The Razor’s Edge Chapter 6

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 around 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, telling me 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 humor 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 business men 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 for them to 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 dare say 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 standing. 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 favor 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 favor 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 business man,” 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.