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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Miss Prissy Takes Candace’s Counsel
By Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–1896)
 
From ‘The Minister’s Wooing’

CANDACE sat on a fragment of granite bowlder which lay there, her black face relieved against a clump of yellow mulleins, then in majestic altitude. On her lap was spread a checked pocket-handkerchief, containing rich slices of cheese and a store of her favorite brown doughnuts.  1
  “Now, Miss Prissy,” she said, “dar’s reason in all tings, an’ a good deal more in some tings dan dar is in oders. Dar’s a good deal more reason in two young, handsome folks comin’ togeder dan dar is in”—Candace finished the sentence by an emphatic flourish of her doughnut. “Now as long as eberybody thought Jim Marvyn was dead, dar wa’n’t nothin’ else in de world to be done but marry de doctor. But good lan’! I hearn him a-talkin’ to Miss Marvyn las’ night: it kinder ’mos’ broke my heart. Why, dem two poor creeturs, dey’s jest as onhappy ’s dey can be! An’ she’s got too much feelin’ for de doctor to say a word; and I say he oughter to be told on ’t! dat’s what I say,” said Candace, giving a decisive bite to her doughnut.  2
  “I say so too,” said Miss Prissy. “Why, I never had such bad feelings in my life as I did yesterday, when that young man came down to our house. He was just as pale as a cloth. I tried to say a word to Miss Scudder, but she snapped me up so! She’s an awful decided woman when her mind’s made up. I was telling Cerinthy Ann Twitchel,—she came round me this noon,—that it didn’t exactly seem to me right that things should go on as they are going. And says I, ‘Cerinthy Ann, I don’t know anything what to do.’ “And says she, ‘If I was you, I know what I’d do,—I’d tell the doctor,’ says she. ‘Nobody ever takes offense at anything you do, Miss Prissy.’ To be sure,” added Miss Prissy, “I have talked to people about a good many things that it’s rather strange I should; ’cause I ain’t one, somehow, that can let things go that seem to want doing. I always told folks that I should spoil a novel before it got half-way through the first volume, by blurting out some of those things that they let go trailing on so, till everybody gets so mixed up they don’t know what they’re doing.”  3
  “Well, now, honey,” said Candace authoritatively, “ef you’s got any notions o’ dat kind, I tink it mus’ come from de good Lord, an’ I ’dvise you to be ’tendin’ to ’t right away. You jes’ go ’long an’ tell de doctor yourself all you know, an’ den le’s see what ’ll come on ’t. I tell you, I b’liebe it’ll be one o’ de bes’ day’s works you eber did in your life!”  4
  “Well,” said Miss Prissy, “I guess to-night, before I go to bed, I’ll make a dive at him. When a thing’s once out, it’s out, and can ’t be got in again, even if people don’t like it; and that’s a mercy, anyhow. It really makes me feel ’most wicked to think of it, for he is the most blessedest man!”  5
  “Dat’s what he is,” said Candace. “But de blessedest man in de world oughter know de truth: dat’s what I tink!”  6
  “Yes—true enough!” said Miss Prissy. “I’ll tell him, anyway!”  7
  Miss Prissy was as good as her word; for that evening, when the doctor had retired to his study, she took her life in her hand, and walking swiftly as a cat, tapped rather timidly at the study-door, which the doctor opening, said benignantly:—  8
  “Ah, Miss Prissy!”  9
  “If you please, sir,” said Miss Prissy, “I’d like a little conversation.”  10
  The doctor was well enough used to such requests from the female members of his church, which generally were the prelude to some disclosures of internal difficulties or spiritual experiences. He therefore graciously motioned her to a chair.  11
  “I thought I must come in,” she began, busily twirling a bit of her Sunday gown. “I thought—that is—I felt it my duty—I thought—perhaps—I ought to tell you—that perhaps you ought to know—”  12
  The doctor looked civilly concerned. He did not know but Miss Prissy’s wits were taking leave of her. He replied, however, with his usual honest stateliness:—  13
  “I trust, dear madam, that you will feel at perfect freedom to open to me any exercises of mind that you may have.”  14
  “It isn’t about myself,” said Miss Prissy. “If you please, it’s about you and Mary!”  15
  The doctor now looked awake in right earnest, and very much astonished besides; and he looked eagerly at Miss Prissy, to have her go on.  16
  “I don’t know how you would view such a matter,” said Miss Prissy; “but the fact is that James Marvyn and Mary always did love each other, ever since they were children.”  17
  Still the doctor was unawakened to the real meaning of the words, and he answered simply:—  18
  “I should be far from wishing to interfere with so very natural and universal a sentiment, which I make no doubt is all quite as it should be.”  19
  “No—but—” said Miss Prissy, “you don’t understand what I mean. I mean that James Marvyn wanted to marry Mary, and that she was—well—she wasn’t engaged to him, but—”  20
  “Madam!” said the doctor, in a voice that frightened Miss Prissy out of her chair, while a blaze like sheet-lightning shot from his eyes, and his face flushed crimson.  21
  “Mercy on us! Doctor, I hope you’ll excuse me; but there—the fact is—I’ve said it out—the fact is, they wa’n’t engaged: but that Mary loved him ever since he was a boy, as she never will and never can love any man again in this world, is what I am just as sure of as that I’m standing here; and I’ve felt you ought to know it, ’cause I’m quite sure that if he’d been alive, she’d never given the promise she has—the promise that she means to keep, if her heart breaks and his too. The’ wouldn’t anybody tell you, and I thought I must tell you; ’cause I thought you’d know what was right to do about it.”  22
  During all this latter speech the Doctor was standing with his back to Miss Prissy, and his face to the window, just as he did some time before, when Mrs. Scudder came to tell him of Mary’s consent. He made a gesture backward, without speaking, that she should leave the apartment: and Miss Prissy left, with a guilty kind of feeling as if she had been striking a knife into her pastor; and rushing distractedly across the entry into Mary’s little bedroom, she bolted the door, threw herself on the bed, and began to cry.  23
  “Well, I’ve done it!” she said to herself. “He’s a very strong, hearty man,” she soliloquized, “so I hope it won’t put him in a consumption: men do go into a consumption about such things sometimes. I remember Abner Seaforth did; but then he was always narrow-chested, and had the liver complaint or something. I don’t know what Miss Scudder will say;—but I’ve done it. Poor man! such a good man, too! I declare, I feel just like Herod taking off John the Baptist’s head. Well, well! it’s done, and can’t be helped.”  24
  Just at this moment Miss Prissy heard a gentle tap at the door, and started as if it had been a ghost,—not being able to rid herself of the impression that somehow she had committed a great crime, for which retribution was knocking at the door.  25
  It was Mary, who said in her sweetest and most natural tones, “Miss Prissy, the doctor would like to see you.”  26
  Mary was much astonished at the frightened, discomposed manner with which Miss Prissy received this announcement, and said:—  27
  “I’m afraid I’ve waked you up out of sleep. I don’t think there’s the least hurry.”  28
  Miss Prissy didn’t, either: but she reflected afterwards that she might as well get through with it at once; and therefore smoothing her tumbled cap-border, she went to the doctor’s study. This time he was quite composed, and received her with a mournful gravity, and requested her to be seated.  29
  “I beg, madam,” he said, “you will excuse the abruptness of my manner in our late interview. I was so little prepared for the communication you had to make, that I was perhaps unsuitably discomposed. Will you allow me to ask whether you were requested by any of the parties to communicate to me what you did?”  30
  “No, sir,” said Miss Prissy.  31
  “Have any of the parties ever communicated with you on the subject at all?” said the doctor.  32
  “No, sir,” said Miss Prissy.  33
  “That is all,” said the doctor. “I will not detain you. I am very much obliged to you, madam.”  34
  He rose, and opened the door for her to pass out; and Miss Prissy, overawed by the stately gravity of his manner, went out in silence.  35
 
 
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