The Outstation

Posted on March 17, 2014


British Borneo, 1899.

The Outstation is a 1924 short story by Somerset Maugham about a self-exiled British gentleman named Warburton in charge of a remote outpost in Borneo.  The story opens as his new assistant, a young Barbadian named Alan Cooper, arrives by boat. Despite his misgivings about losing his status as the sole white man, Warbuton greets Cooper politely, shows him to his bungalow, and invites him to come to the main house for dinner.  He then returns to the house and begins his own preparations.

He went into his room where his things were as neatly laid out as if he had an English valet, undressed, and, walking down the stairs to the bath-house, sluiced himself with cool water. The only concession he made to the climate was to wear a white dinner-jacket; but otherwise, in a boiled shirt and a high collar, silk socks and patent-leather shoes, he dressed as formally as though he were dining at his club in Pall Mall. A careful host, he went into the dining-room to see that the table was properly laid. It was gay with orchids, and the silver shone brightly. The napkins were folded into elaborate shapes. Shaded candles in silver candle-sticks shed a soft light. Mr. Warburton smiled his approval and returned to the sitting-room to await his guest. Presently he appeared. Cooper was wearing the khaki shorts, the khaki shirt, and the ragged jacket in which he had landed. Mr. Warburton’s smile of greeting froze on his face.

“Halloa, you’re all dressed up,” said Cooper. “I didn’t know you were going to do that. I very nearly put on a sarong.”

“It doesn’t mailer at all. I daresay your boys were busy.”

“You needn’t have bothered to dress on my account, you know.”

“I didn’t. I always dress for dinner.”

“Even when you’re alone?”

“Especially when I’m alone,” replied Mr. Warburton, with a frigid stare.

Posted in: Miscellanea