The Old Wives' Tale HTML version

III.2. Supper
They had been to Versailles and had dined there. A tram had sufficed to take
them out; but for the return, Gerald, who had been drinking champagne, would
not be content with less than a carriage. Further, he insisted on entering Paris by
way of the Bois and the Arc de Triomphe. Thoroughly to appease his conceit, it
would have been necessary to swing open the gates of honour in the Arc and
allow his fiacre to pass through; to be forced to drive round the monument
instead of under it hurt the sense of fitness which champagne engenders. Gerald
was in all his pride that day. He had been displaying the wonders to Sophia, and
he could not escape the cicerone's secret feeling: that he himself was somehow
responsible for the wonders. Moreover, he was exceedingly satisfied with the
effect produced by Sophia.
Sophia, on arriving in Paris with the ring on her triumphant finger, had timidly
mentioned the subject of frocks. None would have guessed from her tone that
she was possessed by the desire for French clothes as by a devil. She had been
surprised and delighted by the eagerness of Gerald's response. Gerald, too, was
possessed by a devil. He thirsted to see her in French clothes. He knew some of
the shops and ateliers in the Rue de la Paix, the Rue de la Chaussee d'Antin,
and the Palais Royal. He was much more skilled in the lore of frocks than she, for
his previous business in Paris had brought him into relations with the great firms;
and Sophia suffered a brief humiliation in the discovery that his private opinion of
her dresses was that they were not dresses at all. She had been aware that they
were not Parisian, nor even of London; but she had thought them pretty good. It
healed her wound, however, to reflect that Gerald had so marvellously kept his
own counsel in order to spare her self-love. Gerald had taken her to an
establishment in the Chaussee d'Antin. It was not one of what Gerald called les
grandes maisons, but it was on the very fringe of them, and the real haute
couture was practised therein; and Gerald was remembered there by name.
Sophia had gone in trembling and ashamed, yet in her heart courageously
determined to emerge uncompromisingly French. But the models frightened her.
They surpassed even the most fantastic things that she had seen in the streets.
She recoiled before them and seemed to hide for refuge in Gerald, as it were
appealing to him for moral protection, and answering to him instead of to the
saleswoman when the saleswoman offered remarks in stiff English. The prices
also frightened her. The simplest trifle here cost sixteen pounds; and her
mother's historic 'silk,' whose elaborateness had cost twelve pounds, was
supposed to have approached the inexpressible! Gerald said that she was not to
think about prices. She was, however, forced by some instinct to think about
prices--she who at home had scorned the narrowness of life in the Square. In the
Square she was understood to be quite without commonsense, hopelessly
imprudent; yet here, a spring of sagacity seemed to be welling up in her all the
time, a continual antidote against the general madness in which she found
herself. With extraordinary rapidity she had formed a habit of preaching
moderation to Gerald. She hated to 'see money thrown away,' and her notion of