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The Magician undergraduates, and, having at the same time a retentive memory and considerable quickness, he was able to assume an attitude of omniscience which was as impressive as it was irritating. I have never heard him confess that he had not read a book. Often, when I tried to catch him, he confounded me by quoting the identical words of a passage in some work which I could have sworn he had never set eyes on. I daresay it was due only to some juggling, like the conjuror's sleight of hand that apparently lets you choose a card, but in fact forces one on you; and he brought the conversation round cleverly to a point when it was obvious I should mention a definite book. He talked very well, with an entertaining flow of rather pompous language which made the amusing things he said particularly funny. His passion for euphuism contrasted strikingly with the simple speech of those with whom he consorted. It certainly added authority to what he said. He was proud of his family and never hesitated to tell the curious of his distinguished descent. Unless he has much altered, you will already have heard of his relationship with various noble houses. He is, in fact, nearly connected with persons of importance, and his ancestry is no less distinguished than he asserts. His father is dead, and he owns a place in Staffordshire which is almost historic. I have seen photographs of it, and it is certainly very fine. His forebears have been noted in the history of England since the days of the courtier who accompanied Anne of Denmark to Scotland, and, if he is proud of his stock, it is not without cause. So he passed his time at Oxford, cordially disliked, at the same time respected and mistrusted; he had the reputation of a liar and a rogue, but it could not be denied that he had considerable influence over others. He amused, angered, irritated, and interested everyone with whom he came in contact. There was always something mysterious about him, and he loved to wrap himself in a romantic impenetrability. Though he knew so many people, no one knew him, and to the end he remained a stranger in our midst. A legend grew up around him, which he fostered sedulously, and it was reported that he had secret vices which could only be whispered with bated breath. He was said to intoxicate himself with Oriental drugs, and to haunt the vilest opium−dens in the East of London. He kept the greatest surprise for the last, since, though he was never seen to work, he managed, to the universal surprise, to get a first. He went down, and to the best of my belief was never seen in Oxford again. I have heard vaguely that he was travelling over the world, and, when I met in town now and then some of the fellows who had known him at the 'Varsity, weird rumours reached me. One told me that he was tramping across America, earning his living as he went; another asserted that he had been seen in a monastry in India; a third assured me that he had married a ballet−girl in Milan; and someone else was positive that he had taken to drink. One opinion, however, was common to all my informants, and this was that he did something out of the common. It was clear that he was not the man to settle down to the tame life of a country gentleman which his position and fortune indicated. At last I met him one day in Piccadilly, and we dined together at the Savoy. I hardly recognized him, for he was become enormously stout, and his hair had already grown thin. Though he could not have been more than twenty−five, he looked considerably older. I tried to find out what he had been up to, but, with the air of mystery he affects, he would go into no details. He gave me to understand that he had sojourned in lands where the white man had never been before, and had learnt esoteric secrets which overthrew the foundations of modern science. It seemed to me that he had coarsened in mind as well as in appearance. I do not know if it was due to my own development since the old days at Oxford, and to my greater knowledge of the world, but he did not seem to me so brilliant as I remembered. His facile banter was rather stupid. In fact he bored me. The pose which had seemed amusing in a lad fresh from Eton now was intolerable, and I was glad to leave him. It was characteristic that, after asking me to dinner, he left me in a lordly way to pay the bill. Then I heard nothing of him till the other day, when our friend Miss Ley asked me to meet at dinner the German explorer Burkhardt. I dare say you remember that Burkhardt brought out a book a little while ago on his adventures in Central Asia. I knew that Oliver Haddo was his companion in that journey and had meant to read it on this account, but, having been excessively busy, had omitted to do so. I took the opportunity to ask the German about our common acquaintance, and we had a long talk. Burkhardt had met him by chance at Mombasa in East Africa, where he was arranging an expedition after big game, and they agreed to go together. He told me that Haddo was a marvellous shot and a hunter of exceptional ability. Burkhardt had been rather suspicious of a man who boasted so much of his attainments, but was obliged soon to confess that 6


The Magician  
The Magician  

W. Somerset Maugham