Elizabeth Stoddard.

The Morgesons; a novel online

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pered in my ear that he had been to Surrey I changed my
mind. She assisted me with cheerful alacrity to put on a
merino dress, its color was purple ; a color I hate now, and
never wear and wrapped me warmly. Charles appeared
before we started. " Are you really going ? " he asked, in
a tone of displeasure.

" She is really going," Ben answered for me. " Mr. and
Mrs. Bancroft are going," Helen said. " Why not drive
out with Mrs. Morgeson ? "

" The night is splendid," Ben remarked.

"Wont you come ? " I asked.

" If Alice wishes it. Will you go ?" he asked her.

" Would you ? " she inquired of all, and all replied,
" Yes."

We started in advance. Helen and Amelia were packed
on the back seat, in a buffalo robe, while Ben and I sat in
the shelter of the driver s box, wrapped in another. It was
moonlight, and as we passed the sleighs of the rest of the
party, exchanging greetings, we grew very merry. Ben,
voluble and airy, enlivened us by his high spirits.

We were drinking mulled wine round the long pine din-


ner-table of the Swan, when Charles and Alice arrived.
There were about thirty in the room, which was lighted by
tallow candles. When he entered, it seemed as if the can
dles suddenly required snuffing, and we ceased to laugh.
All spoke to him with respect, but with an inflection of the
voice which denoted that he was not one of us. As he
carelessly passed round the table all made a movement as
he approached, scraping their chairs on the bare floor,
moving their glass of mulled wine, or altering the position
of their arms or legs. An indescribable appreciation of
the impression which he made upon others filled my heart.
His isolation from the sympathy of every person there
gave me a pain and a pity, and for the first time I felt a
pang of tenderness, and a throe of pride for him. But
Alice, upon whom he never made any impression, saw noth
ing of this ; her gayety soon removed the stiffness and silence
he created. The party grew noisy again, except Ben, who
had not broken the silence into which he fell as soon as he
saw Charles. The mulled wine stood before him untouched.
I moved to the corner of the table to allow room for the
chair which Charles was turning toward me. Ben ordered
more wine, and sent a glass full to him. Taking it from
the boy who brought it, I gave it to him. " Drink," I said.
My voice sounded strangely. Barely tasting it, he set the
glass down, and leaning his arm on the table, turned his
face to me, shielding it with his hand from the gaze of those
about us. I pushed away a candle that flared in our

You never drink wine ? "

No, Cassandra."

How was the ride down ? "


What about the new horse ? "

He is an awful brute.

When shall we have a ride with him ? "

When you please."

The boy came in to say would we please go to the parlor ;
our room was wanted for supper. An immediate rush, with
loud laughing, took place, for the parlor fire ; but Charles
and I did not move. I was busy remaking the bow of my
purple silk cravat.

" I drink the cup of a costly death, " Ben hummed, as


he sauntered along by us, hands in his pockets the last in
the room, except us two.

" Indeed, Somers ; perhaps you would like this too."
And Charles offered him his glass of wine.

Ben took it, and with his thumb and finger snapped it
off at the stem, tipping the wine over Charles s hand.

I saw it staining his wristband, like blood. He did not
stir, but a slight smile traveled swiftly over his face.

" I know Veronica," said Ben, looking at me. " Has
this man seen her ? "

His voice crushed me. What a barrier his expression
of contempt made between her and me !

Withal, I felt a humiliating sense of defeat.

Charles read me.

As he folded his wristband under his sleeve, carefully
and slowly, his slender fingers did not tremble with the
desire that possessed him, which I saw in his terrible eyes as
plainly as if he had spoken, "I would kill him."

They looked at my hands, for I was wringing them, and
a groan burst from me.

" Somers," said Charles, rising and touching his shoul
der, " behave like a man, and let us alone ; I love this

His pale face changed, his eyes softened, and mine filled
with tears.

" Cassandra," urged Ben, in a gentle voice, " come with
me ; come away."

" Fool," I answered ; " leave me alone, and go."

He hesitated, moved toward the door, and again urged
me to come.

" Go! go! " stamping my foot, and the door closed without
a sound.

For a moment we stood, transfixed in an isolation which
separated us from all the world beside.

" Now Charles, we " a convulsive sob choked me, a
strange taste filled my mouth, I put my handkerchief to my
lips and wiped away streaks of blood. I showed it to him.

" It is nothing, by God ! " snatching the handkerchief.
" Take mine oh, my dear "

I tried to laugh, and muttered the imperative fact of joio-
ing the rest.

" Be quiefy Cassandra."


He opened the window, took a handful of snow from the
sill and put it to my It revived me.

" Do you hear, Charles ? Never say those frightful words
again. Never, never."

" Never, if it must be so."

He touched my hand ; I opened it ; his closed over mine.

" Go, now," he said, and springing to the window, threw
it up, and jumped out. The boy came in with a tablecloth
on his arm, and behind him Ben.

" Glass broken, sir."

" Put it in the bill."

He offered me his arm, which I was glad to take.

" Where is Charles?" Alice asked, when we went in.

" He has just left us," Ben answered ; " looking after his
horses, probably."

" Of course," she replied. " You look blue, Cass. Here,
take my chair by the fire ; we are going to dance a Vir
ginia reel."

I accepted her offer, and was thankful that the dance
would take them away. I wanted to be alone forever.
Helen glided behind my chair, and laid her hand on my
shoulder ; I shook it off.

" What is the matter, Cass ? "

" I am going away from Char school."

" We are all going ; but not to-night."

" I am going to-night."

" So you shall, dear ; but wait till after supper."

"Do you think, Helen, that I shall ever have consump
tion ? " fumbling for my handkerchief, forgetting in whose
possession it was. Charles came in at that instant, and I
remembered that he had it.

" What on earth has happened to you ? Oh ! " she ex
claimed, as I looked at her. " You were out there with
Morgeson and Ben Somers," she whispered ; " something
has occurred ; what is it ? "

" You shall never know ; never never never."

" Cassandra, that man is a devil."

" I like devils."

" The same blood rages in both of you."

" It s mulled wine, thick and stupid."

" Nonsense."

" Will there be tea, at supper ? "


" You shall have some."

" Ask Ben to order it."

" Heaven forgive us all, Cassandra ! "

" Remember the tea."

Charles stood near his wife ; wherever she moved after-
wards he moved. I saw it, and felt that it was the shadow
of something which would follow.

At last the time came for us to return. Helen had plied
me with tea, and was otherwise watchful, but scarcely

" It is an age," I said, "since I left Rosville."

She raised her eyebrows merely, and asked me if I would
have more tea.

" In my room," I thought, " I shall find myself again."
And as I opened my door, it welcomed me with so friendly
and silent an aspect, that I betrayed my grief, and it cov
ered my misery as with a cloak.


HELEN was called home by the illness of her father and
did not return to Rosville. She would write me, she
said ; but it was many weeks before I received a let
ter. Ben Somers about this time took a fit of industry, and
made a plan for what he called a well-regulated life, aver
ring that he should always abide by it. Every hour had its
duty, which must be fulfilled. He weighed his bread and
meat, ate so many ounces a day, and slept watch and watch,
as he nautically termed it. I guessed that the meaning of
his plan was to withdraw from the self-chosen post of cen
sor. His only alienation was an occasional disappearance
for a few days. I never asked him where he went, and had
never spoken to him concerning his mysterious remark about
having been in Surrey. Neither had I heard anything of
his being there from father. Once he told me that his
father had explained the marriage of old Locke Morgeson ;
but that it was not clear to him that we were at all related.

In consequence of his rigorous life, I saw little of him.
Though urged by Alice, he did not come to our house, and
we rarely met him elsewhere. People called him eccentric,


but as he was of a rich family he could afford to be, and
they felt no slight by his neglect.

There was a change everywhere. The greatest change
of all was in Charles. From the night of the sleigh-ride his
manner toward me was totally altered. As far as I could
discern, the change was a confirmed one. The days grew
monotonous, but my mind avenged itself by night in dreams,
which renewed our old relation in all its mysterious vitality.
So strong were their impressions* that each morning I ex
pected to receive some token from him which would prove
that they were not lies. As my expectation grew cold and
faint, the sense of a double hallucination tormented me
the past and the present.

The winter was over. I passed it like the rest of Ros-
ville, going out when Alice went, staying at home when she
stayed. It was all one what I did, for my aspect was one
of content.

Alice alone was unchanged ; her spirits and pursuits were
always the same. Judging by herself, if she judged at all,
she perceived no change in us. Her theory regarding
Charles was too firm to be shaken, and all his oddity was
a matter of course. As long as I ate, and drank, and slept
as usual, I too must be the same. He was not at home
much. Business, kept him at the mills, where he often
slept, or out of town. But the home machinery was still
under his controlling hand. Not a leaf dropped in the con
servatory that he did not see ; not a meal was served whose
slightest detail was not according to his desire. The horses
were exercised, the servants managed, the children kept
within bounds ; nothing in the formula of our daily life was
ever dropped, and yet I scarcely ever saw him ! When we
met, I shared his attentions. He gave me flowers; noticed
my dress ; spoke of the affairs of the day ; but all in so
public and matter-of-fact a way that I thought I must be
the victim of a vicious sentimentality, or that he had amused
himself with me. Either way, the sooner I cured myself of
my vice the better. But my dreams continued.

" I miss something in your letters," father complained.
" What is it ? Would you like to come home ? Your
mother is failing in health she may need you, though she
says not."

I wrote him that I should come home.


"Are you prepared," he asked in return, "to remain at
home for the future ? Have you laid the foundation of
anything by which you can abide contented, and employed?
Veronica has been spending two months in New York, with
the family of one of my business friends. All that she
brings back serves to embellish her quiet life, not to change
it Will it be so with you ?"

I wrote back, " No ; but I am coming."

He wrote again of changes in Surrey. Dr. Snell had
gone, library and all, and a new minister, red hot from An-
dover, had taken his place. An ugly new church was build
ing. His best ship, the Locke Morgeson, was at the bottom
of the Indian Ocean, he had just heard. Her loss bothered
him, but his letters were kinder than ever.

I consulted with Alice about leaving the Academy. She
approved my plan, but begged me not to leave her. I said
nothing of my determination to that effect, feeling a strange
disinclination toward owning it, though I persisted in re
peating it to myself. I applied diligently to my reading,
emulating Ben Somers in the regularity of my habits, and
took long walks daily a mode of exercise I had adopted
since I had ceased my rides with Charles. The pale blue
sky of spring over me, and the pale green grass under me,
were charming perhaps ; but there was the same monotony
in them, as in other things. I did not frequent our old
promenade, Silver Street, but pushed my walks into the out
skirts of Rosville, by farms bordered with woods. My
schoolmates, who were familiar with all the pleasant spots
of the neighborhood, met me in groups. "Are you really
taking walks like the rest of us ? " they asked. " Only
alone," I answered.

I bade farewell at last to Miss Prior. We parted with all
friendliness and respect ; from the fact, possibly, that we
parted ignorant of each other. It was the most rational re
lation that I had ever held with any one. We parted with
out emotion or regret, and I started on my usual walk.

As I was returning I met Ben Somers. When he saw me
he threw his cap into the air, with the information that he
had done with his plans, and had ordered an indigestible
supper, in honor of his resolve. As people had truly re
marked, he could afford to be eccentric. He was tired of
it ; he had money enough to do without law. " Not as


much as your cousin Morgeson, who can do without the
Gospel, too."

This was the first time that he had referred to Charles
since that memorable night. Trifling as his words were,
they broke into the foundations of my stagnant will, and
set the tide flowing once more.

" You went to Surrey."

" I was there a few hours. Your father was not at home.
He asked me there, you remember. I introduced myself,
therefore, and was politely received by your mother, who
sent for Veronica. She came in with an occupied air, her
hands full of what I thought were herbs ; but they were
grasses, which she had been re-arranging, she said.

" You know my sister ? she asked, coming close, and
looking at me with the most singular eyes that were ever
on earth." He stopped a moment. " Not like yours, in
the least," he continued. " Cassandra is very handsome
now, is she ?

" Why, Veronica, said your mother, you astonish Mr.

" You are not astonished, she said with vehemence,
you are embarrassed.

" Upon my soul I am, I replied, feeling at ease as soon
as I had said so.

" Tell me, what has Cassandra been taught ? Is Ros-
ville suited to her ? We are not.

" Veronica ! said your mother again.

" Mother, and she shook the grasses, and made a little
snow fall round her ; what shall I say then ? I am sure
he knows Cassandra. What did you come here for ? turn
ing to me again.

" To see you, I answered foolishly.

" And has Cassandra spoken of me ? Her pale face
grew paler, and an indescribable expression passed over it.
I do not often speak of her.

" She does not of you, I was obliged to answer. And
then I said I must go. But your mother made me dine
with them. When I came away Veronica offered me her
hand, but she sent no message to you. She has never been
out of my mind a moment since."

" You remember the particulars of the interview very


"Why not?"

" Would she bear your supervision ?

" Forgive me, Cassandra. Have I not been making a
hermit of myself, eating bread and meat by the ounce, for
an expiation ? "

" How did it look there ? Oh, tell me ! "

" You strange girl, have you a soul then ? It is a grand
place, where it has not been meddled with. I hired a man
to drive me as far as any paths went, into those curving
horns of land, on each side of Surrey to the south. The
country is crazy with barrenness, and the sea mocks it with
its terrible beauty."

" You will visit us, won t you ? "

" Certainly ; I intend to go there."

" Do you know that I left school to-day? "

"It is time."

I hurried into the house, for I did not wish to hear any
questions from him concerning my future. Charlotte, who
was rolling up an umbrella in the hall, said it was tea-time,
adding that Mr. Morgeson had come, and that he was in the
dining-room. I went upstairs to leave my bonnet. As I
pulled off my glove the ring on my finger twisted round. I
took it off, for the first time since Charles had given it to me.
A sense of haste came upon me ; my hands trembled. I
brushed my hair with the back of the brush, shook it out,
and wound it into a loose mass, thrust in my comb and
went down. Charlotte was putting candles on the tea-table.
Edward was on his father s knee ; Alice was waiting by the

" Here is Cassandra," said Charles, mentioning the fact
as if he merely wished to attract the child s attention.

" Here is Cassandra," I repeated, imitating his tone.
He started. Some devil broke loose in him, and looking
through his eyes an instant, disappeared, like a maniac who
looks through the bars of his cell, and dodges from the eye
of his keeper. Jesse brought me a letter while we were at
the table. It was from Helen. I broke its seal to see how
long it was, and put it aside.

\ "I am free, Alice. I have left the Academy, and am
! going to set up for an independent woman."
I " What ? " said Charles ; " you did not tell me. Did you
\know it, Alice ? "


"Yes ; we can t expect her to be at school all her days."

"Cassandra," he said suddenly, " will you give me the ;

He looked for the ring on the hand which I stretched
towaid him.

He not only missed that, but he observed the disregard
of his wishes in the way I had arranged my hair. I shook
it looser from the comb and pushed it from my face. An
expression of unspeakable passion, pride, and anguish came
into his eyes ; his mouth trembled ; he caught up a glass
of water to hide his face, and drank slowly from it.

" Are you going away again soon ? " Alice asked him

" No."

" To keep Cassandra, I intend to ask Mrs. Morgeson to
come again. Will you write Mr. Morgeson to urge it ? "

" Yes."

" I shall ask them to give up Cass altogether to us."

" You like her so much, do you, Alice ? "

His voice sounded far off and faint.

Again I refrained from speaking my resolution of going
home. I would give up thinking of it even ! I felt again
the tension of the chain between us. That night I ceased
to dream of him.

" My letter is from Helen, Alice," I said.

" When did you see Somers ? " Charles asked.

"To-day. I have an idea he will not remain here long."

" He is an amusing young man," Alice remarked.

"Very," said Charles.

Helen s letter was long and full of questions. What had
I done ? How had I been ? She gave an account of her
life at home. She was her father s nurse, and seldom left
him. It was a dreary sort of business, but she was not
melancholy. In truth, she felt better pleased with herself
than she had been in Rosville. She could not help thinking
that a chronic invalid would be a good thing for me. How
was Ben Somers ? How much longer should I stay in Ros
ville ? It would know us no more forever when we left,
and both of us would leave it at the same time. Would I
visit her ever? They lived in a big house with a red front
door. On the left was a lane with tall poplars dying on
each side of it, up which the cows passed every night. At


the back of it was a huge barn round which martins and
pigeons flew the year through. It was dull but respectable
and refined, and no one knew that she was tattooed on
the arm.

I treasured this letter and all she wrote me. It was my
first school -girl correspondence and my last.

Relations of Alice came from a distance to pay her a visit.
There was a father, a mother, a son about twenty-one, and
two girls who were younger. Alice wished that they had
stayed at home ; but she was polite and endeavored to make
their visit agreeable. The son, called by his family " Bill,"
informed Charles that he was a judge of horseflesh, and
would like to give his nags a try, having a high-flyer him
self at home that the old gentleman would not hear of his
bringing along. His actions denoted an admiration of me.
He looked over the book I was reading or rummaged my
workbox, trying on my thimble with an air of tenderness,
and peeping into my needlebook. He told Alice that he
thought I was a whole team and a horse to let, but he
felt rather balky when he came near me, I had such a
smartish eye.

"What ami to do, marm ?" asked Jesse one morning
when Charles was away. " That ere young man wants to
ride the new horse, and it is jist the one he mus n t ride."

"I will speak to Cousin Bill myself," she said.

" He seems a sperrited young feller, and if he wants to
break his neck it s most a pity he shouldn t."

" I think," she said when Jesse had retired, " that Charles
must be saving up that beast to kill himself with. He will
not pull a chaise yet."

"Has Charles tried him ? "

" In the lane in an open wagon. He has a whim of hav
ing him broken to drive without blinders, bare of harness ;
he has been away so of late that he has not accomplished it."

Bill entered while we were talking, and Alice told him he
must not attempt to use the horse, but proposed he should
take her pair and drive out with me. I shook my head in
vain ; she was bent on mischief. He was mollified by the
proposal, and I was obliged to get ready. On starting he
placed his cap on one side, held his whip upright, telling
me that it was not up to the mark in length, and doubled
his knuckles over the reins. He was a good Jehu, but I


could not induce him to observe anything along the

" Where s Mr. Morgeson smills ? "

We turned in their direction.

" He is a man of property, aint he ? "

" I think so."

"He has prime horses anyhow. That stallion of his
would bring a first-rate price if he wanted to sell. Do you
play the piano ? "

"A little."

"And sing?"


" I have not heard you. Will you sing A place in thy
memory, dearest, some time for me ? "

" Certainly."

" Are you fond of flowers and the like ?"

"Very fond of them."

" So am I ; our tastes agree. Here we are, hey ? "

Charles came out when he saw us coming over the bridge,
and Bill pulled up the horses scientifically, giving him a
coachman s salute. " You see I am quite a whip."

" You are," said Charles.

" What a cub ! " he whispered me. " I think I ll give up
my horses and take to walking as you have."

On the way home Bill held the reins in one hand and
attempted to take mine with the other, a proceeding which
I checked, whereupon he was exceedingly confused. The
whip fell from his clutch over the dasher, and in recovering it
his hat fell off ; shame kept him silent for the rest ofthe ride.

I begged Alice to propose no more rides with Cousin
Bill. That night he composed a letter which he sent me
by Charlotte early the next morning.

"Why, Charlotte, what nonsense is this?"

" I expect," she answered sympathizingly, " that it is an
offer of his hand and heart."

" Don t mention it, Charlotte-."

" Never while I have breath."

In an hour she told Phcebe, who told Alice, who told
Charles, and there it ended. It was an offer, as Charlotte
predicted. My first ! I was crestfallen ! I wrote a reply,
waited till everybody had gone to breakfast, and slipping
into his room, pinned it to the pincushion. In the evening


he asked if I ever sang " Should these fond hopes e er forsake
f/tee." I gave him the " Pirate s Serenade" instead, which
his mother declared beautiful. I saw Alice and Charles
laughing, and could hardly help joining them, when I looked
at Bill, in whose countenance relief and grief were mingled.

It was a satisfaction to us when they went away. Their
visit was shortened, I suspected, by the representations Bill
made to his mother. She said, " Good-by," with coldness ;
but he shook hands with me, and said it was all right he

The day they went I had a letter from father which
informed me that mother would not come to Rosville. He
reminded me that I had been in Rosville over a year. " I
am going home soon," I said to myself, putting away the
letter. It was a summer day, bright and hot. Alice, busy
all day, complained of fatigue and went to bed soon after
tea. The windows were open and the house was perfumed
with odors from the garden. At twilight I went out and
walked under the elms, whose pendant boughs were motion
less. I watched the stars as they came out one by one
above the pale green ring of the horizon and glittered in
the evening sky, which darkened slowly. I was coming up
the gravel walk when I heard a step at the upper end of it
which arrested me. I recognized it, and slipped behind a

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Online LibraryElizabeth StoddardThe Morgesons; a novel → online text (page 11 of 24)