The Razor’s Edge Chapter 9

THINKING THAT ELLIOTT might want to be alone after the ceremony in which he had taken part, I went up to the drawing-room and began to read, but no sooner had I settled myself than the nurse came in to tell me that he wanted to see me. I climbed the flight of stairs to his room. Whether owing to a shot that the doctor had given him to help him to support the ordeal before him or whether from the excitement of it, he was calmly cheerful and his eyes were bright.

“A great honor, my dear fellow,” he said. “I shall enter the kingdom of heaven with a letter of introduction from a prince of the Church. I fancy that all doors will be open to me.”

“I’m afraid you’ll find the company very mixed,” I smiled.

“Don’t you believe it, my dear fellow. We know from Holy Writ that there are class distinctions in heaven just as there are on earth. There are seraphim and cherubim, archangels and angels. I have always moved in the best society in Europe and I have no doubt that I shall move in the best society in heaven. Our Lord has said: The House of my Father hath many mansions. It would be highly unsuitable to lodge the hoi polloi in a way to which they’re entirely unaccustomed.”

I suspected that Elliott saw the celestial habitations in the guise of the châteaux of a Baron de Rothschild with eighteenth-century paneling on the walls, Buhl tables, marquetry cabinets, and Louis Quinze suites covered with their original petit-point.

“Believe me, my dear fellow,” he went on after a pause, “there’ll be none of this damned equality in heaven.”

He dropped off quite suddenly into a doze. I sat down with a book. He slept off and on. At one o’clock the nurse came in to tell me that Joseph had luncheon ready for me. Joseph was subdued.

“Fancy Monseigneur the Bishop coming himself. It is a great honor he has done our poor gentleman. You saw me kiss his ring?”

“I did.”

“It’s not a thing I would have done of myself! I did it to satisfy my poor wife.”

I spent the afternoon in Elliott’s room. In the course of it a telegram came from Isabel to say that she and Gray would arrive by the Blue Train next morning. I could hardly hope they would be in time. The doctor came. He shook his head. Toward sunset Elliott awoke and was able to take a little nourishment. It seemed to give him a momentary strength. He beckoned to me and I went up to the bed. His voice was very weak.

“I haven’t answered Edna’s invitation.”

“Oh, don’t bother about that now, Elliott.”

“Why not? I’ve always been a man of the world; there’s no reason why I should forget my manners as I’m leaving it. Where is the card?”

It was on the chimney-piece and I put it in his hand, but I doubt whether he could see it.

“You’ll find a pad of writing paper in my study. If you’ll get it I’ll dictate my answer.”

I went into the next room and came back with writing materials. I sat down by the side of his bed.

“Are you ready?”


His eyes were closed, but there was a mischievous smile on his lips and I wondered what was coming.

“Mr. Elliott Templeton regrets that he cannot accept Princess Novemali’s kind invitation owing to a previous engagement with his Blessed Lord.”

He gave a faint, ghostly chuckle. His face was of a strange blue-white, ghastly to behold, and he exhaled the nauseating stench peculiar to his disease. Poor Elliott who had loved to spray himself with the perfumes of Chanel and Molyneux. He was still holding the purloined invitation card and, thinking it incommoded him, I tried to take it out of his hand, but he tightened his grip on it. I was startled to hear him speak quite loudly.

“The old bitch,” he said.

These were the last words he spoke. He sank into a coma. The nurse had been up with him all the previous night and looked very tired, so I sent her to bed, promising to call her if necessary, and said I would sit up. There was indeed nothing to do. I lit a shaded lamp and read till my eyes ached and then, turning it off, I sat in darkness. The night was warm and the windows wide open. At regular intervals the flash of the lighthouse swept the room with a passing glimmer. The moon, which when full would look upon the vacuous, noisy gaiety of Edna Novemali’s fancy-dress party, set, and in the sky, a deep, deep blue, the countless stars shone with their terrifying brilliance. I think I may have dropped off into a light sleep, but my senses were still awake, and I was suddenly startled into intense consciousness by a hurried, angry sound, the most awe-inspiring sound anyone can hear, the death rattle. I went over to the bed and by the gleam of the lighthouse felt Elliott’s pulse. He was dead. I lit the lamp by his bedside and looked at him. His jaw had fallen. His eyes were open and before closing them I stared into them for a minute. I was moved and I think a few tears trickled down my cheeks. An old, kind friend. It made me sad to think how silly, useless, and trivial his life had been. It mattered very little now that he had gone to so many parties and had hobnobbed with all those princes, dukes, and counts. They had forgotten him already.

I saw no reason to wake the exhausted nurse, so I returned to my chair by the window. I was asleep when she came in at seven. I left her to do whatever she thought fit and had breakfast, then I went to the station to meet Gray and Isabel. I told them that Elliott was dead, and since there was no room for them at his house asked them to stay with me, but they preferred to go to a hotel. I went back to my own house to have a bath, shave, and change.

In the course of the morning Gray called me to say that Joseph had given them a letter addressed to me that Elliott had entrusted to him. Since it might contain something for my eyes alone I said I would drive over at once, and so less than an hour later I once more entered the house. The letter, marked on the envelope: To be delivered immediately after my death, contained instructions for his obsequies. I knew that he had set his heart on being buried in the church that he had built and I had already told Isabel. He wished to be embalmed and mentioned the name of the firm to which the commission should be given. “I have made inquiries,” he continued, “and I am informed that they make a very good job of it. I trust you to see that it is not scamped. I desire to be dressed in the dress of my ancestor the Count de Lauria, with his sword by my side and the order of the Golden Fleece on my breast. I leave the choice of my coffin to you. It should be unpretentious but suitable to my position. In order to give no one unnecessary trouble I desire that Thomas Cook and Son should make all arrangements for the transportation of my remains and that one of their men should accompany the coffin to its final resting-place.”

I remembered that Elliott had said he wanted to be buried in that fancy dress of his, but I had taken it for a passing whim and hadn’t thought he meant it seriously. Joseph was insistent that his wishes be carried out and there seemed no reason why they should not be. The body was duly embalmed and then I went with Joseph to dress it in those absurd clothes. It was a gruesome business. We slipped his long legs into the white silk hose and pulled the cloth-of-gold over them. It was a job to get his arms through the sleeves of the doublet. We fixed the great starched ruff and draped the satin cape over his shoulders. Finally we placed the flat velvet cap on his head and the collar of the Golden Fleece round his neck. The embalmer had rouged his cheeks and reddened his lips. Elliott, the costume too large now for his emaciated frame, looked like a chorus man in an early opera of Verdi’s. The sad Don Quixote of a worthless purpose. When the undertaker’s men had put him in the coffin I laid the property sword down the length of his body, between his legs, with his hands on the pommel as I have seen the sword laid on the sculptured tomb of a Crusader.

Gray and Isabel went to Italy to attend the funeral.