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Desiree's Baby

by Kate Chopin
As the day was pleasant, Madame Valmonde drove over to L'Abri to see Desiree and the baby.
It made her laugh to think of Desiree with a baby. hy, it seemed but yesterday that Desiree
was little more than a baby herself! when Monsieur in riding through the gateway of Valmonde
had found her lying asleep in the shadow of the big stone pillar.
"he little one awoke in his arms and began to #ry for $Dada.$ "hat was as mu#h as she #ould
do or say. %ome people thought she might have strayed there of her own a##ord, for she was of
the toddling age. "he prevailing belief was that she had been purposely left by a party of "e&ans,
whose #anvas'#overed wagon, late in the day, had #rossed the ferry that (oton Mais kept, )ust
below the plantation. In time Madame Valmonde abandoned every spe#ulation but the one that
Desiree had been sent to her by a benefi#ent *roviden#e to be the #hild of her affe#tion, seeing
that she was without #hild of the flesh. +or the girl grew to be beautiful and gentle, affe#tionate
and sin#ere ' the idol of Valmonde.
It was no wonder, when she stood one day against the stone pillar in whose shadow she had
lain asleep, eighteen years before, that Armand Aubigny riding by and seeing her there, had
fallen in love with her. "hat was the way all the Aubignys fell in love, as if stru#k by a pistol
shot. "he wonder was that he had not loved her before! for he had known her sin#e his father
brought him home from *aris, a boy of eight, after his mother died there. "he passion that awoke
in him that day, when he saw her at the gate, swept along like an avalan#he, or like a prairie fire,
or like anything that drives headlong over all obsta#les.
Monsieur Valmonde grew pra#ti#al and wanted things well #onsidered, that is, the girl's
obs#ure origin. Armand looked into her eyes and did not #are. -e was reminded that she was
nameless. hat did it matter about a name when he #ould give her one of the oldest and proudest
in Louisiana. -e ordered the #orbeille from *aris, and #ontained himself with what patien#e he
#ould until it arrived! then they were married.
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Madame Valmonde had not seen Desiree and the baby for four weeks. hen she rea#hed
L'Abri she shuddered at the first sight of it, as she always did. It was a sad looking pla#e, whi#h
for many years had not known the gentle presen#e of a mistress, old Monsieur Aubigny having
married and buried his wife in +ran#e, and she having loved her own land too well ever to leave
it. "he roof #ame down steep and bla#k like a #owl, rea#hing out beyond the wide galleries that
en#ir#led the yellow stu##oed house. /ig, solemn oaks grew #lose to it, and their thi#k'leaved,
far'rea#hing bran#hes shadowed it like a pall. 0oung Aubigny's rule was a stri#t one, too, and
under it his negroes had forgotten how to be gay, as they had been during the old master's easy'
going and indulgent lifetime.
"he young mother was re#overing slowly, and lay full length, in her soft white muslins and
la#es, upon a #ou#h. "he baby was beside her, upon her arm, where he had fallen asleep, at her
breast. "he yellow nurse woman sat beside a window fanning herself.
Madame Valmonde bent her portly figure over Desiree and kissed her, holding her an instant
tenderly in her arms. "hen she turned to the #hild.
$"his is not the baby1$ she e&#laimed, in startled tones. +ren#h was the language spoken at
Valmonde in those days.
$I knew you would be astonished,$ laughed Desiree, $at the way he has grown. "he little
#o#hon de lait1 Look at his legs, mamma, and his hands and fingernails ' real finger'nails.
2andrine had to #ut them this morning. Isn't it true, 2andrine.$
"he woman bowed her turbaned head ma)esti#ally, $Mais si, Madame.$
$And the way he #ries,$ went on Desiree, $is deafening. Armand heard him the other day as
far away as La /lan#he's #abin.$
Madame Valmonde had never removed her eyes from the #hild. %he lifted it and walked with
it over to the window that was lightest. %he s#anned the baby narrowly, then looked as
sear#hingly at 2andrine, whose fa#e was turned to ga3e a#ross the fields.
$0es, the #hild has grown, has #hanged,$ said Madame Valmonde, slowly, as she repla#ed it
beside its mother. $hat does Armand say.$
Desiree's fa#e be#ame suffused with a glow that was happiness itself.
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$4h, Armand is the proudest father in the parish, I believe, #hiefly be#ause it is a boy, to bear
his name! though he says not ' that he would have loved a girl as well. /ut I know it isn't true. I
know he says that to please me. And mamma,$ she added, drawing Madame Valmonde's head
down to her, and speaking in a whisper, $he hasn't punished one of them ' not one of them ' sin#e
baby is born. 5ven 6egrillon, who pretended to have burnt his leg that he might rest from work '
he only laughed, and said 6egrillon was a great s#amp. 4h, mamma, I'm so happy! it frightens
hat Desiree said was true. Marriage, and later the birth of his son had softened Armand
Aubigny's imperious and e&a#ting nature greatly. "his was what made the gentle Desiree so
happy, for she loved him desperately. hen he frowned she trembled, but loved him. hen he
smiled, she asked no greater blessing of 7od. /ut Armand's dark, handsome fa#e had not often
been disfigured by frowns sin#e the day he fell in love with her.
hen the baby was about three months old, Desiree awoke one day to the #onvi#tion that
there was something in the air mena#ing her pea#e. It was at first too subtle to grasp. It had only
been a dis8uieting suggestion! an air of mystery among the bla#ks! une&pe#ted visits from far'off
neighbors who #ould hardly a##ount for their #oming. "hen a strange, an awful #hange in her
husband's manner, whi#h she dared not ask him to e&plain. hen he spoke to her, it was with
averted eyes, from whi#h the old love'light seemed to have gone out. -e absented himself from
home! and when there, avoided her presen#e and that of her #hild, without e&#use. And the very
spirit of %atan seemed suddenly to take hold of him in his dealings with the slaves. Desiree was
miserable enough to die.
%he sat in her room, one hot afternoon, in her peignoir, listlessly drawing through her fingers
the strands of her long, silky brown hair that hung about her shoulders. "he baby, half naked, lay
asleep upon her own great mahogany bed, that was like a sumptuous throne, with its satin'lined
half'#anopy. 4ne of La /lan#he's little 8uadroon boys ' half naked too ' stood fanning the #hild
slowly with a fan of pea#o#k feathers. Desiree's eyes had been fi&ed absently and sadly upon the
baby, while she was striving to penetrate the threatening mist that she felt #losing about her. %he
looked from her #hild to the boy who stood beside him, and ba#k again! over and over. $Ah1$ It
was a #ry that she #ould not help! whi#h she was not #ons#ious of having uttered. "he blood
turned like i#e in her veins, and a #lammy moisture gathered upon her fa#e.
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%he tried to speak to the little 8uadroon boy! but no sound would #ome, at first. hen he
heard his name uttered, he looked up, and his mistress was pointing to the door. -e laid aside the
great, soft fan, and obediently stole away, over the polished floor, on his bare tiptoes.
%he stayed motionless, with ga3e riveted upon her #hild, and her fa#e the pi#ture of fright.
*resently her husband entered the room, and without noti#ing her, went to a table and began
to sear#h among some papers whi#h #overed it.
$Armand,$ she #alled to him, in a voi#e whi#h must have stabbed him, if he was human. /ut
he did not noti#e. $Armand,$ she said again. "hen she rose and tottered towards him. $Armand,$
she panted on#e more, #lut#hing his arm, $look at our #hild. hat does it mean. "ell me.$
-e #oldly but gently loosened her fingers from about his arm and thrust the hand away from
him. $"ell me what it means1$ she #ried despairingly.
$It means,$ he answered lightly, $that the #hild is not white! it means that you are not white.$
A 8ui#k #on#eption of all that this a##usation meant for her nerved her with unwonted
#ourage to deny it. $It is a lie! it is not true, I am white1 Look at my hair, it is brown! and my
eyes are gray, Armand, you know they are gray. And my skin is fair,$ sei3ing his wrist. $Look at
my hand! whiter than yours, Armand,$ she laughed hysteri#ally.
$As white as La /lan#he's,$ he returned #ruelly! and went away leaving her alone with their
hen she #ould hold a pen in her hand, she sent a despairing letter to Madame Valmonde.
$My mother, they tell me I am not white. Armand has told me I am not white. +or 7od's sake
tell them it is not true. 0ou must know it is not true. I shall die. I must die. I #annot be so
unhappy, and live.$
"he answer that #ame was brief,
$My own Desiree, (ome home to Valmonde! ba#k to your mother who loves you. (ome with
your #hild.$
hen the letter rea#hed Desiree she went with it to her husband's study, and laid it open upon
the desk before whi#h he sat. %he was like a stone image, silent, white, motionless after she
pla#ed it there.
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In silen#e he ran his #old eyes over the written words.
-e said nothing. $%hall I go, Armand.$ she asked in tones sharp with agoni3ed suspense.
$0es, go.$
$Do you want me to go.$
$0es, I want you to go.$
-e thought Almighty 7od had dealt #ruelly and un)ustly with him! and felt, somehow, that he
was paying -im ba#k in kind when he stabbed thus into his wife's soul. Moreover he no longer
loved her, be#ause of the un#ons#ious in)ury she had brought upon his home and his name.
%he turned away like one stunned by a blow, and walked slowly towards the door, hoping he
would #all her ba#k.
$7ood'by, Armand,$ she moaned.
-e did not answer her. "hat was his last blow at fate.
Desiree went in sear#h of her #hild. 2andrine was pa#ing the sombre gallery with it. %he took
the little one from the nurse's arms with no word of e&planation, and des#ending the steps,
walked away, under the live'oak bran#hes.
It was an 4#tober afternoon! the sun was )ust sinking. 4ut in the still fields the negroes were
pi#king #otton.
Desiree had not #hanged the thin white garment nor the slippers whi#h she wore. -er hair was
un#overed and the sun's rays brought a golden gleam from its brown meshes. %he did not take
the broad, beaten road whi#h led to the far'off plantation of Valmonde. %he walked a#ross a
deserted field, where the stubble bruised her tender feet, so deli#ately shod, and tore her thin
gown to shreds.
%he disappeared among the reeds and willows that grew thi#k along the banks of the deep,
sluggish bayou! and she did not #ome ba#k again.
%ome weeks later there was a #urious s#ene ena#ted at L'Abri. In the #entre of the smoothly
swept ba#k yard was a great bonfire. Armand Aubigny sat in the wide hallway that #ommanded a
view of the spe#ta#le! and it was he who dealt out to a half do3en negroes the material whi#h
kept this fire abla3e.
A gra#eful #radle of willow, with all its dainty furbishings, was laid upon the pyre, whi#h had
already been fed with the ri#hness of a pri#eless layette. "hen there were silk gowns, and velvet
and satin ones added to these! la#es, too, and embroideries! bonnets and gloves! for the #orbeille
had been of rare 8uality.
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"he last thing to go was a tiny bundle of letters! inno#ent little s#ribblings that Desiree had
sent to him during the days of their espousal. "here was the remnant of one ba#k in the drawer
from whi#h he took them. /ut it was not Desiree's! it was part of an old letter from his mother to
his father. -e read it. %he was thanking 7od for the blessing of her husband's love,''
$/ut above all,$ she wrote, $night and day, I thank the good 7od for having so arranged our
lives that our dear Armand will never know that his mother, who adores him, belongs to the ra#e
that is #ursed with the brand of slavery.$
Desiree's Baby
by Kate Chopin
Suitability: Age ! to ad"lt# mother tong"e or $A%.
&"estions are di'ided into three ro"gh categories:
1. %iteral
2. (nferential
3. $'al"ati'e
&"estions marked are more ad'anced.
1.1 )hat is the meaning of the following words in the conte*t in which they appear:
a+ ,i'eted -top page +
b+ ."ff"sed -bottom page /+
c+ 0lantation -middle page +
d+ Beneficient -middle page +
e+ Bayo" -bottom page 1+
f+ 0eignoir -bottom page !+
g+ &"adroon -bottom page !+
1.2 )hat is the meaning of the phrase 23e was reminded that she was nameless.2 in
the conte*t in which it appears4 -bottom page +
1.3 5he answers to the following 6"estions can be fo"nd in the te*t:
a+ )here had 7adame 8almonde fo"nd Desiree for the first time when she was a
b+ )hy had Armand9s mother ne'er left :rance4
c+ )hat was 7adame 8almonds9s reply to Desiree9s letter4
d+ D"ring which month were they picking cotton at %9Abri4
e+ )hat did Armand ha'e p"t on the bonfire4
1.4 (n yo"r own words:
a+ Describe Desiree.
a+ Describe how Desiree and Armand met and fell in lo'e.
2.1 Describe and e*plain the changes in Armand A"bigny9s beha'io"r as the story
2.2 )hy do yo" think there was an 2air of mystery among the blacks2 -middle page !+
and fre6"ent 'isitors to %9Abri abo"t ! months after Desiree9s baby was born4
2.3 )hy was it ass"med that Desiree was the reason her child was not white4
2.4 )hy do yo" think Armand did not consider Desiree9s origins before marrying her4
2.5 Before the last few lines of this story# are there any cl"es gi'en by the a"thor
which hint at the tr"e ca"se of the baby9s appearance4
2.6 )hy do yo" think 2%a Blanche2 -bottom page /+ had that name4
3.1 Contin"e the story# describing what became of Armand# Desiree and their baby.
3.2 Do yo" think Armand b"rnt the last letter together with the rest4
3.3 )o"ld Armand9s treatment of his wife be condoned by society today4 ;i'e reasons
for yo"r answer.
3.4 Do yo" belie'e there are circ"mstances in which Armand wo"ld beha'e in the
same way today4
3.5 )rite a contemporary 'ersion of Desiree9s Baby b"t set yo"r story in a different
part of the world.
3.6 )hy did Desiree ask her h"sband if he wanted her to go and then act on his
decision4 Do yo" think this merely reflected her character# or society at the time of the
3.7 )hy was :rench the lang"age spoken in 8almonde4
3.8 Disc"ss Desiree9s# Armand9s or 7adame 8almonde9s knowledge of the sit"ation
thro"gh the story and how it affects their actions or lack of action. <o" may like to
consider the following:
- )hen Armand reads the letter at the end# is this new knowledge4 3ow can yo"
e*plain his changing attit"des towards Desiree and the sla'es4
- )hat does 7adame 8almonde realise abo"t the child9s origins4 )hy wo"ld she not
take action early on4
- (s it likely that Desiree had realised that her child was of mi*ed race before seeing
the 6"adroon boy fanning the baby4
3.9 Disc"ss the relationship between Armand9s mother and father.
3.10 Disc"ss why a person9s race has been s"ch a di'isi'e iss"e.