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Kate Chopin had a tremendous gift of observation and sensitivity for post-war life in the South, and was able to
transfer her impressions into great stories. Sadly, she only wrote two novels, but lots of short stories, including two large collections of which this is
one. Published in 1894, it contains 23 stories. Dover has put out two of their own collections, Lilacs and Other Stories,
in which 11 of these appear, and A Pair of Silk Stockings and Other Stories, in which 4 appear, leaving 8 others
not in either collection. You may see all of Chopin's works reviewed on this
site on the Kate Chopin Index.
Chopin wrote about both white and black people, and the picture she paints is that there was more love and caring between the two races in the Old South than one might expect. These stories are based on her own life in Natchitoches Parish and New Orleans, Louisiana, and the same families reappear throughout. In that respect, they are quite autobiographical. These miniatures range from humorous, to poignant or bittersweet, to, in some cases sad, (but not too many tragedies). Most are simply snatches of everyday life experienced by everyday people. They make wonderful reading.
Here are just a few, chosen for their diverse viewpoints and emotional range.
Beyond the Bayou
This story is about a black lady in her mid-thirties, who, as a child, saw a man, P'tit Maitre, shot and bloodied. He came for shelter at Jacqueline's mother's cabin, but it scared the senses out of the child. After that, she was never quite right. She came to be known as La Folle. She spent her life alone in her cabin, with a little patch of cotton, corn and tobacco, but would never go beyond the bayou.
P'tit Maitre, alive and well now owned Bellissime. He had a lovely family of daughters and one little son, whom La Folle loved. She called him Chéri, then everyone else did, too. But one day, after Chéri was older, he was given a gun, and on his way to the woods to shoot, he stopped to give La Folle a pocketful of nuts and fruit, and she in turn had croquignoles for him. He told her he was going to shoot a deer, and she laughed and requested a squirrel. But he ended up shooting himself. She heard him cry in the woods, and took off to find him, gathering him up in her arms. However in order to get him home, she had to cross the bayou. Her love for Chéri overpowered all her fears when she realized there was no one to answer her calls. As she strode toward Chéri's house, others began to notice that she had crossed the bayou, and a cry went out. The news of her approach with the injured child reached his house before she did. When she finally delivered her precious one, she fainted and came close to death. But with a black mammy, Tante Lizette, skilled in herbs, she not only recovered, but was a changed woman, no longer afraid to cross the bayou.
Old Aunt Peggy
She was quite old when the war ended, and came to Monsieur and announced that she wasn't going to leave.
"Massa, I ain't never gwine to quit yer. I'm gittin' ole an' feeble, an' my days is few in dis heah lan' o' sorrow an' sin. All I axes is a li'le co'ner whar I kin set down an' wait peaceful fu de en'."
So Monsieur and Madame set her up in a nice little cabin with a comfortable rocking chair, and she's been rocking ever since. Every few years she comes to the house to see the children and everyone for one last time because the "de en" is near. Aunt Peggy is about 125 years old now, maybe older.
The Bênitous' Slave
Long after he was freed, Old Uncle Oswald still thought he belonged to the Bênitous, though fifty years had passed. There
was nothing Monsieur could do to convince him. There was only one Bênitous left in the parish now and she had a little daughter and kept a "fashionable
millinery" shop. Monsieur tried to take care of Uncle Oswald, but he kept running away to get back to the Bênitous, and finally, he was lost two days and
discovered near death in the woods. Doctor Bonfils and Monsieur decided to put him in an institution for his own safety.
While waiting for the train, Monsieur went into the little "hotel" and left Uncle Oswald to nap on the bench. But as he dozed, he dropped his cane, and a little girl passing by picked it up and handed it to him. He asked her name and she answered Susanne Bênitous. Of course Uncle Oswald followed her to her mother's shop, where he stood and awaited orders. After Monsieur explained the situation, Madame Bênitous agreed to take Uncle Oswald, where he has served her ever since.
A Wizard from Gettysburg
Bertrand Delmandé, a young teen learned that his father and grandmother had run into some financial trouble, and he might have to withdraw from college. But he was still cheerful and was out riding his Creole pony. When he passed the Cherokee hedge, his pony was frightened at the sight of an old tramp sitting on a stone. The man was not only very old and very poor, but he had a wound in his foot and was mentally confused. He had been wounded in the battle of Gettysburg and lost all memory. Bertrand brought him back to the house and began to look for bandages, while the servants thought it was a bad idea and he would steal from them.
But when his father and grandmother returned, they found a place for the man to sleep while Bertrand lay awake in his own bed thinking of what the poor man must have been through.
I won't tell you the end of this one so you can have a surprise.
A Gentleman of Bayou Têche
Mr. Sublet was staying at the Hallet plantation, drawing pictures to put in a magazine. When he saw Evariste coming out of the swamp and trying to sell a wild turkey, he asked him if he might draw his picture. He gave him a couple silver dollars.
When Evariste returned home, he told his daughter what happened. She wanted to know why Mr. Sublet would want to draw her father but neither of them could imagine why. Martinette told her father he needed to clean himself up, get a haircut, and wear his good clothes. But when Martinette went to tell Aunt Dicey, she just laughed and called them simple. She said the man would put the picture in the magazine and write below it:
"Dis heah is one dem low-down Cajun o' Bayeh Têche!"
Martinette got angry, and thought Mr. Sublet was making a fool of her father. She convinced him not to let the
picture be drawn. She herself went to the Hallet's in the morning and quietly laid the silver pieces on the table while the others were having breakfast. All
except Mr. Sublet's little son who had gone out early and not retuned. As Martinette ran down the steps to leave, her father was coming up, holding Mr.
Sublet's son in his arms after saving him from nearly drowning. Martinette followed them in, and Mr. Hallet gave them both a hot breakfast.
And as for the picture: they struck a deal. Evariste would allow Mr. Sublet to draw him, provided he got to choose what would be written beneath the picture. And I'll let you read the story to find that out.
A Lady of Bayou St. John
Madame Delisle was very young and beautiful, and very lonely since Gustave has gone off to war. But emotionally, she was still a child, romped with the dogs, and had old black Manna-Loulou tell her a bedtime story each night. That is, until she met Sépincourt. He was a Frenchman who lived nearby, and stopped in one day to talk. That day, something changed within Madame Delisle.
They ended up spending much time together that summer, and though she still longed for her husband, she was beginning to have feelings Sépincourt. One day, after the two had nothing more to talk about, Sépincourt asked her to come away with him to Paris, where things were not so sad. She of course was shocked and upset, but also realized she was tempted to submit. He wrote a letter begging her forgiveness. She allowed him to see her, but things could not be the same. He held her and kissed her, and she agreed to leave with him.
But that same night, she learned of her husband's death. Then he became almost an idol for her. Sépincourt did not get his wish, and Madame spent the rest of her life alone, with her memories of Gustave.
These six stories are just a few examples of Chopin's enchanting and insightful writing. And you can read this wonderful book for free! Just click below.
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