They formed a congenial
group sitting there that summer afternoon—Madame Ratignolle sewing
away, often stopping to relate a story or incident with much
expressive gesture of her perfect hands; Robert and Mrs. Pontellier
sitting idle, exchanging occasional words, glances or smiles which
indicated a certain advanced stage of intimacy and
He had lived in her shadow during
the past month. No one thought anything of it. Many had predicted
that Robert would devote himself to Mrs. Pontellier when he
arrived. Since the age of fifteen, which was eleven years before,
Robert each summer at Grand Isle had constituted himself the
devoted attendant of some fair dame or damsel. Sometimes it was a
young girl, again a widow; but as often as not it was some
interesting married woman.
For two consecutive seasons he
lived in the sunlight of Mademoiselle Duvigne’s presence. But she
died between summers; then Robert posed as an inconsolable,
prostrating himself at the feet of Madame Ratignolle for whatever
crumbs of sympathy and comfort she might be pleased to
Mrs. Pontellier liked to sit and
gaze at her fair companion as she might look upon a faultless
“Could any one fathom the cruelty
beneath that fair exterior?” murmured Robert. “She knew that I
adored her once, and she let me adore her. It was ‘Robert, come;
go; stand up; sit down; do this; do that; see if the baby sleeps;
my thimble, please, that I left God knows where. Come and read
Daudet to me while I sew.’”
“Par exemple! I never had to ask.
You were always there under my feet, like a troublesome cat.”
“You mean like an adoring dog.
And just as soon as Ratignolle appeared on the scene, then it WAS
like a dog. ‘Passez! Adieu! Allez vous-en!’”
“Perhaps I feared to make
Alphonse jealous,” she interjoined, with excessive naivete. That
made them all laugh. The right hand jealous of the left! The heart
jealous of the soul! But for that matter, the Creole husband is
never jealous; with him the gangrene passion is one which has
become dwarfed by disuse.
Meanwhile Robert, addressing Mrs
Pontellier, continued to tell of his one time hopeless passion for
Madame Ratignolle; of sleepless nights, of consuming flames till
the very sea sizzled when he took his daily plunge. While the lady
at the needle kept up a little running, contemptuous comment:
He never assumed this seriocomic
tone when alone with Mrs. Pontellier. She never knew precisely what
to make of it; at that moment it was impossible for her to guess
how much of it was jest and what proportion was earnest. It was
understood that he had often spoken words of love to Madame
Ratignolle, without any thought of being taken seriously. Mrs.
Pontellier was glad he had not assumed a similar role toward
herself. It would have been unacceptable and annoying.
Mrs. Pontellier had brought her
sketching materials, which she sometimes dabbled with in an
unprofessional way. She liked the dabbling. She felt in it
satisfaction of a kind which no other employment afforded
She had long wished to try
herself on Madame Ratignolle. Never had that lady seemed a more
tempting subject than at that moment, seated there like some
sensuous Madonna, with the gleam of the fading day enriching her
Robert crossed over and seated
himself upon the step below Mrs. Pontellier, that he might watch
her work. She handled her brushes with a certain ease and freedom
which came, not from long and close acquaintance with them, but
from a natural aptitude. Robert followed her work with close
attention, giving forth little ejaculatory expressions of
appreciation in French, which he addressed to Madame
“Mais ce n’est pas mal! Elle s’y
connait, elle a de la force, oui.”
During his oblivious attention he
once quietly rested his head against Mrs. Pontellier’s arm. As
gently she repulsed him. Once again he repeated the offense. She
could not but believe it to be thoughtlessness on his part; yet
that was no reason she should submit to it. She did not
remonstrate, except again to repulse him quietly but firmly. He
offered no apology. The picture completed bore no resemblance to
Madame Ratignolle. She was greatly disappointed to find that it did
not look like her. But it was a fair enough piece of work, and in
many respects satisfying.
Mrs. Pontellier evidently did not
think so. After surveying the sketch critically she drew a broad
smudge of paint across its surface, and crumpled the paper between
The youngsters came tumbling up
the steps, the quadroon following at the respectful distance which
they required her to observe. Mrs. Pontellier made them carry her
paints and things into the house. She sought to detain them for a
little talk and some pleasantry. But they were greatly in earnest.
They had only come to investigate the contents of the bonbon box.
They accepted without murmuring what she chose to give them, each
holding out two chubby hands scoop-like, in the vain hope that they
might be filled; and then away they went.
The sun was low in the west, and
the breeze soft and languorous that came up from the south, charged
with the seductive odor of the sea. Children freshly befurbelowed,
were gathering for their games under the oaks. Their voices were
high and penetrating.
Madame Ratignolle folded her
sewing, placing thimble, scissors, and thread all neatly together
in the roll, which she pinned securely. She complained of
faintness. Mrs. Pontellier flew for the cologne water and a fan.
She bathed Madame Ratignolle’s face with cologne, while Robert
plied the fan with unnecessary vigor.
The spell was soon over, and Mrs.
Pontellier could not help wondering if there were not a little
imagination responsible for its origin, for the rose tint had never
faded from her friend’s face.
She stood watching the fair woman
walk down the long line of galleries with the grace and majesty
which queens are sometimes supposed to possess. Her little ones ran
to meet her. Two of them clung about her white skirts, the third
she took from its nurse and with a thousand endearments bore it
along in her own fond, encircling arms. Though, as everybody well
knew, the doctor had forbidden her to lift so much as a pin!
“Are you going bathing?” asked
Robert of Mrs. Pontellier. It was not so much a question as a
“Oh, no,” she answered, with a
tone of indecision. “I’m tired; I think not.” Her glance wandered
from his face away toward the Gulf, whose sonorous murmur reached
her like a loving but imperative entreaty.
“Oh, come!” he insisted. “You
mustn’t miss your bath. Come on. The water must be delicious; it
will not hurt you. Come.”
He reached up for her big, rough
straw hat that hung on a peg outside the door, and put it on her
head. They descended the steps, and walked away together toward the
beach. The sun was low in the west and the breeze was soft and