The Razor’s Edge Chapter 4

“I SETTLED DOWN IN Paris for the rest of the winter. I knew nothing of science, and I thought the time had come when I must acquire at least a nodding acquaintance with it. I read a lot. I don’t know that I learnt much except that my ignorance was abysmal. But I knew that before. When the spring came I went to the country and stayed at a little inn on a river near one of those beautiful old French towns where life doesn’t seem to have moved for two hundred years.”

I guessed that this was the summer Larry had spent with Suzanne Rouvier, but I did not interrupt him.

“After that I went to Spain. I wanted to see Velasquez and El Greco. I wondered if art could point out the way to me that religion hadn’t. I wandered about a bit and then came to Seville. I liked it and thought I’d spend the winter there.”

I had myself been to Seville when I was twenty-three and I, too, had liked it. I liked its white, tortuous streets, its cathedral, and the wide-spreading plain of the Guadalquivir; but I liked also those Andalusian girls with their grace and their gaiety, with their dark shining eyes, the carnations in their hair stressing its blackness and by the contrast itself more vivid; I liked the rich color of their skins and the inviting sensuality of their lips. Then indeed to be young was very like heaven. When Larry went there he was only a little older than I had been and I could not but ask myself whether it was possible that he had remained indifferent to the lure of those enchanting creatures. He answered my unspoken question.

“I ran across a French painter I’d known in Paris, a fellow called Auguste Cottet, who’d kept Suzanne Rouvier at one time. He’d come to Seville to paint and was living with a girl he’d picked up there. He asked me to go with them one evening to Eretania to listen to a flamenco singer and they brought along with them a friend of hers. She was the prettiest little thing you ever saw. She was only eighteen. She’d got into trouble with a boy and had had to leave her native village because she was going to have a baby. The boy was doing his military service. After she had the baby she put it out to nurse and got a job in the tobacco factory. I took her home with me. She was very gay and very sweet, and after a few days I asked her if she’d like to come and live with me. She said she would, so we took a couple of rooms in a casa de huéspedes, a bedroom and a sitting-room. I told her she could leave her job, but she didn’t want to, and that suited me because it left me my days to myself. We had the run of the kitchen, so she used to make my breakfast for me before she went to work and then at midday she’d come back and cook the lunch and in the evening we’d dine at a restaurant and go to a movie or to some place to dance. She looked upon me as a lunatic because I had a rubber bath and insisted on having a cold sponge every morning. The baby was farmed out in a village a few miles from Seville and we used to go and see it on Sundays. She made no secret of the fact that she was living with me to make enough money to furnish the lodging in a tenement they were going to take when her boy friend was through with his military service. She was a dear little thing and I’m sure she’s made her Paco a good wife. She was cheerful, good-tempered, and affectionate. She looked upon what you delicately call sexual congress as a natural function of the body like any other. She took pleasure in it and she was happy to give pleasure. She was of course a little animal, but a very nice, attractive, domesticated animal.

“Then one evening she told me that she’d had a letter from Paco in Spanish Morocco, where he was doing his service, to say that he was to be released and would arrive in Cadiz in a couple of days. She packed her belongings next morning and slipped her money in her stocking and I took her to the station. She gave me a hearty kiss as I put her into the railway carriage, but she was too excited at the thought of seeing her lover again to have a thought for me and I’m sure that before the train was out of the station she’d forgotten my existence.

“I stayed on in Seville and in the fall I set out on the journey that landed me in India.”