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The Awakening
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Part III

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 fro.
It was then past midnight. The cottages were all dark.
A single faint light gleamed out from the hallway of the house.
There was no sound abroad except the hooting of an old owl in the
top of a water-oak, and the everlasting voice of the sea, that was
not uplifted at that soft hour. It broke like a mournful lullaby
upon the night.
The tears came so fast to Mrs. Pontellier's eyes that the
damp sleeve of her peignoir no longer served to dry them.
She was holding the back of her chair with one hand; her loose sleeve
had slipped almost to the shoulder of her uplifted arm. Turning,
she thrust her face, steaming and wet, into the bend of her arm,
and she went on crying there, not caring any longer to dry her face,
her eyes, her arms. She could not have told why she was crying.
Such experiences as the foregoing were not uncommon in her married life.
They seemed never before to have weighed much against the abundance
of her husband's kindness and a uniform devotion which had come to
be tacit and self-understood.
An indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some
unfamiliar part of her consciousness, filled her whole being with
a vague anguish. It was like a shadow, like a mist passing across
her soul's summer day. It was strange and unfamiliar; it was a
mood. She did not sit there inwardly upbraiding her husband,
lamenting at Fate, which had directed her footsteps to the path
which they had taken. She was just having a good cry all to
herself. The mosquitoes made merry over her, biting her firm,
round arms and nipping at her bare insteps.
The little stinging, buzzing imps succeeded in dispelling a
mood which might have held her there in the darkness half a night
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.
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