The Razor’s Edge Chapter 1

I DAWDLED OVER MY work in Paris. It was very agreeable in the springtime, with the chestnuts in the Champs Élysées in bloom and the light in the streets so gay. There was pleasure in the air, a light transitory pleasure, sensual without grossness, that made your step more springy and your intelligence more alert. I was happy in the various company of my friends and, my heart filled with amiable memories of the past, I regained in spirit at least something of the glow of youth. I thought I should be a fool to allow work to interfere with a delight in the passing moment that I might never enjoy again so fully.

Isabel, Gray, Larry, and I went for excursions to places of interest within convenient distance. We went to Chantilly and Versailles, to St. Germain and Fontainebleau. Wherever we went, we lunched well and copiously. Gray ate largely to satisfy his enormous frame and was apt to drink a little too much. His health, whether owing to Larry’s treatment or merely to the course of time, was certainly improved. He ceased to have racking headaches and his eyes were losing the look of bewilderment that when first I saw him on coming to Paris had been so distressing. He did not talk much except now and then to tell a long-winded story, but laughed with great loud guffaws at the nonsense Isabel and I talked. He enjoyed himself. Though not amusing, he was so good-humored and so easily pleased that it was impossible not to like him. He was the kind of man with whom one would have hesitated to pass a lonely evening, but with whom one might cheerfully have looked forward to spending six months.

His love for Isabel was a delight to see; he adored her beauty and thought her the most brilliant, fascinating creature in the world; and his devotion, his doglike devotion to Larry was touching. Larry appeared to enjoy himself too; I had a notion that he looked upon this time as a holiday that he was taking from whatever projects he had in mind and was serenely making the most of it. He didn’t talk very much either, but it didn’t matter, his company was sufficient conversation; he was so easy, so pleasantly cheerful that you didn’t ask more of him than what he gave, and I well knew that if the days we spent together were so happy it was due to his being with us. Though he never said a brilliant or a witty thing, we should have been dull without him.

It was on the return from one of these jaunts that I witnessed a scene that somewhat startled me. We had been to Chartres and were on our way back to Paris. Gray was driving and Larry was sitting beside him; Isabel and I were at the back. We were tired after the long day. Larry sat with his arm stretched out along the top of the front seat. His shirt-cuff was pulled back by his position and displayed his slim, strong wrist and the lower part of his brown arm lightly covered with fine hairs. The sun shone goldenly upon them. Something in Isabel’s immobility attracted my attention, and I glanced at her. She was so still you might have thought her hypnotized. Her breath was hurried. Her eyes were fixed on the sinewy wrist with its little golden hairs and on that long, delicate, but powerful hand, and I have never seen on a human countenance such a hungry concupiscence as I saw then on hers. It was a mask of lust. I should never have believed that her beautiful features could assume an expression of such unbridled sensuality. It was animal rather than human. The beauty was stripped from her face; the look upon it made her hideous and frightening. It horribly suggested the bitch in heat and I felt rather sick. She was unconscious of my presence; she was conscious of nothing but the hand, lying along the rim so negligently, that filled her with frantic desire. Then as it were a spasm twitched across her face, she gave a shudder and shutting her eyes sank into the corner of the car.

“Give me a cigarette,” she said in a voice I hardly recognized, it was so raucous.

I got one out of my case and lit it for her. She smoked it greedily. For the rest of the drive she looked out of the window and never said a word.

When we arrived at their house Gray asked Larry to drive me back to my hotel and then take the car to the garage. Larry got into the driver’s seat and I sat myself beside him. As they crossed the pavement Isabel took Gray’s arm and, snuggling up to him, gave him a look which I could not see, but whose sense I could divine. I guessed that he would have a passionate bedfellow that night, but would never know to what prickings of conscience he owed her ardor.

June was approaching its end and I had to get back to the Riviera. Friends of Elliott’s, who were going to America, had lent the Maturins their villa at Dinard and they were going there with the children as soon as their school closed. Larry was staying in Paris to work, but was buying himself a second-hand Citroën and had promised to spend a few days with them in August. On my last night in Paris I asked the three of them to dine with me.

It was on that night that we met Sophie Macdonald.