She cut off his perfunctory attempts at conversation with a monosyllable. When they got home they were both tired.
They each decided to have a hot bath and rest before dinner.
She was dressed in very severe perfect black, marvellous lines, waiting to be sculpted.
He told her so.
She pursed her lips.
They sat in front of the fire in the hall.
“Tell me a little more about your husband?” he said.
“What can I tell you? I know him so well. You see, I have loved him and hated him—I have become indifferent to him—and I appreciate him. But I have had nothing from him that a hundred other people have not had—except, perhaps, his name.”
She looked at him in amazement.
“Marly?” she laughed. “Marly is not even my own name. We are all of us so very monogamous when we love, proprietary, exclusive, jealous, whatever you like to call it. Edmond’s character was like a pergola. You walked in and out. There were always roses and jasmine, clematis and wisteria, peeps of the garden and patches of the sky—but never a shut door—never one. Oh,” there was a breaking passion in her voice—“how I longed for four walls, for a lock and key, for a dungeon, for bars. ‘Don’t you know,’ I would say to him, ’that much trodden territory becomes neutral?’ and he would smile and say, ‘you are generous.’”
Maurice was looking into the fire.
“Poor little Paula,” he said. “But you were his only wife.”
“Yes,” she said, “a law-given copyright.”
“Paula,” he said, “will you do something for me?”
“I wonder. There are surely no somethings where we are concerned.”
“I want you to describe several dresses to me. Your own perfect divine dresses. I want them for my book.”
“So I am to be made use of, am I?”
Her eyes were flashing.
He was not looking at her.
“Yes,” he said, “I am going to steal some of your genius.”
She had left him. He was not surprised. She never said “Good-night.”
The next day she had gone—very early, leaving no address, no letter.
She had, he heard, left his box of flowers at the village infirmary. He knew that that day it was to have been full of verbena, sweet geranium, sweet briar, thyme, myrtle, lavender and single roses....
* * * * *
Marthe had insisted that he should come with her to Lally. He was feeling foolish and fascinated—dressing was evidently a religion with the most solemn rites in the world. The gravity and concentration of every one astounded him—the firm vendeuse refusing to allow her cliente any freedom of choice. The pathetic cliente pining in vain for forbidden fruit—the hopelessly ugly and unrewarding, who alone were permitted to follow their fancies. Patterns were discussed in hushed but intense undertones, faint but all-important modifications were offered by the vendeuse to bridge the gulf between the figures of the mannequins and those of the clients. The brave longing of a squat pigeon to have the model reproduced “textuellement” was resolutely suppressed.