Meanwhile wedding proceedings were going on at the cottage with that consistent vigour with which Yankee people always drive operations when they know precisely what they are about. The wedding-day was definitively fixed for the 1st of August, and every one of the two weeks between had its particular significance and value precisely marked out and arranged in Mrs. Katy Scudder’s comprehensive and systematic schemes. It was settled that the newly-wedded pair were, for a while at least, to reside at the cottage. It might have been imagined, therefore, that no great external changes were in contemplation; but it is astonishing to see the amount of grave discussion, the amount of consulting, advising, and running abstractedly to and fro, which can be made to result out of an apparently slight change in the relative position of two people in the same house.

Dr. Hopkins really opened his eyes with calm amazement—good modest soul! he had never imagined himself the hero of so much preparation. He heard his name constantly from morning to night occurring in busy consultations that seemed to be going on between Miss Prissy, and Mrs. Deacon Twitchel, and Mrs. Scudder, and Mrs. Jones, and quietly wondered what they could have so much more than usual to say about him. For a while it seemed to him that the whole house was about to be torn to pieces. He was even requested to step out of his study one day, into which immediately entered, in his absence, two of the most vigorous women of the parish, who proceeded to uttermost measures, first pitching everything into pie, so that the Doctor, who returned disconsolately to look for a book, at once gave up himself and his system of divinity as entirely lost, until assured by one of the ladies in a condescending manner that he knew nothing about the matter, and that if he would return after half a day he would find everything right again: a declaration in which he tried to have unlimited faith, and where he found the advantage of a mind accustomed to believe in mysteries. And it is to be remarked, that on his return he actually found his table in most perfect order, with not a single one of his papers missing; in fact, to his ignorant eye, the room looked exactly as it did before; and when Miss Prissy eloquently demonstrated to him that every inch of that paint had been scrubbed, and the windows taken out and washed inside and out, and rinsed through three waters, and that the curtains had been taken down and washed and put through a blue water, and starched and ironed, and put up again, he only innocently wondered in his ignorance what there was in a man’s being married that made all these ceremonies necessary; but the Doctor was a wise man, and in cases of difficulty kept his mind much to himself, and therefore he only informed those energetic practitioners that ‘he was extremely obliged to them,’ accepting the matter by simple faith, an example which we recommend to all good men in similar circumstances.

The house throughout was subjected to similar renovations. Everything in every chest, or trunk, or box, was vigorously pulled out and hung out on lines in the clothes-yard to air, for when once the spirit of enterprise has fairly possessed a group of women, it assumes the form of a ‘prophetic fury,’ and carries them beyond themselves. Let not any ignorant mortal of the masculine gender, at such hours, rashly dare to question the promptings of the genius that inspires them! Spite of all the treatises that have lately appeared to demonstrate that there is no particular inherent diversity between men and women, we hold to the opinion that one thorough season of house-cleansing is sufficient to demonstrate the existence of awful and mysterious differences between the sexes, and of subtle and reserved forces in the female line, before which the lords of creation can only veil their faces with a discreet reverence as our Doctor has done.

In fact, his whole deportment on the occasion was characterized by humility so edifying as really to touch the hearts of the whole synod of matrons; and Miss Prissy rewarded him by declaring impressively her opinion that he was worthy to have a voice in the choosing the wedding-dress, and she actually swooped him up, just in a very critical part of a distinction between natural and moral ability, and conveyed him bodily (as fairy sprites know how to convey the most ponderous of mortals) into the best room, where three specimens of brocade lay spread out upon a table for inspection.

Mary stood by the side of the table, her pretty head bent reflectively downward, her cheek just resting upon the tip of one of her fingers, as she stood looking thoughtfully through the brocades at something deeper that seemed to lie under them; and when the Doctor was required to give judgment on the articles, it was observed by the matrons that his large blue eyes were resting upon Mary with an expression that almost glorified his face; and it was not until his elbow was repeatedly shaken by Miss Prissy that he gave a sudden start and fixed his attention as was requested upon the silks. It had been one of Miss Prissy’s favourite theories, that ‘that dear blessed man had taste enough if he would only give his mind to things;’ and in fact the Doctor rather verified the remark on the present occasion, for he looked very conscientiously and soberly at the silks, and even handled them cautiously and respectfully with his fingers, and listened with grave attention to all that Miss Prissy told him of their price and properties, and then laid his finger down on one whose snow-white ground was embellished with a pattern representing lilies of the valley on a background of green leaves. ‘This is the one,’ he said, with an air of decision, and then he looked at Mary and smiled, and a murmur of universal approbation broke out. A chorus of loud acclamations, in which Miss Prissy’s voice took the lead, conveyed to the innocent-minded Doctor the idea that in some mysterious way he had distinguished himself in the eyes of his feminine friends, whereat he retired to his study, slightly marvelling, but on the whole well pleased, as men generally are when they do better than they expect; and Miss Prissy, turning out all profaner persons from the apartment, held a solemn consultation, to which only Mary, Mrs. Scudder, and Madame de Frontignac were admitted; for it is to be observed that the latter had risen daily and hourly in Miss Prissy’s esteem since her entrance into the cottage, and she declared that if she only would give her a few hints, she didn’t believe but that she could make that dress look just like a Paris one, and rather intimated that in such a case she might almost be ready to resign all mortal ambitions.

The afternoon of this day, just at that cool hour when the clock ticks so quietly in a New England kitchen, and everything is so clean and put away that there seems to be nothing to do in the house, Mary sat quietly down in her room to hem a ruffle. Everybody had gone out of the house on various errands. The Doctor, with implicit faith, had surrendered himself to Mrs. Scudder and Miss Prissy, to be conveyed up to Newport, and attend to various appointments in relation to his outer man, which he was informed would be indispensable in the forthcoming solemnities.

Madame de Frontignac had also gone to spend the day with some of her Newport friends; and Mary, quite well pleased with the placid and orderly stillness which reigned through the house, sat pleasantly murmuring a little tune to her sewing, when suddenly the trip of a merry, brisk foot was heard in the kitchen, and Miss Cerinthy Ann Twitchel made her appearance at the door, her healthy, glowing cheek wearing a still brighter colour, from the exercise of a three-mile walk in a July day.

‘Why, Cerinthy,’ said Mary, ‘how glad I am to see you!’

‘Well!’ said Cerinthy; ‘I have been meaning to come down all this week, but there is so much to do in haying-time; but to-day I told mother I must come. I brought these down,’ she said, unfolding a dozen of snowy damask napkins, ‘that I spun myself, and was thinking of you almost all the while I spun them; so I suppose they ain’t quite so wicked as they might be.’

We will remark here that Cerinthy Ann, in virtue of having a high stock of animal spirits, and great fulness of physical vigour, had very small proclivities towards the unseen and spiritual; but still always indulged a secret resentment at being classed as a sinner above many others, who as church-members made such professions, and were, as she remarked, ‘not a bit better than she was.’

She always, however, had cherished an unbounded veneration for Mary, and had made her the confidante of most of her important secrets; and it soon became very evident that she had come with one on her mind now.

‘Don’t you want to come and sit out in the lot?’ she said to her, after sitting awhile, twirling her bonnet-strings with the air of one who has something to say and does not know exactly how to begin upon it.

Mary cheerfully gathered up her thread, scissors, and ruffling, and the two stepped over the window-sill, and soon found themselves seated cozily under the boughs of a large apple-tree, whose descending branches, meeting the tops of the high grass all around, formed a perfect seclusion, as private as heart could desire.

They sat down, pushing away a place in the grass; and Cerinthy Ann took off her bonnet, and threw it among the clover, exhibiting to view her glossy black hair, always trimly arranged in shining braids, except where some curls fell over the rich, high colour of her cheeks. Something appeared to discompose her this afternoon; there were those evident signs of a consultation impending, which to an experienced eye are as unmistakeable as the coming up of a shower in summer.

Cerinthy began by passionately demolishing several heads of clover, remarking as she did so that ‘she didn’t see, for her part, how Mary could keep so calm when things were coming so near;’ and as Mary answered to this only with a quiet smile, she broke out again:—

‘I don’t see, for my part, how a young girl could marry a minister anyhow; but then I think you are just cut out for it. But what would anybody say if I should do such a thing?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Mary, innocently.

‘Well, I suppose everybody would hold up their hands; and yet if I do say it myself,’ she added, colouring, ‘there are not many girls who could make a better minister’s wife than I could if I had a mind to try.’

‘That I am sure of,’ said Mary, warmly.

‘I guess you are the only one that ever thought so,’ said Cerinthy, giving an impatient toss; ‘there’s father all the while mourning over me, and mother too, and yet I don’t see but that I do pretty much all that is done in the house. And they say I am a great comfort in a temporal point of view; but oh! the groanings and the sighings that there are over me!

‘I don’t think it is pleasant to think that your best friends are thinking such awful things about you when you are working your fingers off to help them; it is kind o’ discouraging, but I don’t know what to do about it;’ and for a few moments Cerinthy sat demolishing buttercups and throwing them up in the air, till her shiny black head was covered with golden flakes, while her cheek grew redder with something that she was going to say next.

‘Now, Mary, there is that creature; well—you know—he won’t take “no” for an answer. What shall I do?’

‘Suppose then you try “yes,”’ said Mary, rather archly.

‘Oh, pshaw, Mary Scudder! You know better than that now. I look like it, don’t I?’

‘Why, yes,’ said Mary, looking at Cerinthy deliberately, ‘on the whole I think you do.’

‘Well, one thing I must say,’ said Cerinthy, ‘I can’t see what he finds in me. I think he is a thousand times too good for me. Why, you have no idea, Mary, how I have plagued him. I believe that man really is a Christian,’ she added, while something like a penitent tear actually glistened in those sharp, saucy, black eyes; ‘besides,’ she added, ‘I have told him everything I could think of to discourage him. I told him that I had a bad temper, and didn’t believe the doctrines, and couldn’t promise that I ever should. And after all, that creature keeps right on, and I don’t know what to tell him.’

‘Well,’ said Mary, mildly; ‘do you think you really love him?’

‘Love him,’ said Cerinthy, giving a great flounce, ‘to be sure I don’t—catch me loving any man. I told him last night I didn’t, but it didn’t do a bit of good. I used to think that man was bashful, but I declare I have altered my mind. He will talk and talk, ’till I don’t know what to do. I tell you, Mary, he talks beautifully too, sometimes.’ Here Cerinthy turned quickly away, and began reaching passionately after clover heads. After a few moments she resumed. ‘The fact is, Mary, that man needs somebody to take care of him, for he never thinks of himself. They say he has got the consumption, but he hasn’t any more than I have. It is just the way he neglects himself!—preaching, talking, and visiting—nobody to take care of him, and see to his clothes, and nurse him up when he gets a little hoarse and run down. Well, I suppose if I am unregenerate, I do know how to keep things in order; and if I should keep such a man’s soul in his body, I suppose I should be doing some good in the world; because if a minister don’t live, of course he can’t convert anybody. Just think of his saying that I could be a comfort to him! I told him that it was perfectly ridiculous, “and besides,” says I, “what will everybody think?” I thought that I had really talked him out of the notion of it last night; but there he was in again this morning; and told me he had derived great encouragement from what I said. Well, the poor man really is lonesome, his mother’s dead, and he hasn’t any sisters. I asked him why he didn’t go and take Miss Olladine Hocum. Everybody says she would make a first-rate minister’s wife.’

‘Well; and what did he say to that?’ said Mary.

‘Well, something really silly about my looks,’ said Cerinthy, looking down.

Mary looked up and remarked the shining black hair, the long dark lashes, lying down over the glowing cheek, where two arch dimples were nestling, and said quietly, ‘Probably he is a man of taste, Cerinthy. I advise you to leave the matter entirely to his judgment.’

‘You don’t really, Mary,’ said the damsel, looking up; ‘don’t you think it would injure him if I should?’

‘I think not materially,’ said Mary.

‘Well,’ said Cerinthy, rising, ‘the men will be coming home from mowing before I get home, and want their supper. Mother has one of her headaches on this afternoon, so I can’t stop any longer: there isn’t a soul in the house knows where anything is when I am gone. If I should ever take it into my head to go off, I don’t know what would become of father and mother. I was telling mother the other day that I thought unregenerate folks were of some use in this world any way.’

‘Does your mother know anything about it?’ said Mary.

‘Oh, as to mother, I believe she has been hoping and praying about it these three months. She thinks that I am such a desperate case, it is the only way I am to be brought in, as she calls it. That’s what set me against him at first; but the fact is, if girls will let a man argue with them, he always contrives to get the best of it. I am provoked about it too; but dear me! he is so meek there is no use of getting provoked at him. Well, I guess I will go home and think about it.’

As she turned to go she looked really pretty. Her long lashes were wet with a twinkling moisture, like meadow-grass after a shower; and there was a softened, child-like expression stealing over the careless gaiety of her face. Mary put her arms round her with a gentle caressing movement, which the other returned with a hearty embrace. They stood locked in each other’s arms; the bright, vigorous, strong-hearted girl, with that pale, spiritual face resting on her breast, as when the morning, songful and radiant, clasps the pale silver moon to her glowing bosom.

‘Look here now, Mary,’ said Cerinthy; ‘your folks are all gone, you may as well walk with me. It’s pleasant now.’

‘Yes, I will,’ said Mary; ‘wait a moment till I get my bonnet.’

In a few moments the two girls were walking together in one of those little pasture foot-tracks which run cosily among huckleberry and juniper bushes, while Cerinthy eagerly pursued the subject she could not leave thinking of.

Their path now wound over high ground that overlooked the distant sea, now lost itself in little copses of cedar and pitch-pine; and now there came on the air the pleasant breath of new hay, which mowers were harvesting in adjoining meadows.

They walked on and on as girls will; because when a young lady has once fairly launched on the enterprise of telling another all that he said, and just how he looked for the last three months, walks are apt to be indefinitely extended.

Mary was besides one of the most seductive little confidantes in the world. She was so pure from all selfism, so heartily and innocently interested in what another was telling her, that people in talking with her found the subject constantly increasing in interest; although if they had really been called upon afterwards to state the exact portion in words which she added to the conversation, they would have been surprised to find it so small.

In fact, before Cerinthy Ann had quite finished her confessions, they were more than a mile from the cottage, and Mary began to think of returning, saying that her mother would wonder where she was when she came home.

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