Kate Chopin as a Vocal Colourist: Vocalscapes in “Beyond the Bayou”
Suite à la journée de formation organisée par La Clé des langues, le Rectorat de Lyon et la Société de Stylistique Anglaise à l'ENS le 8 avril 2013, nous avons le plaisir de mettre en ligne un texte de Manuel Jobert précédemment publié dans un ouvrage dirigé par Denis Jamet : Hommage à Malcolm Clay, Lyon : Publication de l’Université Jean Moulin – Lyon 3, 2008. Nous vous invitons également à consulter les présentations des trois intervenants de la formation, Manuel Jobert, Vanina Jobert-Martini et Marie-Agnès Gay, accessibles depuis l'encadré droit de cette page.
Authors sometimes pepper their writings with features of orality. Charles Dickens, Emily Brontë, Thomas Hardy or George Bernard Shaw have become household names renowned for this propensity to rely on the vocal medium. Orality, however, is an umbrella term that covers a wide range of possible meanings. In this paper, I shall mainly be concerned with direct speech and the way it represents spoken discourse proper.
The differences between spoken discourse and its written representations have been abundantly studied by linguists and non-linguists. Abercrombie (1965, 04) remarks:
Nobody speaks at all like the characters in any novel, play or film. Life would be intolerable if they did; and novels, plays or films would be intolerable if the characters spoke as people do in life.
Chapman (1994, 1) adds:
Variations in accent, social or regional, and in personal voice quality, are tacitly ignored unless the text requires that they be made specific. Standard spelling neutralises speech and puts the onus on the author to show any special features.
Indeed, aspects of what Leech & Short (1981, 161) call « normal non-fluency » (such as hesitation pauses, false starts, clumsy constructions, overlaps ((Leech & Short (1981, 161) explain: “They are non-fluent in the sense that they fall short of an ‘ideal’ delivery, and yet they are normal in the sense that they occur habitually in speech”.)) etc.) are usually absent from the fictional representation of speech. These features tend to pass unnoticed in real speech and are therefore not encoded in fiction. Leech & Short (1981, 161) comment:
Altogether, it may be concluded that real conversation is unlikely to be promising material for literary employment, and that it must strike an observer who has an eye on the aesthetic capabilities of language as sloppy, banal, and ill-organised. We come, once more to our familiar conclusion about realism: the author of a literary fiction does not aim at a completely realistic representation of the features of ordinary conversation.
Fictional speech, however, is generally regarded as a close enough representation of real speech and, thanks to the Gricean principle of cooperation, readers agree to play along with the pretence ((Toolan (1992, 34) confirms: “There are criteria and conventions underpinning speech transcriptions, just as such factors underpin literary representations of speech, and one of the most fundamental assumptions we make in reading direct speech is that, barring peripheral and inessential details (stumblings, repetitions, fractured and incomplete sentences), all the detail of a character’s actual speech that is relevant to proper uptake of that character or the novel’s theme will, in fact, be represented. It may be argued that a Gricean spirit of relevancy and sufficiency guides the construction of fictional direct-speech”.)). Once a writer has ironed out the less meaningful features of orality, those that remain are bound to carry important information ((Things are sometimes more complicated as Leech & Short (1981, 165) explain: “Since features of non-fluency are normally overlooked by participants in real life conversation, they can be omitted from fictional conversation without impairing the realistic effect. But even these ‘errors’ can be communicative, in the sense that they may indicate something of the speaker’s character or state of mind”.)). They fall into two major categories:
- phonostylistic features (Léon, 1993), give information on speakers’ physiological characteristics, and on their regional and social backgrounds. These features are relatively permanent and enable listeners to distinguish both groups and individuals. Dialects and idiolects fall into this category.
- paralinguistic vocal features (Brown, 1990) provide information about speakers’ attitudes and emotions. These features are more volatile. They may be strictly phonetic (giving information about loudness for instance, as in “she shouted”) or they may be purely attitudinal (as in “she retorted”). In this case, the acoustic quality of the utterance has to be inferred. The processing of such information is done naturally by readers who take onboard whatever is suggested by the author, usually unconsciously. Paralinguistic vocal features always represent a deviation from the speaker’s norm: they are thus relative and not absolute. For instance, “she cried” implies that the speaker uses a loudness which is somewhat higher than the loudness s/he usually uses. Finally, paralinguistic vocal features tend to be congruent with kinesics but may contradict the semantic content of the verbal message. In terms of communication, their role is thus of paramount importance.
Kate Chopin is well known for her rendering of dialects and accents, as many of her stories show, but less attention has been paid to her use of paralinguistic vocal features ((See Jobert (2002) for the use of paralinguistic vocal features in fiction.)). These two layers of vocal encoding give her stories an undisputable oral quality and create a vocalscape in which the action is set. These features find an echo in the narrative voice that takes on an oral quality and a rhythm somewhat comparable to that found in poetry. In other words, what is present in the diegesis is, more often than not, reverberated in the narrative.
The overall structure of “Beyond the Bayou” is strikingly simple and follows a linear pattern. Jacqueline, also known as La Folle ((See also Maupassant’s “La Folle”in Contes de la bécasse.)), doggedly remains on her side of the Bayou because of a traumatic experience when she was a child, during the Civil War. P’tit Maître, had appeared in her mother’s cabin, “black with powder and crimson with blood” (55). P’tit Maître is now the owner of Bellissime, the plantation where La Folle works. His son, Chéri and La Folle have developed a close relationship. A shooting accident happens and La Folle is forced to fight her fear and crosses the Bayou to take Chéri back home.
The parallel with Labov’s “oral narratives of personal experience” ((See Toolan (2001) for a presentation of Labov’s approach in a literary perspective.)) is striking. It accounts for the folk-tale quality of the story which is alluded to in the evocation of the “wondrous stories of things that always happened ‘yonda, beyon’ de Bayou’” (56), told by La Folle to P’tit Maître’s children. Indeed, the abstract is pretty accurately represented by the title, as the story is actually about La Folle’s crossing the Bayou and, more specifically, its consequences. Indeed, the title refers to the destination, the place of arrival, rather than the actual crossing as such, which is implicitly presented as a necessary but not a central element. The orientation is, as is often the case in 19th century fiction, fairly lengthy and the central characters (La Folle and Chéri) as well as the general backdrop are precisely depicted. The complicating action is, of course, Chéri’s shooting accident and the consequences on La Folle’s behaviour. The result (i.e. the consequence of the preceding action) focuses on the feeling of contentment experienced by La Folle. The absence of a formal coda seems to suggest that the conclusion of the story may not be as straightforward as could be anticipated. However, the very tight structure of the narrative gives a parabolic dimension to the short-story. As for evaluative devices, they are to be found in the change of perspective present at the end, which largely determines the reader’s response to the story. The mise en abyme of story-telling, the very simplicity of the plot with its poignant climax – also reminiscent of Labov’s paradigm – along its well-ordered chronology - unquestionably evoke traditional oral narratives.
1. Vocal colour and linguistic identification
Kate Chopin is often considered as a “local colourist” and although written language is notoriously inadequate to convey the flavour of spoken discourse, she is quite successful in encoding her characters’ phonostyles. At this stage, it is worth stressing that “direct speech in novels is, then, ‘a slanted faithful record’” (Toolan, 1992, 33). Cooper (1994, 27) explains:
Realist representations of dialect speech in literary writing do not work through exact correlation with an actual referent (an actual dialect outside the text), but are perceived as credible because they mobilize codes that are significant to the reader.
With this in mind, it is nevertheless possible to assess the extent of Kate Chopin’s success in drawing the linguistic picture of Louisiana speech. In Louisiana, where the action of “Beyond the Bayou” is set, several linguistic varieties co-exist: French Creole and Cajun, itself influenced by Acadian French, as well as a variety of English. Yat, a New Orleans accent whose name derives from the phrase “Where y’at?”, meaning “How are you?”, is also presented. This accent shares phonetic features with Brooklynese, i.e. New York’s basilect. The linguistic hotchpotch Kate Chopin manages to render is a fairly accurate depiction of the linguistic situation. A comprehensive study of the eye-dialect she encodes is impossible here, but a brief overview of the more salient features she exposes is in order.
The French past of Lousiana is present in the referential world especially through toponymy, proper names and nicknames (the plantation is called Bellissime – French via Latin; Jacqueline is usually referred to as “La Folle”, the boy as “Chéri” and his father as “P’tit Maître”). La Folle uses both a Louisana French Creole of sorts as well as a dialect of English. In the 1891 version of the story, a paragraph, removed from the revised story, reads:
“He used to kiss me so lovingly!” La Folle said to herself in her dialect. (167)
It is as though Kate Chopin was fully aware of the difficulty of encoding dialect and was preparing the ground for the ensuing dialogue. Interestingly here, direct speech is presented in Standard English despite what is indicated in the inquit. In most cases, however, to evoke Louisiana English, Kate Chopin resorts to morphophonological encoding (Léon, 1993). More specifically, the dialect presented seems to be a blend of South American English and Yat. Here is a selection of some of the major regional speech pointers used in the story ((This presentation is based on Wells (1992). A rigorous phonetic description of Louisiana English at the end of the 19th century (i.e. when the story is set) would require a contemporary description of this accent. However, this presentation being based on a fictional text (which only retains the most obvious features), such linguistic minutiae did not appear necessary.)):
- Loss of the velar nasal /N/ in ING forms: “She goin’ be” (57)
- TH Stopping; <th> realised as a stop rather than as a fricative; the opposition/t-θ/ may be lost. It is also the case with the opposition between /d-ð/: “De bayou (56). “Dat’s too big (57).
- Abundant use of elision.
- Non-rhoticity. Unlike General American, South American English tends to be non-rhotic. We find many examples of non-rhoticity both in the mouth of La Folle “I come ax how my po’ li’l” Chéri to, ‘s mo’ning (60) and in the speech of other characters such as Chéri: “One squirrel ain’t a bite. I’ll bring you mo’ ‘an one, La Folle” (57). As Chapman (1994) points out, morphophonological encoding can only be impressionistic and there is no systematic marking of phonostylistic features. However, in this case, this lack of coherence could very well point to the lack of consistency in rhoticity (the lack of what Wells calls “the R-Norm clarity” ((Wells (1982, 543) explains: « A high degree of education was associated with either a very high or a very low r-score, low education with intermediate score; thus it was consistency (‘R-norm clarity’) rather than r-score as such which was linked to social position ».))), also typical of the Southern accent.
- Extreme weakening of unstressed – pretonic or postonic – syllables as in “b’lieve”(59). Here, the written representation is actually closer to the phonetic reality than the orthographic spelling. This phenomenon is generally called compression and is quite common in standard accents. However, the deviant spelling is an attempt to indicate a deviation from the norm and must therefore be interpreted as such. Similarly, in “bayer” (58), the spelling <er> is used instead of <ou> to indicate a neutral vowel (schwa) rather than a rhotic realisation, despite the spelling.
- Southern speech also exhibits the /ɪ/ /e/ neutralisation straightforwardly encoded with “till” (60) for “tell” and “ef” (59) for “if”.
- “Breaking” is also present in the word “here”, spelt “yair”(60). In monosyllabic words, /ɪ/ tends to be followed by a schwa, thus lengthening the vowel sound ((The question of breaking in Southern speech is particularly intricate. For a brief presentation see Wells (1982: 535-6).)). We also note a case of h-dropping here.
The blend of French words and Lousiana speech contributes to giving an accurate idea of the characters’ phonostyles. But these linguistic features are not mere elements of realism. Indeed, the use of French is sometimes to be construed as a sympathy-marker. It is clearly La Folle’s viewpoint that is adopted from the start:
She called him Chéri, and so did every one else because she did. (56)
French is used in moments of tension and intense emotions. This is traditional as Chapman (1994, 61) explains: “Regional speech pointers are often increased when the speaker is under emotional pressure”. Although La Folle generally uses both French and English with Chéri (57), she simply uses French when there is no other issue than to cross the Bayou. The tension felt by La Folle is also suggested by the paralinguistically marked verb “mutter” indicating a fast tempo:
She spoke no more to Chéri, but muttered constantly, “Bon Dieu, ayez pitié La Folle! Bon Dieu, ayez pitié moi!” (58)
In the same way, Chéri uses a dialect similar to La Folle’s when speaking with her. This can be interpreted as what Trudgill (2000) calls “group identification” since, as far as the reader can tell, Chéri’s mother speaks Standard English. The speech attunement or “code switching” he displays with La Folle is the linguistic sign of enhanced complicity beween them.
This linguistic versatility gives a remarkably accurate picture of the community presented and provides clues for the general evaluation of the story. In Kate Chopin’s writing, accent encoding goes well beyond the mere stereotypical presentation of the speech of a given locality: it has a major functional role. Paralinguistic vocal features work similarly. They are emotion markers and appear in clusters in emotionally charged episodes. They therefore enable the reader to follow La Folle’s progression across the Bayou.
2. Paralinguistic vocal features as motion and emotion markers
As stated above, the relationship between La Folle and Chéri is based on complicity. The paralinguistic features used with the many reporting verbs are congruent with this and the vocal registers of the characters are attuned. La Folle is first amused at Chéri’s manly behaviour. His “boasting” (56) and “boasting pompously”(57) is met with words uttered “gaily to him” (56), and La Folle “laughs”(57) at his bragging about his future hunting prowess.
The shooting accident is brought about vocally first and the “sharp cry of distress” (57) – when Chéri shoots himself in the leg – threatens to unbalance the vocal harmony previously established. However, the vocal coherence is maintained. Both characters play their parts: Chéri is in pain and La Folle remains in her comforting role. The many paralinguistic features used actually respond to one another thus emphasizing their mutual understanding and the bond between them: “He moaned piteously: – “I’m dead, La Folle! I’m dead! I’m gone!”, “Non, non!” she exclaimed resolutely, as she knelt down beside him. (57)”. Similarly: “Now, with his head upon the woman’s shoulder, he moaned and wept with pain and fright.’Oh, La Folle! La Folle! It hurt so bad! I can’ stan’ it, La Folle!’” (57) is echoed by:“Don’t cry, mon bébé, mon Chéri!“ the woman spoke smoothingly to him as she covered the ground with long strides”. (57). Although the vocal registers have changed, no vocal disruption as such has yet occurred. It is worth stressing that there is congruence here between the paralinguistic and the kinetic registers.
The first vocal disorder occurs when La Folle reaches the bank of the Bayou she refuses to cross. Her first shout for help is presented in direct speech and in French:
“Oh, P’tit Maître! P’tit Maître! Venez donc! Au secours! Au secours!” (57)
Narrative reports of speech acts (Leech & Short, 1981) then take over, thereby indicating that what matters is the emotions conveyed through her voice, rather than the actual content of her speech. In linguistic terms, the paralinguistic message overrides the linguistic message proper:
She shouted, she wailed; but whether her voice remained unheard or unheeded, no reply came to her frenzied cries. (58)
The progression (“shouted”, “wailed”, “frenzied cries”) points to a major vocal change. The same is true of Chéri’s words, also presented through narrative reports of speech acts, in a similar fashion:
And all the while, Chéri moaned and wept and entreated to be taken home to his mother. (58)
The overlap between Chéri’s and La Folle’s speech, suggested by “all the while” augment the vocal disruption suggested. Such conversational overlaps are sufficiently rare in fiction, because of the difficulty to render them, to be noticed.
The neutral “No voice responded” (58), which immediately follows, rings as a narrative counterpoint to the newly created vocal din. The fact that both characters should remain unheard reinforces the bond between them while emphasizing their isolation from the rest of the community. The vocal element is clearly foregrounded while it de-humanises the inhabitants living beyond the Bayou as they are at first reduced to absent voices:
She called for each and every one upon the place, and still no answer came. (58)
La Folle’s “vocal scanning” (“each and every”) is in vain. While La Folle’s cries for help are not answered, her motions have an immediate vocal effect on the community. This time, the narrative reports of speech acts are immediately confirmed by direct speech and both are marked paralinguistically:
A child, playing in some weeds, caught sight of her as she neared the quarters. The little one uttered a cry of dismay.
“La Folle! She screamed, in her piercing treble. “La Folle done cross de Bayer!”
Quickly the cry passed down the line of cabins. (58)
The paralinguistic markers are both attitudinal and strictly phonetic. “A cry of dismay” presents both the acoustic reality (“a cry”) and the psychological implications (“dismay”). The interpretation is thus straightforwardly presented to the reader.
As the title suggests, the real subject matter of the story is indeed La Folle’s crossing the Bayou and not Chéri’s shooting accident: it is her extraordinary behaviour that elicits a vocal response (albeit not addressed to her) from the on-lookers. Chéri’s misadventure is promptly relegated outside the narrative proper. After La Folle’s collapse, the only information provided concerns her health. Quite aptly, her recovery is presented through the description of her voice:
The voice was very clear and steady with which she spoke to Tante Lizette, brewing her tisane there in a corner. (59)
The deviant pseudo-cleft structure thematises La Folle’s voice and presents it as her sole defining feature. Her voice counterpoints the preceding episode, the “clamor of voices” (60) that accompanied her crossing the Bayou. As this stage, it is worth noting that the evolution of the narrative voice echoes the changes in the diegetic vocal notations.
3. An appeased narrative voice
La Folle’s crossing the Bayou appears to be a sort of shock therapy preceded by shouts and cries and culminating in her physical collapse. This shock annihilates the effect of her first traumatic experience when P’tit Maître was injured and her crossing the Bayou may stand for a symbolic death and re-birth. Quite tellingly, La Folle does not look at the world around her during the rescue episode and the point of view adopted is an external one:
Instinct seemed to guide her. When the pathway spread clear and smooth enough before her, she again closed her eyes tightly against the sight of that unkown and terrifying world. (58)
Conversely, when she comes back to enquire about Chéri’s health, all her senses are alert: “She gazed across the country”(60); the birds are heard “singing their matins” (60); “she moved slowly and with delight over the springy turf, that was delicious beneath her tread” (60) and she smells “the perfumes that were assailing her senses with memories from a time far gone” (60). As these private verbs indicate, she has clearly become the centre of perception. She has also, literally, regained her lost senses.
This shift from total lack of perception to acute and pleasurable perception is part of a network of binary oppositions upon which the entire plot hinges. The first discursive evidence of this dichotomy appears very early with the phrase “yonda, beyon’ de bayou” (56), which foregrounds the distal dimension by repeating the deictic “yon”. Similarly, in the first version of the story, the French is almost systematically translated into English, for the better understanding of the English-speaking readership, which creates a double-voiced narrative:
“Oh, P’tit Maître! P’tit Maître! Venez donc! Come! Come! Au secours! Help! Help! Au secours!” (169)
Compared with the revised version:
“Oh, P’tit Maître! P’tit Maître! Venez donc! Au secours! Au secours!” (57)
The objective correlative of these oppositions is of course the Bayou, which is a spatial, temporal as well as psychological divide ((In this respect, the use of colours throughout the short-story would deserve a separate study.)). Indeed, La Folle failed to cross the Bayou at the death of “Old Mis’” (55) when she stood on the bank “wailing and lamenting” (55). The second attempt, which leaves her unconscious, is to save Chéri. A similar binary structure is used: “She shouted; she wailed” (58). Both binary structures carry paralinguistic information. The third attempt, when she comes back to enquire about Chéri’s health, is vocally neutral as if all the binary tensions, whose symptoms were expressed vocally, had now vanished.
Mimetically, at the end of the story, the binary rhythm is replaced by a ternary sequence, which dissipates the tensions at the poetic level. This narrative resolution is brought about through the repetition of “there” which clearly posits the reality of things and contrasts with La Folle’s “morbid fancy” (55):
There they were, stealing up to her from the thousand blue violets that peeped out from green, luxuriant beds. There they were, showering down from the big waxen bells of the magnolias far above her head, and from the big jessamine clumps around her.
There were roses, too, without number. (60)
The two thematised place adverbials (“there”) seem to emphasize the importance of the spatial anchoring whereas the “existential ‘there’” indicates that the sense of place has now been taken onboard by La Folle. This passage could not be more different from the animal-like description of La Folle when she rescues Chéri:
She turned her distorted face upon them. Her eyes were bloodshot and the saliva had gathered in a white foam on her black lips. (58)
Similarly, the binary rhythm already present in the alliteration of the title “Beyond the Bayou”, is cancelled in the final lines of the story:
A look of wonder and deep content crept into her face as she watched for the first time the sun rise upon the new, the beautiful world beyond the Bayou. (60)
This final harmony, however, has to be qualified: La Folle’s last encounter with Chéri’s mother is in fact based on vocal deception:
Quickly and cleverly she dissembled the astonishment she felt at seeing La Folle.
“Ah, La Folle! Is it you, so early?” (60)
Chéri’s mother checks her surprise at seeing La Folle and shifts her astonishment from “you” to the time adverbial “so early”. What could be construed as a tactful move is in fact the sign that the world order has not really changed. This suggests that the true divide is and remains the “imaginary line” (55) between the Blacks and the Whites. Quite tellingly, La Folle does not cross the threshold and she waits for Chéri’s awakening on “the topmost stairs of the veranda” (60). If thresholds and stairs may read as symbols of transition and evolution, the process is clearly not fully completed at the end of the story. Perrin-Chenour (2003, 27) explains:
La fin cependant est ambiguë, car la glorification de la beauté de la plantation ne semble pas suggérer une véritable redistribution des rôles. Elle peut au contraire se lire comme la justification de l’ordre antérieur, les esclaves, complémentaires de maîtres, participant à la création d’un monde harmonieux, esthétiquement parfait, mais appelé à disparaître sans leur contribution.
“Beyond the Bayou” swarms with direct and indirect references to voices. These are indeed elements of realism but their functional role is of paramount importance as they highlight episodes of tension and provide a perspective for the reader. The narrative voice duplicates the diegetic harmony in a final epiphany-like moment of contemplation.
Kate Chopin’s short-stories are rich in terms of accent and dialect encoding. What is impressive is the way the author manages to avoid a stereotypical presentation of local speech. Her presentation is a sympathetic one without being condescending or humorous. In other words, she avoids the “sense of alienation” inherent in accent or dialect encoding that Toolan (1992, 34) talks about. Through the manipulation of point of view, the reader is led to adopt La Folle’s perspective and to empathize with her. As Bell (1988, 216) comments:
[Kate Chopin] resented being identified with such local-color storytellers as George Washington Cable, who also wrote about Louisiana. In the best of her stories the regional peculiarities provide the enriching texture, but her true interest lay beyond that, in the human drama.
Because of its scope, this presentation can only be tentative in its conclusions. Some follow-up work should be carried out on accent encoding in Kate Chopin’s stories at large in terms of plot unfolding and evaluation. What is certain, however, is that diegetic and narrative voices are not on a different plane but form a continuum that places orality at the centre of the author’s style. Finally, a minute study of orality in the short-story turns out to be a most efficient way of exposing the deeper forces at work behind a deceptively simple narration.
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Beyond the Bayou – Kate Chopin (text)
The bayou curved like a crescent around the point of land on which La Folle's cabin stood. Between the stream and the hut lay a big abandoned field, where cattle were pastured when the bayou supplied them with water enough. Through the woods that spread back into unknown regions the woman had drawn an imaginary line, and past this circle she never stepped. This was the form of her only mania.
She was now a large, gaunt black woman, past thirty-five. Her real name was Jacqueline, but every one on the plantation called her La Folle, because in childhood she had been frightened literally "out of her senses," and had never wholly regained them.
It was when there had been skirmishing and sharpshooting all day in the woods. Evening was near when P'tit Maître, black with powder and crimson with blood, had staggered into the cabin of Jacqueline's mother, his pursuers close at his heels. The sight had stunned her childish reason.
She dwelt alone in her solitary cabin, for the rest of the quarters had long since been removed beyond her sight and knowledge. She had more physical strength than most men, and made her patch of cotton and corn and tobacco like the best of them. But of the world beyond the bayou she had long known nothing, save what her morbid fancy conceived.
People at Bellissime had grown used to her and her way, and they thought nothing of it. Even when "Old Mis'" died, they did not wonder that La Folle had not crossed the bayou, but had stood upon her side of it, wailing and lamenting.
P'tit Maître was now the owner of Bellissime. He was a middle-aged man, with a family of beautiful daughters about him, and a little son whom La Folle loved as if he had been her own. She called him Chéri, and so did every one else because she did.
None of the girls had ever been to her what Chéri was. They had each and all loved to be with her, and to listen to her wondrous stories of things that always happened "yonda, beyon' de bayou."
But none of them had stroked her black hand quite as Chéri did, nor rested their heads against her knee so confidingly, nor fallen asleep in her arms as he used to do. For Chéri hardly did such things now, since he had become the proud possessor of a gun, and had had his black curls cut off.
That summer -- the summer Chéri gave La Folle two black curls tied with a knot of red ribbon -- the water ran so low in the bayou that even the little children at Bellissime were able to cross it on foot, and the cattle were sent to pasture down by the river. La Folle was sorry when they were gone, for she loved these dumb companions well, and liked to feel that they were there, and to hear them browsing by night up to her own enclosure.
It was Saturday afternoon, when the fields were deserted. The men had flocked to a neighboring village to do their week's trading, and the women were occupied with household affairs, -- La Folle as well as the others. It was then she mended and washed her handful of clothes, scoured her house, and did her baking.
In this last employment she never forgot Chéri. To-day she had fashioned croquignoles of the most fantastic and alluring shapes for him. So when she saw the boy come trudging across the old field with his gleaming little new rifle on his shoulder, she called out gayly to him, "Chéri! Chéri!"
But Chéri did not need the summons, for he was coming straight to her. His pockets all bulged out with almonds and raisins and an orange that he had secured for her from the very fine dinner which had been given that day up at his father's house.
He was a sunny-faced youngster of ten. When he had emptied his pockets, La Folle patted his round red cheek, wiped his soiled hands on her apron, and smoothed his hair. Then she watched him as, with his cakes in his hand, he crossed her strip of cotton back of the cabin, and disappeared into the wood.
He had boasted of the things he was going to do with his gun out there.
"You think they got plenty deer in the wood, La Folle?" he had inquired, with the calculating air of an experienced hunter.
"Non, non!" the woman laughed. "Don't you look fo' no deer, Chéri. Dat 's too big. But you bring La Folle one good fat squirrel fo' her dinner to-morrow, an' she goin' be satisfi'."
"One squirrel ain't a bite. I'll bring you mo' 'an one, La Folle," he had boasted pompously as he went away.
When the woman, an hour later, heard the report of the boy's rifle close to the wood's edge, she would have thought nothing of it if a sharp cry of distress had not followed the sound.
She withdrew her arms from the tub of suds in which they had been plunged, dried them upon her apron, and as quickly as her trembling limbs would bear her, hurried to the spot whence the ominous report had come.
It was as she feared. There she found Chéri stretched upon the ground, with his rifle beside him. He moaned piteously: -- "I'm dead, La Folle! I'm dead! I'm gone!"
"Non, non!" she exclaimed resolutely, as she knelt beside him. "Put you' arm 'roun' La Folle's nake, Chéri. Dat 's nuttin'; dat goin' be nuttin'." She lifted him in her powerful arms.
Chéri had carried his gun muzzle-downward. He had stumbled, -- he did not know how. He only knew that he had a ball lodged somewhere in his leg, and he thought that his end was at hand. Now, with his head upon the woman's shoulder, he moaned and wept with pain and fright.
"Oh, La Folle! La Folle! it hurt so bad! I can' stan' it, La Folle!"
"Don't cry, mon bebe, mon bebe, mon Chéri!" the woman spoke soothingly as she covered the ground with long strides. "La Folle goin' mine you; Doctor Bonfils goin' come make mon Chéri well agin."
She had reached the abandoned field. As she crossed it with her precious burden, she looked constantly and restlessly from side to side. A terrible fear was upon her, -- the fear of the world beyond the bayou, the morbid and insane dread she had been under since childhood.
When she was at the bayou's edge she stood there, and shouted for help as if a life depended upon it: -- "Oh, P'tit Maître! P'tit Maître! Venez donc! Au secours! Au secours!"
No voice responded. Chéri's hot tears were scalding her neck. She called for each and every one upon the place, and still no answer came.
She shouted, she wailed; but whether her voice remained unheard or unheeded, no reply came to her frenzied cries. And all the while Chéri moaned and wept and entreated to be taken home to his mother.
La Folle gave a last despairing look around her. Extreme terror was upon her. She clasped the child close against her breast, where he could feel her heart beat like a muffled hammer. Then shutting her eyes, she ran suddenly down the shallow bank of the bayou, and never stopped till she had climbed the opposite shore.
She stood there quivering an instant as she opened her eyes. Then she plunged into the footpath through the trees.
She spoke no more to Chéri, but muttered constantly, "Bon Dieu, ayez pitie La Folle! Bon Dieu, ayez pitie moi!"
Instinct seemed to guide her. When the pathway spread clear and smooth enough before her, she again closed her eyes tightly against the sight of that unknown and terrifying world.
A child, playing in some weeds, caught sight of her as she neared the quarters. The little one uttered a cry of dismay.
"La Folle!" she screamed, in her piercing treble. "La Folle done cross de bayer!"
Quickly the cry passed down the line of cabins.
"Yonda, La Folle done cross de bayou!"
Children, old men, old women, young ones with infants in their arms, flocked to doors and windows to see this awe-inspiring spectacle. Most of them shuddered with superstitious dread of what it might portend. "She totin' Chéri!" some of them shouted.
Some of the more daring gathered about her, and followed at her heels, only to fall back with new terror when she turned her distorted face upon them. Her eyes were bloodshot and the saliva had gathered in a white foam on her black lips.
Some one had run ahead of her to where P'tit Maître sat with his family and guests upon the gallery.
"P'tit Maître! La Folle done cross de bayou! Look her! Look her yonda totin' Chéri!" This startling intimation was the first which they had of the woman's approach.
She was now near at hand. She walked with long strides. Her eyes were fixed desperately before her, and she breathed heavily, as a tired ox.
At the foot of the stairway, which she could not have mounted, she laid the boy in his father's arms. Then the world that had looked red to La Folle suddenly turned black, -- like that day she had seen powder and blood.
She reeled for an instant. Before a sustaining arm could reach her, she fell heavily to the ground.
When La Folle regained consciousness, she was at home again, in her own cabin and upon her own bed. The moon rays, streaming in through the open door and windows, gave what light was needed to the old black mammy who stood at the table concocting a tisane of fragrant herbs. It was very late.
Others who had come, and found that the stupor clung to her, had gone again. P'tit Maître had been there, and with him Doctor Bonfils, who said that La Folle might die.
But death had passed her by. The voice was very clear and steady with which she spoke to Tante Lizette, brewing her tisane there in a corner.
"Ef you will give me one good drink tisane, Tante Lizette, I b'lieve I'm goin' sleep, me."
And she did sleep; so soundly, so healthfully, that old Lizette without compunction stole softly away, to creep back through the moonlit fields to her own cabin in the new quarters.
The first touch of the cool gray morning awoke La Folle. She arose, calmly, as if no tempest had shaken and threatened her existence but yesterday.
She donned her new blue cottonade and white apron, for she remembered that this was Sunday. When she had made for herself a cup of strong black coffee, and drunk it with relish, she quitted the cabin and walked across the old familiar field to the bayou's edge again.
She did not stop there as she had always done before, but crossed with a long, steady stride as if she had done this all her life.
When she had made her way through the brush and scrub cottonwood-trees that lined the opposite bank, she found herself upon the border of a field where the white, bursting cotton, with the dew upon it, gleamed for acres and acres like frosted silver in the early dawn.
La Folle drew a long, deep breath as she gazed across the country. She walked slowly and uncertainly, like one who hardly knows how, looking about her as she went.
The cabins, that yesterday had sent a clamor of voices to pursue her, were quiet now. No one was yet astir at Bellissime. Only the birds that darted here and there from hedges were awake, and singing their matins.
When La Folle came to the broad stretch of velvety lawn that surrounded the house, she moved slowly and with delight over the springy turf, that was delicious beneath her tread.
She stopped to find whence came those perfumes that were assailing her senses with memories from a time far gone.
There they were, stealing up to her from the thousand blue violets that peeped out from green, luxuriant beds. There they were, showering down from the big waxen bells of the magnolias far above her head, and from the jessamine clumps around her.
There were roses, too, without number. To right and left palms spread in broad and graceful curves. It all looked like enchantment beneath the sparkling sheen of dew.
When La Folle had slowly and cautiously mounted the many steps that led up to the veranda, she turned to look back at the perilous ascent she had made. Then she caught sight of the river, bending like a silver bow at the foot of Bellissime. Exultation possessed her soul.
La Folle rapped softly upon a door near at hand. Chéri's mother soon cautiously opened it. Quickly and cleverly she dissembled the astonishment she felt at seeing La Folle.
"Ah, La Folle! Is it you, so early?"
"Oui, madame. I come ax how my po' li'le Chéri do, 's mo'nin'."
"He is feeling easier, thank you, La Folle. Dr. Bonfils says it will be nothing serious. He's sleeping now. Will you come back when he awakes?"
"Non, madame. I'm goin' wait yair tell Chéri wake up." La Folle seated herself upon the topmost step of the veranda.
A look of wonder and deep content crept into her face as she watched for the first time the sun rise upon the new, the beautiful world beyond the bayou.
Pour citer cette ressource :
Manuel Jobert, "Kate Chopin as a Vocal Colourist: Vocalscapes in “Beyond the Bayou” ", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), avril 2013. Consulté le 07/12/2023. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/langue/stylistique/kate-chopin-as-a-vocal-colourist-vocalscapes-in-beyond-the-bayou