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The Magician 'It's stupid to be so morbid as that,' he muttered. Margaret laughed. They walked out of the gallery and turned to the quay. By crossing the bridge and following the river, they must come eventually to Dr. Porhoet's house. ***** Meanwhile Susie wandered down the Boulevard Saint Michel, alert with the Sunday crowd, to that part of Paris which was dearest to her heart. L'Ile Saint Louis to her mind offered a synthesis of the French spirit, and it pleased her far more than the garish boulevards in which the English as a rule seek for the country's fascination. Its position on an island in the Seine gave it a compact charm. The narrow streets, with their array of dainty comestibles, had the look of streets in a provincial town. They had a quaintness which appealed to the fancy, and they were very restful. The names of the streets recalled the monarchy that passed away in bloodshed, and in poudre de riz. The very plane trees had a greater sobriety than elsewhere, as though conscious they stood in a Paris where progress was not. In front was the turbid Seine, and below, the twin towers of Notre Dame. Susie could have kissed the hard paving stones of the quay. Her good−natured, plain face lit up as she realized the delight of the scene upon which her eyes rested; and it was with a little pang, her mind aglow with characters and events from history and from fiction, that she turned away to enter Dr Porhoet's house. She was pleased that the approach did not clash with her fantasies. She mounted a broad staircase, dark but roomy, and, at the command of the concierge, rang a tinkling bell at one of the doorways that faced her. Dr Porhoet opened in person.. 'Arthur and Mademoiselle are already here,' he said, as he led her in. They went through a prim French dining−room, with much woodwork and heavy scarlet hangings, to the library. This was a large room, but the bookcases that lined the walls, and a large writing−table heaped up with books, much diminished its size. There were books everywhere. They were stacked on the floor and piled on every chair. There was hardly space to move. Susie gave a cry of delight. 'Now you mustn't talk to me. I want to look at all your books.' 'You could not please me more,' said Dr Porhoet, 'but I am afraid they will disappoint you. They are of many sorts, but I fear there are few that will interest an English young lady.' He looked about his writing−table till he found a packet of cigarettes. He gravely offered one to each of his guests. Susie was enchanted with the strange musty smell of the old books, and she took a first glance at them in general. For the most part they were in paper bindings, some of them neat enough, but more with broken backs and dingy edges; they were set along the shelves in serried rows, untidily, without method or plan. There were many older ones also in bindings of calf and pigskin, treasure from half the bookshops in Europe; and there were huge folios like Prussian grenadiers; and tiny Elzevirs, which had been read by patrician ladies in Venice. Just as Arthur was a different man in the operating theatre, Dr Porhoet was changed among his books. Though he preserved the amiable serenity which made him always so attractive, he had there a diverting brusqueness of demeanour which contrasted quaintly with his usual calm. 'I was telling these young people, when you came in, of an ancient Koran which I was given in Alexandria by a learned man whom I operated upon for cataract.' He showed her a beautifully−written Arabic work, with wonderful capitals and headlines in gold. 'You know that it is almost impossible for an infidel to acquire the holy book, and this is a particularly rare copy, for it was written by Kait Bey, the greatest of the Mameluke Sultans.' 5


The Magician  
The Magician  

W. Somerset Maugham