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Authors: James Hilton

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Jane had agreed that after he settled down to Legation work again she would join him with the baby, and this she did, for it was a pleasant city and healthy except at the height of summer.

Those were the years when (as Blainey might have said) a diplomat's training not to see what he did not want to see came in handy, for they were the years between Ethiopia and Munich.

* * * * *

Charles and Jane were now experienced in the diplomatic world. They could begin 'When we were at So-and-So'--to match anyone else's stories with one of their own, and they had known several First Secretaries who had since become Ministers, and many Second Secretaries who had since become First Secretaries, and thus down the ladder. They were learned in the personal mythology behind the names in the Foreign Office List, and since they knew exactly how to behave to everybody (including visiting monarchs, local Foreign Ministers, and distinguished travellers) they could take quite a load off a Minister's or an Ambassador's shoulders, especially if he were old or slack, and Charles's new chief, Sir Morley Considine, was inclined to be both. The doyen of the corps, he was a charming relic of the old school whose gallantries were famous and sometimes a little foolish. There was a yarn that he had once had a Third Secretary transferred because he did not spring quickly enough to open the door when the ladies left the table at a dinner party; a footman should have been there to do it, but his negligence was no excuse for a Secretary's lapse. Sir Morley was, however, comparatively lenient with another Secretary who left the keys of the Chancery on a park bench where, by a remarkable coincidence (as Sir Morley always said), they were found by a distant relative of Sigmund Freud (though Sir Morley never explained just in what the coincidence consisted).

They named the boy Gerald, after a Gerald Anderson in the seventeenth century who had become governor of a West Indian island (perhaps the most officially illustrious of all the Anderson ancestors); and Gerald spent most of his first two years in this foreign capital where he was admired and petted by women of all nationalities and nursed by a Frenchwoman who many an afternoon pushed him in a pram along a mile of tree-shaded boulevard to a kiosk where an old Italian sold citronnade. The old Italian would also touch and admire him, the swarthy mustachioed face beaming down so much more notably than his mother's or his father's or his nurse's that quite possibly it made a faint smudge on the first blank page of the child's memory.

After Munich even diplomats could see ahead; they knew at least that war would come, and might come suddenly. For this reason Charles, who had sent Jane and Gerald back to England during the September crisis, was not anxious that Gerald should return, though Jane flew back and forth several times, leaving the child with her sister in Cheshire. It was a cluttered family arrangement, but the year that succeeded Munich was a cluttered year. Towards the end of it (in July 1939) Charles took leave, and was in London when war broke out.

PARIS III

Thirteen years later Charles sat in a Paris taxi on Gerald's seventeenth birthday, and he no more knew where the taxi was going than where the world was going, but he supposed to the devil in one form or another. He could only indulge a mild hope that, if the taxi took him to where Gerald was, the form of the devil would be found agreeable, even if deplorable. For Charles had long since discovered that he was not really a moral man, in the too strict sense of the word, and that most of his qualms were no more than shrinkings of taste or expediency.

The taxi squealed to a halt so suddenly that he thought at first it must be to avoid some accident. But no; the driver was merely pointing to a destination. 'Rocher's!' he snapped. 'Voilŕ!'

Charles, catapulted from reverie, bestowed the fare and a handsome tip (a certain lavishness in this case being justifiable) while he blinked at the vari-coloured neon lights with which Rocher's, whatever it was, announced itself both to the passer-by and to the approacher from a distance. Rocher's . . . Certainly no place that he could remember. . . . 'Rocher's,' he muttered, sizing up the neighbourhood. There was nothing particularly wrong with the neighbourhood, or right either; it was just a part of Paris he did not think he recognized. 'You saw him go in THERE?'

The driver was emphatic about it.

'With his suitcase?'

'I carried it in for him, M'sieur.'

'H'm . . . very well.'

As he drove off the driver shouted raffishly: 'Restaurant sanitaire! Cuisine américaine!'

Charles walked towards the entrance of Rocher's as into the lens of an unwelcome searchlight. It was certainly new since his day--in fact, there had never to his knowledge been anything in Paris quite like it. With a dazzling frontage on two streets it offered no privacy to its patrons, and its air of intense hygiene was equally un-Parisian. Tiled walls, marble floors, white-uniformed waitresses, all added up to something that made Charles wince. Then he realized it was ice-cream that was the speciality. Cuisine américaine indeed. And it was for this that Gerald had been eager to leave the Cheval Noir.

Charles was peeved. He had been fully prepared to discover the boy in some haunt of depravity, or even to rescue him if the need should arise--he could have faced that sort of thing with resolution, and afterwards with a sense of humour--indeed, during the taxi journey he had already composed sentences of tolerant rebuke, ending in a confession that he, Charles, had been shrewd enough to suspect something of the sort all along . . . But THIS place--what COULD he say? He pushed his way through the swing- doors. The interior was hot, noisy, spotless, dazzling--and all of these things he hated except the spotlessness, which he thought was an excellent quality deserving of more decent concealment. His eyes and ears cringed to the assault of a nightmarish juke-box that hurled the loudest kind of jazz over innumerable conversations which, because of it, had to be shouted at close range. Prices were placarded on the walls, and Charles, who liked most things in life to be either expensive or economical, formed the opinion that Rocher's was neither. Waitresses as antiseptic as hospital nurses scurried amongst the tables; bartenders as proficient as pharmacists mixed their highly coloured concoctions in front of mirrors with an air of performing some cleansing rite. The whole establishment was about as obtrusive--and, to Charles, as appetising--as a barium meal he had once had to take when he thought he was developing an ulcer.

Then he saw that Gerald was sitting at a table next to a huge uncurtained plate-glass window that faced the side street. A girl was with him. This did not startle or shock Charles at all-- indeed, it confirmed his guess and relieved a little of his hurt. Both of them, anyhow, were sipping through straws out of tall glasses, their heads bent together in an absorption at least physical. Charles drew back sharply, aware of his own dubious position, for it was one thing to spy on his son with the moral advantage all on his side, but quite another to have trailed him to this den of gaudy innocence. Unfortunately he had already come too close; Gerald looked up.

'DAD!' he exclaimed, flushing deeply.

Charles was glad to observe the flush. It reminded him that the boy had, after all, told several deliberate untruths. So he smiled, as across a conference table. 'Well, Gerald . . . quite a surprise! So THIS is what tempted you to miss the boat-train!'

Gerald gathered his wits with a dexterity which, even at such a moment, Charles had to concede. 'Dad, I want you to meet Miss Raynor . . . She and I played tennis together in Switzerland-- she's leaving for America tonight. That's why we had to meet in a bit of a hurry . . . You see how it was?'

Charles saw how it was, for he was looking at the girl, and it was actually her beauty that peeved him afresh, for he thought: Good God, if he's only got so little time with her, and in Paris of all cities, why does he want to spend it in a place like this? For Charles knew of so many other places. . . .

The girl was offering her hand. 'I'm so glad to meet you, Mr. Anderson. Do sit down. Gerry's told me a lot about you.'

Charles had an opening to reply that this was all the more remarkable since Gerald had told him nothing about her, but he forbore to make the point at this stage, though undoubtedly it must come later. He was enjoying her voice--it was well modulated and pleasing. Moreover, her blonde hair delightfully matched her tanned face. She looked rather older than Gerald, in fact he was sure she was--in her early twenties, perhaps. Had she been of any other nationality than American he would have been certain, from her clothes and air, that she was rich.

'So you're the one who helped him win the cup?' he said, admiring her.

'He told you then?' Her laugh was pleasant also.

Charles went on smiling. One thing the best part of a lifetime had taught him was to use a smile as an all-purpose stopgap when he didn't know what to say, but wanted to look wise, or when he hadn't decided what attitude to take, but wanted to look as if he had an entire campaign of behaviour mapped out in his mind. And of course he was not unaware that he had a rather engaging smile. So he protracted it now, deliberately allowing the conversation to lapse till he knew that Gerald would interpret his silence as a sign of reproof. Then he said, looking at the table: 'What's that you're both eating?'

'Raspberry frappé?' the girl answered. 'Will you have one?'

'I don't think you'd care for it, dad,' Gerald interposed, asking forgiveness through his solicitude.

Charles declined the hint. 'Oh, but I might--you never can tell. Maybe it's like you with the sherry at dinner--something I could get used to.' He turned to the girl confidentially. 'I don't know if Gerald mentioned it, but he dined with me earlier this evening. I'd have asked him to bring you along had I been given the slightest hint that he was going to meet you later.' The reproof was still being roguishly administered.

'That's very kind of you, Mr. Anderson. Why don't you try the frappé?'

Charles gave the order, specifying that he wanted as few trimmings as possible. He made some little joke about this that sent the waitress away laughing. That relieved him too; they really were Parisiennes, under their extremely clinical disguise.

'I wish I spoke French as well as that,' Miss Raynor commented.

'But you don't have to,' said Gerald. 'They all speak English--or at least they understand it. Mostly English and Americans come here.'

Charles could well believe it. 'So you're off home tonight?' he said, turning to the girl.

'Yes, our trains leave almost together--Gerry's and mine.'

'A pity you couldn't stay longer.'

'Yes, isn't it? Gerry told me why YOU'RE here. He's very proud.'

'PROUD?' echoed Charles. He honestly could not, for the moment, think of anything in his being in Paris that should make Gerald proud.

'He thinks it's wonderful,' the girl continued, 'that you should be representing England.'

Charles was torn between acute pleasure that his son had been boasting about him, and equally acute embarrassment at the phrasing of it. 'Representing England', forsooth--as if he were taking part in some international Olympiad! Then it occurred to him that Gerald perhaps did think of it like that, and that since the boy enjoyed games, the athletic image was from him the sincerest compliment. Could it be that? He hoped so, but it brought him back to his abiding handicap; that he did not really understand Gerald. He knew the boy was no fool; he was doing well at Brookfield. But what was Gerald beginning to learn about LIFE? Or rather, what sort of life was it that Gerald was beginning to learn about? By that Charles sadly meant: How much--or how little--have I and my son in common? It was hard to attempt an answer. For he, Charles, was what could be called a man of the world, but a man of a world that had already died or was dying; no boy of Gerald's generation could grow up to be a man of such a world. . . . What other world, then, was Gerald's, and was it, or would it ever be-- occasionally--as enchanting? Gerald certainly seemed to be having a good time in it, but that was not quite the same as feeling sure that times were good in it. There had been moments in Charles's life when he had had this feeling. He was still pondering on the problem when the tall glass with its pink contents was set before him. He discovered then how correct had been Gerald's forecast. He would be unable to manage more than a small portion of the stuff, though--to be frank--it was better than some of the desserts he had tasted at diplomatic receptions.

But he had conquered his peevishness and was now no more than quietly at odds with life--a sensation so familiar that he had learned every technique of coming to terms with it. He said, in a friendly way: 'So you've been enjoying Switzerland, Miss Raynor?'

'Yes, very much. It was my first visit since I was at school in Berne.'

'Ah, Berne . . . a charming city.'

'You know it?'

'Very well. I was en poste there for a couple of years. Perhaps the world's luckiest capital, unless you vote for Stockholm.'

'What about Washington?'

'It didn't quite miss two world wars.'

'But no air-raids--one doesn't see all the bombed ruins.'

'Nor does one in Paris or Rome.'

'But in London.'

'London, I grant you.'

'Were you in London during any of them?'

'Raids? . . . Oh yes.'

'Were they very bad? I suppose that's a naďve question--'

'They were quite bad enough, though not nearly the kind of thing the German cities got towards the end of the war. Dresden, for instance.'

She said musingly: 'How much easier it is to feel pity for cities than for countries.'

He nodded. 'That's because cities seem like people--lovable and helpless and innocent. Whereas countries stand for governments-- cold and strong and always a bit guilty. Of course the whole notion's false, but it suits the mythology of the times.'

'That's a rather calm and detached way of looking at it.'

He was suddenly aware that they were talking beyond the scope of mere acquaintance and that Gerald had relapsed into a rather prolonged silence. Charles had so often in his own youth been the victim of such a situation that he was specially anxious for it not to happen to Gerald, so he looked for a chance to bring him back into the conversation. Fortunately Miss Raynor gave it when she added: 'Were you as calm and detached during the raids?'

BOOK: Time and Time Again
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