Last Updated on January 6, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1388
Esther enters Mayme's boudoir to find her very excited and in need of something new. A man nicknamed Songbird has been visiting her, and she wants to look nice for him. Though a client like all the others, Mayme likes him and asks him to stay to drink with her after his visits. He comes three times a week, and she even enjoys being kissed by him. Songbird has a wife; according to Mayme, his wife is rich but "troubles" him.
Esther warns Mayme that she is on "uneasy ground," but Mayme dismisses her, saying Esther wouldn't understand. From under her pillow, she draws out the Japanese silk smoking jacket Esther made for George, and announces that her Songbird gave it to her. Esther is surprised, and says Songbird must like Mayme a lot to have given her something so fine. She explains that the fabric is expensive and unique, and she asks Mayme, "What about his wife?"
Mayme is not interested in discussing Songbird’s wife, but Esther presses her, asking how Mayme can know the wife is not a good person or whether Songbird is telling the truth. Mayme says she doesn't know and asks if it matters. Esther points out that after men have left Mayme, their wives have to wash their clothes for them. These wives stay up at night wondering where their husbands might be and are grateful when they come home. Mayme says she doesn't care to think of those women, and tells Esther she isn't completely clean of the business herself. She had thought Esther would be happy for her. Esther says she doesn't feel well and leaves.
In George and Esther's bedroom, George is in a new suit, which Esther is adjusting, saying it is "white folk quality." When she asks him to take off the pants so she can hem them, George says he wants to keep them on for this evening. Esther had hoped he would stay in this evening. She plans to cook says she has something for him, revealing a corset similar to Mayme's.
George is disappointed—clearly having expected something else—and slightly "disgusted." He tells Esther to put her clothes on and that this isn't like her. Esther reminds him that a husband has certain obligations and asks why George won't touch her. In response, George grabs her roughly and kisses her. Angrily, George says that he doesn't know where he stands with Esther as he did in Panama. Esther asks him to touch her, to lie down, but George refuses. When Esther asks why he is acting this way, George says he thinks she knows. He asks once more for the money in her quilt, insisting that he can use it to make even more money and give them a better life.
Esther denies him, saying the money is half her life, but George says it is doing no good where it is and asks why even she, his wife, will not believe in him. If he has money to buy the horses, he says, in a few years they will be Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong, seated in the front row in church, and he will lie only with Esther. He kisses and touches Esther, and she begins to soften.
Esther asks if George is telling her the truth. When he says yes, she tears open the quilt and places the money in his hands. George is shocked that there is so much, but Esther tells him to put it back for now, saying it will still be there in the morning. She beckons George to bed, but George instead takes up a bag and begins placing the money in it.
When Esther asks George if he loves her, George simply replies that she is his wife. "Am I?" she says, confessing that she did not write the letters to him. She explains her fear of being found out and that she looks at the letters every day, even though she cannot read them. She says that the man in George’s letters does not appear to be the same man she married. Suspicious, she demands to know who wrote George's letters.
George confesses that he paid "an old mulatto man" to write the letters....
(The entire section contains 1388 words.)
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