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The Razor's Edge  

- W. Somerset Maugham


They enjoyed their lunch like the healthy young things they were and they were happy to be together, Isabel poured out the coffee and Larry lit his pipe.

"Now go right ahead, darling," he said, with an amused smile in his eyes.

Isabel was taken aback.

"Go right ahead about what?" she asked with as innocent a look as she could assume.

He chuckled.

"Do you take me for a perfect fool, honey? If your mother didn't know perfectly well the measurements of the living-room windows I'll eat my hat. That isn't why you asked me to drive you down here."

Recovering her self-assurance, she gave him a brilliant smile.

"It might be that I thought it would be nice if we spent a day together by ourselves."

"It might be, but I don't think it is. My guess is that Uncle Elliott has told you that I've turned down Henry Maturin's offer."

He spoke gaily and lightly and she found it convenient to continue in the same tone.

"Gray must be terribly disappointed. He thought it would be grand to have you in the office. You must get down to work some time, and the longer you leave it the harder it'll be."

He puffed at his pipe and looked at her, tenderly smiling, so that she could not tell if he was serious or not.

"Do you know, I've got an idea that I want to do more with my life than sell bonds."

"All right then. Go into a law office or study medicine."

"No, I don't want to do that either."

"What do you want to do then?"

"Loaf," he replied calmly.

"Oh, Larry, don't be funny. This is desperately serious."

Her voice quivered and her eyes filled with tears.

"Don't cry, darling. I don't want to make you miserable."

He went and sat down beside her and put his arm round her. There was a tenderness in his voice that broke her and she could no longer hold back her tears. But she dried her eyes and forced a smile to her lips.

"It's all very fine to say you don't want to make me miserable. You are making me miserable. You see, I love you."

"I love you too, Isabel."

She sighed deeply. Then she disengaged herself from his arm and drew away from him.

"Let's be sensible. A man must work, Larry. It's a matter of self-respect. This is a young country, and it's a man's duty to take part in its activities. Henry Maturin was saying only the other day that we were beginning an era that would make the achievements of the past look like two bits. He said he could see no limit to our progress and he's convinced that by 1950 we shall be the richest and greatest country in the world. Don't you think that's terribly exciting?"


"There's never been such a chance for a young man. I should have thought you'd be proud to take part in the work that lies before us. It's such a wonderful adventure."

He laughed lightly.

"I dare say you're right. The Armours and the Swifts will pack more and better meat, the McCormicks will make more and better harvesters, and Henry Ford will turn out more and better cars. And everyone'll get richer and richer."

"And why not?"

"As you say, and why not? Money just doesn't happen to interest me."

Isabel giggled.

"Darling, don't talk like a fool. One can't live without money."

"I have a little. That's what gives me the chance to do what I want."


"Yes," he answered, smiling.

"You're making it so difficult for me, Larry,' she sighed.

"I'm sorry. I wouldn't if I could help it."

"You can help it."

He shook his head. He was silent for a while, lost in thought. When at last he spoke it was to say something that startled her.

"The dead look so terribly dead when they're dead."

"What do you mean exactly?" she asked, troubled.

"Just that." He gave her a rueful smile. "You have a lot of time to think when you're up in the air by yourself. You get odd ideas."

"What sort of ideas?"

"Vague," he said, smiling. "Incoherent. Confused."

Isabel thought this over for a while.

"Don't you think if you took a job they might sort themselves out and you'd know where you were?"

"I've thought of that. I had a notion that I might go to work with a carpenter or in a garage."

"Oh, Larry, people would think you were crazy."

"Would that matter?"

"To me, yes."

Once more silence fell upon them. It was she who broke it. She sighed.

"You're so different from what you were before you went out to France."

"That's not strange. A lot happened to me then, you know."

"Such as?"

"Oh, just the ordinary casual run of events. My greatest friend in the air corps was killed saving my life. I didn't find that easy to get over."

"Tell me, Larry."

He looked at her with deep distress in his eyes.

"I'd rather not talk about it. After all, it was only a trivial incident."

Emotional by nature, Isabel's eyes again filled with tears.

"Are you unhappy, darling?"

"No," he answered, smiling. "The only thing that makes me unhappy is that I'm making you unhappy." He took her hand and there was something so friendly in the feel of his strong firm hand against hers, something so intimately affectionate, that she had to bite her lips to prevent herself from crying.

"I don't think I shall ever find peace till I make up my mind about things," he said gravely. He hesitated. "It's very difficult to put into words. The moment you try you feel embarrassed. You say to yourself; 'Who am I that I should bother my head about this, that and the other? Perhaps it's only because I'm a conceited prig. Wouldn't it be better to follow the beaten track and let what's coming to you come?' And then you think of a fellow who an hour before was full of life and fun, and he's lying dead; it's all so cruel and so meaningless. It's hard not to ask yourself what life is all about and whether there's any sense to it or whether it's all a tragic blunder of blind fate."

It was impossible not to be moved when Larry, with that wonderfully melodious voice of his, spoke, haltingly as though he forced himself to say what he would sooner have left unsaid and yet with such an anguished sincerity; and for a while Isabel did not trust herself to speak.

"Would it help you if you went away for a bit?"

She put the question with a sinking heart. He took a long time to answer.

"I think so. You try to be indifferent to public opinion, but it's not easy. When it's antagonistic it arouses antagonism in you and that disturbs you."

"Why don't you go then?"

"Well, on account of you."

"Let's be frank with one another, darling. There's no place for me in your life just now."

"Does that mean you don't want to be engaged to me any more?"

She forced a smile to her trembling lips.

"No, foolish, it means I'm prepared to wait."

"It may be a year. It may be two."

"That's all right. It may be less. Where'd you want to go?"

He looked at her intently as though he were trying to see into her inmost heart. She smiled lightly to hide her deep distress.

"Well, I thought I'd start by going to Paris. I know no one there. There'd be no one to interfere with me. I went to Paris several times on leave. I don't know why, but I've got it into my head that there everything that's muddled in my mind would grow clear. It's a funny place, it gives you the feeling that there you can think out your thoughts to the end without let or hindrance. I think there I may be able to see my way before me."

"And what's to happen if you don't?"

He chuckled.

"Then I shall fall back on my good American horse sense, give it up as a bad job and come back to Chicago and take any work I can get."

About the book:

The Razor's Edge tells the story of Larry Darrell, an American pilot traumatised by his experiences in World War I, who sets off in search of some transcendent meaning in his life. The story begins through the eyes of Larry's friends and acquaintances as they witness his personality change after the War.

An acclaimed (and probably the best) British writer, Maugham gently coaxs and soothes the writer with his clear, succinct, and stupendously amazing prose, and makes the reader heave a sigh of contentment and happiness after every page.

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