The Awakening and
Selected Short Stories
by Kate Chopin
With an Introduction by Marilynne Robinson
BEYOND THE BAYOU
A RESPECTABLE WOMAN
A PAIR OF SILK STOCKINGS
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
Mr. Pontellier, unable to read his newspaper with any degree of comfort,
arose with an expression and an exclamation of disgust.
He walked down the gallery and across the narrow "bridges" which connected
the Lebrun cottages one with the other. He had been seated before the door
of the main house. The parrot and the mockingbird were the property of
Madame Lebrun, and they had the right to make all the noise they wished.
Mr. Pontellier had the privilege of quitting their society when they
ceased to be entertaining.
He stopped before the door of his own cottage, which was the fourth one
from the main building and next to the last. Seating himself in a wicker
rocker which was there, he once more applied himself to the task of
reading the newspaper. The day was Sunday; the paper was a day old. The
Sunday papers had not yet reached Grand Isle. He was already acquainted
with the market reports, and he glanced restlessly over the editorials and
bits of news which he had not had time to read before quitting New Orleans
the day before.
Mr. Pontellier wore eye-glasses. He was a man of forty, of medium height
and rather slender build; he stooped a little. His hair was brown and
straight, parted on one side. His beard was neatly and closely trimmed.
Once in a while he withdrew his glance from the newspaper and looked about
him. There was more noise than ever over at the house. The main building
was called "the house," to distinguish it from the cottages. The
chattering and whistling birds were still at it. Two young girls, the
Farival twins, were playing a duet from "Zampa" upon the piano. Madame
Lebrun was bustling in and out, giving orders in a high key to a yard-boy
whenever she got inside the house, and directions in an equally high voice
to a dining-room servant whenever she got outside. She was a fresh, pretty
woman, clad always in white with elbow sleeves. Her starched skirts
crinkled as she came and went. Farther down, before one of the cottages, a
lady in black was walking demurely up and down, telling her beads. A good
many persons of the pension had gone over to the Cheniere Caminada in
Beaudelet's lugger to hear mass. Some young people were out under the
wateroaks playing croquet. Mr. Pontellier's two children were there—sturdy
little fellows of four and five. A quadroon nurse followed them about with
a faraway, meditative air.
Mr. Pontellier finally lit a cigar and began to smoke, letting the paper
drag idly from his hand. He fixed his gaze upon a white sunshade that was
advancing at snail's pace from the beach. He could see it plainly between
the gaunt trunks of the water-oaks and across the stretch of yellow
camomile. The gulf looked far away, melting hazily into the blue of the
horizon. The sunshade continued to approach slowly. Beneath its pink-lined
shelter were his wife, Mrs. Pontellier, and young Robert Lebrun. When they
reached the cottage, the two seated themselves with some appearance of
fatigue upon the upper step of the porch, facing each other, each leaning
against a supporting post.
"What folly! to bathe at such an hour in such heat!" exclaimed Mr.
Pontellier. He himself had taken a plunge at daylight. That was why the
morning seemed long to him.
"You are burnt beyond recognition," he added, looking at his wife as one
looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some
damage. She held up her hands, strong, shapely hands, and surveyed them
critically, drawing up her fawn sleeves above the wrists. Looking at them
reminded her of her rings, which she had given to her husband before
leaving for the beach. She silently reached out to him, and he,
understanding, took the rings from his vest pocket and dropped them into
her open palm. She slipped them upon her fingers; then clasping her knees,
she looked across at Robert and began to laugh. The rings sparkled upon
her fingers. He sent back an answering smile.
"What is it?" asked Pontellier, looking lazily and amused from one to the
other. It was some utter nonsense; some adventure out there in the water,
and they both tried to relate it at once. It did not seem half so amusing
when told. They realized this, and so did Mr. Pontellier. He yawned and
stretched himself. Then he got up, saying he had half a mind to go over to
Klein's hotel and play a game of billiards.
"Come go along, Lebrun," he proposed to Robert. But Robert admitted quite
frankly that he preferred to stay where he was and talk to Mrs.
"Well, send him about his business when he bores you, Edna," instructed
her husband as he prepared to leave.
"Here, take the umbrella," she exclaimed, holding it out to him. He
accepted the sunshade, and lifting it over his head descended the steps
and walked away.
"Coming back to dinner?" his wife called after him. He halted a moment and
shrugged his shoulders. He felt in his vest pocket; there was a ten-dollar
bill there. He did not know; perhaps he would return for the early dinner
and perhaps he would not. It all depended upon the company which he found
over at Klein's and the size of "the game." He did not say this, but she
understood it, and laughed, nodding good-by to him.
Both children wanted to follow their father when they saw him starting
out. He kissed them and promised to bring them back bonbons and peanuts.
Mrs. Pontellier's eyes were quick and bright; they were a yellowish brown,
about the color of her hair. She had a way of turning them swiftly upon an
object and holding them there as if lost in some inward maze of
contemplation or thought.
Her eyebrows were a shade darker than her hair. They were thick and almost
horizontal, emphasizing the depth of her eyes. She was rather handsome
than beautiful. Her face was captivating by reason of a certain frankness
of expression and a contradictory subtle play of features. Her manner was
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
Robert talked a good deal about himself. He was very young, and did not
know any better. Mrs. Pontellier talked a little about herself for the
same reason. Each was interested in what the other said. Robert spoke of
his intention to go to Mexico in the autumn, where fortune awaited him. He
was always intending to go to Mexico, but some way never got there.
Meanwhile he held on to his modest position in a mercantile house in New
Orleans, where an equal familiarity with English, French and Spanish gave
him no small value as a clerk and correspondent.
He was spending his summer vacation, as he always did, with his mother at
Grand Isle. In former times, before Robert could remember, "the house" had
been a summer luxury of the Lebruns. Now, flanked by its dozen or more
cottages, which were always filled with exclusive visitors from the
"Quartier Francais," it enabled Madame Lebrun to maintain the easy and
comfortable existence which appeared to be her birthright.
Mrs. Pontellier talked about her father's Mississippi plantation and her
girlhood home in the old Kentucky bluegrass country. She was an American
woman, with a small infusion of French which seemed to have been lost in
dilution. She read a letter from her sister, who was away in the East, and
who had engaged herself to be married. Robert was interested, and wanted
to know what manner of girls the sisters were, what the father was like,
and how long the mother had been dead.
When Mrs. Pontellier folded the letter it was time for her to dress for
the early dinner.
"I see Leonce isn't coming back," she said, with a glance in the direction
whence her husband had disappeared. Robert supposed he was not, as there
were a good many New Orleans club men over at Klein's.
When Mrs. Pontellier left him to enter her room, the young man descended
the steps and strolled over toward the croquet players, where, during the
half-hour before dinner, he amused himself with the little Pontellier
children, who were very fond of him.
It was eleven o'clock that night when Mr. Pontellier returned from Klein's
hotel. He was in an excellent humor, in high spirits, and very talkative.
His entrance awoke his wife, who was in bed and fast asleep when he came
in. He talked to her while he undressed, telling her anecdotes and bits of
news and gossip that he had gathered during the day. From his trousers
pockets he took a fistful of crumpled bank notes and a good deal of silver
coin, which he piled on the bureau indiscriminately with keys, knife,
handkerchief, and whatever else happened to be in his pockets. She was
overcome with sleep, and answered him with little half utterances.
He thought it very discouraging that his wife, who was the sole object of
his existence, evinced so little interest in things which concerned him,
and valued so little his conversation.
Mr. Pontellier had forgotten the bonbons and peanuts for the boys.
Notwithstanding he loved them very much, and went into the adjoining room
where they slept to take a look at them and make sure that they were
resting comfortably. The result of his investigation was far from
satisfactory. He turned and shifted the youngsters about in bed. One of
them began to kick and talk about a basket full of crabs.
Mr. Pontellier returned to his wife with the information that Raoul had a
high fever and needed looking after. Then he lit a cigar and went and sat
near the open door to smoke it.
Mrs. Pontellier was quite sure Raoul had no fever. He had gone to bed
perfectly well, she said, and nothing had ailed him all day. Mr.
Pontellier was too well acquainted with fever symptoms to be mistaken. He
assured her the child was consuming at that moment in the next room.
He reproached his wife with her inattention, her habitual neglect of the
children. If it was not a mother's place to look after children, whose on
earth was it? He himself had his hands full with his brokerage business.
He could not be in two places at once; making a living for his family on
the street, and staying at home to see that no harm befell them. He talked
in a monotonous, insistent way.
Mrs. Pontellier sprang out of bed and went into the next room. She soon
came back and sat on the edge of the bed, leaning her head down on the
pillow. She said nothing, and refused to answer her husband when he
questioned her. When his cigar was smoked out he went to bed, and in half
a minute he was fast asleep.
Mrs. Pontellier was by that time thoroughly awake. She began to cry a
little, and wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her peignoir. Blowing out the
candle, which her husband had left burning, she slipped her bare feet into
a pair of satin mules at the foot of the bed and went out on the porch,
where she sat down in the wicker chair and began to rock gently to and
It was then past midnight. The cottages were all dark. A single faint
light gleamed out from the hallway of the house. There was no sound abroad
except the hooting of an old owl in the top of a water-oak, and the
everlasting voice of the sea, that was not uplifted at that soft hour. It
broke like a mournful lullaby upon the night.
The tears came so fast to Mrs. Pontellier's eyes that the damp sleeve of
her peignoir no longer served to dry them. She was holding the back of her
chair with one hand; her loose sleeve had slipped almost to the shoulder
of her uplifted arm. Turning, she thrust her face, steaming and wet, into
the bend of her arm, and she went on crying there, not caring any longer
to dry her face, her eyes, her arms. She could not have told why she was
crying. Such experiences as the foregoing were not uncommon in her married
life. They seemed never before to have weighed much against the abundance
of her husband's kindness and a uniform devotion which had come to be
tacit and self-understood.
An indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar
part of her consciousness, filled her whole being with a vague anguish. It
was like a shadow, like a mist passing across her soul's summer day. It
was strange and unfamiliar; it was a mood. She did not sit there inwardly
upbraiding her husband, lamenting at Fate, which had directed her
footsteps to the path which they had taken. She was just having a good cry
all to herself. The mosquitoes made merry over her, biting her firm, round
arms and nipping at her bare insteps.
The little stinging, buzzing imps succeeded in dispelling a mood which
might have held her there in the darkness half a night longer.
The following morning Mr. Pontellier was up in good time to take the
rockaway which was to convey him to the steamer at the wharf. He was
returning to the city to his business, and they would not see him again at
the Island till the coming Saturday. He had regained his composure, which
seemed to have been somewhat impaired the night before. He was eager to be
gone, as he looked forward to a lively week in Carondelet 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 satisfaction.
"It will buy a handsome wedding present for Sister Janet!" she exclaimed,
smoothing out the bills as she counted them one by one.
"Oh! we'll treat Sister Janet better than that, my dear," he laughed, as
he prepared to kiss her good-by.
The boys were tumbling about, clinging to his legs, imploring that
numerous things be brought back to them. Mr. Pontellier was a great
favorite, and ladies, men, children, even nurses, were always on hand to
say goodby to him. His wife stood smiling and waving, the boys shouting,
as he disappeared in the old rockaway down the sandy road.
A few days later a box arrived for Mrs. Pontellier from New Orleans. It
was from her husband. It was filled with friandises, with luscious and
toothsome bits—the finest of fruits, pates, a rare bottle or two,
delicious syrups, and bonbons in abundance.
Mrs. Pontellier was always very generous with the contents of such a box;
she was quite used to receiving them when away from home. The pates and
fruit were brought to the dining-room; the bonbons were passed around. And
the ladies, selecting with dainty and discriminating fingers and a little
greedily, all declared that Mr. Pontellier was the best husband in the
world. Mrs. Pontellier was forced to admit that she knew of none better.
It would have been a difficult matter for Mr. Pontellier to define to his
own satisfaction or any one else's wherein his wife failed in her duty
toward their children. It was something which he felt rather than
perceived, and he never voiced the feeling without subsequent regret and
If one of the little Pontellier boys took a tumble whilst at play, he was
not apt to rush crying to his mother's arms for comfort; he would more
likely pick himself up, wipe the water out of his eyes and the sand out of
his mouth, and go on playing. Tots as they were, they pulled together and
stood their ground in childish battles with doubled fists and uplifted
voices, which usually prevailed against the other mother-tots. The
quadroon nurse was looked upon as a huge encumbrance, only good to button
up waists and panties and to brush and part hair; since it seemed to be a
law of society that hair must be parted and brushed.
In short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman. The mother-women 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
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
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
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
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
"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
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 satisfying.
Mrs. Pontellier evidently did not think so. After surveying the sketch
critically she drew a broad smudge of paint across its surface, and
crumpled the paper between her hands.
The youngsters came tumbling up the steps, the quadroon following at the
respectful distance which they required her to observe. Mrs. Pontellier
made them carry her paints and things into the house. She sought to detain
them for a little talk and some pleasantry. But they were greatly in
earnest. They had only come to investigate the contents of the bonbon box.
They accepted without murmuring what she chose to give them, each holding
out two chubby hands scoop-like, in the vain hope that they might be
filled; and then away they went.
The sun was low in the west, and the breeze soft and languorous that came
up from the south, charged with the seductive odor of the sea. Children
freshly befurbelowed, were gathering for their games under the oaks. Their
voices were high and penetrating.
Madame Ratignolle folded her sewing, placing thimble, scissors, and thread
all neatly together in the roll, which she pinned securely. She complained
of faintness. Mrs. Pontellier flew for the cologne water and a fan. She
bathed Madame Ratignolle's face with cologne, while Robert plied the fan
with unnecessary vigor.
The spell was soon over, and Mrs. Pontellier could not help wondering if
there were not a little imagination responsible for its origin, for the
rose tint had never faded from her friend's face.
She stood watching the fair woman walk down the long line of galleries
with the grace and majesty which queens are sometimes supposed to possess.
Her little ones ran to meet her. Two of them clung about her white skirts,
the third she took from its nurse and with a thousand endearments bore it
along in her own fond, encircling arms. Though, as everybody well knew,
the doctor had forbidden her to lift so much as a 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
But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague,
tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever emerge
from such beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult!
The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring,
murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude;
to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation.
The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous,
enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.
Mrs. Pontellier was not a woman given to confidences, a characteristic
hitherto contrary to her nature. Even as a child she had lived her own
small life all within herself. At a very early period she had apprehended
instinctively the dual life—that outward existence which conforms,
the inward life which questions.
That summer at Grand Isle she began to loosen a little the mantle of
reserve that had always enveloped her. There may have been—there
must have been—influences, both subtle and apparent, working in
their several ways to induce her to do this; but the most obvious was the
influence of Adele Ratignolle. The excessive physical charm of the Creole
had first attracted her, for Edna had a sensuous susceptibility to beauty.
Then the candor of the woman's whole existence, which every one might
read, and which formed so striking a contrast to her own habitual reserve—this
might have furnished a link. Who can tell what metals the gods use in
forging the subtle bond which we call sympathy, which we might as well
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 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
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
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
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
Edna Pontellier, casting her eyes about, had finally kept them at rest
upon the sea. The day was clear and carried the gaze out as far as the
blue sky went; there were a few white clouds suspended idly over the
horizon. A lateen sail was visible in the direction of Cat Island, and
others to the south seemed almost motionless in the far distance.
"Of whom—of what are you thinking?" asked Adele of her companion,
whose countenance she had been watching with a little amused attention,
arrested by the absorbed expression which seemed to have seized and fixed
every feature into a statuesque repose.
"Nothing," returned Mrs. Pontellier, with a start, adding at once: "How
stupid! But it seems to me it is the reply we make instinctively to such a
question. Let me see," she went on, throwing back her head and narrowing
her fine eyes till they shone like two vivid points of light. "Let me see.
I was really not conscious of thinking of anything; but perhaps I can
retrace my thoughts."
"Oh! never mind!" laughed Madame Ratignolle. "I am not quite so exacting.
I will let you off this time. It is really too hot to think, especially to
think about thinking."
"But for the fun of it," persisted Edna. "First of all, the sight of the
water stretching so far away, those motionless sails against the blue sky,
made a delicious picture that I just wanted to sit and look at. The hot
wind beating in my face made me think—without any connection that I
can trace of a summer day in Kentucky, of a meadow that seemed as big as
the ocean to the very little girl walking through the grass, which was
higher than her waist. She threw out her arms as if swimming when she
walked, beating the tall grass as one strikes out in the water. Oh, I see
the connection now!"
"Where were you going that day in Kentucky, walking through the grass?"
"I don't remember now. I was just walking diagonally across a big field.
My sun-bonnet obstructed the view. I could see only the stretch of green
before me, and I felt as if I must walk on forever, without coming to the
end of it. I don't remember whether I was frightened or pleased. I must
have been entertained.
"Likely as not it was Sunday," she laughed; "and I was running away from
prayers, from the Presbyterian service, read in a spirit of gloom by my
father that chills me yet to think of."
"And have you been running away from prayers ever since, ma chere?" asked
Madame Ratignolle, amused.
"No! oh, no!" Edna hastened to say. "I was a little unthinking child in
those days, just following a misleading impulse without question. On the
contrary, during one period of my life religion took a firm hold upon me;
after I was twelve and until-until—why, I suppose until now, though
I never thought much about it—just driven along by habit. But do you
know," she broke off, turning her quick eyes upon Madame Ratignolle and
leaning forward a little so as to bring her face quite close to that of
her companion, "sometimes I feel this summer as if I were walking through
the green meadow again; idly, aimlessly, unthinking and 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
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
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
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 resigned.
The women at once rose and began to shake out their draperies and relax
their muscles. Mrs. Pontellier threw the cushions and rug into the
bath-house. The children all scampered off to the awning, and they stood
there in a line, gazing upon the intruding lovers, still exchanging their
vows and sighs. The lovers got up, with only a silent protest, and walked
slowly away somewhere else.
The children possessed themselves of the tent, and Mrs. Pontellier went
over to join them.
Madame Ratignolle begged Robert to accompany her to the house; she
complained of cramp in her limbs and stiffness of the joints. She leaned
draggingly upon his arm as they walked.
"Do me a favor, Robert," spoke the pretty woman at his side, almost as
soon as she and Robert had started their slow, homeward way. She looked up
in his face, leaning on his arm beneath the encircling shadow of the
umbrella which he had lifted.
"Granted; as many as you like," he returned, glancing down into her eyes
that were full of thoughtfulness and some speculation.
"I only ask for one; let Mrs. Pontellier alone."
"Tiens!" he exclaimed, with a sudden, boyish laugh. "Voila que Madame
Ratignolle est jalouse!"
"Nonsense! I'm in earnest; I mean what I say. Let Mrs. Pontellier alone."
"Why?" he asked; himself growing serious at his companion's solicitation.
"She is not one of us; she is not like us. She might make the unfortunate
blunder of taking you seriously."
His face flushed with annoyance, and taking off his soft hat he began to
beat it impatiently against his leg as he walked. "Why shouldn't she take
me seriously?" he demanded sharply. "Am I a comedian, a clown, a
jack-in-the-box? Why shouldn't she? You Creoles! I have no patience with
you! Am I always to be regarded as a feature of an amusing programme? I
hope Mrs. Pontellier does take me seriously. I hope she has discernment
enough to find in me something besides the blagueur. If I thought there
was any doubt—"
"Oh, enough, Robert!" she broke into his heated outburst. "You are not
thinking of what you are saying. You speak with about as little reflection
as we might expect from one of those children down there playing in the
sand. If your attentions to any married women here were ever offered with
any intention of being convincing, you would not be the gentleman we all
know you to be, and you would be unfit to associate with the wives and
daughters of the people who trust you."
Madame Ratignolle had spoken what she believed to be the law and the
gospel. The young man shrugged his shoulders impatiently.
"Oh! well! That isn't it," slamming his hat down vehemently upon his head.
"You ought to feel that such things are not flattering to say to a
"Should our whole intercourse consist of an exchange of compliments? Ma
"It isn't pleasant to have a woman tell you—" he went on,
unheedingly, but breaking off suddenly: "Now if I were like Arobin-you
remember Alcee Arobin and that story of the consul's wife at Biloxi?" And
he related the story of Alcee Arobin and the consul's wife; and another
about the tenor of the French Opera, who received letters which should
never have been written; and still other stories, grave and gay, till Mrs.
Pontellier and her possible propensity for taking young men seriously was
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
She acceded to the suggestion of bouillon, which was grateful and
acceptable. He went himself to the kitchen, which was a building apart
from the cottages and lying to the rear of the house. And he himself
brought her the golden-brown bouillon, in a dainty Sevres cup, with a
flaky cracker or two on the saucer.
She thrust a bare, white arm from the curtain which shielded her open
door, and received the cup from his hands. She told him he was a bon
garcon, and she meant it. Robert thanked her and turned away toward "the
The lovers were just entering the grounds of the pension. They were
leaning toward each other as the wateroaks bent from the sea. There was
not a particle of earth beneath their feet. Their heads might have been
turned upside-down, so absolutely did they tread upon blue ether. The lady
in black, creeping behind them, looked a trifle paler and more jaded than
usual. There was no sign of Mrs. Pontellier and the children. Robert
scanned the distance for any such apparition. They would doubtless remain
away till the dinner hour. The young man ascended to his mother's room. It
was situated at the top of the house, made up of odd angles and a queer,
sloping ceiling. Two broad dormer windows looked out toward the Gulf, and
as far across it as a man's eye might reach. The furnishings of the room
were light, cool, and practical.
Madame Lebrun was busily engaged at the sewing-machine. A little black
girl sat on the floor, and with her hands worked the treadle of the
machine. The Creole woman does not take any chances which may be avoided
of imperiling her health.
Robert went over and seated himself on the broad sill of one of the dormer
windows. He took a book from his pocket and began energetically to read
it, judging by the precision and frequency with which he turned the
leaves. The sewing-machine made a resounding clatter in the room; it was
of a ponderous, by-gone make. In the lulls, Robert and his mother
exchanged bits of desultory conversation.
"Where is Mrs. Pontellier?"
"Down at the beach with the children."
"I promised to lend her the Goncourt. Don't forget to take it down when
you go; it's there on the bookshelf over the small table." Clatter,
clatter, clatter, bang! for the next five or eight minutes.
"Where is Victor going with the rockaway?"
"The rockaway? Victor?"
"Yes; down there in front. He seems to be getting ready to drive away
"Call him." Clatter, clatter!
Robert uttered a shrill, piercing whistle which might have been heard back
at the wharf.
"He won't look up."
Madame Lebrun flew to the window. She called "Victor!" She waved a
handkerchief and called again. The young fellow below got into the vehicle
and started the horse off at a gallop.
Madame Lebrun went back to the machine, crimson with annoyance. Victor was
the younger son and brother—a tete montee, with a temper which
invited violence and a will which no ax could break.
"Whenever you say the word I'm ready to thrash any amount of reason into
him that he's able to hold."
"If your father had only lived!" Clatter, clatter, clatter, clatter, bang!
It was a fixed belief with Madame Lebrun that the conduct of the universe
and all things pertaining thereto would have been manifestly of a more
intelligent and higher order had not Monsieur Lebrun been removed to other
spheres during the early years of their married life.
"What do you hear from Montel?" Montel was a middle-aged gentleman whose
vain ambition and desire for the past twenty years had been to fill the
void which Monsieur Lebrun's taking off had left in the Lebrun household.
Clatter, clatter, bang, clatter!
"I have a letter somewhere," looking in the machine drawer and finding the
letter in the bottom of the workbasket. "He says to tell you he will be in
Vera Cruz the beginning of next month,"—clatter, clatter!—"and
if you still have the intention of joining him"—bang! clatter,
"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 Peasant."
"Allez vous-en! Sapristi!" shrieked the parrot outside the door. He was
the only being present who possessed sufficient candor to admit that he
was not listening to these gracious performances for the first time that
summer. Old Monsieur Farival, grandfather of the twins, grew indignant
over the interruption, and insisted upon having the bird removed and
consigned to regions of darkness. Victor Lebrun objected; and his decrees
were as immutable as those of Fate. The parrot fortunately offered no
further interruption to the entertainment, the whole venom of his nature
apparently having been cherished up and hurled against the twins in that
one impetuous outburst.
Later a young brother and sister gave recitations, which every one present
had heard many times at winter evening entertainments in the 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
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
Edna was what she herself called very fond of music. Musical strains, well
rendered, had a way of evoking pictures in her mind. She sometimes liked
to sit in the room of mornings when Madame Ratignolle played or practiced.
One piece which that lady played Edna had entitled "Solitude." It was a
short, plaintive, minor strain. The name of the piece was something else,
but she called it "Solitude." When she heard it there came before her
imagination the figure of a man standing beside a desolate rock on the
seashore. He was naked. His attitude was one of hopeless resignation as he
looked toward a distant bird winging its flight away from him.
Another piece called to her mind a dainty young woman clad in an Empire
gown, taking mincing dancing steps as she came down a long avenue between
tall hedges. Again, another reminded her of children at play, and still
another of nothing on earth but a demure lady stroking a cat.
The very first chords which Mademoiselle Reisz struck upon the piano sent
a keen tremor down Mrs. Pontellier's spinal column. It was not the first
time she had heard an artist at the piano. Perhaps it was the first time
she was ready, perhaps the first time her being was tempered to take an
impress of the abiding truth.
She waited for the material pictures which she thought would gather and
blaze before her imagination. She waited in vain. She saw no pictures of
solitude, of hope, of longing, or of despair. But the very passions
themselves were aroused within her soul, swaying it, lashing it, as the
waves daily beat upon her splendid body. She trembled, she was choking,
and the tears blinded her.
Mademoiselle had finished. She arose, and bowing her stiff, lofty bow, she
went away, stopping for neither thanks nor applause. As she passed along
the gallery she patted Edna upon the shoulder.
"Well, how did you like my music?" she asked. The young woman was unable
to answer; she pressed the hand of the pianist convulsively. Mademoiselle
Reisz perceived her agitation and even her tears. She patted her again
upon the shoulder as she said:
"You are the only one worth playing for. Those others? Bah!" and she went
shuffling and sidling on down the gallery toward her room.
But she was mistaken about "those others." Her playing had aroused a fever
of enthusiasm. "What passion!" "What an artist!" "I have always said no
one could play Chopin like Mademoiselle Reisz!" "That last prelude! Bon
Dieu! It shakes a man!"
It was growing late, and there was a general disposition to disband. But
some one, perhaps it was Robert, thought of a bath at that mystic hour and
under that mystic moon.
At all events Robert proposed it, and there was not a dissenting voice.
There was not one but was ready to follow when he led the way. He did not
lead the way, however, he directed the way; and he himself loitered behind
with the lovers, who had betrayed a disposition to linger and hold
themselves apart. He walked between them, whether with malicious or
mischievous intent was not wholly clear, even to himself.
The Pontelliers and Ratignolles walked ahead; the women leaning upon the
arms of their husbands. Edna could hear Robert's voice behind them, and
could sometimes hear what he said. She wondered why he did not join them.
It was unlike him not to. Of late he had sometimes held away from her for
an entire day, redoubling his devotion upon the next and the next, as
though to make up for hours that had been lost. She missed him the days
when some pretext served to take him away from her, just as one misses the
sun on a cloudy day without having thought much about the sun when it was
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 before.
Her unlooked-for achievement was the subject of wonder, applause, and
admiration. Each one congratulated himself that his special teachings had
accomplished this desired end.
"How easy it is!" she thought. "It is nothing," she said aloud; "why did I
not discover before that it was nothing. Think of the time I have lost
splashing about like a baby!" She would not join the groups in their
sports and bouts, but intoxicated with her newly conquered power, she swam
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
"You were not so very far, my dear; I was watching you," he told her.
Edna went at once to the bath-house, and she had put on her dry clothes
and was ready to return home before the others had left the water. She
started to walk away alone. They all called to her and shouted to her. She
waved a dissenting hand, and went on, paying no further heed to their
renewed cries which sought to detain her.
"Sometimes I am tempted to think that Mrs. Pontellier is capricious," said
Madame Lebrun, who was amusing herself immensely and feared that Edna's
abrupt departure might put an end to the pleasure.
"I know she is," assented Mr. Pontellier; "sometimes, not often."
Edna had not traversed a quarter of the distance on her way home before
she was overtaken by Robert.
"Did you think I was afraid?" she asked him, without a shade of annoyance.
"No; I knew you weren't afraid."
"Then why did you come? Why didn't you stay out there with the others?"
"I never thought of it."
"Thought of what?"
"Of anything. What difference does it make?"
"I'm very tired," she uttered, complainingly.
"I know you are."
"You don't know anything about it. Why should you know? I never was so
exhausted in my life. But it isn't unpleasant. A thousand emotions have
swept through me to-night. I don't comprehend half of them. Don't mind
what I'm saying; I am just thinking aloud. I wonder if I shall ever be
stirred again as Mademoiselle Reisz's playing moved me to-night. I wonder
if any night on earth will ever again be like this one. It is like a night
in a dream. The people about me are like some uncanny, half-human beings.
There must be spirits abroad to-night."
"There are," whispered Robert, "Didn't you know this was the twenty-eighth
"The twenty-eighth of August?"
"Yes. On the twenty-eighth of August, at the hour of midnight, and if the
moon is shining—the moon must be shining—a spirit that has
haunted these shores for ages rises up from the Gulf. With its own
penetrating vision the spirit seeks some one mortal worthy to hold him
company, worthy of being exalted for a few hours into realms of the
semi-celestials. His search has always hitherto been fruitless, and he has
sunk back, disheartened, into the sea. But to-night he found Mrs.
Pontellier. Perhaps he will never wholly release her from the spell.
Perhaps she will never again suffer a poor, unworthy earthling to walk in
the shadow of her divine presence."
"Don't banter me," she said, wounded at what appeared to be his flippancy.
He did not mind the entreaty, but the tone with its delicate note of
pathos was like a reproach. He could not explain; he could not tell her
that he had penetrated her mood and understood. He said nothing except to
offer her his arm, for, by her own admission, she was exhausted. She had
been walking alone with her arms hanging limp, letting her white skirts
trail along the dewy path. She took his arm, but she did not lean upon it.
She let her hand lie listlessly, as though her thoughts were elsewhere—somewhere
in advance of her body, and she was striving to overtake them.
Robert assisted her into the hammock which swung from the post before her
door out to the trunk of a tree.
"Will you stay out here and wait for Mr. Pontellier?" he asked.
"I'll stay out here. Good-night."
"Shall I get you a pillow?"
"There's one here," she said, feeling about, for they were in the 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 body.
"Shall I stay with you till Mr. Pontellier comes?" asked Robert, seating
himself on the outer edge of one of the steps and taking hold of the
hammock rope which was fastened to the post.
"If you wish. Don't swing the hammock. Will you get my white shawl which I
left on the window-sill over at the house?"
"Are you chilly?"
"No; but I shall be presently."
"Presently?" he laughed. "Do you know what time it is? How long are you
going to stay out here?"
"I don't know. Will you get the shawl?"
"Of course I will," he said, rising. He went over to the house, walking
along the grass. She watched his figure pass in and out of the strips of
moonlight. It was past midnight. It was very quiet.
When he returned with the shawl she took it and kept it in her hand. She
did not put it around her.
"Did you say I should stay till Mr. Pontellier came back?"
"I said you might if you wished to."
He seated himself again and rolled a cigarette, which he smoked in
silence. Neither did Mrs. Pontellier speak. No multitude of words could
have been more significant than those moments of silence, or more pregnant
with the first-felt throbbings of desire.
When the voices of the bathers were heard approaching, Robert said
good-night. She did not answer him. He thought she was asleep. Again she
watched his figure pass in and out of the strips of moonlight as he walked
"What are you doing out here, Edna? I thought I should find you in bed,"
said her husband, when he discovered her lying there. He had walked up
with Madame Lebrun and left her at the house. His wife did not reply.
"Are you asleep?" he asked, bending down close to look at her.
"No." Her eyes gleamed bright and intense, with no sleepy shadows, as they
looked into his.
"Do you know it is past one o'clock? Come on," and he mounted the steps
and went into their room.
"Edna!" called Mr. Pontellier from within, after a few moments had gone
"Don't wait for me," she answered. He thrust his head through the door.
"You will take cold out there," he said, irritably. "What folly is this?
Why don't you come in?"
"It isn't cold; I have my shawl."
"The mosquitoes will devour you."
"There are no mosquitoes."
She heard him moving about the room; every sound indicating impatience and
irritation. Another time she would have gone in at his request. She would,
through habit, have yielded to his desire; not with any sense of
submission or obedience to his compelling wishes, but unthinkingly, as we
walk, move, sit, stand, go through the daily treadmill of the life which
has been portioned out to us.
"Edna, dear, are you not coming in soon?" he asked again, this time
fondly, with a note of entreaty.
"No; I am going to stay out here."
"This is more than folly," he blurted out. "I can't permit you to stay out
there all night. You must come in the house instantly."
With a writhing motion she settled herself more securely in the hammock.
She perceived that her will had blazed up, stubborn and resistant. She
could not at that moment have done other than denied and resisted. She
wondered if her husband had ever spoken to her like that before, and if
she had submitted to his command. Of course she had; she remembered that
she had. But she could not realize why or how she should have yielded,
feeling as she then did.
"Leonce, go to bed," she said, "I mean to stay out here. I don't wish to
go in, and I don't intend to. Don't speak to me like that again; I shall
not answer you."
Mr. Pontellier had prepared for bed, but he slipped on an extra garment.
He opened a bottle of wine, of which he kept a small and select supply in
a buffet of his own. He drank a glass of the wine and went out on the
gallery and offered a glass to his wife. She did not wish any. He drew up
the rocker, hoisted his slippered feet on the rail, and proceeded to smoke
a cigar. He smoked two cigars; then he went inside and drank another glass
of wine. Mrs. Pontellier again declined to accept a glass when it was
offered to her. Mr. Pontellier once more seated himself with elevated
feet, and after a reasonable interval of time smoked some more 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
"Are you coming in, Leonce?" she asked, turning her face toward her
"Yes, dear," he answered, with a glance following a misty puff of smoke.
"Just as soon as I have finished my cigar."
She slept but a few hours. They were troubled and feverish hours,
disturbed with dreams that were intangible, that eluded her, leaving only
an impression upon her half-awakened senses of something unattainable. She
was up and dressed in the cool of the early morning. The air was
invigorating and steadied somewhat her faculties. However, she was not
seeking refreshment or help from any source, either external or from
within. She was blindly following whatever impulse moved her, as if she
had placed herself in alien hands for direction, and freed her soul of
Most of the people at that early hour were still in bed and asleep. A few,
who intended to go over to the Cheniere for mass, were moving about. The
lovers, who had laid their plans the night before, were already strolling
toward the wharf. The lady in black, with her Sunday prayer-book, velvet
and gold-clasped, and her Sunday silver beads, was following them at no
great distance. Old Monsieur Farival was up, and was more than half
inclined to do anything that suggested itself. He put on his big straw
hat, and taking his umbrella from the stand in the hall, followed the lady
in black, never overtaking her.
The little negro girl who worked Madame Lebrun's sewing-machine was
sweeping the galleries with long, absent-minded strokes of the broom. Edna
sent her up into the house to awaken Robert.
"Tell him I am going to the Cheniere. The boat is ready; tell him to
He had soon joined her. She had never sent for him before. She had never
asked for him. She had never seemed to want him before. She did not appear
conscious that she had done anything unusual in commanding his presence.
He was apparently equally unconscious of anything extraordinary in the
situation. But his face was suffused with a quiet glow when he met her.
They went together back to the kitchen to drink coffee. There was no time
to wait for any nicety of service. They stood outside the window and the
cook passed them their coffee and a roll, which they drank and ate from
the window-sill. Edna said it tasted good.
She had not thought of coffee nor of anything. He told her he had often
noticed that she lacked forethought.
"Wasn't it enough to think of going to the Cheniere and waking you up?"
she laughed. "Do I have to think of everything?—as Leonce says when
he's in a bad humor. I don't blame him; he'd never be in a bad humor if it
weren't for me."
They took a short cut across the sands. At a distance they could see the
curious procession moving toward the wharf—the lovers, shoulder to
shoulder, creeping; the lady in black, gaining steadily upon them; old
Monsieur Farival, losing ground inch by inch, and a young barefooted
Spanish girl, with a red kerchief on her head and a basket on her arm,
bringing up the rear.
Robert knew the girl, and he talked to her a little in the boat. No one
present understood what they said. Her name was Mariequita. She had a
round, sly, piquant face and pretty black eyes. Her hands were small, and
she kept them folded over the handle of her basket. Her feet were broad
and coarse. She did not strive to hide them. Edna looked at her feet, and
noticed the sand and slime between her brown toes.
Beaudelet grumbled because Mariequita was there, taking up so much room.
In reality he was annoyed at having old Monsieur Farival, who considered
himself the better sailor of the two. But he would not quarrel with so old
a man as Monsieur Farival, so he quarreled with Mariequita. The girl was
deprecatory at one moment, appealing to Robert. She was saucy the next,
moving her head up and down, making "eyes" at Robert and making "mouths"
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."
"Does she understand?"
"Are those two married over there—leaning on each other?"
"Of course not," laughed Robert.
"Of course not," echoed Mariequita, with a serious, confirmatory bob of
The sun was high up and beginning to bite. The swift breeze seemed to Edna
to bury the sting of it into the pores of her face and hands. Robert held
his umbrella over her. As they went cutting sidewise through the water,
the sails bellied taut, with the wind filling and overflowing them. Old
Monsieur Farival laughed sardonically at something as he looked at the
sails, and Beaudelet swore at the old man under his 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
"Let us go to Grande Terre to-morrow?" said Robert in a low voice.
"What shall we do there?"
"Climb up the hill to the old fort and look at the little wriggling gold
snakes, and watch the lizards sun themselves."
She gazed away toward Grande Terre and thought she would like to be alone
there with Robert, in the sun, listening to the ocean's roar and watching
the slimy lizards writhe in and out among the ruins of the old fort.
"And the next day or the next we can sail to the Bayou Brulow," he went
"What shall we do there?"
"Anything—cast bait for fish."
"No; we'll go back to Grande Terre. Let the fish alone."
"We'll go wherever you like," he said. "I'll have Tonie come over and help
me patch and trim my boat. We shall not need Beaudelet nor any one. Are
you afraid of the pirogue?"
"Then I'll take you some night in the pirogue when the moon shines. Maybe
your Gulf spirit will whisper to you in which of these islands the
treasures are hidden—direct you to the very spot, perhaps."
"And in a day we should be rich!" she laughed. "I'd give it all to you,
the pirate gold and every bit of treasure we could dig up. I think you
would know how to spend it. Pirate gold isn't a thing to be hoarded or
utilized. It is something to squander and throw to the four winds, for the
fun of seeing the golden specks fly."
"We'd share it, and scatter it together," he said. His face flushed.
They all went together up to the quaint little Gothic church of Our Lady
of Lourdes, gleaming all brown and yellow with paint in the sun's glare.
Only Beaudelet remained behind, tinkering at his boat, and Mariequita
walked away with her basket of shrimps, casting a look of childish ill
humor and reproach at Robert from the corner of her eye.
A feeling of oppression and drowsiness overcame Edna during the service.
Her head began to ache, and the lights on the altar swayed before her
eyes. Another time she might have made an effort to regain her composure;
but her one thought was to quit the stifling atmosphere of the church and
reach the open air. She arose, climbing over Robert's feet with a muttered
apology. Old Monsieur Farival, flurried, curious, stood up, but upon
seeing that Robert had followed Mrs. Pontellier, he sank back into his
seat. He whispered an anxious inquiry of the lady in black, who did not
notice him or reply, but kept her eyes fastened upon the pages of her
"I felt giddy and almost overcome," Edna said, lifting her hands
instinctively to her head and pushing her straw hat up from her forehead.
"I couldn't have stayed through the service." They were outside in the
shadow of the church. Robert was full of solicitude.
"It was folly to have thought of going in the first place, let alone
staying. Come over to Madame Antoine's; you can rest there." He took her
arm and led her away, looking anxiously and continuously down into her
How still it was, with only the voice of the sea whispering through the
reeds that grew in the salt-water pools! The long line of little gray,
weather-beaten houses nestled peacefully among the orange trees. It must
always have been God's day on that low, drowsy island, Edna thought. They
stopped, leaning over a jagged fence made of sea-drift, to ask for water.
A youth, a mild-faced Acadian, was drawing water from the cistern, which
was nothing more than a rusty buoy, with an opening on one side, sunk in
the ground. The water which the youth handed to them in a tin pail was not
cold to taste, but it was cool to her heated face, and it greatly revived
and refreshed her.
Madame Antoine's cot was at the far end of the village. She welcomed them
with all the native hospitality, as she would have opened her door to let
the sunlight in. She was fat, and walked heavily and clumsily across the
floor. She could speak no English, but when Robert made her understand
that the lady who accompanied him was ill and desired to rest, she was all
eagerness to make Edna feel at home and to dispose of 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 windows.
Madame Antoine had laid some coarse, clean towels upon a chair, and had
placed a box of poudre de riz within easy reach. Edna dabbed the powder
upon her nose and cheeks as she looked at herself closely in the little
distorted mirror which hung on the wall above the basin. Her eyes were
bright and wide awake and her face glowed.
When she had completed her toilet she walked into the adjoining room. She
was very hungry. No one was there. But there was a cloth spread upon the
table that stood against the wall, and a cover was laid for one, with a
crusty brown loaf and a bottle of wine beside the plate. Edna bit a piece
from the brown loaf, tearing it with her strong, white teeth. She poured
some of the wine into the glass and drank it down. Then she went softly
out of doors, and plucking an orange from the low-hanging bough of a tree,
threw it at Robert, who did not know she was awake and 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
"If it has turned to stone, still will I eat it," said Edna, moving with
him into the house. "But really, what has become of Monsieur Farival and
"Gone hours ago. When they found that you were sleeping they thought it
best not to awake you. Any way, I wouldn't have let them. What was I here
"I wonder if Leonce will be uneasy!" she speculated, as she seated herself
"Of course not; he knows you are with me," Robert replied, as he busied
himself among sundry pans and covered dishes which had been left standing
on the hearth.
"Where are Madame Antoine and her son?" asked Edna.
"Gone to Vespers, and to visit some friends, I believe. I am to take you
back in Tonie's boat whenever you are ready to go."
He stirred the smoldering ashes till the broiled fowl began to sizzle
afresh. He served her with no mean repast, dripping the coffee anew and
sharing it with her. Madame Antoine had cooked little else than the
mullets, but while Edna slept Robert had foraged the island. He was
childishly gratified to discover her appetite, and to see the relish with
which she ate the food which he had procured for her.
"Shall we go right away?" she asked, after draining her glass and brushing
together the crumbs of the crusty loaf.
"The sun isn't as low as it will be in two hours," he answered.
"The sun will be gone in two hours."
"Well, let it go; who cares!"
They waited a good while under the orange trees, till Madame Antoine came
back, panting, waddling, with a thousand apologies to explain her absence.
Tonie did not dare to return. He was shy, and would not willingly face any
woman except his mother.
It was very pleasant to stay there under the orange trees, while the sun
dipped lower and lower, turning the western sky to flaming copper and
gold. The shadows lengthened and crept out like stealthy, grotesque
monsters across the grass.
Edna and Robert both sat upon the ground—that is, he lay upon the
ground beside her, occasionally picking at the hem of her muslin gown.
Madame Antoine seated her fat body, broad and squat, upon a bench beside
the door. She had been talking all the afternoon, and had wound herself up
to the storytelling pitch.
And what stories she told them! But twice in her life she had left the
Cheniere Caminada, and then for the briefest span. All her years she had
squatted and waddled there upon the island, gathering legends of the
Baratarians and the sea. The night came on, with the moon to lighten it.
Edna could hear the whispering voices of dead men and the click of muffled
When she and Robert stepped into Tonie's boat, with the red lateen sail,
misty spirit forms were prowling in the shadows and among the reeds, and
upon the water were phantom ships, speeding to cover.
The youngest boy, Etienne, had been very naughty, Madame Ratignolle said,
as she delivered him into the hands of his mother. He had been unwilling
to go to bed and had made a scene; whereupon she had taken charge of him
and pacified him as well as she could. Raoul had been in bed and asleep
for two hours.
The youngster was in his long white nightgown, that kept tripping him up
as Madame Ratignolle led him along by the hand. With the other chubby fist
he rubbed his eyes, which were heavy with sleep and ill humor. Edna took
him in her arms, and seating herself in the rocker, began to coddle and
caress him, calling him all manner of tender names, soothing him to sleep.
It was not more than nine o'clock. No one had yet gone to bed but the
Leonce had been very uneasy at first, Madame Ratignolle said, and had
wanted to start at once for the Cheniere. But Monsieur Farival had assured
him that his wife was only overcome with sleep and fatigue, that Tonie
would bring her safely back later in the day; and he had thus been
dissuaded from crossing the bay. He had gone over to Klein's, looking up
some cotton broker whom he wished to see in regard to securities,
exchanges, stocks, bonds, or something of the sort, Madame Ratignolle did
not remember what. He said he would not remain away late. She herself was
suffering from heat and oppression, she said. She carried a bottle of
salts and a large fan. She would not consent to remain with Edna, for
Monsieur Ratignolle was alone, and he detested above all things to be left
When Etienne had fallen asleep Edna bore him into the back room, and
Robert went and lifted the mosquito bar that she might lay the child
comfortably in his bed. The quadroon had vanished. When they emerged from
the cottage Robert bade Edna good-night.
"Do you know we have been together the whole livelong day, Robert—since
early this morning?" she said at parting.
"All but the hundred years when you were sleeping. Goodnight."
He pressed her hand and went away in the direction of the beach. He did
not join any of the others, but walked alone toward the Gulf.
Edna stayed outside, awaiting her husband's return. She had no desire to
sleep or to retire; nor did she feel like going over to sit with the
Ratignolles, or to join Madame Lebrun and a group whose animated voices
reached her as they sat in conversation before the house. She let her mind
wander back over her stay at Grand Isle; and she tried to discover wherein
this summer had been different from any and every other summer of her
life. She could only realize that she herself—her present self—was
in some way different from the other self. That she was seeing with
different eyes and making the acquaintance of new conditions in herself
that colored and changed her environment, she did not yet 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
"To-night!" "This very evening!" "Did you ever!" "What possesses him!"
were some of the replies she gathered, uttered simultaneously in French
"Impossible!" she exclaimed. "How can a person start off from Grand Isle
to Mexico at a moment's notice, as if he were going over to Klein's or to
the wharf or down to the beach?"
"I said all along I was going to Mexico; I've been saying so for years!"
cried Robert, in an excited and irritable tone, with the air of a man
defending himself against a swarm of stinging insects.
Madame Lebrun knocked on the table with her knife handle.
"Please let Robert explain why he is going, and why he is going to-night,"
she called out. "Really, this table is getting to be more and more like
Bedlam every day, with everybody talking at once. Sometimes—I hope
God will forgive me—but positively, sometimes I wish Victor would
lose the power of speech."
Victor laughed sardonically as he thanked his mother for her holy wish, of
which he failed to see the benefit to anybody, except that it might afford
her a more ample opportunity and license to talk herself.
Monsieur Farival thought that Victor should have been taken out in
mid-ocean in his earliest youth and drowned. Victor thought there would be
more logic in thus disposing of old people with an established claim for
making themselves universally obnoxious. Madame Lebrun grew a trifle
hysterical; Robert called his brother some sharp, hard names.
"There's nothing much to explain, mother," he said; though he explained,
nevertheless—looking chiefly at Edna—that he could only meet
the gentleman whom he intended to join at Vera Cruz by taking such and
such a steamer, which left New Orleans on such a day; that Beaudelet was
going out with his lugger-load of vegetables that night, which gave him an
opportunity of reaching the city and making his vessel in time.
"But when did you make up your mind to all this?" demanded Monsieur
"This afternoon," returned Robert, with a shade of annoyance.
"At what time this afternoon?" persisted the old gentleman, with nagging
determination, as if he were cross-questioning a criminal in a court of
"At four o'clock this afternoon, Monsieur Farival," Robert replied, in a
high voice and with a lofty air, which reminded Edna of some gentleman on
She had forced herself to eat most of her soup, and now she was picking
the flaky bits of a court bouillon with her fork.
The lovers were profiting by the general conversation on Mexico to speak
in whispers of matters which they rightly considered were interesting to
no one but themselves. The lady in black had once received a pair of
prayer-beads of curious workmanship from Mexico, with very special
indulgence attached to them, but she had never been able to ascertain
whether the indulgence extended outside the Mexican border. Father Fochel
of the Cathedral had attempted to explain it; but he had not done so to
her satisfaction. And she begged that Robert would interest himself, and
discover, if possible, whether she was entitled to the indulgence
accompanying the remarkably curious Mexican prayer-beads.
Madame Ratignolle hoped that Robert would exercise extreme caution in
dealing with the Mexicans, who, she considered, were a treacherous people,
unscrupulous and revengeful. She trusted she did them no injustice in thus
condemning them as a race. She had known personally but one Mexican, who
made and sold excellent tamales, and whom she would have trusted
implicitly, so soft-spoken was he. One day he was arrested for stabbing
his wife. She never knew whether he had been hanged or not.
Victor had grown hilarious, and was attempting to tell an anecdote about a
Mexican girl who served chocolate one winter in a restaurant in Dauphine
Street. No one would listen to him but old Monsieur Farival, who went into
convulsions over the droll story.
Edna wondered if they had all gone mad, to be talking and clamoring at
that rate. She herself could think of nothing to say about Mexico or the
"At what time do you leave?" she asked Robert.
"At ten," he told her. "Beaudelet wants to wait for the moon."
"Are you all ready to go?"
"Quite ready. I shall only take a hand-bag, and shall pack my trunk in the
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 Mexicans.
Somewhat later Robert came up, carrying his hand-bag.
"Aren't you feeling well?" he asked.
"Oh, well enough. Are you going right away?"
He lit a match and looked at his watch. "In twenty minutes," he said. The
sudden and brief flare of the match emphasized the darkness for a while.
He sat down upon a stool which the children had left out on the 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
"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
"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
It did not strike her as in the least grotesque that she should be making
of Robert the object of conversation and leading her husband to speak of
him. The sentiment which she entertained for Robert in no way resembled
that which she felt for her husband, or had ever felt, or ever expected to
feel. She had all her life long been accustomed to harbor thoughts and
emotions which never voiced themselves. They had never taken the form of
struggles. They belonged to her and were her own, and she entertained the
conviction that she had a right to them and that they concerned no one but
herself. Edna had once told Madame Ratignolle that she would never
sacrifice herself for her children, or for any one. Then had followed a
rather heated argument; the two women did not appear to understand each
other or to be talking the same language. Edna tried to appease her
friend, to explain.
"I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my
life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself. I can't make it more
clear; it's only something which I am beginning to comprehend, which is
revealing itself to me."
"I don't know what you would call the essential, or what you mean by the
unessential," said Madame Ratignolle, cheerfully; "but a woman who would
give her life for her children could do no more than that—your Bible
tells you so. I'm sure I couldn't do more than that."
"Oh, yes you could!" laughed Edna.
She was not surprised at Mademoiselle Reisz's question the morning that
lady, following her to the beach, tapped her on the shoulder and asked if
she did not greatly miss her young friend.
"Oh, good morning, Mademoiselle; is it you? Why, of course I miss Robert.
Are you going down to bathe?"
"Why should I go down to bathe at the very end of the season when I
haven't been in the surf all summer," replied the woman, disagreeably.
"I beg your pardon," offered Edna, in some embarrassment, for she should
have remembered that Mademoiselle Reisz's avoidance of the water had
furnished a theme for much pleasantry. Some among them thought it was on
account of her false hair, or the dread of getting the violets wet, while
others attributed it to the natural aversion for water sometimes believed
to accompany the artistic temperament. Mademoiselle offered Edna some
chocolates in a paper bag, which she took from her pocket, by way of
showing that she bore no ill feeling. She habitually ate chocolates for
their sustaining quality; they contained much nutriment in small compass,
she said. They saved her from starvation, as Madame Lebrun's table was
utterly impossible; and no one save so impertinent a woman as Madame
Lebrun could think of offering such food to people and requiring them to
pay for it.
"She must feel very lonely without her son," said Edna, desiring to change
the subject. "Her favorite son, too. It must have been quite hard to let
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
"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
"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
"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.
"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
"You used to think the cook was a treasure," returned Edna, indifferently.
"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
"I'm going to get my dinner at the club. Good night." He went into the
hall, took his hat and stick from the stand, and left the house.
She was somewhat familiar with such scenes. They had often made her very
unhappy. On a few previous occasions she had been completely deprived of
any desire to finish her dinner. Sometimes she had gone into the kitchen
to administer a tardy rebuke to the cook. Once she went to her room and
studied the cookbook during an entire evening, finally writing out a menu
for the week, which left her harassed with a feeling that, after all, she
had accomplished no good that was worth the name.
But that evening Edna finished her dinner alone, with forced deliberation.
Her face was flushed and her eyes flamed with some inward fire that
lighted them. After finishing her dinner she went to her room, having
instructed the boy to tell any other callers that she was 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
"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
"The way to become rich is to make money, my dear Edna, not to save it,"
he said. He regretted that she did not feel inclined to go with him and
select new fixtures. He kissed her good-by, and told her she was not
looking well and must take care of herself. She was unusually pale and
She stood on the front veranda as he quitted the house, and absently
picked a few sprays of jessamine that grew upon a trellis near by. She
inhaled the odor of the blossoms and thrust them into the bosom of her
white morning gown. The boys were dragging along the banquette a small
"express wagon," which they had filled with blocks and sticks. The
quadroon was following them with little quick steps, having assumed a
fictitious animation and alacrity for the occasion. A fruit vender was
crying his wares in the street.
Edna looked straight before her with a self-absorbed expression upon her
face. She felt no interest in anything about her. The street, the
children, the fruit vender, the flowers growing there under her eyes, were
all part and parcel of an alien world which had suddenly become
She went back into the house. She had thought of speaking to the cook
concerning her blunders of the previous night; but Mr. Pontellier had
saved her that disagreeable mission, for which she was so poorly fitted.
Mr. Pontellier's arguments were usually convincing with those whom he
employed. He left home feeling quite sure that he and Edna would sit down
that evening, and possibly a few subsequent evenings, to a dinner
deserving of the name.
Edna spent an hour or two in looking over some of her old sketches. She
could see their shortcomings and defects, which were glaring in her eyes.
She tried to work a little, but found she was not in the humor. Finally
she gathered together a few of the sketches—those which she
considered the least discreditable; and she carried them with her when, a
little later, she dressed and left the house. She looked handsome and
distinguished in her street gown. The tan of the seashore had left her
face, and her forehead was smooth, white, and polished beneath her heavy,
yellow-brown hair. There were a few freckles on her face, and a small,
dark mole near the under lip and one on the temple, half-hidden in her
As Edna walked along the street she was thinking of Robert. She was still
under the spell of her infatuation. She had tried to forget him, realizing
the inutility of remembering. But the thought of him was like an
obsession, ever pressing itself upon her. It was not that she dwelt upon
details of their acquaintance, or recalled in any special or peculiar way
his personality; it was his being, his existence, which dominated her
thought, fading sometimes as if it would melt into the mist of the
forgotten, reviving again with an intensity which filled her with an
Edna was on her way to Madame Ratignolle's. Their intimacy, begun at Grand
Isle, had not declined, and they had seen each other with some frequency
since their return to the city. The Ratignolles lived at no great distance
from Edna's home, on the corner of a side street, where Monsieur
Ratignolle owned and conducted a drug store which enjoyed a steady and
prosperous trade. His father had been in the business before him, and
Monsieur Ratignolle stood well in the community and bore an enviable
reputation for integrity and clearheadedness. His family lived in
commodious apartments over the store, having an entrance on the side
within the porte cochere. There was something which Edna thought very
French, very foreign, about their whole manner of living. In the large and
pleasant salon which extended across the width of the house, the
Ratignolles entertained their friends once a fortnight with a soiree
musicale, sometimes diversified by card-playing. There was a friend who
played upon the 'cello. One brought his flute and another his violin,
while there were some who sang and a number who performed upon the piano
with various degrees of taste and agility. The Ratignolles' soirees
musicales were widely known, and it was considered a privilege to be
invited to them.
Edna found her friend engaged in assorting the clothes which had returned
that morning from the laundry. She at once abandoned her occupation upon
seeing Edna, who had been ushered without ceremony into her presence.
"'Cite can do it as well as I; it is really her business," she explained
to Edna, who apologized for interrupting her. And she summoned a young
black woman, whom she instructed, in French, to be very careful in
checking off the list which she handed her. She told her to notice
particularly if a fine linen handkerchief of Monsieur Ratignolle's, which
was missing last week, had been returned; and to be sure to set to one
side such pieces as required mending and darning.
Then placing an arm around Edna's waist, she led her to the front of the
house, to the salon, where it was cool and sweet with the odor of great
roses that stood upon the hearth in jars.
Madame Ratignolle looked more beautiful than ever there at home, in a
neglige which left her arms almost wholly bare and exposed the rich,
melting curves of her white throat.
"Perhaps I shall be able to paint your picture some day," said Edna with a
smile when they were seated. She produced the roll of sketches and started
to unfold them. "I believe I ought to work again. I feel as if I wanted to
be doing something. What do you think of them? Do you think it worth while
to take it up again and study some more? I might study for a while with
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
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
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
"It seems to me the utmost folly for a woman at the head of a household,
and the mother of children, to spend in an atelier days which would be
better employed contriving for the comfort of her family."
"I feel like painting," answered Edna. "Perhaps I shan't always feel like
"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
"She isn't a musician, and I'm not a painter. It isn't on account of
painting that I let things go."
"On account of what, then?"
"Oh! I don't know. Let me alone; you bother me."
It sometimes entered Mr. Pontellier's mind to wonder if his wife were not
growing a little unbalanced mentally. He could see plainly that she was
not herself. That is, he could not see that she was becoming herself and
daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment
with which to appear before the world.
Her husband let her alone as she requested, and went away to his office.
Edna went up to her atelier—a bright room in the top of the house.
She was working with great energy and interest, without accomplishing
anything, however, which satisfied her even in the smallest degree. For a
time she had the whole household enrolled in the service of art. The boys
posed for her. They thought it amusing at first, but the occupation soon
lost its attractiveness when they discovered that it was not a game
arranged especially for their entertainment. The quadroon sat for hours
before Edna's palette, patient as a savage, while the house-maid took
charge of the children, and the drawing-room went undusted. But the
housemaid, too, served her term as model when Edna perceived that the
young woman's back and shoulders were molded on classic lines, and that
her hair, loosened from its confining cap, became an inspiration. While
Edna worked she sometimes sang low the little air, "Ah! si tu savais!"
It moved her with recollections. She could hear again the ripple of the
water, the flapping sail. She could see the glint of the moon upon the
bay, and could feel the soft, gusty beating of the hot south wind. A
subtle current of desire passed through her body, weakening her hold upon
the brushes and making her eyes burn.
There were days when she was very happy without knowing why. She was happy
to be alive and breathing, when her whole being seemed to be one with the
sunlight, the color, the odors, the luxuriant warmth of some perfect
Southern day. She liked then to wander alone into strange and unfamiliar
places. She discovered many a sunny, sleepy corner, fashioned to dream in.
And she found it good to dream and to be alone and 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
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
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
Their home from the outside looked like a prison, with iron bars before
the door and lower windows. The iron bars were a relic of the old regime,
and no one had ever thought of dislodging them. At the side was a high
fence enclosing the garden. A gate or door opening upon the street was
locked. Edna rang the bell at this side garden gate, and stood upon the
banquette, waiting to be admitted.
It was Victor who opened the gate for her. A black woman, wiping her hands
upon her apron, was close at his heels. Before she saw them Edna could
hear them in altercation, the woman—plainly an anomaly—claiming
the right to be allowed to perform her duties, one of which was to answer
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
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
There had been but two letters from Robert, with little in them, they told
her. Victor said it was really not worth while to go inside for the
letters, when his mother entreated him to go in search of them. He
remembered the contents, which in truth he rattled off very glibly when
put to the test.
One letter was written from Vera Cruz and the other from the City of
Mexico. He had met Montel, who was doing everything toward his
advancement. So far, the financial situation was no improvement over the
one he had left in New Orleans, but of course the prospects were vastly
better. He wrote of the City of Mexico, the buildings, the people and
their habits, the conditions of life which he found there. He sent his
love to the family. He inclosed a check to his mother, and hoped she would
affectionately remember him to all his friends. That was about the
substance of the two letters. Edna felt that if there had been a message
for her, she would have received it. The despondent frame of mind in which
she had left home began again to overtake her, and she remembered that she
wished to find Mademoiselle Reisz.
Madame Lebrun knew where Mademoiselle Reisz lived. She gave Edna the
address, regretting that she would not consent to stay and spend the
remainder of the afternoon, and pay a visit to Mademoiselle Reisz some
other day. The afternoon was already well advanced.
Victor escorted her out upon the banquette, lifted her parasol, and held
it over her while he walked to the car with her. He entreated her to bear
in mind that the disclosures of the afternoon were strictly confidential.
She laughed and bantered him a little, remembering too late that she
should have been dignified and reserved.
"How handsome Mrs. Pontellier looked!" said Madame Lebrun to her son.
"Ravishing!" he admitted. "The city atmosphere has improved her. Some way
she doesn't seem like the same woman."
Some people contended that the reason Mademoiselle Reisz always chose
apartments up under the roof was to discourage the approach of beggars,
peddlars and callers. There were plenty of windows in her little front
room. They were for the most part dingy, but as they were nearly always
open it did not make so much difference. They often admitted into the room
a good deal of smoke and soot; but at the same time all the light and air
that there was came through them. From her windows could be seen the
crescent of the river, the masts of ships and the big chimneys of the
Mississippi steamers. A magnificent piano crowded the apartment. In the
next room she slept, and in the third and last she harbored a gasoline
stove on which she cooked her meals when disinclined to descend to the
neighboring restaurant. It was there also that she ate, keeping her
belongings in a rare old buffet, dingy and battered from a hundred years
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
"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.
"Yes, your friend Robert. He wrote to me from the City of Mexico."
"Wrote to YOU?" repeated Edna in amazement, stirring her coffee absently.
"Yes, to me. Why not? Don't stir all the warmth out of your coffee; drink
it. Though the letter might as well have been sent to you; it was nothing
but Mrs. Pontellier from beginning to end."
"Let me see it," requested the young woman, entreatingly.
"No; a letter concerns no one but the person who writes it and the one to
whom it is written."
"Haven't you just said it concerned me from beginning to end?"
"It was written about you, not to you. 'Have you seen Mrs. Pontellier? How
is she looking?' he asks. 'As Mrs. Pontellier says,' or 'as Mrs.
Pontellier once said.' 'If Mrs. Pontellier should call upon you, play for
her that Impromptu of Chopin's, my favorite. I heard it here a day or two
ago, but not as you play it. I should like to know how it affects her,'
and so on, as if he supposed we were constantly in each other's society."
"Let me see the letter."
"Have you answered it?"
"Let me see the letter."
"No, and again, no."
"Then play the Impromptu for me."
"It is growing late; what time do you have to be home?"
"Time doesn't concern me. Your question seems a little rude. Play the
"But you have told me nothing of yourself. What are you doing?"
"Painting!" laughed Edna. "I am becoming an artist. Think of it!"
"Ah! an artist! You have pretensions, Madame."
"Why pretensions? Do you think I could not become an artist?"
"I do not know you well enough to say. I do not know your talent or your
temperament. To be an artist includes much; one must possess many gifts—absolute
gifts—which have not been acquired by one's own effort. And,
moreover, to succeed, the artist must possess the courageous soul."
"What do you mean by the courageous soul?"
"Courageous, ma foi! The brave soul. The soul that dares and defies."
"Show me the letter and play for me the Impromptu. You see that I have
persistence. Does that quality count for anything in art?"
"It counts with a foolish old woman whom you have captivated," replied
Mademoiselle, with her wriggling laugh.
The letter was right there at hand in the drawer of the little table upon
which Edna had just placed her coffee cup. Mademoiselle opened the drawer
and drew forth the letter, the topmost one. She placed it in Edna's hands,
and without further comment arose and went to the piano.
Mademoiselle played a soft interlude. It was an improvisation. She sat low
at the instrument, and the lines of her body settled into ungraceful
curves and angles that gave it an appearance of deformity. Gradually and
imperceptibly the interlude melted into the soft opening minor chords of
the Chopin Impromptu.
Edna did not know when the Impromptu began or ended. She sat in the sofa
corner reading Robert's letter by the fading light. Mademoiselle had
glided from the Chopin into the quivering love notes of Isolde's song, and
back again to the Impromptu with its soulful and poignant longing.
The shadows deepened in the little room. The music grew strange and
fantastic—turbulent, insistent, plaintive and soft with entreaty.
The shadows grew deeper. The music filled the room. It floated out upon
the night, over the housetops, the crescent of the river, losing itself in
the silence of the upper air.
Edna was sobbing, just as she had wept one midnight at Grand Isle when
strange, new voices awoke in her. She arose in some agitation to take her
departure. "May I come again, Mademoiselle?" she asked at the 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
"I know that; I told you I couldn't explain. Her whole attitude—toward
me and everybody and everything—has changed. You know I have a quick
temper, but I don't want to quarrel or be rude to a woman, especially my
wife; yet I'm driven to it, and feel like ten thousand devils after I've
made a fool of myself. She's making it devilishly uncomfortable for me,"
he went on nervously. "She's got some sort of notion in her head
concerning the eternal rights of women; and—you understand—we
meet in the morning at the breakfast table."
The old gentleman lifted his shaggy eyebrows, protruded his thick nether
lip, and tapped the arms of his chair with his cushioned fingertips.
"What have you been doing to her, Pontellier?"
"Has she," asked the Doctor, with a smile, "has she been associating of
late with a circle of pseudo-intellectual women—super-spiritual
superior beings? My wife has been telling me about them."
"That's the trouble," broke in Mr. Pontellier, "she hasn't been
associating with any one. She has abandoned her Tuesdays at home, has
thrown over all her acquaintances, and goes tramping about by herself,
moping in the street-cars, getting in after dark. I tell you she's
peculiar. I don't like it; I feel a little worried over it."
This was a new aspect for the Doctor. "Nothing hereditary?" he asked,
seriously. "Nothing peculiar about her family antecedents, is there?"
"Oh, no, indeed! She comes of sound old Presbyterian Kentucky stock. The
old gentleman, her father, I have heard, used to atone for his weekday
sins with his Sunday devotions. I know for a fact, that his race horses
literally ran away with the prettiest bit of Kentucky farming land I ever
laid eyes upon. Margaret—you know Margaret—she has all the
Presbyterianism undiluted. And the youngest is something of a vixen. By
the way, she gets married in a couple of weeks from now."
"Send your wife up to the wedding," exclaimed the Doctor, foreseeing a
happy solution. "Let her stay among her own people for a while; it will do
"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
"Pontellier," said the Doctor, after a moment's reflection, "let your wife
alone for a while. Don't bother her, and don't let her bother you. Woman,
my dear friend, is a very peculiar and delicate organism—a sensitive
and highly organized woman, such as I know Mrs. Pontellier to be, is
especially peculiar. It would require an inspired psychologist to deal
successfully with them. And when ordinary fellows like you and me attempt
to cope with their idiosyncrasies the result is bungling. Most women are
moody and whimsical. This is some passing whim of your wife, due to some
cause or causes which you and I needn't try to fathom. But it will pass
happily over, especially if you let her alone. Send her around to see me."
"Oh! I couldn't do that; there'd be no reason for it," objected Mr.
"Then I'll go around and see her," said the Doctor. "I'll drop in to
dinner some evening en bon ami.
"Do! by all means," urged Mr. Pontellier. "What evening will you come? Say
Thursday. Will you come Thursday?" he asked, rising to take his 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
Mr. Pontellier turned before leaving to say:
"I am going to New York on business very soon. I have a big scheme on
hand, and want to be on the field proper to pull the ropes and handle the
ribbons. We'll let you in on the inside if you say so, Doctor," he
"No, I thank you, my dear sir," returned the Doctor. "I leave such
ventures to you younger men with the fever of life still in your blood."
"What I wanted to say," continued Mr. Pontellier, with his hand on the
knob; "I may have to be absent a good while. Would you advise me to take
"By all means, if she wishes to go. If not, leave her here. Don't
contradict her. The mood will pass, I assure you. It may take a month,
two, three months—possibly longer, but it will pass; have patience."
"Well, good-by, a jeudi," said Mr. Pontellier, as he let himself out.
The Doctor would have liked during the course of conversation to ask, "Is
there any man in the case?" but he knew his Creole too well to make such a
blunder as that.
He did not resume his book immediately, but sat for a while meditatively
looking out into the garden.
Edna's father was in the city, and had been with them several days. She
was not very warmly or deeply attached to him, but they had certain tastes
in common, and when together they were companionable. His coming was in
the nature of a welcome disturbance; it seemed to furnish a new direction
for her emotions.
He had come to purchase a wedding gift for his daughter, Janet, and an
outfit for himself in which he might make a creditable appearance at her
marriage. Mr. Pontellier had selected the bridal gift, as every one
immediately connected with him always deferred to his taste in such
matters. And his suggestions on the question of dress—which too
often assumes the nature of a problem—were of inestimable value to
his father-in-law. But for the past few days the old gentleman had been
upon Edna's hands, and in his society she was becoming acquainted with a
new set of sensations. He had been a colonel in the Confederate army, and
still maintained, with the title, the military bearing which had always
accompanied it. His hair and mustache were white and silky, emphasizing
the rugged bronze of his face. He was tall and thin, and wore his coats
padded, which gave a fictitious breadth and depth to his shoulders and
chest. Edna and her father looked very distinguished together, and excited
a good deal of notice during their perambulations. Upon his arrival she
began by introducing him to her atelier and making a sketch of him. He
took the whole matter very seriously. If her talent had been ten-fold
greater than it was, it would not have surprised him, convinced as he was
that he had bequeathed to all of his daughters the germs of a masterful
capability, which only depended upon their own efforts to be directed
toward successful achievement.
Before her pencil he sat rigid and unflinching, as he had faced the
cannon's mouth in days gone by. He resented the intrusion of the children,
who gaped with wondering eyes at him, sitting so stiff up there in their
mother's bright atelier. When they drew near he motioned them away with an
expressive action of the foot, loath to disturb the fixed lines of his
countenance, his arms, or his rigid shoulders.
Edna, anxious to entertain him, invited Mademoiselle Reisz to meet him,
having promised him a treat in her piano playing; but Mademoiselle
declined the invitation. So together they attended a soiree musicale at
the Ratignolles'. Monsieur and Madame Ratignolle made much of the Colonel,
installing him as the guest of honor and engaging him at once to dine with
them the following Sunday, or any day which he might select. Madame
coquetted with him in the most captivating and naive manner, with eyes,
gestures, and a profusion of compliments, till the Colonel's old head felt
thirty years younger on his padded shoulders. Edna marveled, not
comprehending. She herself was almost devoid of 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
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 suspected.
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
He observed his hostess attentively from under his shaggy brows, and noted
a subtle change which had transformed her from the listless woman he had
known into a being who, for the moment, seemed palpitant with the forces
of life. Her speech was warm and energetic. There was no repression in her
glance or gesture. She reminded him of some beautiful, sleek animal waking
up in the sun.
The dinner was excellent. The claret was warm and the champagne was cold,
and under their beneficent influence the threatened unpleasantness melted
and vanished with the fumes of the wine.
Mr. Pontellier warmed up and grew reminiscent. He told some amusing
plantation experiences, recollections of old Iberville and his youth, when
he hunted 'possum in company with some friendly darky; thrashed the pecan
trees, shot the grosbec, and roamed the woods and fields in mischievous
The Colonel, with little sense of humor and of the fitness of things,
related a somber episode of those dark and bitter days, in which he had
acted a conspicuous part and always formed a central figure. Nor was the
Doctor happier in his selection, when he told the old, ever new and
curious story of the waning of a woman's love, seeking strange, new
channels, only to return to its legitimate source after days of fierce
unrest. It was one of the many little human documents which had been
unfolded to him during his long career as a physician. The story did not
seem especially to impress Edna. She had one of her own to tell, of a
woman who paddled away with her lover one night in a pirogue and never
came back. They were lost amid the Baratarian Islands, and no one ever
heard of them or found trace of them from that day to this. It was a pure
invention. She said that Madame Antoine had related it to her. That, also,
was an invention. Perhaps it was a dream she had had. But every glowing
word seemed real to those who listened. They could feel the hot breath of
the Southern night; they could hear the long sweep of the pirogue through
the glistening moonlit water, the beating of birds' wings, rising startled
from among the reeds in the salt-water pools; they could see the faces of
the lovers, pale, close together, rapt in oblivious forgetfulness,
drifting into the unknown.
The champagne was cold, and its subtle fumes played fantastic tricks with
Edna's memory that night.
Outside, away from the glow of the fire and the soft lamplight, the night
was chill and murky. The Doctor doubled his old-fashioned cloak across his
breast as he strode home through the darkness. He knew his
fellow-creatures better than most men; knew that inner life which so
seldom unfolds itself to unanointed eyes. He was sorry he had accepted
Pontellier's invitation. He was growing old, and beginning to need rest
and an imperturbed spirit. He did not want the secrets of other lives
thrust upon him.
"I hope it isn't Arobin," he muttered to himself as he walked. "I hope to
heaven it isn't Alcee Arobin."
Edna and her father had a warm, and almost violent dispute upon the
subject of her refusal to attend her sister's wedding. Mr. Pontellier
declined to interfere, to interpose either his influence or his authority.
He was following Doctor Mandelet's advice, and letting her do as she
liked. The Colonel reproached his daughter for her lack of filial kindness
and respect, her want of sisterly affection and womanly consideration. His
arguments were labored and unconvincing. He doubted if Janet would accept
any excuse—forgetting that Edna had offered none. He doubted if
Janet would ever speak to her again, and he was sure Margaret would not.
Edna was glad to be rid of her father when he finally took himself off
with his wedding garments and his bridal gifts, with his padded shoulders,
his Bible reading, his "toddies" and ponderous oaths.
Mr. Pontellier followed him closely. He meant to stop at the wedding on
his way to New York and endeavor by every means which money and love could
devise to atone somewhat for Edna's incomprehensible action.
"You are too lenient, too lenient by far, Leonce," asserted the Colonel.
"Authority, coercion are what is needed. Put your foot down good and hard;
the only way to manage a wife. Take my word for it."
The Colonel was perhaps unaware that he had coerced his own wife into her
grave. Mr. Pontellier had a vague suspicion of it which he thought it
needless to mention at that late day.
Edna was not so consciously gratified at her husband's leaving home as she
had been over the departure of her father. As the day approached when he
was to leave her for a comparatively long stay, she grew melting and
affectionate, remembering his many acts of consideration and his repeated
expressions of an ardent attachment. She was solicitous about his health
and his welfare. She bustled around, looking after his clothing, thinking
about heavy underwear, quite as Madame Ratignolle would have done under
similar circumstances. She cried when he went away, calling him her dear,
good friend, and she was quite certain she would grow lonely before very
long and go to join him in New York.
But after all, a radiant peace settled upon her when she at last found
herself alone. Even the children were gone. Old Madame Pontellier had come
herself and carried them off to Iberville with their quadroon. The old
madame did not venture to say she was afraid they would be neglected
during Leonce's absence; she hardly ventured to think so. She was hungry
for them—even a little fierce in her attachment. She did not want
them to be wholly "children of the pavement," she always said when begging
to have them for a space. She wished them to know the country, with its
streams, its fields, its woods, its freedom, so delicious to the young.
She wished them to taste something of the life their father had lived and
known and loved when he, too, was a little child.
When Edna was at last alone, she breathed a big, genuine sigh of relief. A
feeling that was unfamiliar but very delicious came over her. She walked
all through the house, from one room to another, as if inspecting it for
the first time. She tried the various chairs and lounges, as if she had
never sat and reclined upon them before. And she perambulated around the
outside of the house, investigating, looking to see if windows and
shutters were secure and in order. The flowers were like new
acquaintances; she approached them in a familiar spirit, and made herself
at home among them. The garden walks were damp, and Edna called to the
maid to bring out her rubber sandals. And there she stayed, and stooped,
digging around the plants, trimming, picking dead, dry leaves. The
children's little dog came out, interfering, getting in her way. She
scolded him, laughed at him, played with him. The garden smelled so good
and looked so pretty in the afternoon sunlight. Edna plucked all the
bright flowers she could find, and went into the house with them, she and
the little dog.
Even the kitchen assumed a sudden interesting character which she had
never before perceived. She went in to give directions to the cook, to say
that the butcher would have to bring much less meat, that they would
require only half their usual quantity of bread, of milk and groceries.
She told the cook that she herself would be greatly occupied during Mr.
Pontellier's absence, and she begged her to take all thought and
responsibility of the larder upon her own shoulders.
That night Edna dined alone. The candelabra, with a few candles in the
center of the table, gave all the light she needed. Outside the circle of
light in which she sat, the large dining-room looked solemn and shadowy.
The cook, placed upon her mettle, served a delicious repast—a
luscious tenderloin broiled a point. The wine tasted good; the marron
glace seemed to be just what she wanted. It was so pleasant, too, to dine
in a comfortable peignoir.
She thought a little sentimentally about Leonce and the children, and
wondered what they were doing. As she gave a dainty scrap or two to the
doggie, she talked intimately to him about Etienne and Raoul. He was
beside himself with astonishment and delight over these companionable
advances, and showed his appreciation by his little quick, snappy barks
and a lively agitation.
Then Edna sat in the library after dinner and read Emerson until she grew
sleepy. She realized that she had neglected her reading, and determined to
start anew upon a course of improving studies, now that her time was
completely her own to do with as she liked.
After a refreshing bath, Edna went to bed. And as she snuggled comfortably
beneath the eiderdown a sense of restfulness invaded her, such as she had
not known before.
When the weather was dark and cloudy Edna could not work. She needed the
sun to mellow and temper her mood to the sticking point. She had reached a
stage when she seemed to be no longer feeling her way, working, when in
the humor, with sureness and ease. And being devoid of ambition, and
striving not toward accomplishment, she drew satisfaction from the work in
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
He admired Edna extravagantly, after meeting her at the races with her
father. He had met her before on other occasions, but she had seemed to
him unapproachable until that day. It was at his instigation that Mrs.
Highcamp called to ask her to go with them to the Jockey Club to witness
the turf event of the season.
There were possibly a few track men out there who knew the race horse as
well as Edna, but there was certainly none who knew it better. She sat
between her two companions as one having authority to speak. She laughed
at Arobin's pretensions, and deplored Mrs. Highcamp's ignorance. The race
horse was a friend and intimate associate of her childhood. The atmosphere
of the stables and the breath of the blue grass paddock revived in her
memory and lingered in her nostrils. She did not perceive that she was
talking like her father as the sleek geldings ambled in review before
them. She played for very high stakes, and fortune favored her. The fever
of the game flamed in her cheeks and eyes, and it got into her blood and
into her brain like an intoxicant. People turned their heads to look at
her, and more than one lent an attentive ear to her utterances, hoping
thereby to secure the elusive but ever-desired "tip." Arobin caught the
contagion of excitement which drew him to Edna like a magnet. Mrs.
Highcamp remained, as usual, unmoved, with her indifferent stare and
Edna stayed and dined with Mrs. Highcamp upon being urged to do so. Arobin
also remained and sent away his drag.
The dinner was quiet and uninteresting, save for the cheerful efforts of
Arobin to enliven things. Mrs. Highcamp deplored the absence of her
daughter from the races, and tried to convey to her what she had missed by
going to the "Dante reading" instead of joining them. The girl held a
geranium leaf up to her nose and said nothing, but looked knowing and
noncommittal. Mr. Highcamp was a plain, bald-headed man, who only talked
under compulsion. He was unresponsive. Mrs. Highcamp was full of delicate
courtesy and consideration toward her husband. She addressed most of her
conversation to him at table. They sat in the library after dinner and
read the evening papers together under the droplight; while the younger
people went into the drawing-room near by and talked. Miss Highcamp played
some selections from Grieg upon the piano. She seemed to have apprehended
all of the composer's coldness and none of his poetry. While Edna listened
she could not help wondering if she had lost her taste for music.
When the time came for her to go home, Mr. Highcamp grunted a lame offer
to escort her, looking down at his slippered feet with tactless concern.
It was Arobin who took her home. The car ride was long, and it was late
when they reached Esplanade Street. Arobin asked permission to enter for a
second to light his cigarette—his match safe was empty. He filled
his match safe, but did not light his cigarette until he left her, after
she had expressed her willingness to go to the races with him again.
Edna was neither tired nor sleepy. She was hungry again, for the Highcamp
dinner, though of excellent quality, had lacked abundance. She rummaged in
the larder and brought forth a slice of Gruyere and some crackers. She
opened a bottle of beer which she found in the icebox. Edna felt extremely
restless and excited. She vacantly hummed a fantastic tune as she poked at
the wood embers on the hearth and munched a cracker.
She wanted something to happen—something, anything; she did not know
what. She regretted that she had not made Arobin stay a half hour to talk
over the horses with her. She counted the money she had won. But there was
nothing else to do, so she went to bed, and tossed there for hours in a
sort of monotonous agitation.
In the middle of the night she remembered that she had forgotten to write
her regular letter to her husband; and she decided to do so next day and
tell him about her afternoon at the Jockey Club. She lay wide awake
composing a letter which was nothing like the one which she wrote next
day. When the maid awoke her in the morning Edna was dreaming of Mr.
Highcamp playing the piano at the entrance of a music store on Canal
Street, while his wife was saying to Alcee Arobin, as they boarded an
Esplanade Street car:
"What a pity that so much talent has been neglected! but I must go."
When, a few days later, Alcee Arobin again called for Edna in his drag,
Mrs. Highcamp was not with him. He said they would pick her up. But as
that lady had not been apprised of his intention of picking her up, she
was not at home. The daughter was just leaving the house to attend the
meeting of a branch Folk Lore Society, and regretted that she could not
accompany them. Arobin appeared nonplused, and asked Edna if there were
any one else she cared to ask.
She did not deem it worth while to go in search of any of the fashionable
acquaintances from whom she had withdrawn herself. She thought of Madame
Ratignolle, but knew that her fair friend did not leave the house, except
to take a languid walk around the block with her husband after nightfall.
Mademoiselle Reisz would have laughed at such a request from Edna. Madame
Lebrun might have enjoyed the outing, but for some reason Edna did not
want her. So they went alone, she and Arobin.
The afternoon was intensely interesting to her. The excitement came back
upon her like a remittent fever. Her talk grew familiar and confidential.
It was no labor to become intimate with Arobin. His manner invited easy
confidence. The preliminary stage of becoming acquainted was one which he
always endeavored to ignore when a pretty and engaging woman was
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,
"Yes; work; to be sure. You promised to show me your work. What morning
may I come up to your atelier? To-morrow?"
"Oh, please don't refuse me! I know something of such things. I might help
you with a stray suggestion or two."
"No. Good night. Why don't you go after you have said good night? I don't
like you," she went on in a high, excited pitch, attempting to draw away
her hand. She felt that her words lacked dignity and sincerity, and she
knew that he felt it.
"I'm sorry you don't like me. I'm sorry I offended you. How have I
offended you? What have I done? Can't you forgive me?" And he bent and
pressed his lips upon her hand as if he wished never more to withdraw
"Mr. Arobin," she complained, "I'm greatly upset by the excitement of the
afternoon; I'm not myself. My manner must have misled you in some way. I
wish you to go, please." She spoke in a monotonous, dull tone. He took his
hat from the table, and stood with eyes turned from her, looking into the
dying fire. For a moment or two he kept an impressive 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 dreams.
Alcee Arobin wrote Edna an elaborate note of apology, palpitant with
sincerity. It embarrassed her; for in a cooler, quieter moment it appeared
to her, absurd that she should have taken his action so seriously, so
dramatically. She felt sure that the significance of the whole occurrence
had lain in her own self-consciousness. If she ignored his note it would
give undue importance to a trivial affair. If she replied to it in a
serious spirit it would still leave in his mind the impression that she
had in a susceptible moment yielded to his influence. After all, it was no
great matter to have one's hand kissed. She was provoked at his having
written the apology. She answered in as light and bantering a spirit as
she fancied it deserved, and said she would be glad to have him look in
upon her at work whenever he felt the inclination and his business gave
him the opportunity.
He responded at once by presenting himself at her home with all his
disarming naivete. And then there was scarcely a day which followed that
she did not see him or was not reminded of him. He was prolific in
pretexts. His attitude became one of good-humored subservience and tacit
adoration. He was ready at all times to submit to her moods, which were as
often kind as they were cold. She grew accustomed to him. They became
intimate and friendly by imperceptible degrees, and then by leaps. He
sometimes talked in a way that astonished her at first and brought the
crimson into her face; in a way that pleased her at last, appealing to the
animalism that stirred impatiently within her.
There was nothing which so quieted the turmoil of Edna's senses as a visit
to Mademoiselle Reisz. It was then, in the presence of that personality
which was offensive to her, that the woman, by her divine art, seemed to
reach Edna's spirit and set it free.
It was misty, with heavy, lowering atmosphere, one afternoon, when Edna
climbed the stairs to the pianist's apartments under the roof. Her clothes
were dripping with moisture. She felt chilled and pinched as she entered
the room. Mademoiselle was poking at a rusty stove that smoked a little
and warmed the room indifferently. She was endeavoring to heat a pot of
chocolate on the stove. The room looked cheerless and dingy to Edna as she
entered. A bust of Beethoven, covered with a hood of dust, scowled at her
from the mantelpiece.
"Ah! here comes the sunlight!" exclaimed Mademoiselle, rising from her
knees before the stove. "Now it will be warm and bright enough; I can let
the fire alone."
She closed the stove door with a bang, and approaching, assisted in
removing Edna's dripping mackintosh.
"You are cold; you look miserable. The chocolate will soon be hot. But
would you rather have a taste of brandy? I have scarcely touched the
bottle which you brought me for my cold." A piece of red flannel was
wrapped around Mademoiselle's throat; a stiff neck compelled her to hold
her head on one side.
"I will take some brandy," said Edna, shivering as she removed her gloves
and overshoes. She drank the liquor from the glass as a man would have
done. Then flinging herself upon the uncomfortable sofa she said,
"Mademoiselle, I am going to move away from my house on Esplanade 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
"Aren't you astonished?"
"Passably. Where are you going? to New York? to Iberville? to your father
in Mississippi? where?"
"Just two steps away," laughed Edna, "in a little four-room house around
the corner. It looks so cozy, so inviting and restful, whenever I pass by;
and it's for rent. I'm tired looking after that big house. It never seemed
like mine, anyway—like home. It's too much trouble. I have to keep
too many servants. I am tired bothering with them."
"That is not your true reason, ma belle. There is no use in telling me
lies. I don't know your reason, but you have not told me the truth." Edna
did not protest or endeavor to justify herself.
"The house, the money that provides for it, are not mine. Isn't that
"They are your husband's," returned Mademoiselle, with a shrug and a
malicious elevation of the eyebrows.
"Oh! I see there is no deceiving you. Then let me tell you: It is a
caprice. I have a little money of my own from my mother's estate, which my
father sends me by driblets. I won a large sum this winter on the races,
and I am beginning to sell my sketches. Laidpore is more and more pleased
with my work; he says it grows in force and individuality. I cannot judge
of that myself, but I feel that I have gained in ease and confidence.
However, as I said, I have sold a good many through Laidpore. I can live
in the tiny house for little or nothing, with one servant. Old Celestine,
who works occasionally for me, says she will come stay with me and do my
work. I know I shall like it, like the feeling of freedom and
"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,"
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
"I shall give a grand dinner before I leave the old house!" Edna
exclaimed. "You will have to come to it, Mademoiselle. I will give you
everything that you like to eat and to drink. We shall sing and laugh and
be merry for once." And she uttered a sigh that came from the very depths
of her being.
If Mademoiselle happened to have received a letter from Robert during the
interval of Edna's visits, she would give her the letter unsolicited. And
she would seat herself at the piano and play as her humor prompted her
while the young woman read the letter.
The little stove was roaring; it was red-hot, and the chocolate in the tin
sizzled and sputtered. Edna went forward and opened the stove door, and
Mademoiselle rising, took a letter from under the bust of Beethoven and
handed it to Edna.
"Another! so soon!" she exclaimed, her eyes filled with delight. "Tell me,
Mademoiselle, does he know that I see his letters?"
"Never in the world! He would be angry and would never write to me again
if he thought so. Does he write to you? Never a line. Does he send you a
message? Never a word. It is because he loves you, poor fool, and is
trying to forget you, since you are not free to listen to him or to belong
"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
"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
"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
"You are purposely misunderstanding me, ma reine. Are you in love with
"Yes," said Edna. It was the first time she had admitted it, and a glow
overspread her face, blotching it with red spots.
"Why?" asked her companion. "Why do you love him when you ought not to?"
Edna, with a motion or two, dragged herself on her knees before
Mademoiselle Reisz, who took the glowing face between her two hands.
"Why? Because his hair is brown and grows away from his temples; because
he opens and shuts his eyes, and his nose is a little out of drawing;
because he has two lips and a square chin, and a little finger which he
can't straighten from having played baseball too energetically in his
"Because you do, in short," laughed Mademoiselle. "What will you do when
he comes back?" she asked.
"Do? Nothing, except feel glad and happy to be alive."
She was already glad and happy to be alive at the mere thought of his
return. The murky, lowering sky, which had depressed her a few hours
before, seemed bracing and invigorating as she splashed through the
streets on her way home.
She stopped at a confectioner's and ordered a huge box of bonbons for the
children in Iberville. She slipped a card in the box, on which she
scribbled a tender message and sent an abundance of kisses.
Before dinner in the evening Edna wrote a charming letter to her husband,
telling him of her intention to move for a while into the little house
around the block, and to give a farewell dinner before leaving, regretting
that he was not there to share it, to help out with the menu and assist
her in entertaining the guests. Her letter was brilliant and brimming with
"What is the matter with you?" asked Arobin that evening. "I never found
you in such a happy mood." Edna was tired by that time, and was reclining
on the lounge before the fire.
"Don't you know the weather prophet has told us we shall see the sun
"Well, that ought to be reason enough," he acquiesced. "You wouldn't give
me another if I sat here all night imploring you." He sat close to her on
a low tabouret, and as he spoke his fingers lightly touched the hair that
fell a little over her forehead. She liked the touch of his fingers
through her hair, and closed her eyes sensitively.
"One of these days," she said, "I'm going to pull myself together for a
while and think—try to determine what character of a woman I am;
for, candidly, I don't know. By all the codes which I am acquainted with,
I am a devilishly wicked specimen of the sex. But some way I can't
convince myself that I am. I must think about it."
"Don't. What's the use? Why should you bother thinking about it when I can
tell you what manner of woman you are." His fingers strayed occasionally
down to her warm, smooth cheeks and firm chin, which was growing a little
full and double.
"Oh, yes! You will tell me that I am adorable; everything that is
captivating. Spare yourself the effort."
"No; I shan't tell you anything of the sort, though I shouldn't be lying
if I did."
"Do you know Mademoiselle Reisz?" she asked irrelevantly.
"The pianist? I know her by sight. I've heard her play."
"She says queer things sometimes in a bantering way that you don't notice
at the time and you find yourself thinking about afterward."
"Well, for instance, when I left her to-day, she put her arms around me
and felt my shoulder blades, to see if my wings were strong, she said.
'The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice
must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings
bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.' Whither would you soar?"
"I'm not thinking of any extraordinary flights. I only half comprehend
"I've heard she's partially demented," said Arobin.
"She seems to me wonderfully sane," Edna replied.
"I'm told she's extremely disagreeable and unpleasant. Why have you
introduced her at a moment when I desired to talk of you?"
"Oh! talk of me if you like," cried Edna, clasping her hands beneath her
head; "but let me think of something else while you do."
"I'm jealous of your thoughts tonight. They're making you a little kinder
than usual; but some way I feel as if they were wandering, as if they were
not here with me." She only looked at him and smiled. His eyes were very
near. He leaned upon the lounge with an arm extended across her, while the
other hand still rested upon her hair. They continued silently to look
into each other's eyes. When he leaned forward and kissed her, she clasped
his head, holding his lips to hers.
It was the first kiss of her life to which her nature had really
responded. It was a flaming torch that kindled desire.
Edna cried a little that night after Arobin left her. It was only one
phase of the multitudinous emotions which had assailed her. There was with
her an overwhelming feeling of irresponsibility. There was the shock of
the unexpected and the unaccustomed. There was her husband's reproach
looking at her from the external things around her which he had provided
for her external existence. There was Robert's reproach making itself felt
by a quicker, fiercer, more overpowering love, which had awakened within
her toward him. Above all, there was understanding. She felt as if a mist
had been lifted from her eyes, enabling her to took upon and comprehend
the significance of life, that monster made up of beauty and brutality.
But among the conflicting sensations which assailed her, there was neither
shame nor remorse. There was a dull pang of regret because it was not the
kiss of love which had inflamed her, because it was not love which had
held this cup of life to her lips.
Without even waiting for an answer from her husband regarding his opinion
or wishes in the matter, Edna hastened her preparations for quitting her
home on Esplanade Street and moving into the little house around the
block. A feverish anxiety attended her every action in that direction.
There was no moment of deliberation, no interval of repose between the
thought and its fulfillment. Early upon the morning following those hours
passed in Arobin's society, Edna set about securing her new abode and
hurrying her arrangements for occupying it. Within the precincts of her
home she felt like one who has entered and lingered within the portals of
some forbidden temple in which a thousand muffled voices bade her begone.
Whatever was her own in the house, everything which she had acquired aside
from her husband's bounty, she caused to be transported to the other
house, supplying simple and meager deficiencies from her own 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
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
"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
"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 forehead.
"Quite new; 'brand' new, in fact; a present from my husband. It arrived
this morning from New York. I may as well admit that this is my birthday,
and that I am twenty-nine. In good time I expect you to drink my health.
Meanwhile, I shall ask you to begin with this cocktail, composed—would
you say 'composed?'" with an appeal to Miss Mayblunt—"composed by my
father in honor of Sister Janet's wedding."
Before each guest stood a tiny glass that looked and sparkled like a
"Then, all things considered," spoke Arobin, "it might not be amiss to
start out by drinking the Colonel's health in the cocktail which he
composed, on the birthday of the most charming of women—the daughter
whom he invented."
Mr. Merriman's laugh at this sally was such a genuine outburst and so
contagious that it started the dinner with an agreeable swing that never
Miss Mayblunt begged to be allowed to keep her cocktail untouched before
her, just to look at. The color was marvelous! She could compare it to
nothing she had ever seen, and the garnet lights which it emitted were
unspeakably rare. She pronounced the Colonel an artist, and stuck to it.
Monsieur Ratignolle was prepared to take things seriously; the mets, the
entre-mets, the service, the decorations, even the people. He looked up
from his pompano and inquired of Arobin if he were related to the
gentleman of that name who formed one of the firm of Laitner and Arobin,
lawyers. The young man admitted that Laitner was a warm personal friend,
who permitted Arobin's name to decorate the firm's letterheads and to
appear upon a shingle that graced Perdido Street.
"There are so many inquisitive people and institutions abounding," said
Arobin, "that one is really forced as a matter of convenience these days
to assume the virtue of an occupation if he has it not." Monsieur
Ratignolle stared a little, and turned to ask Mademoiselle Reisz if she
considered the symphony concerts up to the standard which had been set the
previous winter. Mademoiselle Reisz answered Monsieur Ratignolle in
French, which Edna thought a little rude, under the circumstances, but
characteristic. Mademoiselle had only disagreeable things to say of the
symphony concerts, and insulting remarks to make of all the musicians of
New Orleans, singly and collectively. All her interest seemed to be
centered upon the delicacies placed before her.
Mr. Merriman said that Mr. Arobin's remark about inquisitive people
reminded him of a man from Waco the other day at the St. Charles Hotel—but
as Mr. Merriman's stories were always lame and lacking point, his wife
seldom permitted him to complete them. She interrupted him to ask if he
remembered the name of the author whose book she had bought the week
before to send to a friend in Geneva. She was talking "books" with Mr.
Gouvernail and trying to draw from him his opinion upon current literary
topics. Her husband told the story of the Waco man privately to Miss
Mayblunt, who pretended to be greatly amused and to think it extremely
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 sing:
"Ah! si tu savais!"
"Stop!" she cried, "don't sing that. I don't want you to sing it," and she
laid her glass so impetuously and blindly upon the table as to shatter it
against a carafe. The wine spilled over Arobin's legs and some of it
trickled down upon Mrs. Highcamp's black gauze gown. Victor had lost all
idea of courtesy, or else he thought his hostess was not in earnest, for
he laughed and went on:
"Ah! si tu savais
Ce que tes yeux me disent"—
"Oh! you mustn't! you mustn't," exclaimed Edna, and pushing back her chair
she got up, and going behind him placed her hand over his mouth. He kissed
the soft palm that pressed upon his lips.
"No, no, I won't, Mrs. Pontellier. I didn't know you meant it," looking up
at her with caressing eyes. The touch of his lips was like a pleasing
sting to her hand. She lifted the garland of roses from his head and flung
it across the room.
"Come, Victor; you've posed long enough. Give Mrs. Highcamp her scarf."
Mrs. Highcamp undraped the scarf from about him with her own hands. Miss
Mayblunt and Mr. Gouvernail suddenly conceived the notion that it was time
to say good night. And Mr. and Mrs. Merriman wondered how it could be so
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
"Well," she reiterated, and stood up, stretching her arms, and feeling the
need to relax her muscles after having been so long seated.
"What next?" he asked.
"The servants are all gone. They left when the musicians did. I have
dismissed them. The house has to be closed and locked, and I shall trot
around to the pigeon house, and shall send Celestine over in the morning
to straighten things up."
He looked around, and began to turn out some of the lights.
"What about upstairs?" he inquired.
"I think it is all right; but there may be a window or two unlatched. We
had better look; you might take a candle and see. And bring me my wrap and
hat on the foot of the bed in the middle room."
He went up with the light, and Edna began closing doors and windows. She
hated to shut in the smoke and the fumes of the wine. Arobin found her
cape and hat, which he brought down and helped her to put on.
When everything was secured and the lights put out, they left through the
front door, Arobin locking it and taking the key, which he carried for
Edna. He helped her down the steps.
"Will you have a spray of jessamine?" he asked, breaking off a few
blossoms as he passed.
"No; I don't want anything."
She seemed disheartened, and had nothing to say. She took his arm, which
he offered her, holding up the weight of her satin train with the other
hand. She looked down, noticing the black line of his leg moving in and
out so close to her against the yellow shimmer of her gown. There was the
whistle of a railway train somewhere in the distance, and the midnight
bells were ringing. They met no one in their short walk.
The "pigeon house" stood behind a locked gate, and a shallow parterre that
had been somewhat neglected. There was a small front porch, upon which a
long window and the front door opened. The door opened directly into the
parlor; there was no side entry. Back in the yard was a room for servants,
in which old Celestine had been ensconced.
Edna had left a lamp burning low upon the table. She had succeeded in
making the room look habitable and homelike. There were some books on the
table and a lounge near at hand. On the floor was a fresh matting, covered
with a rug or two; and on the walls hung a few tasteful pictures. But the
room was filled with flowers. These were a surprise to her. Arobin had
sent them, and had had Celestine distribute them during Edna's absence.
Her bedroom was adjoining, and across a small passage were the dining-room
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
"I thought you were going away," she said, in an uneven voice.
"I am, after I have said good night."
"Good night," she murmured.
He did not answer, except to continue to caress her. He did not say good
night until she had become supple to his gentle, seductive entreaties.
When Mr. Pontellier learned of his wife's intention to abandon her home
and take up her residence elsewhere, he immediately wrote her a letter of
unqualified disapproval and remonstrance. She had given reasons which he
was unwilling to acknowledge as adequate. He hoped she had not acted upon
her rash impulse; and he begged her to consider first, foremost, and above
all else, what people would say. He was not dreaming of scandal when he
uttered this warning; that was a thing which would never have entered into
his mind to consider in connection with his wife's name or his own. He was
simply thinking of his financial integrity. It might get noised about that
the Pontelliers had met with reverses, and were forced to conduct their
menage on a humbler scale than heretofore. It might do incalculable
mischief to his business prospects.
But remembering Edna's whimsical turn of mind of late, and foreseeing that
she had immediately acted upon her impetuous determination, he grasped the
situation with his usual promptness and handled it with his well-known
business tact and cleverness.
The same mail which brought to Edna his letter of disapproval carried
instructions—the most minute instructions—to a well-known
architect concerning the remodeling of his home, changes which he had long
contemplated, and which he desired carried forward during his temporary
Expert and reliable packers and movers were engaged to convey the
furniture, carpets, pictures—everything movable, in short—to
places of security. And in an incredibly short time the Pontellier house
was turned over to the artisans. There was to be an addition—a small
snuggery; there was to be frescoing, and hardwood flooring was to be put
into such rooms as had not yet been subjected to this improvement.
Furthermore, in one of the daily papers appeared a brief notice to the
effect that Mr. and Mrs. Pontellier were contemplating a summer sojourn
abroad, and that their handsome residence on Esplanade Street was
undergoing sumptuous alterations, and would not be ready for occupancy
until their return. Mr. Pontellier had saved appearances!
Edna admired the skill of his maneuver, and avoided any occasion to balk
his intentions. When the situation as set forth by Mr. Pontellier was
accepted and taken for granted, she was apparently satisfied that it
should be so.
The pigeon house pleased her. It at once assumed the intimate character of
a home, while she herself invested it with a charm which it reflected like
a warm glow. There was with her a feeling of having descended in the
social scale, with a corresponding sense of having risen in the spiritual.
Every step which she took toward relieving herself from obligations added
to her strength and expansion as an individual. She began to look with her
own eyes; to see and to apprehend the deeper undercurrents of life. No
longer was she content to "feed upon opinion" when her own soul had
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
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
The old Madame was charmed with Edna's visit, and showered all manner of
delicate attentions upon her. She was delighted to know that the Esplanade
Street house was in a dismantled condition. It gave her the promise and
pretext to keep the children indefinitely.
It was with a wrench and a pang that Edna left her children. She carried
away with her the sound of their voices and the touch of their cheeks. All
along the journey homeward their presence lingered with her like the
memory of a delicious song. But by the time she had regained the city the
song no longer echoed in her soul. She was again alone.
It happened sometimes when Edna went to see Mademoiselle Reisz that the
little musician was absent, giving a lesson or making some small necessary
household purchase. The key was always left in a secret hiding-place in
the entry, which Edna knew. If Mademoiselle happened to be away, Edna
would usually enter and wait for her return.
When she knocked at Mademoiselle Reisz's door one afternoon there was no
response; so unlocking the door, as usual, she entered and found the
apartment deserted, as she had expected. Her day had been quite filled up,
and it was for a rest, for a refuge, and to talk about Robert, that she
sought out her friend.
She had worked at her canvas—a young Italian character study—all
the morning, completing the work without the model; but there had been
many interruptions, some incident to her modest housekeeping, and others
of a 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
"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,
He came and clasped her hand, seemingly without knowing what he was saying
"Mrs. Pontellier! How do you happen—oh! how well you look! Is
Mademoiselle Reisz not here? I never expected to see you."
"When did you come back?" asked Edna in an unsteady voice, wiping her face
with her handkerchief. She seemed ill at ease on the piano stool, and he
begged her to take the chair by the window.
She did so, mechanically, while he seated himself on the stool.
"I returned day before yesterday," he answered, while he leaned his arm on
the keys, bringing forth a crash of discordant sound.
"Day before yesterday!" she repeated, aloud; and went on thinking to
herself, "day before yesterday," in a sort of an uncomprehending way. She
had pictured him seeking her at the very first hour, and he had lived
under the same sky since day before yesterday; while only by accident had
he stumbled upon her. Mademoiselle must have lied when she said, "Poor
fool, he loves you."
"Day before yesterday," she repeated, breaking off a spray of
Mademoiselle's geranium; "then if you had not met me here to-day you
wouldn't—when—that is, didn't you mean to come and see me?"
"Of course, I should have gone to see you. There have been so many things—"
he turned the leaves of Mademoiselle's music nervously. "I started in at
once yesterday with the old firm. After all there is as much chance for me
here as there was there—that is, I might find it profitable some
day. The Mexicans were not very congenial."
So he had come back because the Mexicans were not congenial; because
business was as profitable here as there; because of any reason, and not
because he cared to be near her. She remembered the day she sat on the
floor, turning the pages of his letter, seeking the reason which was left
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 Robert.
"No; I have found when she is absent this long, she is liable not to come
back till late." She drew on her gloves, and Robert picked up his 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
They went together, picking their way across muddy streets and sidewalks
encumbered with the cheap display of small tradesmen. Part of the distance
they rode in the car, and after disembarking, passed the Pontellier
mansion, which looked broken and half torn asunder. Robert had never known
the house, and looked at it with interest.
"I never knew you in your home," he remarked.
"I am glad you did not."
"Why?" She did not answer. They went on around the corner, and it seemed
as if her dreams were coming true after all, when he followed her into the
"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
"Oh! you know I want to stay if you will let me!" he exclaimed. All the
softness came back. She laughed, and went and put her hand on his
"This is the first moment you have seemed like the old Robert. I'll go
tell Celestine." She hurried away to tell Celestine to set an extra place.
She even sent her off in search of some added delicacy which she had not
thought of for herself. And she recommended great care in dripping the
coffee and having the omelet done to a proper turn.
When she reentered, Robert was turning over magazines, sketches, and
things that lay upon the table in great disorder. He picked up a
photograph, and exclaimed:
"Alcee Arobin! What on earth is his picture doing here?"
"I tried to make a sketch of his head one day," answered Edna, "and he
thought the photograph might help me. It was at the other house. I thought
it had been left there. I must have packed it up with my drawing
"I should think you would give it back to him if you have finished with
"Oh! I have a great many such photographs. I never think of returning
them. They don't amount to anything." Robert kept on looking at the
"It seems to me—do you think his head worth drawing? Is he a friend
of Mr. Pontellier's? You never said you knew him."
"He isn't a friend of Mr. Pontellier's; he's a friend of mine. I always
knew him—that is, it is only of late that I know him pretty well.
But I'd rather talk about you, and know what you have been seeing and
doing and feeling out there in Mexico." Robert threw aside the picture.
"I've been seeing the waves and the white beach of Grand Isle; the quiet,
grassy street of the Cheniere; the old fort at Grande Terre. I've been
working like a machine, and feeling like a lost soul. There was nothing
She leaned her head upon her hand to shade her eyes from the light.
"And what have you been seeing and doing and feeling all these days?" he
"I've been seeing the waves and the white beach of Grand Isle; the quiet,
grassy street of the Cheniere Caminada; the old sunny fort at Grande
Terre. I've been working with a little more comprehension than a machine,
and still feeling like a lost soul. There was nothing 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 boy.
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
"Perhaps I shouldn't have come back," he said. "When you are tired of me,
tell me to go."
"You never tire me. You must have forgotten the hours and hours at Grand
Isle in which we grew accustomed to each other and used to being
"I have forgotten nothing at Grand Isle," he said, not looking at her, but
rolling a cigarette. His tobacco pouch, which he laid upon the table, was
a fantastic embroidered silk affair, evidently the handiwork of a woman.
"You used to carry your tobacco in a rubber pouch," said Edna, picking up
the pouch and examining the needlework.
"Yes; it was lost."
"Where did you buy this one? In Mexico?"
"It was given to me by a Vera Cruz girl; they are very generous," he
replied, striking a match and lighting his cigarette.
"They are very handsome, I suppose, those Mexican women; very picturesque,
with their black eyes and their lace scarfs."
"Some are; others are hideous, just as you find women everywhere."
"What was she like—the one who gave you the pouch? You must have
known her very well."
"She was very ordinary. She wasn't of the slightest importance. I knew her
"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 obscurity.
"Oh! Lebrun. To be sure! I heard yesterday you were back. How did they
treat you down in Mexique?"
"But not well enough to keep you there. Stunning girls, though, in Mexico.
I thought I should never get away from Vera Cruz when I was down there a
couple of years ago."
"Did they embroider slippers and tobacco pouches and hat-bands and things
for you?" asked Edna.
"Oh! my! no! I didn't get so deep in their regard. I fear they made more
impression on me than I made on them."
"You were less fortunate than Robert, then."
"I am always less fortunate than Robert. Has he been imparting tender
"I've been imposing myself long enough," said Robert, rising, and shaking
hands with Edna. "Please convey my regards to Mr. Pontellier when you
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
All these letters were pleasing to her. She answered the children in a
cheerful frame of mind, promising them bonbons, and congratulating them
upon their happy find of the little pigs.
She answered her husband with friendly evasiveness,—not with any
fixed design to mislead him, only because all sense of reality had gone
out of her life; she had abandoned herself to Fate, and awaited the
consequences with indifference.
To Arobin's note she made no reply. She put it under Celestine's
Edna worked several hours with much spirit. She saw no one but a picture
dealer, who asked her if it were true that she was going abroad to study
She said possibly she might, and he negotiated with her for some Parisian
studies to reach him in time for the holiday trade in December.
Robert did not come that day. She was keenly disappointed. He did not come
the following day, nor the next. Each morning she awoke with hope, and
each night she was a prey to despondency. She was tempted to seek him out.
But far from yielding to the impulse, she avoided any occasion which might
throw her in his way. She did not go to Mademoiselle Reisz's nor pass by
Madame Lebrun's, as she might have done if he had still been 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 blossom.
There was no despondency when she fell asleep that night; nor was there
hope when she awoke in the morning.
There was a garden out in the suburbs; a small, leafy corner, with a few
green tables under the orange trees. An old cat slept all day on the stone
step in the sun, and an old mulatresse slept her idle hours away in her
chair at the open window, till some one happened to knock on one of the
green tables. She had milk and cream cheese to sell, and bread and butter.
There was no one who could make such excellent coffee or fry a chicken so
golden brown as she.
The place was too modest to attract the attention of people of fashion,
and so quiet as to have escaped the notice of those in search of pleasure
and dissipation. Edna had discovered it accidentally one day when the
high-board gate stood ajar. She caught sight of a little green table,
blotched with the checkered sunlight that filtered through the quivering
leaves overhead. Within she had found the slumbering mulatresse, the
drowsy cat, and a glass of milk which reminded her of the milk she had
tasted in Iberville.
She often stopped there during her perambulations; sometimes taking a book
with her, and sitting an hour or two under the trees when she found the
place deserted. Once or twice she took a quiet dinner there alone, having
instructed Celestine beforehand to prepare no dinner at home. It was the
last place in the city where she would have expected to meet any one she
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
"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
"Catiche's coffee is always hot. I don't know how she manages it, here in
the open air. Celestine's coffee gets cold bringing it from the kitchen to
the dining-room. Three lumps! How can you drink it so sweet? Take some of
the cress with your chop; it's so biting and crisp. Then there's the
advantage of being able to smoke with your coffee out here. Now, in the
city—aren't you going to smoke?"
"After a while," he said, laying a cigar on the table.
"Who gave it to you?" she laughed.
"I bought it. I suppose I'm getting reckless; I bought a whole box." She
was determined not to be personal again and make him uncomfortable.
The cat made friends with him, and climbed into his lap when he smoked his
cigar. He stroked her silky fur, and talked a little about her. He looked
at Edna's book, which he had read; and he told her the end, to save her
the trouble of wading through it, he said.
Again he accompanied her back to her home; and it was after dusk when they
reached the little "pigeon-house." She did not ask him to remain, which he
was grateful for, as it permitted him to stay without the discomfort of
blundering through an excuse which he had no intention of considering. He
helped her to light the lamp; then she went into her room to take off her
hat and to bathe her face and hands.
When she came back Robert was not examining the pictures and magazines as
before; he sat off in the shadow, leaning his head back on the chair as if
in a reverie. Edna lingered a moment beside the table, arranging the books
there. Then she went across the room to where he sat. She bent over the
arm of his chair and called his name.
"Robert," she said, "are you asleep?"
"No," he answered, looking up at her.
She leaned over and kissed him—a soft, cool, delicate kiss, whose
voluptuous sting penetrated his whole being-then she moved away from him.
He followed, and took her in his arms, just holding her close to him. She
put her hand up to his face and pressed his cheek against her own. The
action was full of love and tenderness. He sought her lips again. Then he
drew her down upon the sofa beside him and held her hand in both of his.
"Now you know," he said, "now you know what I have been fighting against
since last summer at Grand Isle; what drove me away and drove me back
"Why have you been fighting against it?" she asked. Her face glowed with
"Why? Because you were not free; you were Leonce Pontellier's wife. I
couldn't help loving you if you were ten times his wife; but so long as I
went away from you and kept away I could help telling you so." She put her
free hand up to his shoulder, and then against his cheek, rubbing it
softly. He kissed her again. His face was warm and flushed.
"There in Mexico I was thinking of you all the time, and longing for you."
"But not writing to me," she interrupted.
"Something put into my head that you cared for me; and I lost my senses. I
forgot everything but a wild dream of your some way becoming my wife."
"Religion, loyalty, everything would give way if only you cared."
"Then you must have forgotten that I was Leonce Pontellier's wife."
"Oh! I was demented, dreaming of wild, impossible things, recalling men
who had set their wives free, we have heard of such things."
"Yes, we have heard of such things."
"I came back full of vague, mad intentions. And when I got here—"
"When you got here you never came near me!" She was still caressing his
"I realized what a cur I was to dream of such a thing, even if you had
She took his face between her hands and looked into it as if she would
never withdraw her eyes more. She kissed him on the forehead, the eyes,
the cheeks, and the lips.
"You have been a very, very foolish boy, wasting your time dreaming of
impossible things when you speak of Mr. Pontellier setting me free! I am
no longer one of Mr. Pontellier's possessions to dispose of or not. I give
myself where I choose. If he were to say, 'Here, Robert, take her and be
happy; she is yours,' I should laugh at you both."
His face grew a little white. "What do you mean?" he asked.
There was a knock at the door. Old Celestine came in to say that Madame
Ratignolle's servant had come around the back way with a message that
Madame had been taken sick and begged Mrs. Pontellier to go to her
"Yes, yes," said Edna, rising; "I promised. Tell her yes—to wait for
me. I'll go back with her."
"Let me walk over with you," offered Robert.
"No," she said; "I will go with the servant." She went into her room to
put on her hat, and when she came in again she sat once more upon the sofa
beside him. He had not stirred. She put her arms about his neck.
"Good-by, my sweet Robert. Tell me good-by." He kissed her with a degree
of passion which had not before entered into his caress, and strained her
"I love you," she whispered, "only you; no one but you. It was you who
awoke me last summer out of a life-long, stupid dream. Oh! you have made
me so unhappy with your indifference. Oh! I have suffered, suffered! Now
you are here we shall love each other, my Robert. We shall be everything
to each other. Nothing else in the world is of any consequence. I must go
to my friend; but you will wait for me? No matter how late; you will wait
for me, Robert?"
"Don't go; don't go! Oh! Edna, stay with me," he pleaded. "Why should you
go? Stay with me, stay with me."
"I shall come back as soon as I can; I shall find you here." She buried
her face in his neck, and said good-by again. Her seductive voice,
together with his great love for her, had enthralled his senses, had
deprived him of every impulse but the longing to hold her and keep her.
Edna looked in at the drug store. Monsieur Ratignolle was putting up a
mixture himself, very carefully, dropping a red liquid into a tiny glass.
He was grateful to Edna for having come; her presence would be a comfort
to his wife. Madame Ratignolle's sister, who had always been with her at
such trying times, had not been able to come up from the plantation, and
Adele had been inconsolable until Mrs. Pontellier so kindly promised to
come to her. The nurse had been with them at night for the past week, as
she lived a great distance away. And Dr. Mandelet had been coming and
going all the afternoon. They were then looking for him any moment.
Edna hastened upstairs by a private stairway that led from the rear of the
store to the apartments above. The children were all sleeping in a back
room. Madame Ratignolle was in the salon, whither she had strayed in her
suffering impatience. She sat on the sofa, clad in an ample white
peignoir, holding a handkerchief tight in her hand with a nervous clutch.
Her face was drawn and pinched, her sweet blue eyes haggard and unnatural.
All her beautiful hair had been drawn back and plaited. It lay in a long
braid on the sofa pillow, coiled like a golden serpent. The nurse, a
comfortable looking Griffe woman in white apron and cap, was urging her to
return to her bedroom.
"There is no use, there is no use," she said at once to Edna. "We must get
rid of Mandelet; he is getting too old and careless. He said he would be
here at half-past seven; now it must be eight. See what time it is,
The woman was possessed of a cheerful nature, and refused to take any
situation too seriously, especially a situation with which she was so
familiar. She urged Madame to have courage and patience. But Madame only
set her teeth hard into her under lip, and Edna saw the sweat gather in
beads on her white forehead. After a moment or two she uttered a profound
sigh and wiped her face with the handkerchief rolled in a ball. She
appeared exhausted. The nurse gave her a fresh handkerchief, sprinkled
with cologne water.
"This is too much!" she cried. "Mandelet ought to be killed! Where is
Alphonse? Is it possible I am to be abandoned like this—neglected by
"Neglected, indeed!" exclaimed the nurse. Wasn't she there? And here was
Mrs. Pontellier leaving, no doubt, a pleasant evening at home to devote to
her? And wasn't Monsieur Ratignolle coming that very instant through the
hall? And Josephine was quite sure she had heard Doctor Mandelet's coupe.
Yes, there it was, down at the door.
Adele consented to go back to her room. She sat on the edge of a little
low couch next to her bed.
Doctor Mandelet paid no attention to Madame Ratignolle's upbraidings. He
was accustomed to them at such times, and was too well convinced of her
loyalty to doubt it.
He was glad to see Edna, and wanted her to go with him into the salon and
entertain him. But Madame Ratignolle would not consent that Edna should
leave her for an instant. Between agonizing moments, she chatted a little,
and said it took her mind off her sufferings.
Edna began to feel uneasy. She was seized with a vague dread. Her own like
experiences seemed far away, unreal, and only half remembered. She
recalled faintly an ecstasy of pain, the heavy odor of chloroform, a
stupor which had deadened sensation, and an awakening to find a little new
life to which she had given being, added to the great unnumbered multitude
of souls that come and go.
She began to wish she had not come; her presence was not necessary. She
might have invented a pretext for staying away; she might even invent a
pretext now for going. But Edna did not go. With an inward agony, with a
flaming, outspoken revolt against the ways of Nature, she witnessed the
scene of torture.
She was still stunned and speechless with emotion when later she leaned
over her friend to kiss her and softly say good-by. Adele, pressing her
cheek, whispered in an exhausted voice: "Think of the children, Edna. Oh
think of the children! Remember them!"
Edna still felt dazed when she got outside in the open air. The Doctor's
coupe had returned for him and stood before the porte cochere. She did not
wish to enter the coupe, and told Doctor Mandelet she would walk; she was
not afraid, and would go alone. He directed his carriage to meet him at
Mrs. Pontellier's, and he started to walk home with her.
Up—away up, over the narrow street between the tall houses, the
stars were blazing. The air was mild and caressing, but cool with the
breath of spring and the night. They walked slowly, the Doctor with a
heavy, measured tread and his hands behind him; Edna, in an absent-minded
way, as she had walked one night at Grand Isle, as if her thoughts had
gone ahead of her and she was striving to overtake them.
"You shouldn't have been there, Mrs. Pontellier," he said. "That was no
place for you. Adele is full of whims at such times. There were a dozen
women she might have had with her, unimpressionable women. I felt that it
was cruel, cruel. You shouldn't have gone."
"Oh, well!" she answered, indifferently. "I don't know that it matters
after all. One has to think of the children some time or other; the sooner
"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
She let herself in at the gate, but instead of entering she sat upon the
step of the porch. The night was quiet and soothing. All the tearing
emotion of the last few hours seemed to fall away from her like a somber,
uncomfortable garment, which she had but to loosen to be rid of. She went
back to that hour before Adele had sent for her; and her senses kindled
afresh in thinking of Robert's words, the pressure of his arms, and the
feeling of his lips upon her own. She could picture at that moment no
greater bliss on earth than possession of the beloved one. His expression
of love had already given him to her in part. When she thought that he was
there at hand, waiting for her, she grew numb with the intoxication of
expectancy. It was so late; he would be asleep perhaps. She would awaken
him with a kiss. She hoped he would be asleep that she might arouse him
with her caresses.
Still, she remembered Adele's voice whispering, "Think of the children;
think of them." She meant to think of them; that determination had driven
into her soul like a death wound—but not to-night. To-morrow would
be time to think of everything.
Robert was not waiting for her in the little parlor. He was nowhere at
hand. The house was empty. But he had scrawled on a piece of paper that
lay in the lamplight:
"I love you. Good-by—because I love you."
Edna grew faint when she read the words. She went and sat on the sofa.
Then she stretched herself out there, never uttering a sound. She did not
sleep. She did not go to bed. The lamp sputtered and went out. She was
still awake in the morning, when Celestine unlocked the kitchen door and
came in to light the fire.
Victor, with hammer and nails and scraps of scantling, was patching a
corner of one of the galleries. Mariequita sat near by, dangling her legs,
watching him work, and handing him nails from the tool-box. The sun was
beating down upon them. The girl had covered her head with her apron
folded into a square pad. They had been talking for an hour or more. She
was never tired of hearing Victor describe the dinner at Mrs.
Pontellier's. He exaggerated every detail, making it appear a veritable
Lucullean feast. The flowers were in tubs, he said. The champagne was
quaffed from huge golden goblets. Venus rising from the foam could have
presented no more entrancing a spectacle than Mrs. Pontellier, blazing
with beauty and diamonds at the head of the board, while the other women
were all of them youthful houris, possessed of incomparable charms. She
got it into her head that Victor was in love with Mrs. Pontellier, and he
gave her evasive answers, framed so as to confirm her belief. She grew
sullen and cried a little, threatening to go off and leave him to his fine
ladies. There were a dozen men crazy about her at the Cheniere; and since
it was the fashion to be in love with married people, why, she could run
away any time she liked to New Orleans with Celina's husband.
Celina's husband was a fool, a coward, and a pig, and to prove it to her,
Victor intended to hammer his head into a jelly the next time he
encountered him. This assurance was very consoling to Mariequita. She
dried her eyes, and grew cheerful at the prospect.
They were still talking of the dinner and the allurements of city life
when Mrs. Pontellier herself slipped around the corner of the house. The
two youngsters stayed dumb with amazement before what they considered to
be an apparition. But it was really she in flesh and blood, looking tired
and a little travel-stained.
"I walked up from the wharf," she said, "and heard the hammering. I
supposed it was you, mending the porch. It's a good thing. I was always
tripping over those loose planks last summer. How dreary and deserted
It took Victor some little time to comprehend that she had come in
Beaudelet's lugger, that she had come alone, and for no purpose but to
"There's nothing fixed up yet, you see. I'll give you my room; it's the
"Any corner will do," she assured him.
"And if you can stand Philomel's cooking," he went on, "though I might try
to get her mother while you are here. Do you think she would come?"
turning to Mariequita.
Mariequita thought that perhaps Philomel's mother might come for a few
days, and money enough.
Beholding Mrs. Pontellier make her appearance, the girl had at once
suspected a lovers' rendezvous. But Victor's astonishment was so genuine,
and Mrs. Pontellier's indifference so apparent, that the disturbing notion
did not lodge long in her brain. She contemplated with the greatest
interest this woman who gave the most sumptuous dinners in America, and
who had all the men in New Orleans at her feet.
"What time will you have dinner?" asked Edna. "I'm very hungry; but don't
get anything extra."
"I'll have it ready in little or no time," he said, bustling and packing
away his tools. "You may go to my room to brush up and rest yourself.
Mariequita will show you."
"Thank you," said Edna. "But, do you know, I have a notion to go down to
the beach and take a good wash and even a little swim, before dinner?"
"The water is too cold!" they both exclaimed. "Don't think of it."
"Well, I might go down and try—dip my toes in. Why, it seems to me
the sun is hot enough to have warmed the very depths of the ocean. Could
you get me a couple of towels? I'd better go right away, so as to be back
in time. It would be a little too chilly if I waited till this afternoon."
Mariequita ran over to Victor's room, and returned with some towels, which
she gave to Edna.
"I hope you have fish for dinner," said Edna, as she started to walk away;
"but don't do anything extra if you haven't."
"Run and find Philomel's mother," Victor instructed the girl. "I'll go to
the kitchen and see what I can do. By Gimminy! Women have no
consideration! She might have sent me word."
Edna walked on down to the beach rather mechanically, not noticing
anything special except that the sun was hot. She was not dwelling upon
any particular train of thought. She had done all the thinking which was
necessary after Robert went away, when she lay awake upon the sofa till
She had said over and over to herself: "To-day it is Arobin; to-morrow it
will be some one else. It makes no difference to me, it doesn't matter
about Leonce Pontellier—but Raoul and Etienne!" She understood now
clearly what she had meant long ago when she said to Adele Ratignolle that
she would give up the unessential, but she would never sacrifice herself
for her children.
Despondency had come upon her there in the wakeful night, and had never
lifted. There was no one thing in the world that she desired. There was no
human being whom she wanted near her except Robert; and she even realized
that the day would come when he, too, and the thought of him would melt
out of her existence, leaving her alone. The children appeared before her
like antagonists who had overcome her; who had overpowered and sought to
drag her into the soul's slavery for the rest of her days. But she knew a
way to elude them. She was not thinking of these things when she walked
down to the beach.
The water of the Gulf stretched out before her, gleaming with the million
lights of the sun. The voice of the sea is seductive, never ceasing,
whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander in abysses
of solitude. All along the white beach, up and down, there was no living
thing in sight. A bird with a broken wing was beating the air above,
reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water.
Edna had found her old bathing suit still hanging, faded, upon its
She put it on, leaving her clothing in the bath-house. But when she was
there beside the sea, absolutely alone, she cast the unpleasant, pricking
garments from her, and for the first time in her life she stood naked in
the open air, at the mercy of the sun, the breeze that beat upon her, and
the waves that invited her.
How strange and awful it seemed to stand naked under the sky! how
delicious! She felt like some new-born creature, opening its eyes in a
familiar world that it had never known.
The foamy wavelets curled up to her white feet, and coiled like serpents
about her ankles. She walked out. The water was chill, but she walked on.
The water was deep, but she lifted her white body and reached out with a
long, sweeping stroke. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the
body in its soft, close embrace.
She went on and on. She remembered the night she swam far out, and
recalled the terror that seized her at the fear of being unable to regain
the shore. She did not look back now, but went on and on, thinking of the
blue-grass meadow that she had traversed when a little child, believing
that it had no beginning and no end.
Her arms and legs were growing tired.
She thought of Leonce and the children. They were a part of her life. But
they need not have thought that they could possess her, body and soul. How
Mademoiselle Reisz would have laughed, perhaps sneered, if she knew! "And
you call yourself an artist! What pretensions, Madame! The artist must
possess the courageous soul that dares and defies."
Exhaustion was pressing upon and overpowering her.
"Good-by—because I love you." He did not know; he did not
understand. He would never understand. Perhaps Doctor Mandelet would have
understood if she had seen him—but it was too late; the shore was
far behind her, and her strength was gone.
She looked into the distance, and the old terror flamed up for an instant,
then sank again. Edna heard her father's voice and her sister Margaret's.
She heard the barking of an old dog that was chained to the sycamore tree.
The spurs of the cavalry officer clanged as he walked across the porch.
There was the hum of bees, and the musky odor of pinks filled the air.
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 bayou."
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
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!
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
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 piteously:—
"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 it:—
"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 shore.
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
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
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
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
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 life.
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
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
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
"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 present.
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 Tan'tante?"
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?"
"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 saved.
"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
"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
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
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
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 fields.
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 ruin.
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 herself.
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 fields.
"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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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 plantation.
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
"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
"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 expect."
"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 Octavie's."
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 presence.
"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
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
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."
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 eyes fastened as ardently
as he liked upon the girl who sat in the firelight.
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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.
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
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
"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 motionless.
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
"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
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
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
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 illusions.
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
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 places.
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.
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
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.