Thursday, February 3, 2011

"How Have I Transgressed the Laws of Propriety?"

Time for another excerpt from the original Gossips of Rivertown. Readers will recall that last time, Mrs. Jackson, the young widow who is the current object of the Rivertown ladies' gossip, happened to overhear, while visiting the dentist, Mrs. Miller talking about her with the dentist's wife. 

For a week she saw no one. She could not overcome the sickening thoughts that crowded upon her at the sound of a familiar voice. The duties of the day she passed through mechanically, and those performed, she would lie upon the sofa for hours in a dull, yet harassing reverie. One evening as she thus indulged a moody sorrow, she thought suddenly of Mrs. Townsend; true she was not an old acquaintance, and though she shrank from hearing those hateful details, she knew that Mrs. Townsend must have heard all, and would tell her gently their import.

She was right, for no one would have approached more gently.

"Tell me," said Mrs. Jackson, the instant she could speak after Mrs. Townsend's arrival,—for she had dispatched a message to her, ere she slept—"tell me, what do all these stories mean? How have I transgressed the laws of propriety? You must have heard all: of what do they accuse me?"

Mrs. Townsend was at first slightly embarrassed, but she thought it best after a moment's reflection to tell the principal reports, and as carefully as possible spoke of that with regard to Mr. Edward Jackson, and said that Dr. Wheelock's visits had been commented on by Miss Seymour, who was suspected of a penchant for the doctor herself. The last suggested its own rise at once, and Mrs. Townsend passed over it lightly, interrupted only by Mrs. Jackson's explanation of Archie's constant and irritating illness, of the past two months, and Dr. Wheelock's kind attention; —Archie having taken one of those unaccountable childish dislikes to their family physician, Dr. Chester.

At the first Mrs. Jackson was too indignant for words, but at length spoke almost angrily in reply.

"I have known Edward from my childhood," said she. "He was my friend and counsellor, ay, brother, long ere I became a wife! To whom should I turn but to him?"

"It is perfectly natural, I own," replied Mrs. Townsend, "and I have never blamed you in the least. But perhaps you might have been a little more cautious. His lifting you into the sleigh the last time he was here?"

"I had strained my ankle severely, but that very morning, and if you recollect could scarcely walk as far as Mrs. Miller's two days afterwards."

"Yes, I do remember it well," continued Mrs. Townsead. "Your long rides are another ground of comment."

"Our long rides? I have never been farther than the factory with him!"

"Ah, that is it, they of course only judge by the length of your absence. His frequent visits, I can imagine necessary to the arrangement of your business, and allow me to say, though you may consider it an intrusion, Mrs. Jackson, that both my husband and myself approve and commend your unusual exertions."

Mrs. Jackson smiled gratefully through her tears.

"What do they call forgetting," said she, as they once more returned to the principal charge made against her, "if it is to think of him by day, and dream of him by night; if it is making his slightest wish my rule of action, trying to imitate his virtues, and avoiding all that he has disapproved of, believing or at least hoping, that he is permitted even now to watch over me, and appealing to him in thought whenever I am troubled, teaching my boy to revere his memory, and training him to take his place; if this be forgetfulness, then am I indeed at fault. I may not wear a widow's veil, but I have a widowed heart. My dress may not be of the deepest hue, but my sorrow is not regulated by it! Life is too earnest with me to dwell constantly upon the past, and I hold it to be a fearful sin when one rebels madly against the decrees of our Heavenly Father. I am sure you do not misunderstand this"—and she felt it was so, as she saw the eyes that sought her own heavy with tears.

Those who have seen how bravely Mrs. Jackson had borne her earlier trials, may wonder that this idle gossip so distressed her. But strange as it may seem, her husband's death had been endured with twice the fortitude. She had been so secure in conscious innocence, and had cherished the memory of her husband so truly, that she had not dreamed any one could for an instant think that she did not love him.

"I have no patience with these gossiping people," said Mrs. Townsend, as she recounted her visit to her husband that evening. "They have caused Mrs. Jackson more pain, I verily believe, than she had borne before. One cannot help caring for these things and dwelling on them, though you know they are slanders. It's well enough to say 'don't mind it,' but when one is left alone among strangers as she is, they are enough to bear without added misery. I am convinced and have been from the first, that neither she nor Mr. Edward Jackson ever dreamed of marriage, yet these people will not rest until they worry her into an illness, at least."

"Nay, Louisa," said her husband, gently, "you must not speak harshly in your turn. Mrs. Jackson can never be alone while she trusts in Providence with such earnest, unquestioning faith, and censure may prove the finer's fire to her noble character. The purest gold you must recollect is submitted to the fiercest furnace."

"A fiercer than Mrs. Smith's tongue could scarcely be found. Poor Mrs. Jackson! I left her a little comforted, and I know she will try to stem the torrent bravely, now that she understands its force."

Sketch the Fourth. Mrs. Harden's Quilting. Chapter IV.

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