Pomfret Stone bore no nickname in the Foreign Service until, in the blazing rocketry of his downfall, he became known as the Madman of the Mamounia. Christened James Pomfret, he pared down his identity when he entered the Service and signed his dispatches “J. Pomfret Stone.” Over the years I observed that the flourishes became more and more rococo: three swoops to form J; an elaborately curlicued P; a flamboyant Spencerian S, with the sequel trailing off into a line of barely perceptible humps, as if to blur any traces of the commonplace.
Stone was born in 1902, the youngest son of a Philadelphia family hitherto undistinguished by any extremes of genius or folly. His father owned a department store known as the Grade-B Wanamaker’s. The Pomfrets, his mother’s family, were Quakers, graduates of Swarthmore, patrons of the young Stokowski, and devotees of bird-walks along the Wissahickon. Pomfret was included in these excursions, and later in the huge and heavy dinners—pink-shaded candles and no “spirits”—which his parents offered to the gentry in their half-timbered house in Germantown.
In reaction against Germantown, Pomfret elected Princeton, where he majored in English and went in for pranks, apolitical but disruptive, which led to brushes with the dean’s office and once with the police. He developed an orotund locution, compounded of snips and snaps of Shakespeare, uttered in the tones of W.C. Fields.(“Give every man thy ear,” he once told me, when I burned to offer advice to the Sultan of Morocco, “but few thy voice.”) Similar reflexes drew him to the Service. At 28, when most men have found their corner, he quit his father’s business and, after three tries, squeaked through his examinations (he was a whiz at languages but little else) during the administration of Herbert Hoover. His family found his new career not quite respectable.
In those days the entire Department of State fitted nicely into the neo-Renaissance palace that now houses the supers of the White House. The Third World (a term then unknown) was ruled mainly by colonial governors. But though it contained few embassies, a young American such as Pomfret Stone, bold enough to confront the fevers and terrors—and the languages—of Africa and Asia, could carve himself an exotic niche in consular work. It took the tremors of colonial revolt to transform consulates into swarming diplomatic caravanseries or to distinguish them as “special purpose posts.”
But it was not in any nursery of insurrection that I first met Pomfret. His services during the North African landings (including an abortive scheme to kidnap a Vichy general in Morocco) had earned him rest and recreation as a counselor of embassy in The Hague. I was making my debut in Rotterdam as a visa officer, a cog in the huge machine of postwar immigration. Stone, who preferred consular nitty-gritty to the statelier labors of embassies, persuaded his chief to invite the lowly Rotterdammers to the tall-windowed house of mellow brick which was then the ambassador’s residence in the Lange Voorhout. He presented my wife and me to the ambassador in Falstaffian style: “Tom and Emily have come to down a cup of sack and meet the nabobs.”
Impressed though I was by the counselor’s worldly air, I found him slightly incongruous. His tanned, round face was too meridional for Holland, his mustache too luxuriant, his hair rather long about the ears. His eyes of an intense, an almost frightening, blue, glinting in their porcine sockets, gave an impression—illusory, as it turned out—of cunning. His cutaway sat uneasily; its tails accented his shortness. My wife said he was like a butler whose employers have lured him from soft-footed intrigue among the great to the chilly placidity of service in the suburbs. Pomfret Stone, we decided, was cut out for the volatile South, for dirks and daggers, for secrets muttered in mean streets by the burnoused agents of colonial conspiracy.
Months later, when we knew the Stones better, his wife, a no-nonsense Chicagoan, supplied a corrective footnote: “It’s not the secrets that interest Pomfret; it’s all the flummery that goes with them. Holland just isn’t the right place for bamboozling.”
Her analysis was confirmed by Pomfret’s japes at the embassy, which ended by irritating his seniors. His chief butt was the agricultural attaché, Augustus Flowers, whose unbroken chain of errors in estimating rice crops in Asia had led to his transfer to the Netherlands and the less critical problems of tulip bulbs. Flowers was noted for Victorian side whiskers and tireless name-dropping: there was no one in New Delhi, Saigon, or Washington who was not a bosom pal. Pomfret once sent him through the mail a photograph of the secretary of state, inscribed “To Augustus Flowers with all my love, George C. Marshall.”
Pomfret’s most practical joke was the importation of the ambassador’s mistress into the United States. The ambassador had long been separated from his wife; in The Hague he had taken up with the embassy’s social secretary, a succulent widow who had survived two Japanese prison camps in Java. When the political whirligig removed him from diplomatic glory, he decided to take the Baroness von Amstelaar with him. But since he could not marry her, she remained merely one Dutch immigrant among the thousands who, under the quota system, had to wait their turn—sometimes for several years.
When I reminded Pomfret, with youthful smugness, that American law offered no loopholes for coronets, he was irritated. “But surely,” he said, “we can find some priority for unmarried passion.”
“Skilled agriculturists get top preference, but I hardly think the baroness would qualify.”
My irony did not take. He stared, slapped his thigh. “Great idea, Tom, you’ve solved the problem.”
The file that eventually reached my desk included a moving account of Erna von Amstelaar’s exploits in raising vegetables for fellow internees in Java and an affidavit in which Augustus Flowers certified that he had examined the applicant and found her a specialist in the cultivation of tulips and hyacinths.
I protested: Pomfret feigned astonishment. “I thought the dossier quite perfect. And once the ambassador promised the attache undying gratitude, all impediments melted. Flowers his name; flowers his nature.”
“And in New York? A peasant in first class, swathed in mink?”
“With a farm on Fifth Avenue? I’d like to see the inspector’s face. But fear not. The ambassador has friends puissant and acres fertile in Georgia. Thine but to take pen and impression seal in hand.”
“God damn the Foreign Service!”
“That means you’ll sign the visa. Pax vobiscum.”
It was five years before I ran into Pomfret again. In Washington we both served in Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs, a catchall bureau which the postcolonial era would shortly break into separate parts. I labored in Public Relations, Pomfret tussled with the Arab League, an organization he described as “seven severed heads in a basket.” Since The Hague, he had been in Amman, where he had tried to organize a counterplot against the assassins of King Abdullah, and then in Cairo, where Ambassador Caffery and he had witnessed the downfall of King Farouk. He had perfected his Arabic and joined the band of specialists known as the Mideast Mafia, of which he represented the ultraright wing. His mustache had reached a new peak of exuberance; his blue eyes had acquired a gleam of desperation, which I understood better when he told me that his wife had died of cholera in Amman. Pomfret had begun to tick without a balance wheel.
Stone’s boss was Assistant Secretary Floyd Britt, known to desk officers as Floy-Floy the Friendly Nation-Builder. Britt had ridden to glory as a populist dean at the University of Wisconsin, and later in the Ford Foundation, where he fretted over the problems of underdevelopment and illiteracy. At the United Nations, Eleanor Roosevelt nodded to him, and he enjoyed impeccable credentials among the party poopers of the Third World. These connections had earned him his secretaryship.
Now in his 45th year, Britt was the very model of the academic statesman. He bought his slacks and his Harris tweeds at Schwartz’s loft in Baltimore, reserving his pinstripes for the General Assembly and for colloquies in the White House basement. The collars of his blue shirts were secured with crossbars, his pastel ties with little silver chains. From his fob pocket dangled yet another chain, at the end of which he flashed, at critical moments of departmental gamesmanship, his Phi Beta Kappa key. He wore a black Borsalino in winter, and in summer a boater that left a rakish halo on his pale forehead and his pale graying hair. Britt’s eyes were of an indefinable smoky color: he had trained them to fix you steadily and beyond the needs of mere honesty. His nose was ungenerous, and as his teeth were unevenly spaced, he was sparing of his smiles. This increased his reputation for seriousness.
Despite loud protests from the French Embassy, Floy-Floy kept his sanctum open to visiting nationalists from Africa. In the era that produced Rosa Parks, he took care also to paper his front office with black secretaries. On his travels, a black assistant carried his briefcase and plane tickets until Pomfret convinced him that this made a lamentable impression in the domains of the underdeveloped.
Pomfret, in fact, had set out to torment Britt with an excess of zealotry. No visitor from among the colonial subjects, he vowed, should be too humble, and no manifesto too tedious, for the assistant secretary’s attention. Soon Britt’s in-box overflowed, and his office hours were beset with boredom which his own tenets forced him to endure without complaint.
Instruments of torture did not lack among Arab diplomats. Pomfret’s prize exhibit was Abderrahman Azak, the envoy of an Arab kingdom where the United States maintained a gargantuan air base. The fly-boys were sometimes careless at target practice, and though their missiles were dummies, they dropped enough of them outside the range to startle many camel-drivers and fellahin. The monarch would then awaken from his normal lethargy and send instructions to Abderrahman to protest “at the highest level.”
In other offices juniors were ticked off to calm minor diplomats, but whenever little Abderrahman came darting from the elevator, Pomfret was there to shake his hand and lead him to the massive double doors that were supposed to separate the assistant secretary from the hoi polloi. Sometimes I was asked along to keep the record.
Perched on the edge of Britt’s vast sofa, Abderrahman would read aloud his entire note, while the secretary, fidgeting behind his desk, turned a paper knife of Senegalese ivory in his hands. If things moved too expeditiously, Pomfret would drop pebbles of inquiry into the flow of diplomatic discourse, and the envoy would take time out for a gloss. His texts were filled with quaint and curious turns of phrase, one of which still comes back to me: “On March 15 at hours 1500, bomb dropped from U.S. airship on fields of Ahmed Idriss at Ain Sefra, damaging his agriculture.”
“Ain Sefra?” Pomfret asked. “Tell us, Your Excellency, where is that? I have visited your splendid country, of course, but I don’t recall Ain Sefra. Have you heard of Ain Sefra, Mr. Secretary?”
The paper knife turned furiously in Britt’s hands. “No, I cannot honestly say that I have.”
Abderrahman’s peaky face furrowed with stage fright. “I’ve never heard of it either, but”—his voice cracked—”but I’m sure it exists.”
And on he droned, while the secretary fixed his eyes on the envoy’s manuscript, as a Wagnerophobe might watch the pages turn on the conductor’s desk, waiting for the blank that will spell finis to his torment.
“To the last syllable of recorded time,” Pomfret said to me afterward. “Poor Old Britt, the eternal amateur. Can’t even get a public nuisance out of his audience chamber.”
“You didn’t help him much.”
“I’m not the culprit. It’s all part of the great decline.”
“Of diplomacy, empire, power. In 50 years—nay 20—we’ll see the most awful balls-up. Tribal warfare, bankruptcy, and blackmail. They’ll be calling imperialist spirits from the vasty deep, but none will come. British, French, Russians—even Americans—all of us will have cashed in our chips, if we have any left. Then will come the turn of the mercenaries.”
“You mean like Basil Seal?”
“Exactly.” He beamed. “Or me. I could do wondrous things in Azania.”
In Basil Seal Pomfret had recognized a kindred spirit, a manipulator of dullards, an anarch with a kingdom of his own.
Even an official as humorless as Britt could not fail to suspect that his Mideast director was having a romp at his expense. And then reports of outright heterodoxy reached him: “My sources tell me,” he said, “that Stone lunches regularly with the French ambassador.” After Ambassador Caffery’s return from Cairo, he and Pomfret were overheard in the bar of the Metropolitan Club, making highly proconsular remarks about Britt’s strategy for the new Egypt.
After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Two weeks later Stone was assigned as consul in Marrakech.
If Marrakech was a backwater, it was an agreeable one. It enjoyed constant sunshine, a minuscule complement, and unlimited freewheeling. Besides the consul, there was a local secretary, Cherry Grimes, expatriate daughter of an American shyster, who had predeceased the consular courts of Morocco. An elderly chaouch served as watchman and chauffeur: a veteran of the Sultan’s guard, Taibi had learned from Caid Harry Maclean how to tootle on the bagpipes and from a French officer how to drive, with equal unpredictability, an automobile. The consular corps was also restricted: the American; a cheery Britisher, who looked after the Churchills on their visits; a dilapidated Portuguese; and an ancient crony of Marshal Lyautey, who had been named honorary consul of Monaco.
Having lapsed into far niente with the departure of the captains and kings of the Second World War, Marrakech revived as a listening post when the Pasha, the notorious Glaoui, became, with French encouragement, the drillmaster of tribal opposition to the sultan in Rabat. And the nearby air base at Ben Guerir kept the American consul busy signing passports, mollifying the French and the Pasha’s police, and disentangling airmen from the women of the Quartier Réservé.
When Floyd Britt sent me out to survey our public relations in Africa on the eve of independence, I took care to include a stop in Marrakech. Pomfret was established in the heart of the medina: a charming Arab house in the Derb-esh-Touareg served him as office and residence. When the old chaouch, in fez and bag trousers, opened the studded front door, silvered by time and weather, I found relief from the heat near a mosaic fountain, whose rim was pearled with dripping water. In the anteroom I was halted by a towering pythoness: her frilled shirtwaist and tawny pompadour, streaked with gray, belonged to the same era as the primitive switchboard behind her.
“I am Cherry Grimes.” Her voice was a rich baritone; her manner that of the empress of Byzantium receiving an interloper from Rome.
When I had introduced myself, she plugged in one of the wires that snaked along the switchboard. A buzzer squealed in the distance, and Taibi ushered me into a square, high, white room. Pomfret sat at a table encrusted with nacre; above him hung a filigreed brass lantern that turned slowly like the sword of Damocles. A map of southern Morocco covered the wall behind him: it was dotted with thumbtacks of many colors, from which dangled bits of limp paper like those in fortune cookies.
Pomfret sprang up to shake my hand. His linen suit was spotless and creaseless. His mustache had gone entirely white, and, with his thick mane of white hair, he looked rather like Mark Twain. His bright blue tie accented his eyes. He seemed genuinely pleased to see me.
“Sit down,” he said. “I see you’re admiring my map.”
I wasn’t, but I asked politely about the thumbtacks.
“Terrorist incidents,” he explained briskly. “The labels show dates and victims. There’s a different color for each tribe.”
“The way things are going, you’ll soon run out of thumbtacks.”
“Didn’t I tell you in Washington?” He gave me a W. C. Fields smirk. “My prophetic soul: it’s a dog’s breakfast,”
“You report everything through Tangier?”
“I report direct, as I please. The legation leaves me on my own. The minister is a beneficiary of the golden sunshine; he couldn’t care less.”
“The sunshine of Morocco?”
“No, no, dear friend; of the White House. He rings up only when some bigwig wants a room at the Mamounia. And in our time of troubles bigwigs come not in battalions.”
“You have nationalist contacts?”
He laughed. “Taibi is the “nationalist source” in my dispatches. He snitches on me to the French. But we have to play along with the oppressor’s wrong if we’re to hang onto the bases.”
“That won’t make Floyd Britt happy!”
“Britt!” He flipped his mustache with his forefinger. “I’d love to see Floy-Floy trying to spring an airman from the Pasha’s pokey.”
Stone took care to unfurl the banners of his prestige for his Washington visitor. He trotted me all over town, paddling about happily, with his Panama hat pulled down against the heat and glare. We called on the French commandant and on innumerable tame caids. Taibi was drafted to drive us to the air base for a descent in Caffery style, although departmental penury compelled us to fly the flag from the fender of an old Chevrolet rather than a Cadillac. El Glaoui had taken off to the hills for what Pomfret called “miching mallecho” among his tribal vassals, but one of his sons honored us with a dhifa. Pomfret gargled and wheezed in Maghrebi Arabic and showed me how to eat with three fingers. When ice cream appeared, our host encouraged us to cheat, with aluminum spoons from the Galéries Lafayette. “One Westernizes more and more,” he told us.
“Yes,” Stone said, “and your women have begun to wear panties and brassieres under their haiks.”
“Voilà la révolution,” said the Pasha’s son. “And how, Sidi Consul, did you make that discovery?”
“Custom cannot stale the infinite variety of the Berber women,” Pomfret said, winking at me.
Even more agreeable were the hours when the languor of Marrakech reduced my survey to an irrelevance, and I could surrender to the city’s lotus spell: to the transparent air and the changing pink of the crenelated ramparts that girdle the medina; to the faraway cries of the Arabs, urging their donkeys across the dusty plain of the Haouz, with the snows of the Atlas still visible behind them through the shimmering heat. One evening we disguised ourselves in djellabas and, like Haroun-al-Rachid, made a progress through the swirling crowds of the Djemaa el Fna: in the great square, snake charmers and storytellers and Berber dancers assembled charmed circles around them under the guttering torches, while rebecs whined and cymbals chinked and the cries of peddlers pierced the air.
On another night Pomfret took Miss Grimes and me to the Menara, ruined pavilion of the Almohade sultans, with a square pool glinting in the moonlight below its vacant arches. The Menara, he told us, had been a Parc aux Biches: one of the Sultans decreed that each woman with whom he passed the night should be hurled into the pool at dawn. “What a setup!” Pomfret said. “A perfect one-night stand: no regrets—at least not for long—and no reproaches.”
“Really, Mr. Stone!” Cherry’s deep voice trembled. “You sound like one of those barbarians yourself.”
I found it curious that Pomfret, usually so hospitable, should have lodged me in the Hotel Mamounia rather than in his house. The reason became clear when he invited me to tea. In the tiled salon above the office, Miss Grimes played hostess for him, twirling her horn-rims on their pearl-studded cord as she treated me to old scandals of the Pasha’s entourage. The tea was served by a plump little partridge in a haik, but unveiled, who was not asked to sit down. Her figure was round, one sphere superimposed on another, with the smaller sphere of her head like the final golden globe at the top of the Khoutoubia Mosque. A delicate blue tattoo between her eyebrows gave her an air of mild perplexity. When she poured mint tea into little colored tumblers or dropped a soft inquiring syllable, Pomfret watched her with an unmistakable indulgence. Cherry Grimes’s prune eyes followed these exchanges with a disapproval that bordered on malevolence. And a French officer’s wife whom I met at a dinner told me that Stone had found the girl—her name was Amina—in one of the Glaoui’s whorehouses. By bribing the Pasha’s underlings, he had liberated her from the Quartier Réservé and taken her in as a domestic. My friends in Tangier had assigned Miss Grimes to the consul’s bed, but it was obvious to me that while the sibyl who towered above the tea stand like Margaret Dumont might nurture social ambitions, Amina had popped in between her and any carnal expectations.
So my last parting from Pomfret Stone took place at his zenith. Washington might complain that his dispatches contained too much imperial wine and not enough analytical consommé, but no one could question his status as Pomfret Pasha, lord of the Atlas, and envoy extraordinary. I told him I would so report, and he wrung my hand. “Blessed be thy mission, dear colleague. This is surely my last solo, and I’m going to run a good show. Cursed be he that moves my bones.”
At the time I shrugged off this imprecation as a random bit of hyperbole, uncoordinated like the others in his Elizabethan ragbag.
With Stalin safely stowed under the Kremlin wall, Washington’s interest in Morocco faded. Mohammed V returned to his throne; the Glaoui, like his French patrons, was on the skids; the airbases became surplus. The penny-pinchers of Virginia Avenue began asking how we could explain to Congress the maintenance of a “special purpose post” whose sole purpose would be to steer VIPs to the splendors of the Hotel Mamounia. Pomfret’s star streaked downward: unhappily its fragments failed to burn out before they reentered the bureaucratic atmosphere.
In Casablanca an anti-American weekly dug up an old photo of el Glaoui touring the ramparts of Marrakech in a Chevrolet, with the consul beaming beside him as he rode through Persepolis. A sharp query from Washington produced a barrage of rhetorical questions: “Who am I,” Stone cabled, “to turn my back on the friend of Winston Churchill and the protector of our citizens from malice domestic and foreign levy?” Floyd Britt was unmoved: he admonished Pomfret to “refrain from reactionary contacts.” And he warned him that as soon as the United States had installed its first ambassador in Rabat, the consulate in Marrakech would be closed.
Stone blazed sky-high. His dispatches, which he typed himself to keep disaster from Miss Grimes, asked how one could measure in “pinchbeck economies” our loss of face when the Berber tribesmen discovered that the Great Republic was deserting them, “like Hercules leaving his Antony.” The minister in Tangier, who was grateful that Pomfret had taken off his hands a troublesome province of his empire, remonstrated feebly but was silenced with promises of preferment after the imminent Republican victory. The best I could do was to persuade Britt that “local reaction”—always a sacred cow for him—dictated discretion in timing Pomfret’s departure. The consul was instructed to request withdrawal of his exequatur “as soon as Moroccan sensitivities shall permit.”
Excuses for delay did not lack. The Haouz again shimmered in summer heat; the notables had fled to their playgrounds in France. And September would bring Ramadan, when fasting always puts “Moroccan sensitivities” on hair-trigger.
I have no way of knowing when Pomfret, brooding at his desk while the brass lantern revolved hypnotically overhead, passed into the realm of fantasy, where his ultimate prank was contrived. Maybe it was at the end of summer when his friends began to return. The Glaoui was playing it safe in Paris, but his sons, who had prudently kept their nationalist circuits open, still welcomed the American consul’s visits. So did the airmen at Ben Guerir and the French officers who were creeping back in civilian disguise as “technical advisers” in the new Morocco. Why cut off the douceur de vivre so soon? Perhaps, like some viscous mass, his prerogatives and prestige need not plunge over the edge of the precipice but could move straight onward until they stuck out, an amazing projection, above the abyss of change. And who could say that when the budgetary storm had passed, the department would not be grateful that he had held open an outpost so useful and so undemanding?
When the department’s nagging became shrill, Pomfret feigned surrender. He wrote Britt that he planned, insh’ allah, to announce his abdication in October after Ramadan. He added that since he planned to retire in Marrakech, the department should send his mail and pension checks to the Derb-esh-Touareg until he terminated the lease. Britt acquiesced, but he sent Stone the draft of a note requesting withdrawal of the consular exequatur; it was to be delivered to the local authorities not later than October 15.
Suddenly luck swerved over to Pomfret’s side. As when on Mount Olympus, Venus coaxed Jupiter into transferring the destinies of Aeneas from the hands of hostile Juno, so in the vast apparatus of Washington, the Nation-Builders set up a separate bureau for African Affairs and thus snatched Pomfret from the jurisdiction of Floyd Britt. The new assistant secretary for Africa would need months to find his way around his domain. And among the top brass, all eyes had turned to watch the lava that was flowing from Suez.
Britt was happy to toss the Stone file into his out-box. It reached the Bureau of Administration on a day when Washington smoldered under the last onslaught of summer. One of the subdirectors, poised for annual leave, found a minute to take down the fat book in which he listed the posts under his supervision. Marrakech was Entry 311, between Lusaka and Mogadiscio. Recalling a blissful week at the Mamounia as ah Army major in 1943, he sighed and drew two firm diagonals through Item 311. He penciled “October” in the margin and started phoning to other sectors of his complex bailiwick. Protocol and Personnel came safely on board, but in Pay and Allowances there was a lapse. The air conditioning had blacked out, and the master of the African payrolls had fled to the bar of the Mayflower Hotel.
The next day the subdirector left for Maine. By the time he got back, Suez was in full eruption: his staff, like everyone else’s, was floundering in a torrent of telegrams from Cairo and Tel Aviv, from London and Paris, For months no one opened the dossier of Pomfret Stone.
In Marrakech, the fatal date had come and gone unnoticed. Britt’s note to the Moroccans remained in Pomfret’s filing cabinet. No word came from Washington or Rabat or Tangier.
When I try to imagine Pomfret’s frame of mind in the days that followed, I see him as a chipmunk emerging from his burrow after the passage of enemy beasts. He sniffs the air, rubs his paws together, casts a beady eye on other chipmunks who have survived in the new Marrakech. With shaky fingers he opens his mail, and I hear his sigh of amazed relief: the green paychecks are unchanged.
For nearly a year Stone carried on without a hitch. He stamped passports and affixed seals and ribbons to documents that went unchallenged. He issued a visa or two, crossed his fingers, and when the voyagers returned without mishap, issued a few more. Telling Miss Grimes that the new embassy in Rabat had taken over, he suspended his political reporting and undertook to mail administrative dispatches himself. In this way he avoided the attention of bright-eyed juniors back home. But drunken airmen could still count on the consul’s good offices with the police. He attended meetings of his colleagues and contributed to the purchase of a copper tray for the farewell of the Portuguese consul. He was seen dining at the Mamounia or sipping daiquiris with French cronies in the garden. His Chevrolet, now crumbling toward the local norms of dilapidation, rattled through the streets as usual. In the evening Taibi’s bagpipes skirled in the courtyard, while patient Amina sewed on the consul’s buttons, cooked, and brewed mint tea, and when blue midnight brought a breath of cool air, went up with him to bed.
In Britt’s office Morocco was no longer in my purview, but messages from Arab Africa were still distributed to my desk. I had assumed that Marrakech was a memory and Pomfret a somnolent pensioner, until my attention was galvanized by a spate of cables from Rabat, each more hysterical than the last. The fragments of Stone’s dominion were showering about the ears of the embassy and the department.
When I had pieced these shards together, I saw that it was Cherry Grimes who had been the instrument of Nemesis. Pomfret had gone off to Spain on “leave”; he had signed but forgotten to seal the passport of an airman’s wife. To get at the embossing seal, Cherry had jimmied the lock of his cabinet. When she lifted the apparatus out, she found several documents, including the undelivered announcement of the end of the consul’s exequatur. The date of this instrument must have given her a jolt.
But the telegrams made clear that nothing had happened until several days after Pomfret had returned. Why? I could see only one answer: blackmail. What had Cherry demanded: money? the banishment of Amina? Remembering her behavior during my visit, I was convinced she had set the price of silence even higher: she wanted to become the consul’s wife. How Pomfret must have squirmed! I saw him pacing the Derb, with his Panama pulled over his eyes, his mustache working like a chicken’s rump feathers. What was it to be? Disgrace in Marrakech, criminal proceedings in Washington? Or endless days of let’s-pretend with his accomplice at the office, and endless nights with the brindled pompadour across the table or on the pillow beside his, and at every moment, the resonant baritone in his ears? Decidedly, his secretary was playing for high stakes. Too high finally.
Three days after Stone’s return, Cherry Grimes telephoned to the embassy in Rabat. The first secretary who took the call was an old friend of mine; he told me that he had been at first incredulous, then consternated, and finally rolling with laughter. But the fun stopped short a day later when the Pasha’s police came upon the body of Miss Grimes in the waters of the Menara, She was floating in the shallows facedown and fully clothed. There were no marks of violence.
At the inquest Pomfret provided a moving account of his lonely secretary’s depression after he had told her of the consulate’s closing. The official finding was “Suicide: motive unknown.” The less merciful tongues of the town whispered, quite audibly, that Miss Grimes had been the victim of a crime passionel, and the tabloid sleuths lost no time in casting Pomfret as the Madman of the Mamounia. If my own superego clung loyally to the official version, there were moments when my id circled back to tales of the legendary sultan and the pool of the Menara.
Stone did not return to the Derb-esh-Touareg: the Pasha’s sons expropriated the house for a school of administration. Amina went back to the Quartier Réservé, where the saga of her strange interlude earned her a modest celebrity; and Taibi retired, with stipends from both the American and French governments. Pomfret had forfeited his pension, but a Quaker aunt, thrilled by reports of her Byronic nephew, set up a trust fund that enabled him to finish his days at the Mamounia. His corner of the dining room, like that of Winston Churchill, was the object of awed glances from tourists, who thrilled at the sight of the great bamboozler of governments. The department had a bash at bringing him home, but the Moroccans, many of whom had chalked up records blacker than his in the decade just ending, ruled that forgery and fraud were not extraditable offenses.
When Pomfret died ten years later, the American press tried to revive interest in his exploits with snows-of-yesteryear stories, but like a bonfire on an ice floe, they never took hold.
At about that time I ran into Floyd Britt in The Hague, where I had Pomfret’s old job as counselor. Britt was sitting alone in one of the antechambers of the Congresgebouw: he was attending an earnest if disconsolate conference on civil rights in former colonies. This time he was only an amicus curiae: the first fine careless rapture of the Nation-Builders had begun to peter out in the face of their protégés’ misdeeds in Africa and Asia, and Floy-Floy had retreated to his old booth at the Ford Foundation. His manner to me was both vague and tense.
I bought us a beer, and after he had made a few tender remarks about dissent in North Africa our thoughts inevitably turned to Pomfret Stone.
“A terrible story that,” Britt said. “Of course, Stone was always an oddball. He never belonged to the Service.”
Coming from one whose missions had never carried him far beyond the Plaza of the United Nations, this irritated me. “What makes you think the Service has no place for oddballs?”
He smiled uneasily. I saw that a denture had replaced the diminutive molars of Washington days. “Surely you can’t deny that the fellow was an impostor.”
I looked around the huge hall, at the blank glass bricks and tubular chairs and aseptic carpeting like blotting paper. “There’s more than one kind of fraud,” I said. “After all, Stone had no Bay of Pigs on his conscience; no Lumumba to rationalize; he never led any Hungarians up the garden path.”
“And his secretary?”
“I accept the official verdict. But I thought we were talking about his professional side. He did less harm than lots of others in the government. He served in tougher posts too.”
Britt flushed slightly. He gave me his smoky-blue stare of outraged rectitude. “And do you accept his view of the Third World?”
“Well,” I said, “I’ve begun to wonder whether there is any Third World—or any Second. I run into bow-and-arrow types everywhere nowadays.”
“Surely not here.”
At the next table two florid burghers were puffing complacently on their pipes. “Yes, even here,” I said. “In The Hague, in Washington, in Marrakech. Everywhere.”
His gaze faltered; his feet sought more familiar ground. “I would be grateful,” he said, “if you could just spare a minute to fill me in on current relations between the Dutch and the Indonesians.”