This is Gossips' one-thousandth post--one thousand posts since The Gossips of Rivertown began eighteen months ago.
Fittingly, the one-thousandth post is the penultimate excerpt from the original Gossips of Rivertown, in which Harriet Harden, one of the most indefatigable of the Rivertown gossips, gets a taste of her own medicine. The rich and handsome widower from Berkshire County, for whom Harriet has "set her cap," overhears some of the victims of Harriet's gossip talking about Harriet and the imperious Mrs. Harden and has second thoughts.
Now the truth of the matter was this: Harrison Gould, Esq.—so his letters were addressed—was a widower of some years' standing, and in comfortable circumstances. He had been a lawyer in the county town where he resided, but being naturally inclined to ease, had given up his practice and turned his attention to amateur farming. That is, he read scientific and agricultural books, and puzzled his head man—Roberts—with disquisitions on "soils and gases;" and was sure, at the end of the year, that it was owing to his researches and improved farming utensils, that the crops turned out so well, while the neighbours attributed it to the experience and active supervision of Roberts. However, to let this pass—for it was an amiable weakness of a very good-natured man—Mr. Gould had at length grown tired of his solitary mansion. He thought Mrs. Roberts, though a very good housekeeper, was uot exactly suited to direct the education of his two motherless daughters, who were approaching a hoydenish age, and "needed looking after." In fine, one bright December morning, he came to the desperate resolution of marrying again. As he passed in review the various young ladies of his acquaintance—he could not think of a widow, not he!—there came a recollection of having been somewhat struck by a dashing woman he had passed a day or two with, at the house of a friend. She was no school-girl, it is true, but he hated your chits—he wanted a companion for himself, a mother for his children. So he further resolved, as he himself termed it, "to look her up"—and confer upon her the distinguished honour of his name, should she please him, upon more intimate acquaintance.
And all this while we have left him sauntering about the fair! No — he had grown weary of that, and ensconced himself in a convenient niche near the "post-office," where he could watch the carnival before him, at the same time sheltered in a measure from observation by one of the "banners" we have before alluded to.
He was quite comfortable here, and soon grew to distinguish individuals among the crowd that now thronged the room.
He saw little children pause wistfully before the cake-table, and compare the three pennies left of their small store, with the nice tart marked sixpence. How the longing look passed away, and returned again as the young spendthrift came in view of the gaily-dressed dolls, and the fancy pin-cushions. He heard the young ladies pressing their beaux to purchase things that could be of no manner of use, and were besides exorbitantly dear, with an irresistible look, and "please do, for I made it." Ah, there was no denying then, and the young gentleman emptied his purse, and went without a new pair of boots in consequence. He noticed Mrs. McCloud floating around the room, overseeing, planning, and admiring, with her most consequentially patronizing air. His eyes rested for a long time on the calm, peaceful face of Mrs. Jackson, its pensive beauty heightened by the plain mourning dress she had not yet laid aside.
And then he could not help overhearing a conversation that was going on in the little tent near which he leaned, of course unobserved by its inmates.
"Oh, it's better than any farce," said the merry voice of Mrs. Jorden, "to watch the Hardens this evening. Mamma's so delighted at the prospect of Miss Harriet's having an offer at last, and so anxious any one should see the gentleman she intends for the honour of her son-in-law, and should understand that he 'lives on the interest of his money!'"
"So he has really been caught!" said Miss Barnard, in return. "Poor fellow! he's rather good-looking."
The listener could have boxed her ears for this patronizing remark.
"Yes, and seems sensible in all other points. I wonder he allowed himself to be 'hooked.' If Harriet was an angel in herself, I should think the prospect of having such a mother-in-law to manage one's family affairs, would frighten any man."
"My dear Marie," interposed another voice, evidently her husband's, "you are too severe. I do not believe you have yet forgiven that little curiosity of theirs."
"Why not so much that, Hal, but it displayed them all so perfectly. First, their watching you, and listening to a gossiping seamstress; then that visit of inspection to Mary. No lady would ever read another person's letters."
"Are you sure that Miss Harden did?"
"Why of course. She told Adeline Mitchell so. Didn't you know they have never spoken since the morning of Mary's wedding? I have thought better of Adeline ever since. I looked over at her to-night on Miss Harden's entrance, and was delighted to find that, though it was evidently expected she would be withered, confounded, not a glance or a movement betrayed the least curiosity or chagrin. I'm inclined to think she's a good creature, after all. At any rate, she has never tried to force herself into any set of acquaintances, and it has been perfectly annoying to see how Harriet Harden has toadied to Mrs. McCloud from the moment this affair commenced. Such an opportunity was not to be lost; I have been positively angry that any woman should stoop so low."
"Pshaw, Marie, one sees that in any society. Never more fully displayed than at Washington. I should have thought you had become accustomed to it there."
Mr. Gould had heard quite enough of his intended relatives. He had never liked Mrs. Harden particularly, and he could not help noticing her fussy officiousness in pointing him out to any one near her, when he emerged from his concealment. No man likes to feel himself baited for; though perhaps willing enough to be caught where he does not see the hook. Mr. Gould began to grow nervous, and meditated returning to Berkshire the next morning. While absorbed in these delightful reflections, he found himself standing near a very sensible, quiet-looking person, apparently about Miss Harden's age, who was in attendance at the much undervalued "kitchen table." It might have been suggested by her surroundings, but somehow, as he watched her dispose of towels and holders, give "change" to purchasers from the pocket of her pretty silk apron, (Mr. Gould had a particular penchant for a little black silk apron, it always seemed so homelike,) he began to wonder if she was engaged, or if she were a wife already.
Contrary to his first intention, he turned once more to Miss Harden, who welcomed the truant with a "smile of sweet chiding," which was quickly changed to a contemptuous curl of the lip, as he asked the name of the lady he had just been observing.
"I haven't the honour of her acquaintance," was her somewhat ungentle reply—and Mr. Gould began to wonder how he had ever thought Miss Harden agreeable. "I'm not the first man of my years that's gone on a fool's errand," was his consolatory reflection; but he twirled his watch-chain uneasily, for all that.
Later in the evening he found himself once more by the plain young lady, and, by way of introduction, began asking the price of her wares. She smiled; he found she had good teeth;—if there was any thing he noticed first, it was good teeth—his own were remarkable for regularity and brilliancy. She had a pleasant voice—Mr. Gould agreed with Shakspeare, that it was "an excellent thing in woman." She conversed sensibly, and was witty without being sarcastic, and as he was regretting politeness would not allow a longer chit-chat, Mrs. McCloud happened to come up, and said, "Mr. Gould, Miss Mitchell," in her most gracious and affable manner.
It was not accident that brought Mrs. McCloud up there just at that moment. She had wondered what they were talking about, and besides, the good-natured lady knew that she could not more effectually annoy Miss Harden than by the said introduction. Some people take such pains to be of service to their friends!
Mr. Gould started. He understood Miss Harden's negative now—at least, he thought he did—and Adeline, though she had altered very much for the better since her intimacy with Harriet had ceased, and was now really what she seemed to be, a sensible, good-natured girl, could not but feel a little pleasure in the turn affairs had taken. Don't blame her, ladies—you would have felt just the same, only, ten to one, you would have shown it more plainly.
Mr. Gould walked home with Harriet Harden that evening, of course; it was his duty to do so; he had escorted her there; and he was very civil, very polite; in fact, so much so, that Harriet answered her mother's anxious inquiries, with the information that she thought he'd propose before the week was out, and then retired to dream of a delightful residence in Berkshire. The dream was, however, preluded by a speculation as to the material of her wedding-dress, and the number of pounds of fruit-cake that would be requisite. "There's one thing"—was her last sleepy reflection—"Adeline Mitchell shall die with envy. The creature! to flirt with him as she did to-night. However, he saw through it all"—and her maiden meditations ended. But strange to relate, Mr. Gould did not call the next day. Stranger still, he walked home with Adeline Mitchell in the evening; they went down before the Hardens, on the other side of Main Street. Several remarked it. But the ensuing morning he called very early, and proposed a walk before the hour she should be on duty, and then he was particularly attentive to her all the evening.
The fair lasted four days, evenings inclusive. It was wonderfully successful, every one said. But we must follow other fortunes, and cannot pause to tell of the silver that was missing—the table-linen ruined—the disputes that arose—the innumerable cold dinners that were eaten in Rivertown during the whole of that eventful week; or how a general amnesty ensued, and the Orphan Asylum nourished, and flourishes still, to the great credit of the energetic ladies who planned and supported it; and the kind matron whose heart is bound up in her little charges, and who spends health and strength for their comfort and well-being, without a murmur. God reward-her, say we!
We can only mention, as we close this chapter, that Mr. Gould left Rivertown after a fortnight's visit, leaving Miss Harden in a delightful state of uncertainty with regard to his intentions. Though "she was sure, from what he said—he would write directly. There was one consolation; he seemed to have found out that artful Adeline Mitchell, long before he left."
Sketch the Sixth, and Last. Retaliation. Chapter III. Part 2