"The mean thing!" said Miss Harriet.
"That flirt of a fellow—after being so desperate attentive to you, too!" responded her sympathizing mamma.
"Came here on purpose to see me—I know he did—and then to take up with her!"
"He ought to be sued for breach of—of—" here Mrs. Harden fortunately recollected herself, and added "peace"—in the most quiet tone imaginable.
"Men are all alike," was her next ejaculation.
"As far as I'm concerned—" Harriet had intended to say it did not make the least difference to her who Mr. Gould married, but she was not quite equal to so much resignation as yet, and left the sentence unfinished, apparently to comment on her mother's previous remark.
At length the storm in a measure subsided. The Rivertown Ariadne had been calmed by "a good cry," and began to narrate particulars; Mrs. Harden forgot the hardening lime, and sat down in a rocking-chair to listen.
"Instead of going to Van Dusen's, I thought I 'd stop into Miss Van Brooch's to see how much fringe I wanted for that dress, and as I came in, I noticed her hustle away the work she was at into a drawer that was open by her. But one sleeve fell on the floor, and as I picked it up, I saw it was the richest silk I ever laid my eyes on.
"'That's for Mrs. McCloud, I suppose,' said I—I didn't expect any one else could afford it.
"'No it ain't for Mrs. McCloud,' said she; 'I never made up half so handsome a piece of silk for her; and here's another for the same person'—it was an elegant embroidered stone-coloured merino, just like Mrs. Jorden's. 'And that ain't the wedding-dress either,' she went on; 'nor the wedding-dress ain't all; I never saw such an elegant fit-out in my life,' said she, and so she went on. I knew it was useless to try and get it out of her who it was for—she always was so awful close—though I teased, and promised to be as still as death about it. I was just giving up in despair, when what should I see but a handkerchief wrapped around the merino, which, though there was no name on it, I knew it in a minute; it was one of that first set Adeline and I hemstitched, three years ago; I could swear to it anywhere; she stained it terribly the first time she used it, and there was the mark of it yet. I felt as if I should have dropped, but I didn't say one word. Before you knew it, I rushed into Mrs. Smith's; I thought I should hear some news, but she right out with it in a minute. It was she that told me it was Mr. Gould. I'll tell you how she found it out. Her John has been helping in the Post-office for a while back, and he says letters came twice a week regularly to Adeline Mitchell. They're post-marked 'Union Four-Corners, Berkshire Co.' She was coming over here this afternoon to tell us, the spiteful thing! Pretending it was too bad—she felt so sorry for my disappointment, she said, (who asked her to, I 'd like to know?) and so did Mrs. Folger. She came in. She says they're going to be married soon, for two boxes, that must have had wedding-cake in them, came up in the boat last night, directed to the Mitchells, and they've cleaned house a month before they usually do."
"Yes, that they have," said Mrs. Harden, "if they're through aready—I thought I was ahead in that particular."
Miss Harriet was here overcome by the recollection of all she had lost, and Mrs. Harden glanced disconsolately around the forlorn apartment.
Ah, it was too true!—and here, where we first made the acquaintance of our Rivertown friends, we must bid them adieu. A change had come over the then cheerful room, and a deeper shade over its inmates. It would have been adding to grief, if any one had held up a mirror of the intervening time, and shown the disconsolate maiden, that, if she had not interfered in the fortunes of others, her own would have been unmarred. How curiously the chain of circumstances had been linked, that now bound down all her hopes for the future! Hope would have been unavailing — for not even the expectation of an offer ever again crossed her path.
Mrs. Folger was right in her predictions. Adeline was married soon, within that very week, but so privately, that no one discovered it until the carriages containing the bridal party stopped at the railway depot. Mr. Gould's arrival the day before had escaped notice, and most of the gossips were electrified by the news.
"What will Harriet Harden say?" asked Mrs. Jorden of her sister, as they saw the carriages drive from the door.
"That is the best of the whole thing. If you could only have seen the air with which she told me this morning, 'that those who couldn't get what they liked, must take up with what they could find,' as poor Mr. Gould had done; as if any one would ever be made to believe that Harriet Harden had refused any man! Moreover, she informed me, that Mr. Gould was not half so wealthy as people supposed, he had lost so much in the Marble Stock Company, and she guessed Adeline Mitchell would find her hands full with those romping girls to manage. How could any woman ever dream of being a step-mother!"
"It was a mystery," Mrs. Jorden confessed; and then all three laughed heartily. We say all three, for our old friend Mary Butler had arrived the day before, and they were passing a delightful morning together, in talking over old times. The gentlemen had gone out—Mary's little one was asleep; so there was nothing to disturb them, except when Mary now and then stole into the next room to bend over "the baby," with all a young mother's tender watchfulness for her first-born.
And so—partings seem the order of the day—we will leave them also;—the younger ladies surrounded by all that ministers to earthly happiness, and the widow, finding in the conscientious fulfilment of daily duty, "that peace which the world cannot give." Her child was daily growing more like her lost one, and he filled the void in affections that else might have craved another object to love and to trust.
Mrs. Gould is quoted as a pattern step-mother, and has become the pride of her husband and his household; good Mrs. Roberts wondering "how they ever managed without her." It is strange how some natures expand and improve in the atmosphere of a congenial home. The matronly Mrs. Gould would hardly be recognized as the discontented and somewhat scandal-loving Miss Mitchell of our first acquaintance.
Her first visit to her old home caused some little excitement recently in Rivertown, where all things go on as usual. There have been two weddings there the past winter, but John Harden declares it isn't half so lively as when Harriet and Mrs. Smith had Adeline to help them set the neighbourhood by the ears.
Mrs. Harden and Mrs. Folger are not of much use to them either, at present; the one lady being deeply interested in the spread of Homoeopathic principles, and the other having become so interested in California news, that all other seems insipid.
"Even as some sick men will take no medicine, unless some pleasant thing be put amongst their potions, although it be somewhat hurtful, yet the physician suffereth them to have it: so, because many will not hearken to serious and grave documents, unless they be mingled with some fable or jest, therefore reason willeth us to do the like"—says that quaint old writer, Sir Thomas More. And this has been the argument of the apparently trifling sketches through which your patience, dear ladies, has accompanied us.
The little time that we have mingled in society, has taught us that "gossip" is the root of its deepest evil. Trifles are misrepresented and magnified; a whisper of suspicion becomes the death-warrant of family peace, and the stain on a spotless character. And though we are well aware that
"More offend from want of thought,
Than from any want of feeling—"
we have seen the bitterest suffering ensue—perhaps there is none more intense known to a woman's heart. If these pages shall have aided to place this more fully before any, and lead them to cherish that "charity which thinketh no evil," then is their author's purpose already accomplished.