Somerset Maugham "Louise"
I could never understand why Louise bothered with me. She disliked me and I knew that behind my back she seldom lost the opportunity of saying a disagreeable thing about me. She had too much delicacy ever to make a direct statement, but with a hint and a sigh and a little gesture of her beautiful hands she was able to make her meaning plain. It was true that we had known one another almost intimately for five and twenty years, but it was impossible for me to believe that this fact meant much to her. She thought me a brutal, cynical and vulgar fellow. I was puzzled at her not leaving me alone.' She did nothing of the kind; indeed, she was constantly asking me to lunch and dine with her and once or twice a year invited me to spend a week-end at her house in the country. Perhaps she knew that I alone saw her face behind the mask and she hoped that sooner or later I too should take the mask for the face. I knew Louise before she married. She was then a frail, delicate girl with large and melancholy eyes. Her father and mother adored and worshipped her, for some illness, scarlet fever I think, had left her with a weak heart and she had to take the greatest care of herself. When Tom Maitland proposed to her they were dismayed, for they were convinced that she was much too delicate for marriage. But they were not too well off and Tom Maitland was rich. He promised to do everything in the world for Louise and finally they entrusted her to him. Tom Maitland was a big strong fellow, very good-looking and a fine athlete. He adored Louise. With her weak heart he could not hope to keep her with him long and he made up his mind to do everything he could to make her few years on earth happy. He gave up the games he played excellently, not because she wished him to, but because it so happened that she always had a heart attack whenever he was going to leave her for a day. If they had a difference of opinion she gave in to him at once for she was the most gentle wife a man could have, but her heart failed her and she would stay in bed, sweet and uncomplaining, for a week. He could not be such a brute as to cross her. On one occasion seeing her walk eight miles on an expedition that she especially wanted to make, I remarked to Tom Maitland that she was stronger than one would have thought. He shook his head and sighed. "No, no, she's dreadfully delicate. She's been to all the best heart specialists in the world and they all say that her life hangs on a thread. But she has a wonderfully strong spirit." He told her that I had remarked on her endurance. "I shall pay for it tomorrow," she said to me in her melancholy way. "I shall be at death's door." "I sometimes think that you're quite strong enough to do the things you want to," I murmured. I had noticed that if a party was amusing she could dance till five in the morning, but if it was dull she felt very poorly' and Tom had to take her home early. I am afraid she did not like my reply, for though she gave me a sad little smile I saw no amusement in her large blue eyes. "You can't expect me to fall down dead just to please you," she answered. Louise outlived her husband. He caught his death of cold one day when they were sailing and Louise needed all the rugs there were to keep her warm. He left her a comfortable fortune and a daughter. Louise was inconsolable. It was wonderful that she managed to survive the shock. Her friends expected her speedily to follow poor Tom Maitland to the grave. Indeed they already felt dreadfully sorry for Iris, her daughter, who would be left an orphan. They redoubled their attentions towards Louise. They would not let her stir a finger; they insisted on doing everything in the world to save her trouble. They had to, because if it was necessary for her to do anything tiresome or unpleasant her heart failed her and she was at death's door. She was quite lost...
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