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The Awakening
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READ STUDY GUIDE: Chapters XV–XIX

 

Part XVIII

The following morning Mr. Pontellier, upon leaving for his
office, asked Edna if she would not meet him in town in order to
look at some new fixtures for the library.
"I hardly think we need new fixtures, Leonce. Don't let us
get anything new; you are too extravagant. I don't believe you
ever think of saving or putting by."
"The way to become rich is to make money, my dear Edna, not to
save it," he said. He regretted that she did not feel inclined to
go with him and select new fixtures. He kissed her good-by, and
told her she was not looking well and must take care of herself.
She was unusually pale and very quiet.
She stood on the front veranda as he quitted the house, and
absently picked a few sprays of jessamine that grew upon a trellis
near by. She inhaled the odor of the blossoms and thrust them into
the bosom of her white morning gown. The boys were dragging along
the banquette a small "express wagon," which they had filled with
blocks and sticks. The quadroon was following them with little
quick steps, having assumed a fictitious animation and alacrity for
the occasion. A fruit vender was crying his wares in the street.
Edna looked straight before her with a self-absorbed
expression upon her face. She felt no interest in anything about
her. The street, the children, the fruit vender, the flowers
growing there under her eyes, were all part and parcel of an alien
world which had suddenly become antagonistic.
She went back into the house. She had thought of speaking to
the cook concerning her blunders of the previous night; but Mr.
Pontellier had saved her that disagreeable mission, for which
she was so poorly fitted. Mr. Pontellier's arguments were usually
convincing with those whom he employed. He left home feeling quite sure
that he and Edna would sit down that evening, and possibly a few
subsequent evenings, to a dinner deserving of the name.
Edna spent an hour or two in looking over some of her old
sketches. She could see their shortcomings and defects, which were
glaring in her eyes. She tried to work a little, but found she was
not in the humor. Finally she gathered together a few of the
sketches—those which she considered the least discreditable; and
she carried them with her when, a little later, she dressed and
left the house. She looked handsome and distinguished in her
street gown. The tan of the seashore had left her face, and her
forehead was smooth, white, and polished beneath her heavy,
yellow-brown hair. There were a few freckles on her face, and a small,
dark mole near the under lip and one on the temple, half-hidden in
her hair.
As Edna walked along the street she was thinking of Robert.
She was still under the spell of her infatuation. She had tried to
forget him, realizing the inutility of remembering. But the
thought of him was like an obsession, ever pressing itself upon
her. It was not that she dwelt upon details of their acquaintance,
or recalled in any special or peculiar way his personality; it was
his being, his existence, which dominated her thought, fading
sometimes as if it would melt into the mist of the forgotten,
reviving again with an intensity which filled her with an
incomprehensible longing.
Edna was on her way to Madame Ratignolle's. Their intimacy,
begun at Grand Isle, had not declined, and they had seen each other
with some frequency since their return to the city. The
Ratignolles lived at no great distance from Edna's home, on the
corner of a side street, where Monsieur Ratignolle owned and
conducted a drug store which enjoyed a steady and prosperous trade.
His father had been in the business before him, and Monsieur
Ratignolle stood well in the community and bore an enviable
reputation for integrity and clearheadedness. His family
lived in commodious apartments over the store, having an entrance
on the side within the porte cochere. There was something
which Edna thought very French, very foreign, about their whole
manner of living. In the large and pleasant salon which extended
across the width of the house, the Ratignolles entertained their
friends once a fortnight with a soiree musicale, sometimes
diversified by card-playing. There was a friend who played upon
the 'cello. One brought his flute and another his violin, while
there were some who sang and a number who performed upon the piano
with various degrees of taste and agility. The Ratignolles' soirees
musicales were widely known, and it was considered a privilege
to be invited to them.
Edna found her friend engaged in assorting the clothes which
had returned that morning from the laundry. She at once abandoned
her occupation upon seeing Edna, who had been ushered without
ceremony into her presence.
"`Cite can do it as well as I; it is really her business," she
explained to Edna, who apologized for interrupting her. And she
summoned a young black woman, whom she instructed, in French, to be
very careful in checking off the list which she handed her. She
told her to notice particularly if a fine linen handkerchief of
Monsieur Ratignolle's, which was missing last week, had been
returned; and to be sure to set to one side such pieces as required
mending and darning.
Then placing an arm around Edna's waist, she led her to the
front of the house, to the salon, where it was cool and sweet with
the odor of great roses that stood upon the hearth in jars.
Madame Ratignolle looked more beautiful than ever there at
home, in a neglige which left her arms almost wholly bare and
exposed the rich, melting curves of her white throat.
"Perhaps I shall be able to paint your picture some day," said
Edna with a smile when they were seated. She produced the roll of
sketches and started to unfold them. "I believe I ought to work again.
I feel as if I wanted to be doing something. What do you think of them?
Do you think it worth while to take it up again and study some more?
I might study for a while with Laidpore."
She knew that Madame Ratignolle's opinion in such a matter
would be next to valueless, that she herself had not alone decided,
but determined; but she sought the words of praise and
encouragement that would help her to put heart into her venture.
"Your talent is immense, dear!"
"Nonsense!" protested Edna, well pleased.
"Immense, I tell you," persisted Madame Ratignolle, surveying
the sketches one by one, at close range, then holding them at arm's
length, narrowing her eyes, and dropping her head on one side.
"Surely, this Bavarian peasant is worthy of framing; and this
basket of apples! never have I seen anything more lifelike. One
might almost be tempted to reach out a hand and take one."
Edna could not control a feeling which bordered upon
complacency at her friend's praise, even realizing, as she did, its
true worth. She retained a few of the sketches, and gave all the
rest to Madame Ratignolle, who appreciated the gift far beyond its
value and proudly exhibited the pictures to her husband when he
came up from the store a little later for his midday dinner.
Mr. Ratignolle was one of those men who are called the salt of
the earth. His cheerfulness was unbounded, and it was matched by
his goodness of heart, his broad charity, and common sense. He and
his wife spoke English with an accent which was only discernible
through its un-English emphasis and a certain carefulness and
deliberation. Edna's husband spoke English with no accent
whatever. The Ratignolles understood each other perfectly. If
ever the fusion of two human beings into one has been accomplished
on this sphere it was surely in their union.
As Edna seated herself at table with them she thought, "Better
a dinner of herbs," though it did not take her long to discover
that it was no dinner of herbs, but a delicious repast,
simple, choice, and in every way satisfying.
Monsieur Ratignolle was delighted to see her, though he found
her looking not so well as at Grand Isle, and he advised a tonic.
He talked a good deal on various topics, a little politics, some
city news and neighborhood gossip. He spoke with an animation and
earnestness that gave an exaggerated importance to every syllable
he uttered. His wife was keenly interested in everything he said,
laying down her fork the better to listen, chiming in, taking the
words out of his mouth.
Edna felt depressed rather than soothed after leaving them.
The little glimpse of domestic harmony which had been offered her,
gave her no regret, no longing. It was not a condition of life
which fitted her, and she could see in it but an appalling and
hopeless ennui. She was moved by a kind of commiseration for
Madame Ratignolle,—a pity for that colorless existence which never
uplifted its possessor beyond the region of blind contentment, in
which no moment of anguish ever visited her soul, in which she
would never have the taste of life's delirium. Edna vaguely
wondered what she meant by "life's delirium." It had crossed her
thought like some unsought, extraneous impression.
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