The Razor’s Edge Chapter 3

I WAS NOT IN Paris in the spring when, sooner than they had planned, Mrs. Bradley and Isabel arrived to stay with Elliott; and again I have to eke out my knowledge of what passed during the few weeks they spent there by the exercise of my imagination. They landed at Cherbourg, and Elliott, always considerate, went to meet them. They passed through the customs. The train started. Elliott with some complacency told them that he had engaged a very good lady’s maid to look after them and when Mrs. Bradley said that was quite unnecessary, since they didn’t need one, he was very sharp with her.

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

He gave the clothes they were wearing a disparaging glance.

“Of course you’ll want to buy some new frocks. On mature consideration I’ve come to the conclusion that you can’t do better than Chanel.”

“I always used to go to Worth,” said Mrs. Bradley.

She might as well not have spoken, for he took no notice.

“I’ve talked to Chanel myself and I’ve made an appointment for you tomorrow at three. Then there are hats. Obviously Reboux.”

“I don’t want to spend a lot of money, Elliott.”

“I know. I am proposing to pay for everything myself. I’m determined that you shall be a credit to me. Oh, and Louisa, I’ve arranged several parties for you and I’ve told my French friends that Myron was an ambassador, which, of course, he would have been if he’d lived a little longer, and it makes a better effect. I don’t suppose it’ll come up, but I thought I’d better warn you.”

“You’re ridiculous, Elliott.”

“No, I’m not. I know the world. I know that the widow of an ambassador has more prestige than the widow of a minister.”

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

“There’s Larry.”

It had hardly stopped when she sprang out and ran to meet him. He threw his arms around her.

“How did he know you were coming?” Elliot asked his sister acidly.

“Isabel wirelessed him from the ship.”

Mrs. Bradley kissed him affectionately, and Elliott gave him a limp hand to shake. It was ten o’clock at night.

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

“I should be charmed, but Larry has given me to understand that he doesn’t eat lunch.”

“He will tomorrow, won’t you, Larry?”

“I will,” he smiled.

“I shall look forward to seeing you at one o’clock then.”

He stretched out his hand once more, intending to dismiss him, but Larry grinned at him impudently.

“I’ll help with the luggage and get a cab for you.”

“My car is waiting and my man will see to the luggage,” said Elliott with dignity.

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

“Yes, do, Larry,” said Isabel.

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

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

Next morning at eleven, having finished dressing, for he was not an early riser, he sent a note to his sister, via his man Joseph and her maid Antoinette, to ask her to come to the library so that they could have a talk. When she appeared he closed the door carefully and, putting a cigarette into an immensely long agate holder, lit it and sat down.

“Am I to understand that Isabel and Larry are still engaged?” he asked.

“So far as I know.”

“I’m afraid I haven’t a very good account to give you of the young man.” He told her then how he had been prepared to launch him in society and the plans he had made to establish him in a fit and proper manner. “I even had my eye on a rez-de-chaussée that would have been the very thing for him. It belongs to the young Marquis de Rethel and he wanted to sublet it because he’d been appointed to the embassy at Madrid.”

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

“What the object of coming to Paris is if you’re not going to take advantage of what Paris has to give you is beyond my comprehension. I don’t know what he does with himself. He doesn’t seem to know anybody. Do you know where he lives?”

“The only address we’ve ever had is the American Express.”

“Like a traveling salesman or a school-teacher on vacation. I shouldn’t be surprised if he was living with some little trollop in a studio in Montmartre.”

“Oh, Elliott.”

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

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

Elliott by a shrug of the shoulders gave her to understand that there was no limit to the duplicity of men.

“What about Gray Maturin? Is he still in the picture?”

“He’d marry Isabel tomorrow if she’d have him.”

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

“Henry Maturin was sore with him for turning down the position he offered him, but Gray has talked him around, and he can go into the business the moment he comes back to Chicago.”

“Gray’s a very nice fellow.”

“He certainly is.” Mrs. Bradley sighed. “I know he’d make Isabel happy.”

Elliott then told her what parties he had arranged for them. He was giving a big luncheon on the following day and at the end of the week a grand dinner party. He was taking them to a reception at the Château-Gaillards and he had got cards for them to a ball that the Rothschilds were giving.

“You’ll ask Larry, won’t you?”

“He tells me he hasn’t any evening clothes,” Elliott sniffed.

“Well, ask him all the same. After all, he is a nice boy, and it wouldn’t help to give him the cold shoulder. It would only make Isabel obstinate.”

“Of course I’ll ask him if you wish it.”

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

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

But Elliott’s plan failed. He was relieved when Larry appeared at the dinner party in a very presentable dinner-jacket, for he had been a little nervous that he would wear the same blue suit that he had worn at lunch; and after dinner, getting Marie Louise de Florimond into a corner, he asked her how she had liked his young American friend.

“He has nice eyes and good teeth.”

“Is that all? I put you beside him because I thought he was just your cup of tea.”

She looked at him suspiciously.

“He told me he was engaged to your very pretty niece.”

“Voyons, ma chère, the fact that a man belongs to another woman has never prevented you from taking him away from her if you could.”

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

Elliott chuckled.

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

“Why I like you, Elliott, is that you have the morals of a bawdyhouse keeper. You don’t want him to marry your niece. Why not? He is well bred and quite charming. But he’s really too innocent. I don’t think he had the least suspicion of what I meant.”

“You should have been more explicit, dear friend.”

“I have enough experience to know when I’m wasting my time. The fact is that he has eyes only for your little Isabel, and between you and me, she has twenty years advantage over me. And she’s sweet.”

“Do you like her dress? I chose it for her myself.”

“It’s pretty and it’s suitable. But of course she has no chic.”

Elliott took this as a reflection on himself, and he was not prepared to let Madame de Florimond get away without a dig. He smiled genially.

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

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

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

But if Madame de Florimond carped, the rest of Elliott’s friends were delighted both with Isabel and with Larry. They liked her fresh prettiness, her abounding health, and her vitality; they liked his picturesque appearance, his good manners, and his quiet, ironic humor. Both had the advantage of speaking good and fluent French. Mrs. Bradley, after living so many years in diplomatic circles, spoke it correctly enough but with an unabashed American accent. Elliott entertained them lavishly. Isabel, pleased with her new clothes and her new hats, amused by all the gaiety Elliott provided, and happy to be with Larry, thought she had never enjoyed herself so much.