Friday, April 30, 2010

A Perfect Day in Rivertown

Here's the episode of The Gossips of Rivertown we've been working up to. It takes place, appropriately, on the last of April. In it, the much slandered Mary Butler triumphs, and the gossips of Rivertown get their comeuppance.

Scarcely three weeks from Mrs. Harden's friendly call upon Mrs. Jorden, and her subsequent unceremonious departure, there was an unusual bustle throughout all Rivertown. It was a bright spring day, the last of April, and from the majestic river that swept proudly past, to the cloudless sky o'erhead, all was tranquil, undisturbed loveliness. The distant mountains seemed to have assumed their most delicate tint of azure, the neighbouring foliage its freshest green, birds sang, and crocuses lifted their hardy blossoms from the sheltering leaves. Every one pronounced it "a perfect day."

Harriet Harden sat by an open window, altering the arrangement of some bows upon a new straw bonnet, which had come home the night before. She too rejoiced in the loveliness of the day, for she thought if it continued so mild, she might venture to exhibit it that very afternoon. The "face flowers" had been pinned in for the tenth time at least, and as she paused before the little mirror to observe the increased effect, the door was hurriedly thrown open, and Mrs. Smith, quite out of breath, appeared.

"Put on your bonnet this minute," was her first salutation, without stopping to see that such a command was quite uncalled for, "and come with me up to the church. There's going to be a wedding there this morning."

"For goodness sake, who is it?"

"Nobody knows--it's the queerest thing in the world. It seems Adeline was going by, about a quarter of an hour ago, and seeing the door opened, she looked in. There was nobody there but Benton, the sexton, and she asked him how it happened? He looked vexed enough, for a minute or two, and then said there was to be a wedding there at nine o'clock; but he couldn't tell who was going to be married. Add tried to get it out of him, but the old fellow kept his secret. It's ten minutes of nine now, so hurry. Where's your mother?"

Not far off, as you might suppose; so both mother and daughter sallied forth on the instant, and strange to say, they met more people on the way than had ever been known to collect for anything short of a Fourth of July fire company procession. Others than Adeline Mitchell must have seen the church-door ajar.

Our readers need not suppose, from the application of the definite article, that this was the only church in Rivertown. There were the Presbyterian, the Dutch-Reformed, the Baptist, Methodist, and Universalist--meeting houses they were called--and the Roman Catholics held monthly services in the old masonic lodge. But the building, towards which so many were hastening, was owned by the Episcopalians, and so known only as the church, par excellence, though its baptismal name was Trinity.

Up the high steps of this neat and most comfortable edifice many a group was passing, by the time the Hardens came in sight, mostly composed of ladies and school-girls, who had diverged from their proper path to the "Female Seminary," attracted by the rumour of a wedding near at hand. The square old-fashioned pews filled first--from them you could see and not be seen--but many a face looked out from the central aisles as the bridal party passed up its length. There had been a few moments of anxious suspense; but soon Mrs. Jorden, her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Jackson, Mrs. Miller, Miss Barnard, and several familiar faces, were successively recognized.

But who was the bride? Nobody could see her face, for she kept her veil down until she reached the chancel. A moment's reverent pause, during which Adeline Mitchell took the opportunity to whisper that Mr. Jorden was standing next the bride--"how odd;" and Harriet motioned back for her to keep still, or else that it wasn't him, she couldn't tell which.

Then came the address to the congregation, the solemn charge to those about to take these most fearful vows upon themselves.

"Now we shall know," whispered Mrs. Smith to Harriet; but, unfortunately, that very whisper prevented her hearing the names of the parties. Again, a manly voice followed the guidance of their pastor.

Harriet could have screamed with impatience, for a little girl in the next pew tripped over the stool on which she was mounted, and came down with a crash, just as the names were pronounced. But at that moment a gentle, but untrembling voice, said--"I, Mary, take thee, Carroll, to be my wedded husband."

Harriet heard not another word; it was Mary Butler's voice; Mr. Jorden's brother was the bridegroom! All was reeling about her. The party at the altar, the eager spectators, the solid pillars of the church themselves, seemed dancing before her. When she recovered from her swoon-like astonishment, the benediction had been pronounced, and the bride, never so beautiful as now, turned from the chancel.

There were smiles and congratulations among the happy party; Mrs. Butler looking younger by ten years, Mrs. Harry Jorden casting triumphant, and almost withering glances towards the party she had just discovered in Mr. Mitchell's pew. Then they passed slowly down the aisle, so near, that Mary's bridal veil almost touched Harriet's face, and as the young husband turned to rearrange it, she started to see how nearly he resembled his brother. The same eyes, the same smile; but for a slight difference in height, they might have been mistaken for each other.

"I cannot believe my own eyes," said Mrs. Harden, as the group stood on the church steps and watched the carriage drive away.

"Nor I," echoed Mrs. Smith.

"How did she ever manage to keep it so still?" continued the elder lady. "I don't see."

"Nor I," said Mrs. Smith, again.

"He was adopted by his uncle, Carroll Livingston, when he was a perfect child."

"Then they went to Europe, you know."

"Yes; and he got back just in time for Henry's wedding, Mrs. Harden."

"Mary Butler was first bridesmaid, and that 'a how it all happened. Don't you remember Mrs. Jackson told us he had to go right on to Baltimore, and couldn't come up to her party?"

"So she did; but they were together two weeks in New York, and she was there so long last fall, you know, where their business was being settled. They say all his letters came directed to his brother."

"That's so we shouldn't find it out, I'll warrant."

"He's immensely rich, Mrs. Harden; his uncle is an old bachelor, you know. I've heard they live in splendid style."

"That old gentleman with Mrs. Butler must have been his uncle, then; and they must be the passengers John saw come off the day-boat yesterday."

"The luck of some people!"

"Yes," and Mrs. Harden sighed deeply, as she thought Harriet was not included in that fortunate class.

That amiable, and now thoroughly mortified young lady, had walked off in a confidential chat with Adeline; after having ascertained from a mutual acquaintance that the bridal party were all going off in the day-boat, and that Mrs. Butler was going to live with Mary in Baltimore. No telegraphic dispatch of the "latest advices per steamer," ever sped with more rapidity than every conceivable rumour, with regard to the morning's surprise, was published.

"That must have been his brother's miniature, after all, Adeline," said Harriet, trying to look unconcerned.

"I always knew you ran before you were sent. You've got me into a pretty fuss."

"How could I help it? how did I know to the contrary? and you said quite as much about it as I did."

"I didn't say half as much. Moreover, I don't read other people's letters."

Miss Harden did not venture to speak, but she gave a look of indignation and contempt that might have withered anyone, had it been deserved. Miss Mitchell vouchsafed no word in reply, but coolly walked down the next street, without so much as bowing.

From that day there was enmity between the houses of Harden and Mitchell; and from that day Mary Butler was envied by the "gossips of Rivertown."

Mrs. Henry Jorden never passed Mrs. Harden and Mrs. Smith without a peculiar smile; and Mrs. Margaret Martin fitted no more dresses in her house thenceforth.

Sketch the Second. More of Mary Butler. Chapter V.

NOTE: The photograph of the church that accompanies this excerpt shows the original Christ Church Episcopal, located at Second and State streets. Alice B. Neal calls the church "Trinity," but Christ Church--so far as I know--was the only Episcopal church that ever existed in "Rivertown." The picture may show the building shortly before it was demolished; its front steps have been removed, and the main door boarded up. The site of this church is now occupied by the cinder block building that is AME Zion Church.

It's fun to imagine that "the school-girls, who had diverged from their proper path to the 'Female Seminary,'" were heading for Reverend Hague's Female Academy, which was located at 400 State Street--the building that is now the library--but, alas, that doesn't seem possible.
The Gossips of Rivertown was published in 1850; the Reverend Hague's seminary opened in 1851. Still there's always the chance that, since Alice Neal undoubtedly knew everything that was going on in Hudson, her mention of the "Female Seminary" in her book anticipated its actual opening the following year. After all, the building did undergo significant change to make it "perfectly adapted" to its new use after twenty years of being a lunatic asylum.

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