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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Clinging Vine Theory

By Marietta Holley (1836–1926)

[Born in Ellisburg, Jefferson Co., N. Y. Died there, 1926. My Opinions and Betsey Bobbet’s. By Josiah Allen’s Wife. 1872.]

THE NEXT week Saturday after the poetry come out, Tirzah took it into her head that she wanted to go to Elder Morton’s a visitin’; Maggie Snow was a goin’ to meet her there, and I told her to go—I’d get along with the work somehow.

I had to work pretty hard, but then I got it all out of the way early, and my head combed and my dress changed, and I was jest pinnin’ my linen coller over my clean gingham dress (broun and black plaid) to the lookin’ glass, when lookin’ up, who should I see but Betsey Bobbet comin’ through the gate. She stopped a minute to Tirzah Ann’s posy bed, and then she come along kinder gradually, and stopped and looked at my new tufted bedspread that I have got out a whitenin’ on the grass, and then she come up the steps and come in.

Somehow I was kinder glad to see her that day. I had had first rate luck with all my bakin’, everything had turned out well, and I felt real reconciled to havin’ a visit from her.

But I see she looket ruther gloomy, and after she sot down and took out her tattin’ and begun to tat, she spoke up and says she:

“Josiah Allen’s wife, I feel awful deprested to-day.”

“What is the matter?” says I in a cheerful tone.

“I feel lonely,” says she, “more lonely than I have felt for yeahs.”

Again says I, kindly but firmly:

“What is the matter, Betsey?”

“I had a dream last night, Josiah Allen’s wife.”

“What was it?” says I in a sympathizin’ accent, for she did look melancholly and sad indeed.

“I dreamed I was married, Josiah Allen’s wife,” says she in a heart-broken tone, and she laid her hand on my arm in her deep emotion. “I tell you it was hard, after dreamin’ that, to wake up again to the cold realities and cares of this life; it was hard,” she repeated, and a tear gently flowed down her Roman nose and dropped off onto her overskirt. She knew salt water would spot otter color awfully, and so she drew her handkerchief out of her pocket, and spread it in her lap (it was white trimmed with narrow edgein’) and continued:

“Life seemed so hard and lonesome to me, that I sot up in the end of the bed and wept. I tried to get to sleep again, hopin’ I would dream it ovah, but I could not.”

And again two salt tears fell in about the middle of the handkerchief. I see she needed consolation, and my gratitude made me feel soft to her, and so says I, in a reasurin’ tone:

“To be sure husbands are handy on 4th of July’s, and funeral prosessions; it looks kinder lonesome to see a woman streamin’ along alone, but they are contrary creeters, Betsey, when they are a mind to be.”

And then to turn the conversation and get her mind offen her trouble, says I:

“How did you like my bedspread, Betsey?”

“It is beautiful,” says she sorrowfully.

“Yes,” says I, “it looks well enough now it’s done, but it most wore my fingers out a tuftin’ it;—it’s a sight of work.”

But I saw how hard it was to draw her mind off from broodin’ over her troubles, for she spoke in a mournful tone.

“How sweet it must be to weah the fingers out for a deah companion. I would be willing to weah mine clear down to the bone. I made a vow some yeahs ago,” says she, kinder chirkin’ up a little, and beginnin’ to tat agin. “I made a vow yeahs ago that I would make my deah future companion happy, for I would neveh, neveh fail to meet him with a sweet smile as he came home to me at twilight. I felt that that was all he would requireh to make him happy. Do you think it was a rash vow, Josiah Allen’s wife?”

“Oh,” says I in a sort of blind way, “I guess it won’t do any hurt. But, if a man couldn’t have but one of the two, a smile or a supper, as he come home at night, I believe he would take the supper.”

“Oh deah,” says Betsey, “such cold, practical ideahs are painful to me.”

“Wall,” says I cheerfully but firmly, “if you ever have the opportunity, you try both ways. You jest let your fire go out, and your house and you look like fury, and nothin’ to eat, and you stand on the door smilin’ like a first class idiot—and then agin you have a first rate supper on the table, stewed oysters, and warm biscuit and honey, or somethin’ else first rate, and a bright fire shinin’ on a clean hearth, and the tea-kettle a singin’, and the tea-table all set out neat as a pink, and you goin’ round in a cheerful, sensible way gettin’ the supper onto the table, and you jest watch, and see which of the two ways is the most agreeable to him.”

Betsey still looked unconvinced, and I proceeded onwards.

“Now I never was any hand to stand and smile at Josiah for two or three hours on a stretch; it would make me feel like a natural born idiot; but I always have a bright fire and a warm supper a waitin’ for him when he comes home at night.”

“Oh food! food! what is food to the deathless emotions of the soul? What does the aching young heart care for what food it eats—let my deah future companion smile on me, and that is enough.”

Says I in reasonable tones: “A man can’t smile on an empty stomach, Betsey, not for any length of time. And no man can’t eat soggy bread, with little chunks of saleratus in it, and clammy potatoes, and beefsteak burnt and raw in spots, and drink dishwatery tea, and muddy coffee, and smile—or they might give one or 2 sickly, deathly smiles, but they wouldn’t keep it up, you depend upon it they wouldn’t, and it haint in the natur’ of a man to, and I say they hadn’t ought to. I have seen bread, Betsey Bobbet, that was enough to break down any man’s affection for a woman, unless he had firm principle to back it up—and love’s young dream has been drounded in thick, muddy coffee more’n once. If there haint anything pleasant in a man’s home, how can he keep attached to it? Nobody, man nor woman, can’t respect what haint respectable, or love what haint lovable. I believe in bein’ cheerful, Betsey; a complainin’, fretful woman in the house is worse than a cold, drizzlin’ rain comin’ right down all the time onto the cook stove. Of course men have to be corrected, I correct Josiah frequently, but I believe in doin’ it all up at one time and then have it over with, jest like a smart dash of a thunder shower that clears up the air.”

“Oh, how a female woman that is blest with a deah companion can even speak of correcting him is a mystery to me.”

But again I spoke, and my tone was as firm and lofty as Bunker Hill monument:

“Men have to be corrected, Betsey; there wouldn’t be no livin’ with ’em unless you did.”

“Well,” says she, “you can entertain such views as you will, but for me, I will be clingin’ in my nature, I will be respected by men; they do so love to have wimmin clingin’, that I will, until I die, carry out this belief that is so sweet to them—until I die I will nevah let go of this speah.”

I didn’t say nothin’, for gratitude tied up my tongue, but as I rose and went upstairs to wind me a little more yarn—I thought I wouldn’t bring down the swifts for so little as I wanted to wind—I thought sadly to myself, what a hard, hard time she had had, sense I had known her, a handlin’ that spear. We got to talkin’ about it the other day, how long she had been a handlin’ of it. Says Thomas Jefferson: “She has been brandishin’ it for fifty years.”

Says I: “Shet up, Thomas J., she haint been born longer ago than that.”

Says he: “She was born with that spear in her hand.”

But as I said she has had a hard and mournful time a tryin’ to make a runnin’ vine of herself sense I knew her. And Josiah says she was at it for years before I ever see her. She has tried to make a vine of herself to all kinds of trees, straight and crooked, sound and rotten, young and old. Her mind is sot the most now on the Editor of the Augur, but she pays attention to any and every single man that comes in her way. And it seems strange to me that them that preach up the doctrine of woman’s only spear don’t admire one who carrys it out to its full extent. It seems kinder ungrateful in ’em, to think that when Betsey is so willin’ to be a vine, they will not be a tree; but they won’t, they seem sot against it.

I say if men insist on makin’ runnin’ vines of wimmin, they ought to provide trees for ’em to run up on, it haint nothin’ more’n justice that they should, but they won’t and don’t. Now ten years ago the Methodist minister before Elder Wesley Minkly came was a widower of some twenty odd years, and he was sorely stricken with years and rheumatiz. But Betsey showed plainly her willin’ness and desire to be a vine, if he would be a tree. But he would not be a tree—he acted real obstinate about it, considerin’ his belief. For he was awful opposed to wimmin’s havin’ any rights only the right to marry. He preached a beautiful sermon about woman’s holy mission, and how awful it was in her to have any ambition outside of her own home. And how sweet it was to see her in her confidin’ weakness and gentleness clingin’ to man’s manly strength. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house only mine. Betsey wept aloud, she was so affected by it. And it was beautiful, I don’t deny it; I always respected clingers. But I love to see folks use reason. And I say again, how can a woman cling when she haint got nothin’ to cling to? That day I put it fair and square to our old minister, he went home with us to supper, and he began on me about wimmin’s rights, for he knew I believe in wimmin’s havin’ a right. Says he: “It is flyin’ in the face of the Bible for a woman not to marry.”

Says I: “Elder, how can any lady make brick without straw or sand—how can a woman marry without a man is forthcomin’?” says I, “wimmen’s will may be good, but there is some things she cannot do, and this is one of ’em.” Says I: “as our laws are at present no woman can marry unless she has a man to marry to. And if the man is obstinate and hangs back what is she to do?”

He begun to look a little sheepish and tried to kinder turn off the subject onto religion.

But no steamboat ever sailed onward under the power of biled water steam more grandly than did Samantha Allen’s words under the steam of bilein’ principle. I fixed my eyes upon him with seemin’ly an arrow in each one of ’em, and says I:

“Which had you rather do. Elder, let Betsey Bobbet vote, or cling to you? She is fairly achin’ to make a runnin’ vine of herself,” and says I, in slow, deep, awful tones, “are you willin’ to be a tree?”

Again he weakly murmured somethin’ on the subject of religion, but I asked him again in slower, awfuler tones:

“Are you willin’ to be a tree?”

He turned to Josiah, and says he: “I guess I will go out to the barn and bring in my saddle bags.” He had come to stay all night. And that man went to the barn smit and conscience struck, and haint opened his head to me sense about wimmin’s not havin’ a right.