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Title: Contango (1932)
Author: James Hilton
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Language: English
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: Contango (1932)
Author: James Hilton



"A common soldier, a child, a girl at the door of an inn, have
changed the face of fortune, and almost of Nature."--BURKE.

"History seen from a distance produces the illusion that it is
rational."--SAINTE-BEUVE.

"To reflect how easily the course of things might have been
different is to learn perspective and humility."--JOHN BUCHAN.

"The random element in the Universe always increases."--EDDINGTON.



CONTENTS

1 CHARLES GATHERGOOD
2 FLORENCE FAULKNER
3 STUART BROWN
4 SYLVIA SEYDEL
5 NICHOLAS PALESCU
6 LEON MIRSKY
7 MAX OETZLER
8 PAULA COURVIER
9 HENRY ELLIOTT




CHAPTER ONE


CHARLES GATHERGOOD


"Curious, the way things do jump out of nothing. This affair seems
to have been begun by a hat blowing off."

To Gathergood, as he said this, sitting on his bungalow verandah at
Cuava with the temperature over a hundred in the shade and his
whole body perspiring with the slightest movement, there came the
sudden realisation of unpopularity. He had been conscious of it,
at times, before; but never quite so definitely. He wondered if
the planters had been telling tales against him, but he did not
trouble himself much with the possibility; it was far too hot--an
hour for anything rather than unpleasant speculation. He added,
stiffening his glance as he met the eyes of the man across the
table-top: "Of course it's bad enough, in the result, but I'm not
so sure that as much underlies it as you think."

"You mentioned something about a hat blowing off?"

"Yes, Morrison's hat. He was walking down from the club after
tiffin, and just there"--he pointed with a jerk of the head--"where
the path curves round the cliff his hat blew into the sea. He
called to a native down below on the quayside to get it for him--a
young Cuavanese named Naung Lo--but the fellow didn't hear him,
apparently. Morrison then scrambled down the cliff himself and
made a scene. That's as far as we can get before the evidence
begins to be conflicting."

"A planter named Franklyn was with Morrison, I understand?"

"Yes. Of course it's on Franklyn's evidence that Naung Lo was
arrested. He says Naung Lo pushed Morrison into the sea."

"Well, is there any doubt of it?"

"Naung Lo says he didn't push him. He says he didn't hear what
Morrison had shouted, that Morrison then came down and hit him,
that there was a bit of a struggle on the edge of the quay, and
that Morrison suddenly toppled over. He also says that Morrison
was drunk."

"And I take it you accept this version of what happened in
preference to Franklyn's?"

"No, not altogether. I daresay Naung Lo may have pushed--I don't
see how, if there was a struggle, he could have avoided it."

"Franklyn says Naung Lo hit first."

Gathergood was silent a moment. Then he replied, rather slowly:
"It's too hot to take you to the scene of the affair or you'd
realise that Franklyn, being thirty yards away at least, may not
have been in the best position for seeing exactly what did happen.
Naturally he was indignant about the death of his friend."

"You wish me to infer that his evidence is false?"

"By no means, Humphreys," answered Gathergood sharply. "I don't
suggest anything of the kind. But Franklyn admits that he stayed
on the path up above, while Morrison climbed down to the edge of
the quay where the whole thing took place."

"But he doesn't admit that Morrison was drunk."

"No. Drunkenness is perhaps a matter of opinion. I can only say
that I should have called him drunk when he left the club--I was
there and I saw him. But that, of course, was half an hour
earlier. Some men quickly throw off the effects."

A long silence followed, which Gathergood broke by adding: "I
think I should point out also that Naung Lo is slight in build,
while Morrison was a six-footer. It seems unlikely, on the face of
it, that the smaller man would begin the attack, without weapons--
and no weapons were found on or near him afterwards. . . . And, of
course, Morrison's death was in some sense an accident, anyhow--he
certainly wouldn't have drowned if his head hadn't struck a stone
that stunned him."

"Franklyn went to the rescue, didn't he?"

"Yes. And Naung Lo stood by and gave what help he could. A point
in his favour, I should be inclined to think."

"Well, now we've had all the points in his favour--unless there are
some more--perhaps we can consider those against him. He's been in
prison, they tell me?"

"Yes, several times--for theft. I don't claim that he's a highly
moral character in any way."

"And he was once in the employ of Morrison, but got the sack?"

"Yes, Morrison had to sack a good many natives. So have all the
planters round here, with rubber down to fourpence a pound. The
biggest item of evidence against the youth--I'll tell you to save
you the trouble of finding it out for yourself--is that he's
undoubtedly been heard to utter threats against Morrison. Morrison
thrashed him once, and he swore to get even with him. He probably
deserved the thrashing--though, on the other hand, Morrison was
rather noted for that sort of thing."

"Well, it establishes a motive, doesn't it?"

"Certainly."

The two men, Gathergood the Agent and Humphreys the Vice-Consul
from the mainland, faced each other again in a lengthy silence.
Then Humphreys said: "Of course, Gathergood, people are rather
expecting you to do something about it."

The Agent replied quietly, scarcely moving a muscle in the almost
intolerable noonday heat: "I'm doing what I can, Humphreys. I'm
trying to find out if there were other witnesses of the affair."

"Still, you know, witnesses or not, the awkward fact remains that
here you have an Englishman dead and a native somehow or other
responsible. These things have a way of leading to trouble if
they're not smartly dealt with. What's the present position?"

"Naung Lo's in jail awaiting trial, or perhaps I should rather say,
awaiting sentence. Cuavanese law is primitive, but quite brisk on
these occasions. As soon as the Sultan decides that he's guilty,
he gets his head chopped off right away."

Humphreys raised his eyebrows with a certain blandness. "And may I
enquire if you have seen fit to offer His Highness any advice in
the matter?"

Gathergood answered, still without movement: "The Sultan asked me
if I thought the youth should be put to death and I said not yet,
at any rate, because it seemed to me there were doubts."

"Well, I suppose you know your own business best--or should do.
But in these days, with all these political crimes everywhere--
India, Burma--"

"Yes, quite, but I don't think this has anything to do with it."

"You're by nature an optimist, perhaps?"

Gathergood half-smiled. "No, I wouldn't say that. I wouldn't call
myself a pessimist, either. I just think one ought to preserve
one's sense of proportion, that's all. . . ."

Humphreys stayed on for a few days and then took the coastal boat
back to the mainland.


Gathergood was forty-nine, and had spent a quarter of a century in
various parts of the East. He had never married, nor had rumour
ever associated him with a woman, white or coloured. He was aware
that women did not particularly care for him, and he had never
found their indifference hard to endure. With men, individual
men, he had sometimes wished he could become more intimate, but
even the wish for this had rarely been enough to make for keen
disappointment. He knew, as indeed it was impossible not to know,
that his intrusion into Cuavanese society had scarcely been a
social success. He was neither gallant enough for the planters'
wives nor sufficiently alcoholic to be considered a good fellow by
the planters themselves; whilst among the natives a reputation for
fair dealing was outweighed by an unwillingness to give a dollar
tip when half a dollar was ample. Moreover, all these negations
were much emphasised by his having come to Cuava in 1927, after
Bullenger, whose reputation for hard drinking and hard wenching had
fitted easily into the spacious prosperity of the rubber boom, so
that those golden years were still remembered in some such phrase
as: "Ah, that was in poor old Bullenger's time." A tribute,
wistfully inaccurate, since the man had been neither poor nor old,
but had died wealthy and prematurely of cirrhosis of the liver; and
a censure, by implication, on the stiff, more difficult fellow
whose succeeding regime had coincided with Cuava's decline from
affluence to penury.

In appearance Gathergood was tall, spare, and nearly as brown-
complexioned as some of the Malays; he had fine teeth and a strong
chin, but was not otherwise good-looking; his chill blue eyes
repelled more often than they attracted. In speech he was
decisive, but rather slow; indeed, his eyes more often commanded
than his voice.

After the departure of Humphreys he went on with his job, which was
not normally very onerous, and was decidedly not among the plums of
the service; apart from acting as go-between for British merchants
doing trade with Cuava, giving occasional advice to the Sultan, and
attending to such matters as quarantine and the immigration of
British Chinese from Hong-Kong, there was not a great deal to do.
His bungalow, which included an office, stood on a spit of land
just above the water-front, and was chiefly built of reed and
thatch after the local fashion. A few of the planters had been
able to afford Europeanised bungalows out of the profits of the
boom years, but on the whole Cuava was still primitive in these
matters--owing chiefly, no doubt, to the fact that it remained a
native state, under a Sultan who enjoyed a more than technical
independence of the authorities at Singapore and Batavia, though
faintly compelling eyes were often cast upon him from those
quarters.

Cuava, capital of the island and state of the same name, was the
only white settlement, and its white population, due to the slump
in rubber, was rather rapidly decreasing. Perhaps forty or fifty
survivors of a once prosperous community lived on the two hills
that lay behind and above the native kampong; a few of them had
their wives, but most were considerate enough to make do with the
resources of the locality. There was a Welsh doctor who shared his
activities between Cuava and another island a day's journey
distant; and there had once been an American missionary who had
been converted from missionary work by the superior opportunities
of buying up rubber estates. Occasionally a European sea-captain
came ashore and spent a few days drinking and yarning at the club.
This latter institution, inevitable where two or three Englishmen
are gathered together, was the centre of Cuavanese society, the
fount of its corporate wisdom, the source of its rumours, and the
sounding-board of its various opinions. It stood on the hill
nearest the estuary, adjacent also to the plantations, and
surrounded by billowy land which enthusiastic new-comers always
dreamed of turning into a golf-course until they had their first
experience of the sweltering Cuavanese summer.

Down in the native kampong on the water-front there was reckoned to
be a mixed population of some ten thousand Malays, Chinese, and
Sikhs. Many of them had been attracted from overseas when work and
pay on the plantations were both plentiful; now, with these
conditions at an end, an existence not far above the starvation
line was somehow contrived. They lived in ramshackle huts on the
edge of the river-mud, and except when they caught cholera or
smuggled gin authority was glad enough to leave them alone.

Authority, indeed, resided five miles inland, well removed from the
commercial and maritime atmosphere. There, enclosed by primeval
jungle, was situated the Sultan's palace, with its private
apartments, its imperial harem, and its government offices, council
chamber, prison, and military arsenal; a mysterious and legendary
place to the white planter who rarely or never visited it.

Gathergood had acted for four years as a species of liaison officer
in this complicated and peculiarly balanced society, and that he
had not achieved the personal popularity of his predecessor did not
by any means signify his failure at the job. On the contrary, he
had comfortably surmounted all the various minor difficulties that
had arisen from time to time; his relations with the Sultan were
good, and his periodic reports to Singapore models of humdrum
neatness. His job was not the kind that all men would have envied,
but he himself had no particular complaint to make of it. The
Sultan's government was strong and fairly free from corruption; his
own health was excellent; he was used to loneliness; and, perhaps
most fortunately of all, he had no investments in the local
estates and his salary did not depend on the price of rubber.
Yet, during the days that followed the departure of Humphreys, he
was aware of a changed note, a feeling of tension in the air, not
lessened, he guessed, by talks which Humphreys had had with the
leading planters during his visit. As he dictated business letters
to his one Eurasian clerk he did not fail to observe the look of
feverish enquiry in the violet-brown eyes that stared above the
typewriter-roller. Recent events had provided sensation for
bungalow and kampong alike; already the dead Englishman was
beginning to acquire among the planters the legendary habiliments
of martyrdom. And among the natives, too, there were hints, rather
than evidences, of trouble; wage reductions on the estates had
prepared a soil well suited to the flowering of unrest. All this
Gathergood sensed with an involuntary stirring of distaste; he
lacked sympathy with the jingo impulsiveness of the planters nearly
as much as with the Bolshevist nonsense that was beginning to
permeate the mob.

With relief, when he had discharged his daily routine of duties, he
turned as a rule to his botanical specimens, of which during his
years in Cuava he had made a large and varied collection. It was
probably, he sometimes thought, the most complete of its kind in
the world, since the island seemed to have been just as
unaccountably neglected by naturalists as by explorers. That range
of mountains, for instance, barely visible on a very clear day from
the rubber estates--curious, he thought, that none of the planters
ever desired to climb or investigate them. Gathergood had done so
several times, struggling through difficult miles of mangrove swamp
and jungle. "Was it worth while?" he was once asked on his return.
"Did you strike any gold reefs, buried treasure, tin deposits?" He
had answered, with a simplicity so odd that it was misread as a
pose: "Hardly that, but I did find two quite remarkable things on
the summit--a small lake that always had ice on it in the early
mornings, and little blue forget-me-nots, growing just as they do
in England." Which was a type of remark that proceeded rather
eccentrically from the mouth of a British Agent in a club-room of
rubber-growers.

One morning, while his enquiries into details of the Morrison case
were still pending, one of the younger planters, not long out from
home, called on him and remarked with candid indiscretion that the
planters were not at all satisfied with the way matters were
developing. "And neither was that fellow Humphreys," continued the
youth, even more indiscreetly.

"And neither am I," added Gathergood.

The youth went on: "Not of course that Morrison was a saint, by
any means, but, still, the poor beggar's dead, and we'll have the
whole pack on top of us if we let 'em get away with a thing like
that. It's the example to the rest that's so damned dangerous."

"I hope not, if we all keep our heads."

"That won't help things much, with the tappers already talking
revolution. Perhaps you heard of the strike of coolies this
morning?"

"Some small trouble over a shipment. It's settled now. There's
trouble all over the world, for that matter. We mustn't get
excited."

"You keep on saying that, sir, while all the time things are
heading for a crisis."

Gathergood smiled, more charmed than displeased by the frankness of
the outburst. He guessed a little of the resentment smouldering
behind the youth's words, that dream of being lordly and prosperous
that had wilted during a few months' experience of dragooning
natives on a nearly bankrupt plantation. Gathergood felt sorry for
him. He touched his arm--a rare thing for him to do to anyone--and
answered: "Don't worry. When I next see the Sultan I'll indicate
to him, if I can, the desirability of keeping his kampong hotheads
under control. He doesn't want trouble, remember, any more than we
do."

"He'll get it, though, if he's not mighty careful, sir. It's
pretty obvious he's shielding Morrison's murderer. It can't go on.
Everyone knows these native states are ana--ana"--he stumbled over
the half-known word and added, more confidently--"out-of-date."

There was a certain pathos, to the Agent, in the triteness of all
that. It was rather like saying "I do think flowers are lovely" at
a horticultural show. On the club verandah it was the everlasting
small change of minor grousing; while in Singapore civil servants
had grown grey in turning it into Blue Book prose. Gathergood did
not conceive it his duty either to have or to express an opinion on
the subject. Cuava was Cuava; he was content to accommodate
himself to the system as it existed. He took little interest in
politics, and had no passionate conviction that direct control from
Singapore would be an improvement. He said, comfortingly: "All
the same, I shouldn't worry, if I were you."

But the youth's remarks had made him feel that he might, perhaps,
expedite his visit to the Sultan. He went that evening.


Gathergood had no car; the lack of roads in Cuava made one an
unnecessary expense. There was, it is true, a track of sorts
leading steeply up to the Sultan's palace, but the Agent preferred
the more tranquil if slower method of having his native boys paddle
him upstream to a point from which the palace lay but half an
hour's walk uphill. He had travelled thus on many occasions, and
had perfected a pleasurable technique in sparing his boys as much
expenditure of energy as possible. He first let the canoe drift
across the estuary with the incoming tide; then he steered his way
amongst the slow channels of the mangrove swamps, thus escaping the
force of the current in midstream. It was possible, except at the
height of the dry season, to traverse almost the entire distance in
this manner; the journey took time, but there was rarely any
particular reason for hurry. Nor did Gathergood find the scenery
tedious as others might have done; the swamps were certainly
desolate, but he could find plenty of interest in them, the more so
as their tangles of rotting foliage had often yielded important
additions to his naturalist's collection. He liked the play of
light, especially towards sunset, on the pale, sword-like nippa
leaves; and the swish of the wind through them amused him sometimes
by its likeness to human whispering.

That night he arrived at the Sultan's private landing-place amid
the warm scents of twilight. He climbed the wooden stairs, crossed
the jetties of split palm-trunks, and took the ascending path to
the palace. When at last he reached it, the widespread litter of
buildings, with lights here and there, was shrouded in mystery, but
it did not affect him; he knew it well enough, and after a few
words to a turbanned sentry was admitted through familiar entrances
into familiar rooms. Most of them were of the same type, though
larger than the ordinary Cuavanese but; and only the throne-room,
into which he was finally ushered, presented any original features.
It was a lofty wooden apartment, lit with oil-lamps and hung with
mats and strips of red cotton sheeting; it also exhibited,
apparently as an objet d'art, a three-year-old business calendar
advertising a San Francisco insurance company.

Gathergood, thin and ghost-like in his white ducks, waited for
several moments without impatience. He was a man who did not
object to waiting, and to whom the mere saving of seconds seemed of
little value without some definite use for the time saved. It was
this attitude of mind which, though he had never thought out the
question, gave him ease in dealing with Orientals and made him
often appear stiff and dilatory before the quick-dealing Westerner.

At length a door opened and Gathergood made a profound bow. An
old, an almost incredibly old man was tottering forward. His body,
which had once been very tall, now stooped to a mere five feet
above the ground; his head, wrinkled and shaven, was partly covered
by a turban of green silk; while the rest of his attire revealed
itself, to all outward conjecture, as the badly-fitting uniform of
a liner-steward.

Yet, with every inelegance and incongruity, there was a quality in
the old man that made Gathergood's bow a fitting gesture. Pathetic
dignity reposed in the slowly raised head and in the grim,
toothless smile; the nose and lips, strong and sensual at one time,
had been thinned by age to a sharpness which, with the small,
gleaming eyes, reminded Gathergood of newspaper pictures of Philip
Snowden.

Meanwhile the Sultan of Cuava held out his hand with a brave
imitation of the western salutation. Gathergood offered his own
hand, and the old man held it limply for a moment. "Your Highness
is well?" queried Gathergood, and a cracked, scarcely audible voice
replied: "Very well, Tuan."

But it was rather obvious that he was not. He was wheezy,
asthmatic, and unsteady on his legs; only with assistance from
Gathergood and two personal attendants did he finally seat himself
on the royal throne, which was a shabby wooden affair, decorated
with strips of coloured cloth. He was, indeed, immensely old--some
said over a hundred, though that was probably an exaggeration. It
was well established, however, that he had feasted on human flesh
during his earlier manhood, and that he had begotten several
children since becoming a great-grandfather; nor was it impossible,
as legend asserted, that he had once slaughtered with his own hands
two hundred prisoners captured in battle. One could imagine
sometimes that the memory of such exploits gleamed in his brilliant
eyes; and, in fact, most white visitors (such as government
officials from Singapore) were so apt to imagine things of this
sort that they scarcely ever managed to treat him as a human being.
Gathergood, however, was not a man of imagination, nor, in his
relations with the Sultan, was he troubled by reflections sinister
or abstruse. It did not occur to him that His Highness's
nondescript clothing and enormously developed stomach made him
comic, or, at least, any more comic than his own notorious chastity
must seem to the Sultan. The two of them, one so old and the other
no longer young, respected each other. Sometimes they talked about
plants, birds, and insects; the Sultan was interested in
Gathergood's expeditions to the interior and had always used his
influence to further them. His eyes forgot their years during such
interviews, and the Agent, shouting the lilting Cuavanese dialect
into the old man's ear, chatted with no more difficulty than with
some deaf old crony in an English bar-parlour.

That evening their talk was protracted longer than usual. Bright-
turbaned attendants brought the Agent a long ceremonial cigarette,
and lit beside him two large, beeswax candles. The first question,
raised by the Sultan himself, concerned a letter he had recently
received from an American university, offering to confer on him the
degree of Doctor of Literature in return for a registration fee of
a hundred dollars. The Sultan, sincerely proud of the distinctions
that civilised countries had already granted him, asked
Gathergood's advice; and the latter returned a simple negative. It
was thus that they had dealt with many problems during the past
four years.

Then they touched upon the future of Naung Lo, still in the
Sultan's prison in connection with the Morrison affair. The Sultan
had been deeply perturbed by the tragedy, and was willing, indeed
eager, to behead somebody. Gathergood described his continuing
investigations, adding: "It still doesn't seem to me that the case
has been proved."

The Sultan inclined his head. "Very well, Tuan. He shall wait."

Then Gathergood outlined, as well as he could, the difficulties
that might arise out of unrest in the kampong. He suggested that
the Sultan should increase the native police force, put an extra
tax on the sale of gin, and issue an official edict denouncing the
doctrines of Russian and Chinese communism. The Sultan, who had
been very pro-British during the War, and whose habit of mind was
inclined to be fixed, could not entirely escape the conviction that
he ought at once to arrest and behead the crew of a German sailing-
ship loading cutch in the estuary; but at the end of Gathergood's
explanation he signified an earnest and cordial agreement with all
the main points.

After that, as the old man was obviously fatigued, Gathergood made
to depart. But there was one other matter which the Sultan
broached with almost a child's shyness. "Tuan," he croaked,
holding Gathergood's hand again, "I have some pictures for you."
He took out of his jacket pocket a small Kodak, from which, with a
smile, the Agent removed the used film. It was the Sultan's
principal hobby, and though many of his snapshots tended to be
either obscure or obscene was always ready to oblige by developing
them in his little improvised dark-room at the bungalow. "I will
bring them to you next week," he answered, and the Sultan
responded, with conventional courtesy: "Good night, Tuan Bezar.
Your visit has made me very glad."

Events, however, prevented Gathergood from keeping his promise.
That very night, while he was asleep under his mosquito-net, a
score or more planters, fully armed, marched on the Sultan's
palace, forced an entrance, kidnapped Naung Lo from his prison-
cell, and hanged him from a tree in the jungle less than a mile
away.


Gathergood did not hear of this till the morning, when his house-
boy brought him the sensational news. He was, for him, immensely
disconcerted. He was even, when he had begun to consider it,
appalled. In all that the Morrison case had so far meant to him,
there had been simply the question of the accused man's probable
guilt or innocence. Of the tangled interplay of motive, racial and
political, that might lie beyond that straightforward issue, he had
been remotely aware, but he had shrunk from it; he lacked intricacy
of vision, and his instinct was always to ignore the intangible.
Now, at a stroke, the merely judicial question had been transformed
into a matter of vaster significance which he took some time to
comprehend. He sat for over an hour before his office-desk,
thinking things out with an entire absence of personal passion that
concealed, nevertheless, a growing inward uneasiness. The day was
warming up; clammy and so far sunless, it sent hardly a ripple of
sea moving over the sandbars of the estuary, and the tops of the
rubber-planted foothills soared into a creamy haze. Towards midday
he sent a boy with written messages to all the planters, asking
them to meet him in the club-house during the afternoon. That
done, he deliberately wrote business letters as usual and gave the
daily orders to his Chinese cook; after which, having taken a drink
and a sandwich, he walked up the hill to the club-house.

The planters awaited him there in a mood of sultry, half-shamed
truculence. It was possible that already, in the light of day,
their exploit seemed less wholly estimable. But this reaction was
itself counterbalanced by an intensifying of their feeling towards
the Agent; sprawling over the chairs and tables, they faced him as
if whatever might be unstable in an unstable world, their hatred of
him was sure. They clung to it, for defence, for companionship,
for very love of one another; and seeing them, Gathergood suddenly
felt himself a scapegoat for all the trouble that had visited Cuava
since his predecessor left it--for untapped trees and rebellious
labourers and bankrupt companies, for dread movements on distant
stock exchanges, for doom that could sweep as swiftly as
pestilence. He, the Jonah, had come to Cuava as a human symbol of
unluck, so that upon him, it seemed, the rage of men against events
must now be concentrated.

He was not a good talker in public, but he had prepared what to
say, and it was, as he said it, very simple. The night's escapade,
he began, without preamble, was as dangerously mistaken as it was
utterly unjustifiable. At this there was much dissent, and he
waited quietly for silence. It was typical of him that the
arguments he developed had an almost legal precision; Cuava, he
reminded them, was the Sultan's territory, and the attack on his
palace could only be regarded as equivalent to an act of war.
Neither the home government nor that at Singapore could or would
defend them in such a matter. Here a shout of "We can defend
ourselves" stung him to a retort which, being impromptu, was more
humanly pungent: "Perhaps, then, you'll tell me how a few dozen
whites can hold out against twenty thousand natives if the latter
make a concerted attack?"

He talked for some time, dealing with interruptions and questions
as they arose; he was calm throughout, and perhaps this calmness,
as much as anything, became eventually impressive. He stirred
misgiving in their minds, then doubt, then a touch of panic, and,
last of all, a chastened mood in which one of them could ask,
almost humbly: "Well, Gathergood, granted that there may be
something in what you say, what would you recommend us to do about
it?"

The Agent had his reply ready. "Choose one of yourselves as a
representative, and let him come with me to the palace immediately--
we'll smooth things down as best we can."

At this, as Gathergood had expected, there was a further uproar
of dissent and defiance; he stood watching and hearing it
emotionlessly, his eyes remote and implacable. All he said when
the shouting subsided was: "Well, gentlemen, it's for you to
decide. You asked my advice and I gave it. I know the Sultan is
reasonable; if he can be convinced that no personal insult was
intended, and that you were merely carried away by your feeling
about Morrison, a good deal of the harm may yet be undone. Think
it over." Suddenly, at that, he turned and left them, walked out
of the club, and back through the oven-heat to his bungalow.

Till evening he rested; then a deputation of planters came to see
him. He received them on his verandah, offering drinks, which they
declined. They announced without courtesy, their decision to take
his advice, and Franklyn, who had been Morrison's particular
friend, was the representative they had chosen. He was a tall,
sallow-faced man of about fifty; he lived with his wife in the
largest bungalow on the hill, and had never troubled to disguise
his dislike of Gathergood. The latter now glanced at him and
replied: "Very well. If you're ready, Franklyn, we'd better go up
now, without delay."

Franklyn laughed with forced cynicism. "All right, if it's got to
be done. You guarantee a safe return, I suppose, Gathergood? No
doubt you're in a position to--the old boy's rather a pal of yours
by all accounts? So long as I don't get pushed overboard, like
Morrison, or stuck by a kris. . . . If I do, you'll be
responsible. Personally, it seems to me a damsilly thing to go
bootlicking to a nigger."

Gathergood did not reply. He was calling his house-boy and giving
orders about the journey.

They went, not by canoe, but in Franklyn's Ford, driven by the
planter himself up the winding, rutted track amongst the hills.
Little was spoken; the fact that Franklyn's apology would be
completely insincere did not, of course, matter much, but it
made for Gathergood an extra discord between them. As the
journey progressed the Agent became conscious of the hairline
precariousness of the entire situation, and of the alarming extent
to which he had personally become involved in it. He tried to
think if at any point he had taken an incautious step, or had come
to an unwise decision; but everything he had decided seemed
preferable to the likely results of doing otherwise. He even in a
certain sense looked forward to meeting the Sultan; it might be
comforting to talk things over quietly with that serene old
patriarch. A reasonable man, Gathergood stressed to himself;
whatever else, a REASONABLE man. . . .

But once again the march of events had tragically forestalled.
What happened is best described in Gathergood's own phrases, as he
had to compose them for a later audience. When he and Franklyn
arrived at the Sultan's palace they were admitted, not to the
Sultan, but to a congress of sons and grandsons, by whose orders
they were promptly arrested and flung into prison, without any
chance of explaining their mission. The aged Sultan, it appeared,
had died of an apoplectic fit caused by the excitement of the
previous night's attack on his domain.

The two prisoners were without weapons; they tried the walls in
vain for any means of escape, and at length lay down on the mud
floor in sheer weariness. Towards midnight by Gathergood's watch
Franklyn was led out by armed guards, with whom the Agent
expostulated and struggled in vain. The planter's subsequent fate
was never definitely established--the exact manner of his death,
that is to say. Gathergood, however, was released later on during
the night--apparently on account of his friendship with the late
Sultan. To his enquiries, entreaties, and protests about Franklyn,
he could obtain nothing but evasive replies.


Driving back to his bungalow as fast as the Ford would take him,
Gathergood might well have wished that no such distinguishing
clemency had been shown him. That he did not, that he steered
unhesitatingly down the craggy hillsides, was clue to the curious
singleness of mind that permitted him only one purpose at a time.
He felt the seriousness of the situation rising round him like a
gale, but he had no conception of the force of the wind or of the
general direction in which it was blowing. Turned now, by logical
process, into a man of action, he drove through the dark jungle
tunnels with one thought new and foremost in his mind--the
deliverance of Franklyn. He did not then know or suspect that the
planter was dead, but the fact of his being held a prisoner was
serious enough. And he began, thinking clearly during that summer
dawn, to make plans for contriving or enforcing a release. He
perceived that the entire English colony in Cuava must now be
mobilised for defence, that help would have to be summoned from the
mainland, and that in these matters there was not a moment to be
lost.

When he reached the water-front not far from his bungalow he found
that hostilities had already broken out between the whites and the
natives. His first instinct, even amidst so many greater
urgencies, was for the suppression of disorder nearby, and when he
could no longer drive the car, he jumped out amongst the mob of
drink-inflamed coolies and knocked down one man whom he saw looting
a store. He was himself hit and badly battered, and might have
suffered more severely had not the crowd been scattered by a volley
of rifle-shots from the surrounding hills, where the planters had
already improvised a firing-line. Several natives were killed and
wounded, and Gathergood was unlucky enough to get a bullet through
his leg.

So began one of those apparently spontaneous outbreaks which from
time to time acquaint the British taxpayer with the extent and
variety of his responsibilities. The trouble at Cuava, resulting
in the death of one Englishman (Franklyn) and fifteen Chinese and
Cuavanese, made a sufficiently startling headline for the London
breakfast-table, whither it was served along with the tactful
information as to where and what Cuava was. A question was later
asked in the House of Commons, in reply to which the Under
Secretary for the Colonies announced that a cruiser and two
gunboats had already arrived at Cuava from Singapore, that order in
the affected districts had been completely restored, and that a
full and exhaustive enquiry would be held as soon as possible.

At that enquiry Gathergood was, of course, a principal witness.

He had been ill of a fever following his wound, and as if that were
not enough, a dose of malaria had pushed further the attack on his
normally robust health. During the days before the cruiser could
take him on board he had been looked after by his Chinese cook--
the only person who, in that emergency, had seemed to care what
happened to him. Afterwards, at Singapore, he had spent a month in
the government hospital--until nearly the time of the enquiry. He
then engaged a room at the Adelphi. He found the bustling and
expensive life of the place a strange and soon a tiresome contrast
from Cuava. He had never cared much for cities or for the gaieties
they offered, and Singapore, during the hot season, with its gaunt-
chested rickshaw-men sweating along the tarred, sticky roads, made
him long for the enquiry to begin and end so that he might get
away. He was lonely, too--a condition he had never known in Cuava,
but which the crowded public rooms of the hotel induced
unfailingly. He knew nobody, though he was uncomfortably aware
that he was known to many by sight--the trouble on the island
having been featured so prominently in all the local newspapers.
He had read them in hospital, of course, and knew by now that
Franklyn's death must be presumed. It had been a tragic blow, not
so much on account of the man personally, as of the revelation it
gave of a world in which folly led to folly and violence begat
violence. If there were anyone whose death he did personally
mourn, it was the aged Sultan. All would have ended happily had he
been alive, and the Agent thought with sympathy of the old,
wrinkled potentate whose life-interests had so pleasantly
progressed from cannibalism to photography.

The enquiry, held in one of the government buildings, began on the
hottest day of the year; the stifling atmosphere, impregnated with
the smells of dust and leather and teak panelling, affected
everyone with fatigue or peevishness, and even the chairman seemed
once or twice on the point of falling asleep over his opening
oration. He was a pale and elderly civil servant, rather obviously
timid in the presence of his colleagues, one of whom, a red-faced,
bristling, stiff-backed major, had an air of challenging even the
temperature to a trial of endurance. The rest of the committee
comprised two members of the local legislature and a naval
commander, a lithe, careless-looking Irishman with a nearly bald
head and impudent eyes. In attendance on the five were a mixed
bevy of white and Eurasian shorthand-writers and newspaper-men;
while a small gallery at the rear was occupied by such members of
the public as had been fortunate enough to secure cards of
admission. There had been a keen demand for these among the
friends of the committee, and the result was a quite fashionable
audience, mainly of women eager for drama. Conspicuous in the
front row, a single touch of black amongst the prevalently brighter
colours, sat Franklyn's widow.

The chairman spoke long and tediously, and it was not till the
second day, during which a heavy thunderstorm broke, that the
gallery occupants could feel their patience rewarded. Late in the
afternoon Gathergood was called. He had not been permitted to
attend the earlier sessions, but newspaper reports had already
given him some idea what to expect. Yet though he had thus
prepared himself for the small insolences of cross-examination, it
had certainly never struck him that he would be treated less like a
witness than a prisoner on trial. Grimly, after his first hour of
questioning, he perceived that things were to be even worse than
had seemed possible. His words were being misquoted, his actions
misdescribed, and his motives misinterpreted. With all his
awareness of unpopularity, he had never guessed that even the
bitterest dislike could frame such a conspiracy, or that, if
framed, it could prevail with reasonable persons. But perhaps the
men and women facing him were not reasonable. They represented
him, for instance, as having condoned the murder of a white man by
a native, and of having interceded with authority on the latter's
behalf. It was implied that he had definitely taken the part of
the native Cuavanese in a matter affecting white prestige. His
mission of pacification to the Sultan was held up as an act of
humiliating unwisdom equivalent to handing a hostage to the enemy.
He had, it was to be inferred, deliberately led Franklyn to his
death. At this point in the proceedings Mrs. Franklyn broke down
and sobbed audibly for several moments, while the chairman
stuttered out a few sentences of sympathy. When the cross-
examination was continued, Gathergood was uncomfortable as well as
grim, and created a definitely bad impression on listeners already
predisposed to receive one; his very carefulness in choosing words,
which was normal to him, was taken for over-subtlety--as when, for
instance, he answered: "No, it wasn't that I thought Naung Lo
innocent; I only thought that he might not be guilty." This,
spoken in slow, deliberate tones, sent a hot draught of
exasperation across the room.

He was asked, of course, about that final tragic pilgrimage to the
Sultan's palace with Franklyn, and he described it with an
exactness that made no glimmer of appeal for sympathy. The truth
was, his anger, always slow to rise, was now engulfing him in the
blackest bitterness of soul. He would not, by a word or by a
movement of a muscle, plead with these people who were so obviously
bent on vilifying him. He sat rigid in the straight-backed seat,
his blue eyes fixed in a stare that only occasionally quickened,
and only at one spectacle--the clock that ticked away his ordeal.
Once or twice, faint with the heat, he found his attention
wandering, and generally it was some outdoor scene that flashed
momentarily before him, some remembered spot on one of his jungle
expeditions, the place where he had found the sciuropterus or that
Polypodium carnosum. And then, breaking in upon such ill-timed
tranquillities, would come the chairman's rasping monotone: "Are
we to understand, Mr. Gathergood . . . So, Mr. Gathergood, it
amounts to this, that you . . . Now, Mr. Gathergood, let's be quite
clear about it--you say you . . ." And so on.

Yet the Agent was never near breaking down under the strain. He
was upheld by his bitterness; relentlessly he gave reasons why he
had done this or had omitted to do that, and even the major's
querulous: "But surely, man, you must have realised . . ." only
drew from him a quiet: "I didn't realise it, anyway." Once the
naval commander interjected, apparently to the assembly in general:
"Of course we must all remember how easy it is to be wise after the
event"; and Gathergood gave him a swift glance in which just more
was visible than mere assent. But on the whole he preserved an
outward emotionlessness that antagonised his hearers as much as it
disappointed them. The commander tried sometimes to counter this
by skilfully leading questions; he remarked, for instance, at one
juncture: "I should think, Gathergood, you must be feeling
yourself rather an unlucky fellow. Things seem to have gone
persistently wrong in all your calculations--a sort of chapter of
accidents, eh?"

Gathergood began to respond: "Yes, and as a matter of fact . . ."
and then checked himself sharply; whereat the major, pouncing to
the occasion, barked out: "Continue with what you were going to
say, Mr. Gathergood."

"Nothing of any consequence--a mere reflection of my own that can
hardly matter."

"Never mind, let's have it," snapped the major, enjoying himself;
and the chairman nodded emphatically.

"I was only thinking that the whole thing began with an accident--
quite a trifling one--Morrison's hat blowing into the sea--"

Again the wave of exasperation passed across the faces. But the
end was near. On the afternoon of the fifth day Gathergood was
suddenly informed that he need not stay further or attend again.
He bowed to the chairman and walked, briskly limping, from the
room. He felt that the manner of his dismissal was that of a
conviction and sentence all in one. Even the Eurasian attendant
with whom he had left his hat treated him with barely concealed
superciliousness.

That evening, while he was taking coffee in a corner of the hotel
lounge, he was surprised to be accosted by the naval officer who
had been a member of the committee. His name was Holroyd, and
after a few perfunctory remarks he planked himself down at the same
table. Gathergood, though not especially anxious for company,
offered a drink, and they chatted together for some time, but
without mentioning the enquiry; then Holroyd suggested that the
Agent should stroll over with him to his hotel, the De la Paix, for
another drink. Gathergood agreed and they finally sat up in
Holroyd's private room till nearly midnight. The commander, in
this more intimate atmosphere, was breezily candid. "I daresay
you've guessed by this time, Gathergood, that you're going to get
all the blame--which I don't suppose you deserve--nobody does
deserve what he gets in this world, whether of blame or anything
else."

Gathergood said very little in reply; he had explained himself
exhaustively and in public for four days, and had no desire to go
all over the ground again. He merely sipped his whisky and let
Holroyd go on talking.

"The question is," continued the commander, "what are you going to
do now that the show's over?"

That was the question, undoubtedly; and from the moment of his
dismissal from the enquiry-room Gathergood had seen it confronting
him. He answered, a trifle curtly: "Well, I don't want to stay
here."

"I should jolly well think not. . . . How're you feeling now, by
the way? Pretty rotten, I expect, after your leg-smash and all the
strain of the talky-talky."

"My leg's healed well and I feel all right."

"How about putting in for a spell of sick leave, anyhow?"

"I don't consider myself really ill."

Holroyd grunted. "Well, Gathergood, if you won't take the hint,
it's no use beating about the bush. I'm here, speaking quite
frankly, to make a definite suggestion to you--put in for leave and
get away back home. Not necessarily to England--in fact, on the
whole, I'd say not England, for the time being. Take a long
foreign holiday somewhere--nice little places in France or
Italy . . . anyway, clear off pretty quick out of this rotten hole.
There's going to be a hell of a rumpus when the report comes out,
and if you take my tip, you won't wait for it."

"I'm due to retire next year, you know."

"Then it fits in rather well, doesn't it?"

"I'd rather have served out my full time. Not in Cuava, of course,
but--"

Holroyd shook his head. "I'm damned sorry, Gathergood, but you can
wash out all idea of that. Absolutely no point in mincing matters,
is there? But if I were you, I wouldn't fret about it. 'Be damned
to you'--that's the feeling to have when fate gives you a knock in
the eye."

"I see," replied the Agent quietly. For the first time then he
showed signs of emotion, though only for a few seconds. His mind
received the full impact of the future, recoiled a little, and then
steadied itself. "Yes," he added, in control again, "I think
that's just about my own attitude too."

That midnight, as soon as he was back in his own bedroom, he wrote
out a formal application for leave, received an affirmative reply
by return of post, booked his passage on a French liner bound for
Marseilles, and sent his former Chinese cook two hundred dollars
and instructions for the packing and transhipment of his belongings
from Cuava to a furniture depository in London.




CHAPTER TWO


FLORENCE FAULKNER


"Oh, dear, now it all begins again," thought Miss Faulkner,
scampering along the platform with her usual smile of sprightly
welcome. She had a mixed collection of books and papers under her
arm. She nearly always had. And she was nearly always smiling, or
scampering, or both. The clanking carriages drew slowly in, pulled
by an electric engine that stood at the far end ticking like an
enormous clock. Faces appeared at windows--windows that bore the
labels of an English travel organisation, and Miss Faulkner, still
scampering, shouted out: "Hello, everybody--is the train early, or
am I late?" which was the kind of remark which, in her estimation,
put people at their ease immediately and helped them to begin a
holiday in the right spirit.

The train was from Calais; its passengers had been travelling all
night and the day before. The women looked heavy-eyed and
bedraggled, the men were blue-chinned after two days without a
shave. They came from the vague hinterlands of suburb and
provinces, urged across eight hundred miles of land and water by an
enterprise which was not their own, but that of a limited liability
company working for profit and earning (in normal years) some
fifteen per cent. This organisation, after the manner of its age,
manufactured the demand which it afterwards proceeded to supply.
Its brochures were superb examples of art-printing and chromo-
lithography, and its well-known advertisement of a pretty girl
smiling over the rail of a Channel steamer in excessively calm and
sunny weather had been painted by a R. A. At the other end of the
business, however, expenditure was less lavish. The usual practice
was to charter a second-rate hotel for the season at such a price
that its proprietors, to make any profit at all, had to supply
inferior food. Another economical plan was to employ, instead of
full-time guides and couriers, a semi-amateur staff of part-time
workers, most of them school-teachers, who were willing to work
during their summer holidays for very little more than pocket-
money.

Miss Faulkner was one of these people. She was small-built, pert-
faced, bright-eyed, and aged thirty-seven. Just the person for the
job, most people said: by which they meant that her London
Matriculation French was understood by foreign railway-porters who
knew English, that she possessed a sheepdog aptitude for yapping
(though pleasantly) at people's heels till they had all climbed
into the right vehicles, and that her smile was of the kind usually
described as "infectious."

"Ah, well, it's a nice day, that's something," thought Miss
Faulkner, marshalling the arrivals and seeing them installed in a
couple of late-Victorian horse-omnibuses. "Yes, aren't they
sweet?" she said cheerfully. "I believe there's some talk of
putting them in the local museum." People always laughed at that.
She darted about, answering questions, giving orders, ticking names
on a list, already memorising faces; really an exceptionally
capable woman. And smiling all the time. A rather wide smile,
showing good teeth, but (if one bothered to notice such things) a
smile that did not cause much to happen to the rest of her face.
"Yes, Mrs. Walsh, your bag will be all right--all the luggage is
coming along afterwards," she sang out; and Mrs. Walsh, a granitic
matron who might otherwise have given trouble, was instantly
captivated.


"We've been having it quite hot here lately," continued Miss
Faulkner, in the omnibus, launching the regulation chitchat about
the weather. "And I see from the papers it's been cold and rainy
in England. . . . Yes, we get all the English papers here a day
late. . . . There, that's the Jungfrau--that big one over there.
Rather fine, isn't it?" And privately to herself she reflected:
"I must write to George immediately after lunch, or I shall never
get a chance." . . .

Just as the horses turned out of Interlaken's main thoroughfare
into the side-street leading to the hotel, a man stepped off the
kerb and would have been run down had not a shaft caught his arm
and jerked him back. One of the horses half-stumbled, and the
driver pulled up and began to shout angrily in German. There
seemed here the makings of an awkward little scene, and it was in
just such an emergency that Miss Faulkner was at her best.
Climbing down from the omnibus she first commanded silence from the
driver and then approached the pedestrian. He was well-dressed,
she noticed, and she was relieved to find that he was English. "It
was entirely my own fault," he admitted, calmly. "I wasn't looking
where I was going at all. Fortunately I'm not hurt."

"Oh, well, if that's the case, there's really nothing more to be
said, is there?" replied Miss Faulkner, flashing her smile. "I'm
glad you're all right. Good morning."

The man raised his hat and walked off, and Miss Faulkner,
continuing her smile to her people in the omnibus, climbed in
again. "Really," she said, as the journey was resumed, "if people
WILL do these things--" Somebody cried: "Day-dreamin', that's
what he must have been doin'," and Miss Faulkner echoed: "Yes,
that's just it!" with an air of finding the remark a perfect and
wished-for expression of her own feelings. There was thus a second
person captivated.

When the hotel was reached, Miss Faulkner presided briskly over the
usual commotion about rooms; then came lunch, during which, from
the head of the long table, she made the speech she always made at
first meals. It was one of carefully mingled exhortation and
facetiousness--all about being punctual, making the best of things,
keeping together on party expeditions, and taking warm clothing on
the mountain trips. "Oh, yes, and there's just one other thing--
some of you may already have discovered that foreign hotels don't
supply soap. If you haven't brought any with you, there's a
chemist's shop just round the corner where they speak English."
Somebody cheered. Miss Faulkner smiled. And then: "Perhaps we'd
better not plan anything for this afternoon, as I daresay many of
you feel tired after the journey and would like to rest." She
gazed round the tables with a look of slightly intimidating
enquiry, and the response came easily to her bidding, in the form
of mumbled assent. "All right. Then we'll meet again at seven-
thirty for dinner."

Thank goodness, she thought, escaping through the crowd--that left
her free for the afternoon. She went up to her bedroom and dragged
a wicker chair to the window. The view was not of the Jungfrau, as
all the advertisements would have led one to assume, but of a row
of similar windows overlooking a small well-like courtyard in
between. Free for the afternoon, Miss Faulkner echoed to herself,
as she got out pen and paper and began to write. The letter was to
her brother, who worked in a stockbroker's office in Old Broad
Street. She wrote:


"DEAR GEORGE,

"Thanks for sending on my correspondence. The weather here has
been hot, which I don't mind, except that it makes people dawdle,
and I have to keep on chivvying them to catch their trains.
They've been a rather dull crowd so far, and this week's new
arrivals don't seem much different. Still, I suppose it's all to
the good that they should come out here instead of going to Margate
or Blackpool or places like that. I'm sorry you didn't like the
Virginia Woolf--I thought it quite marvellous. Mrs. Ripley writes
that she'd like to borrow my notes on Silesian minorities to use in
a paper she's getting up, so if she calls, they're in the third
drawer of my bureau desk, but please don't mix up the other papers
in it. I expect I shall be returning to-day fortnight. I hope
you're managing all right in the flat, and don't forget to leave
the cats their milk when you go out in the mornings. This is in
haste, as I simply haven't a moment to spare.

"Your affectionate sister,

"FLORENCE."


That done, and the envelope sealed and addressed, Miss Faulkner
wrote half a dozen other letters, after which she packed them under
her arm with her usual mixed collection of books and papers, and
went downstairs to the post.

There was a box inside the hotel lobby, but she preferred the short
walk to the little blue letter-box fixed to the lamp-post down the
road. She scampered out, through the swing-doors, into the warm
glare of the pavement. The sun was shining out of a sky that
really was the blue of the picture-postcards, and even the Jungfrau
looked somewhat like the advertised Jungfrau. Miss Faulkner,
however, was not normally a person to rhapsodise over such matters.
She walked straight to the lamp-post, inserted the letters, and
walked back. Just as she climbed the hotel steps she noticed a man
sitting on the terrace outside the Hôtel Oberland, the bigger and
much more aristocratic hotel immediately opposite her own, which
was the Hôtel Magnifique de l'Univers. She felt sure he was the
man whom the omnibus had nearly driven down, and in seeking to
verify the recognition she stared so hard that when he chanced to
glance up she felt that the only thing possible to do was to smile.
And having smiled, and having received in return a slight but
courteous bow, she felt she must at least say something to excuse
the smile. So she ran across the road and began: "I'm so sorry
about the omnibus dashing into you like that--I do hope you weren't
really hurt. And I must say, even though it may be true that you
weren't looking, that man does drive round corners rather
recklessly. It was very kind of you, anyhow, to take it as you
did. I mean, it saved a lot of delay and argument."

The man seemed surprised to be accosted thus and with such
volubility. "I assure you I haven't even a bruise to show for it,"
he answered, looking her down with very blue eyes.

"I'm so glad. . . . It's marvellous weather, isn't it?"

"Yes, great," he replied.

Miss Faulkner, smiling again, recrossed the road to her own hotel.
Obviously a gentleman, she had confirmed; his clothes, his accent,
his manner, all were satisfactory. For she had belonged to the
Left Wing of the English Labour Movement long enough to know that
though you might attack gentlemen, as a class, and even, as a
measure of social reform, seek to abolish them, they yet remained,
as individuals, most charming and agreeable people.

For the rest of the time before dinner she busied herself with the
findings of a commission whose bulky minority report she had been
somewhat pointlessly carrying about all day.


Miss Faulkner was the headmistress of a council-school in
Bermondsey. She was clever, successful, and possessed an abundance
of energy as well as that immense capacity for taking pains which,
whatever else it is, certainly is not genius. But, genius apart,
she was a talented woman; she could speak fluently at meetings,
serve effectively on committees, and bully a school-inspector into
overlooking the fact that her children, though skilled at clay-
modelling and pastel-drawing, were unfortunately less able to read
and write. Her ambition was some clay to become an M.P., and to
this end she was already associated with many of the movements and
campaigns of advanced Socialism. Not that she was by any means
insincere. A passion almost flame-like in its intensity sustained
her in her many activities; she really did possess a love for
humanity, and the further removed humanity was, both in space and
time, the more she loved it. Her favourite school lesson, for
instance, was one in which she described the sufferings of the
little boy chimney-sweeps in the early nineteenth century; and in
modern times a Chinese famine, especially when documented by Blue
Book or White Paper statistics, could move her to genuine tears of
compassion. With the local unemployed she would probably have
sympathised almost as warmly had not so many of them approached her
for personal help. "My good man, I can't give to everybody," she
would say; which was true enough, for four hundred a year did not
go far when one had a half-share of a flat in West Kensington, and
when even the telephone-bill often came to ten shillings a week.
She was, anyhow, continually giving money away, more often in
guineas than coppers, and her chief reason for spending August as
she did was to obtain a healthful holiday of a kind and duration
that she could not otherwise have afforded.

Besides, as she often remarked to friends in England, it was a
means of doing good to others as well as to herself. "I don't see
why the loveliest places in the world should only be visited by the
rich," she would say, with that clear-voiced truculence especially
designed by nature for the painless extraction of "hear-hear's"
from an audience. "We get the middle classes as a rule, you know,
and though they may be a little tiresome at times, one does feel
that one is helping them to enjoy experiences they ought to have.
Sometimes we even get actual working-men--we had a most intelligent
engine-driver only the other week. I think that sort of thing is
just splendid." Miss Faulkner always spoke of working-men as of
some astonishing natural phenomenon which she had studied for a
university doctorate.

That evening she saw the man at the "Oberland" again. He was
taking coffee on the terrace after dinner, and from the crowded
lobby of the "Magnifique" she could observe him whenever anyone
pushed open the swing-doors to go out or come in. He was reading a
paper and smoking a cigar, and in the light of the orange-shaded
lamp at his elbow she could see that his hair was greyish.
Elderly, therefore. And by himself. On business? But no; she had
not thought he looked a business man. And suddenly, perhaps
because the report she had lately been reading was connected with
it, she imagined him as having something to do with the League of
Nations. Its headquarters were at Geneva; what more likely than
that its personnel should take trips to Interlaken? But that, of
course, raised a possible doubt as to his nationality; his accent
might be perfect, but might not a League official have a perfect
English accent without being necessarily English? He must be
Nordic, on account of his blue eyes; and she therefore imagined him
a German, because she had an emotional pity for Germans and because
at one moment, when she glanced at him, she thought he looked
rather sombre. Pondering, perhaps, on the iniquities of the Treaty
of Versailles or on the problem of the Polish Corridor.

Later that evening, after he had left the terrace, she went out for
a short stroll and, on the way back, stopped to chat a while with
the uniformed porter of the "Oberland," whom she knew quite
familiarly, and who graciously permitted the exercise of her
French. After discussing the chances of the next day's weather she
said, abruptly: "Oh, by the way, who is that man who was taking
coffee on the terrace just now--sitting by himself at the table
near the lamp?"

"An Englishman," replied the porter, with half a wink. "A Mr.
Brown, of London."

Miss Faulkner was disappointed. Her pitying thoughts of a derelict
schloss in the Rhineland and of a family starved to death in the
blockade subsided painfully; as a Mr. Brown, of London, he was
clearly less remarkable. And then, entering the hotel on the other
side of the road, she added, what was quite obvious, that it was of
absolutely no consequence who or what he was, and that he would
probably be gone to-morrow, anyway.

But he had not gone on the morrow. He was seen (by Miss Faulkner)
having breakfast on the terrace while she shepherded her party to
catch the train for the Schynige Platte. She smiled and he nodded.
It was another lovely day, pleasantly cool on the mountain-top,
though hot down below. She functioned with her usual sprightliness,
smiling at least a hundred times as she gave advice as to the
purchase of drinks and picture-postcards. On the way back she
could not help wondering if Mr. Brown, of London, had yet left the
"Oberland."

He had not. She saw him that evening on the terrace, but he was
engrossed in a book and did not look her way.

The next morning there was no sign of him, and she was surprised in
the afternoon to discover, from a casual question to the porter,
that he was still staying. It did not matter, of course. She
smiled hard throughout dinner and gave a pithy little lecture, in
her best schoolmistress manner, about the Gorges of the Aar that
were to be visited on the following day.

She saw nothing of him then, either. But on the day after that,
the Wednesday, by sheer chance they met on the train to the
Jungfraujoch. It was an expensive excursion, costing over two
pounds extra, and for that reason she had only half a dozen of the
party under her charge. They had already entered the train and she
had climbed in after them and found a vacant seat before noticing
that he was opposite her. "Good morning," she said, with brisk
eagerness.

"Good morning," he answered.

He had a book open on his knee, and she obeyed a natural impulse to
decipher the title upside down. It was Shaw's "Intelligent Woman's
Guide to Socialism." Her eyes glinted; surely it was a good sign
when a man was found reading Shaw in a train. She meant (for she
was already aware that he interested her) that it was so much the
more likely that they would have tastes in common. And she
slightly revised her picture of him as a German delegate to the
League of Nations; perhaps, if the Shaw were any evidence, he was
in the International Labour Office. "A fascinating book," she
commented, keenly.

He looked up and answered, after a pause: "Personally, I'm finding
it rather dull."

"Really?" She yet contrived to smile. She knew there were lots of
people nowadays who thought Shaw a back number, and she remembered
once hearing a pert Communist at a committee meeting say that
Shaw's book would have been much more interesting had it been an
Intelligent Socialist's Guide to Woman.

"Of course Shaw's getting very old," she said, with a hint of
unutterable drawbacks.

"Yes, he must be."

And then she remarked in the casual way she had so often found
effective: "I can't say I was ever impressed with him myself. He
talks at you rather than to you, and it gets on one's nerves after
a time. At least it did on mine."

Here, of course, his obvious cue was to express surprise that she
had actually met Shaw, and the fact that he didn't only disappointed
her until she realised that he was probably so used to meeting
famous people himself that it had hardly struck him as remarkable.
She became quite certain, at that moment, that he was "somebody."

All he said was the one word "Indeed?"

She was just a little discouraged by this, and did not speak again
until they had to change trains at Lauterbrunnen. Then, amidst the
warming sunshine, she thought, with sudden boldness: "I'm
interested in him and would rather like to get to know him; why
shouldn't I, then, deliberately enter the same carriage and sit
next to him in the new train?" After all, nobody would ever blame
a man for doing that, if he were interested in a girl. . . . That
final argument, with all that it implied in connection with the
equality of the sexes, clinched the matter. Miss Faulkner waited
till the man had chosen a seat in the train that goes up to Wengen
and Scheidegg, and then led her small party in after him. "Here
again," she exclaimed brightly, banging the window down. He smiled--
a rather slow, cautious smile, as if for the first time he were
taking real notice of her. "You are going up to the Joch?" he
queried.

"Yes. Are you?"

"Yes."

"It's a long journey, but well worth it. Is this your first
visit?"

"Yes."

She felt rather glad of that. "You'll be impressed, on a day like
this. I was, tremendously, when I first came. In fact, I always
am."

"You come pretty often, I suppose?"

"Once a week during August."

"Oh?"

"You see, I'm only here for the month. This is really my
holiday. . . ." And in a quarter of an hour--before the train
reached the green slopes and red-roofed chalets of Wengen--she had
told him all about her job, her school in Bermondsey, and her
friendship with Bertrand Russell. He listened politely, without
saying very much. At Scheidegg, where there was another change of
trains, she kept the conversation going so incessantly that it would
have been nearly impossible for them not to re-seat themselves
together. All this time she had been somewhat neglectful of her
party, but as soon as the train set off she rose and delivered, in
her very best style, a short account of the building of the Jungfrau
Railway, its cost, difficulties, and the number of lives lost during
its construction. When she had finished she smiled at everybody,
and then, sitting down, bestowed a little private smile upon the man
next her. "I hope you weren't startled by my sudden burst into
professional activity," she began.

"Not at all," he answered. "On the contrary, it was most
interesting--all that you said. A marvellous piece of
engineering. . . And another thing interested me too."

"Yes?"

"The way--if you'll excuse my being personal--the way you managed
to make yourself heard above the noise of the train without
shouting. I--I could never manage to do that."

She laughed. "Have you tried?"

"Not exactly in trains. But I've had other experience. I suppose
it's partly knack and partly the voice one's born with."

"Surely not THAT," she answered. "Babies can always make
themselves heard anywhere. At least, my babies can."

This time it was he who laughed. "Yes, of course."

A moment later it occurred to her to add: "I meant my official
babies, you know--the children of four and five at my school. I
haven't any other kind of babies."

Accepting the information, he seemed a little pensive afterwards,
and by the arrival of the train at the terminus Miss Faulkner
thought she had progressed distinctly well, though she was forced
to confess that she knew scarcely anything more about him. And yet
to have led the conversation to babies! She smiled with extra
emphasis as she gave her people the usual cautions about wearing
sun-spectacles and not over-exerting themselves at the unaccustomed
altitude. Babies, indeed! For she had a sense of humour, no less
acute because it sometimes and for long intervals deserted her
completely.

Few places could have been more helpful to the ripening of
acquaintance than the Jungfraujoch. In the restricted area round
the station and hotel there was little to do except send off
picture-postcards, peer through the telescopes at distant skiers,
and enjoy the novel combination of blazing sunshine and deep snow.
Miss Faulkner found renewed opportunities of talking to Mr. Brown,
and Mr. Brown no opportunities at all of escape. It was typical of
her that, however much she might let her imagination soar as to his
possible identity, she perceived quite clearly that he was not--not
yet, at any rate--attracted by her. Probably, she decided, he was
not a man who cared for women at all. But she was far from being
daunted. If you wanted to get anything in this world, she had
discovered, you usually had to set out in pursuit of it--quite
shamelessly, if need be. This certainly applied to such things as
headships of schools, presidencies of societies, and political
candidatures; no doubt also to friendship. She had once read
somewhere that liking other people was half the battle towards
making them like you, and the theory gave her confidence to go "all
out" in getting to know this man. Why not, if she wanted to?

She certainly made the most of her time during that long, hot
afternoon two miles high. Not only were the topographical but also
the meteorological circumstances favourable; there was something
exquisite in that hard, dry, sunlit brilliance, some sense of being
suspended above and beyond the normal earth. She basked with him
on the edge of a rock and gazed over the ten--or was it twenty?--
miles of snowy wilderness; then they turned their tinted glasses on
the knife-edge of the Jungfrau summit, its outline crystal-yellow
against a storm-green sky. Mr. Brown talked about mountains and
said he would like to do some climbing in the Alps; he had had a
little experience elsewhere, though not where there was snow. Some
young climbers at his hotel, he said, had asked him to join their
expeditions, but he had so far declined because he felt it might be
too strenuous for him; after this, however, he thought he might
perhaps give himself a trial if he were invited again. Which gave
her the chance of asking: "Are you staying long, then?" And he
answered: "I don't really know. I--at the moment, that is--I
haven't decided."

She could not resist a further probe. "Of course, if you're taking
a rest-cure, or recovering from an illness, or anything like that,
I daresay you oughtn't to climb."

"No, there's no reason of that kind."

"Perhaps you're one of those lucky people who're never ill?"

"But for occasional bouts of malaria, I keep pretty well, I must
say."

"Malaria's bad, isn't it? I suppose you picked it up out East?"

"Er--yes."

"During the War? I know several men who did."

"I didn't."

He said that almost rudely. But she did not mind. They travelled
back to Interlaken together, and all the way she kept the
conversation going, somewhat to the continued neglect of her
people. She did not mind that, either. She felt she had badgered
the man quite enough about his private affairs, and must now set
herself out to make up for it by being interesting and amusing.
She more than partially succeeded, for she was well-informed, and
had a good command of words as well as a retentive memory for the
bright sayings of others. Her account of Soviet Russia, for
instance, which she had visited for ten days on a lightning tour of
co-operative societies, made him laugh several times. At the end,
when they separated for their respective hotels, she said, with an
air of suddenly realising it: "I say, I do hope I haven't bored
you. I'm afraid I sometimes get rather carried away by these big
topics."

"Not at all," he answered, gravely, and added, with a ready smile:
"At least you've given me plenty to think about. . . . Good
night."

"Perhaps we shall meet again if you're staying on here?"

"Perhaps so. Yes, certainly we may."

She hastily changed for dinner and faced at the dining-table a
group of faces that eyed her none too cordially. The story that
she had spent most of the day talking to a man from the hotel
opposite had evidently spread. She decided to be particularly
charming; indeed, she was--she was almost radiant. Then, if not
before, her case could have been definitely diagnosed.

Miss Faulkner was by no means ignorant of love. She had been in
love, and she had also read about it, not only in novels, but in
physiological and psychological text-books. She had skimmed
through the better-known works of Freud, Jung, Adler, Krafft-
Ebbing, Havelock Ellis, Malinowski, and Stopes; she knew all about
the Trobriand Islanders, and she was aware that the perception of
beauty in moonlight or Mozart was largely an affair of the
glandular secretions. Like most women possessed of her type of
ambition, she fully realised the likelihood that she would never
marry; nor did the prospect worry her much. Apart from the fact
that she could not do so and keep her job, the ordinary routine of
married life--shopping, babies, and cinema matinées--gave her no
thrills of anticipated bliss. If she were ever to accept a man, he
would have to be of an exceptional kind, and as that kind was not
very likely to come her way, she was quite reconciled to remaining
single. She liked children, but in mass rather than individually;
and though she was certainly not undersexed, a good deal of what
might have been sexual went out of her in other forms of energy.
Sublimation, of course; that was another of the things she knew all
about. And besides, in these days (1930) one need not be a prude.
She did not object to an occasional flirtation, and she had, in her
late twenties, adventured rather more than tentatively with a
certain university extension lecturer who was now a Labour M.P. It
had been her one practical experiment in a subject which she knew
well enough in theory, and she had been hit pretty hard when he
left her for a fat-legged Jewess who had written a banned novel.
For a few days afterwards she had been unconsolable, weeping a good
deal, and explaining to her teaching staff that she was on the
verge of a breakdown from overwork. By the following week,
however, she had salvaged most of her serenity at the cost of a
rather greater urge to sublimation than ever. It worked well,
indeed, this doing without men; and its very success reinforced her
determination to make no surrender but to the most superior
applicant.

Miss Faulkner's attitude towards Mr. Brown was governed, therefore,
by conditions perfectly well known to herself. She was attracted,
and she was aware that the attraction was to a large extent
physical; she liked the man's tallness, his distinguished, if not
exactly handsome, features, his quiet voice, his rare but
satisfying smile. The fastidious and slightly snobbish part of her
was also attracted; she liked his well-dressed dignity, his accent,
his courtesy, his old-fashioned readiness to treat her as a lady
for no other reason than that she was a woman. Thinking the matter
over in bed that night, she was very candid with herself. She was
smitten; yes, most decidedly; indeed, she couldn't get the man's
image out of her head. The way he had sat with her at the
Jungfraujoch; no doubt it would give her a pang whenever she saw
the place again. On the other hand, facing facts quite squarely,
she came to the rather depressing conclusion that he probably
wasn't very clever. His finding Shaw's book dull, for instance--
not that that by itself proved much, but it linked itself with
other things--notably the fact that he hadn't made one really
intelligent remark to her during the whole of their talks. He had
listened; he had often made some "suitable" comment; he had
certainly never said anything stupid; but of wit, of originality,
of anything subtle or scintillating, there had been nothing. Miss
Faulkner was disappointed, but she knew it could not be helped.
After all, she met charming people far less often than clever ones,
and how devastating for her if Mr. Brown had chanced to be both!
She turned out the light, deciding that the really satisfactory
conclusion would be for him to invite her to spend a week in Paris
with him; she would accept, and they would thus live happily ever
afterwards--without each other.

Unfortunately for this pleasant possibility, Mr. Brown had so far
shown no sign of desiring even friendship, much less amorous
adventure. Miss Faulkner admitted this, but without despair. She
had, in her time, surmounted barriers that had at first seemed just
as forbidding; and she surmised, too, that, in most men as in most
women, love was largely a question of having the idea put into
their heads when they had nothing else to do. Besides, it was fun
trying to get what she wanted, particularly when it didn't matter a
great deal if she were unsuccessful. It was even fun to try and
imagine things about him, though she gave up her vision of a high
Genevan official and substituted that of a retired bank manager
whom his wife had left because she found him too much of a bore.

And then, the very next morning, she made her great discovery.


She had received by the first post a further batch of correspondence
forwarded from England, and among its items was a monthly paper
issued by some society to which she belonged--one of those
organisations for the protection, abolition, or propagation of
something or other. The paper was a meagre product in its own
particular class of journalism, badly printed and on poor quality
paper, but its centre page did contain a sufficiently recognisable
photograph of Mr. Brown. And underneath was the caption: "Mr.
Charles Gathergood, late British Agent at Cuava, Broken on the
Wheel of Capitalist Imperialism."

Miss Faulkner knew, of course, all about Gathergood. She had
followed the whole business in the daily Press; she had even
proposed in public a resolution of protest against the shooting
down of defenceless Cuavanese by British sailors. Her sympathy
with the Cuavanese was naturally intense, since she had never seen
them, and since all her respected sources of information assured
her that they were the persecuted victims of sadistic rubber-
planters in league with a cynical white bureaucracy. Gathergood,
according to the unanimous and almost automatic decision of left-
wing authority, had stood up, one solitary man against a system, to
champion a stricken and exploited subject-race. He had refused
consent to Prussianised methods (only, of course, one must not say
"Prussianised" any more), and had in consequence been put to the
cruel farce of an enquiry at which the real villains had sat in the
judgment-seat and condemned him. Quite a vociferous section of
English opinion held these views, and for some time after the issue
of the report working-men hecklers at their opponents' meetings had
been in the habit of shouting: "What erbaht Gathergood of
Kewarver?"--just as they might similarly ask about the Zinovieff
Letter, Amritsar, or any other disputed phenomenon.

Upon Miss Faulkner, therefore, the unmasking of that heroic name
behind the prosaic pseudonym came like a spark to dry tinder. She
sat for a long time in her wicker chair under the bedroom window,
holding the revealing photograph in her hand. Yes, she was sure it
was he; the nose, mouth, and forehead were unmistakable, and even
the eyes and hair were as confirmatory as could be expected from a
newspaper print. And then, too, it fitted in with his own queer
vagueness and reticences, with his mention of malaria, with the
sombre look that she had noted in his eyes sometimes, with--yes,
yes, of course it did--even with the very thing that had caused her
misgiving. For how could he be expected to respond to stimulating
conversation if his mind were still clouded with the memory of
undeserved censure? And how could he feel in any mood for a
display of mental agility after such storms as had lately broken
over his head? Besides, however clever he might or mightn't be, he
was principally a man of action, a hero. Normally Miss Faulkner
was not very keen on heroes (she had always thought there was
something a little vulgar about winning the V.C.); but Gathergood's
heroism was clearly different; he had championed the oppressed,
which was to say, the non-British; indeed, since the stand taken by
the conscientious objectors during the War, Miss Faulkner could not
call to mind anything more inspiring.

She came down to breakfast with eyes ablaze, and when, in fear lest
he were gone, she looked through the hotel doorway across the road,
there he was, taking his coffee and rolls as usual, but, oh, how
much more to her now--this Gathergood of Cuava, man of such
magnificent sorrow, already more than canonised in her heart.

She had to escort her party to Brienz that day, but before setting
out she scribbled a hasty note to her brother.


"I wonder if you would mind looking out and sending me back-numbers
of the 'Record' dealing with the Gathergood case--you know, the man
who refused to shoot the native rubber-workers in Cuava. I think
Miss Totham gave me some cuttings about it as well--they're
probably in the cupboard under the gramophone. You might send them
along with the papers and also the report of the Singapore Enquiry
which was held recently. I daresay you can get it at the
Stationery Office for a few shillings. It's a shame to bother you
with all these things, but I know you won't mind. I'd tell you why
I want them, but it's rather a long story and I must dash away to
collect my people for a train that leaves almost immediately. In
great haste therefore,

"Your affectionate sister,

"FLORENCE."


All the time she was piloting her party round the wood-carving
shops at Brienz, Miss Faulkner was exulting over her discovery.
Now, more than ever, she craved the friendship of the lonely, blue-
eyed man at the "Oberland"; but now her desire was tinged with the
thrill of a secret shared between them, with the pursuit of all her
cherished ideals, with--yes, with love. Indeed, for a moment there
in the main street of Brienz she became quite dazed with her new
vision and could only stare stupidly when she heard one of her
party addressing her. "Yes, they are rather sweet, aren't they?"
she managed to answer at last, and to show a belated interest in
her surroundings she picked up something haphazardly from the wood-
carver's counter and pretended to examine it. She put it hastily
back, however, on perceiving it to be a musical-box disguised as a
toilet-roll.

There was, of course, the question of immediate tactics to be
settled; should she, or should she not, declare her knowledge? The
fact that he was staying at the hotel under an assumed name seemed
to indicate a wish not to be identified, which was quite
understandable in the circumstances; on the other hand, might he
not be glad of the sympathy that could be given him by one, such as
herself, who understood and admired the real man? Still, Miss
Faulkner felt a little doubtful about it. He did not look to be a
person who would like anyone to find out something he had taken
special precautions to conceal. Besides, might there not be a
species of heaven-sent tact in knowing and yet pretending not to
know? Might there not come a moment when Mr. Brown-Gathergood
would think: "What a marvellous woman--she guesses, yet she
respects my desire for privacy; I will therefore tell her
everything." . . . At the thought of that, Miss Faulkner decided
quite definitely that she would adopt the more cautious policy. It
certainly would be wonderful if he eventually told her himself, and
she imagined a conversation which would end by her exclaiming:
"But, my dear, why should you have been afraid to tell me? Did you
think I didn't guess it all the time?"

At sunset that evening occurred the phenomenon known as the Alpine
glow--a momentary transfiguration of the mountains that turned
their snow-slopes into the appearance of pink blancmange. All Miss
Faulkner's party rushed out of the hotel into the middle of the
roadway to stare hard, Miss Faulkner with them. And there, on the
terrace opposite, the man--her man--was staring hard like everyone
else. Miss Faulkner's heart experienced a sudden Alpine glow of
its own; she knew, at that moment, that the world was full of
beauty, that Switzerland was marvellous, that the Jungfrau was
superb, that even the orchestrola tinkling away from the
neighbouring bar was in tune with her own emotions at the sight of
that saffron summit. Never had she experienced such a sensation of
being at one with everything, part of the tumultuous earth; her
eyes filled up as she edged her way through the crowd to the line
of shrubs that fringed the "Oberland" terrace. "Wonderful, isn't
it?" she breathed.

The man looked down at her. "Oh, good evening. . . . Yes, it's
great. I wouldn't mind being up there now."

"Yes . . . yes. . . . Oh yes. . . ." Trite remark and trite
reply, yet how impossible it seemed for either of them to have said
anything more, less, or different.

A moment later the glow had faded into the cool grey distance, and
the crowd was filtering back into the hotel. But Miss Faulkner
stayed talking--talking less fluently than usual, for she was
struggling for mastery with forces that seemed to split her
sentences in two just as she had them nicely shaped. It was queer;
there was something now that made the barrier higher and more
difficult than ever, and her emotion was a pain as well as a
pleasure. The mountain-spectacle had made her feel that she must,
at any cost, secure a repetition of that magic day with him--not at
the Joch again (which would doubtless be impossible to contrive),
but somewhere, anywhere that would give them time and opportunity
to talk. "Have you made any plans for to-morrow?" she asked.

"I rather thought of going for a long walk somewhere beyond
Lauterbrunnen."

"Splendid idea! There are some lovely paths along the valley."

It was a few minutes later, re-entering her hotel, that she began
to lose her sense of humour. She had already arranged a trip to
Kandersteg for the following day, but she suddenly came to a new
decision and announced there and then, to those of her party who
were in the hotel lobby, that Kandersteg was "off."

"It's rather a long trip, you see, and as most of you are leaving
for England by the evening train I thought that a shorter one might
be more suitable--the Trummelbach Waterfall; we could leave
comfortably during the morning and be back for tea." She felt
quite victorious when they all agreed. For the waterfall was just
beyond Lauterbrunnen, and there was only one road along the valley,
so that if he were to be taking his long walk. . . .

But the next morning it was raining hard. She took her people to
the fall and they all got soaked to the skin and there was no sign
of the pedestrian hero. When she returned in the late afternoon
she found that, like a sensible person, he had stayed indoors all
day. It was the friendly porter of the "Oberland" who told her
that. And he added: "He was asking me about you this morning,
miss."

Miss Faulkner could not repress a start of joy. "He WAS? Was he
REALLY? I hope--I do hope you gave me a good character."

The porter grinned. "Oh, yes, miss. I said you were very clever--
could speak French, German, Italian, Spanish--"

"What nonsense!" she interrupted, with gay indignation. But she
was not without hope that the porter's account of her might have
been nearly as impressive.


The party went back to England that evening, having presented Miss
Faulkner with an embroidered handbag and received in return her
customary speech of thanks and farewell. She saw them off on the
Calais train at the station. The next morning she met the incoming
train with its load of new arrivals, "Oh, dear, now it all begins
again," she thought, scampering along the platform with her usual
smile of sprightly welcome. She had a mixed collection of books
under her arm. The clanking carriages drew slowly in, pulled by an
electric engine that stood at the far end ticking like an enormous
clock. Everything outwardly was the same as a week ago--the labels
on the carriage windows, the unshaven faces of the men, the two
horse-omnibuses waiting in the station yard, the sky and the
mountains and the level-crossing gate like a barber's pole that
seemed so ridiculously confident of being able to hold up a Simplon
express. All was the same, except Miss Faulkner, and she was
different. She was in love.

There could be no doubt of that. The affair with the university
extension lecturer had been nothing to it. It caught up the urge
of physical attraction and the drive of ambition and the devouring
flame of her love for abstract humanity, and fused them all
together into one transcendent and compulsive entirety. It turned
Interlaken into the New Jerusalem and the Hôtel Oberland into the
ark of all Miss Faulkner's covenants. "Yes, we've been having it
quite hot here lately," she said in the omnibus. "There--that's
the Jungfrau--the one that has all the snow. . . ." But she felt
she was dreaming, and talking in a dream.

Sunday; she did not see him. The porter told her he had gone out
early with some young men for a long walk and climb. As she
returned with her people in the afternoon from Grindelwald, the
church bell at Lauterbrunnen was tolling for a funeral, and she
wondered if it were for some intrepid climber killed on the
mountains. There was a wait of three-quarters of an hour at the
station, and she left her party and hurried to the churchyard,
feeling curiously warm and sentimental as she passed all the
English names on the tombstones. She wanted to find some simple
outlet for all her emotions, and she was quite disappointed when
she reached the open grave and saw from the coffin-lid that the
dead person was one Johanna Zimmermeister, aged eighty-seven.

That evening she felt that she could not keep her secret any
longer; she must tell somebody, anybody. So she wrote to her
brother:


"The reason I asked for the papers about Gathergood is because
Gathergood is here, staying at the hotel across the road under an
assumed name. I recognised him from a photograph. He is a very
quiet man and naturally not anxious to mix up with people. But I
have already got to know him, though of course he doesn't know I
know who he is. We had a wonderful day together last week at the
Jungfraujoch. I hope I may be able to help him eventually, because
he's bound to feel very deeply all that has happened--you have only
to look at him to see that. I am sure you would like him; he is
tall and rather slim, and has very blue eyes. I don't think I have
ever seen a man who gives such an impression of brooding power, if
you know what I mean. One would rather expect that, from the
attitude he took up. I don't, of course, even hint at the subject
of Cuava with him, but he did confide in me that he had been in the
East. I want to read up the case so that when does feel inclined
to tell me everything (as I think he will) I shall be able to show
him how completely I understand. Perhaps the papers and things
will arrive by to-morrow morning's post--I do hope so. . . ."


They did, and she spent the whole of breakfast-time perusing them,
forgetting her smiles, forgetting her small talk at table, and--
most serious of all--forgetting that the train for the Schynige
Platte left at a quarter past ten. It was the first time she had
ever made such a blunder, and she was compelled to fix up the
impromptu alternative of a trip by lake steamer to Isseltwald and
Giesbach. Her people sensed that she had mismanaged things, and
were scarcely mollified when they observed her poring over a bulky
paper-backed volume at every available moment. But Miss Faulkner
was past caring for things like that. Her mind was roaming like
molten metal into the vast ramifying moulds of human injustice, and
the very loveliness of lake and mountain only served to throw her
visions into more dazzling focus. It was terrible, and lovely, and
nearly unendurable. Her body and spirit felt like a single raw
nerve; she was in pain with pity, with an aching tenderness, with
this love of hers. All over the earth the endless panorama of
suffering humanity called her, and she yearned towards it, and in
yearning saw the face of a man. Her man; the only man who was
"yes" to all her eagerness and "no" to all her fears. If only she
could make him respond a little! Had he not already, however
unsusceptible at first, begun to interest himself in her? His
questioning the porter about her seemed a good sign. And it was
really unlikely that they could have progressed much faster, he
with his natural shyness and she with that dawdling cavalcade
always at her heels. But they had had that day together at the
Jungfraujoch and he must have realised then how much they shared in
common. Miss Faulkner's heart beat more hopefully when she
reckoned up all this; no, it was not at all impossible; indeed,
if fate but yielded an opportunity of overcoming the first
impediments, the rest might almost be considered probable. Nor,
quite honestly, could she imagine a more satisfactory match for
either of them. He probably had money--not very much, but enough
to let her give up her job and devote herself wholeheartedly to
"the cause"; in fact, as the wife of Gathergood ("You know, my
dear, the man who--") her chances and prospects would be greatly
enhanced. And he too, reinforced by her capabilities, might go
very far. She pictured the two of them, working together in
perfect community of ideas and ideals, sitting perhaps for adjacent
constituencies (she for Chester-le-Street, say, and he for Houghton-
le-Spring), and living in some mellow Georgian house in Chelsea,
with a big workroom full of white-painted bookshelves and a
tradition of Sunday tea-parties for the intelligentsia. A sort of
Sidney and Beatrice Webb business, but with moments during which
even the Fabian bloodstream might race. And at this, the mere
possibility of it, Miss Faulkner felt herself deliciously flushing.
Absurd, of course, to let herself dream in such a way. And
yet . . . and yet . . . there WAS the chance, the minute,
incalculable chance that she had to seize if she could. . . .
"Oh yes, the tickets--I have them, of course," she stammered, in
confusion as the collector approached. But there was another hitch
about that; she had thirty-three in her party and had bought tickets
for only thirty-one. After complicated countings and reckonings she
paid the difference; but it was another thing that had never
happened before.

That evening she watched the terrace at intervals from eight
o'clock till eleven; then she went across, trembling with almost
physical apprehension, and began to chat with the porter. Mr.
Brown had gone away that afternoon, he said, and at that she had a
queer sensation as though she were on a Channel steamer and about
to be sick. Before leaving, the porter continued, Mr. Brown had
asked him for the name of a good hotel in Mürren, and he had
recommended the "Edelweiss."

"You see, miss, Mürren is a better centre for climbing. Mr. Brown
seemed to get very keen on it these last few days--I think his trip
to the Jungfraujoch impressed him."

"Did he say so?"

"Yes, miss. He said he would always remember it as one of the most
marvellous days of his life."

"He DID? REALLY?"

Miss Faulkner spent an excited and nearly sleepless night, and came
down in the morning to the perfect sunshine and blue sky that she
had dreaded. For, if the weather were thus fine, she had to take
some of her people for that same Jungfraujoch excursion. She felt
suddenly that she could not bear to go there again, to make her
little speech about the construction of the railway, to watch the
skiers through the telescopes, to see that ledge of rock
overlooking the snow. She felt, indeed, as she faced her people at
breakfast, that she could not endure anything, even a continuation
of life itself, without relaxing the strain that held her
passionately taut. And it was then, during breakfast, that the
last vestige of a sense of humour deserted her.

She left the table abruptly, dashed upstairs to her room, packed a
small handbag with a few necessities, ran out of the Hôtel
Magnifique de l'Univers without saying a word to anyone, scampered
to the station, and booked a single ticket to Mürren.

In the funicular that climbs up the mountain from Lauterbrunnen,
Miss Faulkner became calm enough to face certain obvious realities
of the situation. She had, she perceived, most comprehensively
burned her boats. Even after the greatest ingenuity of
explanation, she could scarcely hope to escape condemnation for
leaving her people in the lurch. Poor things, some arrangements
would be made for them, no doubt; but they would certainly complain
to the travel agency, and she would never be offered a cheap August
holiday again. It didn't matter, of course. Nor did it matter
that she owed the hotel a few small sums for tips and extras, while
they, on the other hand, had possession of most of her clothes.
Details of that sort could all be ignored for the time being, since
far more urgent was the problem of what to do when she arrived at
Mürren.

One thing was clear enough: having burned her boats, she must make
the burning worth while by risking everything, if necessary. It
was no time for half-measures. She would have the great advantage
of being free, at any rate--no longer tied to a routine of times
and places. And her programme was, in a sense, quite simple. She
would go to the "Edelweiss" like an ordinary private visitor, book
accommodation, and then--well, she would meet him. She was bound
to, staying at the same hotel in a small place like Mürren. She
would have to compose some plausible story to account for her being
there--lies, of course, but again that didn't matter. (Afterwards,
in that sublime imagined afterwards which her efforts were to make
real, how good it would be to confess all these subterfuges--to
say: "My dear, you've no notion how utterly unscrupulous I was--I
lied right and left--I was absolutely conscienceless about you. Do
you forgive me?" And he, perhaps, would make a return confession
that he had gone to Mürren to forget, if he could, an attraction
by which, at that early stage, he had been unwilling to be
enslaved. . . . Oh dear, oh dear, how wonderful it would all be
then!)

She arrived at Mürren before noon, and walked from the station to
the hotel. In that midday glory of sunlight the mountains across
the valley dazzled and were monstrous. She had seen them from
Mürren before, but never on such a day and with such eagerness to
yield to rapture. She put on her sun-glasses and found them wet
immediately with tears that had sprung to her eyes; oh, this
beauty, this beauty everywhere and in everything--did it really
exist, apart from her sensing it?--was it all no more than Freud or
Havelock Ellis could explain in half a page? And this pity she
felt for every suffering being, for soldiers in trenches and work-
girls in asbestos-factories and the pigeons at Monte Carlo and the
hunted stag on Exmoor--was all this, too, conditioned by no more
than secretions and ductless glands? She was passing a shop and
went inside to buy a two-day's-old English newspaper--anything to
break the spell of such intolerable sensitiveness; but the spell
took hold of the printed words and flaunted them like banners--
Famine in China; Heavy Selling on Wall Street; Nottingham Tram-
Driver Inherits Fortune; Lover Shoots Sweetheart, Then Himself;
Rioting in Bombay; New Prima Donna Creates Furore; Plight of
Alabama Flood Victims; Dance-Hall Proprietress Wins Action Against
Commercial Traveller; New York Gangster's £20,000 Coffin . . . the
whole world's crashing symphony, to which, with one's own heart-
cry, one added but the faintest demi-semiquaver.

In such a mood she came in sight of the Hôtel Edelweiss, and just
then, as she approached, he came out of it. He was in heavy
climbing boots and thick tweeds, and puffed at a pipe. She began
to run towards him involuntarily, like a silly, excited child,
though she hasn't yet thought of any story to tell, or any initial
plan of conversation to adopt. It seemed enough, just then, to
face him breathlessly, with her bright, terrible smile.

"Good morning," she said.

"Hullo, hullo . . ." he answered, halting with a clank of his iron-
tipped boots on the road.

"Good morning. . . . I--I--I've just arrived."

"So I see."

And then there came a curious silence, during which they both
stared hard at each other. He KNOWS, her heart whispered; he knows
_I_ know; and he is angry for the moment, but that will pass. She
went on: "I'm--I'm staying here--in Mürren--for several days. On
business, you know. It's--it's odd that we should meet again . . .
isn't it?"

"Yes, very odd . . . . Well, if you'll excuse me, I must get
along--I'm meeting some people at another hotel."

"May I--may I walk with you to it?"

"I suppose you may."

He set off at a good swinging pace, without continuing the talk.
It occurred to her then that it might be her last chance, that she
had bungled the encounter so far, and could do little worse by
plunging straight into the depths. At least she would secure the
advantage of surprise--unless, of course, he HAD already guessed
that she knew, in which case it might be a relief to him to learn
how safe his secret was in her hands. She went on, in a low,
desperate voice: "You must think it strange of me to approach you
like this, but I feel I can't keep silence any longer. To you, I
mean. Others needn't know, of course."

"WHAT?" he said.

"I've known the--the truth for some time. And believe me, I--I
honour--and--and admire you--for it--"

"WHAT? What are you talking about?"

"You . . . YOU . . . you see, I know who you really are. I've
known for quite a long time."

"You say you know who I really am?"

"Yes . . . Mr. Gathergood . . . of Cuava. . . ." She felt herself
almost fainting as she uttered the words.

He suddenly stopped and towered above her. "Good God, woman, this
is becoming preposterous! I don't know what sort of microbe has
bitten you, but if you take my advice you'll catch the tram over
there and get back to your proper business. Where are all your
tourist people--haven't you got THEM to look after?"

"I left them--to come here and tell you. I felt I had to let you
know what I knew. It was terrible for me, waiting. And I don't
care how angry you are with me--so long as you DO know. You can't
deny it--not to me."

"Deny what?"

"That you ARE him--really. Gathergood--British Agent at Cuava--"

He struck his heel sharply on the ground. "Gathergood?
GATHERGOOD? Why should I be him, whoever he is?"

"But you ARE. I know you want to keep it secret--I can understand
and sympathise--but to me, now that I know--oh, you must tell me
the truth!"

"But, my good woman, that's just what I AM doing! I'm sorry to
disappoint you if this Gathergood man was someone you wanted to
meet, but you must pull yourself together and be sensible. And if
it's really any concern of yours, my name is Stuart Brown, I live
in England, and on my passport I'm put down as a company-director.
Perhaps you'd like to see it? No? Well, there you are, anyhow.
This sort of thing won't do, you know, following men about and
pestering them. . . ."

With a quiet little cry of dreadfulness she put her hand to her
head and scampered away. But when she was a few dozen yards off
she swung round, flashed him her ever-bright smile, and called out:
"It's all right. All my mistake. . . ." Then she broke into a
shrill peal of laughter that echoed faintly across the valley to
the green-blue glaciers. A few heads looked out of windows, saw
the puzzled man and the laughing woman, and wondered what kind of
joke, private or public, lay between them. But it all seemed of
small consequence, on that blazing August noontide in Mürren. And
a moment later Miss Faulkner turned the corner by the tramway-
station and was gone.




CHAPTER THREE


STUART BROWN


In the restaurant-car between Belfort and Paris, Stuart Brown got
into conversation with a dark-haired and very good-looking young
man sitting opposite. To Brown, who liked young men and who had
lost an only son, there was always pleasure in these encounters,
the more so as their transience minimised the risk of boredom. And
at this particular moment Brown was bored enough with his own
company and with the world in general to welcome any such
attractive diversion. The deplorable issue of a recent business
visit to Italy, plus that annoying incident in Switzerland, had
induced what was for him an unwontedly darkened humour.

The two chance travellers began to exchange commonplaces during the
soup; by the coffee stage the youth had proffered a visiting-card
which declared him to be a M. Palescu, of Bukarest. Brown did not
reciprocate the intimacy, but he put the card away in his pocket-
book and congratulated Palescu on his excellent English. "You
speak so well," he said, "that I wasn't at all sure you weren't one
of my countrymen."

"Ah, well, you see, my mother was English, and I have always had
many contacts with English people. I have had jobs in India,
Malta, and Egypt."

"You must have travelled a good deal."

The youth smiled. "That is one of the things I have been--a
traveller. What you call in England a 'commercial'. Until
recently I worked for my uncle, who was the head of a big firm in
Bukarest. Then, early this year, owing to the crise mondiale, the
firm went smash and he killed himself. My parents are both dead
and my sisters--"

Brown toyed with his cigar, sympathetic but a little disappointed.
He had heard so many "hard luck" stories, and though he was by no
means cynical about them, he could not but prefer a conversation
that did not so soon and so inevitably drift into one. To his
surprise and relief, however, Palescu went on quite cheerfully:
"My sisters have a little money, which is lucky for them, and I--
well, I never wanted to settle at one thing for long. There's so
much I want to do, and at present I'm my own master, at any rate,
though I'm not yet making a fortune."

Brown found this optimism in adversity rather refreshing, and his
own spirits willingly responded to it. He had always been a
naturally optimistic person himself; even during the darkest days
of the War he had not despaired, and throughout the post-War years
of disappointments and disillusionments he had found comfort in a
steadfast if rather vague belief that things were bound to take a
turn for the better when they had finished taking turns for the
worse. Even so, however, the events of the first half of 1930 had
given his nerves one or two severe jolts, and in Italy he had just
had a singularly unpleasant experience.

Still, he could exclaim, only those few weeks afterwards to his
casual acquaintance in the Paris train: "Splendid! It's good to
hear a fellow of your age talking so hopefully. Most of the young
chaps in England nowadays . . ." He was about to enter upon his
usual remarks about demoralisation caused by the dole, but
reflected that a Roumanian, even an intelligent one with an English
mother, might not comprehend them very fully. Besides which, the
youth had just mentioned the word "engineering," and at this Brown
instinctively recoiled again, since he was in the engineering line
himself, and sufficiently well-known in it for pushful young men to
buttonhole him sometimes, in trains and hotels, and ask for jobs.
Which, of course, was always very awkward and uncomfortable. He
therefore remarked, rather cautiously across the table: "If that's
your profession, I don't altogether envy you."

"Yes, it's pretty hard just now. But there's always room for new
ideas--especially in my branch of the trade."

Brown was not so sure, despite the fact that he had often echoed
the platitude at meetings and public dinners. But Palescu's
charming manner and almost sensational good looks were potent
enough to overcome such a very minor misgiving, the more so as
Brown was quite satisfied that the youth had no notion who he was.
"Provided you realise that an idea isn't necessarily good because
it's new," he countered.

"Oh, of course. But a really GOOD new idea. . . . For instance,
has it ever occurred to you, sir, why air-travel isn't yet really
popular with the general public?"

"I should say one of the reasons most people have is a rooted
objection to being roasted alive."

"Ah, no--not that--not nowadays!" Palescu laughed with a most
attractive heartiness. "What _I_ mean is rather this--suppose an
aeroplane holds thirty people, all bound from London to Paris, yet
you yourself don't want Paris at all--you're going to Chantilly,
say, for the races. The aeroplane, of course, won't come down at
Chantilly just for you alone, out of the thirty. So what do you
have to do?"

"My dear boy, don't ask me--I never fly, I never go to races, and
nothing would induce me to do either."

Palescu smiled slowly. "I must explain then. The trouble about
flying is that very often it doesn't save much time--because it
dumps you where you don't want to go. People talk of flying from
London to Paris in so many hours, but unless you happen to live at
Croydon and have business at Le Bourget, you often find that your
total hours from place to place are not much less than by train and
boat. And what if your business happens to be in some town that
you actually fly over on the way--wouldn't you feel: 'Ah, if I
could only get down to it'?"

"I daresay, but the same might happen on an express train that
dashes through a place you really want to get to and takes you on
to a big station miles beyond."

"Except that on railways you can have what is called in England, I
think, a slip-carriage."

"Yes, that's sometimes done. Of course I quite see that there's no
possible parallel to that in the air."

"But that isn't what I want you to see at all." The youth's dark,
eager eyes expressed a certain merry ecstasy in the revelation he
was approaching. "As a matter of fact, there could be something
like an aerial slip-carriage--that's not a bad description of it.
And--and it happens to be a particular invention of mine that I'm
busy with just now."

For the third time Brown's pleasure was momentarily retarded.
Inventors were a tribe that had bothered him a good deal in the
past; he counted them, on the whole, an even bigger nuisance than
job-seekers. He remembered one fellow, during the 1928 boomlet,
who had tried to get him interested in some new idea for burglar-
proof bicycle-pumps. . . . But Palescu was talking on, with
insurgent enthusiasm: "My invention is a sort of aluminium cigar,
not much bigger than a man, and quite light in construction, so
that a large aeroplane could easily carry half-a-dozen of them.
Each one would contain a very small petrol-driven motor at one end,
quite as small and compact as a motor-cycle two-stroke, together
with a system of gyroscopic controls embodying certain new ideas of
my own. All the alighting passenger need do would be to get into
one of these things at any point he found convenient, have himself
launched from the tail of the machine in full flight, and come to
earth. The 'gyrector,' which is the name I have given to it, would
descend in gradual spirals, and, when sufficiently near the ground,
could be steered and brought to rest in any desired spot--even, if
need be, in a square or street in the middle of a town, or on the
roof of a building. The cost--"

His fluency suggested that the specifications had grown familiar to
him by repetition, and Brown smilingly interrupted: "What I should
like to know is the degree of skill required in the person doing
this steering job?"

"No more than in driving a car."

"Some of us prefer a chauffeur, even for that."

Palescu shrugged his shoulders. "Ah, but the modern man--"

"You think he's likely to take kindly to your aluminium cigar, eh?
I doubt it. Personally, I'd rather lose half an hour and get
carried on to Le Bourget, or wherever it is--assuming I were
compelled to go up in the air at all."

"Nevertheless, sir, I believe it would revolutionise air-travel. I
estimate that if a gyrector were released from an aeroplane over
Croydon, it could land on any fairly large London roof within ten
minutes."

"Really?" Brown proffered his gold cigarette-case and then a
match. He was, in a sort of way, enjoying himself. How infinitely
charming was this spectacle of youthful ambition, and what a tender
cruelty there was in deflating it! "How would the poor fellow
inside be spending his time during those ten minutes?" he
continued, banteringly. "Would he be sitting or standing or what?
Kneeling, of course, would be most appropriate."

"He would be lying comfortably face forwards--"

"On his stomach? I wouldn't call that comfortable. Besides, it
would crease all his clothes. You can't seriously expect any man
over fifty to want to do gymnastic exercises in mid-air. Would he
be able to see anything?"

"Oh, yes. He'd have to see in order to steer."

"Ah, I'd forgotten those gyroscopic controls you mentioned. And
also the little two-stroke engine puffing away at his heels. He
couldn't smoke, I suppose?"

"I'm afraid not. Though no doubt--"

"You might add a special smoking compartment later on, perhaps?"
Brown began to chuckle, and was pleased when Palescu joined in the
laugh against himself. "I don't think you're taking me very
seriously, sir," said the latter.

"Well, well, my dear boy, you mustn't mind if I concentrate on a
few flaws in your otherwise brilliant idea. And this estimate of
yours, about landing on a roof in ten minutes--what's it based on?
Tangents and decimals and what not, I suppose, all worked out on
paper. There haven't yet been any practical demonstrations, have
there?"

"No, because I can't find the money. But the plans are all
complete--I have them in my pocket now--"

"Then there's always this consolation--Providence, by keeping you
hard up, is probably sparing your life."

"Maybe, sir, but I hope I shall soon find someone who holds a
different opinion. My uncle's firm would have financed me, if
times hadn't been so difficult. I'm now trying to interest a
French aeronautical firm--that's why I'm on my way to Paris."

"Good! I wish you luck--joking apart, I do sincerely. And even if
this idea of yours doesn't come to anything, don't despair--you're
young and you'll have many more chances." Brown paid his bill,
adding an adequate but not extravagant tip, and then stared through
the window. "Chaumont, wasn't that? We ought to be in Paris by
five. . . . Well, good-bye--it's been pleasant to have a talk."

Palescu shook hands, and Brown responded very cordially. Charming
youth, he reflected, as he made his way back along the swaying
corridors to his own first-class compartment, and he further
reflected, almost with amazement, that his own boy, had he lived,
would now be in his middle thirties.


Brown stayed in Paris overnight and continued the journey to London
the following day. He took a room at his club in Piccadilly.
There was no particular hurry to go on to his home in Cheshire, for
his wife and daughter were away, the household staff were not
expecting him yet, and the house would probably be in the hands of
decorators.

At the club he met Mathers, one of his co-directors. They shook
hands and took coffee together in the lounge. "Yes, I'm not sorry
to be back in some ways," Brown said, "though I do rather wish it
hadn't been my first visit to Italy. I'm bound to have collected a
few unfortunate impressions."

Mathers nodded sympathetically. He was a shrewd man-about-city and
a great friend of Sir George Parceval, the chairman of the company;
so that he knew that Brown had been to Italy after some money
which, for all the likelihood there was of extracting it, might as
well have been down the throat of Vesuvius. "Any chance of salvage
from the wreck?" Mathers queried.

Brown shook his head. "I'm afraid not. Looks as if Parceval will
have to wipe the whole thing off as a bad debt."

"How much does it amount to--roughly?"

"Between fifty and sixty thousand pounds."

"I say . . . he won't like that. Why can't they pay?"

"The slump has hit them. They're old customers of ours--quite
honest. People give you the same answer everywhere--the crisis; it
seems to be the universal reason for everything."

Brown felt irritable as he discussed the matter; it was as if there
were in the very atmosphere, of Mayfair no less than of Turin, some
noxious element which he could not dispel, combat, or even
identify. Changing the subject, he went on: "I took a short
holiday in Switzerland on my way back."

"Ah, that must have been more cheerful. Where did you stay?"

"Interlaken, to begin with. My first experience of really high
mountains. Of course, when I was in India I often saw the
Himalayas, but somehow they don't really count--they might be a
theatre back-cloth for all the use they are to the ordinary person.
But Switzerland has tamed everything so magnificently--railways and
funiculars to take you everywhere and hotels to give you whatever
you want in most unlikely places--yes, I found it all very
enjoyable. I should have stayed there longer, only a rather odd
business happened that spoilt things just a bit towards the end,
and made me leave suddenly."

"Oh?"

"You'll laugh when I tell you. Some woman--a guide to one of those
tourist-parties they have--apparently mistook me for somebody else
and fairly pestered the life out of me. My hotel happened to be
opposite hers, and I simply daren't show myself without her dashing
out to talk. One awful day she got into the same train with me
going to the Jungfrau mountain--that's a wonderful trip, by the
way--and never stopped chattering for seven hours. Really, I'm not
exaggerating. In the end, I left Interlaken and went up to Mürren,
chiefly to get away from her, and bless me if she didn't follow me
there. Then it turned out she'd thought I was someone else--or so
she said--somebody named Gathergood, who'd been a British Agent
somewhere or other--I think she was probably a little off her head,
if you ask me."

"You don't mean the Gathergood who got into trouble over the Cuava
outbreak a few months ago?"

"I don't know. I don't always see things in the papers. What
about him?"

"There was some bother with the natives, and he funked pretty badly
and caused the death of a white planter--that's roughly what I seem
to remember, though I wasn't very interested in the case."

"Well, it doesn't seem much of a compliment to be mistaken for him,
then. Anyhow, I could see there'd be no holiday worth while if I
stopped anywhere within reach of the woman, so I packed up and came
away before my time. Odd sort of thing to have happened."

"Not so odd as you might think. The world is full of queer women.
Did I ever tell you about the one who accosted me once in--"

Mather's stories were long and strictly conformable to type. They
invariably depicted him as the object of perfervid passion on the
part of some female, a passion whose fruits he had somewhat
nonchalantly gathered, but only after a most fastidious scrutiny as
to ripeness. There was a ripeness, indeed, about Mathers himself.
Short in stature, with chubby cheeks, a completely bald head, and a
rather quick-firing smile, his nickname amongst his business
associates was unprintable, but implied a certain popularity. He
was the type that rotary clubs offer to the world as ambassadors of
goodwill towards men, and the fact that he made, on the whole, more
friends than enemies may perhaps be held to justify the choice.
Brown liked him well enough.

Mathers said, finishing his yarn a quarter of an hour later: "So,
you see, Brown, that kind of woman is fairly common everywhere. If
she'd been pretty it might have been rather fun for you."

"She wasn't pretty."

"Well, anyhow, she gave you a memorable experience--that's
something to have happened on a holiday. I don't suppose you met
anyone else who'll stick in your mind as well, eh?"

"Probably not. There were some fellows at Interlaken whom I got
to know, but I didn't find them very interesting. Quite the
pleasantest person I did meet was a young Roumanian on the train to
Paris--a really delightful youth who was on his way to try and sell
an invention to a French aeroplane firm. Had an English mother, he
said, so he spoke English perfectly. And he was full of that same
cheeky sort of optimism that--that my own boy used to have. You
never met him, did you? He was just like that--had the most
amazing ideas that weren't of any practical use, yet he always
believed quite firmly that they were going to make his fortune and
turn the world upside down."

"What was this Roumanian's bright idea?"

"Oh, what he called a 'gyrector' to land passengers from
aeroplanes." Brown gave a sketchy and slightly satirical
exposition. "Perfectly mad, of course. I should think the
Frenchmen will have a pretty good laugh over it, though they won't
be able to help being charmed by the fellow personally."

"He didn't try to get you to take it up, I suppose?"

"Naturally, I was careful not to let him guess who I was."

They both laughed and then went on talking about other matters.


Not that Brown was anyone of any special importance. He was merely
the head of the firm of Brown and Company, recently absorbed in
Amalgamated Engineers, Limited. Brown and Company was quite an
ancient concern of its kind, having been founded by an ancestral
Brown at the beginning of the nineteenth century; its detailed
history, indeed, would provide a useful epitome of the Industrial
Age itself. Brown the First had begun as a workman in the famous
firm of Boulton and Watt; with initiative to launch out
independently and the luck to do so at the right moment and on a
rising market, he had ended as a fairly rich proprietor of a small
but prosperous business. Throughout the Victorian era that
prosperity had developed, not by leaps and bounds, but with an
intermittent progress that made the privately-held shares a more
acceptably gilt-edged investment year by year. After 1900, when
the firm became a public company, profits had fallen off a little,
but during the War years munitions contracts had made Brown little
less than half a millionaire. Then had come the slump, the long
years of deepening depression, until in 1928 he had met Sir George
Parceval and been induced to join up with a group of similar
companies to form the merger-combine, Amalgamated Engineers,
Limited. That promises of a quick and automatic return to
prosperity had not been fulfilled was due, no doubt, to the world-
crisis, against which even a Parceval could not contend.

This Stuart Brown, great-great-grandson of the founder, was not
much like that fiercely individualist pioneer. By the time it
reaches a fifth generation, a dynasty usually manages to produce
some divergence from original type, and Brown the Fifth was
certainly divergent. In appearance he was tall, slim, clean-shaven
and blue-eyed; a flatterer might even have added, distinguished-
looking. But a detractor could equally have specified a forehead
that was not quite decisive, and a general air of casualness that
just escaped the excuse of elegance. Born a Northerner, well
educated in the usual public-school tradition, and of intellect
sufficient not to have absorbed that tradition too thoroughly,
Brown was a likeable and even interesting personality, but he wore
an almost constant air of observing life rather than participating
in it, and his frequent pose of being the hard-headed business man
was merely amusing to his friends. His tastes were quiet; he liked
his garden, and music, and certain kinds of books; he did not care
for sport, and was bored by much of the ordinary routine of
pleasure-seeking. He was, in fact, too lazy to be fashionable in
these matters. But he had a discriminating affection for good
clothes, good food, good wine, good farming, good gramophone
records, a good cigar, and, amongst men, good company. Women bored
him as a rule, though he was devoted to his wife. She was an
American of an old and quite poor Virginian family; he had somewhat
spoilt her, and their one surviving child, though pretty, was both
snobbish and extravagant. Both wife and daughter usually spent the
summer months across the Atlantic, and during such periods Brown
could always fall back into club-life and bachelorhood with a
scarcely perceptible bump.

It was since their departure in June that everything had seemed to
go wrong. Even now, after his return from Italy, he was only
slowly beginning to discover how wrong they were, and when he took
his seat at the long mahogany table for the September board-
meeting, his face expressed no greater concern than a general
peevishness at the continuing malaise of the world. He felt rather
tired and uncomfortable, but then he always did at those board-
meetings. The sleek panelled room in the palatial offices in
Finsbury Square struck such a different note from the one he had
been used to in pre-amalgamation days, when he and a few friends
had settled Brown and Company's affairs by means of a weekly gossip
in the works-office at Stockport. Those cosier and more intimate
scenes were linked in his mind with prosperity, while this cold,
Persian-carpeted magnificence was a background to constantly
expanding trouble. In some ways he wished he had never joined the
combine; it seemed pointless, anyhow, to attend the meetings, for
he rarely spoke or made suggestions. Between a dozen and a score
other directors sat with him, and he scarcely knew all of them yet
by sight, much less personally. They had all been brought in like
himself; heads of individual firms, they had yielded to the
blandishments of Parceval's talk about rationalisation, with the
perhaps appropriate result that their only function nowadays seemed
to be to listen to Parceval and vote as he told them.

Not that Brown distrusted Parceval. On the contrary, he felt
towards him an admiration that positively throve on their private
antipathies. Sir George was most things that Brown was not. He
was brisk, intense, and possessive; always immaculately turned out,
he presided at board-meetings like the high-priest of some
excessively stately ritual. He knew more about finance than
engineering, and his arrangements of the combine's balance-sheet
had certainly put it beyond the comprehension of most people except
accountants. Brown was hopelessly fogged; he had long since ceased
to wonder how much he himself was worth, except that he knew he had
exchanged Government securities for shares in the combine--a bad
bargain, as revealed by 1930 stock-market valuations. But if he
ever expressed misgiving, Parceval would say, in that boomingly
bland way of his: "My dear Brown, the combine has saved you
already. If you'd stayed out of it, it would have undercut and
bankrupted you by now." Which seemed to Brown a rather depressing
argument.

During that first board-meeting after his return, Brown had as much
of a tiff with Parceval as was possible between two persons of such
differing temperaments. It arose out of the Italian debts which
Brown had failed to collect. Brown asserted that the debtors,
though unable to pay, were perfectly honest; Furnival appeared
doubtful.

"But damme, man," Brown exclaimed, heatedly, "they've been clients
of ours for thirty years, and their fathers before them!"

To which Parceval responded: "They owe us fifty-six thousand
pounds, and it was on your recommendation that we allowed them
credit to such an amount. I don't think I need say any more."

And Brown, after that, both looked and felt like a rebuked
schoolboy.

Parceval, however, had one more thing to say that was of
importance; an announcement that the current year's preference
dividend would have to be passed. Brown, hardly calm after his
previous outburst, was again indignant. "Surely--" he began, and
then found that he could think of nothing to express his feelings
but another reference to history. "For half a century Brown's have
paid the dividends on their six per cent preferences. Never have
they defaulted once! And the shareholders were induced to exchange
into the combine's seven per cents by being assured that their
dividends were going to be even safer! It's scandalous!"

"The money cannot be paid," answered Parceval coldly, and a few of
the other directors, whose companies could not boast of such a
record as Brown's, supported him. "With large sums of money owing
to us, we are bound to protect ourselves, and we shall do so in
future, I hope, by greater care in the extension of credits to
customers overseas."

Brown subsided again. "Oh, have it your own way, then," he
muttered, under his breath. Parceval always did have his own way,
anyhow.

After the meeting, however, the great man seemed anxious to make
any necessary amends. He accompanied Brown in the lift and to a
taxi, chatting affably meanwhile. "I was glad to hear you had a
good time in Switzerland," boomed the voice that had squashed so
many awkward interruptions at shareholders' meetings. "Mathers was
telling me. He also said you met a young Roumanian on the way
home--chap with some kind of aeroplane gadget he wanted to sell--
wasn't that it?"

Brown forced himself to explain the matter briefly.

"Well," answered Parceval, "I'm connected with a company that
manufactures aeroplanes, you know, and I don't want to miss
anything good."

"I don't think his idea was at all good. Quite impracticable, it
seemed to me."

"MIGHT have something in it, though--you never can be sure with
these inventor fellows. I don't know if you could get in touch
with him easily, but if he cared to call at my office in London I
wouldn't mind hearing him talk."

"I've only got his address in Bukarest. He's probably back there
by now." Brown searched a moment in his pocket-book and found the
visiting-card, "Here you are, if it's any use to you."

"Thanks. When I write, if I do, I'll mention your name and your
meeting with him, if you don't mind."

"The devil you will," thought Brown, gloomily, but he lacked the
energy to dissent, nor was there really much reason why he should.
It had, however, suddenly occurred to him that he and his wife were
the joint holders of forty-eight thousand preference shares in
Amalgamated Engineers, Limited, and that the passing of the
dividend would reduce their income during the current year from
about six thousand to a little over four.

That evening, at the club, he wrote a long letter to her,
emphasising the poor state of trade, but avoiding the mention of
any particular item of bad news. Time enough for her to learn the
truth when she got home, he thought. After he had posted the
letter he went to the second house of a music-hall, drank plenty of
whisky, and went to bed. It was an unsatisfactory world, he
decided, trying to sleep. He thought of his father and his
grandfather and his great-grandfather, all living their lives quite
comfortably in a more ordered age--buying raw material and labour,
selling the finished product, and pocketing the difference as
neatly and as regularly as clockwork. All plain sailing in those
days. You just made some useful article, charged a fair price for
it, and there you were--with a steady income for life. And, what
was more, you could go on making and selling without worry. Golden
days! But now, with passed dividends and bad debts abroad and
currency losses and income-tax. . . . Good God, what were things
coming to? And he thought, for one supremely mournful moment:
"Perhaps it's as well my boy didn't survive to carry on the firm,
since the firm may not survive to be carried on."

What troubled him most were the family and household economies that
would have to be made. His own personal wants were simple, but his
wife and daughter spent a good deal; he would have to be
unpleasantly frank with them when they came home. Perhaps one of
the three cars could be dispensed with; his wife might use the big
Daimler in future and he himself could make do with a season-ticket
on the railway . . . But by this time his natural tendency to look
on the brighter side of things had begun to reassert itself, and he
fell asleep tranquilly, hopefully, and a little drunk.


About a fortnight later Brown was still in London and Parceval rang
him up at the club one morning. "Oh, hello, Brown. I've just
arrived in town again after a flying visit to Paris. Literally a
flying visit. I had to meet the steel cartel. . . . By the way, I
took the chance of looking up your Roumanian friend. Nice fellow,
as you said."

"He was still in Paris?"

"Yes, and very glad to see me. It seems the French firm had just
told him there was nothing doing, so he was pleased enough to try
his luck somewhere else."

"Well, what did you think of his idea?"

"Oh . . . interesting, you know. And probably no good. Most
interesting ideas are like that. But I told him he could make a
model of his tin-can arrangement down at my works at Chelmsford, if
he cared to come over, so I expect he's quite happily packing now."

"But you surely don't think there's anything in it, do you?"

"Well, we shall know more about that when he shows us how it works,
shan't we?"

"D'you mean to say he's going to let himself be thrown out of an
aeroplane in the thing?"

"I suppose he is. He won't find anyone else in a hurry to
volunteer."

"I--I don't much like it. He'll kill himself."

"I wouldn't say that. He needn't take a very big risk--he can make
his trial descents over some lake, with boats to bring him in if
anything goes wrong."

"I should hope so."

"Of course--oh, of course. I like him very much, I may say. A
delightful personality. . . ."

But Brown had little time to think of the charming Roumanian during
the next few weeks. Further cuts into his already straitened
income seemed quite likely; added to which there came a rather
peremptory request from his bankers to reduce a loan secured on
shares of the combine. They had evidently got wind of the Italian
and other losses, and were playing for safety. He couldn't blame
them, but he thought it was damned bad luck for everything to come
crowding on top of him all at once. Of course he must meet them
somehow--offer them some more shares or give them a mortgage on his
Cheshire establishment, or something. He interviewed various high
bank officials and found them sympathetic but definitely unwilling
to accept any but gilt-edged securities as further cover for the
loan, while his stockbrokers were even pessimistic about being able
to dispose of some of his other shares at all. As for the house,
the utmost he could raise on it was four thousand, and the bank
people were asking for fifteen thousand immediately. Like most men
who do not habitually worry, the sensation, being unfamiliar,
turned quickly to panic. He tried to borrow from Mathers and
several other friends, but either they didn't possess the money or
wouldn't take the risk of lending. Finally, in complete
desperation, he went to Furnival. But Sir George, though rich
enough, did not by any means whip out a cheque-book and scribble
with the alacrity of the copybook friend in need. He asked many
questions with great minuteness and merely said, at the end: "I
shall have to think it over, Brown, and let you know. It's rather
a big thing to ask, in these days . . . though of course I'd like
to help you, naturally. By the way, your Roumanian friend is
nearly ready. Could you possibly manage to come over to Chelmsford
on Friday? There might be something to show you."

Brown promised to go. He spent most of the intervening days in a
state of persistent and devitalising worry over his money affairs.
It was not like him to fear the worst, but he could not subdue the
waves of occasional despair that passed over him. His wife and
daughter had already left Virginia on their way home, and the
imminence of his meeting with them and of subsequent confessions
reduced him to even deeper depression. For years he had had the
habit of smiling cheerfully whenever his fellow business men were
doleful; now he wondered if his cheerfulness had been based on a
privately sheltered financial position which he had been lucky
enough to occupy, and whether he would be any less doleful than the
rest as soon as the tide of his personal ruin began to lap at his
own doors. The newspapers, with their chatter of rationalisation
and improved selling methods, made him feel sick. How the devil
could he COMPEL customers to buy oil-pumps and water-tube boilers
and reciprocating engines and all the other things that the firm
manufactured? And how could he, as an ordinary man, be expected to
pick his way amidst such pitfalls as frozen credits, depreciated
exchanges, high tariffs, and defaulting clients?

"Really, Parceval," he exclaimed, in the car to Chelmsford, "it's
not enough to be a mere business man in these days. You've damned
well got to be a Svengali and a Sherlock Holmes in addition."

Parceval laughed. "Quite true. Anyone can make things, but it
often requires genius to sell them."

"Well, I'm not a genius, and I can't help wishing I'd been born
fifty years ago, when one could do a decent day's work and draw a
decent day's pay for it without any worries."

"Come now, Brown, you know you've never done a decent day's work in
your life, for all your talk." Parceval laughed again; such
frankness, but slightly insolent, was a favourite manner of his
with those whom he need be at no particular pains to conciliate.
He went on, enjoying himself still more: "What you're sighing for
is a comfortable income without working for it at all, and you're
cross because the world's beginning to wonder why you should have
it. You've got to face facts, my dear chap--the easy-going days
are all over. And that celebrated ancestor of yours would have
said 'Hooray' to that, I fancy."

"I often wonder what he would have done in times like these."

"I can tell you. He'd have done now what he did then--adapted
himself to the circumstances of the age and made a fortune. . . .
Well, here we are--this is the spot I've chosen for our young
friend to make his hit or miss. And, by the way, I haven't
arranged it as a public spectacle. There's only you here, myself,
Mathers, and a few workmen pledged to secrecy. Time enough for the
flourish of trumpets, if any, later on."

The car pulled into the side of a narrow lane in rather pleasantly
rural country. Parceval led the way across a few fields to a
prettily situated sheet of water fringed with tall reeds. Amidst
the sudden tranquillity of the scene, and under that cloudless
October sky, Brown felt happier than he had been for days. Perhaps
money did not matter so much, after all, so long as there were
still such things as fields and sunshine. He wondered how much of
England there was, secret and lovely like this, within a few
hundred yards of the roads along which he so often motored. He
sniffed the warm, hay-scented air and felt all his worries relax in
almost muscular contentment.

Presently Mathers joined them and Parceval explained his plans for
the afternoon's experiment. "The plane's taking off from a field
several miles away; I said we'd all be here by three o'clock. I
don't think the fellow will want to waste time. He's very keen and
plucky. Of course it's a chancy business, but if he keeps over the
water I think he can't hurt himself much. The thing's airtight
enough to come to the surface."

To Brown the waiting, the shimmer of sunlight on the lake, and the
spaciousness of that unknown countryside, seemed all a part of some
very strange dream. He could hardly believe he was about to
witness an actual and perhaps exciting event, and he missed even
the approaching aeroplane till his attention was drawn to it by
Parceval. Then, as he heard it zooming overhead, he felt a tense
agitation rising in him. Twice the machine made a circuit of the
lake, while the three principal spectators stared upwards.

"He'll do it soon," said Parceval.

Brown's heart began to beat more quickly still, and then all at
once to ache with a peculiar and almost intolerable apprehension.
His own son had been killed like that--pioneering in the air in the
early days of flying. He called to mind that dreadful day before
the War; and then he called to mind the eager, smiling face across
the table in the French train--he saw it continually, that smile of
such undaunted belief in things that Brown was more than a little
doubtful about. He thought as he stood: "We are old men,
Parceval, Mathers, and I; and we stay here, safe and contemplative,
watching that youngster risk his life."

Just then something that looked like an elongated drop of
quicksilver detached itself from the tail of the aeroplane and
began to slew round in a wide circle. It moved at first too fast
for Brown to see anything but its shape and colour; but after a few
seconds it swooped nearer to the water-level and exhibited details
of whirring propellers and fins that glistened in the sunlight.
"Like a baby Zepp, by Jove!" exclaimed Mathers, trying to focus it
in his binoculars. Then, in the midst of seemingly effortless
cruising, it checked its horizontal motion and all at once plunged
headlong. It was perhaps thirty or forty feet high when that
happened, and the dive took it just beyond the lake into a swamp at
the water's edge, where it buried itself nose-foremost with only
the tail-propeller visible above the reeds.

"Come on, let's get him out!" yelled Brown, and began to run
towards the scene, the others hastening after him. Striding up to
his knees in mud and water, he kept thinking: "He's there, he's in
that thing--it's all my fault--it wouldn't have happened if I
hadn't met him on that train--I MUST get him out--what CAN be
happening to him all this time?" . . .

He and the workmen tore and tugged at the metal monstrosity for
nearly a quarter of an hour before they finally succeeded in
dragging it to firm ground. Then they prised open the small
entrance door, which had jammed, and pulled out a limp and huddled
occupant. He was pale and unconscious, though not visibly injured.

"Where's an ambulance?" Brown cried to Parceval. "Didn't you think
of having one ready? Damnation, man, tell me where I can send to
for one. . . ."

But there was no need, after all, with the two cars at hand; and in
less than half an hour the youthful experimenter was being treated
quite satisfactorily in a nearby hospital.


That evening Brown, Parceval, and Mathers motored to London and
dined at Parceval's town house in Belgrave Square. They had
already received a telephone message from the hospital to the
effect that Palescu was suffering from no more than shock and very
slight concussion, and would doubtless be quite well again in a
week or so. Brown was mollified and relieved, but still rather
retrospectively indignant. The good news made room again, too, for
his own personal anxieties, the more so as Parceval hadn't yet
given him any answer about the loan.

"Well, Parceval," he said, when the servants had gone out and they
could talk freely, "I'm sure we're all glad that the boy's all
right. He's had a lucky escape, and we're lucky too, I should say,
in not being partly responsible for a tragedy. As for the precious
invention he risked his life over, it seems to be exactly what I
said--not of the least practical use."

"No?" Parceval queried. "I thought myself it wasn't too bad for a
pioneer attempt. After all, it didn't drop like a stone."

"Small consolation HOW a man drops if he DOES drop. Personally, I
don't see how you could ever expect people to trust themselves to
such a terrifying contraption, even if it were made to work
properly."

Parceval filled up Brown's glass. "Well, I certainly admit that
Palescu's gyrector doesn't look like having many commercial
possibilities."

"Then for heaven's sake don't let's encourage the fellow to run any
more risks with it."

Parceval turned to Mathers. "What do you say?"

Mathers agreed with Brown that there should be no more experiments
if there were definitely nothing practical to hope for from them,
which he feared was the case. "Unless, of course, the idea should
be adapted to some other sort of use."

"Such as?" Parceval said quickly.

"Well . . . perhaps the landing of mails, for instance."

"I see. I was wondering if by any chance you and I had been struck
by the same notion."

"Come on, Sir George, let's have it. Your notions are usually
sound ones."

"This may not be a sound one at all. It's completely up in the
air--in more senses than one." Parceval half-smiled, and then
continued, speaking to Mathers, though it was on Brown that his
beady, heavy-lidded eyes were turned more frequently. "Briefly
this. There may be, as you hint, other uses besides the one our
Roumanian friend seems to have thought of. There may even be uses
outside the world of commerce altogether. Just let me put a
hypothetical question. What would have happened if that gyrector,
as he calls it, had been filled with explosives, and instead of
coming clown into some soft mud in the middle of Essex had dropped
from three or four miles high on to the roof of the Bank of
England?"

Mathers and Brown spoke instantly and together. Mathers said: "I
don't see anything very new in that--the Germans used aerial
torpedoes in the War, didn't they?"

Brown exclaimed: "You mean if--if it had been filled with
explosives instead--of--of having a man inside it?"

Parceval shook his head to each of them separately and then jointly
to them both. "No. Not at all. I mean explosives and the man.
The man to steer, of course--that's the whole point of the
invention. You see? You see, Mathers? Hardly something that even
the Germans thought of, eh? I think you'll admit that it is a
rather--novel--sort of idea."

After a long pause Mathers responded thoughtfully: "Yes, it's an
idea, Sir George. By Jove, yes, it is an idea."

Brown said: "Good God, what an appalling notion!"

Later, in arm-chairs in the long leathery room which Parceval
called the library, and with coffee and liqueurs before them, they
discussed the matter further. Parceval argued that it would be, on
the whole, a very humane weapon, since it would remove all
necessity for promiscuous bombing of defenceless cities. The
gyrectors would be aimed unerringly at the objects they were
intended to destroy--docks, railways, government buildings, and so
on--not houses, hospitals, or crowded streets.

"And though, as you say, Brown, it means certain death for the--
er--the operator, in what way does that introduce any new or
especially dreadful element into warfare? Isn't it common enough
for soldiers to face certain death? And it would be instantaneous,
remember. No suffering, no mutilations, no lingering for days on
barbed wire. A clean death, you may call it." He paused
impressively and lit a cigar. And there was, he said, another
thing in its favour. It had always seemed to him that one of the
most terrible features about war was the way it took toll of the
strongest and most virile among the world's manhood. Wasn't it
curiously obtuse that the survival of the fittest, nature's harsh
but salutary law, should be reversed by civilised nations whenever
they fought in battle? "This development I've been trying to
sketch out would make for the redressing of that unfortunate
balance." He spoke suavely, as to a company of invisible
shareholders. "It would give the physically second-rate man a
chance to serve his country and display heroism no less than the
first-rate."

It was at this point that certain troubled emotions in Brown,
combined with the undoubted fact that he had drunk too much, became
articulate in the guise of a rather macabre whimsicality. "Hear,
hear," he cried, banging his liqueur-glass on the table-top in mock
applause. "You make a damn fine speech, Parceval. Call up the C3s
in the next war! And then we'll have all the old ladies writing to
The Times to complain of the number of UN-fit men they see in
mufti! But perhaps you'd organise your suicide club on a voluntary
basis? Let 'em all register in peace-time and draw a dole and wear
an armlet or something."

"Well, if you MUST joke about a serious matter--"

Brown's fingers suddenly snapped the stem of the empty glass he was
holding, and there was a pause while he muttered an apology and
bound his thumb, which had been cut slightly. Then he went on,
more steadily: "D'you really think, Parceval, and you too,
Mathers, that a fellow boxed up in a tin coffin is going to spend
his last moments caring whether what he hits is the right roof or
the wrong one?"

"Why not? Is it any harder than going over the top? Or than a gun-
crew trying to register hits even though they know the enemy
cruiser is bound to blow them to atoms within the next half-hour?"

"Maybe you're right." Brown's voice sank to a whisper, then
sharply rose as he added: "But, anyhow, I know what I'D do if you
were a brass-hat and I was a Tommy inside one of the damned things.
I'd steer it miles and miles behind the lines till I found you and
then chase you with it!"

Parceval smiled quite tranquilly. "You're a humourist, Brown, I
can see. But the fact remains--and in this I'm quite serious, even
if you aren't--that we have here something that may have
possibilities. MAY--I won't say more than that. What we saw this
afternoon was, of course, little better than a fiasco, yet--"

"You're not going to have that fellow risking his neck again,
surely?"

Parceval's voice cut suddenly icy. "Not HIM, Brown, I promise you
that. Perhaps somebody else whom you've never met and aren't
likely to worry about. You're only a sentimentalist, you know."

"WHAT?" It was certainly the last accusation Brown would ever have
levelled against himself.

"A sentimentalist, I said. You're also quite drunk, and your
thumb's still bleeding, by the way. . . . Now listen to me. This
invention may or may not be capable of the adaptation I have
outlined. The chance, however, seems to me worth taking. What I
propose is that we--the three of us--should form ourselves into a
small syndicate for its development. You, Mathers, with your motor-
factory, would be a great help--that is, of course, if the venture
appeals to you."

"It does, Sir George. Decidedly, it does."

"Good! But it isn't all quite plain sailing yet. First of all, we
must buy out Palescu's rights. We want to be absolutely fair to
the young man, but at the same time we must protect ourselves, and
it will be equitable, I take it, if we bid for what he has offered
us--namely, the rights of his invention as a means of landing
passengers from aeroplanes. Any other value it may subsequently
acquire as a result of OUR efforts will clearly have nothing to do
with him at all--which is why we must negotiate cautiously. I know
what inventors are like--I've had experience of them before now.
Once our charming young friend suspects that the War Departments of
the world may be interested in him, he'll begin to fancy himself a
Hiram Maxim right away. Nevertheless, as I said, we must be
scrupulously fair. What would you suggest, Brown, as a rough
estimate of the COMMERCIAL value of the invention?"

"I'll see you damned before I have anything to do with the business
at all."

Parceval's lips tightened. "Very well. Then it rests between me
and Mathers. I'm sorry you feel inclined to miss the boat in this
affair, Brown. I should have thought you'd have been rather glad
of a chance to make a little spare cash just now. However--" He
paused meaningfully, and then continued: "I really don't see why
you need be so cantankerous about it, anyway. There's no
particular reason why you should join us if you don't want to--I
merely offered you the chance because it was through you that I got
into touch with Palescu, and also because I wanted to put something
good in your way. I can't think why you should be so bad-tempered
about it."

Neither could Brown. He could not have explained, at that moment,
exactly what was causing his mood of quite hellish exasperation.
Was it the cumulative effect of losing money, of becoming steadily
poorer and poorer for ten years? Was it the combine's recently
issued balance-sheet, which had seemed more puzzling the oftener he
sought to interpret it? Was it Parceval, whom he had never liked,
but who had never before stirred him to such a pitch of mental and
temperamental soreness? It was hardly likely to be any scruples as
to the ethics of manufacturing war material, since Brown and
Company had been doing this for years whenever they got the chance.
Nor could it be the prospect of a sharp deal with Palescu, for
Brown had learned by sufficient experience that if you did not
outwit inventors they would joyfully outwit you. None of these
reasons separately could account for his feeling, and yet all of
them together might have induced it, plus something else that was
vaguer and hardly analysable--just a general awareness that the
world was rotten, hopeless, something to hold one's nose over while
one made a business of scrabbling in the muck in search of . . .
well, what? Money?

And at that point Brown found himself yielding a bemused attention
to Parceval's eloquence as he described the possible success of the
new enterprise. Profits--fabulous and unbogus, mystic entities
that had become almost as rare in the business world as
strawberries in January--dividends by the hundred per cent, orders
that would reopen workshops, concessions that would entice a
trickle of gold from all the corners of the earth. Rottenness
festering in the sun and producing, for a few who were lucky
enough, this precious yellow flower. A world that could refuse to
buy such things as water-tube boilers and articulated compounds,
yet could not, because it dare not, decline the purchase of a new
weapon of self-destruction. The supreme, the Midas lure--something
for which no government would ever hesitate to tax, to starve, and
to pawn. Helpless, hopeless . . . and yet, what could one do?

His mood, as transient as it was instinctive, had moved him to an
effort of imagination which his natural indolence soon began to
repel; after all, he reflected, a moment or two later, perhaps he
HAD been rather foolishly snappish with a man who had only been
trying to help him.

"I'll come in with you," he said quietly, "if you'll give Palescu
five thousand."

"Five thousand? My dear Brown, I'm delighted that you've changed
your mind, but really--five thousand! Remember what it is we're
paying for--merely the commercial value of something that hasn't
really a commercial value at all!"

Brown retorted, with a last despairing petulance: "I don't care
about that. You've been talking about possible hundreds of
thousands for us. Surely five isn't too much for him. He's
young--he can do with it."

"We can all do with it, for that matter. But the chief objection
is that any such large offer would immediately put the fellow on
his guard--don't you see? Still, though it's a risk, I'll double
the sum I had originally in mind and say a thousand. I call that
generous, and so, I think, will Palescu. And we must have our
interview with him as soon as possible. You'll join us then, and
you agree to a thousand as an outside offer?"

"Oh, all right, have it your own way," answered Brown, as he had
answered once before. He was suddenly tired, and with his
tiredness there came a faint renewal of optimism, the drug to which
he was accustomed.


By the time the three negotiators met the Roumanian a few days
later, Brown was once again in a mood to see most things
cheerfully. Parceval had definitely promised him the loan as soon
as the Palescu business was settled; the bank had agreed to a short
delay in repayment; and Parceval, too, had been assiduous in
kindling hopes for the future. "I don't mind admitting, Brown,
that you can be a great help to me in my negotiations with the
fellow." (It was already "me" and "my", but that, after all, was
only to have been expected.) "In fact, if you hadn't joined in
with us, I fear he would have thought it so peculiar that we might
have had trouble in coming to terms at all. I'll do the talking,
of course, but you'll be there as a--a--"

"As a guarantee of good faith?" suggested Brown, not very
tactfully, and Parceval laughed and replied: "Well, if you put it
that way, perhaps yes. You see, he likes you--more than he does me
or Mathers."

"He LIKES me?" echoed Brown, with sudden shyness.

"Yes--seems to have taken quite a fancy to you."

Brown blushed with happiness. To be liked by this youth seemed
somehow more satisfying than to have won the favour of any woman.

They all met Palescu at an hotel in Bloomsbury where he was
staying, and the youth's welcoming smile made Brown feel that the
interview was probably going to be a very pleasant one for
everybody. He hoped so; he would enjoy it if it were; and, in
fact, mightn't it actually represent the beginning of a new era of
prosperity for himself, for his wife and daughter, for the
workpeople at his factory, for the firm's shareholders, and, of
course, for Palescu too? A thousand pounds, as Parceval had said,
wasn't so bad. "You all right now?" he began, admiring, as he had
done first of all in the train, the boy's extraordinary good looks.
"Feeling quite fit again? That's good. We're all going to go out
and dine somewhere, I think."

Parceval and Mathers subjoined their enquiries and felicitations;
then they hustled into a taxi and drove to the Café Royal.
Parceval's choice; and it reminded Brown of the old days, when he
and his son had enjoyed themselves in London together; the Café was
the place they had gone to, often enough--no, not really often
enough--that was the point. That flying smash had happened so
abruptly, cutting into the life of the father no less than of the
son--making everything ever afterwards a little vague and
unfinished. . . . He had the queer feeling now that a part of him
was living over again in that twenty-year-old past, and that
Palescu, smiling and chattering, was something more to him than a
foreign stranger met for only the second time.

During the meal conversation, at Parceval's previous suggestion,
was kept on general topics; and Brown felt that Palescu was
avoiding no less carefully the subject which must be uppermost in
his mind, as in theirs too. The youth talked quite amusingly,
though, and kept appealing particularly to Brown, as if he, among
them all, were an especial friend. Brown warmed to such an
attitude, and was in a pleasantly flattered mood when at last he
lit Palescu's cigarette and then his own cigar.

"Well," Parceval said at length, "we're all delighted to find you
none the worse for what happened last week. And now, as perhaps
you've already guessed, we're ready for a chat about one or two
matters arising out of that little adventure."

Palescu nodded, smiling at them all, but especially at Brown.

"Of course," Parceval resumed, "we realise, as you must do also,
that the demonstration you gave was hardly a complete success. We
were naturally a little disappointed. . . ."

And so it went on. Parceval was at his suavest, mellifluously and
deprecatingly reasonable. But somehow, Brown sensed, Palescu was
seeing through the reasonableness--not, of course, to any accurate
perception of what lay behind it, but with a sufficient
clairvoyance of the need for wariness. The smile faded a little
from his face; he became alert, tense, unmoving. He kept nodding,
saying "Yes" and "No," and waiting for Parceval to go on speaking--
perhaps hoping he would give himself away. Parceval was naturally
in no danger of doing that. But the youth's attitude could not but
disconcert him a little; he had thought it would be fairly easy to
come to terms. Several times, like two chess-players gradually
becoming conscious of each other's ability, they fell into a
mutually baffled silence, and during one of these intervals Brown
interjected, not very sensibly, he was aware, but with some idea of
relieving his own private tension: "Jolly plucky to try out the
thing at all, anyway. Damned uncomfortable to be stuck in the mud
like that, I should think."

"Yes, damned uncomfortable," answered the youth, with a mocking but
somehow friendly smile. Then he turned to Parceval and the contest
of wits was continued.

At last Parceval got as far as saying: "Still, you mustn't feel
that we regret having interested ourselves in you. What are your
plans for the future?"

"I don't know. It depends on several things."

"Do you propose to carry on with your invention--I mean, do you
intend to try to bring it to some degree of success?"

Palescu answered: "I consider I have already done THAT."

There was something cold and a little contemptuous in the retort
that gave Brown a tiny thrill of admiration. How tepid and
occasional, he reflected, was his own impatience of Parceval in
comparison! He said: "Quite right, my boy, you haven't done so
badly"--and felt marvellously indifferent to the cautionary glare
with which Parceval favoured him.

Parceval, however, made haste to agree. "That's true, of course,
as Brown says. Please don't misunderstand me. You've hit on an
interesting idea--interesting, certainly--I don't think anyone
could deny that. And you've also put a good deal of work into it,
and even if it hasn't done all that we hoped, it might--sometime--
give someone else an inspiration that might possibly be of use. To
be quite frank, I and my friends here are prepared to--well, in a
sense, to gamble on that slender chance. To the extent of a small
sum, I mean. We wouldn't object to paying you--oh, say five
hundred pounds--for the full rights."

"If you wish to buy," answered Palescu very calmly, "my price is
ten thousand."

Parceval leaned back in his chair with an elaborately forced smile.
"Utterly ridiculous! We're wasting our time, then, if you really
mean that. I'm sorry, personally, for it would have given me
pleasure to think that you were making a little profit, but of
course--"

Mathers gave Palescu a shrewd and not unkindly glance. "Take my
tip and don't overreach yourself," he remarked. "If you really
don't want to sell, all right, but if you're merely in a bargaining
mood you might as well bid for the moon as try to put it over a
business man like Sir George here, or myself." He added, by way of
polite afterthought: "Or Brown."

Palescu smiled. "You Englishmen are no doubt the cleverest men in
the world." He glanced at Parceval and then at Brown, and Brown
knew suddenly, with a further thrill, that the youth not only
disliked Parceval but knew that he, Brown, disliked him too.

Finally, over an hour later, a compromise was reached at six
thousand five hundred. While Parceval was writing the cheque,
Brown occupied the silence by chattering: "When my son was your
age--he's dead now--he was rather like you in some ways--having
bright ideas and risking his life over them. In the end he
lost his life. Flying, yes--twenty years ago, in the pioneer
days. . . ." But Palescu was hardly listening; he was prudently
reading through the document that Parceval had handed him to sign.

With the transaction complete, the general tension dissolved into a
more festive atmosphere. Brown called for a celebratory bottle of
champagne, and there was much more drinking and chattering before
the party separated. Brown was the liveliest of the four. He was
quite boyishly elated, and when he bade goodbye to the Roumanian on
the pavement outside, he shook hands with much fervour. "Well, if
you're ever in England again you must let me know," he said. He
could not, at that stupid moment of farewell, think of anything
warmer to say, though he felt it; and with a fussy little gesture
he searched in his pocket and reciprocated Palescu's first
intimacy--a visiting-card.


A few days later, as he motored to Liverpool through the pleasant
Cheshire countryside, he was still free from all misgiving.
Parceval had lent him the necessary money, and he had had quite a
cheery interview at the bank on the previous day. Moreover, his
wife and daughter were due to arrive on the Berengaria during the
late afternoon, and he was warmly looking forward to meeting them.

A lovely blue-golden day, with the fields and villages shining with
autumn. Just the time for welcome and home-coming.

When, towards sunset, he stood on the landing-stage smoking a cigar
and watching the liner curve importantly into the estuary, his
heart pulsed happily within him. Wife, girl, money, the future--
everything looked all right again. He found it easy to think so,
and that the world, after his recent bad dreams about it, wasn't
really so bad. Even Parceval wasn't. He didn't care for the man a
great deal, but he had to admit he was a smart fellow.




CHAPTER FOUR


SYLVIA SEYDEL


The club-house at Santa Katerina followed the Amerind tradition of
pink adobe; it stood on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the milk-
blue Pacific, and from the long, round-arched sun-balcony the
millionaires' yachts and speed-boats could be observed in all their
toy-like diversions. On the landward side a path led along a steep
arroyo through eucalyptus woods to a Greek temple and a so-called
natarium, both of white marble and designed in the classic Ionic
style. The whole estate, which included an eighteen-hole golf-
course and a bathing beach by the sea and tennis-courts and a
landing-ground for aeroplanes, belonged to an exclusive and
expensive country club which in the spring of 1929 had exuded
dollars, both corporately and individually; and the result, after
commissioning an architect of genius, was principally the club-
house. It rose up like some fantastic dream-palace amidst the
white yucca blossom, at sunset rosy-red and rather unbelievable
against the background of sky and hills. That, of course, was if
one approached it from the sea. From the land, however, it
displayed a peculiarity; part of the central block, to some extent
obscured by trees, was still unfinished, so that a gap of naked
steelwork intervened between the two ten-storey wings. This gap
was a legacy of the Wall Street crash in the autumn of 1929, and
the consequent discovery that even the purses of film-magnates and
realtors were not quite bottomless.

But, even so, the club-house at Santa Katerina stood for the peak
achievement of a civilisation; or perhaps for a ripeness which by
the summer of 1931 had turned to over-ripeness. There had been
rumblings and mutterings from afar, recorded on that seismograph of
calamity, the ticker-tape; for instance, Sylvia Seydel, the movie-
actress, was supposed to have dropped a million dollars in General
Motors stock. So much was probably no more than she had earned
during the past two years, but she was over thirty now; salaries
were being cut; younger rivals were coming along; the future was
less reckonable than had seemed likely. Still, as she walked from
the club-house to the natarium on a perfect June afternoon, an
observer would not have sensed her misgivings. That little
procession--the film-star with her retinue of friends, secretaries,
and miscellaneous hangers-on--approached the swimming-pool through
the heavily scented woods, splitting the sunshine as it fell in
slabs across the path, and stirring the green dusk with their talk
and laughter. But there was another sound, a murmur that swelled
into a roar as they reached the sun-drenched colonnade; voices
threaded into pattern by the ribbon-melody of jazz; Santa Katerina
en fête for a water-party. Sylvia had seen such spectacles many
times before--far too often for her to be impressed particularly on
this occasion; yet it was, in fact, a scene of almost breath-taking
loveliness. The architect who had chosen just that spot for a
swimming-pool, and had made his employers pay for white Carrara
marble, had shown mystic insight; there was a pagan rapture in the
poise of the slim columns reflected lambently in the water; to be
alone there, at midnight under a high moon, would have put one amid
the ghosts of dead Hellas. Yet to be there in the throng that
afternoon was more--it was perhaps to see Hellas come to life
again.

Never, it might be, for two and a quarter millenniums, since the
days of Pericles and Plato, had there been such efflorescence of
form and colour. Less than a thousand persons, men and women, but
hardly any children, were clustered around the blue-green pool.
Most were in brilliant-hued swimming-suits; some of the girls wore
coloured frocks and wide-brimmed hats; a few of the men were robed
in silk gowns of exotic design; but all, when the screen-star
stepped into view, seemed to hold, for that extra moment, a
position they had reached in some magical and impromptu ballet.
There was a burst of cheering. Two men in immaculate cream
flannels made some little purring speech that was lost in the
general chatter; the saxophones blared; Sylvia was led to a basket-
chair on the marble dais. She smiled--her well-advertised, million-
dollar smile. An enormous pink and blue umbrella, like the roof of
a pagoda, was hoisted over her; she threw out more individual
smiles here and there, as she caught sight of friends; she laughed
and gossiped to her neighbours on either side, while the programme
was volleyed out by massed microphones. Swimming, trick-diving,
water-polo, etc. . . .

Throughout the long slow-dying afternoon it continued, a golden
pantomime reigned over by the sun. It was the sun that gave
prismatic harmony to the crudely mingled colours; its strong
slanting blaze filled the air, absorbed the rhythms of the jazz
band into a single pattern of sight and sound; kindled the splashes
made by the divers till the air was full of trembling rainbows.
One had the feeling that the sun, as on ancient Attic hills, was
ripening its children as they lay there, half naked under its rays.

Perhaps, indeed, even Ancient Greece could not have shown such
profusion of physical beauty. That group of living humanity might
have been a eugenist's dream of what all mankind could achieve,
were it to allow itself to be bred for half a dozen centuries as
rigidly as horseflesh. The women with their laughing oval faces
and gleaming teeth, the men of massive thigh and torso, the young
girls with their bud-like breasts and exquisite apricot legs--had
there ever in all history been such a triumphant assembling of the
body? For the world had been ransacked for these people; or,
rather, they had drained into this paradise by every trickle of
human migration. Tall blondes from Sweden and Finland, brunettes
from Spain and the Argentine, dago litheness and Siegfried
magnificence--all were merged here by the common desire to
capitalise their excellences into earnings. They stared at one
another with frankly physical appraisement, displaying their own
personal charms as shamelessly as an applewoman displays ripe
apples. Even the water-contests were valued less for their own
sake than as an excuse for physical exhibitionism; it was the
ritual of gaily-coloured silks, scented ointments, and sprawling
sun-baskings that mattered most. Certainly none of the various
diving competitions and polo-matches stirred as much excitement as
the item that came last of all--the fin fleur of this Henry Ford
Hellenism--a beauty show for men.

Sylvia Seydel was cast for the role of adjudicator in this
culminating affair. The competitors, most of them fresh from their
water-games, paraded before her, smiling with that touch of
harlotry that is in all athletic prowess; sun-bronzed and superb,
they posed like kings--kings under a matriarchy. Not all were film-
actors, by any means; some were camera-men, servants, job-seekers,
nondescript vivandieres in Hollywood's international army. In this
inverted world it was the man, as often as the woman, whose looks
could break down social barriers and unlock the doors to
innumerable pleasaunces; and that he knew this was in every
posturing, from the stiff games-master slouch of the public-school
Britisher to the strutting pertness of the Italian chauffeur.

Sylvia, three times married and twice divorced, would have been
sufficiently equipped for the task in any case; but after ten years
of film-work, five of which had been a rough-and-tumble fight for
any job that came along, she was something of an expert; she knew a
man's points as a trainer knows those of racehorses. She had,
moreover, the skilled camera eye; she saw that this face, though
handsome enough, would photograph badly from a side-position, or
that those well-muscled flanks, though finely virile, were too
short for elegance in evening clothes. She scrutinised with
dispassionate intentness--the whole thing was only a sort of "rag,"
no doubt, but she did not see why, since she had to pick a winner,
her choice should not be justifiable. But when two-thirds of the
procession had passed, there came a competitor who left her in no
remaining doubt at all; whatever else the rest might show, he was
her man.

He was very young, and offered no impressively masculine display of
sinew; his arms and legs suggested Pan-like grace rather than
strength; and his glance, as she appraised him, had in it a touch
of mockery. She had not noticed him in any of the water-games, but
he wore a cerise-coloured swimming-suit that contrasted quaintly
with his brown limbs. His eyes were almost violet in their depths,
and his lips and straight nose might have been copied from the
Greek statues that adorned the garden temple. She guessed him to
be Spanish or Italian, and she was surprised when, as she placed
the chaplet of laurel on his head amidst thunderous applause, he
made her a pretty little speech in English that had a rather
English accent. Who was he? she wondered idly; but she did not
trouble to enquire. She was a busy woman; she met so many men
whose names and identities were of no consequence to her; she was
more than a little worried, too, about other matters. Indeed,
during most of that blazing afternoon at the water-party, she had
been turning over in mind the problem of whether to accept her
broker's advice and sell for twenty-three dollars the Montgomery
Ward stock that she had bought originally for a hundred and thirty-
seven.

But the next morning she found out who he was, for on the front
page of the newspaper she read, in huge block-letter headlines:
"Lois Palmer's Secretary Judged Handsomest Man. Laurels for
Roumanian Prince. Sylvia Seydel's Choice at Santa Katerina."

Sylvia was furious. The Palmer woman was, of course, only one of a
hundred professional rivals, but her age and the rapidity of her
recent rise to fame had made her, to Sylvia, a symbol of all the
vaguely menacing future. Lois was twenty-two; her contract with
Vox's had already been renewed at some fantastically increased
figure; her fan-mail was reckoned to be bounding up by hundreds a
week. It was exasperating to Sylvia to think that her own
unwitting action should have presented Lois with free publicity in
every newspaper in America. Two years ago, Sylvia could have
laughed at such a thing, could even have congratulated the scorer
of such an amusing point. But the Sylvia of 1931 was less inclined
to laugh. Her world had changed; she could feel it, without
altogether understanding how or why. It was as if she were on a
throne that might topple at any moment; and her arrogance before
the big film-magnates became more and more consciously an effort as
each time she wondered if they might suddenly decide to call her
bluff. That last picture, "Her Husband's Wife," had done well
enough, yet somehow not quite as well as had been hoped, and for
the moment she was not engaged on any picture at all, though there
was talk of another. Moreover, her high-figure contract expired
six weeks hence.

She called up her publicity agent immediately after breakfast. He
was a shrewd little Scotsman with bright ideas that were never
above anybody's head. "Yes, she's put it over you all right," he
sang out quite cheerfully over the wire from Los Angeles. "But of
course she couldn't have counted on you picking out the fellow.
All she did was to seize the chance that you gave her yourself--you
can't blame her."

"I'm not blaming her," Sylvia retorted, "but that doesn't mend
matters. Look here, I want you to find out about this Roumanian
prince--find out all you can about him, will you?"

He said he would.

A fortnight later Sylvia was taking tea in her private suite on the
tenth floor of the Santa Katerina clubhouse. She owned a fabulous
palace at Beverley Hills, but she usually preferred Santa Katerina
when she was not working on a picture. It was another of those
flaming days of the Californian June, and through the open windows
across the balcony rail the Pacific shone a deep turquoise blue.
She had just signed over a hundred postcard photographs that were
to be sent off by her secretary to admirers all over the world,
when her maid entered with a card on which was inscribed "Prince
Nicholas Petcheni," with an address in Los Angeles. "Yes, I'll see
him," she said.

He entered, and watching him from her chair, she observed that his
walk and clothes were fittingly exquisite. She did not trouble,
then, to study his face, for she had already done that; but when he
stooped to touch her fingers with his lips she noticed his dark,
slightly curling hair and the absolute symmetry of his head. "This
is indeed a charming sequel to our last meeting, Miss Seydel," he
began, smiling.

Yes, she thought, he was damned good-looking enough for anything;
almost absurd, really, the way everything was RIGHT about
him. . . . "Do sit down, won't you?" she said. "You'll take tea?"

He thanked her, and during the course of that dainty little
ceremony he talked of the weather, of how much he liked America, of
his interest in the film-industry, and his desire to study it at
close quarters by actually working at Hollywood, and of his
admiration for Santa Katerina above all other places. With a quick-
witted tact which Sylvia could not help but admire, he did not
mention the name of his employer. His chatter was amusing, and he
knew English so perfectly that it was natural for her to compliment
him on it. "But then, I have been in England a good deal," he
answered.

"Yet you still have your home in Roumania?"

"Oh, yes." He sighed slightly. "Things are not what they were,
though. The--the--crise mondiale--what do you call it?--the world-
crisis?--has hit my country very hard. My family have lost much
money. We of the younger generation must look to the future, not
to the past. That is why I have come here, where everything points
so surely ahead."

Sylvia was by no means certain that everything in her own life was
pointing surely ahead, but she nodded. "I suppose your family is a
very old one?" she remarked.

"Not so old as some in my country, though my ancestors were ruling
their provinces when America was still undiscovered. But what does
all that matter now?" He shrugged his shoulders expressively. "In
America it is of to-morrow that one thinks, not of yesterday. And,
for myself, I must say that I prefer the attitude. It is more
hopeful, more democratic."

"All the same, as a prince, you must have been rather surprised to
receive an invitation from a mere commoner like myself to call and
see her? Didn't you think that was a little TOO democratic?"

He smiled pleasantly. "Not at all. I was surprised, it is true,
but I was also delighted. What prince would not be honoured by a
command from a queen?"

"You turn your compliments very prettily, but I think it's time to
put an end to the farce. I've caused enquiries to be made about
you, and I known perfectly well that you aren't a prince at all.
Your name is Palescu, and you were in Paris last year trying to
sell an invention. We aren't all such fools over here as you seem
to think, monsieur, or mein Herr, or whatever it ought to be."

He suddenly laughed, and she felt a pang of almost fearful
admiration when she noticed that he showed not a trace of
embarrassment. Indeed, his attitude, if anything, was even easier
when he replied: "I perceive, at least, that you are not a fool,
Miss Seydel. But, since you wish to call me by my real name, shall
I not return the compliment and call you Mrs. Schmidt?"

"You'll perhaps be in time to do so if you hurry," she retorted.
"I'm expecting my divorce at any moment."

He laughed again. "I think you are really a very clever woman."

"Cleverer than Lois Palmer, I suppose you mean?"

"Yes," he replied, with meaning in his eyes. "Yes, far cleverer."

"Then what if I tell her the truth? What if I tell everybody?"

"Nothing, except that I shall laugh. I don't mind. It's all been
pretty good fun."

"Look here," she said, intently. "I work it out like this. If I
give you away, the laugh is against Lois, for being taken in, and
against you, for being found out. But if you were to leave her
employment and come to me, the laugh would only be against her."

"And you want the laugh to be against her, Miss Seydel?"

"I shouldn't object."

"Then will you pay me two hundred dollars a week? Miss Palmer
gives me one-seventy-five."

"No, I can't afford nearly so much. Besides, as a bogus article,
you aren't worth it. Come to me for a hundred and twenty, or be
exposed. Those are my terms."

"A hard bargain."

"Yes, I'm a hard bargainer. As a matter of fact, I don't know that
I'm not being too generous. What can you do, anyway?"

"Anything you wish. Sing, dance, play the piano, entertain your
friends, invent publicity for you, answer your letters, create an
impression on people who matter; also, I can swim, drive a car, fly
an aeroplane, play most games tolerably well--"

"Only tolerably? That's disappointing of you, surely? Nevertheless,
I'm willing to take you on at the figure I said. And if you've
any sort of contract with Miss Palmer, see my lawyer and he'll get
you out of it. Can you move over at once?"

Within a few days the newspapers were featuring the story of the
princely Apollo's change of employment. Their reporters
interviewed him; he gave them drinks, an amusing half-hour, and--
what was most of all--perfectly good copy which they did not need
to embellish for themselves. His most quoted remark was that at
last, in his new job, he had made contact with all that was most
promising in the art of the cinema, and Miss Seydel was naturally
pleased. Not only was the publicity good, but Nicky, as she called
him, proved an immediate success in many other ways. At her
parties his immaculate clothes and accent, as well as his
extraordinary facility in saying things that were considered clever
(sometimes they really were clever), made her, she felt, the envy
of every other actress in the film-world. He was such a brilliant
improviser on any given theme, and quite the most consummate liar
she had ever met. He had to lie, doubtless, to sustain his
reputation as a person of rank and pedigree; but his technique in
doing so was a little awe-inspiring as well as unnecessary at
times; he invented, for instance, a whole family for himself--
father, mother, brothers, uncles, all of them fantastically titled;
and the strange thing was that even Sylvia, who knew them to be
spoof, found herself accepting them at least as readily as the
characters in some rather well-written novel. Once, in the midst
of a very amusing family saga with which he was enthralling her
guests, she interjected suddenly: "Of course, Nicky, I don't
really believe you're a prince at all. You're much too good a
talker." Which everyone seemed to think a very daring sally.

It was at the same party that a very gushing lady asked him: "Oh,
yer Highness, would you ever be willing to marry morganatically?"
Instantly, with a little bow across the table to her, he replied:
"Certainly, madam--and Pierpont Morganatically too, if I could."

Afterwards, when the guests had gone, Sylvia congratulated him on a
witticism which would doubtless go the usual rounds. He smiled and
answered: "But what on earth made you say that you didn't believe
I was a prince at all?"

"Merely an insurance premium, Nicky. If anyone finds you out, or
if you leave me and I have to get my own back, I shall then be able
to call witnesses that I suspected you all along."

"Clever of you, Sylvia."

"Not so very--only just a bit wise. Fetch me a drink. I'm tired."

He could, in addition to his numerous other accomplishments, invent
and mix the most satisfying potions. She looked at him over the
rim of the glass a moment later and was rather startled to reflect
how well they were getting on together. She had so few illusions
about him, or about anyone, for that matter. She knew that sooner
or later some inquisitive person would look up the Almanach de
Gotha or something and find out the fiction of his ancestry;
indeed, she was a little surprised that such a thing hadn't
happened already. Still, it was being good publicity while it
lasted, and it would do her no harm, provided she wouldn't be left
to look a fool. And apart from his status, he was no doubt worth
his wages. His company was amusing and his talents were useful;
and her own experience of three husbands had disposed her to think
that that was higher praise than could be accorded most men.

Once, sitting at her feet in the bright starshine of her balcony,
with the beat of the Pacific surf a murmur far below, he gave her a
long account of the circumstances that had led to his coming to
America. "You see, I was in Russia doing business for my uncle,
who was head of a firm of engineers in Bukarest. In Moscow I met a
young engineer who was dying; he gave me plans of an aeroplane
invention of his; he wanted me to take them out of the country,
because otherwise the Soviet people would get hold of them and pay
nothing at all. I said I would, and I took them first of all to
Germany, where I actually studied aeronautics to make myself
understand the business. It was a method of landing from an
aeroplane in flight--a sort of torpedo that you climbed into and
steered down to the ground. Mighty risky, I thought, but I was
hard up, and it looked as if there were just a chance of making
some money out of it."

"But of course," she interrupted, "nobody was such a fool as to
give you any."

He laughed. "That's just where you're wrong, Sylvia. A good many
weren't, but in the end I sold it to three Englishmen. I met the
first of them, rather a nice chap, in a train in France, and when
he got to England he must have told two of his friends. One was
quite a big gun--knight or baronet or some kind of title. He was a
keen business man all right--his keenness nearly killed me, in
fact. He had me make a model of the thing and try it out myself
from an aeroplane. It came down head-foremost into some mud, and
that was nearly the end of me."

"But, my dear Nicky, why ever did you let yourself do it? Surely
it wasn't worth risking your life for?"

"No, I suppose not, but, to tell you the truth, I got so interested
in it I almost believed in it myself by that time. You see, I'd
posed as the inventor, and in the end I think I must have come to
feel as an inventor does feel--rather proud, you know, and
confident. . . . Do you understand?"

"It would be too much of an effort to try. But go on. What did
the Englishmen say when you were nearly killed?"

"They took me out to dinner and said quite a lot--too much, indeed,
if they'd only known. For I could see that although they talked of
the thing as a failure, they were really quite keen on having it.
Heaven knows why, but, naturally, I wasn't going to object. They
offered me five hundred pounds, after a lot of chatter--if there
hadn't been that, I might have accepted it. As it was, I bluffed
hard and asked for ten thousand. We came to terms at last just a
little bit more than half-way. Then I packed up and came over
here."

"On the proceeds of selling a dud invention to three keen business
men? You're a genius, Nicky. Have you still got the money?"

"I lost half of it right away on Wall Street."

"Not such a genius, then, after all. No cleverer than the rest of
us, in fact."

"Oh, but it won't happen again like that. One can do anything
once--there's no blame in a first time. But if one does anything
more than once, then in my opinion it ought to be the devil of a
fine thing to do."

"How old are you, Nicky?"

"Twenty."

"Of course I don't believe you." She began to laugh. "I don't
really believe anything you've been saying. Well, perhaps not more
than half, anyhow. You're such an extraordinary liar."

"Do you mind?"

"Not a bit. So long as you continue to be so much more agreeable
than most people who tell the truth, I don't care."

"What DO you care about?"

"Not very much."

"I thought not," he answered meditatively. "Very sensible, no
doubt, but I wonder if it's altogether the right attitude for you?
I went to see your last picture the other day and I wondered what
it was that just missed fire. Now I know. . . . Sylvia Seydel
with the million-dollar smile and the don't-care eyes."

"If you're suggesting that for a publicity slogan, I'll consider
it. And what is caring, anyway?"

"I should say it's a sort of general excitement that helps one to
see and hear, not only with the eyes and ears, but with the solar
plexus as well. This view--the sea down there--the eucalyptus
woods--those yellow cactus flowers in the moonlight--don't you feel
it just a little bit in your tummy? _I_ do."

"Funny creature you are, Nicky!" she cried, laughing at him; and
then added, with a sudden change of voice: "As a matter of fact,
I'm tired of it all--it is wonderful, I know, but I've seen it for
years and years, and it's done nothing but just go on being
wonderful. You forget that I'm thirty, not twenty--I want more
than views and moonlight." She checked herself and went on,
forcing herself to laugh again: "At present, for instance, I want
a drink. Do go and get me one, or I shall howl."

The truth was, she had begun to be really worried about her future.
In a sense, of course, she had nothing much to worry about; she was
one of the half-dozen best-known stars in the world; her name was
almost a household word; and she was worth at least a million
dollars, even after all possible losses on stocks. She could
retire in six weeks' time, when her contract expired, and spend the
rest of her life in luxurious comfort at Palm Beach or on the
French Riviera; nor, if she did, would her name fade completely
from the public memory. She was on the edge of history; she would
never cease to be--"Sylvia Seydel--don't you remember?--the girl
who was in 'Home from the Sea' and 'Fidelity'." From the difficult
peak of her profession she could look back upon twelve years of
such protracted girlhood--ever since, in her late teens, she had
run away from a department store in Philadelphia. She had fought
her early battles in that rough-and-tumble age before the cinema
began to give itself airs and a Chaplin première became an
international event; she had known Hollywood as a small colony less
than a quarter its present size; she remembered when cultured
people still felt they had to excuse themselves for being seen at
the movies. How people would laugh now, if "Fidelity" were to be
revived--the picture which, in its day, had broken every record and
had made Sylvia's the second best-known smile in the world! And
compare the crude obviousness of "Home from the Sea" with the
sophisticated wit and polished intricacy of "Her Husband's Wife"!
Marvellous advance in less than a decade; and yet, looking back,
she could not but feel a halcyon, garden-of-Eden quality in those
pioneer days. Silent films, then, of course; which, by an odd
paradox, gave her memories principally of noise--of producers
yelling through megaphones, of creaking floors and clattering
scenery; you could laugh, whistle, sneeze, or cough without anyone
bothering; there seemed, in retrospect, a gloriously impromptu
freshness about it all. And then those mornings setting out at
dawn on location work, the whole company in open cars like an
enormous picnic party; driving forty or fifty miles into the San
Jacinto mountains; grape-fruit and coffee under the trees in some
lonely sunburnt valley; then the job of the day, which usually
involved sheriffs, horses, revolver-shooting, and kisses in almost
equal proportions. And lastly the drive home in the evening, under
the big Californian moon, tired and hungry, with everyone laughing
and telling yarns. . . .

But now the skyscraper offices of the film companies soared upwards
to tell the world that the cinema was no longer an amusement for
children. Aesthetic Germans and Russians swarmed everywhere with
their chatter of "montage" and "values"; camera-men no longer had
Bowery accents and chewed cigars; the vast studios, with their time-
clocks and their silence rules, were the churches of a new and
colder ritual. Not that Sylvia particularly disliked the talkies.
Her voice and accent were acceptable, and she had accommodated
herself well enough to the change-over. Her feeling was vaguer
than dislike, but also less conquerable--a regret for times that
were gone, for triumphs hardly to be repeated.

She felt sometimes, too, that she had had her day and might better
abdicate with dignity than be pushed eventually from the throne.
The younger stars, brought up in the talky tradition, already
counted her a back number; and the more famous producers evidently
did not consider her worth their attention. That was partly the
trouble with her last picture; nobody had really believed in it,
neither the Vox people nor herself. It has been made because she
was under contract, and because the name "Sylvia Seydel" still had
immense drawing power, not because anyone had been terribly
interested in the job itself. It piqued her a little to find that
Nicky had diagnosed the deficiency so promptly.

Well, should she yield her position while the manoeuvre could still
be performed with grace? Twelve years was a long span; she had
done her lifework, or served her life-sentence, whichever way one
chose to look at it. She could leave the future to those who were
better equipped to deal with it--a future, incidentally, which she
need hardly envy them. She did not particularly study affairs, but
she was dimly aware that she had sailed to fortune on the crest of
a wave, and that her successors must make what they could out of
the slough. In her private mind she felt quite certain that when
she met the Vox people after the expiry of her present contract
they would agree to a renewal only at a very much lower figure.
She knew it, and was in a way reconciled; yet she knew also that
the blow, when it fell, would come crushingly and with a revelation
of failure. Yet it could be forestalled, if she chose, by an
announcement of her impending retirement. Then there would be
farewell parties, speeches in her honour, a last blaze of publicity
throughout the world, and for ever afterwards--not quite oblivion.

All this was in her mind one evening when she and Nicky went to a
Chinese party at the Statlers. Statler owned an oil-field and was
married to a pretty Chicagoan who had but recently been a student
at Berkeley; there was something odd, but not wholly unattractive,
in the relationship between the rough, almost illiterate man of
fifty and the cultured girl in her very early twenties. She had
sold herself to him, no doubt; but then, too, there was a sense in
which he had also sold himself to her. He was childishly devoted,
rather like a fierce wolf-hound that she had tamed; it was amusing
to watch him going round saying "Howdy" to all her exquisite
friends. Sylvia rather liked him, and was by no means put out by
his occasionally Rabelaisian humours.

The Statler home had a fantastically lovely garden-roof overlooking
the sea, and here, since the night was warm and there was a bright
moon, the party took place. Sylvia was a Manchu princess, Nicky a
mandarin--not especially original of either of them, but their
costumes and looks made them conspicuous even in a gathering where
wealth and beauty were flaunted rather than displayed. Statler had
been a "bear" operator on Wall Street since the autumn of 1929, and
was reputed to have made himself a multimillionaire out of the
slump; certainly when his wife gave a party his cheque-book was
always opened wide beforehand. All the servants were genuine
Chinese, and padded round, as dusk fell, lighting real Chinese
lanterns; there was an authentic Chinese musician with his yueh-
chin, or moon guitar, plucking notes that seemed to dissolve into
the air as they were sounded; and another marvellously-gowned
fellow with a drum on which the painted dragons looked actually
writhing, so strange was the compulsion of movement and rhythm.
Heaven knew where all these persons and properties had been
obtained--or, rather, Statler's bankers knew. And there was, to
Sylvia, a curious feeling of unreality and impermanence about it
all, symbolised by that roof-top islanded above the sea and shore.
As the lanterns swayed in the breeze, and the surf-smell rose to
mingle with that of sandalwood incense, she felt suddenly that the
whole artifice of the scene, with all its beauty, was but a flower
of catastrophe; that Statler, standing a little apart from his
guests, was the chance beneficiary of some vast and nearly
universal doom. She saw behind the flickering coloured globes and
the laughing couples the darker pageant of headline news--ruined
homes and bankrupt farms, closed factories, bread lines, apple-
sellers on the Fifth Avenue kerb. The vision was partly born of
her own big losses. Two million dollars altogether, she reckoned;
it had all gone somewhere, perhaps into an abyss from which Statler
and his kind had had the magic knack of rescue. It half-amused her
to think of him as the man who had somehow taken her money. He was
standing near the guitar-player, slightly absurd in a presumably
military uniform, and gazing down at the musician with a simplicity
nearly as inscrutable as the Oriental's. She went over to him and
chatted for a time; he had a rather pathetic air of being honoured
by her attention, and she felt comfortingly that at least he
belonged to the generation for whom Sylvia Seydel was still the
greatest name on the screen.

She knew him well enough to ask, at length: "Tell me, Mr. Statler,
d'you think Steel Common are going down any more?"

"Surely," he answered, with dove-like gentleness.

"You think I ought to sell, then? I bought mine at a hundred and
forty."

"Yeah, you sure oughter sell."

"You seriously mean that?"

"Yeah, I surriously do." After a little pause he went on: "I
dunno your Chinese friend, Miss Seydel. He came up to me a moment
ago but I guess he don't understand our lingo very well."

She began to laugh. "Oh, you mean Nicky--he must have been up to
one of his games! Prince Nicholas Petcheni's his full name, and he
speaks quite perfect English."

"You mean to tell me that guy isn't Chink at all?"

"Why, of course not. He's a Roumanian."

"Acts for the movies, I suppose?"

"No, he's my secretary."

"Well, Miss Seydel, all I can say is, you've gotten a durned fine
actor as a sekertary. Look at him now. . . ."

They both looked. Nicky was dancing with a tall, pale girl who was
convulsed with laughter, apparently by something he had just said
or done. But his antics were more than merely laughable. He had,
in some extraordinary fashion, converted himself into the almost
real thing; his chinoiserie was more than improvised, it was
stylised. From the little tippling movements of his feet to the
slightly bent shoulders and slanted head, he WAS the Celestial; he
had even managed to alter the contour of his features, while from
his lips there came a sharp bubbling treble that was in itself a
perfect caricature.

"Yes," said Sylvia slowly, "he's rather good, isn't he?"

She liked to add her own careful and discriminating praise of him
to the keener enthusiasm of others. In her troubled reckonings and
assessments of herself and her future, he at least must be counted
a triumph; it was something, anyhow, to have snatched him away from
the Palmer woman and to have installed him amongst her own
entourage. He was well-known now all round the film-colony; he
went everywhere, sometimes with her, often with others; the women
were wild about him, and even among the men he was rather
surprisingly popular. Probably, she reflected, people were saying
that she and he were living together. She hardly minded; it was
the kind of rumour that did a film-star no harm, provided she
hadn't always to be put to the trouble of substantiating it.

Sylvia's experience of men had been both considerable and, on the
whole, unfortunate. Her first husband, whom she had married at
seventeen, was a production manager in one of the old and now
defunct film companies; they had had an idyllic honeymoon and a
fairly happy year, after which he had capriciously thrown up his
job to become a realtor in Kansas City. She declined to accompany
him there, so he left her and found some other woman eventually;
thus she got her first divorce. This experience made her decide
that if ever she married again it would be for money, not for love.
Three years passed, and then one day an exceedingly rich corset-
manufacturer from New Jersey visited Hollywood, met her, became
preposterously amorous, and found that her terms were marriage and
the continuance of her professional work. He agreed, and built a
house on Millionaire Drive at Pasadena in token of complete
submission. He was an Italian of between forty and fifty, with a
swarm of children accumulated from vaguely complicated previous
alliances; there were still a houseful of them even after three had
been killed in a motor-smash. Sylvia disliked most of them
intensely and soon came to dislike their father too, especially
when he insisted on her providing them with additional half-
brothers and sisters. At last, after many squabblings and
turbulences, the crisis was reached; she left him, and in due
course he discovered a state that was willing to give him a divorce
for mental cruelty. But though matrimonially a failure, she did
not count her year with the corset-manufacturer a wholly wasted
effort. Its results were manifest, even if not in the semblance he
would himself have preferred; it was his money that helped her to
establish a social status in the film-world, to say nothing of its
fruition in the form of the house at Pasadena, and a new corset-
factory Los Angeles.

Her next marriage came after her big success, when she was a world-
famous personage and had a growing fortune of her own. She decided
this time that she would marry into her own class--i.e. a film-
actor; and she chose Jeremy Baxter (né Schmidt), who was almost as
world-famous as herself. She did not exactly fall in love with
him; rather it might be said that she manoeuvred herself, with a
little strain, into that condition. She had a hazy idea that they
might set up a ménage of slightly notorious domesticity--something,
perhaps, after the Pickford-Fairbanks model. Unfortunately Jeremy
was not the ideal husband even if she had been the ideal wife. Her
synthetic affection for him did not survive the first night, nor
her tolerance the first week; she was hardly straitlaced, but after
he had been involved in a court case over some girl whom he had
stripped naked and tarred and feathered on a speedway, she thought
her lawyers might as well do the rest.

Her third set of divorce papers arrived during those weeks at Santa
Katerina, those weeks of indecision about her future. "There you
are, Nicky," she said, tossing him the lawyer's letter. "I'm
through with men now, thank God." He laughed and stooped to her
bare shoulder with his lips. The relationship between them was
peculiar--so peculiar that she decided it must be a part of him,
not of her, and therefore, like so much else that was his,
completely incomprehensible. She liked him, and assumed that he
must like her too; he flirted with her occasionally, and she did
not object. She permitted him many intimacies which with other men
might have been impossible, except at a price; their bedrooms were
on the same floor, and he wandered in and out at all times of the
day and night. It wasn't that she had any particular faith in his
honourable intentions; indeed, she was never quite certain what he
would do next, or to what fantastic gallantry he might eventually
be impelled. There was a childlike quality in him which made
nonsense of all the usual gradations of amorous dalliance; yet she
was aware that this quality might well be just as bogus as his
princeliness. She was not exactly on her guard against him, but
she was determined never to expect too much or to be prepared for
too little. Meanwhile, so long as it lasted, she could enjoy his
company and take whatever he offered that she found acceptable.

Then, quite suddenly, there was a development. They had gone for a
long week-end's motor-trip to Monterey, and there, on that
extraordinary bleak promontory, the languorous south seemed to end
up with a shudder; there was a hint of foreboding in the darkly
waving cypresses and the wind that was nearly a gale. Nicky stood
for a long time on the cliff-edge, gazing far out over the ocean;
and it was then, all at once, that the idea approached her in the
guise of a problem--could he really be accused of always posing
when it was so natural for him to pose? For, in that changed
scene, his whole attitude was changed; she could see his face in
profile against the wind, and it was full of a majestic
seriousness; his forehead seemed almost to slope back more nobly;
certainly his lips and nostrils were quivering in new contours.
"Nicky," she cried, astonished, "what ARE you doing? Come and help
me unpack the food."

He turned and walked towards her with slow, deliberate steps. "If
you really want to know what I was doing, Sylvia, I was imagining
myself an Indian, chased westward by the white man, and coming at
last over the mountains to this terrific end of the world."

"But, Nicky, that's amazing--you LOOKED like an Indian--you're
still looking like one! If only you had some feathers and a
blanket . . ."

Thus the idea was born. They talked about it all the rest of that
day, and throughout the next, fanning each other's enthusiasm till
they both returned to Santa Katerina considerably on fire.


Sylvia had always been fascinated by Indians. Racial problems of
all kinds interested her; she had had many friendships with
Japanese and Chinese, and even to negroes she felt much less than
the physical repugnance she found it politic to assume. But of all
the ethnic types in America, the native red man attracted her most
and stirred her to the largest measure of sympathy; often, seeing
them from the train-windows at Albuquerque, Espanola, and other
stations on the Santa Fé railroad, she had sensed the tragedy of
their survival into a machine-ridden age, and had wondered why the
subject had not attracted more attention from writers. In the
early days of her career she had once gone to New Mexico to make a
cowboy film with real Indians in it, but they had been rather
degenerate specimens, hard drinkers and bad actors. That was part
of their fate; they were a dumb, stricken race, perishing by the
bounty of the conqueror no less than formerly by his sword. As
Sylvia pondered on the theme, it seemed to her that here she had
something she had never had before--the seed of a possibly gigantic
picture, one that would transcend the usual distinctions between
lowbrow and highbrow in an appeal that might be universally
American. Such a picture must present the whole pageant of
conquest and subjection, not with any bitterness against the
conquerors, but in the new spirit of national self-questioning that
had been so rapidly engendered since 1929. She felt, intuitively,
what she could not thoroughly expound--that the God's-own-country
type of American had withered under the shock of crumbling markets;
and that the 1931 model was a charier being, more darkly sceptical
and less eager to accept statistics of car-loadings as the final
touchstone of civilisation.

It gave Sylvia a keen pleasure to work out details of the picture.
She decided it must be based on a simple framework--the story of an
Indian family through several generations, beginning with warfare
against the covered-waggoners and ending with the ignominious semi-
captivity of the present. Nicky, of course, would take the part of
a modern Indian youth, proud of his Chinookan or Seminole ancestry,
yet toying with the civilisation of the invader, going to college,
acquiring culture, falling in love with a city girl, and finally,
to complete the cycle, returning to his own people unfitted for
happiness in either their state or any other. For that last scene
she had in mind a constant recollection of an Indian she had once
seen at Silver City, waiting forlornly at the depot as her train
halted--a tall, lonely figure with blue-black hair and hot,
restless eyes, tragi-comic in a black suit, linen collar, and
patent shoes. But behind the personal picture there must always be
the background of the ever-westward thrust of skyscraper and
railroad, the growth of little one-street townships into great
cities, the absorption stage by stage of the last outposts of the
Amerind.

Nicky was no less taken with the idea than she was, but enthusiasm
alone would not get them far; and as soon as they had settled the
preliminary details they left Santa Katerina for Beverley Hills, to
be nearer the scene of action. Sylvia in all this was a new woman,
lovelier than ever in her eagerness, and she was really very
lovely; there was no thought in her mind of retirement now; she
would stage a magnificent "come-back" with by far the best thing
she had ever done; the world would be at her feet again. She was
sure that, as the American girl in love with the Indian, she could
act as she had never acted before, quickened emotionally by the
interest she felt in the problem behind the story. Nor did she now
fear the day when her contract with Vox's was due to expire. On
the contrary, a week beforehand she drove up arrogantly in her ten-
thousand-dollar Pierce-Arrow and interviewed Vox himself. He was a
cultured Jew, clever, coldly polite, and rather deprecatory on
principle. As soon as she had sketched out her idea he told her
quite definitely that it would never do. Nor did her claim to have
discovered a new male star rouse him to any degree of rapture.
Good ideas and good actors, he indicated, were nearly at giving-
away prices; what a film had to have, in the first place, was a
reasonable chance of securing the dollar-support of the public.
And hers hadn't. The public, he declared, took no interest
whatever in the Indian problem. It was true that Sylvia herself
still had a name, but she would certainly sacrifice it all if she
allowed herself to be featured as an American woman mixed up with a
coloured man. People simply wouldn't stand it; in fact, it might
even lead to race-riots and be prohibited.

"Didn't Pocohontas marry a white man?" she interrupted.

"Yes, and 'Othello's' a story about a nigger and a white girl," he
retorted, "but you daren't talk about it in the Carolinas."

"But that's an entirely different matter. The Indian is as white
as the Italian or the Spaniard. He's as white as the Californian
will be in a few more generations."

"I don't dispute it, Miss Seydel," answered Vox, with a shrug of
the shoulders. "But I still tell you, quite candidly, that to
appear in public in such a picture as you suggest is simply
professional suicide for you."

"I don't see that it need be. After all, why shouldn't we be proud
of the Indian traditions? They're part of our country. And even
by white standards, a great many Indians are fine-looking, don't
you think? As for sex-appeal, if the public wants something new in
that direction, I can promise it from the young Roumanian I've got
in mind to take the chief part."

"My dear Miss Seydel, if it were all a matter of only that, I could
produce at least a dozen niggers that have more of it than any
white man I know. And there are plenty of women who'd be thrilled
by 'em easily enough in the safety of a dollar-seat at the movies.
The trouble is that we don't want certain things to happen in real
life, and that's why we have to keep them off the stage and
screen."

"But you're still talking about niggers. . . ."

It was no use arguing, however. She left quite convinced that she
could expect no support from any of the well-known producing
companies. She was too scornful of their attitude to feel defeat;
indeed, her scorn fed fuel to her keenness. Yet, if what Vox had
said were true, the outlook did not appear very hopeful. Only
gradually did she accept the notion that she must undertake the
task herself. At first, this would have seemed preposterous, for
she, of all persons, knew the immense technical difficulties of
picture-making on a large scale. The cost, too, and the big risk
of financial failure, made the project seem particularly mad; it
was too huge a stake to play for, after all her Wall Street losses.
And yet, when she continued to think about it, it was those Wall
Street losses that finally urged her on; so much of her money had
melted away into nothing, surely she could adventure a fraction of
the residue in something, in something that was both big and real?
Almost without awareness that she had already made the decision,
she began to look about for possible colleagues in the enterprise;
and her final misgivings disappeared when, to her great surprise,
she found Statler sympathetic. Not only that; he offered to join
her financially in the venture on a fifty-fifty basis. The fact
that the film-companies wouldn't touch it didn't disturb him in the
least. "I've made my pile by doing just what the other guy doesn't
do," he said. "And I've found out another thing, too--that there
ain't no fools like those that think they know their own business
best."

As for Nicky, he was sheerly delighted with the prospect of such
new and exciting activities. He read books about the Indians, took
flying visits into Arizona and New Mexico in search of good
locations, and absorbed all the colour and tradition he could get
hold of. He also practised before the camera and microphone, and
was successful enough to enjoy himself very thoroughly. Sylvia was
equally busy, engaging camera-men, production-managers, art-
directors, dialogue-writers, and all the hordes of miscellaneous
camp-followers required for such a job. These preparations were
complete by the end of August, and the actual filming began a
fortnight later at Sabinal, New Mexico.


"Amerind," as Sylvia decided to call the picture, was in many ways
a unique production. Not wholly original in treatment (it owed
obvious debts to the great Griffiths canvases and also to the more
recent all-negro "Hallelujah"), it nevertheless broke as much new
ground as could be expected from a single work. It cost money, and
there was no stinting, but for size and scope it was probably one
of the cheapest films ever made. Sylvia and Nicky drew salaries
which, by Hollywood standards, were quite small, and the producer
was a young Russian of genius, but not yet of reputation, who was
glad enough to take his chance for less than the pay of a swell
gangster. Except for Sylvia, nobody had a name already well-known
to the world. There was about the entire enterprise, indeed, a
prevalent atmosphere of youth and eager ambition; the whole company
were aware, intuitively even if they did not think it out, that
they were engaged in a pioneer adventure, something different in
character from the conventional Hollywood job.

But "Amerind's" greatest triumph, of course, was Nicky. As soon as
the first few scenes had been shot, Sylvia was aware that he would
prove to be all that she had hoped, and more. Not only was his
acting superb, but he had an extraordinary success with the real
Indians of the locality. He seemed to make them realise that the
picture was intended to dignify and not travesty their race; he
conquered their shyness, induced them to share in the general zest
and excitement, and made a few of them into quite excellent actors.
None of the big scenes--the fight with the settlers, the Indian
dance, the trek to the reserved territory--would have been half so
effective without his guidances and persuasions. It was noticeable
that the Indians accepted him as one of themselves as they did no
other; in the native village he strolled in and out of the small
adobe huts as unceremoniously as (Sylvia reflected) he was liable
to stroll in and out of her own and doubtless anyone else's
bedroom. He was like that. She felt it was probably his most
successful pose, that of having no pose at all.

She was surpassingly happy during those crowded, hard-working weeks
at Sabinal. They were something like a miracle to her, bringing
back what she had believed entirely lost, the glamour of her early
film-days. There were the same cries and shoutings, the same
smells of dust and horses and camp-fire cooking, the same flaunted
landscape-colours. Impossible to capture these directly for the
film, but they were somehow imposed, she hoped, on every cadence
and movement of those who were there amongst them the flaming
ocotillo and lemon-yellow cactus, the ash-grey sage-brush against
that background of pale mauve desert and violet horizon. Those
September dawns when they all set out early, in cars as far as the
road took them, then on horseback trails into the mountains, cast a
spell over memory; made vivid all that she had ever had of
happiness or excitement, and blacked out every qualm and trouble of
more recent years. At that mile-high altitude, under the copper
sky as the sun rose, one could sniff the future, one felt alive in
the morning of the world. This was America, she felt, in a sense
that might mean more to Americans if ever some day their skyscraper
civilisation should fall away. She herself throve in it; her body
freshened and grew taut with new ardours. Once, when Nicky kissed
her, she returned his caress with a passion that overwhelmed them
both, but him only with a curious wayward ecstasy. She had never
met anyone the least like him before, and was sure she never would
again. She was by no means confident that he was entirely sane.
Certainly he was the only man she had ever known whose genius took
in everything that he WAS as well as a few things that he HAD. The
warm and sombre dignity of his Indian characterisation touched her
as she felt sure millions of others would be touched; and it was
perhaps natural that after his sublimities before the camera he
should fly to the quaintest extremes when off duty. But on duty or
off, he seemed alive to her in a sense in which most other people
were dead; even his created self, the Indian of the film, lived
more than all her far-away acquaintances of club-house and studio.

She had very few acting scenes at Sabinal; most of hers were
interiors to be shot later on in Hollywood. In these she was to
take the part of the modern New York girl enamoured of the Indian,
meeting him in drawing-rooms, yet seeing behind his tamed elegance
the splendour of the untameable. It was a part that she looked
forward to throughout those long, burning days in the desert; yet
when at last the camp broke up and she waved farewell to the
Indians from the window of the Los Angeles express there came over
her a feeling of simple misery, as for a child's party that was
over.

The month that followed of studio-work, cutting, and final
arrangement, might have been anti-climax but for her growing
consciousness of success. Her acting surprised herself; when she
compared it with that in her last film, it was as though she had
grown into someone else. The love-scenes with Nicky were quite
perfect, and his brooding tenderness set the key for what she felt
sure would sound a new motif in screen-passion. Scores of men had
made love to her, both before the camera and otherwise, but not one
had impressed with such flawlessness of technique. Yet she found
herself entirely incapable of judging whether this flawlessness in
Nicky were due mainly to instinct or to experience. As a critic of
love, she was puzzled; but as an exhibitionist she could not but
admire the virtuosity of a performance which gave her own talents
such full and confident scope. Never, indeed, had celluloid
recorded her in better form.

When the last shot had been taken (one morning in October) she had
everyone she could think of called up on the telephone and invited
to an impromptu party at her house that same evening. She felt
recklessly triumphant, and took vast delight in the excitements and
complications of such large-scale planning at short notice--the
servants clearing the big rooms for dancing, hired waiters
unpacking crockery, the armies of electricians festooning coloured
lights from the eucalyptus trees in the garden. She gave her
bootlegger the largest private order he had had for months, and
told the leader of a jazz-band over the San Francisco telephone
that he could fly his men across at any expense; she wanted the
best saxophones on the Pacific slope that night and was prepared to
pay for them. All this kind of thing was reminiscent of more
profligate days, but there was an intention in her mind that made
profligacy appear worth while: it was a gesture to announce that
Sylvia Seydel was still rich, just as later her picture could do
its own announcing that she was not only still great but greater
than ever.

Between two and three hundred persons arrived, few of them personal
friends, most mere acquaintances, some scarcely even that. She
stirred to an inward contempt as she regally shook hands and
accepted their chattering congratulations; but the contempt was in
some sense a luxury to which she was treating herself as reward.
She knew the mood of these people and the thoughts they had been
exchanging about her ever since the disappointment (she could allow
the word now) of her last picture. She knew that most of them
thought that she had lost her head and was about to lose what was
left of her money also; she knew that they had been laughing at
her, reckoning her losses, scandalising her relationship with
Nicky, whom they probably regarded as just the usual gigolo
foreigner trading on his title and good looks--a queen's favourite
even if not already a prince-consort. Such knowledge gave her a
cool and calculating arrogance; she would show these people the
kind she really was and the kind Nicky really was. That he was
attractive, witty, and clever, had been demonstrated often enough;
but how much more was there that they would soon have to concede?
She felt a stormy, half-proprietary pride in him as she caught over
his shoulder fleeting stares of other dancers--their inquisitive,
envious, slightly ill-wishing eyes. "They'd enjoy themselves like
this at my funeral," she whispered to Statler, during an interval,
and he answered, in his softly cooing voice: "I guess they think
this is your funeral, Miss Seydel."

Supper was taken in the huge panelled dining-room which had been
cleared of all furniture except long buffet-tables. For over an
hour the roar of conversation and popping of corks gathered
impetus; there were torrents of champagne, and a few of the guests
soon began to get noisily tipsy. The bootlegger supplying the
wines had sent also, as a friendly tribute to the movie-queen, the
equipment of a new game of his own invention; it consisted of
life-size rubber heads of gloomily-featured persons labelled
"Depression," "Unemployment," "Stocks Slump," and so on, and the
game was to shy balls at these figures till they toppled over and
rang a bell. But there were not enough balls to go round, and some
of the crowd pelted the figures with apples, empty bottles, and ice
out of the champagne buckets, till the floor and walls at that end
of the room were splashed and littered with debris. Whenever the
bell did ring pandemonium raged for minutes on end, amidst which
the tipsier among the throwers aimed their missiles wildly. Minor
casualties resulted from these commotions, and a man's arm was
badly gashed with broken glass; there also developed a noisy fight
on the lawns between two hastily organised gangs, ending by the
pushing of a garden-roller into an ornamental pond. Some rather
valuable plants were destroyed and miscellaneous other items of
damage done before the warriors of both sexes selected their
partners, filled up their hip-flasks, and retired to amorous
seclusion in the cars parked in the avenue. Indeed, there could be
no doubt that the party was proving a thorough success.

Towards midnight the surviving merrymakers called for a speech from
Sylvia, who was still dancing with Nicky, and the cry was taken up
so boisterously that guests came rushing in from their various
preoccupations in other parts of the house and gardens. Sylvia,
with her arm through Nicky's, mounted the dais amongst the jazz-
players and skimmed a few sentences serenely above the hubbub. She
said very little about the new film, except that it was finished,
and that she was sure it was going to be a success. But she
praised Nicky and insisted that all the credit was due to him
rather than to her. At this there was some slightly mocking
applause, to which she responded by adding: "Well, anyhow, you'll
all be seeing the picture, so you'll soon have a chance of judging
the kind of person he really is."

To her surprise, Nicky flushed and appeared put out by the remark.
"I don't know that I particularly want all these people to know the
kind of person I really am," he answered, in a tone that began with
lazy insolence and ended in a note of shrill rage. Then, in the
excited hush that followed, he gave a sudden laugh, shook himself
free from Sylvia, and pushed his way out of the room.


Four hours later Sylvia slowly undressed amidst the perfumed and
unguented luxury which had been photographed for so many art
magazines and beauty-cream advertisements. She had not seen Nicky
since his abrupt departure from the dance-room, and she was trying
hard to feel that he had not meant to snub her publicly, but had
only been a little more capricious than usual after too much
champagne. Harder still, she tried to feel that it did not really
matter what his reason had been, since he had behaved rudely to
her, and must be left either to realise it for himself or not at
all. It was by no means the first squabble they had had, but it
was the first time they had ever given a public exhibition. She
felt hurt, cross, and achingly tired after the stress of the
evening and the sharp deflation of her triumph. The house and
gardens were still full of sounds of the servants clearing things
away, and one always wondered at such a time if it had all been
worth while. On the whole she thought it had--at any rate, up to
the scene with Nicky. Fortunately, everybody had been more or less
tight when that had happened. Perhaps Nicky too, poor boy. She
had better make up her mind, she reflected, whether she was chiefly
sorry or angry.

She got into bed and soon found physical languors too comforting to
resist; she was nearly asleep when suddenly the door opened and
Nicky entered. He wore one of his brightly futurist dressing-gowns
over green silk pyjamas, and smoked a cigarette that drooped
obliquely from the corner of his mouth. There was nothing of his
usual elegance about him; his face, on the contrary, was flushed
and unquiet, and his hair tumbled over his forehead in picturesque
confusion. After switching on the light he closed the door noisily
and, without looking towards the bed, strode over to the dressing-
table and began to use one of her hair-brushes. He did not speak,
though of course that might be because he thought she was asleep;
in which case, she considered, it had been rather bad-mannered of
him to switch on lights and make such a racket. "Well, Nicky," she
said quietly, "where have you been?"

He swung round and answered in a clipped and rather peevish voice:
"I couldn't stand that infernal crowd, so I went out, got drunk on
my own, and then had a bathe in the pool."

"Rather silly of you, really. Just the way to take a chill and die
of pneumonia."

She was surprised, but able to keep quite unperturbed. She had
been prepared for his meeting her with bland forgetfulness, or even
with some sort of an apology; that he might continue the flare-up
had hardly suggested itself. But then he always did what one least
expected, she thought, calmly watching him.

He went on, rather loudly; "Look here, Sylvia, all this--the sort
of thing that happened to-night--has got to stop. Don't say you
don't know what I mean. You DO know. You were patronising me.
You had me on a bit of string and kept trailing me round to be
shown off to all your confounded friends. I won't have it. I
belong to myself, and I won't be made a tame monkey of. I tell you
I won't have it. And don't imagine I shall be restrained by any
feelings of--of gratitude--or chivalry--or--"

"My dear Nicky, those are the last motives I should ever suspect in
you. I'm afraid you're still rather drunk or you wouldn't be
talking such nonsense."

"It isn't nonsense. You know perfectly well that all this evening
you've been doing nothing but parade me!"

"And that's all you can give as a reason for making a scene in
public? Just because I said something quite harmless and not very
important that didn't happen to take your fancy? Do you ever care
a damn whether I always like the things you say?"

"That's different. You went round acting the proud mamma with the
infant prodigy!"

"Oh, Nicky, you're too funny! Even if I was acting, which I don't
feel inclined to admit, haven't I as much right to an occasional
pose as you have? Don't you ever act? Aren't you acting just a
little bit now? Why, you're just lashing yourself into a temper to
enjoy the result, that's all. I'll allow you're managing it rather
well, but I'm doing my share too, remember--your smart dialogue
wouldn't come out so pat if I didn't hand you the right cues. And,
by the way, I don't think the hairbrush gestures are quite in
keeping--put it down and try something else."

He suddenly collapsed on to the bed and began to shout and shake
with laughter. "Oh, Sylvia, whatever makes you so adorably acute?"
Every cadence in his voice was changed, and as he went on laughing
he stooped and buried his lips and nose in the gentle hollow of her
throat. "Do I smell of champagne, darling, or doesn't it matter?
Oh, what a lovely and clever woman you are! Lovely, yet you've got
a mind like a surgical knife. . . . I like the mixture, I must
say." His lips roamed to her mouth, and he added, in between deep
kisses: "Yes, I do . . . DO . . . like . . . it. . . ."

She flung her arm round his neck and stroked his face, instantly
forgetting the ridiculous little tiff, and submitting to his
fondling with rich contentment. Her sensuality was of a kind of
which she felt no shame and which she saw no need to suppress.
"Nicky, I'm--I'm glad you like me." That sounded silly. She had
only said it to hear herself say it; her real answer was with her
body. And her body felt, if it were possible, amused. It occurred
to her all at once that here they were, the two of them, engaged in
these rather abrupt and intimate diversions, without ever having
exchanged a word of love. That was modern, surely. In the old
days, to judge from novels, love was largely a matter of
protestation, and an author had to work his characters up to a
fantastic pitch of verbose sentimentality before he could close the
final chapter with a chaste embrace. Rather unhealthy, she
thought; she remembered going through the phase in her teens--
perhaps most girls did at that age. Anyhow, the mere idea of
talking love with Nicky made her feel quite comically gigglish. It
was all right for the films, but they would be too well aware of
each other's technique to take themselves seriously in private. In
the midst of her cool, roving thoughts she passed from mere
amusement to sharp, quicksilver delight. Marvellous boy! And how
wonderful those days had been at Sabinal--long, brick-red days in
the sun, Nicky hallooing the Indians, sausages frying over picnic-
fires, the rusty-rose of the sky when they all returned to camp in
the evenings. And the scarlet ocotillo that was like a spurt of
flame, and the big blots of lilac and lemon on the hillsides. . . .
She was never quite certain whether colours made her happy, or
whether she always noticed them most when she was happy. For she
liked Nicky tremendously--as much as she had ever liked any man, if
you could call him a man. . . . But to LOVE him . . . well,
anyway, he didn't ask you to. If he wanted to kiss, he did, and if
you felt in a similar mood, all right; he didn't insist on adding a
huge significance to it. And what WAS love, for that matter? Only
a word to mean anything you liked; drinking too much champagne,
sleeping with somebody, dying on the battle-field, going to church--
you did it all for what could be called by the name. An unprecise
term, therefore, to use in an argument. . . . But she was at
Sabinal again, its colours before her eyes and its warmth lapping
her like a tide; and she knew at last that whether she loved Nicky
or not (an absurd problem), his coming had made a difference beyond
her power to calculate, and that without him now she would be
struggling amongst the elbows of the world. She had had her day,
there was no real doubt of it; but his profound and lovely foolery
could give her the illusion of a second chance.



CHAPTER FIVE


NICHOLAS PALESCU


"I don't want to stay here long," said Nicky, driving his two-
seater on Fifth Avenue; and Sylvia, sitting next to him, purred
comfortably: "Sure, Nicky--after the next picture we'll go to
Europe for a season, or Japan, or just anywhere you like."

He pulled up sharply and the surrounding items of the traffic-block
seemed to stoop over him in menace. It was an extravagantly low-
built car, the last word in silver-gadgeted opulence, and a recent
gift from Sylvia; there had been photographs of it and of them
throughout the Press, and the makers, for publicity, had let it go
at half-price. But Nicky already felt that he had given away
several thousand dollars' worth of advertisement in return for
nothing but the sensation of being a large baby who must not only
travel in a bassinette but propel himself in one. Just now, for
instance, the occupants of adjacent cars immediately noticed him,
and there was a concerted craning of necks and muttering of
comments until, with a jerk, the traffic moved on.

Nicky had come to New York with Sylvia after the successful
première of 'Red Desert.' The fact was, at the trade-show the
film's obvious merits had caused several distributing companies to
bid for it, and Sylvia, after much haggling and consultation with
Statler, had disposed of half her rights for a hundred thousand
dollars. As this was nearly as much as the whole film had cost to
produce, and as the services of nation-wide distributors were bound
to result in larger profits, she felt she had driven a good
bargain. True, the distributors insisted on making a few slight
alterations in the film as it stood. Besides the change of title,
it was also decided to add a few supplementary studio scenes
revealing the fact that the Indian was not really an Indian after
all, but a bank-president's son whom his parents believed to have
been drowned as a baby, but who had actually been rescued by
Indians and brought up as one of themselves. The timely discovery
of his true ancestry made possible a new and happier ending for the
picture, and the final scene showed Nicky and Sylvia bringing
paternal tears to the eyes of an old man in a bath-chair. Apart,
however, from these additions, and the shortening of a kiss by two
seconds in the interests of public morality, 'Red Desert' was
substantially the same work as the projected 'Amerind.'

The revised version represented, it might be said, a victory for
reasonableness and common sense on all sides. Sylvia had been at
first reluctant to consent to any changes at all, but the
unmistakable enthusiasm of the film-magnates for the production as
a whole convinced her that it would be merely quixotic to stand
out, particularly as Statler favoured agreement and Nicky offered
no objections. Only the Russian producer proved thoroughly
intransigeant, but since he had no direct financial interest in
the film's success it was easy to discount his attitude. Nor
could it be denied that the cautious editing imposed by the
distributors seemed amply justified in the reception given to
"Red Desert" by the cinema-going public. The dish had been well
salted by preliminary publicity, and the story of how Raphael
Rassova, the new Roumanian film-star, had originally masqueraded
in Hollywood as a Roumanian prince, and how Sylvia Seydel had
found him out but had refused to give him away, evoked delighted
comments from the gossip-paragraphists. "A wonder film," quoted
the blurb compiled from assorted newspaper criticisms. "Something
new in cinematography. . . . Raphael Rassova is marvellous, and
Sylvia Seydel is lovelier than ever. . . . At one bound the
Roumanian Romeo steps into the front rank of heart-throbbers. . . .
Miss Seydel has surpassed herself. . . . To take a single glance
at Rassova is to know instantly why girls leave home. . . . Rassova
is a revelation. Not since Valentino has there risen such a star
in the firmament. . ." The film's triumph was definitely clinched
when a Baptist minister in Athens (Arkansas) described it in a
sermon as "a shameless aphrodisiac, fit only for a nation of
birth-controllers and evolutionists."

On Sylvia, at least, the effect of such rather stupendous success
was completely tonic. She had always (until the Wall Street slump)
considered herself a good business-woman, and she was in her
element now with the shoals of offers that began to pour in on her,
not only for film-work, but for such remunerative side-issues as
newspaper-articles, recommendations of face-cream, magazine-
interviews, etc. All her depressions had lifted at last; she had
"rung the bell"; her "come-back" had been practically all that she
had ever hoped--practically, yes--and the impractical residue had
been fairly easy to forget. She was still a queen in her own right
and on a safe throne; besides which, she had had the genius to
marry Nicky. That, in the opinion of Hollywood's coolest critics,
was a prudent fortification of the dynasty.

"You see, Nicky," she was saying, that afternoon on Fifth Avenue,
when the next traffic-block gave her the chance, "we've made such a
wonderful hit that it's terribly important to follow up quickly
with another. Terribly important for you too. So many people
won't take you seriously till you've done a thing twice--they're
always afraid the first time may be only a fluke."

"Well, so it may be. And, anyhow, who wants to be taken seriously?"

"Yes, I know, but when people begin handing you dollars by the
hundred thousand you can't treat the matter entirely as a joke.
That offer of Vox's this morning was pretty good, and I think he'll
give more if we hold out. I cabled him that we'd accept two-fifty,
but I expect it'll end by splitting the difference."

Nicky assented rather vaguely. He took little interest in the
complicated financial problems that had arisen since his ascent
into fame; beyond the knowledge that he was now rich enough to buy
anything he wanted in shops, he was glad to leave all that side of
the business in Sylvia's hands. It was not that he couldn't
bargain shrewdly himself; he could, when he wanted to--which was to
say, when he felt that the issue could possibly matter to him. He
had, for instance, enjoyed the haggling with those Englishmen about
the aeroplane invention, and with Sylvia about his original salary
as secretary, because in those days he had needed money and could
bother about it. But now he found it difficult to raise any keen
excitement about the exact digits that were to precede the row of
noughts in his new contract.

When they reached their suite at the Plaza a cabled reply from Vox
awaited them. Sylvia's eyes, as she tore it open, conveyed the
news. "Nicky!" she cried. "He's accepted! He's not even arguing
about it! We're signing for two hundred and fifty thousand
dollars!"

He smiled, and tried to think, as a mere essay in the whimsical,
what the sum of a quarter of a million dollars might do. It might
buy a scrap of frontage on Broadway, the whole Ziegfeld chorus for
an experiment in companionate marriage in Honolulu, a large-sized
howitzer, or a seat on the New York Stock Exchange; it could endow
a professorship of ventriloquism at Harvard, equip a scientific
expedition to Mongolia, or pay the interest on the world's debts
for about ten minutes. What was quite certain, however, was that
the quarter-million handed over by Vox would be employed in none of
these thought-provoking pursuits. He said, after his reverie:
"Yes, it's not too bad, is it? But it's got to be earned yet,
remember. How many pictures are we promising?"

"Three."

Three, was it? Thirty-three would have appeared to concern him no
more--and no less. For he knew then, quite definitely, that he
didn't want to make another film at all. He was bored, with a
boredom like a hot chafing that would soon break into a sore. "I
think I'll go out for a walk," he said, desperately seeking relief.

"But, Nicky, dear, if you wouldn't mind, there are just a few
things that you simply must do. . . ."

This time it was autograph-books that had to be signed. There was
a whole heap of them awaiting the scribbled "Raphael Rassova"
which, since it would inevitably convert the mere admirer into the
devotee, was considered well worth the trouble both by Sylvia, with
her experience, and by Nicky's new private secretary, with his.
This latter person was a hearty, hand-shaking New Yorker, specially
recommended by Vox for the education of rising stars in the way
they should twinkle.

Nicky filled his fountain-pen and set dismally to work. Just
before he had finished the secretary admitted a girl journalist who
wanted to know his life-story, how it felt to be famous, and his
opinion of American womanhood. A few of her questions he answered
frivolously, and afterwards Sylvia warned him against this; for it
appeared that journalists were dangerous people, with immense power
to injure him if they conceived themselves slighted. He was, he
realised, a much more vulnerable person now than ever before--an
idol, it would seem, only so long as he skilfully avoided becoming
a target. He grumbled for a time, but there was soon the need to
dress for a dinner and reception that were being held that evening
in his honour. He went in a state of grudging resignation induced
by several cocktails, shook hands with between four and five
hundred people, made a short speech, signed menu-cards by the
dozen, and drank some rather bad brandy. As he crossed the
pavement afterwards with Sylvia to reach their car, a crowd of
girls who had apparently been waiting in the rain for some hours
rushed forward. His coat was torn slightly and one girl put her
arms round his neck and pulled his hat off. He rode back to the
hotel ruffled, sombre, and hardly soothed by the sight of a monster
sky-sign spelling out his pseudonym in letters of vivid scarlet.
Sylvia, of course, had been marvellous throughout the entire
evening--marvellous herself, and marvellous in the way she had
tried to spare him the kind of things he disliked. It was the one
axiom he forced himself to admit on every possible occasion--the
marvellousness of Sylvia. That she was beautiful, clever, and
immensely capable of running their married life as a going concern,
were facts so indisputable that he could not easily decide what
else there was that she could have been. Perhaps not very much.
And yet . . . his mood of growing dissatisfaction seemed just to
touch her, as it were, while his back was turned, and to recoil
swiftly whenever he caught himself at it.

That night, in their bedroom, she remarked that he had talked very
little during the evening, and asked if he had been tired. The
question, coming then, focused all his complicated discomforts into
a single pinpoint of misery, so that he answered, rather amazed at
the extent of his own suffering: "Yes, I was tired. The people
didn't interest me, and I didn't want to bother with them. Why
should I bother with people if I don't feel like it?"

"Only that you always used to be so amusing in company, Nicky--"

He flared up suddenly at that. "Oh, God, must I always be what I
always used to be? That's the fault of everything--to have to go
on doing the same thing, being the same thing--it's like that with
films--because of one, you've got to go on making two, three, four,
five, six!"

"Nicky, my dear, I don't know why you should let yourself get in
such a rage. Just because your success has been wonderful--"

"Yes, I know it's because of that. It's only the happy failures
who have freedom to swop grooves. If you're unlucky enough to be a
success, you're expected to stay where you're put so that mass-
hysteria knows where to find you. . . . Oh yes, it's wonderful all
right. But I remember I once said that the Californian scenery was
wonderful, and you told me that you were tired of it because it
just went on being wonderful. A wise remark, that, Sylvia."

"I was despondent in those days, if that's what you mean. I
remember how I envied you your eagerness for things--you had plenty
of it then."

"Well, I don't envy you yours now. I could stand you enjoying all
this success if you were only a little privately amused by it. But
I don't think you are. I think you really believe that 'Red
Desert's' a masterpiece."

"I certainly haven't reached the point of despising it, as you
apparently have."

"I don't despise it--I just think it's ridiculous. The idea of the
Indians was all right to begin with, but the ending you let them
stick on was utterly fatuous. Of course if it was merely money you
wanted, that's a sound reason, I admit. But why go on pretending
that the thing's still any real good?"

"You agreed to the change of ending yourself."

"Oh, yes, I'd have agreed to anything. To tell the truth, I was so
damnably bored by the whole business by that time that--"

Even the squabble, he reflected heavily, was proceeding with the
orderliness of routine. They had had many such, during their four
months of married life, and all had left their sincere affection
for each other entirely unimpaired. But now he felt only saddened
instead of slightly exhilarated by the quick-fire exchange, because
he could sense behind it the pull of so many tenuous threads of
emotion. He felt uneasy, exacerbated, aware of a host of
irritating tendernesses. He said, pacifying himself: "Oh, what's
the good of all this wrangling, Sylvia? I'm in a filthy temper. I
think I'd better work it off on some of those signatures. There
are still about a million of them to be done."

"Oh, don't bother, darling, if you feel tired. They can wait."

"No, no, I couldn't sleep if I tried--I may as well get on with
them."

He put on a dressing-gown and passed through the adjoining rooms
into the one that had been fitted out as a temporary office. Here,
on a large table, lay his job--mysterious and cabalistic, the
writing of two curious words, with his own hand, on pieces of paper--
the last lip-service to personality demanded by a rubber-stamp
world--and even then the personality was bogus. The trouble with
modern fame, he decided, wielding his fountain-pen, was that it so
soon became humourless. It had been fun, at first, being fêted by
celebrities and having money enough to buy fur-overcoats and
Cadillacs; just as it had been fun at first, in fact rather a lark,
to go picture-making in the mountain-deserts of New Mexico. New
sensations were always interesting up to a point, but the point was
so fatally often that at which they ceased to be new. He swung
round to the window--it was on the thirtieth floor or so--and
watched the glittering panorama which represented the strange world
that he had conquered. But had he conquered it, or had it only
conquered him? On a desk near by lay an enormous heap of unopened
letters, forwarded from the film company's headquarters in Los
Angeles and all addressed to him by unknown admirers. It was his
secretary's job to deal with them, of course; the usual procedure
was to send a polite reply enclosing one of the signed postcard
photographs. But he opened half a dozen himself, in mere
curiosity, and glanced through their contents--ill-spelt appeals
for money, hard-luck stories from out-of-works, maudlin
sentimentality from schoolgirls, passionate unburdenings from
bourgeois wives in big cities. . . . He threw them back into the
heap after a few moments, in a mood of utter nausea. And these
letters, he realised, came by every post, all the year round, and
not only to him, but to Sylvia and every other screen-idol. They
were his fan-mail, individually of no importance, but to be
carefully counted and classified as an index-figure of his rise or
fall in the public esteem. He took up his pen and scribbled
'Raphael Rassova' once more, but the name, facing him now so
absurdly on all sides, transfixed him into panic as he thought of
the three more films that he was promising to make. He couldn't do
it; he knew now that he couldn't and wouldn't. To have to
stereotype himself like that, with the same theme always repeated
da capo al fine--was it not all a sort of harlotry, standardised
harlotry for those standardised brothels of the machine-mind--the
cinemas? The phrase, pleasing him intellectually, converted his
momentary cowardice into rebellion. He suddenly felt a vast grudge
against those who were offering him, under the guise of success,
this rigid and dingy slavery. He was to become a part of the huge
mass-production plant of Fordised emotions, a rare and expensive
raw material surrendered to the machine. It made him think of a
paragraph he had seen in a woman's journal a few days before,
suggesting that Raphael Rassova would soon be second only to the
Prince of Wales as an object of feminine adoration; and the
recollection gave him a quickening sympathy with that enigmatic
figure across the ocean, a man nearly old enough to be his father,
yet condemned to everlasting Peter-Panhood by a country haunted by
the spectre of its own old age. But he, anyhow, had been born to
it, had had half a lifetime in which to get used to seeing his
photograph, like that of a rather forlorn head-prefect, on magazine-
covers and chocolate-boxes. It was harder to accept such bondage
voluntarily, and for no visible reward except the power to spend
money with as little genuine freedom as one had been permitted to
earn it.

The spectacle of that future, dimly menacing as it had been for
weeks, revealed itself more monstrously as he sat pondering alone.
He saw its tentacles closing in on him with every moment; already
the giant machine was being prepared for his bodily insertion. He
felt as if it were about to pulp him into nothing but a phallic
symbol to be held up before the stiffening glare of the mass-mind.
That phrase pleased him too; he felt protected, somehow, by his own
power of mental invective. A little cheered, he turned more
tranquilly to thoughts of Sylvia. He liked her, and would have
liked her nearly as much if she had been a man. The little
difference, never important to him, had grown less so with
familiarity. Perhaps in that sense it was a mistake for him to
have become anybody's husband, even a fourth one. A sudden
consciousness of his own personal tragedy came over him at that
moment. He was rootless, like so many of that war-spoilt
generation; without parentage, nationality, or religion, he had
developed a sacred petulance of spirit which was all he could
confidently call his own. But it was too fragile to bear the
imposition of outside ties. The thought of himself as a father, or
as an old man, made him fret uneasily; he had no reserves of
stability, his only happiness lay in movement, though whether, in
the long run, he was chiefly pursuing or escaping, he could never
be quite sure. Just now, at any rate, he wanted definitely to
escape--from New York and America altogether; yet, if he did, he
wondered if Sylvia could possibly understand that he was no more
tired of her than an explorer is tired when he moves on. All he
hoped was doubtless the impossible, that she could let him go as
joyfully as he, if she were but joyful at all, could leave her.

He went to bed, slept badly, and rose in the morning restless as
from a series of nightmares; after breakfast he left Sylvia busy
with maids and secretaries and took a brisk walk along the
pavements, wearing his hat and overcoat as disguisingly as he
could. Even that, for instance, had been an exciting sensation at
first--the continual expectation of being recognised by strangers;
but by now it had become nothing but a fierce unpleasantness. He
walked fast, eyeing shop-windows furtively, and managed to remain
unnoticed for a time; but along Broadway some girls coming out of a
department-store identified him. There were shrill cries of
"Rassova," and before he could gather his wits he was hurrying
along with a shouting and cheering mob at his heels. He turned
into a side-street, increasing his pace and throwing a smile to his
pursuers; a woman seized his hand and shook it vehemently; then,
with the smile still streaked across his face, he saw an open
doorway and swerved into it, blindly pushing open the inner doors
to which it gave access. To his surprise he found himself in a
church. It was too dark to see clearly, but he caught a distant
glimpse of another occupant and hurried towards him. "Excuse me,"
he began, rather breathlessly, "but is there a different exit out
of here? I want to get away from a crowd that's following me--you
see, I'm Raphael Rassova."

Despite the urgency of the matter, he could not restrain a thrill
of pleasure when he found that the man had clearly never heard of
the name. "Rassova, the movie-actor," Nicky explained, and the man
answered, in a quite unimpressed voice: "Oh, I see. . . . I'm
afraid you'll have to go out by the way you came in, but there's a
room where you could wait for a time. I'll tell the crowd to clear
off, if you like."

"Thanks," said Nicky. "I'm terribly obliged to you."

Only then, as his eyes grew accustomed to the gloom of the
interior, did he perceive that his rescuer wore clerical costume,
and a few minutes later, sitting by the fire in a comfortably
furnished vestry, he realised from pictures on the wall that
the church was Roman. After an interval the priest rejoined him
and began to chat casually and still without the slightest
inquisitiveness. When Nicky out of courtesy volunteered further
information about himself, he merely said: "Oh, yes, I understand--
some of the people in the crowd told me about you." He spoke in a
way that rather charmingly avoided both contempt and any excessive
interest.

"Perhaps you didn't believe me till then?" Nicky suggested.

"Well, it did just enter my mind that you might be an escaped
gunman."

"And even so, you'd have asked me in here to wait?"

"Why not?" He laughed, and Nicky laughed, and they were
instinctively aware of liking each other. He was about thirty,
Nicky supposed; a sandy-haired, rather stockily-built man with very
bright grey-blue eyes and a pale, pleasantly absent-minded face.
An Irishman named Byrne, he said, and not attached to that
particular church--merely a friend of the priest in charge. He
himself was shortly going out to a parish, if it could be called
such, in South America--a tract of swamp and jungle that he could
not cross in less than a fortnight, so he would have plenty of
work. He was sailing at the end of the week, on the Megantic.
After he had talked for some time about his own affairs, he seemed
to recollect that Nicky had his too, and remarked that it must be
annoying to be so famous that one daren't walk about the streets--
"Though, of course," he added, shrewdly, "it's good advertisement
for you, I suppose, so you can't really object to it."

"I loathe it," answered Nicky, and began to say a great many things
that were in his mind. Gradually, however, as he talked, there
came upon him a curious and entirely novel sensation--the sensation
that somebody else was not overwhelmingly interested in him. It
was not that the priest was inattentive, or showed any signs of
boredom or displeasure; it was merely his very gentle air of having
had, all along, more pressing matters to think about, and of still,
despite Nicky, contriving to have them. Nicky was puzzled. All
his life he had been used to occupying the centre of the stage; his
good looks and wits had won it for him, equally from men and women,
and though he was always prepared for hostility, the one thing he
never expected was indifference. Yet this man did seem, in a sort
of way, indifferent. It was agreeable to find him unmoved by the
name of Raphael Rassova, but less so to find him equally unmoved by
the bitterest unmasking of that personage. All he said, in reply
to a particularly eloquent fulmination, was: "Yes, you must find
it very tiresome. But of course it's in your power to give it up
just as soon as you like."

They chatted for some time longer and exchanged cordial good wishes
before Nicky took a cab back to the hotel.

That night he told Sylvia that he must go. But the strange thing
was that, in the very telling, he was aware of a sense in which he
would have to leave something behind, in which he would be linked
to her always; indeed, he felt a touch of excitement in the
romantic possibility that he might even some day come back. And
what had seemed likely to be a grand emotional climax turned out,
after all, a mere businesslike discussion of holiday plans. She
said she had noticed his need of a change--a complete change; and
though it would necessarily upset a good many arrangements, Vox and
those other people would have to put up with it. "It's no use you
staying here and having a breakdown, is it?" Then, almost
unimportantly, she added: "Do you want me to come with you? I
don't suppose you do--you like having adventures on your own, I
know. And I shall be very busy--probably Vox will have work for me
to do."

He gazed at her as at some miracle being enacted before his eyes.
"I'm glad you don't mind," he said at length. "You're really
enjoying yourself here, aren't you, amongst all this fame?"

"Pretty well," she replied. "But you're evidently not, so you're
quite right to take a rest from it. Where, by the way, do you
think of going?"

"I thought of Buenos Aires, to begin with. I've never been to
South America."

"I have. You'll like it."

He had two more days in New York--amply filled by the joyous
preparations for departure. No public announcement was issued, and
careful attempts were made for at least a partial incognito on
board. Sylvia, who had had much experience of these matters, was
full of useful help and suggestions; she bought him books for the
voyage, and superintended all the details of tickets, passport, and
luggage. On the last night before the Megantic was due to sail
they went out to dine at a fashionable dancing-restaurant, and some
of his lost enthusiasm returned to him as he gazed across the table
at his wife. HIS WIFE. He thought her very adorable, and the joke
of their being married was perhaps, after all, as good as most.
His humour rose into exultation as the night proceeded; he did not
even object when the spotlight was turned on them and, in response
to calls from the other diners, he had to get up and make a little
speech. At that very moment, he was thinking, the cabin-trunks
were on board, and his valet might be laying out his day-clothes
for the last time.

Later, at the hotel, she said: "You know, Nicky, you were wrong
when you said I'm not privately amused by this success of yours. I
AM. I DO think it's funny. And I think you are, too."

He laughed, and answered, to a question she hadn't asked: "Yes,
it's queer--the way I always get tired, and want to change, and do
something else. I feel rather sick with most things, after a time.
I can't settle myself. Not that I particularly want to, of
course."

"What DO you want? Do you know?"

"Not in the least. Except that, in a general sort of way, I want
to be ME."

"You're YOU all right. You needn't have any fears about that."

"Well, YOU'RE another YOU. We're quits at the rather silly
game. . . . Which is all talking nonsense, of course."

"Yes, all nonsense. Good night, Nicky."

"Good night, Sylvia."


The next day, on board, he renewed his acquaintance with the
priest, and as the voyage progressed they became good friends.
Byrne, however, was still far from showing signs of being impressed
by Nicky, and Nicky was still rather delightedly puzzled over the
phenomenon. And yet the Irishman by no means discouraged the
youth's more impulsive companionship. He had an air of slightly
detached tolerance that was a little less than chilly, though not
quite warm; and Nicky felt again that the root of the attitude was
the simple fact that he himself was not, and never could be, a
salient feature of this man's life. Nevertheless, or perhaps
because of it, he was the more tempted to be frank, and he did not
disguise, but rather even paraded, the fact that his brief past had
contained many incidents of which the stricter moralist might
disapprove. During those lengthening days in southern waters, with
the coast of Brazil looking sometimes no more than a stone's throw
away, the two talked a good deal between adjacent deck-chairs; or
more accurately, Nicky confided, and Byrne listened. It was a new
and somewhat difficult experience for Nicky to tell the exact
truth; yet his life-story, even without the embellishments he
usually added to it, was quite a vivid chronicle. Born after his
father's death, he had lost his mother at the age of five; she had
died during the flight of refugees when the Germans invaded
Roumania in 1916. The family had originally had money, but it was
all lost; and a tragic childhood had merged inevitably into
disturbed and fitful youth. He was luckier than most in having had
two thief-proof assets--brains and good looks; and during his
boyhood he had sensed that his only chance of survival, let alone
of happiness, lay in the exploitation of these for what they would
fetch. In a world of paupers and profiteers he had contrived a
technique of living, and that this technique was not too squeamish
in what it permitted itself must, he argued, be laid to the charge
of a society that offered him nothing he wanted on any other terms.
"I don't grumble at the tricks fate has played on me; but I do say
that I've never been able to discern in them any moral code
obliging me to abide by its rules in return." He gave Byrne
various examples of unregretted misdeeds and seemed surprised when
the priest was neither shocked nor condemnatory. "As for personal
lies about oneself, I almost hold that one is entitled to them--
they're a protective covering in the choice of which one may show
good or bad taste just as in clothes. I happen to be telling the
truth now, to you, but that's merely for the novel sensation of
nakedness."

"Well, well," said Byrne quietly, "I think I find your experiences
rather more interesting than your philosophy. Tell me, if you
like, about where you've been."

"WHAT I've been might surprise you more. I've had jobs as a
waiter, a ship's steward, an air-mechanic, a translator of English
books into Russian for the Soviet Government, and a commercial
traveller. Oh, and an inventor. I MUST tell you about that. It's
rather funny, and--incidentally--it explains how I ever managed to
arrive in Hollywood."

Byrne seemed amused by the story, especially by the description of
the gyrector experiment in England. "I give you good marks for
pluck, anyhow," he commented, and then, with a suddenness that was
characteristic of him, took up a book and would talk no more.

They had many such conversations and arguments, which Nicky enjoyed
the more completely because Byrne's replies were rarely of a kind
that interrupted the copious torrent of his own confessions. Once,
after he had been chattering for some time, and had paused at a
point that invited some remark from the other, Byrne looked up
quietly and exclaimed: "I'm sorry, but I was thinking of something
else for the moment--you'll have to go over that again, I'm afraid,
if you want me to grasp it."

"But I really don't think I could possibly remember it all."

"Perhaps it doesn't matter then."

Nicky laughed. "Of course it doesn't. Nothing matters that I say--
sparks from fused wires, that's all. Much more interesting is
what you were thinking about that monopolised all your attention."

Byrne answered, as almost from a dream: "I was thinking of some
work that awaits me. When I get to Buenos Aires I have a three-
weeks' journey up-river to the frayed edges of civilisation and
beyond. Yet only two centuries ago, in that same region, my
predecessors were carrying out what was perhaps, all things
considered, the most successful social experiment in history. In
those days cathedral bells rang out over rich provinces, the native
Indians lived in cosy homesteads and their children went to school
and were taught Spanish--a whole nation enjoyed peace and good-
humour under the rule of a few wise and elderly men in black
uniforms--the same, by the way, that I wear at this moment.
History tells us, too, that the art of music throve especially, and
that violins were brought over from Europe to be played in the
churches instead of organs. I often try to think what that must
have meant. Mid-eighteenth century, remember--too early for
Mozart, but there would be Bach and Corelli. Entrancing picture,
isn't it? Most people think of civilisation as something that goes
on spreading inevitably--but it's really much more like a tide that
can ebb as well as flow. That land where once there were Calderon
plays and Bach sonatas is now a fever-ridden waste inhabited by a
few half-barbarous tribes, while the old cathedrals, stripped of
their bells and ornaments, are almost hidden away. More terribly
than Debussy's, too, because their sea is a green one."

"And that's where you're going?"

"Yes. I understand that the grand tradition still partly lingers,
mixed up with the older and younger traditions of poisoned arrows
and gin. A friend of mine, a brother-priest, was there a few years
ago and found the natives very glad to have their baptisms and
marriages and burials re-solemnised by him. He couldn't stay,
unfortunately."

"But YOU'LL stay?"

"I hope so."

That was the day before the Megantic turned into the grey estuary
of the Plate. The next morning, with Buenos Aires in sight, Nicky
sought out Byrne for what must necessarily be their last talk on
board. "Where do you go when you get on shore?" he asked.

"To Rosario by train, and then by river-boat to Asuncion. It
leaves to-morrow."

"And then?"

"I have still another thousand miles or so after that."

"Can I--may I come with you?"

"Good heavens, no--it would be the poorest sort of rest-cure
imaginable."

"I don't want a rest-cure, except from crowds and women and
cities." With sudden emotion in his voice, Nicky added: "I shall
be unhappy when you've gone. I'd like to see those lost
cathedrals. And if you won't have me, I can't think of anything
else to do. Buenos Aires is just another place where I'd be found
out and fêted within a week. . . . You don't really mind if I come
with you, do you?"

Byrne answered, after a long pause: "I suppose I can't physically
prevent you, but I strongly advise you not to come. You'll find it
a tedious, hot, and probably unpleasant journey leading in the end
to nowhere that you may think at all thrilling."

"But I want to come."

"You'll certainly want to go back as soon as you get there."

"Well, even so, I'd still want to come."

"Then there's no stopping you, evidently." He smiled and added:
"For my part, of course, I shall be pleased to have your company."

They went ashore together and spent the rest of the day in
necessary preparations. Most of Nicky's luggage was unsuitable for
such a trip, and he had to make many purchases, among them being a
revolver.

Next day they began the journey upstream in the small white-
funnelled steamer of the Argentine Navigation Company. Nicky was
possessed by a deep tranquillity of mind that he could hardly
account for; there was nothing much to see, and still less to do,
yet the slowly unwinding panorama of grey water and green shore
gave him a sense of having found at last some fragment of what,
without knowing it, he had all along been seeking. Byrne was happy
also, but with a more definite eagerness for the future; they
talked a good deal during the warm, lazy hours, uneventful save for
an occasional passing of villages and tobacco-plantations, or the
glimpse of alligators basking in the shallows. The nights were
less pleasant, with swarms of flies and mosquitoes that clustered
about the electric globes; but the mornings, misty and delicate,
were lovely preludes to the long, leisurely days. As the miles
unfolded northward changes, imperceptible at first, became
definitely noticeable; the narrowing of the river till it no longer
seemed an endless lake, and the gradual merge of climate and
scenery from temperate to sub-tropical. But there was something
else less easy to define--an atmosphere of deepening mystery
suggested sometimes by a high tree visible in the distance, or a
curving sun-hazy tributary wandering in from left or right. The
sky at midday was more brazen; the vegetation thickened and paddled
its roots more confidently into the stream; and the hot winds from
the north came freighted with a curious flavour, subtle and even
pleasing, yet less so if one were alone or had too much of it--a
hint of the vast crepuscular decay of the forests. Nor was it
nature only that supplied the faintly sinister undertone, for soon
the ship entered Paraguayan waters, and there could be seen the
scarcely inhabited levels of that inland republic, with here and
there, even after sixty years, reminders of a tragedy to which the
history of no European nation affords a parallel--a madman's war
that killed more than half the entire population. The sun-
blistered ruin of the church at Humaìta seemed a fitting symbol of
bloodshed almost pathologically hideous.

Soon, however, such darker memories were quenched in the idle charm
of Asunçion. Here it was necessary to change vessels, and as the
one proceeding farther upstream did not depart for a couple of
days, Nicky and Byrne had a chance to explore the tree-shaded
avenues and lounge in the open-air cafés. Nicky enjoyed this last
taste of elegance; there was little that was ugly or blatant in the
colourful, indolent civilisation. Even amongst shops and electric
trams, there was a feeling of immensities near by, and at evening,
in the cool patios, a certain wistfulness was imaginable, as of a
city that remembered the Conquistadores.

Seventeen days later, amidst the dusk of a thunderstorm that
refused to break, Nicky and Byrne stepped off the launch that had
brought them to Maramba.


This Maramba, far from any railhead, and the end of river-
navigability for anything larger than a canoe, was the point at
which they must take to the land. It was scarcely a pleasant
place. It represented, as Byrne had said, the frayed edges of
civilisation, and also the equally frayed edges of barbarism; but
the meeting was disappointingly unpicturesque. The town looked, as
indeed it was, an outpost of an army that had partly given up the
fight. A few clustered buildings rose up from the river-bank, and
beyond them, on the higher levels, various constructions of timber
and corrugated iron littered the scene as far as the dark semi-
circle of jungle. The entire settlement could hardly have been
posed more effectively as a symbol of defeat. Grass pushed between
the cobbles of the quays; the stucco peeled off the houses in
ochreous strips; and, to clinch the impression, a clearing beyond
the town was heaped with rusting machinery, festooned already by
undergrowth--excavators and tip-waggons and a crane that upheaved
above the jungle grass like some menacingly poised snake.

But most evident of all to the few arrivals by the launch that
afternoon was the heat. It was not ordinary heat. Nicky had been
in India and the Red Sea without an experience of anything
approaching it. It was a heat that seemed to have size and weight,
to lean on the air like something actual and fleshly. The sky
billowed with thunder-clouds, but the heat poured through them and
met a deeper, angrier heat that rose like an emanation out of the
earth itself.

Even the proprietor of the single scorched hotel admitted that the
weather was exceptional. He was a chocolate-eyed, dark-skinned
Brazilian, who served them with beer on a sizzling verandah and
showed amazement at their projected journey. Apparently the route
had not been traversed for some years, and they must expect
stretches of practically unexplored jungle, as well as casual
encounters with jaguars, anacondas, and hostile Indians. All of
which might have been perfectly well known to Byrne, judging by the
way he received the information. After the man had gone, he said
to Nicky: "Well, I didn't exaggerate the unpleasantness of the
trip, did I?"

But Nicky only smiled, and the smile returned him by the older man
was a complete settlement of the matter. Throughout the long and
less comfortable journey from Asunçion, their intimacy had ripened;
they had talked less, but had reached deeper and more silent stages
of friendship. Nicky's happiness had grown to be of a kind that
discomfort hardly affected; he who in New York had been at the
mercy of trivial annoyances, found that here, in this dark-hearted
country, physical irritations, such as heat and mosquito-bites,
were endurable by the body without clamouring to the brain for
rage. And this, in some strange and hidden way, was due to Byrne.
The man tranquillised his mind as women had sometimes tranquillised
his body--lent him deep reserves of security from some secret
store. They never talked religion, nor did Byrne's attitude ever
exceed the supposition that Nicky was a mere adventuring tourist,
seeking new thrills which he must take the risk of not finding.
Yet they found much in common, even on such a basis. Both had
courage, Nicky of a sharp, excitable kind, and Byrne more
implacably; they had shown this on an occasion during the river
journey, when a piranha, freshly caught, had flapped about on deck.
Nicky, with no experience of the small but madly voracious
freshwater-fish, had not troubled to keep out of its way, and the
tearing teeth had closed into his arm as he stooped over it.
Byrne, ordering him to keep perfectly still, had then, with calm
dexterity, pulled the jaws apart at the risk of having fingers
bitten off. Afterwards they had laughed over the incident, but it
had revealed to both of them a quality in each other which
reassured.

Nicky even contrived to be happy during that first sweltering
evening at Maramba. It was likely to take a few days to make
arrangements for continuing the journey on land, and the prospect
of waiting in such a place was not outwardly pleasing. The hotel
was dirty; the bedrooms reeked of stale, oily distillations; the
food was bad; the mosquitoes proved to be of some new and fiercer
variety; and over it all, scarcely less oppressive when night had
fallen, was the heat. Yet the storm did not break. Mutterings
could sometimes be heard in the distance, and the trees stirred
fitfully in gusts of wind that were hotter than the stillness;
there was a heavy smell in the air, that smell of rotting
vegetation with which Nicky had already grown familiar, but
here stiffened and coagulated. Another smell pervaded it
intermittently, that of some faintly aromatic furnace; Nicky
thought of forest-fires, but Byrne said that the forests were
uncombustible--that, in fact, being the great obstacle to
colonisation. Suddenly, while they were talking in the hotel
lobby, an extra whiff lent identity to the odour--it was like
burning coffee, Nicky decided. Later the proprietor told them that
that was exactly what it was--coffee being destroyed on the
plantations because there was no market for it. He gave them also
a long account of other local calamities--of the English
concessionaires who had hoped to obtain manganese and had left all
their machinery behind after a year of fruitless operations, of
tobacco-plantations abandoned by Jap settlers--and that, he
indicated, with an expressive shrug, was anywhere the last stigma
of hopelessness. No, there was nothing in Maramba in these days.
It had been different during the rubber boom, which he could
remember as a boy--those golden years when the trickle of wealth
had poured over the Matto Grasso from the Xingu and the Tapajoz.
But now there was nothing, except the declining river-trade and the
small activities dependent upon the frontier garrison. As for this
cursed weather, he had been in Maramba for twenty-five years, and
did not think he could remember anything to equal it.

Before turning in, Nicky strolled with Byrne about the streets,
deserted and eerily brilliant in the almost continuous sheet-
lightning. They stood on the quays by the shabby-magnificent
customs-house and stared at the low line of jungle across the river--
sinister even in the theatrical glare of the flashes. Once they
saw a tarantula scampering, if that were the word, over some timber-
stacks, its dark, leathery body compact of evil liveliness. Nicky
was excited and wanted to approach the monster, but Byrne would not
let him. "There are some things best kept out of one's mind as
long as possible," he said, with a close arm-grip. The thrill had
set them both sweating heavily, and just at that moment, over the
flat roofs, came the sound of a woman's shriek. Instantly, a rain
of other sounds scattered after it--cries of birds, voices in the
distance, the bang of a sharply closed door. Then silence again.
"This is really a rather dreadful place," said Nicky, a little
hysterically. "Everything feels as if it's waiting for something
to happen."

"It will be better after the storm," Byrne answered.

After a short saunter they reached the hotel again. They slept
badly; the mosquitoes were troublesome, and Nicky imagined
tarantulas in the room--perhaps it had been wise, after all, to
have missed seeing the brute at closer quarters. The hours crawled
through to morning, but the usual chill before dawn did not come,
nor was the storm any nearer breaking. Indeed, the clouds seemed
to have dissolved in readiness for the daylight, leaving behind
them a thick steamy haze through which the sun shone as through
soiled muslin. Even at breakfast it was far hotter than at any
time during the previous day.

As they lingered over cups of maté, they were visited by the
customs-officer, a heavy-jowled, slouching fellow in a sweat-sodden
uniform. He knew no English, and Byrne and he conversed in a
stilted mixture of Spanish and Portuguese. There was a hitch at
first owing to the fact that Nicky had grown a beard that did not
appear in his passport photograph, but this was eventually
explained, and with many bowings and clinkings of glasses the man
became quite cordial. Byrne questioned him about porterage, and
received, after expressions of astonishment at the proposed
journey, a promise to have ready a few likely applicants, if he
would call at the customs-house later in the morning. Byrne said
he would, which was the signal for further civilities and bottles
of lukewarm beer. As the officer left, he said something with
great vehemence which Byrne afterwards, with a smile, translated
as: "He says he thinks it's going to be a rather hot day."

They wilted back into chairs in the shuttered hotel parlour and
tried to ignore the glare that burst through the slats. It was
easier not to move; the mere exchange of words and sentences evoked
fresh streams of perspiration from every pore; and the thought of
the customs-officer crossing those blazing pavements to the quay-
side was oppressive even to the inward eye that pictured the scene.
There were no sounds of life in the hotel, or in the street
outside, or in the whole town, for that matter. Yet, beneath the
still and utterly silent surface, there was a sense of brooding, of
life that was not extinct, but drugged into unconsciousness between
the answering heats of earth and sky. Byrne read a book, but Nicky
preferred to sit motionlessly pondering. How curious, it might be
thought, that anyone in his right mind should deliberately leave
civilised luxury for a place like this! It was madness, perhaps,
and if so, it must be a greater madness for him to be eager, as he
was, to push on, deeper and farther into this merciless country,
with Byrne. He was puzzled to decide what it was that chiefly
attracted him in the man--it must be more, he thought, than his
half-reluctant friendliness and calm intelligence. A kind of
sureness, perhaps, that he had--sureness of background, of being in
a tradition, something that made Nicky feel that he himself was not
so much sharing an adventure with a man as marching with an army on
a crusade.

Towards midday Byrne said he must go over and see the customs-
officer, as he had promised; but he insisted on going alone. Nicky
was by no means anxious to face the heat, yet as soon as Byrne had
gone he wished desperately that he had gone with him. He felt
suddenly afraid, with a renewal of perception that all was not
lifeless as it seemed. He sat for a few moments, found he could no
longer endure the waiting, and then strolled into the hotel lobby.
He was shivering slightly, and wondered if he were falling ill; the
hall-floor, as well as his legs, appeared to quiver as he
approached the street. Seen from inside, the doorway was a slab of
yellow, sickly to the eye; but as soon as he entered the glare he
felt a new and more fearful nausea, for the sky above the opposite
roofs was no longer even white, but an angry, opaque carnelian.

He stood there, increasingly spellbound by dread, while the whole
world seemed poised for some uniquely terrible reckoning. Then all
at once there began a distant growling that came rapidly nearer
like the roar of a train crossing a metal bridge at full speed. He
was so puzzled by it that he was scarcely able to be astonished
when he saw, a few yards away across the street, a length of
parapet toppling from a first-floor balcony. It fell with such
disarming grace, and so soundlessly amidst the greater noise, that
the dust-cloud spraying upwards from the smashed stucco seemed no
more than necessary proof that the thing had really happened. Not
even yet could he think of a reason for both the roar and the
fallen parapet, and his perplexity held him aloof from fear until,
with a shudder of foreboding, the truth rushed at him, and with it
also a sight incredibly grotesque--that of the houses opposite
waving like banners, and a hole widening in the roadway as if it
were being munched by some enormous and invisible mouth. Then he
was struck between the eyes, and staggered back. . . .


. . . When he recovered consciousness he began to cough and vomit.
Behind the clouds of blinding, acrid smoke that swirled about him,
patches of copper-hot sky could be seen; the time, from the look of
it, was mid-afternoon. Timber and masonry surrounded him in a
soaring jumble, but though he felt dazed and ill, he did not think
that he had been seriously hurt, if at all. His arms were movable;
he could feel his cigarettes and revolver still in his pocket. He
stirred his legs carefully from under a beam that had fallen
miraculously short of crushing them; they were stiff, but after a
few moments he could drag himself upright and climb a heap of
debris to survey a little more of the catastrophe. "Well," he kept
thinking, as he strove to regain his numbed senses, "now you know
what an earthquake is like." . . .

Then he thought of Byrne and began to clamber amongst the litter in
impulsive search for his friend. But of course, as he soon
reflected, the priest wouldn't be anywhere near the hotel; he had
gone down to the quay-side to visit the customs-officer. Nicky
scrambled a few yards over a pyramid of brickwork and caught sight
of what looked to be a large red-violet flower growing amidst the
rubble. As he approached, the violet spurted out in all
directions, leaving the red by itself, and he saw then what it
really was--the shambled body of a man, with flies above it,
waiting to re-settle. He felt sick again, and shook his head
vaguely as the cries of wounded came to him from left and right.
As fast as he could he hastened over the ruins Co the river-front.
He must look for Byrne first. He saw a few uninjured or slightly
injured persons on the way, but they stared at him with half-crazed
eyes as he passed them by. He reached the customs-house at last--a
mountain of rubbish enclosed by jagged sections of wall. There
were several bodies near by, but nowhere that of Byrne. Then he
discovered that his hair was clotted with blood, and that blood was
also streaming from his left arm. Queer, that was; he hadn't felt
any pain. He sank down to rest for a moment, but the sun flared
before his eyes and he felt the world re-vanishing. . . .

. . . When he recovered consciousness a second time it was night,
and there was a full moon in the crimsoned sky. He heard the river
lapping near him; he felt thirsty, and dragged himself a few yards
forward to scoop the water into his hands. Refreshed after that,
he stood up, breathing the hot, smoky air, and saw that sporadic
fires had broken out over the ravaged town. Again, in the face of
this new peril, his thought was of Byrne. But his choked lungs and
smarting eyes led hint instinctively away from the vortex to the
outer ring of the inferno. Byrne, alive or dead, might be anywhere
here. He clambered over some wreckage, and as he did so there came
a curious tinkling sound from his feet. "Good God, what's that?"
he whispered, aloud, and was no less amazed when a cackling laugh
answered him and a voice followed it with: "You play tune,
betcherlife, heh?" Then he saw that his feet had touched the keys
of a half-smashed piano, and that a few yards away a face regarded
him with a wide and glittering smile. It was an ugly face, sagging
and pewter-coloured in the moonlight, but at that moment Nicky was
glad to see it. "Hullo, John," he said, grinning back. "You one
of the lucky ones, too?"

But the Chinese, though possessing a smattering of English, did not
appear to comprehend. He merely continued to smile, jerking his
thumb in the direction of the town, and chattering: "Betcherlife,
all velly dead there, heh?"

Nicky nodded, and was about to pass on when the man strode towards
him and gripped his arm. "You want drink, heh?" He produced a
flask and offered it, with his smile still broadening.

"Thanks." Nicky swallowed the raw spirit without a second
invitation. It was good, and he felt grateful. "You're a
sportsman, John," he said.

But the Chinese would not let him go at that. He hovered about,
muttering and grinning; his English was insufficient to explain the
extent of his own share in the general tragedy, but Nicky guessed
that, like himself, he might be searching the ruins for someone he
had known. Nicky felt a keen desire to show sympathy and
friendliness, or at least appreciation of the drink, but all he
could think of was to perform the comic pantomime of smacking his
lips and rubbing his stomach. The Chinese cackled delightedly.
There was a sense in which the very enormity of the catastrophe all
around them imposed this infantile good humour upon the survivors.
The springs of the mind were numbed, and behind the numbness one
could be companionable, even jocular. The Chinese was evidently in
such a mood, and Nicky found it easy and pleasant to respond. He
had nothing to offer in return for the drink except a few
cigarettes that had been badly crumpled in his pocket, but the gift
proved highly acceptable. The Chinese produced matches, and they
leaned together amicably over the flame. "Now we go looksee
together, heh, betcherlife!" he gabbled, puffing ecstatically.

They entered thus upon a sort of half-comprehended partnership in
the search of the locality. If either of them found a body he
would call the other's attention to it, and even in waning
moonlight it was easy for Nicky to decide that none of them could
possibly be that of the priest. The task of the Chinese was
naturally more difficult, for there had been many of his
compatriots in Maramba and precise identification could not always
be easy. In several instances he had to examine articles in
pockets before he could pass on with his quest still unfulfilled.
During those hours of probings and ransackings Nicky came quite to
like his companion; the man was so unfailingly jolly, despite the
grimness of their joint occupation. Sometimes they paused to light
fresh cigarettes, and once the Chinese offered another swig of the
harsh, but exceedingly heartening, spirit. Nicky wished they could
talk, but he had discovered that the other knew even less English
than had appeared at first--his phrases being more expletive than
meaningful. Still, it was company to have the fellow so near,
humming and muttering as he paddled up to his knees in crumbled
stucco. The glow over the higher parts of the town was fiercer
now. . . .

Suddenly there sounded a sharp cry, and a man in uniform, hatless,
but carrying a revolver, came lunging towards them, apparently from
nowhere. Nicky could not comprehend a word of his voluble shouts,
but felt instinctively that the advance was both frenzied and
hostile. The man approached to within a few yards, continuing to
shout; while Nicky waited for him, unable to decide whether it
would be worth while to shout back in any of the languages that he
knew. A sense of the growing absurdity of the situation overspread
him, together with regret that he had not learned a few simple
phrases in whatever tongue was spoken by uniformed ruffians in
Maramba after an earthquake. There were times, and this was one,
when his mind seemed to stand a little way off from his body and
stare quizzically at a spectacle for which it did not care to
accept responsibility.

Abruptly the oncomer swung round and transferred his shouts to the
Chinese, who--with tact rather than courage, Nicky thought--was
slinking away. Soon the Chinese broke into a scamper, and at that
the other raised his revolver and fired after him instantly.

This had an extraordinary effect on Nicky. He heard the Chinese
yelp as he was hit, and saw him stagger on with a hand held to his
thigh. He saw the man in uniform raise his weapon to fire again,
and at that moment the clench of his own fingers in his pocket
reminded him that he was armed himself. And he was swept with a
raw, overpowering indignation. As if there had not been enough
killing. As if there were not enough agony and mutilation amongst
these blood-drenched ruins. All the horrors he had seen during the
past night and day were seen again, far more vividly, in that
glimpse of a Chinaman's pain; because it was something so needless,
heaped so maddeningly on what had had to happen. He found it
unendurable, this comprehension of the lust and wantonness of
things; he yelled as the man was about to fire again; then, in
sheer illogical rage, he drew his own revolver and pointed it.

The man's eyes and hand swerved together; and two further shots,
nearly simultaneous, rang out over the moon-grey desolation.


They lay there, the three of them, Nicky and the uniformed man
quite close together, and the Chinese about a dozen yards away,
where he had fallen. Nicky had shot his assailant dead, and the
latter, who had fired only a second earlier, had struck the youth
in the groin. He felt little actual pain, merely a hot, numbing
weariness as he drew breath. He did not fear that his injury was
serious, but he knew, without making the effort, that he could not
move away unaided. Something confusing had been done to his inside
by that bullet, he reckoned. He would have to wait till somebody
found him, and the curious thing was that he had full confidence
that somebody would. Probably already there were armies of
rescuers on the way--wasn't that what always happened after these
big disasters? President Hoover would send a warship, and the
League of Nations would vote condolences. Police, doctors, nurses,
Y.M.C.A., all sorts of people would soon begin to arrive. Also
soldiers, firemen, ambulance-men, insurance-assessors, journalists,
photographers, government officials, seismologists--the whole crowd
would be here shortly. . . .

He turned to the dead man near him. Quite dead. A very small
patch of blood stained the tunic over his left breast, that was
all. People would call that a mighty good shot, by Jove, yes. It
was the first man he had ever killed, though once before, in
Russia, he had aimed at someone and missed. And the joke of it was
that in this case he hadn't aimed at all; he hadn't really meant to
fire even; everything had happened so damned quickly.

He wondered who the man was. He could not see clearly; the moon
had gone down. But the first smear of dawn was in the eastern sky,
like a child's breath on a window-pane; he would be able to see
everything soon. There was still that smell of smoke and burning
coffee in the air, and the Chinese was howling softly, like a dog
outside a closed door. "Hello, John," Nicky cried, and was
surprised to hear his own voice diminished to a whisper.

What a piece of work was man, indeed! And what a still greater
piece of work was a bullet! No marvel of physical excellence, no
superbity of brain or character, could stand against that exquisite
fragment of metal. Shakespeare, Cervantes, Galileo, Mohammed,
Goethe, Mozart, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, the whole who's-who parade
of history, could all be mown down with a machine-gun in a few
minutes.

He wondered what had happened to Byrne. Dead, probably. He had
liked that man. There had been some point in knowing him. That
was the drawback to most intimacies; you came to like people, you
got wildly keen about them, and then suddenly realised that you had
wasted a lot of energy over emotions that didn't matter. But
knowing Byrne hadn't been like that. Indeed, it was as if, in
knowing him, one had been on the brink of knowing something
else. . . .

It was lighter now, and he could see the Chinese quite clearly
against the rosy-tinted sky. The man was lying on his face, and
his pockets had emptied--there were coins and purses and a watch
and chain. Queer fellows, Chinamen; but this one had been all
right. Nicky wished there were still enough in the flask for
another drink for both of them.

He kept remembering things he thought he had almost forgotten--that
scene, for instance, in the Odessa restaurant that might just as
well have ended in his being shot there and then as here and now.
And if he had been, if that Soviet Commissar had killed him, in
what strange ways the world would have been minutely different--no
gyrector experiments in England, no "Red Desert" at Sabinal, no
"Raphael Rassova" anywhere. And so also, supposing he were now to
die, a thousand other remote and unreckonable things would be
withdrawn from possibility. What clue was there, or wasn't there
any, to this mystic template of men and bullets?

He looked at the dead man, clear-outlined now in the growing
daylight; a big fellow, with terrific moustaches, and revealed, by
a glance at his uniform, as just a simple soldier--probably one of
the local frontier garrison. On guard? Patrolling? Watching for
smugglers across the border? Then suddenly the idea came. . . .
Good God, it wasn't contraband the fellow had suspected, but
looting! He had seen the two of them poking about the wreckage in
the middle of the night, and had taken them for thieves! Why,
certainly, it was a likely theory, the likeliest of all, for it
explained why he had fired so promptly when the Chinese made to run
away.

As Nicky digested the revelation he was filled with a bemused
tenderness that included now both the Chinese and the dead soldier.
So it had all, then, been a mistake, a pardonable misunderstanding,
nobody's fault but that of the bullets for boring so fast and so
far? If he and the soldier had had only sticks in their hands,
they would now be apologising to each other for bruises instead of
draining their blood into the dust. And the thought came to him
that if ever, some day, mankind should invent a machine big and
powerful enough to destroy the whole world, it would probably be
touched off in just such casual error. He wished he could bring
the dead man back to life, if only to talk to him about it, and he
would have liked to shout, if his voice had been strong enough: "I
say, John, this fellow thought we were a couple of looters--that's
why he was so ready with his gun!"

And then another thought occurred, of such benign simplicity that
he accepted it with astonishment that it had come only so late.
The Chinaman was a looter. Why, of course, he must be. The way he
had been searching the pockets of the victims, and that fine
collection of swag that lay beside him now, spilled from his
pockets. Nicky found himself wanting to smile. "John, you old
rogue," he cried to himself, "you took me in all right. Reckon I
was dazed with that knock on the head, or I'd have spotted your
game!" Then he looked at the Chinese, who had ceased to yelp and
was lying quite still; and he suddenly knew that he was dead.

The sun rose, comforting at first, but soon too hot to the throat
and lips; a drink was all that he really wanted now. In the
sunlight he saw what he had missed before--a stream of his own
blood, seeping away from his side across a large flat stone. The
stream moved slowly, replenished from the wound, but the stone was
warm and the blood readily congealed. He thought, watching it:
"If it gets to the edge, I shall die; if it doesn't, I shall live."
That made everything so much easier to understand. It was a faith,
anyhow, a philosophy, a theory of the universe, cause and effect
linked together no more illogically than in the long, invisible
chain of human destiny. He went on watching: a slight stir of his
body lent a swell to the viscous tide; it rolled faster for a
while, a red, advancing caterpillar. And he thought, with
certitude: "I am dying by inches . . . literally by those
inches." . . .

Then his brain, that had always been poised hawk-like over words,
swooped down and gave him the answer: "Yes, but I have lived by
miles." . . .

The phrase pleased him and made him able to absorb more calmly the
gusts and cyclones of pain as they now assaulted. He closed his
eyes and wondered if he could sleep. The stream must nearly have
reached the edge by now, but he wouldn't bother to look.

Then, at the last, he suddenly remembered Sylvia.



CHAPTER SIX


LEON MIRSKY


Leon Mirsky rode into Maramba on a white horse five days after the
second earthquake had completed the ruin of the town. He was a
tall, thin, and ascetic-looking person, with a face remarkable for
two things--its smoke-grey, deep-set eyes, and a fair, girlish skin
that even the climate of tropical South America had not yet
impaired. High-cheekboned and slender-nostriled, he had an air of
rather unsure aloofness, as if he did not quite know what to make
of anything; and he certainly did not know what to make of the
Maramba earthquake.

The only son of pre-Revolution aristocrats, he had reached the New
World from Russia in 1919, after typical experiences. A little
money saved from the wreck had enabled him to settle down and
acquire American citizenship; and for ten fairly comfortable years,
darkened only by memories, he had lived in a quiet part of New York
and established a minor reputation as a poet and writer of highbrow
art criticism. He had been for a time engaged to an heiress, but
she had broken it off, with no greater effect than to make him
write a rather foolish novel, satirising women in general, which no
one had wanted to publish. His art criticism, however, was good,
and he had written a pleasant little book on El Greco. Then in
1929 had come his second revolution--and perhaps quite as
unsettling as the first, for he was twelve years older, and more
deeply grooved. It was a financial one; his small income, derived
from investments in apparently cast-iron stocks, dwindled rapidly
to less than half, forcing him to face the immediate necessity of
earning a living. Journalism naturally occurred to him, and at
first he had nourished a secret confidence that any of the great
American dailies would snap him up with eagerness. A few months
had taught him differently, and at length, through friendship with
a proprietor and a slight knowledge of Portuguese, he had obtained
the post of newspaper-correspondent in Rio. He had been in Rio a
week, without finding anything to write about except the
development of baroque design in Brazilian architecture, when news
came of the earthquake and he had almost simultaneously received a
cable from New York to proceed to Maramba at once and send reports.

Hence his somewhat anxious look as he came upon the scene of ruin
after a fantastically unpleasant journey. "What our average reader
wants," the newspaper-owner had told him, with impressive warning,
"is news that he can digest between stops in a crowded subway-car,
while he holds the paper in one hand, strap-hangs with the other,
and uses up eighty per cent of his limited intelligence in sub-
consciously thinking of something else. Remember that his mental
age is about twelve, so that he can't understand anything
difficult, doesn't like long words or sentences, and simply won't
have highbrow stuff at any price. So for God's sake don't be too
clever. Write things that are just clever enough for him to think
how clever he is for managing to see the point of them. And, above
all, go for the human note. People aren't naturally interested in
cathedral stained-glass, for instance, but if a window-cleaner were
to fall through some and cut his head off, then I reckon they might
be--for about a couple of days. You see what I mean?"

Mirsky was not quite sure, and his anxieties quickened as he
engaged accommodation in a corrugated-iron shelter that had been
hastily improvised as a sort of residential press-club. He was
not, of course, the only journalist in Maramba. On the contrary,
the place seemed full of them--dark-skinned Brazilians and
Argentines, a few Americans, and one very gnarled Scotsman from
Reuter's. A few had come by air, but most, like himself, had made
the trip from Rio on train and horseback. They were all rather
noisily companionable, but though he tried to fraternise, he was
aware that he was not their type, and that they knew it as well as
he did.

Well, what could he cable his paper about the earthquake, anyway?
The hurrying subway-crowds knew already that there had been one,
that Maramba was somewhere in South America, and that therefore, in
a sense, the whole thing was pure nonsense and didn't matter.
Their interest, accordingly, would be strictly regulated by the
degree to which he could awaken their humanitarian impulses. He
could imagine his friend the proprietor saying: "Sob-stories, my
boy--that's what we want. Talk to the survivors. Get them to tell
you what happened to THEM. Some little yarn about the faithful dog
still howling above the ruins, or prisoners from the local jail who
did heroic rescue-work." . . .

Unfortunately, to detail but one of the many negations that
awaited, Maramba didn't appear to have possessed a jail. Nor, when
he began to interview survivors, did he obtain anything that seemed
worth cabling to New York at so many cents a word. (Incidentally,
he couldn't cable from Maramba; the lines were down, and the
nearest accepting-office was at Harama, two days' horseback-journey
away.) Perhaps the trouble was partly his Portuguese, which proved
slighter than ever now that he had left Rio; but doubtless also it
was in his manner, which was too academic to adjust itself readily
to such tragic intimacies.

Still, he must cable something--that was obvious. He was, indeed,
quite apprehensively keen to justify himself, since if he failed to
do so he could expect to be recalled pretty quickly, and it would
be hard to find another job of any kind. He had a sister living in
France who earned just enough money as a music-teacher to keep
herself; but he had no other near relatives, and no distant ones
that were not in as tough a position as himself. So he must, it
was clear, discover the exact angle from which earthquake-news
would catch the eye of Manhattan.

On his second day at Maramba he interviewed the chief of the
militarised police that had been sent to maintain order in the
afflicted area. Already Mirsky had discovered that here, as in
Russia, officials were not above being paid for their information,
and in this case a fairly large tip purchased the usual garrulous
but almost entirely unprofitable conversation. Keeping the human
factor well in mind, he asked how many persons were believed to
have perished in the catastrophe, and the chief replied that the
bodies already found numbered between two and three thousand, most
of them probably victims of the second quake, which had been much
more severe than the first. Mirsky continued to cross-examine, but
when he asked (perhaps not so tactfully) if the death-roll had
included any important personages, the chief of police threw up his
arms with a gesture of irritation and answered: "My God, yes, the
King of England and Jack Dempsey, naturally! Whom did you expect
to find in Maramba during the hot season? Three thousand bodies,
man--do you think we have had time to carve all their names on
tombstones yet? But yes, you shall certainly see things for
yourself. It is not a pretty sight, but you shall see it, since
you are so interested. This permit will admit you to the
mortuaries."

It is not always easy to detect the note of irony in a foreign
language, which was no doubt the reason why, a few moments later,
Mirsky allowed himself to be ushered into an adjoining shed well-
guarded by soldiers. Bodies were still being carried in, while
numerous officials were hard at work on their various gruesome
tasks. The disaster had been so complete that whole families had
perished, and there were comparatively few uninjured survivors to
assist in identifying the victims. It was a memorably unpleasant
sight, that long, gloomy shed, and after a few seconds inside it
Mirsky suspected the rather macabre trick that had been played on
him. He had seen horrors in Russia, but nothing quite so
concentrated as this. His fastidiousness was revolted, and he was
just about to leave as quickly as possible when his attention was
drawn to one of the bodies by reason of its more than averagely
elegant clothing. Even beneath blood and dust, the shimmer of silk
was noticeable, and silk shirts were doubtless rare in Maramba.

The body was that of a youngish man with a dark, stubbly beard.
The feet and the lower part of the trunk had been badly crushed,
but the head was unhurt. Near by, in a neat pile, lay the contents
of the pockets, ready for subsequent identification; they included
cigarettes, a wallet, and a smashed compass-watch of obviously
expensive make. Not quite the possessions of an average Maramban.
Mirsky picked up the wallet; the maker's stamp gave an address in
Los Angeles. An American victim, then? Was it possible that he
had discovered something to cable about at last? Without further
hesitation he looked at what was inside the wallet and found a
Roumanian passport issued to one Nicholas Palescu. He raised his
eyebrows over that, for the name conveyed something to him, though
he could not immediately think how or what.

Then he recollected that a friend of his in California, a Russian
film-producer, had written to him recently about a young Roumanian
whose real name was Palescu, and who had achieved sudden success in
the cinema-world as "Raphael Rassova." Raphael Rassova! Mirsky
rather prided himself on film-ignorance, but even he had heard of
that meteor-ascent into fame. Rassova! Was it possible? Though
why on earth should the fellow have grown a beard and been visiting
Maramba?

Anyhow, if it were so, if Rassova really had been killed in the
earthquake, it would assuredly be a tremendous piece of news to
cable exclusively to the paper--a heaven-sent journalistic scoop,
indeed. But WAS it true?

By the time he left the mortuary-shed, Mirsky had almost satisfied
himself that it was. Apart from the passport, which was fairly
conclusive evidence in itself, there were papers in the wallet
showing that their owner had lately sailed from New York. There
was also a gold-tipped cigarette-holder monogrammed "R. R." So
many pure coincidences were nearly unthinkable, and complete
finality seemed established when, at a later meeting with the
Scotsman from Reuter's, Mirsky led the talk to films and remarked:
"By the way, I wonder what that fellow Rassova will do next? He
made a great hit recently with that Indian picture."

The Scotsman was delighted to prove himself better-informed. "The
last I heard was that he'd gone off to the Argentine. He soon had
enough of the Seydel woman. Funny thing, that woman can't keep
husbands--or else, maybe she don't want to. Rassova was her
fourth."

But Mirsky was not interested in these glimpses into Rassova's
life; all he was concerned with was his death, which he now deemed
himself to have settled. It had been an amazing piece of luck, and
it was up to him now to exploit it to the full. He must, then, set
out for Harama immediately and despatch the cable. Unfortunately,
just as he was about to begin the arduous journey, news came of the
bursting of the Orica dam. This further disaster, resulting
from the earthquake stresses, had the effect of cutting all
communications between Harama and the east; and there was likely
to be a week's delay before the telegraph-line could be restored.
Learning this, a few of the journalists flew back to Rio, but
Mirsky, though he made several offers, could not negotiate for the
air-trip with them.

Not being by nature a man of action, he was the more impetuous now
that he had decided on doing something. He felt that his whole
future depended on getting his message through to New York, and
that fate, having put the chance of a lifetime in his way, was
being particularly malign in depriving him of it by means of a dam-
burst. For delay was dangerous, since at any time the identity of
the dead youth might be discovered and the whole story become
common property. Mirsky felt irritated to desperation as he sat
drinking beer in a shanty which was all that Maramba now possessed
in the way of an hotel. The weather was hot, food and lodging were
unpleasant, everything was fabulously expensive, nor was it by any
means certain that the earthquakes had finished their activities.
He stared disconsolately at his pocket-map, on which Maramba wanted
a good deal of finding. Harama, being at railhead, appeared more
conspicuously, and the Orica dam, presumably, was in the hills a
few miles to the north. Whichever way one looked at it, Maramba
was awkwardly placed. Then suddenly, from the map, the notion came
to him that there must surely be other ways of egress to
civilisation. After all, it didn't matter whence he sent his
cable, provided he sent it. Could he not engage someone to
transport him downstream to the nearest river-settlement that had a
telegraph-office?

He spent an hour in fruitless enquiries on the debris-littered
water-front, and only gave up the idea when he found that no place
on the river nearer than Asunçion possessed a telegraph-line that
did not pass through Harama.

Then he looked at the map again, and the final but very obvious
alternative came to him. Why, in all these plans for getting the
news through, should he only have thought of the country to the
EAST of the river? Wouldn't a western journey do equally well?
With a thrill of satisfaction, and in some amazement that he had
not thought of it before, he found on the map a place called San
Cristobal that was scarcely further in the one direction than
Harama was in the other. And San Cristobal, moreover, was the
terminus of a railway leading to the Andean uplands, so that it was
sure to have the telegraph.

It looked about eighty miles or so, measured roughly with the
finger, and he reckoned on three or four days for that--perhaps
less if the country proved easy going.


Leon Mirsky would have been called a man of imagination, but he had
omitted to imagine South America. Till a fortnight before, he had
never set eyes on it, and his journey up from Rio had not impressed
him with much more than the extreme tiresomeness of the country.
Actually, when he had crossed the river from Maramba, he thought
himself lucky in that the path immediately plunged into the forest.

He had told no one of his plan to reach San Cristobal, thinking
that if he did he might be delayed by enforced companions. He had
taken, of course, all obvious precautions--he carried a revolver
and a shot-gun, as well as food and tobacco sufficient for several
days. He had also, amongst other articles, a pocket-compass, a map
which merely gave the names of the two places, with no hint of the
kind of country between; and a small edition of Theocritus. With
this equipment, and a water-bottle to fill from wayside streams, he
thought he had remembered everything.

He must have looked a rather striking figure as he cantered those
first pleasant miles. No doubt some of the Jesuit fathers,
trekking along that same forest-path two centuries before, had worn
a similar aspect, that of the scholar-adventurer; but the Jesuits
did not travel alone. Mirsky, however, was inclined to be
especially happy for that very reason. He had always lived a
rather solitary life, and he could always thoroughly enjoy his own
thoughts and introspections. As he pushed his way on through the
suave green tunnel, with the gathering sunlight scarcely visible
above the tree-tops, he felt quite entranced with the prospect
before him. He was not much of a nature-worshipper, but he
perceived that nature here was certainly at her best and liveliest.
He gave her, as it were, full marks and a nod of approval, feeling
that she would do very nicely as a background to his satisfying
emotions during the next few days. And perhaps when he DID get his
sensational message through to New York it would still further add
to his credit that he had performed this journey as a romantic
prelude. Yes, he felt particularly serene as he appraised this
shaded loveliness after the hot, dust-blown ruins of Maramba, and
his own silences after the friendly but foolish conversation of his
fellow-journalists.

And his scoop would be a memorable one. He pictured the placards:
"Raphael Rassova Killed in Earthquake. . . . Sensational Discovery
at Maramba. . . . Our Special Correspondent's Graphic Cable. . . ."
Yes, this business would certainly establish his reputation, and
it mattered to him tremendously that it should. Yet there was
another sense in which he was quite certain it did not matter at
all. Cinemas and cheap journalism and all that stuff--it wasn't
art--a single square millimetre from a canvas by Ribuera or Morales
was worth all the celluloid in Hollywood. He was, indeed, in the
position of a man desperately trying to score a goal in a game he
rather despised. But there was no doubt of the desperation. It
was nourished by a private conceit that made him anxious to show
how easily a man of higher intelligence could succeed at a job that
was really beneath him. This chasing of news, this seeing of
everything from the "human" standpoint, this persistent titivation
of the mental palate of the multitude--it was all confusing at
first to any man of culture, because he couldn't bring himself down
to its level; but when and if he did, why, it became child's play.

Mirsky was a highbrow by disposition. Born amidst a society that
had since collapsed, he was sincerely convinced that the inroads of
democracy upon the aristocratic principle had been the inroads of
the new barbarism upon civilisation. The world of 1931 seemed to
him full of proofs of this--so full, indeed, that he had long given
up contemplating them. The most resounding proof, to himself, was
naturally the personal one--that here he was, forced to do quite
ridiculous things to earn a living, when all the time there was in
him the capacity to write a great book on Spanish painting, or
perhaps a few sonnets. His demands, surely, were not excessive--a
roof over his head, food, clothing, a few cultured luxuries--in
dollars equal to perhaps a hundredth part of the earnings of this
Rassova fellow, whose death was to plunge so many millions in
despair. Yet the world, to whom Spanish painting and sonnets were
much less important than a film-star's eyelashes, would not yield
him even that minimum tribute. In an aristocratic society, of
course, all that would have been different; he would either have
had money himself, or would have found a patron. An excellent
system, he considered, under which the arts had flourished as
perhaps never under any other. His own family had themselves been
patrons of such a kind during pre-Revolution days; which seemed to
indicate a double loss to the world as a result of their downfall.

But Mirsky, though a highbrow and an artist, was by no means devoid
of robuster qualities. It was merely that, unless he were
compelled, he did not bring them into use. He was a good shot, for
instance, but he did not care for the more murderous forms of
sport; and though his body was strong and in good condition, this
was through careful living rather than any attention to athletics.
Perhaps also he had a little more than the average man's personal
courage.

He needed it, even during that first morning in the forest.
Suddenly, in the midst of his comfortably meandering thoughts, his
horse started violently beneath him, stopped dead, and began to
quake with fear. He patted the animal reassuringly, but without
effect; the shivering continued, though, so far as he could take in
at a rapid survey, there was no reason for it. The vista of dark
green thickets festooned with trailing lianes was quite unchanged
from similar scenes that he had been traversing for some hours.
There was certainly, now that movement of man and beast had
stopped, a curious tenseness in the air, and a hint, more than a
statement, of the terrific heat that was pouring on the tree-tops a
few dozen feet above. And a hum of insects filled the silence, as
of a million small instruments tuning up for a symphony. But
otherwise everything seemed to Mirsky quite unremarkable.

All at once, however, there came from somewhere in front a faint,
slithering rustle, and his heart gave an immediate jump, for not
more than a score yards away, in outline scarcely to be seen
against the background of undergrowth, there appeared an enormous
snake. Its flat, spoon-like head swayed with nonchalant grace
about a man's height above the ground, while its body, thickening
and thinning as it drew itself forward, showed yet no visible
ending.

The tremors of the horse were verging now on pitiful collapse.
Mirsky tried to coax the animal to turn tail and run, but it would
not stir; it was almost hypnotised. The blood was pulsing in his
own veins quite as disturbingly, and as he stared at the advancing
monster, with its glittering eyes and wide, drooling jaws, he felt
a swift sympathy with the beast beneath him as well as a spasm of
personal panic. He knew very little about reptiles, except that
not all were poisonous, and that most were more timid than they
looked. He knew, too, that the South American anaconda, or boa-
constrictor, killed its prey by crushing; and from its size he
thought it likely that the creature facing him was of this species.

But there was no time for speculation in the matter. With scarcely
any plan of action in mind, except that it was probably better to
do anything rather than nothing, he dismounted, drew his revolver,
and took a few paces forward. The long procession of curves
halted, like a chain of vehicles held up suddenly by a policeman.
For a fraction of a moment the ill-matched adversaries faced each
other as if in mutual uncertainty; then Mirsky fired, aiming for
the head. Owing to nervousness, he missed, but the sound of the
shot evidently frightened the anaconda, if it were one, for with a
sort of disdainful hurry it swerved sideways and disappeared into
the undergrowth.

After pacifying his horse, Mirsky continued the journey. The
incident had broken into the serenity of his thoughts, and though
he felt he had acquitted himself well enough, he was left with a
small sub-current of uneasiness. He kept glancing about him,
determined not to be taken unawares again, but the effort was
physically as well as mentally fatiguing, though he was rewarded
with many gay glimpses of parakeets and macaws, and superbly marked
orchids trailing from branches overhead. The track was often hard
to trace, and nowhere did he come across any sign of human
visitation, much less a fellow traveller. He was somewhat
surprised not to reach some native village, for he had expected the
country to be fairly well populated with Indians. At an absurdly
high figure he had bought from a Maramba woman a string of coloured
beads, with which he had some idea of mollifying a hostile tribe if
he should encounter them. It was the sort of thing he had read of
in travel-books, and he thought it rather enterprising of him to
have remembered it.

But there were no Indians, or, at any rate, he did not see any.
Far more troublesome were the myriads of small stingless bees that
buzzed around his head as he rode, and tried to fly into his mouth
when he ate; and there were ticks that got under his skin and
caused intense itchings; and once, when he paused to give his horse
a rest, he noticed a giant spider halted on the ground beside him,
its attitude one of obscene curiosity. When he rode on, it moved
also, waddling alongside at an equal rate, and this, after a time,
got on his nerves so much that he used his revolver again. This
time his aim was good and the monster seemed to cave in like a
pricked blister, its hairy tentacles waving in impotent malice as
he passed out of sight.

He was satisfied that he was covering the miles, however, and as
evening came and he was able to fill his water-bottle at a stream,
he felt that he could easily endure a couple more days of it. An
hour later, in the sudden twilight, he halted at a convenient-
looking spot and pitched his camp. For a short time, then, his
satisfaction recurred; the flame of the sky had quenched itself
quickly, and night would be cool under trees that were themselves
under the stars. He set about to make a fire, for he had always
read that fires keep off wild animals; but he soon found that much
of the wood lying to hand was completely unburnable, and the search
for the right kinds used up a good deal of his spare enthusiasm.
At length the fire was lit, and he made coffee and cooked some
rice, those being the only human foods it had been possible to buy
in Maramba. He ate, drank, smoked a pipe, looked after his horse,
and then rigged up the mosquito-net, under which he crawled with
his sleeping-bag. Then he made the disagreeable discovery that
mosquito-netting did not keep out the smallest and most troublesome
insects. He kept waking up with the buzz of wings in his ears, to
find new bodily irritations as he waved the intruders away. At
such moments he was impressed with a peculiar quality of awe in the
silence that surrounded him; beyond the light of his small,
flickering fire the trees began their sable mystery; he felt that
the whole forest, though silent, was not asleep, but watching. The
moments on his radium-pointed watch crawled more slowly than he had
ever known, and long before midnight he was eager for the dawn--
eager to push on and cover more miles. Probably, he thought, he
had already traversed the worst section of the journey; for San
Cristobal, being railhead, was likely to be the centre of more
developed country. At any rate, he had done twenty miles or so in
the right direction. When he woke up after short spells of sleep
he found himself so badly bitten and stung that he decided it was
worth while to stay awake and protect himself, and he tried to kill
time by reciting verses in Russian, French, and English; after
which he set himself various mental tasks, such as the enumeration
of a certain number of places in various countries. . . .

When dawn at last appeared, he made more coffee, packed his gear,
and rode away with much relief. But it was soon noticeable that
his horse was jumpy and unable to maintain such a good pace as on
the previous day. The track, too showed a tendency to curve
northward; yet it was so clearly a track that he was reluctant to
leave it. But after it had taken him for at least a mile due
north, he came to the conclusion that the parting must be made, and
plunged accordingly into the more difficult terrain to the left.
Here the path, such as it existed at all, was encumbered with
rotting tree-trunks and masses of dense undergrowth, while the
foliage above was often so thick that he had to dismount. It was
pretty hard work to traverse even a few yards in this sort of
country, and he was uneasily conscious that he was not ticking off
the miles as he had hoped and planned. Moreover, the air was
quiveringly hot, with a moist and sickly-scented heaviness; yet,
despite the moisture, there was a scarcity of water. Both he and
his horse were suffering from thirst by the time they eventually
reached a pool whose water was cold but very brackish. It was a
rather lovely, tree-fringed pool, and he longed to take off his
clothes and bathe in it; yet something prevented him, a curious
inward warning as he saw his reflection in its ebony depths. He
passed on without discovering why or even whether he had been wise
to do so.

By the second nightfall he was definitely unhappy behind a mask of
peevishness. The forest, so far from giving any hint of
approaching civilisation, seemed to grow denser and less hospitable
with every yard. He was utterly tired out, and though he estimated
the day's mileage as ten or so, he had a private misgiving that it
might in reality be very much less. He was also worried about his
horse, which seemed rather more than fatigued. He suspected that
insect-bites, which the beast had rubbed into open sores, had set
up some kind of fever. He doctored the sores with salt and water
before preparing his small and not very appetising meal. There was
no pleasant excitement now as he gathered wood for a fire and
rigged up the mosquito-net. The preliminaries to the long vigil of
darkness had lost all their picnic flavour, and he was deeply
depressed as he saw the forest, changeless all around him, merge
swiftly from grey into black. He was dreading the night, and, with
even greater fear, he knew that he was dreading it. Perhaps, after
all, it would have been better to have made some enquiries at
Maramba about the sort of country this was--better even, it might
be, to have invited a companion. And he was already beginning to
be aware of certain deficiencies in his equipment. He could have
felt easier in mind, for instance, with a few extra boxes of
matches, for the firelighting had not been so simple as he had
counted on. And some good ointment for sores and bites would have
been another boon.

He was so tired that he fell asleep rather quickly, despite the
stinging ticks; but some time later he woke up suddenly to hear his
horse whimpering. The fire had gone out, and when he looked at his
watch he saw that it was still hours from dawn. He felt
instinctively, from the note of the cry, that something quite
terrible was happening. After a few seconds of indecision he got
up, took his revolver, and felt his way through the darkness. He
struck a match, but the blackness after it went out made everything
more impenetrable than before, and he dared not empty the box by
striking others. Clammy fronds brushed his face as he stumbled
through the foliage, guided by the continual whimpering; the unseen
vegetation touched and recoiled as if it were alive in almost an
animal sense. He was alone on the stage of a vast, pitch-black
theatre, acting a pitiful little play before an audience that could
see in the dark and was just beginning to be attentively hostile.
That was how it felt. At last he reached his horse and patted its
flanks; it was trembling, and he was thoroughly alarmed when his
hand came away wet and sticky. Then, with a sinister commotion of
wings, something cold and leathery struck him in the face and
disappeared into the branches overhead.

He could not guess what it had been until the morning, when, after
hours of partly conquered horror, he went to the horse again and
saw, in the first light of dawn, an appalling transformation. The
beast stood forlornly where he had tethered it the night before,
but its sides and hindquarters were ribboned with blood, and its
whole carcass was shrunken like a deflated bladder. There was no
interest or vitality in its wandering, hot-lidded eyes. He tried
to think what could have happened; at first he pictured an attack
by some marauding jaguar, but there was no sign of serious flesh-
wounding--merely an immense loss of blood and that look of deathly
exhaustion. Then he remembered the scramble of wings in the night,
and the thing that had touched him as it fled. Was there no limit
of hideousness in these forest secrecies? He was not particularly
squeamish, and he had few physical compunctions, but the idea of
this vampire creature gorging itself on blood throughout the long
black hours, stirred him to an icy shiver.

Grimly he tended the suffering animal, relit the fire to boil
water, and packed for the day's journey. But there was no zest in
what he did, despite his anxiety to be off; he felt that part of
himself was still too numb to take in the full unpleasantness of
the situation. A further shock awaited him when he mounted to ride
away; the horse half-turned to him beforehand, as if in warning of
the inevitable, and then, since he persisted, collapsed gently
where it stood. He was torn between sympathy and a sudden cold
lunge of personal fear. He made the horse get up, but did not
attempt to mount again. Since it could not carry him, it must
carry the baggage and be led; and if the forest ended soon, perhaps
all would be well. Or perhaps there was a native village not far
ahead, where he could buy another animal. Surely he must be near
some exit from this appalling country. He dragged the horse for a
little distance before remembering to take compass bearings; then
he found that he had been heading south-east instead of west. That
small loss of time, space, and energy sent him into a passion of
rage; he doubled back on his tracks and returned to the spot where
lay the remains of his burnt-out fire. To be there again, seeing
his own recent footprints, lifted him to panic; he swerved blindly
into the new direction, crashing through the thickets, and so keen
to thrust the yards behind him that he did not even brush away the
always hovering insects. He grew quieter after a while, and halted
at the first stream to fill up his water-bottle. The horse browsed
placidly while he stooped over the pool; it was so weak that he did
not trouble to tie it up. He was right in thinking the precaution
unnecessary, for when he turned round he saw that it had slid to
the ground and that flies already clustered over it in evil-looking
rosettes.

The horse died and he was alone. There by the pool amidst the heat
of noonday, he forced himself to be very calm and think things out.
New reserves of power came to him at such urgent summoning; he
perceived now, even if he had refused to accept the fact before,
that he was matched against a very considerable adversary. He
sorted out his baggage and made various careful decisions. There
were still left a few handfuls of rice and coffee and a score or
more matches. The shot-gun and revolver were absolute necessities.
But the mosquito-net had proved of little use, and as it was
cumbersome to carry, it had better go. He also at this point
abandoned the pocket Theocritus, which so far he had not even
opened.

Then he pushed on. He was drenched with sweat, and soon his
clothes hung in shreds, so that the countless stinging insects had
access to all parts of his body. He was thirsty, yet he did not
dare to empty his water-bottle with the deep swigs that he craved.
Watching the compass-needle almost continuously, he staggered
forward, bruising his shins against fallen logs, sinking knee-high
into decaying leafage, thrusting aside the straggling pulpy lianes.
If he stopped for a moment he could hear the forest in its full,
drowsing chorus, with his own heart beating time to that whirr of
insect-life and that faint whisper of tree-tops under the scorching
sun. The whole green world lay hushed and trance-like, awaiting
the mysterious liveliness of night.

By afternoon he was aware that his chief preoccupation was thirst.
It mattered more now than any ticks, snakes, tarantulas, or vampire-
bats; it lay over him in raw, enveloping desire, nourished by every
step. His water-bottle was empty; he had sipped its last drops
with exquisite niggardliness, and now his throat and lips were
beginning to be like flame. Yet there was such ripe greenness
everywhere that it seemed impossible that he could go far without
finding some pleasant oozing mud with a stream trickling through
the middle of it. Pictures such as that began to obsess his mind
till he could almost believe them real, and could think that he
heard the sound of a bubbling rivulet beyond the next limit of
sight. He wondered if there were leaves or stems from which he
could suck the juices; he wondered also what a death from thirst
would be like. Then his mind began to play over the past and
present in hot, roving confusion, and he thought of his horse, and
that shed at Maramba full of shattered bodies, and the lights of
Rio, and New York, and a glass of beer at a restaurant. . . . His
brain swung dizzily at that last summit of bliss, and he felt
something give way under him; he staggered and fell on his knees,
staring at the tangled, rich-hued greenery through which small
shafts of sunlight made lace-like patterns. The load on his back
weighed him down, and the shot-gun, slung over his shoulder, rifle-
fashion, had made a long ridge of sores which the flies constantly
attacked. He thought abruptly: "I am going to die of thirst.
Extraordinary! I, Leon Mirsky, formerly of Rostov-on-Don, sometime
lieutenant in the Fifteenth Imperial Hussars, and lately
correspondent in Rio of the 'New York Mail,' am about to die of
thirst at a point somewhere between Maramba and San Cristobal,
South America. . . ."

He had his revolver, anyhow, for the last extremity. But surely,
surely he was a long way from that. He had heard of persons going
waterless for several days, and he himself had had less than twelve
hours. He upbraided himself for giving way so soon; at least he
must stick it out till the next day. Then, looking round and
upwards, he saw a large bird swooping low overhead, and his first
thought was of the astonishing prescience of vultures. But the
bird passed, and after a moment the same or a similar bird flew
back again. Could it be that there was water near by, some pool to
which the bird had flown to drink? He had noted the direction; it
was downhill. With the idea once in his mind he could almost sniff
the water, and all at once he sprang to his feet, flung his pack
and weapons on the ground, and raced forward with arms outstretched.
There was water, and he would find it.

He did. Less than fifty yards away he ran into a sun-caked gully
that had been a stream during the rainy season, but was now a
series of slimy puddles. He lay belly downwards on the edge of one
of these and paddled his lips and face. He lay for many minutes,
caring for nothing but the relief of liquid coursing in the dried
canals of his body. Birds came near him to drink, too thirsty to
have fear, or to wait for him to go. Then it grew dark and was
night. He fell asleep, and thousands of ticks and flies had their
will of him. Sometimes, in the midst of wild dreams, he woke
suddenly, startled by the movement of some bird or beast in the
pool. He was in pain now, as if fire was in his stomach; and in
the morning he could move only with great difficulty. His first
thought was of the guns and pack which he had left a short way off
in the forest; he must find them, fill up his water-bottle, and
then press onward. He stumbled a few yards into the undergrowth
before realising, with a sort of numbed panic, that he had not the
slightest idea where to look, and that a search of the whole
possible radius was far beyond the limit of his bodily strength.

He slid back into the gully and watched without resentment the
flies that preyed on every inch of his exposed skin. An insect new
to him, rather like a scorpion, approached to within a little space
of his arm, and then scurried away when he made to touch it. His
brain felt perfectly clear, clearer than at any time since that
first day after leaving Maramba. He even philosophised over the
flies and insects, reflecting how the health of their small bodies
depended on his own sores and illness, and wondering whether life
itself might not be nourished similarly on some greater, unknown
matter in a state of unhealth. As ticks and microbes were to men,
so were men to what? No answer; just as, perhaps, a bacillus in
the cancerous throat of a prima-donna could have small conception
of an aria by Mozart. A universe, then, in which life was a
symptom of pain and breakdown in some larger structure?

He felt quite calmly reconciled to the fact of death, provided only
that it were not to be death of thirst. But then it seemed as if a
last malignant miracle were performed before his eyes, for he
looked down at the pool and saw that it had dried. Somehow he had
never thought of that, though it was really as likely as that
puddles dry on city pavements. The last of the green scum had
oozed away during the night, and now the sun was scorching up the
final moisture. A bird swooped down, pecked at the caking mud, and
seemed to share his discomfiture so comically that he burst into a
loud laugh and scared it away. He went on laughing, as at some
monstrous Rabelaisian humour, his finger-nails scrabbling in the
cocoa-brown earth. And the cream of the jest was that his revolver
lay somewhere a few yards away--yards that might as well have been
miles. Suddenly, thinking about it, he waved his fists at the
green encircling wall and began to shriek and shriek. . . .



CHAPTER SEVEN

MAX OETZLER


The Oetzler House in New York represented a last-minute triumph of
good taste over wealth. Aged sixty-eight, Oetzler was a sallow,
bald-headed, small-statured German Jew who had sold newspapers as a
small boy, and still, it might be said, sold newspapers. His
fortune was reckoned to be in the seven-figure category, much of it
invested in real estate; and he had the reputation of having
forecast the stock-market slump long, perhaps too long, before it
had happened. He was shrewd, acid, a fancier of men rather than
books, and as good a judge of wine as of either. He had gathered a
typical crowd around his dining-table that March evening--Wolfe-
Sutton the banker, Mrs. Drinan the actress, Lanberger the latest
lion among the novelists, Russell just back from the Andes, Lady
Celia Rivers on her way to Hollywood, and so on. Twelve in all,
including himself. His cousin had come up from Long Island to act
as hostess; she was rather "out of things" intellectually, but she
made up for it by a few mundaner talents which the great ones often
lacked. Oetzler was just conventional enough himself to appreciate
the fact that introducing people without getting their names mixed
up required brains of a kind, even if one did prefer the Ziegfeld
Chorus to "Strange Interlude." His attitude towards his guests was
pleasantly cynical; he liked to hear them talk, and took care never
to believe much of anything they said. It was, as he reckoned it,
a shop-window world, in which it would have been a breach of
etiquette to attempt to purchase the goods displayed. The real
stuff of the mind was housed in cellars, where one need not
advertise it.

He recognised a familiar scene as he glanced down the table at the
alternating array of creamy neck and white shirt-front. Like most
celebrities, they seemed to him ruthlessly self-centred; their talk
spurted into the air like fireworks, and he was always fascinated
to notice how little real connection the brightest salvos had with
anything that had gone before, yet how cunningly the skilled
conversational practitioner could devise an apparent sequence. And
there were several skilled practitioners at work to-night, he
noted. Indeed, he thought it very possible that no more brilliant
talk was being manufactured anywhere in New York at that moment.
The participants were all so cold and experienced; they shot their
service so unerringly over the net; though one did get a little
fatigued, as at tournament tennis, by the constant swivel of
attention. Extraordinary fruit of civilisation, these tricks of
verbal jugglery, played for a couple of hours over the silver and
cut glass of a dining-table. To eat and talk--who had first
thought of elaborating the simultaneous technique? Oetzler was
indifferently aware that he himself was but a poor hand at the
game; his words had a distressful habit of meaning something, which
was why, rather than spoil the play, he usually preferred to be a
listener. He liked, for example, to listen to Lanberger talking of
the world-slump, envisaging the breakdown of civilisation as
casually as he might announce the discovery of a new Czecho-
Slovakian ballerina. He liked nearly as well to hear Wolfe-Sutton
jauntily seconding a remark which, if true, must necessarily spell
doom for them all; was there something fine, or else merely
fatuous, in the way these people daintily improvised while so many
Romes were burning? The ball of chatter kept on flip-flopping
backwards and forwards, never missing a score, yet just as reliably
never getting anywhere; once it seemed in danger of stopping, but
Wolfe-Sutton rescued it at the last moment by interjecting:
"Curious, isn't it, the growing gulf between what we can all say,
privately like this, and what we dare write and speak in public?
We dope the millions with stuff that doesn't even win from us a
cynical smile."

Lanberger, red-haired and bronze-eyed, nodded. "Yes, and our host,
if he won't mind our being personal, is an example. In his
newspapers he organises optimism like a drill-sergeant, but one of
the few people he can't influence is himself. Do we count him a
hypocrite? Not at all. As a matter of fact, we hardly notice the
discrepancy. We accept the fact that cheerfulness has to be dished
out to the multitude just as we know that a boxer before a fight
daren't express the least doubt about winning."

Russell's turn now. "Don't be too sure, though, that the multitude
is really taken in."

"You think they see through it?" queried Mrs. Drinan, in her
brittle voice. "You really think they don't believe all that they
read in Mr. Oetzler's newspapers?"

Oetzler answered her mockery with an amused: "Good God, I hope
they don't."

Russell turned to him with a smile. "Probably people everywhere
are developing resistance to mass-suggestion--after all, even the
stupidest of us don't rush to do all that the advertisements
command us to. And I rather suspect that this matter of organised
optimism is a case in point. . . . You know, perhaps, that I've
just come back from the wilds--after twelve months away. Last
night I went to a restaurant where there was a band playing
optimistic songs. All about shouting for happiness and putting
your troubles on the shelf--that sort of stuff. There was a pathos
about it in 1930, when people took it with a sort of half-
prayerful boisterousness--rather like a lot of drunks singing in a
thunder-storm to keep their courage up. By last year the pathos
had turned to obvious derision. But last night, mouthed by
whispering baritones and crooning tenors--"

"The Neo-Bantu castrati," interjected Lanberger.

"--it all struck me as different again. The folks weren't cheered
by it, they weren't depressed by it, they weren't even cynical
about it. They just carried on with their ordinary business, which
was eating and drinking and flirting, with no more attention than
if the words had been a funeral lament."

Russell then resigned the ball to be tossed about by others. He
was a man of nearer sixty than fifty; grey-haired, short-bearded,
and inclined to mellow after a grim middle age and a somewhat
riotous youth. He was fairly well off, unmarried, and good company--
circumstances which had enabled Oetzler and himself to enjoy for
years an acquaintanceship which, though it hardly warmed into
friendship, was yet unhampered by all the more fruitful causes of
estrangement. And, in a sense, one could not easily be a FRIEND of
Odo Russell. A wanderer, a woman-hater, a writer of unconventional
travel-books, and a man of intense physical courage, he had
progressed beyond mere disillusionment to a state at which he might
have been called unillusioned. It was magnificent, doubtless, but
it was not lovable.

Oetzler leaned forward and spoke to him across Mrs. Drinan, who was
arguing vividly with someone at the other end of the table. "By
the way, Russell," he said quietly, "while you were out there, did
you happen to hear anything of that fellow I wrote you about?"

Russell looked up. "The Russian youth? Yes. I found him."

"He's alive?"

"Oh, he's alive all right."

"Then he certainly ought to write to his sister in Paris--she's
worried to death. I don't particularly blame him for letting me
down if he found something better to do out there--we've all got to
look after ourselves--"

Russell interrupted: "It's not quite so simple as all that,
unfortunately. In fact, it's rather a long story, so that
perhaps--"

"Yes, you must tell me about it afterwards."

The general conversation continued, and Oetzler pondered. So that
Russian fellow was alive? Oetzler was glad; he had quite liked
him, though he had never thought much of his art journalism. He
remembered once, in a whimsical mood, offering him a salary of a
hundred dollars a week if he could explain, simply and convincingly
to the ordinary reader, just why a Botticelli was better art than a
magazine-advertisement of a Marmon straight-eight . . . and he
would have been worth the money, too, if he'd been able to do it.

Oetzler had no further chance of speaking to Russell until later in
the evening, when all the others had gone except Lanberger, who was
staying the night. Then, as the three sat over the library fire
with drinks and cigars, he said, recollecting the matter: "So you
found Mirsky, then, did you?"

Russell gave a half-glance at Lanberger. "I did, but it's a
complicated story, and--"

"So you said before, but that doesn't matter. We can put you up
for the night, if you get too tired for the journey to your hotel."

"It's also--in a way--rather confidential. I don't know if--"

Lanberger took the hint and rose at once, but Oetzler checked him.
"I think we can accept a pledge of secrecy, eh, Russell? That is,
of course, if you think it's the sort of story that would interest
a novelist?"

"It might."

"Well, go ahead."

Russell took a sip of his drink, glanced for a moment at his two
listeners, and began. His voice was pleasant, he spoke with easy
fluency, and in conversation he had the same flair for words that
had made his travel-books very readable. "I got your letter
addressed to San Cristobal, Oetzler. And I must confess I was
amused by your saying in it that perhaps I could make enquiries
because you'd looked up San Cristobal on the map and had found that
it was quite near Maramba. Well, I suppose it is quite near,
judged by your standards, which are doubtless those of a private
saloon-coach on the New York Central. As a matter of fact, the
distance is about a hundred and twenty miles. There's no road
between the two places, no river, and not even a direct track. The
trip has been done, at various times, but it's about as rare as a
crossing of Arabia or Tibet. That's the sort of thing people don't
easily realise. Those hundred and twenty miles are more of a
separation than any mountain range or ocean. They're covered with
forest, much of it dense and waterless in the dry season, and
they're the haunt of a dreadful little pest called the ihenna--a
minute fly that can get through any mosquito-net and through most
sorts of clothing. There are also such minor inconveniences as
snakes, tigers, and native tribes who still use poisoned arrows.
Finally there's no particular reason why anybody should ever want
to get from Maramba to San Cristobal. Maramba does all its trade
with the south and east, San Cristobal with the north and west--
they're in different spheres altogether. That's what puzzled me so
much when you wrote that the authorities in Maramba believed that
Mirsky had crossed the river. I couldn't think what his reason
might have been. It was the maddest thing to do, and anyone in
Maramba would have told him so. Two Canadians, by the way,
attempted the journey last year and were never heard of again.
Their bones are whitening somewhere in the forest, I suppose."

"Probably, after the earthquake, the Maramba people weren't much
interested in giving warnings," put in Oetzler.

"Maybe that was it. Anyhow, as soon as I got your letter, I made a
few enquiries here and there--not really expecting to be told of
anything. I talked to innkeepers, traders and people who might
have heard any tales that were about. My own theory was that
Mirsky had probably crossed the river out of mere curiosity, and
perhaps ridden a little way into the forest and been killed somehow
or other--there are a hundred ways of getting killed in that sort
of country, particularly for that sort of youth. You didn't give
me much of a description of him, but he hardly seemed to me the
pioneering type."

"Certainly not that, but he wasn't a ninny, by any means, you know.
He was in the Russian Revolution--I think he fought in one or two
battles. . . . But go on--don't let me interrupt."

Russell drank again. "I may as well get to the point of the story
quickly. To my surprise, when I began to ask questions, I did
hear, quite soon, of a rumour circulated by some Indians who had
been in the town lately. They had mentioned a strange white man
who was living in the middle of the forest in a native hut, and I
gathered that the affair had been discussed by them as a sensation
of some piquancy. That was just the vague impression I got, mind
you, hearing the story third-hand like that. Naturally I asked for
more details, but I only received doubtful replies, and it began to
seem unlikely that I could trace the thing any further. Then,
altogether by accident, I ran into a young fellow prospecting for
the Standard Oil Company. He was one of those keen, eager youths
that represent the very best that America has to offer the world--I
don't know how the company finds them all--"

"Because it looks for them," interposed Oetzler. "Because it finds
the men who can do a job and then gives them a job to do. If the
whole country were run half as well, we should be a good deal
better off."

Russell nodded. "Yes, I daresay you're right. I heard someone
once say that Standard Oil was one of the three most wonderful
institutions the world had ever known--the other two being the
Papacy and the pre-War German army. They also, by the way, are
well represented in San Cristobal. In fact, you won't find any
spot in the world where the hardships are too much for that
extraordinary trio--the Roman missionary, the oil man, and the
German ex-officer in search of a job. They're cells of faith,
hope, and efficiency in places where everybody else is sinking into
a sort of sulky fatalism. Indeed, if our civilisation does crash,
as we were all talking about at dinner, I'll even back the
triumvirate to build up another one. . . . However, that's rather
wandering from the point. What I was about to say was that this
youth, Dyson by name, told me not only that he also had heard the
rumour about the mystery man, but that the chap was supposed to be
camped out fairly close to where the oil-men had lately been
prospecting."

"They hadn't seen him?" queried Oetzler.

"They'd had something more important to do than look for him, I
should imagine. But the name of their place was Yacaiba, and
that's where I set out for a few days afterwards."

"I hope it didn't upset your plans a lot?"

"I was interested. I didn't mind. Yacaiba was a two day's journey
away, travelling on mule-back. There'd been heavy rains that had
swollen the rivers, and what ought to have taken two days took
eleven. You'll find the place marked on the Government large-scale
maps as if it were about the size of Denver, or Salt Lake City, but
in reality it's a collection of adobe huts inhabited by less than a
hundred scrofulous Chiriqui Indians. Rather an extraordinary
tribe, the Chiriquis, as I'll tell you later. I'm giving you these
details so that you'll feel some meaning in those hundred and
twenty miles between San Cristobal and Maramba. Yacaiba is less
than half-way and a little bit off the straight line. Well, I got
there and was hospitably entertained by some more young fellows of
the same type as Dyson--they were terribly busy, and hadn't come
across the oil they were looking for, so I didn't bother them much
with my questions. All they could say was that the Indians talked
of a gringo living somewhere in the jungle with one of their own
women."

"Good God!" exclaimed Oetzler.

Russell smiled. "Yes, that's where you home-bred Americans prick
up your ears. You've all got an anti-miscegenation complex. Six
months in parts of South America would do you good--you'd find that
the mating of white and native races isn't thought of everywhere as
it is in Tennessee and Alabama. Whole nations south of the Canal
have been reared out of the first intermixtures of Spaniard and
native Indian, and in Bolivia the half-breeds, the cholos, are in
some respects the most promising stocks. So don't think that the
mere notion of a white man and an Indian woman was likely to shock
anybody in Yacaiba."

"We're too squeamish, I admit," said Lanberger. "I wonder if we
oughn't to look to complete world-freedom in intermarriage as an
ideal? It will probably come, when the European stocks have been
overthrown from their quite temporary domination. After all,
modern transport is making the world so small that this rigid and
continuous in-breeding of the white races is almost beginning to
look incestuous."

Oetzler said curtly: "I don't like half-breeds."

"My dear fellow, I don't myself particularly care for Poles and
Lithuanians and Greeks, but I'm bound to confess that the whole
gigantic mix-up of Teuton, Latin, Slav and Semite has given America
its new note of vitality in the world. Why, then, must we suppose
that a further admixture of Chink and Jap, or even pure nigger,
wouldn't add to the newness and the vitality? . . . But I don't
want to hold up the story."

"I'd got to Yacaiba, hadn't I?" Russell continued. "Well, there
was an Indian there who thought he knew where we could find the
happy couple, so I engaged him as a guide and we set out into the
forests. He said we'd be riding for a day, but once again
calculations went all wrong; it took four days. And I'll say this,
having had three nights in it, that I consider that forest one of
the most hellish things I've ever struck. Let me compare my own
situation then with what must have been Mirsky's when he entered
from the other end. He was alone; I had an Indian who was supposed
to know the place. He had no experience of pioneer hardships; I've
had forty years of them. He was setting out to do over a hundred
miles; my trip was less than thirty. He had a horse (so the
Maramba people said, didn't they?); I was on a mule, which is a
much more reliable animal in such conditions. Also, he was new
blood to all the insects; I've been so well inoculated that I've
sometimes imagined that the brutes see me coming and deliberately
keep off. On the whole, I'm glad I had those days and nights in
the forest. They helped me to understand the sort of thing that he
must have gone through before he was found."

"Ah," said Oetzler. "He was found, then."

"Yes, but I seem to be getting a bit ahead with my story. On the
fourth day we came to a few native huts by the side of a stream.
The village, or whatever it deserves to be called, was completely
empty, and the reason was obvious--the stream had recently
overflowed and washed out the inhabitants. But about a mile away,
on higher ground, surrounded by a small clearing which was in turn
surrounded by the forest, there was this interesting ménage in full
swing."

Russell paused, relishing his own technique of narrative. He went
on, eventually: "There was a rough timber hut with no windows, a
large opening for a door, and a roof made of some kind of palm-
leaf. The floor was just the earth, which chickens had scratched
into inches of filth and dust. A very small maize field rose on
sloping ground at the back--right up to the edge of the forest.
There were a few rather scraggy cattle in a stockaded corral. It
was dull and raining when I saw the place first, and the impression
of the forest all around, a complete wall of black, was that of
some huge, crouching animal waiting to pounce. Probably, had it
been a fine day, I'd have thought it all looked very cheerful and
homy. Anyway, there it was, and your friend Mirsky, dressed native-
fashion in slip-slop trousers and nothing else, was chopping wood
in the doorway.

"Of course, I couldn't be certain, then, that he was Mirsky. He
had a beard and a moustache, his hair was long, he was very dirty--
he didn't look a bit like the man your letter had described. There
was nothing for it but the 'Doctor-Livingstone-I-presume' gambit,
so I went up to him, held out my hand, and said: 'Is your name
Mirsky?' He didn't take my hand, he didn't answer, and he gave me
a look that I can't really portray, but it showed me this much
instantly--he was off his head.

"We stood there for a minute or so, facing each other without
words. Then suddenly a woman came out of the hut and looked at us.
That gave me my second shock. You know, Oetzler, I'm probably the
last man in the world who could he called sentimental, especially
about women, and you can imagine that I hadn't been picturing any
romantic affair between a stranded white man and a lovely sepia
princess. I was prepared for the average Indian female, who
generally isn't good-looking to begin with, ages very rapidly, and
has several diseases. But this creature wasn't even that. She was
the most incredibly ugly human creature I think I ever saw in my
life. She had the usual flat nose and broken teeth and barrel-
shaped body. She may have been old or young--one simply couldn't
guess. But the whole effect was made much worse by her being an
out-size. She was big even by our standards--to the Indians, who
are rather a stunted race, she must have seemed a regular giantess.
She made Mirsky look puny, and he certainly wasn't under average.
Of course I could understand as soon as I saw her why the Indians
at Yacaiba had all seemed rather lewdly amused at the situation--
there's always something a bit comic about the amours of a hefty
woman. . . . Well, there you are--there's your picture. I ought
to add that she was quite as dirty as she was ugly, and that when
she came up close she had a queer, ammoniacal smell that happens to
be one of the few unpleasantnesses that I've never managed to get
used to."

Lanberger reached for more whisky. "As you say, Russell, you could
hardly call yourself a sentimentalist."

Russell went on. "Well, she looked me up and down, and I smiled
politely, and then Mirsky said something to her in the native
lingo, and I gathered it was by way of general introduction. I'd
already given him my own name, of course. When I said he was off
his head, I don't mean that he was a raving lunatic. Far from it.
His first instincts were quite naturally hospitable, and he
motioned me to enter the hut out of the pouring rain. I did so,
with him following me, and the woman following after him. My
Indian guide stayed outside, watching events with much curiosity.
The inside of that hut was pretty dreadful. It had about twenty
smells, among them being those of chickens, drying pemmican,
peppery cooking, and filth. There was a sort of wooden bench on
which Mirsky invited me to sit. The woman went into a corner and
squatted on some straw; I couldn't see her properly, but I could
feel that her eyes were still on me, and I had an additional
feeling that she didn't altogether like me or approve of my visit.
Meanwhile I was rather waiting for Mirsky to say something, or at
least to confirm the fact that he was Mirsky. He didn't; but he
asked me what he could do for me, if I had lost my way, did I wish
for food, or anything. Quite courteous, indeed. I said: 'No. I
came deliberately to see you. I was told you were here. I should
like to talk to you.' He smiled at that and said he didn't know
that we could find much to talk about. I didn't fence around any
longer then, but said outright that his friends were greatly
concerned about him, and that I'd been sent by them to bring him
back. To which he replied, equally outright: 'You'll spare
yourself a lot of trouble if you take my word once and for all that
I'm not coming.' Quietly just like that. There was nothing
precisely in his tone, or words, or manner, to suggest that he
wasn't perfectly sane. But when I looked at him I saw his eyes
again. They were the danger-signal. They were--I can only think
of one adjective--they were HOT.

"Naturally, I didn't launch into arguments right away. To begin
with, I wasn't ready with any. It hadn't really occurred to me
that the fellow wouldn't jump at the chance of quitting such a
life. I just said: 'Oh, that's how you feel, is it?' and let the
matter drop for the time being. He was instantly courteous again,
and offered me food and drink, which I decided to accept. I'm not
particularly fastidious--I haven't had to be in my life--but I
confess that I heaved a bit over that meal. Just to see that woman
eating was enough to turn one's stomach. We drank chicha, which is
made from maize, and is pretty alcoholic if you have too much of
it. Afterwards both Mirsky and the woman chewed coca, but I
declined to join in--not from any scruples, but because I don't
much care for the drug. We talked a little, just the two of us.
Sometimes Mirsky said a word or so to the woman, but I gathered
that he didn't understand her language very completely. My
attitude, which I thought was the best possible in the circumstances,
was to pretend that the whole situation was the most natural in the
world. From a good deal of our talk we might have been lunching at
the Ritz-Carlton. Except that whenever I mentioned anything about
the outside world he shut me up instantly--telling me he wasn't
interested. Nor would he talk about the recent past. He seemed to
be living in a sort of 'here-now' world, as if he either couldn't
or wouldn't exercise his brain over space and time. I'm not a
psychologist, still less an alienist, and I don't really profess to
understand the man's mental condition. But it did seem to me that
his mind was somehow twisted. I'll give you an instance of it later
on. . . . I hope, by the way, you don't think I'm spinning this out
too much? There isn't a great deal more to tell, anyhow."

"Go on," Oetzler said. "It's a most extraordinary story."

"Yes, I suppose it is. I've known men go native before, but as a
rule it's drink or women that lead them to it, and they'd most of
them give their eyes to get back, if anyone offered to help them.
Mirsky, however, was a rather studious type, wasn't he, not much
given to the pleasures of the flesh?"

Oetzler nodded. "He certainly didn't drink heavily, and as for
women, I should have reckoned him under rather than oversexed.
Finnicky, in fact."

"Yes, you're thinking of that woman," Russell answered. "There was
nothing undersexed about her, I can assure you. She was almost, if
you take my meaning, a caricature of the thing. What's the name of
that English Jew who does queer sculptures that get his name in the
pictures? Yes, Epstein, that's it. She was Sex as Epstein might
have personified it. I don't say that, of course, merely because
she was ugly. There was something else--something powerful and
elemental and rather, to me, horrific in her. One somehow expected
to see her surrounded by an enormous litter of children. Yet, so
far as I could judge, she hadn't any. Afterwards, when I got back
to Yacaiba, I discovered that this was by no means remarkable,
since the Chiriqui women vastly outnumber the men--sometimes by as
big a ratio as ten to one. Nobody quite knows why, but it is so.
The only theory I can advance is that just as during a War the will
to survive produces an excess of males, a corresponding excess of
females must represent a subconscious will to die. As a matter of
fact, some of the tribes are dying--very rapidly."

"It must make the men rather proud of themselves," said Oetzler.

"Yes, I daresay. But most of them are only weedy little runts that
sit around all day doing nothing, while the women work. Contrary
to what you might expect, the men are by no means objects of
worship by the women. The disproportion is so great that the women
seem rather to despise them. There's polygamy, of course, if you
like to call it that, but it's really more like promiscuity. Few
of the children know their own fathers. The men's function is just
'service,' in the stud-book sense, and I can't say it adds to their
dignity, even if it does to their importance."

"And the women?" queried Lanberger. "Do they play fair--share and
share alike? Or do the good-looking ones, if there are any, elbow
the others out of the way?"

"So far as I could judge from very casual observation in Yacaiba,
the women seemed to be pretty sensible about it. Perhaps they'd
arrived at the soundest possible basis for a sexual relationship--
that of not expecting faithfulness. Still, the bad-lookers do get
left out--that's natural enough." He took a fresh cigar, paused
while he lit it, and then added: "Which brings me back to the
point--that woman. I should guess that SHE'D been left out, until
she met Mirsky. Or, rather, she didn't exactly meet him--she must
have found him, probably when he was half-dead and half-mad of
thirst in the forest. He didn't deny that that was what had
happened, when I put it to him the following day. Oh, yes, I
stayed the night there. I'm afraid I'm telling this story rather
badly. I stayed the night because I had to--the heavy rains had
swollen the river so much that it was quite impossible to make the
crossing. Mirsky walked down with me to look at it and then
invited me to return with him and wait till the morning. I can't
say I was pleased, because we'd already had a long and exhausting
argument and I could see that persuasion was useless.

"Yes, quite useless. When a man says the sort of things that
Mirsky said, and with that queer sort of danger look in his eyes,
you can't feel very optimistic about changing his mind. When I
told him about his sister in Paris and how worried she was about
him, all he said was: 'She needn't be. I'm well enough here.'
'But do you mean to say she's never going to see you again?' I
asked, and he answered: 'She can see me here, if she comes.
There's room enough for her.' After that it didn't seem worth
while to say much more. He talked a lot of wild nonsense about
hating civilisation. Even art, too. He was in a mood to have put
his foot through the canvas of the Monna Lisa if it had been
anywhere near. He pointed to a rather repulsive looking beetle we
saw crawling over the mud and said to me: 'You see that beetle?
What is it? It's a beetle, that's all. What is it doing? Nothing
particular that we know of. It's just being a beetle. Well,
that's how I want to be a man.' All that sort of talk."

"Not especially original," commented Lanberger. "I begin to
suspect that Mirsky must have had a complete set of the works of
D. H. Lawrence somewhere in that hut."

Russell laughed. "I haven't read much of Lawrence, so I can't say,
but of course the whole thing was absurd. Civilised man can't go
back to savagery all at once--he's too self-conscious. The
very last thing a savage ever does is to explain himself
introspectively, as Mirsky was doing then. But he wasn't
altogether sane, remember. Those days and nights in the forest--
exactly how many before the woman found him, I couldn't quite
gather--they'd done that much for him. As we came in sight of his
hut on the way back he said something else that stuck in my mind.
'I've got everything a man needs,' he said, 'food, drink, a roof
over my head, and a woman.'"

"Well," said Lanberger, reflectively, "it's a point of view, at any
rate. I can imagine many people who're by no means mad agreeing
with him."

"Oh, I'm not offering it as a proof of his madness," Russell
retorted. "And I could give you far better ones than that, in any
case. . . . But I must tell you now how we spent the night.
Mirsky and the woman slept together at one end of the hut, my
Indian guide was in the middle, and I was at the other end near the
doorway. As it wasn't a large hut we were all fairly closely
huddled. There was no artificial light, so we turned in as soon as
it got dark. Of course I didn't undress--I didn't even take my
boots off. There was only straw to lie on, full of fleas and
insects. Usually I don't get bitten much, but Mirsky must have
been breeding an especially ferocious type. They and other things
kept me awake, though there was every reason for me to be as tired
as the guide, who began snoring almost instantly. I smoked a pipe
or two and thought what a confoundedly queer world it was--to have
sent a Russian aristocrat turned Yankee art-critic to sleep on
straw in the middle of a tropical swamp with that monstrous female.
As a matter of fact, it rather got on my nerves--the thought of
them there, like that, only a few feet away. Of course I'm quite
aware that I ought to allow for my own personal kink in such a
matter. Frankly, I don't care for women. I don't even think that
their naked bodies are beautiful--all those rather foolish curves
and cushions. Now a man's body, on the other hand . . . but I
mustn't digress. I want to tell you about that night. It was not
quite pitch-dark--there was a small moon when the clouds let it be
seen. I suppose, despite the fleas and the smells and the general
uncomfortableness of things, I must have dropped off to sleep
before midnight, because when I woke I had a distinct middle-of-the-
night, as opposed to nearly-time-to-get-up feeling. I'm rather
good at that sort of instinct; I also have an instinct for danger--
it's saved my life several times. In fact--which is what I've come
to at last--I think it did so that night.

"I woke up with a queer sensation that something was happening or
about to happen--I felt it even before I remembered my whereabouts.
And then, when I looked up, I saw, very faintly against the
slightly pale oblong of the open doorway, a sight more terrifying
to me than snakes or panthers."

Lanberger tittered. "Do we have to guess what it was? I suggest
it was Mirsky being a beetle. . . . Sorry, Russell, I'm not really
poking fun--it's just that your quite frightful story begins to
make me feel hysterical. I can't help it. But do go on."

Russell continued: "The woman was standing over me. I could feel
and smell, more than I could see her. And if, by the way, I had
happened to be an admirer of women, I think that might have been
enough to cure me for ever. I can get now, when I think of it,
some of the fearfulness of that presence near me--once again, in
the darkness, I had an impression of something elemental, and in a
rather dreadful way, obscene. I won't elaborate it, though.
Perhaps more to the point is the fact that she was carrying
something in her hand--something which, dimly outlined, looked to
me very much like the axe that Mirsky had been using to chop wood.

"I rather pride myself, you know, on keeping my head at these
awkward junctures. After my first spasm of terror, I felt quite
calm. The woman, I could see, was watching me, but I doubted
whether she knew I had wakened. My revolver was touching my hand--
if she intended murder I could forestall her by the merest pressure
of a finger. I don't know that I'd have felt much compunction
about it, either--I've killed men for less, and I certainly didn't
feel in a chivalrous mood just then, even if I ever did. Anyhow,
to cut the story shorter, I gave her the chance and she took it. I
staged a noisy yawn, and saw her slink back, axe and all, into the
shadows at the other end of the hut.

"As you can guess, I didn't go to sleep again that night. I
lay awake thinking things over, and the best plan, in the
circumstances, seemed a pretty quick exit in the morning. I just
didn't like the idea of that woman. The Indian tribes, you know,
aren't particularly intelligent, but they're reputed to employ
several highly original methods of slaughter, and I wasn't sure
that I knew them all. So at dawn I got up, waked my guide, and
ordered him to prepare for the return journey. Mirsky and the
woman heard me, and also got up. Mirsky protested against my going
so soon, and wanted me to take a meal first, but I declined--to
tell the truth, though it may sound ridiculous--I had a fear of
poison. You see, I'd figured it out that the woman knew, whether
he'd told her so or not, that I was scheming to take him away from
her. It's the sort of motive that grows with thinking about, and I
reckoned on her feeling more murderous than ever after that middle-
of-the-night fiasco. I didn't hint anything of this to Mirsky, of
course. I merely said that as it hadn't rained during the night, I
was anxious to take the chance of crossing the river. Mirsky said
it would still be impossible to cross, but I said I would go down
and try, anyway. So he went with me. My good-bye to the woman was
somewhat frigidly polite.

"It's about a mile downhill from the hut to the fording-place, and
Mirsky and I carried on a rather one-sided conversation most of the
way. It was then that I said I supposed the woman had found him
half-dead in the forest, and he just looked at me sardonically and
shrugged his shoulders. I also said: 'I don't know what sort of
report I can make about you when I get back.' He said: 'Why not
tell the truth?' I answered: 'It's too ghastly.' He then said:
'I suppose it's the woman that makes you say that.' I admitted as
much, and he laughed in a sort of crackling way and answered:
'That's just the trouble. You shouldn't think about her. You
shouldn't think about women at all. They're not made for it.' I
said they were generally considered to be of some importance in a
man's life. He said: 'Important, yes. So are the colon and the
pylorus. But you only think about them when they're not
functioning properly. Thought is Mishap. That's a decent sort of
Proudhon definition anyway. Look at your world when you return to
it--compare it with the almost thoughtless world of the amoeba, or
with the totally thoughtless orbit of Betelgeuse.' 'All very
well,' I retorted, 'but the fact remains that what you're saying
now is very much the product of thought. You seem to have the
disease as badly as anyone else.' He laughed again at that, and we
went on talking till we reached the river. I can't remember a lot
that he said. As you remarked just now, Lanberger, it probably
wasn't anything really original. But it would no doubt pass for
originality if Mirsky were to come back here on a lecture tour,
grizzled beard and Indian squaw complete. I can see the women's
clubs in Cincinnati and Akron, Ohio, going wild about him."

"He'd certainly make a bigger hit than he did as a highbrow art-
critic," agreed Oetzler. "But unfortunately you weren't able to
persuade him to such an interestingly new career, I gather?"

"No, but he nearly persuaded me to go back with him to the hut. He
said the river was very deep and had dangerous cross-currents, so
that I'd probably lose all my tackle if not my life. The Indian
guide was rather doubtful about it, too--the stream certainly was
running pretty high. I was half-preparing myself to accept the
inevitable--after all, I thought, I've got a revolver and know how
to use it--when I happened to give another glance at Mirsky, and
all at once my guardian instinct stepped in again. I can't really
describe the look that was in his face. It was just--if the
oxymoron conveys anything--pure evil. I was aware then, as clearly
as if I'd been told so outright, that he knew all about the woman's
planned attack on me, that he'd been a party to it, and that he
wanted to get me back to the hut for a second and more successful
effort. Of course, you can say if you like that I couldn't
possibly deduce all these things from a mere look, but I say I
could and DID. And it made me settle quite finally that I'd got to
cross that stream somehow or other. I told him so. He laughed and
said he supposed I had a right to drown myself if I chose. Then he
suddenly cried out, excitedly: 'You're not going! You're coming
back with me!' I answered, as calmly as I could: 'My dear Mirsky,
nothing on earth would induce me to do that. If I can't get across
now, I'll camp out here on the bank until the water lowers.' He
said: 'You don't like my establishment, then?' I answered rather
recklessly--perhaps you know how sometimes an idea comes to you
which, if you thought about it twice, you'd reject, but it just
captures you before you have time for the second thought. That's
what was happening to me then, as I said: 'Oh, I don't mind your
establishment at all, but I do object to being murdered in my
sleep.' I guessed that would bring things to a climax, but the
precise climax it did lead to wasn't among those I was prepared
for. A rather curious change came over him. He just nodded his
head, very slowly; and, believe me, Oetzler, it was as if, for a
moment, the curtain lifted and he became as sane as you or me.
'She's a devil, that woman is, Russell,' he said, in quite a calm
voice.

"D'you know, it rather got me, moved me in a sense--his saying
that, and the way he said it--and I'm not a very easy person to
move. Perhaps it was partly his calling me by my name, for the
first time. I put my hand on his dirty, sun-browned shoulder and
said: 'Mirsky, don't be a fool--come with me now--this instant--
let's both of us cross this damned river and get away. Come on--
don't think of her again--just come with me.' I kept on talking,
urging, waiting for him to say something in reply, and what he said
at length was just the one word--'Clothes'--in a half-dazed voice.
'Oh, that's all right,' I replied. 'I can lend you things, and
we'll get you a full rig-out in San Cristobal.' 'San Cristobal?'
he echoed, as if the name reminded him of something. And then he
made a remark which made me think, as I told you before, that his
mind and memory must have undergone some peculiar twist. He said:
'I must send a cable when I get to San Cristobal. Raphael Rassova
is dead. Did you know that?' Well, of course I knew it, as
everybody else does. I just made some vague answer, not wishing to
begin any irrelevant argument. What I was most anxious for was to
have him on the other side of that river. And I honestly think I
should have succeeded but for one of those appalling mischances
that change the entire pattern of fate. Hearing a sound in the
distance, we both looked to see what it was, and there, waddling
down the forest-track as fast as she could come, was that woman."

Russell leaned forward a little and took another drink; talking so
much had made him a trifle husky. "I assure you solemnly, Oetzler,
that I very nearly killed her at that moment. And I suppose, by
every civil and moral law, it would have been plain murder if I had
done. Yet she seemed to me, as she approached, much more than
someone who had tried to take my life. As a matter of fact, I
almost forgot about that. She seemed more than any merely human
personality--rather the incarnation of all that keeps men enslaved,
chained down. Do you know what I mean when I say she was too
FEMALE?"

Lanberger nodded. "Your kink again, Russell. But I do know what
you mean. I wonder if women ever think a man is too MALE? Perhaps
those chaps are that you see photographs of in the physical culture
papers. . . . But I'm too interested in your yarn to want to
interrupt it again. Do continue."

"Well, there's very little left. Of course her coming made
everything hopeless. The curtain re-descended on Mirsky--he began
to rant and shout, and though I tried to pacify him, it was clearly
going to be no use. Then the woman said something, and instantly
he went on again about the dangers of the water-crossing and how
much better it would be if I were to return with him to the hut and
wait a while. That sudden change of attitude, at the woman's
bidding, struck me so sinisterly that I gave an immediate order to
the guide, jumped on my mule, and plunged into the river. As a
final proof that I had done wisely, the crossing turned out to be
perfectly simple. There were no treacherous currents at all, and
the water wasn't nearly as deep as Mirsky had made out. When I
reached the other side I took what I guessed was a last look at him
and shouted good-bye. But he was talking to the woman and didn't
answer. Then I headed my beast into the forest and began the
return journey to Yacaiba. That's all."

He sighed gently as he prepared to let the other men talk. But for
several minutes neither of them did so, and Oetzler merely pushed
across the whisky and cigar-box. It was Lanberger who finally
broke the silence. "Well, at any rate," he said, "I think any
reasonable person will agree that you couldn't have done more. Not
many would have done as much."

Oetzler nodded. "I second that. It's a business I shouldn't
myself have cared to face at all. A strange experience for you,
Russell. I hope you feel that the mere uniqueness of it is some
reward for its unpleasantness while it lasted."

"Oh, yes," answered Russell, smiling. "It will fit very nicely
into my autobiography, I admit."

"Meanwhile," Oetzler went on, "there's one awkward problem left
over from it. What am I going to write to the girl in Paris?"

"His sister? H'm . . . that is a problem. What sort of person is
she?"

"I haven't much idea, but I gather she's the widow of a Frenchman,
has no money, and supports herself by some rather paltry job. The
usual emigré tragedy. She and her brother are all of the family
that have survived. She seems to be very much attached to him--for
the last few months she's been writing to me constantly, asking
where he is and why she hasn't heard from him. I don't suppose,
but for her, I'd really have bothered you to make any enquiries."

"Does she know he went to Maramba?" Lanberger asked.

"Oh, yes, I told her all that. And his last letter to her was from
Rio, saying he was just about to set out for the earthquake zone."

"Well, I don't suppose you'll feel inclined to tell her the exact
truth."

"Good God, no! She probably wouldn't believe me, and even if she
did, she'd only want to go out there right away and discover things
for herself. But I shall be compelled to tell her something, after
my promise to have enquiries made."

They discussed the matter for some time, but Russell did not join
in; he seemed fatigued after his narration, and at length rose to
go. Oetzler went down with him to the front door, leaving
Lanberger in the library. They chatted a moment till the arrival
of a cab, and then shook hands. Probably Russell would have
visited a good many other outlandish places before they met again,
Oetzler reflected.

As he climbed again the short flight of stairs to rejoin his guest,
he rather wished that Lanberger were not staying with him. The man
had been amusing enough at dinner, but he was too tiresomely
decorative for a conversation à deux. No doubt at that very moment
he was thinking of something clever to say. Oetzler felt he would
rather have been alone. The evening had left him with a curious
feeling of depression--curious because he could not, as so often,
whisk it away by a merely cynical twist of thought. The talk at
dinner and Russell's long story somehow balanced each other in his
mind--two pictures of a world that made him glad he was an old man.

When he entered the library Lanberger had lit a fresh cigar and was
evidently ready for an eager resumption of the conversation.

"An extraordinary yarn, Oetzler," he began, puffing excitedly.
"Most good of you to let me in for it. As a novelist, I found it
horribly fascinating. But, you know, the character in the story
that interested me most of all was not Mirsky, nor even the woman,
but Russell himself. What a man! It's rare that you get a real
self-revelation like that. His kink about the woman . . . most
remarkable. He admitted himself that we must make allowance for
it. On the whole, I think it's a pity he didn't bring back a few
photographs."

"Why?"

"Because she mightn't have looked, to us, quite so awful as he made
out. I'm not suggesting that she was a beauty, of course--merely
that the peculiar quality of horror that Russell managed to convey
to us may not have been so much in the woman's body as in his own
mind."

"Maybe," said Oetzler. He walked to the window, pulled back the
curtains, and gazed upwards to a string of lights crowning the dark
oblong of a neighbouring skyscraper. He felt very restless. What
a bore these brilliant talkers were apt to be, when you had them
all to yourself! He felt, as he sometimes did when he spent too
much time in the atmosphere of his own newspaper office, the
astonishing futility of words. There was a spate of them now, as
never before in history--newspapers, books, the radio--yet in the
whole lot was there as much eternal truth as in, say, the single
statement of the Binomial Theorem? Which, by the way, was as far
as he had ever got in mathematics. He sighed as he thought of his
own giant presses at that moment preparing the word-stream which,
in a few short hours, would suffuse the mentalities of millions of
breakfasters and travellers to business. Never had there been more
skilled manipulators of the thousands of items in the vocabulary;
indeed, the game of everlasting permutation and combination and
repetition had reached the dimensions of a giant industry. Yet was
there more truth in the world, or a keener perception of the
meaning of things, than if mankind had been created deaf and dumb?

"Not that that spoils the tale," Lanberger added, pendantly to his
previous remark. "On the contrary, it's the interplay of the first-
personal with the third-personal that makes the 'I' technique so
interesting. I know that well enough, as a novelist. I wonder if
Russell really intends to use the story?"

"I should think he does," answered Oetzler, with a smile. "He's a
word-hound like yourself, you know. Well, perhaps not quite like
yourself. He's one of those writer-men-of-action who go rooting
about the world so that we can all sit in arm-chairs at home and
enjoy their discomforts. Schadenfreude--isn't that what we Germans
call it?"

"He's a talented writer, I should imagine."

"Oh, yes."

"You say that disparagingly?"

"Not in respect of Russell personally, I assure you."

"Of writers in general, then?"

Oetzler laughed. "Perhaps a little. As a matter of fact, such an
evening as we've just spent puts me in mind of Huxley's little
illustration about the monkey and the typewriter--do you remember
it? He said that if one were to allow a monkey to fool about with
a typewriter for long enough, sooner or later, according to the
laws of probability, the creature would type out all the books that
have ever been written."

"By pure chance?"

"Yes. That's mathematically quite sound, I understand. And, so
far as I can see, it seems just as true that, sooner or later, the
monkey in the same way would type out, not only all the stuff that
has been written, but also some equally wonderful stuff that
hasn't. Limiting ourselves a little, shall we say a sonnet fit for
the best highbrow monthly with thick paper and wide margins?"

"What an amusing idea!"

"Yes, and it's even more amusing when you reflect that by the laws
of chance this sonnet-phenomenon is just as likely to take place
immediately as a million or a trillion years hence. So that if we
were to set our monkey at work to-night, it's just possible that we
might come down to-morrow morning to find a genuine addition to
literature all complete."

"Well, what does it prove?"

"Nothing at all, my dear Lanberger, except that genius, talent, and
all that sort of thing is a little quicker in its results than a
chance-impelled monkey. Quicker, I admit; but I don't think we can
say surer. And who knows if mere quickness is any particular
virtue in a universe where there seems to be time as well as space
enough for everything?"

"I change my mind about your theory being amusing. I think it's
infinitely depressing."

"Perhaps. But please don't call it MY theory--I'm not nearly
mathematician enough. As a matter of fact, I first heard it
advanced--not very seriously--by an Englishman named Elliott who
was over here for the War Debts negotiations in 'twenty-three. He
came here one night and thawed out wonderfully after dinner, as
Englishmen very often do. Interesting fellow--I see, by the way,
that he's just been given a post in the British Cabinet . . .
Well, well, Lanberger, after all that I really think we ought to go
to bed. Not quite the hour to turn to metaphysics. . . ."

A few moments later, as they were both on their way to their
respective rooms, Oetzler suddenly decided what he had better write
to the girl in Paris.



CHAPTER EIGHT

PAULA COURVIER


All day Paula had been very busy, for the delegations were due to
arrive that evening, and they had engaged the whole of the first
and second floors.

The Hôtel Corona occupied a well-chosen position at the fashionable
end of the city. From its green-uniformed porters who waited at
the railway-station to its lions couchant on either side of the
main portico, it radiated a faint flavour of the pre-War Baedeker.
Almost one expected to find its halls crowded with moustached
Englishmen in tweed ulsters enquiring the times of diligences. It
had five storeys, between three and four hundred apartments, and a
dining-room that had at one time or another ministered to the wants
of most Europeans over fifty and possessed of a yearly income
exceeding a hundred thousand francs. Since the War its original
air of quite Britannic majesty had been tinged from a more distant
source, and there was now a cocktail-bar of immense sophistication
as well as iced water for the asking.

Looking at the Hôtel Corona in the spring of 1932, one could not
but feel a tide in the affairs of men that was lapping round it in
a new direction, preparatory, maybe, to leaving it altogether. It
still faced the lake like a starched shirt-front, living to all
outward appearances that life of perpetual evening-dress for which
it had been designed. But inside, the atmosphere was changed. For
eighteen months the third and fourth floors had been closed
entirely, and for a year the grand dining-room had been used only
for occasional festivities. The grey-bearded head-porter stood in
the lobby with a forlorn air of waiting for grand-dukes that might
arrive at any moment. But the grand-dukes no longer arrived. The
most that were now to be expected were diplomatists with leather
satchels, hustling journalists who asked for beer at dinner, and
that new post-War phenomenon--the typist cocotte.

Still, the "Corona" survived if it did not flourish, and its suave
proprietor, M. Capel, was by no means disposed to object to the new-
fashioned invasion. On the contrary, he had reopened the dining-
room, engaged extra waiters and chambermaids, arranged special
rooms for meetings, and laid in copious stocks of hotel notepaper.
Nor had he shown much agitation when the president of the Polish
delegation had rung him up from Warsaw and threatened to cancel
bookings if the Soviet delegation were to be housed on the same
premises. M. Capel knew that at an international conference such
preliminary roulades were to be expected; and, what was more to the
point he knew that the Polish delegation comprised only thirty odd,
while the Russians numbered over eighty. Hence he had accepted the
ultimatum resignedly and had straightway communicated with the
Germans in Berlin and undercut the quotation of his rival, the
Grand Hotel Moderne, along the road.

It was all fixed up, therefore, that the Germans and Russians were
to have the whole of the first and second floors, and Paula
Courvier, who was one of the extra chambermaids, had thus been kept
busy from very early morning on that sunny day in May.


Not only the hotel, and all the other hotels, but the whole city
and district were in a similar froth of excitement. International
conferences were no novelties, but this one promised to be a record
both for size and duration. Which meant that everything and
everyone was prepared and expectant--shops, theatres, newspapers,
railways, taxicabs, the post office--not a trade in the city, from
laundries to lung-specialists, but looked for an augmentation of
prosperity. Already during the fourteen years of the new era a
considerable vested interest in peace had arisen, not dissimilar to
that of Essen or Creusot in war; the municipality, indeed, might
well have changed its motto to "Ex Pace Lucellum." For some days
before the official conference-opening, the advance-guard had been
arriving by every schnell-zug and train de luxe--secretaries,
publicists, interpreters, experts representing various interests,
social hangers-on, and bevies of demi-mondaines from Berlin and
Paris who were prepared to intersperse their pleasantries with
trifles of eavesdropping and minor espionage. Peace had its
victories a little less than war, and though the decorativeness of
old-style diplomacy might be lacking, these morning-coated
Metternichs and tweed-suited Talleyrands had their raffish moments--
often of a kind to shock the respectable bourgeois inhabitants of
the neighbourhood. Was it really possible that the celebrated
authors of memoranda and draft-protocols were THAT sort of person?
Alas, it was possible; but if one sold malmaisons or had shares in
the local brewery, it was also possible to be tolerant.

So, from the ends of the earth, during those spring days, there
gathered together the hirelings and the subordinates, followed in
due course by the principals themselves. It was a General Council
of the new and so far unestablished Faith--a Faith that had not yet
had its Nicæa, much less its Trent. The streets were brilliant
with flags and banners, and noisy with chatter in many languages; a
stroll of ten minutes' duration had much of the interest and few of
the inconveniences of a world-tour. Here an immaculate Japanese
was buying a picture-postcard at a kiosk; there a group of German
journalists, elaborately shabby, sat clinking glasses at a café
table. Finally, towards sunset on the day before the conference-
opening, a train of teak-brown coaches arrived from the east and
disgorged on to the station platform a last consignment of
hierarchy. Debonair even after their long journeys, they spilled
into taxicabs and tipped according to the degree of lavishness with
which their governments had endowed them.

By a different train, about an hour earlier, there had arrived the
usual day-mail from Marseilles, and most evenings, towards seven
o'clock, it was Paula's habit to slip out, if she could manage it,
across the road to the post office and enquire if there were
anything "poste restante" for her. She did so on this occasion,
and with the usual result. When she re-entered the Hôtel Corona by
a side-door, the delegations were just arriving by the front, and
all was in commotion. She went up immediately to attend to her
duties on the second floor.

These duties were arduous, but simple. Over her head, as she sat
in an alcove at one end of the long corridor, were eighteen
numbered bells, representing the eighteen rooms under her charge.
If there was a ring, she had to hasten to the corresponding room;
but during the often long intervals of waiting she could read or
sew if she cared. In the evenings, however, the corridor light was
so poor that she usually did nothing at all, except fall into a
doze. Her hours were from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m. and from 2 p.m.
until midnight, on alternate days, and with only short pauses for
meals. M. Capel had known how to drive a hard bargain.

She had been at the "Corona" for just a week, and it was her first
experience of such work. Before that, there had been nightmarish
months of slowly encroaching poverty, as her income as a music-
teacher had felt the full blast of the world-slump. Before that,
she had had for a time the post of governess to an epileptic child;
and before even that, she had been the wife of a casino-croupier,
who had finally left her with nothing of any commercial value
except French nationality. And in the days before wifehood there
had been the gradual, bitterly reluctant acceptance of changed
times and facts--the bartering of jewels in back-parlours of shops,
the signing of "Paula Mirsky" with less and less of a flourish as
one came to realise how little it counted. Farthest of all, came
those ancient days before 1917, and still more anciently before
1914--one dreamed of them sometimes, but one tried not to remember.

Paula was now thirty-three--tall, dark-haired, sombre-eyed, slender-
nosed, always rather pale. Her husband, a swaggering Provençal,
had been consistently unfaithful, but that had not mattered much,
because she had married only in the first panic of finding herself
without money. After two years of him she had had enough of men,
and the enoughness was written genuinely in her face.

As she took her post at the end of the corridor that evening she
felt, in the same genuine way, that she had probably had enough of
life as well. Still no letter from Leon. Still no information
about him from anyone. She sat down on the small, cane-bottomed
chair and faced the now familiar vista of doors and carpet. There
was a murmurous stir from below--sounds of voices, of luggage being
moved, of lift-doors clanging, the whine of the ascending
compartments. Soon the noise invaded her own corridor, but it did
not concern her yet; she sat motionlessly, while porters passed her
with heavy trunks, page-boys skipped ahead of men in large
travelling overcoats who sauntered along with their hands searching
for small change. The delegations, she thought, in a kind of daze.
Then, inevitably, the bells above her head began to ring.

For an hour or more after that she was continually busy. There was
no running water in the second-floor bedrooms, and as most of the
arrivals wanted to wash, she had to fill cans of hot water from the
tap adjoining the bathrooms. Some of the men were obvious Germans
and looked pleased when she replied to them in that language, which
she spoke fairly well; but her accommodation had been automatic.
She had little interest in personal identities; they were all no
more to her than the occupants of certain rooms. She felt fatigued
and listless; her legs took her backwards and forwards, but her
mind all the time was clogged with wondering about Leon and why he
had not written. In one of the rooms, Number Two-five-seven, a man
began some long story about his luggage having gone astray; he
spoke in school-book French, and had a deep, rather husky voice
which somehow did not match his face, which was very round and red
and shining. He went on with his story, which finally led to a
request for some soap. "Soap?" she echoed, picking up the trail of
a speech to which she had not really been listening. But then he
suddenly said: "Pardon, m'mselle, you look ill. Don't bother
about the soap--I can do without it for the time being."

"But no, I can get you some."

When she brought it to his room he was talking in German with a
group of other men; he just said "Thanks," and she left it on the
wash-hand basin. Then she went back to her chair in the alcove.
Most of the arrivals had already gone down to dinner; it would be a
slack time now until about ten o'clock. She closed her eyes, and
the feeling came to her once more that life was just no good at all
unless she were soon to hear from Leon.

She had not seen him since 1927, when he had been over on a short
holiday from New York, but he had always (until of late) written to
her regularly, and had sometimes helped her by small remittances.
She had cherished all along the most confident belief in his
genius, and had read and re-read the art-critiques which he sent
her from time to time. Her feeling for him was somehow deeper than
that of sister for brother, deeper even than that of one survivor
of a family for the only other. He represented, to her, the bare
chance of rising, phoenix-like, out of the ashes of disaster; he
was the only living link between the past and any sort of a future.
The very fact that, but for his one short visit, she had not seen
him since the darkest days of all, gave emphasis to this symbolism;
for he alone, it seemed, had acquired a second status after events
had robbed him of his first. To become a famous New York art-
critic instead of a wealthy landowner near Rostov-on-Don was not
too bad an exchange; it was possible, anyhow, to think of it
hopefully. And she had been thinking of it hopefully for ten
years. It stood for all that was "not quite" in the totality of
ruin.

The long evening began; the man who had asked for the soap passed
with his friends on the way to the lift, still talking animatedly.
She did not often notice faces, but she could not help looking at
his--it was so cheerful and pink, like a grown-up choir-boy's, she
thought. . . . Then, after the clang of the lift-gate, she was
alone in the muffled silence. It was at such moments that, though
she tried to forbid them, the memories came--of Yalta, in the
Crimea, where her parents had had a villa when she and Leon were
children; of Eastertide in St. Petersburg; of hotels like the
"Corona" at which she had stayed as a girl. For her father had
been extremely rich, and she and Leon had already seen a good deal
of Europe before 1914. She had many memories of Switzerland, the
Rhine, Vienna, Berlin, Dresden, and Rome; of her father, tall and
fur-coated, losing his temper with railway-porters, and of her
mother dutifully pacifying him; and of Leon in his cultured voice
instructing them during their perambulations of Italian picture-
galleries. But her most poignant memory was of Leon in the tight-
fitting, gold-laced uniform of his crack regiment. Only the fact
that he didn't sympathise with it had prevented him from fighting
heroically in the war against the Germans; she was sure of that,
and sure also that his attitude had been thoroughly right. For had
not that war, after all, led directly to the Revolution? Oh, if
only . . . if only . . .

It always came to that, in the end. Pictures raced through her
mind, like a worn and flickering cinema-film, meaningless except
for that single torturing motif--if only. . . . So much of all
that had happened could have been avoided; so much of it very
nearly hadn't happened. If, for instance, the English had burst
through the Dardanelles and taken Constantinople in 1915? Or if
Denikin had had just a featherweight of better luck in 1919? If
only these, to take but two of the vividest near-happenings, had
eventuated, then she would not be listening for bells in a hotel
corridor in 1932, nor Leon have been sent to the edge of the world
to report an earthquake.

She fell into a doze and did not waken till one of the bells began
to tinkle. It was after ten; she would be busy from now on,
carrying more hot water. Just before midnight, when her duty
ended, the man with the choir-boy face passed her alone, going to
his room. "Good night," he called out. "I hope you're feeling
better now."

"Yes, thank you," she answered. "Good night, sir."

He had a pleasant smile, she thought, as she undressed a few
minutes later in the drab attic which she shared with another hotel
servant.

In the morning it was her turn to begin work at six. Two hours
later she tapped on the door of Number Two-five-seven and received
a deep-voiced, cheerful reply. She filled a can of hot water and
placed it on the mat outside the door. Next the boots brought
along a pair of brown brogue shoes. Then the waiter arrived with
coffee and croissants. Finally came the porter bringing a trunk
and suit-cases--evidently the luggage that had gone astray the
previous evening. She felt what she so rarely felt--a tinge of
personal curiosity, in return, as it were, for the man's previous
enquiry about her. She glanced casually, in passing, at the labels
on the luggage; they bore the name "Tribourov" and the emblematic
seals of the U.S.S.R.

That gave her a shock. She had assumed, without ever wondering
much, that the man was German. And then the labels on the bags,
names of Russian cities printed in Russian characters . . . they
brought her face to face with something she was hardly prepared
for. She had known, of course, as all the staff knew, that the
Russian delegation were coming to the hotel, and she had known,
too, if she had ever considered the matter, that they would all be
Reds (what else could they be, indeed?), yet somehow she had not
expected their identities to concern her any more than those of
other hotel visitors.

This man Tribourov was, incidentally, the first Soviet personage of
any consequence whom she had ever seen. Before 1919, when she had
escaped from Russia, her contacts had all been with soldiers, minor
officials, and miscellaneous ruffiandom; such men as Lenin,
Trotsky, Kameneff, Radek and the rest, were mere names to her as to
the rest of the world, though she felt for them a fierce,
blistering detestation that was shared by most of her companions in
exile. The so-called hatreds of the actually warring nations were
mild beside it, and proved their mildness by collapsing like
pricked balloons after the Armistice, leaving no greater soreness
than between ally and ally. But the loathing of White for Red, of
the dispossessed for the aggrandisers, was a darker, more searing
thing, a poison in the blood, which ten years of banishment had
sharpened rather than assuaged. There were men in Paris, in
Berlin, and along the coastline of the Riviera, whom a chance-seen
photograph of Lenin could suddenly intoxicate with rage; they hated
that dome-like Mongol face with a hate that came less from their
heads than from their bowels. And in their waking dreams they saw
themselves warriors recrossing frontiers of time as well as space,
wading back through rivers of blood to the gilded salons of 1914.
The least thing could quicken the ferment of such anticipations--a
glass of Clicquot stood them by a friend, a glimpse of glittering
epaulettes, the sound of a band playing Tchaikovsky.

And if this were true of men, it was doubly so of the women, whose
dispossessions had often been more humiliating. There came a day
in their lives when they had sold the last jewel to the last Jew,
when they found that the tale of gentle birth merely bored where it
did not antagonise; then, taking the plunge, they became French,
German, Swiss, burying the past in its own black memories.
Sometimes, like Paula Mirsky, they married foreigners and acquired
a new nationality in law. By their neighbours, employers, and new-
found companions the past was not only unknown, but unsuspected;
and even in their own souls it might seem to die. Then, abruptly,
something would set the old fires re-flickering.

This happened to Paula when she saw the labels on Tribourov's
luggage. There were similar labels on other men's luggage, but
only Tribourov's affected her, because only Tribourov had made her
aware of him personally. The rest were mere embodiments of room-
numbers; he alone was a man, and as a man he invaded her life. He
was, she had thought at first, like a grown-up choir-boy, and the
rather impressionist description still stood when she noticed him
further. And it was perhaps appropriate that his first contact
with her had been in connection with a demand for soap. For his
face looked always as if it had just been scrubbed; there was that
ripe, schoolboyish freshness about his skin. It was in his manner,
too; he was always cheerful, brisk, jauntily good-humoured. He had
a deep laugh, and seemed very popular, not only with his fellow-
delegates, but with Germans and visitors of other nationalities.
Usually, as he came striding along the corridor, he wore a black
felt hat that was pushed a little too far back on his head, and
smoked a cheap Maryland cigarette which, as often as not, he threw
away half-finished into the plant-pot near the lift. There was
nothing really striking about him; he was average in height and
figure for the middle-aged man that he was, and it seemed somehow
irrelevant as well as impossible to decide whether his looks were
good or otherwise. He was certainly not handsome in any
conventional sense.

She felt, in observing him, a sensation that was partly one of
horror, and she had the same feeling when she was attending to his
room. Cheerfully he strode, as it seemed to her, over the ruined
lives of such as herself; and with that same jaunty briskness he
held control of the blood-guilty machine. She avoided his eyes
when they met, and never answered his occasional remarks with more
than the minimum of words. Even contact with his possessions
stirred her inwardly; there was a photograph of a woman which he
had put on his dressing-table, and she felt a contempt for both the
pictured face and for the sentimentality of the man who carried
such a reminder about with him. His wife, she presumed, if men
such as he had any use for the term; and she imagined them living
in absurd magnificence in some mansion that had belonged to a pre-
Revolution aristocrat. Probably the silver frame of the photograph
had a similar history.

Once, when she brought him hot water before dinner, he said
suddenly: "I heard you talking in German this morning to the man
across the corridor. You speak it very well."

She smiled slightly without replying.

"Better talk in German to me in future," he added. "My French
isn't very good."

"If you prefer, certainly, sir."

He then continued, in fluent and well-accented German: "They work
you long hours in this place."

"I've nothing to complain about."

"No? Do you get decently fed?"

"Quite."

He threw his half smoked cigarette into the empty fire-grate--
where, she reflected, she would later on have to clear it up.
"Look here, I'm not talking to you as a superior to an inferior.
If you find my questions impertinent, you can say so--and, on the
other hand, if you don't find them so, you can answer them with
more than 'Yes, sir,' and 'No, sir.' I'm interested in the wages
and conditions of hotel-workers, because a little while ago I
carried out a reorganisation of the hotel industry in Moscow and
other big cities in the Union."

Still she made no reply, and after a pause he went on, abruptly:
"Well, thank you for bringing me the water."

She had snubbed him, she told herself as she left his room; and her
heart glowed with a nearer approach to ecstasy than she had felt
for a long time.

Meanwhile the Conference was in full swing, providing daily columns
for hundreds of newspapers throughout the world. Paula, however,
did not often read newspapers. That core of inward bitterness left
her little feeling of concern with the strange hazards and
groupings of the post-War nations, and it was quite by chance that
she saw Tribourov's name and photograph in a local journal,
together with a report of a speech he had made. She read it
scornfully, finding in it all kinds of unlikeable qualities, from
hypocrisy to errors of style. Yet the odd thing was that while she
was reading she could both see and hear the man--could hear his
deep voice uttering certain words as she knew he would utter them,
and could see his round, glistening cheeks bulging with excitement
as she knew they would.

One afternoon he met her in the post office, where she had just
received the usual reply that no letters had arrived for her. He
raised his hat and passed some comment on the weather, after which
she saw him walk over to the telephones. Two heavily-built men
accompanied him across the crowded floor and stood outside the door
of the box.

That evening, when she made her usual visit to his room, he said
cheerfully: "Oh, did you notice my bodyguard this afternoon? The
Government insists on it--for my safety."

"Indeed?" She had betrayed interest before she could check
herself.

"Yes, I understand they've discovered a plot to kill me. But I'm
not worrying, though it's a nuisance to have those two hefty
fellows at my heels wherever I go. They're downstairs now, smoking
long cigars and trying not to look like the most obvious plain-
clothes detectives you ever set eyes on. It makes a man feel such
a child."

She thought that he LOOKED like a child, too--at that moment a
child just slightly cross over a trifle.

"Well," he added, "as I said, I'm not worrying. If they want to
get me and try hard enough, I suppose they will. But they won't
achieve anything much by it. There are plenty of others to carry
on my work."

"But it would be a gesture," she said quietly.

He showed surprise at her remark--the first one of any individuality
that she had yet made. "Oh, yes, I suppose you could call it that,"
he admitted. "But the world is tired of gestures. It cries out for
acts that have a meaning in themselves. This Conference--"  He
stopped, laughed suddenly, and added: "I'm afraid I should soon
bore you if I were to begin talking about it. As you say, my
assassination would be a gesture. And perhaps it couldn't happen
more appropriately than here--in this city of gestures."

As she arranged the towels on his wash-hand stand he went on:
"It's lucky, anyhow, that I have no personal dependents." Her eyes
strayed for an instant and he was quick to see and interpret the
glance. "Oh, you've noticed the photograph? That's my mother.
She died ten years ago, in one of the influenza epidemics."

It had been little use snubbing him after all, she reflected later,
during the long hours of waiting in the corridor. But his talk of
assassination had curiously impressed her; and when, on the
following morning, she looked out of one of the second-floor
windows and saw him drive off in his car to the Conference, she had
half-thoughts that she would never see him again. And, rather
oddly, just about the middle of the morning there was great
excitement among a group of waiters and chambermaids on one of the
landings, and when she approached them she was sure they were going
to tell her that the occupant of Number Two-five-seven had been
killed. But it was only some business about a Spanish lottery in
which one of the waiters thought he held a winning ticket.

In the evening when she entered Tribourov's room he was writing at
the small table under the window.

She performed her various duties as quietly and quickly as possible
and was about to go away when he swung round and called out: "Hi,
just a minute!"

She stopped, with her hand on the door-knob.

"Don't be in such a hurry to go. I want to ask you something.
Close the door again."

She did so, and moved a few paces across the room towards him. He
lit a cigarette and grinned that rather chubby, babyish smile.
"Look here . . . when you came in just now, I caught sight of your
face in the mirror, and your look said: 'Oh, so he's still alive.'
Yet you didn't say anything. Don't you ever speak your mind?"

She said, after a pause: "I didn't wish to interrupt you in your
work."

"Or to be interrupted in yours, either, no doubt. You're not very
encouraging. By the way, we must introduce ourselves. My name's
Tribourov, as perhaps you already know."

"Courvier is mine," she answered, reluctantly but inevitably.

"Courvier? That's French?"

"Yes."

"Yet you speak German perfectly? You'll forgive my remarking that
you aren't quite the usual type of person in this kind of job."

"I--I don't know."

He laughed his deep, booming laugh. "Well, I do know. And I
should say, too, that you've had a good education. . . . All this
is leading somewhere, I assure you--it isn't just inquisitiveness
on my part. The fact is, I was talking to our local trade
representative this morning--he wants someone in his office with a
thorough knowledge of German. So you see . . . it just occurred to
me that the job might suit you better than this."

She stared at him in half-stupefied astonishment; it was the last
thing she had ever expected, and the irony probed till she hardly
knew whether she were feeling pleasure or pain, or being merely
goaded to hysteria.

"It's very kind of you," she managed to say at length. Just for a
wild second she had the idea of telling him who she was, of making
some kind of scene which would mean her leaving the hotel
immediately. That she, of all persons, should be offered a post
under the Soviets! That she should draw, as wages, a paltry
fraction of the money that had been stolen from her! And yet, so
complicated was life, here was this man contriving such a bitter
jest out of what could only be pure kindliness of heart. She was
angry, touched, and out of her depth in a sea of unfamiliar
emotions; so that suddenly, standing there before him, she began to
cry. She had rather thought that nothing more could ever make her
do that. He sprang out of his chair at once and put his arm about
her comfortingly, which made her cry all the more. "Now, now," he
kept saying, gruffly. "Don't do that, don't do that." And again
he performed that characteristic movement of throwing away the half-
smoked cigarette.

"I'm sorry," she said, as soon as she could speak.

"Sorry? Oh, no, no, don't say that. It's all right. You mustn't
upset yourself. As for the job, just think it over and let me know
by the end of the week. No--don't talk about it now--there'll be
plenty of time later on. Sit here a moment and let me show you
something. These have just arrived from Moscow. They're
photographs of a huge technical college that's nearly finished.
Tell me, have you ever seen anything like it anywhere else?"

He was talking with a new eagerness, partly, she guessed, to fix
her attention while she regained control of herself; but also with
a personal enthusiasm that was obviously real. And here she was,
again in this world of irony, admiring the vistas of class-rooms,
and the palatial open-air terraces, as he described them to her in
such exultant detail. "This is going to be the finest technical
college in the world. It's built on a site that used to be crowded
with slums, and its entire yearly upkeep won't be as much as the
rents that used to be paid to the slum-landlords. Perhaps you are
interested in housing, by the way? I have some rather wonderful
pictures of the new workmen's flats we're building--let me show
you--"

But at that moment she heard the distant tinkle of one of her
bells. "I must go," she cried, getting up. "Someone has rung for
me. Thank you--"

"Not at all. We must have another talk."

But as soon as she was outside in the corridor she vowed that there
should never be another talk. She was disturbed in mind as she had
not been for years; all the emotions that she had buried deeply
were raw and uncovered by such an encounter. She could not sleep
that night, and the next day, when it came near her time for going
on duty in the afternoon, she found herself in positive fear of
that likely meeting with him again. Panic-stricken, she sought M.
Capel and asked if she could be transferred to another floor. He
was furious and refused to consider such a change; in that case,
she said, she would have to leave, because the work was too hard in
the rooms that had no running water. She had to think of some
reason to give him. At this, however, he offered her a job in the
hotel laundry, at a lower wage; which she accepted, on condition
that she could go to it immediately.

She felt out of a great danger when she had moved over. It was
harder work, if anything, but at least it protected her from
Tribourov. That, indeed, was the pitch to which she had been
driven. She was fast becoming completely obsessed with the man.
She seemed to find his name in every newspaper; that eager, apple-
red face haunted her as soon as she closed her eyes. He
represented, in her mind, all that she most passionately hated; yet
the torture was in thinking of him also in a different way, as
someone who had been kind to her. It upset all the neatly docketed
past, the almost comfortable loathings and detestations that had
held up the fabric of a decade's exile. But the worst was over
now, she felt; and if she did not see him again, the fire would
doubtless die down after a while and leave her as before.

Then one morning, several days after she had begun her new work,
Capel sent her a message that "M. Tribourov, the gentleman in
Number Two-fiveseven," would like to speak to her, and would she
call on him in his room shortly before dinner that evening? She
returned no answer, but registered a firm decision not to go. Yet
throughout the day a storm of uncertainty raged behind the outward
mind that she had made up; there was a wavering of the body that
had no connection with head or brain. At six, when the day's work
ended, she went to her attic bedroom and changed, as usual, into
off-duty clothes. All the time she was doing this, she knew
subconsciously that she was going to see Tribourov, though she
still urged herself otherwise. At a quarter to seven she went to
his room and knocked at the door. "Entrez," she heard him call
out, in his shamelessly bad accent.

She went in. He was reading a newspaper and, as he saw her, flung
the sheets aside with that familiar wave of the arm and rose to his
feet. His voice, his movements, his round and smiling face--how
well-known they appeared, after such small acquaintance with them;
her heart ticked them off, as it were, while she sank into the
instant comfort of his presence. Recognising in that a new
sensation, she was amazed to think what it proved--that she had
actually been wanting and longing to see him.

"So you've come. . ." he began, striding towards her. "What on
earth possessed you to . . . run away . . . like that. . .?" His
words slowed down as if they had been braked by something in her
eyes; for the first time she was returning his glance with a full
one of her own. Then they moved to each other, in a curious,
stumbling way. He asked her name. "Your first name, I mean.
WHAT? PAULA?"

"I don't know yours," she whispered, losing the last ache of mind
and body in his caresses.

"PAUL." He shouted the word as if it were a command to an army.
"That's funny, isn't it? . . . But, Paula, why on earth . . .
Capel, you know, told me about it. . . ."

"I didn't want to see you again--that was why."

"THAT was why, eh?" He began to laugh. "Well, why THAT?"

"Why anything? Why did you ask me here just now? Why did I come?
Why did you ever talk to me, take any interest in me at all? Why
couldn't we leave each other alone?"

He answered, more seriously: "Perhaps because we're flesh and
blood in this city of desiccated lawgivers. For my part, after
I've heard my speeches translated three times--first into French,
then into English, then into German--I feel . . . but no, don't let
me talk about it. It's extraordinary, Paula--this--you, I mean. I
was attracted from the beginning, but I had no idea . . . and I
didn't care to . . ."

She interrupted, half-hysterically: "I know. You mean that you're
not the type that goes about seducing chambermaids in hotels.
You're a good man. A good Bolshevik." She laughed. "But is it
such a laughing matter, I wonder?"

He kissed her again, more gently, soothingly, as if aware that she
was on the verge of complete emotional collapse. "Let's go out,"
he said, abruptly. "We'll drive somewhere. Will you come with me?
PLEASE, Paula. . . ."

She nodded, every nerve endorsing the decision.

She met him by arrangement half an hour later, at a spot nearer the
outskirts of the city; he was alone, muffled up, in a big open
Mercedes touring-car. "Jump in," he cried, with the excitement of
a boy setting out for a picnic. "I had a job to persuade my
bodyguard not to follow, but I guess they'll have a fine chase if
they try to." She clambered in and sat beside him.

Her whole being responded to that drive in the starlight. It was
as if for years certain of her nerves and muscles had been tightly
clenched, and were now moving with painful, exquisite stiffness
into freedom. The sensation of speed, of roadway and bright lights
slipping past, the softness of the fur rug drawn up over her knees,
the blue-black dimness of hill and mountain--all were as candles
lighting up the various caverns of memory. Yet memory was
endurable because, for the first time in all her womanhood, it was
balanced by anticipation; they would go somewhere inland to dine,
he had suggested, and those few minutes and hours of the future
were enough to turn the scale.

He drove very fast, without talking much; and she sensed, as he sat
close and silent, the deep personal power of the man. He was
dynamic; he forged ahead, as he was making the car forge ahead now;
he drove with zest, but had never less than complete control. His
eyes, slate-blue and gentle, scattered a swift, ruthless benignity
over the world. She felt that he could look at death, his own or
another's, without a qualm; that he could order an execution,
perhaps, with no more emotion than he would soon be ordering
dinner. It was something to have wrung from such a man the
confession that he had been attracted. Only of course, she hadn't
wrung it; he had given it freely, almost casually. She felt that
though he had been concerned enough to worry Capel about her, there
were strict limits beyond which he would not advance an inch unless
she were there to meet him. How enviable to be so calm, so
assured, so blandly economical of one's desires! And with what
mountainous simplicity he had indicated, in not quite so many
words, that he hadn't realised she was the kind of woman who would
let herself be petted! The recollection of it made her feel at
once ashamed and passionately shameless. . . .

She had no idea where they were driving, and did not recognise the
quaintly-built upland village at which they stopped. Some kind of
fair or festival was in progress, and the hotel was crowded with
revellers drinking and celebrating. Not the Conference, however;
it was a relief to have escaped from the atmosphere of that. A
youth with a mandolin was playing and singing one of those shrill,
lilting tunes that had innumerable verses known to his audience;
through occasional gaps in the din a loud-speaker shouted from
Radio-Toulouse. The proprietor, even amidst the press of business,
was not disposed to turn away two chance visitors in such an
opulent-looking car. He rose to the situation gallantly and
supplied an excellent dinner on a first-floor terrace that was a
bower of pink geraniums tinted more deeply in the matching shade of
the table-lamp.

Tribourov waved aside the proprietor's apologies for the noise
downstairs. "I like it," he exclaimed, with deep gusto, and went
on to explain further; but as the man quite obviously could not
understand his stilted French, he turned to Paula and cried: "Tell
him I like it because I like real people--tell him that after a
week at the Conference--no, no, better not mention that--but tell
him why I like it--you know what I mean."

Afterwards he went on: "These people shouting and singing make me
feel as I do when I'm in Russia--living a life, not just acting in
some rather bad charades. People--just ordinary people all the
world over--always make me feel like that. How fine they are
compared with the humbugs that govern them! Paula, to be here,
with you, and amongst all this noise, is like returning to some
sort of sanity. All week I've felt like a rude boy in front of a
lot of weary schoolmasters. So weary, they are--so wearily
scornful of what they haven't the faith to believe in or the energy
to hate. They haven't even the energy to hate me."

"There are some who seem to have," she said quietly.

"Who?"

"Those who are supposed to be plotting to kill you."

He laughed. "Oh, a few half-crazed survivors of the old régime--
yes, I grant you them. But theirs is only a sort of private feud."

"You despise it for that reason?"

"Well, I don't think it's big enough to matter--taking the long
view, of course."

"Don't you think it's a big thing to have to begin life afresh in a
foreign country? Don't you ever fear the hate of those who've been
driven to it?"

"If they begin life afresh, they have no time for hate. And if
they hate, it shows they aren't beginning afresh. They're merely
wasting time, letting memories turn sour inside them."

"Yes, I know what you mean," she answered, and gazed across the
table with new and darker perception. She was aware that she loved
and hated him simultaneously, with passion that clamoured equally
for satisfaction of either emotion. She felt him, more than ever,
part of the architecture of all her private and personal misery;
yet as someone also who held the power of magic cancellation.
Until that moment she had looked forward to the denouement, some
time, of telling him who she was; but now, she realised, there
would be no point in it; he had diagnosed her position, without
knowing it was hers. She had let memories turn sour--it was a true
indictment. But what else, after all? Was every injustice to be
forgotten and forgiven in the cold radiance of this man's
benevolence? Or must one always, like nations, be wearied by debts
owed and owing?

Yet behind the stir of her thoughts her body was in many ecstasies.
The food, the Liebfraumilch '21, the velvet glow of the lamplight
on the flowers, the murmur of voices and the brittle flan-flan of
the mandolin--all touched her with sheerly physical reminders.
Life was short; twelve years of exile, and then this night--how
could one balance them, or need they balance at all? Something he
had once said recurred to her: "The world is tired of gestures; it
cries out for acts that have a meaning in themselves." She felt
again a strange power in him, reaching out in conquest that was
partly rescue; and at that moment, from below, came the slur of a
tango, wistful, gently insinuating. It made her lean forward
across the coffee-cups and lay her hand over his wrist. "I can't
stand much more," she whispered.

"You've had enough of the music, Paula? If so, I'll--"

"No, no, it isn't that."

"Perhaps you've had enough of me and my continual chatter?"

"No, nor that either." She told him of his victory with her eyes.
"On the contrary, Paul."

"That's good news. And a good dinner, too. . . . What would you
like to do next?"

Her fingers tightened over his hand as she replied, in a slow,
deliberate whisper: "What would you like to do, Paul?"


A few hours later he said, almost crossly: "So you still won't
tell me anything about yourself?"

"No," she answered, with tender finality. He had been questioning
her relentlessly for some time. "No, Paul, no. Not even in
exchange for your own life-history. Let's both do without
confessions."

They were in the small first-floor bedroom whose pine furniture and
flowered window-boxes distilled a pleasant mixture of perfumes.
All revelry below had long since ended, leaving only the church-
bell to sprinkle the quarters over roofs that seemed to echo them
almost metallically in the silence. Those chimes had marked the
seconds in the short moment of ecstasy.

"And you won't come back with me to Russia?"

"Good heavens, no!"

"I'm not joking, if that's what you think."

"My dear Paul, I don't think and I don't care."

"And I suppose you don't love, either?"

"If this is love, then I do, for the time being. But don't you
feel, Paul, that some things are only just to be touched? If you
grasp them, they either break or escape."

"And that's how it's to be with you and me? Only the touch?"

"Yes, if we're wise. You don't really care for women. I don't
really care for men either. You have so many other interests--so
have I. It would be a great mistake for either of us to--to
exaggerate--this."

"I see. You want me to regard you as if you were just any ordinary
woman who might have come along?"

"Much more sensible, Paul, if you did."

"Except that any ordinary woman wouldn't have even begun to attract
me. You're quite right--I'm not particularly keen on women, as
rule. But YOU . . . well, I find I want more of you."

"Perhaps if you are ever here at another of these big conferences--"

"I said MORE, not again."

"More? What makes you suppose there is any more?"

"I believe there is, and I intend to make sure. By knowing you, I
mean. I think we might find a fair amount of happiness in each
other."

"You think so?" she cried, mockingly. "You think _I_ could?"
Suddenly she broke into hysterical sobbing. "Oh, no, no, no--I
couldn't possibly stand you like that! Already you've made nothing
else matter to me for days and days--you've made me forget
everything--why, I even forgot to-night--last night--something that
was always on my mind before I met you--"

She told him then about her brother in America, and his confident,
dominating manner changed at once to a pacifying tenderness. He
took her into his arms and comforted her with intimacies that were
childlike in their simplicity. "But, my dear Paula, why on earth
didn't you mention it? I had no idea you were so worried. We
could easily have called at the post office on our way. But we'll
go there first thing in the morning, anyhow."

He was so kind, and she hated him for it almost as much as she
loved him. "But I FORGOT--don't you see?" she cried, with sombre
emotion.


In the morning they drove back through spring sunshine and showers.
He put her down at the post office and then drove himself on to the
Conference. She had promised a further meeting, but had declined
to fix any definite arrangements.

When she asked if there were any letters and the clerk handed her
one, she went very pale. It had the New York postmark.

She opened and read it. Then she went out into the street and
walked along past the shop-windows.

An hour later she was still walking, vaguely from street to street.
Her mind gave her questions that were like hammer-blows. Why had
he ever gone to Maramba? Why had he gone to Rio, to America at
all? What had driven him so far from his own home, to these
fantastic places? Oh, if only . . . if only . . .

She came to the post office again and went to the counter with the
envelope. "Can you tell me when this arrived?" she asked.

"Yesterday afternoon," replied the clerk, glancing at it. He knew
her by sight and added: "It was here at the time you usually
call."

She went out, trembling in a way that attracted attention from
several persons who saw her.

All that night the letter had been there waiting for her . . . all
that night.

A half-crazed survivor . . . and Leon dead. . . .



CHAPTER NINE

HENRY ELLIOTT


When Elliott came downstairs on the morning of his sixtieth
birthday, he felt glad to have been born at the right side of the
year. It was all very well when you were young, having birthdays
in late summer or autumn; but when you entered the seventh decade
you wanted the leaves to be fresh on the trees and no sign of decay
to greet you. There was enough of that in your own body, even if
you were what was called a "well-preserved" man. Elliott, taking a
mirrored glimpse of himself as he crossed the hall to the breakfast-
room, could certainly congratulate himself on being that. He was
tall, with not even the beginnings of a stoop, and no trace of a
paunch either; and his hair was even more of an adornment than
before it had turned grey. "I ought to be good for another ten
years," he reflected, blinking in the sunlight that poured through
the mullioned windows. After all, Disraeli was premier at seventy-
four, Gladstone at eighty-four . . . and Pitt at twenty-four, for
that matter. Good heavens, think of it. It all proved, if it
proved anything at all, that age didn't matter.

As he entered the breakfast-room the Sealyhams scrambled around
him, and his host's children, John and Rose and Elizabeth, got up
rather shyly; the two girls smiled, but John, who was eleven and
the eldest, spoke up: "Good morning, Mr. Elliott. Many happy
returns of the day."

"Thank you, John, thank you," he answered, in his rich, mellow
voice; and then he bowed to his hostess, a tall, fair, beautiful
woman of scarcely middle age, and said, with the quietness of old
friendship: "Good morning, Fanny."

"Morning, Harry. I say the same as John, you know."

He smiled and thanked her, and saw that the children were still
shyly standing. "Do please sit down," he added, and then, with a
laugh: "No, no, Fanny--I'll serve myself--I'm not an old crock
yet."

Thank goodness, he thought, as he gave himself an egg and some
bacon, he could still eat like everybody else--no fads about orange
juice and rye-biscuits and that sort of thing. He carried the
plate to the table and then saw that the cloth nearabouts was
heaped with parcels tied up in coloured ribbon and each with a
little label on it. He was surprised, scarcely realising what it
all meant, at first; it hadn't somehow occurred to him that this
would happen. "To Mr. Elliott, with love from John."

"To Harry, from Fanny, with best love."

"To Harry, from Bill. . . ."

He knew that the children's eyes were intent on him. "I'm not
going to open a single one till your father comes down," he said,
"and then we'll all look together."

"Father's in his bath," said John, with pluck.

"I know he is. He wished me many happy returns before any of you."
And he laughed again. He was happy, and a little sad, because of
all this birthday business.

The Kennersleys--Lord and Lady Kennersley--were among his oldest
friends. The family had helped him as a boy; it was in this same
house, in the library, that he had received his first big
encouragement. He had been a junior clerk in the company office
then, at twenty-four--the same age that Pitt was premier. "I hear
you're working for a scholarship to Oxford, Elliott. I hope you do
well. And if it would help, you can take time off from now till
the examination--with pay, of course." That had been the old man,
whom everyone had supposed to be so ferocious. Elliott had been
very nervous of HIM, and nervous, too, of the big rooms and the
fine furniture. And now, he reflected, the old man's grandchildren
were actually nervous of him. They kept looking at him over the
rim of their cups, and looking away when he caught them at it.

Lord Kennersley entered, crisp, jovial, plus-foured for the day's
activities. "Hullo, kids. Undone the parcels yet, Harry?"

"I'm waiting for all of you to help me," Elliott answered.

Kennersley was five years his junior; they had been friends at
Oxford, and during Elliott's early career had shared bachelor rooms
in London. Not until ten years after succeeding to the title had
Kennersley married, and then, rather surprisingly to his friends,
he had chosen a musical comedy actress, very much younger than
himself, of no family, small education, but immense vivacity and
charm. She had (it was currently reported) been his mistress first
of all, and then, a eugenist malgré lui, he had very sensibly made
her the mother of his heirs. The marriage had proved a quite
astounding success. She had fitted herself to aristocratic
domesticity as easily as to a new part in a play that was going to
run for ever, she made an excellent wife and mother, and she had
become delightfully popular amongst all Kennersley's intimates.
Since his own wife's death, Elliott could certainly count her his
greatest woman friend.

Breakfast was held up indefinitely by the opening of the parcels.
There was a gold cigarette-case from Bill, a leather wallet from
Fanny, a tie-press from John, Blake's poems from Rose, and a
leather-bound address-book from Elizabeth. Elliott thanked them
all. How nice they were to him, but he wished the children weren't
so shy. John blushed when Fanny said: "He WOULD buy you a tie-
press, Harry. He said you needed one."

"There seem to be about a million other things for you in the
hall," said Kennersley, grinning. "You'll have to get Jevons to
help you through with them afterwards. I had them all shoved on
one side, so that you wouldn't be detained on the way clown. After
all, we think we ought to come first."

"You do," said Elliott sincerely.

Then they all went on with their food, excited and happy after the
little scene. Kennersley helped himself to enormous quantities of
eggs and bacon and kidneys and sausages. "Well, what's the
programme to-day?" he asked, at length.

"I've got the meeting at Sibleys at eleven. Then the executive at
half-past five. To-night, of course, there's the big dinner."

"Not much of a birthday for you."

"Never mind. It's begun well."

He saw the cyclist newsboy pedalling up the drive with the morning
papers, and a minute later the butler brought them in. Kennersley
gave him his choice; he took The Times, but only glanced at the
middle page. Kennersley took the Mail. "Anything fresh?" called
out Fanny, as she poured more coffee. "No, doesn't seem to be
anything," muttered her husband, chewing hard.

Elliott smiled to himself. War in China; Revolution in Salvador;
Conference Hitch. . . . No, doesn't seem to be anything. Staring
out of the window again, he could understand. It really did look
as if Chilver were in the middle of a world in which nothing
happened. The lawns sloped down to a belt of trees beyond which,
at a mysteriously unreckonable distance, a line of wavy green-brown
hills met the blue. There was no sound except the distant clank of
a horse-drawn roller. Exquisite world! For centuries there had
been no war at Chilver, no revolution, no hitch of any kind; but
could one be sure that none was now threatening? Elliott felt
suddenly oppressed with all the knowledge that these people did not
share. This fine, friendly fellow, not much more than an overgrown
boy, with his income of many thousands a year derived largely from
coal-mining royalties, which he spent profusely on running model
farms that did not pay and on giving employment to grooms, harness-
makers, and jockeys; this charming girl-woman, daughter of a
Notting Hill tobacconist, whose chief interest in life, next to her
three lovely children and her husband, was the breeding of
Sealyhams--how casual and planless their lives were, and how unsure
of survival in a world that might decide to take itself with
scientific seriousness! Perhaps that sort of a world was coming.
And then, whimsically, it occurred to him that even if it did come,
England might, as usual, contrive some queer compromise, some
amazing non sequitur like the British Commonwealth or the Thirty-
Nine Articles.

So Elliott's thoughts ran on, as he glanced through the newspaper,
half-seeing the printed words, but half-watching the children watch
him. He was very fond of children. He took up the volume of
Blake's poems and smiled at Rose, who had given it him. "This is a
good book," he said. Then Fanny looked up and began to talk about
poetry. She was really much more at home with dogs, but it was a
weakness of hers to pretend that she was passionately interested in
all "cultured" things. Bill made no such pretence, but he had a
wholesome respect for what he believed to be his wife's superior
enlightenments, and Elliott would have done anything rather than
disabuse him. Charming and delightful Fanny--and never more
charming than when she was talking nonsense about literature.
Elliott listened to her with an amused affection that made him want
to ruffle her sunlit hair and ask her where she had learned it all.
"Yes, it's fine stuff'," he agreed, when she made a pause.

"I wonder, Harry, if you would read the children something--that
marvellous poem--you know the one I mean--I'm sure they'd never
forget it if you did--"

Elliott wondered if he dare wink, very slightly, at John. He was
sure they would never be allowed to forget it. It was another of
Fanny's pleasant weaknesses--like the visitors' book in which
everybody had to write something "original." (Elliott had once
rather shocked her, after a week-end, by writing: "Thoroughly
satisfied. At Cooking and Everything Tip-Top. Can cordially
recommend Chilver to anyone who likes a real Home from Home.") He
knew that years hence she would be saying at her dinner-parties:
"Do you remember, Rose, that morning when Mr. Elliott--you know,
THE Mr. Elliott--read us that poem of Blake's out of the book you
gave him for his sixtieth birthday?"

"Certainly," he replied, and turned to the well-known lines which
he guessed were probably all of Blake that Fanny had ever read. He
began in a mood of gentle raillery, thinking of her, and wondering
if the children were principally awed or bored, and noticing how
the dogs half-asleep in front of the fire looked up curiously as
they heard the different intonation. He had a beautiful voice, and
he knew it, quite simply and without conceit. But when he came to
the lines: "I will not cease from mental fight, Nor shall my sword
sleep in my hand," he was caught up by something both in himself
and in the words. He was the fighter still, at sixty. He would
not cease from mental fight, nor would his sword sleep in his hand,
till he had built Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant
land. . . . He finished, a little moved by the beauty of the
words, but more by the beauty of the scene out-of-doors and by
Rose's face turned to him.

During the recital Jevons, his secretary, had quietly entered the
room and now made his salutations. He was a slim, handsome, and
extremely clever youth of thirty or so, with a well-bred cynicism
that disguised emotion and opinion alike.

"That's a grand poem," said Kennersley, to whom anything was poetry
that had rhymes and was read in an odd sort of voice.

"Yes, it's good, Kennersley," said Jevons, dexterously slicing an
egg on to his plate. "But I always catch myself boggling at the
word 'Jerusalem.' It gives the poem a faintly Zionist flavour.
And, anyhow, when you've seen Jerusalem, you wouldn't want to build
it anywhere."

Elliott laughed. "My point, if it comes to that, is that I
wouldn't want to build any city--there are far too many already.
I'd leave the green and pleasant land alone."

And so they went on rather frivolously chatting, until Kennersley's
big Daimler, garlanded with pink rosettes, drove up to the front
entrance. "Well," Kennersley said, seeing them off, "you'll have
an enjoyable drive--for the first twenty miles, at any rate. I
hope everything goes along all right. We'll all be listening in to
you at eight-thirty, and I'll be up when you get back. Goo'bye.
Goo'bye, Jevons."


Elliott was thinking, as he swished through the lanes and villages:
"This is my constituency." . . . He found it rather hard to
realise. Those labourers in the field over there, and the man
lowering the sun-blind outside that shop, were, by the inexorable
casualness of English politics, installed for a moment as high
instruments of fate. It had happened peculiarly. In a recent
general election Elliott had won an industrial seat by a small
margin. Then, several weeks later, when he had got well to work at
his new Cabinet post, somebody had discovered certain technical
irregularities that rendered the contest invalid. There had been
no suggestion of moral culpability, and an Act of Indemnity had
been rushed through Parliament to save him from the quite crippling
fines to which he was liable; but no Act could spare him the
trouble and expense of re-election. Nor was it beyond doubt that,
with such a small majority, he would be re-elected. In this
emergency, the machine of English politics had been swung to
another angle, with the apparently inconsequent result that an
elderly member for an exceptionally safe seat had applied for the
Chiltern Hundreds. It had been hoped that Elliott would be elected
without a fight, but at the last moment the local opposition party
had put up a candidate.

Thus Elliott found himself motoring on this May morning of his
sixtieth birthday through the constituency of East Northsex.
Occasionally, on small boards and in windows, he noticed the
familiar command "Vote for Elliott." He was certain to get in, for
the Kennersley influence was still strong in the almost feudal
countryside. There was only one place, Sibleys, in which he might
expect opposition; it was on the edge of a mining area, and had a
few factories, at one of which he had arranged to address a
lunchtime meeting of workpeople.

A freakish arrangement, when one came to think about it, he
reflected. Fate might make of him the pivot on which the wheel
revolved through Paris, Rome, Washington, Geneva; but England,
parochial to the last, insisted on this geographical attachment to
its own hills and vales. Whatever he was, history-maker or world-
spokesman, he must remain the member for East Northsex, and in all
his plans for the regeneration of mankind he dare not forget that
Sibleys wanted power to run omnibuses or that Chilver was
disappointed with its sewage arrangements. Perhaps it was not a
bad method, in the way it worked out. But he despaired of
explaining or justifying it to any highly intelligent foreigner.

The sky was clouding over and drops of rain already speckled the
car-windows. He looked out upon the changing scene, talked a
little to Jevons, slit open envelopes and glanced through letters,
turned to the newspaper again. The rich fields and unspoilt
villages merged into a more urbanised area; tram-lines began; a
horizon of coal-tips and chimneys lifted up. He had never been in
this part of the country before, yet he was going to represent it--
what a haphazard business! He said to Jevons, pointing ahead:
"Surely I don't take in all that?"

Jevons laughed. "Lucky for you you don't, sir. That's Loamington.
Sibleys, which is where you end, is this side of it--a sort of
suburb."

The traffic thickened in narrowing, mud-splashed streets; rows of
industrial cottages straddled a nearby hill like flying buttresses,
and in the trough below it the flat roof of a factory gleamed
pewter-coloured in the rain. "Sibleys," said Jevons. Elliott
looked out with interest, commenting: "I don't think I've ever
been here before."

"No? But I thought you were a native of this county, sir?"

"So I am. I was born at Creeksend, about twenty miles the other
side of Chilver. But I never came here in those days--so far as I
can recollect. Nor during any of my visits to Chilver since."

"Well, it's hardly a spot they'd take you to for a picnic, I admit.
But don't tell the crowd it's your first visit. You see, we've
made a lot of your being a local man. A Northsex man for Northsex--
you know the tag."

Elliott laughed. "Dear me, Jevons, couldn't you think of anything
more original?"

"I could; but I was very careful not to. Originality has lost many
an election-contest."

"What a game it is . . . WHAT a game. . . ."

He felt a little weary, as he usually did, on the eve of a meeting.
Not, of course, that he had any doubts or apprehensions about it.
He had probably addressed some thousands of political gatherings
during his career, and no amount of hostility or heckling ever
bothered him. He had a good platform manner, a strong voice, and a
quick brain that could turn a point against an interrupter without
making a lifelong enemy of him. He was what was called "popular."
The cartoonists liked his hair, which they always converted into a
sort of halo; thousands of people all over the country referred to
him as "Harry." He had no personal enemies that he knew of and all
his privacies were public--that his father had been a country
schoolmaster, that his married life had been idyllic, that his two
sons had been killed in the War, and that he enjoyed a good cigar.

The car was threading a steep street in between rows of huddled,
meanly-built dwellings, in some of whose windows he could see the
display of his own name and photograph. Men and women stood at
their doors, a few of them giving a cheer as he went by. The
factory at the foot of the hill loomed suddenly close. "Is this
the place?" he asked Jevons.

"Yes. You'll find them a pretty easy lot--there WAS a time when
they'd have been FOR you to a man, but lately they've come under
the Loamington influence a little. Loamington's a hotbed, of
course."

"This place looks bad enough. Is there anything special I ought to
know about it--local unemployment, or anything?"

Jevons had been working in the constituency for some days and was,
in this as in all other connections, a complete encyclopædia with
the unencyclopædic knack of giving only as much information as was
really wanted. "Sibleys," he answered, "depends on the factory,
which makes machine-tools, and is on halftime at present. You'll
probably hear a lot of complaints about housing. The trouble is,
all this property is nearly a hundred years old and the landlords
nowadays can't afford to do repairs. It's mostly leasehold. The
Kennersleys own the ground rents. . . . Oh, and there's one other
thing you might make a note of--there's a fellow named Collins in
the Loamington football team--he comes from Sibleys and the folks
are very proud of him. . . . That's all, I think."

Elliott nodded. Invaluable fellow, Jevons. The car swung through
wide open gates into an ugly courtyard and pulled up outside a
block of offices. A fat man in morning coat and spats, looking
rather ridiculous as he stood in the rain, seized the door-handle
and gave Elliott an effusive welcome. Elliott, who was dressed in
an ordinary and, if anything, rather shabby lounge-suit, remembered
him as Sir Compton Turnpenny, one of the New Year's knights. They
had met before; Elliott had trained himself to have a good memory
for faces. He offered congratulations, introduced Jevons, and then
passed into the offices, where there were introductions of various
other men, whom he similarly and quite automatically memorised for
the future. He chatted about the weather and declined a drink.
Fortunately, just before the time arranged for the meeting, the
rain stopped, and he walked out, with Turnpenny, Jevons, and the
rest, to an improvised platform in an inner yard with a littered
horizon of bricks and slates. England's green and pleasant
land . . . he could not help thinking, not with irony, but with
deep compassion for anyone compelled to live amidst such scenes who
hated them as much as he did. The employés began to swarm out of
the surrounding buildings, men, women, and girls; they had all been
allowed time off with pay, so there was a guaranteed audience.
Elliott climbed up and gave them that good-tempered smile without
which his entire career would probably have been undistinguished.
Some of the girls began to cheer noisily and shout "Good old
Harry." He gave them an especial smile.

Turnpenny introduced him in a fulsome speech that jarred as many
another speech had jarred during Elliott's quarter-century of
political life, but he had cultivated as tough a hide for
compliments as for abuse, and neither could get him rattled. Most
of the time he let his thoughts wander, while he distantly
contemplated what he was going to say. He never prepared much
beforehand, except on very important occasions in the House. He
had the gift of smooth, extempore speech on any subject; the words
came easily, yet not prosily. Turnpenny, on the other hand, was
thumping his fists like a stage orator, and nothing, perhaps, but
his position as managing director of the firm prevented the crowd
from openly jeering. Elliott almost wished they would. He felt in
a curiously wilful mood--as if he wanted to do something unusual, a
little shocking. Turnpenny's emphatic assurances that a vote for
Elliott was a vote for the abolition of unemployment, cheaper food,
higher wages, British world-supremacy, and various other items,
made him feel wistfully sympathetic with the half-listening crowd.
He looked at their faces and tried to catch the glance he wanted to
see--that of alertness, independence, the sublime you-be-damnedness
of free-souled men. Instead, he saw cynicism here and there, vapid
approval in a few places, but for the most part only apathy and
weariness. They too, perhaps, knew what a game it all was. Then
suddenly the vagrant idea came to him--suppose he were to give
them, instead of the usual meaningless stuff, the simple truth, so
far as he knew it? Suppose he were to begin: "Ladies and
gentlemen, I'm afraid I haven't very much good news for you, and I
can't make you any exciting promises. Frankly, I'm a little
pessimistic about things in general. The world's in a pretty bad
way, and perhaps it isn't quite so much a matter of supremacy as of
survival. One man can do little in the face of events, but of
course I shall try, as I've tried all along. Owing to the rather
absurd machinery of the English electoral system I have to ask you
for your votes; and I must confess I don't know why on earth you
should give them to me--certainly not, I should hope, because I'm a
Northsex man. Of course, if you agree with my policy, that's a
reason; but then my opponent's policy isn't so bad, either, and I'm
sure his intentions are just as honest as mine. And then I'm
afraid in a lot of ways you don't know my policy, and wouldn't
understand it if I told you--all this business about foreign
affairs and the gold standard and so on. Also, there's the
disquieting possibility that my policy may be wrong after all.
Frankly, I can't think why you should give me such a big blank
cheque, except that somebody has to have one, and if it weren't me,
it might be someone even less reliable. But remember, I can't
honestly promise anything. I can't even promise not to make awful
mistakes. Some little thing I do, with the best will in the world,
may start a war long after I'm dead--a war that may perhaps claim
the lives of your children. Remember that, when you're shouting
'Good old Harry.' And remember, too, that I shan't have much time
to be bothered about you once you've elected me. . . ."

What a sensation, he thought, impishly, if he were to address them
like that? He could imagine Turnpenny's horror, the gasps of a
million newspaper-readers the next morning, the outraged eyes of
the Prime Minister when he heard about it. . . . It would
doubtless be the end of him, politically. Well, well, he wasn't
exactly anxious for that. He smiled to himself and wondered what
had come over him that he should even think such things. Perhaps
it was a sixtieth birthday feeling.

Of course, when the time came, he made a vastly different speech.
He did not hold out too many promises, but he sounded a note of
cautious optimism, and remembered to bring in Collins, the Sibleys
footballer. He sensed familiarly the crowd's change of mood from
sulky hostility to tolerant good-humour. Most of them would go
away and say he seemed "a good sort." Probably no one would
support him who had already decided not to, but he might secure a
few dozen votes that would otherwise not have been given at all.

During the latter half of his speech a clerk from the offices
approached the platform and whispered something to Jevons, who
immediately climbed down and disappeared with him. A few moments
later Jevons returned, touched Elliott on the elbow, and passed him
a slip of paper. Elliott stared at it, automatically continuing a
sentence meanwhile. In Jevons's neat scribble he read: "Important
message from London. Should end up soon if I were you." With the
very slightest inclination of the head, Elliott handed back the
slip. He went on talking for three or four minutes, finishing with
a brisk peroration that earned the first gust of enthusiasm that
had yet been born upon that dreary scene. It was typical of him
that even an acute observer or listener could hardly have suspected
any curtailment, so smoothly did the words and sentences succeed
each other. During the quite lively cheering that followed, Jevons
leaned across anxiously and whispered in his ear: "Trunk call from
the F.O., passed on through Chilver. Rather bad news about the
Conference. Tribourov's been shot and everything's in a hell of an
upset . . . yes, SHOT. The P.M. wants you in town at once."

"Good God!" exclaimed Elliott, under his breath, and went a little
pale.

"I took the liberty, sir, of ringing up the aerodrome people."

"Quite right . . . quite right. We'll get away."

He signalled to Turnpenny and murmured a few words that set the
latter on his feet to announce pompously that their future member
had to dash away on important business, but that before he left
they would all wish to give him three rousing cheers, etc., etc.

Five minutes later, as the big car slewed through the factory
gates, Elliott said: "Now you can tell me all about it."

"There's not much to tell as yet, sir. It's only just come
through--just the bare message without details. It seems he was
fired at during the Conference session this morning. A woman did
it, and shot herself immediately afterwards."

"Yes, yes, but Tribourov--is he dead?"

"He wasn't killed outright. Neither of them were. That's all the
information there is, so far."

"Who 'phoned you?"

"Tommy Luttrell. He seemed to think it might have serious
repercussions."

Elliott nodded. "Yes, of course, there are all sorts of things it
might lead to."

Then for a long time he was silent. Through the car-windows now
the words "Vote for Elliott" on hoardings conveyed a touch of
mockery in their insistence. Soon, however, he had passed the
limits of his constituency and was in Loamington. How innocent
everyone looked to him--the policeman on point-duty, the streams of
hurrying passers-by, the tram-conductor exchanging badinage with a
lorry-driver--innocent as had been the crowds in London and Berlin
on that morning of Sarajevo. And he, threading through their
midst, was their appointed leader. At that moment he felt more
like a blind engine-driver in charge of a train for whose journey
the points had been set by lunatic signalmen.

"I don't think I ever met him," he said at length. "He must be one
of their new men--capable, I should say, from his speeches. Poor
chap. . . . You know, Jevons, it makes one realise what a chancy
thing history is. A mere quarter-inch in the track of a maniac's
bullet can alter everything."

"Yes--and also when the pistol refuses to work, like Clive's. I
often wonder exactly how different things would be to-day if he HAD
done himself in. No Ind. Imp. And no Amritsar. Perhaps even no
Gandhi. . . . Though I suppose the really big things in history
would mostly have happened anyhow."

"Would they? Or does blind chance play a bigger part in affairs
than we can easily reckon?"

"Still, sir, even if Columbus HADN'T discovered America, somebody
else would certainly have committed the indiscretion sooner or
later. That's what I mean. And the war with Germany--I should say
that was fairly inevitable, too."

Elliott paused to light a cigar. "I might grant you your first
example, but definitely not your second. We were just as near war
with France over Fashoda or with Turkey over Chanak as we were with
Germany at the end of July 'fourteen. A few hair's breadths might
have steered us clear of that as they did of the other two."

"But don't you think it had to happen some day?"

"No, I can't see why. Frankly, I'm chary of believing in these big
inevitabilities, except in the sense that if you play cards often
enough, it's inevitable that you'll some time get a hand with four
aces in it. Looking on history as a mathematician rather than as a
historian, it seems to me that the most trivial things have led up
to the most colossal . . . for instance, just to take one example
out of many, I could easily demonstrate that the War was really won
on the 10th of August, 1911, by the Archbishop of Canterbury."

"I'll buy it," answered Jevons, laughing.

"I remember that day as one of record heat for this country--ninety-
seven in the shade, or something like that. The House of Lords
were taking the vote on the Parliament Bill, and the Archbishop,
whose attitude till then had been doubtful, decided to vote in
favour, and took eleven bishops with him. As the FOR majority was
only seventeen, he may be said to have turned the scale. Well,
now, consider--merely as an essay in the pluperfect subjunctive--
what would have happened had he voted AGAINST. The Bill would have
been thrown out. We know now that in such an event the King would
have created four hundred new peers--all Liberals, of course. And
a Liberal House of Lords would certainly have passed the Irish Home
Rule Bill without delay. Which, in turn, might very well have led
to the coercion of Ulster and such disaffection in the army that we
could not have entered the War against Germany as promptly as we
did, even if at all. And if the British Expeditionary Force had
not been in France just when and where it was would the miracle of
the Marne have taken place? And if Germany had won that battle,
isn't it arguable that she would have taken Paris and been able to
dictate a victorious peace? . . . So, you see, in this particular
sense, an Archbishop voting on a hot day in the English House of
Lords held in his hands the future destiny of the world."

"Ingenious, sir. Yet you could hardly say he caused the defeat of
Germany."

"Oh no, that would be an obvious misinterpretation. We really want
a word for something that leads quite logically to something else,
yet in a way that both moralists and historians decide to ignore.
Of course, the example I gave you seems remarkable, because we can
trace it and see it, but there must be millions of similar threads
which we can't trace at all, even though our entire lives are woven
out of them."

Jevons laughed again. "All of which seems to show that History, as
Henry Ford said, is bunk."

"No, I don't go as far as that, but I'd perhaps agree that history
professors should take a short course in the mathematics of chance
and probability."

"Or would it be less bother, sir, to teach history to insurance
actuaries? Still, it's an impressive idea, though I'm not quite
certain where it leads to, unless straight back to Calvinism and
predestination."

"Oh, good heavens, no--not by any means! If only Calvin had been a
bridge-player he'd have known better, because life is as much like
a card-game as anything else--if you can imagine a game in which
the cards are unlimited and the players can't agree on having any
rules. . . . But you're encouraging me to be platitudinous,
Jevons. Did the aerodrome people say they could have a machine
ready?"

"Yes. And it's fine weather down south, they told me, so we ought
to have a quick and pleasant journey."

Shortly after noon they pulled up on the concrete arena in front of
the hangars. An R.A.F. machine stood near by, slowly ticking over.
Elliott chatted to the pilot while the latter helped him on with
his flying kit. He knew Captain Hartill well, having been piloted
by him many times before, and he climbed with Jevons into the small
cabin with some eagerness for the familiar sensations. He liked
flying, and liked also the type of man that the new profession was
breeding. If he had been younger he would certainly have learned
to fly himself. One reason he favoured air-travel was because it
seemed a return to smallness and individuality after a century's
trend towards bigger and bigger units; compared with the train and
the ocean liner, it suggested independence, the sturdy freedom of
solitary man. In that sense he had accepted Lindbergh's as a more
epic achievement than Columbus's, though it had also occurred to
him that this very independence might some day make for the
breakdown of society. It did not require a great deal of
imagination to picture a world in which power had passed into the
hands of Al Capones with their private bombing squadrons. An
appalling possibility, but it undoubtedly existed. To Elliott, as
he watched the fields diminishing till his view was like that of a
fly on a ceiling looking down on a patchwork quilt, it did seem
that everywhere the forces of lawlessness and disintegration were
gaining ground; but that in England, though a strong attack was in
progress, the social fabric was holding out with a toughness that
proved its quality. His thoughts ran on, and set him wondering
whether that toughness lay somehow rooted in the million
absurdities that belonged, not to a Five Years' Plan, but to five
centuries' planlessness. This very by-election, for instance,
forced on him by technicalities over which even he, a lawyer, had
unwittingly stumbled; and the vast paradox of an empire, in
population chiefly non-white and non-Christian, governed by a
minority whose peculiar gift to the world had been the principles
of democracy. No Home Rule for India, yet an Indian might sit in
the English Parliament for a constituency within a tram-ride of the
House itself! But England was like that, and like so many other
things as well; just when, in mind, one had fixed her with what
seemed an adequate generalisation, she suddenly sprang some
terrific freakishness that shook any logical scheme to bits. And
throughout history this same freakishness had abounded, from the
time she had allowed a king's debaucheries to decide her religion,
to the fourth decade of the twentieth century, when her people
could still wonder whether an Act of 1781 ought to prevent them
from seeing a cinema-show on Sunday.

Suddenly, rising above the thin vapours, the plane plunged into
sunlight as into a warm, golden bath. Elliott, in the midst of a
sandwich-lunch, smiled exultantly at Jevons; the roar of the
engines was too loud for conversation. He felt lifted, at that
moment, to an extraordinary pitch of serenity; flying always made
him feel like that, as if, in leaving the physical world, he had
literally left its troubles behind. Tribourov, the Conference, the
by-election--how easily, if spuriously, one could purchase the
sensation of escape from it all!

The flight had lasted over an hour when he noticed an occasional
spluttering amidst the steady thrum-thrum of the engines. Once
Hartill stared round and gave a jerky shrug of the shoulders that
might have meant anything. Elliott was not alarmed, but he was
surprised when he realised from the return to mistiness that the
plane must be losing height. The spluttering continued, and soon,
as through a window abruptly uncurtained, he saw land below--that
same patchwork of greens and browns, with the shadow of the plane
crawling across them like some strange insect. "We're descending,"
he shouted in Jevon's ear, and Jevon shouted back: "Yes, I think
something's gone wrong with one of the engines." "Well," thought
Elliott, munching his last sandwich, "if we're killed, we're
killed--it's as good a way as Tribourov's, anyhow." He felt
beatifically calm. The machine continued to swoop, till the
landscape was almost scampering underneath--fortunately it was
open country--fields, hedges, a few trees, a lane, more fields and
hedges--all swimming in misty sunlight. "I think he's trying to
land," Jevons shouted; and Elliott nodded, still without much
feeling of concern. It occurred to him, with a flash of perception,
that he was at that moment trusting Hartill just as all over the
country millions of people, Hartill included, were having to trust
HIM. He thought: "Yes, 'Vote for Elliott's' all right, but just
now Hartill's my man--good old Hartill. Vote for Hartill. . . ."

A few seconds later the pilot made a perfect landing in a field of
barley. After he had shut off the engines and clambered out, he
helped his two passenger to alight also. He apologised profusely
for having had to come down, and gave some technical reason which
Elliott did not understand. "It's nothing serious, but I couldn't
carry on without making the repair. I hope you weren't alarmed,
sir."

"Not at all," Elliott replied, smiling. "I think I ought to
congratulate you on such a fine impromptu landing." Then he looked
about him. He could see nothing but a field, hedges, and that milk-
blue sky. "I'm only slightly worried about the delay. Do you
think it would be quicker for me to hire a car and get to the
nearest big railway station?"

Hartill considered. "On the whole, sir, I think if I were you I'd
take a chance of finishing the trip this way. If the trouble is
only what I think it is, I ought to be able to put it right quite
soon--especially if Mr. Jevons can give me a hand. And this is a
good place for taking off."

"Of course I'll help," said Jevons. "But where are we, anyhow?"

Hartill shook his head. "Couldn't say, exactly. I've been flying
mostly by the compass, and in this misty kind of weather it's
difficult to get one's bearings. I should say somewhere about the
middle of England."

Elliott said he would wait. He took off his flying-kit, lit a
cigar, and watched the preliminary activities of the others. After
the roar of the engines his ears were conscious of a peculiar, deep
silence, a silence that seemed alive in the earth. He walked round
the machine in a wide circle, scanning the horizon not very
intently and filling the still air with the aroma of his smoke.
Probably, he reflected, someone had seen the descent, and a farmer
or farm-servant would be along soon. He would have to pay
something for the damage to the crops. . . . A rabbit loped across
the corner of the field, and he felt glad that he had decided not
to look for a railway station--much pleasanter to stay where he was
and take the chance, as Hartill had advised. The chance, yes--it
was chance again. What incalculable millions in odds, for
instance, had lain against his ever seeing this field and that
rabbit. He went to the hedge and looked over, but the view was
only of another field and another hedge. He walked along by the
side of the barley till he came to a gate that had a smooth and
gnarled top-bar, as if it had served for decades of anonymous
musings. He climbed up and joined the invisible company, smoking
in deep contentment. The silence and sunshine and scents had all
the vivid rapture of a dream-memory of boyhood, so that when he
asked the question "Where am I?" an answer seemed necessary in time
as well as space. But where, after all, WAS he? Hartill had said
"Somewhere about the middle of England," but that scarcely conveyed
very much. He called out across the field: "I'm going for a
stroll to see if I can find out where we are," and Jevons looked up
and shouted back: "All right, but don't be too long--Hartill says
we'll be ready in half an hour."

Waving cheerfully to them both, Elliott clambered over into the
next field, walked across it, and then another field, till he came
to a copse of beech-trees bordering a lane. He wondered which way
led to the nearest house. It was a narrow lane, with cart-ruts
marked here and there by motor-tyres, and in both directions it
curved to give no horizon but of hedges. But the hedges were full
of pink may-blossom, and Elliott thought it one of the loveliest
views he had ever seen. He turned to the right, half-facing the
sun, and began to walk on; after a few hundred yards the lane
twisted again, and he saw a signpost ahead. Ah, he thought, that
would tell him everything; and besides, someone would certainly
pass by if he waited a few moments at a cross-roads. He quickened
his steps and soon perceived that it was a very old sign-post,
tipsily aslant, and with lettering so weather-worn that no passing
motorist could possibly have read it. Nor did it mark a cross-
roads, but only a junction of another lane that looked neither more
nor less important. And one of its arms had fallen off, while the
remaining two pointed so vaguely that their intentions were far
from clear. Elliott could just decipher, on one arm, "To Upeasy
1/2 m.," and on the other, "To Beachings Over 2 m."

Of course he had never heard of either place. He could not even
guess at their county. But if Upeasy were only half a mile away,
he wondered if he might have time to walk there, make enquiries,
and return. He stood on tiptoe and looked over the hedge. A
little way off he saw a round green rise, hardly to be called a
hill, with a tiny spire pricking gently into the blue. Upeasy,
that must be. It looked a long half-mile, even if the lane were
not as meandering as it promised to be; so perhaps he had better
not set out to walk there, after all.

A little girl with very bright golden hair came into view and gazed
at him timidly as she approached. He smiled and asked her several
questions about the locality, hoping to elicit the name of some
neighbouring place that might be known to him; but she was shy, or
perhaps too young to understand; and all he could obtain were
repeated mentions of Upeasy, whither it appeared she was on her way
to school. Then he reflected that it would be quite simple to look
the matter up in some book of reference when he reached London, so
he need not bother any more. He smiled at the child again and gave
her sixpence, which she accepted very doubtfully, and then held
tightly in her hand as she scampered off along the lane. When she
was nearly out of sight behind the curve of the hedge she looked
back, and Elliott waved his hand, but she took no notice.

Suddenly, alone again, he was stirred by echoes of the words he had
read out at breakfast that morning, and as he glanced again at the
names on the signpost, he felt that all the glory of England lay in
them, far more than in palm and pine and the rest of the showy
Kiplingerie of empire. And if, he thought, England should some day
perish, other countries might grow to be stronger, wiser, or
richer, but none would ever have the absurd and exquisite
tenderness of English villages, linked by the hedge-bordered lanes.

He looked at his watch--five to two. Perhaps he ought to be
strolling back. He put out his hand and touched the old wood of
the signpost as if to receive some mystic blessing in farewell; and
the whimsical remembrance came to him that his political opponents
had sometimes called him "a little Englander." What a phrase--and
how like England to use her own name thus derisively! He spoke the
words softly to himself as he walked back along the lane--little
England--LITTLE England. . . . Then, in a mood of strange
enchantment, he vowed that he would never probe the secret; the
atlas should keep its trivial knowledge, while he himself clung to
Upeasy and Beachings Over as symbols of things not to be expressed
in any other words.

When he reached the field Jevons had been looking for him. "Oh,
there you are, sir. We wondered if you'd got lost. Everything's
all right now. Did you find out where we are?"

"No," answered Elliott. "I still haven't the slightest idea."

"We haven't seen a soul either. Dead-and-alive sort of place,
wherever it is."

"Yes, it's quiet enough," Elliott said, happily regarbing himself
for the journey.

Just over an hour later, after a fast flight, the plane landed at
Hendon. He motored with Jevons to the Foreign Office immediately,
buying on the way the afternoon papers that were just on sale.
They gave no news except what he already knew, though they spun it
out with an account of Tribourov's career and of similar outrages
in the past.

Tommy Luttrell, one of the parliamentary undersecretaries, was
waiting for him in his private room. "Glad you could manage it,
Elliott--the Chief thought you ought to be on the spot. Rotten
thing to have happened just when the Conference looked like doing
something."

"It's often the way," said Elliott calmly. "Any more news?"

"The woman's dead, but there's no further information about
Tribourov. The Russians are threatening to leave the Conference."

"Yes, one rather expected that."

Luttrell nodded. "Little as I like them, I'm bound to admit they
have a case. It seems the dead woman was a Russian emigrée--
belonged to an aristocratic family in Tsarist days--and she'd got
herself into a job of chambermaid at the very hotel where Tribourov
was staying. Pretty slack on the part of the authorities, you
know. You'd have thought they'd have taken a few obvious
precautions, especially as they knew that threats had already been
made against the fellow."

"But she didn't shoot him in the hotel, did she?"

"No. Might have done, I suppose, but probably she wanted
publicity--that kind of maniac is like that. It was in the
corridors of the Conference building, with scores of people looking
on. Incidentally, she was a French subject by marriage, which might
have complicated matters if she hadn't had the tactfulness to die.
There ought to be a message from Walton soon about Tribourov--I
should guess they're probably waiting for some report from the
hospital--maybe after an operation."

"It's a damnable sort of business, Luttrell."

Luttrell answered, as befitted a younger man, in the younger idiom.
"Yes, perfectly bloody. Did you know him?"

"Not personally. . . . Of course, if the Russians do leave,
everything goes to pot."

"Yes, looks like it."

"I'd better see Lindley. Where is he?"

"Over the road, waiting for you."

"Right, I'll go along. You might stay here, Jevons, and telephone
Barrowby I shan't be able to get to the dinner to-night. Smooth
him down if you can--he'll be pretty sick about it. Tell the
broadcasting people too, and then wire Kennersley that I can't be
back at Chilver for a few days. He'll probably guess what's
happened."

"Very good, sir."


An hour later Elliott left the house in Downing Street. He would
have liked a walk in the Park, but at that time of day there would
be too many there who recognised him, and he didn't care for
ostentatious shadowing by detectives. He hailed a taxi and asked
to be driven slowly round Hyde Park, by the inner road; he wanted
an hour or so alone to think over what the P. M. had said. It had
been disquieting, though not absolutely unexpected, to learn of
important forces in England opposed to the Conference, and ready to
welcome the Russian withdrawal, if it took place, as an excuse for
British withdrawal too. Lindley had mentioned the names of certain
newspapers and big industrialists. The position was complicated by
the fact that at the moment Elliott was technically a nobody; until
East Northsex actually made him its member he could neither speak
in the House nor take part officially in Cabinet councils. For six
more days he would be thus muzzled, and during such an interval
much--too much--might happen.

Anyone who chanced to look into the cab as it skimmed past the
crowds on the sidewalks, would have seen an old man, white-haired
and hatless, leaning in a corner with his chin resting in the palm
of one hand. A thoughtful, perhaps slightly troubled attitude, and
one that emphasised the years. Sixty--spent in a struggle that was
not yet over. . . . At fifteen, after a grammar-school education,
he had begun in the office of the Creeksend Colliery; at twenty-
five, Oxford, attained by means of mathematical scholarships; at
thirty, admittance to the Bar; from thirty to forty, lawyering and
political work; M.P., after five unsuccessful tries, at a by-
election in 1912; the War; the peace; but the struggle continued.
There had been nothing absolutely sensational in such a career--no
Limehouse or Sidney Street to tie a label on it. He doubted
whether he could feel sure of being mentioned in any history exam-
paper of the year 2032. He was not particularly modest, but he was
far too self-critical to be conceited. On the whole, he did not
think his life could be counted a failure; he was certainly not a
Lloyd George or a Disraeli, but he was perhaps near the front of
the second rank. He had worked hard and had usually managed to do
the jobs he had tackled. He had kept himself free in thought,
cautious in speech, and practical in action. He had altered his
opinions, not once, but constantly; he had changed parties; he had
been illogical and inconsistent, and had grown used to being
called, from right and left respectively, a woolly-headed visionary
and a hard-boiled legalist. Sincerely hating war, he got on rather
better with soldiers and sailors than, as a rule, with professional
pacifists; privately something of a sceptic, he nevertheless
disliked blasphemy and would always defend religion. In these and
other ways he had for three decades offered discrepancies of belief
and behaviour which hostile critics could and did denounce as
hypocrisy, but which he himself knew to be nothing of the sort.
The fact was (as he often joked) he was English, and therefore
handicapped by race for the task of governing England--a remark
which he would amplify by claiming to be the only member of the
Cabinet who wasn't wholly or partly Scottish, Irish, Welsh, or Jew.

But this Conference fretted him a little. It was, in a sense, the
fruition of the policy of reasonableness which he had always
championed; it was an attempt to find a common denominator in
European politics that would attract, not the visionary and the
diehard, who must be left to cancel each other out, but the vast
body of experienced practical opinion in every country. And to see
it all jeopardised, at the last moment, by a bullet! He wished he
had gone out to the Conference himself, instead of Walton; Walton
was a good fellow, but not perhaps over-supple in an emergency.
After a third circuit of the Park he gave the driver the name of
his club in Pall Mall, and on arrival rang up the Office and spoke
to Jevons. But there had been no more news. "I'm dining here and
will look in later on," he said.

Petrie, who had the Colonies, was at the next table, and asked him
how the by-election was going. Then they discussed the Tribourov
affair and politics generally. Petrie said that any revolutionary
government that had used the weapon of assassination before its
rise to power must expect the same weapon to be turned against it
afterwards; and Elliott agreed, but added that he thought
assassination all the more terrible because it was really so
logical. "If you believe quite passionately that a certain person
is a social menace, what more meritorious than to risk your life in
ridding the world of him? Perhaps the chief reason why we in
England aren't much given to that sort of thing is that we don't
believe passionately enough. After nearly a thousand years of
nationhood, we're sure enough of ourselves to admit our own private
doubts."

"Yes, I think that's rather true. Which reminds me, Elliott,
talking of passion and the lack of it, I had a visit from that
fellow Gathergood the other day. You remember the case?"

"GATHERGOOD? I do seem to have heard of the name, but--"

"He was the Agent at Cuava and mishandled some native trouble that
cropped up. The Court of Enquiry sat on him pretty heavily."

"Ah, yes, that was it. And as a result of the Enquiry, we've more
or less annexed Cuava, haven't we?"

"'Annexed' is a pre-War word, Elliott. Say rather we've accepted a
mandate to look after the place, though it isn't, I'm afraid, going
to be the brightest jewel in the British Crown; on the contrary,
there's already a deficit of a hundred thousand or so in the local
budget. We're building roads and bridges as if the Pax Britannica
were going to last for ever, and the natives are taking all we give
them and hating us for it. Lord knows why we do these things . . .
but I was mentioning this chap Gathergood. A queer fellow."

"It seemed to me at the time, I remember, that he'd been
unfortunate rather than blameworthy."

"That's more or less what he told me himself. Very chilly, strong-
jawed type--absolutely without emotion--a. Frenchman or an Italian
or a Russian would probably have been in tears or shaking their
fists over the business."

"Yes, I should have guessed him to be cool-headed. What did you do
for him?"

"What could I? Nothing fails like failure, and there are still a
few messrooms where, if you say 'Gathergood,' you'll get an
immediate explosion. Even a first-rate civil service has to have
its occasional scapegoats--Pontius Pilate, for instance. . . .
D'you feel equal to a liqueur brandy upstairs, by the way?"

"Thanks, I don't mind. But I must look in at the Office again
soon. Perhaps Walton will have 'phoned through."

"What's your opinion of Walton? Do you think it was a wise choice
to send him out?"

"He's a sound fellow."

"But don't you think a somewhat younger man--?"

Then, for the first time, Elliott's voice was raised a tone. "Good
God, Petrie, he's only sixty-four--a man's not on the shelf at that
age. Why, I'm sixty myself--sixty to-day."

Petrie laughed. "Congratulations. I'm glad you mentioned it."
Then, summoning the waiter, he added: "Wash out that order I gave,
and bring Napoleon brandy--in the big glasses."

"Extravagance!" said Elliott, smiling.


Towards ten o'clock he walked across Horse Guard's Parade. There
was a full moon, and all was very still and peaceful; the traffic
along the Mall was only a glittering, murmuring horizon. He
noticed a young man embracing a girl in the shadow between two lamp-
posts, and for a moment he envied them their ecstasy, but more so
their ease of mind and unconsciousness of time. He knew, from such
envy, that he was doing what he rarely did: he was worrying. This
Conference business . . . if it all broke down, nothing very
dreadful was to be expected immediately, or even soon; but years
hence, probably long after he was put to earth, something MIGHT
happen . . . or mightn't. Then why bother? One made all these
efforts, one ached over these hopes and anxieties, and all the time
one grew older--forty, fifty, sixty--while the world went on with
an apparent heedlessness of whether one cared about it or not.
Life was too short for an ordinary man of affairs (which was all he
reckoned himself) to touch the wheel of destiny with more than a
finger-tip; while even a Napoleon or a Mussolini could get no more
than half a hand-grip--for half a second.

Just as he climbed the steps to enter the Office Jevons ran down
almost into his arms. "Hullo, sir, I 'phoned the club and they
told me you were walking over. I was coming to meet you. There's
just been a message from Walton. . . ."

"Tell me," said Elliott, leading him towards the silver emptiness
of the Parade.

"It's good news, sir. Tribourov's only slightly hurt."

"Oh. . . . Oh. . . . Thank God. . . ."

"And apparently he's using his influence to calm things down.
Walton's seen him. Walton thinks the situation will be smoothed
over."

And so on . . . Elliott was suddenly, in the midst of his relief,
aware that the day had been strenuous, and that he was rather
tired. Jevons continued to talk, but Elliott was only half-
listening; he would have to get him to go over everything again
later on--perhaps in the morning. But he felt, beyond his relief
and his tiredness, something more fugitive--a certain communion of
spirit with a man hundreds of miles away whom he had never seen,
and whose language he could not speak--something that made him
exclaim, as he took Devon's arm: "Tribourov sounds a good fellow."

"He's certainly not monkeying, anyway, sir."

"Perhaps I shall meet him some day. I hope so. I can't tell how
you relieved I feel."

"I know. I could see you were bothered. But you always take
things pretty calmly--more than I often can. I had a terrific wind-
up this afternoon, for instance, when that plane began to come
down."

"Really?"

"I was picturing both our obituaries in the papers--two columns for
you and an inch paragraph for me. . . . I say, that's love's young
dream, if you like, isn't it--just over there?"

"Very much so. I noticed them as I came along just now. Charming,
Jevons--quite charming. Laugh if you want, but you'll feel more
like crying when you're my age."

He had been young with Petrie, but Jevons made him feel
grandfatherly. They passed into Birdcage Walk and across Victoria
Street to Elliott's house. All the way Jevons talked, and Elliott
was nearly silent; he felt too tired to know anything but that his
birthday had been, on the whole, a success. In his arm-chair over
a final cigar, after Jevons had said good-night, he reviewed the
hours and how variedly they had progressed--breakfast at Chilver,
the meeting at Sibleys, sandwiches in mid-air, that winding lane to
Upeasy, tea with the P. M., the club dinner, and now this last good
news . . . so much could happen in a day, and so little in a
lifetime. Sixty years of doing and being, of threading blindly
into the pattern, yet with eyes that never lost their hope of
sight. And sometimes, as just now, one felt a touch in the
darkness beyond the everlasting criss-cross of chance--a touch
that, in an earlier and more faithful age, would have sent one to
one's knees.

Elliott did not kneel. But when he went to bed a little later, he
fell asleep as quickly and as peacefully as a child.



THE END



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