Elizabeth Stoddard.

The Morgesons; a novel online

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tree to wait till it should pass by me ; but it ceased, and I
saw Charles pulling off a twig of the tree, which brushed
against his face. Presently he sprang round the tree,
caught me, and held me fast.

" I am glad you are here, my darling. Do you smell the
roses ? "

"Yes; let me go."

" Not till you tell me one thing. Why do you stay in

The baby gave a loud cry in Alice s chamber which
resounded through the garden.

" Go and take care of your baby," I said roughly, " and
not busy yourself with me."

" Cassandra," he said, with a menacing voice, " how dare
you defy me ? How dare you tempt me ? "

I put my hand on his arm. " Charles, is love a matter of
temperament ? "

" Are you mad ? It is life it is heaven it is hell."


" There is something in this soft, beautiful, odorous night
that makes one mad. Still I shall not say to you what you
once said to me."

"Ah ! you do not forget those words ( I love you. "

Some one came down the lane which ran behind the
garden whistling an opera air.

" There is your Providence," he said quietly, resting his
hand against the tree.

I ran round to the front piazza, just as Ben Somers turned
out of the lane, and called him.

" I have wandered all over Rosville since sunset," he said
"and at last struck upon that lane. To whom does it belong?"

" It is ours, and the horses are exercised there."

" In such a night,

Troilus, methinks, mounted the Trojan walls,
And sighed his soul towards the Grecian tents,
Where Cressid lay that night. "

" In such a night,

Stood Dido with a willow in her hand,
Upon the wild sea banks, and waved her love
To come again to Carthage. "

" Talk to me about Surrey, Cassandra."
" Not a word."
" Why did you call me ?"
" To see what mood you were in."

" How disagreeable you are ! What is the use of ven
turing one s mood with you ? "


ALICE called me to her chamber window one morning.
" Look into the lane. Charles and Jesse are there with
that brute. He goes very well, now that they have
thrown the top of the chaise back ; he quivered like a jelly
at first."

" I must have a ride, Alice."

" Charles," she called. "Breakfast is waiting."

" What shall be his name, girls ? " he asked.

" Aspen," I suggested.

" That will do," said Alice.


" Shall we ride soon ? " I asked.

" Will you ? " he spoke quickly. " In a day or two, then."

" Know what you undertake, Cass," said Alice.

" She always does," he answered.

" Let me go, papa," begged Edward.

" By and by, my boy."

" What a compliment, Cass ! He does not object to ven
ture you."

He proposed Fairtown, six miles from Rosville, as he had
business there. The morning we were to go proved cloudy,
and we waited till afternoon, when Charles, declaring that it
would not rain, ordered Aspen to be harnessed. I went
into Alice s room tying my bonnet ; he was there, leaning
over the baby s crib, who lay in it crowing and laughing at
the snapping of his fingers. Alice was hemming white

" Take a shawl with you, Cass ; I think it will rain, the
air is so heavy."

" I guess not," said Charles, going to the window.
"What a nuisance that lane is, so near the garden ! I ll
have it plowed soon, and enclosed."

" For all those wild primroses you value so? " she asked.

" I ll spare those."

Charlotte came to tell us that the chaise was ready.

"Good-bye, Alice," he said, passing her, and giving her
work a toss up to the ceiling.

" Be careful."

" Take care, sir," said Penn, after we were in the chaise,
" and don t give way to him ; if you do, he ll punish you.
May be he feels the thunder in the air."

We reached Fairtown without any indication of mischief
from Aspen, although he trotted along as if under protest.
Charles was delighted, and thought he would be very fast,
by the time he was trained. It grew murky and hot every
moment, and when we reached Fairtown the air was black
and sultry with the coming storm. Charles left me at the
little hotel, and returned so late in the afternoon that
we decided not to wait for the shower. Two men led
Aspen to the door. He pulled at his bridle, and attempted
to run backward, playing his old trick of trying to turn his
nostrils inside out, and drawing back his upper lip.

" Something irritates him, Charles."


" If you are afraid, you must not come with me. I can
have you sent home in a carriage from the tavern."

" I shall go back with you."

But I felt a vague alarm, and begged him to watch Aspen,
and not talk. Aspen went faster and faster, seeming to have
lost his shyness, and my fears subsided. We were within a
couple of miles of Rosville, when a splashing rain fell.

" You must not be wet," said Charles. " I will put up
the top. Aspen is so steady now, it may not scare him."

" No, no," I said ; but he had it up already, and asked
me to snap the spring on my side. I had scarcely taken my
arm inside the chaise when Aspen stopped, turned his head,
and looked at us with glazed eyes ; flakes of foam flew from
his mouth over his mane. The flesh on his back contracted
and quivered. I thought he was frightened by the chaise-
top, and looked at Charles in terror.

" He has some disorder," he cried. " Oh, Cassandra !
My God ! "

He tried to spring at his head, but was too late, for the
horse was leaping madly. He fell back on his seat.

" If he will keep the road," he muttered.

I could not move my eyes from him. How pale he was !
But he did not speak again. The horse ran a few rods,
leaped across a ditch, clambered up a stone wall with his
fore-feet, and fell backward !

Dr. White was in my room, washing my face. There
was a smell of camphor about the bed. " You crawled out
of a small hole, my child," he said, as I opened my eyes.
It was quite dark, but I saw people at the door, and two or
three at the foot of my bed, and I heard low, constrained
talking everywhere.

" His iron feet made a dreadful noise on the stones,
Doctor ! "

I shut my eyes again and dozed. Suddenly a great
tumult came to my heart.

" Was he killed ? " I cried, and tried to rise from the bed.
" Let me go, will you ? "

" He is dead," whispered Dr. White.

I laughed loudly.

" Be a good girl be a good girl. Get out, all of you.
Here, Miss Prior."


"You are crying, Doctor; my eyes feel dry."

" Pooh, pooh, little one. Now I am going to set your
arm ; simple fracture, that s all. The blow was tempered,
but you are paralyzed by the shock."

" Miss Prior, is my face cut ? "

" Not badly, my dear."

My arm was set, my face bandaged, some opium admin
istered, and then I was left alone with Miss Prior. I grew
drowsy, but suffered so from the illusion that I was falling
out of bed that I could not sleep.

It was near morning when I shook off my drowsiness
and looked about ; Miss Prior was nodding in an arm-chair.
I asked for drink, and when she gave it to me, begged
her to lie down on the sofa ; she did not need urging, and
was soon asleep.

" What room is he in ? " I thought. " I must know where
he is."

I sat up in the bed, and pushed myself out by degrees,
keeping my eyes on Miss Prior; but she did not stir. I
staggered when I got into the passage, but the cool air
from some open window revived me, and I crept on, stop
ping at Alice s door to listen. I heard a child murmur in
its sleep. He could not be there. The doors of all the
chambers were locked, and I must go downstairs. I went
into the garden-room the door was open, the scent of roses
came in and made me deadly sick ; into the dining-room,
and into the parlor he was there, lying on a table covered
with a sheet. Alice sat on the floor, her face hid in her
hands, crying softly. I touched her. She started on seeing
me. " Go away, Gassy, for God s sake ! How came you
out of bed ? "

"Hush! Tell me!" And I went down on the floor
beside her. " Was he dead when they found us ? "

She nodded.

" What was said ? Did you hear ? "

" They said he must have made a violent effort to save
you. The side of the chaise was torn. The horse kicked
him after you were thrust out over the wheel. Or did you
creep out ?"

I groaned. " Why did he thrust me out ? "


" Where is Aspen ? "


She pointed to the stable. " He had a fit. Penn says he
has had one before ; but he thought him cured. He stood
quiet in the ditch after he had broken from the chaise."

" Alice, did you love him ? "

" My husband ! "

A door near us opened, and Ben Somers and young Park
er looked in. They were the watchers. Parker went
back when he saw me ; but Ben came in. He knelt
down by me, put his arm around me, and said, " Poor
girl ! " Alice raised her tear-stained face, looking at me
curiously, when he said this. She took hold of my stream
ing hair and pulled my head round. " Did you love him ? "
Ben rose quickly and went to the window.

" Alice ! " I whispered, "you may or you may not forgive
me, but I was strangely bound to him. And I must tell
you that I hunger now for the kiss he never gave me."

" I see. Enough. Go back to your room. I must stay
by him till all is over."

" I can t go back. Ben ! "

"What is it ?"

" Take me upstairs."

Raising me in his arms, he whispered : " Leave him for
ever, body and soul. I am not sorry he is dead." He
called Charlotte on the way, and with her he put me to back
to bed. I asked him to let me see the dress they had
taken off.

" That is enough," I said, " Charles broke my arm."

It was torn through the shoulder, and the skirt had been
twisted like a rope. Ben made no reply, but bent over me
and kissed me tenderly. All this time Miss Prior had slept
the sleep of the just ; but he had barely gone when she
started up and said, " Did you call, my dear ? "

" No, it is day."

" So it is ; but you must sleep more."

I could not obey, and kept awake so long that Dr. White
said he himself should go crazy unless I slept.

" Presently, presently," I reiterated ; " and am I going
home ? "

At last my mind went astray ; it journeyed into a dismal
world, and came back without an account of its adventures.
While it was gone, my friends were summoned to witness a
contest, where the odds were in favor of death. But I re-


covered. Whether it was youth, a good constitution, or
the skill of Dr. White, no one could decide. It was a faint,
feeble, fluttering return at first. The faces round me,
mobile with life, wearied me. 1 was indifferent to exist
ence, and was more than once in danger of lapsing into the
void I had escaped.

When I first tottered downstairs, he had been buried
more than three weeks. It was a bright morning ; the
windows of the parlor, where Charlotte led me, were open.
Little Edward was playing round the table upon which I
had seen his father stretched, dead. I measured it with my
eye, remembering how tall he looked. I would have re
treated, when I saw that Alice had visitors, but it was too late.
They rose, and offered congratulations. I was angry that
there was no change in the house. The rooms should have
been dismantled, reflecting disorder and death, by their per
petual darkness and disorder. It was not so. No dust had
been allowed to gather on the furniture, no wrinkles or
stains. No mist on the mirrors, no dimness anywhere.
Alice was elegantly dressed, in the deepest mourning. I
examined her with a cynical eye ; her bombazine was
trimmed with crape, and the edge of her collar was beauti
fully crimped. A mourning brooch fastened it, and she
wore jet ear-rings. She looked handsome, composed, and
contented, holding a black-edged handkerchief. Charlotte
had placed my chair opposite a glass ; I caught sight of
my elongated visage in it. How dull I looked ! My hair
was faded and rough ; my eyes were a pale, lusterless blue.
The visitors departed, while I still contemplated my rueful
aspect, and Alice and I were alone.

" I want some broth, Alice. I am hungry."

" How many bowls have you had this morning ? "

" Only two."

"You must wait an hour for the third ; it is not twelve
o clock."

We were silent. The flies buzzed in and out of the
windows; a great bee flew in, tumbled against the panes,
loudly hummed, and after a while got out again. Alice
yawned, and I pulled the threads out of the border of my

" The hour is up ; I will get your broth."

"Bring me a great deal."


She came back with a thin, impoverished liquid.

" There is no chicken in it," I said tearfully.

" I took it out."

" How could you ?" And I wept.

She smiled. " You are very weak, but shall have a bit."
She went for it, returning with an infinitesimal portion of

"What a young creature it must have been, Alice ! "

She laughed, promising me more, by and by.

" Now you must lie down. Take my arm and come to
the sofa.

" Not here ; let us go into another room."

"Come, then."

" Don t leave me," I begged, after she had arranged me
comfortably. She sat down by me with a fan.

" What happened while I was ill ? "

She fanned rapidly for an instant, taking thought what
to say.

" I shot Aspen, a few days after."

" With your own hand ? "

" Yes."

" Good."

" Penn protested, said I interfered with Providence.
Jesse added, also, that what had happened was ordained,
and no mistake, and then I sent them both away."

"And I am going at last, Alice ; father will be here again
in a few days."

" You did not recognize Veronica, when they came."

" Was she here ? "

" Yes, and went the same day. What great tears rolled
down her unmovable face, when she stood by your bed !
She would not stay ; the atmosphere distressed her so, she
went back to Boston to wait for your father. I could
neither prevail on her to eat, drink, or rest."

" What will you do, Alice ? "

" Take care of the children, and manage the mills."

" Manage the mills ? "

" I can. No wonder you look astonished," she said, with
a sigh. " I am changed. When perhaps I should feel that
I have done with life, I am eager to begin it. I have
lamented over myself lately."

" How is Ben ? "


" He has been here often. How strange it was that to
him alone Veronica gave her hand when they met ! In
deed, she gave him both her hands."

"And he ? "

" Took them, bowing over them, till I thought he wasn t
coming up again. I do not call people eccentric any
more," she said, faintly blushing. " I look for a reason in
every action. Tell me fairly, have you had a contempt for
me for my want of perception ? I understand you now,
to the bone and marrow, I assure you."

" Then you understand more than I do. But you will re
member that once or twice I attempted to express my
doubts to you ? "

"Yes, yes, with a candor which misled me. But you are
talking too much."

" Give me more broth, then."


I WAS soon well enough to go home. Father came for
me, bringing Aunt Merce. There was no alteration
in her, except that she had taken to wearing a false
front, which had a claret tinge when the light struck it, and
a black lace cap. She walked the room in speechless dis
tress when she saw me, and could not refrain from taking
an immense pinch of snuff in my presence.

" Didn t you bring any flag-root, Aunt Merce ?"
"Oh Lord, Cassandra, won t anything upon earth change
you ? "

And then we both laughed, and felt comfortable together.
Her knitting mania had given way to one she called trans
ferring. She brought a little basket filled with rags, worn-
out embroideries, collars, cuffs, and edges of handkerchiefs,
from which she cut the needle-work, to sew again on new
muslin. She looked at embroidery with an eye merely to its
capacity for being transferred. Alice proved a treasure to
her, by giving her heaps of fine work. She and Aunt Merce
were pleased with each other, and when we were ready to
come away, Alice begged her to visit her every year. I
made no farewell visits my ill health was sufficient excuse ;


but my schoolmates came to bid me good-bye, and brought
presents of needlebooks, and pincushions, which I returned
by giving away yards of ribbon, silver fruit-knives, and
Mrs. Hemans s poems, which poetess had lately given my
imagination an apostrophizing direction. Miss Prior came
also, with a copy of "Young s Night Thoughts," bound in
speckled leather This hilarious and refreshing poem re
mained at the bottom of my trunk, till Temperance fished
it out, to read on Sundays, in her own room, where she
usually passed her hours of solitude in hemming dish-
towels, or making articles called " Takers." Dr. Price
came, too, and even the haughty four Ryders. Alice was
gratified with my popularity. But I felt cold at heart,
doubtful of myself, drifting to nothingness in thought and
purpose. None saw my doubts or felt my coldness.

I shook hands with all, exchanged hopes and wishes, and
repeated the last words which people say on departure.
Alice and I neither kissed nor shook hands. There was
that between us which kept us apart. A hard, stern face
was still in our recollection. We remembered a certain
figure, whose steps had ceased about the house, whose
voice was hushed, but who was potent yet.

"We shall not forget each other," she said.

And so I took my way out of Rosville. Ben Somers went
with us to Boston, and stayed at the Bromfield. In the
morning he disappeared, and when he returned had an
emerald ring, which he begged me to wear, and tried to
put it on my finger, where he had seen the diamond. I put
it back in its box, thanking him, and saying it must be
stored with the farewell needlebooks and pincushions.

" Shall we have some last words now ? "

Aunt Merce slipped out, with an affectation of not having
heard him. We laughed, and Ben was glad that I could

How do you feel ? "
Rather weak still."

I do not mean so, but in your mind ; how are you ? "
I have no mind."

Must I give up trying to understand you, Cassandra ? "
Yes, do. You ll visit Alice ? You can divine her in
tentions. She is a good woman."

" She will be, when she knows how."


11 What o clock is it ? "

" Incorrigible ! Near ten."

" Here is father, and we must start."

The carriage was ready ; where was Aunt Merce?

" Locke," she said, when she came in, " I have got a
bottle of port for Cassandra, some essence of peppermint,
and sandwiches ; do you think that will do ? "

" We can purchase supplies along the road, if yours give
out. Come, we are ready. Mr. Somers, we shall see you
at Surrey ? Take care, Cassy. Now we are off."

" I shall leave Rosville," were Ben s last words.

" What a fine, handsome young man he is ! He is a
gentleman, "said Aunt Merce.

" Of course, Aunt Merce."

"Why of course? I should think from the way you
speak that you had only seen young gentlemen of his
stamp. Have you forgotten Surrey?"

Father and she laughed. They could laugh very easily,
for they were overjoyed to have me going home with them.
Mother would be glad, they said. I felt it, though I did
not say so.

How soundly I slept that night at the inn on the road !
A little after sunset, on the third day, for we traveled
slowly, we reached the woods which bordered Surrey, and
soon came in sight of the sea encircling it like a crescent
moon. It was as if I saw the sea for the first time. A
vague sense of its power surprised me ; it seemed to
express my melancholy. As we approached the house,
the orchard, and I saw Veronica s window, other feelings
moved me. Not because I saw familiar objects, nor because
I was going home it was the relation in which /stood to
them, that I felt. We drove through the gate, and saw a
handsome little boy astride a window-sill, with two pipes in
his mouth. " I^apa ! " he shrieked, threw his pipes down,
and dropped on the ground, to run after us.

" Hasn t Arthur grown ?" Aunt Merce asked. "He is
almost seven."

" Almost seven ? Where have the years gone ? "

I looked about. I had been away so long, the house
looked diminished. Mother was in the door, crying when
she put her arms round me; she could not speak. I know
now there should have been no higher beatitude than to


live in the presence of an unselfish, unasking, vital love.
I only said, " Oh, mother, how gray your hair is ! Are you
glad to see me ? I have grown old too ! "

We went in by the kitchen, where the men were, and a
young girl with a bulging forehead. Hepsey looked out
from the buttery door, and put her apron to her eyes, with
out making any further demonstration of welcome. Tem
perance was mixing dough. She made an effort to giggle,
but failed ; and as she could not cover her face with her
doughy hands, was obliged to let the tears run their natural
course. Recovering herself in a moment, she exclaimed :

" Heavenly Powers, how you re altered ! I shouldn t
have known you. Your hair and skin are as dry as chips ;
they didn t wash you with Castile soap, I ll bet."

" How you do talk, Temperance," Hepsey quavered.

The girl with the bulging forehead laughed a shrill laugh.

" Why, Fanny ! " said mother.

The hall door opened. " Here she is," muttered this

" Veronica ! "

" Cassandra ! "

We grasped hands, and stared mutely at each other. I
felt a contraction in the region of my heart, as if a cord of
steel were binding it. She, at least, was glad that I was
alive !

"They look something alike now," Hepsey remarked.

" Not at all," said Veronica, dropping my hand, and re

" Why, Arthur dear, come here ! "

He clambered into my lap.

" Were you killed, my dear sister ? "

" Not quite, little boy."

" Well ; do you know that I am a veteran officer, and
smoke my pipe, lots ? "

" You must rest, Gassy," said mother. " Don t go up
stairs, though, till you have had your supper. Hurry it up,

"It will be on the table in less than no time, MissMorge-
son," she answered, " provided Miss Fanny is agreeable
about taking in the teapot."

I had a comfortable sense of property, when I took pos
session of my own room. It was better, after all, to live


with a father and mother, who would adopt my ideas-
Even the sea might be mine. I asked father the nex
morning, at breakfast, how far out at sea his property

" I trust, Cassandra, you will now stay at home," said
mother ; "I am tired of table duty; you must pour the coffee
and tea, for I wish to sit beside your father."

" You and Aunt Merce have settled down into a venerable
condition. You wear caps, too ! What a stage forward ! "

" The cap is not ugly, like Aunt Merce s ; I made it,"
Veronica called, sipping from a great glass.

" Gothic pattern, isn t it ? " father asked , " with a tower,
and a bridge at the back of the neck ?"

This hash is Fanny s work, mother," said Verry.

" So I perceive."

" Hepsey is not at the table," I said.

" It is her idea not to come, since I have taken Fanny.
Did you notice her ? She prefers to have her wait."

"Who is Fanny?"

" Her father is old Ichabod Bowles, who lives on the
Neck. Last winter her mother sent for me, and begged me
to take her. I could not refuse, for she was dying of con
sumption ; so I promised. The poor woman died, in the
bitterest weather, and a few days after Ichabod brought
Fanny here, and told me he had done with womankind for
ever. Fanny was sulky and silent for a long time. I
thought she never would get warm. If obliged to leave
the fire, she sat against the wall, with her face hid in her
arms. Veronica has made some impression on her ; but
she is not a good girl."

" She will be, mother. I am better than I was."

" Never ; her disposition is hateful. She is angry with
those who are better off than herself. I have not seen a
spark of gratitude in her."

" I never thought of gratitude," said Verry, " it is true ;
but why must people be grateful ? "

" We might expect little from Fanny, perhaps ; she saw
her mother die in want, her father stern, almost cruel to
them, and soured by poverty. Fanny never had what she
liked to eat or wear, till she came here, or even saw any
thing that pleased her ; and the contrast makes her bitter."

" She is proud, too," said Aunt Merce. " I hear her


boasting of what she would have had if she had stayed at

" She is a child, you know," said Verry.

" A year younger than you are."

" Where is the universal boy ? "

" Abolished," father answered. " Arthur is growing into
that estate."

" Papa, don t forget that I am a veteran officer."

" Here, you rascal, come and get this nice egg."

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Online LibraryElizabeth StoddardThe Morgesons; a novel → online text (page 12 of 24)