The Razor’s Edge Chapter 8

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 humor. 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 come to the conclusion he’d have been 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 in him 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 the 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 to 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 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 came 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 firescreen. 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 have 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.”