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Maugham - The escape

 

I have always been convinced that if a woman once made up her mind to marry a mannothing but instant flight could save him. Not always that; for once a friend of mine, seeingthe inevitable loom menacingly before him, took ship from a certain port (with a tooth-brash for all his luggage, so conscious was he of his danger and the necessity forimmediate action) and spent a year travelling round the world; but when, thinking himselfsafe (women are fickle, he said, and in twelve months she will have forgotten all about me),he landed at the selfsame port the first person he saw gaily waving to him from the quaywas the little lady from whom he had fled. I have only once known a man who in suchcircumstances managed to extricate himself. His name was Roger Charing. He was nolonger young when he fell in love with Ruth Barlow and he had had sufficient experience tomake him careful; but Ruth Barlow had a gift (or should I call it a quality? ) that rendersmost men defenceless, and it was this that dispossessed Roger of his commonsense, hisprudence, and his worldly wisdom. He went down like a row of ninepins. This was the giftof pathos. Mrs Barlow, for she was twice a widow, had splendid dark eyes and they werethe most moving I ever saw; they seemed to be ever on the point of filling with tears; theysuggested that the world was too much for her, and you felt that, poor dear, her sufferingshad been more than anyone should be asked to bear. If, like Roger Charing, you were astrong, hefty fellow with plenty of money, it was almost inevitable that you should say toyourself: I must stand between the hazards of life and this helpless little thing, oh, howwonderful it would be to take the sadness put of those big and lovely eyes! I gathered fromRoger that everyone had treated Mrs Barlow very badly. She was apparently one of thoseunfortunate persons with whom nothing by any chance goes right. If she married a husbandhe beat her; if she employed a broker he cheated her; if she engaged a cook she drank.She never had a little lamb but it was sure to die.
When Roger told me that he had at last persuaded her to marry him, I wished him joy.
"I hope you'll be good friends," he said. "She's a little afraid of you, you know; she thinksyou're callous. "
"Upon my word I don't know why she should think that. "
"You do like her, don't you? "
"Very much. "
"She's had a rotten time, poor dear. I feel so dreadfully sorry for her. "
"Yes," I said.
I couldn't say less. I knew she was stupid and I thought she was scheming. My own beliefwas that she was as hard as nails.
The first time I met her we had played bridge together and when she was my partner shetwice tramped my best card. I behaved like an angel, but I confess that I thought if the tearswere going to well up into anybody's eyes they should have been mine rather than hers.And when, having by the end of the evening lost a good deal of money to me, she said shewould send me a cheque and never did, I could not but think that I and not she should haveworn a pathetic expression when next we met.
Roger introduced her to his friends. He gave her lovely jewels. He took her here, there, andeverywhere. Their marriage was announced for the immediate future. Roger was veryhappy. He was committing a good action and at the same time doing something he hadvery much a mind to. It is an uncommon situation and it is not surprising if he was a triflemore pleased with himself than was altogether becoming.
Then, on a sudden, he fell out of love. I do not know why.



It could hardly have been that he grew tired of her conversation, for she had never had anyconversation. Perhaps it was merely that this pathetic look of hers ceased to wring hisheartstrings. His eyes were opened and he was once more the shrewd man of the worldhe had been. He became acutely conscious that Ruth Barlow had made up her mind tomarry him and he swore a solemn oath that nothing would induce him to marry RuthBarlow. But he was in a quandary. Now that he was in possession of his senses he sawwith clearness the sort of woman he had to deal with and he was aware that, if he askedher to release him, she would (in her appealing way)

assess her wounded feelings at an immoderately high figure. Besides, it is alwaysawkward for a man to jilt a woman. People are apt to think he has behaved badly.
Roger kept his own counsel. He gave neither by word nor gesture an indication that hisfeelings towards Ruth Barlow had changed. He remained attentive to all her wishes; hetook her to dine at restaurants, they went to the play together, he sent her flowers; he wassympathetic and charming. They had made up their minds that they would be married assoon as they found a house that suited them, for he lived in chambers and she in furnishedrooms; and they set about looking at desirable residences. The agents sent Roger ordersto view and he took Ruth to see a number of houses. It was very hard to find anything thatwas quite satisfactory. Roger applied to more agents. They visited house after house.They went over them thoroughly, examining them from the cellars in the basement to theattics under the roof. Sometimes they were too large and sometimes they were too small;sometimes they were too far from the centre of things and sometimes they were too close;sometimes they were too expensive and sometimes they wanted too many repairs;sometimes they were too stuffy and sometimes they were too airy; sometimes they weretoo dark and sometimes they were too bleak. Roger always found a fault that made thehouse unsuitable. Of course he was hard to please; he could not bear to ask his dear Ruthto live in any but the perfect house, and the perfect house wanted finding. House-hunting isa tiring and a tiresome business and presendy Ruth began to grow peevish. Rogerbegged her to have patience; somewhere, surely, existed the very house they were lookingfor, and it only needed a little perseverance and they would find it. They looked at hundredsof houses; they climbed thousands of stairs; they inspected innumerable kitchens. Ruthwas exhausted and more than once lost her temper.
"If you don't find a house soon," she said, "I shall have to reconsider my position. Why, ifyou go on like this we shan't be married for years. "
"Don't say that," he answered, "I beseech you to have patience. I've just received someentirely new lists from agents I've only just heard of. There must be at least sixty houses onthem. "
They set out on the chase again. They looked at more houses and more houses. For twoyears they looked at houses. Ruth grew silent and scornful: her pathetic, beautiful eyesacquired an expression that was almost sullen. There are limits to human endurance. MrsBarlow had the patience of an angel, but at last she revolted.
"Do you want to marry me or do you not? " she asked him.
There was an unaccustomed hardness in her voice, but it did not affect the gentleness ofhis reply.
"Of course I do. We'll be married the very moment we find a house. By the way, I've justheard of something that might suit us. ""I don't feel well enough to look at any more houses just yet. "
"Poor dear, I was afraid you were looking rather tired. "
Ruth Barlow took to her bed. She would not see Roger and he had to content himself withcalling at her lodgings to inquire and sending her flowers. He was as ever assiduous andgallant. Every day he wrote and told her that he had heard of another house for them tolook at. A week passed and then he received the following letter:

Roger -
I do not think you really love me. I have found someone who is anxious to take care of meand I am going to be married to him today.
Ruth

He sent back his reply by special messenger:

Ruth-
Your news shatters me. I shall never get over the blow, but of course your happiness mustbe my first consideration. I send you herewith seven orders to view; they arrived by thismorning's post and I am quite sure you will find among them a house that will exactly suityou.
Roger


 

CHAPTER XVIII


Date: 2015-02-16; view: 175


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