When the weather was dark and cloudy Edna could not work. She needed the su_o mellow and temper her mood to the sticking point. She had reached a stag_hen she seemed to be no longer feeling her way, working, when in the humor,
with sureness and ease. And being devoid of ambition, and striving not towar_ccomplishment, she drew satisfaction from the work in itself.
On rainy or melancholy days Edna went out and sought the society of th_riends she had made at Grand Isle. Or else she stayed indoors and nursed _ood with which she was becoming too familiar for her own comfort and peace o_ind. It was not despair; but it seemed to her as if life were passing by,
leaving its promise broken and unfulfilled. Yet there were other days when sh_istened, was led on and deceived by fresh promises which her youth held ou_o her.
She went again to the races, and again. Alcee Arobin and Mrs. Highcamp calle_or her one bright afternoon in Arobin's drag. Mrs. Highcamp was a worldly bu_naffected, intelligent, slim, tall blonde woman in the forties, with a_ndifferent manner and blue eyes that stared. She had a daughter who serve_er as a pretext for cultivating the society of young men of fashion. Alce_robin was one of them. He was a familiar figure at the race course, th_pera, the fashionable clubs. There was a perpetual smile in his eyes, whic_eldom failed to awaken a corresponding cheerfulness in any one who looke_nto them and listened to his good-humored voice. His manner was quiet, and a_imes a little insolent. He possessed a good figure, a pleasing face, no_verburdened with depth of thought or feeling; and his dress was that of th_onventional man of fashion.
He admired Edna extravagantly, after meeting her at the races with her father.
He had met her before on other occasions, but she had seemed to hi_napproachable until that day. It was at his instigation that Mrs. Highcam_alled to ask her to go with them to the Jockey Club to witness the turf even_f the season.
There were possibly a few track men out there who knew the race horse as wel_s Edna, but there was certainly none who knew it better. She sat between he_wo companions as one having authority to speak. She laughed at Arobin'_retensions, and deplored Mrs. Highcamp's ignorance. The race horse was _riend and intimate associate of her childhood. The atmosphere of the stable_nd the breath of the blue grass paddock revived in her memory and lingered i_er nostrils. She did not perceive that she was talking like her father as th_leek geldings ambled in review before them. She played for very high stakes,
and fortune favored her. The fever of the game flamed in her cheeks and eves,
and it got into her blood and into her brain like an intoxicant. People turne_heir heads to look at her, and more than one lent an attentive car to he_tterances, hoping thereby to secure the elusive but ever-desired "tip."
Arobin caught the contagion of excitement which drew him to Edna like _agnet. Mrs. Highcamp remained, as usual, unmoved, with her indifferent star_nd uplifted eyebrows.
Edna stayed and dined with Mrs. Highcamp upon being urged to do so. Arobi_lso remained and sent away his drag.
The dinner was quiet and uninteresting, save for the cheerful efforts o_robin to enliven things. Mrs. Highcamp deplored the absence of her daughte_rom the races, and tried to convey to her what she had missed by going to the
"Dante reading" instead of joining them. The girl held a geranium leaf up t_er nose and said nothing, but looked knowing and noncommittal. Mr. Highcam_as a plain, bald-headed man, who only talked under compulsion. He wa_nresponsive. Mrs. Highcamp was full of delicate courtesy and consideratio_oward her husband. She addressed most of her conversation to him at table.
They sat in the library after dinner and read the evening papers togethe_nder the droplight; while the younger people went into the drawing-room nea_y and talked. Miss Highcamp played some selections from Grieg upon the piano.
She seemed to have apprehended all of the composer's coldness and none of hi_oetry. While Edna listened she could not help wondering if she had lost he_aste for music.
When the time came for her to go home, Mr. Highcamp grunted a lame offer t_scort her, looking down at his slippered feet with tactless concern. It wa_robin who took her home. The car ride was long, and it was late when the_eached Esplanade Street. Arobin asked permission to enter for a second t_ight his cigarette—his match safe was empty. He filled his match safe, bu_id not light his cigarette until he left her, after she had expressed he_illingness to go to the races with him again.
Edna was neither tired nor sleepy. She was hungry again, for the Highcam_inner, though of excellent quality, had lacked abundance. She rummaged in th_arder and brought forth a slice of Gruyere and some crackers. She opened _ottle of beer which she found in the icebox. Edna felt extremely restless an_xcited. She vacantly hummed a fantastic tune as she poked at the wood ember_n the hearth and munched a cracker.
She wanted something to happen—something, anything; she did not know what. Sh_egretted that she had not made Arobin stay a half hour to talk over th_orses with her. She counted the money she had won. But there was nothing els_o do, so she went to bed, and tossed there for hours in a sort of monotonou_gitation.
In the middle of the night she remembered that she had forgotten to write he_egular letter to her husband; and she decided to do so next day and tell hi_bout her afternoon at the Jockey Club. She lay wide awake composing a lette_hich was nothing like the one which she wrote next day. When the maid awok_er in the morning Edna was dreaming of Mr. Highcamp playing the piano at th_ntrance of a music store on Canal Street, while his wife was saying to Alce_robin, as they boarded an Esplanade Street car:
"What a pity that so much talent has been neglected! but I must go."
When, a few days later, Alcee Arobin again called for Edna in his drag, Mrs.
Highcamp was not with him. He said they would pick her up. But as that lad_ad not been apprised of his intention of picking her up, she was not at home.
The daughter was just leaving the house to attend the meeting of a branch Fol_ore Society, and regretted that she could not accompany them. Arobin appeare_onplused, and asked Edna if there were any one else she cared to ask.
She did not deem it worth while to go in search of any of the fashionabl_cquaintances from whom she had withdrawn herself. She thought of Madam_atignolle, but knew that her fair friend did not leave the house, except t_ake a languid walk around the block with her husband after nightfall.
Mademoiselle Reisz would have laughed at such a request from Edna. Madam_ebrun might have enjoyed the outing, but for some reason Edna did not wan_er. So they went alone, she and Arobin.
The afternoon was intensely interesting to her. The excitement came back upo_er like a remittent fever. Her talk grew familiar and confidential. It was n_abor to become intimate with Arobin. His manner invited easy confidence. Th_reliminary stage of becoming acquainted was one which he always endeavored t_gnore when a pretty and engaging woman was concerned.
He stayed and dined with Edna. He stayed and sat beside the wood fire. The_aughed and talked; and before it was time to go he was telling her ho_ifferent life might have been if he had known her years before. Wit_ngenuous frankness he spoke of what a wicked, ill-disciplined boy he ha_een, and impulsively drew up his cuff to exhibit upon his wrist the scar fro_ saber cut which he had received in a duel outside of Paris when he wa_ineteen. She touched his hand as she scanned the red cicatrice on the insid_f his white wrist. A quick impulse that was somewhat spasmodic impelled he_ingers to close in a sort of clutch upon his hand. He felt the pressure o_er pointed nails in the flesh of his palm.
She arose hastily and walked toward the mantel.
"The sight of a wound or scar always agitates and sickens me," she said. "_houldn't have looked at it."
"I beg your pardon," he entreated, following her; "it never occurred to m_hat it might be repulsive."
He stood close to her, and the effrontery in his eyes repelled the old,
vanishing self in her, yet drew all her awakening sensuousness. He saw enoug_n her face to impel him to take her hand and hold it while he said hi_ingering good night.
"Will you go to the races again?" he asked.
"No," she said. "I've had enough of the races. I don't want to lose all th_oney I've won, and I've got to work when the weather is bright, instead of—"
"Yes; work; to be sure. You promised to show me your work. What morning may _ome up to your atelier? To-morrow?"
"Oh, please don't refuse me! I know something of such things. I might help yo_ith a stray suggestion or two."
"No. Good night. Why don't you go after you have said good night? I don't lik_ou," she went on in a high, excited pitch, attempting to draw away her hand.
She felt that her words lacked dignity and sincerity, and she knew that h_elt it.
"I'm sorry you don't like me. I'm sorry I offended you. How have I offende_ou? What have I done? Can't you forgive me?" And he bent and pressed his lip_pon her hand as if he wished never more to withdraw them.
"Mr. Arobin," she complained, "I'm greatly upset by the excitement of th_fternoon; I'm not myself. My manner must have misled you in some way. I wis_ou to go, please." She spoke in a monotonous, dull tone. He took his hat fro_he table, and stood with eyes turned from her, looking into the dying fire.
For a moment or two he kept an impressive silence.
"Your manner has not misled me, Mrs. Pontellier," he said finally. "My ow_motions have done that. I couldn't help it. When I'm near you, how could _elp it? Don't think anything of it, don't bother, please. You see, I go whe_ou command me. If you wish me to stay away, I shall do so. If you let me com_ack, I—oh! you will let me come back?"
He cast one appealing glance at her, to which she made no response. Alce_robin's manner was so genuine that it often deceived even himself.
Edna did not care or think whether it were genuine or not. When she was alon_he looked mechanically at the back of her hand which he had kissed so warmly.
Then she leaned her head down on the mantelpiece. She felt somewhat like _oman who in a moment of passion is betrayed into an act of infidelity, an_ealizes the significance of the act without being wholly awakened from it_lamour. The thought was passing vaguely through her mind, "What would h_hink?"
She did not mean her husband; she was thinking of Robert Lebrun. Her husban_eemed to her now like a person whom she had married without love as a_xcuse.
She lit a candle and went up to her room. Alcee Arobin was absolutely nothin_o her. Yet his presence, his manners, the warmth of his glances, and abov_ll the touch of his lips upon her hand had acted like a narcotic upon her.
She slept a languorous sleep, interwoven with vanishing dreams.