/*bootstrap*/ My Maugham Collection Concordance Library: A Woman Who Wouldn't Quit (1942)
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A Woman Who Wouldn't Quit (1942)

Short Stories >

She smiled at her own silliness. She hadn't done such a thing since she was a girl at school; then too she had crossed off the dates on a calendar, day after day, as the holidays drew near.

And now she put the calendar back on her desk; every day since the beginning of the month she had crossed off a date and now there were only thirteen to go, and then they would be going home. Home to England, and for good and all this time, after thirty years on the Malay States. She was so terribly homesick. She longed for the grey skies of England and the harsh winds of the moors and the bluster of the North Sea. They got leave only every five years, she and her husband, Dr Farley, and the few months in England were pitifully short. She longed for her children. Because children grow sickly in the East, they had left them at home when the eldest was only nine; they were grown up now and almost strangers to her.

And then there was her own health. She hadn't wanted to bother her husband about it -- he had enough sick people on his hands without her -- so she had taken advantage of a visit to Singapore to see a doctor there. He had told her there was nothing seriously the matter with her; it was only that she was worn out by all those years in the tropics; she had come to the end of her tether and must go home. The air of her native Yorkshire would soon put her to rights. "You're going soon, aren't you?" he asked.

"In a couple of months," she smiled.

"That's good. I don't mind telling you that another year in this climate would just about finish you. But go to England and lead a quiet life and you're good for another twenty years."

Only thirteen days more.

Jim was late for dinner. She hoped it was only an interminable rubber at the club that was keeping him and not some case to which he had been suddenly called. She made up her mind to wait until nine. But just then she heard his car drvie up. He came up the steps on to the veranda -- a big, bluff, handsome man with clear blue eyes and a thatch of curling grey hair.

He had immense vitality, and patients always said that he had only to come into the sickroom to make them feel better. It was remarkable that after so many years of hard work in that trying climate he should have kept his strength and his high spirits. "I'm sorry I'm late, dear," he said. "Meadows, the Colonial Secretary, rang up from Singapore and insisted on talking to me."

"Oh, what did he want?" she asked casually. Dr Farley laughed.

"He wanted me to do something that I've got no intention of doing."

"What was that?"

"Well, you see, the war's upset things in the Medical Service. The chap that was going to replace me here can't come and they want me to stay on. Of course I told Meadows to go to blazes."

Mrs Farley went even paler than she generally was. Something seemed to catch her by the throat so that it was difficult to speak. "But who'll look after the people here when you're gone?"

"That's their lookout. They'll have to do without a doctor till the war's over."

"But isn't it your duty to stay?"

"I'm fed to the teeth -- doing my duty."

There were tears in her eyes, but she forced a smile to her lips.

"I should have thought you were a bit too old to change the habit of a lifetime."

He looked at her tenderly.

"My dear, it's you I'm thinking of. D'you think I don't know how you've been counting the days before we go? Meadows said you could go without me." Dr Farley chuckled. "'You don't know my wife," I said to him. "She wouldn't leave me for anything in the world. Besides, I can't do without the old girl.'"

Just for a moment Mrs Farley couldn't speak. She didn't want him to see that her hands were trembling. This was death for her. She gave a little chuckle.

"Of course I won't leave you, you old stupid, and of course you must stay."

His face lit up. He'd hated the thought of going when he was needed so badly. She might have known it. But he looked at her doubtfully.

"You want to go home so much."

"Not so much as all that. I've felt so useless since the war started. It's nice to think we can do our bit."

He took her in his arms and kissed her.

"You're tops, Katie."

"Hurry up and get ready for dinner, or it'll be ruined."

He pounded heavily into his bedroom. Mrs Farley, so thin, so wan, so frail, stood where he had left her. The worn face was puckered with the effort she made not to cry. She would never see her children and her home again. The doctor in Singapore had give her a year; well, doctors were often mistaken. Anyhow, it didn't matter: Jim couldn't leave these people without anyone to look after them.

She went over to the desk and tore out of the calendar the sheet on which she had crossed off the first fourteen days of the month. That was that.

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