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Chapters XXVI - XXXII
Edna's dinner is attended by ten guests. Adèle is very pregnant and cannot make it, although her husband attends. Victor is there, but his mother declined at the last minute. Alcée and Mrs. Highcamp are there, as well as some others. The dining room is lavishly set, and Edna has a new set of jewels in her hair; these are a present from Léonce. It is Edna's twenty-ninth birthday. All the guests have a cocktail, invented by Edna's father for her sister's wedding, set before them. It is a rich garnet color. Alcée makes a joke, and the party is off to a roaring start. Monsieur Ratignolle is surprised to find that Alcée is the Arobin whose name serves as that of a prestigious law firm and that Alcée considers his name used merely as a gentlemanly pretext to leisure. Mademoiselle Reisz speaks rudely, in French, of the music scene in New Orleans. The other guests tell dull stories, vie for each other's attention, and pretend to be amused. A mandolin plays at a respectful distance, and the garden fountain can be heard through the open windows. Edna looks wonderful in her gold satin gown and sits as one who rules. But the old ennui overtakes her, like an obsession, a chill wind from a vast emptiness. She thinks of the unattainability of Robert. People jest and eat, but soon Monsieur Ratignolle leaves, as does Madame Reisz, who seems a bit drunk and nicer than usual. Mrs. Highcamp weaves a crown of yellow and red roses and puts them on Victor's head.
He is transformed into an "Oriental beauty," and falls mute. Mrs. Highcamp then takes her white silk scarf and puts it about Victor's shoulders. He smiles a little and is the very image of Desire. All are entranced. Mrs. Highcamp asks him to sing, and when he does, he begins with "Ah! si tu savais," the song which Robert sung to Edna. Edna orders Victor to stop, and when he laughs and continues, she jumps up and goes over to him to cover his mouth with her hands. He kisses her hands and apologizes. Edna throws his wreath of roses across the room. Mrs. Highcamp removes her scarf from Victor, and several of the guests decide that it is time to go home. Mrs. Highcamp asks Victor to come and visit her daughter some time. The mandolin players are long gone. The voices of the departing guests jar the harmony of the night street.
Alcée stays with Edna and asks her what is next. The servants are already gone. They have been dismissed, and Edna is going to send Celestine (the one servant who will live with her at the "pigeon house") back to clean up the Esplanade house in the morning. Alcée helps Edna close up the windows, and he gets her cape and hat from upstairs. Alcée locks the door of the house behind them and offers Edna a spray of jessamine from a bush by the door, but she will not accept even that.
She seems disheartened. They walk through the still city night to the pigeon house. It is behind a locked gate, small, with no side entry, and Celestine lives in a room in the back yard. Edna has succeeded in making the poor little place look homey, but when they arrive, Edna finds flowers everywhere about the house. Alcée has sent them. Edna sits down and looks uncomfortable. Alcée asks if she is tired, and she says yes. Something inside of her, wound tight, has snapped. Alcée says he will go, and she agrees. But he stays and pets her hair and says that she has been trying to do too much. Yes, she says, "it was stupid." No, he says, everything was delightful, but now she is worn out. He feels her begin to respond to his caresses. She reminds him: "I thought you were going away." He says he is, after he says goodnight. She says goodnight, but he does not say goodnight until after she has "become supple to his gentle, seductive entreaties."
Mr. Pontellier, meanwhile, entirely disapproves of Edna's intention to move, and he has sent her a letter saying so. He is afraid of scandal--not sexual scandal, but scandal concerning their financial situation. People will think that the Pontelliers have met hard times, and his business may suffer. Therefore, Léonce, who is a quick thinker, also writes to a well-known architect with instructions that the Esplanade house be completely refurbished. A notice is placed in the papers saying that the Pontelliers may even be abroad for the summer while the house is being worked on.