The Awakening and Selected Short Stories
Part 2 out of 4
to take you back in Tonie's boat whenever you are ready to go."
He stirred the smoldering ashes till the broiled fowl began to
sizzle afresh. He served her with no mean repast, dripping the
coffee anew and sharing it with her. Madame Antoine had cooked
little else than the mullets, but while Edna slept Robert had
foraged the island. He was childishly gratified to discover her
appetite, and to see the relish with which she ate the food which
he had procured for her.
"Shall we go right away?" she asked, after draining her glass
and brushing together the crumbs of the crusty loaf.
"The sun isn't as low as it will be in two hours," he
"The sun will be gone in two hours."
"Well, let it go; who cares!"
They waited a good while under the orange trees, till Madame
Antoine came back, panting, waddling, with a thousand apologies to
explain her absence. Tonie did not dare to return. He was shy,
and would not willingly face any woman except his mother.
It was very pleasant to stay there under the orange trees,
while the sun dipped lower and lower, turning the western sky to
flaming copper and gold. The shadows lengthened and crept out
like stealthy, grotesque monsters across the grass.
Edna and Robert both sat upon the ground--that is, he lay upon
the ground beside her, occasionally picking at the hem of her
Madame Antoine seated her fat body, broad and squat, upon a
bench beside the door. She had been talking all the afternoon, and
had wound herself up to the storytelling pitch.
And what stories she told them! But twice in her life she had
left the Cheniere Caminada, and then for the briefest span.
All her years she had squatted and waddled there upon the island,
gathering legends of the Baratarians and the sea. The night came
on, with the moon to lighten it. Edna could hear the whispering
voices of dead men and the click of muffled gold.
When she and Robert stepped into Tonie's boat, with the red
lateen sail, misty spirit forms were prowling in the shadows and
among the reeds, and upon the water were phantom ships, speeding to
The youngest boy, Etienne, had been very naughty, Madame
Ratignolle said, as she delivered him into the hands of his mother.
He had been unwilling to go to bed and had made a scene; whereupon
she had taken charge of him and pacified him as well as she could.
Raoul had been in bed and asleep for two hours.
The youngster was in his long white nightgown, that kept
tripping him up as Madame Ratignolle led him along by the hand.
With the other chubby fist he rubbed his eyes, which were heavy
with sleep and ill humor. Edna took him in her arms, and seating
herself in the rocker, began to coddle and caress him, calling him
all manner of tender names, soothing him to sleep.
It was not more than nine o'clock. No one had yet gone to bed
but the children.
Leonce had been very uneasy at first, Madame Ratignolle said,
and had wanted to start at once for the Cheniere. But
Monsieur Farival had assured him that his wife was only overcome
with sleep and fatigue, that Tonie would bring her safely back
later in the day; and he had thus been dissuaded from crossing the
bay. He had gone over to Klein's, looking up some cotton broker
whom he wished to see in regard to securities, exchanges, stocks,
bonds, or something of the sort, Madame Ratignolle did not remember
what. He said he would not remain away late. She herself was
suffering from heat and oppression, she said. She carried a bottle
of salts and a large fan. She would not consent to remain with
Edna, for Monsieur Ratignolle was alone, and he detested above all
things to be left alone.
When Etienne had fallen asleep Edna bore him into the back
room, and Robert went and lifted the mosquito bar that she might
lay the child comfortably in his bed. The quadroon had vanished.
When they emerged from the cottage Robert bade Edna good-night.
"Do you know we have been together the whole livelong day,
Robert--since early this morning?" she said at parting.
"All but the hundred years when you were sleeping.
He pressed her hand and went away in the direction of the
beach. He did not join any of the others, but walked alone toward
Edna stayed outside, awaiting her husband's return. She had
no desire to sleep or to retire; nor did she feel like going over
to sit with the Ratignolles, or to join Madame Lebrun and a group
whose animated voices reached her as they sat in conversation
before the house. She let her mind wander back over her stay at
Grand Isle; and she tried to discover wherein this summer had been
different from any and every other summer of her life. She could
only realize that she herself--her present self--was in some way
different from the other self. That she was seeing with different
eyes and making the acquaintance of new conditions in herself that
colored and changed her environment, she did not yet suspect.
She wondered why Robert had gone away and left her. It did
not occur to her to think he might have grown tired of being with
her the livelong day. She was not tired, and she felt that he was
not. She regretted that he had gone. It was so much more natural
to have him stay when he was not absolutely required to leave her.
As Edna waited for her husband she sang low a little song that
Robert had sung as they crossed the bay. It began with "Ah!
Si tu savais," and every verse ended with "si tu savais."
Robert's voice was not pretentious. It was musical and true.
The voice, the notes, the whole refrain haunted her memory.
When Edna entered the dining-room one evening a little late,
as was her habit, an unusually animated conversation seemed to be
going on. Several persons were talking at once, and Victor's voice
was predominating, even over that of his mother. Edna had returned
late from her bath, had dressed in some haste, and her face was
flushed. Her head, set off by her dainty white gown, suggested a
rich, rare blossom. She took her seat at table between old
Monsieur Farival and Madame Ratignolle.
As she seated herself and was about to begin to eat her soup,
which had been served when she entered the room, several persons
informed her simultaneously that Robert was going to Mexico.
She laid her spoon down and looked about her bewildered.
He had been with her, reading to her all the morning,
and had never even mentioned such a place as Mexico.
She had not seen him during the afternoon; she had heard
some one say he was at the house, upstairs with his mother.
This she had thought nothing of, though she was surprised
when he did not join her later in the afternoon,
when she went down to the beach.
She looked across at him, where he sat beside Madame Lebrun,
who presided. Edna's face was a blank picture of bewilderment,
which she never thought of disguising. He lifted his eyebrows with
the pretext of a smile as he returned her glance. He looked
embarrassed and uneasy. "When is he going?" she asked of everybody
in general, as if Robert were not there to answer for himself.
"To-night!" "This very evening!" "Did you ever!"
"What possesses him!" were some of the replies she gathered,
uttered simultaneously in French and English.
"Impossible!" she exclaimed. "How can a person start off from
Grand Isle to Mexico at a moment's notice, as if he were going over
to Klein's or to the wharf or down to the beach?"
"I said all along I was going to Mexico; I've been saying so
for years!" cried Robert, in an excited and irritable tone, with
the air of a man defending himself against a swarm of stinging
Madame Lebrun knocked on the table with her knife handle.
"Please let Robert explain why he is going, and why he is
going to-night," she called out. "Really, this table is getting to
be more and more like Bedlam every day, with everybody talking at
once. Sometimes--I hope God will forgive me--but positively,
sometimes I wish Victor would lose the power of speech."
Victor laughed sardonically as he thanked his mother for her
holy wish, of which he failed to see the benefit to anybody, except
that it might afford her a more ample opportunity and license to
Monsieur Farival thought that Victor should have been taken
out in mid-ocean in his earliest youth and drowned. Victor thought
there would be more logic in thus disposing of old people with an
established claim for making themselves universally obnoxious.
Madame Lebrun grew a trifle hysterical; Robert called his brother
some sharp, hard names.
"There's nothing much to explain, mother," he said; though he
explained, nevertheless--looking chiefly at Edna--that he could
only meet the gentleman whom he intended to join at Vera Cruz by
taking such and such a steamer, which left New Orleans on such a
day; that Beaudelet was going out with his lugger-load of
vegetables that night, which gave him an opportunity of reaching
the city and making his vessel in time.
"But when did you make up your mind to all this?" demanded
"This afternoon," returned Robert, with a shade of annoyance.
"At what time this afternoon?" persisted the old gentleman,
with nagging determination, as if he were cross-questioning a
criminal in a court of justice.
"At four o'clock this afternoon, Monsieur Farival," Robert
replied, in a high voice and with a lofty air, which reminded Edna
of some gentleman on the stage.
She had forced herself to eat most of her soup, and now she
was picking the flaky bits of a court bouillon with her fork.
The lovers were profiting by the general conversation on
Mexico to speak in whispers of matters which they rightly
considered were interesting to no one but themselves. The lady in
black had once received a pair of prayer-beads of curious
workmanship from Mexico, with very special indulgence attached to
them, but she had never been able to ascertain whether the
indulgence extended outside the Mexican border. Father Fochel of
the Cathedral had attempted to explain it; but he had not done so
to her satisfaction. And she begged that Robert would interest
himself, and discover, if possible, whether she was entitled to
the indulgence accompanying the remarkably curious Mexican prayer-beads.
Madame Ratignolle hoped that Robert would exercise extreme
caution in dealing with the Mexicans, who, she considered, were a
treacherous people, unscrupulous and revengeful. She trusted she
did them no injustice in thus condemning them as a race. She had
known personally but one Mexican, who made and sold excellent
tamales, and whom she would have trusted implicitly, so softspoken
was he. One day he was arrested for stabbing his wife. She never
knew whether he had been hanged or not.
Victor had grown hilarious, and was attempting to tell an
anecdote about a Mexican girl who served chocolate one winter in a
restaurant in Dauphine Street. No one would listen to him but old
Monsieur Farival, who went into convulsions over the droll story.
Edna wondered if they had all gone mad, to be talking and
clamoring at that rate. She herself could think of nothing to say
about Mexico or the Mexicans.
"At what time do you leave?" she asked Robert.
"At ten," he told her. "Beaudelet wants to wait for the moon."
"Are you all ready to go?"
"Quite ready. I shall only take a hand-bag, and shall pack my
trunk in the city."
He turned to answer some question put to him by his mother,
and Edna, having finished her black coffee, left the table.
She went directly to her room. The little cottage was close
and stuffy after leaving the outer air. But she did not mind;
there appeared to be a hundred different things demanding her
attention indoors. She began to set the toilet-stand to rights,
grumbling at the negligence of the quadroon, who was in the
adjoining room putting the children to bed. She gathered together
stray garments that were hanging on the backs of chairs, and put
each where it belonged in closet or bureau drawer. She changed her
gown for a more comfortable and commodious wrapper. She rearranged
her hair, combing and brushing it with unusual energy. Then she went in
and assisted the quadroon in getting the boys to bed.
They were very playful and inclined to talk--to do anything
but lie quiet and go to sleep. Edna sent the quadroon away to her
supper and told her she need not return. Then she sat and told the
children a story. Instead of soothing it excited them, and added
to their wakefulness. She left them in heated argument,
speculating about the conclusion of the tale which their mother
promised to finish the following night.
The little black girl came in to say that Madame Lebrun would
like to have Mrs. Pontellier go and sit with them over at the house
till Mr. Robert went away. Edna returned answer that she had
already undressed, that she did not feel quite well, but perhaps
she would go over to the house later. She started to dress again,
and got as far advanced as to remove her peignoir. But
changing her mind once more she resumed the peignoir, and went
outside and sat down before her door. She was overheated and
irritable, and fanned herself energetically for a while. Madame
Ratignolle came down to discover what was the matter.
"All that noise and confusion at the table must have upset
me," replied Edna, "and moreover, I hate shocks and surprises.
The idea of Robert starting off in such a ridiculously sudden
and dramatic way! As if it were a matter of life and death!
Never saying a word about it all morning when he was with me."
"Yes," agreed Madame Ratignolle. "I think it was showing us
all--you especially--very little consideration. It wouldn't have
surprised me in any of the others; those Lebruns are all given to
heroics. But I must say I should never have expected such a thing
from Robert. Are you not coming down? Come on, dear; it doesn't
"No," said Edna, a little sullenly. "I can't go to the
trouble of dressing again; I don't feel like it."
"You needn't dress; you look all right; fasten a belt around
your waist. Just look at me!"
"No," persisted Edna; "but you go on. Madame Lebrun might be
offended if we both stayed away."
Madame Ratignolle kissed Edna good-night, and went away, being
in truth rather desirous of joining in the general and animated
conversation which was still in progress concerning Mexico and the
Somewhat later Robert came up, carrying his hand-bag.
"Aren't you feeling well?" he asked.
"Oh, well enough. Are you going right away?"
He lit a match and looked at his watch. "In twenty minutes,"
he said. The sudden and brief flare of the match emphasized the
darkness for a while. He sat down upon a stool which the children
had left out on the porch.
"Get a chair," said Edna.
"This will do," he replied. He put on his soft hat and
nervously took it off again, and wiping his face with his
handkerchief, complained of the heat.
"Take the fan," said Edna, offering it to him.
"Oh, no! Thank you. It does no good; you have to stop fanning
some time, and feel all the more uncomfortable afterward."
"That's one of the ridiculous things which men always say. I
have never known one to speak otherwise of fanning. How long will
you be gone?"
"Forever, perhaps. I don't know. It depends upon a good many things."
"Well, in case it shouldn't be forever, how long will it be?"
"I don't know."
"This seems to me perfectly preposterous and uncalled for. I
don't like it. I don't understand your motive for silence and
mystery, never saying a word to me about it this morning." He
remained silent, not offering to defend himself. He only said,
after a moment:
"Don't part from me in any ill humor. I never knew you to be
out of patience with me before."
"I don't want to part in any ill humor," she said. "But can't
you understand? I've grown used to seeing you, to having you with
me all the time, and your action seems unfriendly, even unkind.
You don't even offer an excuse for it. Why, I was planning to be together,
thinking of how pleasant it would be to see you in the city next winter."
"So was I," he blurted. "Perhaps that's the--" He stood up
suddenly and held out his hand. "Good-by, my dear Mrs. Pontellier;
good-by. You won't--I hope you won't completely forget me."
She clung to his hand, striving to detain him.
"Write to me when you get there, won't you, Robert?" she entreated.
"I will, thank you. Good-by."
How unlike Robert! The merest acquaintance would have said
something more emphatic than "I will, thank you; good-by," to such
He had evidently already taken leave of the people over at the
house, for he descended the steps and went to join Beaudelet, who
was out there with an oar across his shoulder waiting for Robert.
They walked away in the darkness. She could only hear Beaudelet's
voice; Robert had apparently not even spoken a word of greeting to
Edna bit her handkerchief convulsively, striving to hold back
and to hide, even from herself as she would have hidden from
another, the emotion which was troubling--tearing--her. Her eyes
were brimming with tears.
For the first time she recognized the symptoms of infatuation
which she had felt incipiently as a child, as a girl in her
earliest teens, and later as a young woman. The recognition did
not lessen the reality, the poignancy of the revelation by any
suggestion or promise of instability. The past was nothing to her;
offered no lesson which she was willing to heed. The future was a
mystery which she never attempted to penetrate. The present alone
was significant; was hers, to torture her as it was doing then with
the biting conviction that she had lost that which she had held,
that she had been denied that which her impassioned, newly awakened
"Do you miss your friend greatly?" asked Mademoiselle Reisz
one morning as she came creeping up behind Edna, who had just left
her cottage on her way to the beach. She spent much of her time in
the water since she had acquired finally the art of swimming. As
their stay at Grand Isle drew near its close, she felt that she
could not give too much time to a diversion which afforded her the
only real pleasurable moments that she knew. When Mademoiselle
Reisz came and touched her upon the shoulder and spoke to her, the
woman seemed to echo the thought which was ever in Edna's mind; or,
better, the feeling which constantly possessed her.
Robert's going had some way taken the brightness, the color,
the meaning out of everything. The conditions of her life were in
no way changed, but her whole existence was dulled, like a faded
garment which seems to be no longer worth wearing. She sought him
everywhere--in others whom she induced to talk about him. She went
up in the mornings to Madame Lebrun's room, braving the clatter of
the old sewing-machine. She sat there and chatted at intervals as
Robert had done. She gazed around the room at the pictures and
photographs hanging upon the wall, and discovered in some corner an
old family album, which she examined with the keenest interest,
appealing to Madame Lebrun for enlightenment concerning the many
figures and faces which she discovered between its pages.
There was a picture of Madame Lebrun with Robert as a baby,
seated in her lap, a round-faced infant with a fist in his mouth.
The eyes alone in the baby suggested the man. And that was he also
in kilts, at the age of five, wearing long curls and holding a whip
in his hand. It made Edna laugh, and she laughed, too, at the portrait
in his first long trousers; while another interested her, taken when he
left for college, looking thin, long-faced, with eyes full of fire,
ambition and great intentions. But there was no recent picture,
none which suggested the Robert who had gone away five days ago,
leaving a void and wilderness behind him.
"Oh, Robert stopped having his pictures taken when he had to
pay for them himself! He found wiser use for his money, he says,"
explained Madame Lebrun. She had a letter from him, written before
he left New Orleans. Edna wished to see the letter, and Madame
Lebrun told her to look for it either on the table or the dresser,
or perhaps it was on the mantelpiece.
The letter was on the bookshelf. It possessed the greatest
interest and attraction for Edna; the envelope, its size and shape,
the post-mark, the handwriting. She examined every detail of the
outside before opening it. There were only a few lines, setting
forth that he would leave the city that afternoon, that he had
packed his trunk in good shape, that he was well, and sent her his
love and begged to be affectionately remembered to all. There was
no special message to Edna except a postscript saying that if Mrs.
Pontellier desired to finish the book which he had been reading to
her, his mother would find it in his room, among other books there
on the table. Edna experienced a pang of jealousy because he had
written to his mother rather than to her.
Every one seemed to take for granted that she missed him.
Even her husband, when he came down the Saturday following Robert's
departure, expressed regret that he had gone.
"How do you get on without him, Edna?" he asked.
"It's very dull without him," she admitted. Mr. Pontellier
had seen Robert in the city, and Edna asked him a dozen questions
or more. Where had they met? On Carondelet Street, in the morning.
They had gone "in" and had a drink and a cigar together. What had
they talked about? Chiefly about his prospects in Mexico, which
Mr. Pontellier thought were promising. How did he look? How did
he seem--grave, or gay, or how? Quite cheerful, and wholly
taken up with the idea of his trip, which Mr. Pontellier found
altogether natural in a young fellow about to seek fortune
and adventure in a strange, queer country.
Edna tapped her foot impatiently, and wondered why the
children persisted in playing in the sun when they might be under
the trees. She went down and led them out of the sun, scolding the
quadroon for not being more attentive.
It did not strike her as in the least grotesque that she
should be making of Robert the object of conversation and leading
her husband to speak of him. The sentiment which she entertained
for Robert in no way resembled that which she felt for her husband,
or had ever felt, or ever expected to feel. She had all her life
long been accustomed to harbor thoughts and emotions which never
voiced themselves. They had never taken the form of struggles.
They belonged to her and were her own, and she entertained the
conviction that she had a right to them and that they concerned no
one but herself. Edna had once told Madame Ratignolle that she
would never sacrifice herself for her children, or for any one.
Then had followed a rather heated argument; the two women did not
appear to understand each other or to be talking the same language.
Edna tried to appease her friend, to explain.
"I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I
would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself. I
can't make it more clear; it's only something which I am beginning
to comprehend, which is revealing itself to me."
"I don't know what you would call the essential, or what you
mean by the unessential," said Madame Ratignolle, cheerfully; "but
a woman who would give her life for her children could do no more
than that--your Bible tells you so. I'm sure I couldn't do more
"Oh, yes you could!" laughed Edna.
She was not surprised at Mademoiselle Reisz's question the
morning that lady, following her to the beach, tapped her on the
shoulder and asked if she did not greatly miss her young friend.
"Oh, good morning, Mademoiselle; is it you? Why, of course I
miss Robert. Are you going down to bathe?"
"Why should I go down to bathe at the very end of the season
when I haven't been in the surf all summer," replied the woman,
"I beg your pardon," offered Edna, in some embarrassment, for
she should have remembered that Mademoiselle Reisz's avoidance of
the water had furnished a theme for much pleasantry. Some among
them thought it was on account of her false hair, or the dread of
getting the violets wet, while others attributed it to the natural
aversion for water sometimes believed to accompany the artistic
temperament. Mademoiselle offered Edna some chocolates in a paper
bag, which she took from her pocket, by way of showing that she
bore no ill feeling. She habitually ate chocolates for their
sustaining quality; they contained much nutriment in small compass,
she said. They saved her from starvation, as Madame Lebrun's table
was utterly impossible; and no one save so impertinent a woman as
Madame Lebrun could think of offering such food to people and
requiring them to pay for it.
"She must feel very lonely without her son," said Edna,
desiring to change the subject. "Her favorite son, too. It must
have been quite hard to let him go."
Mademoiselle laughed maliciously.
"Her favorite son! Oh, dear! Who could have been imposing such
a tale upon you? Aline Lebrun lives for Victor, and for Victor
alone. She has spoiled him into the worthless creature he is. She
worships him and the ground he walks on. Robert is very well in a
way, to give up all the money he can earn to the family, and keep
the barest pittance for himself. Favorite son, indeed! I miss the
poor fellow myself, my dear. I liked to see him and to hear him
about the place the only Lebrun who is worth a pinch of salt.
He comes to see me often in the city. I like to play to
him. That Victor! hanging would be too good for him.
It's a wonder Robert hasn't beaten him to death long ago."
"I thought he had great patience with his brother," offered
Edna, glad to be talking about Robert, no matter what was said.
"Oh! he thrashed him well enough a year or two ago," said
Mademoiselle. "It was about a Spanish girl, whom Victor considered
that he had some sort of claim upon. He met Robert one day talking
to the girl, or walking with her, or bathing with her, or carrying
her basket--I don't remember what;--and he became so insulting and
abusive that Robert gave him a thrashing on the spot that has kept
him comparatively in order for a good while. It's about time he
was getting another."
"Was her name Mariequita?" asked Edna.
"Mariequita--yes, that was it; Mariequita. I had forgotten.
Oh, she's a sly one, and a bad one, that Mariequita!"
Edna looked down at Mademoiselle Reisz and wondered how she
could have listened to her venom so long. For some reason she felt
depressed, almost unhappy. She had not intended to go into the
water; but she donned her bathing suit, and left Mademoiselle
alone, seated under the shade of the children's tent. The water
was growing cooler as the season advanced. Edna plunged and swam
about with an abandon that thrilled and invigorated her. She
remained a long time in the water, half hoping that Mademoiselle
Reisz would not wait for her.
But Mademoiselle waited. She was very amiable during the walk
back, and raved much over Edna's appearance in her bathing suit.
She talked about music. She hoped that Edna would go to see her in
the city, and wrote her address with the stub of a pencil on a
piece of card which she found in her pocket.
"When do you leave?" asked Edna.
"Next Monday; and you?"
"The following week," answered Edna, adding, "It has been
a pleasant summer, hasn't it, Mademoiselle?"
"Well," agreed Mademoiselle Reisz, with a shrug, "rather pleasant,
if it hadn't been for the mosquitoes and the Farival twins."
The Pontelliers possessed a very charming home on Esplanade
Street in New Orleans. It was a large, double cottage, with a
broad front veranda, whose round, fluted columns supported the
sloping roof. The house was painted a dazzling white; the outside
shutters, or jalousies, were green. In the yard, which was kept
scrupulously neat, were flowers and plants of every description
which flourishes in South Louisiana. Within doors the appointments
were perfect after the conventional type. The softest carpets and
rugs covered the floors; rich and tasteful draperies hung at doors
and windows. There were paintings, selected with judgment and
discrimination, upon the walls. The cut glass, the silver, the
heavy damask which daily appeared upon the table were the envy of
many women whose husbands were less generous than Mr. Pontellier.
Mr. Pontellier was very fond of walking about his house
examining its various appointments and details, to see that nothing
was amiss. He greatly valued his possessions, chiefly because they
were his, and derived genuine pleasure from contemplating a
painting, a statuette, a rare lace curtain--no matter what--after
he had bought it and placed it among his household gods.
On Tuesday afternoons--Tuesday being Mrs. Pontellier's
reception day--there was a constant stream of callers--women who
came in carriages or in the street cars, or walked when the air was
soft and distance permitted. A light-colored mulatto boy,
in dress coat and bearing a diminutive silver tray
for the reception of cards, admitted them. A maid,
in white fluted cap, offered the callers liqueur, coffee,
or chocolate, as they might desire. Mrs. Pontellier, attired in a
handsome reception gown, remained in the drawing-room the entire
afternoon receiving her visitors. Men sometimes called in the
evening with their wives.
This had been the programme which Mrs. Pontellier had
religiously followed since her marriage, six years before. Certain
evenings during the week she and her husband attended the opera or
sometimes the play.
Mr. Pontellier left his home in the mornings between nine and
ten o'clock, and rarely returned before half-past six or seven in
the evening--dinner being served at half-past seven.
He and his wife seated themselves at table one Tuesday
evening, a few weeks after their return from Grand Isle. They were
alone together. The boys were being put to bed; the patter of
their bare, escaping feet could be heard occasionally, as well as
the pursuing voice of the quadroon, lifted in mild protest and
entreaty. Mrs. Pontellier did not wear her usual Tuesday reception
gown; she was in ordinary house dress. Mr. Pontellier, who was
observant about such things, noticed it, as he served the soup and
handed it to the boy in waiting.
"Tired out, Edna? Whom did you have? Many callers?" he asked.
He tasted his soup and began to season it with pepper, salt,
vinegar, mustard--everything within reach.
"There were a good many," replied Edna, who was eating her
soup with evident satisfaction. "I found their cards when I got
home; I was out."
"Out!" exclaimed her husband, with something like genuine
consternation in his voice as he laid down the vinegar cruet and
looked at her through his glasses. "Why, what could have taken you
out on Tuesday? What did you have to do?"
"Nothing. I simply felt like going out, and I went out."
"Well, I hope you left some suitable excuse," said her husband,
somewhat appeased, as he added a dash of cayenne pepper to the soup.
"No, I left no excuse. I told Joe to say I was out, that was all."
"Why, my dear, I should think you'd understand by this time
that people don't do such things; we've got to observe les
convenances if we ever expect to get on and keep up with the
procession. If you felt that you had to leave home this afternoon,
you should have left some suitable explanation for your absence.
"This soup is really impossible; it's strange that woman
hasn't learned yet to make a decent soup. Any free-lunch stand in
town serves a better one. Was Mrs. Belthrop here?"
"Bring the tray with the cards, Joe. I don't remember who was here."
The boy retired and returned after a moment, bringing the tiny
silver tray, which was covered with ladies' visiting cards. He
handed it to Mrs. Pontellier.
"Give it to Mr. Pontellier," she said.
Joe offered the tray to Mr. Pontellier, and removed the soup.
Mr. Pontellier scanned the names of his wife's callers,
reading some of them aloud, with comments as he read.
"`The Misses Delasidas.' I worked a big deal in futures for
their father this morning; nice girls; it's time they were getting
married. `Mrs. Belthrop.' I tell you what it is, Edna; you can't
afford to snub Mrs. Belthrop. Why, Belthrop could buy and sell us
ten times over. His business is worth a good, round sum to me.
You'd better write her a note. `Mrs. James Highcamp.' Hugh! the
less you have to do with Mrs. Highcamp, the better. `Madame
Laforce.' Came all the way from Carrolton, too, poor old soul.
'Miss Wiggs,' `Mrs. Eleanor Boltons.'" He pushed the cards aside.
"Mercy!" exclaimed Edna, who had been fuming. "Why are you
taking the thing so seriously and making such a fuss over it?"
"I'm not making any fuss over it. But it's just such seeming trifles
that we've got to take seriously; such things count."
The fish was scorched. Mr. Pontellier would not touch it.
Edna said she did not mind a little scorched taste. The roast was
in some way not to his fancy, and he did not like the manner in
which the vegetables were served.
"It seems to me," he said, "we spend money enough in this
house to procure at least one meal a day which a man could eat and
retain his self-respect."
"You used to think the cook was a treasure," returned Edna,
"Perhaps she was when she first came; but cooks are only
human. They need looking after, like any other class of persons
that you employ. Suppose I didn't look after the clerks in my
office, just let them run things their own way; they'd soon make a
nice mess of me and my business."
"Where are you going?" asked Edna, seeing that her husband
arose from table without having eaten a morsel except a taste of
the highly-seasoned soup.
"I'm going to get my dinner at the club. Good night." He went
into the hall, took his hat and stick from the stand, and left the
She was somewhat familiar with such scenes. They had often
made her very unhappy. On a few previous occasions she had been
completely deprived of any desire to finish her dinner. Sometimes
she had gone into the kitchen to administer a tardy rebuke to the
cook. Once she went to her room and studied the cookbook during an
entire evening, finally writing out a menu for the week, which left
her harassed with a feeling that, after all, she had accomplished
no good that was worth the name.
But that evening Edna finished her dinner alone, with forced
deliberation. Her face was flushed and her eyes flamed with some
inward fire that lighted them. After finishing her dinner she went
to her room, having instructed the boy to tell any other callers
that she was indisposed.
It was a large, beautiful room, rich and picturesque in
the soft, dim light which the maid had turned low. She went
and stood at an open window and looked out upon the deep tangle
of the garden below. All the mystery and witchery of the night
seemed to have gathered there amid the perfumes and the dusky
and tortuous outlines of flowers and foliage. She was seeking
herself and finding herself in just such sweet, half-darkness which
met her moods. But the voices were not soothing that came to her
from the darkness and the sky above and the stars. They jeered and
sounded mournful notes without promise, devoid even of hope. She
turned back into the room and began to walk to and fro down its
whole length, without stopping, without resting. She carried in
her hands a thin handkerchief, which she tore into ribbons, rolled
into a ball, and flung from her. Once she stopped, and taking off
her wedding ring, flung it upon the carpet. When she saw it lying
there, she stamped her heel upon it, striving to crush it. But her
small boot heel did not make an indenture, not a mark upon the
little glittering circlet.
In a sweeping passion she seized a glass vase from the table
and flung it upon the tiles of the hearth. She wanted to destroy
something. The crash and clatter were what she wanted to hear.
A maid, alarmed at the din of breaking glass, entered the room
to discover what was the matter.
"A vase fell upon the hearth," said Edna. "Never mind; leave
it till morning."
"Oh! you might get some of the glass in your feet, ma'am,"
insisted the young woman, picking up bits of the broken vase that
were scattered upon the carpet. "And here's your ring, ma'am,
under the chair."
Edna held out her hand, and taking the ring, slipped it upon
The following morning Mr. Pontellier, upon leaving for his
office, asked Edna if she would not meet him in town in order to
look at some new fixtures for the library.
"I hardly think we need new fixtures, Leonce. Don't let us
get anything new; you are too extravagant. I don't believe you
ever think of saving or putting by."
"The way to become rich is to make money, my dear Edna, not to
save it," he said. He regretted that she did not feel inclined to
go with him and select new fixtures. He kissed her good-by, and
told her she was not looking well and must take care of herself.
She was unusually pale and very quiet.
She stood on the front veranda as he quitted the house, and
absently picked a few sprays of jessamine that grew upon a trellis
near by. She inhaled the odor of the blossoms and thrust them into
the bosom of her white morning gown. The boys were dragging along
the banquette a small "express wagon," which they had filled with
blocks and sticks. The quadroon was following them with little
quick steps, having assumed a fictitious animation and alacrity for
the occasion. A fruit vender was crying his wares in the street.
Edna looked straight before her with a self-absorbed
expression upon her face. She felt no interest in anything about
her. The street, the children, the fruit vender, the flowers
growing there under her eyes, were all part and parcel of an alien
world which had suddenly become antagonistic.
She went back into the house. She had thought of speaking to
the cook concerning her blunders of the previous night; but Mr.
Pontellier had saved her that disagreeable mission, for which
she was so poorly fitted. Mr. Pontellier's arguments were usually
convincing with those whom he employed. He left home feeling quite sure
that he and Edna would sit down that evening, and possibly a few
subsequent evenings, to a dinner deserving of the name.
Edna spent an hour or two in looking over some of her old
sketches. She could see their shortcomings and defects, which were
glaring in her eyes. She tried to work a little, but found she was
not in the humor. Finally she gathered together a few of the
sketches--those which she considered the least discreditable; and
she carried them with her when, a little later, she dressed and
left the house. She looked handsome and distinguished in her
street gown. The tan of the seashore had left her face, and her
forehead was smooth, white, and polished beneath her heavy,
yellow-brown hair. There were a few freckles on her face, and a small,
dark mole near the under lip and one on the temple, half-hidden in
As Edna walked along the street she was thinking of Robert.
She was still under the spell of her infatuation. She had tried to
forget him, realizing the inutility of remembering. But the
thought of him was like an obsession, ever pressing itself upon
her. It was not that she dwelt upon details of their acquaintance,
or recalled in any special or peculiar way his personality; it was
his being, his existence, which dominated her thought, fading
sometimes as if it would melt into the mist of the forgotten,
reviving again with an intensity which filled her with an
Edna was on her way to Madame Ratignolle's. Their intimacy,
begun at Grand Isle, had not declined, and they had seen each other
with some frequency since their return to the city. The
Ratignolles lived at no great distance from Edna's home, on the
corner of a side street, where Monsieur Ratignolle owned and
conducted a drug store which enjoyed a steady and prosperous trade.
His father had been in the business before him, and Monsieur
Ratignolle stood well in the community and bore an enviable
reputation for integrity and clearheadedness. His family
lived in commodious apartments over the store, having an entrance
on the side within the porte cochere. There was something
which Edna thought very French, very foreign, about their whole
manner of living. In the large and pleasant salon which extended
across the width of the house, the Ratignolles entertained their
friends once a fortnight with a soiree musicale, sometimes
diversified by card-playing. There was a friend who played upon
the 'cello. One brought his flute and another his violin, while
there were some who sang and a number who performed upon the piano
with various degrees of taste and agility. The Ratignolles' soirees
musicales were widely known, and it was considered a privilege
to be invited to them.
Edna found her friend engaged in assorting the clothes which
had returned that morning from the laundry. She at once abandoned
her occupation upon seeing Edna, who had been ushered without
ceremony into her presence.
"`Cite can do it as well as I; it is really her business," she
explained to Edna, who apologized for interrupting her. And she
summoned a young black woman, whom she instructed, in French, to be
very careful in checking off the list which she handed her. She
told her to notice particularly if a fine linen handkerchief of
Monsieur Ratignolle's, which was missing last week, had been
returned; and to be sure to set to one side such pieces as required
mending and darning.
Then placing an arm around Edna's waist, she led her to the
front of the house, to the salon, where it was cool and sweet with
the odor of great roses that stood upon the hearth in jars.
Madame Ratignolle looked more beautiful than ever there at
home, in a neglige which left her arms almost wholly bare and
exposed the rich, melting curves of her white throat.
"Perhaps I shall be able to paint your picture some day," said
Edna with a smile when they were seated. She produced the roll of
sketches and started to unfold them. "I believe I ought to work again.
I feel as if I wanted to be doing something. What do you think of them?
Do you think it worth while to take it up again and study some more?
I might study for a while with Laidpore."
She knew that Madame Ratignolle's opinion in such a matter
would be next to valueless, that she herself had not alone decided,
but determined; but she sought the words of praise and
encouragement that would help her to put heart into her venture.
"Your talent is immense, dear!"
"Nonsense!" protested Edna, well pleased.
"Immense, I tell you," persisted Madame Ratignolle, surveying
the sketches one by one, at close range, then holding them at arm's
length, narrowing her eyes, and dropping her head on one side.
"Surely, this Bavarian peasant is worthy of framing; and this
basket of apples! never have I seen anything more lifelike. One
might almost be tempted to reach out a hand and take one."
Edna could not control a feeling which bordered upon
complacency at her friend's praise, even realizing, as she did, its
true worth. She retained a few of the sketches, and gave all the
rest to Madame Ratignolle, who appreciated the gift far beyond its
value and proudly exhibited the pictures to her husband when he
came up from the store a little later for his midday dinner.
Mr. Ratignolle was one of those men who are called the salt of
the earth. His cheerfulness was unbounded, and it was matched by
his goodness of heart, his broad charity, and common sense. He and
his wife spoke English with an accent which was only discernible
through its un-English emphasis and a certain carefulness and
deliberation. Edna's husband spoke English with no accent
whatever. The Ratignolles understood each other perfectly. If
ever the fusion of two human beings into one has been accomplished
on this sphere it was surely in their union.
As Edna seated herself at table with them she thought, "Better
a dinner of herbs," though it did not take her long to discover
that it was no dinner of herbs, but a delicious repast,
simple, choice, and in every way satisfying.
Monsieur Ratignolle was delighted to see her, though he found
her looking not so well as at Grand Isle, and he advised a tonic.
He talked a good deal on various topics, a little politics, some
city news and neighborhood gossip. He spoke with an animation and
earnestness that gave an exaggerated importance to every syllable
he uttered. His wife was keenly interested in everything he said,
laying down her fork the better to listen, chiming in, taking the
words out of his mouth.
Edna felt depressed rather than soothed after leaving them.
The little glimpse of domestic harmony which had been offered her,
gave her no regret, no longing. It was not a condition of life
which fitted her, and she could see in it but an appalling and
hopeless ennui. She was moved by a kind of commiseration for
Madame Ratignolle,--a pity for that colorless existence which never
uplifted its possessor beyond the region of blind contentment, in
which no moment of anguish ever visited her soul, in which she
would never have the taste of life's delirium. Edna vaguely
wondered what she meant by "life's delirium." It had crossed her
thought like some unsought, extraneous impression.
Edna could not help but think that it was very foolish, very
childish, to have stamped upon her wedding ring and smashed the
crystal vase upon the tiles. She was visited by no more outbursts,
moving her to such futile expedients. She began to do as she liked
and to feel as she liked. She completely abandoned her Tuesdays at
home, and did not return the visits of those who had called upon her.
She made no ineffectual efforts to conduct her household en
bonne menagere, going and coming as it suited her fancy, and,
so far as she was able, lending herself to any passing caprice.
Mr. Pontellier had been a rather courteous husband so long as
he met a certain tacit submissiveness in his wife. But her new and
unexpected line of conduct completely bewildered him. It shocked
him. Then her absolute disregard for her duties as a wife angered
him. When Mr. Pontellier became rude, Edna grew insolent. She had
resolved never to take another step backward.
"It seems to me the utmost folly for a woman at the head of a
household, and the mother of children, to spend in an atelier days
which would be better employed contriving for the comfort of her
"I feel like painting," answered Edna. "Perhaps I shan't
always feel like it."
"Then in God's name paint! but don't let the family go to the
devil. There's Madame Ratignolle; because she keeps up her music,
she doesn't let everything else go to chaos. And she's more of a
musician than you are a painter."
"She isn't a musician, and I'm not a painter. It isn't on
account of painting that I let things go."
"On account of what, then?"
"Oh! I don't know. Let me alone; you bother me."
It sometimes entered Mr. Pontellier's mind to wonder if his
wife were not growing a little unbalanced mentally. He could see
plainly that she was not herself. That is, he could not see that
she was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious
self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the
Her husband let her alone as she requested, and went away to
his office. Edna went up to her atelier--a bright room in the top
of the house. She was working with great energy and interest,
without accomplishing anything, however, which satisfied her even
in the smallest degree. For a time she had the whole household
enrolled in the service of art. The boys posed for her. They thought
it amusing at first, but the occupation soon lost its attractiveness
when they discovered that it was not a game arranged especially for
their entertainment. The quadroon sat for hours before Edna's
palette, patient as a savage, while the house-maid took charge of
the children, and the drawing-room went undusted. But the
housemaid, too, served her term as model when Edna perceived that the
young woman's back and shoulders were molded on classic lines, and
that her hair, loosened from its confining cap, became an
inspiration. While Edna worked she sometimes sang low the little
air, "Ah! si tu savais!"
It moved her with recollections. She could hear again the
ripple of the water, the flapping sail. She could see the glint of
the moon upon the bay, and could feel the soft, gusty beating of
the hot south wind. A subtle current of desire passed through her
body, weakening her hold upon the brushes and making her eyes burn.
There were days when she was very happy without knowing why.
She was happy to be alive and breathing, when her whole being
seemed to be one with the sunlight, the color, the odors, the
luxuriant warmth of some perfect Southern day. She liked then to
wander alone into strange and unfamiliar places. She discovered
many a sunny, sleepy corner, fashioned to dream in. And she found
it good to dream and to be alone and unmolested.
There were days when she was unhappy, she did not know
why,--when it did not seem worth while to be glad or sorry, to be alive
or dead; when life appeared to her like a grotesque pandemonium and
humanity like worms struggling blindly toward inevitable
annihilation. She could not work on such a day, nor weave fancies
to stir her pulses and warm her blood.
It was during such a mood that Edna hunted up Mademoiselle
Reisz. She had not forgotten the rather disagreeable impression
left upon her by their last interview; but she nevertheless felt a
desire to see her--above all, to listen while she played upon the
piano. Quite early in the afternoon she started upon her quest for
the pianist. Unfortunately she had mislaid or lost Mademoiselle
Reisz's card, and looking up her address in the city directory, she
found that the woman lived on Bienville Street, some distance away.
The directory which fell into her hands was a year or more old,
however, and upon reaching the number indicated, Edna discovered
that the house was occupied by a respectable family of mulattoes
who had chambres garnies to let. They had been living there
for six months, and knew absolutely nothing of a Mademoiselle
Reisz. In fact, they knew nothing of any of their neighbors; their
lodgers were all people of the highest distinction, they assured
Edna. She did not linger to discuss class distinctions with Madame
Pouponne, but hastened to a neighboring grocery store, feeling sure
that Mademoiselle would have left her address with the proprietor.
He knew Mademoiselle Reisz a good deal better than he wanted
to know her, he informed his questioner. In truth, he did not want
to know her at all, or anything concerning her--the most
disagreeable and unpopular woman who ever lived in Bienville
Street. He thanked heaven she had left the neighborhood, and was
equally thankful that he did not know where she had gone.
Edna's desire to see Mademoiselle Reisz had increased tenfold
since these unlooked-for obstacles had arisen to thwart it.
She was wondering who could give her the information she sought,
when it suddenly occurred to her that Madame Lebrun would be
the one most likely to do so. She knew it was useless to ask
Madame Ratignolle, who was on the most distant terms with
the musician, and preferred to know nothing concerning her.
She had once been almost as emphatic in expressing herself
upon the subject as the corner grocer.
Edna knew that Madame Lebrun had returned to the city, for it
was the middle of November. And she also knew where the Lebruns
lived, on Chartres Street.
Their home from the outside looked like a prison, with iron
bars before the door and lower windows. The iron bars were a relic
of the old regime, and no one had ever thought of dislodging
them. At the side was a high fence enclosing the garden. A gate
or door opening upon the street was locked. Edna rang the bell at
this side garden gate, and stood upon the banquette, waiting to be
It was Victor who opened the gate for her. A black woman,
wiping her hands upon her apron, was close at his heels. Before
she saw them Edna could hear them in altercation, the
woman--plainly an anomaly--claiming the right to be allowed to perform her
duties, one of which was to answer the bell.
Victor was surprised and delighted to see Mrs. Pontellier, and
he made no attempt to conceal either his astonishment or his
delight. He was a dark-browed, good-looking youngster of nineteen,
greatly resembling his mother, but with ten times her impetuosity.
He instructed the black woman to go at once and inform Madame
Lebrun that Mrs. Pontellier desired to see her. The woman grumbled
a refusal to do part of her duty when she had not been permitted to
do it all, and started back to her interrupted task of weeding the
garden. Whereupon Victor administered a rebuke in the form of a
volley of abuse, which, owing to its rapidity and incoherence, was
all but incomprehensible to Edna. Whatever it was, the rebuke was
convincing, for the woman dropped her hoe and went mumbling into
Edna did not wish to enter. It was very pleasant there on the
side porch, where there were chairs, a wicker lounge, and a small
table. She seated herself, for she was tired from her long tramp;
and she began to rock gently and smooth out the folds of her silk
parasol. Victor drew up his chair beside her. He at once
explained that the black woman's offensive conduct was all due to
imperfect training, as he was not there to take her in hand. He
had only come up from the island the morning before, and expected
to return next day. He stayed all winter at the island; he lived
there, and kept the place in order and got things ready for the
But a man needed occasional relaxation, he informed Mrs.
Pontellier, and every now and again he drummed up a pretext to
bring him to the city. My! but he had had a time of it the evening
before! He wouldn't want his mother to know, and he began to talk
in a whisper. He was scintillant with recollections. Of course,
he couldn't think of telling Mrs. Pontellier all about it, she
being a woman and not comprehending such things. But it all began
with a girl peeping and smiling at him through the shutters as he
passed by. Oh! but she was a beauty! Certainly he smiled back, and
went up and talked to her. Mrs. Pontellier did not know him if she
supposed he was one to let an opportunity like that escape him.
Despite herself, the youngster amused her. She must have betrayed
in her look some degree of interest or entertainment. The boy grew
more daring, and Mrs. Pontellier might have found herself, in a
little while, listening to a highly colored story but for the
timely appearance of Madame Lebrun.
That lady was still clad in white, according to her custom of the summer.
Her eyes beamed an effusive welcome. Would not Mrs. Pontellier go inside?
Would she partake of some refreshment? Why had she not been there before?
How was that dear Mr. Pontellier and how were those sweet children?
Had Mrs. Pontellier ever known such a warm November?
Victor went and reclined on the wicker lounge behind his mother's chair,
where he commanded a view of Edna's face. He had taken her parasol
from her hands while he spoke to her, and he now lifted it and
twirled it above him as he lay on his back. When Madame Lebrun
complained that it was so dull coming back to the city;
that she saw so few people now; that even Victor, when he came
up from the island for a day or two, had so much to occupy him
and engage his time; then it was that the youth went into
contortions on the lounge and winked mischievously at Edna.
She somehow felt like a confederate in crime, and tried to look
severe and disapproving.
There had been but two letters from Robert, with little in
them, they told her. Victor said it was really not worth while to
go inside for the letters, when his mother entreated him to go in
search of them. He remembered the contents, which in truth he
rattled off very glibly when put to the test.
One letter was written from Vera Cruz and the other from the
City of Mexico. He had met Montel, who was doing everything toward
his advancement. So far, the financial situation was no
improvement over the one he had left in New Orleans, but of course
the prospects were vastly better. He wrote of the City of Mexico,
the buildings, the people and their habits, the conditions of life
which he found there. He sent his love to the family. He inclosed
a check to his mother, and hoped she would affectionately remember
him to all his friends. That was about the substance of the two
letters. Edna felt that if there had been a message for her, she
would have received it. The despondent frame of mind in which she
had left home began again to overtake her, and she remembered that
she wished to find Mademoiselle Reisz.
Madame Lebrun knew where Mademoiselle Reisz lived. She gave
Edna the address, regretting that she would not consent to stay and
spend the remainder of the afternoon, and pay a visit to
Mademoiselle Reisz some other day. The afternoon was already well
Victor escorted her out upon the banquette, lifted her parasol,
and held it over her while he walked to the car with her.
He entreated her to bear in mind that the disclosures of
the afternoon were strictly confidential. She laughed
and bantered him a little, remembering too late that she
should have been dignified and reserved.
"How handsome Mrs. Pontellier looked!" said Madame Lebrun
to her son.
"Ravishing!" he admitted. "The city atmosphere has improved her.
Some way she doesn't seem like the same woman."
Some people contended that the reason Mademoiselle Reisz
always chose apartments up under the roof was to discourage the
approach of beggars, peddlars and callers. There were plenty of
windows in her little front room. They were for the most part
dingy, but as they were nearly always open it did not make so much
difference. They often admitted into the room a good deal of smoke
and soot; but at the same time all the light and air that there was
came through them. From her windows could be seen the crescent of
the river, the masts of ships and the big chimneys of the
Mississippi steamers. A magnificent piano crowded the apartment.
In the next room she slept, and in the third and last she harbored
a gasoline stove on which she cooked her meals when disinclined to
descend to the neighboring restaurant. It was there also that she
ate, keeping her belongings in a rare old buffet, dingy and
battered from a hundred years of use.
When Edna knocked at Mademoiselle Reisz's front room door and
entered, she discovered that person standing beside the window,
engaged in mending or patching an old prunella gaiter. The little
musician laughed all over when she saw Edna. Her laugh consisted
of a contortion of the face and all the muscles of the body.
She seemed strikingly homely, standing there in the afternoon light.
She still wore the shabby lace and the artificial bunch of violets
on the side of her head.
"So you remembered me at last," said Mademoiselle.
"I had said to myself, `Ah, bah! she will never come.'"
"Did you want me to come?" asked Edna with a smile.
"I had not thought much about it," answered Mademoiselle. The
two had seated themselves on a little bumpy sofa which stood
against the wall. "I am glad, however, that you came. I have the
water boiling back there, and was just about to make some coffee.
You will drink a cup with me. And how is la belle dame?
Always handsome! always healthy! always contented!" She took Edna's
hand between her strong wiry fingers, holding it loosely without warmth,
and executing a sort of double theme upon the back and palm.
"Yes," she went on; "I sometimes thought: `She will never
come. She promised as those women in society always do, without
meaning it. She will not come.' For I really don't believe you
like me, Mrs. Pontellier."
"I don't know whether I like you or not," replied Edna, gazing
down at the little woman with a quizzical look.
The candor of Mrs. Pontellier's admission greatly pleased
Mademoiselle Reisz. She expressed her gratification by repairing
forthwith to the region of the gasoline stove and rewarding her
guest with the promised cup of coffee. The coffee and the biscuit
accompanying it proved very acceptable to Edna, who had declined
refreshment at Madame Lebrun's and was now beginning to feel
hungry. Mademoiselle set the tray which she brought in upon a
small table near at hand, and seated herself once again on the
"I have had a letter from your friend," she remarked, as she
poured a little cream into Edna's cup and handed it to her.
"Yes, your friend Robert. He wrote to me from the City of Mexico."
"Wrote to YOU?" repeated Edna in amazement, stirring her coffee absently.
"Yes, to me. Why not? Don't stir all the warmth out of your
coffee; drink it. Though the letter might as well have been sent
to you; it was nothing but Mrs. Pontellier from beginning to end."
"Let me see it," requested the young woman, entreatingly.
"No; a letter concerns no one but the person who writes it and
the one to whom it is written."
"Haven't you just said it concerned me from beginning to end?"
"It was written about you, not to you. `Have you seen Mrs.
Pontellier? How is she looking?' he asks. `As Mrs. Pontellier
says,' or `as Mrs. Pontellier once said.' `If Mrs. Pontellier
should call upon you, play for her that Impromptu of Chopin's, my
favorite. I heard it here a day or two ago, but not as you play
it. I should like to know how it affects her,' and so on, as if he
supposed we were constantly in each other's society."
"Let me see the letter."
"Have you answered it?"
"Let me see the letter."
"No, and again, no."
"Then play the Impromptu for me."
"It is growing late; what time do you have to be home?"
"Time doesn't concern me. Your question seems a little rude.
Play the Impromptu."
"But you have told me nothing of yourself. What are you doing?"
"Painting!" laughed Edna. "I am becoming an artist. Think of it!"
"Ah! an artist! You have pretensions, Madame."
"Why pretensions? Do you think I could not become an artist?"
"I do not know you well enough to say. I do not know your
talent or your temperament. To be an artist includes much;
one must possess many gifts--absolute gifts--which have not
been acquired by one's own effort. And, moreover, to succeed, the
artist must possess the courageous soul."
"What do you mean by the courageous soul?"
"Courageous, ma foi! The brave soul. The soul that dares
"Show me the letter and play for me the Impromptu. You see that
I have persistence. Does that quality count for anything in art?"
"It counts with a foolish old woman whom you have captivated,"
replied Mademoiselle, with her wriggling laugh.
The letter was right there at hand in the drawer of the little
table upon which Edna had just placed her coffee cup. Mademoiselle
opened the drawer and drew forth the letter, the topmost one. She
placed it in Edna's hands, and without further comment arose and
went to the piano.
Mademoiselle played a soft interlude. It was an
improvisation. She sat low at the instrument, and the lines of her body
settled into ungraceful curves and angles that gave it an
appearance of deformity. Gradually and imperceptibly the interlude
melted into the soft opening minor chords of the Chopin Impromptu.
Edna did not know when the Impromptu began or ended. She sat
in the sofa corner reading Robert's letter by the fading light.
Mademoiselle had glided from the Chopin into the quivering
lovenotes of Isolde's song, and back again to the Impromptu with its
soulful and poignant longing.
The shadows deepened in the little room. The music grew
strange and fantastic--turbulent, insistent, plaintive and soft
with entreaty. The shadows grew deeper. The music filled the
room. It floated out upon the night, over the housetops, the
crescent of the river, losing itself in the silence of the upper
Edna was sobbing, just as she had wept one midnight at Grand
Isle when strange, new voices awoke in her. She arose in some agitation
to take her departure. "May I come again, Mademoiselle?" she asked
at the threshold.
"Come whenever you feel like it. Be careful; the stairs and
landings are dark; don't stumble."
Mademoiselle reentered and lit a candle. Robert's letter was
on the floor. She stooped and picked it up. It was crumpled and
damp with tears. Mademoiselle smoothed the letter out, restored it
to the envelope, and replaced it in the table drawer.
One morning on his way into town Mr. Pontellier stopped at the
house of his old friend and family physician, Doctor Mandelet. The
Doctor was a semi-retired physician, resting, as the saying is,
upon his laurels. He bore a reputation for wisdom rather than
skill--leaving the active practice of medicine to his assistants
and younger contemporaries--and was much sought for in matters of
consultation. A few families, united to him by bonds of
friendship, he still attended when they required the services of a
physician. The Pontelliers were among these.
Mr. Pontellier found the Doctor reading at the open window of
his study. His house stood rather far back from the street, in the
center of a delightful garden, so that it was quiet and peaceful at
the old gentleman's study window. He was a great reader. He
stared up disapprovingly over his eye-glasses as Mr. Pontellier
entered, wondering who had the temerity to disturb him at that hour
of the morning.
"Ah, Pontellier! Not sick, I hope. Come and have a seat.
What news do you bring this morning?" He was quite portly, with a
profusion of gray hair, and small blue eyes which age had robbed
of much of their brightness but none of their penetration.
"Oh! I'm never sick, Doctor. You know that I come of tough
fiber--of that old Creole race of Pontelliers that dry up and
finally blow away. I came to consult--no, not precisely to
consult--to talk to you about Edna. I don't know what ails her."
"Madame Pontellier not well," marveled the Doctor. "Why, I
saw her--I think it was a week ago--walking along Canal Street, the
picture of health, it seemed to me."
"Yes, yes; she seems quite well," said Mr. Pontellier, leaning
forward and whirling his stick between his two hands; "but she
doesn't act well. She's odd, she's not like herself. I can't make
her out, and I thought perhaps you'd help me."
"How does she act?" inquired the Doctor.
"Well, it isn't easy to explain," said Mr. Pontellier,
throwing himself back in his chair. "She lets the housekeeping go
to the dickens."
"Well, well; women are not all alike, my dear Pontellier.
We've got to consider--"
"I know that; I told you I couldn't explain. Her whole
attitude--toward me and everybody and everything--has changed. You
know I have a quick temper, but I don't want to quarrel or be rude
to a woman, especially my wife; yet I'm driven to it, and feel like
ten thousand devils after I've made a fool of myself. She's making
it devilishly uncomfortable for me," he went on nervously. "She's
got some sort of notion in her head concerning the eternal rights
of women; and--you understand--we meet in the morning at the
The old gentleman lifted his shaggy eyebrows, protruded his
thick nether lip, and tapped the arms of his chair with his
"What have you been doing to her, Pontellier?"
"Has she," asked the Doctor, with a smile, "has she been associating
of late with a circle of pseudo-intellectual women--super-spiritual
superior beings? My wife has been telling me about them."
"That's the trouble," broke in Mr. Pontellier, "she hasn't
been associating with any one. She has abandoned her Tuesdays at
home, has thrown over all her acquaintances, and goes tramping
about by herself, moping in the street-cars, getting in after dark.
I tell you she's peculiar. I don't like it; I feel a little
worried over it."
This was a new aspect for the Doctor. "Nothing hereditary?"
he asked, seriously. "Nothing peculiar about her family
antecedents, is there?"
"Oh, no, indeed! She comes of sound old Presbyterian Kentucky
stock. The old gentleman, her father, I have heard, used to atone
for his weekday sins with his Sunday devotions. I know for a fact,
that his race horses literally ran away with the prettiest bit of
Kentucky farming land I ever laid eyes upon. Margaret--you know
Margaret--she has all the Presbyterianism undiluted. And the
youngest is something of a vixen. By the way, she gets married in a
couple of weeks from now."
"Send your wife up to the wedding," exclaimed the Doctor,
foreseeing a happy solution. "Let her stay among her own people
for a while; it will do her good."
"That's what I want her to do. She won't go to the marriage.
She says a wedding is one of the most lamentable spectacles on
earth. Nice thing for a woman to say to her husband!" exclaimed
Mr. Pontellier, fuming anew at the recollection.
"Pontellier," said the Doctor, after a moment's reflection,
"let your wife alone for a while. Don't bother her, and don't let
her bother you. Woman, my dear friend, is a very peculiar and
delicate organism--a sensitive and highly organized woman, such as
I know Mrs. Pontellier to be, is especially peculiar. It would
require an inspired psychologist to deal successfully with them.
And when ordinary fellows like you and me attempt to cope with
their idiosyncrasies the result is bungling. Most women are moody
and whimsical. This is some passing whim of your wife, due to some
cause or causes which you and I needn't try to fathom.
But it will pass happily over, especially if you let her alone.
Send her around to see me."
"Oh! I couldn't do that; there'd be no reason for it,"
objected Mr. Pontellier.
"Then I'll go around and see her," said the Doctor. "I'll
drop in to dinner some evening en bon ami.
"Do! by all means," urged Mr. Pontellier. "What evening will
you come? Say Thursday. Will you come Thursday?" he asked, rising
to take his leave.
"Very well; Thursday. My wife may possibly have some
engagement for me Thursday. In case she has, I shall let you know.
Otherwise, you may expect me."
Mr. Pontellier turned before leaving to say:
"I am going to New York on business very soon. I have a big
scheme on hand, and want to be on the field proper to pull the
ropes and handle the ribbons. We'll let you in on the inside if
you say so, Doctor," he laughed.
"No, I thank you, my dear sir," returned the Doctor. "I leave
such ventures to you younger men with the fever of life still in
"What I wanted to say," continued Mr. Pontellier, with his
hand on the knob; "I may have to be absent a good while. Would you
advise me to take Edna along?"
"By all means, if she wishes to go. If not, leave her here.
Don't contradict her. The mood will pass, I assure you. It may
take a month, two, three months--possibly longer, but it will pass;
"Well, good-by, a jeudi, " said Mr. Pontellier, as he let
The Doctor would have liked during the course of conversation
to ask, "Is there any man in the case?" but he knew his Creole too
well to make such a blunder as that.
He did not resume his book immediately, but sat for a while
meditatively looking out into the garden.
Edna's father was in the city, and had been with them several
days. She was not very warmly or deeply attached to him, but they
had certain tastes in common, and when together they were
companionable. His coming was in the nature of a welcome
disturbance; it seemed to furnish a new direction for her emotions.
He had come to purchase a wedding gift for his daughter,
Janet, and an outfit for himself in which he might make a
creditable appearance at her marriage. Mr. Pontellier had selected
the bridal gift, as every one immediately connected with him always
deferred to his taste in such matters. And his suggestions on the
question of dress--which too often assumes the nature of a
problemwere of inestimable value to his father-in-law. But for the past
few days the old gentleman had been upon Edna's hands, and in his
society she was becoming acquainted with a new set of sensations.
He had been a colonel in the Confederate army, and still
maintained, with the title, the military bearing which had always
accompanied it. His hair and mustache were white and silky,
emphasizing the rugged bronze of his face. He was tall and thin, and
wore his coats padded, which gave a fictitious breadth and depth to
his shoulders and chest. Edna and her father looked very
distinguished together, and excited a good deal of notice during
their perambulations. Upon his arrival she began by introducing
him to her atelier and making a sketch of him. He took the whole
matter very seriously. If her talent had been ten-fold greater
than it was, it would not have surprised him, convinced as he was
that he had bequeathed to all of his daughters the germs of a
masterful capability, which only depended upon their own efforts
to be directed toward successful achievement.
Before her pencil he sat rigid and unflinching, as he had
faced the cannon's mouth in days gone by. He resented the
intrusion of the children, who gaped with wondering eyes at him,
sitting so stiff up there in their mother's bright atelier. When
they drew near he motioned them away with an expressive action of
the foot, loath to disturb the fixed lines of his countenance, his
arms, or his rigid shoulders.
Edna, anxious to entertain him, invited Mademoiselle Reisz to
meet him, having promised him a treat in her piano playing; but
Mademoiselle declined the invitation. So together they attended a
soiree musicale at the Ratignolles'. Monsieur and Madame
Ratignolle made much of the Colonel, installing him as the guest of
honor and engaging him at once to dine with them the following
Sunday, or any day which he might select. Madame coquetted with
him in the most captivating and naive manner, with eyes, gestures,
and a profusion of compliments, till the Colonel's old head felt
thirty years younger on his padded shoulders. Edna marveled, not
comprehending. She herself was almost devoid of coquetry.
There were one or two men whom she observed at the soiree
musicale; but she would never have felt moved to any kittenish
display to attract their notice--to any feline or feminine wiles to
express herself toward them. Their personality attracted her in an
agreeable way. Her fancy selected them, and she was glad when a
lull in the music gave them an opportunity to meet her and talk
with her. Often on the street the glance of strange eyes had
lingered in her memory, and sometimes had disturbed her.
Mr. Pontellier did not attend these soirees musicales.
He considered them bourgeois, and found more diversion at the club.
To Madame Ratignolle he said the music dispensed at her soirees
was too "heavy," too far beyond his untrained comprehension. His
excuse flattered her. But she disapproved of Mr. Pontellier's
club, and she was frank enough to tell Edna so.
"It's a pity Mr. Pontellier doesn't stay home more in the
evenings. I think you would be more--well, if you don't mind my
saying it--more united, if he did."
"Oh! dear no!" said Edna, with a blank look in her eyes.
"What should I do if he stayed home? We wouldn't have anything to
say to each other."
She had not much of anything to say to her father, for that
matter; but he did not antagonize her. She discovered that he
interested her, though she realized that he might not interest her
long; and for the first time in her life she felt as if she were
thoroughly acquainted with him. He kept her busy serving him and
ministering to his wants. It amused her to do so. She would not
permit a servant or one of the children to do anything for him
which she might do herself. Her husband noticed, and thought it
was the expression of a deep filial attachment which he had never
The Colonel drank numerous "toddies" during the course of the
day, which left him, however, imperturbed. He was an expert at
concocting strong drinks. He had even invented some, to which he
had given fantastic names, and for whose manufacture he required
diverse ingredients that it devolved upon Edna to procure for him.
When Doctor Mandelet dined with the Pontelliers on Thursday he
could discern in Mrs. Pontellier no trace of that morbid condition
which her husband had reported to him. She was excited and in a
manner radiant. She and her father had been to the race course,
and their thoughts when they seated themselves at table were still
occupied with the events of the afternoon, and their talk was still
of the track. The Doctor had not kept pace with turf affairs. He
had certain recollections of racing in what he called "the good old
times" when the Lecompte stables flourished, and he drew upon this
fund of memories so that he might not be left out and seem wholly
devoid of the modern spirit. But he failed to impose upon the
Colonel, and was even far from impressing him with this trumped-up
knowledge of bygone days. Edna had staked her father on his last
venture, with the most gratifying results to both of them.
Besides, they had met some very charming people, according
to the Colonel's impressions. Mrs. Mortimer Merriman and
Mrs. James Highcamp, who were there with Alcee Arobin,
had joined them and had enlivened the hours in a fashion
that warmed him to think of.
Mr. Pontellier himself had no particular leaning toward
horseracing, and was even rather inclined to discourage it as a pastime,
especially when he considered the fate of that blue-grass farm in
Kentucky. He endeavored, in a general way, to express a particular
disapproval, and only succeeded in arousing the ire and opposition
of his father-in-law. A pretty dispute followed, in which Edna
warmly espoused her father's cause and the Doctor remained neutral.
He observed his hostess attentively from under his shaggy
brows, and noted a subtle change which had transformed her from the
listless woman he had known into a being who, for the moment,
seemed palpitant with the forces of life. Her speech was warm and
energetic. There was no repression in her glance or gesture. She
reminded him of some beautiful, sleek animal waking up in the sun.
The dinner was excellent. The claret was warm and the
champagne was cold, and under their beneficent influence the
threatened unpleasantness melted and vanished with the fumes of the
Mr. Pontellier warmed up and grew reminiscent. He told some
amusing plantation experiences, recollections of old Iberville and
his youth, when he hunted `possum in company with some friendly
darky; thrashed the pecan trees, shot the grosbec, and roamed the
woods and fields in mischievous idleness.
The Colonel, with little sense of humor and of the fitness of
things, related a somber episode of those dark and bitter days, in
which he had acted a conspicuous part and always formed a central
figure. Nor was the Doctor happier in his selection, when he told
the old, ever new and curious story of the waning of a woman's love,
seeking strange, new channels, only to return to its legitimate source
after days of fierce unrest. It was one of the many little human
documents which had been unfolded to him during his long career as
a physician. The story did not seem especially to impress Edna.
She had one of her own to tell, of a woman who paddled away with
her lover one night in a pirogue and never came back. They were
lost amid the Baratarian Islands, and no one ever heard of them or
found trace of them from that day to this. It was a pure
invention. She said that Madame Antoine had related it to her.
That, also, was an invention. Perhaps it was a dream she had had.
But every glowing word seemed real to those who listened. They
could feel the hot breath of the Southern night; they could hear
the long sweep of the pirogue through the glistening moonlit water,
the beating of birds' wings, rising startled from among the reeds
in the salt-water pools; they could see the faces of the lovers,
pale, close together, rapt in oblivious forgetfulness, drifting
into the unknown.
The champagne was cold, and its subtle fumes played fantastic
tricks with Edna's memory that night.
Outside, away from the glow of the fire and the soft
lamplight, the night was chill and murky. The Doctor doubled his
old-fashioned cloak across his breast as he strode home through the
darkness. He knew his fellow-creatures better than most men; knew
that inner life which so seldom unfolds itself to unanointed* eyes.
He was sorry he had accepted Pontellier's invitation. He was
growing old, and beginning to need rest and an imperturbed spirit.
He did not want the secrets of other lives thrust upon him.
"I hope it isn't Arobin," he muttered to himself as he walked.
"I hope to heaven it isn't Alcee Arobin."
Edna and her father had a warm, and almost violent dispute
upon the subject of her refusal to attend her sister's wedding.
Mr. Pontellier declined to interfere, to interpose either his
influence or his authority. He was following Doctor Mandelet's
advice, and letting her do as she liked. The Colonel reproached
his daughter for her lack of filial kindness and respect, her want
of sisterly affection and womanly consideration. His arguments
were labored and unconvincing. He doubted if Janet would accept
any excuse--forgetting that Edna had offered none. He doubted if
Janet would ever speak to her again, and he was sure Margaret would
Edna was glad to be rid of her father when he finally took
himself off with his wedding garments and his bridal gifts, with
his padded shoulders, his Bible reading, his "toddies" and
Mr. Pontellier followed him closely. He meant to stop at the
wedding on his way to New York and endeavor by every means which
money and love could devise to atone somewhat for Edna's
"You are too lenient, too lenient by far, Leonce," asserted
the Colonel. "Authority, coercion are what is needed. Put your
foot down good and hard; the only way to manage a wife. Take my
word for it."
The Colonel was perhaps unaware that he had coerced his own
wife into her grave. Mr. Pontellier had a vague suspicion of it
which he thought it needless to mention at that late day.
Edna was not so consciously gratified at her husband's leaving
home as she had been over the departure of her father. As the day
approached when he was to leave her for a comparatively long stay,
she grew melting and affectionate, remembering his many acts of consideration
and his repeated expressions of an ardent attachment. She was solicitous
about his health and his welfare. She bustled around, looking after
his clothing, thinking about heavy underwear, quite as Madame Ratignolle
would have done under similar circumstances. She cried when he went away,
calling him her dear, good friend, and she was quite certain she would
grow lonely before very long and go to join him in New York.
But after all, a radiant peace settled upon her when she at
last found herself alone. Even the children were gone. Old Madame
Pontellier had come herself and carried them off to Iberville with
their quadroon. The old madame did not venture to say she was
afraid they would be neglected during Leonce's absence; she hardly
ventured to think so. She was hungry for them--even a little
fierce in her attachment. She did not want them to be wholly
"children of the pavement," she always said when begging to have
them for a space. She wished them to know the country, with its
streams, its fields, its woods, its freedom, so delicious to the
young. She wished them to taste something of the life their father
had lived and known and loved when he, too, was a little child.
When Edna was at last alone, she breathed a big, genuine sigh
of relief. A feeling that was unfamiliar but very delicious came
over her. She walked all through the house, from one room to
another, as if inspecting it for the first time. She tried the
various chairs and lounges, as if she had never sat and reclined
upon them before. And she perambulated around the outside of the
house, investigating, looking to see if windows and shutters were
secure and in order. The flowers were like new acquaintances; she
approached them in a familiar spirit, and made herself at home
among them. The garden walks were damp, and Edna called to the
maid to bring out her rubber sandals. And there she stayed, and
stooped, digging around the plants, trimming, picking dead, dry
leaves. The children's little dog came out, interfering, getting
in her way. She scolded him, laughed at him, played with him.
The garden smelled so good and looked so pretty in the afternoon
sunlight. Edna plucked all the bright flowers she could find,
and went into the house with them, she and the little dog.
Even the kitchen assumed a sudden interesting character which
she had never before perceived. She went in to give directions to
the cook, to say that the butcher would have to bring much less
meat, that they would require only half their usual quantity of
bread, of milk and groceries. She told the cook that she herself
would be greatly occupied during Mr. Pontellier's absence, and she
begged her to take all thought and responsibility of the larder
upon her own shoulders.
That night Edna dined alone. The candelabra, with a few
candies in the center of the table, gave all the light she needed.
Outside the circle of light in which she sat, the large dining-room
looked solemn and shadowy. The cook, placed upon her mettle,
served a delicious repast--a luscious tenderloin broiled a
point. The wine tasted good; the marron glace seemed to be
just what she wanted. It was so pleasant, too, to dine in a
She thought a little sentimentally about Leonce and the
children, and wondered what they were doing. As she gave a dainty
scrap or two to the doggie, she talked intimately to him about
Etienne and Raoul. He was beside himself with astonishment and
delight over these companionable advances, and showed his
appreciation by his little quick, snappy barks and a lively
Then Edna sat in the library after dinner and read Emerson
until she grew sleepy. She realized that she had neglected her
reading, and determined to start anew upon a course of improving
studies, now that her time was completely her own to do with as she
After a refreshing bath, Edna went to bed. And as she
snuggled comfortably beneath the eiderdown a sense of restfulness
invaded her, such as she had not known before.
When the weather was dark and cloudy Edna could not work. She
needed the sun to mellow and temper her mood to the sticking point.
She had reached a stage when she seemed to be no longer feeling her
way, working, when in the humor, with sureness and ease. And being
devoid of ambition, and striving not toward accomplishment, she
drew satisfaction from the work in itself.
On rainy or melancholy days Edna went out and sought the
society of the friends she had made at Grand Isle. Or else she
stayed indoors and nursed a mood with which she was becoming too
familiar for her own comfort and peace of mind. It was not
despair; but it seemed to her as if life were passing by, leaving
its promise broken and unfulfilled. Yet there were other days when
she listened, was led on and deceived by fresh promises which her
youth held out to her.
She went again to the races, and again. Alcee Arobin and Mrs.
Highcamp called for her one bright afternoon in Arobin's drag.
Mrs. Highcamp was a worldly but unaffected, intelligent, slim, tall
blonde woman in the forties, with an indifferent manner and blue
eyes that stared. She had a daughter who served her as a pretext
for cultivating the society of young men of fashion. Alcee Arobin
was one of them. He was a familiar figure at the race course, the
opera, the fashionable clubs. There was a perpetual smile in his
eyes, which seldom failed to awaken a corresponding cheerfulness in
any one who looked into them and listened to his good-humored
voice. His manner was quiet, and at times a little insolent. He
possessed a good figure, a pleasing face, not overburdened with
depth of thought or feeling; and his dress was that of the conventional
man of fashion.
He admired Edna extravagantly, after meeting her at the races
with her father. He had met her before on other occasions, but she
had seemed to him unapproachable until that day. It was at his
instigation that Mrs. Highcamp called to ask her to go with them to
the Jockey Club to witness the turf event of the season.
There were possibly a few track men out there who knew the
race horse as well as Edna, but there was certainly none who knew
it better. She sat between her two companions as one having
authority to speak. She laughed at Arobin's pretensions, and
deplored Mrs. Highcamp's ignorance. The race horse was a friend
and intimate associate of her childhood. The atmosphere of the
stables and the breath of the blue grass paddock revived in her
memory and lingered in her nostrils. She did not perceive that she
was talking like her father as the sleek geldings ambled in review
before them. She played for very high stakes, and fortune favored
her. The fever of the game flamed in her cheeks and eves, and it
got into her blood and into her brain like an intoxicant. People
turned their heads to look at her, and more than one lent an
attentive car to her utterances, hoping thereby to secure the
elusive but ever-desired "tip." Arobin caught the contagion of
excitement which drew him to Edna like a magnet. Mrs. Highcamp
remained, as usual, unmoved, with her indifferent stare and
Edna stayed and dined with Mrs. Highcamp upon being urged to
do so. Arobin also remained and sent away his drag.
The dinner was quiet and uninteresting, save for the cheerful
efforts of Arobin to enliven things. Mrs. Highcamp deplored the
absence of her daughter from the races, and tried to convey to her
what she had missed by going to the "Dante reading" instead of
joining them. The girl held a geranium leaf up to her nose and
said nothing, but looked knowing and noncommittal. Mr. Highcamp
was a plain, bald-headed man, who only talked under compulsion.
He was unresponsive. Mrs. Highcamp was full of delicate courtesy
and consideration toward her husband. She addressed most of her
conversation to him at table. They sat in the library after dinner
and read the evening papers together under the droplight; while the
younger people went into the drawing-room near by and talked. Miss
Highcamp played some selections from Grieg upon the piano. She
seemed to have apprehended all of the composer's coldness and none
of his poetry. While Edna listened she could not help wondering if
she had lost her taste for music.
When the time came for her to go home, Mr. Highcamp grunted a
lame offer to escort her, looking down at his slippered feet with
tactless concern. It was Arobin who took her home. The car ride
was long, and it was late when they reached Esplanade Street.
Arobin asked permission to enter for a second to light his
cigarette--his match safe was empty. He filled his match safe, but
did not light his cigarette until he left her, after she had
expressed her willingness to go to the races with him again.
Edna was neither tired nor sleepy. She was hungry again, for
the Highcamp dinner, though of excellent quality, had lacked
abundance. She rummaged in the larder and brought forth a slice of
Gruyere and some crackers. She opened a bottle of beer which she
found in the icebox. Edna felt extremely restless and excited.
She vacantly hummed a fantastic tune as she poked at the wood
embers on the hearth and munched a cracker.
She wanted something to happen--something, anything; she did
not know what. She regretted that she had not made Arobin stay a
half hour to talk over the horses with her. She counted the money
she had won. But there was nothing else to do, so she went to bed,
and tossed there for hours in a sort of monotonous agitation.
In the middle of the night she remembered that she had
forgotten to write her regular letter to her husband; and she
decided to do so next day and tell him about her afternoon at the
Jockey Club. She lay wide awake composing a letter which was
nothing like the one which she wrote next day. When the maid
awoke her in the morning Edna was dreaming of Mr. Highcamp
playing the piano at the entrance of a music store on Canal Street,
while his wife was saying to Alcee Arobin, as they boarded an
Esplanade Street car:
"What a pity that so much talent has been neglected! but I must go."
When, a few days later, Alcee Arobin again called for Edna in
his drag, Mrs. Highcamp was not with him. He said they would pick
her up. But as that lady had not been apprised of his intention of
picking her up, she was not at home. The daughter was just leaving
the house to attend the meeting of a branch Folk Lore Society, and
regretted that she could not accompany them. Arobin appeared
nonplused, and asked Edna if there were any one else she cared to
She did not deem it worth while to go in search of any of the
fashionable acquaintances from whom she had withdrawn herself. She
thought of Madame Ratignolle, but knew that her fair friend did not
leave the house, except to take a languid walk around the block
with her husband after nightfall. Mademoiselle Reisz would have
laughed at such a request from Edna. Madame Lebrun might have
enjoyed the outing, but for some reason Edna did not want her. So
they went alone, she and Arobin.
The afternoon was intensely interesting to her. The
excitement came back upon her like a remittent fever. Her talk
grew familiar and confidential. It was no labor to become intimate
with Arobin. His manner invited easy confidence. The preliminary
stage of becoming acquainted was one which he always endeavored to
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