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Doctor Chevalier’s Lie

Kate Chopin in 1894. Artwork : This photo is in the public domain.
Kate Chopin, 1884

The quick report of a pistol rang through the quiet autumn night. It was no unusual sound in the unsavory quarter where Dr. Chevalier had his office. Screams commonly went with it. This time there had been none.

Midnight had already rung in the old cathedral tower.

The doctor closed the book over which he had lingered so late, and awaited the summons that was almost sure to come.

As he entered the house to which he had been called he could not but note the ghastly sameness of detail that accompanied these oft-recurring events. The same scurrying; the same groups of tawdry, frightened women bending over banisters — hysterical, some of them; morbidly curious, others; and not a few shedding womanly tears; with a dead girl stretched somewhere, as this one was.

And yet it was not the same. Certainly she was dead: there was the hole in the temple where she had sent the bullet through. Yet it was different. Other such faces had been unfamiliar to him, except so far as they bore the common stamp of death. This one was not.

Like a flash he saw it again amid other surroundings. The time was little more than a year ago. The place, a homely cabin down in Arkansas, in which he and a friend had found shelter and hospitality during a hunting expedition.

There were others beside. A little sister or two; a father and mother — coarse, and bent with toil, but proud as archangels of their handsome girl, who was too clever to stay in an Arkansas cabin, and who was going away to seek her fortune in the big city.

“The girl is dead,” said Doctor Chevalier. “I knew her well, and charge myself with her remains and decent burial.”

The following day he wrote a letter. One, doubtless, to carry sorrow, but no shame to the cabin down there in the forest.

It told that the girl had sickened and died. A lock of hair was sent and other trifles with it. Tender last words were even invented.

Of course it was noised about that Doctor Chevalier had cared for the remains of a woman of doubtful repute.

Shoulders were shrugged. Society thought of cutting him. Society did not, for some reason or other, so the affair blew over.


Adapted from Wikipedia: Kate Chopin (née O’Flaherty, 1850-1904) was an American short story writer and novelist. She was married at age 20, moved from her birthplace of St. Louis to New Orleans, and had her six children by age 28. In 1882, after her husband’s business failures and death, she moved with her children back to St. Louis to live with her mother. The next year, her mother died. Her obstetrician and family friend, Dr. Frederick Kolbenheyer, recommended that she direct her “extraordinary energy” into writing for its therapeutic effect and to generate some income. She was widely published in literary magazines, but some of her stories were criticized on moral grounds. She is sometimes regarded as a seminal feminist writer.


 

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