(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

On a November afternoon, three “sere disvirgined women” are gathering kindling at the edge of a gloomy forest bordered by a field of mustard plants. Dinah Lock, a “vivacious woman full of shrill laughter, with a bosom as massive as her haunches,” teases an old man about a watch that was given to his uncle for “doing his duty”; Dinah says that she “never got no watch for doing that a-much.”

Dinah and Rose Olliver, a tall, angular woman, leave the woods while the third, Amy Hardwick, remains behind, slowly bundling up her collection of kindling. While they wait for Amy, a “sour scent” rises from the mustard blooms, and the dark woods lie on the hill “like a dark pall over the outline of a corpse.” Oppressed by the pervasive melancholy of the scene, Dinah laments that “cradle and grave is all there is for we”; turning to Rose, she says, “I like you, Rose; I wish you was a man.”

The two women go on to discuss the dissatisfactions of their lives. Dinah asserts that she is young at heart, while her husband is “no man at all” since an illness. Rose rather bleakly contrasts her childlessness with Dinah’s family of four children. Rose takes a clipping from her purse and reads a passage that envisions the world as a beautiful garden filled with cherubic children; when she finishes reading it, she crushes the paper. Dinah says that, while she is willing to sacrifice for her children, she never really wanted any of them: “Somehow,” she says, “I’ve been duped, and every woman born is duped so.”

The recollection of her husband’s feebleness...

(The entire section is 660 words.)