Part 3 out of 4
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 his palm.
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, instead of--"
"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 them.
"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
"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 himself.
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
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
"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 Street."
"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 accustomed place.
"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
"The house, the money that provides for it, are not mine.
Isn't that enough reason?"
"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
"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 than herself.
"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
"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 the letter."
"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 Robert?"
"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
"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 youth. Because--"
"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
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 pretty soon?"
"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
"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 you soar?"
"I'm not thinking of any extraordinary flights. I only half
"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 resources.
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 her.
"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 with Arobin.
"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
"When do you go to the `pigeon house?'--with all due
acknowledgment to Ellen."
"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 wait.
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,
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 women wore.
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
"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 garnet gem.
"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 slackened.
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 extremely clever.
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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 had departed.
"Well," she reiterated, and stood up, stretching her arms, and
feeling the need to relax her muscles after having been so long
"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
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 the shoulder.
"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,
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 absence.
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
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 social nature.
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
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 me."
"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
"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 Mrs. Merriman.
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, "Why, Robert!"
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
"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
"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 left untold.
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 awakened them.
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 wrote."
"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
"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
"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 hat.
"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
"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 seated himself.
"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 shoulder.
"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 materials."
"I should think you would give it back to him if you have finished with it."
"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 picture.
"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 nothing interesting."
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 asked.
"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 interesting."
"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 a
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 together."
"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
"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 you."
"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 children.
"How do you do, Arobin?" said Robert, rising from the
"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 confidences?"
"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
"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
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 in Paris.
She said possibly she might, and he negotiated with her for
some Parisian studies to reach him in time for the holiday trade in
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 in Mexico.
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
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
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 it."
"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
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
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 again."
"Why have you been fighting against it?" she asked. Her face
glowed with soft lights.
"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 you."
"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 cheek.
"I realized what a cur I was to dream of such a thing, even if
you had been willing."
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 immediately.
"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
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 is, Josephine."
The woman was possessed of a cheerful nature, and refused
to take any situation too seriously, especially a situation
withwhich 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 every one?"
"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
"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,
"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