Texts Related to the Works of Sarah Orne Jewett
Miss Dorcas's Opinion
Rose Terry Cooke
"Good mornin', Miss Dorkis."
"Good day, ma'am,["] walk in an' set down, won't ye?"
Miss Dorcas Winkwire got up with the word, unbolted the lower half of the door over which her visitor was talking to her, admitted the neighbor, and then set forward the easy old rush-bottomed rocker which was her own favorite seat, and therefore always offered to company; for Miss Dorcas was naturally a lady and noblesse oblige.
Mrs. Morgan who walked in and sat down was a middle-aged, middle-sized woman, spare and rather forbidding of aspect, wearing an aggressive "front" of black curls, which gave her a frowning air and added a fictitious sternness to a pair of dead black eyes, rather wandering and uncertain of gaze.
Miss Dorcas did not look like her; tall, lean, straight as a dart, with a keen, sensible face and cool gray eyes; her steel gray hair was knotted tightly at the back of her head, and every item of her dress gave the idea of perfect neatness and strict economy. She lived by herself in this small red house in Pompton, did a little millinery, tailoring now and then, and at other times plain sewing; she had some money, but being at once thrifty and generous she worked hard always, and let the two thousand dollars her father left her accumulate for her old age, rendering her independent and fearless. She sat down now, and took up her knitting, waiting calmly for her guest to open the conversation.
"I thought I'd step round this morning'," said Mrs. Morgan, "to get ye to put your name to the p'tition that's circulatin' 'round the county, and is goin' to be sent in to the Legislature soon as it meets."
"What's it for?" said Miss Dorcas, transfixing Mrs. Morgan's vague glances with a quiet, straightforward look.
"Well, I never! I thought you'd heered all about it. Sary Ann Jones said she guessed you'd be one of the first to sign it, bein' a single woman as you be, and one that has always did for herself, and hasn't had, nor had to have, no men folks around, nor" --
"Well, what's it for?" reiterated Miss Dorcas.
"Why, I'm tellin' of ye, if you'd hear to me; it's a p'tition for womenfolks to get their rights."
"Which of 'em?"
"Oh, all, I guess; I b'lieve this is about votin', specially; votin', as Miss Peter says, lies to the bottom of all on't, cause if you let 'em vote, why then they can make laws to give 'em all the other things."
"H'm! Well, Miss Morgan, if that's the hull on't, I don't want to vote."
"Why, Dorkis Winkwire! ha'n't you got no sperit?"
"Some," said Miss Dorcas, with an accent that vindicated her character in that respect.
"Well, air you desirous to live under the thumb, so to speak, of men folks, all your mortal days?"
"I do'no' as I am livin' under anybody's thumb in pertikler; but, if I be, I'd as lieves to the full 'twas a man's as a woman's."
"Why, how you talk! Ha'n't you no ambition to be a lawyer, or a doctor, or mabbe a representative? Don't ye want to set on the school board?"
"Not onless its got a softer side to't than common boards hes; and why under the canopy do I want to be a doctor or a lawyer? It's dirty work, either of 'em; and, as for goin' to the legislatur and bein' hail feller well met, with folks like Tom Green and Hiel Simmons and Judge Scranton, swearin', drinkin', low-lived Dimmicrats, I'd ruther not belittle myself to such folks, Miss Morgan."
Mrs. Morgan's blood was up now. Her late, though unlamented, husband had been a Democrat from his birth, hereditary and voluntary; he drank like a fish and swore like a pirate, and amused himself by breaking crockery and knocking his wife down whenever he felt like it, yet like a very woman she always spoke of him now as "dear husband," and she resented any slur upon his memory as fiercely as if he had been a saint below.
I do'no' as you need to throw it into my face that Hiram was a Dimmicrat, and consequently I b'long to that p'litical persuasion myself," she said, with a feeble malignity quite wasted on Miss Dorcas.
"Land's sakes!" retorted the spinster, "I wan't no more thinkin' of Hi Morgan than of nothin' when I spoke up so spry. I ha'n't no call to sass one side no more'n another if so be they're reel respectable folks; not but what I hev noticed -- and it's a sing'lar dispensation, I allow, and one thet has a cur'us sort of appearance to me -- that the best and respectablest folks ain't, skerce ever, on the Dimmicratic side; not but what there's exceptions" (suddenly remembering the departed Hiram and her present guest), "but ye know exceptions proves the rule."
"Well, seems as though you was agettin' off the matter in hand, Dorkis, but now I put it to ye square; a'n't there heaps of things wimmen folks is misused about thet would be clean changed ef they made laws? Look to't about money. Supposin' a woman hes money, why her husband can go and spend an' scatter it, and she darsn't no more say 'why-do-ye-so?' than she darst club him."
"Well, I don't deny that. I don't say that's right, but it's so; men have a hankerin' after money that a'n't natural nor hardly believable to a woman; but if women folks would see to't that their money was tied up to 'em tight afore they was married, and then look out what kind of folks they marry, 'twouldn't work jest so."
"Land alive, Dorkis Winkwire! you know what fools women be, now don't ye? Quick as a man comes foolin' round they dursn't say their souls is their own."
"I guess, then, Miss Morgin, you'd better try to kinder stiffen up the naters of women afore ye give 'em more rights'n they've got, hadn't ye?"
To this pithy remark Mrs. Morgan gave no reply, but went fluently on.
"Well, now, there had oughter be laws to protect women's property, and men won't never make 'em so long as the world endures, not never! If women had a finger in the pie, then things would be settled quicker'n winkin'."
I do'no' that." said Miss Dorcas, "don't ye call to mind that time we hed a meetin' to the schoolus about Sunday school matters, and the brethren an' sisters got a goin' about the libery? Why they couldn't settle to nothin'; them women got mad right off, an 'stead of stickin' to the matter in hand they fell to and raked up all the old scandal and flung it at each other like snow-balls; some on't hit an' some on't didn't, but I tell ye there was a consider'ble of a muss and the men just sot and larfed. I seen enough women a doin' public business that time!"
"But they wan't used to't; and now look a here" -- suddenly changing her "venue" -- "supposin' you was took sick, wouldn't you a sight ruther hev a woman doctor to see to ye than a rough man?"
"No, I wouldn't! I don't hold to hevin' women a studyin' sech things as doctors hev to; a sawin' and cuttin' up dead folks! It riles me to think on't. I want a woman for to nuss me, and see to't thet I'm took care of accordin' to doctors' orders, and I tell ye nussin' is more of a trade than doctorin', by a long sight, and doos heaps more good; why, a doctor skips in an' gives a stare at your tongue 'n feels your pulse. Well, what if he doos? Your tongue's reliable mabbe, but his very comin' in of a suddin' sets your heart abeatin', if you're anyways weak or nervous, and he says, 'Bad! very bad!' and gives ye suthin' quietin' when't ain't noway needful; but a nuss, she's there and she knows just how you be right along and what to do for ye if she is a nuss worth salt. Besides, I ha'n't and I shan't never have sech confidence in a feemale doctor as I have in a maskyline; I do'no' jest why 'tis so, but so 'tis."
"But now lawyers; why can't women folks study the law just as good as men?"
"Well Mis' Morgan ef there is women that has the brazen-faced-ness and the sharpness to do what lawyers hes to, why I expect they'll do whether or no, votin' or not; I don't see what votin's got to do with it."
"Law! don't ye suppose the polls would be sights and sights more respectable an' quiet than they be, and the laws consider'ble more to the pupus if women had their say about 'em?"
"I should think we'd better learn to keep the laws we've got a'ready, before makin' new ones," Miss Dorcas replied.
"Well, think what likker laws we'd hev if women made 'em!"
"And what would they amount to, anyway? What do them that men makes amount to? They ain't kep' no more'n the Commandments be. Folks will drink that likes drink ef you make laws punishin' of drinkin' with death; they hanker for't all the more when they hev to get it on the sly; that's human natur'. But I'm a digressin', as Priest Hawes used to say, when he kinder strayed off'n the tex'. As for makin' the votin' place any better and quieter, how long would that last, do you suppose? Ain't there bad women jest as well as bad men? And how do you suppose they'd vote, for or aginst likker?"
"But them that is drunkard's wives, Dorkis, think o' them!"
"How many of 'em would durst to vote any other way than their men folks told 'em? Do you expect they like to be kicked and struck and half-killed any more than they be now? I guess not! And how would it be with the Irish? The' ain't none of 'em now but what votes under the priest's thumb, and there ain't two in ten, nor two in a hundred, but what's Dimmicrats and likker men, and if you let their women folks help the votin' wher'd you be then, Mis' Morgan?"
"Well, I don't hold to arguin' much. I ain't tonguey by nature, but it's plain as the nose on your face to me that this bein' a land o' liberty women had ought to have ekal rights with men, and I b'lieve 'tis so."
"Who says they hain't got 'em?" said Miss Dorcas, roused in spirit, and lifting her head up to look keenly at her visitor.
"I've got my rights same as any man has 'em; and one of 'em is to set still here and 'arn my livin' under shelter, while men folks makes roads for me to walk on, and railroads for me to ride on; saws and splits wood and digs coal for my fires, makes caliker and meryno for my gowns, and grinds flour for my bread; I ha'n't got to ride nights in all weathers to help folks die or get well as the case may be, nor I ha'n't got to make their coffins nor to dig their graves nuther; nor yet to cheat the gallows for 'em, nor to convict 'em for prison; I ha'n't got to preach to 'em Sundays and then have 'em sass an' scorn me week-days because I don't live up to my own preachin'. I ha'n't got to sail no ships nor run no steam-engines nor ride no locomotives; that's men folkses business; I've got my own. I've got to tend up to the sick an' poor so fur as I can, and labor with my hands a sewin' or knittin' or school-teachin' as Providence ordains, and try to live 'cordin to the gospel. Ef I'd married I'd ha' had to mind my husband" --
"You'd ha' fellowshiped that much, I guess!" interrupted Mrs. Morgan, with fine satire.
"Well, dooties a'n't always agreeable as I know of, but they've got to be did just the same, and I hope I'd have had grace to my needs in that respect, though I don't say but what the nateral man might have and likely would have kicked against the pricks, some; then I'd probably have had children to fetch up, and that's a chore men folks don't skerce ever have throwed on to 'em, and it is a chore so fur as my observation has went.
"But, Mis' Morgan, when all's said and done, for and aginst the matter, I tell ye I've faith to believe the Lord that made us knew what He was a doin', and the way to do it a sight better than we His sinful, strayin' creturs can know; and I guess the hull matter, beyond any of our choppin' and changin', however we jaw or fret or fuss, jist as fixed as other things He done about that time, is in the word that's spoke in the first chapter of Genesis, 'Male and female created He them.'"
So Mrs. Morgan went home with Miss Dorcas's opinion instead of her signature; but is not, in these days, so unusual and so positive an opinion worth preservation and record? Being in full agreement with Miss Dorcas I have thought so.
This was the lead story in The Congregationalist, April 17, 1884, p. 125.
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