The Case Of ‘Ca’line’ – A Kitchen Monologue by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Story type: Literature

The man of the house is about to go into the dining-room when he hears voices that tell him that his wife has gone down to give the “hired help” a threatened going over. He quietly withdraws, closes the door noiselessly behind him and listens from a safe point of vantage.

One voice is timid and hesitating; that is his wife. The other is fearlessly raised; that is her majesty, the queen who rules the kitchen, and from it the rest of the house.

This is what he overhears:

“Well, Mis’ Ma’tin, hit do seem lak you jes’ bent an’ boun’ to be a-fin’in’ fault wid me w’en de Lawd knows I’s doin’ de ve’y bes’ I kin. What ’bout de brekfus’? De steak too done an’ de ‘taters ain’t done enough! Now, Miss Ma’tin, I jes’ want to show you I cooked dat steak an’ dem ‘taters de same lengt’ o’ time. Seems to me dey ought to be done de same. Dat uz a thick steak, an’ I jes’ got hit browned thoo nice. What mo’d you want?

“You didn’t want it fried at all? Now, Mis’ Ma’tin, ‘clah to goodness! Who evah hyeah de beat o’ dat? Don’t you know dat fried meat is de bes’ kin’ in de worl’? W’y, de las’ fambly dat I lived wid–dat uz ol’ Jedge Johnson–he said dat I beat anybody fryin’ he evah seen; said I fried evahthing in sight, an’ he said my fried food stayed by him longer than anything he evah e’t. Even w’en he paid me off he said it was ‘case he thought somebody else ought to have de benefit of my wunnerful powahs. Huh, ma’am, I’s used to de bes’. De Jedge paid me de highes’ kin’ o’ comperments. De las’ thing he say to me was, ‘Ca’line, Ca’line,’ he say, ‘yo’ cookin’ is a pa’dox. It is crim’nal, dey ain’t no ‘sputin’ dat, but it ain’t action’ble.’ Co’se, I didn’t unnerstan’ his langidge, but I knowed hit was comperments, ‘case his wife, Mis’ Jedge Johnson, got right jealous an’ told him to shet his mouf.

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“Dah you goes. Now, who’d ‘a’ thought dat a lady of yo’ raisin’ an unnerstannin’ would ‘a’ brung dat up. De mo’nin’ you come an’ ketch me settin’ down an’ de brekfus not ready, I was a-steadyin’. I’s a mighty han’ to steady, Mis’ Ma’tin. ‘Deed I steadies mos’ all de time. But dat mo’nin’ I got to steadyin’ an’ aftah while I sot down an’ all my troubles come to my min’. I sho’ has a heap o’ trouble. I jes’ sot thaih a-steadyin’ ’bout ’em an’ a-steadyin’ tell bime-by, hyeah you comes.

“No, ma’am, I wasn’t ‘sleep. I’s mighty apt to nod w’en I’s a-thinkin’. It’s a kin’ o’ keepin’ time to my idees. But bless yo’ soul I wasn’t ‘sleep. I shets my eyes so’s to see to think bettah. An’ aftah all, Mistah Ma’tin wasn’t mo’ ‘n half an houah late dat mo’nin’ nohow, ‘case w’en I did git up I sholy flew. Ef you jes’ ‘membahs ’bout my steadyin’ we ain’t nevah gwine have no trouble long’s I stays hyeah.

“You say dat one night I stayed out tell one o’clock. W’y–oh, yes. Dat uz Thu’sday night. W’y la! Mis’ Ma’tin, dat’s de night my s’ciety meets, de Af’Ame’ican Sons an’ Daughtahs of Judah. We had to ‘nitianate a new can’date dat night, an’ la! I wish you’d ‘a’ been thaih, you’d ‘a’ killed yo’self a-laffin’.

“You nevah did see sich ca’in’s on in all yo’ bo’n days. It was pow’ful funny. Broth’ Eph’am Davis, he’s ouah Mos’ Wusshipful Rabbi, he says hit uz de mos’ s’cessful ‘nitination we evah had. Dat can’date pawed de groun’ lak a hoss an’ tried to git outen de winder. But I got to be mighty keerful how I talk: I do’ know whethah you ‘long to any secut s’cieties er not. I wouldn’t been so late even fu’ dat, but Mistah Hi’am Smif, he gallanted me home an’ you know a lady boun’ to stan’ at de gate an’ talk to huh comp’ny a little while. You know how it is, Mis’ Ma’tin.

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“I been en’tainin’ my comp’ny in de pa’lor? Co’se I has; you wasn’t usin’ it. What you s’pose my frien’s ‘u’d think ef I’d ax ’em in de kitchen w’en dey wasn’t no one in de front room? Co’se I ax ’em in de pa’lor. I do’ want my frien’s to think I’s wo’kin’ fu’ no low-down people. W’y, Miss ‘Liza Harris set down an’ played mos’ splendid on yo’ pianna, an’ she compermented you mos’ high. S’pose I’d a tuck huh in de kitchen, whaih de comperments come in?

“Yass’m, yass’m, I does tek home little things now an’ den, dat I does, an’ I ain’t gwine to ‘ny it. I jes’ says to myse’f, I ain’t wo’kin’ fu’ no strainers lak de people nex’ do’, what goes into tantrums ef de lady what cooks fu’ ’em teks home a bit o’ sugar. I ‘lows to myse’f I ain’t wo’kin’ fu’ no sich folks; so sometimes I teks home jes’ a weenchy bit o’ somep’n’ dat nobody couldn’t want nohow, an’ I knows you ain’t gwine ‘ject to dat. You do ‘ject, you do ‘ject! Huh!

“I’s got to come an’ ax you, has I? Look a-hyeah, Mis’ Ma’tin, I know I has to wo’k in yo’ kitchen. I know I has to cook fu’ you, but I want you to know dat even ef I does I’s a lady. I’s a lady, but I see you do’ know how to ‘preciate a lady w’en you meets one. You kin jes’ light in an’ git yo’ own dinner. I wouldn’t wo’k fu’ you ef you uz made o’ gol’. I nevah did lak to wo’k fu’ strainers, nohow.

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“No, ma’am, I cain’t even stay an’ git de dinner. I know w’en I been insulted. Seems lak ef I stay in hyeah another minute I’ll bile all over dis kitchen.

“Who excited? Me excited? No, I ain’t excited. I’s mad. I do’ lak nobody pesterin’ ‘roun’ my kitchen, nohow, huh, uh, honey. Too many places in dis town waitin’ fu’ Ca’line Mason.

“No, indeed, you needn’t ‘pologize to me! needn’t ‘pologize to me. I b’lieve in people sayin’ jes’ what dey mean, I does.

“Would I stay, ef you ‘crease my wages? Well–I reckon I could, but I–but I do’ want no foolishness.”

(Sola.) “Huh! Did she think she was gwine to come down hyeah an’ skeer me, huh, uh? Whaih’s dat fryin’ pan?”

The man of the house hears the rustle of his wife’s skirts as she beats a retreat and he goes upstairs and into the library whistling, “See, the Conquering Hero Comes.”

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