That is the opening sentence of my favorite Somerset Maugham short story; and there are alot to choose from: Rain, The Voice of the Turtle, The Lotus Eater, The Three Fat Women of Antibes…but no. This little…it's not a story even, more like a worded illustration not even three pages long…affects me deepest, as it deals with the most basic of topics.
Maugham's writing style is simple – the words are quick little stabbing motions, well-thought out and only possible through the most detailed observation and poignant understanding. Human behavior, that chain reaction from one emotional synapse to the next is no mystery to him…nothing new under the sun, as they say.
"In wonder if I can do it" the writer begins. He goes on to tell the simple, unremarkable life of a boy growing up in a poor fishing community in Italy. There is happiness, work, responsibility, love, disappointment, tragedy. Pretty much the elements of most lives. He goes to war. When he comes back, the girl he loves has left him. He marries an older woman, whom had seen him at a festa and had fallen in love with him.
They wed. He grew to be kind and loving. They had sons, in whom he took much joy. Constant work had made his body coarse and hard, but he treated his family with the utmost care and gentleness.
That's the story. And then thte writer finishes: "I wanted to see whether I could hold your attention for a few pages while I drew for you the portrait of a man, just an ordinary fisherman who possessed nothing in the world except a quality which is the rarest, the most precious and the loveliest that anyone can have…And in case you have not guessed what the quality was, I will tell you. Goodness, just goodness."