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A Lion's Skin

W.S. Maugham


A good many people were shocked when they read that Captain Forestier had met his death in a fire trying to save his wife's dog, which had been accidentally shut up in the house. Some said they never knew he had it in him; others said it was exactly what they would have expected him to do. After the tragic occurrence Mrs. Forestier found shelter in the villa of some people called Hardy, their neighbours.

Mrs. Forestier was a very nice woman. But she was neither charming, beautiful nor intelligent; on the contrary she was absurd and foolish; yet the more you knew her, the more you liked her. She was a tender, romantic and idealistic soul. But it took you some time to discover it. During the war she in 1916 joined a hospital unit. There she met her future husband Captain Forestier. This is what she told me about their courtship'. "It was a case of love at first sight. He was the most handsome man I'd ever seen in my life. But he wasn't wounded. You know, it's a most extraordinary thing, he went all through the war, he risked his life twenty times a day, but he never even got a scrateh. It was because of carbuncles' that he was put into hospital."

It seemed quite an unromantic thing on which to start a passionate attachment, but after 16 years of marriage Mrs. Forestier still adored her husband. When they were married Mrs. Forestier's relations, hard-bitten Western people, had suggested that her husband should go to work rather than live on her money (and she had a nice sum of money on her account before the marriage), and Captain Forestier was all for it. The only stipulation he made was this: "There are some things a gentleman can't do, Eleanor. If one is a sahib one can't help it, one does owe something to his class."

Eleanor was too proud of him to let it be said that he was a fortune-hunter who had married her for her money and she made up her mind not to object if he found a job worth his while. Unfortunately, the only jobs that offered were not very important and gradually the idea of his working was dropped.

The Forestiers lived most of the year in their villa and shortly before the accident they made acquaintance of the people called Hardy who lived next door. It turned out that Mr. Hardy had met Mr. Forestier before, in India. But Mr. Forestier was not a gentle- man then, he was a car-washer in a garage. He was young then and full of hopes. He saw rich people in a smart club with their ease, their casual manner and it filled him with admiration and envy. He wanted to be like them. He wanted it was grotesque and pathetic he wanted to be a GENTLEMAN. The war gavehim a chance. Eleanor's money provided the means'. They got married and he became a "sahib".

But everything ended very tragically.

Once the Forestiers' villa caught fire. The Forestiers were out. When they arrived it was already too late to do anything about it. Their neighbours, the Hardies saved whatever they could, but it wasn't much. They had nothing left to do but stand and look at the roaring flames. Suddenly Eleanor cried: "God! My little dog, it's there in the fire!"

Forestier turned round and started to run to the house. Hardy caught him by the arm. "What are you doing? The house is on fire!" Forestier shook him off. "Let me go. I'll show you how a gentleman behaves!"

It was more than an hour later that they were able to get at him. They found him lying on the landing, dead, with the dead dog in his arms. Hardy looked at him for a long time before speaking. "You fool," he muttered between his teeth, angrily. "You damnedf ool!"

Bob Forestier had pretended for so many years to be a gentleman that in the end, forgetting that it was all a fake, he found himself driven to act as in that stupid, conventional brain of his he thought a gentle- man must act.

Mrs. Forestier was convinced to her dying day that her husband had been a very gallant' gentleman.



Date: 2015-01-11; view: 2394

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