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THE SEWING SOCIETY.
BOUT one o'clock on the following day, Mrs. Prescott sent a shrill call up the staircase to know if I was "ready to go to Society?" I had not expected so early a summons, but I made quick work with my toilet, and soon joined her and Alice at the gate. The walk was a pleasant one; over a winding, hilly, alternately shady and sunny road, bordered by a pleasant succession of fields and meadows and woodland, with here and there a comfortable farm-house, standing sufficiently aloof to preserve its own individual life intact, yet affording its neighbors glimpses of a blue column of smoke, by day, and a red windowgleam by night, as an assurance of available help and companionship, at need.
Mrs. Prescott enlivened the way with some account of the people I was about to meet.
"There's my second cousin, Esther Volger-Essie, most folks call her, but I don't believe in turning the good old Bible names into wishy-washy nicknames-I'd rather have cream than skim-milk, any day. Well, Esther is a person of some consequence in Shiloh; she is the only daughter of the richest man in the place, and she has been away to a city boarding-school for two or three years, and learned to play the piano, and got varnished up generally;-though it hasn't spoilt her a bit-I'll say that for her. On the contrary, she's got some good, besides the varnishing; for she
went to a Church school, and learned more about Church ways, and got more interested in Church work, than she would ever have done if she had stayed at home; for her father don't care any more about any Church than he does about the man in the moon. But he gives Esther pretty liberally of pocket-money, and as she's young and spry, and hasn't much to do,-except to mitten young fellows who hang round her because she's an heiress,-I manage to get more money and more work out of her than anybody else. Then, there's Mrs. Seber (it's at her house that the Society meets to-day); she's a woman who had a good deal rather there wouldn't be any minister here in Shiloh, because she thinks it's smarter to go up town to church. Still, she hasn't got the face to turn her back on us, when we do have service; but she means to be top of the heap, to pay her for her condescension. She always expects to be made president of Society, though she hasn't any idea of doing a president's work. But there's one comfort about that,—when she's president, I can have my way pretty much; all she wants is the honor; she is glad enough to get rid of the labor. But Mrs. Burcham is a bird of a different feather. Whether she's in office, or out, she makes it her business to fight what anybody else proposes. If a measure is tried today, she'll fight it tooth and nail; if you try the very opposite to-morrow, she is just as ready to fight that. I always know where to find her, on the contrary side! Then, there's Mrs. Shemnar; she happened to be made without any mind of her own, so she helps herself to the one that is handiest, whenever there's a vote to be taken. If I could be at her elbow all the time, she would do just as I said; if Mrs. Burcham happens to be nearest, she'll follow her lead just as quick. But I believe I'm more troubled, just now, about Mrs. Danforth than anybody else." And Mrs. Prescott stopped to take breath.
"Who is Mrs. Danforth?" I asked.
"Mrs. Danforth is a New Yorker, like yourself. She
has taken a house down on Hope Plain, for the summer, on account of two pale, peaking, spindling children she's got, that the doctor told her must be brought away from the city, or they would die. I called on her the other day-before she had got fairly settled,—I was so anxious to see if the Church was like to get any good out of her. And— well, she's a curious one, Miss Frost. Not much after your sort, though I used to think all city folks must be pretty much alike."
"What sort is hers, then?"
"That's just what I can't say; she puzzles me more than common. When I called, she came sweeping into the room, with a silk dress and a long train, and the grandest kind of an air, so I expected to be snuffed out like a candle in no time; but, instead of that, she sat right down and talked to me in the easiest and chattiest kind of a way, and told me all about her children, and her family,-away back to the Mayflower times,-and what she had done, and what she had meant to do, and what grand people she knew, and I don't know what all,-my head fairly swam before I got away from her. As she talked, she made gestures in the most wonderful way-I never saw anything like it in my life!-and then her hands were loaded with diamond rings; she had two or three on a finger, and how they did twinkle and glitter! But yet, somehow, her diamonds seemed to be a part of her,-I couldn't think of her without them, now,-and I should think she would have to sleep in them, for fear she wouldn't know herself when she wakes up. Well, she treated me handsomely enough, plain as I am; but I concluded, after I had watched her awhile, that she thought she was made of a very superior sort of clay, indeed; and when she was finished, there wasn't any left; and so the little differences in other people's earth weren't worth her minding. But I thought, Miss Frost, that in spite of her diamonds, and her grand air, and her good blood, she wasn't quite a lady.”
"Indeed," said I, "what was lacking?"
Well, in the first place, she didn't look tidy,-to be sure, she was in the midst of setting to rights. Then, she did boast; though she covered it up as nicely as ever you saw it done. And once she said, 'By George.'
I had had some little idea of making common cause with my unknown city sister, and defending her against Mrs. Prescott's charge; but the "By George" shut my mouth. I think a lady cannot be too careful in her expressions; too steady in her resistance to that mighty army of slang words and phrases which is invading our literature, our parlors, lyceums, courts,-even our pulpits.
Mrs. Prescott continued. "Anyhow, she's a Churchwoman, and used to Church work: she said she had been President of The Friend in Need,' and Vice-President of 'The Wayside Sower,' and First Directress of something else; to hear her tell the story, you'd say there wasn't anything she hadn't been, and done. But one thing I saw plain enough, she isn't going to work after anybody's ordering but her own. She'll work like a horse, I should say, if you'll give her the lead; but she hasn't much gift for following on. I suspect the best thing we can do, considering all things, is to make her president of our Society right off. But then there'll be trouble with Mrs. Seber. I laid awake all night thinking about it."
And Mrs. Prescott went on thinking about it, to such an absorbing extent that she said no more till we reached Mrs. Seber's gate,-not the front one, which seemed not to have been opened since the house was built, but a side gate, which, being fettered by a chain, with a heavy weight of old iron attached, did not admit us with very gratifying alacrity.
It is the Shiloh habit to enter your neighbor's dwelling by its heart,-namely, the kitchen,-a practice which must have originated in the kindest consideration for visit ors-since to be first introduced into such stiff, sour, se
vere looking parlors as are the rule here, would inevitably freeze the friendliest heart, and depress the most vivacious temperament. Whereas, the kitchen, in its afternoon presentment, is usually an airy, tidy, and genial apartment; full of homely, but cheerful, tokens of domestic thrift and comfort; and rich as a human heart in long experience of life's familiar cares, labors, and interests. Through Mrs. Seber's kitchen, therefore, Mrs. Prescott led the way to a small bedroom at its farther end; where a puffy feather-bed was strewn with an assemblage of bonnets and wrappings that would have served for an illustration of defunct fashions. Among them a jaunty hat, with a scarlet feather (a very tulip among sage plants) caught my companion's eye, and pointing to it, she said, briefly, "Esther Volger." Thence, she conducted me to the "keeping room," already tolerably well filled with sober matrons and comely maidall sitting stiffly upright, with that uncomfortable air of being arrayed in company attire and manners, which is apt to make the first half-hour of a rural gathering a thing to be dreaded. From an open door into the parlor beyond, came a sound of laughter and cheery voices, that indicated the presence of a more enlivening spirit. Mrs. Prescott made a brief pause on the threshold, nodded toward me, and said, "Miss Frost, ladies."
A stout, rosy-faced dame arose and bestirred herself to find me a chair, by which I identified her as the mistress of the mansion. Having put me in it, she hesitated, as if conscious that something further ought to be done, or said, in my behalf, but not quite certain what; and was, doubtless, much relieved when the sudden appearance of a young lady in the door, close to which she had placed me, saved her from the necessity. The new-comer paused, with a little start, in her swift career, at sight of a stranger in her path; then she held out her hand in the frankest, simplest way"Miss Frost, I presume,-I am glad to meet you. How do you do? I am Essie Volger."