William Somerset MAUGHAM
The Facts of Life
It was Henry Garnet's habit on leaving the city of an afternoon to drop in at his club and play bridge before going home to dinner. He was a pleasant man to play with. He knew the game well and you could be sure that he would make the best of his cards. He was a good loser; and when he won was more inclined to ascribe his success to his luck than to his skill. He was indulgent, and if his partner made a mistake could be trusted to find an excuse for him. It was surprising then on this occasion to hear him telling his partner with unnecessary sharpness that he had never seen a hand worse played; and it was more surprising still to see him not only make a grave error himself, an error of which you would never have thought him capable, but when his partner, not unwilling to get a little of his own back, pointed it out, insist against all reason and with considerable heat that he was perfectly right. But they were all old friends, the men he was playing with, and none of them took his ill-humour very seriously. Henry Garnet was a broker, a partner in a firm of repute, and it occurred to one of them that something had gone wrong with some stock he was interested in. - How's the market today? - he asked.
- Booming. Even the suckers are making money.
It was evident that stocks and shares had nothing to do with Henry Garnet's vexation; but something was the matter; that was evident too. He was a hearty fellow, who enjoyed excellent health; he had plenty of money; he was fond of his wife, and devoted to his children. As a rule he had high spirits, and he laughed easily at the nonsense they were apt to talk while they played; but today he sat glum and silent. His brows were crossly puckered and there was a sulky look about his mouth. Presently, to ease the tension, one of the others mentioned a subject upon which they all knew Henry Garnet was glad to speak. - How's your boy, Henry? I see he's done pretty well in the tournament. Henry Garnet's frown grew darker.
- He's done no better than I expected him to.
- When does he come back from Monte?
- He got back last night.
- Did he enjoy himself?
- I suppose so; all I know is that he made a damned fool of himself. - Oh. How?
- I'd lather not talk about it if you don't mind.
The three men looked at him with curiosity. Henry Garnet scowled at the green baize. - Sorry, old boy. Your call.
The game proceeded in a strained silence. Garnet got his bid, and when he played his cards so badly that he went three down not a word was said. Another rubber was begun and in the second game Garnet denied a suit. Garnet's irritability was such that he did not even reply, and when at the end of the hand it appeared that he had revoked and that his revoke cost the robber, it was not to be expected that his partner should let his carelessness go without remark. -- What the devil's the matter with you, Henry? - he said. - You're playing like a fool. Garnet was disconcerted. He did not so much mind losing a big rubber himself, but he was sore that his inattention should have made his partner lose too. He pulled himself together. - I'd better not play any more. I thought a few rubbers would calm me, but the fact is I can't give my mind to the game. To tell you the truth, I'm in a hell of a temper. They all burst out laughing.
- You don't have to tell us that, old boy. It's obvious.
Garnet gave them a rueful smile.
- Well, I bet you'd be in a temper if what's happened to me had happened to you. As a matter of fact, I'm in a damned awkward situation, and if any of you fellows can give me any advice how to deal with it I'd be grateful. - Let's have a drink and you tell us all about it. With a K.C., a Home Office official and an eminent surgeon - if we can't tell you how to deal with a situation, nobody can. The K.C. got up and rang the bell for a waiter.
- It's about that damned boy of mine, - said Henry Garnet.
Drinks were ordered and brought. And...
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