During dinner, Edna and Robert lose their earlier honesty and vivacity and become stiff and ceremonious. After they have eaten, they sit in the parlor, and Edna questions Robert about the young Mexican girl whose gift of a tobacco pouch has become the topic of discussion. Alcée drops by with a message for Edna about a card party. As soon as he sees Robert, Alcée begins to talk about the seductive beauty of Mexican girls. Robert is on edge and answers somewhat coldly. Soon afterward, he takes his leave of Edna, who remains with Alcée. Alcée asks Edna to go out for a nighttime drive but she sends him away, preferring to be alone. For the rest of the evening she thinks over her encounter with Robert, feeling suddenly distant from him and moved by pangs of jealousy as she imagines him with a beautiful young Mexican girl.
The next morning Edna awakes with hope, convinced that she has overreacted to what she perceived as Robert’s reserve of the night before. She tells herself that she will undoubtedly receive a visit from him that afternoon or evening. At breakfast, she reads letters from Raoul and from Léonce, who indicates his plans to return in March to take her on a journey abroad. Alcée has also sent a note, declaring his devotion and his trust that, however faintly, Edna returns his affection. She writes back cheerfully to her children and puts Alcée’s note under the maid’s stove-lid, choosing not to respond. Her response to Léonce’s letter about the proposed trip is evasive. Edna does not intend to mislead her husband, but she is unable to conceive of the vacation or, for that matter, of reality, because “she had abandoned herself to Fate and awaited the consequences with indifference.”
Days pass without a visit from Robert. Edna does not wish to visit Mademoiselle Reisz or Madame Lebrun because she fears that they may think she is eager to seek out Robert’s company. She awakes each morning in a state of hope and expectation, but retires each evening in despair. One night, she accepts Alcée’s invitation to accompany him out to the lake; afterward they return to her home, slipping into the physical intimacy that has become more and more frequent between them. Lying in bed that night, Edna feels freed of despondency, yet the next day she fails to feel the sense of hope that has greeted her on the past several mornings.
Although Edna does not miss the duties and limitations of her past, she has begun to feel the isolation of her current lifestyle. Her isolation is alleviated only by lust, not by the more genuine, purer kind of emotion she shares with her sons. Her visit to Iberville reveals that Edna still feels a sense of responsibility to her children, despite her feeling that she is no longer bound by matrimonial duty. Whereas Edna resented her obligation to her husband, her responsibility to her sons is pleasing. Edna’s unhappiness about leaving her children suggests a developing, although still unconscious, understanding of the effect her infidelities will have on the lives of her boys. Consciously, however, Edna thinks only of Robert’s return, dwelling on the idealized version of true love that she believes awaits them.
When Robert does return, the romantic, dreamlike reunion that Edna had imagined is replaced by an uncomfortable sense of tension. As they walk past her former home on the way to the pigeon house, Robert remarks, “I never knew you in your home.” Edna’s glib reply—“I am glad you did not”—reveals her unrealistic expectations for their relationship. She simplistically assumes that her new home and new independence will foster a love untainted by her past life, and she believes that Robert will be able to see her only as she is now, untethered from her prior identity. But Robert’s behavior shows that he does not believe the past can be so easily laid aside and forgotten. He continues to call Edna by her married name, he mentions Léonce several times, and he refers to the Pontellier mansion as Edna’s “home,” not as her former home. The lovers’ contrasting attitudes toward Edna’s past foreshadow the opposing decisions the two will make at the end of the novel, when faced with the prospect of honoring their emotions only by way of adultery.
The photograph of Alcée mars Edna and Robert’s evening alone on at least two different levels. As a suggestion of a third presence, it shatters their temporary illusion of being a world unto themselves. It also may serve to subtly weaken the bond they share by lowering Edna in Robert’s esteem. Although the text does not state whether Robert knows about Edna’s affair with Alcée, it is clear that he is aware of Alcée’s reputation. He is shocked when he discovers Alcée’s photograph in Edna’s home, and in Chapter VIII he tells a disapproving story about Alcée to Edna and Adèle on Grand Isle. Robert may have begun to wonder whether Edna is easily seduced.