The Yellow Notebook
Ella contributed facts about furnishing from England, while she thought: now I’m odd-woman-out with an engaged couple. I feel isolated and excluded. I feel exposed again. In a minute they will get up and leave me. And I shall feel even more exposed. What has happened to me? And yet I would rather be dead than in this woman’s shoes, and that’s the truth.
The three remained together for another twenty minutes. The fiancée continued vivacious, feminine, arch, caressing towards her captive. The fiancé remained well-mannered and proprietary. His eyes alone betrayed him. And she, his captive, never for one moment forgot him — her eyes moved with his to note his earnest, minute (though now necessarily curtailed) inspection of the women who passed.
This situation was heartbreakingly clear to Ella; and she felt, surely, to anyone who examined the couple for as long as five minutes? They had been lovers over-long. She had money, and this was necessary to him. She was desperately, fearfully in love with him. He was fond of her, and already chafing at the bonds. The great well-groomed ox was uneasy before the noose had even tightened around his neck. In two years, three years, they would be Monsieur and Madame Brun, in a well-furnished apartment (the money provided by her) with a small child and perhaps a nurse-maid; and she would be caressing and gay and anxious still; and he would be politely good-humoured, but sometimes bad-tempered when the demands of the home prevented his pleasures with his mistress.
And although every phase of this marriage was as clear to Ella as if it were in the past and she was being told of it; although she felt irritable with dislike of the whole situation, yet she dreaded the moment when the couple would rise and leave her. Which they did, with every allowance of their admirable French politeness, he so smoothly indifferently polite, she so anxiously polite, and with an eye on him which said: see how well I behave to your business friends. And Ella was left sitting at the table, at the hour for companionable eating, feeling as if a skin had been peeled off her. Instantly she protected herself by imagining that Paul would come to sit by her, where Robert Brun had sat. She was conscious that two men, now that she was alone, were weighing her up, weighing their chances. In a moment one of them would come over, and she would then behave like a civilized person, have a drink or two, enjoy the encounter, and return to her hotel fortified and freed from the ghost of Paul. She was sitting with her back to a low tub of greenery. The sunshade above her enclosed her in a warm yellow glow. She shut her eyes and thought: When I open my eyes perhaps I’ll see Paul. (It suddenly seemed inconceivable that he should not be somewhere near, waiting to come and join her.) She thought: What did it mean, my saying I loved Paul — when his going has left me like a snail that has had her shell pecked off by a bird? I should have said that my being with Paul essentially meant I remained myself, remained independent and free. I asked nothing of him, certainly not marriage. And yet now I am in pieces. So it was all a fraud. In fact I was sheltering under him. I was no better than that frightened woman, his wife. I am no better than Elise, future wife of Robert. Muriel Tanner kept Paul by never asking questions, by effacing herself. Elise is buying Robert. But I use the word love and think of myself as free, when the truth is … a voice, close to her, enquired if the place were free, and Ella opened her eyes to see a small, lively, vivacious Frenchman, in the act of seating himself. She told herself that he looked pleasant, and she would stay where she was; she smiled nervously, said she felt ill and had a headache, and got up and left, conscious that her manner had been that of a frightened schoolgirl.