Now, the VOA Special English program, AMERICAN STORIES.
Our story today is called "Athnase." It was written by Kate Chopin. Here is Barbara Klein with the story.
Athnase went away one morning to visit her parents, ten miles back on the Bon Dieu River in Louisiana. She did not return in the evening, and Cazeau, her husband, was worried.
Cazeau expressed his worries to his servant, Flicit, who served him dinner.
He ate alone by the light of a coal-oil lamp. Flicit stood nearby like a restless shadow.
"Only married two months and she has her head turned already to leave! It is not right!" she said.
Cazeau shrugged his shoulders. Flicit's opinion of his wife's behavior after two months of marriage did not matter to him. He was used to being alone and did not mind a night or two of it. Cazeau stood up and walked outside.
The night was beginning to deepen and gather black around the groups of trees in the yard. Far away, he could hear the sound of someone playing an accordion. Nearby, a baby was crying.
Cazeau's horse was waiting, saddled. He still had much farm work to do before bed time. He did not have time to think about Athnase. But he felt her absence like a deep pain.
Before he slept that night Cazeau was visited by an image of Athnase's pale, young face with its soft lips and sensual eyes. The marriage had been a mistake. He had only to look into her eyes to feel that, to sense her growing dislike of him. But, the marriage could not be undone. And he was ready to make the best of it and expected the same effort from her.
These sad thoughts kept Cazeau awake far into the night. The moon was shining and its pale light reached into the room. It was still outside, with no sound except the distant notes of the accordion.
Athnase did not return the next day, although her husband sent a message to do so through her brother, Montclin. On the third day, Cazeau prepared his horse and went himself in search of her.
Athnase's parents, the Michs, lived in a large home owned by a trader who lived in town. The house was far too big for their use. Upstairs, the rooms were so large and empty that they were used for parties. A dance at the Mich home and a plate of Madame Mich's gumbo were pleasures not to be missed.
Madame Mich was sitting on the porch outside the house. She stood up to greet Cazeau. She was short and fat with a cheery face. But she was clearly tense as Cazeau arrived.
Montclin was there too. But he was not uneasy. He made no effort to hide his dislike of Cazeau.
"Dirty pig!" He said under his breath as Cazeau climbed the stairs to the porch. Montclin disliked Cazeau for refusing to lend him money long ago. Now that this man was his sister's husband, he disliked him even more.
Mich and his oldest son were away. They both respected Cazeau and talked highly of him.
Cazeau shook hands with Madame Mich who offered him a chair. Athnaise had shut herself in her room.
"You know, nothing would do last night," Madame Mich said. "Athnase just had to stay for a little dance. The boys would not let their sister leave!"
Cazeau shrugged his shoulders to show he knew nothing about last night.
"Didn't Montclin tell you we were going to keep Athnase?" she asked. But Montclin had told him nothing.
"And how about the night before?" asked Cazeau. "And last night? Do you have dances every night?"
Madame Mich laughed and told her son to go tell Athnase her husband had arrived. Montclin did not move.
"You know as well as I do that it is no use to tell Athnase anything," said Montclin. "You and pa have been talking to her since Monday. When Athnase said she was not returning to Cazeau she meant it."
Two fiery red spots rose to Cazeau's cheeks. What Montclin said was true.
Upon arriving home, Athnase had announced she was there to stay. It was difficult for her to understand why she had married. Girls were just expected to get married. And she did like Cazeau.
Montclin had asked Athnase to explain herself. He had asked her if Cazeau abused her, or if he drank too much.
"No!" Athnase had said. "It is just being married that I hate. I do not like being Missus Cazeau. I want to be Athnase Mich again. I do not like living with a man, all his clothing everywhere and his ugly bare feet."
At the time, Montclin had been sorry his sister had no serious evidence to use against Cazeau.
And now, there was Cazeau himself looking like he wanted to hit Montclin.
Cazeau stood up and went inside the house to his wife's room.
"Athnase, get ready," he said quietly. "It is late and we do not have time to lose."
Athnase was not prepared for his calm request. She felt a sense of hopelessness about continuing to rebel against the idea of marriage. She gathered her hat and gloves. Then, she walked downstairs past her brother and mother, got on her horse and rode away. Cazeau followed behind her.
It was late when they reached home. Cazeau once more ate dinner alone. Athnase sat in her room crying.
Athnase's parents had hoped that marriage would bring a sense of responsibility so deeply lacking in her character. No one could understand why she so hated her role as wife. Cazeau had never spoken angrily to her or called her names or failed to give her everything she wanted. His main offense seemed to be that he loved her.
And Athnase was not a woman to be loved against her will.
At breakfast, Athnase complained to her husband.
"Why did you have to marry me when there were so many other girls to choose from?" she asked. "And, it is strange that if you hate my brother so much, you would marry his sister!"
"I do not know what any of them have to do with it," Cazeau said. "I married you because I loved you. I guess I was a fool to think I could make you happy. I do not know what else to do but make the best of a bad deal and shake hands over it."
It now seemed to Athnase that her brother was the only friend left to her in the world. Her parents had turned from her and her friends laughed at her. But Montclin had an idea for securing his sister's freedom. After some thought, Athnase agreed to his plan.
The next morning, Cazeau woke up to find his wife was gone. She had packed her belongings and left in the night.
Cazeau felt a terrible sense of loss. It was not new; he had felt it for weeks.
He realized he had missed his chance for happiness. He could not think of loving any other woman, and could not imagine Athnase ever caring for him. He wrote her a letter stating that he did not want her back unless she returned of her own free will.
Athnase had escaped to the big city of New Orleans. She was staying at a private hotel that Montclin had chosen and paid to rent for a month. A woman named Sylvie owned the hotel and took good care of Athnase.
Athnase soon became friends with Mister Gouvernail who was also staying at the hotel. This friendship helped her feel less lonely about missing her family. But Mister Gouvernail soon started to fall in love with Athnase. He knew she was uninformed, unsatisfied and strong-willed. But he also suspected that she loved her husband, although she did not know it. Bitter as this belief was, he accepted it.
Athnase's last week in the city was coming to an end. She had not found a job and was too homesick to stay any longer. Also, she had not been feeling well. She complained in detail about her sickness to Sylvie. Sylvie was very wise, and Athnase was very stupid. Sylvie very calmly explained to Athnase that she was feeling sick because she was pregnant.
Athnase sat very still for a long time thinking about this new information. Her whole being was overcome with a wave of happiness. Then, she stood up, ready to take action.
She had to tell her mother! And Cazeau! As she thought of him, a whole new sense of life swept over her. She could not wait to return to him.
The next day Athnase spent travelling home. When she arrived at Cazeau's, he lifted her out of the horse carriage and they held each other tight. The country night was warm and still except for a baby crying in the distance.
"Listen, Cazeau!" said Athnase. "How Juliette's baby is crying! Poor darling, I wonder what is the matter with it?"
You have heard the story "Athnase" by Kate Chopin. Your storyteller was Barbara Klein. This story was adapted and produced by Dana Demange. Listen again next week for another American Story in VOA Special English.