Fiction

Angel

ALBERT LEFEVRE June 1 1952
Fiction

Angel

ALBERT LEFEVRE June 1 1952

Angel

Sir Timothy thought he made a conquest on the Champs-Elysees was both right and wrong and the dividend he won left him more puzzled than ever

ALBERT LEFEVRE

SIR ENOCH BELLINGWAY died at the most inappropriate moment of his life, about half a year after the end of the First World War. As head of the C.M.K. Gold Trust, one of the Big Six of South African gold mining, it would have been his task to convince investors in England and on the Continent that there was sufficient gold in the Orange Free State to elevate the purchase of shares in his companies from a gamble to an investment.

This role now fell to his thirty-year-old son, Sir Timothy Bellingway, a young man of great promise in playing polo and climbing the social ladder, and with a commendable career in the Royal Flying Corps, but in financial matters unspoilt by either experience or knowledge. That is why his first visit overseas, in his official capacity as head of the trust, was looked upon with apprehension by his Johannesburg associates.

“Next to England,” lectured Brandon van Hulsteyn, the senior director of the trust, “France is the market we depend upon most. In London you will have the guidance of our local directorate who will help you in preparing your speeches and your statements to the newspapers. You needn’t be overcareful. You may even admit that the new goldfields have not yet been proved beyond doubt. The British investor is fond of a little uncertainty. Anything more easily predictable than the Lincolnshire Handicap bears to him the stamp of a giltedged security. It’s France I’m worried about. The French do not like to lose. Not even winnings make them forget their losses. Unless you can convince them of our absolute solidity we don’t stand a chance with them. And they judge by their eyes. The most plausible prospectus will be lost on them unless you impress them by your personality.”

The visit to London came off excellently. With his good memory Tim Bellingway managed to make the speeches written for him sound as if they were his own. At the final dinner of industrialists he gained sufficient courage to improvise a few sentences.

“We’re going all out,” he said before beginning the final paragraph. “We want to show better results than even on the Witwatersrand. If our geologists are correct—and we have every reason to think they are—we might find values beyond our most optimistic estimates.”

In France it was altogether different from the beginning. Left to himself Tim felt by no means certain of success. Perhaps it was his memories of the year spent in Paris as an officer during the war, perhaps it was the sprightly green of the Paris parks that made Tim feel he could have put a few weeks in the French capital to a much less melancholy use than he would be doing as representative of the C.M.K. Trust, as their exponent of conservative finance.

He realized it had been a mistake to lodge at the Grand Hotel next to the Opéra. Not that he was overcome by the elegance of the Parisians—there was all too little left of that. But as he walked along the Champs-Elysées it seemed to him that a conspiracy was under way to tempt him into forgetting the purpose of his prosaic visit. Midinettes exchanged smiles with the stranger without restraint. Tim had to remind himself of the promise he had given before his departure from Johannesburg. “I’m not prepared,” he had said to Van Hulsteyn, “to regard my private life as a perpetual asset of the trust. On the other hand I do realize the importance of this trip and I promise you need have no sleepless nights. Neither will I.”

The first two days were full of engagements with the newspapers, official agents and brokers and the stock exchange committee; on the third, a Saturday, Tim was left to himself during the day.

He slept until lunch, had a steak at the Grand Hotel dining room, and spent the afternoon looking through his papers. That evening, he knew, was the all-important function of his Paris sojourn, a dinner party given by Baron de Monchadot, the banker. He had been warned that he might have to answer many questions. His father, had he been alive, could have rattled off Continued on page 36

Angel

Continued from page 15

the history of the dividend declarations of every one of his companies, and every borehole result. Only about the few flotations that had failed would his memory have been vague.

They dine late in Paris, not before seven. By six, an hour too early, Tim had finished dressing. It was thus that he had the idea of going for a walk. His destination was not far away. The rue de Bassanot, where the Monchadots lived, was a side street off the ChampsElysées, between Rond Point and l’Etoile. The walk would take about half an hour. There was no need to take the shortest route.

When he reached the street the sky was still clear and bright. The boulevards were flowing with humanity, the atmosphere quite different from London or even Johannesburg. Here nobody seemed to be in a hurry. People walked not merely for the sake of getting from one place to another. Walking was an occupation and an art, a pleasant opportunity for animated conversation and, in the case of young couples, for close proximity.

As Tim reached the Palais Royal he looked at his watch. It was still early. Slowly he started crossing the square toward the Seine.

SUDDENLY a lorry seemed to come toward him from nowhere. There were hundreds of shouts of anguish and angry surprise. Before Tim had realized that he was in danger he felt himself hurled backward. His head collided with some hard object. For a split second his mind became blurred, then consciousness returned and he found himself holding onto the pillar of a street lamp.

“Are you hurt?” asked a female voice. Tim looked around. A woman had laid her hand softly on his forearm. Her petite face expressed genuine concern, mixed, as he perceived a little angrily, with a slight measure of humor.

“I don’t think so,” he answered, bending down for his hat. As he straightened he observed that she was very lovely in a doll-like fragile way.

Her smile expressed relief but she seemed unable to restrain her amusement.

“What’s so funny?” he asked.

As a reply she gave a tinkling peal of laughter. “It did look comical,” she said, “you took a colossal jump backward and landed with your head directly against the pole as if you had aimed for it. Your hat must have saved you, otherwise you might have dented that handsome head of yours. Let me have a look.”

Without waiting for his consent she bent his head downward and parted his hair, as a mother would her child’s. Finding the spot of the impact she caressed it lightly. “Just a bump,” she said, “by tomorrow it will be quite big, but it’s nothing serious. Are you English?”

Timothy mumbled an affirmative.

“I thought so. Not a sound from your lips, though it must have hurt badly.”

“What’s so English about that?” As he smiled the pain was stabbing at the back of his head.

“I saw it in the hospitals during the war,” she explained lightly. “Hiding pain seems to be a game with the English. Terribly uneconomical, I think.”

He wanted to reply, but suddenly he felt faint and tried to reach for the pole; instead he put his hand onto her arm. It was only a moment before he was able to stammer an apology.

“Dm’t be silly,” she said. “Come, I’ll take you to my place.”

Somehow this remark sobered him. He looked around. Whatever excitement the sudden threat of an accident had caused had melted away. Like tea oxer a lump of sugar the traffic had closed over the incident and regained its no*mal surface.

“IVe got an appointment,” he said looking at his watch. “I mustn’t be late.”

“I’m afraid to let you go,” solid the worn®. “You might faint again and really get hurt this time. My place is at the Champs-Elysées, quite nearby. Why not come in and get the dust off your clothes? You could do with a dusting; your hat doesn’t look very respectable.”

“I ffiink I will,” he agreed. “If you like we can walk. I’m not really late.”

She nodded and he took her arm. He felt quite his own self again and knew he did not need assistance, but he suddenly wanted to know more about this woman. Erom under his eyelids he watched her. She must have been about twenty-five, or at most thirty. Under her light summer coat he could see that she was elegantly dressed, even a little overdressed for a walk in the street.

“What’s your name?” asked Tim.

For a moment she seemed to hesitate. “Just call me Angel,” she replied and her smiled deepened.

“Angel.” He pronounced the word softly and reached for her hand. “Don’t you want to know my name? I suppose I should have introduced myself.”

“Nonsense. At the hospital we used to call all the English boys Bill.”

They had reached the ChampsElysées and were walking leisurely along the centre pavement. From time to time she looked up at him. And suddenly he almost laughed aloud. Who was this girl? Surely she couldn’t be a ... ? But she must be! Her make-up, her dress so over-elaborate for the street, the fact that she would not admit to any name and called all English boys Bill. It was ludicrous!

“Got a nice place?” he asked.

“Quite cosy.”

“Big place?”

“Big enough.”

They were crossing Rond Point and 1’im grew anxious. Before his eyes appeared the reproachful face of Brandon van Hulsteyn. It would be fatal if one of the guests saw him on the arm of a Paris gold digger. It was becoming clear to Tim that she was heading for the same neighborhood as his host's house. Tim straightened himself and put both hands into his pockets.

“It’s getting late, Angel,” he said. Somehow he was anxious not to hurt whatever feelings she possessed, in his right trouser pocket he felt a wad of notes. Best to give her a present and let her go right here. What would she expect? A pound was about a thousand francs. One could not stand on Saturday evening on the ChampsElysées counting out money to a girl. Fumbling in his pocket he tried to recognize the notes. They were large, apparently five-hundred-franc notes. Skilfully he folded three of them to a small size. Then he stopped.

“Sorry to disappoint you, Angel,” he murmured, “but I can’t afford to be late. Thanks for being kind, all the same. I don’t want you to lose, though. Here, take this. Now be a good girl and run along.”

Her obvious delight annoyed him. How glad she was to receive her reward without having to earn it! “Couldn’t have made much of an impression on her,” Tim thought as he rapidly crossed the street.

It didn’t take him long to brush up at a café. Only his hat had suffered real damage. This time he meant to take no chances and made the rest of the way in a taxi. Though it was almost seven o’clock when he arrived he was much too early.

“I cannot tell you how sorry I am,” the Baron greeted him. “The Baroness was involved in a street accident on the way back from her hairdresser and she has only just returned. I hope she’ll be down soon.”

An illogical but nevertheless chilling suspicion took possession of Tim, but an instant later he felt reassured. It could not possibly be true. The Baron was an enormous man of at leastseventy years, with a mustache the size of a sabre. To think of him as the husband of Angel was ridiculous.

A footman brought apéritifs and cocktails, the latter probably in honor of the guest, for Tim noticed that the Baron reached unhesitatingly for the wine.

Again Tim grew uneasy. It could still be as he had suspected, he said to himself. There were such people as second wives.

“I hope the Baroness will not rush on my account. Surely she will have to dress first and that will take a little while,” he observed slyly.

“She always dresses before she goes I to her hairdresser,” replied the Baron. “Otherwise we would stand no hope of seeing her tonight.” His laugh was good-humored.

Tim felt an ugly hotness creeping up his back. Angel had certainly been dressed for a party. Only one more question was needed to ascertain the truth.

“I hope the accident was not serious” he remarked guardedly. “Not a collision I trust?”

“Nothing so serious, thank God. There was a horse or something. The baroness was dazed temporarily, that was all. Thé funny thing was she ¡ couldn’t find her car afterward and ; walked all the way home. By the time she arrived she seemed fully recovered.”

Tim was thankful the Baron’s attention was diverted at that moment by newly arriving guests. He was hardly able to hear the names of the people to whom he was introduced. At any I moment he expected her to come down the wide stairs.

He was on the verge of a panic. Surely this was a situation no man could be expected to face. To find one’s way in a bomber over a German town through enemy ack-ack had seemed nerve-racking at the time. At present he remembered those moments as cosy and peaceful.

Apparently guests invited for seven o’clock were expected to arrive at half-past seven, for the door was opening and closing continuously until there were about thirty people in the lounge. Again and again he heard the Baroness’ accident discussed and it was only with the utmost effort that he managed to make the meaningless remarks necessary to avoid being considered impolite.

When he found himself alone with an elderly man who looked the banker that he was, Tim at last posed the question that had been burning on his lips.

Continued on page 39

Continued from page 37

“I’m dying to meet the Baroness,” he remarked as if casually. “I am told the Baron’s second wife is most charming.” The word “second” he pronounced with slight overemphasis.

“Is she his second wife—surely not!” was the astonished reply. “I’ve known the Baron all my life and I would know about any previous marriage.”

This time Tim did not allow himself to feel relief prematurely. “Perhaps I misunderstood,” he pressed on relentlessly. “I thought a friend of mine told me that the Baroness was much younger than her husband because he married her fairly recently. I must have imagined he said something about a second marriage.”

“You must have imagined the whole thing, my young friend,” the banker said with a jovial grin. “They’ve been married exactly twenty-six years. I should know—I was at their silver wedding.”

The banker had not expected this piece of news to cause enthusiasm in his hearer. But it did. It did to such an extent that he was a little overwhelmed. Tim shook his hand like a man who had just received promotion or the news of triplets and insisted on having another drink with his new friend.

When next he found himself with the Baron and some of the weighty men who surrounded him Tim was able to converse intelligently and to behave in as sedate a manner as Bradon van Hulsteyn had prescribed.

Not for long. There was a movement among the guests and Angel came majestically down the stairs to greet her guests. Suddenly she stopped. Her eyes widened; delight appeared on her charming face, delight not dampened by the surprise of seeing Tim among her guests, delight that was free of all mockery. She stepped quickly toward him with her hand outstretched and did not seem to notice his utter stupefaction.

“You must be Sir Timothy Beli lingway,” she greeted him. “Aristide,” Angel turned round to her husband, “just imagine! Sir Timothy and I met earlier today. We were both in the accident I told you about and we didn’t know each other. I didn’t really need his assistance but he managed to pay me a most charming compliment.”

T>Y THE time Sir Timothy Bellingn way had returned to South Africa he already knew his French mission had been as successful as the English. 'Though he still felt slightly bewildered at the peculiar French ideas of what constituted a compliment toa baroness, he was quite wrong in ascribing his success to the support he had received from the Baroness de Monehadot.

Her husband was devoted to his pretty wife but she was of little consequence in his financial dealings and was expected to devote her energy to the maintenance of her youthful appearance, in which sphere she succeeded as well as her husband in his.

What convinced the French bankers that in Sir Timothy Bellingway they were dealing with a man of extremely conservative behavior was not documents or company reports but another circumstance of the delightful story that had made the rounds of the Paris salons.

The Baroness had of course seen to it that her triumph became known to all. It appeared however that the sum of money handed by Sir Timothy to the Baroness had been not three fivehundred-franc bills but three fiftyfranc bills—and a sense for thrift at such a trying and delicate moment seemed to the French bankers the essence of wisdom, if