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Contents > Author > Kate Chopin > The Benitous' Slave 1850- 1904
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Kate Chopin
The Benitous' Slave
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THE B?NITOUS' SLAVE.

Old Uncle Oswald believed he belonged to the B?nitous, and there
was no getting the notion out of his head. Monsieur tried every way,
for there was no sense in it. Why, it must have been fifty years
since the B?nitous owned him. He had belonged to others since,
and had later been freed. Beside, there was not a B?nitou left in
the parish now, except one rather delicate woman, who lived with
her little daughter in a corner of Natchitoches town, and constructed
"fashionable millinery." The family had dispersed, and almost vanished,
and the plantation as well had lost its identity.

But that made no difference to Uncle Oswald. He was always
running away from Monsieur -- who kept him out of pure kindness --
and trying to get back to those B?nitous.

More than that, he was constantly getting injured in such attempts.
Once he fell into the bayou and was nearly drowned. Again he barely
escaped being run down by an engine. But another time, when he
had been lost two days, and finally discovered in an unconscious
and half-dead condition in the woods, Monsieur and Doctor Bonfils
reluctantly decided that it was time to "do something" with the old man.

So, one sunny spring morning, Monsieur took Uncle Oswald in
the buggy, and drove over to Natchitoches with him, intending to
take the evening train for the institution in which the poor creature
was to be cared for.

It was quite early in the afternoon when they reached town,
and Monsieur found himself with several hours to dispose of before
train-time. He tied his horses in front of the hotel -- the quaintest
old stuccoed house, too absurdly unlike a "hotel" for anything -- and
entered. But he left Uncle Oswald seated upon a shaded bench just
within the yard.

There were people occasionally coming in and going out; but
no one took the smallest notice of the old negro drowsing over the
cane that he held between his knees. The sight was common in
Natchitoches.

One who passed in was a little girl about twelve, with dark,
kind eyes, and daintily carrying a parcel. She was dressed in blue
calico, and wore a stiff white sun-bonnet, extinguisher fashion,
over her brown curls.

Just as she passed Uncle Oswald again, on her way out, the
old man, half asleep, let fall his cane. She picked it up and handed
it back to him, as any nice child would have done.

"Oh, thankee, thankee, missy," stammered Uncle Oswald,
all confused at being waited upon by this little lady. "You is a putty
li'le gal. W'at 's yo' name, honey?"

"My name 's Susanne; Susanne B?nitou," replied the girl.

Instantly the old negro stumbled to his feet. Without a moment's
hesitancy he followed the little one out through the gate, down the
street, and around the corner.

It was an hour later that Monsieur, after a distracted search,
found him standing upon the gallery of the tiny house in which Madame
B?nitou kept "fashionable millinery."

Mother and daughter were sorely perplexed to comprehend
the intentions of the venerable servitor, who stood, hat in hand,
persistently awaiting their orders.

Monsieur understood and appreciated the situation at once,
and he has prevailed upon Madame B?nitou to accept the gratuitous
services of Uncle Oswald for the sake of the old darky's own safety
and happiness.

Uncle Oswald never tries to run away now. He chops wood
and hauls water. He cheerfully and faithfully bears the parcels that
Susanne used to carry; and makes an excellent cup of black coffee.

I met the old man the other day in Natchitoches, contentedly
stumbling down St. Denis street with a basket of figs that some
one was sending to his mistress. I asked him his name.

"My name 's Oswal', Madam; Oswal' - dat 's my name. I b'longs
to de B?nitous," and some one told me his story then.



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(from "Bayou Folk")
 

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