Elizabeth Stoddard.

The Morgesons; a novel online

. (page 1 of 24)
Online LibraryElizabeth StoddardThe Morgesons; a novel → online text (page 1 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook











portrait ot Blisabetb Stoooaro

from a







1 Time is a clever devil." BALZAC








I suppose it was environment that caused me to
write these novels ; but the mystery of it is, that
when I left my native village I did not dream that
imagination would lead me there again, for the
simple annals of our village and domestic ways did
not interest me; neither was I in the least studious.
My years were passed in an attempt to have a good
time, according to the desires and fancies of youth.
Of literature and the literary life, I and my tribe
knew nothing ; we had not discovered sermons
in stones. Where then was the panorama of my
stories and novels stored, that was unrolled in my
new sphere ? Of course, being moderately intelli
gent I read everything that came in my way, but
merely for amusement. It had been laid up
against me as a persistent fault, which was not
profitable; I should peruse moral, and pious works,
or take up sewing, that interminable thing, white
seam," which filled the leisure moments of the
right-minded. To the personnel of writers I gave
little heed; it was the hero they created that
charmed me, like Miss Porter s gallant Pole,
Sobieski, or the ardent Ernest Maltravers, of

I had now come to live among those who made



books, and were interested in all their material, for
all was for the glory of the whole. Prefaces, notes,
indexes, were unnoticed by me, even Walter
Scott s and Lord Byron s. I began to get
glimpses of a profound ignorance, and did not like
the position as an outside consideration. These
mental productive adversities abased me. I was
well enough in my way, but nothing was expected
from me in their way, and when I beheld their
ardor in composition, and its fine emulation, like "a
sheep before her shearers," I was dumb. The envi
ronment pressed upon me, my pride was touched ;
my situation, though tolerable, was not to be

Fortunate or not, we were poor. It was not
strange that I should marry, said those who knew
the step I had taken ; but that I should follow that
old idyl ; and accept the destiny of a garret and
a crust with a poet, was incredible! Therefore,
being apart from the diversions of society, I had
many idle hours. One day when my husband was
sitting at the receipt of customs, for he had ob
tained a modest appointment, I sat by a little desk,
where my portfolio lay open. A pen was near,
which I took up, and it began to write, wildly like
Planchette upon her board, or like a kitten
clutching a ball of yarn fearfully. But doing it
again I could not say why my mind began
upon a festival in my childhood, which my mother
arranged for several poor old people at Thanks-


giving. I finished the sketch in private, and gave

it the title of A Christmas Dinner, as one more
modern. I put in occasional "fiblets" about the
respectable guests, Mrs. Carver and Mrs. Chand
ler, and one dreadful little girl foisted upon me to
entertain. It pleased the editor of Harper 1 s Mag
azine, who accepted it, and sent me a check which
would look wondrous small now. I wrote similar
sketches, which were published in that magazine.
Then I announced my intention of writing a "long
story, and was told by him of the customs that he
thought I lacked the constructive faculty. I
hope that I am writing an object lesson, either of
learning how, or not learning how, to write.

I labored daily, when alone, for weeks; how many
sheets of foolscap I covered, and dashed to earth,
was never told. Since, by my infinite pains and
groans," I have been reminded of Barkis, in
" David Copperfield," when he crawled out of his
bed to get a guinea from his strong box for
David s dinner. Naturally, I sent the story to
Harper* s Magazine, and it was curtly refused.
My husband, moved by pity by my discourage
ment, sent it to Mr. Lowell, then editor of the
Atlantic Monthly. In a few days I received a let
ter from him, which made me very happy. He
accepted the story, and wrote me then, and after
wards, letters of advice and suggestion. I think
he saw through my mind, its struggles, its igno
rance, and its ambition. Also I got my guinea


for my pains. The Atlantic Monthly sent me a
hundred dollars. I doubt but for Mr. Lowell s
interest and kindness I should ever have tried
prose again. I owe a debt of gratitude to him
which I shall always give to his noble memory.

My story did not set the river on fire, as stories
are apt to do nowadays. It attracted so little
notice from those I knew, and knew of, that natu
rally my ambition would have been crushed. Not
withstanding, and saying nothing to anybody, I
began " The Morgesons," and everywhere I went,
like Mary s lamb, my MS. was sure to go. Mean
dering along the path of that family, I took them
much to heart, and finished their record within a
year. I may say here, that the clans I marshaled
for my pages had vanished from the sphere of
reality in my early day the village Squire, peer
less in blue broadcloth, who scolded, advised,
and helped his poorer neighbors ; the widows, or
maidens, who accepting service "as a favor,
often remained a lifetime as friend as well as
help ; the race of coast-wise captains and
traders, from Maine to Florida, as acute as they
were ignorant; the rovers of the Atlantic and the
Pacific, were gone not to return. If with these
characters I have deserved the name of realist, J
I have also clothed my skeletons with the robe of
romance. The Morgesons completed, and no
objections made to its publication, it was pub
lished. As an author friend happened to be with


us, almost on the day it was out, I gave it to him
to read, and he returned it to me with the remark
that there were "a good many whiches in it."
That there were, I must own, and that it was diffi
cult to extirpate them. I was annoyed at their fer
tility. The inhabitants of my ancient dwelling
place pounced upon The Morgesons, because
i they were convinced it would prove to be a version
J of my relations, and my own life. I think one
copy passed from hand to hand, but the interest
in it soon blew over, and I have not been noticed
there since.

Two Men I began as I did the others, with
a single motive; the shadow of a man passed be
fore me, and I built a visionary fabric round him.
I have never tried to girdle the earth; my limits
are narrow ; the modern novel, as Andrew Lang
lately calls it, with its love-making, disquisition,
description, history, theology, ethics, I have no
sprinkling of. My last novel, <( Temple House,"
was personally conducted, so far that I went to
Plymouth to find a suitable abode for my hero,
Angus Gates, and to measure with my eye the
distance between the bar in the bay and the shore,
the scene of a famous wreck before the Revolu
tion. As my stories and novels were never in
touch with my actual life, they seem now as if they
were written by a ghost of their time. It is to
strangers from strange places that I owe the most
sympathetic recognition. Some have come to me,


and from many I have had letters that warmed my
heart, and cheered my mind. Beside the name of
Mr. Lowell, I mention two New England names,
to spare me the fate of the prophet of the Gospel,
the late Maria Louise Pool, whose lamentable
death came far too early, and Nathaniel Hawthorne,
who lived to read " The Morgesons" only, and to
write me a characteristic letter. With some slight
criticism, he wrote, " Pray pardon my frankness,
for what is the use of saying anything, unless we say
what we think ? . . . Otherwise it seemed to me
as genuine and lifelike as anything that pen and ink
can do. There are very few books of which I take
the trouble to have any opinion at all, or of which
I could retain any memory so long after reading
them as I do of The Morgesons.

Could better words be written for the send-off of
these novels ?


York, May 2nd, 1901.



child," said my aunt Mercy, looking at me
1 with indigo-colored eyes, " is possessed."

When my aunt said this I was climbing a chest of drawers,
by its knobs, in order to reach the book-shelves above it,
where my favorite work, " The Northern Regions," was
kept, together with " Baxter s Saints Rest," and other vol
umes of that sort, belonging to my mother; and those my
father bought for his own reading, and which I liked,
though I only caught a glimpse of their meaning by
strenuous study. To this day Sheridan s Comedies,
Sterne s Sentimental Journey, and Captain Cook s Voy
ages are so mixed up in my remembrance that I am still
uncertain whether it was Sterne who ate baked dog with
Maria, or Sheridan who wept over a dead ass in the Sand
wich Islands.

After I had made a dash at and captured my book, I
seated myself with difficulty on the edge of the chest of
drawers, and was soon lost in an Esquimaux hut. Presently,
in crossing my feet, my shoes, which were large, dropped
on the painted floor with a loud noise. I looked at my
aunt ; her regards were still fixed upon me, but they did
not interfere with her occupation of knitting ; neither did
they interrupt her habit of chewing cloves, flagroot, or
grains of rice. If these articles were not at hand, she
chewed a small chip.

" Aunt Merce, poor Hepburn chewed his shoes, when he
was in Davis s Straits."

" Mary, look at that child s stockings."

Mother raised her eyes from the Boston Recorder, and
the article she had been absorbed in the proceedings of an
Ecclesiastical Council, which had discussed (she read aloud


to Aunt Merce) the conduct of Brother Thaddeus Turner,
pastor of the Congregational Church of Hyena. Brother
Thaddeus had spoken lightly of the difference between
Sprinkling and Immersion, and had even called Hyena s
Baptist minister "Brother" He was contumacious at first,
was Brother Thaddeus, but Brother Boanerges from An-
dover finally floored him.
- " Cassandra," said mother, presently, " come here."

I obeyed with reluctance, making a show of turning down
a leaf.

" Child," she continued, and her eyes wandered over me
dreamily, till they dropped on my stockings ; " why will you
waste so much time on unprofitable stories ? "

" Mother, I hate good stories, all but the Shepherd of
Salisbury Plain ; I like that, because it makes me hungry
to read about the roasted potatoes the shepherd had for
breakfast and supper. Would it make me thankful if you
only gave me potatoes without salt ? "

" Not unless your heart is right before God."

" The Lord my Shepherd is, " sang Aunt Merce.

I put my hands over my ears, and looked defiantly round
the room. Its walls are no longer standing, and the hands
of its builders have crumbled to dust. Some mental acci
dent impressed this picture on the purblind memory of

We were in mother s winter room. She was in a low,
chintz-covered chair ; Aunt Merce sat by the window, in a
straight-backed chair, that rocked querulously, and likewise
covered with chintz, of a red and yellow pattern. Before
the lower half of the windows were curtains of red serge,
which she rattled apart on their brass rods, whenever she
heard a footstep, or the creak of a wheel in the road be
low. The walls were hung with white paper, through
which ran thread-like stripes of green. A square of green
and chocolate-colored English carpet covered the middle
of the floor, and a row of straw chairs stood around
it, on the bare, lead-colored boards. A huge bed, wilh
a chintz top shaped like an elephant s back, was in one cor
ner, and a six-legged mahogany table in another. One side
of the room where the fireplace was set was paneled in
wood; its fire had burned down in the shining Franklin
stove, and broken brands were standing upright. The


charred backlog still smoldered, its sap hissed and bubbled
at each end.

Aunt Merce rummaged her pocket for flagroot ; mother
resumed her paper.

" May I put on, for a little while, my new slippers ? " I
asked, longing to escape the oppressive atmosphere of the

" Yes," answered mother, " but come in soon, it will be

I bounded away, found my slippers, and was walking
down stairs on tiptoe, holding up my linsey-woolsey frock,
when I saw the door of my great-grandfather s room ajar.
I pushed it open, went in, and saw a very old man, his
head bound with a red-silk handkerchief, bolstered in bed.
His wife, grandmother-in-law, sat by the fire reading a
great Bible.

" Marm Tamor, will you please show me Ruth and
Boaz ? " I asked.

She complied by turning over the leaves till she came to
the picture.

" Did Ruth love Boaz dreadfully much ? "

" Oh, oh," groaned the old man, " what is the imp doing
here ? Drive her away. Scat."

I skipped out by a side door, down an alley paved with
blue pebbles, swung the high gate open, and walked up
and down the gravel walk which bordered the roadside, ad
miring my slippers, and wishing that some acquaintance
with poor shoes could see me. I thought then I would
climb the high gateposts, which had a flat top, and take there
the position of the little girl in " The Shawl Dance." I had
no sooner taken it than Aunt Merce appeared at the door,
and gave a shriek at the sight, which tempted me to
jump toward her with extended arms. I was seized and
carried into the house, where supper was administered,
and I was put to bed.



T this time I was ten years old. We lived in a New
England village, Surrey, which was situated on an
inlet of a large bay that opened into the Atlantic.


From the observatory of our house we could see how the
inlet was pinched by the long claws of the land, which
nearly enclosed it. Opposite the village, some ten miles
across, a range of islands shut out the main waters of the
bay. For miles on the outer side of the curving prongs of
land stretched a rugged, desolate coast, indented with coves
and creeks, lined with bowlders of granite half sunken in
the sea, and edged by beaches overgrown with pale sedge, or
covered with beds of seaweed. Nothing alive, except the
gulls, abode on these solitary shores. No lighthouse stood
on any point, to shake its long, warning light across the
mariners wake. Now and then a drowned man floated in */
among the sedge, or a small craft went to pieces on the
rocks. When an easterly wind yrevailed, the coast re
sounded with the bellowing sea, which brought us tidings
from those inaccessible spots. We heard its roar as it
leaped over the rocks on Gloster Point, and its long, un
broken wail when it rolled in on Whitefoot Beach. In mild
weather, too, when our harbor was quiet, we still heard its
whimper. Behind the village, the ground rose toward the
north, where the horizon was bounded by woods of oak
and pine, intersected by crooked roads, which led to towns .
and villages near us. The inland scenery was tame ; no -
hill or dale broke its dull uniformity. Cornfields and
meadows of red grass walled with gray stone, lay between
the village and the border of the woods. Seaward it was
enchanting beautiful under the sun and moon and clouds.

Our family had lived in Surrey for years. Probably v^
some Puritan of the name of Morgeson had moved from
an earlier settlement, and, appropriating a few acres in what
was now its center, lived long enough upon them to see his
sons and daughters married to the sons and daughters of
similar settlers. S_o j was in perpetuation, though
none of our race ever madeTaTlriark in his circle, or at
tained a place among the great ones of his day. The family
recipes for curing herbs and hams, and making cordials,
were in better preservation than the memory of their makers.
It is certain that they were not a progressive or changeable <f
family. No tradition of any individuality remains concern
ing them. There was a confusion in the minds of the sur
vivors of the various generations about the degree of their
relationship to those who were buried, and whose names and


ages simply were cut in the stones which headed their
graves. The meum and tuum of blood were inextricably
mixed ; so they contented themselves with giving their
children the old Christian names which were carved on the
headstones, and which, in time, added a still more profound
darkness to the anti-heraldic memory of the Morgesons.
They had no knowledge of that treasure which so many of
our New England families are boastful of the Ancestor
who came over in the Mayflower, or by himself, with a
grant of land from Parliament. It was not known whether
two or three brothers sailed together from the Old World
and settled in the New. They had no portrait, nor curious
chair, nor rusty weapon no old Bible, nor drinking cup,
nor remnant of brocade.

Morgeson Born Lived Died were all their archives.
But there is a dignity in mere perpetuity, a strength in the
narrowest affinities. This dignity and strength were theirs.
They are still vital in our rural population. Occasionally
something fine is their result ; an aboriginal reappears to
prove the plastic powers of nature.

My great-grandfather, Locke Morgeson, the old man
whose head I saw bound in a red handkerchief, was the
first noticeable man of the name. He was a scale of enthu
siasms, ranging from the melancholy to the sarcastic. When
I heard him talked of, it seemed to me that he was born
under the influence of the sea, while the rest of the tribe
inherited the character of the landscape. Comprehension
of life, and comprehension of self, came too late for him to
make either of value. The spirit of progress, however,
which prompted his schemes benefited others. The most
that could be said of him was that he had the rudiments of
a Founder.

My father, whose name was Locke Morgeson also, mar
ried early. My mother was five years his elder ; her maiden
name was Mary Warren. She was the daughter of Philip
Warren, of Barmouth, near Surrey. He was the best of the
Barmouth tailors, though he never changed the cut of his
garments ; he was a rigidly pious man, of great influence in
the church, and was descended from Sir Edward Warren,
a gentleman of Devon, who was knighted by Queen Eliza
beth. The name of his more immediate ancestor, Richard
Warren, was in " New England s Memorial." How father


first met mother I know not. She was singularly beauti
ful beautiful even to the day of her death ; but she was
poor, and without connection, for Philip Warren was the
last of his name. What the Warrens might have been was
nothing to the Morgesons ; they themselves had no past,
and only realized the present. They never thought of in
quiring into that matter, so they opposed, with great prompt
ness, father s wish to marry Mary Warren. All, except old
Locke Morgeson, his grandfather, who rode over to Bar-
mouth to see her one day, and when he came back told
father to take her, offered him half his house to live in,
and promised to push him in the world. His offer quelled
the rioters, silencing in particular the opposition of John
Morgeson, father s father.

In a month from this time, Locke Morgeson, Jr., took
Mary Warren from her father s house as his wife. Grand
father W T arren prayed a long, unintelligible prayer over them,
helped them into the large, yellow-bottomed chaise which
belonged to Grandfather Locke, and the young couple drove
to their new home, the old mansion. Grandfather Locke
went away in the same yellow-bottomed chaise a week after,
and returned in a few days with a tall lady of fifty by his
side " Marm Tamor," a twig of the Morgeson tree, being
his third cousin, whom he had married. This marriage was
Grandfather Locke s last mistake. He was then near eighty,
but lived long enough to fulfill his promises to father. The
next year I was born, and four years after, my sister Veronica.
Grandfather Locke named us, and charged father not to
consult the Morgeson tombstones for names. 7


IV/fRS. SAUNDERS," said mother, "don t let that
IVl soap boil over. Gassy, keep away from it."

" Lord," replied Mrs. Saunders, " there s no fat in the
bones to bile. Cassy s grown dreadful fast, ain t she ? How
long has the old man been dead, Mis Morgeson ? "

" Three years, Mrs. Saunders."

" How time do fly," remarked Mrs. Saunders, mopping
her wrinkled face with a dark-blue handkerchief. " The


winter s sass is hardly put in the cellar fore we have to cut
off the sprouts, and up the taters for planting agin. We
shall all foller him soon." And she stirred the bones in
the great kettle with the vigor of an ogress.

When I heard her ask the question about Grandfather
Locke, the interval that had elapsed since his death swept
through my mind. W T hat a little girl I was at the time !
How much had since happened ! But no thought remained
with me long. I was about to settle whether I would go
to the beach and wade, or into the woods for snake-flowers,
till school-time, when my attention was again arrested by
Mrs. Saunders saying, " I spose Marm Tamor went off with
a large slice, and Mr. John Morgeson is mad to this day ? "

Mother was prevented from answering by the appearance
of the said Mr. John Morgeson, who darkened the thresh
old of the kitchen door, but advanced no further. I looked
at him with curiosity ; if he were mad, he might be inter
esting. He was a large, portly man, over sixty, with splen
did black hair slightly grizzled, a prominent nose, and fair
complexion. I did not like him, and determined not to
speak to him.

" Say good-morning, Cassandra," said mother, in a low

" No," I answered loudly, " I am not fond of my grand

Mrs. Saunders mopped her face again, grinning with
delight behind her handkerchief.

" Debby, my wife, wants you, Mis Saunders, after you
have made Mary s soap," he said.

Surely," she answered.

Where is the black horse to-day ? " he asked mother.

Locke has gone to Milford with him."

I wanted the black horse to-day," he said, turning away.

He s a mighty grand man, he is," commented Mrs. Saun
ders. " I am pesky glad, Mis Morgeson, that you have
never put foot in his house. I plaud your sperit ! "

" School-time, Gassy," said mother. " Will you have
some gingerbread to carry ? Tell me when you come home
what you have read in the New Testament."

" My boy does read beautiful," said Mrs. Saunders.
"Where s the potash, Mis Morgeson?"

I heard the bell toll as I loitered along the roadside,


pulling a dandelion here and there, for it was in the
month of May, and throwing it in the rut for the next
i wheel to crush. When I reached the schoolhouse I saw
** through the open door that the New Testament exercise
was over. The teacher, Mrs. Desire Cushman, a tall, slen
der woman, in a flounced calico dress, was walking up and
down the room ; a class of boys and girls stood in a zig
zag line before her, swaying to and fro, and drawling
the multiplication table. She was yawning as I entered,
which exercise forbade her speaking, and I took my seat
without a reprimand. The flies were just coming ; I
watched their sticky legs as they feebly crawled over my old
unpainted notched desk, and crumbled my gingerbread for
them ; but they seemed to have no appetite. Some of the
younger children were drowsy already, lulled by the hum of
the whisperers. Feeling very dull, I asked permission to go
to the water-pail for a drink ; let the tin cup fall into the
water so that the floor might be splashed ; made faces at
the good scholars, and did what I could to make the time
pass agreeably. At noon mother sent my dinner, with the
request that I should stay till night, on account of my
being in the way while the household was in the crisis of
soap-making and whitewashing. I was exasperated, but I
stayed. In the afternoon the minister came with two strang
ers to visit the school. I went through my lessons with dig
nified inaccuracy, and was commended. Going back, I
happened to step on a loose board under my seat. I
determined to punish Mrs. Desire for the undeserved praise
I had just received, and pushed the board till it clattered

Online LibraryElizabeth StoddardThe Morgesons; a novel → online text (page 1 of 24)