The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham

  '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.'

  Cray 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 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 chateau 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 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 pate 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 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

  '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 eye-teeth 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 who wanted me 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.
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  '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.

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