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.