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The Awakening
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READ STUDY GUIDE: Chapters XXX–XXXV

 

Part XXXII

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 absence.
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 invited her.
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 Esplanade Street!
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 right.
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.
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