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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMoon And Sixpence - Chapter 11
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Moon And Sixpence - Chapter 11 Post by :MediaCow Category :Long Stories Author :W. Somerset Maugham Date :March 2011 Read :1818

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Moon And Sixpence - Chapter 11

During the journey I thought over my errand with misgiving.
Now that I was free from the spectacle of Mrs. Strickland's
distress I could consider the matter more calmly. I was
puzzled by the contradictions that I saw in her behaviour.
She was very unhappy, but to excite my sympathy she was able
to make a show of her unhappiness. It was evident that she
had been prepared to weep, for she had provided herself with a
sufficiency of handkerchiefs; I admired her forethought, but
in retrospect it made her tears perhaps less moving. I could
not decide whether she desired the return of her husband
because she loved him, or because she dreaded the tongue of
scandal; and I was perturbed by the suspicion that the anguish
of love contemned was alloyed in her broken heart with the
pangs, sordid to my young mind, of wounded vanity. I had not
yet learnt how contradictory is human nature; I did not know
how much pose there is in the sincere, how much baseness in
the noble, nor how much goodness in the reprobate.

But there was something of an adventure in my trip, and my
spirits rose as I approached Paris. I saw myself, too, from
the dramatic standpoint, and I was pleased with my role of the
trusted friend bringing back the errant husband to his
forgiving wife. I made up my mind to see Strickland the
following evening, for I felt instinctively that the hour must
be chosen with delicacy. An appeal to the emotions is little
likely to be effectual before luncheon. My own thoughts were
then constantly occupied with love, but I never could imagine
connubial bliss till after tea.

I enquired at my hotel for that in which Charles Strickland
was living. It was called the Hotel des Belges. But the
concierge, somewhat to my surprise, had never heard of it.
I had understood from Mrs. Strickland that it was a large and
sumptuous place at the back of the Rue de Rivoli. We looked
it out in the directory. The only hotel of that name was in
the Rue des Moines. The quarter was not fashionable; it was
not even respectable. I shook my head.

"I'm sure that's not it," I said.

The concierge shrugged his shoulders. There was no other
hotel of that name in Paris. It occurred to me that
Strickland had concealed his address, after all. In giving
his partner the one I knew he was perhaps playing a trick on him.
I do not know why I had an inkling that it would appeal
to Strickland's sense of humour to bring a furious stockbroker
over to Paris on a fool's errand to an ill-famed house in a
mean street. Still, I thought I had better go and see.
Next day about six o'clock I took a cab to the Rue des Moines,
but dismissed it at the corner, since I preferred to walk to the
hotel and look at it before I went in. It was a street of
small shops subservient to the needs of poor people, and about
the middle of it, on the left as I walked down, was the Hotel
des Belges. My own hotel was modest enough, but it was
magnificent in comparison with this. It was a tall, shabby
building, that cannot have been painted for years, and it had
so bedraggled an air that the houses on each side of it looked
neat and clean. The dirty windows were all shut. It was not
here that Charles Strickland lived in guilty splendour with
the unknown charmer for whose sake he had abandoned honour and duty.
I was vexed, for I felt that I had been made a fool of,
and I nearly turned away without making an enquiry. I went in
only to be able to tell Mrs. Strickland that I had done my best.

The door was at the side of a shop. It stood open, and just
within was a sign: Bureau au premier. I walked up narrow
stairs, and on the landing found a sort of box, glassed in,
within which were a desk and a couple of chairs. There was a
bench outside, on which it might be presumed the night porter
passed uneasy nights. There was no one about, but under an
electric bell was written Garcon. I rang, and presently a
waiter appeared. He was a young man with furtive eyes and a
sullen look. He was in shirt-sleeves and carpet slippers.

I do not know why I made my enquiry as casual as possible.

"Does Mr. Strickland live here by any chance?" I asked.

"Number thirty-two. On the sixth floor."

I was so surprised that for a moment I did not answer.

"Is he in?"

The waiter looked at a board in the bureau.

"He hasn't left his key. Go up and you'll see."

I thought it as well to put one more question.

"Madame est la?"

"Monsieur est seul."

The waiter looked at me suspiciously as I made my way upstairs.
They were dark and airless. There was a foul and
musty smell. Three flights up a Woman in a dressing-gown,
with touzled hair, opened a door and looked at me silently as
I passed. At length I reached the sixth floor, and knocked at
the door numbered thirty-two. There was a sound within, and
the door was partly opened. Charles Strickland stood before me.
He uttered not a word. He evidently did not know me.

I told him my name. I tried my best to assume an airy manner.

"You don't remember me. I had the pleasure of dining with you
last July."

"Come in," he said cheerily. "I'm delighted to see you.
Take a pew."

I entered. It was a very small room, overcrowded with
furniture of the style which the French know as Louis
Philippe. There was a large wooden bedstead on which was a
billowing red eiderdown, and there was a large wardrobe,
a round table, a very small washstand, and two stuffed chairs
covered with red rep. Everything was dirty and shabby.
There was no sign of the abandoned luxury that Colonel MacAndrew
had so confidently described. Strickland threw on the floor the
clothes that burdened one of the chairs, and I sat down on it.

"What can I do for you?" he asked.

In that small room he seemed even bigger than I remembered him.
He wore an old Norfolk jacket, and he had not shaved for
several days. When last I saw him he was spruce enough,
but he looked ill at ease: now, untidy and ill-kempt,
he looked perfectly at home. I did not know how he would
take the remark I had prepared.

"I've come to see you on behalf of your wife."

"I was just going out to have a drink before dinner.
You'd better come too. Do you like absinthe?"

"I can drink it."

"Come on, then."

He put on a bowler hat much in need of brushing.

"We might dine together. You owe me a dinner, you know."

"Certainly. Are you alone?"

I flattered myself that I had got in that important question
very naturally.

"Oh yes. In point of fact I've not spoken to a soul for three days.
My French isn't exactly brilliant."

I wondered as I preceded him downstairs what had happened to
the little lady in the tea-shop. Had they quarrelled already,
or was his infatuation passed? It seemed hardly likely if,
as appeared, he had been taking steps for a year to make his
desperate plunge. We walked to the Avenue de Clichy, and sat
down at one of the tables on the pavement of a large cafe.

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The Avenue de Clichy was crowded at that hour, and a livelyfancy might see in the passers-by the personages of many asordid romance. There were clerks and shopgirls; old fellowswho might have stepped out of the pages of Honore de Balzac;members, male and female, of the professions which make theirprofit of the frailties of mankind. There is in the streetsof the poorer quarters of Paris a thronging vitality whichexcites the blood and prepares the soul for the unexpected."Do you know Paris well?" I asked."No. We came on our honeymoon. I haven't been since.""How on earth did you
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A day or two later Mrs. Strickland sent me round a note askingif I could go and see her that evening after dinner. I foundher alone. Her black dress, simple to austerity, suggestedher bereaved condition, and I was innocently astonished thatnotwithstanding a real emotion she was able to dress the partshe had to play according to her notions of seemliness."You said that if I wanted you to do anything you wouldn'tmind doing it," she remarked."It was quite true.""Will you go over to Paris and see Charlie?""I?"I was taken aback. I reflected that I had only seen him once.I
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