It's time for another excerpt from the original Gossips of Rivertown. In this chapter, Mrs. Townsend, the wife of the minister at the Congregational Church, pays a call on Mrs. Smith for a charitable purpose and is forced to listen to some very uncharitable remarks about the recently widowed Mrs. Jackson. This chapter is so delicious that we'll publish it in its entirety: the first part today; the second part tomorrow.
Mrs. Smith was a member of the Congregational church, which numbered but a few. The Episcopalians were the aristocrats of the town, at least, they were so called by all the rest, though the Presbyterians had the finest church, and the highest steeple; and the organ in the Lutheran church was far the best. The Congregationalists, therefore, came some way behind, and numbered but three wealthy men in their society; though Elder Whiting was a man of great influence, and Deacon Morrison would have been if he could. However, Mr. Townsend found his time and patience fully taxed to keep his congregation in order, small as it was; and his wife did much to assist him by her gentle and popular manners, and great tact—that woman's talent.
It was in the afternoon after Mrs. Harden's quilting, Miss Martin had commenced an engagement of three days at Mrs. Smith's, and the two ladies were deep in the mysteries of "ripping and turning." Suddenly a knock at the front door startled them, and Mrs. Smith hurried into an adjoining room to give a few preliminary instructions to the girl, who was going through the hall.
"If it's Miss Barnard," said Mrs. Smith, "show her into the parlour and roll up the curtains; tell her I 'll be in in a second. However, it may be only Mrs. Morrison, and she may come right into the sitting-room—I won't change my cap for her. Oh! and Susan, if it's old Mrs. Shoefelt, just tell her I've run out, and you don't know when I'll be in. I did run out of the sitting-room," said the conscientious lady, as she applied her ear to the key-hole.
Now, it so chanced, that the visitor was neither of the above mentioned ladies, and Susan was at a loss how to dispose of her; but not noticing the girl's hesitation, and seeing the sitting-room door ajar, Mrs. Townsend solved the difficulty by walking directly in, as she heard Mrs. Smith was at home.
Miss Martin rose, in a flutter of consequence, to see her. "Mrs. Smith would be in in half a minute;—would Mrs. Townsend be so good as to excuse the looks of the room. Dressmakers made so many 'chips'; but it was 'clean dirt,' after all.
Mrs. Townsend smiled very kindly, and replied—"We all know what dressmaking is," and then hoped that she had not interrupted them as Mrs. Smith entered the room.
That lady was all smiles and cordiality. Again and again her visitor was urged to stay to tea, at least to take off her bonnet and sit an hour or two; but, after repeated refusals, the conversation took another turn.
"I suppose you're out making calls, then?" said Miss Martin, affably. Miss Martin was also one of Mr. Townsend's charge, and consequently took the visit partly to herself.
"Yes," was the reply, "I have just come from Mrs. Jackson's."
"Now, do tell me," said Mrs. Smith, "what's your opinion about that match? Do you think they'll be married before the year's up?"
"May I ask what match? I confess to a lamentable ignorance of the news of the day."
"Why Mrs. Jackson and her husband's brother, of course," replied Mrs. Smith. "I suppose you know they are engaged?"
"Mrs. Jackson!" said her visitor, with a start of unfeigned astonishment. "Did I understand you, Mrs. Smith?"
"Why where do you live, not to hear the news? I thought every one knew how devoted he had been to her, from the day she was a widow. He's been up three times from New York, and every time he comes they ride out together, and are gone all the forenoon."
"Besides, she's leaving off her mourning," added Miss Martin. "I saw her in the street last week without her veil, and she had on a mouseline-de-laine dress with white stripes in it. As to that, however, she might just as well not have worn any veil at all, for she never has it over her face. If people put on mourning, I don't like to see it done half-way. Good deep crape and bombazine, say I, if any one's going in black for a near friend, not to say husband."
"Yes," said Mrs. Smith, "I remember that I wore a double crape veil till the very Sunday before I was married to Mr. Smith. I really felt sorry to take off black at all, it was so becoming. Everybody told me I never looked so well in the world."
Mrs. Townsend could scarcely repress a smile at this remarkably naive confession, but said, quite earnestly—"I see nothing particular in Mr. Edward Jackson's attentions; I am sure I should expect the same kindness from my husband's brother, were I similarly situated. She has no other person to consult in her business."
"Well, there it is again. It was such a queer move for her to go on with that factory. In the first place, it's all covetousness on her part; she wants to be a rich young widow, I suppose. Though, as for being young, she never will see thirty again to my knowledge. Then the men all admire her 'spirit' so much, and she knew it beforehand. It serves to make her talked about." Mrs. Smith delivered these opinions oracularly, and Miss Martin joined in with—
"I should a thought Mrs. Jorden might have afforded to have stayed the winter with her sister, at least. Flying here, and flying off again before ever any of us had a chance to see her; but it's all of a piece with the whole family—they're just as selfish, and just as close as they can be. If it wasn't for Jane, Mrs. Jackson's girl, we never should know what was going on."
"By the by, Jane says," continued Mrs. Smith, "that Mr. Edward Jackson always kisses her when he comes and goes, and that her little boy already calls him ' pa.' Of course, it's nothing to me; but I do like to see people behave themselves, and they might have waited till Mr. Jackson's grave-stone was up, to say the least."
Mrs. Townsend was truly shocked at the coarseness of the last remark; but she had waited for a pause in the conversation to suggest an explanation of Marian's absence.
"Mrs. Jackson was speaking of her sister's health this afternoon. She is very much alarmed about her. Of course, you know how delicate she has been this winter, and that her physician said he could not answer for the consequences if she stayed north."
"You don't say!" ejaculated Miss Martin; "why I always thought she looked well enough. Wouldn't it be queer if Henry Jorden should be left a widower? I wonder who he'd marry!"
"I don't suppose he has thought so far as that," replied Mrs. Townsend, smiliug, despite the seriousness of the subject, at the last characteristic remark. "But, as regards Mrs. Jorden, it was only by absolute necessity that she was prevailed to leave her sister this winter. I fear Mrs. Jackson will be, and has been, very lonely."
"La! I don't see why. There's Jane, one of the best girls in the kitchen I ever saw—she lived with me awhile—and Mrs. Miller's very neighbourly. Besides, she doesn't shut herself up, by any means, not she; for young Dr. Wheelock has been there often, and lawyer McCloud, and she goes out to tea every now and then. She was at Miss Barnard's last week, quite as if nothing had happened, and sung and played, too, though she don't keep her own piano shut, as to that."
"Just so, Mrs. Smith," said Miss Martin. "I was saying to Mrs. Folger the other night—last night it was, at Mrs. Hardcn's—Mrs. Folger, says I, when people forget their husbands so soon, (and the best of husbands as he was,) begin to take off black when they haven't worn the stiffness out of the crape, and can sing songs just as if they didn't mind being widows a bit, I haven't got much pity for them, that's all."
"I never shall forget," pursued Mrs. Smith, "how cool she was the day of the funeral. I don't believe she shed a tear. I'm sure, the day my first husband was buried, it was just as much as they could do to get me into the carriage. Ma said she never saw anybody go on as I did. But I had reason to feel bad. A kinder man never brought bread into the house than Mr. Jenkins. He was such a provider. Wasn't it strange, Miss Martin, that he didn't leave a hundred dollars after all was paid off? We all thought the executors must have cheated me. I never will forgive Dr. Trueman as long as I live—never. Though I'm not a bit spiteful, naturally, and I wouldn't lift my hand against him. I ain't one of them kind."
Sketch the Fourth. Mrs. Harden's Quilting. Chapter II