At first, Laura was a little shy of the plain-spoken old maid, for whose person, manners, and opinions she had often heard Mrs. Jaynes express, in private, a most bitter dislike. But Statira had been regnant in the Bugbee mansion less than a week, when Laura began to make timid advances towards a mutual good understanding, of which for a while Statira affected to take no heed for having formed a resolution to maintain a strict reserve towards every inmate of the parsonage she was not disposed to break it so soon, even in favor of Laura, whose winsome overtures she found it difficult to resist.
“If it w’a’nt for her bein’ Miss Jaynes’s sister,” said she, one day, to Cornelia, who had been praising her friend, — “if it want for that one thing, I should like her remarkable well, — a good deal more’n common.”
“Pray, what have you got such a spite against the Jayneses for?” asked Cornelia.
“What do you mean by askin’ such a question as that, Cornele?” said Tira, in a tone of stern reproof. “Who’s got a spite against ’em? Not I, by a good deal! As for the parson himself, he’s a well-meanin’ man, and does as near right as he knows how. If you could say as much as that for everybody, there wouldn’t be any need of parsons any more.”
“But you don’t like Mrs. Jaynes,” persisted Cornelia.
“I ha’n’t got a spite against her, Cornele, — though, I confess, I don’t love the woman,” replied Statira. “But I always treat her well; though, to be sure, I don’t curchy so low and keep smilin’ so much as most folks do, when they meet a ministers wife and have talk with her. Even when she comes here a-borrowin’ things she knows will be giv’ to her when she asks for ’em, which makes it so near to beggin’ that she ought to be ashamed on’t, which I only give to her because it’s your father’s wish for me to do so, and the things are his’n; but I always treat her well, Cornele.”
“But why don’t you like her, Tira?” asked Helen.
“My dear, I’ll tell you, said Statira; for I don’t want you to think I’m set against any person unreasonable and without cause. You see Miss Jaynes is a nateral-born beggar. I don’t say it with any ill-will, but it’s a fact. She takes to beggin’ as naterally as a goslin’ takes to a puddle; and when she first come to town she commenced a-beggin’, and has kep’ it up ever since. She used to tackle me the same as she does everybody else, askin’ me to give somethin’ to this, and to that, and to t’other pet humbug of her’n, but I never would do it and when she found she couldn’t worry me into it, like the rest of ’em, it set her very bitter against me; and I heard of her tellin’ I’d treated her with rudeness, which I’d always treated her civilly, only when I said ‘No,’ she found coaxin’ and palaverin’ wouldn’t stir me. So it went on for a year or two, till, one fall, I was stayin’ here to your ma’s, — Cornele, I guess you remember the time, — helpin’ of her make up her quinces and apples. We was jest in the midst of bilin’ cider, with one biler on the stove and the biggest brass kittle full in the fireplace, when in comes boltin’ Miss Jaynes, dressed up as fine as a fiddle. She set right down in the kitchen, and your ma rolled her sleeves down and took off her apurn, lookin’ kind o’ het and worried. After a few words, Miss Jaynes took a paper out of her pocket, and says she to your ma, ‘Miss Bugbee,’ says she, ‘I’m a just startin’ forth on the Lord’s business, and I come to you as the helpmate and pardner of one of his richest stewards in this vineyard.’ — ‘What is it now?’ says your ma, lookin’ out of one eye at the brass kittle, and speakin’ more impatient than I ever heard her speak to a minister’s wife before. Well, I can’t spend time to tell all that Miss Jaynes said in answer, but it seemed some of the big folks in New York had started a new society, and its object was to provide, as near as ever I could find out, such kind of necessary notions for indigent young men studyin’ to be ministers as they couldn’t well afford to buy for themselves, — such as steel-bowed specs for the near-sighted ones, and white cravats, black silk gloves, and linen-cambric handkerchiefs for ’em all, — in order, as Miss Jaynes said, these young fellers might keep up a respectable appearance, and not give a chance for the worlds people to get a contemptible idee of the ministry, on account of the shabby looks of the young men that had laid out to foller that holy callin’. She said it was a cause that ought to lay near the heart of every evangelical Christian man, and especially the women. ‘We mothers in Israel,’ says Miss Jaynes, ‘ought to feel for these young Davids that have gone forth to give battle to the Goliaths of sin that are a-stalkin’ and struttin’ round all over the land.’ She said the society was goin’ to be a great institution, with an office to New York, with an executive committee and three secretaries in attendance there, and was a-goin’ to employ a great number of clergymen, out of a parish, to travel as agents collectin’ funds; ‘but,’ says she, ‘I’ve a better tack for collectin’ than most people, and I’ve concluded to canvass this town myself for donations to this noble and worthy cause; and I’ve come to you, Miss Bugbee,’ says she, ‘to lead off with your accustomed liberality.’ — Well, what does your ma do, but go into her room, to her draw, I suppose, and fetch out a five-dollar bill, and give it to Miss Jaynes, which I’d a had to work a week, stitchin’ from mornin’ to night, to have earnt that five-dollar bill; though, of course, your ma had a right to burn it up, if she’d a been a mind to; only it made me ache to see it go so, when there was thousands of poor starvin’ ragged orphans needin’ it so bad. All to once Miss Jaynes wheeled and spoke to me: ‘Well, Miss Tira,’ says she, ‘can I have a dollar from you?’ — ‘No, ma’am,’ says I. — ‘I supposed not,’ says she; which would have been sassy in anybody but the parson’s wife. But I held my tongue, and out she went, takin’ no more notice of me than she did of Vi’let, nor half so much, — for I see her kind o’ look towards the old woman, as if she was half a mind to ask her for a fourpence-ha’penny. Well, that was the last on’t for a spell, until after New Year’s. I was stayin’ then at your Uncle James’s, and one afternoon your ma sent for your Aunt Eunice and me to come over and take tea. So we went over, and there was several of the neighbors invited in, — Squire Bramhall’s wife, and them your ma used to go with most, and amongst the rest, of course, Miss Jaynes. There had just before that been a donation party, New Year’s night, to the parson’s, and the Dorcas Society bad bought Miss Jaynes a nice new Brussels carpet for her parlor, all cut and fitted and made up. In the course of the afternoon Miss Bramhall spoke and asked if the new carpet was put down, and if it fitted well. ‘Oh, beautiful!’ says she, ‘it fits the room like a glove; somebody must have had pretty good eyes to took the measure so correct, and I not know anything what was a-comin’; and I hope,’ says she, ‘ladies, you’ll take an early opportunity to drop in and see it; for there a’n’t one of you but what I’m under obligation to for this touchin’ token of your love,’ (that’s what she called it,) — ‘except,’ says she, of a sudden, ‘except Miss Blake, whom, really, I hadn’t noticed before!’ — I tell ye, Cornele, my ebenezer was up at this; for you can’t tell how mean and spiteful she spoke and looked, pretendin’ as if I was so insignificant a critter she hadn’t taken notice of my bein’ there before, which, to be sure, she hadn’t even bid me good afternoon; and for my part, I hadn’t put myself forward among such women as was there, though I didn’t feel beneath ’em, nor they didn’t think so, except Miss Jaynes. — Then she went on. ‘Miss Blake,’ says she, ‘I believe didn’t mean no slight for not helpin’ towards the carpet; for she never gives to anything, as I know of,’ says she. ‘I’ve often asked her for various objects, and have been as often refused. The last time,’ says she, ‘I did expect to get somethin’; for I asked only for a dollar to that noble society for providin’ young men, a-strugglin’ to prepare themselves for usefulness in the ministry, with some of the common necessaries of life, but she refused me. I expect,’ says she, a-sneerin’ in such a way that I couldn’t stand it any longer, ‘I expect Miss Blake is a-savin’ all her money to buy her settin’-out and furniture with; for I suppose,’ says she, lookin’ more spiteful than ever, ‘I suppose Miss Blake thinks that as long as there’s life there’s hope for a husband.’ — I happen to know what all the ladies thought of this speech, for every one of ’em afterwards told me; but, if you’ll believe me, one or two of the youngest of ’em kind of pretended to smile at the joke on’t, when Miss Jaynes looked round as if she expected ’em to laugh; for she thought, I suppose, I was really and truly no account, bin’ a cobblers daughter and a tailoress, — and that when the ministers wife insulted me, I dars’n’t reply, and all hands would stand by and applaud. But she found out her mistake, and she begun to think so, when she see how grave your ma and all the rest of the older ladies looked, for they knew what was comin’. I’d bit my lips up till now, and held in out of respect to the place and the company, but I thought it was due to myself to speak at last. Says I, ‘Miss Jaynes, I’ve always treated you with civility and the respect due to your place; though I own I ha’n’t felt free to give my hard-earned wages away to objects I didn’t know much about, when, with my limited means, I could find places to bestow what little I could spare without huntin’ ’em up. I don’t mean to boast,’ says I, ‘of my benevolence, and I don’t have gilt-framed diplomas hung up in my room to certify to it, to be seen and read of all men, as the manner of some is, — but,’ says I, ‘I will say that I’ve given this year twenty-five dollars to the Orphan Asylum, to Hartford, and I’ve a five-dollar gold-piece in my puss,’ says I, ‘that I can spare, and will give that more to the same charity, for the privilege of tellin’ before these ladies, that heard me accused of being stingy, why I don’t give to you when you ask me to, and especially why I didn’t give the last time you asked me. I would like to tell why I didn’t help sew in the Dorcas Society, to buy the new carpet,’ says I, ‘but I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelin’s that ha’n’t hurt mine, and I’ll forbear.’ — By this time Miss Jaynes was pale as a sheet. ‘I’m sure,’ says she, ‘I don’t care why you don’t choose to give, and I don’t suppose any one else does. It’s your own affair,’ says she, ‘and you a’n’t compelled to give unless you’re a mind to.’ — ‘You should have thought of that before you twitted me,’ says I, ‘before all this company.’ — ‘Oh, Tira, never mind,’ says Miss Bramhall, ‘let it all go!’ But up spoke your Aunt Eunice, and says she, ‘It’s no more than fair to hear Tira’s reasons, after what’s been said.’”