W. Somerset Maugham is an author I think I would enjoy reading. Last year I read a slim novel by him called Up at the Villa and told myself I would be reading more as I enjoyed it so much. It has taken me over a year to get around to picking up anything else by him, however. I'm back to reading stories from 50 Great Short Stories edited by Milton Crane, which includes a story by Maugham, "A String of Beads". It reminded me a little of a short story by Guy de Maupassant called "The Necklace", though the Maugham story has a decidedly happier ending.
Spoilers to follow.
"A String of Beads" is actually a rather satirical story. A governess through no fault of her own manages to succeed socially much to the dismay of her "betters". The story of Miss Robinson was related from one friend to another over dinner. Miss Robinson was a nice young woman of twenty or twenty-one, rather attractive and soft spoken. She was governess to a family who happened to be throwing a dinner party when one of their guests canceled at the last minute. In order to make up the numbers they asked Miss Robinson to fill in.
Dinner table conversation turned to the cost and quality of a set of pearls worn by another guest, Mary Lyngate. She was quite pleased with herself and made it a point to show off her £8000 pearls to Count Borselli, whose knowledge of gems was vast. Although expensive, the Count was not overly impressed with Mary Lyngate's set of pearls, but he was appreciative of the set Miss Robinson was wearing. When asked the cost, Miss Robinson replied that she must have gotten a great bargain as they cost a mere fifteen shillings. Nonsense the Count replied, as their worth is at least £50,000.
At that there is a knock at the door. Two men ask for Miss Robinson. The dinner guests are sure Miss Robinson is a thief and must have stolen the pearls. When she returns calmly to the dinner table not the least perturbed, she drops the set of pearls on the table. The Count is quick to notice these pearls are fakes. It turns out Miss Robinson has recently had the clasp fixed and her faux set was switched with another set of actual pearls. In gratitude for her honesty the jeweler gave her £300.
Do you want to know the twist? I love stories where the "underdog" so to speak comes out ahead. While the family Miss Robinson works for and the other guests of the party urge her to set aside the money for a rainy day (you know how hard it is for governesses to get by--not that any of them would know much about that), she prefers to blow it all on a trip to the South of France. It may be her only chance, so why not live it up. While there she meets and marries a wealthy count and becomes a countess! What a great in your face ending. It's interesting to see Maugham's little criticisms of the upper classes and what they think is right and moral! So again I'll say, I really need to read more by Maugham!