Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"An Artful Creature as Ever Lived"

More from The Gossips of Rivertown. The rumors that Mary Butler has "encouraged Mr. Jorden's attentions" finally reach the ears of Mrs. Jackson, who has befriended Mary. Mrs. Jackson's sister is engaged to Mr. Jorden (a fact unknown to the gossips), and it is out of concern for her sister's happiness that Mrs. Jackson confronts Mary with the rumors. The conversation convinces Mrs. Jackson of Mary's innocence, but--overheard by Jane the maid--it incites the gossips to new frenzy.

"I've no patience with that girl"--broke in Mrs. Harden. "What d'ye think? As I was saying, Mrs. Jackson was giving her music lessons. Of course, Mary Butler having nothing to do, can find plenty of time to practise!"--(Mrs. Harden evidently intended this to be ironical)--"and somehow, Mrs. Jackson heard about Mary Butler's goings on with Mr. Jorden. How she heard I'm sure I can't tell, but it seems to be all over town. I haven't mentioned it to more than two or three, and I guess we saw about as much of it as anyone."

Mrs. Harden was right there, at least. "Why, don't you know, ma, I told you long ago that John heard it talked about at the hotel, and that Adeline was taking tea at Mrs. Smith's, weeks ago, and they knew all about it. Mrs. Utley and Mrs. Folger were there. It was the night after you had company, in March, I guess it was. . . ."

"As I was saying, Mrs. Jackson of course would not countenance such behaviour; so she bore it as long as she could--though she didn't treat Mary Butler half so well as she used to. I always did wonder what she found in her to like, and at last this very afternoon she out with it."

"Why, ma--there, now I know!" Miss Harriet's face brightened as if she had found the solution of some great enigma. Sir Isaac himself could not have seemed more delighted when that apple acted as a key to nature's mystery--the philosopher of still more ancient times did not cry "Eureka" in more joyous tones.

"What d'ye know, Harriet?—-just wait a minute, though, till I get through my story. Mrs. Jackson told her every word, and Mary Butler cried like everything. According to all accounts" (i. e. Jane's and Hannah's), "they had an awful time. Jane was in the sitting-room taking care of little Archie, and they were in the parlour. She did not hear all they said, for they talked quite low part of the time; but Mrs. Jackson asked Mary Butler how she could have the face to pretend being ignorant of these stories--and told her she had 'encouraged Mr. Jorden's attentions'--these were the very words. Mary Butler cried like a baby, Jane says, and to cap the whole, Mr. Jorden walked right in in the middle of it. (Don't you think it was strange he should go to Mrs. Jackson's without ringing? Jane says he often does; I suppose he must be quite intimate there.)"

"What did he say?"

"Why Jane didn't hear the rest. The sitting-room door fell to, and she didn't dare to open it, though she wanted to dreadfully. I'd like to know how it all ended. Jane thinks she heard Mrs. Jackson tell her not to enter her doors again;" (oh, Jane, what a fabrication!) "and I shouldn't wonder if she did--such impudence!" And Mrs. Harden fell back in her rocking-chair, quite overcome with the excitement of the narrative--but started up again as Harriet slowly and solemnly said,--

" Well, I can tell you more about that business."

Mrs. Harden's emotions were of a mingled nature. Curiosity to hear the rest--vexation that she was not the sole possessor of this important piece of intelligence.

"I always told you," added Miss Harriet, "that we should hear more from that quarter. I knew Mary Butler was an artful creature as ever lived! I was coming by Mrs. Jackson's on my way home from Adeline's, and just as I got by the parlour window, I happened to look up. There was Mrs. Jackson standing by the piano (the shades were both drawn up), and Mr. Jorden was on the other side turning over a music-book. Mr. Jorden was pale as death--(a slight embroidery, Miss Harriet)--and Mrs. Jackson seemed to be very angry about something. At that very minute I heard the front door open--and out came Mary Butler. Her eyes were red as that curtain, and she pulled down her veil just as soon as she saw me. I don't wonder at it, Mr. Jorden's being angry--to think she should dare to dream of his marrying her."

Miss Harriet was quite indignant. Had she not a right to be? Mr. Jorden had never paid her the least attention--in fact, she was beginning to wonder if any one ever would, with seriousness. Miss Harriet was verging towards--but we forget--a lady's age is a subject not to be treated of with impunity. Mrs. Harden went into the kitchen under pretence of seeing when tea would be ready, but in reality to tell Hannah the confirmation of Jane's wondrous tale; and her daughter slipped on her bonnet again, and wrapping her mother's blanket shawl about her, "ran over" to Adeline's a minute, to enjoy her surprise at what she had to tell. That industrious young lady was making over her stone-coloured merino dress, preparatory to a visit in the country; (remember, dear reader, Rivertown was almost a city, and numbered some five thousand inhabitants); but she paused in her avocation, and was quite as much overcome as Harriet had expected her to be--so much so, that the dress was put by for the night; and the moment Harriet had fairly got round the corner on her way home, Miss Adeline donned hood and cloak, and set out for Mrs. Smith's to enlighten her upon the terrible denouement at Mrs. Jackson's. Mrs. Smith was the gossip, par excellence, of Rivertown, and the reader may naturally conclude, that before bed-time half the inhabitants of the place knew all about the "strange thing that happened at Mrs. Jackson's that afternoon." Mrs. Smith's were not the only hood and over-shoes that were put in requisition that memorable evening, and all agreed Mary Butler was served right for flirting with Mr. Jorden.

Sketch the First. Neighbours. Chapter III

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