The Razor’s Edge Chapter 5

WE HAD ARRANGED to meet at the apartment and have a cocktail before starting. I arrived before Larry. I was taking them to a very smart restaurant and expected to find Isabel arrayed for the occasion; with all the women dressed to the nines I was confident she would not wish to be outshone. But she had on a plain woolen frock.

“Gray’s got one of his headaches,” she said. “He’s in agony. I can’t possibly leave him. I told the cook she could go out when she’d given the children their supper and I must make something for him myself and try to get him to take it. You and Larry had better go alone.”

“Is Gray in bed?”

“No, he won’t ever go to bed when he has his headaches. God knows, it’s the only place for him, but he won’t. He’s in the library.”

This was a little paneled room, brown and gold, that Elliott had found in an old château. The books were protected from anyone who wanted to read them by gilt latticework, and locked up, but this was perhaps as well, as they consisted for the most part of illustrated pornographic works of the eighteenth century. In their contemporary morocco, however, they made a very pretty effect. Isabel led me in. Gray was sitting humped up in a big leather chair, with picture papers scattered on the floor beside him. His eyes were closed and his usually red face had a gray pallor. It was evident that he was in great pain. He tried to get up, but I stopped him.

“Have you given him any aspirin?” I asked Isabel.

“That never does any good. I have an American prescription, but that doesn’t help either.”

“Oh, don’t bother, darling,” said Gray. “I shall be all right tomorrow.” He tried to smile. “I’m sorry to make such a nuisance of myself,” he said to me. “You all go out to the Bois.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” said Isabel. “D’you think I should enjoy myself when I knew you were suffering the tortures of the damned?”

“Poor slut, I think she loves me,” said Gray, his eyes closed.

Then his face was suddenly contorted and you could almost see the lancinating pain that pierced his head. The door was softly opened and Larry stepped in. Isabel told him what was the matter.

“Oh, I am sorry,” he said, giving Gray a look of commiseration. “Isn’t there anything one can do to relieve him?”

“Nothing,” said Gray, his eyes still closed. “The only thing you can any of you do for me is to leave me alone; go off and have a good time by yourselves.”

I thought myself that was the only sensible course to take, but I didn’t suppose Isabel could square it with her conscience.

“Will you let me see if I can help you?” asked Larry.

“No one can help me,” said Gray wearily. “It’s just killing me and sometimes I wish to God it would.”

“I was wrong in saying that perhaps I could help you. What I meant was that perhaps I could help you to help yourself.”

Gray slowly opened his eyes and looked at Larry.

“How can you do that?”

Larry took what looked like a silver coin out of his pocket and put it in Gray’s hand.

“Close your fingers on it tightly and hold your hand palm downward. Don’t fight against me. Make no effort, but hold the coin in your clenched fist. Before I count twenty your hand will open and the coin will drop out of it.”

Gray did as he was told. Larry seated himself at the writing-table and began to count. Isabel and I remained standing. One, two, three, four. Till he got up to fifteen there was no movement in Gray’s hand, then it seemed to tremble a little and I had the impression, I can hardly say I saw, that the clenched fingers were loosening. The thumb moved away from the fist. I distinctly saw the fingers quiver. When Larry reached nineteen the coin fell out of Gray’s hand and rolled to my feet. I picked it up and looked at it. It was heavy and misshapen, and in bold relief on one side of it was a youthful head which I recognized as that of Alexander the Great. Gray stared at his hand with perplexity.

“I didn’t let the coin drop,” he said. “It fell of itself.”

He was sitting with his right arm resting on the arm of the leather chair.

“Are you quite comfortable in that chair?” asked Larry.

“As comfortable as I can be when my head’s giving me hell.”

“Well, let yourself go quite slack. Take it easy. Do nothing. Don’t resist. Before I count twenty your right arm will rise from the arm of the chair until your hand is above your head. One, two, three, four.”

He spoke the numbers slowly in that silver-toned, melodious voice of his, and when he had reached nine we saw Gray’s hand rise, only just perceptibly, from the leather surface on which it rested until it was perhaps an inch above it. It stopped for a second.

“Ten, eleven, twelve.”

There was a little jerk and then slowly the whole arm began to move upward. It wasn’t resting on the chair any more. Isabel, a little scared, took hold of my hand. It was a curious effect. It had no likeness to a voluntary movement. I’ve never seen a man walking in his sleep, but I can imagine that he would move in just the same strange way that Gray’s arm moved. It didn’t look as though the will were the motive power. I should have thought it would be hard to raise the arm so slowly and so evenly by a conscious effort. It gave the impression that a subconscious force, independent of the mind, was raising it. It was the same sort of movement as that of a piston moving very slowly back and forth in a cylinder.

“Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen.”

The words fell, slow, slow, slow, like drops of water in a basin from a defective tap. Gray’s arm rose, rose, till his hand was above his head, and as Larry reached the number he had said it fell of its own weight on to the arm of the chair.

“I didn’t lift my arm,” said Gray. “I couldn’t help its rising like that. It did it of its own accord.”

Larry faintly smiled.

“It’s of no consequence. I thought it might give you confidence in me. Where’s that Greek coin?”

I gave it to him.

“Hold it in your hand.” Gray took it. Larry glanced at his watch. “It’s thirteen minutes past eight. In sixty seconds your eyelids will grow so heavy that you’ll be obliged to close them and then you’ll sleep. You’ll sleep for six minutes. At eight-twenty you’ll wake and you’ll have no more pain.”

Neither Isabel nor I spoke. Our eyes were on Larry. He said nothing more. He fixed his gaze on Gray, but did not seem to look at him; he seemed rather to look through and beyond him. There was something eerie in the silence that fell upon us; it was like the silence of flowers in a garden at nightfall. Suddenly I felt Isabel’s hand tighten. I glanced at Gray. His eyes were closed. He was breathing easily and regularly; he was asleep. We stood there for a time that seemed interminable. I badly wanted a cigarette, but did not like to light one. Larry was motionless. His eyes looked into I knew not what distance. Except that they were open he might have been in a trance. Suddenly he appeared to relax; his eyes took on their normal expression and he looked at his watch. As he did so, Gray opened his eyes.

“Gosh,” he said, “I believe I dropped off to sleep.” Then he started. I noticed that his face had lost its ghastly pallor. “My headache’s gone.”

“That’s fine,” said Larry. “Have a cigarette and then we’ll all go out to dinner.”

“It’s a miracle. I feel perfectly swell. How did you do it?”

“I didn’t do it. You did it yourself.”

Isabel went to change and meanwhile Gray and I drank a cocktail. Though it was plain that Larry did not wish it, Gray insisted on talking of what had just happened. He couldn’t make it out at all.

“I didn’t believe you could do a thing, you know,” he said. “I just gave in because I felt too lousy to argue.”

He went on to describe the onset of his headaches, the anguish he endured, and the wreck he was when the attack subsided. He could not understand how it was that just then he felt his usual robust self. Isabel came back. She was wearing a dress I had not seen before; it reached to the ground, a white sheath of what I think is called marocain, with a flare of black tulle, and I could not but think she would be a credit to us.

It was very gay at the Château de Madrid and we were in high spirits. Larry talked amusing nonsense in a way I had not heard him do before and he made us laugh. I had a notion he was doing this with the idea of diverting our minds from the exhibition of his unexpected power. But Isabel was a determined woman. She was prepared to play ball with him as long as it suited her convenience, but she did not lose sight of her desire to satisfy her curiosity. When we had finished dinner and were drinking coffee and liqueurs and she might well have supposed that the good food, the one glass of wine he drank, and the friendly talk had weakened his defenses she fixed her bright eyes on Larry.

“Now tell us how you cured Gray’s headache.”

“You saw for yourself,” he answered, smiling.

“Did you learn to do that sort of thing in India?”


“He suffers agonies. D’you think you could cure him permanently?”

“I don’t know. I might be able to.”

“It would make a difference to his whole life. He couldn’t expect to hold a decent job when he may be incapacitated for forty-eight hours. He’ll never be happy until he’s at work again.”

“I can’t work miracles, you know.”

“But it was a miracle. I saw it with my own eyes.”

“No, it wasn’t. I merely put an idea in old Gray’s head and he did the rest himself.” He turned to Gray. “What are you doing tomorrow?”

“Playing golf.”

“I’ll look in at six and we’ll have a talk.” Then, giving Isabel his winning smile: “I haven’t danced with you for ten years, Isabel. Would you care to see if I still know how to?”