The Devil Went Down to Georgia and Mabel

Topics: Yangtze River, Burma, East China Sea Pages: 7 (2428 words) Published: December 25, 2012
Somerset Maugham

I was at Pagan1 in Burma2, and from there I took a steamer to Mandalay3. But a couple of days; before I got there, when the boat tied up for the night at a riverside village, I made up my mind to go ashore. The skipper told me that there was a pleasant little club in which I had only to make myself at home; they were quite used to having strangers drop off like that from the steamer, and the secretary was a decent chap; I might even get a game of bridge. I had nothing in the world to do, so I got into one of the bullock-carts that were waiting at the landing stage and was driven to the club. There was a man sitting on the veranda and as I walked up he nodded to me and asked whether I would have a whisky and soda or a gin and bitters4. The possibility that I would have nothing at all did not even occur to him. I chose the longer drink5 and sat down. He was a tall, thin, bronzed man, with a big moustache, and he wore khaki shorts and a khaki shirt. I never knew his name, but when he had been chatting a little while another man came in who told me he was the secretary, and he addressed my friend as George. "Have you heard from6 your wife yet?" he asked.

The other's eyes brightened.
"Yes, I had letters-by this mail. She's having no end of a time." 7 "Did she tell you not to fret?"
George gave a little chuckle, but was I mistaken in thinking that there was in it the shadow of a sob? "In point of fact8 she did. But that's easier said than done. Of course I know she wants a holiday, and I'm glad she should have it, but it's devilish hard on a chap." He turned to me. "You see, this is the first time I've ever been separated from my missus,9 and I'm like a lost dog without her." "How long have you been married?"

"Five minutes."
The secretary of the club laughed.
"Don't be a fool, George. You've been married eight years."
After we had talked for a while, George, looking at his watch, said he must go and change his clothes for dinner10 and left us. The secretary watched him disappear into the night with a smile of not unkindly irony. "We all ask him as much as we can now that he is alone," he told me. "He mopes11 so terribly since his wife went home." "It must be very pleasant for her to know that her husband is as devoted to her as all that."12 "Mabel is a remarkable woman." He called the boy and ordered more drinks. In this hospitable place they did not ask you if you would have anything: they took it for granted.13 Then he settled himself in his long chair14 and lit a cheroot. He told me the story of George and Mabel. They became engaged when he was home on leave; and when he returned to Burma it was arranged that she should join him in six months. But one difficulty cropped up15 after another; Mabel's father died, the war came, George was sent to a district unsuitable for- a white woman; so that in the end it was seven years before she was able to start. He made all arrangements for the marriage, which was to take place on the day of her arrival, and went down to Rangoon16 to meet her. On the morning on which the ship was due he borrowed a motor-car and drove along to the dock. He paced the quay. Then, suddenly, without warning, his nerve failed him.17 He had not seen Mabel for seven years. He had forgotten what she was like. She was a total stranger. He felt a terrible sinking in the pit of his stomach and his knees began to wobble. He couldn't go through with it.18 He must tell Mabel that he was very sorry, but he couldn't, he really couldn't marry her. But how could a man tell a girl a thing like that when she had been .engaged to him for seven years and had come six thousand miles to marry him? He hadn't the nerve for that either. George was seized with the courage of despair. There was a boat on the quay on the very point of starting for Singapore;19 he; wrote a hurried letter to Mabel, and without any luggage, just in the clothes he stood up in, leaped on the boat....
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