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The Awakening
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READ STUDY GUIDE: Chapters XX–XXIV

 

Part XXIV

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
candies in the center of the table, gave all the light she needed.
Outside the circle of light in which she sat, the large dining-room
looked solemn and shadowy. The cook, placed upon her mettle,
served a delicious repast—a luscious tenderloin broiled a
point. The wine tasted good; the marron glace seemed to be
just what she wanted. It was so pleasant, too, to dine in a
comfortable peignoir.
She thought a little sentimentally about Leonce and the
children, and wondered what they were doing. As she gave a dainty
scrap or two to the doggie, she talked intimately to him about
Etienne and Raoul. He was beside himself with astonishment and
delight over these companionable advances, and showed his
appreciation by his little quick, snappy barks and a lively
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.
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