From The Lowell Daily Courier. April 22, 1882
It was in the latter part of November, just before Thanksgiving, when an event occurred in Midgeville, that agitated Midgeville society from centre to circumference.
It was no new thing for Midgeville society to be agitated. Indeed, it would have been a much newer thing for it to have remained unagitated for any length of time.
Mrs. Priscilla Downs often said that “Midgeville was the excitingest place she ever resided in.” As her youth had been spent in a whirl of gaiety at Bald Hill Cove, and fifteen years of her married life within three miles of Poverty Corner, this was saying a great deal, but it was true, nevertheless; there was, as Mrs. Priscilla affirmed, always something happening at Midgeville.
When the Downs moved thither ten years ago the public-spirited Midgevilleites had just purchased a ten-acre lot of Mr. Slocum, for a burying ground, and great was the consternation produced thereby, some of the oldest inhabitants going so far in their opposition as to say that “they would never be buried in Bill Slocum's sheep pasture as long as they lived;” and hardly had the matter been compromised by their dying, and allowing themselves to be buried there, when the school-house burned; and whether it caught fire from the stove door being carelessly left ajar the night before, or was set on fire by some young scamp in the neighborhood, was an unfathomable mystery that again perplexed the good people of Midgeville. Following close upon the heels of this disaster, Addison Snow mittened Serena Ann Baker, after being as “good as engaged to her for nigh on to six years.”
It nearly broke the poor girl's heart; but the Midgevilleites were wonderfully sympathetic as a class, and Serena found great consolation in visiting among them, and telling to willing listeners how she had “sot her life by Aderson;” of the tender little things he had said to her, and how “nigh she came to faintin' deadaway, when he proposed quitting.”
She soon received further consolation from the attentions of one Caleb Perkins, and at Christmas time “merrily rang the bells (or would, had there been any bells in Midgeville to ring) and they were wed.” In less than three months after the remarkable termination of this romantic affair, one of the Blaisdell boys was arrested for stealing hoop-poles; and although it was a terrible shock to the community, to find they had been harboring a thief in their very midst, it set their minds to rest as to the origin of the school-house fire.
One year later Union church was built; and Midgeville fairly outdid herself in getting agitated.
There were four denominations besides the outsiders interested in its construction; and as each individual member of each denomination (counting the “outsiders” as one) was firm in his convictions that if there was any one thing that he did know, and his neighbors did not, it was just how to build a meeting-house. It is not surprising that the discussions in regard to the height of the steeple, the depth of the gallery, the shape of the windows, the form of the pulpit, and the size of the pews should be frequent and animated.
But the building was finally completed and the Methodists carpeted it with red, because it was “kind of cheerful and lively looking,” and the Presbyterians had the pulpit furniture covered with green because it seemed “sort of subdued and solemn.” The Congregationalists bought, with sectarian money, an organ that discoursed unsectarian music, while the Baptists purchased a communion set, and showed a Christian spirit by allowing others to use it when they did not. The “outsiders” enjoyed great liberty in providing for the mortgage.
Union church affairs being thus amicably adjusted, Midgeville had fallen into a state of apathy not uncommon after great and prolonged excitement, when it was again aroused by the startling intelligence that the widow Benson and her two children had been turned out of doors.
Mrs. Benson had formerly lived in Pinewood, but three years before had bought a pretty cottage of Dr. Holmes, and with her little family had taken up her abode in Midgeville.
She had paid five hundred dollars down (the neighbors soon found out), and an unmarried brother, who was earning a good salary in the city, became responsible for the remainder. But the brother had died soon after the purchase, and, being unable to make the payments herself, the widow was now to be turned out of house and home into the cold, cold world.
At least such was the story, and it came straight. Mrs. Muggins, the blacksmith's wife, had just stepped into Mrs. Benson's on Monday, “while the clothes were boiling,” to get a little advice as to how she had better trim Susan Maria's dress, and found her packing up and getting ready to move; and in answer to her inquiries as to her object in moving in cold weather, she said that “Dr. Holmes wanted the house for one of his nephews.”
“She didn't 'pear to want to talk much about it,” said Mrs. Muggins, “poor creeter, I suppose she felt so bad she couldn't; I don't think she has the least idee where she's agoing to live, although she's going to her sister's at Pinewood, for a spell; but her sister has got a family of her own, and of course she can't be expected to provide a home for a widder and two children.”
Mrs. Muggins was terribly indignant, and so was everyone to whom she told the story, and it was thought best to have a meeting of the Union Sewing society the next day (although it was not the day for their meeting) and see what could be done about it. The meeting was held at the president's, Mrs. Murch's, who lived directly opposite Dr. Holmes' residence. It was well attended and never did Union Sewing society show a more united spirit than in denouncing the action of Dr. Holmes, and expressing sympathy for the unfortunate widow.
The widow Sharp boldly proposed raising money by subscription (of course, being a widow herself, she wouldn't be expected to give anything), but the other ladies, after making some mental calculations concluded that it wouldn't be best; “Widow Benson was a dreadful high-spirited woman and might feel affronted.”
So there seemed nothing they could do after all except to free their minds, but they did that thoroughly.
It was perfectly scandalous, they declared, for Doctor Holmes, the richest man in Midgeville, and not a child or chick in the world, to oppress the widow and fatherless.
“Such a good woman as she is in sickness,” said Mrs. Taylor, whose children had had a run of measles; “and dreadful tasty,” sighed grandma Newcomb, wondering where her pretty caps were to come from now. “But nothing gaudy, you never see her rigged out in flounces and furbelows,” added Mrs. Joel Clark, with a side glance at the ruffle on Mrs. Muggins's dress. “And an amazing good hand to mind her own business,” was the significant tribute paid by the blacksmith's wife. There were but two dissenting voices: Mrs. Bean, whose husband kept store, said “widders hadn't ought to buy what they couldn't pay for,” not, as she afterwards explained, because she “blamed the widder Benson, but she wanted to hit the widder Sharpe a dab for not paying her grocery bill.”
Miss Eudora Piper, who was afflicted with nervous headaches, remarked that she “had always found Dr. Holmes most gentle and affection —,” and then stopped suddenly, as if she had said more than she had intended to, although everybody, and especially the widow Sharp, knew she hadn't.
“There's the doctor's hired man harnessing the horse,” said Mrs. Murch, looking out of the front window, “and as sure as I am alive that's a bran new kerridge, and what a big one for just one —”
“Ma, ma,” yelled Toby Murch, tumbling over the doorstep in his hurry to tell the news, “Will Benson says his mother was married last night to Dr. Holmes, and he's goin' to call him pa, and they are all goin' ter Pinewood to Thanksgivin'.”
True enough the doctor put the two children into the carriage, and helped their mother in with a most loverlike devotion.
“He sort o' does 'pear affectionate,” said the widow Sharpe, looking at Miss Piper with an exasperating smile.
“There's no fool like an old fool,” snapped the fair Eudora.
“Did you ever?” asked the president, as the carriage rolled past, and she turned from the window and gazed upon the members.
And the members admitted that they “never did, really, although they had mistrusted it all along.”