Part XXXIX written from Robert’s point of view:
Robert looked up at the house, sweating in the glaring sun as he approached. The sounds of his brother hammering drew him to the back of the house, where his brother had begun repairing a corner of one of the galleries. The sight of Victor usually annoyed him, but for once Robert found it a comfort.
Victor caught sight of Robert and paused his work, reaching down for a bottle which rested by his feet, already half-empty. He leaned against the house and wiped a hand across a shiny forehead. “Here I thought you said you had ‘important engagements’ all this week.” When Robert didn’t answer, he laughed a long, slow, drunken laugh. “I see your lady-friend has left you.” A wave of dull anger rose sluggishly in Robert, the truth rising upon his tongue, but the anger drowned in the damp heat of the afternoon, leaving only his silence.
There was nothing to do but let his brother say what he liked. A strange calmness came over him. Yes, he had done the right thing. His brother wouldn’t understand, not really. Robert turned away, facing into a slight breeze from the sea. A woman’s voice came from inside the house, followed by a door opening, slamming shut. Without looking, Robert knew it was that foolish girl, Mariequita. She had once had an infatuation with Robert, he remembered, but he had snubbed her in favor of Edna. It didn’t matter, anyway. Now, it seemed, she had cast her eye on his brother instead. She smiled too much, anyways, and cared too much what men thought of her. Unlike Edna–
But no, Robert told himself fiercely. Mustn’t think of Edna. He was not good enough for Edna, and she was unreachable, in her castle tower built of stocks and bonds and who knew what else. Even at dinners in the little house Edna had bought for the two of them, Robert could never quite reach her, never quite imagine himself by her side. She would always be Mrs. Pontellier, never Edna, never his. It was never meant to be.
It was for the best that he had left. This Robert knew, and reminded himself again and again, as he walked again and left his brother and the girl behind, looking perhaps for an hour or two of solitude out at the shore. As he walked, despite his best efforts, he could not help remembering the evening a few days before. That final evening, as he had been let in by a serving-woman and left to sit until Edna returned, he suddenly felt himself upon the edge of a precipice, all that lay behind already dry and arid, whatever wonder lay below obscured by such a distance that he would never climb again if he were to fall.
It was then that Robert knew he could not allow himself to take even one more step forward. He had encountered many of these in his young life, none so tempting as this, yet he still did not wish to fall, but rather to move on at the end of the season as he always did.
So, in a sudden rush, Robert had swept to his feet and sought out a scrap of paper on which to say his farewell, for the very effect of sitting in that room made him feel as if he were toeing the edge even as he stayed another moment longer in Edna’s little house. Good-by, because I love you, he had said. It was true, he had loved her, but he could not give himself up for her unless he was certain she would return his devotion. The words still echoed as if he had shouted them into a great expanse, Good-by.
“It was the right thing to do,” Robert said aloud, to the expanse of sand surrounding him at the water’s edge. It stared back in silence, as the sun’s judgmental glare burnt his forehead. “Really,” he beseeched the waves, “It’s time to move on.” But the waves gnashed their teeth, their spray in the air mirroring the tears that wished to fall.
A ways down the beach Robert came across a boat overturned in the sand, abandoned by its owner until next vacation. Looking out at the ocean, Robert remembered the many days he had spent teaching Edna to swim. Reaching the boat, he turned it upright in a single movement, the wind pressing on his back, encouraging him, as he pulled the boat into the waves.
The air was refreshing away from the shore. Robert stood, looking out to the endless sea, the sea which had no beginning and no end. It was strange, he mused, how in all the lands that the sea offered, the endless variety, the one he had once loved the most was behind him. He had left its warm shores behind in favor of these cold waves, these cold waves which had an equal chance of washing him up on a new land as they did condemning him to their lonely depths forever.
Far behind him, a figure stood on the sands, looking out at the same endless sea. Robert turned to look at the land, one last time, and saw the figure glide gracefully into the water and begin to swim. “Edna,” his breath spoke, ever so lightly, and while the distance that now separated them was too far for him to ever be sure, something in him, an eternal wisdom, knew that it was she.
Only the figure’s head and her long white arms were visible above the water, as she steadily swam away from the sand. Robert watched the whole time, watched the figure who seemed to dance in the waves as if across a boundless blue-grass meadow under the everlasting light of the sun.
His eyes were squinted tight against the sun, sweat trickling down his forehead like blood, but still young Robert watched.
The figure slowed a great distance from shore, slowed with a tightness upon Robert’s heart. Involuntarily he reached for the paddle as if he could help in some way, but he had served her enough; it was time for her to be free. The automatic fear which had risen in him quickly sank in favor of calm.
In the space of a single blink of Robert’s eye, the waves folded over the peaceful figure and she was lost to his eyes.
Robert stood looking toward the land for an eternity, remembering.
A long time later, when Robert had once again turned to the sea, a beautiful white creature floated through the waves before him, at peace, at last. Robert, too, was at peace. Good-by, because I love you. She floated, adorned with a golden halo, majestic in her robes of blue and green, below the sun’s ever-shining light.