THE DINING-ROOM WAS very small. Edna's round mahogany would have almost filled it. As it was there was but a step or two from the little table to the kitchen, to the mantel, the small buffet, and the side door that opened out on the narrow brick-paved yard.
A certain degree of ceremony settled upon them with the announcement of dinner. There was no return to personalities. Robert related incidents of his sojourn in Mexico, and Edna talked of events likely to interest him, which had occurred during his absence. The dinner was of ordinary quality, except for the few delicacies which she had sent out to purchase. Old Celestine, with a bandana tignon twisted about her head, hobbled in and out, taking a personal interest in everything; and she lingered occasionally to talk patois with Robert, whom she had known as a boy.
He went out to a neighboring cigar stand to purchase cigarette papers, and when he came back he found that Celestine had served the black coffee in the parlor.
“Perhaps I shouldn't have come back,” he said. “When you are tired of me, tell me to go.”
“You never tire me. You must have forgotten the hours and hours at Grand Isle in which we grew accustomed to each other and used to being together.”
“I have forgotten nothing at Grand Isle,” he said, not looking at her, but rolling a cigarette. His tobacco pouch, which he laid upon the table, was a fantastic embroidered silk affair, evidently the handiwork of a woman.
“You used to carry your tobacco in a rubber pouch,” said Edna, picking up the pouch and examining the needlework.
“Yes; it was lost.”
“Where did you buy this one? In Mexico?”
“It was given to me by a Vera Cruz girl; they are very generous,” he replied, striking a match and lighting his cigarette.
“They are very handsome, I suppose, those Mexican women; very picturesque, with their black eyes and their lace scarfs.”
“Some are; others are hideous. just as you find women everywhere.”
“What was she like—the one who gave you the pouch? You must have known her very well.”
“She was very ordinary. She wasn't of the slightest importance. I knew her well enough.”
“Did you visit at her house? Was it interesting? I should like to know and hear about the people you met, and the impressions they made on you.”
“There are some people who leave impressions not so lasting as the imprint of an oar upon the water.”
“Was she such a one?”
“It would be ungenerous for me to admit that she was of that order and kind.” He thrust the pouch back in his pocket, as if to put away the subject with the trifle which had brought it up.
Arobin dropped in with a message from Mrs. Merriman, to say that the card party was postponed on account of the illness of one of her children.
“How do you do, Arobin?” said Robert, rising from the obscurity.
“Oh! Lebrun. To be sure! I heard yesterday you were back. How did they treat you down in Mexique?”
“But not well enough to keep you there. Stunning girls, though, in Mexico. I thought I should never get away from Vera Cruz when I was down there a couple of years ago.”
“Did they embroider slippers and tobacco pouches and hat-bands and things for you?” asked Edna.
“Oh! my! no! I didn't get so deep in their regard. I fear they made more impression on me than I made on them.”
“You were less fortunate than Robert, then.”
“I am always less fortunate than Robert. Has he been imparting tender confidences?”
“I've been imposing myself long enough,” said Robert, rising, and shaking hands with Edna. “Please convey my regards to Mr. Pontellier when you write.”
He shook hands with Arobin and went away.
“Fine fellow, that Lebrun,” said Arobin when Robert had gone. “I never heard you speak of him.”
“I knew him last summer at Grand Isle,” she replied. “Here is that photograph of yours. Don't you want it?”
“What do I want with it? Throw it away.” She threw it back on the table.
“I'm not going to Mrs. Merriman's,” she said. “If you see her, tell her so. But perhaps I had better write. I think I shall write now, and say that I am sorry her child is sick, and tell her not to count on me.”
“It would be a good scheme,” acquiesced Arobin. “I don't blame you; stupid lot!”
Edna opened the blotter, and having procured paper and pen, began to write the note. Arobin lit a cigar and read the evening paper, which he had in his pocket.
“What is the date?” she asked. He told her.
“Will you mail this for me when you go out?”
“Certainly.” He read to her little bits out of the newspaper, while she straightened things on the table.
“What do you want to do?” he asked, throwing aside the paper. “Do you want to go out for a walk or a drive or anything? It would be a fine night to drive.”
“No; I don't want to do anything but just be quiet. You go away and amuse yourself. Don't stay.”
“I'll go away if I must; but I shan't amuse myself. You know that I only live when I am near you.”
He stood up to bid her good night.
“Is that one of the things you always say to women?”
“I have said it before, but I don't think I ever came so near meaning it,” he answered with a smile. There were no warm lights in her eyes; only a dreamy, absent look.
“Good night. I adore you. Sleep well,” he said, and he kissed her hand and went away.
She stayed alone in a kind of reverie—a sort of stupor. Step by step she lived over every instant of the time she had been with Robert after he had entered Mademoiselle Reisz's door. She recalled his words, his looks. How few and meager they had been for her hungry heart! A vision—a transcendently seductive vision of a Mexican girl arose before her. She writhed with a jealous pang. She wondered when he would come back. He had not said he would come back. She had been with him, had heard his voice and touched his hand. But some way he had seemed nearer to her off there in Mexico.