The butler came in again with a tray of cocktails.
'We won't wait for Isabel,' said Mrs Bradley as she took one.
'Where is she?' asked Elliott.
'She went to play golf with Larry. She said she might be late.'
Elliott turned to me.
'Larry is Laurence Darrell. Isabel is supposed to be engaged to him.'
'I didn't know you drank cocktails, Elliott,' I said.
'I don't,' he answered grimly, as he sipped the one he had taken, 'but in this barbarous land of prohibition what can one do?' He sighed. 'They're beginning to serve them in some houses in Paris. Evil communications corrupt good manners.'
'Stuff and nonsense, Elliott,' said Mrs Bradley.
She said it good-naturedly enough, but with a decision that suggested to me that she was a woman of character, and I suspected from the look she gave him, amused but shrewd, that she had no illusions about him. I wondered what she would make of Gregory Brabazon. I had caught the professional look he gave the room as he came in and the involuntary lifting of his bushy eyebrows. It was indeed an amazing room. The paper on the walls, the cretonne of the curtains and on the upholstered furniture were of the same pattern; on the wall were oil paintings in massive gold frames that the Bradleys had evidently bought when they were in Rome. Virgins of the school of Raphael, Virgins of the school of Guido Reni, landscapes of the school of Zuccarelli, ruins of the school of Pannini. There were trophies of their sojourn in Peking, black-wood tables too profusely carved, huge cloisonne vases, and there were the purchases they had made in Chile or Peru, obese figures in hard stone and earthenware vases. There was a Chippendale writing-table and a marquetry vitrine. The lamp-shades were of white silk on which some ill-advised artist had painted shepherds and shepherdesses in Watteau costumes. It was hideous and yet, 1 don't know why, agreeable. It had a homely, lived-in air, and you felt that that incredible jumble had a significance. All those incongruous objects belonged together because they were part of Mrs Bradley's life.
We had finished our cocktails when the door was flung open and a girl came in, followed by a boy.
'Are we late?' she asked. 'I've brought Larry back. Is there anything for him to eat?'
'I expect so,' smiled Mrs Bradley. 'Ring the bell and tell Eugene to put another place.'
'He opened the door for us. I've already told him.'
'This is my daughter Isabel,' said Mrs Bradley, turning to me. 'And this is Laurence Darrell.'
Isabel gave me a rapid handshake and turned impetuously to Gregory Brabazon.
'Are you Mr Brabazon? I've been crazy to meet you. I love what you've done for Clementine Dormer. Isn't this room terrible? I've been trying to get Mamma to do something about it for years and now you're in Chicago it's our chance. Tell me honestly what you think of it.'
I knew that was the last thing Brabazon would do. He gave Mrs Bradley a quick glance, but her impassive face told him nothing. He decided that Isabel was the person who counted and broke into a boisterous laugh.
'I'm sure it's very comfortable and all that,' he said, 'but if you ask me point-blank, well, I do think it's pretty awful.'
Isabel was a tall girl with the oval face, straight nose, fine eyes, and full mouth that appeared to be characteristic of the family. She was comely though on the fat side, which I ascribed to her age, and I guessed that she would fine down as she grew older. She had strong, good hands, though they also were a trifle fat, and her legs, displayed by her short skirt, were fat too. She had a good skin and a high colour, which exercise and the drive back in an open car had doubtless heightened. She was sparkling and vivacious. Her radiant health, her playful gaiety, her enjoyment of life, the happiness you felt in her were exhilarating. She was so natural that she made Elliott, for all his elegance, look rather tawdry. Her freshness made Mrs Bradley, with her pasty, lined face, look tired and old.
We went down to lunch. Gregory Brabazon blinked when he saw the dining-room. The walls were papered with a dark red paper that imitated stuff and hung with portraits of grim, sour-faced men and women, very badly painted, who were the immediate forebears of the late Mr Bradley. He was there, too, with a heavy moustache, very stiff in a frock coat and a white starched collar. Mrs Bradley, painted by a French artist of the nineties, bung over the chimney-piece in full evening dress of pale blue satin with pearls around her neck and a diamond star in her hair. With one bejewelled hand she fingered a lace scarf so carefully painted that you could count every stitch and with the other negligently held an ostrich-feather fan. The furniture, of black oak, was overwhelming.
'What do you think of it?' asked Isabel of Gregory Brabazon as we sat down.
'I'm sure it cost a great deal of money,' he answered.
'It did,' said Mrs Bradley. 'It was given to us as a wedding present by Mr Bradley's father. It's been all over the world with us. Lisbon, Peking, Quito, Rome. Dear Queen Margherita admired it very much.'
'What would you do if it was yours?' Isabel asked Brabazon, but before he could answer, Elliott answered for him.
'Burn it,'he said.
The three of them began to discuss how they would treat the room. Elliott was all for Louis Quinze, while Isabel wanted a refectory table and Italian chairs. Brabazon thought Chippendale would be more in keeping with Mrs Bradley's personality.
'I always think that's so important,' he said, 'a person's personality.' He turned to Elliott. 'Of course you know the Duchess of Olifant?'
'Mary? She's one of my most intimate friends.'
'She wanted me to do her dining-room and the moment I saw her I said George the Second.'
'How right you were. I noticed the room the last time I dined there. It's in perfect taste.'
So the conversation went on. Mrs Bradley listened, but you could not tell what she was thinking. I said little, and Isabel's young man, Larry, I'd forgotten his surname, said nothing at all. He was sitting on the other side of the table between Brabazon and Elliott and every now and then I glanced at him. He looked very young. He was about the same height as Elliott, just under six feet, thin and loose-limbed. He was a pleasant-looking boy, neither handsome nor plain, rather shy and in no way remarkable. I was interested in the fact that though, so far as I could remember, he hadn't said half a dozen words since entering the house, he seemed perfectly at ease and in a curious way appeared to take part in the conversation without opening his mouth. I noticed his hands. They were long, but not large for his size, beautifully shaped and at the same time strong. I thought that a painter would be pleased to paint them. He was slightly built but not delicate in appearance; on the contrary I should have said he was wiry and resistant. His face, grave in repose, was tanned, but otherwise there was little colour in it, and his features, though regular enough, were undistinguished. He had rather high cheekbones and his temples were hollow. He had dark brown hair with a slight wave in it. His eyes looked larger than they really were because they were deep set in the orbits and his lashes were thick and long. His eyes were peculiar, not of the rich hazel that Isabel shared with her mother and her uncle, but so dark that the iris made one colour with the pupil, and this gave them a peculiar intensity. He had a natural grace that was attractive and I could see why Isabel had been taken by him. Now and again her glance rested on him for a moment and I seemed to see in her expression not only love but fondness. Their eyes met and there was in his a tenderness that was beautiful to see. There is nothing more touching than the sight of young love, and I, a middle-aged man then, envied them, but at the same time, I couldn't imagine why, I felt sorry for them. It was silly because, so far as I knew, there was no impediment to their happiness; their circumstances seemed easy and there was no reason why they should not marry and live happily ever afterwards.
Isabel, Elliott, and Gregory Brabazon went on talking of the redecoration of the house, trying to get out of Mrs Bradley a least an admission that something should be done, but she only smiled amiably.
'You mustn't try to rush me. I want to have time to think it over.' She turned to the boy. 'What do you think of it all, Larry?'
He looked round the table, a smile in his eyes.
'I don't think it matters one way or the other,' he said.
'You beast, Larry,' cried Isabel. 'I particularly told you to back us up.'
'If Aunt Louisa is happy with what she's got, what is the object of changing?'
His question was so much to the point and so sensible that it made me laugh. He looked at me then and smiled.
'And don't grin like that just because you've made a very stupid remark,' said Isabel.
But he only grinned the more, and I noticed then that he had small and white and regular teeth. There was something in the look he gave Isabel that made her flush and catch her breath. Unless I was mistaken she was madly in love with him, but I don't know what it was that gave me the feeling that in her love for him there was also something maternal. It was a little unexpected in so young a girl. With a soft smile on her lips she directed her attention once more to Gregory Brabazon.
'Don't pay any attention to him. He's very stupid and entirely uneducated. He doesn't know anything about anything except flying.'
'Flying?' I said.
'He was an aviator in the war.'
'I should have thought he was too young to have been in the war.'
'He was. Much too young. He behaved very badly. He ran away from school and went to Canada. By lying his head off he got them to believe he was eighteen and got into the air corps. He was fighting in France at the time of the armistice.'
'You're boring your mother's guests, Isabel,' said Larry.
'I've known him all my life, and when he came back he looked lovely in his uniform, with all those pretty ribbons on his tunic, so I just sat on his doorstep, so to speak, till he consented to marry me just to have a little peace and quiet. The competition was awful'
'Really, Isabel,' said her mother.
Larry leant over towards me.
'I hope you don't believe a word she says. Isabel isn't a bad girl really, but she's a liar.'
Luncheon was finished and soon after Elliott and I left. I had told him before that I was going to the museum to look at the pictures and he said he would take me. I don't particularly like going to a gallery with anyone else, but I could not say I would sooner go alone, so I accepted his company. On our way we spoke of Isabel and Larry.
'It's rather charming to see two young things so much in love with one another,' I said.
'They're much too young to marry.'
'Why? It's such fun to be young and in love and to marry.'
'Don't be ridiculous. She's nineteen and he's only just twenty. He hasn't got a job. He has a tiny income, three thousand a year Louisa tells me, and Louisa's not a rich woman by any manner of means. She needs all she has.'
'Well, he can get a job.'
'That's just it. He's not trying to. He seems to be quite satisfied to do nothing.'
'I dare say he had a pretty rough time in the war. He may want a rest.'
'He's been resting for a year. That's surely long enough.'
'I thought he seemed a nice sort of boy.'
'Oh, I have nothing against him. He's quite well born and all that sort of thing. His father came from Baltimore. He was assistant professor of Romance languages at Yale or something like that. His mother was a Philadelphian of old Quaker stock.'
'You speak of them in the past. Are they dead?'
'Yes, his mother died in childbirth and his father about twelve years ago. He was brought up by an old college friend of his father's who's a doctor at Marvin. That's how Louisa and Isabel knew him.'
'That's where the Bradley place is. Louisa spends the summer there. She was sorry for the child. Dr Nelson's bachelor and didn't know the first thing about bringing up a boy. It was Louisa who insisted that he should be sent to St Paul's and she always had him out here for his Christmas vacation.' Elliott shrugged a Gallic shoulder. 'I should have thought she would foresee the inevitable result.'
We had now arrived at the museum and our attention was directed to the pictures. Once more I was impressed by Elliott's knowledge and taste. He shepherded me around the rooms as though I were a group of tourjsts, and no professor of art could have discoursed more instructively than he did. Making up my mind to come again by myself when I could wander at will and have a good time, I submitted; after a while he looked at his watch.
'Let us go,' he said. 'I never spend more than one hour in a gallery. That is as long as one's power of appreciation persists. We will finish another day.'
I thanked him warmly when we separated. I went my way perhaps a wiser but certainly a peevish man.
When I was saying good-bye to Mrs Bradley she told me that next day Isabel was having a few of her young friends in to dinner and they were going on to dance afterwards, and if I would come Elliott and I could have a talk when they had gone.
'You'll be doing him a kindness,' she added. 'He's been abroad so long, he feels rather out of it here. He doesn't seem able to find anyone he has anything in common with.'
I accepted and before we parted on the museum steps Elliott told me he was glad I had.
'I'm like a lost soul in this great city,' he said. 'I promised Louisa to spend six weeks with her, we hadn't seen one another since 1912, but I'm counting the days till I can get back to Paris. It's the only place in the world for a civilized man to live. My dear fellow, d'you know how they look upon me here? They look upon me as a freak. Savages.'
I laughed and left.
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 hat there were, including myself, only twelve people. Mrs Bradley was very grand in green satin with a dog-collar of seed pearls round 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 neighbour, 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 neighbour. 'I know several girls who would stop at nothing short of murder to get him. But they haven't a chance.'
'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 humour 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 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?'
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 characterů' 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 neighbour 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 favour 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 favour 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.'