From Project Gutenberg's The Awakening and Selected Short Stories, by Kate Chopin
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A green and yellow parrot, which hung in a cage outside the door, kept
repeating over and over:
"Allez vous-en! Allez vous-en! Sapristi! That's all right!"
He could speak a little Spanish, and also a language which nobody
understood, unless it was the mocking-bird that hung on the other
side of the door, whistling his fluty notes out upon the breeze with
Mr. Pontellier, unable to read his newspaper with any degree of comfort,
arose with an expression and an exclamation of disgust.
He walked down the gallery and across the narrow "bridges" which
connected the Lebrun cottages one with the other. He had been seated
before the door of the main house. The parrot and the mockingbird were
the property of Madame Lebrun, and they had the right to make all the
noise they wished. Mr. Pontellier had the privilege of quitting their
society when they ceased to be entertaining.
He stopped before the door of his own cottage, which was the fourth one
from the main building and next to the last. Seating himself in a wicker
rocker which was there, he once more applied himself to the task of
reading the newspaper. The day was Sunday; the paper was a day old. The
Sunday papers had not yet reached Grand Isle. He was already acquainted
with the market reports, and he glanced restlessly over the editorials
and bits of news which he had not had time to read before quitting New
Orleans the day before.
Mr. Pontellier wore eye-glasses. He was a man of forty, of medium height
and rather slender build; he stooped a little. His hair was brown and
straight, parted on one side. His beard was neatly and closely trimmed.
Once in a while he withdrew his glance from the newspaper and looked
about him. There was more noise than ever over at the house. The main
building was called "the house," to distinguish it from the cottages.
The chattering and whistling birds were still at it. Two young girls,
the Farival twins, were playing a duet from "Zampa" upon the piano.
Madame Lebrun was bustling in and out, giving orders in a high key to a
yard-boy whenever she got inside the house, and directions in an equally
high voice to a dining-room servant whenever she got outside. She was
a fresh, pretty woman, clad always in white with elbow sleeves. Her
starched skirts crinkled as she came and went. Farther down, before
one of the cottages, a lady in black was walking demurely up and down,
telling her beads. A good many persons of the pension had gone over to
the Cheniere Caminada in Beaudelet's lugger to hear mass. Some young
people were out under the wateroaks playing croquet. Mr. Pontellier's
two children were there sturdy little fellows of four and five. A
quadroon nurse followed them about with a faraway, meditative air.
Mr. Pontellier finally lit a cigar and began to smoke, letting the paper
drag idly from his hand. He fixed his gaze upon a white sunshade that
was advancing at snail's pace from the beach. He could see it plainly
between the gaunt trunks of the water-oaks and across the stretch of
yellow camomile. The gulf looked far away, melting hazily into the blue
of the horizon. The sunshade continued to approach slowly. Beneath its
pink-lined shelter were his wife, Mrs. Pontellier, and young Robert
Lebrun. When they reached the cottage, the two seated themselves with
some appearance of fatigue upon the upper step of the porch, facing each
other, each leaning against a supporting post.
"What folly! to bathe at such an hour in such heat!" exclaimed Mr.
Pontellier. He himself had taken a plunge at daylight. That was why the
morning seemed long to him.
"You are burnt beyond recognition," he added, looking at his wife as one
looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some
damage. She held up her hands, strong, shapely hands, and surveyed them
critically, drawing up her fawn sleeves above the wrists. Looking at
them reminded her of her rings, which she had given to her husband
before leaving for the beach. She silently reached out to him, and he,
understanding, took the rings from his vest pocket and dropped them
into her open palm. She slipped them upon her fingers; then clasping
her knees, she looked across at Robert and began to laugh. The rings
sparkled upon her fingers. He sent back an answering smile.
"What is it?" asked Pontellier, looking lazily and amused from one to
the other. It was some utter nonsense; some adventure out there in the
water, and they both tried to relate it at once. It did not seem half
so amusing when told. They realized this, and so did Mr. Pontellier. He
yawned and stretched himself. Then he got up, saying he had half a mind
to go over to Klein's hotel and play a game of billiards.
"Come go along, Lebrun," he proposed to Robert. But Robert admitted
quite frankly that he preferred to stay where he was and talk to Mrs.
"Well, send him about his business when he bores you, Edna," instructed
her husband as he prepared to leave.
"Here, take the umbrella," she exclaimed, holding it out to him. He
accepted the sunshade, and lifting it over his head descended the steps
and walked away.
"Coming back to dinner?" his wife called after him. He halted a moment
and shrugged his shoulders. He felt in his vest pocket; there was a
ten-dollar bill there. He did not know; perhaps he would return for the
early dinner and perhaps he would not. It all depended upon the company
which he found over at Klein's and the size of "the game." He did not
say this, but she understood it, and laughed, nodding good-by to him.
Both children wanted to follow their father when they saw him starting
out. He kissed them and promised to bring them back bonbons and peanuts.
Mrs. Pontellier's eyes were quick and bright; they were a yellowish
brown, about the color of her hair. She had a way of turning them
swiftly upon an object and holding them there as if lost in some inward
maze of contemplation or thought.
Her eyebrows were a shade darker than her hair. They were thick and
almost horizontal, emphasizing the depth of her eyes. She was rather
handsome than beautiful. Her face was captivating by reason of a certain
frankness of expression and a contradictory subtle play of features. Her
manner was engaging.
Robert rolled a cigarette. He smoked cigarettes because he could
not afford cigars, he said. He had a cigar in his pocket which Mr.
Pontellier had presented him with, and he was saving it for his
This seemed quite proper and natural on his part. In coloring he was
not unlike his companion. A clean-shaved face made the resemblance more
pronounced than it would otherwise have been. There rested no shadow of
care upon his open countenance. His eyes gathered in and reflected the
light and languor of the summer day.
Mrs. Pontellier reached over for a palm-leaf fan that lay on the porch
and began to fan herself, while Robert sent between his lips light puffs
from his cigarette. They chatted incessantly: about the things around
them; their amusing adventure out in the water-it had again assumed its
entertaining aspect; about the wind, the trees, the people who had gone
to the Cheniere; about the children playing croquet under the oaks, and
the Farival twins, who were now performing the overture to "The Poet and
Robert talked a good deal about himself. He was very young, and did not
know any better. Mrs. Pontellier talked a little about herself for the
same reason. Each was interested in what the other said. Robert spoke of
his intention to go to Mexico in the autumn, where fortune awaited him.
He was always intending to go to Mexico, but some way never got there.
Meanwhile he held on to his modest position in a mercantile house in
New Orleans, where an equal familiarity with English, French and Spanish
gave him no small value as a clerk and correspondent.
He was spending his summer vacation, as he always did, with his mother
at Grand Isle. In former times, before Robert could remember, "the
house" had been a summer luxury of the Lebruns. Now, flanked by its
dozen or more cottages, which were always filled with exclusive visitors
from the "Quartier Francais," it enabled Madame Lebrun to maintain the
easy and comfortable existence which appeared to be her birthright.
Mrs. Pontellier talked about her father's Mississippi plantation and her
girlhood home in the old Kentucky bluegrass country. She was an American
woman, with a small infusion of French which seemed to have been lost in
dilution. She read a letter from her sister, who was away in the East,
and who had engaged herself to be married. Robert was interested, and
wanted to know what manner of girls the sisters were, what the father
was like, and how long the mother had been dead.
When Mrs. Pontellier folded the letter it was time for her to dress for
the early dinner.
"I see Leonce isn't coming back," she said, with a glance in the
direction whence her husband had disappeared. Robert supposed he was
not, as there were a good many New Orleans club men over at Klein's.
When Mrs. Pontellier left him to enter her room, the young man descended
the steps and strolled over toward the croquet players, where,
during the half-hour before dinner, he amused himself with the little
Pontellier children, who were very fond of him.
It was eleven o'clock that night when Mr. Pontellier returned from
Klein's hotel. He was in an excellent humor, in high spirits, and very
talkative. His entrance awoke his wife, who was in bed and fast asleep
when he came in. He talked to her while he undressed, telling her
anecdotes and bits of news and gossip that he had gathered during the
day. From his trousers pockets he took a fistful of crumpled bank
notes and a good deal of silver coin, which he piled on the bureau
indiscriminately with keys, knife, handkerchief, and whatever else
happened to be in his pockets. She was overcome with sleep, and answered
him with little half utterances.
He thought it very discouraging that his wife, who was the sole object
of his existence, evinced so little interest in things which concerned
him, and valued so little his conversation.
Mr. Pontellier had forgotten the bonbons and peanuts for the boys.
Notwithstanding he loved them very much, and went into the adjoining
room where they slept to take a look at them and make sure that they
were resting comfortably. The result of his investigation was far from
satisfactory. He turned and shifted the youngsters about in bed. One of
them began to kick and talk about a basket full of crabs.
Mr. Pontellier returned to his wife with the information that Raoul had
a high fever and needed looking after. Then he lit a cigar and went and
sat near the open door to smoke it.
Mrs. Pontellier was quite sure Raoul had no fever. He had gone to
bed perfectly well, she said, and nothing had ailed him all day. Mr.
Pontellier was too well acquainted with fever symptoms to be mistaken.
He assured her the child was consuming at that moment in the next room.
He reproached his wife with her inattention, her habitual neglect of the
children. If it was not a mother's place to look after children, whose
on earth was it? He himself had his hands full with his brokerage
business. He could not be in two places at once; making a living for
his family on the street, and staying at home to see that no harm befell
them. He talked in a monotonous, insistent way.
Mrs. Pontellier sprang out of bed and went into the next room. She soon
came back and sat on the edge of the bed, leaning her head down on the
pillow. She said nothing, and refused to answer her husband when he
questioned her. When his cigar was smoked out he went to bed, and in
half a minute he was fast asleep.
Mrs. Pontellier was by that time thoroughly awake. She began to cry a
little, and wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her peignoir. Blowing out
the candle, which her husband had left burning, she slipped her bare
feet into a pair of satin mules at the foot of the bed and went out
on the porch, where she sat down in the wicker chair and began to rock
gently to and fro.
It was then past midnight. The cottages were all dark. A single faint
light gleamed out from the hallway of the house. There was no sound
abroad except the hooting of an old owl in the top of a water-oak, and
the everlasting voice of the sea, that was not uplifted at that soft
hour. It broke like a mournful lullaby upon the night.
The tears came so fast to Mrs. Pontellier's eyes that the damp sleeve of
her peignoir no longer served to dry them. She was holding the back
of her chair with one hand; her loose sleeve had slipped almost to the
shoulder of her uplifted arm. Turning, she thrust her face, steaming and
wet, into the bend of her arm, and she went on crying there, not caring
any longer to dry her face, her eyes, her arms. She could not have told
why she was crying. Such experiences as the foregoing were not uncommon
in her married life. They seemed never before to have weighed much
against the abundance of her husband's kindness and a uniform devotion
which had come to be tacit and self-understood.
An indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar
part of her consciousness, filled her whole being with a vague anguish.
It was like a shadow, like a mist passing across her soul's summer day.
It was strange and unfamiliar; it was a mood. She did not sit there
inwardly upbraiding her husband, lamenting at Fate, which had directed
her footsteps to the path which they had taken. She was just having a
good cry all to herself. The mosquitoes made merry over her, biting her
firm, round arms and nipping at her bare insteps.
The little stinging, buzzing imps succeeded in dispelling a mood which
might have held her there in the darkness half a night longer.
The following morning Mr. Pontellier was up in good time to take the
rockaway which was to convey him to the steamer at the wharf. He was
returning to the city to his business, and they would not see him again
at the Island till the coming Saturday. He had regained his composure,
which seemed to have been somewhat impaired the night before. He was
eager to be gone, as he looked forward to a lively week in Carondelet
Mr. Pontellier gave his wife half of the money which he had brought away
from Klein's hotel the evening before. She liked money as well as most
women, and, accepted it with no little satisfaction.
"It will buy a handsome wedding present for Sister Janet!" she
exclaimed, smoothing out the bills as she counted them one by one.
"Oh! we'll treat Sister Janet better than that, my dear," he laughed, as
he prepared to kiss her good-by.
The boys were tumbling about, clinging to his legs, imploring that
numerous things be brought back to them. Mr. Pontellier was a great
favorite, and ladies, men, children, even nurses, were always on hand to
say goodby to him. His wife stood smiling and waving, the boys shouting,
as he disappeared in the old rockaway down the sandy road.
A few days later a box arrived for Mrs. Pontellier from New Orleans. It
was from her husband. It was filled with friandises, with luscious
and toothsome bits--the finest of fruits, pates, a rare bottle or two,
delicious syrups, and bonbons in abundance.
Mrs. Pontellier was always very generous with the contents of such a
box; she was quite used to receiving them when away from home. The
pates and fruit were brought to the dining-room; the bonbons were passed
around. And the ladies, selecting with dainty and discriminating fingers
and a little greedily, all declared that Mr. Pontellier was the best
husband in the world. Mrs. Pontellier was forced to admit that she knew
of none better.
It would have been a difficult matter for Mr. Pontellier to define to
his own satisfaction or any one else's wherein his wife failed in her
duty toward their children. It was something which he felt rather than
perceived, and he never voiced the feeling without subsequent regret and
If one of the little Pontellier boys took a tumble whilst at play, he
was not apt to rush crying to his mother's arms for comfort; he would
more likely pick himself up, wipe the water out of his eyes and the
sand out of his mouth, and go on playing. Tots as they were, they pulled
together and stood their ground in childish battles with doubled
fists and uplifted voices, which usually prevailed against the other
mother-tots. The quadroon nurse was looked upon as a huge encumbrance,
only good to button up waists and panties and to brush and part hair;
since it seemed to be a law of society that hair must be parted and
In short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman. The motherwomen
seemed to prevail that summer at Grand Isle. It was easy to know them,
fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or
imaginary, threatened their precious brood. They were women who idolized
their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy
privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as
Many of them were delicious in the role; one of them was the embodiment
of every womanly grace and charm. If her husband did not adore her,
he was a brute, deserving of death by slow torture. Her name was Adele
Ratignolle. There are no words to describe her save the old ones that
have served so often to picture the bygone heroine of romance and the
fair lady of our dreams. There was nothing subtle or hidden about her
charms; her beauty was all there, flaming and apparent: the spun-gold
hair that comb nor confining pin could restrain; the blue eyes that were
like nothing but sapphires; two lips that pouted, that were so red one
could only think of cherries or some other delicious crimson fruit in
looking at them. She was growing a little stout, but it did not seem to
detract an iota from the grace of every step, pose, gesture. One would
not have wanted her white neck a mite less full or her beautiful arms
more slender. Never were hands more exquisite than hers, and it was a
joy to look at them when she threaded her needle or adjusted her gold
thimble to her taper middle finger as she sewed away on the little
night-drawers or fashioned a bodice or a bib.
Madame Ratignolle was very fond of Mrs. Pontellier, and often she took
her sewing and went over to sit with her in the afternoons. She was
sitting there the afternoon of the day the box arrived from New Orleans.
She had possession of the rocker, and she was busily engaged in sewing
upon a diminutive pair of night-drawers.
She had brought the pattern of the drawers for Mrs. Pontellier to cut
out--a marvel of construction, fashioned to enclose a baby's body so
effectually that only two small eyes might look out from the garment,
like an Eskimo's. They were designed for winter wear, when treacherous
drafts came down chimneys and insidious currents of deadly cold found
their way through key-holes.
Mrs. Pontellier's mind was quite at rest concerning the present material
needs of her children, and she could not see the use of anticipating and
making winter night garments the subject of her summer meditations.
But she did not want to appear unamiable and uninterested, so she
had brought forth newspapers, which she spread upon the floor of the
gallery, and under Madame Ratignolle's directions she had cut a pattern
of the impervious garment.
Robert was there, seated as he had been the Sunday before, and Mrs.
Pontellier also occupied her former position on the upper step, leaning
listlessly against the post. Beside her was a box of bonbons, which she
held out at intervals to Madame Ratignolle.
That lady seemed at a loss to make a selection, but finally settled upon
a stick of nougat, wondering if it were not too rich; whether it could
possibly hurt her. Madame Ratignolle had been married seven years. About
every two years she had a baby. At that time she had three babies, and
was beginning to think of a fourth one. She was always talking about her
"condition." Her "condition" was in no way apparent, and no one would
have known a thing about it but for her persistence in making it the
subject of conversation.
Robert started to reassure her, asserting that he had known a lady who
had subsisted upon nougat during the entire--but seeing the color mount
into Mrs. Pontellier's face he checked himself and changed the subject.
Mrs. Pontellier, though she had married a Creole, was not thoroughly
at home in the society of Creoles; never before had she been thrown so
intimately among them. There were only Creoles that summer at Lebrun's.
They all knew each other, and felt like one large family, among
whom existed the most amicable relations. A characteristic which
distinguished them and which impressed Mrs. Pontellier most forcibly
was their entire absence of prudery. Their freedom of expression was
at first incomprehensible to her, though she had no difficulty in
reconciling it with a lofty chastity which in the Creole woman seems to
be inborn and unmistakable.
Never would Edna Pontellier forget the shock with which she heard Madame
Ratignolle relating to old Monsieur Farival the harrowing story of one
of her accouchements, withholding no intimate detail. She was growing
accustomed to like shocks, but she could not keep the mounting color
back from her cheeks. Oftener than once her coming had interrupted the
droll story with which Robert was entertaining some amused group of
A book had gone the rounds of the pension. When it came her turn to read
it, she did so with profound astonishment. She felt moved to read the
book in secret and solitude, though none of the others had done so,--to
hide it from view at the sound of approaching footsteps. It was openly
criticised and freely discussed at table. Mrs. Pontellier gave over
being astonished, and concluded that wonders would never cease.
They formed a congenial group sitting there that summer
afternoon--Madame Ratignolle sewing away, often stopping to relate a
story or incident with much expressive gesture of her perfect hands;
Robert and Mrs. Pontellier sitting idle, exchanging occasional words,
glances or smiles which indicated a certain advanced stage of intimacy
He had lived in her shadow during the past month. No one thought
anything of it. Many had predicted that Robert would devote himself to
Mrs. Pontellier when he arrived. Since the age of fifteen, which was
eleven years before, Robert each summer at Grand Isle had constituted
himself the devoted attendant of some fair dame or damsel. Sometimes
it was a young girl, again a widow; but as often as not it was some
interesting married woman.
For two consecutive seasons he lived in the sunlight of Mademoiselle
Duvigne's presence. But she died between summers; then Robert posed as
an inconsolable, prostrating himself at the feet of Madame Ratignolle
for whatever crumbs of sympathy and comfort she might be pleased to
Mrs. Pontellier liked to sit and gaze at her fair companion as she might
look upon a faultless Madonna.
"Could any one fathom the cruelty beneath that fair exterior?" murmured
Robert. "She knew that I adored her once, and she let me adore her. It
was 'Robert, come; go; stand up; sit down; do this; do that; see if the
baby sleeps; my thimble, please, that I left God knows where. Come and
read Daudet to me while I sew.'"
"Par exemple! I never had to ask. You were always there under my feet,
like a troublesome cat."
"You mean like an adoring dog. And just as soon as Ratignolle appeared
on the scene, then it WAS like a dog. 'Passez! Adieu! Allez vous-en!'"
"Perhaps I feared to make Alphonse jealous," she interjoined, with
excessive naivete. That made them all laugh. The right hand jealous of
the left! The heart jealous of the soul! But for that matter, the Creole
husband is never jealous; with him the gangrene passion is one which has
become dwarfed by disuse.
Meanwhile Robert, addressing Mrs Pontellier, continued to tell of his
one time hopeless passion for Madame Ratignolle; of sleepless nights,
of consuming flames till the very sea sizzled when he took his
daily plunge. While the lady at the needle kept up a little running,
"Blagueur--farceur--gros bete, va!"
He never assumed this seriocomic tone when alone with Mrs. Pontellier.
She never knew precisely what to make of it; at that moment it was
impossible for her to guess how much of it was jest and what proportion
was earnest. It was understood that he had often spoken words of love
to Madame Ratignolle, without any thought of being taken seriously. Mrs.
Pontellier was glad he had not assumed a similar role toward herself. It
would have been unacceptable and annoying.
Mrs. Pontellier had brought her sketching materials, which she sometimes
dabbled with in an unprofessional way. She liked the dabbling. She felt
in it satisfaction of a kind which no other employment afforded her.
She had long wished to try herself on Madame Ratignolle. Never had that
lady seemed a more tempting subject than at that moment, seated there
like some sensuous Madonna, with the gleam of the fading day enriching
her splendid color.
Robert crossed over and seated himself upon the step below Mrs.
Pontellier, that he might watch her work. She handled her brushes with
a certain ease and freedom which came, not from long and close
acquaintance with them, but from a natural aptitude. Robert followed her
work with close attention, giving forth little ejaculatory expressions
of appreciation in French, which he addressed to Madame Ratignolle.
"Mais ce n'est pas mal! Elle s'y connait, elle a de la force, oui."
During his oblivious attention he once quietly rested his head against
Mrs. Pontellier's arm. As gently she repulsed him. Once again he
repeated the offense. She could not but believe it to be thoughtlessness
on his part; yet that was no reason she should submit to it. She did not
remonstrate, except again to repulse him quietly but firmly. He
offered no apology. The picture completed bore no resemblance to Madame
Ratignolle. She was greatly disappointed to find that it did not look
like her. But it was a fair enough piece of work, and in many respects
Mrs. Pontellier evidently did not think so. After surveying the sketch
critically she drew a broad smudge of paint across its surface, and
crumpled the paper between her hands.
The youngsters came tumbling up the steps, the quadroon following at the
respectful distance which they required her to observe. Mrs. Pontellier
made them carry her paints and things into the house. She sought to
detain them for a little talk and some pleasantry. But they were greatly
in earnest. They had only come to investigate the contents of the bonbon
box. They accepted without murmuring what she chose to give them, each
holding out two chubby hands scoop-like, in the vain hope that they
might be filled; and then away they went.
The sun was low in the west, and the breeze soft and languorous that
came up from the south, charged with the seductive odor of the sea.
Children freshly befurbelowed, were gathering for their games under the
oaks. Their voices were high and penetrating.
Madame Ratignolle folded her sewing, placing thimble, scissors, and
thread all neatly together in the roll, which she pinned securely. She
complained of faintness. Mrs. Pontellier flew for the cologne water and
a fan. She bathed Madame Ratignolle's face with cologne, while Robert
plied the fan with unnecessary vigor.
The spell was soon over, and Mrs. Pontellier could not help wondering if
there were not a little imagination responsible for its origin, for the
rose tint had never faded from her friend's face.
She stood watching the fair woman walk down the long line of galleries
with the grace and majesty which queens are sometimes supposed to
possess. Her little ones ran to meet her. Two of them clung about her
white skirts, the third she took from its nurse and with a thousand
endearments bore it along in her own fond, encircling arms. Though, as
everybody well knew, the doctor had forbidden her to lift so much as a
"Are you going bathing?" asked Robert of Mrs. Pontellier. It was not so
much a question as a reminder.
"Oh, no," she answered, with a tone of indecision. "I'm tired; I think
not." Her glance wandered from his face away toward the Gulf, whose
sonorous murmur reached her like a loving but imperative entreaty.
"Oh, come!" he insisted. "You mustn't miss your bath. Come on. The water
must be delicious; it will not hurt you. Come."
He reached up for her big, rough straw hat that hung on a peg outside
the door, and put it on her head. They descended the steps, and walked
away together toward the beach. The sun was low in the west and the
breeze was soft and warm.
Edna Pontellier could not have told why, wishing to go to the beach with
Robert, she should in the first place have declined, and in the second
place have followed in obedience to one of the two contradictory
impulses which impelled her.
A certain light was beginning to dawn dimly within her,--the light
which, showing the way, forbids it.
At that early period it served but to bewilder her. It moved her to
dreams, to thoughtfulness, to the shadowy anguish which had overcome her
the midnight when she had abandoned herself to tears.
In short, Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in
the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an
individual to the world within and about her. This may seem like a
ponderous weight of wisdom to descend upon the soul of a young woman of
twenty-eight--perhaps more wisdom than the Holy Ghost is usually pleased
to vouchsafe to any woman.
But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily
vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever
emerge from such beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult!
The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring,
murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of
solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation.
The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is
sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.
Mrs. Pontellier was not a woman given to confidences, a characteristic
hitherto contrary to her nature. Even as a child she had lived her
own small life all within herself. At a very early period she had
apprehended instinctively the dual life--that outward existence which
conforms, the inward life which questions.
That summer at Grand Isle she began to loosen a little the mantle of
reserve that had always enveloped her. There may have been--there
must have been--influences, both subtle and apparent, working in their
several ways to induce her to do this; but the most obvious was the
influence of Adele Ratignolle. The excessive physical charm of the
Creole had first attracted her, for Edna had a sensuous susceptibility
to beauty. Then the candor of the woman's whole existence, which every
one might read, and which formed so striking a contrast to her own
habitual reserve--this might have furnished a link. Who can tell what
metals the gods use in forging the subtle bond which we call sympathy,
which we might as well call love.
The two women went away one morning to the beach together, arm in arm,
under the huge white sunshade. Edna had prevailed upon Madame Ratignolle
to leave the children behind, though she could not induce her to
relinquish a diminutive roll of needlework, which Adele begged to be
allowed to slip into the depths of her pocket. In some unaccountable way
they had escaped from Robert.
The walk to the beach was no inconsiderable one, consisting as it did
of a long, sandy path, upon which a sporadic and tangled growth that
bordered it on either side made frequent and unexpected inroads. There
were acres of yellow camomile reaching out on either hand. Further away
still, vegetable gardens abounded, with frequent small plantations of
orange or lemon trees intervening. The dark green clusters glistened
from afar in the sun.
The women were both of goodly height, Madame Ratignolle possessing
the more feminine and matronly figure. The charm of Edna Pontellier's
physique stole insensibly upon you. The lines of her body were long,
clean and symmetrical; it was a body which occasionally fell into
splendid poses; there was no suggestion of the trim, stereotyped
fashion-plate about it. A casual and indiscriminating observer, in
passing, might not cast a second glance upon the figure. But with more
feeling and discernment he would have recognized the noble beauty of its
modeling, and the graceful severity of poise and movement, which made
Edna Pontellier different from the crowd.
She wore a cool muslin that morning--white, with a waving vertical line
of brown running through it; also a white linen collar and the big straw
hat which she had taken from the peg outside the door. The hat rested
any way on her yellow-brown hair, that waved a little, was heavy, and
clung close to her head.
Madame Ratignolle, more careful of her complexion, had twined a gauze
veil about her head. She wore dogskin gloves, with gauntlets that
protected her wrists. She was dressed in pure white, with a fluffiness
of ruffles that became her. The draperies and fluttering things which
she wore suited her rich, luxuriant beauty as a greater severity of line
could not have done.
There were a number of bath-houses along the beach, of rough but solid
construction, built with small, protecting galleries facing the water.
Each house consisted of two compartments, and each family at Lebrun's
possessed a compartment for itself, fitted out with all the essential
paraphernalia of the bath and whatever other conveniences the owners
might desire. The two women had no intention of bathing; they had just
strolled down to the beach for a walk and to be alone and near the
water. The Pontellier and Ratignolle compartments adjoined one another
under the same roof.
Mrs. Pontellier had brought down her key through force of habit.
Unlocking the door of her bath-room she went inside, and soon emerged,
bringing a rug, which she spread upon the floor of the gallery, and two
huge hair pillows covered with crash, which she placed against the front
of the building.
The two seated themselves there in the shade of the porch, side by side,
with their backs against the pillows and their feet extended. Madame
Ratignolle removed her veil, wiped her face with a rather delicate
handkerchief, and fanned herself with the fan which she always carried
suspended somewhere about her person by a long, narrow ribbon. Edna
removed her collar and opened her dress at the throat. She took the fan
from Madame Ratignolle and began to fan both herself and her companion.
It was very warm, and for a while they did nothing but exchange remarks
about the heat, the sun, the glare. But there was a breeze blowing, a
choppy, stiff wind that whipped the water into froth. It fluttered the
skirts of the two women and kept them for a while engaged in adjusting,
readjusting, tucking in, securing hair-pins and hat-pins. A few persons
were sporting some distance away in the water. The beach was very still
of human sound at that hour. The lady in black was reading her morning
devotions on the porch of a neighboring bathhouse. Two young lovers were
exchanging their hearts' yearnings beneath the children's tent, which
they had found unoccupied.
Edna Pontellier, casting her eyes about, had finally kept them at rest
upon the sea. The day was clear and carried the gaze out as far as the
blue sky went; there were a few white clouds suspended idly over the
horizon. A lateen sail was visible in the direction of Cat Island, and
others to the south seemed almost motionless in the far distance.
"Of whom--of what are you thinking?" asked Adele of her companion,
whose countenance she had been watching with a little amused attention,
arrested by the absorbed expression which seemed to have seized and
fixed every feature into a statuesque repose.
"Nothing," returned Mrs. Pontellier, with a start, adding at once: "How
stupid! But it seems to me it is the reply we make instinctively to
such a question. Let me see," she went on, throwing back her head and
narrowing her fine eyes till they shone like two vivid points of light.
"Let me see. I was really not conscious of thinking of anything; but
perhaps I can retrace my thoughts."
"Oh! never mind!" laughed Madame Ratignolle. "I am not quite so
exacting. I will let you off this time. It is really too hot to think,
especially to think about thinking."
"But for the fun of it," persisted Edna. "First of all, the sight of the
water stretching so far away, those motionless sails against the blue
sky, made a delicious picture that I just wanted to sit and look at. The
hot wind beating in my face made me think--without any connection that I
can trace of a summer day in Kentucky, of a meadow that seemed as big as
the ocean to the very little girl walking through the grass, which was
higher than her waist. She threw out her arms as if swimming when she
walked, beating the tall grass as one strikes out in the water. Oh, I
see the connection now!"
"Where were you going that day in Kentucky, walking through the grass?"
"I don't remember now. I was just walking diagonally across a big field.
My sun-bonnet obstructed the view. I could see only the stretch of green
before me, and I felt as if I must walk on forever, without coming to
the end of it. I don't remember whether I was frightened or pleased. I
must have been entertained.
"Likely as not it was Sunday," she laughed; "and I was running away from
prayers, from the Presbyterian service, read in a spirit of gloom by my
father that chills me yet to think of."
"And have you been running away from prayers ever since, ma chere?"
asked Madame Ratignolle, amused.
"No! oh, no!" Edna hastened to say. "I was a little unthinking child in
those days, just following a misleading impulse without question. On the
contrary, during one period of my life religion took a firm hold upon
me; after I was twelve and until-until--why, I suppose until now, though
I never thought much about it--just driven along by habit. But do you
know," she broke off, turning her quick eyes upon Madame Ratignolle and
leaning forward a little so as to bring her face quite close to that
of her companion, "sometimes I feel this summer as if I were walking
through the green meadow again; idly, aimlessly, unthinking and
Madame Ratignolle laid her hand over that of Mrs. Pontellier, which was
near her. Seeing that the hand was not withdrawn, she clasped it firmly
and warmly. She even stroked it a little, fondly, with the other hand,
murmuring in an undertone, "Pauvre cherie."
The action was at first a little confusing to Edna, but she soon lent
herself readily to the Creole's gentle caress. She was not accustomed to
an outward and spoken expression of affection, either in herself or in
others. She and her younger sister, Janet, had quarreled a good deal
through force of unfortunate habit. Her older sister, Margaret, was
matronly and dignified, probably from having assumed matronly and
housewifely responsibilities too early in life, their mother having
died when they were quite young, Margaret was not effusive; she
was practical. Edna had had an occasional girl friend, but whether
accidentally or not, they seemed to have been all of one type--the
self-contained. She never realized that the reserve of her own character
had much, perhaps everything, to do with this. Her most intimate friend
at school had been one of rather exceptional intellectual gifts, who
wrote fine-sounding essays, which Edna admired and strove to imitate;
and with her she talked and glowed over the English classics, and
sometimes held religious and political controversies.
Edna often wondered at one propensity which sometimes had inwardly
disturbed her without causing any outward show or manifestation on her
part. At a very early age--perhaps it was when she traversed the ocean
of waving grass--she remembered that she had been passionately enamored
of a dignified and sad-eyed cavalry officer who visited her father in
Kentucky. She could not leave his presence when he was there, nor remove
her eyes from his face, which was something like Napoleon's, with a
lock of black hair failing across the forehead. But the cavalry officer
melted imperceptibly out of her existence.
At another time her affections were deeply engaged by a young gentleman
who visited a lady on a neighboring plantation. It was after they went
to Mississippi to live. The young man was engaged to be married to the
young lady, and they sometimes called upon Margaret, driving over of
afternoons in a buggy. Edna was a little miss, just merging into her
teens; and the realization that she herself was nothing, nothing,
nothing to the engaged young man was a bitter affliction to her. But he,
too, went the way of dreams.
She was a grown young woman when she was overtaken by what she supposed
to be the climax of her fate. It was when the face and figure of a
great tragedian began to haunt her imagination and stir her senses. The
persistence of the infatuation lent it an aspect of genuineness. The
hopelessness of it colored it with the lofty tones of a great passion.
The picture of the tragedian stood enframed upon her desk. Any one
may possess the portrait of a tragedian without exciting suspicion or
comment. (This was a sinister reflection which she cherished.) In the
presence of others she expressed admiration for his exalted gifts, as
she handed the photograph around and dwelt upon the fidelity of the
likeness. When alone she sometimes picked it up and kissed the cold
Her marriage to Leonce Pontellier was purely an accident, in this
respect resembling many other marriages which masquerade as the decrees
of Fate. It was in the midst of her secret great passion that she met
him. He fell in love, as men are in the habit of doing, and pressed his
suit with an earnestness and an ardor which left nothing to be desired.
He pleased her; his absolute devotion flattered her. She fancied there
was a sympathy of thought and taste between them, in which fancy she
was mistaken. Add to this the violent opposition of her father and her
sister Margaret to her marriage with a Catholic, and we need seek no
further for the motives which led her to accept Monsieur Pontellier for
The acme of bliss, which would have been a marriage with the tragedian,
was not for her in this world. As the devoted wife of a man who
worshiped her, she felt she would take her place with a certain dignity
in the world of reality, closing the portals forever behind her upon the
realm of romance and dreams.
But it was not long before the tragedian had gone to join the cavalry
officer and the engaged young man and a few others; and Edna found
herself face to face with the realities. She grew fond of her husband,
realizing with some unaccountable satisfaction that no trace of passion
or excessive and fictitious warmth colored her affection, thereby
threatening its dissolution.
She was fond of her children in an uneven, impulsive way. She would
sometimes gather them passionately to her heart; she would sometimes
forget them. The year before they had spent part of the summer with
their grandmother Pontellier in Iberville. Feeling secure regarding
their happiness and welfare, she did not miss them except with an
occasional intense longing. Their absence was a sort of relief, though
she did not admit this, even to herself. It seemed to free her of a
responsibility which she had blindly assumed and for which Fate had not
Edna did not reveal so much as all this to Madame Ratignolle that summer
day when they sat with faces turned to the sea. But a good part of it
escaped her. She had put her head down on Madame Ratignolle's shoulder.
She was flushed and felt intoxicated with the sound of her own voice and
the unaccustomed taste of candor. It muddled her like wine, or like a
first breath of freedom.
There was the sound of approaching voices. It was Robert, surrounded by
a troop of children, searching for them. The two little Pontelliers were
with him, and he carried Madame Ratignolle's little girl in his arms.
There were other children beside, and two nurse-maids followed, looking
disagreeable and resigned.
The women at once rose and began to shake out their draperies and relax
their muscles. Mrs. Pontellier threw the cushions and rug into the
bath-house. The children all scampered off to the awning, and they stood
there in a line, gazing upon the intruding lovers, still exchanging
their vows and sighs. The lovers got up, with only a silent protest, and
walked slowly away somewhere else.
The children possessed themselves of the tent, and Mrs. Pontellier went
over to join them.
Madame Ratignolle begged Robert to accompany her to the house; she
complained of cramp in her limbs and stiffness of the joints. She leaned
draggingly upon his arm as they walked.
"Do me a favor, Robert," spoke the pretty woman at his side, almost as
soon as she and Robert had started their slow, homeward way. She looked
up in his face, leaning on his arm beneath the encircling shadow of the
umbrella which he had lifted.
"Granted; as many as you like," he returned, glancing down into her eyes
that were full of thoughtfulness and some speculation.
"I only ask for one; let Mrs. Pontellier alone."
"Tiens!" he exclaimed, with a sudden, boyish laugh. "Voila que Madame
Ratignolle est jalouse!"
"Nonsense! I'm in earnest; I mean what I say. Let Mrs. Pontellier
"Why?" he asked; himself growing serious at his companion's
"She is not one of us; she is not like us. She might make the
unfortunate blunder of taking you seriously."
His face flushed with annoyance, and taking off his soft hat he began
to beat it impatiently against his leg as he walked. "Why shouldn't she
take me seriously?" he demanded sharply. "Am I a comedian, a clown, a
jack-in-the-box? Why shouldn't she? You Creoles! I have no patience with
you! Am I always to be regarded as a feature of an amusing programme? I
hope Mrs. Pontellier does take me seriously. I hope she has discernment
enough to find in me something besides the blagueur. If I thought there
was any doubt--"
"Oh, enough, Robert!" she broke into his heated outburst. "You are
not thinking of what you are saying. You speak with about as little
reflection as we might expect from one of those children down there
playing in the sand. If your attentions to any married women here were
ever offered with any intention of being convincing, you would not be
the gentleman we all know you to be, and you would be unfit to associate
with the wives and daughters of the people who trust you."
Madame Ratignolle had spoken what she believed to be the law and the
gospel. The young man shrugged his shoulders impatiently.
"Oh! well! That isn't it," slamming his hat down vehemently upon his
head. "You ought to feel that such things are not flattering to say to a
"Should our whole intercourse consist of an exchange of compliments? Ma
"It isn't pleasant to have a woman tell you--" he went on, unheedingly,
but breaking off suddenly: "Now if I were like Arobin-you remember Alcee
Arobin and that story of the consul's wife at Biloxi?" And he related
the story of Alcee Arobin and the consul's wife; and another about the
tenor of the French Opera, who received letters which should never
have been written; and still other stories, grave and gay, till Mrs.
Pontellier and her possible propensity for taking young men seriously
was apparently forgotten.
Madame Ratignolle, when they had regained her cottage, went in to take
the hour's rest which she considered helpful. Before leaving her, Robert
begged her pardon for the impatience--he called it rudeness--with which
he had received her well-meant caution.
"You made one mistake, Adele," he said, with a light smile; "there is
no earthly possibility of Mrs. Pontellier ever taking me seriously. You
should have warned me against taking myself seriously. Your advice might
then have carried some weight and given me subject for some reflection.
Au revoir. But you look tired," he added, solicitously. "Would you like
a cup of bouillon? Shall I stir you a toddy? Let me mix you a toddy with
a drop of Angostura."
She acceded to the suggestion of bouillon, which was grateful and
acceptable. He went himself to the kitchen, which was a building apart
from the cottages and lying to the rear of the house. And he himself
brought her the golden-brown bouillon, in a dainty Sevres cup, with a
flaky cracker or two on the saucer.
She thrust a bare, white arm from the curtain which shielded her open
door, and received the cup from his hands. She told him he was a bon
garcon, and she meant it. Robert thanked her and turned away toward "the
The lovers were just entering the grounds of the pension. They were
leaning toward each other as the wateroaks bent from the sea. There was
not a particle of earth beneath their feet. Their heads might have been
turned upside-down, so absolutely did they tread upon blue ether. The
lady in black, creeping behind them, looked a trifle paler and more
jaded than usual. There was no sign of Mrs. Pontellier and the children.
Robert scanned the distance for any such apparition. They would
doubtless remain away till the dinner hour. The young man ascended to
his mother's room. It was situated at the top of the house, made up of
odd angles and a queer, sloping ceiling. Two broad dormer windows looked
out toward the Gulf, and as far across it as a man's eye might reach.
The furnishings of the room were light, cool, and practical.
Madame Lebrun was busily engaged at the sewing-machine. A little black
girl sat on the floor, and with her hands worked the treadle of the
machine. The Creole woman does not take any chances which may be avoided
of imperiling her health.
Robert went over and seated himself on the broad sill of one of the
dormer windows. He took a book from his pocket and began energetically
to read it, judging by the precision and frequency with which he turned
the leaves. The sewing-machine made a resounding clatter in the room;
it was of a ponderous, by-gone make. In the lulls, Robert and his mother
exchanged bits of desultory conversation.
"Where is Mrs. Pontellier?"
"Down at the beach with the children."
"I promised to lend her the Goncourt. Don't forget to take it down when
you go; it's there on the bookshelf over the small table." Clatter,
clatter, clatter, bang! for the next five or eight minutes.
"Where is Victor going with the rockaway?"
"The rockaway? Victor?"
"Yes; down there in front. He seems to be getting ready to drive away
"Call him." Clatter, clatter!
Robert uttered a shrill, piercing whistle which might have been heard
back at the wharf.
"He won't look up."
Madame Lebrun flew to the window. She called "Victor!" She waved a
handkerchief and called again. The young fellow below got into the
vehicle and started the horse off at a gallop.
Madame Lebrun went back to the machine, crimson with annoyance. Victor
was the younger son and brother--a tete montee, with a temper which
invited violence and a will which no ax could break.
"Whenever you say the word I'm ready to thrash any amount of reason into
him that he's able to hold."
"If your father had only lived!" Clatter, clatter, clatter, clatter,
bang! It was a fixed belief with Madame Lebrun that the conduct of the
universe and all things pertaining thereto would have been manifestly of
a more intelligent and higher order had not Monsieur Lebrun been removed
to other spheres during the early years of their married life.
"What do you hear from Montel?" Montel was a middle-aged gentleman whose
vain ambition and desire for the past twenty years had been to fill
the void which Monsieur Lebrun's taking off had left in the Lebrun
household. Clatter, clatter, bang, clatter!
"I have a letter somewhere," looking in the machine drawer and finding
the letter in the bottom of the workbasket. "He says to tell you he will
be in Vera Cruz the beginning of next month,"--clatter, clatter!--"and
if you still have the intention of joining him"--bang! clatter, clatter,
"Why didn't you tell me so before, mother? You know I wanted--" Clatter,
"Do you see Mrs. Pontellier starting back with the children? She will
be in late to luncheon again. She never starts to get ready for luncheon
till the last minute." Clatter, clatter! "Where are you going?"
"Where did you say the Goncourt was?"
Every light in the hall was ablaze; every lamp turned as high as it
could be without smoking the chimney or threatening explosion. The lamps
were fixed at intervals against the wall, encircling the whole room.
Some one had gathered orange and lemon branches, and with these
fashioned graceful festoons between. The dark green of the branches
stood out and glistened against the white muslin curtains which draped
the windows, and which puffed, floated, and flapped at the capricious
will of a stiff breeze that swept up from the Gulf.
It was Saturday night a few weeks after the intimate conversation held
between Robert and Madame Ratignolle on their way from the beach. An
unusual number of husbands, fathers, and friends had come down to stay
over Sunday; and they were being suitably entertained by their families,
with the material help of Madame Lebrun. The dining tables had all been
removed to one end of the hall, and the chairs ranged about in rows and
in clusters. Each little family group had had its say and exchanged
its domestic gossip earlier in the evening. There was now an apparent
disposition to relax; to widen the circle of confidences and give a more
general tone to the conversation.
Many of the children had been permitted to sit up beyond their usual
bedtime. A small band of them were lying on their stomachs on the floor
looking at the colored sheets of the comic papers which Mr. Pontellier
had brought down. The little Pontellier boys were permitting them to do
so, and making their authority felt.
Music, dancing, and a recitation or two were the entertainments
furnished, or rather, offered. But there was nothing systematic about
the programme, no appearance of prearrangement nor even premeditation.
At an early hour in the evening the Farival twins were prevailed upon to
play the piano. They were girls of fourteen, always clad in the Virgin's
colors, blue and white, having been dedicated to the Blessed Virgin
at their baptism. They played a duet from "Zampa," and at the earnest
solicitation of every one present followed it with the overture to "The
Poet and the Peasant."
"Allez vous-en! Sapristi!" shrieked the parrot outside the door. He was
the only being present who possessed sufficient candor to admit that he
was not listening to these gracious performances for the first time that
summer. Old Monsieur Farival, grandfather of the twins, grew indignant
over the interruption, and insisted upon having the bird removed and
consigned to regions of darkness. Victor Lebrun objected; and his
decrees were as immutable as those of Fate. The parrot fortunately
offered no further interruption to the entertainment, the whole venom
of his nature apparently having been cherished up and hurled against the
twins in that one impetuous outburst.
Later a young brother and sister gave recitations, which every one
present had heard many times at winter evening entertainments in the
A little girl performed a skirt dance in the center of the floor.
The mother played her accompaniments and at the same time watched her
daughter with greedy admiration and nervous apprehension. She need have
had no apprehension. The child was mistress of the situation. She had
been properly dressed for the occasion in black tulle and black silk
tights. Her little neck and arms were bare, and her hair, artificially
crimped, stood out like fluffy black plumes over her head. Her poses
were full of grace, and her little black-shod toes twinkled as they shot
out and upward with a rapidity and suddenness which were bewildering.
But there was no reason why every one should not dance. Madame
Ratignolle could not, so it was she who gaily consented to play for the
others. She played very well, keeping excellent waltz time and infusing
an expression into the strains which was indeed inspiring. She was
keeping up her music on account of the children, she said; because she
and her husband both considered it a means of brightening the home and
making it attractive.
Almost every one danced but the twins, who could not be induced to
separate during the brief period when one or the other should be
whirling around the room in the arms of a man. They might have danced
together, but they did not think of it.
The children were sent to bed. Some went submissively; others with
shrieks and protests as they were dragged away. They had been permitted
to sit up till after the ice-cream, which naturally marked the limit of
The ice-cream was passed around with cake--gold and silver cake arranged
on platters in alternate slices; it had been made and frozen during the
afternoon back of the kitchen by two black women, under the supervision
of Victor. It was pronounced a great success--excellent if it had only
contained a little less vanilla or a little more sugar, if it had been
frozen a degree harder, and if the salt might have been kept out of
portions of it. Victor was proud of his achievement, and went about
recommending it and urging every one to partake of it to excess.
After Mrs. Pontellier had danced twice with her husband, once with
Robert, and once with Monsieur Ratignolle, who was thin and tall and
swayed like a reed in the wind when he danced, she went out on the
gallery and seated herself on the low window-sill, where she commanded a
view of all that went on in the hall and could look out toward the Gulf.
There was a soft effulgence in the east. The moon was coming up, and its
mystic shimmer was casting a million lights across the distant, restless
"Would you like to hear Mademoiselle Reisz play?" asked Robert, coming
out on the porch where she was. Of course Edna would like to hear
Mademoiselle Reisz play; but she feared it would be useless to entreat
"I'll ask her," he said. "I'll tell her that you want to hear her. She
likes you. She will come." He turned and hurried away to one of the far
cottages, where Mademoiselle Reisz was shuffling away. She was dragging
a chair in and out of her room, and at intervals objecting to the crying
of a baby, which a nurse in the adjoining cottage was endeavoring to put
to sleep. She was a disagreeable little woman, no longer young, who
had quarreled with almost every one, owing to a temper which was
self-assertive and a disposition to trample upon the rights of others.
Robert prevailed upon her without any too great difficulty.
She entered the hall with him during a lull in the dance. She made an
awkward, imperious little bow as she went in. She was a homely woman,
with a small weazened face and body and eyes that glowed. She had
absolutely no taste in dress, and wore a batch of rusty black lace with
a bunch of artificial violets pinned to the side of her hair.
"Ask Mrs. Pontellier what she would like to hear me play," she requested
of Robert. She sat perfectly still before the piano, not touching the
keys, while Robert carried her message to Edna at the window. A general
air of surprise and genuine satisfaction fell upon every one as they saw
the pianist enter. There was a settling down, and a prevailing air
of expectancy everywhere. Edna was a trifle embarrassed at being thus
signaled out for the imperious little woman's favor. She would not dare
to choose, and begged that Mademoiselle Reisz would please herself in
Edna was what she herself called very fond of music. Musical strains,
well rendered, had a way of evoking pictures in her mind. She sometimes
liked to sit in the room of mornings when Madame Ratignolle played
or practiced. One piece which that lady played Edna had entitled
"Solitude." It was a short, plaintive, minor strain. The name of the
piece was something else, but she called it "Solitude." When she heard
it there came before her imagination the figure of a man standing beside
a desolate rock on the seashore. He was naked. His attitude was one
of hopeless resignation as he looked toward a distant bird winging its
flight away from him.
Another piece called to her mind a dainty young woman clad in an Empire
gown, taking mincing dancing steps as she came down a long avenue
between tall hedges. Again, another reminded her of children at play,
and still another of nothing on earth but a demure lady stroking a cat.
The very first chords which Mademoiselle Reisz struck upon the piano
sent a keen tremor down Mrs. Pontellier's spinal column. It was not
the first time she had heard an artist at the piano. Perhaps it was the
first time she was ready, perhaps the first time her being was tempered
to take an impress of the abiding truth.
She waited for the material pictures which she thought would gather and
blaze before her imagination. She waited in vain. She saw no pictures
of solitude, of hope, of longing, or of despair. But the very passions
themselves were aroused within her soul, swaying it, lashing it, as the
waves daily beat upon her splendid body. She trembled, she was choking,
and the tears blinded her.
Mademoiselle had finished. She arose, and bowing her stiff, lofty bow,
she went away, stopping for neither, thanks nor applause. As she passed
along the gallery she patted Edna upon the shoulder.
"Well, how did you like my music?" she asked. The young woman was
unable to answer; she pressed the hand of the pianist convulsively.
Mademoiselle Reisz perceived her agitation and even her tears. She
patted her again upon the shoulder as she said:
"You are the only one worth playing for. Those others? Bah!" and she
went shuffling and sidling on down the gallery toward her room.
But she was mistaken about "those others." Her playing had aroused a
fever of enthusiasm. "What passion!" "What an artist!" "I have always
said no one could play Chopin like Mademoiselle Reisz!" "That last
prelude! Bon Dieu! It shakes a man!"
It was growing late, and there was a general disposition to disband. But
some one, perhaps it was Robert, thought of a bath at that mystic hour
and under that mystic moon.
At all events Robert proposed it, and there was not a dissenting voice.
There was not one but was ready to follow when he led the way. He did
not lead the way, however, he directed the way; and he himself loitered
behind with the lovers, who had betrayed a disposition to linger and
hold themselves apart. He walked between them, whether with malicious or
mischievous intent was not wholly clear, even to himself.
The Pontelliers and Ratignolles walked ahead; the women leaning upon the
arms of their husbands. Edna could hear Robert's voice behind them,
and could sometimes hear what he said. She wondered why he did not join
them. It was unlike him not to. Of late he had sometimes held away from
her for an entire day, redoubling his devotion upon the next and the
next, as though to make up for hours that had been lost. She missed him
the days when some pretext served to take him away from her, just as one
misses the sun on a cloudy day without having thought much about the sun
when it was shining.
The people walked in little groups toward the beach. They talked and
laughed; some of them sang. There was a band playing down at Klein's
hotel, and the strains reached them faintly, tempered by the distance.
There were strange, rare odors abroad--a tangle of the sea smell and of
weeds and damp, new-plowed earth, mingled with the heavy perfume of a
field of white blossoms somewhere near. But the night sat lightly upon
the sea and the land. There was no weight of darkness; there were no
shadows. The white light of the moon had fallen upon the world like the
mystery and the softness of sleep.
Most of them walked into the water as though into a native element. The
sea was quiet now, and swelled lazily in broad billows that melted into
one another and did not break except upon the beach in little foamy
crests that coiled back like slow, white serpents.
Edna had attempted all summer to learn to swim. She had received
instructions from both the men and women; in some instances from the
children. Robert had pursued a system of lessons almost daily; and he
was nearly at the point of discouragement in realizing the futility of
his efforts. A certain ungovernable dread hung about her when in the
water, unless there was a hand near by that might reach out and reassure
But that night she was like the little tottering, stumbling, clutching
child, who of a sudden realizes its powers, and walks for the first time
alone, boldly and with over-confidence. She could have shouted for joy.
She did shout for joy, as with a sweeping stroke or two she lifted her
body to the surface of the water.
A feeling of exultation overtook her, as if some power of significant
import had been given her to control the working of her body and her
soul. She grew daring and reckless, overestimating her strength. She
wanted to swim far out, where no woman had swum before.
Her unlooked-for achievement was the subject of wonder, applause, and
admiration. Each one congratulated himself that his special teachings
had accomplished this desired end.
"How easy it is!" she thought. "It is nothing," she said aloud; "why did
I not discover before that it was nothing. Think of the time I have lost
splashing about like a baby!" She would not join the groups in their
sports and bouts, but intoxicated with her newly conquered power, she
swam out alone.
She turned her face seaward to gather in an impression of space and
solitude, which the vast expanse of water, meeting and melting with the
moonlit sky, conveyed to her excited fancy. As she swam she seemed to be
reaching out for the unlimited in which to lose herself.
Once she turned and looked toward the shore, toward the people she had
left there. She had not gone any great distance that is, what would
have been a great distance for an experienced swimmer. But to her
unaccustomed vision the stretch of water behind her assumed the aspect
of a barrier which her unaided strength would never be able to overcome.
A quick vision of death smote her soul, and for a second of time
appalled and enfeebled her senses. But by an effort she rallied her
staggering faculties and managed to regain the land.
She made no mention of her encounter with death and her flash of terror,
except to say to her husband, "I thought I should have perished out
"You were not so very far, my dear; I was watching you", he told her.
Edna went at once to the bath-house, and she had put on her dry clothes
and was ready to return home before the others had left the water. She
started to walk away alone. They all called to her and shouted to her.
She waved a dissenting hand, and went on, paying no further heed to
their renewed cries which sought to detain her.
"Sometimes I am tempted to think that Mrs. Pontellier is capricious,"
said Madame Lebrun, who was amusing herself immensely and feared that
Edna's abrupt departure might put an end to the pleasure.
"I know she is," assented Mr. Pontellier; "sometimes, not often."
Edna had not traversed a quarter of the distance on her way home before
she was overtaken by Robert.
"Did you think I was afraid?" she asked him, without a shade of
"No; I knew you weren't afraid."
"Then why did you come? Why didn't you stay out there with the others?"
"I never thought of it."
"Thought of what?"
"Of anything. What difference does it make?"
"I'm very tired," she uttered, complainingly.
"I know you are."
"You don't know anything about it. Why should you know? I never was so
exhausted in my life. But it isn't unpleasant. A thousand emotions have
swept through me to-night. I don't comprehend half of them. Don't mind
what I'm saying; I am just thinking aloud. I wonder if I shall ever
be stirred again as Mademoiselle Reisz's playing moved me to-night. I
wonder if any night on earth will ever again be like this one. It is
like a night in a dream. The people about me are like some uncanny,
half-human beings. There must be spirits abroad to-night."
"There are," whispered Robert, "Didn't you know this was the
twenty-eighth of August?"
"The twenty-eighth of August?"
"Yes. On the twenty-eighth of August, at the hour of midnight, and if
the moon is shining--the moon must be shining--a spirit that has haunted
these shores for ages rises up from the Gulf. With its own penetrating
vision the spirit seeks some one mortal worthy to hold him
company, worthy of being exalted for a few hours into realms of the
semi-celestials. His search has always hitherto been fruitless, and he
has sunk back, disheartened, into the sea. But to-night he found Mrs.
Pontellier. Perhaps he will never wholly release her from the spell.
Perhaps she will never again suffer a poor, unworthy earthling to walk
in the shadow of her divine presence."
"Don't banter me," she said, wounded at what appeared to be his
flippancy. He did not mind the entreaty, but the tone with its delicate
note of pathos was like a reproach. He could not explain; he could not
tell her that he had penetrated her mood and understood. He said
nothing except to offer her his arm, for, by her own admission, she
was exhausted. She had been walking alone with her arms hanging limp,
letting her white skirts trail along the dewy path. She took his arm,
but she did not lean upon it. She let her hand lie listlessly, as though
her thoughts were elsewhere--somewhere in advance of her body, and she
was striving to overtake them.
Robert assisted her into the hammock which swung from the post before
her door out to the trunk of a tree.
"Will you stay out here and wait for Mr. Pontellier?" he asked.
"I'll stay out here. Good-night."
"Shall I get you a pillow?"
"There's one here," she said, feeling about, for they were in the
"It must be soiled; the children have been tumbling it about."
"No matter." And having discovered the pillow, she adjusted it beneath
her head. She extended herself in the hammock with a deep breath of
relief. She was not a supercilious or an over-dainty woman. She was not
much given to reclining in the hammock, and when she did so it was with
no cat-like suggestion of voluptuous ease, but with a beneficent repose
which seemed to invade her whole body.
"Shall I stay with you till Mr. Pontellier comes?" asked Robert, seating
himself on the outer edge of one of the steps and taking hold of the
hammock rope which was fastened to the post.
"If you wish. Don't swing the hammock. Will you get my white shawl which
I left on the window-sill over at the house?"
"Are you chilly?"
"No; but I shall be presently."
"Presently?" he laughed. "Do you know what time it is? How long are you
going to stay out here?"
"I don't know. Will you get the shawl?"
"Of course I will," he said, rising. He went over to the house, walking
along the grass. She watched his figure pass in and out of the strips of
moonlight. It was past midnight. It was very quiet.
When he returned with the shawl she took it and kept it in her hand. She
did not put it around her.
"Did you say I should stay till Mr. Pontellier came back?"
"I said you might if you wished to."
He seated himself again and rolled a cigarette, which he smoked in
silence. Neither did Mrs. Pontellier speak. No multitude of words
could have been more significant than those moments of silence, or more
pregnant with the first-felt throbbings of desire.
When the voices of the bathers were heard approaching, Robert said
good-night. She did not answer him. He thought she was asleep. Again
she watched his figure pass in and out of the strips of moonlight as he
"What are you doing out here, Edna? I thought I should find you in bed,"
said her husband, when he discovered her lying there. He had walked up
with Madame Lebrun and left her at the house. His wife did not reply.
"Are you asleep?" he asked, bending down close to look at her.
"No." Her eyes gleamed bright and intense, with no sleepy shadows, as
they looked into his.
"Do you know it is past one o'clock? Come on," and he mounted the steps
and went into their room.
"Edna!" called Mr. Pontellier from within, after a few moments had gone
"Don't wait for me," she answered. He thrust his head through the door.
"You will take cold out there," he said, irritably. "What folly is this?
Why don't you come in?"
"It isn't cold; I have my shawl."
"The mosquitoes will devour you."
"There are no mosquitoes."
She heard him moving about the room; every sound indicating impatience
and irritation. Another time she would have gone in at his request. She
would, through habit, have yielded to his desire; not with any sense of
submission or obedience to his compelling wishes, but unthinkingly, as
we walk, move, sit, stand, go through the daily treadmill of the life
which has been portioned out to us.
"Edna, dear, are you not coming in soon?" he asked again, this time
fondly, with a note of entreaty.
"No; I am going to stay out here."
"This is more than folly," he blurted out. "I can't permit you to stay
out there all night. You must come in the house instantly."
With a writhing motion she settled herself more securely in the hammock.
She perceived that her will had blazed up, stubborn and resistant. She
could not at that moment have done other than denied and resisted. She
wondered if her husband had ever spoken to her like that before, and if
she had submitted to his command. Of course she had; she remembered that
she had. But she could not realize why or how she should have yielded,
feeling as she then did.
"Leonce, go to bed," she said, "I mean to stay out here. I don't wish to
go in, and I don't intend to. Don't speak to me like that again; I shall
not answer you."
Mr. Pontellier had prepared for bed, but he slipped on an extra garment.
He opened a bottle of wine, of which he kept a small and select supply
in a buffet of his own. He drank a glass of the wine and went out on the
gallery and offered a glass to his wife. She did not wish any. He drew
up the rocker, hoisted his slippered feet on the rail, and proceeded
to smoke a cigar. He smoked two cigars; then he went inside and drank
another glass of wine. Mrs. Pontellier again declined to accept a glass
when it was offered to her. Mr. Pontellier once more seated himself with
elevated feet, and after a reasonable interval of time smoked some more
Edna began to feel like one who awakens gradually out of a dream, a
delicious, grotesque, impossible dream, to feel again the realities
pressing into her soul. The physical need for sleep began to overtake
her; the exuberance which had sustained and exalted her spirit left her
helpless and yielding to the conditions which crowded her in.
The stillest hour of the night had come, the hour before dawn, when the
world seems to hold its breath. The moon hung low, and had turned from
silver to copper in the sleeping sky. The old owl no longer hooted, and
the water-oaks had ceased to moan as they bent their heads.
Edna arose, cramped from lying so long and still in the hammock. She
tottered up the steps, clutching feebly at the post before passing into
"Are you coming in, Leonce?" she asked, turning her face toward her
"Yes, dear," he answered, with a glance following a misty puff of smoke.
"Just as soon as I have finished my cigar."
She slept but a few hours. They were troubled and feverish hours,
disturbed with dreams that were intangible, that eluded her, leaving
only an impression upon her half-awakened senses of something
unattainable. She was up and dressed in the cool of the early morning.
The air was invigorating and steadied somewhat her faculties. However,
she was not seeking refreshment or help from any source, either external
or from within. She was blindly following whatever impulse moved her,
as if she had placed herself in alien hands for direction, and freed her
soul of responsibility.
Most of the people at that early hour were still in bed and asleep.
A few, who intended to go over to the Cheniere for mass, were moving
about. The lovers, who had laid their plans the night before, were
already strolling toward the wharf. The lady in black, with her Sunday
prayer-book, velvet and gold-clasped, and her Sunday silver beads, was
following them at no great distance. Old Monsieur Farival was up, and
was more than half inclined to do anything that suggested itself. He
put on his big straw hat, and taking his umbrella from the stand in the
hall, followed the lady in black, never overtaking her.
The little negro girl who worked Madame Lebrun's sewing-machine was
sweeping the galleries with long, absent-minded strokes of the broom.
Edna sent her up into the house to awaken Robert.
"Tell him I am going to the Cheniere. The boat is ready; tell him to
He had soon joined her. She had never sent for him before. She had never
asked for him. She had never seemed to want him before. She did not
appear conscious that she had done anything unusual in commanding
his presence. He was apparently equally unconscious of anything
extraordinary in the situation. But his face was suffused with a quiet
glow when he met her.
They went together back to the kitchen to drink coffee. There was no
time to wait for any nicety of service. They stood outside the window
and the cook passed them their coffee and a roll, which they drank and
ate from the window-sill. Edna said it tasted good.
She had not thought of coffee nor of anything. He told her he had often
noticed that she lacked forethought.
"Wasn't it enough to think of going to the Cheniere and waking you up?"
she laughed. "Do I have to think of everything?--as Leonce says when
he's in a bad humor. I don't blame him; he'd never be in a bad humor if
it weren't for me."
They took a short cut across the sands. At a distance they could see
the curious procession moving toward the wharf--the lovers, shoulder to
shoulder, creeping; the lady in black, gaining steadily upon them; old
Monsieur Farival, losing ground inch by inch, and a young barefooted
Spanish girl, with a red kerchief on her head and a basket on her arm,
bringing up the rear.
Robert knew the girl, and he talked to her a little in the boat. No one
present understood what they said. Her name was Mariequita. She had a
round, sly, piquant face and pretty black eyes. Her hands were small,
and she kept them folded over the handle of her basket. Her feet were
broad and coarse. She did not strive to hide them. Edna looked at her
feet, and noticed the sand and slime between her brown toes.
Beaudelet grumbled because Mariequita was there, taking up so much room.
In reality he was annoyed at having old Monsieur Farival, who considered
himself the better sailor of the two. But he would not quarrel with
so old a man as Monsieur Farival, so he quarreled with Mariequita. The
girl was deprecatory at one moment, appealing to Robert. She was saucy
the next, moving her head up and down, making "eyes" at Robert and
making "mouths" at Beaudelet.
The lovers were all alone. They saw nothing, they heard nothing. The
lady in black was counting her beads for the third time. Old Monsieur
Farival talked incessantly of what he knew about handling a boat, and of
what Beaudelet did not know on the same subject.
Edna liked it all. She looked Mariequita up and down, from her ugly
brown toes to her pretty black eyes, and back again.
"Why does she look at me like that?" inquired the girl of Robert.
"Maybe she thinks you are pretty. Shall I ask her?"
"No. Is she your sweetheart?"
"She's a married lady, and has two children."
"Oh! well! Francisco ran away with Sylvano's wife, who had four
children. They took all his money and one of the children and stole his
"Does she understand?"
"Are those two married over there--leaning on each other?"
"Of course not," laughed Robert.
"Of course not," echoed Mariequita, with a serious, confirmatory bob of
The sun was high up and beginning to bite. The swift breeze seemed
to Edna to bury the sting of it into the pores of her face and hands.
Robert held his umbrella over her. As they went cutting sidewise through
the water, the sails bellied taut, with the wind filling and overflowing
them. Old Monsieur Farival laughed sardonically at something as he
looked at the sails, and Beaudelet swore at the old man under his
Sailing across the bay to the Cheniere Caminada, Edna felt as if she
were being borne away from some anchorage which had held her fast, whose
chains had been loosening--had snapped the night before when the mystic
spirit was abroad, leaving her free to drift whithersoever she chose
to set her sails. Robert spoke to her incessantly; he no longer noticed
Mariequita. The girl had shrimps in her bamboo basket. They were covered
with Spanish moss. She beat the moss down impatiently, and muttered to
"Let us go to Grande Terre to-morrow?" said Robert in a low voice.
"What shall we do there?"
"Climb up the hill to the old fort and look at the little wriggling gold
snakes, and watch the lizards sun themselves."
She gazed away toward Grande Terre and thought she would like to be
alone there with Robert, in the sun, listening to the ocean's roar and
watching the slimy lizards writhe in and out among the ruins of the old
"And the next day or the next we can sail to the Bayou Brulow," he went
"What shall we do there?"
"Anything--cast bait for fish."
"No; we'll go back to Grande Terre. Let the fish alone."
"We'll go wherever you like," he said. "I'll have Tonie come over and
help me patch and trim my boat. We shall not need Beaudelet nor any one.
Are you afraid of the pirogue?"
"Then I'll take you some night in the pirogue when the moon shines.
Maybe your Gulf spirit will whisper to you in which of these islands the
treasures are hidden--direct you to the very spot, perhaps."
"And in a day we should be rich!" she laughed. "I'd give it all to you,
the pirate gold and every bit of treasure we could dig up. I think you
would know how to spend it. Pirate gold isn't a thing to be hoarded or
utilized. It is something to squander and throw to the four winds, for
the fun of seeing the golden specks fly."
"We'd share it, and scatter it together," he said. His face flushed.
They all went together up to the quaint little Gothic church of Our Lady
of Lourdes, gleaming all brown and yellow with paint in the sun's glare.
Only Beaudelet remained behind, tinkering at his boat, and Mariequita
walked away with her basket of shrimps, casting a look of childish ill
humor and reproach at Robert from the corner of her eye.
A feeling of oppression and drowsiness overcame Edna during the service.
Her head began to ache, and the lights on the altar swayed before
her eyes. Another time she might have made an effort to regain her
composure; but her one thought was to quit the stifling atmosphere of
the church and reach the open air. She arose, climbing over Robert's
feet with a muttered apology. Old Monsieur Farival, flurried, curious,
stood up, but upon seeing that Robert had followed Mrs. Pontellier, he
sank back into his seat. He whispered an anxious inquiry of the lady in
black, who did not notice him or reply, but kept her eyes fastened upon
the pages of her velvet prayer-book.
"I felt giddy and almost overcome," Edna said, lifting her hands
instinctively to her head and pushing her straw hat up from her
forehead. "I couldn't have stayed through the service." They were
outside in the shadow of the church. Robert was full of solicitude.
"It was folly to have thought of going in the first place, let alone
staying. Come over to Madame Antoine's; you can rest there." He took her
arm and led her away, looking anxiously and continuously down into her
How still it was, with only the voice of the sea whispering through the
reeds that grew in the salt-water pools! The long line of little gray,
weather-beaten houses nestled peacefully among the orange trees. It must
always have been God's day on that low, drowsy island, Edna thought.
They stopped, leaning over a jagged fence made of sea-drift, to ask
for water. A youth, a mild-faced Acadian, was drawing water from the
cistern, which was nothing more than a rusty buoy, with an opening on
one side, sunk in the ground. The water which the youth handed to them
in a tin pail was not cold to taste, but it was cool to her heated face,
and it greatly revived and refreshed her.
Madame Antoine's cot was at the far end of the village. She welcomed
them with all the native hospitality, as she would have opened her door
to let the sunlight in. She was fat, and walked heavily and clumsily
across the floor. She could speak no English, but when Robert made her
understand that the lady who accompanied him was ill and desired to
rest, she was all eagerness to make Edna feel at home and to dispose of
The whole place was immaculately clean, and the big, four-posted bed,
snow-white, invited one to repose. It stood in a small side room which
looked out across a narrow grass plot toward the shed, where there was a
disabled boat lying keel upward.
Madame Antoine had not gone to mass. Her son Tonie had, but she supposed
he would soon be back, and she invited Robert to be seated and wait for
him. But he went and sat outside the door and smoked. Madame Antoine
busied herself in the large front room preparing dinner. She was boiling
mullets over a few red coals in the huge fireplace.
Edna, left alone in the little side room, loosened her clothes, removing
the greater part of them. She bathed her face, her neck and arms in
the basin that stood between the windows. She took off her shoes and
stockings and stretched herself in the very center of the high, white
bed. How luxurious it felt to rest thus in a strange, quaint bed,
with its sweet country odor of laurel lingering about the sheets and
mattress! She stretched her strong limbs that ached a little. She ran
her fingers through her loosened hair for a while. She looked at her
round arms as she held them straight up and rubbed them one after the
other, observing closely, as if it were something she saw for the first
time, the fine, firm quality and texture of her flesh. She clasped her
hands easily above her head, and it was thus she fell asleep.
She slept lightly at first, half awake and drowsily attentive to the
things about her. She could hear Madame Antoine's heavy, scraping tread
as she walked back and forth on the sanded floor. Some chickens were
clucking outside the windows, scratching for bits of gravel in the
grass. Later she half heard the voices of Robert and Tonie talking under
the shed. She did not stir. Even her eyelids rested numb and heavily
over her sleepy eyes. The voices went on--Tonie's slow, Acadian drawl,
Robert's quick, soft, smooth French. She understood French imperfectly
unless directly addressed, and the voices were only part of the other
drowsy, muffled sounds lulling her senses.
When Edna awoke it was with the conviction that she had slept long and
soundly. The voices were hushed under the shed. Madame Antoine's step
was no longer to be heard in the adjoining room. Even the chickens had
gone elsewhere to scratch and cluck. The mosquito bar was drawn over
her; the old woman had come in while she slept and let down the bar.
Edna arose quietly from the bed, and looking between the curtains of the
window, she saw by the slanting rays of the sun that the afternoon was
far advanced. Robert was out there under the shed, reclining in the
shade against the sloping keel of the overturned boat. He was reading
from a book. Tonie was no longer with him. She wondered what had become
of the rest of the party. She peeped out at him two or three times as
she stood washing herself in the little basin between the windows.
Madame Antoine had laid some coarse, clean towels upon a chair, and had
placed a box of poudre de riz within easy reach. Edna dabbed the powder
upon her nose and cheeks as she looked at herself closely in the little
distorted mirror which hung on the wall above the basin. Her eyes were
bright and wide awake and her face glowed.
When she had completed her toilet she walked into the adjoining room.
She was very hungry. No one was there. But there was a cloth spread upon
the table that stood against the wall, and a cover was laid for one,
with a crusty brown loaf and a bottle of wine beside the plate. Edna bit
a piece from the brown loaf, tearing it with her strong, white teeth.
She poured some of the wine into the glass and drank it down. Then she
went softly out of doors, and plucking an orange from the low-hanging
bough of a tree, threw it at Robert, who did not know she was awake and
An illumination broke over his whole face when he saw her and joined her
under the orange tree.
"How many years have I slept?" she inquired. "The whole island seems
changed. A new race of beings must have sprung up, leaving only you and
me as past relics. How many ages ago did Madame Antoine and Tonie die?
and when did our people from Grand Isle disappear from the earth?"
He familiarly adjusted a ruffle upon her shoulder.
"You have slept precisely one hundred years. I was left here to guard
your slumbers; and for one hundred years I have been out under the shed
reading a book. The only evil I couldn't prevent was to keep a broiled
fowl from drying up."
"If it has turned to stone, still will I eat it," said Edna, moving with
him into the house. "But really, what has become of Monsieur Farival and
"Gone hours ago. When they found that you were sleeping they thought
it best not to awake you. Any way, I wouldn't have let them. What was I
"I wonder if Leonce will be uneasy!" she speculated, as she seated
herself at table.
"Of course not; he knows you are with me," Robert replied, as he
busied himself among sundry pans and covered dishes which had been left
standing on the hearth.
"Where are Madame Antoine and her son?" asked Edna.
"Gone to Vespers, and to visit some friends, I believe. I am 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 answered.
"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 muslin gown.
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
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 cover.
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
It was not more than nine o'clock. No one had yet gone to bed but the
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. Goodnight."
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 the Gulf.
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
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
"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 insects.
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 talk herself.
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 Monsieur
"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
"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 soft-spoken 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
"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
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
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 look friendly."
"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 Mexicans.
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
"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
"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 a request.
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 his companion.
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
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 being demanded.
"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
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
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 than that."
"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, disagreeably.
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"Where are you going?" asked Edna, seeing that her husband arose
from table without having eaten a morsel except a taste of the
"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 house.
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
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
"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 her finger.
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
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
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 her hair.
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 incomprehensible longing.
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
"'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
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
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
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 family."
"I feel like painting," answered Edna. "Perhaps I shan't always feel
"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 world.
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
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
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 admitted.
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 the house.
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 summer visitors.
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
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
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 advanced.
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.
"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 lumpy sofa.
"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
"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
"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
"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 and defies."
"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 love notes 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 air.
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
"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
"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 breakfast table."
The old gentleman lifted his shaggy eyebrows, protruded his thick nether
lip, and tapped the arms of his chair with his cushioned fingertips.
"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.
"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
"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
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
"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 your blood."
"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
"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; have patience."
"Well, good-by, a jeudi," said Mr. Pontellier, as he let himself out.
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 problem--were 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
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
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
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 wine.
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
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 not.
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 ponderous oaths.
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 incomprehensible action.
"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 comfortable peignoir.
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 agitation.
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 liked.
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
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 eyes, 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 uplifted eyebrows.
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
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 ask.
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 ignore when a pretty and engaging
woman was concerned.
He stayed and dined with Edna. He stayed and sat beside the wood fire.
They laughed and talked; and before it was time to go he was telling
her how different life might have been if he had known her years before.
With ingenuous frankness he spoke of what a wicked, ill-disciplined boy
he had been, and impulsively drew up his cuff to exhibit upon his wrist
the scar from a saber cut which he had received in a duel outside of
Paris when he was nineteen. She touched his hand as she scanned the red
cicatrice on the inside of his white wrist. A quick impulse that was
somewhat spasmodic impelled her fingers to close in a sort of clutch
upon his hand. He felt the pressure of her pointed nails in the flesh of
She arose hastily and walked toward the mantel.
"The sight of a wound or scar always agitates and sickens me," she said.
"I shouldn't have looked at it."
"I beg your pardon," he entreated, following her; "it never occurred to
me that it might be repulsive."
He stood close to her, and the effrontery in his eyes repelled the old,
vanishing self in her, yet drew all her awakening sensuousness. He saw
enough in her face to impel him to take her hand and hold it while he
said his lingering good night.
"Will you go to the races again?" he asked.
"No," she said. "I've had enough of the races. I don't want to lose all
the money I've won, and I've got to work when the weather is bright,
"Yes; work; to be sure. You promised to show me your work. What morning
may I come up to your atelier? To-morrow?"
"Oh, please don't refuse me! I know something of such things. I might
help you with a stray suggestion or two."
"No. Good night. Why don't you go after you have said good night? I
don't like you," she went on in a high, excited pitch, attempting
to draw away her hand. She felt that her words lacked dignity and
sincerity, and she knew that he felt it.
"I'm sorry you don't like me. I'm sorry I offended you. How have I
offended you? What have I done? Can't you forgive me?" And he bent and
pressed his lips upon her hand as if he wished never more to withdraw
"Mr. Arobin," she complained, "I'm greatly upset by the excitement of
the afternoon; I'm not myself. My manner must have misled you in some
way. I wish you to go, please." She spoke in a monotonous, dull tone.
He took his hat from the table, and stood with eyes turned from her,
looking into the dying fire. For a moment or two he kept an impressive
"Your manner has not misled me, Mrs. Pontellier," he said finally. "My
own emotions have done that. I couldn't help it. When I'm near you, how
could I help it? Don't think anything of it, don't bother, please. You
see, I go when you command me. If you wish me to stay away, I shall do
so. If you let me come back, I--oh! you will let me come back?"
He cast one appealing glance at her, to which she made no response.
Alcee Arobin's manner was so genuine that it often deceived even
Edna did not care or think whether it were genuine or not. When she
was alone she looked mechanically at the back of her hand which he had
kissed so warmly. Then she leaned her head down on the mantelpiece. She
felt somewhat like a woman who in a moment of passion is betrayed into
an act of infidelity, and realizes the significance of the act without
being wholly awakened from its glamour. The thought was passing vaguely
through her mind, "What would he think?"
She did not mean her husband; she was thinking of Robert Lebrun. Her
husband seemed to her now like a person whom she had married without
love as an excuse.
She lit a candle and went up to her room. Alcee Arobin was absolutely
nothing to her. Yet his presence, his manners, the warmth of his
glances, and above all the touch of his lips upon her hand had acted
like a narcotic upon her.
She slept a languorous sleep, interwoven with vanishing dreams.
Alcee Arobin wrote Edna an elaborate note of apology, palpitant with
sincerity. It embarrassed her; for in a cooler, quieter moment it
appeared to her, absurd that she should have taken his action so
seriously, so dramatically. She felt sure that the significance of the
whole occurrence had lain in her own self-consciousness. If she ignored
his note it would give undue importance to a trivial affair. If she
replied to it in a serious spirit it would still leave in his mind
the impression that she had in a susceptible moment yielded to his
influence. After all, it was no great matter to have one's hand kissed.
She was provoked at his having written the apology. She answered in as
light and bantering a spirit as she fancied it deserved, and said she
would be glad to have him look in upon her at work whenever he felt the
inclination and his business gave him the opportunity.
He responded at once by presenting himself at her home with all his
disarming naivete. And then there was scarcely a day which followed
that she did not see him or was not reminded of him. He was prolific in
pretexts. His attitude became one of good-humored subservience and tacit
adoration. He was ready at all times to submit to her moods, which were
as often kind as they were cold. She grew accustomed to him. They became
intimate and friendly by imperceptible degrees, and then by leaps. He
sometimes talked in a way that astonished her at first and brought the
crimson into her face; in a way that pleased her at last, appealing to
the animalism that stirred impatiently within her.
There was nothing which so quieted the turmoil of Edna's senses as
a visit to Mademoiselle Reisz. It was then, in the presence of that
personality which was offensive to her, that the woman, by her divine
art, seemed to reach Edna's spirit and set it free.
It was misty, with heavy, lowering atmosphere, one afternoon, when
Edna climbed the stairs to the pianist's apartments under the roof. Her
clothes were dripping with moisture. She felt chilled and pinched as she
entered the room. Mademoiselle was poking at a rusty stove that smoked a
little and warmed the room indifferently. She was endeavoring to heat
a pot of chocolate on the stove. The room looked cheerless and dingy to
Edna as she entered. A bust of Beethoven, covered with a hood of dust,
scowled at her from the mantelpiece.
"Ah! here comes the sunlight!" exclaimed Mademoiselle, rising from her
knees before the stove. "Now it will be warm and bright enough; I can
let the fire alone."
She closed the stove door with a bang, and approaching, assisted in
removing Edna's dripping mackintosh.
"You are cold; you look miserable. The chocolate will soon be hot. But
would you rather have a taste of brandy? I have scarcely touched the
bottle which you brought me for my cold." A piece of red flannel was
wrapped around Mademoiselle's throat; a stiff neck compelled her to hold
her head on one side.
"I will take some brandy," said Edna, shivering as she removed her
gloves and overshoes. She drank the liquor from the glass as a man would
have done. Then flinging herself upon the uncomfortable sofa she said,
"Mademoiselle, I am going to move away from my house on Esplanade
"Ah!" ejaculated the musician, neither surprised nor especially
interested. Nothing ever seemed to astonish her very much. She was
endeavoring to adjust the bunch of violets which had become loose from
its fastening in her hair. Edna drew her down upon the sofa, and taking
a pin from her own hair, secured the shabby artificial flowers in their
"Aren't you astonished?"
"Passably. Where are you going? to New York? to Iberville? to your
father in Mississippi? where?"
"Just two steps away," laughed Edna, "in a little four-room house around
the corner. It looks so cozy, so inviting and restful, whenever I pass
by; and it's for rent. I'm tired looking after that big house. It never
seemed like mine, anyway--like home. It's too much trouble. I have to
keep too many servants. I am tired bothering with them."
"That is not your true reason, ma belle. There is no use in telling me
lies. I don't know your reason, but you have not told me the truth."
Edna did not protest or endeavor to justify herself.
"The house, the money that provides for it, are not mine. Isn't that
"They are your husband's," returned Mademoiselle, with a shrug and a
malicious elevation of the eyebrows.
"Oh! I see there is no deceiving you. Then let me tell you: It is a
caprice. I have a little money of my own from my mother's estate, which
my father sends me by driblets. I won a large sum this winter on the
races, and I am beginning to sell my sketches. Laidpore is more and more
pleased with my work; he says it grows in force and individuality. I
cannot judge of that myself, but I feel that I have gained in ease
and confidence. However, as I said, I have sold a good many through
Laidpore. I can live in the tiny house for little or nothing, with one
servant. Old Celestine, who works occasionally for me, says she will
come stay with me and do my work. I know I shall like it, like the
feeling of freedom and independence."
"What does your husband say?"
"I have not told him yet. I only thought of it this morning. He will
think I am demented, no doubt. Perhaps you think so."
Mademoiselle shook her head slowly. "Your reason is not yet clear to
me," she said.
Neither was it quite clear to Edna herself; but it unfolded itself as
she sat for a while in silence. Instinct had prompted her to put away
her husband's bounty in casting off her allegiance. She did not know how
it would be when he returned. There would have to be an understanding,
an explanation. Conditions would some way adjust themselves, she felt;
but whatever came, she had resolved never again to belong to another
"I shall give a grand dinner before I leave the old house!" Edna
exclaimed. "You will have to come to it, Mademoiselle. I will give you
everything that you like to eat and to drink. We shall sing and laugh
and be merry for once." And she uttered a sigh that came from the very
depths of her being.
If Mademoiselle happened to have received a letter from Robert
during the interval of Edna's visits, she would give her the letter
unsolicited. And she would seat herself at the piano and play as her
humor prompted her while the young woman read the letter.
The little stove was roaring; it was red-hot, and the chocolate in the
tin sizzled and sputtered. Edna went forward and opened the stove door,
and Mademoiselle rising, took a letter from under the bust of Beethoven
and handed it to Edna.
"Another! so soon!" she exclaimed, her eyes filled with delight. "Tell
me, Mademoiselle, does he know that I see his letters?"
"Never in the world! He would be angry and would never write to me again
if he thought so. Does he write to you? Never a line. Does he send you
a message? Never a word. It is because he loves you, poor fool, and
is trying to forget you, since you are not free to listen to him or to
belong to him."
"Why do you show me his letters, then?"
"Haven't you begged for them? Can I refuse you anything? Oh! you cannot
deceive me," and Mademoiselle approached her beloved instrument and
began to play. Edna did not at once read the letter. She sat holding
it in her hand, while the music penetrated her whole being like an
effulgence, warming and brightening the dark places of her soul. It
prepared her for joy and exultation.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, letting the letter fall to the floor. "Why did
you not tell me?" She went and grasped Mademoiselle's hands up from the
keys. "Oh! unkind! malicious! Why did you not tell me?"
"That he was coming back? No great news, ma foi. I wonder he did not
come long ago."
"But when, when?" cried Edna, impatiently. "He does not say when."
"He says 'very soon.' You know as much about it as I do; it is all in
"But why? Why is he coming? Oh, if I thought--" and she snatched the
letter from the floor and turned the pages this way and that way,
looking for the reason, which was left untold.
"If I were young and in love with a man," said Mademoiselle, turning on
the stool and pressing her wiry hands between her knees as she looked
down at Edna, who sat on the floor holding the letter, "it seems to me
he would have to be some grand esprit; a man with lofty aims and ability
to reach them; one who stood high enough to attract the notice of his
fellow-men. It seems to me if I were young and in love I should never
deem a man of ordinary caliber worthy of my devotion."
"Now it is you who are telling lies and seeking to deceive me,
Mademoiselle; or else you have never been in love, and know nothing
about it. Why," went on Edna, clasping her knees and looking up into
Mademoiselle's twisted face, "do you suppose a woman knows why she
loves? Does she select? Does she say to herself: 'Go to! Here is a
distinguished statesman with presidential possibilities; I shall proceed
to fall in love with him.' Or, 'I shall set my heart upon this musician,
whose fame is on every tongue?' Or, 'This financier, who controls the
world's money markets?'
"You are purposely misunderstanding me, ma reine. Are you in love with
"Yes," said Edna. It was the first time she had admitted it, and a glow
overspread her face, blotching it with red spots.
"Why?" asked her companion. "Why do you love him when you ought not to?"
Edna, with a motion or two, dragged herself on her knees before
Mademoiselle Reisz, who took the glowing face between her two hands.
"Why? Because his hair is brown and grows away from his temples; because
he opens and shuts his eyes, and his nose is a little out of drawing;
because he has two lips and a square chin, and a little finger which he
can't straighten from having played baseball too energetically in his
"Because you do, in short," laughed Mademoiselle. "What will you do when
he comes back?" she asked.
"Do? Nothing, except feel glad and happy to be alive."
She was already glad and happy to be alive at the mere thought of his
return. The murky, lowering sky, which had depressed her a few hours
before, seemed bracing and invigorating as she splashed through the
streets on her way home.
She stopped at a confectioner's and ordered a huge box of bonbons for
the children in Iberville. She slipped a card in the box, on which she
scribbled a tender message and sent an abundance of kisses.
Before dinner in the evening Edna wrote a charming letter to her
husband, telling him of her intention to move for a while into the
little house around the block, and to give a farewell dinner before
leaving, regretting that he was not there to share it, to help out
with the menu and assist her in entertaining the guests. Her letter was
brilliant and brimming with cheerfulness.
"What is the matter with you?" asked Arobin that evening. "I never
found you in such a happy mood." Edna was tired by that time, and was
reclining on the lounge before the fire.
"Don't you know the weather prophet has told us we shall see the sun
"Well, that ought to be reason enough," he acquiesced. "You wouldn't
give me another if I sat here all night imploring you." He sat close to
her on a low tabouret, and as he spoke his fingers lightly touched the
hair that fell a little over her forehead. She liked the touch of his
fingers through her hair, and closed her eyes sensitively.
"One of these days," she said, "I'm going to pull myself together for a
while and think--try to determine what character of a woman I am; for,
candidly, I don't know. By all the codes which I am acquainted with,
I am a devilishly wicked specimen of the sex. But some way I can't
convince myself that I am. I must think about it."
"Don't. What's the use? Why should you bother thinking about it when
I can tell you what manner of woman you are." His fingers strayed
occasionally down to her warm, smooth cheeks and firm chin, which was
growing a little full and double.
"Oh, yes! You will tell me that I am adorable; everything that is
captivating. Spare yourself the effort."
"No; I shan't tell you anything of the sort, though I shouldn't be lying
if I did."
"Do you know Mademoiselle Reisz?" she asked irrelevantly.
"The pianist? I know her by sight. I've heard her play."
"She says queer things sometimes in a bantering way that you don't
notice at the time and you find yourself thinking about afterward."
"Well, for instance, when I left her to-day, she put her arms around me
and felt my shoulder blades, to see if my wings were strong, she
said. 'The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition
and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the
weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.' Whither would
"I'm not thinking of any extraordinary flights. I only half comprehend
"I've heard she's partially demented," said Arobin.
"She seems to me wonderfully sane," Edna replied.
"I'm told she's extremely disagreeable and unpleasant. Why have you
introduced her at a moment when I desired to talk of you?"
"Oh! talk of me if you like," cried Edna, clasping her hands beneath her
head; "but let me think of something else while you do."
"I'm jealous of your thoughts tonight. They're making you a little
kinder than usual; but some way I feel as if they were wandering, as if
they were not here with me." She only looked at him and smiled. His eyes
were very near. He leaned upon the lounge with an arm extended across
her, while the other hand still rested upon her hair. They continued
silently to look into each other's eyes. When he leaned forward and
kissed her, she clasped his head, holding his lips to hers.
It was the first kiss of her life to which her nature had really
responded. It was a flaming torch that kindled desire.
Edna cried a little that night after Arobin left her. It was only one
phase of the multitudinous emotions which had assailed her. There was
with her an overwhelming feeling of irresponsibility. There was the
shock of the unexpected and the unaccustomed. There was her husband's
reproach looking at her from the external things around her which he had
provided for her external existence. There was Robert's reproach making
itself felt by a quicker, fiercer, more overpowering love, which had
awakened within her toward him. Above all, there was understanding. She
felt as if a mist had been lifted from her eyes, enabling her to took
upon and comprehend the significance of life, that monster made up
of beauty and brutality. But among the conflicting sensations which
assailed her, there was neither shame nor remorse. There was a dull pang
of regret because it was not the kiss of love which had inflamed her,
because it was not love which had held this cup of life to her lips.
Without even waiting for an answer from her husband regarding his
opinion or wishes in the matter, Edna hastened her preparations for
quitting her home on Esplanade Street and moving into the little house
around the block. A feverish anxiety attended her every action in that
direction. There was no moment of deliberation, no interval of repose
between the thought and its fulfillment. Early upon the morning
following those hours passed in Arobin's society, Edna set about
securing her new abode and hurrying her arrangements for occupying it.
Within the precincts of her home she felt like one who has entered and
lingered within the portals of some forbidden temple in which a thousand
muffled voices bade her begone.
Whatever was her own in the house, everything which she had acquired
aside from her husband's bounty, she caused to be transported to the
other house, supplying simple and meager deficiencies from her own
Arobin found her with rolled sleeves, working in company with the
house-maid when he looked in during the afternoon. She was splendid and
robust, and had never appeared handsomer than in the old blue gown, with
a red silk handkerchief knotted at random around her head to protect her
hair from the dust. She was mounted upon a high stepladder, unhooking a
picture from the wall when he entered. He had found the front door open,
and had followed his ring by walking in unceremoniously.
"Come down!" he said. "Do you want to kill yourself?" She greeted him
with affected carelessness, and appeared absorbed in her occupation.
If he had expected to find her languishing, reproachful, or indulging in
sentimental tears, he must have been greatly surprised.
He was no doubt prepared for any emergency, ready for any one of the
foregoing attitudes, just as he bent himself easily and naturally to the
situation which confronted him.
"Please come down," he insisted, holding the ladder and looking up at
"No," she answered; "Ellen is afraid to mount the ladder. Joe is working
over at the 'pigeon house'--that's the name Ellen gives it, because it's
so small and looks like a pigeon house--and some one has to do this."
Arobin pulled off his coat, and expressed himself ready and willing to
tempt fate in her place. Ellen brought him one of her dust-caps,
and went into contortions of mirth, which she found it impossible to
control, when she saw him put it on before the mirror as grotesquely as
he could. Edna herself could not refrain from smiling when she fastened
it at his request. So it was he who in turn mounted the ladder,
unhooking pictures and curtains, and dislodging ornaments as Edna
directed. When he had finished he took off his dust-cap and went out to
wash his hands.
Edna was sitting on the tabouret, idly brushing the tips of a feather
duster along the carpet when he came in again.
"Is there anything more you will let me do?" he asked.
"That is all," she answered. "Ellen can manage the rest." She kept the
young woman occupied in the drawing-room, unwilling to be left alone
"What about the dinner?" he asked; "the grand event, the coup d'etat?"
"It will be day after to-morrow. Why do you call it the 'coup d'etat?'
Oh! it will be very fine; all my best of everything--crystal, silver and
gold, Sevres, flowers, music, and champagne to swim in. I'll let Leonce
pay the bills. I wonder what he'll say when he sees the bills.
"And you ask me why I call it a coup d'etat?" Arobin had put on his
coat, and he stood before her and asked if his cravat was plumb. She
told him it was, looking no higher than the tip of his collar.
"When do you go to the 'pigeon house?'--with all due acknowledgment to
"Day after to-morrow, after the dinner. I shall sleep there."
"Ellen, will you very kindly get me a glass of water?" asked Arobin.
"The dust in the curtains, if you will pardon me for hinting such a
thing, has parched my throat to a crisp."
"While Ellen gets the water," said Edna, rising, "I will say good-by and
let you go. I must get rid of this grime, and I have a million things to
do and think of."
"When shall I see you?" asked Arobin, seeking to detain her, the maid
having left the room.
"At the dinner, of course. You are invited."
"Not before?--not to-night or to-morrow morning or tomorrow noon or
night? or the day after morning or noon? Can't you see yourself, without
my telling you, what an eternity it is?"
He had followed her into the hall and to the foot of the stairway,
looking up at her as she mounted with her face half turned to him.
"Not an instant sooner," she said. But she laughed and looked at him
with eyes that at once gave him courage to wait and made it torture to
Though Edna had spoken of the dinner as a very grand affair, it was
in truth a very small affair and very select, in so much as the guests
invited were few and were selected with discrimination. She had counted
upon an even dozen seating themselves at her round mahogany board,
forgetting for the moment that Madame Ratignolle was to the last degree
souffrante and unpresentable, and not foreseeing that Madame Lebrun
would send a thousand regrets at the last moment. So there were only
ten, after all, which made a cozy, comfortable number.
There were Mr. and Mrs. Merriman, a pretty, vivacious little woman in
the thirties; her husband, a jovial fellow, something of a shallow-pate,
who laughed a good deal at other people's witticisms, and had thereby
made himself extremely popular. Mrs. Highcamp had accompanied them. Of
course, there was Alcee Arobin; and Mademoiselle Reisz had consented
to come. Edna had sent her a fresh bunch of violets with black lace
trimmings for her hair. Monsieur Ratignolle brought himself and his
wife's excuses. Victor Lebrun, who happened to be in the city, bent upon
relaxation, had accepted with alacrity. There was a Miss Mayblunt, no
longer in her teens, who looked at the world through lorgnettes and with
the keenest interest. It was thought and said that she was intellectual;
it was suspected of her that she wrote under a nom de guerre. She had
come with a gentleman by the name of Gouvernail, connected with one of
the daily papers, of whom nothing special could be said, except that he
was observant and seemed quiet and inoffensive. Edna herself made the
tenth, and at half-past eight they seated themselves at table, Arobin
and Monsieur Ratignolle on either side of their hostess.
Mrs. Highcamp sat between Arobin and Victor Lebrun. Then came Mrs.
Merriman, Mr. Gouvernail, Miss Mayblunt, Mr. Merriman, and Mademoiselle
Reisz next to Monsieur Ratignolle.
There was something extremely gorgeous about the appearance of the
table, an effect of splendor conveyed by a cover of pale yellow satin
under strips of lace-work. There were wax candles, in massive brass
candelabra, burning softly under yellow silk shades; full, fragrant
roses, yellow and red, abounded. There were silver and gold, as she had
said there would be, and crystal which glittered like the gems which the
The ordinary stiff dining chairs had been discarded for the occasion and
replaced by the most commodious and luxurious which could be collected
throughout the house. Mademoiselle Reisz, being exceedingly diminutive,
was elevated upon cushions, as small children are sometimes hoisted at
table upon bulky volumes.
"Something new, Edna?" exclaimed Miss Mayblunt, with lorgnette directed
toward a magnificent cluster of diamonds that sparkled, that almost
sputtered, in Edna's hair, just over the center of her forehead.
"Quite new; 'brand' new, in fact; a present from my husband. It
arrived this morning from New York. I may as well admit that this is my
birthday, and that I am twenty-nine. In good time I expect you to drink
my health. Meanwhile, I shall ask you to begin with this cocktail,
composed--would you say 'composed?'" with an appeal to Miss
Mayblunt--"composed by my father in honor of Sister Janet's wedding."
Before each guest stood a tiny glass that looked and sparkled like a
"Then, all things considered," spoke Arobin, "it might not be amiss
to start out by drinking the Colonel's health in the cocktail which he
composed, on the birthday of the most charming of women--the daughter
whom he invented."
Mr. Merriman's laugh at this sally was such a genuine outburst and so
contagious that it started the dinner with an agreeable swing that never
Miss Mayblunt begged to be allowed to keep her cocktail untouched before
her, just to look at. The color was marvelous! She could compare it to
nothing she had ever seen, and the garnet lights which it emitted were
unspeakably rare. She pronounced the Colonel an artist, and stuck to it.
Monsieur Ratignolle was prepared to take things seriously; the mets, the
entre-mets, the service, the decorations, even the people. He looked
up from his pompano and inquired of Arobin if he were related to the
gentleman of that name who formed one of the firm of Laitner and Arobin,
lawyers. The young man admitted that Laitner was a warm personal friend,
who permitted Arobin's name to decorate the firm's letterheads and to
appear upon a shingle that graced Perdido Street.
"There are so many inquisitive people and institutions abounding," said
Arobin, "that one is really forced as a matter of convenience these
days to assume the virtue of an occupation if he has it not." Monsieur
Ratignolle stared a little, and turned to ask Mademoiselle Reisz if she
considered the symphony concerts up to the standard which had been set
the previous winter. Mademoiselle Reisz answered Monsieur Ratignolle in
French, which Edna thought a little rude, under the circumstances, but
characteristic. Mademoiselle had only disagreeable things to say of the
symphony concerts, and insulting remarks to make of all the musicians
of New Orleans, singly and collectively. All her interest seemed to be
centered upon the delicacies placed before her.
Mr. Merriman said that Mr. Arobin's remark about inquisitive people
reminded him of a man from Waco the other day at the St. Charles
Hotel--but as Mr. Merriman's stories were always lame and lacking point,
his wife seldom permitted him to complete them. She interrupted him to
ask if he remembered the name of the author whose book she had bought
the week before to send to a friend in Geneva. She was talking "books"
with Mr. Gouvernail and trying to draw from him his opinion upon current
literary topics. Her husband told the story of the Waco man privately
to Miss Mayblunt, who pretended to be greatly amused and to think it
Mrs. Highcamp hung with languid but unaffected interest upon the warm
and impetuous volubility of her left-hand neighbor, Victor Lebrun.
Her attention was never for a moment withdrawn from him after seating
herself at table; and when he turned to Mrs. Merriman, who was prettier
and more vivacious than Mrs. Highcamp, she waited with easy indifference
for an opportunity to reclaim his attention. There was the occasional
sound of music, of mandolins, sufficiently removed to be an agreeable
accompaniment rather than an interruption to the conversation. Outside
the soft, monotonous splash of a fountain could be heard; the sound
penetrated into the room with the heavy odor of jessamine that came
through the open windows.
The golden shimmer of Edna's satin gown spread in rich folds on either
side of her. There was a soft fall of lace encircling her shoulders.
It was the color of her skin, without the glow, the myriad living tints
that one may sometimes discover in vibrant flesh. There was something in
her attitude, in her whole appearance when she leaned her head against
the high-backed chair and spread her arms, which suggested the regal
woman, the one who rules, who looks on, who stands alone.
But as she sat there amid her guests, she felt the old ennui overtaking
her; the hopelessness which so often assailed her, which came upon her
like an obsession, like something extraneous, independent of volition.
It was something which announced itself; a chill breath that seemed to
issue from some vast cavern wherein discords waited. There came over her
the acute longing which always summoned into her spiritual vision the
presence of the beloved one, overpowering her at once with a sense of
The moments glided on, while a feeling of good fellowship passed around
the circle like a mystic cord, holding and binding these people together
with jest and laughter. Monsieur Ratignolle was the first to break the
pleasant charm. At ten o'clock he excused himself. Madame Ratignolle
was waiting for him at home. She was bien souffrante, and she was filled
with vague dread, which only her husband's presence could allay.
Mademoiselle Reisz arose with Monsieur Ratignolle, who offered to escort
her to the car. She had eaten well; she had tasted the good, rich wines,
and they must have turned her head, for she bowed pleasantly to all
as she withdrew from table. She kissed Edna upon the shoulder, and
whispered: "Bonne nuit, ma reine; soyez sage." She had been a little
bewildered upon rising, or rather, descending from her cushions, and
Monsieur Ratignolle gallantly took her arm and led her away.
Mrs. Highcamp was weaving a garland of roses, yellow and red. When she
had finished the garland, she laid it lightly upon Victor's black curls.
He was reclining far back in the luxurious chair, holding a glass of
champagne to the light.
As if a magician's wand had touched him, the garland of roses
transformed him into a vision of Oriental beauty. His cheeks were the
color of crushed grapes, and his dusky eyes glowed with a languishing
"Sapristi!" exclaimed Arobin.
But Mrs. Highcamp had one more touch to add to the picture. She took
from the back of her chair a white silken scarf, with which she had
covered her shoulders in the early part of the evening. She draped it
across the boy in graceful folds, and in a way to conceal his black,
conventional evening dress. He did not seem to mind what she did to him,
only smiled, showing a faint gleam of white teeth, while he continued to
gaze with narrowing eyes at the light through his glass of champagne.
"Oh! to be able to paint in color rather than in words!" exclaimed Miss
Mayblunt, losing herself in a rhapsodic dream as she looked at him.
"'There was a graven image of Desire Painted with red blood on a ground
of gold.'" murmured Gouvernail, under his breath.
The effect of the wine upon Victor was to change his accustomed
volubility into silence. He seemed to have abandoned himself to a
reverie, and to be seeing pleasing visions in the amber bead.
"Sing," entreated Mrs. Highcamp. "Won't you sing to us?"
"Let him alone," said Arobin.
"He's posing," offered Mr. Merriman; "let him have it out."
"I believe he's paralyzed," laughed Mrs. Merriman. And leaning over the
youth's chair, she took the glass from his hand and held it to his lips.
He sipped the wine slowly, and when he had drained the glass she laid it
upon the table and wiped his lips with her little filmy handkerchief.
"Yes, I'll sing for you," he said, turning in his chair toward Mrs.
Highcamp. He clasped his hands behind his head, and looking up at the
ceiling began to hum a little, trying his voice like a musician tuning
an instrument. Then, looking at Edna, he began to sing:
"Ah! si tu savais!"
"Stop!" she cried, "don't sing that. I don't want you to sing it,"
and she laid her glass so impetuously and blindly upon the table as to
shatter it against a carafe. The wine spilled over Arobin's legs and
some of it trickled down upon Mrs. Highcamp's black gauze gown. Victor
had lost all idea of courtesy, or else he thought his hostess was not in
earnest, for he laughed and went on:
"Ah! si tu savais
Ce que tes yeux me disent"--
"Oh! you mustn't! you mustn't," exclaimed Edna, and pushing back her
chair she got up, and going behind him placed her hand over his mouth.
He kissed the soft palm that pressed upon his lips.
"No, no, I won't, Mrs. Pontellier. I didn't know you meant it," looking
up at her with caressing eyes. The touch of his lips was like a pleasing
sting to her hand. She lifted the garland of roses from his head and
flung it across the room.
"Come, Victor; you've posed long enough. Give Mrs. Highcamp her scarf."
Mrs. Highcamp undraped the scarf from about him with her own hands. Miss
Mayblunt and Mr. Gouvernail suddenly conceived the notion that it was
time to say good night. And Mr. and Mrs. Merriman wondered how it could
be so late.
Before parting from Victor, Mrs. Highcamp invited him to call upon her
daughter, who she knew would be charmed to meet him and talk French and
sing French songs with him. Victor expressed his desire and intention to
call upon Miss Highcamp at the first opportunity which presented itself.
He asked if Arobin were going his way. Arobin was not.
The mandolin players had long since stolen away. A profound stillness
had fallen upon the broad, beautiful street. The voices of Edna's
disbanding guests jarred like a discordant note upon the quiet harmony
of the night.
"Well?" questioned Arobin, who had remained with Edna after the others
"Well," she reiterated, and stood up, stretching her arms, and feeling
the need to relax her muscles after having been so long seated.
"What next?" he asked.
"The servants are all gone. They left when the musicians did. I have
dismissed them. The house has to be closed and locked, and I shall trot
around to the pigeon house, and shall send Celestine over in the morning
to straighten things up."
He looked around, and began to turn out some of the lights.
"What about upstairs?" he inquired.
"I think it is all right; but there may be a window or two unlatched. We
had better look; you might take a candle and see. And bring me my wrap
and hat on the foot of the bed in the middle room."
He went up with the light, and Edna began closing doors and windows. She
hated to shut in the smoke and the fumes of the wine. Arobin found her
cape and hat, which he brought down and helped her to put on.
When everything was secured and the lights put out, they left through
the front door, Arobin locking it and taking the key, which he carried
for Edna. He helped her down the steps.
"Will you have a spray of jessamine?" he asked, breaking off a few
blossoms as he passed.
"No; I don't want anything."
She seemed disheartened, and had nothing to say. She took his arm, which
he offered her, holding up the weight of her satin train with the other
hand. She looked down, noticing the black line of his leg moving in and
out so close to her against the yellow shimmer of her gown. There
was the whistle of a railway train somewhere in the distance, and the
midnight bells were ringing. They met no one in their short walk.
The "pigeon house" stood behind a locked gate, and a shallow parterre
that had been somewhat neglected. There was a small front porch, upon
which a long window and the front door opened. The door opened directly
into the parlor; there was no side entry. Back in the yard was a room
for servants, in which old Celestine had been ensconced.
Edna had left a lamp burning low upon the table. She had succeeded in
making the room look habitable and homelike. There were some books on
the table and a lounge near at hand. On the floor was a fresh matting,
covered with a rug or two; and on the walls hung a few tasteful
pictures. But the room was filled with flowers. These were a surprise to
her. Arobin had sent them, and had had Celestine distribute them during
Edna's absence. Her bedroom was adjoining, and across a small passage
were the diningroom and kitchen.
Edna seated herself with every appearance of discomfort.
"Are you tired?" he asked.
"Yes, and chilled, and miserable. I feel as if I had been wound up to a
certain pitch--too tight--and something inside of me had snapped." She
rested her head against the table upon her bare arm.
"You want to rest," he said, "and to be quiet. I'll go; I'll leave you
and let you rest."
"Yes," she replied.
He stood up beside her and smoothed her hair with his soft, magnetic
hand. His touch conveyed to her a certain physical comfort. She could
have fallen quietly asleep there if he had continued to pass his hand
over her hair. He brushed the hair upward from the nape of her neck.
"I hope you will feel better and happier in the morning," he said. "You
have tried to do too much in the past few days. The dinner was the last
straw; you might have dispensed with it."
"Yes," she admitted; "it was stupid."
"No, it was delightful; but it has worn you out." His hand had strayed
to her beautiful shoulders, and he could feel the response of her flesh
to his touch. He seated himself beside her and kissed her lightly upon
"I thought you were going away," she said, in an uneven voice.
"I am, after I have said good night."
"Good night," she murmured.
He did not answer, except to continue to caress her. He did not say good
night until she had become supple to his gentle, seductive entreaties.
When Mr. Pontellier learned of his wife's intention to abandon her home
and take up her residence elsewhere, he immediately wrote her a letter
of unqualified disapproval and remonstrance. She had given reasons which
he was unwilling to acknowledge as adequate. He hoped she had not acted
upon her rash impulse; and he begged her to consider first, foremost,
and above all else, what people would say. He was not dreaming of
scandal when he uttered this warning; that was a thing which would never
have entered into his mind to consider in connection with his wife's
name or his own. He was simply thinking of his financial integrity. It
might get noised about that the Pontelliers had met with reverses, and
were forced to conduct their menage on a humbler scale than heretofore.
It might do incalculable mischief to his business prospects.
But remembering Edna's whimsical turn of mind of late, and foreseeing
that she had immediately acted upon her impetuous determination, he
grasped the situation with his usual promptness and handled it with his
well-known business tact and cleverness.
The same mail which brought to Edna his letter of disapproval carried
instructions--the most minute instructions--to a well-known architect
concerning the remodeling of his home, changes which he had long
contemplated, and which he desired carried forward during his temporary
Expert and reliable packers and movers were engaged to convey the
furniture, carpets, pictures--everything movable, in short--to places
of security. And in an incredibly short time the Pontellier house
was turned over to the artisans. There was to be an addition--a small
snuggery; there was to be frescoing, and hardwood flooring was to be put
into such rooms as had not yet been subjected to this improvement.
Furthermore, in one of the daily papers appeared a brief notice to the
effect that Mr. and Mrs. Pontellier were contemplating a summer sojourn
abroad, and that their handsome residence on Esplanade Street was
undergoing sumptuous alterations, and would not be ready for occupancy
until their return. Mr. Pontellier had saved appearances!
Edna admired the skill of his maneuver, and avoided any occasion to balk
his intentions. When the situation as set forth by Mr. Pontellier was
accepted and taken for granted, she was apparently satisfied that it
should be so.
The pigeon house pleased her. It at once assumed the intimate character
of a home, while she herself invested it with a charm which it reflected
like a warm glow. There was with her a feeling of having descended in
the social scale, with a corresponding sense of having risen in the
spiritual. Every step which she took toward relieving herself from
obligations added to her strength and expansion as an individual. She
began to look with her own eyes; to see and to apprehend the deeper
undercurrents of life. No longer was she content to "feed upon opinion"
when her own soul had invited her.
After a little while, a few days, in fact, Edna went up and spent a week
with her children in Iberville. They were delicious February days, with
all the summer's promise hovering in the air.
How glad she was to see the children! She wept for very pleasure when
she felt their little arms clasping her; their hard, ruddy cheeks
pressed against her own glowing cheeks. She looked into their faces with
hungry eyes that could not be satisfied with looking. And what stories
they had to tell their mother! About the pigs, the cows, the mules!
About riding to the mill behind Gluglu; fishing back in the lake with
their Uncle Jasper; picking pecans with Lidie's little black brood, and
hauling chips in their express wagon. It was a thousand times more fun
to haul real chips for old lame Susie's real fire than to drag painted
blocks along the banquette on Esplanade Street!
She went with them herself to see the pigs and the cows, to look at the
darkies laying the cane, to thrash the pecan trees, and catch fish in
the back lake. She lived with them a whole week long, giving them all of
herself, and gathering and filling herself with their young existence.
They listened, breathless, when she told them the house in Esplanade
Street was crowded with workmen, hammering, nailing, sawing, and filling
the place with clatter. They wanted to know where their bed was; what
had been done with their rocking-horse; and where did Joe sleep, and
where had Ellen gone, and the cook? But, above all, they were fired with
a desire to see the little house around the block. Was there any
place to play? Were there any boys next door? Raoul, with pessimistic
foreboding, was convinced that there were only girls next door. Where
would they sleep, and where would papa sleep? She told them the fairies
would fix it all right.
The old Madame was charmed with Edna's visit, and showered all manner
of delicate attentions upon her. She was delighted to know that the
Esplanade Street house was in a dismantled condition. It gave her the
promise and pretext to keep the children indefinitely.
It was with a wrench and a pang that Edna left her children. She carried
away with her the sound of their voices and the touch of their cheeks.
All along the journey homeward their presence lingered with her like the
memory of a delicious song. But by the time she had regained the city
the song no longer echoed in her soul. She was again alone.
It happened sometimes when Edna went to see Mademoiselle Reisz that
the little musician was absent, giving a lesson or making some small
necessary household purchase. The key was always left in a secret
hiding-place in the entry, which Edna knew. If Mademoiselle happened to
be away, Edna would usually enter and wait for her return.
When she knocked at Mademoiselle Reisz's door one afternoon there was
no response; so unlocking the door, as usual, she entered and found the
apartment deserted, as she had expected. Her day had been quite filled
up, and it was for a rest, for a refuge, and to talk about Robert, that
she sought out her friend.
She had worked at her canvas--a young Italian character study--all the
morning, completing the work without the model; but there had been many
interruptions, some incident to her modest housekeeping, and others of a
Madame Ratignolle had dragged herself over, avoiding the too public
thoroughfares, she said. She complained that Edna had neglected her
much of late. Besides, she was consumed with curiosity to see the little
house and the manner in which it was conducted. She wanted to hear all
about the dinner party; Monsieur Ratignolle had left so early. What had
happened after he left? The champagne and grapes which Edna sent over
were TOO delicious. She had so little appetite; they had refreshed and
toned her stomach. Where on earth was she going to put Mr. Pontellier in
that little house, and the boys? And then she made Edna promise to go to
her when her hour of trial overtook her.
"At any time--any time of the day or night, dear," Edna assured her.
Before leaving Madame Ratignolle said:
"In some way you seem to me like a child, Edna. You seem to act without
a certain amount of reflection which is necessary in this life. That is
the reason I want to say you mustn't mind if I advise you to be a little
careful while you are living here alone. Why don't you have some one
come and stay with you? Wouldn't Mademoiselle Reisz come?"
"No; she wouldn't wish to come, and I shouldn't want her always with
"Well, the reason--you know how evil-minded the world is--some one was
talking of Alcee Arobin visiting you. Of course, it wouldn't matter if
Mr. Arobin had not such a dreadful reputation. Monsieur Ratignolle was
telling me that his attentions alone are considered enough to ruin a
woman s name."
"Does he boast of his successes?" asked Edna, indifferently, squinting
at her picture.
"No, I think not. I believe he is a decent fellow as far as that goes.
But his character is so well known among the men. I shan't be able to
come back and see you; it was very, very imprudent to-day."
"Mind the step!" cried Edna.
"Don't neglect me," entreated Madame Ratignolle; "and don't mind what I
said about Arobin, or having some one to stay with you.
"Of course not," Edna laughed. "You may say anything you like to me."
They kissed each other good-by. Madame Ratignolle had not far to go, and
Edna stood on the porch a while watching her walk down the street.
Then in the afternoon Mrs. Merriman and Mrs. Highcamp had made their
"party call." Edna felt that they might have dispensed with the
formality. They had also come to invite her to play vingt-et-un one
evening at Mrs. Merriman's. She was asked to go early, to dinner, and
Mr. Merriman or Mr. Arobin would take her home. Edna accepted in a
half-hearted way. She sometimes felt very tired of Mrs. Highcamp and
Late in the afternoon she sought refuge with Mademoiselle Reisz, and
stayed there alone, waiting for her, feeling a kind of repose invade her
with the very atmosphere of the shabby, unpretentious little room.
Edna sat at the window, which looked out over the house-tops and across
the river. The window frame was filled with pots of flowers, and she sat
and picked the dry leaves from a rose geranium. The day was warm, and
the breeze which blew from the river was very pleasant. She removed her
hat and laid it on the piano. She went on picking the leaves and
digging around the plants with her hat pin. Once she thought she heard
Mademoiselle Reisz approaching. But it was a young black girl, who
came in, bringing a small bundle of laundry, which she deposited in the
adjoining room, and went away.
Edna seated herself at the piano, and softly picked out with one hand
the bars of a piece of music which lay open before her. A half-hour went
by. There was the occasional sound of people going and coming in the
lower hall. She was growing interested in her occupation of picking out
the aria, when there was a second rap at the door. She vaguely wondered
what these people did when they found Mademoiselle's door locked.
"Come in," she called, turning her face toward the door. And this time
it was Robert Lebrun who presented himself. She attempted to rise; she
could not have done so without betraying the agitation which mastered
her at sight of him, so she fell back upon the stool, only exclaiming,
He came and clasped her hand, seemingly without knowing what he was
saying or doing.
"Mrs. Pontellier! How do you happen--oh! how well you look! Is
Mademoiselle Reisz not here? I never expected to see you."
"When did you come back?" asked Edna in an unsteady voice, wiping her
face with her handkerchief. She seemed ill at ease on the piano stool,
and he begged her to take the chair by the window.
She did so, mechanically, while he seated himself on the stool.
"I returned day before yesterday," he answered, while he leaned his arm
on the keys, bringing forth a crash of discordant sound.
"Day before yesterday!" she repeated, aloud; and went on thinking to
herself, "day before yesterday," in a sort of an uncomprehending way.
She had pictured him seeking her at the very first hour, and he had
lived under the same sky since day before yesterday; while only by
accident had he stumbled upon her. Mademoiselle must have lied when she
said, "Poor fool, he loves you."
"Day before yesterday," she repeated, breaking off a spray of
Mademoiselle's geranium; "then if you had not met me here to-day you
wouldn't--when--that is, didn't you mean to come and see me?"
"Of course, I should have gone to see you. There have been so many
things--" he turned the leaves of Mademoiselle's music nervously. "I
started in at once yesterday with the old firm. After all there is as
much chance for me here as there was there--that is, I might find it
profitable some day. The Mexicans were not very congenial."
So he had come back because the Mexicans were not congenial; because
business was as profitable here as there; because of any reason, and not
because he cared to be near her. She remembered the day she sat on the
floor, turning the pages of his letter, seeking the reason which was
She had not noticed how he looked--only feeling his presence; but she
turned deliberately and observed him. After all, he had been absent but
a few months, and was not changed. His hair--the color of hers--waved
back from his temples in the same way as before. His skin was not more
burned than it had been at Grand Isle. She found in his eyes, when he
looked at her for one silent moment, the same tender caress, with an
added warmth and entreaty which had not been there before the same
glance which had penetrated to the sleeping places of her soul and
A hundred times Edna had pictured Robert's return, and imagined their
first meeting. It was usually at her home, whither he had sought her out
at once. She always fancied him expressing or betraying in some way his
love for her. And here, the reality was that they sat ten feet apart,
she at the window, crushing geranium leaves in her hand and smelling
them, he twirling around on the piano stool, saying:
"I was very much surprised to hear of Mr. Pontellier's absence; it's a
wonder Mademoiselle Reisz did not tell me; and your moving--mother told
me yesterday. I should think you would have gone to New York with him,
or to Iberville with the children, rather than be bothered here with
housekeeping. And you are going abroad, too, I hear. We shan't have
you at Grand Isle next summer; it won't seem--do you see much of
Mademoiselle Reisz? She often spoke of you in the few letters she
"Do you remember that you promised to write to me when you went away?" A
flush overspread his whole face.
"I couldn't believe that my letters would be of any interest to you."
"That is an excuse; it isn't the truth." Edna reached for her hat on the
piano. She adjusted it, sticking the hat pin through the heavy coil of
hair with some deliberation.
"Are you not going to wait for Mademoiselle Reisz?" asked Robert.
"No; I have found when she is absent this long, she is liable not to
come back till late." She drew on her gloves, and Robert picked up his
"Won't you wait for her?" asked Edna.
"Not if you think she will not be back till late," adding, as if
suddenly aware of some discourtesy in his speech, "and I should miss the
pleasure of walking home with you." Edna locked the door and put the key
back in its hiding-place.
They went together, picking their way across muddy streets and sidewalks
encumbered with the cheap display of small tradesmen. Part of the
distance they rode in the car, and after disembarking, passed the
Pontellier mansion, which looked broken and half torn asunder. Robert
had never known the house, and looked at it with interest.
"I never knew you in your home," he remarked.
"I am glad you did not."
"Why?" She did not answer. They went on around the corner, and it seemed
as if her dreams were coming true after all, when he followed her into
the little house.
"You must stay and dine with me, Robert. You see I am all alone, and it
is so long since I have seen you. There is so much I want to ask you."
She took off her hat and gloves. He stood irresolute, making some excuse
about his mother who expected him; he even muttered something about an
engagement. She struck a match and lit the lamp on the table; it was
growing dusk. When he saw her face in the lamp-light, looking pained,
with all the soft lines gone out of it, he threw his hat aside and
"Oh! you know I want to stay if you will let me!" he exclaimed. All
the softness came back. She laughed, and went and put her hand on his
"This is the first moment you have seemed like the old Robert. I'll
go tell Celestine." She hurried away to tell Celestine to set an extra
place. She even sent her off in search of some added delicacy which
she had not thought of for herself. And she recommended great care in
dripping the coffee and having the omelet done to a proper turn.
When she reentered, Robert was turning over magazines, sketches,
and things that lay upon the table in great disorder. He picked up a
photograph, and exclaimed:
"Alcee Arobin! What on earth is his picture doing here?"
"I tried to make a sketch of his head one day," answered Edna, "and
he thought the photograph might help me. It was at the other house. I
thought it had been left there. I must have packed it up with my drawing
"I should think you would give it back to him if you have finished with
"Oh! I have a great many such photographs. I never think of returning
them. They don't amount to anything." Robert kept on looking at the
"It seems to me--do you think his head worth drawing? Is he a friend of
Mr. Pontellier's? You never said you knew him."
"He isn't a friend of Mr. Pontellier's; he's a friend of mine. I always
knew him--that is, it is only of late that I know him pretty well. But
I'd rather talk about you, and know what you have been seeing and doing
and feeling out there in Mexico." Robert threw aside the picture.
"I've been seeing the waves and the white beach of Grand Isle; the
quiet, grassy street of the Cheniere; the old fort at Grande Terre. I've
been working like a machine, and feeling like a lost soul. There was
She leaned her head upon her hand to shade her eyes from the light.
"And what have you been seeing and doing and feeling all these days?" he
"I've been seeing the waves and the white beach of Grand Isle; the
quiet, grassy street of the Cheniere Caminada; the old sunny fort at
Grande Terre. I've been working with a little more comprehension than
a machine, and still feeling like a lost soul. There was nothing
"Mrs. Pontellier, you are cruel," he said, with feeling, closing his
eyes and resting his head back in his chair. They remained in silence
till old Celestine announced dinner.
The dining-room was very small. Edna's round mahogany would have almost
filled it. As it was there was but a step or two from the little table
to the kitchen, to the mantel, the small buffet, and the side door that
opened out on the narrow brick-paved yard.
A certain degree of ceremony settled upon them with the announcement of
dinner. There was no return to personalities. Robert related incidents
of his sojourn in Mexico, and Edna talked of events likely to interest
him, which had occurred during his absence. The dinner was of ordinary
quality, except for the few delicacies which she had sent out to
purchase. Old Celestine, with a bandana tignon twisted about her head,
hobbled in and out, taking a personal interest in everything; and she
lingered occasionally to talk patois with Robert, whom she had known as
He went out to a neighboring cigar stand to purchase cigarette papers,
and when he came back he found that Celestine had served the black
coffee in the parlor.
"Perhaps I shouldn't have come back," he said. "When you are tired of
me, tell me to go."
"You never tire me. You must have forgotten the hours and hours at
Grand Isle in which we grew accustomed to each other and used to being
"I have forgotten nothing at Grand Isle," he said, not looking at her,
but rolling a cigarette. His tobacco pouch, which he laid upon the
table, was a fantastic embroidered silk affair, evidently the handiwork
of a woman.
"You used to carry your tobacco in a rubber pouch," said Edna, picking
up the pouch and examining the needlework.
"Yes; it was lost."
"Where did you buy this one? In Mexico?"
"It was given to me by a Vera Cruz girl; they are very generous," he
replied, striking a match and lighting his cigarette.
"They are very handsome, I suppose, those Mexican women; very
picturesque, with their black eyes and their lace scarfs."
"Some are; others are hideous, just as you find women everywhere."
"What was she like--the one who gave you the pouch? You must have known
her very well."
"She was very ordinary. She wasn't of the slightest importance. I knew
her well enough."
"Did you visit at her house? Was it interesting? I should like to know
and hear about the people you met, and the impressions they made on
"There are some people who leave impressions not so lasting as the
imprint of an oar upon the water."
"Was she such a one?"
"It would be ungenerous for me to admit that she was of that order and
kind." He thrust the pouch back in his pocket, as if to put away the
subject with the trifle which had brought it up.
Arobin dropped in with a message from Mrs. Merriman, to say that
the card party was postponed on account of the illness of one of her
"How do you do, Arobin?" said Robert, rising from the obscurity.
"Oh! Lebrun. To be sure! I heard yesterday you were back. How did they
treat you down in Mexique?"
"But not well enough to keep you there. Stunning girls, though, in
Mexico. I thought I should never get away from Vera Cruz when I was down
there a couple of years ago."
"Did they embroider slippers and tobacco pouches and hat-bands and
things for you?" asked Edna.
"Oh! my! no! I didn't get so deep in their regard. I fear they made more
impression on me than I made on them."
"You were less fortunate than Robert, then."
"I am always less fortunate than Robert. Has he been imparting tender
"I've been imposing myself long enough," said Robert, rising, and
shaking hands with Edna. "Please convey my regards to Mr. Pontellier
when you write."
He shook hands with Arobin and went away.
"Fine fellow, that Lebrun," said Arobin when Robert had gone. "I never
heard you speak of him."
"I knew him last summer at Grand Isle," she replied. "Here is that
photograph of yours. Don't you want it?"
"What do I want with it? Throw it away." She threw it back on the table.
"I'm not going to Mrs. Merriman's," she said. "If you see her, tell her
so. But perhaps I had better write. I think I shall write now, and say
that I am sorry her child is sick, and tell her not to count on me."
"It would be a good scheme," acquiesced Arobin. "I don't blame you;
Edna opened the blotter, and having procured paper and pen, began to
write the note. Arobin lit a cigar and read the evening paper, which he
had in his pocket.
"What is the date?" she asked. He told her.
"Will you mail this for me when you go out?"
"Certainly." He read to her little bits out of the newspaper, while she
straightened things on the table.
"What do you want to do?" he asked, throwing aside the paper. "Do you
want to go out for a walk or a drive or anything? It would be a fine
night to drive."
"No; I don't want to do anything but just be quiet. You go away and
amuse yourself. Don't stay."
"I'll go away if I must; but I shan't amuse myself. You know that I only
live when I am near you."
He stood up to bid her good night.
"Is that one of the things you always say to women?"
"I have said it before, but I don't think I ever came so near meaning
it," he answered with a smile. There were no warm lights in her eyes;
only a dreamy, absent look.
"Good night. I adore you. Sleep well," he said, and he kissed her hand
and went away.
She stayed alone in a kind of reverie--a sort of stupor. Step by step
she lived over every instant of the time she had been with Robert after
he had entered Mademoiselle Reisz's door. She recalled his words,
his looks. How few and meager they had been for her hungry heart! A
vision--a transcendently seductive vision of a Mexican girl arose before
her. She writhed with a jealous pang. She wondered when he would come
back. He had not said he would come back. She had been with him, had
heard his voice and touched his hand. But some way he had seemed nearer
to her off there in Mexico.
The morning was full of sunlight and hope. Edna could see before her no
denial--only the promise of excessive joy. She lay in bed awake, with
bright eyes full of speculation. "He loves you, poor fool." If she could
but get that conviction firmly fixed in her mind, what mattered about
the rest? She felt she had been childish and unwise the night before in
giving herself over to despondency. She recapitulated the motives which
no doubt explained Robert's reserve. They were not insurmountable; they
would not hold if he really loved her; they could not hold against her
own passion, which he must come to realize in time. She pictured him
going to his business that morning. She even saw how he was dressed;
how he walked down one street, and turned the corner of another; saw him
bending over his desk, talking to people who entered the office, going
to his lunch, and perhaps watching for her on the street. He would come
to her in the afternoon or evening, sit and roll his cigarette, talk a
little, and go away as he had done the night before. But how delicious
it would be to have him there with her! She would have no regrets, nor
seek to penetrate his reserve if he still chose to wear it.
Edna ate her breakfast only half dressed. The maid brought her a
delicious printed scrawl from Raoul, expressing his love, asking her to
send him some bonbons, and telling her they had found that morning ten
tiny white pigs all lying in a row beside Lidie's big white pig.
A letter also came from her husband, saying he hoped to be back early
in March, and then they would get ready for that journey abroad which
he had promised her so long, which he felt now fully able to afford;
he felt able to travel as people should, without any thought of small
economies--thanks to his recent speculations in Wall Street.
Much to her surprise she received a note from Arobin, written at
midnight from the club. It was to say good morning to her, to hope she
had slept well, to assure her of his devotion, which he trusted she in
some faintest manner returned.
All these letters were pleasing to her. She answered the children in a
cheerful frame of mind, promising them bonbons, and congratulating them
upon their happy find of the little pigs.
She answered her husband with friendly evasiveness,--not with any fixed
design to mislead him, only because all sense of reality had gone out
of her life; she had abandoned herself to Fate, and awaited the
consequences with indifference.
To Arobin's note she made no reply. She put it under Celestine's
Edna worked several hours with much spirit. She saw no one but a picture
dealer, who asked her if it were true that she was going abroad to study
She said possibly she might, and he negotiated with her for some
Parisian studies to reach him in time for the holiday trade in December.
Robert did not come that day. She was keenly disappointed. He did not
come the following day, nor the next. Each morning she awoke with hope,
and each night she was a prey to despondency. She was tempted to seek
him out. But far from yielding to the impulse, she avoided any occasion
which might throw her in his way. She did not go to Mademoiselle Reisz's
nor pass by Madame Lebrun's, as she might have done if he had still been
When Arobin, one night, urged her to drive with him, she went--out to
the lake, on the Shell Road. His horses were full of mettle, and even a
little unmanageable. She liked the rapid gait at which they spun along,
and the quick, sharp sound of the horses' hoofs on the hard road. They
did not stop anywhere to eat or to drink. Arobin was not needlessly
imprudent. But they ate and they drank when they regained Edna's little
dining-room--which was comparatively early in the evening.
It was late when he left her. It was getting to be more than a passing
whim with Arobin to see her and be with her. He had detected the latent
sensuality, which unfolded under his delicate sense of her nature's
requirements like a torpid, torrid, sensitive blossom.
There was no despondency when she fell asleep that night; nor was there
hope when she awoke in the morning.
There was a garden out in the suburbs; a small, leafy corner, with a
few green tables under the orange trees. An old cat slept all day on the
stone step in the sun, and an old mulatresse slept her idle hours away
in her chair at the open window, till, some one happened to knock on one
of the green tables. She had milk and cream cheese to sell, and bread
and butter. There was no one who could make such excellent coffee or fry
a chicken so golden brown as she.
The place was too modest to attract the attention of people of fashion,
and so quiet as to have escaped the notice of those in search of
pleasure and dissipation. Edna had discovered it accidentally one day
when the high-board gate stood ajar. She caught sight of a little green
table, blotched with the checkered sunlight that filtered through
the quivering leaves overhead. Within she had found the slumbering
mulatresse, the drowsy cat, and a glass of milk which reminded her of
the milk she had tasted in Iberville.
She often stopped there during her perambulations; sometimes taking a
book with her, and sitting an hour or two under the trees when she found
the place deserted. Once or twice she took a quiet dinner there alone,
having instructed Celestine beforehand to prepare no dinner at home. It
was the last place in the city where she would have expected to meet any
one she knew.
Still she was not astonished when, as she was partaking of a modest
dinner late in the afternoon, looking into an open book, stroking the
cat, which had made friends with her--she was not greatly astonished to
see Robert come in at the tall garden gate.
"I am destined to see you only by accident," she said, shoving the
cat off the chair beside her. He was surprised, ill at ease, almost
embarrassed at meeting her thus so unexpectedly.
"Do you come here often?" he asked.
"I almost live here," she said.
"I used to drop in very often for a cup of Catiche's good coffee. This
is the first time since I came back."
"She'll bring you a plate, and you will share my dinner. There's always
enough for two--even three." Edna had intended to be indifferent and as
reserved as he when she met him; she had reached the determination by a
laborious train of reasoning, incident to one of her despondent moods.
But her resolve melted when she saw him before designing Providence had
led him into her path.
"Why have you kept away from me, Robert?" she asked, closing the book
that lay open upon the table.
"Why are you so personal, Mrs. Pontellier? Why do you force me to
idiotic subterfuges?" he exclaimed with sudden warmth. "I suppose
there's no use telling you I've been very busy, or that I've been sick,
or that I've been to see you and not found you at home. Please let me
off with any one of these excuses."
"You are the embodiment of selfishness," she said. "You save yourself
something--I don't know what--but there is some selfish motive, and in
sparing yourself you never consider for a moment what I think, or how
I feel your neglect and indifference. I suppose this is what you would
call unwomanly; but I have got into a habit of expressing myself. It
doesn't matter to me, and you may think me unwomanly if you like."
"No; I only think you cruel, as I said the other day. Maybe not
intentionally cruel; but you seem to be forcing me into disclosures
which can result in nothing; as if you would have me bare a wound for
the pleasure of looking at it, without the intention or power of healing
"I'm spoiling your dinner, Robert; never mind what I say. You haven't
eaten a morsel."
"I only came in for a cup of coffee." His sensitive face was all
disfigured with excitement.
"Isn't this a delightful place?" she remarked. "I am so glad it has
never actually been discovered. It is so quiet, so sweet, here. Do you
notice there is scarcely a sound to be heard? It's so out of the way;
and a good walk from the car. However, I don't mind walking. I always
feel so sorry for women who don't like to walk; they miss so much--so
many rare little glimpses of life; and we women learn so little of life
on the whole.
"Catiche's coffee is always hot. I don't know how she manages it, here
in the open air. Celestine's coffee gets cold bringing it from the
kitchen to the dining-room. Three lumps! How can you drink it so sweet?
Take some of the cress with your chop; it's so biting and crisp. Then
there's the advantage of being able to smoke with your coffee out here.
Now, in the city--aren't you going to smoke?"
"After a while," he said, laying a cigar on the table.
"Who gave it to you?" she laughed.
"I bought it. I suppose I'm getting reckless; I bought a whole box." She
was determined not to be personal again and make him uncomfortable.
The cat made friends with him, and climbed into his lap when he smoked
his cigar. He stroked her silky fur, and talked a little about her. He
looked at Edna's book, which he had read; and he told her the end, to
save her the trouble of wading through it, he said.
Again he accompanied her back to her home; and it was after dusk when
they reached the little "pigeon-house." She did not ask him to remain,
which he was grateful for, as it permitted him to stay without the
discomfort of blundering through an excuse which he had no intention
of considering. He helped her to light the lamp; then she went into her
room to take off her hat and to bathe her face and hands.
When she came back Robert was not examining the pictures and magazines
as before; he sat off in the shadow, leaning his head back on the chair
as if in a reverie. Edna lingered a moment beside the table, arranging
the books there. Then she went across the room to where he sat. She bent
over the arm of his chair and called his name.
"Robert," she said, "are you asleep?"
"No," he answered, looking up at her.
She leaned over and kissed him--a soft, cool, delicate kiss, whose
voluptuous sting penetrated his whole being-then she moved away from
him. He followed, and took her in his arms, just holding her close to
him. She put her hand up to his face and pressed his cheek against her
own. The action was full of love and tenderness. He sought her lips
again. Then he drew her down upon the sofa beside him and held her hand
in both of his.
"Now you know," he said, "now you know what I have been fighting against
since last summer at Grand Isle; what drove me away and drove me back
"Why have you been fighting against it?" she asked. Her face glowed with
"Why? Because you were not free; you were Leonce Pontellier's wife. I
couldn't help loving you if you were ten times his wife; but so long as
I went away from you and kept away I could help telling you so." She put
her free hand up to his shoulder, and then against his cheek, rubbing it
softly. He kissed her again. His face was warm and flushed.
"There in Mexico I was thinking of you all the time, and longing for
"But not writing to me," she interrupted.
"Something put into my head that you cared for me; and I lost my senses.
I forgot everything but a wild dream of your some way becoming my wife."
"Religion, loyalty, everything would give way if only you cared."
"Then you must have forgotten that I was Leonce Pontellier's wife."
"Oh! I was demented, dreaming of wild, impossible things, recalling men
who had set their wives free, we have heard of such things."
"Yes, we have heard of such things."
"I came back full of vague, mad intentions. And when I got here--"
"When you got here you never came near me!" She was still caressing his
"I realized what a cur I was to dream of such a thing, even if you had
She took his face between her hands and looked into it as if she would
never withdraw her eyes more. She kissed him on the forehead, the eyes,
the cheeks, and the lips.
"You have been a very, very foolish boy, wasting your time dreaming of
impossible things when you speak of Mr. Pontellier setting me free! I
am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier's possessions to dispose of or not.
I give myself where I choose. If he were to say, 'Here, Robert, take her
and be happy; she is yours,' I should laugh at you both."
His face grew a little white. "What do you mean?" he asked.
There was a knock at the door. Old Celestine came in to say that Madame
Ratignolle's servant had come around the back way with a message that
Madame had been taken sick and begged Mrs. Pontellier to go to her
"Yes, yes," said Edna, rising; "I promised. Tell her yes--to wait for
me. I'll go back with her."
"Let me walk over with you," offered Robert.
"No," she said; "I will go with the servant. She went into her room to
put on her hat, and when she came in again she sat once more upon the
sofa beside him. He had not stirred. She put her arms about his neck.
"Good-by, my sweet Robert. Tell me good-by." He kissed her with a degree
of passion which had not before entered into his caress, and strained
her to him.
"I love you," she whispered, "only you; no one but you. It was you who
awoke me last summer out of a life-long, stupid dream. Oh! you have made
me so unhappy with your indifference. Oh! I have suffered, suffered! Now
you are here we shall love each other, my Robert. We shall be everything
to each other. Nothing else in the world is of any consequence. I must
go to my friend; but you will wait for me? No matter how late; you will
wait for me, Robert?"
"Don't go; don't go! Oh! Edna, stay with me," he pleaded. "Why should
you go? Stay with me, stay with me."
"I shall come back as soon as I can; I shall find you here." She buried
her face in his neck, and said good-by again. Her seductive voice,
together with his great love for her, had enthralled his senses, had
deprived him of every impulse but the longing to hold her and keep her.
Edna looked in at the drug store. Monsieur Ratignolle was putting up
a mixture himself, very carefully, dropping a red liquid into a tiny
glass. He was grateful to Edna for having come; her presence would be
a comfort to his wife. Madame Ratignolle's sister, who had always been
with her at such trying times, had not been able to come up from the
plantation, and Adele had been inconsolable until Mrs. Pontellier so
kindly promised to come to her. The nurse had been with them at night
for the past week, as she lived a great distance away. And Dr. Mandelet
had been coming and going all the afternoon. They were then looking for
him any moment.
Edna hastened upstairs by a private stairway that led from the rear of
the store to the apartments above. The children were all sleeping in a
back room. Madame Ratignolle was in the salon, whither she had strayed
in her suffering impatience. She sat on the sofa, clad in an ample
white peignoir, holding a handkerchief tight in her hand with a nervous
clutch. Her face was drawn and pinched, her sweet blue eyes haggard and
unnatural. All her beautiful hair had been drawn back and plaited. It
lay in a long braid on the sofa pillow, coiled like a golden serpent.
The nurse, a comfortable looking Griffe woman in white apron and cap,
was urging her to return to her bedroom.
"There is no use, there is no use," she said at once to Edna. "We must
get rid of Mandelet; he is getting too old and careless. He said he
would be here at half-past seven; now it must be eight. See what time it
The woman was possessed of a cheerful nature, and refused to take any
situation too seriously, especially a situation with which she was so
familiar. She urged Madame to have courage and patience. But Madame only
set her teeth hard into her under lip, and Edna saw the sweat gather
in beads on her white forehead. After a moment or two she uttered a
profound sigh and wiped her face with the handkerchief rolled in a
ball. She appeared exhausted. The nurse gave her a fresh handkerchief,
sprinkled with cologne water.
"This is too much!" she cried. "Mandelet ought to be killed! Where is
Alphonse? Is it possible I am to be abandoned like this-neglected by
"Neglected, indeed!" exclaimed the nurse. Wasn't she there? And here was
Mrs. Pontellier leaving, no doubt, a pleasant evening at home to devote
to her? And wasn't Monsieur Ratignolle coming that very instant through
the hall? And Josephine was quite sure she had heard Doctor Mandelet's
coupe. Yes, there it was, down at the door.
Adele consented to go back to her room. She sat on the edge of a little
low couch next to her bed.
Doctor Mandelet paid no attention to Madame Ratignolle's upbraidings. He
was accustomed to them at such times, and was too well convinced of her
loyalty to doubt it.
He was glad to see Edna, and wanted her to go with him into the salon
and entertain him. But Madame Ratignolle would not consent that Edna
should leave her for an instant. Between agonizing moments, she chatted
a little, and said it took her mind off her sufferings.
Edna began to feel uneasy. She was seized with a vague dread. Her own
like experiences seemed far away, unreal, and only half remembered. She
recalled faintly an ecstasy of pain, the heavy odor of chloroform, a
stupor which had deadened sensation, and an awakening to find a little
new life to which she had given being, added to the great unnumbered
multitude of souls that come and go.
She began to wish she had not come; her presence was not necessary. She
might have invented a pretext for staying away; she might even invent a
pretext now for going. But Edna did not go. With an inward agony, with a
flaming, outspoken revolt against the ways of Nature, she witnessed the
scene of torture.
She was still stunned and speechless with emotion when later she leaned
over her friend to kiss her and softly say good-by. Adele, pressing her
cheek, whispered in an exhausted voice: "Think of the children, Edna. Oh
think of the children! Remember them!"
Edna still felt dazed when she got outside in the open air. The Doctor's
coupe had returned for him and stood before the porte cochere. She did
not wish to enter the coupe, and told Doctor Mandelet she would walk;
she was not afraid, and would go alone. He directed his carriage to meet
him at Mrs. Pontellier's, and he started to walk home with her.
Up--away up, over the narrow street between the tall houses, the stars
were blazing. The air was mild and caressing, but cool with the breath
of spring and the night. They walked slowly, the Doctor with a heavy,
measured tread and his hands behind him; Edna, in an absent-minded way,
as she had walked one night at Grand Isle, as if her thoughts had gone
ahead of her and she was striving to overtake them.
"You shouldn't have been there, Mrs. Pontellier," he said. "That was no
place for you. Adele is full of whims at such times. There were a dozen
women she might have had with her, unimpressionable women. I felt that
it was cruel, cruel. You shouldn't have gone."
"Oh, well!" she answered, indifferently. "I don't know that it matters
after all. One has to think of the children some time or other; the
sooner the better."
"When is Leonce coming back?"
"Quite soon. Some time in March."
"And you are going abroad?"
"Perhaps--no, I am not going. I'm not going to be forced into doing
things. I don't want to go abroad. I want to be let alone. Nobody has
any right--except children, perhaps--and even then, it seems to me--or
it did seem--" She felt that her speech was voicing the incoherency of
her thoughts, and stopped abruptly.
"The trouble is," sighed the Doctor, grasping her meaning intuitively,
"that youth is given up to illusions. It seems to be a provision of
Nature; a decoy to secure mothers for the race. And Nature takes no
account of moral consequences, of arbitrary conditions which we create,
and which we feel obliged to maintain at any cost."
"Yes," she said. "The years that are gone seem like dreams--if one might
go on sleeping and dreaming--but to wake up and find--oh! well! perhaps
it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain
a dupe to illusions all one's life."
"It seems to me, my dear child," said the Doctor at parting, holding her
hand, "you seem to me to be in trouble. I am not going to ask for your
confidence. I will only say that if ever you feel moved to give it to
me, perhaps I might help you. I know I would understand, And I tell you
there are not many who would--not many, my dear."
"Some way I don't feel moved to speak of things that trouble me. Don't
think I am ungrateful or that I don't appreciate your sympathy. There
are periods of despondency and suffering which take possession of me.
But I don't want anything but my own way. That is wanting a good deal,
of course, when you have to trample upon the lives, the hearts, the
prejudices of others--but no matter-still, I shouldn't want to trample
upon the little lives. Oh! I don't know what I'm saying, Doctor. Good
night. Don't blame me for anything."
"Yes, I will blame you if you don't come and see me soon. We will talk
of things you never have dreamt of talking about before. It will do
us both good. I don't want you to blame yourself, whatever comes. Good
night, my child."
She let herself in at the gate, but instead of entering she sat upon
the step of the porch. The night was quiet and soothing. All the tearing
emotion of the last few hours seemed to fall away from her like a
somber, uncomfortable garment, which she had but to loosen to be rid of.
She went back to that hour before Adele had sent for her; and her senses
kindled afresh in thinking of Robert's words, the pressure of his arms,
and the feeling of his lips upon her own. She could picture at that
moment no greater bliss on earth than possession of the beloved one.
His expression of love had already given him to her in part. When she
thought that he was there at hand, waiting for her, she grew numb with
the intoxication of expectancy. It was so late; he would be asleep
perhaps. She would awaken him with a kiss. She hoped he would be asleep
that she might arouse him with her caresses.
Still, she remembered Adele's voice whispering, "Think of the children;
think of them." She meant to think of them; that determination had
driven into her soul like a death wound--but not to-night. To-morrow
would be time to think of everything.
Robert was not waiting for her in the little parlor. He was nowhere at
hand. The house was empty. But he had scrawled on a piece of paper that
lay in the lamplight:
"I love you. Good-by--because I love you."
Edna grew faint when she read the words. She went and sat on the sofa.
Then she stretched herself out there, never uttering a sound. She did
not sleep. She did not go to bed. The lamp sputtered and went out. She
was still awake in the morning, when Celestine unlocked the kitchen door
and came in to light the fire.
Victor, with hammer and nails and scraps of scantling, was patching a
corner of one of the galleries. Mariequita sat near by, dangling her
legs, watching him work, and handing him nails from the tool-box. The
sun was beating down upon them. The girl had covered her head with her
apron folded into a square pad. They had been talking for an hour or
more. She was never tired of hearing Victor describe the dinner at Mrs.
Pontellier's. He exaggerated every detail, making it appear a veritable
Lucullean feast. The flowers were in tubs, he said. The champagne was
quaffed from huge golden goblets. Venus rising from the foam could have
presented no more entrancing a spectacle than Mrs. Pontellier, blazing
with beauty and diamonds at the head of the board, while the other women
were all of them youthful houris, possessed of incomparable charms. She
got it into her head that Victor was in love with Mrs. Pontellier, and
he gave her evasive answers, framed so as to confirm her belief. She
grew sullen and cried a little, threatening to go off and leave him to
his fine ladies. There were a dozen men crazy about her at the Cheniere;
and since it was the fashion to be in love with married people, why, she
could run away any time she liked to New Orleans with Celina's husband.
Celina's husband was a fool, a coward, and a pig, and to prove it to
her, Victor intended to hammer his head into a jelly the next time he
encountered him. This assurance was very consoling to Mariequita. She
dried her eyes, and grew cheerful at the prospect.
They were still talking of the dinner and the allurements of city life
when Mrs. Pontellier herself slipped around the corner of the house. The
two youngsters stayed dumb with amazement before what they considered
to be an apparition. But it was really she in flesh and blood, looking
tired and a little travel-stained.
"I walked up from the wharf", she said, "and heard the hammering. I
supposed it was you, mending the porch. It's a good thing. I was always
tripping over those loose planks last summer. How dreary and deserted
It took Victor some little time to comprehend that she had come in
Beaudelet's lugger, that she had come alone, and for no purpose but to
"There's nothing fixed up yet, you see. I'll give you my room; it's the
"Any corner will do," she assured him.
"And if you can stand Philomel's cooking," he went on, "though I might
try to get her mother while you are here. Do you think she would come?"
turning to Mariequita.
Mariequita thought that perhaps Philomel's mother might come for a few
days, and money enough.
Beholding Mrs. Pontellier make her appearance, the girl had at once
suspected a lovers' rendezvous. But Victor's astonishment was so
genuine, and Mrs. Pontellier's indifference so apparent, that the
disturbing notion did not lodge long in her brain. She contemplated with
the greatest interest this woman who gave the most sumptuous dinners in
America, and who had all the men in New Orleans at her feet.
"What time will you have dinner?" asked Edna. "I'm very hungry; but
don't get anything extra."
"I'll have it ready in little or no time," he said, bustling and packing
away his tools. "You may go to my room to brush up and rest yourself.
Mariequita will show you."
"Thank you", said Edna. "But, do you know, I have a notion to go down to
the beach and take a good wash and even a little swim, before dinner?"
"The water is too cold!" they both exclaimed. "Don't think of it."
"Well, I might go down and try--dip my toes in. Why, it seems to me the
sun is hot enough to have warmed the very depths of the ocean. Could you
get me a couple of towels? I'd better go right away, so as to be back in
time. It would be a little too chilly if I waited till this afternoon."
Mariequita ran over to Victor's room, and returned with some towels,
which she gave to Edna.
"I hope you have fish for dinner," said Edna, as she started to walk
away; "but don't do anything extra if you haven't."
"Run and find Philomel's mother," Victor instructed the girl. "I'll
go to the kitchen and see what I can do. By Gimminy! Women have no
consideration! She might have sent me word."
Edna walked on down to the beach rather mechanically, not noticing
anything special except that the sun was hot. She was not dwelling upon
any particular train of thought. She had done all the thinking which was
necessary after Robert went away, when she lay awake upon the sofa till
She had said over and over to herself: "To-day it is Arobin; to-morrow
it will be some one else. It makes no difference to me, it doesn't
matter about Leonce Pontellier--but Raoul and Etienne!" She understood
now clearly what she had meant long ago when she said to Adele
Ratignolle that she would give up the unessential, but she would never
sacrifice herself for her children.
Despondency had come upon her there in the wakeful night, and had never
lifted. There was no one thing in the world that she desired. There
was no human being whom she wanted near her except Robert; and she even
realized that the day would come when he, too, and the thought of
him would melt out of her existence, leaving her alone. The children
appeared before her like antagonists who had overcome her; who had
overpowered and sought to drag her into the soul's slavery for the rest
of her days. But she knew a way to elude them. She was not thinking of
these things when she walked down to the beach.
The water of the Gulf stretched out before her, gleaming with the
million lights of the sun. The voice of the sea is seductive, never
ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander
in abysses of solitude. All along the white beach, up and down, there
was no living thing in sight. A bird with a broken wing was beating
the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the
Edna had found her old bathing suit still hanging, faded, upon its
She put it on, leaving her clothing in the bath-house. But when she
was there beside the sea, absolutely alone, she cast the unpleasant,
pricking garments from her, and for the first time in her life she stood
naked in the open air, at the mercy of the sun, the breeze that beat
upon her, and the waves that invited her.
How strange and awful it seemed to stand naked under the sky! how
delicious! She felt like some new-born creature, opening its eyes in a
familiar world that it had never known.
The foamy wavelets curled up to her white feet, and coiled like serpents
about her ankles. She walked out. The water was chill, but she walked
on. The water was deep, but she lifted her white body and reached
out with a long, sweeping stroke. The touch of the sea is sensuous,
enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.
She went on and on. She remembered the night she swam far out, and
recalled the terror that seized her at the fear of being unable to
regain the shore. She did not look back now, but went on and on,
thinking of the blue-grass meadow that she had traversed when a little
child, believing that it had no beginning and no end.
Her arms and legs were growing tired.
She thought of Leonce and the children. They were a part of her life.
But they need not have thought that they could possess her, body and
soul. How Mademoiselle Reisz would have laughed, perhaps sneered, if she
knew! "And you call yourself an artist! What pretensions, Madame! The
artist must possess the courageous soul that dares and defies."
Exhaustion was pressing upon and overpowering her.
"Good-by--because I love you." He did not know; he did not understand.
He would never understand. Perhaps Doctor Mandelet would have understood
if she had seen him--but it was too late; the shore was far behind her,
and her strength was gone.
She looked into the distance, and the old terror flamed up for an
instant, then sank again. Edna heard her father's voice and her sister
Margaret's. She heard the barking of an old dog that was chained to the
sycamore tree. The spurs of the cavalry officer clanged as he walked
across the porch. There was the hum of bees, and the musky odor of pinks
filled the air.