the winter there."

Sanary is an unpretentious seaside resort on the Riviera, between Bandol and Toulon, and it is frequented by artists and writers who do not care for the garish mummery of St. Tropez.

"You'll like it if you don't mind it's being as dull as ditch-water."

" I have work to do. I've collected a lot of material and I'm going to write a book."

"What's it about?"

"You'll see when it comes out," he smiled.

"If you'd like to send it to me when it's finished I think I can get it published for you."

"You needn't bother about that. I have some American friends who run a small press in Paris and I've arranged with them to print it for me."

"But you can't expect a book brought out like that to have any sale and you won't get any reviews."

"I don't care if it's reviewed and I don't expect it to sell. I'm only printing enough copies to send to my friends in India and the few people 1 know in France who might be interested in it. It's of no particular importance. I'm only writing it to get all that material out of the way, and I'm publishing it because I think you can only tell what a thing's like when you see it in print."

"I see the point of both those reasons."

We had finished our breakfast by now and I called the waiter for the bill. When it came I passed it over to Larry.

"If you're going to chuck your money down the drain you can damn well pay for my breakfast."

He laughed and paid. I was stiff from sitting for so long and as we walked out of the restaurant my sides ached. It was good to get into the fresh clean air of the autumn morning. The sky was blue, and the Avenue de Clichy, a sordid thoroughfare by night, had a mild jauntiness, like a painted, haggard woman walking with a girl's springy step, that was not displeasing. I signalled a passing taxi.

"Can I give you a lift?" I asked Larry.

"No. I shall walk down to the Seine and have a swim at one of the baths, then I must go to the Bibliothèque, I've got some research to do there.”

We shook hands and I watched him cross the road with his loose, long-legged stride. I, being made of stuff less stem, stepped into the taxi and returned to my hotel. When I got into my sitting-room I noticed that it was after eight.

"This is a nice hour for an elderly gentleman to get home," I remarked disapprovingly to the nude lady (under a glass case) who had since the year 1813 been lying on top of the clock in what I should have thought was a position of extreme discomfort.

She continued to look at her gilt bronze face in a gilt bronze mirror, and all the clock said was: tick, tick. I turned on a hot bath. When I had lain in it till it was tepid, I dried myself, swallowed a sleeping-tablet, and taking to bed with me Valéry's Le Cimetière Marin, which happened to be on the night table, read till I fell asleep.

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