It's time for another excerpt from the original Gossips of Rivertown. It will be recalled that, in the last episode, Rivertown was humming with preparation for the Orphan Fair, to raise desperately needed funds for the Hudson Orphan Asylum. Now all is in readiness. It is opening night for the fair.
"Well, here we are again!" was Mrs. McCloud's salutation to Miss Seymour, as she took off her hood, and arranged the prettiest little cap imaginable. "Have they all got here?" and she turned from the small mirror to cast a furtive glance into the next room, through the half-opened door.
"Here's Mrs. Miller's shawl, and Mrs. Jorden's hood," was the reply—"I'll contrive to get the pattern of that, somehow, this evening; she brought it home from Washington. Yes, and Miss Brown's muff is over there, and Miss Barnard must have come with the Jacksons, for that's her old cloak, right by it."
"I suppose we 're late, then, but Harriet Harden promised to be here before the lamps were lighted and see to everything on our table. What should we have done if we hadn't have managed to get so much out of that girl? she'd do anything to get into our set."
"I believe you. Come, are you ready?" and the two ladies sallied out of the little dressing-room, giving a last glance at the ten inch mirror as they did so.
What was their astonishment, and Mrs. McCloud's indignation, to find no Miss Harden at the deserted post. Only two half-grown girls to support the entire dignity of the cake table! Mrs. McCloud looked around the room; the delinquent was not among the really brilliant assembly; no one had seen her, and in fact, she was the last of all the amateur shop-keepers to enter the room. When she did, all eyes were turned upon her, for she was leaning on the arm of a tall, gentlemanly-looking man, apparently some thirty-five years of age, and an entire stranger.
The buzz of inquiry commenced directly. Mrs. McCloud forgot the reprimand she had duly prepared, (though she afterwards took care to administer it sharply,) to ask who "her distinguished-looking" friend was. Miss Harden looked more triumphant than ever, when she whispered it was a gentleman they had met the summer before in Berkshire county. "Immensely rich, and a widower," she added, with affected consciousness.
"You don't say? What's he here for?"
"That's best known to himself; he arrived this afternoon, and stops at the Rivertown House." Miss Harden's lips said this; her manner hinted that it was very plain! Of course he had come to renew his acquaintance with her.
Mr. Gould was introduced to Mrs. McCloud, who received him very graciously, and made him known to Miss Seymour. But as he shortly after proposed a tour of the room, Miss Harden again took his arm, and sailed away gloriously.
Of course they stopped at the fancy table, and were charmed with the dolls and the pin-cushions; Miss Harriet was agonized lest he should discover the pretty night-caps, and chance to admire them also. Here several purchases were made by Mr. Gould, who seemed very liberal, and they were quite loaded with small parcels, when they moved on. Harriet was made to accept a toilette cushion she had manufactured herself, and a similar gift was held in store for her mother.
Mrs. Harden, by the way, was in ecstasies at her fair daughter's triumph. That Mr. Gould came to Rivertown at all was unexpected good fortune, but that he should arrive in the very "nick of time," as she eloquently expressed it, was too much for her parental sympathy and pride. Known only to their family, he was bound to them in a measure, whatever acquaintances he might afterwards make, and she was delighted to see the impression his widowerhood and reputed wealth made at once on the ladies of Rivertown, for by this time the story was whispered throughout the hall, with additions and alterations. Some declared Mr. Gould was positively a millionaire, and had come to offer his fortune and himself for Miss Harden's acceptance. Others said he had proposed the very moment of his arrival, while this was disputed by a third party who knew, from the best authority, that he had not yet committed himself, but intended to do so on the way home, or, at latest, the next morning before breakfast. Mrs. Folger hinted that they might have been engaged ever since the last summer, and he had come on now to be married. Mrs. Smith scorned such a probability—"How is it possible," said she, "that she could have kept it from ME all this time!" How, indeed!
The walk of Mr. Gould and his fair companion of course ended at the ice-cream table. All promenaders make a halt at that interesting stand. There is such a nice opportunity for a little flirtation as you lean against the pillars and trifle with your spoon. It is a post of observation, likewise, and if you have an escort you are anxious should be noticed in attendance upon you, this is the place, of all others, to be patronized. Harriet pecked at the "vanilla," and looked up at her companion with a sweet timidity that would have become one of the Seminary young ladies. A full attendance of those interesting misses was to be noticed, by the way, who talked and giggled, flirted and roir with the clerks of the various dry-goods stores, and the young law-students before mentioned.
So here stood our heroine, as long as a very small saucer of ice-cream, furnished for "sixpence," would afford a pretext; with the delightful consciousness that all the young ladies were envying her, and even the Jordens had asked, in her hearing, who that fine-looking stranger was. And then she was reluctantly compelled to return to her duties at the cake-table, to the peril of leaving Mr. Gould to play the agreeable to Miss Seymour. However, he soon seemed to weary of her affectation, and vapid conversation, and, to Harriet's great delight, strolled off by himself without asking an introduction to any one else.
Sketch the Sixth, and Last. Retaliation. Chapter III. Part 1