October 3, 2012

Chopin: Love on the Bon-Dieu

"Love on the Bon-Dieu" was originally published as "Love and Easter" on October 3, 1891, though the author, Kate Chopin, frequently republished it before finally including it in her collection Bayou-Folk in 1894. The short story focuses on Lalie, a poor Cajun girl who has "a frailness that indicated a lack of wholesome and plentiful nourishment." While waiting to ask the local priest Pére Antoine for help convincing the local store owner to trade eggs for good shoes she can use for Easter,  she meets Azenor. Azenor immediately pities the girl, who stands out at Easter mass for wearing very simple clothes compared to the other people:

He was angered against other young women who passed him, because of their flowers and ribbons, when she wore none. He himself did not care, but he feared she might, and watched her narrowly to see if she did.

Lalie didn't mind. In fact, through the story, she endures uncomplainingly - not only her poverty, but also the strange grandmother whom she lives with (in one scene, she is crooning at the moon). Azenor gives Lalie a beautifully decorated Easter egg. Other girls tease him for his interest in her. He then provides her with a substantial meal, without her knowing he was her benefactor. The next Sunday, however, she does not appear in church and Pére Antoine tells him she is sick.

Azenor, without hesitation, rushes to the small, decrepit home where she lives. He is ashamed that he never went sooner, realizing that he had been afraid of her poverty. "Fear had kept him,—dread to see her desolate life face to face. He did not know he could bear it." He finds her ill and weak, but still clutching the Easter egg he had given her. Immediately, he knows that she loves him as much as he loves her. He picks her up and carries her back to home, where he announces to a servant that she must fetch the priest so that they can be married. As he carries her:

Once, where the water was trickling cool through rocks, he stopped to lave Lalie's hot cheeks and hands and forehead. He had not once touched his lips to her. But now, when a sudden great fear came upon him because she did not know him, instinctively he pressed his lips upon hers that were parched and burning. He held them there till hers were soft and pliant from the healthy moisture of his own.
Then she knew him. She did not tell him so, but her stiffened fingers relaxed their tense hold upon the Easter bauble. It fell to the ground as she twined her arm around his neck; and he understood.

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