Saturday, June 27, 2009

"Athenaise" by Kate Chopin

This story was written between April 10 and 28, 1895, and published in the Atlantic Monthly in August and September 1896. It was one of three Kate Chopin stories that the Atlantic Monthly published. "Athénaïse" was reprinted in Chopin's anthology of stories "A Night in Acadie" in 1897.

Now, the VOA Special English program, AMERICAN STORIES.


Our story today is called "Athenaise." It was written by Kate Chopin. Here is Barbara Klein with the story.


Athenaise 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, Felicite, who served him dinner.

He ate alone by the light of a coal-oil lamp. Felicite 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. Felicite'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 Athenaise. But he felt her absence like a deep pain.

Before he slept that night Cazeau was visited by an image of Athenaise'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.


Athenaise did not return the next day, although her husband sent a message to do so through her brother, Monteclin. On the third day, Cazeau prepared his horse and went himself in search of her.

Athenaise's parents, the Miches, 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 Miche home and a plate of Madame Miche's gumbo were pleasures not to be missed.

Madame Miche 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.

Monteclin 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. Monteclin disliked Cazeau for refusing to lend him money long ago. Now that this man was his sister's husband, he disliked him even more.

Miche and his oldest son were away. They both respected Cazeau and talked highly of him.

Cazeau shook hands with Madame Miche who offered him a chair. Athenaise had shut herself in her room.

"You know, nothing would do last night," Madame Miche said. "Athenaise 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 Monteclin tell you we were going to keep Athenaise?" she asked. But Monteclin had told him nothing.

"And how about the night before?" asked Cazeau. "And last night? Do you have dances every night?"

Madame Miche laughed and told her son to go tell Athenaise her husband had arrived. Monteclin did not move.

"You know as well as I do that it is no use to tell Athenaise anything," said Monteclin. "You and pa have been talking to her since Monday. When Athenaise said she was not returning to Cazeau she meant it."

Two fiery red spots rose to Cazeau's cheeks. What Monteclin said was true.

Upon arriving home, Athenaise 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.

Monteclin had asked Athenaise to explain herself. He had asked her if Cazeau abused her, or if he drank too much.

"No!" Athenaise had said. "It is just being married that I hate. I do not like being Missus Cazeau. I want to be Athenaise Miche again. I do not like living with a man, all his clothing everywhere and his ugly bare feet."

At the time, Monteclin 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 Monteclin.

Cazeau stood up and went inside the house to his wife's room.

"Athenaise, get ready," he said quietly. "It is late and we do not have time to lose."

Athenaise 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. Athenaise sat in her room crying.


Athenaise'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 Athenaise was not a woman to be loved against her will.

At breakfast, Athenaise 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 Athenaise 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 Monteclin had an idea for securing his sister's freedom. After some thought, Athenaise 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 Athenaise 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.


Athenaise had escaped to the big city of New Orleans. She was staying at a private hotel that Monteclin had chosen and paid to rent for a month. A woman named Sylvie owned the hotel and took good care of Athenaise.

Athenaise 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 Athenaise. 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.

Athenaise'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 Athenaise was very stupid. Sylvie very calmly explained to Athenaise that she was feeling sick because she was pregnant.

Athenaise 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 Athenaise spent traveling 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 Athenaise. "How Juliette's baby is crying! Poor darling, I wonder what is the matter with it?"



You have heard the story "Athenaise" 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.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"The White Heron" by Sarah Orne Jewett

Now, the Special English program, American stories.

Today's story is called "The White Heron." It was written by Sarah Orne Jewett. Here is Kay Gallant with the story.


Storyteller: The forest was full of shadows as a little girl hurried through it one summer evening in June. It was already eight o'clock and Sylvie wondered if her grandmother would be angry with her for being so late.

Every evening Sylvie left her grandmother's house at five-thirty to bring their cow home. The old animal spent her days out in the open country eating sweet grass. It was Sylvie's job to bring her home to be milked. When the cow heard Sylvie's voice calling her, she would hide among the bushes.

This evening it had taken Sylvie longer than usual to find her cow. The child hurried the cow through the dark forest, following a narrow path that led to her grandmother's home. The cow stopped at a small stream to drink. As Sylvie waited, she put her bare feet in the cold, fresh water of the stream.

She had never before been alone in the forest as late as this. The air was soft and sweet. Sylvie felt as if she were a part of the gray shadows and the silver leaves that moved in the evening breeze.

She began thinking how it was only a year ago that she came to her grandmother's farm. Before that, she had lived with her mother and father in a dirty, crowded factory town. One day, Sylvie's grandmother had visited them and had chosen Sylvie from all her brothers and sisters to be the one to help her on her farm in Vermont.

The cow finished drinking, and as the nine-year-old child hurried through the forest to the home she loved, she thought again about the noisy town where her parents still lived.

Suddenly the air was cut by a sharp whistle not far away. Sylvie knew it wasn't a friendly bird's whistle. It was the determined whistle of a person. She forgot the cow and hid in some bushes. But she was too late.

"Hello, little girl," a young man called out cheerfully. "How far is it to the main road?" Sylvie was trembling as she whispered "two miles." She came out of the bushes and looked up into the face of a tall young man carrying a gun.

The stranger began walking with Sylvie as she followed her cow through the forest. "I've been hunting for birds," he explained, "but I've lost my way. Do you think I can spend the night at your house?" Sylvie didn't answer. She was glad they were almost home. She could see her grandmother standing near the door of the farm house.

When they reached her, the stranger put down his gun and explained his problem to Sylvie's smiling grandmother.

"Of course you can stay with us," she said. "We don't have much, but you're welcome to share what we have. Now Sylvie, get a plate for the gentleman!"

After eating, they all sat outside. The young man explained he was a scientist, who collected birds. "Do you put them in a cage?" Sylvie asked. "No," he answered slowly, "I shoot them and stuff them with special chemicals to preserve them. I have over one hundred different kinds of birds from all over the United States in my study at home."

"Sylvie knows a lot about birds, too," her grandmother said proudly. "She knows the forest so well, the wild animals come and eat bread right out of her hands."

"So Sylvie knows all about birds. Maybe she can help me then," the young man said. "I saw a white heron not far from here two days ago. I've been looking for it ever since. It's a very rare bird, the little white heron. Have you seen it, too?" He asked Sylvie. But Sylvie was silent. "You would know it if you saw it," he added. "It's a tall, strange bird with soft white feathers and long thin legs. It probably has its nest at the top of a tall tree."

Sylvie's heart began to beat fast. She knew that strange white bird! She had seen it on the other side of the forest. The young man was staring at Sylvie. "I would give ten dollars to the person who showed me where the white heron is."

That night Sylvie's dreams were full of all the wonderful things she and her grandmother could buy for ten dollars.

Sylvie spent the next day in the forest with the young man. He told her a lot about the birds they saw. Sylvie would have had a much better time if the young man had left his gun at home. She could not understand why he killed the birds he seemed to like so much. She felt her heart tremble every time he shot an unsuspecting bird as it was singing in the trees.

But Sylvie watched the young man with eyes full of admiration. She had never seen anyone so handsome and charming. A strange excitement filled her heart, a new feeling the little girl did not recognize…love.

At last evening came. They drove the cow home together. Long after the moon came out and the young man had fallen asleep Sylvie was still awake. She had a plan that would get the ten dollars for her grandmother and make the young man happy. When it was almost time for the sun to rise, she quietly left her house and hurried through the forest. She finally reached a huge pine tree, so tall it could be seen for many miles around. Her plan was to climb to the top of the pine tree. She could see the whole forest from there. She was sure she would be able to see where the white heron had hidden its nest.

Sylvie's bare feet and tiny fingers grabbed the tree's rough trunk. Sharp dry branches scratched at her like cat's claws. The pine tree's sticky sap made her fingers feel stiff and clumsy as she climbed higher and higher.

The pine tree seemed to grow taller, the higher that Sylvie climbed. The sky began to brighten in the east. Sylvie's face was like a pale star when, at last, she reached the tree's highest branch. The golden sun's rays hit the green forest. Two hawks flew together in slow-moving circles far below Sylvie. Sylvie felt as if she could go flying among the clouds, too. To the west she could see other farms and forests.

Suddenly Sylvie's dark gray eyes caught a flash of white that grew larger and larger. A bird with broad white wings and a long slender neck flew past Sylvie and landed on a pine branch below her. The white heron smoothed its feathers and called to its mate, sitting on their nest in a nearby tree. Then it lifted its wings and flew away.

Sylvie gave a long sigh. She knew the wild bird's secret now. Slowly she began her dangerous trip down the ancient pine tree. She did not dare to look down and tried to forget that her fingers hurt and her feet were bleeding. All she wanted to think about was what the stranger would say to her when she told him where to find the heron's nest.

As Sylvie climbed slowly down the pine tree, the stranger was waking up back at the farm. He was smiling because he was sure from the way the shy little girl had looked at him that she had seen the white heron.

About an hour later Sylvie appeared. Both her grandmother and the young man stood up as she came into the kitchen. The splendid moment to speak about her secret had come. But Sylvie was silent. Her grandmother was angry with her. Where had she been. The young man's kind eyes looked deeply into Sylvie's own dark gray ones. He could give Sylvie and her grandmother ten dollars. He had promised to do this, and they needed the money. Besides, Sylvie wanted to make him happy.

But Sylvie was silent. She remembered how the white heron came flying through the golden air and how they watched the sun rise together from the top of the world. Sylvie could not speak. She could not tell the heron's secret and give its life away.

The young man went away disappointed later that day. Sylvie was sad. She wanted to be his friend. He never returned. But many nights Sylvie heard the sound of his whistle as she came home with her grandmother's cow.

Were the birds better friends than their hunter might have been? Who can know?


ANNOUNCER: You have been listening to the story called "The White Heron" written by Sarah Orne Jewett. It was adapted for Special English by Dona de Sanctis. Your narrator was Kay Gallant. Listen again next week at the same time for this Special English program of American stories. This is Shep O'Neal.


1. Sylvie lived in a house in the forest with ______________ .
a: a young man
b: her grandmother
c: her parents
d: her brothers and sisters

2. Every day, Sylvie visited the forest in order to ______________ .
a: find a white heron
b: kill birds so she could stuff them
c: meet a young man who she loved
d: get the grandmother's cow and guide it back home

3. The young man was very friendly and ________________ .
a: handsome
b: short
c: egocentric
d: playful

4. When the young man offered Sylvie ten dollars for information about the bird, Sylvie ____ .
a: thought of all the things she and her grandmother could buy for ten dollars
b: was silent
c: led the young man to several birds that he then killed
d: led the young man to the prize bird of the forest: the white heron

5. Sylvie was torn between _________________ .
a: love for the young man and love for the cow
b: the young man's affection and the grandmother's rules
c: love for the young man and the white heron's life
d: her desire for the ten dollars and her desire for friendship with the young man

6. Probably, the reason the young man never returned after this visit was because ________ .
a: he realized the young woman would never love him
b: he realized the young woman would never share her secret knowledge of birds
c: he realized the grandmother would never allow him to marry Sylvie
d: he realized Sylvie was a country girl who could never understand city ways

7. Sylvie at first didn't know the secret of the White Heron's home, then ___________ .
a: she learned its secret from the young man
b: her grandmother let her in on the secret location of the white heron's nest
c: she went out early one morning and climbed the tallest tree in the forest
d: she saw white heron feathers littering the ground deep in the woods

8. Young man wanted to find the white heron because he was a collector of __________ .
a: different kinds of herons
b: animals for zoos in all parts of the country
c: feathers of all kinds to make beautiful hats
d: stuffed birds

9. Another name for this story could be "__________________ ."
a: The Girl Who Was Raised in Nature
b: A Love Story in The Forest
c: Sylvie's Silent Secret
d: A Strange Encounter on a Cow Path

10. This story is mainly about ____________________ .
a: a conflict between an early love and preserving a rare bird's life
b: growing up alone in a vast forest with only an old woman and a cow for company
c: saving wild birds from greedy hunters
d: a conflict between a grandmother's rigid morality and a girl's love for a young man

A biography of Sarah Orne Jewett from Wikipedia

You probably won't pick up too much English from these thick New Zealand accents,
but you'll see some beautiful white herons that frequent New Zealand's west coast nature
preserves. They are worth a look.

Read about Sarah Orne Jewett in Wikipedia

Saturday, June 13, 2009

"The Ransom of Red Chief" by O. Henry

Now, the VOA Special English program, AMERICAN STORIES.


We present the short story "The Ransom of Red Chief" by O. Henry. Here is Shep O'Neal with the story.



It looked like a good thing. But wait till I tell you. We were down south, in Alabama – Bill Driscoll and myself – when this kidnapping idea struck us. There was a town down there, as flat as a pancake, and called Summit. Bill and I had about six hundred dollars. We needed just two thousand dollars more for an illegal land deal in Illinois.

We chose for our victim -- the only child of an influential citizen named Ebenezer Dorset. He was a boy of ten, with red hair. Bill and I thought that Ebenezer would pay a ransom of two thousand dollars to get his boy back. But wait till I tell you.

About two miles from Summit was a little mountain, covered with cedar trees. There was an opening on the back of the mountain. We stored our supplies in that cave.

One night, we drove a horse and carriage past old Dorset's house. The boy was in the street, throwing rocks at a cat on the opposite fence.

"Hey little boy!" says Bill, "would you like to have a bag of candy and a nice ride?"

The boy hits Bill directly in the eye with a piece of rock.

That boy put up a fight like a wild animal. But, at last, we got him down in the bottom of the carriage and drove away.

We took him up to the cave. The boy had two large bird feathers stuck in his hair. He points a stick at me and says:

"Ha! Paleface, do you dare to enter the camp of Red Chief, the terror of the plains?"

"He's all right now," says Bill, rolling up his pants and examining wounds on his legs. "We're playing Indian. I'm Old Hank, the trapper, Red Chief's captive. I'm going to be scalped at daybreak. By Geronimo! That kid can kick hard."

"Red Chief," says I to the boy, "would you like to go home?"

"Aw, what for?" says he. "I don't have any fun at home. I hate to go to school. I like to camp out. You won't take me back home again, will you?"

"Not right away," says I. "We'll stay here in the cave a while."

"All right!" says he. "That'll be fine. I never had such fun in all my life."


We went to bed about eleven o'clock. Just at daybreak, I was awakened by a series of terrible screams from Bill. Red Chief was sitting on Bill's chest, with one hand holding his hair. In the other, he had a sharp knife. He was attempting to cut off the top of Bill's head, based on what he had declared the night before.

I got the knife away from the boy. But, after that event, Bill's spirit was broken. He lay down, but he never closed an eye again in sleep as long as that boy was with us.

"Do you think anybody will pay out money to get a little imp like that back home?" Bill asked.

"Sure," I said. "A boy like that is just the kind that parents love. Now, you and the Chief get up and make something to eat, while I go up on the top of this mountain and look around."

I climbed to the top of the mountain. Over toward Summit, I expected to see the men of the village searching the countryside. But all was peaceful.

"Perhaps," says I to myself, "it has not yet been discovered that the wolves have taken the lamb from the fold." I went back down the mountain.

When I got to the cave, I found Bill backed up against the side of it. He was breathing hard, with the boy threatening to strike him with a rock.

"He put a red-hot potato down my back," explained Bill, "and then crushed it with his foot. I hit his ears. Have you got a gun with you, Sam?"

I took the rock away from the boy and ended the argument.

"I'll fix you," says the boy to Bill. "No man ever yet struck the Red Chief but what he got paid for it. You better be careful!"

After eating, the boy takes a leather object with strings tied around it from his clothes and goes outside the cave unwinding it. Then we heard a kind of shout. It was Red Chief holding a sling in one hand. He moved it faster and faster around his head.

Just then I heard a heavy sound and a deep breath from Bill. A rock the size of an egg had hit him just behind his left ear. Bill fell in the fire across the frying pan of hot water for washing the dishes. I pulled him out and poured cold water on his head for half an hour.

Then I went out and caught that boy and shook him.

"If your behavior doesn't improve," says I, "I'll take you straight home. Now, are you going to be good, or not?"

"I was only funning," says he. "I didn't mean to hurt Old Hank. But what did he hit me for? I'll behave if you don't send me home."

I thought it best to send a letter to old man Dorset that day, demanding the ransom and telling how it should be paid. The letter said:

"We have your boy hidden in a place far from Summit. We demand fifteen hundred dollars for his return; the money to be left at midnight tonight at the same place and in the same box as your answer.

If you agree to these terms, send the answer in writing by a messenger tonight at half past eight o'clock. After crossing Owl Creek, on the road to Poplar Cove, there are three large trees. At the bottom of the fence, opposite the third tree, will be a small box. The messenger will place the answer in this box and return immediately to Summit. If you fail to agree to our demand, you will never see your boy again. If you pay the money as demanded, he will be returned to you safe and well within three hours."

I took the letter and walked over to Poplar Cove. I then sat around the post office and store. An old man there says he hears Summit is all worried because of Ebenezer Dorset's boy having been lost or stolen. That was all I wanted to know. I mailed my letter and left. The postmaster said the mail carrier would come by in an hour to take the mail on to Summit.


At half past eight, I was up in the third tree, waiting for the messenger to arrive. Exactly on time, a half-grown boy rides up the road on a bicycle. He finds the box at the foot of the fence. He puts a folded piece of paper into it and leaves, turning back toward Summit.

I slid down the tree, got the note and was back at the cave in a half hour. I opened the note and read it to Bill. This is what it said:

"Gentlemen: I received your letter about the ransom you ask for the return of my son. I think you are a little high in your demands. I hereby make you a counter-proposal, which I believe you will accept. You bring Johnny home and pay me two hundred and fifty dollars, and I agree to take him off your hands. You had better come at night because the neighbors believe he is lost. And, I could not be responsible for what they would do to anybody they saw bringing him back. Very respectfully, Ebenezer Dorset."

"Great pirates of Penzance!" says I, "of all the nerve…" But I looked at Bill and stopped. He had the most appealing look in his eyes I ever saw on the face of a dumb or talking animal.

"Sam," says he, "what's two hundred and fifty dollars, after all? We've got the money. One more night of this boy will drive me crazy. I think Mister Dorset is making us a good offer. You aren't going to let the chance go, are you?"

"Tell you the truth, Bill," says I, "this little lamb has got on my nerves, too. We'll take him home, pay the ransom and make our get-away."

We took him home that night. We got him to go by telling him that his father had bought him a gun and we were going to hunt bears the next day.

It was twelve o'clock when we knocked on Ebenezer's front door. Bill counted out two hundred and fifty dollars into Dorset's hand.

When the boy learned we were planning to leave him at home, he started to cry loudly and held himself as tight as he could to Bill's leg. His father pulled him away slowly.

"How long can you hold him?" asks Bill.

"I'm not as strong as I used to be," says old Dorset, "but I think I can promise you ten minutes."

"Enough," says Bill. "In ten minutes, I shall cross the Central, Southern and Middle Western states, and be running for the Canadian border."

And, as dark as it was, and as fat as Bill was, and as good a runner as I am, he was a good mile and a half out of Summit before I could catch up with him.



You have heard the American Story "The Ransom of Red Chief" by O. Henry. Your storyteller was Shep O'Neal. This story was adapted into Special English by Shelley Gollust. It was produced by Lawan Davis. Listen again next week for another American Story in VOA Special English. I'm Faith Lapidus.