restricted access Gentlemen in Spring
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Gentlemen in Spring

“Circe” was the first story Eudora Welty wrote after finishing The Golden Apples that would be collected in The Bride of the Innisfallen; “Ladies in Spring” was the last of the stories she wrote for the collection. “Circe” pretty much directly problematizes our last vision of Virgie Rainey, on the fence, back to the courthouse, and in her potential for freedom bringing a healing rain to the kingdom: Virgie Rainey, the Virgin Queen, regal in her isolation, on the fence between her past and a future, alone, free (see Polk, Faulkner and Welty 18). The Bride of the Innisfallen explores the possibilities of that freedom for women: Circe, boldly alone on her island and turning to swine all stray men who happen to float by, is one possibility; Opal furtive in the parched wilderness is another, calling quietly to Blackie, who fishes from a concrete island in the middle of a diminished river and ignores her. “Ladies in Spring” is the middle story of the collection, and “Circe” follows it; together they form the collection’s physical and thematic center. Especially in a book in which, as in a good deal of her fiction, bodies of water form a crucial thematic—as spouses, lovers, brides-to-be, and adolescents approach water as a seductive but also as a fearful and destabilizing foundation for sexual transactions (see Polk, “Water”)—it must be significant that the two stories at the center of the collection have at their own centers islands of spurious stability which, surrounded by water, are of course under attack.

The stories in The Bride of the Innisfallen—indeed, throughout Welty’s canon—are full of misbehaving men, cheaters actual or presumptive, front and center or immediately offstage, at the very least epicenters of domestic instability. “Ladies in Spring,” at top dead center of the collection, is a farcical and ultimately disturbing exploration of the roots of such behavior—of how boys become such men. Young Dewey (aptly named) Coker is on the bus bound for school, eager to hear his teacher tell his class about Excalibur and “The Lady of the Lake”; he sees his father, Blackie, walking out of town carrying two swords of another, less heroic but no less important, kind: fishing poles. Choosing fishing and father over fable, he slips away from school, catches up with Blackie, and walks with him to the nearly dry river. Obviously one of the poles is for Opal, but Dewey takes it so that he and his father, though “dressed alike in overalls and faded coats,” are “poles” apart, especially in their responses to Opal (625). Dewey thus unwittingly [End Page 93] complicates his father’s intended liaison by tagging along. He should be in school hearing about Excalibur and the Lady of the Lake; he is to have a considerably less romantic lesson about men and women, even if he will not ever understand it completely; in any case, the fifteen years following the episode have not given him much insight (636).

Further complicating Blackie’s plans is Opal’s aunt, Hattie, the postmistress and local rainmaker, who has set out to contemplate water so she can make it rain, cleanse the land of its scourge, whatever it is, and end the local drought. When Blackie sees her ahead of them, he quietly insists that they avoid her by taking another route than they had planned. He clearly does not want Miss Hattie to report to Royals’ gossips that he and Opal are in the woods at the same time.

It is a “gray, changeable day overhead” that moves “soft and wet and gray” across a “gray landscape,” exactly the kind of day any smart rainmaker would choose to exercise her powers (625). The day is changeable indeed: as the two set off, “the world [holds] perfectly still” until first a heron “pump[s] through,” and then Miss Hattie and then Opal make “changeable” operative (625, 626). While Hattie sits by the dry river “bringing rain,” Blackie and Dewey pass by unseen to “an old, unrailed, concrete bridge across the Little Muscadine” that “stood out there high on its single foot, like a...