Home > English > Literature Classic Books > The Awakening > Part XVI
The Awakening
Classic Book   

READ STUDY GUIDE: Chapters XV–XIX

 

Part XVI

"Do you miss your friend greatly?" asked Mademoiselle Reisz
one morning as she came creeping up behind Edna, who had just left
her cottage on her way to the beach. She spent much of her time in
the water since she had acquired finally the art of swimming. As
their stay at Grand Isle drew near its close, she felt that she
could not give too much time to a diversion which afforded her the
only real pleasurable moments that she knew. When Mademoiselle
Reisz came and touched her upon the shoulder and spoke to her, the
woman seemed to echo the thought which was ever in Edna's mind; or,
better, the feeling which constantly possessed her.
Robert's going had some way taken the brightness, the color,
the meaning out of everything. The conditions of her life were in
no way changed, but her whole existence was dulled, like a faded
garment which seems to be no longer worth wearing. She sought him
everywhere—in others whom she induced to talk about him. She went
up in the mornings to Madame Lebrun's room, braving the clatter of
the old sewing-machine. She sat there and chatted at intervals as
Robert had done. She gazed around the room at the pictures and
photographs hanging upon the wall, and discovered in some corner an
old family album, which she examined with the keenest interest,
appealing to Madame Lebrun for enlightenment concerning the many
figures and faces which she discovered between its pages.
There was a picture of Madame Lebrun with Robert as a baby,
seated in her lap, a round-faced infant with a fist in his mouth.
The eyes alone in the baby suggested the man. And that was he also
in kilts, at the age of five, wearing long curls and holding a whip
in his hand. It made Edna laugh, and she laughed, too, at the portrait
in his first long trousers; while another interested her, taken when he
left for college, looking thin, long-faced, with eyes full of fire,
ambition and great intentions. But there was no recent picture,
none which suggested the Robert who had gone away five days ago,
leaving a void and wilderness behind him.
"Oh, Robert stopped having his pictures taken when he had to
pay for them himself! He found wiser use for his money, he says,"
explained Madame Lebrun. She had a letter from him, written before
he left New Orleans. Edna wished to see the letter, and Madame
Lebrun told her to look for it either on the table or the dresser,
or perhaps it was on the mantelpiece.
The letter was on the bookshelf. It possessed the greatest
interest and attraction for Edna; the envelope, its size and shape,
the post-mark, the handwriting. She examined every detail of the
outside before opening it. There were only a few lines, setting
forth that he would leave the city that afternoon, that he had
packed his trunk in good shape, that he was well, and sent her his
love and begged to be affectionately remembered to all. There was
no special message to Edna except a postscript saying that if Mrs.
Pontellier desired to finish the book which he had been reading to
her, his mother would find it in his room, among other books there
on the table. Edna experienced a pang of jealousy because he had
written to his mother rather than to her.
Every one seemed to take for granted that she missed him.
Even her husband, when he came down the Saturday following Robert's
departure, expressed regret that he had gone.
"How do you get on without him, Edna?" he asked.
"It's very dull without him," she admitted. Mr. Pontellier
had seen Robert in the city, and Edna asked him a dozen questions
or more. Where had they met? On Carondelet Street, in the morning.
They had gone "in" and had a drink and a cigar together. What had
they talked about? Chiefly about his prospects in Mexico, which
Mr. Pontellier thought were promising. How did he look? How did
he seem—grave, or gay, or how? Quite cheerful, and wholly
taken up with the idea of his trip, which Mr. Pontellier found
altogether natural in a young fellow about to seek fortune
and adventure in a strange, queer country.
Edna tapped her foot impatiently, and wondered why the
children persisted in playing in the sun when they might be under
the trees. She went down and led them out of the sun, scolding the
quadroon for not being more attentive.
It did not strike her as in the least grotesque that she
should be making of Robert the object of conversation and leading
her husband to speak of him. The sentiment which she entertained
for Robert in no way resembled that which she felt for her husband,
or had ever felt, or ever expected to feel. She had all her life
long been accustomed to harbor thoughts and emotions which never
voiced themselves. They had never taken the form of struggles.
They belonged to her and were her own, and she entertained the
conviction that she had a right to them and that they concerned no
one but herself. Edna had once told Madame Ratignolle that she
would never sacrifice herself for her children, or for any one.
Then had followed a rather heated argument; the two women did not
appear to understand each other or to be talking the same language.
Edna tried to appease her friend, to explain.
"I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I
would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself. I
can't make it more clear; it's only something which I am beginning
to comprehend, which is revealing itself to me."
"I don't know what you would call the essential, or what you
mean by the unessential," said Madame Ratignolle, cheerfully; "but
a woman who would give her life for her children could do no more
than that—your Bible tells you so. I'm sure I couldn't do more
than that."
"Oh, yes you could!" laughed Edna.
She was not surprised at Mademoiselle Reisz's question the
morning that lady, following her to the beach, tapped her on the
shoulder and asked if she did not greatly miss her young friend.
"Oh, good morning, Mademoiselle; is it you? Why, of course I
miss Robert. Are you going down to bathe?"
"Why should I go down to bathe at the very end of the season
when I haven't been in the surf all summer," replied the woman,
disagreeably.
"I beg your pardon," offered Edna, in some embarrassment, for
she should have remembered that Mademoiselle Reisz's avoidance of
the water had furnished a theme for much pleasantry. Some among
them thought it was on account of her false hair, or the dread of
getting the violets wet, while others attributed it to the natural
aversion for water sometimes believed to accompany the artistic
temperament. Mademoiselle offered Edna some chocolates in a paper
bag, which she took from her pocket, by way of showing that she
bore no ill feeling. She habitually ate chocolates for their
sustaining quality; they contained much nutriment in small compass,
she said. They saved her from starvation, as Madame Lebrun's table
was utterly impossible; and no one save so impertinent a woman as
Madame Lebrun could think of offering such food to people and
requiring them to pay for it.
"She must feel very lonely without her son," said Edna,
desiring to change the subject. "Her favorite son, too. It must
have been quite hard to let him go."
Mademoiselle laughed maliciously.
"Her favorite son! Oh, dear! Who could have been imposing such
a tale upon you? Aline Lebrun lives for Victor, and for Victor
alone. She has spoiled him into the worthless creature he is. She
worships him and the ground he walks on. Robert is very well in a
way, to give up all the money he can earn to the family, and keep
the barest pittance for himself. Favorite son, indeed! I miss the
poor fellow myself, my dear. I liked to see him and to hear him
about the place the only Lebrun who is worth a pinch of salt.
He comes to see me often in the city. I like to play to
him. That Victor! hanging would be too good for him.
It's a wonder Robert hasn't beaten him to death long ago."
"I thought he had great patience with his brother," offered
Edna, glad to be talking about Robert, no matter what was said.
"Oh! he thrashed him well enough a year or two ago," said
Mademoiselle. "It was about a Spanish girl, whom Victor considered
that he had some sort of claim upon. He met Robert one day talking
to the girl, or walking with her, or bathing with her, or carrying
her basket—I don't remember what;—and he became so insulting and
abusive that Robert gave him a thrashing on the spot that has kept
him comparatively in order for a good while. It's about time he
was getting another."
"Was her name Mariequita?" asked Edna.
"Mariequita—yes, that was it; Mariequita. I had forgotten.
Oh, she's a sly one, and a bad one, that Mariequita!"
Edna looked down at Mademoiselle Reisz and wondered how she
could have listened to her venom so long. For some reason she felt
depressed, almost unhappy. She had not intended to go into the
water; but she donned her bathing suit, and left Mademoiselle
alone, seated under the shade of the children's tent. The water
was growing cooler as the season advanced. Edna plunged and swam
about with an abandon that thrilled and invigorated her. She
remained a long time in the water, half hoping that Mademoiselle
Reisz would not wait for her.
But Mademoiselle waited. She was very amiable during the walk
back, and raved much over Edna's appearance in her bathing suit.
She talked about music. She hoped that Edna would go to see her in
the city, and wrote her address with the stub of a pencil on a
piece of card which she found in her pocket.
"When do you leave?" asked Edna.
"Next Monday; and you?"
"The following week," answered Edna, adding, "It has been
a pleasant summer, hasn't it, Mademoiselle?"
"Well," agreed Mademoiselle Reisz, with a shrug, "rather pleasant,
if it hadn't been for the mosquitoes and the Farival twins."
Help | Feedback | Make a request | Report an error
Classic Book Go to top