By six o’clock in the morning, Miss Prissy came out of the best room to the breakfast-table, with the air of a general who has arranged a campaign, her face glowing with satisfaction. All sat down together to their morning meal. The outside door was open into the green, turfy yard, and the apple-tree, now nursing stores of fine yellow jennetings, looked in at the window. Every once in a while, as a breeze shook the leaves, a fully ripe apple might be heard falling to the ground, at which Miss Prissy would bustle up from the table and rush to secure the treasure.

As the meal waxed to its close, the rattling of wheels was heard at the gate, and Candace was discerned, seated aloft in the one-horse waggon, with her usual complements of baskets and bags.

‘Well, now, dear me! if there is not Candace,’ said Miss Prissy; ‘I do believe Mrs. Marvyn has sent her with something for the quilting;’ and out she flew as nimble as a humming-bird, while those in the house heard various exclamations of admiration, as Candace, with stately dignity, disinterred from the waggon one basket after another, and exhibited to Miss Prissy’s enraptured eyes sly peeps under the white napkins by which they were covered. And then, lodging a large basket on either arm, she rolled majestically towards the house, like a heavy-laden Indiaman coming in after a fat voyage.

‘Good morning, Mrs. Scudder. Good morning, Doctor,’ she said, dropping her curtsy on the door-step; ‘good morning, Miss Mary. You see our folks were stirring pretty early this morning, and Mrs. Marvyn sent me down with two or three little things.’ Setting down her baskets on the floor, and seating herself between them, she proceeded to develop their contents with ill-concealed triumph. One basket was devoted to cakes of every species, from the great Mont Blanc loaf-cake, with its snowy glaciers of frosting, to the twisted cruller and puffy dough-nut. In the other basket lay pots of golden butter curiously stamped, reposing on a bed of fresh green leaves, while currants, red and white, and delicious cherries and raspberries, gave a final finish to the picture. From a basket which Miss Prissy brought in from the rear, appeared cold fowl and tongue, delicately prepared, and shaded with feathers of parsley. Candace, whose rollicking delight in the good things of this life was conspicuous in every emotion, might have famished to a painter, as she sat in a brilliant turban, an idea for an African genius of plenty.

‘Why, really, Candace,’ said Mrs. Scudder, ‘you are overwhelming us!’

‘Ho! ho! ho!’ said Candace, ‘I’se tellin’ Miss Marvyn folks don’t get married but once in their lives (gen’rally speaking, that is), and then they ought to have plenty to do it with.’

‘Well, I must say,’ said Miss Prissy, taking out the loaf-cake with busy assiduity, ‘I must say, Candace, this does beat all!’

‘I should rather think it ought,’ said Candace, bridling herself with proud consciousness; ‘if it don’t it a’n’t ’cause old Candace ha’n’t put enough into it. I tell ye, I didn’t do nothing all day yesterday but just make dat ar cake. Cato, when he got up, he begun to talk something about his shirt buttons, and I just shet him right up. Says I, “Cato, when I’se really got cake to make for a great ’casion, I want my mind just as quiet and just as serene as if I was agoin’ to the meetin’. I don’t want no earthly cares on it. Now,” says I, “Cato, the old Doctor is going to be married, and dis yer is his quiltin’ cake, and Miss Mary, she’s going to be married, and dis yer is her quiltin’ cake. And dare’ll be everybody to dat ar quiltin’, and if de cake a’n’t right, why, ’twould be puttin’ a candle under a bushel. And so, says I, Cato, your buttons must wait.” And Cato, he sees the ’priety of it, ’cause though he can’t make cake like me, he’s a mazin’ good judge of it, and is dre’ful tickled when I slip out a little loaf for his supper.’

‘How is Mrs. Marvyn?’ said Mrs. Scudder.

‘Kinder thin and shimmery, but she is about, havin’ her eyes everywhere and looking into everything. She just touches things with the tips of her fingers and they seem to go like. She’ll be down to the quiltin’ this afternoon. But she told me to take the things and come down and spend the day here; for Mrs. Marvyn and I both knows how many steps must be taken such times, and we agreed you ought to favour yourselves all you could.’

‘Well, now,’ said Miss Prissy, lifting up her hands, ‘if that a’n’t what ’tis to have friends! Why, that was one of the things I was thinking of as I lay awake last night: because you know at times like these people run their feet off before the time begins, and then they are all limpsey and lop-sided when the time comes. Now, I say, Candace, all Mrs. Scudder and Mary have to do is to give everything up to us, and we’ll put it through straight.’

‘That’s what we will,’ said Candace. ‘Just show me what’s to be done, and I’ll do it.’

Candace and Miss Prissy soon disappeared together into the pantry with the baskets, whose contents they began busily to arrange. Candace shut the door that no sound might escape, and began a confidential outpouring to Miss Prissy.

‘You see,’ she said, ‘I has feelin’s all the while for Miss Marvyn; ’cause, yer see, she was expectin’, if ever Mary was married—well—that it would be to somebody else, you know.’

Miss Prissy responded with a sympathetic groan.

‘Well,’ said Candace, ‘if it had been anybody but the Doctor, I would not have been resigned. But after all he has done for my colour, there a’n’t nothing I could find it in my heart to grudge him. But then I was tellin’ Cato the other day, says I, “Cato, I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I ha’n’t never felt it in my bones that Master James is really dead, for sartin. Now I feels things gen’rally, but some things I feels in my bones, and them always comes true. And that ar is a feelin’ I ha’n’t had about Master Jim yet, and that ar is what I’m waitin’ for ’fore I clear make up my mind. Tho’ I know, ’cordin’ to all white folks’ way o’ thinkin’, there a’n’t no hope, ’cause ’Squire Marvyn he had that Jeduth Pettibone up to his house, a questioning on him off and on, nigh about three hours. And reely I didn’t see no hope no way, except just this, as I was tellin’ Cato, I can’t feel it in my bones.”‘

Candace was not versed enough in the wisdom of the world to know that she belonged to a large and respectable school of philosophers in this particular mode of testing evidence, which, after all, the reader will perceive has its conveniences.

‘Another thing,’ said Candace, ‘as much as a dozen times, dis yer last year, when I have been a-scourin’ knives, a fork has fell and stuck straight up in the floor: and the last time I pinted it out to Miss Marvyn, and she only just said, “Why, what of that, Candace?”’

‘Well,’ said Miss Prissy, ‘I don’t believe in signs, but then strange things do happen. Now about dogs howling under windows; why, I don’t believe in it a bit, but I never knew it fail that there was a death in the house after.’

‘Ah, I tell ye what,’ said Candace, looking mysterious, ‘dogs knows a heap more than they likes to tell!’

‘Just so,’ said Miss Prissy; ‘now I remember one night, when I was watching with Miss Colonel Andrews, after Martha Ann was born, that we heard the mournfullest howling that ever you did hear. It seemed to come from right under the front stoop; and Miss Andrews, she just dropped the spoon in her gruel, and says she, “Miss Prissy, do for pity’s sake just go down and see what that noise is.” And I went down, and lifted up one of the loose boards of the stoop, and what should I see there but their Newfoundland pup; there that creature had dug a grave, and was a-sitting by it crying.’

Candace drew near to Miss Prissy, dark with expressive interest, as her voice, in this awful narration, sank to a whisper.

‘Well,’ said Candace, after Miss Prissy had made something of a pause.

‘Well, I told Miss Andrews I didn’t think there was anything in it,’ said Miss Prissy; ‘but,’ she added, impressively, ‘she lost a very dear brother six months after, and I laid him out with my own hands—yes, laid him out in white flannel.’

‘Some folks say,’ said Candace, ‘that dreaming about white horses is a certain sign. Jinny Styles is very strong about that. Now she came down one morning crying, ’cause she had been dreaming about white horses, and she was sure she should hear some friend was dead. And sure enough, a man came in that day and told her that her son was drown’d out in the harbour. And Jinny said, “There, she was sure that sign never would fail.” But then, ye see, that night he came home. Jinny wan’t reely disappointed, but she always insisted he was as good as drowned, any way, “’cause he sank three times.”’

‘Well, I tell you,’ said Miss Prissy, ‘there are a great many more things in this world than folks know about.’

‘So they are,’ said Candace. ‘Now, I ha’n’t never opened my mind to nobody; but there’s a dream I’ve had, three mornings running, lately. I dreamed I see Jim Marvyn a-sinking in the water, and stretching up his hands. And then I dreamed that I see the Lord Jesus come a-walking on the water, and take hold of his hand, and says He, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” And then He lifted him right out. And I ha’n’t said nothing to nobody, ’cause you know the Doctor,—he says people must not mind nothing about their dreams, ’cause dreams belong to the old ’spensation.’

‘Well! well! well!’ said Miss Prissy, ‘I am sure I don’t know what to think. What time in the morning was it that you dreamed it?’

‘Why,’ said Candace, ‘it was just after bird-peep. I kinder always wakes myself then, and turns over, and what comes after that is apt to run clear.’

‘Well! well! well!’ said Miss Prissy, ‘I don’t know what to think. You see, it may have reference to the state of his soul.’

‘I know that,’ said Candace; ‘but as nigh as I could judge in my dream,’ she added, sinking her voice and looking mysterious, ‘as nigh as I can judge, that boy’s soul was in his body!

‘Why, how do you know?’ said Miss Prissy, looking astonished at the confidence with which Candace expressed her opinion.

‘Well, ye see,’ said Candace, rather mysteriously, ‘the Doctor he don’t like to have us talk much about these things, ’cause he thinks it’s kind o’ heathenish. But then, folks as is used to seein’ such things, knows the look of a sperit out of the body, from the look of a sperit in the body, just as easy as you can tell Mary from the Doctor.’

At this moment Mrs. Scudder opened the pantry-door and put an end to this mysterious conversation, which had already so affected Miss Prissy that, in the eagerness of her interest, she had rubbed up her cap border and ribbon into rather an elfin and goblin style, as if they had been ruffled up by a breeze from the land of spirits; and she flew around for a few moments in a state of great nervous agitation, upsetting dishes, knocking down plates, and huddling up contrary suggestions as to what ought to be done first, in such impossible relations, that Mrs. Katy Scudder stood in dignified surprise at this strange freak of conduct in the wise woman of the parish.

A dim consciousness of something not quite canny in herself appeared to strike her, for she made a vigorous effort to appear composed; and facing Mrs. Scudder, with an air of dignified suavity, inquired if it would not be best to put Jim Marvyn in the oven now, while Candace was getting the pies ready, meaning of course a large turkey which was to be the first in an indefinite series to be baked that morning; and discovering, by Mrs. Scudder’s dazed expression and a vigorous pinch from Candace, that somehow she had not improved matters, she rubbed her spectacles in a diagonal manner across her eyes and stood glaring through them, with a helpless expression, which in a less judicious person might have suggested the idea of a state of slight intoxication.

But the exigencies of an immediate temporal dispensation put an end to Miss Prissy’s unwonted vagaries, and she was soon to be seen flying round like a meteor, dusting, shaking curtains, counting napkins, wiping and sorting china, all with such rapidity as to give rise to the idea that she actually existed in forty places at once.

Candace, whom the limits of her corporeal frame restricted to an altogether different style of locomotion, often rolled the whites of her eyes after her, and gave vent to her views of her proceedings in sententious expressions.

‘Do you know why dat ar never was married?’ she said to Mary, as she stood looking after her. Miss Prissy had made one of those rapid transits through the apartment.

‘No,’ answered Mary, innocently; ‘why was not she?’

‘Because never was a man could run fast enough to catch her,’ said Candace; and then her portly person shook with the impulse of her own wit.

By two o’clock a goodly company began to assemble. Mrs. Deacon Twitchel arrived, soft, pillowy, and plaintive as ever, accompanied by Cerinthy Ann, a comely damsel, tall and trim, with a bright black eye and a most vigorous and determined style of movement.

Good Mrs. Jones, broad, expansive, and solid, having vegetated tranquilly on in the cabbage garden of the virtues since three years ago when she graced our tea-party, was now as well preserved as ever, and brought some fresh butter, a tin pail of cream, and a loaf of cake made on a new Philadelphia receipt. The tall, spare, angular figure of Mrs. Simeon Brown only was wanting; but she patronized Mrs. Scudder no more, and tossed her head with a becoming pride when her name was mentioned.

The quilt-pattern was gloriously drawn in oak-leaves, done in indigo; and soon all the company, young and old, were passing busy fingers over it; and conversation went on briskly.

Madame de Frontignac, we must not forget to say, had entered with hearty abandon into the spirit of the day. She had dressed the tall china vases on the mantelpieces; and, departing from the usual rule of an equal mixture of roses and asparagus bushes, had constructed two quaint and graceful bouquets, where garden flowers were mingled with drooping grasses and trailing wild vines, forming a graceful combination, which excited the surprise of all who saw it.

‘It’s the very first time in my life that I ever saw grass put into a flower-pot,’ said Miss Prissy; ‘but I must say it looks as handsome as a pictur’. Mary, I must say,’ she added in an aside, ‘I think that Madame de Frongenac is the sweetest dressing and appearing creature I ever saw: she don’t dress up nor put on airs, but she seems to see in a minute how things ought to go; and if it’s only a bit of grass, or leaf, or wild vine, that she puts in her hair, why it seems to come just right. I should like to make her a dress, for I know she would understand my fit; do speak to her, Mary, in case she should want a dress fitted here, to let me try it.’

At the quilting, Madame de Frontignac would have her seat, and soon won the respect of the party by the dexterity with which she used her needle; though, when it was whispered that she learned to quilt among the nuns, some of the elderly ladies exhibited a slight uneasiness, as being rather doubtful whether they might not be encouraging papistical opinions by allowing her an equal share in the work of getting up their minister’s bed-quilt; but the younger part of the company were quite captivated by her foreign air, and the pretty manner in which she lisped her English; and Cerinthy Ann even went so far as to horrify her mother, by saying that she wished she’d been educated in a convent herself,—a declaration which arose less from native depravity, than from a certain vigorous disposition, which often shows itself in young people, to shock the current opinions of their elders and betters. Of course the conversation took a general turn, somewhat in unison with the spirit of the occasion; and whenever it flagged, some allusion to a forthcoming wedding, or some sly hint to the future young Madam of the parish, was sufficient to awake the dormant animation of the company.

Cerinthy Ann contrived to produce an agreeable electric shock, by declaring that for her part she never could see into it, how any girl could marry a minister—that she should as soon think of setting up housekeeping in a meeting-house.

‘O, Cerinthy Ann!’ exclaimed her mother, ‘how can you go on so?’

‘It’s a fact,’ said the adventurous damsel; ‘now other men let you have some peace, but a minister’s always round under your feet.’

‘So you think the less you see of a husband the better?’ said one of the ladies.

‘Just my views,’ said Cerinthy, giving a decided snip to her thread with her scissors; ‘I like the Nantucketers that go off on four years’ voyages, and leave their wives a clear field. If ever I get married I’m going up to have one of those fellows.’

It is to be remarked, in passing, that Miss Cerinthy Ann was at this very time receiving surreptitious visits from a consumptive-looking, conscientious, young theological candidate who came occasionally to preach in the vicinity, and put up at the house of the Deacon, her father. This good young man, being violently attacked on the doctrine of election by Miss Cerinthy, had been drawn on to illustrate it in a most practical manner, to her comprehension; and it was the consciousness of the weak and tottering state of the internal garrison, that added vigour to the young lady’s tones. As Mary had been the chosen confidant of the progress of this affair, she was quietly amused at the demonstration.

‘You’d better take care, Cerinthy Ann,’ said her mother; ‘they say that “those who sing before breakfast, will cry before night.” Girls talk about getting married,’ she said, relapsing into a gentle didactic melancholy, ‘without realizing its awful responsibilities.’

‘Oh! as to that,’ said Cerinthy, ‘I’ve been practising on my pudding now these six years, and I shouldn’t be afraid to throw one up chimney with any girl.’ This speech was founded on a tradition, current in those times, ‘that no young lady was fit to be married till she could construct a boiled Indian-pudding, of such durability, that it could be thrown up chimney and come down on the ground, outside, without breaking;’ and the consequence of Cerinthy Ann’s sally was a general laugh.

‘Girls a’n’t what they used to be in my day,’ sententiously remarked an elderly lady. ‘I remember my mother told me when she was thirteen she could knit a long cotton stocking in a day.’

‘I haven’t much faith in these stories of old times; have you, girls?’ said Cerinthy, appealing to the younger members at the frame.

‘At any rate,’ said Mrs. Twitchel, ‘our minister’s wife will be a pattern; I don’t know anybody as goes beyond her either in spinning or fine stitching.’

Mary sat as placid and disengaged as the new moon, and listened to the chatter of old and young, with the easy quietness of a young heart that has early outlived life, and looks on everything in the world from some gentle, restful eminence far on towards a better home. She smiled at everybody’s word, had a quick eye for everybody’s wants, and was ready with thimble, scissors, or thread, whenever any one needed them; but once when there was a pause in the conversation, she and Mrs. Marvyn were both discovered to be stolen away. They were seated on the bed in Mary’s little room, with their arms around each other, communing in low and gentle tones. ‘Mary, my dear child,’ said her friend, ‘this event is very pleasant to me, because it places you permanently near me. I did not know but eventually this sweet face might lead to my losing you, who are in some respects the dearest friend I have.’

‘You might be sure,’ said Mary, ‘I never would have married, except that my mother’s happiness and the happiness of so good a friend seem to depend on it. When we renounce self in anything, we have reason to hope God’s blessing; and so I feel assured of a peaceful life in the course I have taken. You will always be as a mother to me,’ she added, laying her head on her friend’s shoulder.

‘Yes,’ said Mrs. Marvyn; ‘and I must not let myself think a moment how dear it might have been to have you more my own. If you feel really, truly happy, if you can enter on this life without any misgivings—’

‘I can,’ said Mary, firmly.

At this instant, very strangely, the string which confined a wreath of sea-shells around her glass, having been long undermined by moths, suddenly broke and fell down, scattering the shells upon the floor.

Both women started, for the string of shells had been placed there by James; and though neither were superstitious, this was one of those odd coincidences that make hearts throb.

‘Dear boy,’ said Mary, gathering the shells up tenderly; ‘wherever he is, I shall never cease to love him; it makes me feel sad to see this come down; but it is only an accident; nothing of him will ever fail out of my heart.’

Mrs. Marvyn clasped Mary closer to her, with tears in her eyes.

‘I’ll tell you what, Mary; it must have been the moths did that,’ said Miss Prissy, who had been standing, unobserved, at the door for a moment back; ‘moths will eat away strings just so. Last week Mrs. Vernon’s great family picture fell down because the moths eat through the cord; people ought to use twine or cotton string always. But I came to tell you that the supper is all set, and the Doctor out of his study, and all the people are wondering where you are.’

Mary and Mrs. Marvyn gave a hasty glance at themselves in the glass, to be assured of their good keeping, and went into the great kitchen, where a long table stood exhibiting all that plenitude of provision which the immortal description of Washington Irving has saved us the trouble of representing in detail.

The husbands, brothers, and lovers had come in, and the scene was redolent of gaiety. When Mary made her appearance, there was a moment’s pause, till she was conducted to the side of the Doctor; when, raising his hand, he invoked a grace upon the loaded board.

Unrestrained gaieties followed. Groups of young men and maidens chatted together, and all the gallantries of the times were enacted. Serious matrons commented on the cake, and told each other high and particular secrets in the culinary art, which they drew from remote family archives. One might have learned in that instructive assembly how best to keep moths out of blankets, how to make fritters of Indian corn undistinguishable from oysters: how to bring up babies by hand, and how to mend a cracked teapot, and how to take out grease from a brocade, and how to reconcile absolute decrees with free will, and how to make five yards of cloth answer the purpose of six, and how to put down the democratic party. All were busy, earnest, and certain, just as a swarm of men and women, old and young, are in 1859.

Miss Prissy was in her glory; every bow of her best cap was alive with excitement, and she presented to the eyes of astonished Newport gentry an animated receipt-book. Some of the information she communicated, indeed, was so valuable and important, that she could not trust the air with it, but whispered the most important portions in a confidential tone. Among the crowd Cerinthy Ann’s theological admirer was observed in deeply reflective attitude; and that high-spirited young lady added further to his convictions of the total depravity of the species, by vexing and discomposing him in those thousand ways in which a lively, ill-conditioned young woman will put to rout a serious, well-disposed young man, comforting herself with the reflection that by-and-by she would repent of all her sins in a lump together.

Vain, transitory splendours! Even this evening, so glorious, so heart-cheering, so fruitful in instruction and amusement, could not last for ever. Gradually the company broke up; the matrons mounted soberly on horseback behind their spouses; and Cerinthy consoled her clerical friend by giving him an opportunity to read her a lecture on the way home, if he found the courage to do so.

Mr. and Mrs. Marvyn and Candace wound their way soberly homeward; the Doctor returned to his study for nightly devotions; and before long, sleep settled down on the brown cottage.

‘I’ll tell you what, Cato,’ said Candace, before composing herself to sleep, ‘I can’t feel it in my bones dat dis yer wedding is going to come off yet.’

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