Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Madame Celestin is an open and frank woman with lots of trouble with her husband, and the entire town is aware of how bad things have gotten: "Of course she had talked to him of her troubles. Every one knew Madame Célestin's troubles." She is left to care for her children alone when her husband disappears for an extended period of time, and she is not afraid of outside labor. She is fairly self sufficient, providing music lessons and completing sewing jobs for extra income in her husband's absence. As she discusses her troubles to the lawyer, her personality captivates him, drawing him back day after day. She is encouraged to seek a divorce from the man who has left her alone, and she begins to make her way through several people seeking counsel in the situation. Madame Celestin discounts the advice of everyone, from her family to the bishop, who all try to dissuade her from a divorce. The bishop tells her that it is her Catholic duty to endure her situation, and though she is moved to tears, she stands firm that she has had enough and wants to move on from her scoundrel of a husband. Nothing seems to quieten her resolve to move forward with a divorce. And then there is a twist: her husband returns home. Suddenly, Madame Celestin drops the idea of the divorce, seemingly convinced by his promises to never mistreat her again.
The lawyer, Paxton, grows more intrigued with Madam Celestin the more he talks to her. He encourages her to divorce her husband, showing up again and again to ask her how things are going. He sympathizes with her, and initially it seems that he may be interested in her because of possible business opportunities should she need a divorce lawyer. When she tells the lawyer that she must talk to a bishop, he grows a bit nervous:
"You won't let the bishop dissuade you, I trust," stammered the lawyer more anxiously than he could well understand.
And as Madame Celestin stands firm in her resolve, the lawyer becomes interested in her himself. He begins dressing better and begins to dream of making Madame Celestin his own:
It would be very good to take unto himself a wife, he dreamed. And he could dream of no other than pretty Madame Célestin filling that sweet and sacred office as she filled his thoughts, now.
He knows that their town would never approve of the union, so he dreams of moving away with her. The reader is left to imagine his horror when learns of her decision to stay with her recently-returned husband at the end.
Although Madame Celestin's husband never appears in the story, he is the background force driving the plot of the story. He has deserted his family, he drinks too much, and he fails to provide for his children. He has zero redeeming qualities as either a husband or as a father from the textual evidence, and yet we see his wife return to him in the end. He represents the familiar to her, even though he offers little else.