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Mr Skeffington


Fanny, who had married a Mr. Skeffington, and long ago, for reasons she considered compelling, divorced him, after not
having given him a thought for years, began, to her surprise, to think of him a great deal. If she shut her eyes, she could
see him behind the fish-dish at breakfast; and presently, even if she didn't shut her eyes, she could see him behind
almost anything.
What particularly disturbed her was that there was no fish. Only during Mr. Skeffington's not very long reign as a
husband had there been any at breakfast, he having been a man tenacious of tradition, and liking to see what he had
seen in his youth still continuing on his table. With his disappearance, the fish -dish, of solid silver, kept hot by electricity,
disappeared too--not that he took it with him, for he was much too miserable to think of dishes, but because Fanny's
breakfast, from the date of his departure to the time she had got to now, was half a grapefruit.
Naturally she was a good deal worried by seeing him and the dish so distinctly, while knowing that neither he nor it were
really there. She very nearly went to a doctor about it; but never having been much disposed to go to doctors she
thought she would wait a little first. For after all, reasoned Fanny, who considered herself a very sensible woman, she
was soon going to have a fiftieth birthday, and on reaching so conspicuous, so sobering a landmark in one's life, what
more natural than to hark back and rummage, and what more inevitable, directly one rummaged, than to come across
Mr. Skeffington? He had played, for a time, a leading part in her life. He had been, she recognized, the keystone of her
career. It was thanks to the settlements he had made on her, which were the settlements of an extremely rich and
extremely loving man, that she was so well off, and it was thanks to his infidelities--but ought one to thank infidelities?
Well, never mind--that she was free.
She had adored being free. Twenty-two years of enchanting freedom she had had, and adoring every minute of them--
except the minutes at the end of a love affair, when things suddenly seemed unable to avoid being distressing, and
except the minutes quite lately, when she was recovering from a terrible illness, and had nothing to do, but think, and
began thinking about Mr. Skeffington. Perhaps it was the highly unpleasant birthday looming so close that set her off in
these serious directions. Perhaps it was being so wretchedly weak after diphtheria. Perhap s it was the way her lovely
hair had fallen out in handfuls. But set off she did, and he who had once been her husband appeared to respond to the
treatment with an alacrity which startled her, and gradually became quite upsettingly vivid and real.
This, though, had only happened in the last few months, and she was sure would soon, when she was quite strong again,
pass. Up to her illness, how unclouded her life had been! Really a quite radiant life, full of every sort of amusing and
exciting things like would-be lovers--at one time the whole world appeared to want to be Fanny's lover--and all because
Mr. Skeffington was never able to resist his younger typists.
How angry those typists had made her, till it dawned on her that what they really were gates to freedom. When at last
she saw them in their true light, as so many bolts shot back and doors flung open, she left off being angry, and began
instead--strictly speaking, she didn't suppose she ought to have--to rejoice. No, she oughtn't to have rejoiced; but how
difficult it was not to like being without Mr. Skeffington. At no time had she enjoyed her marriage. She was very sorry,
but really she hadn't. Among other things, he was a Jew, and she wasn't. Not that that would have mattered, since she
was without prejudices, if he hadn't happened to look so exactly like a Jew. It wasn't a bit necessary that he should. Lots
of people she knew had married Jews, and none of them looked so exactly like one as Job (Mr. Skeffington's name was
Job, a name, everybody agreed, impossible to regard as other than unfortunate). Still, he couldn't help that, and
certainly he had been very kind. Being an upright girl, who believed in s ticking to her vows and giving as good as she got,
she too had been very kind. Her heart, however, hadn't been in it. A marriage, she found, with someone of a different
breed is fruitful of small rubs; and she had had to change her religion too, which anno yed her, in spite of her not really
having any. So that when he offered her those repeated chances of honourably getting rid of him, though she began by
being outraged she ended by being pleased.
* * * * *
Fanny well knew that her reactions to Mr. Skeffington's infidelities weren't at all the proper ones, but she couldn't help
that. She was perfectly aware she ought to have gone on growing angrier and angrier, and more and more miserable;
and instead, things happened this way: Obliged to forgive the first typist, such was his penitence and such his shame, the
second one, though humiliating, didn't distress her quite so acutely. Over the third she was almost calm. The fourth
made her merely wonder there should be so many young persons liking him enough for that sort of thing, but she
supposed it must be his money. The fifth she called on, earnestly inquiring of the alarmed and shrinking creature what
she saw in him. At the sixth, she went out and bought some new hats; and after the seventh, she left.
Left, and never came back. Left, and beheld him no more till they faced each other in the Divorce Court. Since then she
hadn't set eyes on Mr. Skeffington, except once, not long after the final kicking free, when her car --his car, really, if you
looked at it dispassionately--was held up in Pall Mall at the very moment when he, walking to his club, chanced to be
passing. There she sat, such a lovely thing, delicately fair in the dark frame of the car, obviously someone everybody
would long to be allowed to love, the enormous hat of the early summer of 1914 perched on hair whose soft abundance
he had often, in happier days, luxuriously stroked, and was so completely already uninterested in him that she hardly
bothered to turn her head. Wasn't this hard? Now, wasn't this terribly hard? Mr. Skeffington asked himself, his whole
being one impassioned protest. Hadn't he worshipped her, lived for her, thought only of her--even, somehow, when he
was thinking of the pretty little girl in the office as well? And what, in the long run, were the pretty little girls in the office
to a man? Nothing; nothing; less than nothing, compared to a darling, exquisite, and, as he had supposed,
permanent wife.
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