I’m not a vengeful person. Even for the people who have wronged me the worst (and believe me, I have reason for grudges, although you’ll excuse me if I don’t go into details), I wish nothing more than a life far, far away from mine. However, I admit that a snigger of glee escapes me whenever I observe that, in my interactions with them, I resemble the title character of Somerset Maugham’s short story “The Verger.”
In the story, the title character loses his comfortable job in an Anglican church because he can’t read or write. Frantic at first, he becomes a successful businessman simply because he has to survive. Discovering his illiteracy, his bank manager says, “‘And do you mean to say that you’ve built up this important business and amassed a fortune of thirty thousand pounds without being able to read or write? Good God, man, what would you be now if you had been able to?'”
To which the title character replies with a little smile, “I can tell you that . . . I’d be verger of St. Peter’s, Neville Square.”
I think I know the feel of that smile. It’s the satisfied, slightly vicious one of the survivor who has earned the best revenge of all – that of living well.
These days, I don’t think much about the people who turned on me. Still, every now and then, I see their names around town, and once a year or so I do a quick Google search to confirm my suspicions that they are still doing the same dull things they did ten years ago. One has hit the glass ceiling for senior managers who don’t bring any capital or outstanding expertise to the business, and seems likely to stay scrunched up against it for the next thirty years. Another has achieved some success in trying to be a big frog in the small pond she kicked me from, but is enmired in much the same routine as ten years ago. I consider her constant pursuit of meaningless titles and signs of respect as a sign of just how desperate her inner life must be.
In that same time, I’ve been instrumental in two startups. I’ve flown across North America on other people’s money so they could make use of my expertise. I’ve hobnobbed with famous people in free and open source software, and gained my own small but solid reputation across the world as a journalist. I’m not only doing a job that I love, but I’m getting paid more than I was ten years ago, too.
In short, I’ve reached the stage where I’m living the life I’ve always wanted. All I need is for someone to exclaim that, if I’ve reached this level of life-satisfaction after the setbacks I’ve faced since ten years ago, where would I be if I hadn’t been naive enough to trust in the decency of the wrong people.
“Well, I can tell you that,” I’ll say with a smile. “I’d be verger of St. Peter’s, Neville Square.”
Or very nearly, apart from the names and a few other alterations.
What’s even better, I know that these people are aware of my success. From time to time, they’ve encountered people who know about my life. And I strongly suspect that one or two have logged on to my website or blog occasionally (apparently, they’ve never heard of webstats or the interesting deductions you can make from them). When these things happen, I can only hope they feel an acid bitterness in their stomach and go about in a bad mood for the next couple of hours.
I sometimes wish that I could see their discontent with themselves, but, I don’t need to. From what I once knew about them, I’m quite sure how they feel. And, at the odd times when I think about what happened – well, I give a thin smile and I think about Maugham’s story for a second before passing on to more important, more current things.