On this first day of normal business in the new year, Gossips offers another excerpt from the original Gossips of Rivertown. Readers may recall that the current victim of the original gossips is the young widow Mrs. Jackson and the project that's engaging the attention of the ladies of Rivertown is establishing an orphanage. An orphan asylum actually was established in Hudson in 1845, and the woman who led the effort to found the asylum was none other than Mrs. Elihu Gifford, wife of the owner of the Gifford Foundry, located at the corner of Columbia and Green streets, and the mother of Hudson River School painter Sanford Gifford. (That's Mrs. Gifford's house I used to illustrate this excerpt.)
She rose the ensuing morning with a dull headache, the effect of the indulgence of her grief the previous evening, and had the meeting been for any other purpose, she would have declined attendance. But the thought of her own fair child, who might one day be orphaned, quickened her sympathy, and she resolved to do all in her power to aid in securing a comfortable home for the little unfortunates, who had none to care for them.
The ladies met at Mrs. Miller's, and had nearly all arrived when she entered the room. She fancied that they bowed coldly, and it was true that none of them offered to make room for her, although almost every seat was occupied, until Mrs. Townsend chanced to notice her momentary hesitation, and drew an ottoman from an adjoining recess. Miss Seymour pertly inquired when Mr. Edward Jackson would be up again. Mrs. McCloud, on the other side, asked when she had seen Dr. Wheelock last, and though Mrs. Jackson replied courteously, she could not comprehend the reason why both ladies emphasized their questions, and smiled superciliously at her quiet replies.
The business of the meeting commenced, only once did Mrs. Jackson make a suggestion, for despite her resolutions to the contrary, this discourtesy had shaded her spirits. Her remark on the disposition of the funds already collected, was perhaps the most sensible arrangement offered; but before Mrs. Townsend could speak in its support, Miss Seymour had proposed a contrary plan, which Mrs. Miller instantly adopted.
"Surely," thought Mrs. Jackson, as she walked home alone, "I cannot have done any thing to offend all these people. It must be a sickly fancy"; and she smiled at what she termed her foolish sensitiveness.
But day after day this neglect became more marked. Many who had before sought her society passed her with a cold bow in the street. Her visitors became more rare, and gradually a terrible depression stole over her. She tried in vain to solve the secret of this change. She could not tax herself with any fault, and after a month in which she had constantly been wounded, she resolved to overcome her reserve and question Mrs. Miller, the next time they should meet. It so chanced that in the afternoon she was detained at Dr. Van Blake's, the dentist of Rivertown, and, while waiting, could not avoid hearing the conversation of two ladies seated in the adjoining parlour, the door being partially open. Her own name at first attracted her attention, and she recognised the voice of Mrs. Miller, as she said,
"Why, Mrs. Jackson, to be sure."
"Indeed, I thought she was a particular friend of yours," was the rejoinder.
"So she was, as long as she conducted herself properly; but when a woman is so imprudent as to have the whole town talking about her, of course I cannot countenance such conduct."
Mrs. Jackson heard no more; the words rang in upon her brain with a leaden sense of suffering such as she had felt the first morning on which she awoke to the loneliness of widowhood. She gasped for breath as she rose up mechanically and went out into the street. She saw no one as she hurried to her home,—she gathered her veil tightly over her face and started at every footstep near her. A whirl of contending thoughts was in her mind, and for the moment she almost forgot that she was innocent and saw already the finger of scorn pointed at her approach. Her eyes fell upon the portrait of her husband as she entered the house. Then came a revulsion of pride. "That they should dare to speak so of his wife!" she said gaspingly, as she clenched her hands until the blood seemed oozing through the slender fingers. What could have been her fault? How had she brought detraction to increase her sorrow? In vain she reviewed each act of the past few months, her struggles with loneliness and despondency, her exertions for the good of others, her close application to business, and her busy schemes for its success. What of all this could have been misinterpreted? Conscience did not reproach her, yet even as she struggled against the feeling, it was as if she clasped a poisoned arrow to her heart when she slept that night, her pillow wet with agonizing tears.
Sketch the Fourth. Mrs. Harden's Quilting. Chapter III