The Case of Caline by Paul Laurence Dunbar
A KITCHEN MONOLOGUE
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.
"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
"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
"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.
"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!
"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.
"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."