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The Supreme Illusion
by [?]


Perhaps it was because I was in a state of excited annoyance that I did not recognize him until he came right across the large hall of the hotel and put his hand on my shoulder.

I had arrived in Paris that afternoon, and driven to that nice, reasonable little hotel which we all know, and whose name we all give in confidence to all our friends; and there was no room in that hotel. Nor in seven other haughtily-managed hotels that I visited! A kind of archduke, who guarded the last of the seven against possible customers, deigned to inform me that the season was at its fullest, half London being as usual in Paris, and that the only central hotels where I had a chance of reception were those monstrosities the Grand and the Hotel Terminus at the Gare St Lazare. I chose the latter, and was accorded room 973 in the roof.

I thought my exasperations were over. But no! A magnificent porter within the gate had just consented to get my luggage off the cab, and was in the act of beginning to do so, when a savagely-dressed, ugly and ageing woman, followed by a maid, rushed neurotically down the steps and called him away to hold a parcel. He obeyed! At the same instant the barbaric and repulsive creature’s automobile, about as large as a railway carriage, drove up and forced my frail cab down the street. I had to wait, humiliated and helpless, the taximeter of my cab industriously adding penny to penny, while that offensive hag installed herself, with the help of the maid, the porter and two page-boys, in her enormous vehicle. I should not have minded had she been young and pretty. If she had been young and pretty she would have had the right to be rude and domineering. But she was neither young nor pretty. Conceivably she had once been young; pretty she could never have been. And her eyes were hard–hard.

Hence my state of excited annoyance.

“Hullo! How goes it?” The perfect colloquial English was gently murmured at me with a French accent as the gentle hand patted my shoulder.

“Why,” I said, cast violently out of a disagreeable excitement into an agreeable one, “I do believe you are Boissy Minor!”

I had not seen him for nearly twenty years, but I recognized in that soft and melancholy Jewish face, with the soft moustache and the soft beard, the wistful features of the boy of fifteen who had been my companion at an “international” school (a clever invention for inflicting exile upon patriots) with branches at Hastings, Dresden and Versailles.

Soon I was telling him, not without satisfaction, that, being a dramatic critic, and attached to a London daily paper which had decided to flatter its readers by giving special criticisms of the more important new French plays, I had come to Paris for the production of Notre Dame de la Lune at the Vaudeville.

And as I told him the idea occurred to me for positively the first time:

“By the way, I suppose you aren’t any relation of Octave Boissy?”

I rather hoped he was; for after all, say what you like, there is a certain pleasure in feeling that you have been to school with even a relative of so tremendous a European celebrity as Octave Boissy–the man who made a million and a half francs with his second play, which was nevertheless quite a good play. All the walls of Paris were shouting his name.

“I’m the johnny himself,” he replied with timidity, naively proud of his Saxon slang.

I did not give an astounded No! An astounded No! would have been rude. Still, my fear is that I failed to conceal entirely my amazement. I had to fight desperately against the natural human tendency to assume that no boy with whom one has been to school can have developed into a great man.