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.
"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.
"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.