The Razor’s Edge Chapter 4

I SAW GRAY AND Isabel next day and told them that I had seen Larry. They were as much surprised as I had been.

“It’ll be wonderful to see him,” said Isabel. “Let’s call him up at once.”

Then I remembered that I hadn’t thought of asking him where he was staying. Isabel gave me hell.

“I’m not sure he’d have told me if I had,” I protested, laughing. “Probably my subconscious had something to do with it. Don’t you remember, he never liked telling people where he lived. It was one of his oddities. He may walk in at any moment.”

“That would be like him,” said Gray. “Even in the old days you could never count on his being where you expected him to be. He was here today and gone tomorrow. You’d see him in a room and think in a moment you’d go and say hello to him and when you turned around he’d disappeared.”

“He always was the most exasperating fellow,” said Isabel. “It’s no good denying that. I suppose we shall just have to wait until it suits him to turn up.”

He didn’t come that day, nor the next, nor the day after. Isabel accused me of having invented the story to annoy. I promised her I hadn’t and sought to give her reasons why he hadn’t shown up. But they were implausible. Within myself I wondered whether on thinking it over he hadn’t made up his mind that he just didn’t want to see Gray and Isabel and had wandered off somewhere or other away from Paris. I had a feeling already that he never took root anywhere, but was always prepared at a moment’s notice, for a reason that seemed good to him or on a whim, to move on.

He came at last. It was a rainy day and Gray hadn’t gone to Mortefontaine. The three of us were together, Isabel and I drinking a cup of tea, Gray sipping a whisky and Perrier, when the butler opened the door and Larry strolled in. Isabel with a cry sprang to her feet and throwing herself into his arms kissed him on both cheeks. Gray, his fat red face redder than ever, warmly wrung his hand.

“Gee, I’m glad to see you, Larry,” he said, his voice choked with emotion.

Isabel bit her lip and I saw she was constraining herself not to cry.

“Have a drink, old man,” said Gray unsteadily.

I was touched by their delight at seeing the wanderer. It must have been pleasant for him to perceive how much he meant to them. He smiled happily. It was plain to me that he was, however, completely self-possessed. He noticed the tea things.

“I’ll have a cup of tea,” he said.

“Oh, gosh, you don’t want tea,” cried Gray. “Let’s have a bottle of champagne.”

“I’d prefer tea,” smiled Larry.

His composure had on the others the effect he may have intended. They calmed down, but looked at him still with fond eyes. I don’t mean to suggest that he responded to their natural exuberance with an ungracious coldness; on the contrary, he was as cordial and charming as one could wish; but I was conscious in his manner of something that I could only describe as remoteness and I wondered what it signified.

“Why didn’t you come and see us at once, you horror?” cried Isabel, with a pretense of indignation. “I’ve been hanging out of the window for the last five days to see you coming and every time the bell rang my heart leapt to my mouth and I had all I could do to swallow it again.”

Larry chuckled.

“Mr. M. told me I looked so tough that your man would never let me through the door. I flew over to London to get some clothes.”

“You needn’t have done that,” I smiled. “You could have got a reach-me-down at the Printemps or the Belle Jardinière.”

“I thought if I was going to do it at all, I’d better do the thing in style. I haven’t bought any European clothes for ten years. I went to your tailor and said I wanted a suit in three days. He said it would take a fortnight, so we compromised on four. I got back from London an hour ago.”

He wore a blue serge that nicely fitted his slim figure, a white shirt with a soft collar, a blue silk tie, and brown shoes. He had had his hair cut short and shaved off the hair on his face. He looked not only neat, but well-groomed. It was a transformation. He was very thin; his cheekbones were more prominent, his temples hollower, and his eyes in the deep sockets larger than I remembered them; but notwithstanding he looked very well; he looked, indeed, with his deeply sunburnt, unlined face, amazingly young. He was a year younger than Gray, they were both in their early thirties, but whereas Gray looked ten years more than his age, Larry looked ten years less. Gray’s movements, owing to his great bulk, were deliberate and rather heavy; but Larry’s were light and easy. His manner was boyish, gay, and debonair, but withal it had a serenity that I was peculiarly conscious of and that I did not recollect in the lad I had known before. And as the conversation proceeded, flowing without difficulty as was natural in old friends with so many common memories, with bits of news about Chicago thrown in by Gray and Isabel, trivial gossip, one thing leading to another, with airy laughter, my impression persisted that in Larry, though his laughter was frank and he listened with evident pleasure to Isabel’s breezy chatter, there was a very singular detachment. I didn’t feel that he was playing a part, he was too natural for that and his sincerity was obvious; I felt that there was something within him, I don’t know whether to call it awareness or a sensibility or a force, that remained strangely aloof.

The children were brought in and made known to Larry, and gave him their polite little knicks. He held out his hand, looking at them with an engaging tenderness in his soft eyes, and they took it, staring at him gravely. Isabel brightly told him they were getting on nicely with their lessons, gave them a cookie each, and sent them away.

“I’ll come and read to you for ten minutes when you’re in bed.”

She did not at that moment want to be interrupted in her pleasure at seeing Larry. The little girls went up to say good night to their father. It was charming to see the love that lit up the red face of that gross man as he took them in his arms and kissed them. No one could help seeing that he proudly adored them and when they were gone he turned to Larry and with a sweet slow smile on his lips said:

“They’re not bad kids, are they?”

Isabel gave him an affectionate glance.

“If I let Gray have his way he’d spoil them to death. He’d let me starve, that great brute would, to feed the children on caviar and pâté de foie gras.”

He looked at her with a smile and said: “You’re a liar and you know it. I worship the ground you tread on.”

There was a responsive smile in Isabel’s eyes. She knew that and was glad of it. A happy couple.

She insisted that we should stay to dinner. I, thinking they would prefer to be by themselves, made excuses, but she would not listen to them.

“I’ll tell Marie to put another carrot in the soup and there’ll be plenty for four. There’s a chicken, and you and Gray can eat the legs while Larry and I eat the wings, and she can make the soufflé large enough for all of us.”

Gray too seemed to want me to stay, so I let myself be persuaded to do what I wanted to.

While we waited Isabel told Larry at length what I had already told him in brief. Though she narrated the lamentable story as gaily as possible Gray’s face assumed an expression of sullen melancholy. She tried to cheer him up.

“Anyhow, it’s all over now. We’ve fallen on our feet and we’ve got the future before us. As soon as things improve, Gray’s going to get a splendid job and make millions.”

Cocktails were brought in and a couple did something to raise the poor fellow’s spirits. I saw that Larry, though he took one, scarcely touched it, and when Gray, unobservant, offered him another he refused. We washed our hands and sat down to dinner. Gray had ordered a bottle of champagne, but when the butler began to fill Larry’s glass he told him he didn’t want any.

“Oh, but you must have some,” cried Isabel. “It’s Uncle Elliott’s best and he only gives it to very special guests.”

“To tell you the truth I prefer water. After having been in the East so long it’s a treat to drink water that’s safe.”

“This is an occasion.”

“All right, I’ll drink a glass.”

The dinner was excellent, but Isabel noticed, as I did too, that Larry ate very little. It struck her, I suppose that she had been doing all the talking and that Larry had had no chance to do more than listen, so now she began to question him on his actions during the ten years since she had seen him. He answered with his cordial frankness, but so vaguely as not to tell us much.

“Oh, I’ve been loafing around, you know. I spent a year in Germany and some time in Spain and Italy. And I knocked about the East for a bit.”

“Where have you just come from now?”


“How long were you there?”

“Five years.”

“Did you have fun?” asked Gray. “Shoot any tigers?”

“No,” Larry smiled.

“What on earth were you doing with yourself in India for five years?” said Isabel.

“Playing about,” he answered, with a smile of kindly mockery.

“What about the Rope Trick?” asked Gray. “Did you see that?”

“No, I didn’t.” “What did you see?”

“A lot.”

I put a question to him then.

“Is it true that the Yogis acquire powers that would seem to us supernatural?”

“I wouldn’t know. All I can tell you is that it’s commonly believed in India. But the wisest don’t attach any importance to powers of that sort; they think they’re apt to hinder spiritual progress. I remember one of them telling me of a Yogi who came to the bank of a river; he hadn’t the money to pay the ferryman to take him across and the ferryman refused to take him for nothing, so he stepped on the water and walked upon its surface to the other side. The Yogi who told me shrugged his shoulders rather scornfully. ‘A miracle like that,’ he said, ‘is worth no more than the penny it would have cost to go on the ferryboat.’ ”

“But d’you think the Yogi really walked over the water?” asked Gray.

“The Yogi who told me believed it implicitly.”

It was a pleasure to hear Larry talk, because he had a wonderfully melodious voice; it was light, rich without being deep, and with a singular variety of tone. We finished dinner and went back to the drawing-room to have our coffee. I had never been to India and was eager to hear more of it.

“Did you come in contact with any writers and thinkers?” I asked.

“I notice that you make a distinction between the two,” said Isabel to tease me.

“I made it my business to,” Larry answered.

“How did you communicate with them? In English?”

“The most interesting, if they spoke at all, didn’t speak it very well and understood less. I learnt Hindustani. And when I went south I picked up enough Tamil to get along pretty well.”

“How many languages d’you know now, Larry?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Half a dozen or so.”

“I want to know more about the Yogis,” said Isabel. “Did you get to know any of them intimately?”

“As intimately as you can know persons who pass the best part of their time in the Infinite,” he smiled. “I spent two years in the Ashrama of one.”

“Two years? What’s an Ashrama?”

“Well, I suppose you might call it a hermitage. There are holy men who live alone, in a temple, in the forest, or on the slopes of the Himalayas. There are others who attract disciples. A charitable person to acquire merit builds a room, large or small, to lodge a Yogi whose piety has impressed him, and the disciples live with him, sleeping on the veranda or in the cookhouse if there is one or under the trees. I had a tiny hut in the compound just big enough for my camp bed, a chair and a table, and a bookshelf.”

“Where was this?” I inquired.

“In Travancore, a beautiful country of green hills and valleys and soft-flowing rivers. Up in the mountains there are tigers, leopards, elephants, and bison, but the Ashrama was on a lagoon and all around it grew coconuts and areca palms. It was three or four miles from the nearest town, but people used to come from there, and even from much farther, on foot or by bullock cart, to hear the Yogi talk when he was inclined to, or just to sit at his feet and share with one another the peace and blessedness that were radiated from his presence as fragrance is wafted upon the air by a tuberose.”

Gray moved uneasily in his chair. I guessed that the conversation was taking a turn that he found uncomfortable.

“Have a drink?” he said to me.

“No, thanks.”

“Well, I’m going to have one. What about you Isabel?”

He raised his great weight from the chair and went over to the table on which stood whisky and Perrier and glasses.

“Were there other white men there?”

“No. I was the only one.”

“How could you stand it for two years?” cried Isabel.

“They passed like a flash. I’ve spent days that seemed to be unconscionably longer.”

“What did you do with yourself all the time?”

“I read. I took long walks. I went out in a boat on the lagoon. I meditated. Meditation is very hard work; after two or three hours of it you’re as exhausted as if you’d driven a car five hundred miles, and all you want to do is to rest.”

Isabel frowned slightly. She was puzzled and I’m not sure that she wasn’t a trifle scared. I think she was beginning to have a notion that the Larry who had entered the room a few hours before, though unchanged in appearance and seemingly as open and friendly as he had ever been, was not the same as the Larry, so candid, easy, and gay, willful to her mind but delightful, that she had known in the past. She had lost him before, and on seeing him again, taking him for the old Larry, she had a feeling that, however altered the circumstances, he was still hers; and now, as though she had sought to catch a sunbeam in her hand and it slipped through her fingers as she grasped it, she was a trifle dismayed. I had looked at her a good deal that evening, which was always a pleasant thing to do, and had seen the fondness in her eyes as they rested on his trim head, with the small ears close to the skull, and how the expression in them changed when they dwelt on his hollow temples and the thinness of his cheek. She glanced at his long lean hands, which notwithstanding their emaciation were strong and virile. Then her gaze lingered on his mobile mouth, well shaped, full without being sensual, and on his serene brow and clean-cut nose. He wore his new clothes not with the bandbox elegance of Elliott, but with a sort of loose carelessness as though he had worn them every day for a year. I felt that he aroused in Isabel motherly instincts I had never felt in her relation with her children. She was an experienced woman; he still looked a boy; and I seemed to read in her air the pride of a mother for her grown-up son because he is talking intelligently and others are listening to him as if he made sense. I don’t think the import of what he said penetrated her consciousness.

But I was not done with my questioning.

“What was your Yogi like?”

“In person, d’you mean? Well, he wasn’t tall, neither thin nor fat, palish brown in color and clean-shaven, with close-cropped white hair. He never wore anything but a loincloth, and yet he managed to look as trim and neat and well dressed as a young man in one of Brooks Brothers’ advertisements.”

“And what had he got that particularly attracted you?”

Larry looked at me for a full minute before answering. His eyes in their deep sockets seemed as though they were trying to pierce to the depths of my soul.


I was slightly disconcerted by his reply. In that room, with its fine furniture, with those lovely drawings on the walls, the word fell like a plop of water that has seeped through the ceiling from an overflowing bath.

“We’ve read all about the saints, St. Francis, St. John of the Cross, but that was hundreds of years ago. I never thought it possible to meet one who was alive now. From the first time I saw him I never doubted that he was a saint. It was a wonderful experience.”

“And what did you gain from it?”

“Peace,” he said casually, with a light smile. Then, abruptly, he rose to his feet. “I must go.”

“Oh, not yet, Larry,” cried Isabel. “It’s quite early.”

“Good night,” he said, smiling still, taking no notice of her expostulation. He kissed her on the cheek. “I’ll see you again in a day or two.”

“Where are you staying? I’ll call you.”

“Oh, don’t bother to do that. You know how difficult it is to get a call through in Paris, and in any case our telephone is generally out of order.”

I laughed inwardly at the neatness with which Larry had got out of giving an address. It was a queer kink of his to make a secret of his abode. I suggested that they should all dine with me next evening but one in the Bois de Boulogne. It was very pleasant in that balmy spring weather to eat out-of-doors, under the trees, and Gray could drive us there in the coupé. I left with Larry and would willingly have walked some way with him, but as we got into the street he shook hands with me and walked quickly off. I got into a taxi.