I was reminded last night by loyal readers of Gossips that it's been almost two months since we published an excerpt from the original Gossips of Rivertown. So today, on this long Thanksgiving weekend, we offer a pleasant diversion. There's no gossip or slander in this passage, just a little fun at the expense of Hudson's gossips of yesteryear.
"By the way," said Miss Martin, suddenly, "who do you think I saw to-day, Harriet ?—Adeline Mitchell, your particular friend," for all present were aware of the new antagonism.
"Ah!" said Harriet, with a most contemptuous wreathing of her thin lips.
"Yes; and she had on the sweetest new silk dress. I wonder who made it!"
"It's likely that people who can afford new silk dresses every fall, have them made in New York. I do like to see people get above themselves now and then!"
There was plainly no hope that the "breach of peace" could ever be closed. Adeline Mitchell's extravagance created quite a diversion from Mrs. Jackson. Miss Martin stitched away industriously with terribly long "needlefulls" of thread. Mrs. Folger now and then had a little chase for the unfortunate thimble, and Mrs. Smith, as usual, talked a great deal and sewed very little. As the days were very short, lights were introduced soon after Miss Martin's arrival, when a new difficulty ensued.
There were but two flat-bottomed candlesticks in the house; these Hannah had that morning rescued from the threatened oblivion of the "closet under the stairs," and had spent much time and labour in polishing. Two lights were not sufficient, and the expedient of a lamp set upon a large plate was mentioned. The plate would not do, there was too mnch danger of its upsetting.
At length, Miss Martin suggested that the little tea-tray would be just the thing; and this, when tried, was found to answer admirably.
"Now, Harriet, I'll take your place, and you give us a tune. I haven't heard a bit of music this age. Do you know a piece called 'Flow Gently, Sweet Afton?'" asked Mrs. Smith.
"I haven't played it I can't tell the time when," responded the fair musician; "but I 've got a beautiful new thing called Norma," she added, taking up a simple arrangement of the Druid's march in that celebrated opera.
"Norma!—I suppose that's a girl's name," said Mrs. Folger, complacently.
"Well, let's have that, then," continued Miss Martin.
Harriet forthwith commenced in a loud, dashing style, in which forte and piano, diminuendo and crescendo passages were so mingled, as to be entirely undistinguishable.
Mrs. Folger nodded her head to keep time, while Mrs. Smith, glad of an excuse for open idleness, laid down her needle and rested her elbow on the quilt-frame to listen, while Miss Martin's notes of admiration, as "Ain't that a sweet strain?"—"Don't that put you in mind of 'Bonaparte crossing the Rhine?'" were continued at intervals.
Animated by such "distinguished applause," Harriet played still more loudly as she neared the conclusion; but alas for the finale!
The [Folger] twins [Susan and Sarah Ann], favoured by the noise, and animated by a purely feminine instinct, discovered that under the quilt was a capital place for playing "keep house," and had accordingly emigrated thither from the window-seat, where they had formerly resided. As they crept carefully under the opposite side, they were, at first, undiscovered; but growing more venturesome, Susan, who was a little the tallest, tried if she could "stand up straight" under the centre of the quilt.
Most unfortunate undertaking!—for, her head came in contact with the tea-tray; the lamp which it bore was upset; and, at the same moment, her sister, in trying to move one of the supporting chairs, brought the whole establishment once more to the carpet.
Harriet sprang from the piano, and snatched the lamps; one of the heavy candlesticks struck Sarah Ann in its descent; while Susan, completely enveloped, thought she was smothering in the centre of the quilt, and screamed in harmony. Of course, for a moment or two, there was total darkness, and when Hannah opened the door to announce tea, the whole room was a scene of unprecedented confusion.
Sketch the Fourth. Mrs. Harden's Quilting. Chapter I.