Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Orphan Asylum Fair

Today, we continue the account, from the original Gossips of Rivertownof the preparations for the fair in aid of the Hudson Orphan Asylum. I have to confess that I do not know what building was the setting for the fair. City Hall, which we know as the Hudson Opera House, was not built until 1855, so the building referred to has to be its predecessor. I'd like to think that the Rivertown Hotel mentioned in this chapter, with its "large dining-parlours," was the General Worth Hotel.         

Preparations progressed rapidly. The excitement was really wonderful. There had been fairs before, frequently; Presbyterian fairs—Baptist—Episcopalian; but none in which all could meet on harmonious grounds—and the display was expected to be particularly brilliant.

The last meeting, or sewing circle, had been held. If the ground had not been already occupied by one whose descriptions are Hogarthian in their graphic humour, we should be tempted to trace them through to their completion. But the "malice and uncharitableness" of sewing societies in general, have been placed before you by the inimitable author of the Bedott papers, and our feebler descriptions would fall far short of those she has so clearly painted.

The fair—they do not call them "bazars" as yet, in Rivertown—was to be held in the large hall, which served variously for "twenty-five-cent concerts"—(those with an entrance fee of fifty were more genteel, and invariably held in the large dining-parlours of the Rivertown House)—temperance lectures, and exhibitions of giants or dwarfs, as the case might be.

This building had once been the county jail, but afterwards had been modernized by some speculators, and the front being covered with cement in imitation of marble, it was thenceforth known as the "City Hall"—an ambitious title that provoked more than one allusion to "whited sepulchres."

In the upper room of this edifice, our committee were now assembled. It was in the morning of the day they had announced the festival to open, but it was an "undress rehearsal;" and matters looked dismal enough. The bare white-washed walls seemed ashamed of their very blankness, and impatient to be decorated by the evergreen wreaths and branches, in process of preparation by a band of younger ladies. Here, Adeline Mitchell presided, and thitherward were directed many withering and contemptuous glances from Miss Harriet Harden, who seemed more bitter than usual toward her ci-devant friend. Perhaps it was that she now considered herself quite above such an acquaintance, having succeeded, to all appearance, in getting up an astonishing intimacy with Miss Seymour, who called her "you dear creature," in the hearing of them all, numberless times. The Smith faction declared it was just a way Miss Seymour had of getting things out of people, and Harriet Harden would find, they guessed, that both she and Mrs. McCloud would alter, after all this fuss was over. But it remained yet to be proved, and meantime Harriet Harden was extremely confidential with her new friends, never seeming to mind that they managed to make her do thrice as much as any of them.

"Just run over and get some tacks from Mr. Williams, there's a dear soul," said Mrs. McCloud, who, with her hair in curl papers, seemed the presiding genius of the hour. "Tell him they're for us, and he won't charge you anything. Oh, and stop into Rosine's and mention that she needn't put quite so many eggs into the ice-cream; I shall want two or three dozen, I find, to finish icing that cake. Mrs. Morrison promised to lend me her cake-basket, and astral lamp—you won't mind fetching them just from there, will you? Oh, and Miss Harden, do stop at our house, and tell Susan that I shan't be home to dinner!"

So her "obedient servant" departed on errands which, under any other circumstances, she would not have stooped to perform; and returned weary and breathless to hear, "I shall depend on you to count all the spoons as they come in, and to furnish lamps for the supper table; where shall you go to borrow them?" Mrs. McCloud's friendship, like that of other ladies we have met, required the return of constant and wearisome service. She was one of those people who are Napoleons in a small way, and like all power or none. Here, for instance, although there was no nominal president of the committee, she invariably acted as such, and when requesting the other ladies to do anything, always said—"Just do this for me, won't you?" as if she was responsible to a fearful extent, and all assistance was regarded in the light of a personal favour.

The others smiled at so plain a demonstration of her well-known disposition, and came good-naturedly to the conclusion, "To even let her hold the reins, while they showed her the way to go;" a species of management long ago recommended by advice and example with regard to the masculine portion of the community.

As usual, disputes had arisen with regard to the various stands or stalls. All wanted, in the first place, to be at the "fancy table"—pronounced by general consent the best situation in the room—and no person was found willing to undertake the books, or the kitchen department. Here Mrs. Jackson's tact was admirably displayed. She pointed out to the malcontents that the ice-cream was sure to be patronized most by the gentlemen; that, though one couldn't sell much at the book-table, the confinement was less than that of either of the others, and there was more time for a grand promenade. But the crowning stroke of her policy was whispering to a pretty school-girl, that gentlemen (whatever they might say) always looked for a wife who understood housekeeping; and to the astonishment of all, she shortly after professed herself perfectly ready to undertake the depository of towels and tin-ware, and was noticed for her particular zeal and success in vending those uninteresting commodities.

Miss Barnard and Mrs. Jorden had succeeded in arranging a picturesque tent with the assistance of a variety of "firemen's banners," which were the pride and boast of as many companies. These banners were frequently in demand for the decoration of ball-rooms, etc.

This tent was to serve as the post-office—and at the head of this department Mrs. Jorden had been unanimously appointed. Miss Brown, a young lady who pleaded guilty to the authorship of various poetical effusions, contributed to one of the Philadelphia Saturday papers, was her assistant. Miss Brown's assumed signature was "Rosalie de Nugent," and she blushed very deeply when addressed as Rosalie, by the young law-students who were in the secret, and said "Oh, don't!" in the prettiest expostulating tone imaginable.

"When do you think your picture will appear in the magazines?" whispered one of these gentlemen as he sorted the various mysterious-looking missives, that had been contributed by impromptu Lady Montagues, and modern Sevignes.

"Mine? oh, Mr. Van Allen! how could you dream of such a thing?"

"Why not, Rosalie? I'm sure you've been writing these two years. Does not Mr. always call you 'our graceful and accomplished correspondent,' and did not 'Hector' ask the colour of your eyes some time ago? I've noticed that last is an infallible sign that the editor intends asking an authoress to sit for her picture. Why shouldn't yours appear as well as Mrs. Ellet's and Mrs. Osgood's, and all the rest of you literary ladies?"

The last pleasing association of her name with actual writers, was quite too much for good-natured little Miss Brown. She returned an inexpressibly grateful look, and was observed to commence practising her autograph at once. She resolved that it should not be the ungraceful scrawl she had seen appended to more than one published portrait.

Order at length began to spring from the chaos of house and storekeeping furniture, that had been steadily accumulating since morning. The rough pine tables were covered with snowy damask, and their contents arranged with neatness and taste. Even the aforementioned kitchen-table had become absolutely ornamental by a picturesque arrangement of bright tin-ware, and the addition of some few lighter articles to its legitimate store. Mrs. McCloud called upon the rest to admire the general effect, as if she was the main-spring and immediate cause of all they saw, while the young ladies, wearied and pale from incessant and unusual occupation, were almost too tired to be pleased with anything, and wondered how they should ever accomplish a becoming toilette, and return by seven o'clock.

One after another departed for an hour of rest and refreshment, and the hall was left to the care of the door-keeper, until the illumination of the lamps so liberally distributed, should disturb the twilight shadows.

Sketch the Sixth, and Last. Retaliation. Chapter II.

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