Sunday, July 31, 2011

Spring in Rivertown

When Gossips published the previous excerpt from the original Gossips of Rivertown, it was identified as the "penultimate episode," but it's hard to bid farewell to the 1850 novel from which Gossips took its title, so I've decided to publish the final chapter in two parts. As a consequence, THIS is the penultimate excerpt from the original Gossips

Once more, and for the last time, we chronicle a spring in Rivertown.

If you had not felt the balmy south wind, or looked up at the deep, deep blue sky, you could have told from the appearance of nearly every household that it was near the first of May. Among other uncomfortable fashions the Rivertonians had introduced from New York, that of a general moving on one day in the year, was widely patronized. Many seemed to have what the French call un grand talent for migration, and one lady was so noted for this, that her friends were accustomed to ask, where she was living now, whenever they spoke of visiting her; as we say of some young ladies not remarkable for constancy—"who are they engaged to at present!"

All who remained stationary, celebrated the commencement of May by a grand house-cleaning festival—the ladies looking like so many laundresses, the gentlemen being martyr-like in their endurance of an evil they could not avert, and the whole house remaining no unapt representation of "chaos," for the time being. Mrs. Harden was the chief priestess of the celebration of these household mysteries. She always commenced "cleaning," at least a week before any one else, and prided herself on paint that was as free from soil as her own good name; brasses that dazzled the eye with their brilliancy; and white-washing as "smooth and even" as if it had been done by a professor of the art.

So May had come, and Mrs. Harden was in her element. The morning set apart for the above-mentioned process of white-washing had arrived. Harriet, who hated anything like work, took an early departure, intending to make the tour of the shops, call at the dress-maker's, and finish the day sociably with her friend Mrs. Smith.

Mrs. Harden's face brightened, as she watched the steaming of the lime-kettle before her. The parlour furniture was all carefully covered with quilts and counterpanes, and herself equally disguised in a faded calico loose-dress, (the uniform on such occasions,) her night-cap pressed into service, and tied closely by an equally faded ribbon; her dress sleeves were tucked up to the elbows, and about an hour after her daughter's departure, with a brush tempered by clean hot water, she was ready to commence. Other people might trust their parlour ceilings to a woman—she, Mrs. Harden, never would; she was not going to have the paper ruined, and the colour taken out of the paint with splashes! So, mounted upon the kitchen ironing-table, the first long dash was made, the operator dexterously closing both eyes, to avoid falling drops, and "ducking" her head for the same purpose.

Alas, that a scene of such calm and quiet domestic happiness should be rudely disturbed! There was a violent "slamming" of the front door, a hurried rush through the hall, and Harriet appeared before her mother in such a picture of angry despair, that Mrs. Harden, for once, lost presence of mind and dropped the handle of the brush into the lime-kettle, as she threw up both hands in astonishment.

"My goodness! child, what is the matter?"—and Mrs. Harden "abandoned her position" with a jump that made the whole room shake.

"I wish I was dead—I wish I never had seen—I wish you wouldn't stare at me so, ma!"

"Do you know what you 're talking about, Harriet! What has happened?"

"Adeline Mitchell—Mrs. Smith—Adeline's going to be married!" gasped the young lady, showing evident hysterical symptoms, such as flinging her arms about wildly, and panting, as her eyes rolled with a ghastly expression.

"Well, I am beat—oh, mercy! there goes your best bonnet right into the white-wash!"

"I don't care—I don't care," murmured the sufferer. "Let me alone—I don't care if I never wear it again—I'll never go out of the house"

"Don't act like an extravagant fool," was the maternal response. Mrs. Harden could not appreciate her daughter's present abandonment. To be sure, it was enough to provoke a saint, to have Adeline Mitchell married first. Two years younger at the least calculation—not a bit genteel!

"Who is it to?" she continued. "Some greenhorn or other, I'll be bound."

But the inquiry produced a fresh convulsion, and some time elapsed before Mrs. Harden gathered that—could she believe her senses?—that Adeline Mitchell would actually become Mrs. Gould!

Sketch the Sixth, and Last. Retaliation. Chapter IV. Part 1

1 comment:

  1. David Voorhees submitted this comment:

    There is good evidence that the custom of May 1 as Moving Day was introduced into the Hudson Valley by the Dutch in the seventeenth century. The last day of April was in Holland and other Dutch-speaking areas of Europe traditionally the date for the expiration of leases, and in Amsterdam and elsewhere May 1 became the day for moving, or "Verhuijsdag." References to Moving Day in America are found in the eighteenth-century records of both New York City and Albany, showing that it was a well-established custom by then. Just another indication of how the Dutch settlement of New York continued to shape the region for centuries thereafter.