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 A Respectable Woman

by Kate Chopin

Mrs. Baroda was a little provoked to learn that her husband
expected his friend, Gouvernail, up to spend a week or two on the
They had entertained a good deal during the winter; much of
the time had also been passed in New Orleans in various forms of
mild dissipation. She was looking forward to a period of unbroken
rest, now, and undisturbed tete-a-tete with her husband, when he
informed her that Gouvernail was coming up to stay a week or two.
This was a man she had heard much of but never seen. He had
been her husband's college friend; was now a journalist, and in no
sense a society man or "a man about town," which were, perhaps,
some of the reasons she had never met him. But she had
unconsciously formed an image of him in her mind. She pictured him
tall, slim, cynical; with eye-glasses, and his hands in his
pockets; and she did not like him. Gouvernail was slim enough, but
he wasn't very tall nor very cynical; neither did he wear
eyeglasses nor carry his hands in his pockets. And she rather liked
him when he first presented himself.
But why she liked him she could not explain satisfactorily to
herself when she partly attempted to do so. She could discover in
him none of those brilliant and promising traits which Gaston, her
husband, had often assured her that he possessed. On the contrary,
he sat rather mute and receptive before her chatty eagerness to
make him feel at home and in face of Gaston's frank and wordy hospitality.
His manner was as courteous toward her as the most exacting woman
could require; but he made no direct appeal to her approval or even esteem.
Once settled at the plantation he seemed to like to sit upon
the wide portico in the shade of one of the big Corinthian pillars,
smoking his cigar lazily and listening attentively to Gaston's
experience as a sugar planter.
"This is what I call living," he would utter with deep
satisfaction, as the air that swept across the sugar field caressed
him with its warm and scented velvety touch. It pleased him also
to get on familiar terms with the big dogs that came about him,
rubbing themselves sociably against his legs. He did not care to
fish, and displayed no eagerness to go out and kill grosbecs when
Gaston proposed doing so.
Gouvernail's personality puzzled Mrs. Baroda, but she liked
him. Indeed, he was a lovable, inoffensive fellow. After a few
days, when she could understand him no better than at first, she
gave over being puzzled and remained piqued. In this mood she left
her husband and her guest, for the most part, alone together. Then
finding that Gouvernail took no manner of exception to her action,
she imposed her society upon him, accompanying him in his idle
strolls to the mill and walks along the batture. She persistently
sought to penetrate the reserve in which he had unconsciously
enveloped himself.
"When is he going--your friend?" she one day asked her
husband. "For my part, he tires me frightfully."
"Not for a week yet, dear. I can't understand; he gives you
no trouble."
"No. I should like him better if he did; if he were more like
others, and I had to plan somewhat for his comfort and enjoyment."
Gaston took his wife's pretty face between his hands and
looked tenderly and laughingly into her troubled eyes.
They were making a bit of toilet sociably together in Mrs. Baroda's
"You are full of surprises, ma belle," he said to her. "Even
I can never count upon how you are going to act under given
conditions." He kissed her and turned to fasten his cravat before
the mirror.
"Here you are," he went on, "taking poor Gouvernail seriously
and making a commotion over him, the last thing he would desire or
"Commotion!" she hotly resented. "Nonsense! How can you say
such a thing? Commotion, indeed! But, you know, you said he was clever."
"So he is. But the poor fellow is run down by overwork now.
That's why I asked him here to take a rest."
"You used to say he was a man of ideas," she retorted,
unconciliated. "I expected him to be interesting, at least. I'm
going to the city in the morning to have my spring gowns fitted.
Let me know when Mr. Gouvernail is gone; I shall be at my Aunt
That night she went and sat alone upon a bench that stood
beneath a live oak tree at the edge of the gravel walk.
She had never known her thoughts or her intentions to be so
confused. She could gather nothing from them but the feeling of a
distinct necessity to quit her home in the morning.
Mrs. Baroda heard footsteps crunching the gravel; but could
discern in the darkness only the approaching red point of a lighted
cigar. She knew it was Gouvernail, for her husband did not smoke.
She hoped to remain unnoticed, but her white gown revealed her to
him. He threw away his cigar and seated himself upon the bench
beside her; without a suspicion that she might object to his
"Your husband told me to bring this to you, Mrs. Baroda," he
said, handing her a filmy, white scarf with which she sometimes
enveloped her head and shoulders. She accepted the scarf from him
with a murmur of thanks, and let it lie in her lap.
He made some commonplace observation upon the baneful effect
of the night air at the season. Then as his gaze reached out into
the darkness, he murmured, half to himself:

"`Night of south winds--night of the large few stars!
Still nodding night--'"

She made no reply to this apostrophe to the night, which,
indeed, was not addressed to her.
Gouvernail was in no sense a diffident man, for he was not a
self-conscious one. His periods of reserve were not
constitutional, but the result of moods. Sitting there beside Mrs.
Baroda, his silence melted for the time.
He talked freely and intimately in a low, hesitating drawl
that was not unpleasant to hear. He talked of the old college days
when he and Gaston had been a good deal to each other; of the days
of keen and blind ambitions and large intentions. Now there was
left with him, at least, a philosophic acquiescence to the existing
order--only a desire to be permitted to exist, with now and then a
little whiff of genuine life, such as he was breathing now.
Her mind only vaguely grasped what he was saying. Her
physical being was for the moment predominant. She was not
thinking of his words, only drinking in the tones of his voice.
She wanted to reach out her hand in the darkness and touch him with
the sensitive tips of her fingers upon the face or the lips. She
wanted to draw close to him and whisper against his cheek--she did
not care what--as she might have done if she had not been a
respectable woman.
The stronger the impulse grew to bring herself near him, the
further, in fact, did she draw away from him. As soon as she could
do so without an appearance of too great rudeness, she rose and
left him there alone.
Before she reached the house, Gouvernail had lighted a fresh
cigar and ended his apostrophe to the night.
Mrs. Baroda was greatly tempted that night to tell her
husband--who was also her friend--of this folly that had
seized her. But she did not yield to the temptation. Beside being
a respectable woman she was a very sensible one; and she knew there
are some battles in life which a human being must fight alone.
When Gaston arose in the morning, his wife had already
departed. She had taken an early morning train to the city. She
did not return till Gouvernail was gone from under her roof.
There was some talk of having him back during the summer that
followed. That is, Gaston greatly desired it; but this desire
yielded to his wife's strenuous opposition.
However, before the year ended, she proposed, wholly from
herself, to have Gouvernail visit them again. Her husband was
surprised and delighted with the suggestion coming from her.
"I am glad, chere amie, to know that you have finally overcome
your dislike for him; truly he did not deserve it."
"Oh," she told him, laughingly, after pressing a long, tender
kiss upon his lips, "I have overcome everything! you will see.
This time I shall be very nice to him."
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