The Razor’s Edge Chapter 1

I DID NOT see Elliott till he came to London toward the end of June in the following year. I asked him whether Larry had after all gone to Paris. He had. I was faintly amused at Elliott’s exasperation with him.

“I had a kind of sneaking sympathy for the boy. I couldn’t blame him for wanting to spend a couple of years in Paris and I was prepared to launch him. I told him to let me know the moment he arrived, but it was only when Louisa wrote and told me he was there that I knew he’d come. I wrote to him care of the American Express, which was the address she gave me, and asked him to come and dine to meet some of the people I thought he ought to know; I thought I’d try him out first with the Franco-American set, Emily de Montadour and Gracie de Château-Gaillard and so on, and d’you know what he answered? He said he was sorry he couldn’t come, but he hadn’t brought any evening clothes with him.”

Elliott looked me full in the face to see the stupefaction with which he expected this communication to fill me. He raised a supercilious eyebrow when he observed that I took it with calm.

“He replied to my letter on a sheet of nasty paper with the heading of a café in the Latin Quarter and when I wrote back I asked him to let me know where he was staying. I felt I must do something about him for Isabel’s sake, and I thought perhaps he was shy—I mean I couldn’t believe that any young fellow in his senses could come to Paris without evening clothes, and in any case there are tolerable tailors there, so I asked him to lunch and said it would be quite a small party, and would you believe it, not only did he ignore my request to give me some other address than the American Express, but he said he never ate luncheon. That finished him as far as I was concerned.”

“I wonder what he’s been doing with himself?”

“I don’t know, and to tell you the truth I don’t care. I’m afraid he’s a thoroughly undesirable young man and I think it would be a great mistake for Isabel to marry him. After all, if he led a normal sort of life I’d have run across him at the Ritz bar or at Fouquet’s or somewhere.”

I go sometimes to these fashionable places myself, but I go to others also, and it happened that I spent several days in Paris early in the autumn of that year on my way to Marseilles, where I was proposing to take one of the Messagerie ships for Singapore. I dined one evening with friends in Montparnasse and after dinner we went to the Dôme to drink a glass of beer. Presently my wandering eye caught sight of Larry sitting by himself at a little marble-topped table on the crowded terrace. He was looking idly at the people who strolled up and down enjoying the coolness of the night after a sultry day. I left my party and went up to him. His face lit up when he saw me and he gave me an engaging smile. He asked me to sit down, but I said I couldn’t as I was with a party.

“I just wanted to say how d’you do to you,” I said.

“Are you staying here?” he asked.

“Only for a very few days.”

“Will you lunch with me tomorrow?”

“I thought you never lunched.”

He chuckled.

“You’ve seen Elliott. I don’t generally. I can’t afford the time, I just have a glass of milk and a brioche, but I’d like you to lunch with me.”

“All right.”

We arranged to meet at the Dôme next day to have an apértif and eat at some place on the boulevard. I rejoined my friends. We sat on talking. When next I looked for Larry he had gone.