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Authors: W Somerset Maugham

Short Stories

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W. S

William Somerset Maugham was born in 1874 and lived in Paris until he was ten. He was educated at King's School, Canterbury, and at Heidelberg University. He spent some time at St Thomas' Hospital with the idea of practising medicine, but the success of his first novel,
Liza of Lambeth,
published in 1897, won him over to letters.
Of Human Bondage,
the first of his masterpieces, came out in 1915, and with the publication in 1919 of
The Moon and Sixpence
his reputation as a novelist was established. At the same time his fame as a successful playwright and short story writer was being consolidated with acclaimed productions of various plays and publication of the story
The Trembling of a Leaf,
Little Stories of the South Sea Islands,
in 1921, which was followed by seven more collections. His other works include travel books, essays, criticism, and the autobiographical
The Summing Up
A Writer's Notebook.

In 1927 Somerset Maugham settled in the South of France and lived there until his death in 1965.


Of Human Bondage
The Moon and Sixpence
The Narrow Corner
The Razor's Edge
Cakes and Ale
The Summing Up
Short Stories Vol. 1
Short Stories Vol. 2
Short Stories Vol. 3
Short Stories Vol. 4
Far Eastern Tales
South Sea Tales
For Services Rendered
The Merry-Go-Round
Don Fernando
On a Chinese Screen
The Painted Veil
Up at the Villa
Mrs Craddock
Ten Novels and their Authors
A Writer's Notebook
The Casurina Tree
Christmas Holiday
Liza of Lambeth
The Magician
Points of View
Then and Now
The Vagrant Mood

W. Somerset Maugham


Anthony Curtis

This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

ISBN 9781409079354

Version 1.0

Published by Vintage 1998

13 15 17 19 20 18 16 14

'The Pacific', 'Mackintosh', 'The Fall of Edward Barnard', 'Rain', and
copyright © 1921 by the Royal Literary Fund; 'The Casuarina Tree', 'Before the Party', 'P & O' and 'The Letter', copyright © 1926 by the Royal Literary Fund; 'Sanatorium', 'The Colonel's Lady' and 'The Kite' copyright © 1947 by the Royal Literary Fund; 'The Princess and the Nightingale', copyright © 1930 by the Royal Literary Fund; 'The Round Dozen', 'Jane' and 'The Alien Cor', copyright © 1931 by the Royal Literary Fund; 'The Door of Opportunity', 'The Vessel of Wrath' and 'The Book-Bag' copyright © 1933 by the Royal Literary Fund; 'Sal-vatore' and 'The Judgement Seat' copyright © 1936 by the Royal Literary Fund; 'Gigolo and Gigolette' copyright © 1940 by the Royal Literary fund; 'Daisy' copyright © 1899 by the Royal Literary Fund

The right of Somerset Maugham to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988

This electronic book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

This selection first published in Great Britain by
Reinhardt Books Ltd in 1990

Vintage Books
Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road,
London SW1V 2SA

Addresses for companies within The Random House Group Limited
can be found at:

The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009

A CIP catalogue record for this book
is available from the British Library

ISBN: 9781409079354

Version 1.0

The Pacific

The Pacific is inconstant and uncertain, like the soul of man. Sometimes it is grey like the English Channel off Beachy Head, with a heavy swell, and sometimes it is rough, capped with white crests, and boisterous. It is not so often that it is calm and blue. Then, indeed, the blue is arrogant. The sun shines fiercely from an unclouded sky. The trade wind gets into your blood and you are filled with an impatience for the unknown. The billows, magnificently rolling, stretch widely on all sides of you, and you forget your vanished youth, with its memories, cruel and sweet, in a restless, intolerable desire for life. On such a sea as this Ulysses sailed when he sought the Happy Isles. But there are days also when the Pacific is like a lake. The sea is flat and shining. The flying fish, a gleam of shadow on the brightness of a mirror, make little fountains of sparkling drops when they dip. There are fleecy clouds on the horizon, and at sunset they take strange shapes so that it is impossible not to believe that you see a range of lofty mountains. They are the mountains of the country of your dreams. You sail through an unimaginable silence upon a magic sea. Now and then a few gulls suggest that land is not far off, a forgotten island hidden in a wilderness of waters; but the gulls, the melancholy gulls, are the only sign you have of it. You see never a tramp, with its friendly smoke, no stately bark or trim schooner, not a fishing boat even: it is an empty desert; and presently the emptiness fills you with a vague foreboding.


He splashed about for a few minutes in the sea; it was too shallow to swim in and for fear of sharks he could not go out of his depth; then he got out and went into the bathhouse for a shower. The coldness of the fresh water was grateful after the heavy stickiness of the salt Pacific, so warm, though it was only just after seven, that to bathe in it did not brace you but rather increased your languor; and when he had dried himself, slipping into a bath-gown, he called out to the Chinese cook that he would be ready for breakfast in five minutes. He walked barefoot across the patch of coarse grass which Walker, the administrator, proudly thought was a lawn, to his own quarters and dressed. This did not take long, for he put on nothing but a shirt and a pair of duck trousers and then went over to his chief's house on the other side of the compound. The two men had their meals together, but the Chinese cook told him that Walker had set out on horseback at five and would not be back for another hour.

Mackintosh had slept badly and he looked with distaste at the paw-paw and the eggs and bacon which were set before him. The mosquitoes had been maddening that night; they flew about the net under which he slept in such numbers that their humming, pitiless and menacing, had the effect of a note, infinitely drawn out, played on a distant organ, and whenever he dozed off he awoke with a start in the belief that one had found its way inside his curtains. It was so hot that he lay naked. He turned from side to side. And gradually the dull roar of the breakers on the reef, so unceasing and so regular that generally you did not hear it, grew distinct on his consciousness, its rhythm hammered on his tired nerves and he held himself with clenched hands in the effort to bear it. The thought that nothing could stop that sound, for it would continue to all eternity, was almost impossible to bear, and, as though his strength were a match for the ruthless forces of nature, he had an insane impulse to do some violent thing. He felt he must cling to his self-control or he would go mad. And now, looking out of the window at the lagoon and the strip of foam which marked the reef, he shuddered with hatred of the brilliant scene. The cloudless sky was like an inverted bowl that hemmed it in. He lit his pipe and turned over the pile of Auckland papers that had come over from Apia a few days before. The newest of them was three weeks old. They gave an impression of incredible dullness.

Then he went into the office. It was a large, bare room with two desks in it and a bench along one side. A number of natives were seated on this, and a couple of women. They gossiped while they waited for the administrator, and when Mackintosh came in they greeted him.


He returned their greeting and sat down at his desk. He began to write, working on a report which the governor of Samoa had been clamouring for and which Walker, with his usual dilatoriness, had neglected to prepare. Mackintosh as he made his notes reflected vindictively that Walker was late with his report because he was so illiterate that he had an invincible distaste for anything to do with pens and paper; and now when it was at last ready, concise and neatly official, he would accept his subordinate's work without a word of appreciation, with a sneer rather or a gibe, and send it on to his own superior as though it were his own composition. He could not have written a word of it. Mackintosh thought with rage that if his chief pencilled in some insertion it would be childish in expression and faulty in language. If he remonstrated or sought to put his meaning into an intelligible phrase, Walker would fly into a passion and cry:

'What the hell do I care about grammar? That's what I want to say and that's how I want to say it.'

At last Walker came in. The natives surrounded him as he entered, trying to get his immediate attention, but he turned on them roughly and told them to sit down and hold their tongues. He threatened that if they were not quiet he would have them all turned out and see none of them that day. He nodded to Mackintosh.

'Hullo, Mac; up at last? I don't know how you can waste the best part of the day in bed. You ought to have been up before dawn like me. Lazy beggar.'

He threw himself heavily into his chair and wiped his face with a large bandana.

'By heaven, I've got a thirst.'

He turned to the policeman who stood at the door, a picturesque figure in his white jacket and lava-lava, the loincloth of the Samoan, and told him to bring
bowl stood on the floor in the corner of the room, and the policeman filled a half coconut shell and brought it to Walker. He poured a few drops on the ground, murmured the customary words to the company, and drank with relish. Then he told the policeman to serve the waiting natives, and the shell was handed to each one in order of birth or importance and emptied with the same ceremonies.

Then he set about the day's work. He was a little man, considerably less than of middle height, and enormously stout; he had a large, fleshy face, clean-shaven, with the cheeks hanging on each side in great dew-laps, and three vast chins; his small features were all dissolved in fat; and, but for a crescent of white hair at the back of his head, he was completely bald. He reminded you of Mr Pickwick. He was grotesque, a figure of fun, and yet, strangely enough, not without dignity. His blue eyes, behind large gold-rimmed spectacles, were shrewd and vivacious, and there was a great deal of determination in his face. He was sixty, but his native vitality triumphed over advancing years. Notwithstanding his corpulence his movements were quick, and he walked with a heavy, resolute tread as though he sought to impress his weight upon the earth. He spoke in a loud, gruff voice.

It was two years now since Mackintosh had been appointed Walker's assistant. Walker, who had been for a quarter of a century administrator of Talua, one of the larger islands in the Samoan group, was a man known in person or by report through the length and breadth of the South Seas; and it was with lively curiosity that Mackintosh looked forward to his first meeting with him. For one reason or another he stayed a couple of weeks at Apia before he took up his post and both at Chaplin's hotel and at the English Club he heard innumerable stories about the administrator. He thought now with irony of his interest in them. Since then he had heard them a hundred times from Walker himself. Walker knew that he was a character and, proud of his reputation, deliberately acted up to it. He was jealous of his 'legend' and anxious that you should know the exact details of any of the celebrated stories that were told of him. He was ludicrously angry with anyone who had told them to the stranger incorrectly.

There was a rough cordiality about Walker which Mackintosh at first found not unattractive, and Walker, glad to have a listener to whom all he said was fresh, gave of his best. He was good-humoured, hearty, and considerate. To Mackintosh, who had lived the sheltered life of a government official in London till at the age of thirty-four an attack of pneumonia, leaving him with the threat of tuberculosis, had forced him to seek a post in the Pacific, Walker's existence seemed extraordinarily romantic. The adventure with which he started on his conquest of circumstance was typical of the man. He ran away to sea when he was fifteen and for over a year was employed in shovelling coal on a collier. He was an undersized boy and both men and mates were kind to him, but the captain for some reason conceived a savage dislike of him. He used the lad cruelly so that, beaten and kicked, he often could not sleep for the pain that racked his limbs. He loathed the captain with all his soul. Then he was given a tip for some race and managed to borrow twenty-five pounds from a friend he had picked up in Belfast. He put it on the horse, an outsider, at long odds. He had no means of repaying the money if he lost, but it never occurred to him that he could lose. He felt himself in luck. The horse won and he found himself with something over a thousand pounds in hard cash. Now his chance had come. He found out who was the best solicitor in the town – the collier lay then somewhere on the Irish coast – went to him, and, telling him that he heard the ship was for sale, asked him to arrange the purchase for him. The solicitor was amused at his small client, he was only sixteen and did not look so old, and, moved perhaps by sympathy, promised not only to arrange the matter for him but to see that he made a good bargain. After a little while Walker found himself the owner of the ship. He went back to her and had what he described as the most glorious moment of his life when he gave the skipper notice and told him that he must get off
ship in half an hour. He made the mate captain and sailed on the collier for another nine months, at the end of which he sold her at a profit.

He came out to the islands at the age of twenty-six as a planter. He was one of the few white men settled in Talua at the time of the German occupation and had then already some influence with the natives. The Germans made him administrator, a position which he occupied for twenty years, and when the island was seized by the British he was confirmed in his post. He ruled the island despotically, but with complete success. The prestige of this success was another reason for the interest that Mackintosh took in him.

But the two men were not made to get on. Mackintosh was an ugly man, with ungainly gestures, a tall thin fellow, with a narrow chest and bowed shoulders. He had sallow, sunken cheeks, and his eyes were large and sombre. He was a great reader, and when his books arrived and were unpacked Walker came over to his quarters and looked at them. Then he turned to Mackintosh with a coarse laugh.

'What in Hell have you brought all this muck for?' he asked.

Mackintosh flushed darkly.

'I'm sorry you think it muck. I brought my books because I want to read them.'

'When you said you'd got a lot of books coming I thought there'd be something for me to read. Haven't you got any detective stories?'

'Detective stories don't interest me.'

'You're a damned fool then.'

'I'm content that you should think so.'

Every mail brought Walker a mass of periodical literature,
papers from New Zealand and magazines from America, and it exasperated him
that Mackintosh showed his contempt for these ephemeral publications. He had
no patience with the books that absorbed Mackintosh's leisure and thought
it only a pose that he read Gibbon's
Decline and Fall
or Burton's
of Melancholy.
And since he had never learned to put any restraint on
his tongue, he expressed his opinion of his assistant freely. Mackintosh began
to see the real man, and under the boisterous good-humour he discerned a vulgar
cunning which was hateful; he was vain and domineering, and it was strange
that he had notwithstanding a shyness which made him dislike people who were
not quite of his kidney. He judged others, naively, by their language, and
if it was free from the oaths and the obscenity which made up the greater
part of his own conversation, he looked upon them with suspicion. In the evening
the two men played piquet. He played badly but vaingloriously, crowing over
his opponent when he won and losing his temper when he lost. On rare occasions
a couple of planters or traders would drive over to play bridge, and then
Walker showed himself in what Mackintosh considered a characteristic light.
He played regardless of his partner, calling up in his desire to play the
hand, and argued interminably, beating down opposition by the loudness of
his voice. He constantly revoked, and when he did so said with an ingratiating
whine: 'Oh, you wouldn't count it against an old man who can hardly see.'
Did he know that his opponents thought it as well to keep on the right side
of him and hesitated to insist on the rigour of the game? Mackintosh watched
him with an icy contempt. When the game was over, while they smoked their
pipes and drank whisky, they would begin telling stories. Walker told with
gusto the story of his marriage. He had got so drunk at the wedding feast
that the bride had fled and he had never seen her since. He had had numberless
adventures, commonplace and sordid, with the women of the island and he described
them with a pride in his own prowess which was an offence to Mackintosh's
fastidious ears. He was a gross, sensual old man. He thought Mackintosh a
poor fellow because he would not share his promiscuous amours and remained
sober when the company was drunk.

He despised him also for the orderliness with which he did his official work. Mackintosh liked to do everything just so. His desk was always tidy, his papers were always neatly docketed, he could put his hand on any document that was needed, and he had at his fingers' ends all the regulations that were required for the business of their administration.

'Fudge, fudge,' said Walker. 'I've run this island for twenty years without red tape, and I don't want it now.'

'Does it make it any easier for you that when you want a letter you have to hunt half an hour for it?' answered Mackintosh.

'You're nothing but a damned official. But you're not a bad fellow; when you've been out here a year or two you'll be all right. What's wrong about you is that you won't drink. You wouldn't be a bad sort if you got soused once a week.'

The curious thing was that Walker remained perfectly unconscious of the dislike for him which every month increased in the breast of his subordinate. Although he laughed at him, as he grew accustomed to him, he began almost to like him. He had a certain tolerance for the peculiarities of others, and he accepted Mackintosh as a queer fish. Perhaps he liked him, unconsciously, because he could chaff him. His humour consisted of coarse banter and he wanted a butt. Mackintosh's exactness, his morality, his sobriety, were all fruitful subjects; his Scots name gave an opportunity for the usual jokes about Scotland; he enjoyed himself thoroughly when two or three men were there and he could make them all laugh at the expense of Mackintosh. He would say ridiculous things about him to the natives, and Mackintosh, his knowledge of Samoan still imperfect, would see their unrestrained mirth when Walker had made an obscene reference to him. He smiled good-humouredly.

BOOK: Short Stories
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