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Chapter 17

  • The Pontelliers possessed a very charming home on Esplanade Street in Ne_rleans. It was a large, double cottage, with a broad front veranda, whos_ound, fluted columns supported the sloping roof. The house was painted _azzling white; the outside shutters, or jalousies, were green. In the yard,
  • which was kept scrupulously neat, were flowers and plants of every descriptio_hich flourishes in South Louisiana. Within doors the appointments wer_erfect after the conventional type. The softest carpets and rugs covered th_loors; rich and tasteful draperies hung at doors and windows. There wer_aintings, selected with judgment and discrimination, upon the walls. The cu_lass, the silver, the heavy damask which daily appeared upon the table wer_he envy of many women whose husbands were less generous than Mr. Pontellier.
  • Mr. Pontellier was very fond of walking about his house examining its variou_ppointments and details, to see that nothing was amiss. He greatly valued hi_ossessions, chiefly because they were his, and derived genuine pleasure fro_ontemplating a painting, a statuette, a rare lace curtain—no matte_hat—after he had bought it and placed it among his household gods.
  • On Tuesday afternoons—Tuesday being Mrs. Pontellier's reception day—there wa_ constant stream of callers—women who came in carriages or in the stree_ars, or walked when the air was soft and distance permitted. A light-colore_ulatto boy, in dress coat and bearing a diminutive silver tray for th_eception of cards, admitted them. A maid, in white fluted cap, offered th_allers liqueur, coffee, or chocolate, as they might desire. Mrs. Pontellier,
  • attired in a handsome reception gown, remained in the drawing-room the entir_fternoon receiving her visitors. Men sometimes called in the evening wit_heir wives.
  • This had been the programme which Mrs. Pontellier had religiously followe_ince her marriage, six years before. Certain evenings during the week she an_er husband attended the opera or sometimes the play.
  • Mr. Pontellier left his home in the mornings between nine and ten o'clock, an_arely returned before half-past six or seven in the evening—dinner bein_erved at half-past seven.
  • He and his wife seated themselves at table one Tuesday evening, a few week_fter their return from Grand Isle. They were alone together. The boys wer_eing put to bed; the patter of their bare, escaping feet could be hear_ccasionally, as well as the pursuing voice of the quadroon, lifted in mil_rotest and entreaty. Mrs. Pontellier did not wear her usual Tuesday receptio_own; she was in ordinary house dress. Mr. Pontellier, who was observant abou_uch things, noticed it, as he served the soup and handed it to the boy i_aiting.
  • "Tired out, Edna? Whom did you have? Many callers?" he asked. He tasted hi_oup and began to season it with pepper, salt, vinegar, mustard—everythin_ithin reach.
  • "There were a good many," replied Edna, who was eating her soup with eviden_atisfaction. "I found their cards when I got home; I was out."
  • "Out!" exclaimed her husband, with something like genuine consternation in hi_oice as he laid down the vinegar cruet and looked at her through his glasses.
  • "Why, what could have taken you out on Tuesday? What did you have to do?"
  • "Nothing. I simply felt like going out, and I went out."
  • "Well, I hope you left some suitable excuse," said her husband, somewha_ppeased, as he added a dash of cayenne pepper to the soup.
  • "No, I left no excuse. I told Joe to say I was out, that was all."
  • "Why, my dear, I should think you'd understand by this time that people don'_o such things; we've got to observe les convenances if we ever expect to ge_n and keep up with the procession. If you felt that you had to leave hom_his afternoon, you should have left some suitable explanation for you_bsence.
  • "This soup is really impossible; it's strange that woman hasn't learned yet t_ake a decent soup. Any free-lunch stand in town serves a better one. Was Mrs.
  • Belthrop here?"
  • "Bring the tray with the cards, Joe. I don't remember who was here."
  • The boy retired and returned after a moment, bringing the tiny silver tray,
  • which was covered with ladies' visiting cards. He handed it to Mrs.
  • Pontellier.
  • "Give it to Mr. Pontellier," she said.
  • Joe offered the tray to Mr. Pontellier, and removed the soup.
  • Mr. Pontellier scanned the names of his wife's callers, reading some of the_loud, with comments as he read.
  • "`The Misses Delasidas.' I worked a big deal in futures for their father thi_orning; nice girls; it's time they were getting married. `Mrs. Belthrop.' _ell you what it is, Edna; you can't afford to snub Mrs. Belthrop. Why,
  • Belthrop could buy and sell us ten times over. His business is worth a good,
  • round sum to me. You'd better write her a note. `Mrs. James Highcamp.' Hugh!
  • the less you have to do with Mrs. Highcamp, the better. `Madame Laforce.' Cam_ll the way from Carrolton, too, poor old soul. 'Miss Wiggs,' `Mrs. Eleano_oltons.'" He pushed the cards aside.
  • "Mercy!" exclaimed Edna, who had been fuming. "Why are you taking the thing s_eriously and making such a fuss over it?"
  • "I'm not making any fuss over it. But it's just such seeming trifles tha_e've got to take seriously; such things count."
  • The fish was scorched. Mr. Pontellier would not touch it. Edna said she di_ot mind a little scorched taste. The roast was in some way not to his fancy,
  • and he did not like the manner in which the vegetables were served.
  • "It seems to me," he said, "we spend money enough in this house to procure a_east one meal a day which a man could eat and retain his self-respect."
  • "You used to think the cook was a treasure," returned Edna, indifferently.
  • "Perhaps she was when she first came; but cooks are only human. They nee_ooking after, like any other class of persons that you employ. Suppose _idn't look after the clerks in my office, just let them run things their ow_ay; they'd soon make a nice mess of me and my business."
  • "Where are you going?" asked Edna, seeing that her husband arose from tabl_ithout having eaten a morsel except a taste of the highly-seasoned soup.
  • "I'm going to get my dinner at the club. Good night." He went into the hall,
  • took his hat and stick from the stand, and left the house.
  • She was somewhat familiar with such scenes. They had often made her ver_nhappy. On a few previous occasions she had been completely deprived of an_esire to finish her dinner. Sometimes she had gone into the kitchen t_dminister a tardy rebuke to the cook. Once she went to her room and studie_he cookbook during an entire evening, finally writing out a menu for th_eek, which left her harassed with a feeling that, after all, she ha_ccomplished no good that was worth the name.
  • But that evening Edna finished her dinner alone, with forced deliberation. He_ace was flushed and her eyes flamed with some inward fire that lighted them.
  • After finishing her dinner she went to her room, having instructed the boy t_ell any other callers that she was indisposed.
  • It was a large, beautiful room, rich and picturesque in the soft, dim ligh_hich the maid had turned low. She went and stood at an open window and looke_ut upon the deep tangle of the garden below. All the mystery and witchery o_he night seemed to have gathered there amid the perfumes and the dusky an_ortuous outlines of flowers and foliage. She was seeking herself and findin_erself in just such sweet, half-darkness which met her moods. But the voice_ere not soothing that came to her from the darkness and the sky above and th_tars. They jeered and sounded mournful notes without promise, devoid even o_ope. She turned back into the room and began to walk to and fro down it_hole length, without stopping, without resting. She carried in her hands _hin handkerchief, which she tore into ribbons, rolled into a ball, and flun_rom her. Once she stopped, and taking off her wedding ring, flung it upon th_arpet. When she saw it lying there, she stamped her heel upon it, striving t_rush it. But her small boot heel did not make an indenture, not a mark upo_he little glittering circlet.
  • In a sweeping passion she seized a glass vase from the table and flung it upo_he tiles of the hearth. She wanted to destroy something. The crash an_latter were what she wanted to hear.
  • A maid, alarmed at the din of breaking glass, entered the room to discove_hat was the matter.
  • "A vase fell upon the hearth," said Edna. "Never mind; leave it till morning."
  • "Oh! you might get some of the glass in your feet, ma'am," insisted the youn_oman, picking up bits of the broken vase that were scattered upon the carpet.
  • "And here's your ring, ma'am, under the chair."
  • Edna held out her hand, and taking the ring, slipped it upon her finger.