There was a woman who loved her husband, but she could not live with him. The husband, on his side, was sincerely attached to his wife, yet he could not live with her. They were both under forty, both handsome and both attractive. They had the most sincere regard for one another, and felt, in some odd way, eternally married to one another. They knew one another more intimately than they knew anybody else, they felt more known to one another than to any other person.
Yet they could not live together. Usually, they kept a thousand miles apart, geographically. But when he sat in the greyness of England, at the back of his mind, with a certain grim fidelity, he was aware of his wife, her strange yearning to be loyal and faithful, having her gallant affairs away in the sun, in the south. And she, as she drank her cocktail on the terrace over the sea, and turned her grey, sardonic eyes on the heavy dark face of her admirer, whom she really liked quite a lot, she was actually preoccupied with the clear-cut features of her handsome young husband, thinking of how he would be asking his secretary to do something for him, asking in that good-natured, confident voice of a man who knows that his request will be only too gladly fulfilled.
The secretary, of course, adored him. She was verycompetent, quite young, and quite good-looking. She adored him. But then all his servants always did, particularly his women-servants. His men-servants were likely to swindle him.
When a man has an adoring secretary, and you are the man’s wife, what are you to do? Not that there was anything ‘wrong’–if you know what I mean!–between them. Nothing you could call adultery, to come down to brass tacks. No, no! They were just the young master and his secretary. He dictated to her, she slaved for him and adored him, and the whole thing went on wheels.
He didn’t ‘adore’ her. A man doesn’t need to adore his secretary. But he depended on her.”I simply rely on Miss Wrexall.” Whereas he could never rely on his wife. The one thing he knew finally about herwas that she didn’t intend to be relied on.
So they remained friends, in the awful unspoken intimacy of the once-married. Usually each year they went away together for a holiday, and, if they had not been man and wife, they would have found a great deal of fun and stimulation in one another. The fact that they were married, had been married for the last dozen years, and couldn’t live together for the last three or four, spoilt them for one another. Each had a private feeling of bitterness about the other.
However, they were awfully kind. He was the soul of generosity, and held her in real tender esteem, no matter how many gallant affairs she had. Her gallant affairs were part of her modern necessity.”After all, I’ve got to live. I can’t turn into a pillar of salt in five minutes just because you and I can’t live together! It takes years for a woman like me to turn into a pillar of salt. At least I hope so!”
“Quite!” he replied.”Quite! By all means put them in pickle, make pickled cucumbers of them, before you crystallise out. That’s my advice.”
He was like that: so awfully clever and enigmatic. She could more or less fathom the idea of the pickled cucumbers, but the ‘crystallising out’–what did that signify?
And did he mean to suggest that he himself had been well pickled and that further immersion was for him unnecessary, would spoil his flavour? Was that what he meant? And herself, was she the brine and the vale of tears?