Elizabeth Stoddard.

The Morgesons; a novel online

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He slipped down, went to his father, who took him on his

" What shall I do first ? the garden, orchard, village, or
what ? " I asked.

" Gardens ? " said Verry. " Have they been a part of
your education ? "

" I like flowers."

" Have you seen my plants ? " Aunt Merce inquired.

" I will look at them. How different this is from Ros-
ville? "

Then a pang cut me to the soul. The past whirled up,~\
to disappear, leaving me stunned and helpless. Veronica s \
eye was upon me. I forced myself to observe her. The )
difference between us was plainer than ever. I was in my /
twentieth year, she was barely sixteen ; handsome, and as [
peculiar-looking as when a child. Her straight hair was a 1 , ,
vivid chestnut color. Her large eyes were near together ; > Si^*
and, as Ben Somers said, the most singular eyes that were \^

ever upon earth. They tormented me. There was nothing / y t V j
willful in them ; on the contrary, when she was willful, she
had no power over them ; the strange cast was then percep
tible. Neither were they imperious nor magnetic ; they
were baffling. She pushed her chair from the table,
and stood by me quiet. Tall and slender, she stooped
slightly, as if she were not strong enough to stand upright.
Her dress was a buff-colored cambric, trimmed with knots
of ribbon of the same color, dotted with green crosses. It
harmonized with her colorless, fixedly pale complexion. I
counted the bows of ribbon on her dress, and would have
counted the crosses, if she had not interrupted me with,
" What do you think of me ? "

" Do you ever blush, Verry ?"

" I grow paler, you know, when I blush."


" What do you think of me ? "

" As wide-eyed as ever, and your eyebrows as black.
Who ever saw light, ripply hair with such eyebrows ? I see
wrinkles, too."

" Where ? "

" Round your eyes, like an opening umbrella."

We dispersed as our talk ended, in the old fashion. I
followed Aunt Merce to the flower-stand, which stood in its
old place on the landing.

" I have a poor lot of roses," she said, " but some splen
did cactuses."

" I do not love roses."

" Is it possible ? But Verry does not care so much for
them, either. Lilies are her favorites ; she has a variety.
Look at this Arab lily ; it is like a tongue of fire."

" Where does she keep her flowers ? "

" In wire baskets, in her room. But I must go to make
Arthur some gingerbread. He likes mine the best, and I
like to please him."

" I dare say you spoil him."

" Just as you were spoiled."

" Not in Barmouth, Aunt Merce."

" No, not in Barmouth, Gassy."

I went from room to room, seeing little to interest me.
My zeal oozed away for exploration, and when I entered my
chamber I could have said, " This spot is the summary of
my wants, for it contains me." I must be my own society,
and as my society was not agreeable, the more circumscribed
it was, the better I could endure it. What a dreary pros
pect ! The past was vital, the present dead ! Life in Sur
rey must be dull. How could I forget or enjoy? I put
the curtains down, and told Temperance, who was wander
ing about, not to call me to dinner. I determined, if possi
ble, to surpass my dullness by indulgence. But underneath
it all I could not deny that there was a specter, whose aim
less movements kept me from stagnating. I determined to
drag it up and face it.

" Come," I called, "and stand before me; we will reason

It uncovered, and asked :

" Do you feel remorse and repentance ? "

" Neither ! "


" Why suffer then ? "

" I do not know why."

" You confess ignorance. Can you confess that you are
selfish, self-seeking devilish?"

" Are you my devil ?"

No answer.

" Am I cowardly, or a liar ? "

It laughed, a faint, sarcastic laugh.

" At all events," I continued, " are not my actions better
than my thoughts ? "

" Which makes the sinner, and which the saint ?"

" Can I decide ? "

" Why not ? "

" My teachers and myself are so far apart ! I have
found a counterpart ; but, specter, you were born of the

My head was buried in my arms ; but I heard a voice at
my elbow a shrill, scornful voice it was. " Are you com
ing down to tea, then ? "

Looking up, I saw Fanny. " Tea-time so soon ? "

" Yes, it is. You think nothing of time ; have nothing to
do, I suppose."

And she clasped her hands over her apron hands so
small and thin that they looked like those of an old woman.
Her hair was light and scanty, her complexion sallow, and
her eyes a palish gray ; but her features were delicate and
pretty. She seemed to understand my thoughts.

" You think I am stunted, don t you ? "

" You are not large to my eye."

" Suppose you had been fed mostly on Indian meal, with
a herring or a piece of salted pork for a relish, and clams
or tautog for a luxury, as I have been, would you be as tall
and as grand-looking as you are now ? And would you be
covering up your face, making believe worry ? "

" May be not. You may tell mother that I am coming."

" I shall not say Miss Morgeson, but Cassandra.
1 Cassandra Morgeson, if I like."

" Call me what you please, only tone down that voice of
yours ; it is sharper than the east wind."

I heard her beating a tattoo on Veronica s door next. She
had been taught to be ceremonious with her, at least. No
reply was made, and she came to my door again I ex-


pect Miss Veronica has gone to see poor folks ; it is a way
she has," and spitefully closed it.

After tea mother came up to inquire the reason of my
seclusion. My excuse of fatigue she readily accepted, for
she thought I still looked ill. I had changed so much, she
said, it made her heart ache to look at me. When I could
speak of the accident at Rosville, would I tell her all ? And
would I describe my life there ; what friends I had made ;
would they visit me ? She hoped so. And Mr. Somers, who
made them so hurried a visit, would he come ? She liked
him. While she talked, she kept a pitying but resolute eye
upon me.

" Dear mother, I never can tell you all, as you wish. It
is hard enough for me to bear my thoughts, without the
additional one that my feelings are^understood and specu
lated upon. If I should tell you, the barrier between me
and self-control would give way. You will see Alice Morge-
son, and if she chooses she can tell you what my life was in
her house. She knows it well."

" Cassandra, what does your bitter face and voice mean? "

" I mean, mother, all your woman s heart might guess, if
you were not so pure, so single-hearted."

" No, no, no."

" Yes."

" Then I understand the riddle you have been, one to
bring a curse."

" There is nothing to curse, mother ; our experiences are
not foretold by law. We may be righteous by rule, we do
not sin that way. There was no beginning, no end, to

" Should women curse themselves, then, for giving birth
to daughters ? "

" Wait, mother ; what is bad this year may be good the
next. You blame yourself, because you believe your igno
rance has brought me into danger. Wait, mother."

" You are beyond me ; everything is beyond."

" I will be a good girl. Kiss me, mother. I have been
unworthy of you. When have I ever done anything for
you ? If you hadn t been my mother, I dare say we might
have helped each other, my friendship and sympathy have
sustained you. As it is, I have behaved as all young ani
mals behave to their mothers. One thing you may be sure


of. The doubt you feel is needless. You must neither
pray nor weep over me. Have I agitated you ? "

" My heart will flutter too much, anyway. Oh, Cassy,
Gassy, why are you such a girl ? Why will you be so
awfully headstrong ? " But she hugged and kissed me.
As I felt the irregular beating of her heart, a pain smote
me. What if she should not live long ? Was I not a wicked
fool to lacerate myself with an intangible trouble the reflex
of selfish emotions ?


VERONICA S room was like no other place. I was in a
new atmosphere there. A green carpet covered t the
floor, and the windows had light blue silk curtains.

" Green and blue together, Veronica ? "

" Why not ? The sky is blue, and the carpet of the earth
is green."

" If you intend to represent the heavens and the earth
here, it is very well."

The paper on the wall was ash-colored, with penciled
lines. She had cloudy days probably. A large-eyed Saint
Cecilia, with white roses in her hair, was pasted on the wall.
This frameless picture had a curious effect. Veronica, in
some mysterious way, had contrived to dispose of the white
margin of the picture, and the saint looked out from the soft
ashy tint of the wallpaper. Opposite was an exquisite en
graving, which was framed with dark red velvet. At the
end of an avenue of old trees, gnarled and twisted into each
other, a man stood. One hand grasped the stalk of a
ragged vine, which ran over the tree near him ; the other
hung helpless by his side, as if the wrist was broken. His
eyes were fixed on some object behind the trees, where
nothing was visible but a portion of the wall of a house.
His expression of concentrated fury his attitude of wait
ing testified that he would surely accomplish his inten

"What a picture ! "

" The foliage attracted me, and I bought it ; but when I
unpacked it, the man seemed to come out for the first time.
Will you take it ? "


" No ; I mean to give my room a somnolent aspect. The
man is too terribly sleepless."

A table stood near the window, methodically covered with
labelled blank-books, a morocco portfolio, and a Wedgewood
inkstand and vase. In an arch, which she had manufac
tured from the space under the garret stairs, stood her bed.
At its foot, against the wall, a bunch of crimson autumn
leaves was fastened, and a bough, black and bare, with an
empty nest on it.

"Where is the feminine portion of your furnishing?"

" Look in the closet."

I opened a door. What had formerly been appropriated
by mother to blankets and comfortables, she had turned
into a magazine of toilet articles. There were drawers and
boxes for everything which pertained to a wardrobe, ar
ranged with beautiful skill and neatness. She directed my
attention to her books, on hanging shelves, within reach of
the bed. Beneath them was a small stand, with a wax
candle in a silver candlestick.

" You read o nights ? "

" Yes ; and the wax candle is my pet weakness."

" Have you put away Gray, and Pope, and Thomson ? "

" The Arabian Nights and the Bible are still there.
Mother thought you would like to refurnish your room.
It is the same as when we moved, you know."

" Did she ? I will have it done. Good-by."

" Good-by."

She was at the window now, and had opened a pane.

" What s that you are doing ? "

" Looking through my wicket."

I went back again to understand the wicket. It had been
made, she said, so that she might have fresh air in all
weathers, without raising the windows. In the night she
could look out without danger of taking cold. We looked
over the autumn fields ; the crows were flying seaward over
the stubble, or settling in the branches of an old fir, stand
ing alone, midway between the woods and the orchard.
The ground before us, rising so gradually, and shortening
the horizon, reminded me of my childish notion that we
were near the North Pole, and that if we could get behind
the low rim of sky we should be in the Arctic Zone.

" The Northern Lights have not deserted us, Veronica?"


" No ; they beckon me over there, in winter."

" Do you never tire of this limited, monotonous view of
a few uneven fields, squared by grim stone walls ? "

" That is not all. See those eternal travelers, the clouds,
that hurry up from some mysterious region to go over your
way, where I never look. If the landscape were wider, I
could never learn it. And the orchard have you noticed
that ? There are bird and butterfly lives in it, every year.
Why, morning and night are wonderful from these windows.
But I must say the charm vanishes if I go from them.
Surrey is not lovely." She closed the wicket, and sat down
by the table. My dullness vanished with her. There
might be something to interest me beneath the calm surface
of our family life after all.

" Veronica, do you think mother is changed ? I think so."

" She is always the same to me. But I have had fears
respecting her health."

Outside the door I met Temperance, with a clothes-

" Oh ho ! " she said, " you are going the rounds. Verry s
room beats all possessed, don t it ? It is cleaned spick and
span every three months. She calls it inaugurating the
seasons. She is as queer as Dick s hatband. Have you
any fine things to do up ? "

Her question put me in mind of my trunks, and I hastened
to them, with the determination of putting my room to
rights. The call to dinner interrupted me before I had be
gun, and the call to supper came before anything in the
way of improvement had been accomplished. My mind
was chaotic by bed-time. The picture of Veronica, reading
by her wax candle, or looking through the wicket, collected
and happy in her orderly perfection, came into my mind,
and with it an admiration which never ceased, though I had
no sympathy with her. We seemed as far apart as when
we were children.

I was eager for employment, promising to perform many
tasks, but the attempt killed my purpose and interest. My
will was nerveless, when I contemplated Time, which
stretched before me a vague, limitless sea ; and I only
kept Endeavor in view, near enough to be tormented.

One day father asked me to go to Milfofd, and I then
asked him for money to spend for the adornment of my room.


" Be prudent," he replied. " I am not so rich as people
think me. Although the Locke Morgeson was insured,
she was a loss. But you need not speak of this to your
mother. I never worry her with my business cares. As
for Veronica, she has not the least idea of the value of
money, or care for what it represents."

When we went into the shops, I found him disposed to
be more extravagant than I was. I bought a blue and
white carpet ; a piece of blue and white flowered chintz ;
two stuffed chairs, covered with hair-cloth (father remon
strated against these), and a long mirror to go between the
windows, astonishing him with my vanity. What I wanted
besides I could construct myself, with the help of the cab
inet maker in Surrey.

In one of the shops I heard a familiar voice, which gave
me a thrill of anger. I turned and saw Charlotte Alden, of
Barmouth, the girl who had given me the fall on the tilt.
She could not control an expression of surprise at the sight
of the well-dressed woman before her. It was my dress
that astonished her. Where could / have obtained style ?

" Miss Alden, how do you do ? Pray tell me whether
you have collected any correct legends respecting my
mother s early history. And do you tilt off little girls

She made no reply, and I left her standing where she was
when I began speaking. When we got out of town, my
anger cooled, and I grew ashamed of my spitefulness, and
by way of penance I related the affair to father. He laughed
at what I said to her, and told me that he had long known
her family. Charlotte s uncle had paid his addresses to
mother. There might have been an engagement ; whether
there was or not, the influence of his family had broken the
acquaintance. This explained what Charlotte said to me
in Miss Black s school about mother s being in love.

"You might have been angry with the girl, but you
should not have felt hurt at the fact implied. Are you so
young still as to believe that only those who love marry ?
or that those who marry have never loved, except each
other ?"

" I have thought of these things ; but I am afraid that
Love, like Theology, if examined, makes one skeptical."

We jogged along in silence for a mile or two.


" Whether every man s children overpower him, I wonder ?
I am positively afraid of you and Veronica."

" What do you mean ? "

" I am always unprepared for the demonstrations of char
acter you and she make. My traditional estimate, which
comes from thoughtfulness, or the putting off of responsi
bility, or God knows what, I find will not answer. I have
been on my guard against that which everyday life might
present a lie, a theft, or a meanness ; but of the under
current, which really bears you on, I have known nothing."

" If you happen to dive below the surface, and find the
roots of our actions which are fixed beneath its tide what
then ? Must you lament over us ? "

" No, no ; but this is vague talk."

Was he dissatisfied with me ? What could he expect ?
We all went our separate ways, it is true ; was it that ?
Perhaps he felt alone. I studied his face ; it was not so
cheerful as I remembered it once, but still open, honest,
and wholesome. I promised myself to observe his tastes
and consult them. It might be that his self-love had never
been encouraged. But I failed in that design, as in all

" Much of my time is consumed in passing between Mil-
ford and Surrey, you perceive."

" I will go with you often."

According to habit, on arriving, I went into the kitchen.
It was dusk there, and still. Temperance was by the fire,
attending to something which was cooking.

"What is there for supper, Temperance ? I am hungry."

" I spose you are," she answered crossly. " You ll see
when it s on the table."

She took a coal of fire with the tongs, and blew it fiercely,
to light a lamp by. When it was alight, she set it on the
chimney-shelf, revealing thereby a man at the back of the
room, balancing his chair on two legs against the wail ; his
feet were on its highest round, and he twirled his thumbs.

" Hum," he said, when he saw me observing him ; " this
is the oldest darter, is it ?"

" Yes," Temperance bawled.

" She is a good solid gal ; but I can t recollect her chris
tened name."

" It is Cassandra."


Why, taint ScripturV

Why don t you go and take off your things? " Temper
ance asked, abruptly.

1 I ll leave them here ; the fire is agreeable."

There is a better fire in the keeping-room."

How are you, Mr. Handy ? " father inquired, coming in.

I should be well, if my grinders didn t trouble me ; they
play the mischief o nights. Have you heard from the
Adamant, Mr. Morgeson ? I should like to get my poor
boy s chist. The Lord ha mercy on him, whose bones are
in the caverns of the deep."

" Now, Abram, do shut up. Tea is ready, Mr. Mor
geson. I ll bring in the ham directly," said Temperance.

There was no news from the Adamant. I lingered in
the hope of discovering why Mr. Handy irritated Temper
ance. He was a man of sixty, with a round head, and a
large, tender wart on one cheek ; the two tusks under his
upper lip suggested a walrus. Though he was no beauty,
he looked thoroughly respectable, in garments whose primal
colors had disappeared, and blue woolen stockings gartered
to a miracle of tightness.

" Temperance," he said, " my quinces have done fust
rate this year. I haint pulled em yet ; but I ve counted
them over and over agin. But my pig wont weigh nothin
like what I calkerlated on. Sarved me right. I needn t
have bought him out of a drove ; if Charity had been
alive, I shouldn t ha done it. A man can t I say, Tempy
a man cant git along while here below, without a woman."

She gave my arm a severe pinch as she passed with the
ham, and I thought it best to follow her. Mother looked
at her with a smile, and said : " Deal gently with Brother
Abram, Temperance."

" Brother be fiddlesticked ! " she said tartly. " Miss
Morgeson, do you want some quinces ? "

" Certainly."

" We ll make hard marmalade this year, then. You shall
have the quinces to-morrow." And she retired with a soft
ened face. I was told that Abram Handy was a widower
anxious to take Temperance for a second helpmeet, and
that she could not decide whether to accept or refuse him.
She had confessed to mother that she was on the fence, and
didn t know which way to jump. He was a poor, witless


thing, she knew ; but he was as good a man as ever breathed,
and stood as good a chance of being saved as the wisest
church-member that ever lived ! Mother thought her in
clined to be mistress of an establishment over which she
might have sole control. Abram owned a house, a garden,
and kept pigs, hens, and a cow ; these were his themes of
conversation. Mother could not help thinking he was in
fluenced by Temperance s fortune. She was worth two
thousand dollars, at least. The care of her wood-lot, the
cutting, selling, or burning the wood on it, would be a su
preme happiness to Abram, who loved property next to the
kingdom of heaven. The tragedy of the old man s life was
the loss of his only son. who had been killed by a whale a
year since. The Adamant, the ship he sailed in, had not
returned, and it was a consoling hope with Abram that his
boy s chist might come back.

" We heard of poor Charming Handy s death the tenth
of September, about three months after Abram began his
visits to Temperance," Veronica said.

" Was his name Charming ? " I asked.

" His mother named him," Abram said, " with a name that
she had picked out of Novel s works, which she was forever
and tarnally reading."

What day of the month is it, Verry ? "

Third of October."

What happened a year ago to-day ? "

Arthur fell off the roof of the wood-house."

Verry," he cried, " you needn t tell my sister of that ;
now she knows about my scar. You tell everything ; she
does not. You have scars," he whispered to me ; " they look
red sometimes. May I put my finger on your cheek ? "

I took his hand, and rubbed his fingers over the cuts ;
they were not deep, but they would never go away.

"I wish mine were as nice ; it is only a little hole under
my hair. Soldiers ought to have long scars, made with
great big swords, and I am a soldier, aint I, Cassy ? "

" Have I heard you sing, Cassy ? " asked father. " Come,
let us have some music."

" And the cares which infest the day, " added Verry.

I had scarcely been in the parlor since my return, though
the fact had not been noticed. Our tacit compact was that
we should be ignorant of each other s movements. I ran


up to my room for some music, and, not having a lamp,
stumbled over my shawl and bonnet and various bundles
which somebody had deposited on the floor. I went down
by the back way, to the kitchen ; Fanny was there alone,
standing before the fire, and whistling a sharp air.

" Did you carry my bonnet and shawl upstairs ? "

"I did."

" Will you be good enough to take this music to the par
lor for me ? "

She turned and put her hands behind her. " Who was
your waiter last year ? "

" I had one," putting the leaves under her arm ; they
fluttered to the floor, one by one.

" You must pick them up, or we shall spend the night
here, and father is waiting for me."

" Is he ? " and she began to take them up.

" I am quite sure, Fanny, that I could punish you aw
fully. I am sick to try."

She moved toward the door slowly. " Don t tell him,"
she said, stopping before it.

" I ll tell nobody, but I am angry. Let us arrive."

She marched to the piano, laid the music on it, and
marched out.

" By the way, Fanny," I whispered, " the bonnet and
shawl are yours, if you need them."

" I guess I do," she whispered back.

When I returned to my room, I found it in order and the
bundles removed.

One day some Surrey friends called. They told me I
had changed very much, and I inferred from their tone
they did not consider the change one for the better.

" How much Veronica has improved," they continued,
" do not you think so ? "

" You know," she interrupted, " that Cassandra has been
dangerously ill, and has barely recovered."

Yes, they had heard of the accident, everybody had ;
Mr. Morgeson must be a loss to his family, a man in the
prime of life, too.

" The prime of life," Veronica repeated.

She was asked to play, and immediately went to the
piano. Strange girl ; her music was so filled with a wild
lament that I again fathomed my desires and my despair.


Her eyes wandered toward me, burning with the fires of
her creative power, not with the feelings which stung me to
the quick. Her face was calm, white, and fixed. She
stopped and touched her eyelids, as if she were weeping,
but there were no tears in her eyes. They were in mine,
welling painfully beneath the lids. I turned over the music

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Online LibraryElizabeth StoddardThe Morgesons; a novel → online text (page 13 of 24)