Part 1 out of 4
by Kate Chopin
With an Introduction by
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 maddening persistence.
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
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. Pontellier.
"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 after-dinner smoke.
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 the Peasant."
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
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,
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
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 Street.
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
"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 ample atonement.
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 eves
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 brushed.
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 ministering angels.
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
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
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 married women.
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 and camaraderie.
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 vouchsafe.
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!
"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, contemptuous comment:
"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
"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
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 pin!
"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
"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
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
"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
"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 unguided."
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 glass passionately.
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 her husband.
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 fitted her.
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
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
"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.
"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 fellow."
"Should our whole intercourse consist of an exchange of
compliments? Ma foi!"
"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
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 house."
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
"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
"Where is Victor going with the rockaway?"
"The rockaway? Victor?"
"Yes; down there in front. He seems to be getting ready to
drive away somewhere."
"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 middleaged
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, bang!
"Why didn't you tell me so before, mother? You know I
wanted--"Clatter, clatter, 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
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
"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 city.
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 human indulgence.
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 water.
"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 her.
"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 her selections.
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
"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
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 her.
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
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 there alone."
"You were not so very far, my dear; I was watching you", he
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
"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
"I know she is," assented Mr. Pontellier; "sometimes, not
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
"No; I knew you weren't afraid."
"Then why did you come? Why didn't you stay out there with the
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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 walked away.
"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 by.
"Don't wait for me," she answered. He thrust his head through
"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
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
"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
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 the house.
"Are you coming in, Leonce?" she asked, turning her face
toward her husband.
"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 hurry."
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
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
Edna liked it all. She looked Mariequita up and down, from
her ugly brown toes to her pretty black eyes, and
"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 boat."
"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 head.
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 breath.
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 herself sullenly.
"Let us go to Grande Terre to-morrow?" said Robert in a low
"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 fort.
"And the next day or the next we can sail to the Bayou
Brulow," he went on.
"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
"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
"We'd share it, and scatter it together," he said. His face
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
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
"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
"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 face.
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 her comfortably.
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
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
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 up.
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 the others?"
"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 here for?"
"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