The announcement of the definite engagement of two such bright particular stars in the hemisphere of the Doctor’s small parish excited the interest that such events usually create among the faithful of the flock.

There was a general rustle and flutter, as when a covey of wild pigeons has been started, and all the little elves who rejoice in the name of ‘says he,’ and ‘says I,’ and ‘do tell,’ and ‘have you heard,’ were speedily flying through the consecrated air of the parish.

The fact was discussed by matrons and maidens at the spinning-wheel and in the green clothes-yard, or at the foaming wash-tub, out of which arose a new birth of weekly freshness and beauty. Many a rustic Venus of the foam, as she splashed her dimpled elbows in the rainbow-tinted froth, talked what should be done for the forthcoming solemnities, and wondered what Mary would have on when she was married, and whether she (the Venus) should get an invitation to the wedding, and whether ‘Ethan’ would go—not that she cared in the least whether he did or not.

Grave elderly matrons talked about the ‘prosperity of Zion,’ which they imagined intimately connected with the event of their minister’s marriage; and descending from ‘Zion,’ speculated on bed-quilts and table-cloths, and rummaged their own clean, sweet-smelling stores, fragrant with balm and rose-leaves, to lay out a bureau cover, or a pair of sheets, or a dozen napkins for the wedding outfit.

The solemnest of solemn quiltings was resolved upon.

Miss Prissy declared that she fairly couldn’t sleep nights with the responsibility of the wedding-dresses in her mind; but yet she ‘must give one day to getting on that quilt.’ The grande monde also was in motion. Mrs. General Wilcox called in her own particular carriage, bearing the present of a cashmere shawl for the bride, with the General’s best compliments, and also an oak-leaf pattern for quilting, which had been sent her from England, and which was authentically established to be that used on a petticoat belonging to the Princess Royal; and Mrs. Major Seaforth came also, bearing a scarf of worked Indian muslin; and Mrs. Vernon sent a splendid Indian china punch-bowl. Indeed, to say the truth, the notables high and mighty of Newport, whom the Doctor had so unceremoniously accused of building their houses with blood, and establishing their city with iniquity, considering that nobody seemed to take his words to heart, and that they were making money as fast as old Tyre, rather assumed the magnanimous, and patted themselves on the shoulder for this opportunity to show the Doctor that, after all, they were good fellows, and bore him no malice, though they did make money at the expense of thirty per cent. human life.

Simeon Brown was the only exception: he stood aloof, grim and sarcastic, and informed some good, middle-aged ladies who came to see if he would, as they phrased it, ‘esteem it a privilege’ to add his mite to the Doctor’s outfit, that he would give him a likely negro boy if he wanted, and if he was too conscientious to keep him, he might sell him at a fair profit; a happy stroke of humour, which he was fond of relating many years after.

The quilting was in these days considered as the most solemn and important recognition of a betrothal; and for the benefit of those not to the manner born, a little preliminary instruction may be necessary.

The good wives of New England, impressed with that thrifty orthodoxy of economy which forbids to waste the merest trifle, had a habit of saving every scrap and fragment clipped out in the fashioning of household garments; and these they cut into fanciful patterns, and constructed of them rainbow shapes and quaint traceries, the arrangement of which became one of their few fine arts. Many a maiden, as she sorted and arranged fluttering bits of green, yellow, red, and blue, felt rising in her breast a passion for somewhat vague and unknown, which came out at length in a new pattern of patchwork; and collections of these tiny fragments were always ready to fill an hour when there was nothing else to do; and as the maiden chatted with her beaux, her busy, flying needle stitched together the pretty morsels, which, little in themselves, were destined by gradual unions and accretions to bring about at last substantial beauty, warmth, and comfort; emblems thus of that household life which is to be brought to stability and beauty by reverent economy in husbanding, and tact in arranging the little, useful, and agreeable morsels of daily existence.

When a wedding was forthcoming, then there was a solemn review of the stores of beauty and utility thus provided, and the patchwork-spread best worthy of such distinction was chosen for the quilting.

Thereto, duly summoned, trooped all intimate female friends of the bride, and the quilt being spread on a frame, and wadded with cotton, each vied with the other in the delicacy of the quilting they could put upon it; for quilting also was a fine art, and had its delicacies and nice points, concerning which, grave, elderly matrons discussed with judicious care. The quilting generally began at an early hour in the afternoon, and ended at dusk with a great supper and general jubilee, in which that ignorant and incapable sex who could not quilt were allowed to appear, and put in claims for consideration of another nature. It may perhaps be surmised that this expected reinforcement was often alluded to by the younger maidens, whose wickedly coquettish toilettes exhibited suspicious marks of that willingness to get a chance to say ‘No,’ which has been slanderously attributed to mischievous maidens.

In consequence of the tremendous responsibilities involved in this quilting, the reader will not be surprised to learn that the evening before Miss Prissy made her appearance at the brown cottage, armed with thimble, scissors, and pincushion, in order to relieve her mind by a little preliminary confabulation.

‘You see me, Miss Scudder, run almost to death,’ she said; ‘but I thought I would just run up to Mrs. Major Seaforth’s and see her best bedroom quilt, ’cause I wanted to have all the ideas we possibly could before I decided on the pattern. Hers is in shells—just common shells; nothing to be compared with Miss Wilcox’s oak-leaves; and I suppose there isn’t the least doubt that Miss Wilcox’s sister in London did get that from a lady who had a cousin who was governess in the royal family, and I just quilted a little bit to-day on an old piece of silk, and it comes out beautiful, and so I thought I would just come and ask you if you did not think it was best for us to have the oak-leaves.’

‘Well, certainly, Miss Prissy, if you think so,’ said Mrs. Scudder, who was as pliant to the opinions of this wise woman of the parish as New England matrons generally are to a reigning dressmaker and factotum.

Miss Prissy had the happy consciousness always that her early advent under any roof was considered a matter of special grace, and therefore it was with rather a patronizing tone that she announced that she would stay and spend the night with them.

‘I knew,’ she added, ‘that your spare chamber was full with that Madame de What-you-call-her (if I was to die I could not remember the woman’s name). Well, I thought I could just crawl in with you, Mary, most anywhere.’

‘That’s right, Miss Prissy,’ said Mary, ‘you shall be welcome to half my bed any time.’

‘Well, I knew you would say so, Mary; I never saw the thing you would not give away half of since you was that high,’ said Miss Prissy, illustrating her words by placing her hand about two feet from the floor.

Just at this moment Madame de Frontignac entered and asked Mary to come into her room, and give her advice as to a piece of embroidery. When she was gone out, Miss Prissy looked after her, and sank her voice once more to the confidential whisper which we before described.

‘I have heard strange stories about that French woman,’ she said; ‘but as she was here with you and Mary, I suppose there cannot be any truth in them. Dear me! the world is so censorious about women! But then, you know, we don’t expect much from French women. I suppose she is a Roman Catholic, and worships pictures and stone images; but then, after all, she has got an immortal soul, and I can’t help hoping Mary’s influence may be blest to her. They say when she speaks French she swears every few minutes; but if that is the way she was brought up, maybe she isn’t accountable. I think we can’t be too charitable for people that a’n’t privileged as we are. Miss Vernon’s Polly told me she has seen her sew Sabbath day. She came into her room of a sudden, and she was working on her embroidery there, and she never winked, nor blushed, nor offered to put it away, but sat there just as easy! Polly said she never was so beat in all her life; she felt kind o’ scared every time she thought of it. But now she has come here, who knows but she may be converted?’

‘Mary has not said much about her state of mind,’ said Mrs. Scudder; ‘but something of deep interest has passed between them. Mary is such an uncommon child that I trust everything to her.’

We will not dwell further on the particulars of this evening, nor describe how Madame de Frontignac reconnoitred Miss Prissy with keen, amused eyes; nor how Miss Prissy apprised Mary, in the confidential solitude of her chamber, that her fingers just itched to get hold of that trimming on that Madame de Frogsneck’s dress, because she was pretty nigh sure she could make some just like it; for she never saw any trimming she could not make.

The robin that lived in the apple-tree was fairly out-generalled the next morning, for Miss Prissy was up before him, tripping about the chamber on the points of her toes, and knocking down all the moveable things in the room in her efforts to be still, so as not to waken Mary; and it was not until she had finally upset the stand by the bed, with the candlestick, snuffers, and Bible on it, that Mary opened her eyes.

‘Miss Prissy! dear me! What is it you are doing?’

‘Why I am trying to be still, Mary, so as not to wake you up, and it seems to me as if everything was possessed to tumble down so. But it is only half-past three, so you turn over and go to sleep.’

‘But, Miss Prissy,’ said Mary, sitting up in bed, ‘you are all dressed; where are you going?’

‘Well, to tell the truth, Mary, I am just one of those people that can’t sleep when they have got responsibility on their minds; and I’ve been lying awake more than an hour here, thinking about that quilt. There is a new way of getting it on to the frame that I want to try, ’cause you know when we quilted Cerinthy Stebbins’ it would trouble us in the rolling; and I have got a new way that I want to try, and I mean just to get it into the frame before breakfast. I was in hopes I should get out without waking any of you; and now I don’t know as I shall get by your mother’s door without waking her (’cause I know she works hard, and needs her rest); but that bedroom door squawks like a cat—enough to raise the dead!

‘Mary,’ she added, with sudden energy, ‘if I had the least drop of oil in a teacup, and a bit of quill, I’d stop that door making such a noise.’ And Miss Prissy’s eyes glowed with resolution.

‘I don’t know where you could find any at this time,’ said Mary.

‘Well, never mind, I’ll just go and open the door as slow and careful as I can,’ said Miss Prissy, as she trotted out of the apartment.

The result of her carefulness was very soon announced to Mary by a protracted sound resembling the mewing of a hoarse cat, accompanied with sundry audible grunts from Miss Prissy, terminating in a grand finale of clatter, occasioned by her knocking down all the pieces of the quilt-frame that stood in a corner of the room, with a concussion that roused everybody in the house.

‘What is that?’ called out Mrs. Scudder from her bedroom.

She was answered by two streams of laughter; one from Mary, sitting up in bed, and the other from Miss Prissy, holding her sides, as she sat dissolved in merriment on the sanded floor.

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