“I know how to appreciate it, Mrs. Trotbridge, and hope nothing may come to lengthen the distance between our friendship,” returned the major, shrugging his great broad shoulders, and adding that I could now go through the process of dusting while he washed his face, preparatory to listening to how times went with Mrs. Trotbridge. He had previously ordered the boys to water his chickens, and now, having at his desire brought in the fish, he presented them to the hostess with all that pomp and dignity so common with government employs, who present the heads of departments with services of plate bought with their own money, and which intolerable nuisance had its origin among the kings and queens of the buskin. They were, he slyly intimated, worth seven Massachusetts shillings. The shrewd fishmonger wanted nine, but, saying I was going to present them to a dear old friend, he threw off two. No New York alderman ever received a gold snuff box for abusing his office with more condescension than did Mrs. Trotbridge the fish so kindly presented by the major. Saying he was proverbially a modest man, the major begged she would forego any return of thanks and accept them solely as a token of the affection he bore her, and which he certainly would enlarge were it not that Mrs. Roger Potter yet lived, and was hale and hearty. The widow blushed for once, saying as she did so, that there was a time when such a compliment would not have been lost upon her, but now that she had got on the wrong side of forty, was getting gray, and had seen three dear good husbands put away in the grave, she did not think it right to be “lookin’ out,” especially as Parson Stebbins had always said, when he looked in, that woman’s worldly thoughts ought to end at forty.
My suspicions of the major’s probity were now almost confirmed, for when she offered to vouchsafe him her generosity, by frying a piece of the fish for dinner, he expressed a positive preference for bacon, a good flitch of which he saw in a little cupboard she opened in search of her stew pan. And although he expressed it a stain upon his gallantry to deprive her of even an ounce, I thought the quality and not his gallantry stood in the way. “Lord bless you, Mrs. Trotbridge,” said the major, “men distinguished in arms never make presents to eat of them.”
The good hostess replied, by saying, she might have known, but it was seldom persons so distinguished came that way; and when they did, she entertained them just for the honor of it. Peace, she said, reigned in her little house, and she was more happy with the thought of eating the bread of honesty, so remotely, than she would be with a palace in the olive groves of Cordova the man who lectured told about, seeing that they who live in palaces must depend upon others for bread, while she could raise her own.
How major Roger Potter got his dinner, made an exchange of chickens, and took leave of Mrs. Trotbridge.