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Chapter 26

  • Alcee Arobin wrote Edna an elaborate note of apology, palpitant wit_incerity. It embarrassed her; for in a cooler, quieter moment it appeared t_er, absurd that she should have taken his action so seriously, s_ramatically. She felt sure that the significance of the whole occurrence ha_ain in her own self-consciousness. If she ignored his note it would giv_ndue importance to a trivial affair. If she replied to it in a serious spiri_t would still leave in his mind the impression that she had in a susceptibl_oment yielded to his influence. After all, it was no great matter to hav_ne's hand kissed. She was provoked at his having written the apology. Sh_nswered in as light and bantering a spirit as she fancied it deserved, an_aid she would be glad to have him look in upon her at work whenever he fel_he inclination and his business gave him the opportunity.
  • He responded at once by presenting himself at her home with all his disarmin_aivete. And then there was scarcely a day which followed that she did not se_im or was not reminded of him. He was prolific in pretexts. His attitud_ecame one of good-humored subservience and tacit adoration. He was ready a_ll times to submit to her moods, which were as often kind as they were cold.
  • She grew accustomed to him. They became intimate and friendly by imperceptibl_egrees, and then by leaps. He sometimes talked in a way that astonished he_t first and brought the crimson into her face; in a way that pleased her a_ast, appealing to the animalism that stirred impatiently within her.
  • There was nothing which so quieted the turmoil of Edna's senses as a visit t_ademoiselle Reisz. It was then, in the presence of that personality which wa_ffensive to her, that the woman, by her divine art, seemed to reach Edna'_pirit and set it free.
  • It was misty, with heavy, lowering atmosphere, one afternoon, when Edn_limbed the stairs to the pianist's apartments under the roof. Her clothe_ere dripping with moisture. She felt chilled and pinched as she entered th_oom. Mademoiselle was poking at a rusty stove that smoked a little and warme_he room indifferently. She was endeavoring to heat a pot of chocolate on th_tove. The room looked cheerless and dingy to Edna as she entered. A bust o_eethoven, covered with a hood of dust, scowled at her from the mantelpiece.
  • "Ah! here comes the sunlight!" exclaimed Mademoiselle, rising from her knee_efore the stove. "Now it will be warm and bright enough; I can let the fir_lone."
  • She closed the stove door with a bang, and approaching, assisted in removin_dna's dripping mackintosh.
  • "You are cold; you look miserable. The chocolate will soon be hot. But woul_ou rather have a taste of brandy? I have scarcely touched the bottle whic_ou brought me for my cold." A piece of red flannel was wrapped aroun_ademoiselle's throat; a stiff neck compelled her to hold her head on on_ide.
  • "I will take some brandy," said Edna, shivering as she removed her gloves an_vershoes. She drank the liquor from the glass as a man would have done. The_linging herself upon the uncomfortable sofa she said, "Mademoiselle, I a_oing to move away from my house on Esplanade Street."
  • "Ah!" ejaculated the musician, neither surprised nor especially interested.
  • Nothing ever seemed to astonish her very much. She was endeavoring to adjus_he bunch of violets which had become loose from its fastening in her hair.
  • Edna drew her down upon the sofa, and taking a pin from her own hair, secure_he shabby artificial flowers in their accustomed place.
  • "Aren't you astonished?"
  • "Passably. Where are you going? to New York? to Iberville? to your father i_ississippi? where?"
  • "Just two steps away," laughed Edna, "in a little four-room house around th_orner. It looks so cozy, so inviting and restful, whenever I pass by; an_t's for rent. I'm tired looking after that big house. It never seemed lik_ine, anyway—like home. It's too much trouble. I have to keep too man_ervants. I am tired bothering with them."
  • "That is not your true reason, ma belle. There is no use in telling me lies. _on't know your reason, but you have not told me the truth." Edna did no_rotest or endeavor to justify herself.
  • "The house, the money that provides for it, are not mine. Isn't that enoug_eason?"
  • "They are your husband's," returned Mademoiselle, with a shrug and a maliciou_levation of the eyebrows.
  • "Oh! I see there is no deceiving you. Then let me tell you: It is a caprice. _ave a little money of my own from my mother's estate, which my father send_e by driblets. I won a large sum this winter on the races, and I am beginnin_o sell my sketches. Laidpore is more and more pleased with my work; he say_t grows in force and individuality. I cannot judge of that myself, but I fee_hat I have gained in ease and confidence. However, as I said, I have sold _ood many through Laidpore. I can live in the tiny house for little o_othing, with one servant. Old Celestine, who works occasionally for me, say_he will come stay with me and do my work. I know I shall like it, like th_eeling of freedom and independence."
  • "What does your husband say?"
  • "I have not told him yet. I only thought of it this morning. He will think _m demented, no doubt. Perhaps you think so."
  • Mademoiselle shook her head slowly. "Your reason is not yet clear to me," sh_aid.
  • Neither was it quite clear to Edna herself; but it unfolded itself as she sa_or a while in silence. Instinct had prompted her to put away her husband'_ounty in casting off her allegiance. She did not know how it would be when h_eturned. There would have to be an understanding, an explanation. Condition_ould some way adjust themselves, she felt; but whatever came, she ha_esolved never again to belong to another than herself.
  • "I shall give a grand dinner before I leave the old house!" Edna exclaimed.
  • "You will have to come to it, Mademoiselle. I will give you everything tha_ou like to eat and to drink. We shall sing and laugh and be merry for once."
  • And she uttered a sigh that came from the very depths of her being.
  • If Mademoiselle happened to have received a letter from Robert during th_nterval of Edna's visits, she would give her the letter unsolicited. And sh_ould seat herself at the piano and play as her humor prompted her while th_oung woman read the letter.
  • The little stove was roaring; it was red-hot, and the chocolate in the ti_izzled and sputtered. Edna went forward and opened the stove door, an_ademoiselle rising, took a letter from under the bust of Beethoven and hande_t to Edna.
  • "Another! so soon!" she exclaimed, her eyes filled with delight. "Tell me, Mademoiselle, does he know that I see his letters?"
  • "Never in the world! He would be angry and would never write to me again if h_hought so. Does he write to you? Never a line. Does he send you a message?
  • Never a word. It is because he loves you, poor fool, and is trying to forge_ou, since you are not free to listen to him or to belong to him."
  • "Why do you show me his letters, then?"
  • "Haven't you begged for them? Can I refuse you anything? Oh! you canno_eceive me," and Mademoiselle approached her beloved instrument and began t_lay. Edna did not at once read the letter. She sat holding it in her hand, while the music penetrated her whole being like an effulgence, warming an_rightening the dark places of her soul. It prepared her for joy an_xultation.
  • "Oh!" she exclaimed, letting the letter fall to the floor. "Why did you no_ell me?" She went and grasped Mademoiselle's hands up from the keys. "Oh!
  • unkind! malicious! Why did you not tell me?"
  • "That he was coming back? No great news, ma foi. I wonder he did not come lon_go."
  • "But when, when?" cried Edna, impatiently. "He does not say when."
  • "He says `very soon.' You know as much about it as I do; it is all in th_etter."
  • "But why? Why is he coming? Oh, if I thought—" and she snatched the lette_rom the floor and turned the pages this way and that way, looking for th_eason, which was left untold.
  • "If I were young and in love with a man," said Mademoiselle, turning on th_tool and pressing her wiry hands between her knees as she looked down a_dna, who sat on the floor holding the letter, "it seems to me he would hav_o be some grand esprit; a man with lofty aims and ability to reach them; on_ho stood high enough to attract the notice of his fellow-men. It seems to m_f I were young and in love I should never deem a man of ordinary calibe_orthy of my devotion."
  • "Now it is you who are telling lies and seeking to deceive me, Mademoiselle; or else you have never been in love, and know nothing about it. Why," went o_dna, clasping her knees and looking up into Mademoiselle's twisted face, "d_ou suppose a woman knows why she loves? Does she select? Does she say t_erself: `Go to! Here is a distinguished statesman with presidentia_ossibilities; I shall proceed to fall in love with him.' Or, `I shall set m_eart upon this musician, whose fame is on every tongue?' Or, `This financier, who controls the world's money markets?'
  • "You are purposely misunderstanding me, ma reine. Are you in love wit_obert?"
  • "Yes," said Edna. It was the first time she had admitted it, and a glo_verspread her face, blotching it with red spots.
  • "Why?" asked her companion. "Why do you love him when you ought not to?"
  • Edna, with a motion or two, dragged herself on her knees before Mademoisell_eisz, who took the glowing face between her two hands.
  • "Why? Because his hair is brown and grows away from his temples; because h_pens and shuts his eyes, and his nose is a little out of drawing; because h_as two lips and a square chin, and a little finger which he can't straighte_rom having played baseball too energetically in his youth. Because—"
  • "Because you do, in short," laughed Mademoiselle. "What will you do when h_omes back?" she asked.
  • "Do? Nothing, except feel glad and happy to be alive."
  • She was already glad and happy to be alive at the mere thought of his return.
  • The murky, lowering sky, which had depressed her a few hours before, seeme_racing and invigorating as she splashed through the streets on her way home.
  • She stopped at a confectioner's and ordered a huge box of bonbons for th_hildren in Iberville. She slipped a card in the box, on which she scribbled _ender message and sent an abundance of kisses.
  • Before dinner in the evening Edna wrote a charming letter to her husband, telling him of her intention to move for a while into the little house aroun_he block, and to give a farewell dinner before leaving, regretting that h_as not there to share it, to help out with the menu and assist her i_ntertaining the guests. Her letter was brilliant and brimming wit_heerfulness.