Go back to Madame Celestin's Divorce
Kate Chopin (1851 - 1904)
Madame Celestin's Divorce
MADAME C?LESTIN'S DIVORCE.
Madame Celestin always wore a neat and snugly fitting calico
wrapper when she went out in the morning to sweep her small
gallery. Lawyer Paxton thought she looked very pretty in the
gray one that was made with a graceful Watteau fold at the back:
and with which she invariably wore a bow of pink ribbon at the
throat. She was always sweeping her gallery when lawyer Paxton
passed by in the morning on his way to his office in St. Denis Street.
Sometimes he stopped and leaned over the fence to say
good-morning at his ease; to criticise or admire her rosebushes;
or, when he had time enough, to hear what she had to say.
Madame C?lestin usually had a good deal to say. She would gather
up the train of her calico wrapper in one hand, and balancing the
broom gracefully in the other, would go tripping down to where
the lawyer leaned, as comfortably as he could, over her picket
Of course she had talked to him of her troubles. Every one
knew Madame C?lestin's troubles.
"Really, madame," he told her once, in his deliberate, calculating,
lawyer-tone, "it 's more than human nature -- woman's nature --
should be called upon to endure. Here you are, working your fingers
off" -- she glanced down at two rosy finger-tips that showed through
the rents in her baggy doeskin gloves -- "taking in sewing; giving
music lessons; doing God knows what in the way of manual labor to
support yourself and those two little ones" -- Madame C?lestin's
pretty face beamed with satisfaction at this enumeration of her trials.
"You right, Judge. Not a picayune, not one, not one, have I lay
my eyes on in the pas' fo' months that I can say C?lestin give it to me
or sen' it to me."
"The scoundrel!" muttered lawyer Paxton in his beard.
"An' pourtant," she resumed, "they say he 's making money
down roun' Alexandria w'en he wants to work."
"I dare say you have n't seen him for months?" suggested the
"It 's good six month' since I see a sight of C?lestin," she admitted.
"That 's it, that 's what I say; he has practically deserted you;
fails to support you. It wouldn't surprise me a bit to learn that he
has ill treated you."
"Well, you know, Judge," with an evasive cough, "a man that
drinks -- w'at can you expec'? An' if you would know the promises
he has made me! Ah, if I had as many dolla' as I had promise from
C?lestin, I would n' have to work, je vous garantis."
"And in my opinion, madame, you would be a foolish woman to
endure it longer, when the divorce court is there to offer you redress."
"You spoke about that befo', Judge; I 'm goin' think about that
divo'ce. I believe you right."
Madame C?lestin thought about the divorce and talked about
it, too; and lawyer Paxton grew deeply interested in the theme.
"You know, about that divo'ce, Judge," Madame C?lestin was
waiting for him that morning, "I been talking to my family an' my
frien's, an' it 's me that tells you, they all plumb agains' that divo'ce."
"Certainly to be sure; that 's to be expected, madame, in this
community of Creoles. I warned you that you would meet with
opposition, and would have to face it and brave it."
"Oh, don't fear, I 'm going to face it! Maman says it 's a disgrace
like it 's neva been in the family. But it 's good for Maman to talk,
her. W'at trouble she ever had? She says I mus' go by all means
consult with P?re Duch?ron -- it 's my confessor, you undastan' --
Well, I 'll go, Judge, to please Maman. But all the confessor' in the
worl' ent goin' make me put up with that conduc' of C?lestin any
A day or two later, she was there waiting for him again.
"You know, Judge, about that divo'ce."
"Yes, yes," responded the lawyer, well pleased to trace a
new determination in her brown eyes and in the curves of her
pretty mouth. "I suppose you saw P?re Duch?ron and had to
brave it out with him, too."
"Oh, fo' that, a perfec' sermon, I assho you. A talk of giving
scandal an' bad example that I thought would neva en'! He says,
fo' him, he wash' his hands; I mus' go see the bishop."
"You won't let the bishop dissuade you, I trust," stammered
the lawyer more anxiously than he could well understand.
"You don't know me yet, Judge," laughed Madame C?lestin
with a turn of the head and a flirt of the broom which indicated
that the interview was at an end.
"Well, Madame C?lestin! And the bishop!" Lawyer Paxton was
standing there holding to a couple of the shaky pickets. She had
not seen him. "Oh, it 's you, Judge?" and she hastened towards
him with an empressement that could not but have been flattering.
"Yes, I saw Monseigneur," she began. The lawyer had already
gathered from her expressive countenance that she had not
wavered in her determination. "Ah, he 's a eloquent man. It 's
not a mo' eloquent man in Natchitoches parish. I was fo'ced to cry,
the way he talked to me about my troubles; how he undastan's
them, an' feels for me. It would move even you, Judge, to hear how
he talk' about that step I want to take; its danga, its temptation.
How it is the duty of a Catholic to stan' everything till the las' extreme.
An' that life of retirement an' self-denial I would have to lead, -- he
tole me all that."
"But he has n't turned you from your resolve, I see," laughed
the lawyer complacently.
"For that, no," she returned emphatically. "The bishop don't
know w'at it is to be married to a man like C?lestin, an' have to
endu' that conduc' like I have to endu' it. The Pope himse'f can't
make me stan' that any longer, if you say I got the right in the
law to sen' C?lestin sailing."
A noticeable change had come over lawyer Paxton. He discarded
his work-day coat and began to wear his Sunday one to the office.
He grew solicitous as to the shine of his boots, his collar, and the
set of his tie. He brushed and trimmed his whiskers with a care that
had not before been apparent. Then he fell into a stupid habit of
dreaming as he walked the streets of the old town. It would be
very good to take unto himself a wife, he dreamed. And he could
dream of no other than pretty Madame C?lestin filling that sweet
and sacred office as she filled his thoughts, now. Old Natchitoches
would not hold them comfortably, perhaps; but the world was
surely wide enough to live in, outside of Natchitoches town.
His heart beat in a strangely irregular manner as he neared
Madame C?lestin's house one morning, and discovered her behind
the rosebushes, as usual plying her broom. She had finished the
gallery and steps and was sweeping the little brick walk along
the edge of the violet border.
"Good-morning, Madame C?lestin."
"Ah, it 's you, Judge? Good-morning." He waited. She seemed
to be doing the same. Then she ventured, with some hesitancy,
"You know, Judge, about that divo'ce. I been thinking, -- I reckon
you betta neva mine about that divo'ce." She was making deep
rings in the palm of her gloved hand with the end of the broom-handle,
and looking at them critically. Her face seemed to the lawyer to be
unusually rosy; but maybe it was only the reflection of the pink bow
at the throat. "Yes, I reckon you need n' mine. You see, Judge,
C?lestin came home las' night. An' he 's promise me on his word
an' honor he 's going to turn ova a new leaf."
(from "Bayou Folk")
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