Tuesday, October 9, 2007


The Awakening and Selected Short Stories by Kate Chopin

The Awakening
and Selected
Short Stories
by Kate Chopin

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,
insistent way.
Mrs. Pontellier sprang out of bed and went into the next room.
She soon came back and sat on the edge of the bed, leaning her head
down on the pillow. She said nothing, and refused to answer her
husband when he questioned her. When his cigar was smoked out he
went to bed, and in half a minute he was fast asleep.
Mrs. Pontellier was by that time thoroughly awake. She began
to cry a little, and wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her peignoir.
Blowing out the candle, which her husband had left burning,
she slipped her bare feet into a pair of satin mules
at the foot of the bed and went out on the porch, where she sat
down in the wicker chair and began to rock gently to and fro.
It was then past midnight. The cottages were all dark.
A single faint light gleamed out from the hallway of the house.
There was no sound abroad except the hooting of an old owl in the
top of a water-oak, and the everlasting voice of the sea, that was
not uplifted at that soft hour. It broke like a mournful lullaby
upon the night.
The tears came so fast to Mrs. Pontellier's eyes that the
damp sleeve of her peignoir no longer served to dry them.
She was holding the back of her chair with one hand; her loose sleeve
had slipped almost to the shoulder of her uplifted arm. Turning,
she thrust her face, steaming and wet, into the bend of her arm,
and she went on crying there, not caring any longer to dry her face,
her eyes, her arms. She could not have told why she was crying.
Such experiences as the foregoing were not uncommon in her married life.
They seemed never before to have weighed much against the abundance
of her husband's kindness and a uniform devotion which had come to
be tacit and self-understood.
An indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some
unfamiliar part of her consciousness, filled her whole being with
a vague anguish. It was like a shadow, like a mist passing across
her soul's summer day. It was strange and unfamiliar; it was a
mood. She did not sit there inwardly upbraiding her husband,
lamenting at Fate, which had directed her footsteps to the path
which they had taken. She was just having a good cry all to
herself. The mosquitoes made merry over her, biting her firm,
round arms and nipping at her bare insteps.
The little stinging, buzzing imps succeeded in dispelling a
mood which might have held her there in the darkness half a night
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!
Allez vous-en!'"
"Perhaps I feared to make Alphonse jealous," she interjoined, with
excessive naivete. That made them all laugh. The right hand
jealous of the left! The heart jealous of the soul! But for that
matter, the Creole husband is never jealous; with him the gangrene
passion is one which has become dwarfed by disuse.
Meanwhile Robert, addressing Mrs Pontellier, continued to tell
of his one time hopeless passion for Madame Ratignolle; of
sleepless nights, of consuming flames till the very sea sizzled
when he took his daily plunge. While the lady at the needle kept
up a little running, 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
Madame Ratignolle.
"Mais ce n'est pas mal! Elle s'y connait, elle a de la force, oui."
During his oblivious attention he once quietly rested his head
against Mrs. Pontellier's arm. As gently she repulsed him. Once
again he repeated the offense. She could not but believe it to be
thoughtlessness on his part; yet that was no reason she should
submit to it. She did not remonstrate, except again to repulse him
quietly but firmly. He offered no apology.
The picture completed bore no resemblance to Madame Ratignolle.
She was greatly disappointed to find that it did not look like her.
But it was a fair enough piece of work, and in many respects
Mrs. Pontellier evidently did not think so. After surveying
the sketch critically she drew a broad smudge of paint across its
surface, and crumpled the paper between her hands.
The youngsters came tumbling up the steps, the quadroon
following at the respectful distance which they required her to
observe. Mrs. Pontellier made them carry her paints and things
into the house. She sought to detain them for a little talk and
some pleasantry. But they were greatly in earnest. They had only
come to investigate the contents of the bonbon box. They accepted
without murmuring what she chose to give them, each holding out two
chubby hands scoop-like, in the vain hope that they might be
filled; and then away they went.
The sun was low in the west, and the breeze soft and
languorous that came up from the south, charged with the seductive
odor of the sea. Children freshly befurbelowed, were gathering for
their games under the oaks. Their voices were high and
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
imperative entreaty.
"Oh, come!" he insisted. "You mustn't miss your bath. Come
on. The water must be delicious; it will not hurt you. Come."
He reached up for her big, rough straw hat that hung on a peg
outside the door, and put it on her head. They descended the
steps, and walked away together toward the beach. The sun was low
in the west and the breeze was soft and warm.
Edna Pontellier could not have told why, wishing to go to the
beach with Robert, she should in the first place have declined, and
in the second place have followed in obedience to one of the two
contradictory impulses which impelled her.
A certain light was beginning to dawn dimly within her,--the
light which, showing the way, forbids it.
At that early period it served but to bewilder her. It moved
her to dreams, to thoughtfulness, to the shadowy anguish which had
overcome her the midnight when she had abandoned herself to tears.
In short, Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her
position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her
relations as an individual to the world within and about her. This
may seem like a ponderous weight of wisdom to descend upon the soul
of a young woman of twenty-eight--perhaps more wisdom than the Holy
Ghost is usually pleased to vouchsafe to any woman.
But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is
necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing.
How few of us ever emerge from such beginning! How many souls
perish in its tumult!
The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering,
clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in
abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward
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
the grass?"
"I don't remember now. I was just walking diagonally across
a big field. My sun-bonnet obstructed the view. I could see only
the stretch of green before me, and I felt as if I must walk on
forever, without coming to the end of it. I don't remember whether
I was frightened or pleased. I must have been entertained.
"Likely as not it was Sunday," she laughed; "and I was running
away from prayers, from the Presbyterian service, read in a spirit
of gloom by my father that chills me yet to think of."
"And have you been running away from prayers ever since, ma
chere?" asked Madame Ratignolle, amused.
"No! oh, no!" Edna hastened to say. "I was a little
unthinking child in those days, just following a misleading impulse
without question. On the contrary, during one period of my life
religion took a firm hold upon me; after I was twelve and
until-until--why, I suppose until now, though I never thought much about
it--just driven along by habit. But do you know," she broke off,
turning her quick eyes upon Madame Ratignolle and leaning forward
a little so as to bring her face quite close to that of her companion,
"sometimes I feel this summer as if I were walking through the green
meadow again; idly, aimlessly, unthinking and 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.
Pontellier alone."
"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
desultory conversation.
"Where is Mrs. Pontellier?"
"Down at the beach with the children."
"I promised to lend her the Goncourt. Don't forget to take it
down when you go; it's there on the bookshelf over the small
table." Clatter, clatter, clatter, bang! for the next five or eight
"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
even premeditation.
At an early hour in the evening the Farival twins were
prevailed upon to play the piano. They were girls of fourteen,
always clad in the Virgin's colors, blue and white, having been
dedicated to the Blessed Virgin at their baptism. They played a
duet from "Zampa," and at the earnest solicitation of every one
present followed it with the overture to "The Poet and the
"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
told her.
Edna went at once to the bath-house, and she had put on her
dry clothes and was ready to return home before the others had left
the water. She started to walk away alone. They all called to her
and shouted to her. She waved a dissenting hand, and went on,
paying no further heed to their renewed cries which sought to
detain her.
"Sometimes I am tempted to think that Mrs. Pontellier is
capricious," said Madame Lebrun, who was amusing herself immensely
and feared that Edna's abrupt departure might put an end to the
"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
of annoyance.
"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
the shadow.
"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
of desire.
When the voices of the bathers were heard approaching, Robert
said good-night. She did not answer him. He thought she was
asleep. Again she watched his figure pass in and out of the strips
of moonlight as he 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
the door.
"You will take cold out there," he said, irritably. "What
folly is this? Why don't you come in?"
"It isn't cold; I have my shawl."
"The mosquitoes will devour you."
"There are no mosquitoes."
She heard him moving about the room; every sound indicating
impatience and irritation. Another time she would have gone in at
his request. She would, through habit, have yielded to his desire;
not with any sense of submission or obedience to his compelling wishes, but unthinkingly,
as we walk, move, sit, stand, go through the daily treadmill of the
life which has been portioned out to us.
"Edna, dear, are you not coming in soon?" he asked again, this
time fondly, with a note of entreaty.
"No; I am going to stay out here."
"This is more than folly," he blurted out. "I can't permit
you to stay out there all night. You must come in the house
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
more cigars.
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
same subject.
Edna liked it all. She looked Mariequita up and down, from
her ugly brown toes to her pretty black eyes, and
back again.
"Why does she look at me like that?" inquired the girl of Robert.
"Maybe she thinks you are pretty. Shall I ask her?"
"No. Is she your sweetheart?"
"She's a married lady, and has two children."
"Oh! well! Francisco ran away with Sylvano's wife, who had
four children. They took all his money and one of the children and
stole his boat."
"Shut up!"
"Does she understand?"
"Oh, hush!"
"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?"
"Oh, no."
"Then I'll take you some night in the pirogue when the moon
shines. Maybe your Gulf spirit will whisper to you in which of
these islands the treasures are hidden--direct you to the very
spot, perhaps."
"And in a day we should be rich!" she laughed. "I'd give it
all to you, the pirate gold and every bit of treasure we could dig
up. I think you would know how to spend it. Pirate gold isn't a
thing to be hoarded or utilized. It is something to squander and
throw to the four winds, for the fun of seeing the golden specks
"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
face glowed.
When she had completed her toilet she walked into the
adjoining room. She was very hungry. No one was there. But there
was a cloth spread upon the table that stood against the wall, and
a cover was laid for one, with a crusty brown loaf and a bottle of
wine beside the plate. Edna bit a piece from the brown loaf,
tearing it with her strong, white teeth. She poured some of the
wine into the glass and drank it down. Then she went softly out of
doors, and plucking an orange from the low-hanging bough of a tree,
threw it at Robert, who did not know she was awake and 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
to take you back in Tonie's boat whenever you are ready to go."
He stirred the smoldering ashes till the broiled fowl began to
sizzle afresh. He served her with no mean repast, dripping the
coffee anew and sharing it with her. Madame Antoine had cooked
little else than the mullets, but while Edna slept Robert had
foraged the island. He was childishly gratified to discover her
appetite, and to see the relish with which she ate the food which
he had procured for her.
"Shall we go right away?" she asked, after draining her glass
and brushing together the crumbs of the crusty loaf.
"The sun isn't as low as it will be in two hours," he
"The sun will be gone in two hours."
"Well, let it go; who cares!"
They waited a good while under the orange trees, till Madame
Antoine came back, panting, waddling, with a thousand apologies to
explain her absence. Tonie did not dare to return. He was shy,
and would not willingly face any woman except his mother.
It was very pleasant to stay there under the orange trees,
while the sun dipped lower and lower, turning the western sky to
flaming copper and gold. The shadows lengthened and crept out
like stealthy, grotesque monsters across the grass.
Edna and Robert both sat upon the ground--that is, he lay upon
the ground beside her, occasionally picking at the hem of her
muslin gown.
Madame Antoine seated her fat body, broad and squat, upon a
bench beside the door. She had been talking all the afternoon, and
had wound herself up to the storytelling pitch.
And what stories she told them! But twice in her life she had
left the Cheniere Caminada, and then for the briefest span.
All her years she had squatted and waddled there upon the island,
gathering legends of the Baratarians and the sea. The night came
on, with the moon to lighten it. Edna could hear the whispering
voices of dead men and the click of muffled gold.
When she and Robert stepped into Tonie's boat, with the red
lateen sail, misty spirit forms were prowling in the shadows and
among the reeds, and upon the water were phantom ships, speeding to
The youngest boy, Etienne, had been very naughty, Madame
Ratignolle said, as she delivered him into the hands of his mother.
He had been unwilling to go to bed and had made a scene; whereupon
she had taken charge of him and pacified him as well as she could.
Raoul had been in bed and asleep for two hours.
The youngster was in his long white nightgown, that kept
tripping him up as Madame Ratignolle led him along by the hand.
With the other chubby fist he rubbed his eyes, which were heavy
with sleep and ill humor. Edna took him in her arms, and seating
herself in the rocker, began to coddle and caress him, calling him
all manner of tender names, soothing him to sleep.
It was not more than nine o'clock. No one had yet gone to bed
but the children.
Leonce had been very uneasy at first, Madame Ratignolle said,
and had wanted to start at once for the Cheniere. But
Monsieur Farival had assured him that his wife was only overcome
with sleep and fatigue, that Tonie would bring her safely back
later in the day; and he had thus been dissuaded from crossing the
bay. He had gone over to Klein's, looking up some cotton broker
whom he wished to see in regard to securities, exchanges, stocks,
bonds, or something of the sort, Madame Ratignolle did not remember
what. He said he would not remain away late. She herself was
suffering from heat and oppression, she said. She carried a bottle
of salts and a large fan. She would not consent to remain with
Edna, for Monsieur Ratignolle was alone, and he detested above all
things to be left alone.
When Etienne had fallen asleep Edna bore him into the back
room, and Robert went and lifted the mosquito bar that she might
lay the child comfortably in his bed. The quadroon had vanished.
When they emerged from the cottage Robert bade Edna good-night.
"Do you know we have been together the whole livelong day,
Robert--since early this morning?" she said at parting.
"All but the hundred years when you were sleeping.
He pressed her hand and went away in the direction of the
beach. He did not join any of the others, but walked alone toward
the Gulf.
Edna stayed outside, awaiting her husband's return. She had
no desire to sleep or to retire; nor did she feel like going over
to sit with the Ratignolles, or to join Madame Lebrun and a group
whose animated voices reached her as they sat in conversation
before the house. She let her mind wander back over her stay at
Grand Isle; and she tried to discover wherein this summer had been
different from any and every other summer of her life. She could
only realize that she herself--her present self--was in some way
different from the other self. That she was seeing with different
eyes and making the acquaintance of new conditions in herself that
colored and changed her environment, she did not yet suspect.
She wondered why Robert had gone away and left her. It did
not occur to her to think he might have grown tired of being with
her the livelong day. She was not tired, and she felt that he was
not. She regretted that he had gone. It was so much more natural
to have him stay when he was not absolutely required to leave her.
As Edna waited for her husband she sang low a little song that
Robert had sung as they crossed the bay. It began with "Ah!
Si tu savais," and every verse ended with "si tu savais."
Robert's voice was not pretentious. It was musical and true.
The voice, the notes, the whole refrain haunted her memory.
When Edna entered the dining-room one evening a little late,
as was her habit, an unusually animated conversation seemed to be
going on. Several persons were talking at once, and Victor's voice
was predominating, even over that of his mother. Edna had returned
late from her bath, had dressed in some haste, and her face was
flushed. Her head, set off by her dainty white gown, suggested a
rich, rare blossom. She took her seat at table between old
Monsieur Farival and Madame Ratignolle.
As she seated herself and was about to begin to eat her soup,
which had been served when she entered the room, several persons
informed her simultaneously that Robert was going to Mexico.
She laid her spoon down and looked about her bewildered.
He had been with her, reading to her all the morning,
and had never even mentioned such a place as Mexico.
She had not seen him during the afternoon; she had heard
some one say he was at the house, upstairs with his mother.
This she had thought nothing of, though she was surprised
when he did not join her later in the afternoon,
when she went down to the beach.
She looked across at him, where he sat beside Madame Lebrun,
who presided. Edna's face was a blank picture of bewilderment,
which she never thought of disguising. He lifted his eyebrows with
the pretext of a smile as he returned her glance. He looked
embarrassed and uneasy. "When is he going?" she asked of everybody
in general, as if Robert were not there to answer for himself.
"To-night!" "This very evening!" "Did you ever!"
"What possesses him!" were some of the replies she gathered,
uttered simultaneously in French and English.
"Impossible!" she exclaimed. "How can a person start off from
Grand Isle to Mexico at a moment's notice, as if he were going over
to Klein's or to the wharf or down to the beach?"
"I said all along I was going to Mexico; I've been saying so
for years!" cried Robert, in an excited and irritable tone, with
the air of a man defending himself against a swarm of stinging
Madame Lebrun knocked on the table with her knife handle.
"Please let Robert explain why he is going, and why he is
going to-night," she called out. "Really, this table is getting to
be more and more like Bedlam every day, with everybody talking at
once. Sometimes--I hope God will forgive me--but positively,
sometimes I wish Victor would lose the power of speech."
Victor laughed sardonically as he thanked his mother for her
holy wish, of which he failed to see the benefit to anybody, except
that it might afford her a more ample opportunity and license to
talk herself.
Monsieur Farival thought that Victor should have been taken
out in mid-ocean in his earliest youth and drowned. Victor thought
there would be more logic in thus disposing of old people with an
established claim for making themselves universally obnoxious.
Madame Lebrun grew a trifle hysterical; Robert called his brother
some sharp, hard names.
"There's nothing much to explain, mother," he said; though he
explained, nevertheless--looking chiefly at Edna--that he could
only meet the gentleman whom he intended to join at Vera Cruz by
taking such and such a steamer, which left New Orleans on such a
day; that Beaudelet was going out with his lugger-load of
vegetables that night, which gave him an opportunity of reaching
the city and making his vessel in time.
"But when did you make up your mind to all this?" demanded
Monsieur Farival.
"This afternoon," returned Robert, with a shade of annoyance.
"At what time this afternoon?" persisted the old gentleman,
with nagging determination, as if he were cross-questioning a
criminal in a court of justice.
"At four o'clock this afternoon, Monsieur Farival," Robert
replied, in a high voice and with a lofty air, which reminded Edna
of some gentleman on the stage.
She had forced herself to eat most of her soup, and now she
was picking the flaky bits of a court bouillon with her fork.
The lovers were profiting by the general conversation on
Mexico to speak in whispers of matters which they rightly
considered were interesting to no one but themselves. The lady in
black had once received a pair of prayer-beads of curious
workmanship from Mexico, with very special indulgence attached to
them, but she had never been able to ascertain whether the
indulgence extended outside the Mexican border. Father Fochel of
the Cathedral had attempted to explain it; but he had not done so
to her satisfaction. And she begged that Robert would interest
himself, and discover, if possible, whether she was entitled to
the indulgence accompanying the remarkably curious Mexican prayer-beads.
Madame Ratignolle hoped that Robert would exercise extreme
caution in dealing with the Mexicans, who, she considered, were a
treacherous people, unscrupulous and revengeful. She trusted she
did them no injustice in thus condemning them as a race. She had
known personally but one Mexican, who made and sold excellent
tamales, and whom she would have trusted implicitly, so softspoken
was he. One day he was arrested for stabbing his wife. She never
knew whether he had been hanged or not.
Victor had grown hilarious, and was attempting to tell an
anecdote about a Mexican girl who served chocolate one winter in a
restaurant in Dauphine Street. No one would listen to him but old
Monsieur Farival, who went into convulsions over the droll story.
Edna wondered if they had all gone mad, to be talking and
clamoring at that rate. She herself could think of nothing to say
about Mexico or the Mexicans.
"At what time do you leave?" she asked Robert.
"At ten," he told her. "Beaudelet wants to wait for the moon."
"Are you all ready to go?"
"Quite ready. I shall only take a hand-bag, and shall pack my
trunk in the city."
He turned to answer some question put to him by his mother,
and Edna, having finished her black coffee, left the table.
She went directly to her room. The little cottage was close
and stuffy after leaving the outer air. But she did not mind;
there appeared to be a hundred different things demanding her
attention indoors. She began to set the toilet-stand to rights,
grumbling at the negligence of the quadroon, who was in the
adjoining room putting the children to bed. She gathered together
stray garments that were hanging on the backs of chairs, and put
each where it belonged in closet or bureau drawer. She changed her
gown for a more comfortable and commodious wrapper. She rearranged
her hair, combing and brushing it with unusual energy. Then she went in
and assisted the quadroon in getting the boys to bed.
They were very playful and inclined to talk--to do anything
but lie quiet and go to sleep. Edna sent the quadroon away to her
supper and told her she need not return. Then she sat and told the
children a story. Instead of soothing it excited them, and added
to their wakefulness. She left them in heated argument,
speculating about the conclusion of the tale which their mother
promised to finish the following night.
The little black girl came in to say that Madame Lebrun would
like to have Mrs. Pontellier go and sit with them over at the house
till Mr. Robert went away. Edna returned answer that she had
already undressed, that she did not feel quite well, but perhaps
she would go over to the house later. She started to dress again,
and got as far advanced as to remove her peignoir. But
changing her mind once more she resumed the peignoir, and went
outside and sat down before her door. She was overheated and
irritable, and fanned herself energetically for a while. Madame
Ratignolle came down to discover what was the matter.
"All that noise and confusion at the table must have upset
me," replied Edna, "and moreover, I hate shocks and surprises.
The idea of Robert starting off in such a ridiculously sudden
and dramatic way! As if it were a matter of life and death!
Never saying a word about it all morning when he was with me."
"Yes," agreed Madame Ratignolle. "I think it was showing us
all--you especially--very little consideration. It wouldn't have
surprised me in any of the others; those Lebruns are all given to
heroics. But I must say I should never have expected such a thing
from Robert. Are you not coming down? Come on, dear; it doesn't
look friendly."
"No," said Edna, a little sullenly. "I can't go to the
trouble of dressing again; I don't feel like it."
"You needn't dress; you look all right; fasten a belt around
your waist. Just look at me!"
"No," persisted Edna; "but you go on. Madame Lebrun might be
offended if we both stayed away."
Madame Ratignolle kissed Edna good-night, and went away, being
in truth rather desirous of joining in the general and animated
conversation which was still in progress concerning Mexico and the
Somewhat later Robert came up, carrying his hand-bag.
"Aren't you feeling well?" he asked.
"Oh, well enough. Are you going right away?"
He lit a match and looked at his watch. "In twenty minutes,"
he said. The sudden and brief flare of the match emphasized the
darkness for a while. He sat down upon a stool which the children
had left out on the porch.
"Get a chair," said Edna.
"This will do," he replied. He put on his soft hat and
nervously took it off again, and wiping his face with his
handkerchief, complained of the heat.
"Take the fan," said Edna, offering it to him.
"Oh, no! Thank you. It does no good; you have to stop fanning
some time, and feel all the more uncomfortable afterward."
"That's one of the ridiculous things which men always say. I
have never known one to speak otherwise of fanning. How long will
you be gone?"
"Forever, perhaps. I don't know. It depends upon a good many things."
"Well, in case it shouldn't be forever, how long will it be?"
"I don't know."
"This seems to me perfectly preposterous and uncalled for. I
don't like it. I don't understand your motive for silence and
mystery, never saying a word to me about it this morning." He
remained silent, not offering to defend himself. He only said,
after a moment:
"Don't part from me in any ill humor. I never knew you to be
out of patience with me before."
"I don't want to part in any ill humor," she said. "But can't
you understand? I've grown used to seeing you, to having you with
me all the time, and your action seems unfriendly, even unkind.
You don't even offer an excuse for it. Why, I was planning to be together,
thinking of how pleasant it would be to see you in the city next winter."
"So was I," he blurted. "Perhaps that's the--" He stood up
suddenly and held out his hand. "Good-by, my dear Mrs. Pontellier;
good-by. You won't--I hope you won't completely forget me."
She clung to his hand, striving to detain him.
"Write to me when you get there, won't you, Robert?" she entreated.
"I will, thank you. Good-by."
How unlike Robert! The merest acquaintance would have said
something more emphatic than "I will, thank you; good-by," to such
a request.
He had evidently already taken leave of the people over at the
house, for he descended the steps and went to join Beaudelet, who
was out there with an oar across his shoulder waiting for Robert.
They walked away in the darkness. She could only hear Beaudelet's
voice; Robert had apparently not even spoken a word of greeting to
his companion.
Edna bit her handkerchief convulsively, striving to hold back
and to hide, even from herself as she would have hidden from
another, the emotion which was troubling--tearing--her. Her eyes
were brimming with tears.
For the first time she recognized the symptoms of infatuation
which she had felt incipiently as a child, as a girl in her
earliest teens, and later as a young woman. The recognition did
not lessen the reality, the poignancy of the revelation by any
suggestion or promise of instability. The past was nothing to her;
offered no lesson which she was willing to heed. The future was a
mystery which she never attempted to penetrate. The present alone
was significant; was hers, to torture her as it was doing then with
the biting conviction that she had lost that which she had held,
that she had been denied that which her impassioned, newly awakened
being demanded.
"Do you miss your friend greatly?" asked Mademoiselle Reisz
one morning as she came creeping up behind Edna, who had just left
her cottage on her way to the beach. She spent much of her time in
the water since she had acquired finally the art of swimming. As
their stay at Grand Isle drew near its close, she felt that she
could not give too much time to a diversion which afforded her the
only real pleasurable moments that she knew. When Mademoiselle
Reisz came and touched her upon the shoulder and spoke to her, the
woman seemed to echo the thought which was ever in Edna's mind; or,
better, the feeling which constantly possessed her.
Robert's going had some way taken the brightness, the color,
the meaning out of everything. The conditions of her life were in
no way changed, but her whole existence was dulled, like a faded
garment which seems to be no longer worth wearing. She sought him
everywhere--in others whom she induced to talk about him. She went
up in the mornings to Madame Lebrun's room, braving the clatter of
the old sewing-machine. She sat there and chatted at intervals as
Robert had done. She gazed around the room at the pictures and
photographs hanging upon the wall, and discovered in some corner an
old family album, which she examined with the keenest interest,
appealing to Madame Lebrun for enlightenment concerning the many
figures and faces which she discovered between its pages.
There was a picture of Madame Lebrun with Robert as a baby,
seated in her lap, a round-faced infant with a fist in his mouth.
The eyes alone in the baby suggested the man. And that was he also
in kilts, at the age of five, wearing long curls and holding a whip
in his hand. It made Edna laugh, and she laughed, too, at the portrait
in his first long trousers; while another interested her, taken when he
left for college, looking thin, long-faced, with eyes full of fire,
ambition and great intentions. But there was no recent picture,
none which suggested the Robert who had gone away five days ago,
leaving a void and wilderness behind him.
"Oh, Robert stopped having his pictures taken when he had to
pay for them himself! He found wiser use for his money, he says,"
explained Madame Lebrun. She had a letter from him, written before
he left New Orleans. Edna wished to see the letter, and Madame
Lebrun told her to look for it either on the table or the dresser,
or perhaps it was on the mantelpiece.
The letter was on the bookshelf. It possessed the greatest
interest and attraction for Edna; the envelope, its size and shape,
the post-mark, the handwriting. She examined every detail of the
outside before opening it. There were only a few lines, setting
forth that he would leave the city that afternoon, that he had
packed his trunk in good shape, that he was well, and sent her his
love and begged to be affectionately remembered to all. There was
no special message to Edna except a postscript saying that if Mrs.
Pontellier desired to finish the book which he had been reading to
her, his mother would find it in his room, among other books there
on the table. Edna experienced a pang of jealousy because he had
written to his mother rather than to her.
Every one seemed to take for granted that she missed him.
Even her husband, when he came down the Saturday following Robert's
departure, expressed regret that he had gone.
"How do you get on without him, Edna?" he asked.
"It's very dull without him," she admitted. Mr. Pontellier
had seen Robert in the city, and Edna asked him a dozen questions
or more. Where had they met? On Carondelet Street, in the morning.
They had gone "in" and had a drink and a cigar together. What had
they talked about? Chiefly about his prospects in Mexico, which
Mr. Pontellier thought were promising. How did he look? How did
he seem--grave, or gay, or how? Quite cheerful, and wholly
taken up with the idea of his trip, which Mr. Pontellier found
altogether natural in a young fellow about to seek fortune
and adventure in a strange, queer country.
Edna tapped her foot impatiently, and wondered why the
children persisted in playing in the sun when they might be under
the trees. She went down and led them out of the sun, scolding the
quadroon for not being more attentive.
It did not strike her as in the least grotesque that she
should be making of Robert the object of conversation and leading
her husband to speak of him. The sentiment which she entertained
for Robert in no way resembled that which she felt for her husband,
or had ever felt, or ever expected to feel. She had all her life
long been accustomed to harbor thoughts and emotions which never
voiced themselves. They had never taken the form of struggles.
They belonged to her and were her own, and she entertained the
conviction that she had a right to them and that they concerned no
one but herself. Edna had once told Madame Ratignolle that she
would never sacrifice herself for her children, or for any one.
Then had followed a rather heated argument; the two women did not
appear to understand each other or to be talking the same language.
Edna tried to appease her friend, to explain.
"I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I
would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself. I
can't make it more clear; it's only something which I am beginning
to comprehend, which is revealing itself to me."
"I don't know what you would call the essential, or what you
mean by the unessential," said Madame Ratignolle, cheerfully; "but
a woman who would give her life for her children could do no more
than that--your Bible tells you so. I'm sure I couldn't do more
than that."
"Oh, yes you could!" laughed Edna.
She was not surprised at Mademoiselle Reisz's question the
morning that lady, following her to the beach, tapped her on the
shoulder and asked if she did not greatly miss her young friend.
"Oh, good morning, Mademoiselle; is it you? Why, of course I
miss Robert. Are you going down to bathe?"
"Why should I go down to bathe at the very end of the season
when I haven't been in the surf all summer," replied the woman,
"I beg your pardon," offered Edna, in some embarrassment, for
she should have remembered that Mademoiselle Reisz's avoidance of
the water had furnished a theme for much pleasantry. Some among
them thought it was on account of her false hair, or the dread of
getting the violets wet, while others attributed it to the natural
aversion for water sometimes believed to accompany the artistic
temperament. Mademoiselle offered Edna some chocolates in a paper
bag, which she took from her pocket, by way of showing that she
bore no ill feeling. She habitually ate chocolates for their
sustaining quality; they contained much nutriment in small compass,
she said. They saved her from starvation, as Madame Lebrun's table
was utterly impossible; and no one save so impertinent a woman as
Madame Lebrun could think of offering such food to people and
requiring them to pay for it.
"She must feel very lonely without her son," said Edna,
desiring to change the subject. "Her favorite son, too. It must
have been quite hard to let him go."
Mademoiselle laughed maliciously.
"Her favorite son! Oh, dear! Who could have been imposing such
a tale upon you? Aline Lebrun lives for Victor, and for Victor
alone. She has spoiled him into the worthless creature he is. She
worships him and the ground he walks on. Robert is very well in a
way, to give up all the money he can earn to the family, and keep
the barest pittance for himself. Favorite son, indeed! I miss the
poor fellow myself, my dear. I liked to see him and to hear him
about the place the only Lebrun who is worth a pinch of salt.
He comes to see me often in the city. I like to play to
him. That Victor! hanging would be too good for him.
It's a wonder Robert hasn't beaten him to death long ago."
"I thought he had great patience with his brother," offered
Edna, glad to be talking about Robert, no matter what was said.
"Oh! he thrashed him well enough a year or two ago," said
Mademoiselle. "It was about a Spanish girl, whom Victor considered
that he had some sort of claim upon. He met Robert one day talking
to the girl, or walking with her, or bathing with her, or carrying
her basket--I don't remember what;--and he became so insulting and
abusive that Robert gave him a thrashing on the spot that has kept
him comparatively in order for a good while. It's about time he
was getting another."
"Was her name Mariequita?" asked Edna.
"Mariequita--yes, that was it; Mariequita. I had forgotten.
Oh, she's a sly one, and a bad one, that Mariequita!"
Edna looked down at Mademoiselle Reisz and wondered how she
could have listened to her venom so long. For some reason she felt
depressed, almost unhappy. She had not intended to go into the
water; but she donned her bathing suit, and left Mademoiselle
alone, seated under the shade of the children's tent. The water
was growing cooler as the season advanced. Edna plunged and swam
about with an abandon that thrilled and invigorated her. She
remained a long time in the water, half hoping that Mademoiselle
Reisz would not wait for her.
But Mademoiselle waited. She was very amiable during the walk
back, and raved much over Edna's appearance in her bathing suit.
She talked about music. She hoped that Edna would go to see her in
the city, and wrote her address with the stub of a pencil on a
piece of card which she found in her pocket.
"When do you leave?" asked Edna.
"Next Monday; and you?"
"The following week," answered Edna, adding, "It has been
a pleasant summer, hasn't it, Mademoiselle?"
"Well," agreed Mademoiselle Reisz, with a shrug, "rather pleasant,
if it hadn't been for the mosquitoes and the Farival twins."
The Pontelliers possessed a very charming home on Esplanade
Street in New Orleans. It was a large, double cottage, with a
broad front veranda, whose round, fluted columns supported the
sloping roof. The house was painted a dazzling white; the outside
shutters, or jalousies, were green. In the yard, which was kept
scrupulously neat, were flowers and plants of every description
which flourishes in South Louisiana. Within doors the appointments
were perfect after the conventional type. The softest carpets and
rugs covered the floors; rich and tasteful draperies hung at doors
and windows. There were paintings, selected with judgment and
discrimination, upon the walls. The cut glass, the silver, the
heavy damask which daily appeared upon the table were the envy of
many women whose husbands were less generous than Mr. Pontellier.
Mr. Pontellier was very fond of walking about his house
examining its various appointments and details, to see that nothing
was amiss. He greatly valued his possessions, chiefly because they
were his, and derived genuine pleasure from contemplating a
painting, a statuette, a rare lace curtain--no matter what--after
he had bought it and placed it among his household gods.
On Tuesday afternoons--Tuesday being Mrs. Pontellier's
reception day--there was a constant stream of callers--women who
came in carriages or in the street cars, or walked when the air was
soft and distance permitted. A light-colored mulatto boy,
in dress coat and bearing a diminutive silver tray
for the reception of cards, admitted them. A maid,
in white fluted cap, offered the callers liqueur, coffee,
or chocolate, as they might desire. Mrs. Pontellier, attired in a
handsome reception gown, remained in the drawing-room the entire
afternoon receiving her visitors. Men sometimes called in the
evening with their wives.
This had been the programme which Mrs. Pontellier had
religiously followed since her marriage, six years before. Certain
evenings during the week she and her husband attended the opera or
sometimes the play.
Mr. Pontellier left his home in the mornings between nine and
ten o'clock, and rarely returned before half-past six or seven in
the evening--dinner being served at half-past seven.
He and his wife seated themselves at table one Tuesday
evening, a few weeks after their return from Grand Isle. They were
alone together. The boys were being put to bed; the patter of
their bare, escaping feet could be heard occasionally, as well as
the pursuing voice of the quadroon, lifted in mild protest and
entreaty. Mrs. Pontellier did not wear her usual Tuesday reception
gown; she was in ordinary house dress. Mr. Pontellier, who was
observant about such things, noticed it, as he served the soup and
handed it to the boy in waiting.
"Tired out, Edna? Whom did you have? Many callers?" he asked.
He tasted his soup and began to season it with pepper, salt,
vinegar, mustard--everything within reach.
"There were a good many," replied Edna, who was eating her
soup with evident satisfaction. "I found their cards when I got
home; I was out."
"Out!" exclaimed her husband, with something like genuine
consternation in his voice as he laid down the vinegar cruet and
looked at her through his glasses. "Why, what could have taken you
out on Tuesday? What did you have to do?"
"Nothing. I simply felt like going out, and I went out."
"Well, I hope you left some suitable excuse," said her husband,
somewhat appeased, as he added a dash of cayenne pepper to the soup.
"No, I left no excuse. I told Joe to say I was out, that was all."
"Why, my dear, I should think you'd understand by this time
that people don't do such things; we've got to observe les
convenances if we ever expect to get on and keep up with the
procession. If you felt that you had to leave home this afternoon,
you should have left some suitable explanation for your absence.
"This soup is really impossible; it's strange that woman
hasn't learned yet to make a decent soup. Any free-lunch stand in
town serves a better one. Was Mrs. Belthrop here?"
"Bring the tray with the cards, Joe. I don't remember who was here."
The boy retired and returned after a moment, bringing the tiny
silver tray, which was covered with ladies' visiting cards. He
handed it to Mrs. Pontellier.
"Give it to Mr. Pontellier," she said.
Joe offered the tray to Mr. Pontellier, and removed the soup.
Mr. Pontellier scanned the names of his wife's callers,
reading some of them aloud, with comments as he read.
"`The Misses Delasidas.' I worked a big deal in futures for
their father this morning; nice girls; it's time they were getting
married. `Mrs. Belthrop.' I tell you what it is, Edna; you can't
afford to snub Mrs. Belthrop. Why, Belthrop could buy and sell us
ten times over. His business is worth a good, round sum to me.
You'd better write her a note. `Mrs. James Highcamp.' Hugh! the
less you have to do with Mrs. Highcamp, the better. `Madame
Laforce.' Came all the way from Carrolton, too, poor old soul.
'Miss Wiggs,' `Mrs. Eleanor Boltons.'" He pushed the cards aside.
"Mercy!" exclaimed Edna, who had been fuming. "Why are you
taking the thing so seriously and making such a fuss over it?"
"I'm not making any fuss over it. But it's just such seeming trifles
that we've got to take seriously; such things count."
The fish was scorched. Mr. Pontellier would not touch it.
Edna said she did not mind a little scorched taste. The roast was
in some way not to his fancy, and he did not like the manner in
which the vegetables were served.
"It seems to me," he said, "we spend money enough in this
house to procure at least one meal a day which a man could eat and
retain his self-respect."
"You used to think the cook was a treasure," returned Edna,
"Perhaps she was when she first came; but cooks are only
human. They need looking after, like any other class of persons
that you employ. Suppose I didn't look after the clerks in my
office, just let them run things their own way; they'd soon make a
nice mess of me and my business."
"Where are you going?" asked Edna, seeing that her husband
arose from table without having eaten a morsel except a taste of
the highly-seasoned soup.
"I'm going to get my dinner at the club. Good night." He went
into the hall, took his hat and stick from the stand, and left the
She was somewhat familiar with such scenes. They had often
made her very unhappy. On a few previous occasions she had been
completely deprived of any desire to finish her dinner. Sometimes
she had gone into the kitchen to administer a tardy rebuke to the
cook. Once she went to her room and studied the cookbook during an
entire evening, finally writing out a menu for the week, which left
her harassed with a feeling that, after all, she had accomplished
no good that was worth the name.
But that evening Edna finished her dinner alone, with forced
deliberation. Her face was flushed and her eyes flamed with some
inward fire that lighted them. After finishing her dinner she went
to her room, having instructed the boy to tell any other callers
that she was indisposed.
It was a large, beautiful room, rich and picturesque in
the soft, dim light which the maid had turned low. She went
and stood at an open window and looked out upon the deep tangle
of the garden below. All the mystery and witchery of the night
seemed to have gathered there amid the perfumes and the dusky
and tortuous outlines of flowers and foliage. She was seeking
herself and finding herself in just such sweet, half-darkness which
met her moods. But the voices were not soothing that came to her
from the darkness and the sky above and the stars. They jeered and
sounded mournful notes without promise, devoid even of hope. She
turned back into the room and began to walk to and fro down its
whole length, without stopping, without resting. She carried in
her hands a thin handkerchief, which she tore into ribbons, rolled
into a ball, and flung from her. Once she stopped, and taking off
her wedding ring, flung it upon the carpet. When she saw it lying
there, she stamped her heel upon it, striving to crush it. But her
small boot heel did not make an indenture, not a mark upon the
little glittering circlet.
In a sweeping passion she seized a glass vase from the table
and flung it upon the tiles of the hearth. She wanted to destroy
something. The crash and clatter were what she wanted to hear.
A maid, alarmed at the din of breaking glass, entered the room
to discover what was the matter.
"A vase fell upon the hearth," said Edna. "Never mind; leave
it till morning."
"Oh! you might get some of the glass in your feet, ma'am,"
insisted the young woman, picking up bits of the broken vase that
were scattered upon the carpet. "And here's your ring, ma'am,
under the chair."
Edna held out her hand, and taking the ring, slipped it upon
her finger.
The following morning Mr. Pontellier, upon leaving for his
office, asked Edna if she would not meet him in town in order to
look at some new fixtures for the library.
"I hardly think we need new fixtures, Leonce. Don't let us
get anything new; you are too extravagant. I don't believe you
ever think of saving or putting by."
"The way to become rich is to make money, my dear Edna, not to
save it," he said. He regretted that she did not feel inclined to
go with him and select new fixtures. He kissed her good-by, and
told her she was not looking well and must take care of herself.
She was unusually pale and very quiet.
She stood on the front veranda as he quitted the house, and
absently picked a few sprays of jessamine that grew upon a trellis
near by. She inhaled the odor of the blossoms and thrust them into
the bosom of her white morning gown. The boys were dragging along
the banquette a small "express wagon," which they had filled with
blocks and sticks. The quadroon was following them with little
quick steps, having assumed a fictitious animation and alacrity for
the occasion. A fruit vender was crying his wares in the street.
Edna looked straight before her with a self-absorbed
expression upon her face. She felt no interest in anything about
her. The street, the children, the fruit vender, the flowers
growing there under her eyes, were all part and parcel of an alien
world which had suddenly become antagonistic.
She went back into the house. She had thought of speaking to
the cook concerning her blunders of the previous night; but Mr.
Pontellier had saved her that disagreeable mission, for which
she was so poorly fitted. Mr. Pontellier's arguments were usually
convincing with those whom he employed. He left home feeling quite sure
that he and Edna would sit down that evening, and possibly a few
subsequent evenings, to a dinner deserving of the name.
Edna spent an hour or two in looking over some of her old
sketches. She could see their shortcomings and defects, which were
glaring in her eyes. She tried to work a little, but found she was
not in the humor. Finally she gathered together a few of the
sketches--those which she considered the least discreditable; and
she carried them with her when, a little later, she dressed and
left the house. She looked handsome and distinguished in her
street gown. The tan of the seashore had left her face, and her
forehead was smooth, white, and polished beneath her heavy,
yellow-brown hair. There were a few freckles on her face, and a small,
dark mole near the under lip and one on the temple, half-hidden in
her hair.
As Edna walked along the street she was thinking of Robert.
She was still under the spell of her infatuation. She had tried to
forget him, realizing the inutility of remembering. But the
thought of him was like an obsession, ever pressing itself upon
her. It was not that she dwelt upon details of their acquaintance,
or recalled in any special or peculiar way his personality; it was
his being, his existence, which dominated her thought, fading
sometimes as if it would melt into the mist of the forgotten,
reviving again with an intensity which filled her with an
incomprehensible longing.
Edna was on her way to Madame Ratignolle's. Their intimacy,
begun at Grand Isle, had not declined, and they had seen each other
with some frequency since their return to the city. The
Ratignolles lived at no great distance from Edna's home, on the
corner of a side street, where Monsieur Ratignolle owned and
conducted a drug store which enjoyed a steady and prosperous trade.
His father had been in the business before him, and Monsieur
Ratignolle stood well in the community and bore an enviable
reputation for integrity and clearheadedness. His family
lived in commodious apartments over the store, having an entrance
on the side within the porte cochere. There was something
which Edna thought very French, very foreign, about their whole
manner of living. In the large and pleasant salon which extended
across the width of the house, the Ratignolles entertained their
friends once a fortnight with a soiree musicale, sometimes
diversified by card-playing. There was a friend who played upon
the 'cello. One brought his flute and another his violin, while
there were some who sang and a number who performed upon the piano
with various degrees of taste and agility. The Ratignolles' soirees
musicales were widely known, and it was considered a privilege
to be invited to them.
Edna found her friend engaged in assorting the clothes which
had returned that morning from the laundry. She at once abandoned
her occupation upon seeing Edna, who had been ushered without
ceremony into her presence.
"`Cite can do it as well as I; it is really her business," she
explained to Edna, who apologized for interrupting her. And she
summoned a young black woman, whom she instructed, in French, to be
very careful in checking off the list which she handed her. She
told her to notice particularly if a fine linen handkerchief of
Monsieur Ratignolle's, which was missing last week, had been
returned; and to be sure to set to one side such pieces as required
mending and darning.
Then placing an arm around Edna's waist, she led her to the
front of the house, to the salon, where it was cool and sweet with
the odor of great roses that stood upon the hearth in jars.
Madame Ratignolle looked more beautiful than ever there at
home, in a neglige which left her arms almost wholly bare and
exposed the rich, melting curves of her white throat.
"Perhaps I shall be able to paint your picture some day," said
Edna with a smile when they were seated. She produced the roll of
sketches and started to unfold them. "I believe I ought to work again.
I feel as if I wanted to be doing something. What do you think of them?
Do you think it worth while to take it up again and study some more?
I might study for a while with Laidpore."
She knew that Madame Ratignolle's opinion in such a matter
would be next to valueless, that she herself had not alone decided,
but determined; but she sought the words of praise and
encouragement that would help her to put heart into her venture.
"Your talent is immense, dear!"
"Nonsense!" protested Edna, well pleased.
"Immense, I tell you," persisted Madame Ratignolle, surveying
the sketches one by one, at close range, then holding them at arm's
length, narrowing her eyes, and dropping her head on one side.
"Surely, this Bavarian peasant is worthy of framing; and this
basket of apples! never have I seen anything more lifelike. One
might almost be tempted to reach out a hand and take one."
Edna could not control a feeling which bordered upon
complacency at her friend's praise, even realizing, as she did, its
true worth. She retained a few of the sketches, and gave all the
rest to Madame Ratignolle, who appreciated the gift far beyond its
value and proudly exhibited the pictures to her husband when he
came up from the store a little later for his midday dinner.
Mr. Ratignolle was one of those men who are called the salt of
the earth. His cheerfulness was unbounded, and it was matched by
his goodness of heart, his broad charity, and common sense. He and
his wife spoke English with an accent which was only discernible
through its un-English emphasis and a certain carefulness and
deliberation. Edna's husband spoke English with no accent
whatever. The Ratignolles understood each other perfectly. If
ever the fusion of two human beings into one has been accomplished
on this sphere it was surely in their union.
As Edna seated herself at table with them she thought, "Better
a dinner of herbs," though it did not take her long to discover
that it was no dinner of herbs, but a delicious repast,
simple, choice, and in every way satisfying.
Monsieur Ratignolle was delighted to see her, though he found
her looking not so well as at Grand Isle, and he advised a tonic.
He talked a good deal on various topics, a little politics, some
city news and neighborhood gossip. He spoke with an animation and
earnestness that gave an exaggerated importance to every syllable
he uttered. His wife was keenly interested in everything he said,
laying down her fork the better to listen, chiming in, taking the
words out of his mouth.
Edna felt depressed rather than soothed after leaving them.
The little glimpse of domestic harmony which had been offered her,
gave her no regret, no longing. It was not a condition of life
which fitted her, and she could see in it but an appalling and
hopeless ennui. She was moved by a kind of commiseration for
Madame Ratignolle,--a pity for that colorless existence which never
uplifted its possessor beyond the region of blind contentment, in
which no moment of anguish ever visited her soul, in which she
would never have the taste of life's delirium. Edna vaguely
wondered what she meant by "life's delirium." It had crossed her
thought like some unsought, extraneous impression.
Edna could not help but think that it was very foolish, very
childish, to have stamped upon her wedding ring and smashed the
crystal vase upon the tiles. She was visited by no more outbursts,
moving her to such futile expedients. She began to do as she liked
and to feel as she liked. She completely abandoned her Tuesdays at
home, and did not return the visits of those who had called upon her.
She made no ineffectual efforts to conduct her household en
bonne menagere, going and coming as it suited her fancy, and,
so far as she was able, lending herself to any passing caprice.
Mr. Pontellier had been a rather courteous husband so long as
he met a certain tacit submissiveness in his wife. But her new and
unexpected line of conduct completely bewildered him. It shocked
him. Then her absolute disregard for her duties as a wife angered
him. When Mr. Pontellier became rude, Edna grew insolent. She had
resolved never to take another step backward.
"It seems to me the utmost folly for a woman at the head of a
household, and the mother of children, to spend in an atelier days
which would be better employed contriving for the comfort of her
"I feel like painting," answered Edna. "Perhaps I shan't
always feel like it."
"Then in God's name paint! but don't let the family go to the
devil. There's Madame Ratignolle; because she keeps up her music,
she doesn't let everything else go to chaos. And she's more of a
musician than you are a painter."
"She isn't a musician, and I'm not a painter. It isn't on
account of painting that I let things go."
"On account of what, then?"
"Oh! I don't know. Let me alone; you bother me."
It sometimes entered Mr. Pontellier's mind to wonder if his
wife were not growing a little unbalanced mentally. He could see
plainly that she was not herself. That is, he could not see that
she was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious
self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the
Her husband let her alone as she requested, and went away to
his office. Edna went up to her atelier--a bright room in the top
of the house. She was working with great energy and interest,
without accomplishing anything, however, which satisfied her even
in the smallest degree. For a time she had the whole household
enrolled in the service of art. The boys posed for her. They thought
it amusing at first, but the occupation soon lost its attractiveness
when they discovered that it was not a game arranged especially for
their entertainment. The quadroon sat for hours before Edna's
palette, patient as a savage, while the house-maid took charge of
the children, and the drawing-room went undusted. But the
housemaid, too, served her term as model when Edna perceived that the
young woman's back and shoulders were molded on classic lines, and
that her hair, loosened from its confining cap, became an
inspiration. While Edna worked she sometimes sang low the little
air, "Ah! si tu savais!"
It moved her with recollections. She could hear again the
ripple of the water, the flapping sail. She could see the glint of
the moon upon the bay, and could feel the soft, gusty beating of
the hot south wind. A subtle current of desire passed through her
body, weakening her hold upon the brushes and making her eyes burn.
There were days when she was very happy without knowing why.
She was happy to be alive and breathing, when her whole being
seemed to be one with the sunlight, the color, the odors, the
luxuriant warmth of some perfect Southern day. She liked then to
wander alone into strange and unfamiliar places. She discovered
many a sunny, sleepy corner, fashioned to dream in. And she found
it good to dream and to be alone and unmolested.
There were days when she was unhappy, she did not know
why,--when it did not seem worth while to be glad or sorry, to be alive
or dead; when life appeared to her like a grotesque pandemonium and
humanity like worms struggling blindly toward inevitable
annihilation. She could not work on such a day, nor weave fancies
to stir her pulses and warm her blood.
It was during such a mood that Edna hunted up Mademoiselle
Reisz. She had not forgotten the rather disagreeable impression
left upon her by their last interview; but she nevertheless felt a
desire to see her--above all, to listen while she played upon the
piano. Quite early in the afternoon she started upon her quest for
the pianist. Unfortunately she had mislaid or lost Mademoiselle
Reisz's card, and looking up her address in the city directory, she
found that the woman lived on Bienville Street, some distance away.
The directory which fell into her hands was a year or more old,
however, and upon reaching the number indicated, Edna discovered
that the house was occupied by a respectable family of mulattoes
who had chambres garnies to let. They had been living there
for six months, and knew absolutely nothing of a Mademoiselle
Reisz. In fact, they knew nothing of any of their neighbors; their
lodgers were all people of the highest distinction, they assured
Edna. She did not linger to discuss class distinctions with Madame
Pouponne, but hastened to a neighboring grocery store, feeling sure
that Mademoiselle would have left her address with the proprietor.
He knew Mademoiselle Reisz a good deal better than he wanted
to know her, he informed his questioner. In truth, he did not want
to know her at all, or anything concerning her--the most
disagreeable and unpopular woman who ever lived in Bienville
Street. He thanked heaven she had left the neighborhood, and was
equally thankful that he did not know where she had gone.
Edna's desire to see Mademoiselle Reisz had increased tenfold
since these unlooked-for obstacles had arisen to thwart it.
She was wondering who could give her the information she sought,
when it suddenly occurred to her that Madame Lebrun would be
the one most likely to do so. She knew it was useless to ask
Madame Ratignolle, who was on the most distant terms with
the musician, and preferred to know nothing concerning her.
She had once been almost as emphatic in expressing herself
upon the subject as the corner grocer.
Edna knew that Madame Lebrun had returned to the city, for it
was the middle of November. And she also knew where the Lebruns
lived, on Chartres Street.
Their home from the outside looked like a prison, with iron
bars before the door and lower windows. The iron bars were a relic
of the old regime, and no one had ever thought of dislodging
them. At the side was a high fence enclosing the garden. A gate
or door opening upon the street was locked. Edna rang the bell at
this side garden gate, and stood upon the banquette, waiting to be
It was Victor who opened the gate for her. A black woman,
wiping her hands upon her apron, was close at his heels. Before
she saw them Edna could hear them in altercation, the
woman--plainly an anomaly--claiming the right to be allowed to perform her
duties, one of which was to answer the bell.
Victor was surprised and delighted to see Mrs. Pontellier, and
he made no attempt to conceal either his astonishment or his
delight. He was a dark-browed, good-looking youngster of nineteen,
greatly resembling his mother, but with ten times her impetuosity.
He instructed the black woman to go at once and inform Madame
Lebrun that Mrs. Pontellier desired to see her. The woman grumbled
a refusal to do part of her duty when she had not been permitted to
do it all, and started back to her interrupted task of weeding the
garden. Whereupon Victor administered a rebuke in the form of a
volley of abuse, which, owing to its rapidity and incoherence, was
all but incomprehensible to Edna. Whatever it was, the rebuke was
convincing, for the woman dropped her hoe and went mumbling into
the house.
Edna did not wish to enter. It was very pleasant there on the
side porch, where there were chairs, a wicker lounge, and a small
table. She seated herself, for she was tired from her long tramp;
and she began to rock gently and smooth out the folds of her silk
parasol. Victor drew up his chair beside her. He at once
explained that the black woman's offensive conduct was all due to
imperfect training, as he was not there to take her in hand. He
had only come up from the island the morning before, and expected
to return next day. He stayed all winter at the island; he lived
there, and kept the place in order and got things ready for the
summer visitors.
But a man needed occasional relaxation, he informed Mrs.
Pontellier, and every now and again he drummed up a pretext to
bring him to the city. My! but he had had a time of it the evening
before! He wouldn't want his mother to know, and he began to talk
in a whisper. He was scintillant with recollections. Of course,
he couldn't think of telling Mrs. Pontellier all about it, she
being a woman and not comprehending such things. But it all began
with a girl peeping and smiling at him through the shutters as he
passed by. Oh! but she was a beauty! Certainly he smiled back, and
went up and talked to her. Mrs. Pontellier did not know him if she
supposed he was one to let an opportunity like that escape him.
Despite herself, the youngster amused her. She must have betrayed
in her look some degree of interest or entertainment. The boy grew
more daring, and Mrs. Pontellier might have found herself, in a
little while, listening to a highly colored story but for the
timely appearance of Madame Lebrun.
That lady was still clad in white, according to her custom of the summer.
Her eyes beamed an effusive welcome. Would not Mrs. Pontellier go inside?
Would she partake of some refreshment? Why had she not been there before?
How was that dear Mr. Pontellier and how were those sweet children?
Had Mrs. Pontellier ever known such a warm November?
Victor went and reclined on the wicker lounge behind his mother's chair,
where he commanded a view of Edna's face. He had taken her parasol
from her hands while he spoke to her, and he now lifted it and
twirled it above him as he lay on his back. When Madame Lebrun
complained that it was so dull coming back to the city;
that she saw so few people now; that even Victor, when he came
up from the island for a day or two, had so much to occupy him
and engage his time; then it was that the youth went into
contortions on the lounge and winked mischievously at Edna.
She somehow felt like a confederate in crime, and tried to look
severe and disapproving.
There had been but two letters from Robert, with little in
them, they told her. Victor said it was really not worth while to
go inside for the letters, when his mother entreated him to go in
search of them. He remembered the contents, which in truth he
rattled off very glibly when put to the test.
One letter was written from Vera Cruz and the other from the
City of Mexico. He had met Montel, who was doing everything toward
his advancement. So far, the financial situation was no
improvement over the one he had left in New Orleans, but of course
the prospects were vastly better. He wrote of the City of Mexico,
the buildings, the people and their habits, the conditions of life
which he found there. He sent his love to the family. He inclosed
a check to his mother, and hoped she would affectionately remember
him to all his friends. That was about the substance of the two
letters. Edna felt that if there had been a message for her, she
would have received it. The despondent frame of mind in which she
had left home began again to overtake her, and she remembered that
she wished to find Mademoiselle Reisz.
Madame Lebrun knew where Mademoiselle Reisz lived. She gave
Edna the address, regretting that she would not consent to stay and
spend the remainder of the afternoon, and pay a visit to
Mademoiselle Reisz some other day. The afternoon was already well
Victor escorted her out upon the banquette, lifted her parasol,
and held it over her while he walked to the car with her.
He entreated her to bear in mind that the disclosures of
the afternoon were strictly confidential. She laughed
and bantered him a little, remembering too late that she
should have been dignified and reserved.
"How handsome Mrs. Pontellier looked!" said Madame Lebrun
to her son.
"Ravishing!" he admitted. "The city atmosphere has improved her.
Some way she doesn't seem like the same woman."
Some people contended that the reason Mademoiselle Reisz
always chose apartments up under the roof was to discourage the
approach of beggars, peddlars and callers. There were plenty of
windows in her little front room. They were for the most part
dingy, but as they were nearly always open it did not make so much
difference. They often admitted into the room a good deal of smoke
and soot; but at the same time all the light and air that there was
came through them. From her windows could be seen the crescent of
the river, the masts of ships and the big chimneys of the
Mississippi steamers. A magnificent piano crowded the apartment.
In the next room she slept, and in the third and last she harbored
a gasoline stove on which she cooked her meals when disinclined to
descend to the neighboring restaurant. It was there also that she
ate, keeping her belongings in a rare old buffet, dingy and
battered from a hundred years of use.
When Edna knocked at Mademoiselle Reisz's front room door and
entered, she discovered that person standing beside the window,
engaged in mending or patching an old prunella gaiter. The little
musician laughed all over when she saw Edna. Her laugh consisted
of a contortion of the face and all the muscles of the body.
She seemed strikingly homely, standing there in the afternoon light.
She still wore the shabby lace and the artificial bunch of violets
on the side of her head.
"So you remembered me at last," said Mademoiselle.
"I had said to myself, `Ah, bah! she will never come.'"
"Did you want me to come?" asked Edna with a smile.
"I had not thought much about it," answered Mademoiselle. The
two had seated themselves on a little bumpy sofa which stood
against the wall. "I am glad, however, that you came. I have the
water boiling back there, and was just about to make some coffee.
You will drink a cup with me. And how is la belle dame?
Always handsome! always healthy! always contented!" She took Edna's
hand between her strong wiry fingers, holding it loosely without warmth,
and executing a sort of double theme upon the back and palm.
"Yes," she went on; "I sometimes thought: `She will never
come. She promised as those women in society always do, without
meaning it. She will not come.' For I really don't believe you
like me, Mrs. Pontellier."
"I don't know whether I like you or not," replied Edna, gazing
down at the little woman with a quizzical look.
The candor of Mrs. Pontellier's admission greatly pleased
Mademoiselle Reisz. She expressed her gratification by repairing
forthwith to the region of the gasoline stove and rewarding her
guest with the promised cup of coffee. The coffee and the biscuit
accompanying it proved very acceptable to Edna, who had declined
refreshment at Madame Lebrun's and was now beginning to feel
hungry. Mademoiselle set the tray which she brought in upon a
small table near at hand, and seated herself once again on the
lumpy sofa.
"I have had a letter from your friend," she remarked, as she
poured a little cream into Edna's cup and handed it to her.
"My friend?"
"Yes, your friend Robert. He wrote to me from the City of Mexico."
"Wrote to YOU?" repeated Edna in amazement, stirring her coffee absently.
"Yes, to me. Why not? Don't stir all the warmth out of your
coffee; drink it. Though the letter might as well have been sent
to you; it was nothing but Mrs. Pontellier from beginning to end."
"Let me see it," requested the young woman, entreatingly.
"No; a letter concerns no one but the person who writes it and
the one to whom it is written."
"Haven't you just said it concerned me from beginning to end?"
"It was written about you, not to you. `Have you seen Mrs.
Pontellier? How is she looking?' he asks. `As Mrs. Pontellier
says,' or `as Mrs. Pontellier once said.' `If Mrs. Pontellier
should call upon you, play for her that Impromptu of Chopin's, my
favorite. I heard it here a day or two ago, but not as you play
it. I should like to know how it affects her,' and so on, as if he
supposed we were constantly in each other's society."
"Let me see the letter."
"Oh, no."
"Have you answered it?"
"Let me see the letter."
"No, and again, no."
"Then play the Impromptu for me."
"It is growing late; what time do you have to be home?"
"Time doesn't concern me. Your question seems a little rude.
Play the Impromptu."
"But you have told me nothing of yourself. What are you doing?"
"Painting!" laughed Edna. "I am becoming an artist. Think of it!"
"Ah! an artist! You have pretensions, Madame."
"Why pretensions? Do you think I could not become an artist?"
"I do not know you well enough to say. I do not know your
talent or your temperament. To be an artist includes much;
one must possess many gifts--absolute gifts--which have not
been acquired by one's own effort. And, moreover, to succeed, the
artist must possess the courageous soul."
"What do you mean by the courageous soul?"
"Courageous, ma foi! The brave soul. The soul that dares
and defies."
"Show me the letter and play for me the Impromptu. You see that
I have persistence. Does that quality count for anything in art?"
"It counts with a foolish old woman whom you have captivated,"
replied Mademoiselle, with her wriggling laugh.
The letter was right there at hand in the drawer of the little
table upon which Edna had just placed her coffee cup. Mademoiselle
opened the drawer and drew forth the letter, the topmost one. She
placed it in Edna's hands, and without further comment arose and
went to the piano.
Mademoiselle played a soft interlude. It was an
improvisation. She sat low at the instrument, and the lines of her body
settled into ungraceful curves and angles that gave it an
appearance of deformity. Gradually and imperceptibly the interlude
melted into the soft opening minor chords of the Chopin Impromptu.
Edna did not know when the Impromptu began or ended. She sat
in the sofa corner reading Robert's letter by the fading light.
Mademoiselle had glided from the Chopin into the quivering
lovenotes of Isolde's song, and back again to the Impromptu with its
soulful and poignant longing.
The shadows deepened in the little room. The music grew
strange and fantastic--turbulent, insistent, plaintive and soft
with entreaty. The shadows grew deeper. The music filled the
room. It floated out upon the night, over the housetops, the
crescent of the river, losing itself in the silence of the upper
Edna was sobbing, just as she had wept one midnight at Grand
Isle when strange, new voices awoke in her. She arose in some agitation
to take her departure. "May I come again, Mademoiselle?" she asked
at the threshold.
"Come whenever you feel like it. Be careful; the stairs and
landings are dark; don't stumble."
Mademoiselle reentered and lit a candle. Robert's letter was
on the floor. She stooped and picked it up. It was crumpled and
damp with tears. Mademoiselle smoothed the letter out, restored it
to the envelope, and replaced it in the table drawer.
One morning on his way into town Mr. Pontellier stopped at the
house of his old friend and family physician, Doctor Mandelet. The
Doctor was a semi-retired physician, resting, as the saying is,
upon his laurels. He bore a reputation for wisdom rather than
skill--leaving the active practice of medicine to his assistants
and younger contemporaries--and was much sought for in matters of
consultation. A few families, united to him by bonds of
friendship, he still attended when they required the services of a
physician. The Pontelliers were among these.
Mr. Pontellier found the Doctor reading at the open window of
his study. His house stood rather far back from the street, in the
center of a delightful garden, so that it was quiet and peaceful at
the old gentleman's study window. He was a great reader. He
stared up disapprovingly over his eye-glasses as Mr. Pontellier
entered, wondering who had the temerity to disturb him at that hour
of the morning.
"Ah, Pontellier! Not sick, I hope. Come and have a seat.
What news do you bring this morning?" He was quite portly, with a
profusion of gray hair, and small blue eyes which age had robbed
of much of their brightness but none of their penetration.
"Oh! I'm never sick, Doctor. You know that I come of tough
fiber--of that old Creole race of Pontelliers that dry up and
finally blow away. I came to consult--no, not precisely to
consult--to talk to you about Edna. I don't know what ails her."
"Madame Pontellier not well," marveled the Doctor. "Why, I
saw her--I think it was a week ago--walking along Canal Street, the
picture of health, it seemed to me."
"Yes, yes; she seems quite well," said Mr. Pontellier, leaning
forward and whirling his stick between his two hands; "but she
doesn't act well. She's odd, she's not like herself. I can't make
her out, and I thought perhaps you'd help me."
"How does she act?" inquired the Doctor.
"Well, it isn't easy to explain," said Mr. Pontellier,
throwing himself back in his chair. "She lets the housekeeping go
to the dickens."
"Well, well; women are not all alike, my dear Pontellier.
We've got to consider--"
"I know that; I told you I couldn't explain. Her whole
attitude--toward me and everybody and everything--has changed. You
know I have a quick temper, but I don't want to quarrel or be rude
to a woman, especially my wife; yet I'm driven to it, and feel like
ten thousand devils after I've made a fool of myself. She's making
it devilishly uncomfortable for me," he went on nervously. "She's
got some sort of notion in her head concerning the eternal rights
of women; and--you understand--we meet in the morning at the
breakfast table."
The old gentleman lifted his shaggy eyebrows, protruded his
thick nether lip, and tapped the arms of his chair with his
cushioned fingertips.
"What have you been doing to her, Pontellier?"
"Doing! Parbleu!"
"Has she," asked the Doctor, with a smile, "has she been associating
of late with a circle of pseudo-intellectual women--super-spiritual
superior beings? My wife has been telling me about them."
"That's the trouble," broke in Mr. Pontellier, "she hasn't
been associating with any one. She has abandoned her Tuesdays at
home, has thrown over all her acquaintances, and goes tramping
about by herself, moping in the street-cars, getting in after dark.
I tell you she's peculiar. I don't like it; I feel a little
worried over it."
This was a new aspect for the Doctor. "Nothing hereditary?"
he asked, seriously. "Nothing peculiar about her family
antecedents, is there?"
"Oh, no, indeed! She comes of sound old Presbyterian Kentucky
stock. The old gentleman, her father, I have heard, used to atone
for his weekday sins with his Sunday devotions. I know for a fact,
that his race horses literally ran away with the prettiest bit of
Kentucky farming land I ever laid eyes upon. Margaret--you know
Margaret--she has all the Presbyterianism undiluted. And the
youngest is something of a vixen. By the way, she gets married in a
couple of weeks from now."
"Send your wife up to the wedding," exclaimed the Doctor,
foreseeing a happy solution. "Let her stay among her own people
for a while; it will do her good."
"That's what I want her to do. She won't go to the marriage.
She says a wedding is one of the most lamentable spectacles on
earth. Nice thing for a woman to say to her husband!" exclaimed
Mr. Pontellier, fuming anew at the recollection.
"Pontellier," said the Doctor, after a moment's reflection,
"let your wife alone for a while. Don't bother her, and don't let
her bother you. Woman, my dear friend, is a very peculiar and
delicate organism--a sensitive and highly organized woman, such as
I know Mrs. Pontellier to be, is especially peculiar. It would
require an inspired psychologist to deal successfully with them.
And when ordinary fellows like you and me attempt to cope with
their idiosyncrasies the result is bungling. Most women are moody
and whimsical. This is some passing whim of your wife, due to some
cause or causes which you and I needn't try to fathom.
But it will pass happily over, especially if you let her alone.
Send her around to see me."
"Oh! I couldn't do that; there'd be no reason for it,"
objected Mr. Pontellier.
"Then I'll go around and see her," said the Doctor. "I'll
drop in to dinner some evening en bon ami.
"Do! by all means," urged Mr. Pontellier. "What evening will
you come? Say Thursday. Will you come Thursday?" he asked, rising
to take his leave.
"Very well; Thursday. My wife may possibly have some
engagement for me Thursday. In case she has, I shall let you know.
Otherwise, you may expect me."
Mr. Pontellier turned before leaving to say:
"I am going to New York on business very soon. I have a big
scheme on hand, and want to be on the field proper to pull the
ropes and handle the ribbons. We'll let you in on the inside if
you say so, Doctor," he laughed.
"No, I thank you, my dear sir," returned the Doctor. "I leave
such ventures to you younger men with the fever of life still in
your blood."
"What I wanted to say," continued Mr. Pontellier, with his
hand on the knob; "I may have to be absent a good while. Would you
advise me to take Edna along?"
"By all means, if she wishes to go. If not, leave her here.
Don't contradict her. The mood will pass, I assure you. It may
take a month, two, three months--possibly longer, but it will pass;
have patience."
"Well, good-by, a jeudi, " said Mr. Pontellier, as he let
himself out.
The Doctor would have liked during the course of conversation
to ask, "Is there any man in the case?" but he knew his Creole too
well to make such a blunder as that.
He did not resume his book immediately, but sat for a while
meditatively looking out into the garden.
Edna's father was in the city, and had been with them several
days. She was not very warmly or deeply attached to him, but they
had certain tastes in common, and when together they were
companionable. His coming was in the nature of a welcome
disturbance; it seemed to furnish a new direction for her emotions.
He had come to purchase a wedding gift for his daughter,
Janet, and an outfit for himself in which he might make a
creditable appearance at her marriage. Mr. Pontellier had selected
the bridal gift, as every one immediately connected with him always
deferred to his taste in such matters. And his suggestions on the
question of dress--which too often assumes the nature of a
problemwere of inestimable value to his father-in-law. But for the past
few days the old gentleman had been upon Edna's hands, and in his
society she was becoming acquainted with a new set of sensations.
He had been a colonel in the Confederate army, and still
maintained, with the title, the military bearing which had always
accompanied it. His hair and mustache were white and silky,
emphasizing the rugged bronze of his face. He was tall and thin, and
wore his coats padded, which gave a fictitious breadth and depth to
his shoulders and chest. Edna and her father looked very
distinguished together, and excited a good deal of notice during
their perambulations. Upon his arrival she began by introducing
him to her atelier and making a sketch of him. He took the whole
matter very seriously. If her talent had been ten-fold greater
than it was, it would not have surprised him, convinced as he was
that he had bequeathed to all of his daughters the germs of a
masterful capability, which only depended upon their own efforts
to be directed toward successful achievement.
Before her pencil he sat rigid and unflinching, as he had
faced the cannon's mouth in days gone by. He resented the
intrusion of the children, who gaped with wondering eyes at him,
sitting so stiff up there in their mother's bright atelier. When
they drew near he motioned them away with an expressive action of
the foot, loath to disturb the fixed lines of his countenance, his
arms, or his rigid shoulders.
Edna, anxious to entertain him, invited Mademoiselle Reisz to
meet him, having promised him a treat in her piano playing; but
Mademoiselle declined the invitation. So together they attended a
soiree musicale at the Ratignolles'. Monsieur and Madame
Ratignolle made much of the Colonel, installing him as the guest of
honor and engaging him at once to dine with them the following
Sunday, or any day which he might select. Madame coquetted with
him in the most captivating and naive manner, with eyes, gestures,
and a profusion of compliments, till the Colonel's old head felt
thirty years younger on his padded shoulders. Edna marveled, not
comprehending. She herself was almost devoid of coquetry.
There were one or two men whom she observed at the soiree
musicale; but she would never have felt moved to any kittenish
display to attract their notice--to any feline or feminine wiles to
express herself toward them. Their personality attracted her in an
agreeable way. Her fancy selected them, and she was glad when a
lull in the music gave them an opportunity to meet her and talk
with her. Often on the street the glance of strange eyes had
lingered in her memory, and sometimes had disturbed her.
Mr. Pontellier did not attend these soirees musicales.
He considered them bourgeois, and found more diversion at the club.
To Madame Ratignolle he said the music dispensed at her soirees
was too "heavy," too far beyond his untrained comprehension. His
excuse flattered her. But she disapproved of Mr. Pontellier's
club, and she was frank enough to tell Edna so.
"It's a pity Mr. Pontellier doesn't stay home more in the
evenings. I think you would be more--well, if you don't mind my
saying it--more united, if he did."
"Oh! dear no!" said Edna, with a blank look in her eyes.
"What should I do if he stayed home? We wouldn't have anything to
say to each other."
She had not much of anything to say to her father, for that
matter; but he did not antagonize her. She discovered that he
interested her, though she realized that he might not interest her
long; and for the first time in her life she felt as if she were
thoroughly acquainted with him. He kept her busy serving him and
ministering to his wants. It amused her to do so. She would not
permit a servant or one of the children to do anything for him
which she might do herself. Her husband noticed, and thought it
was the expression of a deep filial attachment which he had never
The Colonel drank numerous "toddies" during the course of the
day, which left him, however, imperturbed. He was an expert at
concocting strong drinks. He had even invented some, to which he
had given fantastic names, and for whose manufacture he required
diverse ingredients that it devolved upon Edna to procure for him.
When Doctor Mandelet dined with the Pontelliers on Thursday he
could discern in Mrs. Pontellier no trace of that morbid condition
which her husband had reported to him. She was excited and in a
manner radiant. She and her father had been to the race course,
and their thoughts when they seated themselves at table were still
occupied with the events of the afternoon, and their talk was still
of the track. The Doctor had not kept pace with turf affairs. He
had certain recollections of racing in what he called "the good old
times" when the Lecompte stables flourished, and he drew upon this
fund of memories so that he might not be left out and seem wholly
devoid of the modern spirit. But he failed to impose upon the
Colonel, and was even far from impressing him with this trumped-up
knowledge of bygone days. Edna had staked her father on his last
venture, with the most gratifying results to both of them.
Besides, they had met some very charming people, according
to the Colonel's impressions. Mrs. Mortimer Merriman and
Mrs. James Highcamp, who were there with Alcee Arobin,
had joined them and had enlivened the hours in a fashion
that warmed him to think of.
Mr. Pontellier himself had no particular leaning toward
horseracing, and was even rather inclined to discourage it as a pastime,
especially when he considered the fate of that blue-grass farm in
Kentucky. He endeavored, in a general way, to express a particular
disapproval, and only succeeded in arousing the ire and opposition
of his father-in-law. A pretty dispute followed, in which Edna
warmly espoused her father's cause and the Doctor remained neutral.
He observed his hostess attentively from under his shaggy
brows, and noted a subtle change which had transformed her from the
listless woman he had known into a being who, for the moment,
seemed palpitant with the forces of life. Her speech was warm and
energetic. There was no repression in her glance or gesture. She
reminded him of some beautiful, sleek animal waking up in the sun.
The dinner was excellent. The claret was warm and the
champagne was cold, and under their beneficent influence the
threatened unpleasantness melted and vanished with the fumes of the
Mr. Pontellier warmed up and grew reminiscent. He told some
amusing plantation experiences, recollections of old Iberville and
his youth, when he hunted `possum in company with some friendly
darky; thrashed the pecan trees, shot the grosbec, and roamed the
woods and fields in mischievous idleness.
The Colonel, with little sense of humor and of the fitness of
things, related a somber episode of those dark and bitter days, in
which he had acted a conspicuous part and always formed a central
figure. Nor was the Doctor happier in his selection, when he told
the old, ever new and curious story of the waning of a woman's love,
seeking strange, new channels, only to return to its legitimate source
after days of fierce unrest. It was one of the many little human
documents which had been unfolded to him during his long career as
a physician. The story did not seem especially to impress Edna.
She had one of her own to tell, of a woman who paddled away with
her lover one night in a pirogue and never came back. They were
lost amid the Baratarian Islands, and no one ever heard of them or
found trace of them from that day to this. It was a pure
invention. She said that Madame Antoine had related it to her.
That, also, was an invention. Perhaps it was a dream she had had.
But every glowing word seemed real to those who listened. They
could feel the hot breath of the Southern night; they could hear
the long sweep of the pirogue through the glistening moonlit water,
the beating of birds' wings, rising startled from among the reeds
in the salt-water pools; they could see the faces of the lovers,
pale, close together, rapt in oblivious forgetfulness, drifting
into the unknown.
The champagne was cold, and its subtle fumes played fantastic
tricks with Edna's memory that night.
Outside, away from the glow of the fire and the soft
lamplight, the night was chill and murky. The Doctor doubled his
old-fashioned cloak across his breast as he strode home through the
darkness. He knew his fellow-creatures better than most men; knew
that inner life which so seldom unfolds itself to unanointed* eyes.
He was sorry he had accepted Pontellier's invitation. He was
growing old, and beginning to need rest and an imperturbed spirit.
He did not want the secrets of other lives thrust upon him.
"I hope it isn't Arobin," he muttered to himself as he walked.
"I hope to heaven it isn't Alcee Arobin."
Edna and her father had a warm, and almost violent dispute
upon the subject of her refusal to attend her sister's wedding.
Mr. Pontellier declined to interfere, to interpose either his
influence or his authority. He was following Doctor Mandelet's
advice, and letting her do as she liked. The Colonel reproached
his daughter for her lack of filial kindness and respect, her want
of sisterly affection and womanly consideration. His arguments
were labored and unconvincing. He doubted if Janet would accept
any excuse--forgetting that Edna had offered none. He doubted if
Janet would ever speak to her again, and he was sure Margaret would
Edna was glad to be rid of her father when he finally took
himself off with his wedding garments and his bridal gifts, with
his padded shoulders, his Bible reading, his "toddies" and
ponderous oaths.
Mr. Pontellier followed him closely. He meant to stop at the
wedding on his way to New York and endeavor by every means which
money and love could devise to atone somewhat for Edna's
incomprehensible action.
"You are too lenient, too lenient by far, Leonce," asserted
the Colonel. "Authority, coercion are what is needed. Put your
foot down good and hard; the only way to manage a wife. Take my
word for it."
The Colonel was perhaps unaware that he had coerced his own
wife into her grave. Mr. Pontellier had a vague suspicion of it
which he thought it needless to mention at that late day.
Edna was not so consciously gratified at her husband's leaving
home as she had been over the departure of her father. As the day
approached when he was to leave her for a comparatively long stay,
she grew melting and affectionate, remembering his many acts of consideration
and his repeated expressions of an ardent attachment. She was solicitous
about his health and his welfare. She bustled around, looking after
his clothing, thinking about heavy underwear, quite as Madame Ratignolle
would have done under similar circumstances. She cried when he went away,
calling him her dear, good friend, and she was quite certain she would
grow lonely before very long and go to join him in New York.
But after all, a radiant peace settled upon her when she at
last found herself alone. Even the children were gone. Old Madame
Pontellier had come herself and carried them off to Iberville with
their quadroon. The old madame did not venture to say she was
afraid they would be neglected during Leonce's absence; she hardly
ventured to think so. She was hungry for them--even a little
fierce in her attachment. She did not want them to be wholly
"children of the pavement," she always said when begging to have
them for a space. She wished them to know the country, with its
streams, its fields, its woods, its freedom, so delicious to the
young. She wished them to taste something of the life their father
had lived and known and loved when he, too, was a little child.
When Edna was at last alone, she breathed a big, genuine sigh
of relief. A feeling that was unfamiliar but very delicious came
over her. She walked all through the house, from one room to
another, as if inspecting it for the first time. She tried the
various chairs and lounges, as if she had never sat and reclined
upon them before. And she perambulated around the outside of the
house, investigating, looking to see if windows and shutters were
secure and in order. The flowers were like new acquaintances; she
approached them in a familiar spirit, and made herself at home
among them. The garden walks were damp, and Edna called to the
maid to bring out her rubber sandals. And there she stayed, and
stooped, digging around the plants, trimming, picking dead, dry
leaves. The children's little dog came out, interfering, getting
in her way. She scolded him, laughed at him, played with him.
The garden smelled so good and looked so pretty in the afternoon
sunlight. Edna plucked all the bright flowers she could find,
and went into the house with them, she and the little dog.
Even the kitchen assumed a sudden interesting character which
she had never before perceived. She went in to give directions to
the cook, to say that the butcher would have to bring much less
meat, that they would require only half their usual quantity of
bread, of milk and groceries. She told the cook that she herself
would be greatly occupied during Mr. Pontellier's absence, and she
begged her to take all thought and responsibility of the larder
upon her own shoulders.
That night Edna dined alone. The candelabra, with a few
candies in the center of the table, gave all the light she needed.
Outside the circle of light in which she sat, the large dining-room
looked solemn and shadowy. The cook, placed upon her mettle,
served a delicious repast--a luscious tenderloin broiled a
point. The wine tasted good; the marron glace seemed to be
just what she wanted. It was so pleasant, too, to dine in a
comfortable peignoir.
She thought a little sentimentally about Leonce and the
children, and wondered what they were doing. As she gave a dainty
scrap or two to the doggie, she talked intimately to him about
Etienne and Raoul. He was beside himself with astonishment and
delight over these companionable advances, and showed his
appreciation by his little quick, snappy barks and a lively
Then Edna sat in the library after dinner and read Emerson
until she grew sleepy. She realized that she had neglected her
reading, and determined to start anew upon a course of improving
studies, now that her time was completely her own to do with as she
After a refreshing bath, Edna went to bed. And as she
snuggled comfortably beneath the eiderdown a sense of restfulness
invaded her, such as she had not known before.
When the weather was dark and cloudy Edna could not work. She
needed the sun to mellow and temper her mood to the sticking point.
She had reached a stage when she seemed to be no longer feeling her
way, working, when in the humor, with sureness and ease. And being
devoid of ambition, and striving not toward accomplishment, she
drew satisfaction from the work in itself.
On rainy or melancholy days Edna went out and sought the
society of the friends she had made at Grand Isle. Or else she
stayed indoors and nursed a mood with which she was becoming too
familiar for her own comfort and peace of mind. It was not
despair; but it seemed to her as if life were passing by, leaving
its promise broken and unfulfilled. Yet there were other days when
she listened, was led on and deceived by fresh promises which her
youth held out to her.
She went again to the races, and again. Alcee Arobin and Mrs.
Highcamp called for her one bright afternoon in Arobin's drag.
Mrs. Highcamp was a worldly but unaffected, intelligent, slim, tall
blonde woman in the forties, with an indifferent manner and blue
eyes that stared. She had a daughter who served her as a pretext
for cultivating the society of young men of fashion. Alcee Arobin
was one of them. He was a familiar figure at the race course, the
opera, the fashionable clubs. There was a perpetual smile in his
eyes, which seldom failed to awaken a corresponding cheerfulness in
any one who looked into them and listened to his good-humored
voice. His manner was quiet, and at times a little insolent. He
possessed a good figure, a pleasing face, not overburdened with
depth of thought or feeling; and his dress was that of the conventional
man of fashion.
He admired Edna extravagantly, after meeting her at the races
with her father. He had met her before on other occasions, but she
had seemed to him unapproachable until that day. It was at his
instigation that Mrs. Highcamp called to ask her to go with them to
the Jockey Club to witness the turf event of the season.
There were possibly a few track men out there who knew the
race horse as well as Edna, but there was certainly none who knew
it better. She sat between her two companions as one having
authority to speak. She laughed at Arobin's pretensions, and
deplored Mrs. Highcamp's ignorance. The race horse was a friend
and intimate associate of her childhood. The atmosphere of the
stables and the breath of the blue grass paddock revived in her
memory and lingered in her nostrils. She did not perceive that she
was talking like her father as the sleek geldings ambled in review
before them. She played for very high stakes, and fortune favored
her. The fever of the game flamed in her cheeks and eves, and it
got into her blood and into her brain like an intoxicant. People
turned their heads to look at her, and more than one lent an
attentive car to her utterances, hoping thereby to secure the
elusive but ever-desired "tip." Arobin caught the contagion of
excitement which drew him to Edna like a magnet. Mrs. Highcamp
remained, as usual, unmoved, with her indifferent stare and
uplifted eyebrows.
Edna stayed and dined with Mrs. Highcamp upon being urged to
do so. Arobin also remained and sent away his drag.
The dinner was quiet and uninteresting, save for the cheerful
efforts of Arobin to enliven things. Mrs. Highcamp deplored the
absence of her daughter from the races, and tried to convey to her
what she had missed by going to the "Dante reading" instead of
joining them. The girl held a geranium leaf up to her nose and
said nothing, but looked knowing and noncommittal. Mr. Highcamp
was a plain, bald-headed man, who only talked under compulsion.
He was unresponsive. Mrs. Highcamp was full of delicate courtesy
and consideration toward her husband. She addressed most of her
conversation to him at table. They sat in the library after dinner
and read the evening papers together under the droplight; while the
younger people went into the drawing-room near by and talked. Miss
Highcamp played some selections from Grieg upon the piano. She
seemed to have apprehended all of the composer's coldness and none
of his poetry. While Edna listened she could not help wondering if
she had lost her taste for music.
When the time came for her to go home, Mr. Highcamp grunted a
lame offer to escort her, looking down at his slippered feet with
tactless concern. It was Arobin who took her home. The car ride
was long, and it was late when they reached Esplanade Street.
Arobin asked permission to enter for a second to light his
cigarette--his match safe was empty. He filled his match safe, but
did not light his cigarette until he left her, after she had
expressed her willingness to go to the races with him again.
Edna was neither tired nor sleepy. She was hungry again, for
the Highcamp dinner, though of excellent quality, had lacked
abundance. She rummaged in the larder and brought forth a slice of
Gruyere and some crackers. She opened a bottle of beer which she
found in the icebox. Edna felt extremely restless and excited.
She vacantly hummed a fantastic tune as she poked at the wood
embers on the hearth and munched a cracker.
She wanted something to happen--something, anything; she did
not know what. She regretted that she had not made Arobin stay a
half hour to talk over the horses with her. She counted the money
she had won. But there was nothing else to do, so she went to bed,
and tossed there for hours in a sort of monotonous agitation.
In the middle of the night she remembered that she had
forgotten to write her regular letter to her husband; and she
decided to do so next day and tell him about her afternoon at the
Jockey Club. She lay wide awake composing a letter which was
nothing like the one which she wrote next day. When the maid
awoke her in the morning Edna was dreaming of Mr. Highcamp
playing the piano at the entrance of a music store on Canal Street,
while his wife was saying to Alcee Arobin, as they boarded an
Esplanade Street car:
"What a pity that so much talent has been neglected! but I must go."
When, a few days later, Alcee Arobin again called for Edna in
his drag, Mrs. Highcamp was not with him. He said they would pick
her up. But as that lady had not been apprised of his intention of
picking her up, she was not at home. The daughter was just leaving
the house to attend the meeting of a branch Folk Lore Society, and
regretted that she could not accompany them. Arobin appeared
nonplused, and asked Edna if there were any one else she cared to
She did not deem it worth while to go in search of any of the
fashionable acquaintances from whom she had withdrawn herself. She
thought of Madame Ratignolle, but knew that her fair friend did not
leave the house, except to take a languid walk around the block
with her husband after nightfall. Mademoiselle Reisz would have
laughed at such a request from Edna. Madame Lebrun might have
enjoyed the outing, but for some reason Edna did not want her. So
they went alone, she and Arobin.
The afternoon was intensely interesting to her. The
excitement came back upon her like a remittent fever. Her talk
grew familiar and confidential. It was no labor to become intimate
with Arobin. His manner invited easy confidence. The preliminary
stage of becoming acquainted was one which he always endeavored to
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?"
"Day after?"
"No, no."
"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
impressive silence.
"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
two hands.
"Why? Because his hair is brown and grows away from his
temples; because he opens and shuts his eyes, and his nose is a
little out of drawing; because he has two lips and a square chin,
and a little finger which he can't straighten from having played
baseball too energetically in his 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
of kisses.
Before dinner in the evening Edna wrote a charming letter to
her husband, telling him of her intention to move for a while into
the little house around the block, and to give a farewell dinner
before leaving, regretting that he was not there to share it, to
help out with the menu and assist her in entertaining the guests.
Her letter was brilliant and brimming with cheerfulness.
"What is the matter with you?" asked Arobin that evening. "I
never found you in such a happy mood." Edna was tired by that time,
and was reclining on the lounge before the fire.
"Don't you know the weather prophet has told us we shall see
the sun 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
eyes sensitively.
"One of these days," she said, "I'm going to pull myself
together for a while and think--try to determine what character of
a woman I am; for, candidly, I don't know. By all the codes which
I am acquainted with, I am a devilishly wicked specimen of the sex.
But some way I can't convince myself that I am. I must think about it."
"Don't. What's the use? Why should you bother thinking about
it when I can tell you what manner of woman you are." His fingers
strayed occasionally down to her warm, smooth cheeks and firm chin,
which was growing a little full and double.
"Oh, yes! You will tell me that I am adorable; everything that
is captivating. Spare yourself the effort."
"No; I shan't tell you anything of the sort, though I
shouldn't be lying if I did."
"Do you know Mademoiselle Reisz?" she asked irrelevantly.
"The pianist? I know her by sight. I've heard her play."
"She says queer things sometimes in a bantering way that you don't notice
at the time and you find yourself thinking about afterward."
"For instance?"
"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
comprehend her."
"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
his collar.
"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,
comfortable number.
There were Mr. and Mrs. Merriman, a pretty, vivacious little
woman in the thirties; her husband, a jovial fellow, something of
a shallow-pate, who laughed a good deal at other people's
witticisms, and had thereby made himself extremely popular. Mrs.
Highcamp had accompanied them. Of course, there was Alcee Arobin;
and Mademoiselle Reisz had consented to come. Edna had sent her a
fresh bunch of violets with black lace trimmings for her hair.
Monsieur Ratignolle brought himself and his wife's excuses.
Victor Lebrun, who happened to be in the city, bent upon relaxation,
had accepted with alacrity. There was a Miss Mayblunt, no longer
in her teens, who looked at the world through lorgnettes and with
the keenest interest. It was thought and said that she was
intellectual; it was suspected of her that she wrote under a
nom de guerre. She had come with a gentleman by the name of Gouvernail,
connected with one of the daily papers, of whom nothing special could be said,
except that he was observant and seemed quiet and inoffensive. Edna herself
made the tenth, and at half-past eight they seated themselves at table,
Arobin and Monsieur Ratignolle on either side of their hostess.
Mrs. Highcamp sat between Arobin and Victor Lebrun. Then came
Mrs. Merriman, Mr. Gouvernail, Miss Mayblunt, Mr. Merriman, and
Mademoiselle Reisz next to Monsieur Ratignolle.
There was something extremely gorgeous about the appearance of
the table, an effect of splendor conveyed by a cover of pale yellow
satin under strips of lace-work. There were wax candles, in
massive brass candelabra, burning softly under yellow silk shades;
full, fragrant roses, yellow and red, abounded. There were silver
and gold, as she had said there would be, and crystal which
glittered like the gems which the 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
languishing fire.
"Sapristi!" exclaimed Arobin.
But Mrs. Highcamp had one more touch to add to the picture.
She took from the back of her chair a white silken scarf, with
which she had covered her shoulders in the early part of the
evening. She draped it across the boy in graceful folds, and in a
way to conceal his black, conventional evening dress. He did not
seem to mind what she did to him, only smiled, showing a faint
gleam of white teeth, while he continued to gaze with narrowing
eyes at the light through his glass of champagne.
"Oh! to be able to paint in color rather than in words!"
exclaimed Miss Mayblunt, losing herself in a rhapsodic dream
as she looked at him,
"`There was a graven image of Desire Painted with red blood on
a ground of gold.'" murmured Gouvernail, under his breath.
The effect of the wine upon Victor was to change his
accustomed volubility into silence. He seemed to have abandoned
himself to a reverie, and to be seeing pleasing visions in the
amber bead.
"Sing," entreated Mrs. Highcamp. "Won't you sing to us?"
"Let him alone," said Arobin.
"He's posing," offered Mr. Merriman; "let him have it out."
"I believe he's paralyzed," laughed Mrs. Merriman. And
leaning over the youth's chair, she took the glass from his hand
and held it to his lips. He sipped the wine slowly, and when he
had drained the glass she laid it upon the table and wiped his lips
with her little filmy handkerchief.
"Yes, I'll sing for you," he said, turning in his chair toward
Mrs. Highcamp. He clasped his hands behind his head, and looking
up at the ceiling began to hum a little, trying his voice like a
musician tuning an instrument. Then, looking at Edna, he began to
"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
her scarf."
Mrs. Highcamp undraped the scarf from about him with her own
hands. Miss Mayblunt and Mr. Gouvernail suddenly conceived the
notion that it was time to say good night. And Mr. and Mrs.
Merriman wondered how it could be so late.
Before parting from Victor, Mrs. Highcamp invited him to call
upon her daughter, who she knew would be charmed to meet him and
talk French and sing French songs with him. Victor expressed his
desire and intention to call upon Miss Highcamp at the first
opportunity which presented itself. He asked if Arobin were going
his way. Arobin was not.
The mandolin players had long since stolen away. A profound
stillness had fallen upon the broad, beautiful street. The voices
of Edna's disbanding guests jarred like a discordant note upon the
quiet harmony of the night.
"Well?" questioned Arobin, who had remained with Edna after
the others 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,
seductive entreaties.
When Mr. Pontellier learned of his wife's intention to abandon
her home and take up her residence elsewhere, he immediately wrote
her a letter of unqualified disapproval and remonstrance. She had
given reasons which he was unwilling to acknowledge as adequate.
He hoped she had not acted upon her rash impulse; and he begged her
to consider first, foremost, and above all else, what people would
say. He was not dreaming of scandal when he uttered this warning;
that was a thing which would never have entered into his mind to
consider in connection with his wife's name or his own. He was
simply thinking of his financial integrity. It might get noised
about that the Pontelliers had met with reverses, and were forced
to conduct their menage on a humbler scale than heretofore. It
might do incalculable mischief to his business prospects.
But remembering Edna's whimsical turn of mind of late, and
foreseeing that she had immediately acted upon her impetuous determination,
he grasped the situation with his usual promptness and handled it with
his well-known business tact and cleverness.
The same mail which brought. to Edna his letter of disapproval
carried instructions--the most minute instructions--to a well-known
architect concerning the remodeling of his home, changes which he
had long contemplated, and which he desired carried forward during
his temporary 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
assured her.
Before leaving Madame Ratignolle said:
"In some way you seem to me like a child, Edna. You seem to
act without a certain amount of reflection which is necessary in
this life. That is the reason I want to say you mustn't mind if I
advise you to be a little careful while you are living here alone.
Why don't you have some one come and stay with you? Wouldn't
Mademoiselle Reisz come?"
"No; she wouldn't wish to come, and I shouldn't want her
always with 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
imprudent to-day."
"Mind the step!" cried Edna.
"Don't neglect me," entreated Madame Ratignolle; "and don't
mind what I said about Arobin, or having some one to stay with you.
"Of course not," Edna laughed. "You may say anything you like
to me." They kissed each other good-by. Madame Ratignolle had not
far to go, and Edna stood on the porch a while watching her walk
down the street.
Then in the afternoon Mrs. Merriman and Mrs. Highcamp had made
their "party call." Edna felt that they might have dispensed
with the formality. They had also come to invite her to play
vingt-et-un one evening at Mrs. Merriman's. She was asked to go early,
to dinner, and Mr. Merriman or Mr. Arobin would take her home.
Edna accepted in a half-hearted way. She sometimes felt very tired
of Mrs. Highcamp and 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
to you."
"That is an excuse; it isn't the truth." Edna reached for her
hat on the piano. She adjusted it, sticking the hat pin through
the heavy coil of hair with some deliberation.
"Are you not going to wait for Mademoiselle Reisz?" asked
"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?"
"Fairly well."
"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
the table.
"I'm not going to Mrs. Merriman's," she said. "If you see
her, tell her so. But perhaps I had better write. I think I shall
write now, and say that I am sorry her child is sick, and tell her
not to count on me."
"It would be a good scheme," acquiesced Arobin. "I don't blame you;
stupid lot!"
Edna opened the blotter, and having procured paper and pen,
began to write the note. Arobin lit a cigar and read the evening
paper, which he had in his pocket.
"What is the date?" she asked. He told her.
"Will you mail this for me when you go out?"
"Certainly." He read to her little bits out of the newspaper,
while she straightened things on the table.
"What do you want to do?" he asked, throwing aside the paper.
"Do you want to go out for a walk or a drive or anything? It would
be a fine night to drive."
"No; I don't want to do anything but just be quiet. You go
away and amuse yourself. Don't stay."
"I'll go away if I must; but I shan't amuse myself. You know
that I only live when I am near you."
He stood up to bid her good night.
"Is that one of the things you always say to women?"
"I have said it before, but I don't think I ever came so near
meaning it," he answered with a smile. There were no warm lights
in her eyes; only a dreamy, absent look.
"Good night. I adore you. Sleep well," he said, and he
kissed her hand and went away.
She stayed alone in a kind of reverie--a sort of stupor. Step
by step she lived over every instant of the time she had been with
Robert after he had entered Mademoiselle Reisz's door. She
recalled his words, his looks. How few and meager they had been
for her hungry heart! A vision--a transcendently seductive vision
of a Mexican girl arose before her. She writhed with a jealous
pang. She wondered when he would come back. He had not said he
would come back. She had been with him, had heard his voice and
touched his hand. But some way he had seemed nearer to her off
there in Mexico.
The morning was full of sunlight and hope. Edna could see
before her no denial--only the promise of excessive joy. She lay
in bed awake, with bright eyes full of speculation. "He loves you,
poor fool." If she could but get that conviction firmly fixed in
her mind, what mattered about the rest? She felt she had been
childish and unwise the night before in giving herself over to
despondency. She recapitulated the motives which no doubt
explained Robert's reserve. They were not insurmountable; they
would not hold if he really loved her; they could not hold against
her own passion, which he must come to realize in time. She
pictured him going to his business that morning. She even saw how
he was dressed; how he walked down one street, and turned the
corner of another; saw him bending over his desk, talking to people
who entered the office, going to his lunch, and perhaps watching
for her on the street. He would come to her in the afternoon or
evening, sit and roll his cigarette, talk a little, and go away as
he had done the night before. But how delicious it would be to have
him there with her! She would have no regrets, nor seek to penetrate
his reserve if he still chose to wear it.
Edna ate her breakfast only half dressed. The maid brought
her a delicious printed scrawl from Raoul, expressing his love,
asking her to send him some bonbons, and telling her they had found
that morning ten tiny white pigs all lying in a row beside Lidie's
big white pig.
A letter also came from her husband, saying he hoped to be
back early in March, and then they would get ready for that journey
abroad which he had promised her so long, which he felt now fully
able to afford; he felt able to travel as people should, without
any thought of small economies--thanks to his recent speculations
in Wall Street.
Much to her surprise she received a note from Arobin, written
at midnight from the club. It was to say good morning to her, to
hope she had slept well, to assure her of his devotion, which he
trusted she in some faintest manner returned.
All these letters were pleasing to her. She answered the
children in a cheerful frame of mind, promising them bonbons, and
congratulating them upon their happy find of the little pigs.
She answered her husband with friendly evasiveness, --not with
any fixed design to mislead him, only because all sense of reality
had gone out of her life; she had abandoned herself to Fate, and
awaited the consequences with indifference.
To Arobin's note she made no reply. She put it under
Celestine's stove-lid.
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
in Iberville.
She often stopped there during her perambulations; sometimes
taking a book with her, and sitting an hour or two under the trees
when she found the place deserted. Once or twice she took a quiet
dinner there alone, having instructed Celestine beforehand to
prepare no dinner at home. It was the last place in the city where
she would have expected to meet any one she knew.
Still she was not astonished when, as she was partaking of a
modest dinner late in the afternoon, looking into an open book,
stroking the cat, which had made friends with her--she was not
greatly astonished to see Robert come in at the tall garden gate.
"I am destined to see you only by accident," she said, shoving
the cat off the chair beside her. He was surprised, ill at ease,
almost embarrassed at meeting her thus so unexpectedly.
"Do you come here often?" he asked.
"I almost live here," she said.
"I used to drop in very often for a cup of Catiche's good
coffee. This is the first time since I came back."
"She'll bring you a plate, and you will share my dinner.
There's always enough for two--even three." Edna had intended to be
indifferent and as reserved as he when she met him; she had reached
the determination by a laborious train of reasoning, incident to
one of her despondent moods. But her resolve melted when she saw
him before designing Providence had led him into her path.
"Why have you kept away from me, Robert?" she asked, closing
the book that lay open upon the table.
"Why are you so personal, Mrs. Pontellier? Why do you force me
to idiotic subterfuges?" he exclaimed with sudden warmth. "I
suppose there's no use telling you I've been very busy, or that
I've been sick, or that I've been to see you and not found you at
home. Please let me off with any one of these excuses."
"You are the embodiment of selfishness," she said. "You save
yourself something--I don't know what--but there is some selfish
motive, and in sparing yourself you never consider for a moment
what I think, or how I feel your neglect and indifference. I
suppose this is what you would call unwomanly; but I have got into
a habit of expressing myself. It doesn't matter to me, and you may
think me unwomanly if you like."
"No; I only think you cruel, as I said the other day. Maybe
not intentionally cruel; but you seem to be forcing me into
disclosures which can result in nothing; as if you would have me
bare a wound for the pleasure of looking at it, without the
intention or power of healing 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
him uncomfortable.
The cat made friends with him, and climbed into his lap when
he smoked his cigar. He stroked her silky fur, and talked a little
about her. He looked at Edna's book, which he had read; and he
told her the end, to save her the trouble of wading through it, he
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."
"Your 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
overtake them.
"You shouldn't have been there, Mrs. Pontellier," he said.
"That was no place for you. Adele is full of whims at such times.
There were a dozen women she might have had with her,
unimpressionable women. I felt that it was cruel, cruel. You
shouldn't have gone."
"Oh, well!" she answered, indifferently. "I don't know that
it matters after all. One has to think of the children some time
or other; the sooner the better."
"When is Leonce coming back?"
"Quite soon. Some time in March."
"And you are going abroad?"
"Perhaps--no, I am not going. I'm not going to be forced into
doing things. I don't want to go abroad. I want to be let alone.
Nobody has any right--except children, perhaps--and even then, it
seems to me--or it did seem--" She felt that her speech was voicing
the incoherency of her thoughts, and stopped abruptly.
"The trouble is," sighed the Doctor, grasping her meaning
intuitively, "that youth is given up to illusions. It seems to be
a provision of Nature; a decoy to secure mothers for the race. And
Nature takes no account of moral consequences, of arbitrary
conditions which we create, and which we feel obliged to maintain
at any cost."
"Yes," she said. "The years that are gone seem like
dreams--if one might go on sleeping and dreaming--but to wake up and
find--oh! well! perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to
suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one's life."
"It seems to me, my dear child," said the Doctor at parting,
holding her hand, "you seem to me to be in trouble. I am not going
to ask for your confidence. I will only say that if ever you feel
moved to give it to me, perhaps I might help you. I know I would
understand, And I tell you there are not many who would--not many,
my dear."
"Some way I don't feel moved to speak of things that trouble
me. Don't think I am ungrateful or that I don't appreciate your
sympathy. There are periods of despondency and suffering which
take possession of me. But I don't want anything but my own way.
That is wanting a good deal, of course, when you have to trample
upon the lives, the hearts, the prejudices of others--but no
matter-still, I shouldn't want to trample upon the little lives.
Oh! I don't know what I'm saying, Doctor. Good night. Don't blame
me for anything."
"Yes, I will blame you if you don't come and see me soon.
We will talk of things you never have dreamt of talking
about before. It will do us both good. I don't want you
to blame yourself, whatever comes. Good night, my child."
She let herself in at the gate, but instead of entering she
sat upon the step of the porch. The night was quiet and soothing.
All the tearing emotion of the last few hours seemed to fall away
from her like a somber, uncomfortable garment, which she had but to
loosen to be rid of. She went back to that hour before Adele had
sent for her; and her senses kindled afresh in thinking of Robert's
words, the pressure of his arms, and the feeling of his lips upon
her own. She could picture at that moment no greater bliss on
earth than possession of the beloved one. His expression of love
had already given him to her in part. When she thought that he was
there at hand, waiting for her, she grew numb with the intoxication
of expectancy. It was so late; he would be asleep perhaps. She
would awaken him with a kiss. She hoped he would be asleep that
she might arouse him with her caresses.
Still, she remembered Adele's voice whispering, "Think of the
children; think of them." She meant to think of them; that
determination had driven into her soul like a death wound--but not
to-night. To-morrow would be time to think of everything.
Robert was not waiting for her in the little parlor. He was
nowhere at hand. The house was empty. But he had scrawled on a
piece of paper that lay in the lamplight:
"I love you. Good-by--because I love you."
Edna grew faint when she read the words. She went and sat on
the sofa. Then she stretched herself out there, never uttering a
sound. She did not sleep. She did not go to bed. The lamp
sputtered and went out. She was still awake in the morning, when
Celestine unlocked the kitchen door and came in to light the fire.
Victor, with hammer and nails and scraps of scantling, was
patching a corner of one of the galleries. Mariequita sat near by,
dangling her legs, watching him work, and handing him nails from
the tool-box. The sun was beating down upon them. The girl had
covered her head with her apron folded into a square pad. They had
been talking for an hour or more. She was never tired of hearing
Victor describe the dinner at Mrs. Pontellier's. He exaggerated
every detail, making it appear a veritable Lucullean feast. The
flowers were in tubs, he said. The champagne was quaffed from huge
golden goblets. Venus rising from the foam could have presented no
more entrancing a spectacle than Mrs. Pontellier, blazing with
beauty and diamonds at the head of the board, while the other women
were all of them youthful houris, possessed of incomparable charms.
She got it into her head that Victor was in love with Mrs.
Pontellier, and he gave her evasive answers, framed so as to
confirm her belief. She grew sullen and cried a little,
threatening to go off and leave him to his fine ladies. There were
a dozen men crazy about her at the Cheniere; and since it was
the fashion to be in love with married people, why, she could run
away any time she liked to New Orleans with Celina's husband.
Celina's husband was a fool, a coward, and a pig, and to prove
it to her, Victor intended to hammer his head into a jelly the next
time he encountered him. This assurance was very consoling to
Mariequita. She dried her eyes, and grew cheerful at the prospect.
They were still talking of the dinner and the allurements of city life
when Mrs. Pontellier herself slipped around the corner of the house.
The two youngsters stayed dumb with amazement before what they considered
to be an apparition. But it was really she in flesh and blood,
looking tired and a little travel-stained.
"I walked up from the wharf", she said, "and heard the hammering.
I supposed it was you, mending the porch. It's a good thing.
I was always tripping over those loose planks last summer.
How dreary and deserted everything looks!"
It took Victor some little time to comprehend that she had
come in Beaudelet's lugger, that she had come alone, and for no
purpose but to rest.
"There's nothing fixed up yet, you see. I'll give you my room;
it's the only place."
"Any corner will do," she assured him.
"And if you can stand Philomel's cooking," he went on, "though
I might try to get her mother while you are here. Do you think she
would come?" turning to Mariequita.
Mariequita thought that perhaps Philomel's mother might come
for a few days, and money enough.
Beholding Mrs. Pontellier make her appearance, the girl had at
once suspected a lovers' rendezvous. But Victor's astonishment was
so genuine, and Mrs. Pontellier's indifference so apparent, that
the disturbing notion did not lodge long in her brain. She
contemplated with the greatest interest this woman who gave the
most sumptuous dinners in America, and who had all the men in New
Orleans at her feet.
"What time will you have dinner?" asked Edna. "I'm very
hungry; but don't get anything extra."
"I'll have it ready in little or no time," he said, bustling
and packing away his tools. "You may go to my room to brush up and
rest yourself. Mariequita will show you."
"Thank you", said Edna. "But, do you know, I have a notion to
go down to the beach and take a good wash and even a little swim,
before dinner?"
"The water is too cold!" they both exclaimed. "Don't think of it."
"Well, I might go down and try--dip my toes in. Why, it seems to me
the sun is hot enough to have warmed the very depths of the ocean.
Could you get me a couple of towels? I'd better go right away,
so as to be back in time. It would be a little too chilly
if I waited till this afternoon."
Mariequita ran over to Victor's room, and returned
with some towels, which she gave to Edna.
"I hope you have fish for dinner," said Edna, as she started
to walk away; "but don't do anything extra if you haven't."
"Run and find Philomel's mother," Victor instructed the girl.
"I'll go to the kitchen and see what I can do. By Gimminy!
Women have no consideration! She might have sent me word."
Edna walked on down to the beach rather mechanically, not
noticing anything special except that the sun was hot. She was not
dwelling upon any particular train of thought. She had done all
the thinking which was necessary after Robert went away, when she
lay awake upon the sofa till morning.
She had said over and over to herself: "To-day it is Arobin;
to-morrow it will be some one else. It makes no difference to me,
it doesn't matter about Leonce Pontellier--but Raoul and Etienne!"
She understood now clearly what she had meant long ago when she
said to Adele Ratignolle that she would give up the unessential,
but she would never sacrifice herself for her children.
Despondency had come upon her there in the wakeful night, and
had never lifted. There was no one thing in the world that she
desired. There was no human being whom she wanted near her except
Robert; and she even realized that the day would come when he, too,
and the thought of him would melt out of her existence, leaving her
alone. The children appeared before her like antagonists who had
overcome her; who had overpowered and sought to drag her into the
soul's slavery for the rest of her days. But she knew a way to
elude them. She was not thinking of these things when she walked
down to the beach.
The water of the Gulf stretched out before her, gleaming with
the million lights of the sun. The voice of the sea is seductive,
never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul
to wander in abysses of solitude. All along the white beach,
up and down, there was no living thing in sight. A bird
with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling,
fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water.
Edna had found her old bathing suit still hanging, faded,
upon its accustomed peg.
She put it on, leaving her clothing in the bath-house. But
when she was there beside the sea, absolutely alone, she cast the
unpleasant, pricking garments from her, and for the first time in
her life she stood naked in the open air, at the mercy of the sun,
the breeze that beat upon her, and the waves that invited her.
How strange and awful it seemed to stand naked under the sky!
how delicious! She felt like some new-born creature, opening its
eyes in a familiar world that it had never known.
The foamy wavelets curled up to her white feet, and coiled
like serpents about her ankles. She walked out. The water was
chill, but she walked on. The water was deep, but she lifted her
white body and reached out with a long, sweeping stroke. The touch
of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close
She went on and on. She remembered the night she swam far
out, and recalled the terror that seized her at the fear of being
unable to regain the shore. She did not look back now, but went on
and on, thinking of the blue-grass meadow that she had traversed
when a little child, believing that it had no beginning and no end.
Her arms and legs were growing tired.
She thought of Leonce and the children. They were a part of
her life. But they need not have thought that they could possess
her, body and soul. How Mademoiselle Reisz would have laughed,
perhaps sneered, if she knew! "And you call yourself an artist!
What pretensions, Madame! The artist must possess the courageous
soul that dares and defies."
Exhaustion was pressing upon and overpowering her.
"Good-by--because I love you." He did not know; he did not
understand. He would never understand. Perhaps Doctor Mandelet
would have understood if she had seen him--but it was too late; the
shore was far behind her, and her strength was gone.
She looked into the distance, and the old terror flamed up for
an instant, then sank again. Edna heard her father's voice and her
sister Margaret's. She heard the barking of an old dog that was
chained to the sycamore tree. The spurs of the cavalry officer
clanged as he walked across the porch. There was the hum of bees,
and the musky odor of pinks filled the air.
Beyond the Bayou
The bayou curved like a crescent around the point of land on
which La Folle's cabin stood. Between the stream and the hut lay
a big abandoned field, where cattle were pastured when the bayou
supplied them with water enough. Through the woods that spread
back into unknown regions the woman had drawn an imaginary line,
and past this circle she never stepped. This was the form of her
only mania.
She was now a large, gaunt black woman, past thirty-five. Her
real name was Jacqueline, but every one on the plantation called
her La Folle, because in childhood she had been frightened
literally "out of her senses," and had never wholly regained them.
It was when there had been skirmishing and sharpshooting all
day in the woods. Evening was near when P'tit Maitre, black with
powder and crimson with blood, had staggered into the cabin of
Jacqueline's mother, his pursuers close at his heels. The sight
had stunned her childish reason.
She dwelt alone in her solitary cabin, for the rest of the
quarters had long since been removed beyond her sight and
knowledge. She had more physical strength than most men, and made
her patch of cotton and corn and tobacco like the best of them.
But of the world beyond the bayou she had long known nothing,
save what her morbid fancy conceived.
People at Bellissime had grown used to her and her way, and
they thought nothing of it. Even when "Old Mis'" died, they did
not wonder that La Folle had not crossed the bayou, but had stood
upon her side of it, wailing and lamenting.
P'tit Maitre was now the owner of Bellissime. He was a
middle-aged man, with a family of beautiful daughters about him,
and a little son whom La Folle loved as if he had been her own.
She called him Cheri, and so did every one else because she did.
None of the girls had ever been to her what Cheri was. They
had each and all loved to be with her, and to listen to her
wondrous stories of things that always happened "yonda, beyon' de
But none of them had stroked her black hand quite as Cheri
did, nor rested their heads against her knee so confidingly, nor
fallen asleep in her arms as he used to do. For Cheri hardly did
such things now, since he had become the proud possessor of a gun,
and had had his black curls cut off.
That summer--the summer Cheri gave La Folle two black curls
tied with a knot of red ribbon--the water ran so low in the bayou
that even the little children at Bellissime were able to cross it
on foot, and the cattle were sent to pasture down by the river. La
Folle was sorry when they were gone, for she loved these dumb
companions well, and liked to feel that they were there, and to
hear them browsing by night up to her own enclosure.
It was Saturday afternoon, when the fields were deserted. The
men had flocked to a neighboring village to do their week's
trading, and the women were occupied with household affairs,--La
Folle as well as the others. It was then she mended and washed her
handful of clothes, scoured her house, and did her baking.
In this last employment she never forgot Cheri. To-day
she had fashioned croquignoles of the most fantastic and
alluring shapes for him. So when she saw the boy come trudging
across the old field with his gleaming little new rifle on his
shoulder, she called out gayly to him, "Cheri! Cheri!"
But Cheri did not need the summons, for he was coming straight
to her. His pockets all bulged out with almonds and raisins and an
orange that he had secured for her from the very fine dinner which
had been given that day up at his father's house.
He was a sunny-faced youngster of ten. When he had emptied
his pockets, La Folle patted his round red cheek, wiped his soiled
hands on her apron, and smoothed his hair. Then she watched him
as, with his cakes in his hand, he crossed her strip of cotton back
of the cabin, and disappeared into the wood.
He had boasted of the things he was going to do with his gun
out there.
"You think they got plenty deer in the wood, La Folle?" he had
inquired, with the calculating air of an experienced hunter.
"Non, non!" the woman laughed. "Don't you look fo' no deer, Cheri.
Dat's too big. But you bring La Folle one good fat squirrel
fo' her dinner to-morrow, an' she goin' be satisfi'."
"One squirrel ain't a bite. I'll bring you mo' 'an one, La
Folle," he had boasted pompously as he went away.
When the woman, an hour later, heard the report of the boy's
rifle close to the wood's edge, she would have thought nothing of
it if a sharp cry of distress had not followed the sound.
She withdrew her arms from the tub of suds in which they had
been plunged, dried them upon her apron, and as quickly as her
trembling limbs would bear her, hurried to the spot whence the
ominous report had come.
It was as she feared. There she found Cheri stretched upon
the ground, with his rifle beside him. He moaned
"I'm dead, La Folle! I'm dead! I'm gone!"
"Non, non!" she exclaimed resolutely, as she knelt beside
him. "Put you' arm 'roun' La Folle's nake, Cheri. Dat's nuttin';
dat goin' be nuttin'." She lifted him in her powerful arms.
Cheri had carried his gun muzzle-downward. He had
stumbled,--he did not know how. He only knew that he had a ball lodged
somewhere in his leg, and he thought that his end was at hand.
Now, with his head upon the woman's shoulder, he moaned and wept
with pain and fright.
"Oh, La Folle! La Folle! it hurt so bad! I can' stan' it, La Folle!"
"Don't cry, mon bebe, mon bebe, mon Cheri!" the woman
spoke soothingly as she covered the ground with long strides.
"La Folle goin' mine you; Doctor Bonfils goin' come make
mon Cheri well agin."
She had reached the abandoned field. As she crossed it with
her precious burden, she looked constantly and restlessly from side
to side. A terrible fear was upon her, --the fear of the world
beyond the bayou, the morbid and insane dread she had been under
since childhood.
When she was at the bayou's edge she stood there, and shouted
for help as if a life depended upon
"Oh, P'tit Maitre! P'tit Maitre! Venez donc! Au secours! Au secours!"
No voice responded. Cheri's hot tears were scalding her neck.
She called for each and every one upon the place, and still no
answer came.
She shouted, she wailed; but whether her voice remained
unheard or unheeded, no reply came to her frenzied cries. And all
the while Cheri moaned and wept and entreated to be taken home to
his mother.
La Folle gave a last despairing look around her. Extreme
terror was upon her. She clasped the child close against her
breast, where he could feel her heart beat like a muffled hammer.
Then shutting her eyes, she ran suddenly down the shallow bank of
the bayou, and never stopped till she had climbed the opposite
She stood there quivering an instant as she opened her eyes.
Then she plunged into the footpath through the trees.
She spoke no more to Cheri, but muttered constantly, "Bon
Dieu, ayez pitie La Folle! Bon Dieu, ayez pitie moi!"
Instinct seemed to guide her. When the pathway spread clear
and smooth enough before her, she again closed her eyes tightly
against the sight of that unknown and terrifying world.
A child, playing in some weeds, caught sight of her as she
neared the quarters. The little one uttered a cry of dismay.
"La Folle!" she screamed, in her piercing treble. "La Folle
done cross de bayer!"
Quickly the cry passed down the line of cabins.
"Yonda, La Folle done cross de bayou!"
Children, old men, old women, young ones with infants in their
arms, flocked to doors and windows to see this awe-inspiring
spectacle. Most of them shuddered with superstitious dread of what
it might portend. "She totin' Cheri!" some of them shouted.
Some of the more daring gathered about her, and followed at
her heels, only to fall back with new terror when she turned her
distorted face upon them. Her eyes were bloodshot and the saliva
had gathered in a white foam on her black lips.
Some one had run ahead of her to where P'tit Maitre sat with
his family and guests upon the gallery.
"P'tit Maitre! La Folle done cross de bayou! Look her! Look
her yonda totin' Cheri!" This startling intimation was the first
which they had of the woman's approach.
She was now near at hand. She walked with long strides. Her
eyes were fixed desperately before her, and she breathed heavily,
as a tired ox.
At the foot of the stairway, which she could not have mounted,
she laid the boy in his father's arms. Then the world that had
looked red to La Folle suddenly turned black,--like that day she
had seen powder and blood.
She reeled for an instant. Before a sustaining arm could
reach her, she fell heavily to the ground.
When La Folle regained consciousness, she was at home again,
in her own cabin and upon her own bed. The moon rays, streaming in
through the open door and windows, gave what light was needed to
the old black mammy who stood at the table concocting a tisane of
fragrant herbs. It was very late.
Others who had come, and found that the stupor clung to her,
had gone again. P'tit Maitre had been there, and with him Doctor
Bonfils, who said that La Folle might die.
But death had passed her by. The voice was very clear and
steady with which she spoke to Tante Lizette, brewing her tisane
there in a corner.
"Ef you will give me one good drink tisane, Tante Lizette, I
b'lieve I'm goin' sleep, me."
And she did sleep; so soundly, so healthfully, that old
Lizette without compunction stole softly away, to creep back
through the moonlit fields to her own cabin in the new quarters.
The first touch of the cool gray morning awoke La Folle. She
arose, calmly, as if no tempest had shaken and threatened her
existence but yesterday.
She donned her new blue cottonade and white apron, for she
remembered that this was Sunday. When she had made for herself a
cup of strong black coffee, and drunk it with relish, she quitted
the cabin and walked across the old familiar field to the bayou's
edge again.
She did not stop there as she had always done before, but
crossed with a long, steady stride as if she had done this all her
When she had made her way through the brush and scrub
cottonwood-trees that lined the opposite bank, she found herself
upon the border of a field where the white, bursting cotton, with
the dew upon it, gleamed for acres and acres like frosted silver in
the early dawn.
La Folle drew a long, deep breath as she gazed across
the country. She walked slowly and uncertainly, like one who
hardly knows how, looking about her as she went.
The cabins, that yesterday had sent a clamor of voices to
pursue her, were quiet now. No one was yet astir at Bellissime.
Only the birds that darted here and there from hedges were awake,
and singing their matins.
When La Folle came to the broad stretch of velvety lawn that
surrounded the house, she moved slowly and with delight over the
springy turf, that was delicious beneath her tread.
She stopped to find whence came those perfumes that were
assailing her senses with memories from a time far gone.
There they were, stealing up to her from the thousand blue
violets that peeped out from green, luxuriant beds. There they
were, showering down from the big waxen bells of the magnolias far
above her head, and from the jessamine clumps around her.
There were roses, too, without number. To right and left
palms spread in broad and graceful curves. It all looked like
enchantment beneath the sparkling sheen of dew.
When La Folle had slowly and cautiously mounted the many steps
that led up to the veranda, she turned to look back at the perilous
ascent she had made. Then she caught sight of the river, bending
like a silver bow at the foot of Bellissime. Exultation possessed
her soul.
La Folle rapped softly upon a door near at hand. Cheri's
mother soon cautiously opened it. Quickly and cleverly she
dissembled the astonishment she felt at seeing La Folle.
"Ah, La Folle! Is it you, so early?"
"Oui, madame. I come ax how my po' li'le Cheri do, 's mo'nin'."
"He is feeling easier, thank you, La Folle. Dr. Bonfils says
it will be nothing serious. He's sleeping now. Will you come back
when he awakes?"
"Non, madame. I'm goin' wait yair tell Cheri wake
up." La Folle seated herself upon the topmost step of the veranda.
A look of wonder and deep content crept into her face as she
watched for the first time the sun rise upon the new, the beautiful
world beyond the bayou.
Ma'ame Pelagie
When the war began, there stood on Cote Joyeuse an imposing
mansion of red brick, shaped like the Pantheon. A grove of
majestic live-oaks surrounded it.
Thirty years later, only the thick walls were standing, with
the dull red brick showing here and there through a matted growth
of clinging vines. The huge round pillars were intact; so to some
extent was the stone flagging of hall and portico. There had been
no home so stately along the whole stretch of Cote Joyeuse. Every
one knew that, as they knew it had cost Philippe Valmet sixty
thousand dollars to build, away back in 1840. No one was in danger
of forgetting that fact, so long as his daughter Pelagie survived.
She was a queenly, white-haired woman of fifty. "Ma'ame Pelagie,"
they called her, though she was unmarried, as was her sister
Pauline, a child in Ma'ame Pelagie's eyes; a child of thirty-five.
The two lived alone in a three-roomed cabin, almost within the
shadow of the ruin. They lived for a dream, for Ma'ame Pelagie's
dream, which was to rebuild the old home.
It would be pitiful to tell how their days were spent to
accomplish this end; how the dollars had been saved for thirty
years and the picayunes hoarded; and yet, not half enough gathered!
But Ma'ame Pelagie felt sure of twenty years of life before her,
and counted upon as many more for her sister. And what could not
come to pass in twenty--in forty--years?
Often, of pleasant afternoons, the two would drink their black
coffee, seated upon the stone-flagged portico whose canopy was the
blue sky of Louisiana. They loved to sit there in the silence,
with only each other and the sheeny, prying lizards for company,
talking of the old times and planning for the new; while light
breezes stirred the tattered vines high up among the columns, where
owls nested.
"We can never hope to have all just as it was, Pauline,"
Ma'ame Pelagie would say; "perhaps the marble pillars of the salon
will have to be replaced by wooden ones, and the crystal candelabra
left out. Should you be willing, Pauline?"
"Oh, yes Sesoeur, I shall be willing." It was always, "Yes,
Sesoeur," or "No, Sesoeur," "Just as you please, Sesoeur," with
poor little Mam'selle Pauline. For what did she remember of that
old life and that old spendor? Only a faint gleam here and there;
the half-consciousness of a young, uneventful existence; and then
a great crash. That meant the nearness of war; the revolt of
slaves; confusion ending in fire and flame through which she was
borne safely in the strong arms of Pelagie, and carried to the log
cabin which was still their home. Their brother, Leandre, had
known more of it all than Pauline, and not so much as Pelagie. He
had left the management of the big plantation with all its memories
and traditions to his older sister, and had gone away to dwell in
cities. That was many years ago. Now, Leandre's business called
him frequently and upon long journeys from home, and his motherless
daughter was coming to stay with her aunts at Cote Joyeuse.
They talked about it, sipping their coffee on the ruined
portico. Mam'selle Pauline was terribly excited; the flush that
throbbed into her pale, nervous face showed it; and she locked her
thin fingers in and out incessantly.
"But what shall we do with La Petite, Sesoeur? Where shall we
put her? How shall we amuse her? Ah, Seigneur!"
"She will sleep upon a cot in the room next to ours,"
responded Ma'ame Pelagie, "and live as we do. She knows how we
live, and why we live; her father has told her. She knows we have
money and could squander it if we chose. Do not fret, Pauline; let
us hope La Petite is a true Valmet."
Then Ma'ame Pelagie rose with stately deliberation and went to
saddle her horse, for she had yet to make her last daily round
through the fields; and Mam'selle Pauline threaded her way slowly
among the tangled grasses toward the cabin.
The coming of La Petite, bringing with her as she did the
pungent atmosphere of an outside and dimly known world, was a shock
to these two, living their dream-life. The girl was quite as tall
as her aunt Pelagie, with dark eyes that reflected joy as a still
pool reflects the light of stars; and her rounded cheek was tinged
like the pink crepe myrtle. Mam'selle Pauline kissed her and
trembled. Ma'ame Pelagie looked into her eyes with a searching
gaze, which seemed to seek a likeness of the past in the living
And they made room between them for this young life.
La Petite had determined upon trying to fit herself to the
strange, narrow existence which she knew awaited her at Cote
Joyeuse. It went well enough at first. Sometimes she followed
Ma'ame Pelagie into the fields to note how the cotton was opening,
ripe and white; or to count the ears of corn upon the hardy stalks.
But oftener she was with her aunt Pauline, assisting in household
offices, chattering of her brief past, or walking with the older
woman arm-in-arm under the trailing moss of the giant oaks.
Mam'selle Pauline's steps grew very buoyant that summer, and
her eyes were sometimes as bright as a bird's, unless La Petite
were away from her side, when they would lose all other light but
one of uneasy expectancy. The girl seemed to love her well in
return, and called her endearingly Tan'tante. But as the time went
by, La Petite became very quiet,--not listless, but thoughtful, and
slow in her movements. Then her cheeks began to pale, till they
were tinged like the creamy plumes of the white crepe myrtle that
grew in the ruin.
One day when she sat within its shadow, between her aunts,
holding a hand of each, she said: "Tante Pelagie, I must tell you
something, you and Tan'tante." She spoke low, but clearly and firmly.
"I love you both,--please remember that I love you both. But I must go
away from you. I can't live any longer here at Cote Joyeuse. "
A spasm passed through Mam'selle Pauline's delicate frame. La Petite
could feel the twitch of it in the wiry fingers that were intertwined
with her own. Ma'ame Pelagie remained unchanged and motionless.
No human eye could penetrate so deep as to see the satisfaction
which her soul felt. She said: "What do you mean, Petite?
Your father has sent you to us, and I am sure it is his wish that you remain."
"My father loves me, tante Pelagie, and such will not be his
wish when he knows. Oh!" she continued with a restless, movement,
"it is as though a weight were pressing me backward here. I must
live another life; the life I lived before. I want to know things
that are happening from day to day over the world, and hear them
talked about. I want my music, my books, my companions. If I had
known no other life but this one of privation, I suppose it would
be different. If I had to live this life, I should make the best
of it. But I do not have to; and you know, tante Pelagie, you do
not need to. It seems to me," she added in a whisper, "that it is
a sin against myself. Ah, Tan'tante!--what is the matter with
It was nothing; only a slight feeling of faintness, that would
soon pass. She entreated them to take no notice; but they brought
her some water and fanned her with a palmetto leaf.
But that night, in the stillness of the room, Mam'selle
Pauline sobbed and would not be comforted. Ma'ame Pelagie took her
in her arms.
"Pauline, my little sister Pauline," she entreated, "I never
have seen you like this before. Do you no longer love me?
Have we not been happy together, you and I?"
"Oh, yes, Sesoeur."
"Is it because La Petite is going away?"
"Yes, Sesoeur."
"Then she is dearer to you than I!" spoke Ma'ame Pelagie with
sharp resentment. "Than I, who held you and warmed you in my arms
the day you were born; than I, your mother, father, sister,
everything that could cherish you. Pauline, don't tell me that."
Mam'selle Pauline tried to talk through her sobs.
"I can't explain it to you, Sesoeur. I don't understand it
myself. I love you as I have always loved you; next to God. But if
La Petite goes away I shall die. I can't understand,--help me,
Sesoeur. She seems--she seems like a saviour; like one who had
come and taken me by the hand and was leading me
somewhere-somewhere I want to go."
Ma'ame Pelagie had been sitting beside the bed in her peignoir
and slippers. She held the hand of her sister who lay there, and
smoothed down the woman's soft brown hair. She said not a word,
and the silence was broken only by Mam'selle Pauline's continued
sobs. Once Ma'ame Pelagie arose to mix a drink of orange-flower
water, which she gave to her sister, as she would have offered it
to a nervous, fretful child. Almost an hour passed before Ma'ame
Pelagie spoke again. Then she said:--
"Pauline, you must cease that sobbing, now, and sleep. You will
make yourself ill. La Petite will not go away. Do you hear me?
Do you understand? She will stay, I promise you."
Mam'selle Pauline could not clearly comprehend, but she had
great faith in the word of her sister, and soothed by the promise
and the touch of Ma'ame Pelagie's strong, gentle hand, she fell asleep.
Ma'ame Pelagie, when she saw that her sister slept, arose
noiselessly and stepped outside upon the low-roofed narrow gallery.
She did not linger there, but with a step that was hurried and agitated,
she crossed the distance that divided her cabin from the ruin.
The night was not a dark one, for the sky was clear and the
moon resplendent. But light or dark would have made no difference
to Ma'ame Pelagie. It was not the first time she had stolen away
to the ruin at night-time, when the whole plantation slept; but she
never before had been there with a heart so nearly broken. She was
going there for the last time to dream her dreams; to see the
visions that hitherto had crowded her days and nights, and to bid
them farewell.
There was the first of them, awaiting her upon the very
portal; a robust old white-haired man, chiding her for returning
home so late. There are guests to be entertained. Does she not
know it? Guests from the city and from the near plantations. Yes,
she knows it is late. She had been abroad with Felix, and they did
not notice how the time was speeding. Felix is there; he will
explain it all. He is there beside her, but she does not want to
hear what he will tell her father.
Ma'ame Pelagie had sunk upon the bench where she and her
sister so often came to sit. Turning, she gazed in through the
gaping chasm of the window at her side. The interior of the ruin
is ablaze. Not with the moonlight, for that is faint beside the
other one--the sparkle from the crystal candelabra, which negroes,
moving noiselessly and respectfully about, are lighting, one after
the other. How the gleam of them reflects and glances from the
polished marble pillars!
The room holds a number of guests. There is old Monsieur
Lucien Santien, leaning against one of the pillars, and laughing at
something which Monsieur Lafirme is telling him, till his fat
shoulders shake. His son Jules is with him--Jules, who wants to
marry her. She laughs. She wonders if Felix has told her father
yet. There is young Jerome Lafirme playing at checkers upon the
sofa with Leandre. Little Pauline stands annoying them and
disturbing the game. Leandre reproves her. She begins to cry, and
old black Clementine, her nurse, who is not far off, limps across
the room to pick her up and carry her away. How sensitive the
little one is! But she trots about and takes care of herself
better than she did a year or two ago, when she fell upon
the stone hall floor and raised a great "bo-bo" on her forehead.
Pelagie was hurt and angry enough about it; and she ordered rugs
and buffalo robes to be brought and laid thick upon the tiles, till
the little one's steps were surer.
"Il ne faut pas faire mal a Pauline." She was saying it aloud
--"faire mal a Pauline."
But she gazes beyond the salon, back into the big dining hall,
where the white crepe myrtle grows. Ha! how low that bat has
circled. It has struck Ma'ame Pelagie full on the breast. She
does not know it. She is beyond there in the dining hall, where
her father sits with a group of friends over their wine. As usual
they are talking politics. How tiresome! She has heard them say
"la guerre" oftener than once. La guerre. Bah! She and Felix have
something pleasanter to talk about, out under the oaks, or back in
the shadow of the oleanders.
But they were right! The sound of a cannon, shot at Sumter,
has rolled across the Southern States, and its echo is heard along
the whole stretch of Cote Joyeuse.
Yet Pelagie does not believe it. Not till La Ricaneuse stands
before her with bare, black arms akimbo, uttering a volley of vile
abuse and of brazen impudence. Pelagie wants to kill her. But yet
she will not believe. Not till Felix comes to her in the chamber
above the dining hall--there where that trumpet vine hangs--comes
to say good-by to her. The hurt which the big brass buttons of his
new gray uniform pressed into the tender flesh of her bosom has
never left it. She sits upon the sofa, and he beside her, both
speechless with pain. That room would not have been altered. Even
the sofa would have been there in the same spot, and Ma'ame Pelagie
had meant all along, for thirty years, all along, to lie there upon
it some day when the time came to die.
But there is no time to weep, with the enemy at the door. The
door has been no barrier. They are clattering through the halls
now, drinking the wines, shattering the crystal and glass, slashing
the portraits.
One of them stands before her and tells her to leave the
house. She slaps his face. How the stigma stands out red as blood
upon his blanched cheek!
Now there is a roar of fire and the flames are bearing down
upon her motionless figure. She wants to show them how a daughter
of Louisiana can perish before her conquerors. But little Pauline
clings to her knees in an agony of terror. Little Pauline must be
"Il ne faut pas faire mal a Pauline." Again she is saying it
aloud--"faire mal a Pauline."
The night was nearly spent; Ma'ame Pelagie had glided from the
bench upon which she had rested, and for hours lay prone upon the
stone flagging, motionless. When she dragged herself to her feet
it was to walk like one in a dream. About the great, solemn
pillars, one after the other, she reached her arms, and pressed her
cheek and her lips upon the senseless brick.
"Adieu, adieu!" whispered Ma'ame Pelagie.
There was no longer the moon to guide her steps across the
familiar pathway to the cabin. The brightest light in the sky was
Venus, that swung low in the east. The bats had ceased to beat
their wings about the ruin. Even the mocking-bird that had warbled
for hours in the old mulberry-tree had sung himself asleep. That
darkest hour before the day was mantling the earth. Ma'ame Pelagie
hurried through the wet, clinging grass, beating aside the heavy
moss that swept across her face, walking on toward the cabin-toward
Pauline. Not once did she look back upon the ruin that brooded
like a huge monster--a black spot in the darkness that enveloped
Little more than a year later the transformation which the old
Valmet place had undergone was the talk and wonder of Cote Joyeuse.
One would have looked in vain for the ruin; it was no longer there;
neither was the log cabin. But out in the open, where the sun
shone upon it, and the breezes blew about it, was a shapely
structure fashioned from woods that the forests of the State had
furnished. It rested upon a solid foundation of brick.
Upon a corner of the pleasant gallery sat Leandre smoking his
afternoon cigar, and chatting with neighbors who had called. This
was to be his pied a terre now; the home where his sisters and
his daughter dwelt. The laughter of young people was heard out
under the trees, and within the house where La Petite was playing
upon the piano. With the enthusiasm of a young artist she drew
from the keys strains that seemed marvelously beautiful to
Mam'selle Pauline, who stood enraptured near her. Mam'selle
Pauline had been touched by the re-creation of Valmet. Her cheek
was as full and almost as flushed as La Petite's. The years were
falling away from her.
Ma'ame Pelagie had been conversing with her brother and his
friends. Then she turned and walked away; stopping to listen
awhile to the music which La Petite was making. But it was only
for a moment. She went on around the curve of the veranda, where
she found herself alone. She stayed there, erect, holding to the
banister rail and looking out calmly in the distance across the
She was dressed in black, with the white kerchief she always wore
folded across her bosom. Her thick, glossy hair rose like a silver
diadem from her brow. In her deep, dark eyes smouldered the light
of fires that would never flame. She had grown very old.
Years instead of months seemed to have passed over her
since the night she bade farewell to her visions.
Poor Ma'ame Pelagie! How could it be different! While the
outward pressure of a young and joyous existence had forced her
footsteps into the light, her soul had stayed in the shadow of the
Desiree's Baby
As the day was pleasant, Madame Valmonde drove over to L'Abri
to see Desiree and the baby.
It made her laugh to think of Desiree with a baby. Why, it
seemed but yesterday that Desiree was little more than a baby
herself; when Monsieur in riding through the gateway of Valmonde
had found her lying asleep in the shadow of the big stone pillar.
The little one awoke in his arms and began to cry for "Dada."
That was as much as she could do or say. Some people thought she
might have strayed there of her own accord, for she was of the
toddling age. The prevailing belief was that she had been
purposely left by a party of Texans, whose canvas-covered wagon,
late in the day, had crossed the ferry that Coton Mais kept, just
below the plantation. In time Madame Valmonde abandoned every
speculation but the one that Desiree had been sent to her by a
beneficent Providence to be the child of her affection, seeing that
she was without child of the flesh. For the girl grew to be
beautiful and gentle, affectionate and sincere,--the idol of Valmonde.
It was no wonder, when she stood one day against the stone
pillar in whose shadow she had lain asleep, eighteen years before,
that Armand Aubigny riding by and seeing her there, had fallen in
love with her. That was the way all the Aubignys fell in love,
as if struck by a pistol shot. The wonder was that he had not
loved her before; for he had known her since his father brought
him home from Paris, a boy of eight, after his mother died there.
The passion that awoke in him that day, when he saw her at the gate,
swept along like an avalanche, or like a prairie fire, or like
anything that drives headlong over all obstacles.
Monsieur Valmonde grew practical and wanted things well considered:
that is, the girl's obscure origin. Armand looked into her eyes
and did not care. He was reminded that she was nameless.
What did it matter about a name when he could give her one of the
oldest and proudest in Louisiana? He ordered the corbeille from
Paris, and contained himself with what patience he could until it
arrived; then they were married.
Madame Valmonde had not seen Desiree and the baby for four
weeks. When she reached L'Abri she shuddered at the first sight of
it, as she always did. It was a sad looking place, which for many
years had not known the gentle presence of a mistress, old Monsieur
Aubigny having married and buried his wife in France, and she
having loved her own land too well ever to leave it. The roof came
down steep and black like a cowl, reaching out beyond the wide
galleries that encircled the yellow stuccoed house. Big, solemn
oaks grew close to it, and their thick-leaved, far-reaching
branches shadowed it like a pall. Young Aubigny's rule was a
strict one, too, and under it his negroes had forgotten how to be
gay, as they had been during the old master's easy-going and
indulgent lifetime.
The young mother was recovering slowly, and lay full length,
in her soft white muslins and laces, upon a couch. The baby was
beside her, upon her arm, where he had fallen asleep, at her
breast. The yellow nurse woman sat beside a window fanning
Madame Valmonde bent her portly figure over Desiree and kissed
her, holding her an instant tenderly in her arms. Then she turned
to the child.
"This is not the baby!" she exclaimed, in startled tones.
French was the language spoken at Valmonde in those days.
"I knew you would be astonished," laughed Desiree, "at the way
he has grown. The little cochon de lait! Look at his legs,
mamma, and his hands and fingernails,--real finger-nails. Zandrine
had to cut them this morning. Isn't it true, Zandrine?"
The woman bowed her turbaned head majestically, "Mais si, Madame."
"And the way he cries," went on Desiree, "is deafening.
Armand heard him the other day as far away as La Blanche's cabin."
Madame Valmonde had never removed her eyes from the child.
She lifted it and walked with it over to the window that was
lightest. She scanned the baby narrowly, then looked as
searchingly at Zandrine, whose face was turned to gaze across the
"Yes, the child has grown, has changed," said Madame Valmonde,
slowly, as she replaced it beside its mother. "What does Armand say?"
Desiree's face became suffused with a glow that was happiness itself.
"Oh, Armand is the proudest father in the parish, I believe,
chiefly because it is a boy, to bear his name; though he says
not,--that he would have loved a girl as well. But I know it isn't
true. I know he says that to please me. And mamma," she added,
drawing Madame Valmonde's head down to her, and speaking in a
whisper, "he hasn't punished one of them--not one of them--since
baby is born. Even Negrillon, who pretended to have burnt his leg
that he might rest from work--he only laughed, and said Negrillon
was a great scamp. oh, mamma, I'm so happy; it frightens me."
What Desiree said was true. Marriage, and later the birth of
his son had softened Armand Aubigny's imperious and exacting nature
greatly. This was what made the gentle Desiree so happy, for she
loved him desperately. When he frowned she trembled, but loved
him. When he smiled, she asked no greater blessing of God.
But Armand's dark, handsome face had not often been disfigured
by frowns since the day he fell in love with her.
When the baby was about three months old, Desiree awoke one
day to the conviction that there was something in the air menacing
her peace. It was at first too subtle to grasp. It had only been
a disquieting suggestion; an air of mystery among the blacks;
unexpected visits from far-off neighbors who could hardly account
for their coming. Then a strange, an awful change in her husband's
manner, which she dared not ask him to explain. When he spoke to
her, it was with averted eyes, from which the old love-light seemed
to have gone out. He absented himself from home; and when there,
avoided her presence and that of her child, without excuse. And
the very spirit of Satan seemed suddenly to take hold of him in his
dealings with the slaves. Desiree was miserable enough to die.
She sat in her room, one hot afternoon, in her peignoir,
listlessly drawing through her fingers the strands of her long,
silky brown hair that hung about her shoulders. The baby, half
naked, lay asleep upon her own great mahogany bed, that was like a
sumptuous throne, with its satin-lined half-canopy. One of La
Blanche's little quadroon boys--half naked too--stood fanning the
child slowly with a fan of peacock feathers. Desiree's eyes had
been fixed absently and sadly upon the baby, while she was striving
to penetrate the threatening mist that she felt closing about her.
She looked from her child to the boy who stood beside him, and back
again; over and over. "Ah!" It was a cry that she could not help;
which she was not conscious of having uttered. The blood turned
like ice in her veins, and a clammy moisture gathered upon her face.
She tried to speak to the little quadroon boy; but no sound
would come, at first. When he heard his name uttered, he looked
up, and his mistress was pointing to the door. He laid aside the
great, soft fan, and obediently stole away, over the polished
floor, on his bare tiptoes.
She stayed motionless, with gaze riveted upon her child, and
her face the picture of fright.
Presently her husband entered the room, and without noticing
her, went to a table and began to search among some papers which
covered it.
"Armand," she called to him, in a voice which must have
stabbed him, if he was human. But he did not notice. "Armand,"
she said again. Then she rose and tottered towards him. "Armand,"
she panted once more, clutching his arm, "look at our child. What
does it mean? tell me."
He coldly but gently loosened her fingers from about his arm
and thrust the hand away from him. "Tell me what it means!"
she cried despairingly.
"It means," he answered lightly, "that the child is not white;
it means that you are not white."
A quick conception of all that this accusation meant for her
nerved her with unwonted courage to deny it. "It is a lie; it is
not true, I am white! Look at my hair, it is brown; and my eyes
are gray, Armand, you know they are gray. And my skin is fair,"
seizing his wrist. "Look at my hand; whiter than yours, Armand,"
she laughed hysterically.
"As white as La Blanche's," he returned cruelly; and went away
leaving her alone with their child.
When she could hold a pen in her hand, she sent a despairing
letter to Madame Valmonde.
"My mother, they tell me I am not white. Armand has told me
I am not white. For God's sake tell them it is not true. You must
know it is not true. I shall die. I must die. I cannot be so
unhappy, and live."
The answer that came was brief:
"My own Desiree: Come home to Valmonde; back to your mother
who loves you. Come with your child."
When the letter reached Desiree she went with it to her
husband's study, and laid it open upon the desk before which he
sat. She was like a stone image: silent, white, motionless after
she placed it there.
In silence he ran his cold eyes over the written words.
He said nothing. "Shall I go, Armand?" she asked in tones sharp
with agonized suspense.
"Yes, go."
"Do you want me to go?"
"Yes, I want you to go."
He thought Almighty God had dealt cruelly and unjustly with
him; and felt, somehow, that he was paying Him back in kind when he
stabbed thus into his wife's soul. Moreover he no longer loved
her, because of the unconscious injury she had brought upon his
home and his name.
She turned away like one stunned by a blow, and walked slowly
towards the door, hoping he would call her back.
"Good-by, Armand," she moaned.
He did not answer her. That was his last blow at fate.
Desiree went in search of her child. Zandrine was pacing the
sombre gallery with it. She took the little one from the nurse's
arms with no word of explanation, and descending the steps, walked
away, under the live-oak branches.
It was an October afternoon; the sun was just sinking. Out in
the still fields the negroes were picking cotton.
Desiree had not changed the thin white garment nor the
slippers which she wore. Her hair was uncovered and the sun's rays
brought a golden gleam from its brown meshes. She did not take the
broad, beaten road which led to the far-off plantation of Valmonde.
She walked across a deserted field, where the stubble bruised her
tender feet, so delicately shod, and tore her thin gown to shreds.
She disappeared among the reeds and willows that grew thick
along the banks of the deep, sluggish bayou; and she did not come
back again.
Some weeks later there was a curious scene enacted at L'Abri.
In the centre of the smoothly swept back yard was a great bonfire.
Armand Aubigny sat in the wide hallway that commanded a view of the
spectacle; and it was he who dealt out to a half dozen negroes the
material which kept this fire ablaze.
A graceful cradle of willow, with all its dainty furbishings,
was laid upon the pyre, which had already been fed with the
richness of a priceless layette. Then there were silk gowns,
and velvet and satin ones added to these; laces, too, and
embroideries; bonnets and gloves; for the corbeille had been of
rare quality.
The last thing to go was a tiny bundle of letters; innocent
little scribblings that Desiree had sent to him during the days of
their espousal. There was the remnant of one back in the drawer
from which he took them. But it was not Desiree's; it was part of
an old letter from his mother to his father. He read it. She was
thanking God for the blessing of her husband's love:--
"But above all," she wrote, "night and day, I thank the good
God for having so arranged our lives that our dear Armand will
never know that his mother, who adores him, belongs to the race
that is cursed with the brand of slavery."
A Respectable Woman
Mrs. Baroda was a little provoked to learn that her husband
expected his friend, Gouvernail, up to spend a week or two on the
They had entertained a good deal during the winter; much of
the time had also been passed in New Orleans in various forms of
mild dissipation. She was looking forward to a period of unbroken
rest, now, and undisturbed tete-a-tete with her husband, when he
informed her that Gouvernail was coming up to stay a week or two.
This was a man she had heard much of but never seen. He had
been her husband's college friend; was now a journalist, and in no
sense a society man or "a man about town," which were, perhaps,
some of the reasons she had never met him. But she had
unconsciously formed an image of him in her mind. She pictured him
tall, slim, cynical; with eye-glasses, and his hands in his
pockets; and she did not like him. Gouvernail was slim enough, but
he wasn't very tall nor very cynical; neither did he wear
eyeglasses nor carry his hands in his pockets. And she rather liked
him when he first presented himself.
But why she liked him she could not explain satisfactorily to
herself when she partly attempted to do so. She could discover in
him none of those brilliant and promising traits which Gaston, her
husband, had often assured her that he possessed. On the contrary,
he sat rather mute and receptive before her chatty eagerness to
make him feel at home and in face of Gaston's frank and wordy hospitality.
His manner was as courteous toward her as the most exacting woman
could require; but he made no direct appeal to her approval or even esteem.
Once settled at the plantation he seemed to like to sit upon
the wide portico in the shade of one of the big Corinthian pillars,
smoking his cigar lazily and listening attentively to Gaston's
experience as a sugar planter.
"This is what I call living," he would utter with deep
satisfaction, as the air that swept across the sugar field caressed
him with its warm and scented velvety touch. It pleased him also
to get on familiar terms with the big dogs that came about him,
rubbing themselves sociably against his legs. He did not care to
fish, and displayed no eagerness to go out and kill grosbecs when
Gaston proposed doing so.
Gouvernail's personality puzzled Mrs. Baroda, but she liked
him. Indeed, he was a lovable, inoffensive fellow. After a few
days, when she could understand him no better than at first, she
gave over being puzzled and remained piqued. In this mood she left
her husband and her guest, for the most part, alone together. Then
finding that Gouvernail took no manner of exception to her action,
she imposed her society upon him, accompanying him in his idle
strolls to the mill and walks along the batture. She persistently
sought to penetrate the reserve in which he had unconsciously
enveloped himself.
"When is he going--your friend?" she one day asked her
husband. "For my part, he tires me frightfully."
"Not for a week yet, dear. I can't understand; he gives you
no trouble."
"No. I should like him better if he did; if he were more like
others, and I had to plan somewhat for his comfort and enjoyment."
Gaston took his wife's pretty face between his hands and
looked tenderly and laughingly into her troubled eyes.
They were making a bit of toilet sociably together in Mrs. Baroda's
"You are full of surprises, ma belle," he said to her. "Even
I can never count upon how you are going to act under given
conditions." He kissed her and turned to fasten his cravat before
the mirror.
"Here you are," he went on, "taking poor Gouvernail seriously
and making a commotion over him, the last thing he would desire or
"Commotion!" she hotly resented. "Nonsense! How can you say
such a thing? Commotion, indeed! But, you know, you said he was clever."
"So he is. But the poor fellow is run down by overwork now.
That's why I asked him here to take a rest."
"You used to say he was a man of ideas," she retorted,
unconciliated. "I expected him to be interesting, at least. I'm
going to the city in the morning to have my spring gowns fitted.
Let me know when Mr. Gouvernail is gone; I shall be at my Aunt
That night she went and sat alone upon a bench that stood
beneath a live oak tree at the edge of the gravel walk.
She had never known her thoughts or her intentions to be so
confused. She could gather nothing from them but the feeling of a
distinct necessity to quit her home in the morning.
Mrs. Baroda heard footsteps crunching the gravel; but could
discern in the darkness only the approaching red point of a lighted
cigar. She knew it was Gouvernail, for her husband did not smoke.
She hoped to remain unnoticed, but her white gown revealed her to
him. He threw away his cigar and seated himself upon the bench
beside her; without a suspicion that she might object to his
"Your husband told me to bring this to you, Mrs. Baroda," he
said, handing her a filmy, white scarf with which she sometimes
enveloped her head and shoulders. She accepted the scarf from him
with a murmur of thanks, and let it lie in her lap.
He made some commonplace observation upon the baneful effect
of the night air at the season. Then as his gaze reached out into
the darkness, he murmured, half to himself:
"`Night of south winds--night of the large few stars!
Still nodding night--'"
She made no reply to this apostrophe to the night, which,
indeed, was not addressed to her.
Gouvernail was in no sense a diffident man, for he was not a
self-conscious one. His periods of reserve were not
constitutional, but the result of moods. Sitting there beside Mrs.
Baroda, his silence melted for the time.
He talked freely and intimately in a low, hesitating drawl
that was not unpleasant to hear. He talked of the old college days
when he and Gaston had been a good deal to each other; of the days
of keen and blind ambitions and large intentions. Now there was
left with him, at least, a philosophic acquiescence to the existing
order--only a desire to be permitted to exist, with now and then a
little whiff of genuine life, such as he was breathing now.
Her mind only vaguely grasped what he was saying. Her
physical being was for the moment predominant. She was not
thinking of his words, only drinking in the tones of his voice.
She wanted to reach out her hand in the darkness and touch him with
the sensitive tips of her fingers upon the face or the lips. She
wanted to draw close to him and whisper against his cheek--she did
not care what--as she might have done if she had not been a
respectable woman.
The stronger the impulse grew to bring herself near him, the
further, in fact, did she draw away from him. As soon as she could
do so without an appearance of too great rudeness, she rose and
left him there alone.
Before she reached the house, Gouvernail had lighted a fresh
cigar and ended his apostrophe to the night.
Mrs. Baroda was greatly tempted that night to tell her
husband--who was also her friend--of this folly that had
seized her. But she did not yield to the temptation. Beside being
a respectable woman she was a very sensible one; and she knew there
are some battles in life which a human being must fight alone.
When Gaston arose in the morning, his wife had already
departed. She had taken an early morning train to the city. She
did not return till Gouvernail was gone from under her roof.
There was some talk of having him back during the summer that
followed. That is, Gaston greatly desired it; but this desire
yielded to his wife's strenuous opposition.
However, before the year ended, she proposed, wholly from
herself, to have Gouvernail visit them again. Her husband was
surprised and delighted with the suggestion coming from her.
"I am glad, chere amie, to know that you have finally overcome
your dislike for him; truly he did not deserve it."
"Oh," she told him, laughingly, after pressing a long, tender
kiss upon his lips, "I have overcome everything! you will see.
This time I shall be very nice to him."
The Kiss
It was still quite light out of doors, but inside with the
curtains drawn and the smouldering fire sending out a dim,
uncertain glow, the room was full of deep shadows.
Brantain sat in one of these shadows; it had overtaken him and
he did not mind. The obscurity lent him courage to keep his eves
fastened as ardently as he liked upon the girl who sat in the
She was very handsome, with a certain fine, rich coloring that
belongs to the healthy brune type. She was quite composed, as she
idly stroked the satiny coat of the cat that lay curled in her lap,
and she occasionally sent a slow glance into the shadow where her
companion sat. They were talking low, of indifferent things which
plainly were not the things that occupied their thoughts. She knew
that he loved her--a frank, blustering fellow without guile enough
to conceal his feelings, and no desire to do so. For two weeks past
he had sought her society eagerly and persistently. She was
confidently waiting for him to declare himself and she meant to
accept him. The rather insignificant and unattractive Brantain was
enormously rich; and she liked and required the entourage which
wealth could give her.
During one of the pauses between their talk of the last tea
and the next reception the door opened and a young man
entered whom Brantain knew quite well. The girl turned her
face toward him. A stride or two brought him to her side, and
bending over her chair--before she could suspect his intention,
for she did not realize that he had not seen her visitor--he pressed
an ardent, lingering kiss upon her lips.
Brantain slowly arose; so did the girl arise, but quickly, and
the newcomer stood between them, a little amusement and some
defiance struggling with the confusion in his face.
"I believe," stammered Brantain, "I see that I have stayed too long.
I--I had no idea--that is, I must wish you good-by." He was clutching
his hat with both hands, and probably did not perceive that she was
extending her hand to him, her presence of mind had not completely
deserted her; but she could not have trusted herself to speak.
"Hang me if I saw him sitting there, Nattie! I know it's
deuced awkward for you. But I hope you'll forgive me this
once--this very first break. Why, what's the matter?"
"Don't touch me; don't come near me," she returned angrily.
"What do you mean by entering the house without ringing?"
"I came in with your brother, as I often do," he answered
coldly, in self-justification. "We came in the side way. He went
upstairs and I came in here hoping to find you. The explanation is
simple enough and ought to satisfy you that the misadventure was
unavoidable. But do say that you forgive me, Nathalie," he
entreated, softening.
"Forgive you! You don't know what you are talking about. Let
me pass. It depends upon--a good deal whether I ever forgive you."
At that next reception which she and Brantain had been talking
about she approached the young man with a delicious frankness of
manner when she saw him there.
"Will you let me speak to you a moment or two, Mr. Brantain?"
she asked with an engaging but perturbed smile. He seemed
extremely unhappy; but when she took his arm and walked
away with him, seeking a retired corner, a ray of hope
mingled with the almost comical misery of his expression.
She was apparently very outspoken.
"Perhaps I should not have sought this interview, Mr.
Brantain; but--but, oh, I have been very uncomfortable, almost
miserable since that little encounter the other afternoon. When I
thought how you might have misinterpreted it, and believed things"
--hope was plainly gaining the ascendancy over misery in Brantain's
round, guileless face--"Of course, I know it is nothing to you, but
for my own sake I do want you to understand that Mr. Harvy is an
intimate friend of long standing. Why, we have always been like
cousins--like brother and sister, I may say. He is my brother's
most intimate associate and often fancies that he is entitled to
the same privileges as the family. Oh, I know it is absurd,
uncalled for, to tell you this; undignified even," she was almost
weeping, "but it makes so much difference to me what you think
of--of me." Her voice had grown very low and agitated. The misery had
all disappeared from Brantain's face.
"Then you do really care what I think, Miss Nathalie? May I
call you Miss Nathalie?" They turned into a long, dim corridor that
was lined on either side with tall, graceful plants. They walked
slowly to the very end of it. When they turned to retrace their
steps Brantain's face was radiant and hers was triumphant.
Harvy was among the guests at the wedding; and he sought her
out in a rare moment when she stood alone.
"Your husband," he said, smiling, "has sent me over to kiss
you. "
A quick blush suffused her face and round polished throat. "I
suppose it's natural for a man to feel and act generously on an
occasion of this kind. He tells me he doesn't want his marriage to
interrupt wholly that pleasant intimacy which has existed between
you and me. I don't know what you've been telling him," with an
insolent smile, "but he has sent me here to kiss you."
She felt like a chess player who, by the clever handling of
his pieces, sees the game taking the course intended. Her eyes
were bright and tender with a smile as they glanced up into his;
and her lips looked hungry for the kiss which they invited.
"But, you know," he went on quietly, "I didn't tell him
so, it would have seemed ungrateful, but I can tell you. I've
stopped kissing women; it's dangerous."
Well, she had Brantain and his million left. A person can't
have everything in this world; and it was a little unreasonable of
her to expect it.
A Pair of Silk Stockings
Little Mrs. Sommers one day found herself the unexpected
possessor of fifteen dollars. It seemed to her a very large amount
of money, and the way in which it stuffed and bulged her worn old
porte-monnaie gave her a feeling of importance such as she had
not enjoyed for years.
The question of investment was one that occupied her greatly.
For a day or two she walked about apparently in a dreamy state, but
really absorbed in speculation and calculation. She did not wish
to act hastily, to do anything she might afterward regret. But it
was during the still hours of the night when she lay awake
revolving plans in her mind that she seemed to see her way clearly
toward a proper and judicious use of the money.
A dollar or two should be added to the price usually paid for
Janie's shoes, which would insure their lasting an appreciable time
longer than they usually did. She would buy so and so many yards
of percale for new shirt waists for the boys and Janie and Mag.
She had intended to make the old ones do by skilful patching. Mag
should have another gown. She had seen some beautiful patterns,
veritable bargains in the shop windows. And still there would be
left enough for new stockings--two pairs apiece--and what darning
that would save for a while! She would get caps for the boys and
sailor-hats for the girls. The vision of her little brood
looking fresh and dainty and new for once in their lives
excited her and made her restless and wakeful with anticipation.
The neighbors sometimes talked of certain "better days" that
little Mrs. Sommers had known before she had ever thought of being
Mrs. Sommers. She herself indulged in no such morbid
retrospection. She had no time--no second of time to devote to the
past. The needs of the present absorbed her every faculty. A
vision of the future like some dim, gaunt monster sometimes
appalled her, but luckily to-morrow never comes.
Mrs. Sommers was one who knew the value of bargains; who could
stand for hours making her way inch by inch toward the desired
object that was selling below cost. She could elbow her way if
need be; she had learned to clutch a piece of goods and hold it and
stick to it with persistence and determination till her turn came
to be served, no matter when it came.
But that day she was a little faint and tired. She had
swallowed a light luncheon--no! when she came to think of it,
between getting the children fed and the place righted, and
preparing herself for the shopping bout, she had actually forgotten
to eat any luncheon at all!
She sat herself upon a revolving stool before a counter that
was comparatively deserted, trying to gather strength and courage
to charge through an eager multitude that was besieging
breastworks of shirting and figured lawn. An all-gone limp feeling had
come over her and she rested her hand aimlessly upon the counter.
She wore no gloves. By degrees she grew aware that her hand had
encountered something very soothing, very pleasant to touch. She
looked down to see that her hand lay upon a pile of silk stockings.
A placard near by announced that they had been reduced in price
from two dollars and fifty cents to one dollar and ninety-eight
cents; and a young girl who stood behind the counter asked her if
she wished to examine their line of silk hosiery. She smiled,
just as if she had been asked to inspect a tiara of diamonds
with the ultimate view of purchasing it. But she went on
feeling the soft, sheeny luxurious things--with both hands now,
holding them up to see them glisten, and to feel them glide
serpent-like through her fingers.
Two hectic blotches came suddenly into her pale cheeks. She
looked up at the girl.
"Do you think there are any eights-and-a-half among these?"
There were any number of eights-and-a-half. In fact, there
were more of that size than any other. Here was a light-blue pair;
there were some lavender, some all black and various shades of tan
and gray. Mrs. Sommers selected a black pair and looked at them
very long and closely. She pretended to be examining their
texture, which the clerk assured her was excellent.
"A dollar and ninety-eight cents," she mused aloud. "Well,
I'll take this pair." She handed the girl a five-dollar bill and
waited for her change and for her parcel. What a very small parcel
it was! It seemed lost in the depths of her shabby old shopping-bag.
Mrs. Sommers after that did not move in the direction of the
bargain counter. She took the elevator, which carried her to an
upper floor into the region of the ladies' waiting-rooms. Here, in
a retired corner, she exchanged her cotton stockings for the new
silk ones which she had just bought. She was not going through any
acute mental process or reasoning with herself, nor was she
striving to explain to her satisfaction the motive of her action.
She was not thinking at all. She seemed for the time to be taking
a rest from that laborious and fatiguing function and to have
abandoned herself to some mechanical impulse that directed her
actions and freed her of responsibility.
How good was the touch of the raw silk to her flesh! She felt
like lying back in the cushioned chair and reveling for a while in
the luxury of it. She did for a little while. Then she replaced
her shoes, rolled the cotton stockings together and thrust them
into her bag. After doing this she crossed straight over to the
shoe department and took her seat to be fitted.
She was fastidious. The clerk could not make her out; he
could not reconcile her shoes with her stockings, and she was not
too easily pleased. She held back her skirts and turned her feet
one way and her head another way as she glanced down at the
polished, pointed-tipped boots. Her foot and ankle looked very
pretty. She could not realize that they belonged to her and were
a part of herself. She wanted an excellent and stylish fit, she
told the young fellow who served her, and she did not mind the
difference of a dollar or two more in the price so long as she got
what she desired.
It was a long time since Mrs. Sommers had been fitted with
gloves. On rare occasions when she had bought a pair they were
always "bargains," so cheap that it would have been preposterous
and unreasonable to have expected them to be fitted to the hand.
Now she rested her elbow on the cushion of the glove counter,
and a pretty, pleasant young creature, delicate and deft of touch,
drew a long-wristed "kid" over Mrs. Sommers's hand. She smoothed
it down over the wrist and buttoned it neatly, and both lost
themselves for a second or two in admiring contemplation of the
little symmetrical gloved hand. But there were other places where
money might be spent.
There were books and magazines piled up in the window of a
stall a few paces down the street. Mrs. Sommers bought two
high-priced magazines such as she had been accustomed to read in the
days when she had been accustomed to other pleasant things. She
carried them without wrapping. As well as she could she lifted her
skirts at the crossings. Her stockings and boots and well fitting
gloves had worked marvels in her bearing--had given her a feeling
of assurance, a sense of belonging to the well-dressed multitude.
She was very hungry. Another time she would have stilled the
cravings for food until reaching her own home, where she would have
brewed herself a cup of tea and taken a snack of anything that was
available. But the impulse that was guiding her would not suffer her
to entertain any such thought.
There was a restaurant at the corner. She had never entered
its doors; from the outside she had sometimes caught glimpses of
spotless damask and shining crystal, and soft-stepping waiters
serving people of fashion.
When she entered her appearance created no surprise, no
consternation, as she had half feared it might. She seated herself
at a small table alone, and an attentive waiter at once approached
to take her order. She did not want a profusion; she craved a nice
and tasty bite--a half dozen blue-points, a plump chop with cress,
a something sweet--a creme-frappee, for instance; a glass of Rhine
wine, and after all a small cup of black coffee.
While waiting to be served she removed her gloves very
leisurely and laid them beside her. Then she picked up a magazine
and glanced through it, cutting the pages with a blunt edge of her
knife. It was all very agreeable. The damask was even more
spotless than it had seemed through the window, and the crystal
more sparkling. There were quiet ladies and gentlemen, who did not
notice her, lunching at the small tables like her own. A soft,
pleasing strain of music could be heard, and a gentle breeze, was
blowing through the window. She tasted a bite, and she read a word
or two, and she sipped the amber wine and wiggled her toes in the
silk stockings. The price of it made no difference. She counted
the money out to the waiter and left an extra coin on his tray,
whereupon he bowed before her as before a princess of royal blood.
There was still money in her purse, and her next temptation
presented itself in the shape of a matinee poster.
It was a little later when she entered the theatre, the play
had begun and the house seemed to her to be packed. But there were
vacant seats here and there, and into one of them she was ushered,
between brilliantly dressed women who had gone there to kill time
and eat candy and display their gaudy attire. There were many
others who were there solely for the play and acting. It is safe
to say there was no one present who bore quite the attitude which Mrs.
Sommers did to her surroundings. She gathered in the whole--stage
and players and people in one wide impression, and absorbed it and
enjoyed it. She laughed at the comedy and wept--she and the gaudy
woman next to her wept over the tragedy. And they talked a little
together over it. And the gaudy woman wiped her eyes and sniffled
on a tiny square of filmy, perfumed lace and passed little Mrs.
Sommers her box of candy.
The play was over, the music ceased, the crowd filed out. It
was like a dream ended. People scattered in all directions. Mrs.
Sommers went to the corner and waited for the cable car.
A man with keen eyes, who sat opposite to her, seemed to like
the study of her small, pale face. It puzzled him to decipher what
he saw there. In truth, he saw nothing-unless he were wizard
enough to detect a poignant wish, a powerful longing that the cable
car would never stop anywhere, but go on and on with her forever.
The Locket
One night in autumn a few men were gathered about a fire on
the slope of a hill. They belonged to a small detachment of
Confederate forces and were awaiting orders to march. Their gray
uniforms were worn beyond the point of shabbiness. One of the men
was heating something in a tin cup over the embers. Two were lying
at full length a little distance away, while a fourth was trying to
decipher a letter and had drawn close to the light. He had
unfastened his collar and a good bit of his flannel shirt front.
"What's that you got around your neck, Ned?" asked one of the
men lying in the obscurity.
Ned--or Edmond--mechanically fastened another button of his
shirt and did not reply. He went on reading his letter.
"Is it your sweet heart's picture?"
"`Taint no gal's picture," offered the man at the fire. He
had removed his tin cup and was engaged in stirring its grimy
contents with a small stick. "That's a charm; some kind of hoodoo
business that one o' them priests gave him to keep him out o'
trouble. I know them Cath'lics. That's how come Frenchy got
permoted an never got a scratch sence he's been in the ranks. Hey,
French! aint I right?" Edmond looked up absently from his letter.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Aint that a charm you got round your neck?"
"It must be, Nick," returned Edmond with a smile. "I don't know
how I could have gone through this year and a half without it."
The letter had made Edmond heart sick and home sick. He
stretched himself on his back and looked straight up at the
blinking stars. But he was not thinking of them nor of anything
but a certain spring day when the bees were humming in the
clematis; when a girl was saying good bye to him. He could see her
as she unclasped from her neck the locket which she fastened about
his own. It was an old fashioned golden locket bearing miniatures
of her father and mother with their names and the date of their
marriage. It was her most precious earthly possession. Edmond
could feel again the folds of the girl's soft white gown, and see
the droop of the angel-sleeves as she circled her fair arms about
his neck. Her sweet face, appealing, pathetic, tormented by the
pain of parting, appeared before him as vividly as life. He turned
over, burying his face in his arm and there he lay, still and
The profound and treacherous night with its silence and
semblance of peace settled upon the camp. He dreamed that the fair
Octavie brought him a letter. He had no chair to offer her and was
pained and embarrassed at the condition of his garments. He was
ashamed of the poor food which comprised the dinner at which he
begged her to join them.
He dreamt of a serpent coiling around his throat, and when he
strove to grasp it the slimy thing glided away from his clutch.
Then his dream was clamor.
"Git your duds! you! Frenchy!" Nick was bellowing in his face.
There was what appeared to be a scramble and a rush rather than
any regulated movement. The hill side was alive with clatter
and motion; with sudden up-springing lights among the pines.
In the east the dawn was unfolding out of the darkness.
Its glimmer was yet dim in the plain below.
"What's it all about?" wondered a big black bird perched in
the top of the tallest tree. He was an old solitary and a wise
one, yet he was not wise enough to guess what it was all about.
So all day long he kept blinking and wondering.
The noise reached far out over the plain and across the hills
and awoke the little babes that were sleeping in their cradles.
The smoke curled up toward the sun and shadowed the plain so that
the stupid birds thought it was going to rain; but the wise one
knew better.
"They are children playing a game," thought he. "I shall know
more about it if I watch long enough."
At the approach of night they had all vanished away with their
din and smoke. Then the old bird plumed his feathers. At last he
had understood! With a flap of his great, black wings he shot
downward, circling toward the plain.
A man was picking his way across the plain. He was dressed in
the garb of a clergyman. His mission was to administer the
consolations of religion to any of the prostrate figures in whom
there might yet linger a spark of life. A negro accompanied him,
bearing a bucket of water and a flask of wine.
There were no wounded here; they had been borne away. But the
retreat had been hurried and the vultures and the good Samaritans
would have to look to the dead.
There was a soldier--a mere boy--lying with his face to the
sky. His hands were clutching the sward on either side and his
finger nails were stuffed with earth and bits of grass that he had
gathered in his despairing grasp upon life. His musket was gone;
he was hatless and his face and clothing were begrimed. Around his
neck hung a gold chain and locket. The priest, bending over him,
unclasped the chain and removed it from the dead soldier's neck.
He had grown used to the terrors of war and could face them
unflinchingly; but its pathos, someway, always brought the tears
to his old, dim eyes.
The angelus was ringing half a mile away. The priest and the
negro knelt and murmured together the evening benediction and a
prayer for the dead.
The peace and beauty of a spring day had descended upon the
earth like a benediction. Along the leafy road which skirted a
narrow, tortuous stream in central Louisiana, rumbled an old
fashioned cabriolet, much the worse for hard and rough usage over
country roads and lanes. The fat, black horses went in a slow,
measured trot, notwithstanding constant urging on the part of the
fat, black coachman. Within the vehicle were seated the fair
Octavie and her old friend and neighbor, Judge Pillier, who had
come to take her for a morning drive.
Octavie wore a plain black dress, severe in its simplicity. A
narrow belt held it at the waist and the sleeves were gathered into
close fitting wristbands. She had discarded her hoopskirt and
appeared not unlike a nun. Beneath the folds of her bodice nestled
the old locket. She never displayed it now. It had returned to
her sanctified in her eyes; made precious as material things
sometimes are by being forever identified with a significant moment
of one's existence.
A hundred times she had read over the letter with which the
locket had come back to her. No later than that morning she had
again pored over it. As she sat beside the window, smoothing the
letter out upon her knee, heavy and spiced odors stole in to her
with the songs of birds and the humming of insects in the air.
She was so young and the world was so beautiful that there
came over her a sense of unreality as she read again and again the
priest's letter. He told of that autumn day drawing to its close,
with the gold and the red fading out of the west, and the night
gathering its shadows to cover the faces of the dead. Oh! She
could not believe that one of those dead was her own! with visage
uplifted to the gray sky in an agony of supplication. A spasm of
resistance and rebellion seized and swept over her. Why was the
spring here with its flowers and its seductive breath if he was
dead! Why was she here! What further had she to do with life and
the living!
Octavie had experienced many such moments of despair, but a
blessed resignation had never failed to follow, and it fell then
upon her like a mantle and enveloped her.
"I shall grow old and quiet and sad like poor Aunt Tavie," she
murmured to herself as she folded the letter and replaced it in the
secretary. Already she gave herself a little demure air like her
Aunt Tavie. She walked with a slow glide in unconscious imitation
of Mademoiselle Tavie whom some youthful affliction had robbed of
earthly compensation while leaving her in possession of youth's
As she sat in the old cabriolet beside the father of her dead
lover, again there came to Octavie the terrible sense of loss which
had assailed her so often before. The soul of her youth clamored
for its rights; for a share in the world's glory and exultation.
She leaned back and drew her veil a little closer about her face.
It was an old black veil of her Aunt Tavie's. A whiff of dust from
the road had blown in and she wiped her cheeks and her eyes with
her soft, white handkerchief, a homemade handkerchief, fabricated
from one of her old fine muslin petticoats.
"Will you do me the favor, Octavie," requested the judge in
the courteous tone which he never abandoned, "to remove that veil
which you wear. It seems out of harmony, someway, with the beauty
and promise of the day."
The young girl obediently yielded to her old companion's wish
and unpinning the cumbersome, sombre drapery from her bonnet,
folded it neatly and laid it upon the seat in front of her.
"Ah! that is better; far better!" he said in a tone expressing
unbounded relief. "Never put it on again, dear." Octavie felt a
little hurt; as if he wished to debar her from share and parcel in
the burden of affliction which had been placed upon all of them.
Again she drew forth the old muslin handkerchief.
They had left the big road and turned into a level plain which
had formerly been an old meadow. There were clumps of thorn trees
here and there, gorgeous in their spring radiance. Some cattle
were grazing off in the distance in spots where the grass was tall
and luscious. At the far end of the meadow was the towering lilac
hedge, skirting the lane that led to Judge Pillier's house, and the
scent of its heavy blossoms met them like a soft and tender embrace
of welcome.
As they neared the house the old gentleman placed an arm
around the girl's shoulders and turning her face up to him he said:
"Do you not think that on a day like this, miracles might happen?
When the whole earth is vibrant with life, does it not seem to you,
Octavie, that heaven might for once relent and give us back our
dead?" He spoke very low, advisedly, and impressively. In his
voice was an old quaver which was not habitual and there was
agitation in every line of his visage. She gazed at him with eyes
that were full of supplication and a certain terror of joy.
They had been driving through the lane with the towering hedge
on one side and the open meadow on the other. The horses had
somewhat quickened their lazy pace. As they turned into the avenue
leading to the house, a whole choir of feathered songsters fluted
a sudden torrent of melodious greeting from their leafy hiding
Octavie felt as if she had passed into a stage of existence
which was like a dream, more poignant and real than life.
There was the old gray house with its sloping eaves.
Amid the blur of green, and dimly, she saw familiar faces
and heard voices as if they came from far across the fields,
and Edmond was holding her. Her dead Edmond; her living Edmond,
and she felt the beating of his heart against her and the agonizing
rapture of his kisses striving to awake her. It was as if the spirit
of life and the awakening spring had given back the soul to her youth
and bade her rejoice.
It was many hours later that Octavie drew the locket from her
bosom and looked at Edmond with a questioning appeal in her glance.
"It was the night before an engagement," he said. "In the
hurry of the encounter, and the retreat next day, I never missed it
till the fight was over. I thought of course I had lost it in the
heat of the struggle, but it was stolen."
"Stolen," she shuddered, and thought of the dead soldier with
his face uplifted to the sky in an agony of supplication.
Edmond said nothing; but he thought of his messmate; the one
who had lain far back in the shadow; the one who had said nothing.
A Reflection
Some people are born with a vital and responsive energy. It
not only enables them to keep abreast of the times; it qualifies
them to furnish in their own personality a good bit of the motive
power to the mad pace. They are fortunate beings. They do not
need to apprehend the significance of things. They do not grow
weary nor miss step, nor do they fall out of rank and sink by the
wayside to be left contemplating the moving procession.
Ah! that moving procession that has left me by the road-side!
Its fantastic colors are more brilliant and beautiful than the sun
on the undulating waters. What matter if souls and bodies are
failing beneath the feet of the ever-pressing multitude! It moves
with the majestic rhythm of the spheres. Its discordant clashes
sweep upward in one harmonious tone that blends with the music of
other worlds--to complete God's orchestra.
It is greater than the stars--that moving procession of human
energy; greater than the palpitating earth and the things growing
thereon. Oh! I could weep at being left by the wayside; left with
the grass and the clouds and a few dumb animals. True, I feel at
home in the society of these symbols of life's immutability.
In the procession I should feel the crushing feet,
the clashing discords, the ruthless hands and stifling breath.
I could not hear the rhythm of the march.
Salve! ye dumb hearts. Let us be still and wait by the roadside.

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