A short bonbon from Maugham. Maugham himself calls it a novelette, but it's really a novella
, 30,364 words (I counted them).
Anyway, a young and fabulously beautiful widow, Mary Panton, has gotten away from London and memories of a bad marriage and is living in the Italian villa of some friends, in the hills above Florence. It's a relatively idle life, filled with reading, hanging out in the garden, and parties.
Sir Edgar Swift, an ambitions "Empire builder" who is 24 years her senior, is about to be shipped off to India. He asks Mary to marry him and come along. She requests a few days to think things over.
While she is thinking, she runs into Rowley Flint, a notorious bounder. She successfully repels Rowley's attentions, multiple times, but still, apparently, some kind of bond is formed.
On the way home one night, she finds an impoverished Austrian refugee, Karl Richter, an art student. She thinks to give him one great gift, an evening of wining, dining, and herself. When Richter understands that she did it only out of compassion, and not love, he kills himself. Mary calls on Rowley to help dispose of the body and clean up the mess in her sitting room.
Naturally, there are a few more complications involving Rowley and Sir Edgar. A cute, engaging story, well worth one's time.