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THE RAZOR'S EDGE (by W. S. Mafugham) (an extract)
I found a message from Joseph, Elliott's manservant, to tell me that
Elliot was ill in bed and would be glad to see me, so next day I drove
over to Antibes. Joseph, before taking me up to see his master, told me
that Elliot had had an attack of uremia and that his doctor took a grave
view of his condition. He had come through it and was getting better,
but his kidneys were diseased and it was impossible that he should ever
completely recover. Joseph had been with Elliot for forty years and was
devoted to him, but though his manner was regretful it was impossible
not to notice the inner satisfaction with which, like so many members of
his class, catastrophe in the house filled him.
'Ce pauvre monsieur,' he sighed. 'Evidently he had his manias but at
bottom he was good. Sooner or later he must die.' He spoke already as
though Elliot were at his last gasp.
'I'm sure he's provided for you, Joseph,' I said grimly.
'One must hope it,' he said mournfully.
I was surprised when he ushered me into the bedroom to find Elliot very
spry. He was pale and looked old, but was in good spirits. He was shaved
and his hair was neatly brushed. He wore pale blue silk pyjamas, on the
pocket of which were embroidered his initials surmounted by his count's
crown. These, much larger and again with the crown, were heavily
embroidered on the turned-down sheet.
I asked him how he felt.
'Perfectly well,' he said cheerfully. 'It's only a temporary
indisposition. I shall be up and about again in a few days. I've got the
Grand Duke Dimitri lunching with me on Saturday, and I've told my
.doctor he must put me to rights by then at all costs.'
I spent half an hour with him, and on my way out asked Joseph to let me
know if Elliot had to relapse. I was astonished a week later when I went
to lunch with one of my neighbours to find him there. Dressed for a
party, he looked like death.
'You oughtn't to be out, Elliot,' I told him.
'Oh, what nonsense, my dear fellow. Frieda is expecting the Princess
Mafalda. I've known the Italian royal family for years, ever since poor
Louisa was en poste at Rome, and I couldn't let poor Frieda down.'
I did not know whether to admire his indomitable spirit or to lament
that at his age, stricken with mortal illness, he should still retain
his passion for society. You would never have thought he was a sick man.
Like a dying actor when he has the grease paint on his face and steps on
the stage, who forgets for the time being his aches and pains, Elliot
played his part of the polished courtier with his accustomed assurance.
He was infinitely amiable, flatteringly attentive to the proper people,
and amusing with that malicious irony at which he was an adept. I think
I had never seen him display his social gift to greater advantage. When
the Royal Highness had departed (and the grace with which Elliot bowed,
managing to combine respect for her exalted rank with an old man's
admiration for a comely women, was a sight to see) I was not surprised
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