Amore, Arte e Verità: la filosofia di W. Somerset Maugham/Appendice B

W. Somerset Maugham

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I HAVE NEVER BEGUN A NOVEL with more misgiving. If I call it a novel it is only because I don’t know what else to call it. I have little story to tell and I end neither with a death nor a marriage. Death ends all things and so is the comprehensive conclusion of a story, but marriage finishes it very properly too and the sophisticated are ill-advised to sneer at what is by convention termed a happy ending. It is a sound instinct of the common people which persuades them that with this all that needs to be said is said. When male and female, after whatever vicissitudes you like, are at last brought together they have fulfilled their biological function and interest passes to the generation that is to come. But I leave my reader in the air. This book consists of my recollections of a man with whom I was thrown into close contact only at long intervals, and I have little knowledge of what happened to him in between. I suppose that by the exercise of invention I could fill the gaps plausibly enough and so make my narrative more coherent; but I have no wish to do that. I only want to set down what I know of my own knowledge.

Many years ago I wrote a novel called The Moon and Sixpence. In that I took a famous painter, Paul Gauguin, and, using the novelist’s privilege, devised a number of incidents to illustrate the character I had created on the suggestions afforded me by the scanty facts I knew about the French artist. In the present book I have attempted to do nothing of the kind. I have invented nothing. To save embarrassment to people still living I have given to the persons who play a part in this story names of my own contriving, and I have in other ways taken pains to make sure that no one should recognize them. The man I am writing about is not famous. It may be that he never will be. It may be that when his life at last comes to an end he will leave no more trace of his sojourn on earth than a stone thrown into a river leaves on the surface of the water. Then my book, if it is read at all, will be read only for what intrinsic interest it may possess. But it may be that the way of life that he has chosen for himself and the peculiar strength and sweetness of his character may have an ever-growing influence over his fellow men so that, long after his death perhaps, it may be realized that there lived in this age a very remarkable creature. Then it will be quite clear of whom I write in this book and those who want to know at least a little about his early life may find in it something to their purpose. I think my book, within its acknowledged limitations, will be a useful source of information to my friend’s biographers.

I do not pretend that the conversations I have recorded can be regarded as verbatim reports. I never kept notes of what was said on this or the other occasion, but I have a good memory for what concerns me, and though I have put these conversations in my own words they faithfully represent, I believe, what was said. I remarked a little while back that I have invented nothing; I want now to modify that statement. I have taken the liberty that historians have taken from the time of Herodotus to put into the mouths of the persons of my narrative speeches that I did not myself hear and could not possibly have heard. I have done this for the same reasons as the historians have, to give liveliness and verisimilitude to scenes that would have been ineffective if they had been merely recounted. I want to be read and I think I am justified in doing what I can to make my book readable. The intelligent reader will easily see for himself where I have used this artifice, and he is at perfect liberty to reject it.

Another reason that has caused me to embark upon this work with apprehension is that the persons I have chiefly to deal with are American. It is very difficult to know people and I don’t think one can ever really know any but one’s own countrymen. For men and women are not only themselves; they are also the region in which they were born, the city apartment or the farm in which they learnt to walk, the games they played as children, the old wives’ tales they overheard, the food they ate, the schools they attended, the sports they followed, the poets they read, and the God they believed in. It is all these things that have made them what they are and these are things that you can’t come to know by hearsay, you can only know them if you have lived them. You can only know them if you are them. And because you cannot know persons of a nation foreign to you except from observation, it is difficult to give them credibility in the pages of a book. Even so subtle and careful an observer as Henry James, though he lived in England for forty years, never managed to create an Englishman who was through and through English. For my part, except in a few short stories I have never attempted to deal with any but my own countrymen, and if I have ventured to do otherwise in short stories it is because in them you can treat your characters more summarily. You give the reader broad indications and leave him to fill in the details. It may be asked why, if I turned Paul Gauguin into an Englishman, I could not do the same with the persons of this book. The answer is simple: I couldn’t. They would not then have been the people they are. I do not pretend that they are American as Americans see themselves; they are American seen through an English eye. I have not attempted to reproduce the peculiarities of their speech. The mess English writers make when they try to do this is only equalled by the mess American writers make when they try to reproduce English as spoken in England. Slang is the great pitfall. Henry James in his English stories made constant use of it, but never quite as the English do, so that instead of getting the colloquial effect he was after, it too often gives the English reader an uncomfortable jolt.

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

“Elliott Templeton speaking.”

“Elliott? I thought you were in Paris.”

“No, I’m visiting with my sister. We want you to come along and lunch with us today.”

“I should love to.”

He named the hour and gave me the address.

I had known Elliott Templeton for fifteen years. He was at this time in his late fifties, a tall, elegant man with good features and thick waving dark hair only sufficiently graying to add to the distinction of his appearance. He was always beautifully dressed. He got his haberdashery at Charvet’s, but his suits, his shoes and his hats in London. He had an apartment in Paris on the Rive Gauche in the fashionable Rue St. Guillaume. People who did not like him said he was a dealer, but this was a charge that he resented with indignation. He had taste and knowledge, and he did not mind admitting that in bygone years, when he first settled in Paris, he had given rich collectors who wanted to buy pictures the benefit of his advice; and when through his social connections he heard that some impoverished nobleman, English or French, was disposed to sell a picture of first-rate quality he was glad to put him in touch with the directors of American museums who, he happened to know, were on the lookout for a fine example of such and such a master. There were many old families in France and some in England whose circumstances compelled them to part with a signed piece of Buhl or a writing-table made by Chippendale himself if it could be done quietly, and they were glad to know a man of great culture and perfect manners who could arrange the matter with discretion. One would naturally suppose that Elliott profited by the transactions, but one was too well-bred to mention it. Unkind people asserted that everything in his apartment was for sale and that after he had invited wealthy Americans to an excellent lunch, with vintage wines, one or two of his valuable drawings would disappear or a marquetry commode would be replaced by one in lacquer. When he was asked why a particular piece had vanished he very plausibly explained that he hadn’t thought it quite up to his mark and had exchanged it for one of much finer quality. He added that it was tiresome always to look at the same things.

Nous autres américains, we Americans,” he said, “like change. It is at once our weakness and our strength.”

Some of the American ladies in Paris, who claimed to know all about him, said that his family was quite poor and if he was able to live in the way he did it was only because he had been very clever. I do not know how much money he had, but his ducal landlord certainly made him pay a lot for his apartment and it was furnished with objects of value. On the walls were drawings by the great French masters, Watteau, Fragonard, Claude Lorrain and so on; Savonnerie and Aubusson rugs displayed their beauty on the parquet floors; and in the drawing-room there was a Louis Quinze suite in petit point of such elegance that it might well have belonged, as he claimed, to Madame de Pompadour. Anyhow he had enough to live in what he considered was the proper style for a gentleman without trying to earn money, and the method by which he had done so in the past was a matter which, unless you wished to lose his acquaintance, you were wise not to refer to. Thus relieved of material cares he gave himself over to the ruling passion of his life, which was social relationships. His business connections with the impecunious great both in France and in England had secured the foothold he had obtained on his arrival in Europe as a young man with letters of introduction to persons of consequence. His origins recommended him to the American ladies of title to whom he brought letters, for he was of an old Virginian family and through his mother traced his descent from one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence. He was well favoured, bright, a good dancer, a fair shot and a fine tennis player. He was an asset at any party. He was lavish with flowers and expensive boxes of chocolate, and though he entertained little, when he did it was with an originality that pleased. It amused these rich ladies to be taken to Bohemian restaurants in Soho or bistros in the Latin Quarter. He was always prepared to make himself useful and there was nothing, however tiresome, that you asked him to do for you that he would not do with pleasure. He took an immense amount of trouble to make himself agreeable to ageing women, and it was not long before he was the ami de la maison, the household pet, in many an imposing mansion. His amiability was extreme; he never minded being asked at the last moment because someone had thrown you over and you could put him next to a very boring old lady and count on him to be as charming and amusing with her as he knew how.

In two or more years, both in London to which he went for the last part of the season and to pay a round of country house visits in the early autumn, and in Paris, where he had settled down, he knew everyone whom a young American could know. The ladies who had first introduced him into society were surprised to discover how wide the circle of his acquaintance had grown. Their feelings were mixed. On the one hand they were pleased that their young protégé had made so great a success and on the other a trifle nettled that he should be on such intimate terms with persons with whom their own relations had remained strictly formal. Though he continued to be obliging and useful to them, they were uneasily conscious that he had used them as stepping-stones to his social advancement. They were afraid he was a snob. And of course he was. He was a colossal snob. He was a snob without shame. He would put up with any affront, he would ignore any rebuff, he would swallow any rudeness to get asked to a party he wanted to go to or to make a connection with some crusty old dowager of great name. He was indefatigable. When he had fixed his eye on his prey he hunted it with the persistence of a botanist who will expose himself to dangers of flood, earthquake, fever and hostile natives to find an orchid of peculiar rarity. The war of 1914 gave him his final chance. When it broke out he joined an ambulance corps and served first in Flanders and then in the Argonne; he came back after a year with a red ribbon in his buttonhole and secured a position in the Red Cross in Paris. By then he was in affluent circumstances and he contributed generously to the good works patronized by persons of consequence. He was always ready with his exquisite taste and his gift for organization to help in any charitable function that was widely publicized. He became a member of the two most exclusive clubs in Paris. He was ce cher Elliott to the greatest ladies in France. He had finally arrived.

When I first met Elliott I was just a young author like another and he took no notice of me. He never forgot a face and when I ran across him here or there he shook hands with me cordially, but showed no desire to further our acquaintance; and if I saw him at the opera, say, he being with a person of high rank, he was apt not to catch sight of me. But then I happened to make a somewhat startling success as a playwright, and presently I became aware that Elliott regarded me with a warmer feeling. One day I received a note from him asking me to lunch at Claridge’s, where he lived when in London. It was a small party and not a very smart one, and I conceived the notion that he was trying me out. But from then on, since my success had brought me many new friends, I began to see him more frequently. Shortly after this I spent some weeks of the autumn in Paris and met him at the house of a common acquaintance. He asked me where I was staying and in a day or two I received another invitation to lunch, this time at his apartment; when I arrived I was surprised to see that it was a party of considerable distinction. I giggled to myself. I knew that with his perfect sense of social relations he had realized that in English society as an author I was not of much account, but that in France, where an author just because he is an author has prestige, I was. During the years that followed our acquaintance became fairly intimate without ever developing into friendship. I doubt whether it was possible for Elliott Templeton to be a friend. He took no interest in people apart from their social position. When I chanced to be in Paris or he in London, he continued to ask me to parties when he wanted an extra man or was obliged to entertain travelling Americans. Some of these were, I suspected, old clients and some were strangers sent to him with letters of introduction. They were the cross of his life. He felt he had to do something for them and yet was unwilling to have them meet his grand friends. The best way of disposing of them of course was to give them dinner and take them to a play, but that was often difficult when he was engaged every evening for three weeks ahead, and also he had an inkling that they would scarcely be satisfied with that. Since I was an author and so of little consequence he didn’t mind telling me his troubles on this matter.

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

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

“They want to meet you so much,” he wrote to flatter me. “Mrs. So and So is a very cultivated woman and she’s read every word you’ve written.”

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

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

He was for one thing what the French call serviable, a word for which, so far as I know, there is no exact equivalent in English. The dictionary tells one that serviceable in the sense of helpful, obliging and kind is archaic. That is just what Elliott was. He was generous, and though early in his career he had doubtless showered flowers, candy and presents on his acquaintances from an ulterior motive, he continued to do so when it was no longer necessary. It caused him pleasure to give. He was hospitable. His chef was as good as any in Paris and you could be sure at his table of having set before you the earliest delicacies of the season. His wine proved the excellence of his judgment. It is true that his guests were chosen for their social importance rather than because they were good company, but he took care to invite at least one or two for their powers of entertainment, so that his parties were almost always amusing. People laughed at him behind his back and called him a filthy snob, but nevertheless accepted his invitations with alacrity. His French was fluent and correct and his accent perfect. He had taken great pains to adopt the manner of speech as it is spoken in England and you had to have a very sensitive ear to catch now and then an American intonation. He was a good talker if only you could keep him off the subject of dukes and duchesses, but even about them, now that his position was unassailable, he allowed himself, especially when you were alone with him, to be amusing. He had a pleasantly malicious tongue and there was no scandal about these exalted personages that did not reach his ears. From him I learnt who was the father of the Princess X’s last child and who was the mistress of the Marquis de Y. I don’t believe even Marcel Proust knew more of the inner life of the aristocracy than Elliott Templeton.

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

“If there’s anything you want don’t try to buy it yourself. Just give me a hint and let me do the rest.”

He would be delighted when he had got for me something I fancied for half the asking price. It was a treat to watch him bargain. He would argue, cajole, lose his temper, appeal to the seller’s better nature, ridicule him, point out the defects of the object in question, threaten never to cross his threshold again, sigh, shrug his shoulders, admonish, start for the door in frowning anger and when finally he had won his point shake his head sadly as though he accepted defeat with resignation. Then he would whisper to me in English:

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

Elliott was a zealous Catholic. He had not lived long in Paris before he met an abbé who was celebrated for his success in bringing infidels and heretics back to the fold. He was a great diner out and a noted wit. He confined his ministrations to the rich and the aristocratic. It was inevitable that Elliott should be attracted by a man who, though of humble origins, was a welcome guest in the most exclusive houses, and he confided to a wealthy American lady who was one of the abbé’s recent converts that, though his family had always been Episcopalian, he had for long been interested in the Catholic Church. She asked Elliott to meet the abbé at dinner one evening, just the three of them, and the abbé was scintillating. Elliott’s hostess brought the conversation around to Catholicism and the abbé spoke of it with unction, but without pedantry, as a man of the world, though a priest, speaking to another man of the world. Elliott was flattered to discover that the abbé knew all about him.

“The Duchesse de Vendôme was speaking of you the other day. She told me that she thought you highly intelligent.”

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

It may be that his motives in abandoning the faith of his fathers were mixed, but there could be no doubt of his devoutness when he had done so. He attended Mass every Sunday at the church frequented by the best people, went to confession regularly and made periodical visits to Rome. In course of time he was rewarded for his piety by being made a papal chamberlain, and the assiduity with which he performed the duties of his office was rewarded by the order of, I think, the Holy Sepulchre. His career as a Catholic was in fact no less successful than his career as an homme du monde.

I often asked myself what was the cause of the snobbishness that obsessed this man who was so intelligent, so kindly and so cultivated. He was no upstart. His father had been president of one of the southern universities and his grandfather a divine of some eminence. Elliott was too clever not to see that many of the persons who accepted his invitations did so only to get a free meal and that of these some were stupid and some worthless. The glamour of their resounding titles blinded him to their faults. I can only guess that to be on terms of intimate familiarity with these gentlemen of ancient lineage, to be the faithful retainer of their ladies gave him a sensation of triumph that never palled; and I think that at the back of it all was a passionate romanticism that led him to see in the weedy little French duke the crusader who had gone to the Holy Land with Saint Louis and in the blustering, fox-hunting English earl the ancestor who had attended Henry the Eighth to the Field of the Cloth of Gold. In the company of such as these he felt that he lived in a spacious and gallant past. I think when he turned the pages of the Almanach de Gotha his heart beat warmly as one name after another brought back to him recollections of old wars, historic sieges and celebrated duels, diplomatic intrigues and the love affairs of kings. Such anyhow was Elliott Templeton.

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

“I thought it would be safer if I came and fetched you,” he said as we shook hands. “I don’t know how well you know Chicago.”

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

“It’s early yet. We might walk part of the way,” he suggested.

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

“I thought I’d better tell you about my sister before you meet her,” said Elliott as we walked along. “She’s stayed with me once or twice in Paris, but I don’t think you were there at the time. It’s not a big party, you know. Only my sister and her daughter Isabel and Gregory Brabazon.”

“The decorator?” I asked.

“Yes. My sister’s house is awful, and Isabel and I want her to have it done over. I happened to hear that Gregory was in Chicago and so I got her to ask him to lunch today. He’s not quite a gentleman, of course, but he has taste. He did Raney Castle for Mary Olifant and St. Clement Talbot for the St. Erths. The duchess was delighted with him. You’ll see Louisa’s house for yourself. How she can have lived in it all these years I shall never understand. For the matter of that how she can live in Chicago I shall never understand either.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, I spent a week there.”

“And how is dear Queen Margherita?”

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

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

“Not at all,” I smiled. “The fact is I don’t know her.”

“Don’t you?” said Mrs. Bradley as though she could hardly believe her ears. “Why not?”

“To tell you the truth authors don’t hobnob with kings and queens as a general rule.”

“But she’s such a sweet woman,” Mrs. Bradley expostulated, as though it were very hoity-toity of me not to know that royal personage. “I’m sure you’d like her.”

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

Gregory Brabazon, notwithstanding his name, was not a romantic creature. He was a short, very fat man, as bald as an egg except for a ring of black curly hair round his ears and at the back of his neck, with a red, naked face that looked as though it were on the point of breaking out into a violent sweat, quick gray eyes, sensual lips and a heavy jowl. He was an Englishman and I had sometimes met him at bohemian parties in London. He was very jovial, very hearty and laughed a great deal, but you didn’t have to be a great judge of character to know that his noisy friendliness was merely cover for a very astute man of business. He had been for some years the most successful decorator in London. He had a great booming voice and little fat hands that were wonderfully expressive. With telling gestures, with a spate of excited words he could thrill the imagination of a doubting client so that it was almost impossible to withhold the order he seemed to make it a favour to accept.

The butler came in again with a tray of cocktails.

“We won’t wait for Isabel,” said Mrs. Bradley as she took one.

“Where is she?” asked Elliott.

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

Elliott turned to me.

“Larry is Laurence Darrell. Isabel is supposed to be engaged to him.”

“I didn’t know you drank cocktails, Elliott,” I said.

“I don’t,” he answered grimly, as he sipped the one he had taken, “but in this barbarous land of prohibition what can one do?” He sighed. “They’re beginning to serve them in some houses in Paris. Evil communications corrupt good manners.”

“Stuff and nonsense, Elliott,” said Mrs. Bradley.

She said it good-naturedly enough, but with a decision that suggested to me that she was a woman of character and I suspected from the look she gave him, amused but shrewd, that she had no illusions about him. I wondered what she would make of Gregory Brabazon. I had caught the professional look he gave the room as he came in and the involuntary lifting of his bushy eyebrows. It was indeed an amazing room. The paper on the walls, the cretonne of the curtains and on the upholstered furniture were of the same pattern; on the walls were oil paintings in massive gold frames that the Bradleys had evidently bought when they were in Rome. Virgins of the school of Raphael, Virgins of the school of Guido Reni, landscapes of the school of Zuccarelli, ruins of the school of Pannini. There were the trophies of their sojourn in Peking, blackwood tables too profusely carved, huge cloisonné vases, and there were the purchases they had made in Chili or Peru, obese figures in hard stone and earthenware vases. There was a Chippendale writing-table and a marquetry vitrine. The lampshades were of white silk on which some ill-advised artist had painted shepherds and shepherdesses in Watteau costumes. It was hideous and yet, I don’t know why, agreeable. It had a homely, lived-in air and you felt that that incredible jumble had a significance. All those incongruous objects belonged together because they were part of Mrs. Bradley’s life.

We had just finished our cocktails when the door was flung open and a girl came in, followed by a boy.

“Are we late?” she asked. “I’ve brought Larry back. Is there anything for him to eat?”

“I expect so,” smiled Mrs. Bradley. “Ring the bell and tell Eugene to put another place.”

“He opened the door for us. I’ve already told him.”

“This is my daughter Isabel,” said Mrs. Bradley, turning to me. “And this is Laurence Darrell.”

Isabel gave me a rapid handshake and turned impetuously to Gregory Brabazon.

“Are you Mr. Brabazon? I’ve been crazy to meet you. I love what you’ve done for Clementine Dormer. Isn’t this room terrible? I’ve been trying to get Mamma to do something about it for years and now you’re in Chicago it’s our chance. Tell me honestly what you think of it.”

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

“I’m sure it’s very comfortable and all that,” he said, “but if you ask me point-blank, well, I do think it’s pretty awful.”

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

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

“What do you think of it?” asked Isabel of Gregory Brabazon as we sat down.

“I’m sure it cost a great deal of money,” he answered.

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

“What would you do if it was yours?” Isabel asked Brabazon, but before he could answer, Elliott answered for him.

“Burn it,” he said.

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

“I always think that’s so important,” he said, “a person’s personality.” He turned to Elliott. “Of course you know the Duchess of Olifant?”

“Mary? She’s one of my most intimate friends.”

“She wanted me to do her dining-room and the moment I saw her I said George the Second.”

“How right you were. I noticed the room the last time I dined there. It’s in perfect taste.”

So the conversation went on. Mrs. Bradley listened, but you could not tell what she was thinking. I said little and Isabel’s young man, Larry, I’d forgotten his surname, said nothing at all. He was sitting on the other side of the table between Brabazon and Elliott and every now and then I glanced at him. He looked very young. He was about the same height as Elliott, just under six feet, thin and loose-limbed. He was a pleasant-looking boy, neither handsome nor plain, rather shy and in no way remarkable. I was interested in the fact that though, so far as I could remember, he hadn’t said half a dozen words since entering the house, he seemed perfectly at ease and in a curious way appeared to take part in the conversation without opening his mouth. I noticed his hands. They were long, but not large for his size, beautifully shaped and at the same time strong. I thought that a painter would be pleased to paint them. He was slightly built but not delicate in appearance; on the contrary I should have said he was wiry and resistant. His face, grave in repose, was tanned, but otherwise there was little colour in it, and his features, though regular enough, were undistinguished. He had rather high cheekbones and his temples were hollow. He had dark brown hair with a slight wave in it. His eyes looked larger than they really were because they were deep-set in the orbits and his lashes were thick and long. His eyes were peculiar, not of the rich hazel that Isabel shared with her mother and her uncle, but so dark that the iris made one colour with the pupil and this gave them a peculiar intensity. He had a natural grace that was attractive and I could see why Isabel had been taken by him. Now and again her glance rested on him for a moment and I seemed to see in her expression not only love but fondness. Their eyes met and there was in his a tenderness that was beautiful to see. There is nothing more touching than the sight of young love, and I, a middle-aged man then, envied them, but at the same time, I couldn’t imagine why, I felt sorry for them. It was silly because, so far as I knew, there was no impediment to their happiness; their circumstances seemed easy and there was no reason why they should not marry and live happily ever afterwards.

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

“You mustn’t try to rush me. I want to have time to think it over.” She turned to the boy. “What do you think of it all, Larry?”

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

“I don’t think it matters one way or the other,” he said.

“You beast, Larry,” cried Isabel. “I particularly told you to back us up.”

“If Aunt Louisa is happy with what she’s got what is the object of changing?”

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

“And don’t grin like that just because you’ve made a very stupid remark,” said Isabel.

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

“Don’t pay any attention to him. He’s very stupid and entirely uneducated. He doesn’t know anything about anything except flying.”

“Flying?” I said.

“He was an aviator in the war.”

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

“He was. Much too young. He behaved very badly. He ran away from school and went to Canada. By lying his head off he got them to believe he was eighteen and got into the air corps. He was fighting in France at the time of the armistice.”

“You’re boring your mother’s guests, Isabel,” said Larry.

“I’ve known him all my life, and when he came back he looked lovely in his uniform, with all those pretty ribbons on his tunic, so I just sat on his doorstep, so to speak, till he consented to marry me just to have a little peace and quiet. The competition was awful.”

“Really, Isabel,” said her mother.

Larry leant over towards me.

“I hope you don’t believe a word she says. Isabel isn’t a bad girl really, but she’s a liar.”

Luncheon was finished and soon after Elliott and I left. I had told him before that I was going to the museum to look at the pictures and he said he would take me. I don’t particularly like going to a gallery with anyone else, but I could not say I would sooner go alone and so accepted his company. On our way we spoke of Isabel and Larry.

“It’s rather charming to see two young things so much in love with one another,” I said.

“They’re much too young to marry.”

“Why? It’s such fun to be young and in love and to marry.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. She’s nineteen and he’s only just twenty. He hasn’t got a job. He has a tiny income, three thousand a year Louisa tells me, and Louisa’s not a rich woman by any manner of means. She needs all she has.”

“Well, he can get a job.”

“That’s just it. He’s not trying to. He seems to be quite satisfied to do nothing.”

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

“He’s been resting for a year. That’s surely long enough.”

“I thought he seemed a nice sort of boy.”

“Oh, I have nothing against him. He’s quite well-born and all that sort of thing. His father came from Baltimore. He was assistant professor of Romance languages at Yale or something like that. His mother was a Philadelphian of old Quaker stock.”

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

“Yes, his mother died in childbirth and his father about twelve years ago. He was brought up by an old college friend of his father’s who’s a doctor at Marvin. That’s how Louisa and Isabel knew him.”

“Where’s Marvin?”

“That’s where the Bradley place is. Louisa spends the summer there. She was sorry for the child. Dr. Nelson’s a bachelor and didn’t know the first thing about bringing up a boy. It was Louisa who insisted that he should be sent to St. Paul’s and she always had him out here for his Christmas vacation.” Elliott shrugged a Gallic shoulder. “I should have thought she would foresee the inevitable result.”

We had now arrived at the museum and our attention was directed to the pictures. Once more I was impressed by Elliott’s knowledge and taste. He shepherded me around the rooms as though I were a group of tourists, and no professor of art could have discoursed more instructively than he did. Making up my mind to come again by myself when I could wander at will and have a good time, I submitted; after a while he looked at his watch.

“Let us go,” he said. “I never spend more than one hour in a gallery. That is as long as one’s power of appreciation persists. We will finish another day.”

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

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

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

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

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

I laughed and left.

The following evening, having refused Elliott’s telephoned offer to fetch me, I arrived quite safely at Mrs. Bradley’s house. I had been delayed by someone who had come to see me and was a trifle late. So much noise came from the sitting-room as I walked upstairs that I thought it must be a large party and I was surprised to find that there were, including myself, only twelve people. Mrs. Bradley was very grand in green satin with a dog collar of seed pearls round her neck, and Elliott in his well-cut dinner jacket looked elegant as he alone could look. When he shook hands with me my nostrils were assailed by all the perfumes of Arabia. I was introduced to a stoutish, tall man with a red face who looked somewhat ill at ease in evening clothes. He was a Dr. Nelson, but at the moment that meant nothing to me. The rest of the party consisted of Isabel’s friends, but their names escaped me as soon as I heard them. The girls were young and pretty and the men young and upstanding. None of them made any impression on me except one boy and that only because he was so tall and so massive. He must have been six foot three or four and he had great broad shoulders. Isabel was looking very pretty; she was dressed in white silk, with a long, hobbled skirt that concealed her fat legs; the cut of her frock showed that she had well-developed breasts; her bare arms were a trifle fat, but her neck was lovely. She was excited and her fine eyes sparkled. There was no doubt about it, she was a very pretty and desirable young woman, but it was obvious that unless she took care she would develop an unbecoming corpulence.

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

“Well, you know Dr. Nelson,” she said, indicating the middle-aged man who was opposite me on Mrs. Bradley’s other side. “He’s Larry’s guardian. He’s our doctor at Marvin. He’s very clever, he invents gadgets for planes that no one will have anything to do with and when he isn’t doing that he drinks.”

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

“She’s very sweet,” or: “He’s a very good golfer.”

“And who is that big fellow with the eyebrows?”

“That? Oh, that’s Gray Maturin. His father’s got an enormous house on the river at Marvin. He’s our millionaire. We’re very proud of him. He gives us class. Maturin, Hobbes, Rayner and Smith. He’s one of the richest men in Chicago and Gray’s his only son.”

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

“Tell me more about Mr. Maturin.”

“There’s nothing to tell. He’s rich. He’s highly respected. He built us a new church at Marvin and he’s given a million dollars to the University of Chicago.”

“His son’s a fine-looking fellow.”

“He’s nice. You’d never think his grandfather was shanty Irish and his grandmother a Swedish waitress in an eating house.”

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

“He’s very much admired,” said my shy neighbor. “I know several girls who would stop at nothing short of murder to get him. But they haven’t a chance.”

“Why not?”

“You don’t know anything, do you?”

“How should I?”

“He’s so much in love with Isabel, he can’t see straight, and Isabel’s in love with Larry.”

“What’s to prevent him from setting to and cutting Larry out?”

“Larry’s his best friend.”

“I suppose that complicates matters.”

“If you’re as high-principled as Gray is.”

I was not sure whether she said this in all seriousness or whether there was in her tone a hint of mockery. There was nothing saucy in her manner, forward or pert, and yet I got the impression that she was lacking neither in humour nor in shrewdness. I wondered what she was really thinking while she made conversation with me, but that I knew I should never find out. She was obviously unsure of herself and I conceived the notion that she was an only child who had lived a secluded life with people a great deal older than herself. There was a modesty, an unobtrusiveness about her that I found engaging, but if I was right in thinking that she had lived much alone I guessed that she had quietly observed the older persons she lived with and had formed decided opinions upon them. We who are of mature age seldom suspect how unmercifully and yet with what insight the very young judge us. I looked again into her greenish blue eyes.

“How old are you?” I asked.


“Do you read much?” I asked at a venture.

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

I was surprised that I had been asked to this party, for after a little desultory conversation they began to talk of a matter that I should have thought they would have preferred to discuss in private. I could not make up my mind whether it would be more discreet in me to get up and go or whether, as a disinterested audience of one, I was useful to them. The question at issue was Larry’s odd disinclination to go to work, and it had been brought to a point by an offer from Mr. Maturin, the father of the boy who had been at dinner, to take him into his office. It was a fine opportunity. With ability and industry Larry could look forward to making in due course a great deal of money. Young Gray Maturin was eager for him to take it.

I cannot remember all that was said, but the gist of it is clear in my memory. On Larry’s return from France Dr. Nelson, his guardian, had suggested that he should go to college, but he had refused. It was natural that he should want to do nothing for a while; he had had a hard time and had been twice, though not severely, wounded. Dr. Nelson thought that he was still suffering from shock and it seemed a good idea that he should rest till he had completely recovered. But the weeks passed into months and now it was over a year since he’d been out of uniform. It appeared that he had done well in the air corps and on his return he cut something of a figure in Chicago, the result of which was that several businessmen offered him positions. He thanked them, but refused. He gave no reason except that he hadn’t made up his mind what he wanted to do. He became engaged to Isabel. This was no surprise to Mrs. Bradley since they had been inseparable for years and she knew that Isabel was in love with him. She was fond of him and thought he would make Isabel happy.

“Her character’s stronger than his. She can give him just what he lacks.”

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

“You know I never had much authority over Larry,” he said. “Even as a boy he went his own way.”

“I know. You let him run wild. It’s a miracle he’s turned out as well as he has.”

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

“I was very busy. I had my own affairs to attend to. I took him because there was nowhere else for him to go and his father was a friend of mine. He wasn’t easy to do anything with.”

“I don’t know how you can say that,” Mrs. Bradley answered tartly. “He has a very sweet disposition.”

“What are you to do with a boy who never argues with you, but does exactly what he likes and when you get mad at him just says he’s sorry and lets you storm? If he’d been my own son I could have beaten him. I couldn’t, beat a boy who hadn’t got a relation in the world and whose father had left him to me because he thought I’d be kind to him.”

“That’s neither here nor there,” said Elliott, somewhat irritably. “The position is this: he’s dawdled around long enough; he’s got a fine chance of a position in which he stands to make a lot of money and if he wants to marry Isabel he must take it.”

“He must see that in the present state of the world,” Mrs. Bradley put in, “a man has to work. He’s perfectly strong and well now. We all know how after the war between the states there were men who never did a stroke after they came back from it. They were a burden to their families and useless to the community.”

Then I added my word.

“But what reason does he give for refusing the various offers that are made him?”

“None. Except that they don’t appeal to him.”

“But doesn’t he want to do anything?”

“Apparently not.”

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

“Shall I tell you what my impression is? I daresay I’m not a great judge of human nature, but at any rate after thirty-odd years of practice I think I know something about it. The war did something to Larry. He didn’t come back the same person that he went. It’s not only that he’s older. Something happened that changed his personality.”

“What sort of thing?” I asked.

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

She shook her head.

“No. When he first came back we tried to get him to tell us some of his adventures, but he only laughed in that way of his and said there was nothing to tell. He hasn’t even told Isabel. She’s tried and tried, but she hasn’t got a thing out of him.”

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

“But you see it’s all very much on my mind,” she finished,

“Mr. Maugham is very discreet, Louisa; you needn’t be afraid of telling him anything. I haven’t the feeling that Bob Nelson and Larry are very close, but there are some things that Louisa and I thought we’d better not mention to him.”


“You’ve told him so much, you may as well tell him the rest. I don’t know whether you noticed Gray Maturin at dinner?”

“He’s so big, one could hardly fail to.”

“He’s a beau of Isabel’s. All the time Larry was away he was very attentive. She likes him and if the war had lasted much longer she might very well have married him. He proposed to her. She didn’t accept and she didn’t refuse. Louisa guessed she didn’t want to make up her mind till Larry came home.”

“How is it that he wasn’t in the war?” I asked.

“He strained his heart playing football. It’s nothing serious, but the army wouldn’t take him. Anyhow when Larry came home he had no chance. Isabel turned him down flat.”

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

“Of course Larry’s a very nice boy and it was damned sporting of him to run away and join the air corps, but I’m a pretty good judge of character. . . .” He gave a knowing little smile and made the only reference I ever heard him make to the fact that he had made a fortune by dealing in works of art. “Otherwise I shouldn’t have at this moment a tidy sum in gilt-edged securities. And my opinion is that Larry will never amount to very much. He has no money to speak of and no position. Gray Maturin is a very different proposition. He has a good old Irish name. They’ve had a bishop in the family, and a dramatist and several distinguished soldiers and scholars.”

“How do you know all that?” I asked.

“It’s the sort of thing one knows,” he answered casually. “As a matter of fact I happened to be glancing through the Dictionary of National Biography the other day at the club and I came across the name.”

I didn’t think it was my business to repeat what my neighbor at dinner had told me of the shanty Irishman and the Swedish waitress who were Gray’s grandfather and grandmother. Elliott proceeded.

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

“You’ve been away from America so long, Elliott,” said Mrs. Bradley, with a dry smile, “you’ve forgotten that in this country girls don’t marry because their mothers and their uncles are in favour of it.”

“That is nothing to be proud of, Louisa,” said Elliott sharply. “As the result of thirty years’ experience I may tell you that a marriage arranged with proper regard to position, fortune and community of circumstances has every advantage over a love match. In France, which after all is the only civilized country in the world, Isabel would marry Gray without thinking twice about it; then, after a year or two, if she wanted it, she’d take Larry as her lover, Gray would install a prominent actress in a luxurious apartment, and everyone would be perfectly happy.”

Mrs. Bradley was no fool. She looked at her brother with sly amusement.

“The objection to that, Elliott, is that as the New York plays only come here for limited periods, Gray could only hope to keep the tenants of his luxurious apartment for a very uncertain length of time. That would surely be very unsettling for all parties.”

Elliott smiled.

“Gray could buy a seat on the New York stock exchange. After all, if you must live in America I can’t see any object in living anywhere but in New York.”

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

“Henry is the best type of the American businessman,” he said, “and I think you ought to know him. He’s looked after our investments for many years.”

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

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

“Don’t move,” I said, and then almost automatically: “What are you reading?”

“A book,” he said, with a smile, but a smile so engaging that the rebuff of his answer was in no way offensive.

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

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

“Wonderful. Didn’t get home till five.”

“It’s very strenuous of you to be here so bright and early.”

“I come here a good deal. Generally I have the place to myself at this time.”

“I won’t disturb you.”

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

“All right.”

He handed me the book he was holding.

“That’s what I was reading.”

I looked at it and saw it was William James’s Principles of Psychology. It is, of course, a standard work and important in the history of the science with which it deals; it is moreover exceedingly readable; but it is not the sort of book I should have expected to see in the hands of a very young man, an aviator, who had been dancing till five in the morning.

“Why are you reading this?” I asked.

“I’m very ignorant.”

“You’re also very young,” I smiled.

He did not speak for so long a time that I began to find the silence awkward and I was on the point of getting up and looking for the magazines I had come to find. But I had a feeling that he wanted to say something. He looked into vacancy, his face grave and intent, and seemed to meditate. I waited. I was curious to know what it was all about. When he began to speak it was as though he continued the conversation without awareness of that long silence.

“When I came back from France they all wanted me to go to college. I couldn’t. After what I’d been through I felt I couldn’t go back to school. I learnt nothing at my prep school anyway. I felt I couldn’t enter into a freshman’s life. They wouldn’t have liked me. I didn’t want to act a part I didn’t feel. And I didn’t think the instructors would teach me the sort of things I wanted to know.”

“Of course I know that this is no business of mine,” I said, “but I’m not convinced you were right. I think I understand what you mean and I can see that, after being in the war for two years, it would have been rather a nuisance to become the sort of glorified schoolboy an undergraduate is during his first and second years. I can’t believe they wouldn’t have liked you. I don’t know much about American universities, but I don’t believe American undergraduates are very different from English ones, perhaps a little more boisterous and a little more inclined to horseplay, but on the whole very decent, sensible boys, and I take it that if you don’t want to lead their lives they’re quite willing, if you exercise a little tact, to let you lead yours. I never went to Cambridge as my brothers did. I had the chance, but I refused it. I wanted to get out into the world. I’ve always regretted it. I think it would have saved me a lot of mistakes. You learn more quickly under the guidance of experienced teachers. You waste a lot of time going down blind alleys if you have no one to lead you.”

“You may be right. I don’t mind if I make mistakes. It may be that in one of the blind alleys I may find something to my purpose.”

“What is your purpose?”

He hesitated a moment.

“That’s just it. I don’t quite know it yet.”

I was silent, for there didn’t seem to be anything to say in answer to that. I, who from a very early age have always had before me a clear and definite purpose, was inclined to feel impatient; but I chid myself; I had what I can only call an intuition that there was in the soul of that boy some confused striving, whether of half-thought-out ideas or of dimly felt emotions I could not tell, that filled him with a restlessness that urged him he did not know whither. He strangely excited my sympathy. I had never before heard him speak much and it was only now that I became conscious of the melodiousness of his voice. It was very persuasive. It was like balm. When I considered that, his engaging smile and the expressiveness of his very black eyes I could well understand that Isabel was in love with him. There was indeed something very lovable about him. He turned his head and looked at me without embarrassment, but with an expression in his eyes that was at once scrutinizing and amused.

“Am I right in thinking that after we all went off to dance last night you talked about me?”

“Part of the time.”

“I thought that was why Uncle Bob had been pressed to come to dinner. He hates going out.”

“It appears that you’ve got the offer of a very good job.”

“A wonderful job.”

“Are you going to take it?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t want to.”

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

“Well, you know when people are no good at anything else they become writers,” I said, with a chuckle.

“I have no talent.”

“Then what do you want to do?”

He gave me his radiant, fascinating smile.

“Loaf,” he said.

I had to laugh.

“I shouldn’t have thought Chicago the best place in the world to do that in,” I said. “Anyhow, I’ll leave you to your reading. I want to have a look at the Yale Quarterly.”

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

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

“I had a letter from Gray’s friend Larry Darrell this morning.”

“You didn’t tell me, Dad,” said Gray.

Mr. Maturin turned to me.

“You know Larry, don’t you?” I nodded. “Gray persuaded me to take him into my business. They’re great friends. Gray thinks the world of him.”

“What did he say, Dad?”

“He thanked me. He said he realized it was a great chance for a young fellow and he’d thought it over very carefully and had come to the conclusion he’d be a disappointment to me and thought it better to refuse.”

“That’s very foolish of him,” said Elliott.

“It is,” said Mr. Maturin.

“I’m awfully sorry, Dad,” said Gray. “It would have been grand if we could have worked together.”

“You can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t make him drink.”

Mr. Maturin looked at his son while he said this and his shrewd eyes softened. I realized that there was another side to the hard businessman; he doted on this great hulking son of his. He turned to me once more.

“D’you know, that boy did our course in two under par on Sunday. He beat me seven and six. I could have brained him with my niblick. And to think that I taught him to play golf myself.”

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

“I had a lot of luck, Dad.”

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

“I shouldn’t be able to spare the time.”

“I’m your boss, ain’t I?”

“Don’t I know it! The hell you raise if I’m a minute late at the office.”

Mr. Maturin chuckled.

“He’s trying to make me out a tyrant,” he said to me. “Don’t you believe him. I’m my business, my partners are no good, and I’m very proud of my business. I’ve started this boy of mine at the bottom and I expect him to work his way up just like any young fellow I’ve hired, so that when the time comes for him to take my place he’ll be ready for it. It’s a great responsibility, a business like mine. I’ve looked after the investments of some of my clients for thirty years and they trust me. To tell you the truth, I’d rather lose my own money than see them lose theirs.”

Gray laughed.

“The other day when an old girl came in and wanted to invest a thousand dollars in a wildcat scheme that her minister had recommended he refused to take the order, and when she insisted he gave her such hell that she went out sobbing. And then he called up the minister and gave him hell too.”

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

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

“I’m always glad to meet new types. I thought the mutual affection of father and son was rather touching. I don’t know that that’s so common in England.”

“He adores that boy. He’s a queer mixture. What he said about his clients was quite true. He’s got hundreds of old women, retired service men and ministers whose savings he looks after. I’d have thought they were more trouble than they’re worth, but he takes pride in the confidence they have in him. But when he’s got some big deal on and he’s up against powerful interests there isn’t a man who can be harder and more ruthless. There’s no mercy there then. He wants his pound of flesh and there’s nothing much he’ll stop at to get it. Get on the wrong side of him and he’ll not only ruin you, but get a big laugh out of doing it.”

On getting home Elliott told Mrs. Bradley that Larry had refused Henry Maturin’s offer. Isabel had been lunching with girl friends and came in while they were still talking about it. They told her. I gathered from Elliott’s account of the conversation that ensued that he had expressed himself with considerable eloquence. Though he had certainly not done a stroke of work for ten years, and the work by which he had amassed an ample competence had been far from arduous, he was firmly of opinion that for the run of mankind industry was essential. Larry was a perfectly ordinary young fellow, of no social consequence, and there was no possible reason why he shouldn’t conform with the commendable customs of his country. It was evident to a man as clear-sighted as Elliott that America was entering upon a period of prosperity such as it had never known. Larry had a chance of getting in on the ground floor, and if he kept his nose to the grindstone he might well be many times a millionaire by the time he was forty. If he wanted to retire then and live like a gentleman, in Paris, say, with an apartment in the Avenue du Bois and a château in Touraine, he (Elliott) would have nothing to say against it. But Louisa Bradley was more succinct and more unanswerable.

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

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

“Bob Nelson will give you luncheon,” she said.

“I have a better plan than that,” said Elliott. “Put up a luncheon basket for them and let them lunch on the stoop and after lunch they can talk.”

“That would be fun,” said Isabel.

“There are few things so pleasant as a picnic lunch eaten in perfect comfort,” Elliott added sententiously. “The old Duchesse d’Uzès used to tell me that the most recalcitrant male becomes amenable to suggestion in these conditions. What will you give them for luncheon?”

“Stuffed eggs and a chicken sandwich.”

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

“I shall give them stuffed eggs and a chicken sandwich, Elliott,” said Mrs. Bradley with decision.

“Well, mark my words, it’ll be a failure and you’ll only have yourself to blame.”

“Larry eats very little, Uncle Elliott,” said Isabel, “and I don’t believe he notices what he eats.”

“I hope you don’t think that is to his credit, my poor child,” her uncle returned.

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

“I told them it would be a failure. I begged Louisa to put in a bottle of the Montrachet I sent her just before the war, but she wouldn’t listen to me. They took a thermos of hot coffee and nothing else. What would you expect?”

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

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

But Isabel did not come. Several minutes passed.

“Perhaps she’s tired. She may be lying down.”

“Wouldn’t you have expected Larry to come in?”

“Don’t be exasperating, Elliott.”

“Well, it’s your business, not mine.”

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

“I think perhaps I’d better go up and see that she’s all right. If she’s resting I won’t disturb her.”

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

“She’s been crying. Larry’s going to Paris. He’s going to be away for two years. She’s promised to wait for him.”

“Why does he want to go to Paris?”

“It’s no good asking me questions, Elliott. I don’t know. She won’t tell me anything. She says she understands and she isn’t going to stand in his way. I said to her, ‘If he’s prepared to leave you for two years he can’t love you very much.’ ‘I can’t help that,’ she said, ‘the thing that matters is that I love him very much.’ ‘Even after what’s happened today?’ I said. ‘Today’s made me love him more than ever I did,’ she said, ‘and he does love me, Mamma. I’m sure of that.’ ”

Elliott reflected for a while.

“And what’s to happen at the end of two years?”

“I tell you I don’t know, Elliott.”

“Don’t you think it’s very unsatisfactory?”


“There’s only one thing to be said and that is that they’re both very young. It won’t hurt them to wait two years and in that time a lot may happen.”

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

“I don’t want to upset her,” said Mrs. Bradley. “People would only wonder if her eyes were all swollen.”

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

“There’s really nothing more to tell you than I’ve told you already, Mamma,” she said.

“But what does he want to do in Paris?”

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


“Loaf? What on earth do you mean?”

“That’s what he told me.”

“Really I have no patience with you. If you had any spirit, you’d have broken off your engagement there and then. He’s just playing with you.”

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

“What can I do? I love him.”

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

“Of course Louisa is quite right,” he added. “It’s all very unsatisfactory, but that’s the sort of thing you run up against when young people are left to arrange their marriages on no better basis than mutual inclination. I’ve told Louisa not to worry; I think it’ll turn out better than she expects. With Larry out of the way and young Gray Maturin on the spot—well, if I know anything about my fellow creatures the outcome is fairly obvious. When you’re eighteen your emotions are violent, but they’re not durable.”

“You’re full of worldly wisdom, Elliott,” I smiled.

“I haven’t read my La Rochefoucauld for nothing. You know what Chicago is; they’ll be meeting all the time. It flatters a girl to have a man so devoted to her, and when she knows there isn’t one of her girl friends who wouldn’t be only too glad to marry him—well, I ask you, is it in human nature to resist the temptation of cutting out everyone else? I mean, it’s like going to a party where you know you’ll be bored to distraction and the only refreshments will be lemonade and biscuits; but you go because you know your best friends would give their eyeteeth to and haven’t been asked.”

“When does Larry go?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think that’s been decided yet.” Elliott took a long, thin cigarette case in platinum and gold out of his pocket and extracted an Egyptian cigarette. Not for him were Fatimas, Chesterfields, Camels or Lucky Strikes. He looked at me with a smile full of insinuation. “Of course I wouldn’t care to say so to Louisa, but I don’t mind telling you that I have a sneaking sympathy for the young fellow. I understand that he got a glimpse of Paris during the war, and I can’t blame him if he was captivated by the only city in the world fit for a civilized man to live in. He’s young and I have no doubt he wants to sow his wild oats before he settles down to married life. Very natural and very proper. I’ll keep an eye on him. I’ll introduce him to the right people; he has nice manners and with a hint or two from me he’ll be quite presentable; I can guarantee to show him a side of French life that very few Americans have a chance of seeing. Believe me, my dear fellow, the average American can get into the kingdom of heaven much more easily than he can get into the Boulevard St. Germain. He’s twenty and he has charm. I think I could probably arrange a liaison for him with an older woman. It would form him. I always think there’s no better education for a young man than to become the lover of a woman of a certain age and of course, if she is the sort of person I have in view, a femme du monde, you know, it would immediately give him a situation in Paris.”

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

Elliott chuckled.

“My dear fellow, if there’s one thing I pride myself on it’s my tact. I did not tell her. She wouldn’t understand, poor dear. It’s one of the things I’ve never understood about Louisa; though she’s lived half her life in diplomatic society, in half the capitals of the world, she’s remained hopelessly American.”

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

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

“Oh, did you?”

She spoke as casually as I had, but I perceived that she was instantly alert. Her eyes grew watchful and I thought I read in them something like apprehension.

“He was reading in the library. I was very much impressed by his power of concentration. He was reading when I went in soon after ten, he was still reading when I went back after lunch and he was reading when I went in again on my way out to dinner. I don’t believe he’d moved from his chair for the best part of ten hours.”

“What was he reading?”

“William James’s Principles of Psychology.”

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

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

“I’ll walk with you as far as the drugstore,” said Isabel. “I’ve just remembered there’s something I want to get.”

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

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

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

“D’you think you could drink an ice-cream soda?” she asked me.

“I could try,” I answered prudently.

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

“I wanted to talk to you,” she said abruptly.

“I gathered that,” I smiled.

For a moment or two she looked at me reflectively.

“Why did you say that about Larry at the Satterthwaites’ the night before last?”

“I thought it would interest you. It occurred to me that perhaps you didn’t quite know what his idea of loafing was.”

“Uncle Elliott’s a terrible gossip. When he said he was going to the Blackstone to have a chat with you I knew he was going to tell you all about everything.”

“I’ve known him a good many years, you know. He gets a lot of fun out of talking about other people’s business.”

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

“I’ve only seen him three times. He seems a very nice boy.”

“Is that all?”

There was a note of distress in her voice.

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

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

“Uncle Elliott says he’s often been surprised at your power of observation. He says nothing much escapes you, but that your great asset as a writer is your common sense.”

“I can think of a quality that would be more valuable,” I answered dryly. “Talent, for instance.”

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

“That’s natural, isn’t it?”

“And Uncle Elliott only looks at it from the social side. My own friends, those of my generation, I mean, think Larry’s a washout. It hurts terribly.”

“Of course.”

“It’s not that they’re not nice to him. One can’t help being nice to Larry. But they look upon him as a joke. They josh him a lot and it exasperates them that he doesn’t seem to care. He only laughs. You know how things are at present?”

“I only know what Elliott has told me.”

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

“Of course.”

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

When Isabel awoke and saw that it was a fine day she gave Larry a ring and, telling him that her mother wanted her to go to Marvin to do something for her, asked him to drive her down. She took the precaution to add a thermos of martinis to the thermos of coffee her mother had told Eugene to put in the basket. Larry’s roadster was a recent acquisition and he was proud of it. He was a fast driver and the speed at which he went exhilarated them both. When they arrived, Isabel, with Larry to write down the figures, measured the curtains that were to be replaced. Then they set out the luncheon on the stoop. It was sheltered from any wind there was and the sun of the Indian summer was good to bask in. The house, on a dirt road, had none of the elegance of the old frame houses of New England and the best you could say of it was that it was roomy and comfortable, but from the stoop you had a pleasing view of a great red barn with a black roof, a clump of old trees and beyond them, as far as the eye could reach, brown fields. It was a dull landscape, but the sunshine and the glowing tints of the waning year gave it that day an intimate loveliness. There was an exhilaration in the great space that was spread before you. Cold, bleak and dreary as it must have been in winter, dry, sunbaked and oppressive as it may have been in the dog days, just then it was strangely exciting, for the vastness of the view invited the soul to adventure.

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

“Now go right ahead, darling,” he said, with an amused smile in his eyes.

Isabel was taken aback.

“Go right ahead about what?” she asked with as innocent a look as she could assume.

He chuckled.

“Do you take me for a perfect fool, honey? If your mother didn’t know perfectly well the measurements of the living-room windows I’ll eat my hat. That isn’t why you asked me to drive you down here.”

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

“It might be that I thought it would be nice if we spent a day together by ourselves.”

“It might be, but I don’t think it is. My guess is that Uncle Elliott has told you that I’ve turned down Henry Maturin’s offer.”

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

“Gray must be terribly disappointed. He thought it would be grand to have you in the office. You must get down to work sometime and the longer you leave it the harder it’ll be.”

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

“Do you know, I’ve got an idea that I want to do more with my life than sell bonds.”

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

“No, I don’t want to do that either.”

“What do you want to do then?”

“Loaf,” he replied calmly.

“Oh, Larry, don’t be funny. This is desperately serious.”

Her voice quivered and her eyes filled with tears.

“Don’t cry, darling. I don’t want to make you miserable.”

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

“It’s all very fine to say you don’t want to make me miserable. You are making me miserable. You see, I love you.”

“I love you too, Isabel.”

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

“Let’s be sensible. A man must work, Larry. It’s a matter of self-respect. This is a young country and it’s a man’s duty to take part in its activities. Henry Maturin was saying only the other day that we were beginning an era that would make the achievements of the past look like two bits. He said he could see no limit to our progress and he’s convinced that by 1930 we shall be the richest and greatest country in the world. Don’t you think that’s terribly exciting?”


“There’s never been such a chance for a young man. I should have thought you’d be proud to take part in the work that lies before us. It’s such a wonderful adventure.”

He laughed lightly.

“I daresay you’re right. The Armours and the Swifts will pack more and better meat, the McCormicks will make more and better harvesters, and Henry Ford will turn out more and better cars. And everyone’ll get richer and richer.”

“And why not?”

“As you say, and why not? Money just doesn’t happen to interest me.”

Isabel giggled.

“Darling, don’t talk like a fool. One can’t live without money.”

“I have a little. That’s what gives me the chance to do what I want.”


“Yes,” he answered, smiling.

“You’re making it so difficult for me, Larry,” she sighed.

“I’m sorry. I wouldn’t if I could help it.”

“You can help it.”

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

“The dead look so terribly dead when they’re dead.”

“What do you mean exactly?” she asked, troubled.

“Just that.” He gave her a rueful smile. “You have a lot of time to think when you’re up in the air by yourself. You get odd ideas.”

“What sort of ideas?”

“Vague,” he said, smiling. “Incoherent. Confused.”

Isabel thought this over for a while.

“Don’t you think if you took a job they might sort themselves out and you’d know where you were?”

“I’ve thought of that. I had a notion that I might go to work with a carpenter or in a garage.”

“Oh, Larry, people would think you were crazy.”

“Would that matter?”

“To me, yes.”

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

“You’re so different from what you were before you went out to France.”

“That’s not strange. A lot happened to me then, you know.”

“Such as?”

“Oh, just the ordinary casual run of events. My greatest friend in the air corps was killed saving my life. I didn’t find that easy to get over.”

“Tell me, Larry.”

He looked at her with deep distress in his eyes.

“I’d rather not talk about it. After all, it was only a trivial incident.”

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

“Are you unhappy, darling?”

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

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

“Would it help you if you went away for a bit?”

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

“I think so. You try to be indifferent to public opinion, but it’s not easy. When it’s antagonistic it arouses antagonism in you and that disturbs you.”

“Why don’t you go then?”

“Well, on account of you.”

“Let’s be frank with one another, darling. There’s no place for me in your life just now.”

“Does that mean you don’t want to be engaged to me any more?”

She forced a smile to her trembling lips.

“No, foolish, it means I’m prepared to wait.”

“It may be a year. It may be two.”

“That’s all right. It may be less. Where d’you want to go?”

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

“Well, I thought I’d start by going to Paris. I know no one there. There’d be no one to interfere with me. I went to Paris several times on leave. I don’t know why, but I’ve got it into my head that there everything that’s muddled in my mind would grow clear. It’s a funny place, it gives you the feeling that there you can think out your thoughts to the end. I think there I may be able to see my way before me.”

“And what’s to happen if you don’t?”

He chuckled.

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

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

“Do you think I did right?”

“I think you did the only thing you could do, but what’s more I think you’ve been wonderfully kind, generous and understanding.”

“I love him and I want him to be happy. And you know, in a way I’m not sorry he should go. I want him to be out of this hostile atmosphere, and that not only for his sake, but for mine too. I can’t blame people when they say he’ll never amount to anything; I hate them for it, and yet all the time deep down in me I have an awful fear that they’re right. But don’t say I’m understanding. I don’t begin to understand what he’s after.”

“Perhaps you understand with your heart rather than with your reason,” I smiled. “Why don’t you marry him right away and go off to Paris with him?”

The shadow of a smile came into her eyes.

“There’s nothing I’d like to do more. But I couldn’t. And you know, though I hate to acknowledge it, I do really think he’s better off without me. If Dr. Nelson is right and he’s suffering from delayed shock surely new surroundings and new interests will cure him, and when he’s got his balance again he’ll come back to Chicago and go into business like everybody else. I wouldn’t want to marry an idler.”

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

“It doesn’t surprise me that you don’t understand Larry,” I said, “because I’m pretty sure he doesn’t understand himself. If he’s reticent about his aims it may be that it’s because they’re obscure to him. Mind you, I hardly know him and this is only guesswork: isn’t it possible that he’s looking for something, but what it is he doesn’t know, and perhaps he isn’t even sure it’s there? Perhaps whatever it is that happened to him during the war has left him with a restlessness that won’t let him be. Don’t you think he may be pursuing an ideal that is hidden in a cloud of unknowing—like an astronomer looking for a star that only a mathematical calculation tells him exists?”

“I feel that something’s troubling him.”

“His soul? It may be that he’s a little frightened of himself. It may be that he has no confidence in the authenticity of the vision that he dimly perceives in his mind’s eye.”

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

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

I do not want the reader to think I am making a mystery of whatever it was that happened to Larry during the war that so profoundly affected him, a mystery that I shall disclose at a convenient moment. I don’t think he ever told anybody. He did, however, many years later tell a woman, Suzanne Rouvier, whom Larry and I both knew, about the young airman who had met his death saving his life. She repeated it to me and so I can only relate it at second hand. I have translated it from her French. Larry had apparently struck up a great friendship with another boy in his squadron. Suzanne knew him only by the ironical nickname by which Larry spoke of him.

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

“I felt a bit out of it when I joined the squadron and I was afraid I wouldn’t make good, and he just joshed me into having confidence in myself. He was funny about the war, he had no feeling of hatred for the Jerries; he loved a scrap and to fight them tickled him to death. He simply couldn’t look upon bringing down one of their planes as anything but a practical joke. He was impudent and wild and irresponsible, but there was something so genuine about him that you couldn’t help liking him. He’d give you his last penny as freely as he’d take yours. And if you were lonely or homesick or scared, and I was sometimes, he’d see it and with his ugly little face puckered up with laughter he’d say just the right thing to make you feel all right again.”

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

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

“ ‘I got that blighter who was on your tail,’ he said.

“ ‘What’s the matter, Patsy?’ I asked.

“ ‘Oh, it’s nothing. He winged me.’

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

“ ‘Well, I’m jiggered,’ he said.

“He fell back dead. He was twenty-two. He was going to marry a girl in Ireland after the war.”

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

~ • ~