Elizabeth Stoddard.

The Morgesons; a novel online

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" That is a singular piece," said one. " Now, Cassandra,
will you favor us ? We expect to find you highly accom

" I sang myself out before you came in."

In the bustle of their going, Veronica stooped over my
hand and kissed it, unseen. It was more like a sigh upon
it than a kiss, but it swept through me, tingling the scars
on my face, as if the flesh had become alive again.

" Take tea with us soon, do. We do not see you in
the street or at church. It must be dull for you after
coming from a boarding-school. Still, Surrey has its advan
tages." And the doors closed on them.

" Still, Surrey has its advantages," Veronica repeated.

" Yes, the air is sleepy ; I am going to bed."

I made resolutions before I slept that night, which I
kept, for I said, " Let the dead bury its dead."


HELEN S letters followed me. She had heard from
Rosville all that had happened, but did not expatiate
on it. Her letters were full of minute details respect
ing her affairs. It was her way of diverting me from the
thoughts which she believed troubled me. " L. N." was
expected soon. Since his last letter, she had caught her
self more than once making inventories of what she would
like to have in the way of a wardrobe for a particular occa
sion, which he had hinted at.

I heard nothing from Alice, and was content that it
should be so. Our acquaintance would be resumed in good
time, I had no doubt. Neither did I hear from Ben Som-
ers. He very likely was investing in another plan. Of its
result I should also hear.


My chief occupation was to drive with father. The
wharves of Milford, the doors of its banks and shipping
offices, became familiar. I witnessed bargains and con
tracts, and listened to talk of shipwrecks, mutinies, in
surance cases, perjuries, failures, ruin, and rascalities.
His private opinions, and those who sought him, were kept
in the background ; the sole relation between them was
Traffic. Personality was forgotten in the absorbed atten
tion which was given to business. They appeared to me,
though, as if pursuing something beyond Gain, which
should narcotize or stimulate them to forget that man s life
was a vain going to and fro.

Mother reproached father for allowing me to adopt the
habits of a man. He thought it a wholesome change ;
besides, it would not last. While I was his companion there
were moments when he left his ledger for another book.

"You never call yourself a gambler, do you, Locke?"
mother asked. " Strange, too, that you think of Gassy in
your business life instead of me."

" Mary, could I break your settled habits. Gassy is
afloat yet. I can guide her hither and yon. Moreover,
with her, I dream of youth."

" Is youth so happy ? " we both asked.

" We think so, when we see it in others."

" Not all of us," she said. " You think Cassandra has
no ways of her own ! She can make us change ours ; do
you know that ? "

" May be."

A habit grew upon me of consulting the sea as soon as I
rose in the morning. Its aspect decided how my day would
be spent. I watched it, studying its changes, seeking to un
derstand its effect, ever attracted by an awful materiality
and its easy power to drown me. By the shore at night the
vague tumultuous sphere, swayed by an influence mightier
than itself, gave voice, which drew my soul to utter
speech for speech. I went there by day unobserved, ex
cept by our people, for I never walked toward the
village. Mother descried me, as she would a distant
sail, or Aunt Merce, who had a vacant habit of looking
from all the windows a moment at a time, as if she
were forever expecting the arrival of somebody who


never came. Arthur, too, saw me, as he played among the
rocks, waded, caught crabs and little fish, like all boys
whose hereditary associations are amphibious. But Veron
ica never came to the windows on that side of the house,
unless a ship was arriving from a long voyage. Then her
interest was in the ship alone, to see whether her colors
were half-mast, or if she were battered and torn, recalling
to mind those who had died or married since the ship sailed
from port ; for she knew the names of all who ever left
Surrey, and their family relations.

Weeks passed before I had completed the furnishing of
my room"; I had been to Helen s wedding, and had
returned, and it was still in progress. The ground was
covered with snow. The sea was dark and rough under
the frequent north wind, sometimes gray and silent in an
icy atmosphere ; sometimes blue and shining beneath the
pale winter sun. The day when the room was ready,
Fanny made a wood fire, which burned merrily, and encour
aged the new chairs, tables, carpet, and curtains into a
friendly assimilation ; they met and danced on the round
tops of the brass dogs. It already seemed to me that I
was like the room. Unlike Veronica, I had nothing odd,
nothing suggestive. My curtains were blue chintz, and
the sofa and chairs were covered with the same ; the
ascetic aspect of my two hair-cloth arm-chairs was en
tirely concealed. The walls were painted amber color,
and varnished. There were no pictures but the shin
ing shadows. A row of shelves covered with blue dam
ask was on one side, and my tall mirror on the other.
The doors were likewise covered with blue damask, nailed
round with brass nails. When I had nothing else to
do I counted the nails. The wooden mantel shelf, orig
inally painted in imitation of black marble, I covered
with damask, and fringed it. I sent Fanny down for
mother and Aunt Merce. They declared, at once, they
were stifled ; too many things in the room ; too warm ; too
dark ; the fringe on the mantel would catch fire and burn
me up ; too much trouble to take care of it. What was
under the carpet that made it so soft and the steps so
noiseless ? How nice it was ! Temperance, who had been
my aid, arrived at this juncture and croaked.

" Did you ever see such a stived-up hole, Mis Morgeson ? "


" I like it now," she answered, " it is so comfortable.
How lovely this blue is ! "

" It s a pity she wont keep the blinds shut. The cur
tains will fade to rags in no time ; the sun pours on em."

" How could I watch the sea then ? " I asked.

" Good Lord ! it s a mystery to me how you can bother
over that salt water."

" And the smell of the sea-weed," added Aunt Merce.

" And its thousand dreary cries," said mother.

" Do you like my covered doors? " I inquired.

"I vow," Temperance exclaimed, " the nails are put in
crooked ! And I stood over Dexter the whole time. He
said it was damned nonsense, and that you must be awfully
spoiled to want such a thing. You get your pay, Dexter,
says I, for what you do, don t you ? I guess I do,
says he, and then he winked. None of your gab, says
I. I do believe that man is a cheat and a rascal, I vow I
do. But they are all so."

" In my young days," Aunt Merce remarked, " young girls
were not allowed to have fires in their chambers."

" In our young days, Mercy," mother replied, "we were
not allowed to have much of anything."

" Fires are not wholesome to sleep by," Temperance

" Miss Veronica never has a fire," piped Fanny, who had
remained, occasionally making a stir with the tongs.

" But she ought to have ! " Temperance exclaimed vehe
mently. " I do wonder, Mis Morgeson, that you do not
insist upon it, though it s none of my business."

Father was conducted upstairs, after supper. The fire
was freshly made ; the shaded lamp on the table before the
sofa and the easy-chair pleased him. He came often after
ward, and stayed so long, sometimes, that I fell asleep, and
found him there, when I woke, still smoking and watching
the fire.

Veronica looked in at bed-time. " I recognize you here,"
she said as she passed. But she came back in a few mo
ments in a wrapper, with a comb in her hand, and stood
on the hearth combing her hair, which was longer than a
mermaid s. The fire was grateful to her, and I believe that
she was surprised at the fact.

" Why not have a fire in your room, Verry ? "


" A fire would put me out. One belongs in this room,
though. It is the only reality here."

" What if I should say you provoke me, perverse girl ? "

"What if you should?"

She gathered up her hair and shook it round her face,
with the same elfish look she wore when she pulled it
over her eyes as a child. It made me feel how much older
I was.

" I do not say so, and I will not."

" I wish you would ; I should like to hear something
natural from you."

Fanny, coming in with an armful of wood, heard her.
Instead of putting it on the fire, she laid it on the hearth,
and, sitting upon it with an expression of enjoyment, looked
at both of us with an expectant air.

" You love mischief, Fanny," I said.

" Is it mischief for me to look at sisters that don t love
each other ? " and, laughing shrilly, she pulled a stick from
under her, and threw it on the fire.

Veronica s eyes shot more sparks than the disturbed
coals, for Fanny s speech enraged her. Giving her head a
toss, which swept her hair behind her shoulders, she darted
at Fanny, and picked her up from the wood, with as much
ease as if it had been her handkerchief, instead of a girl
nearly as heavy as herself. I started up.

" Sit still," she said to me, in her low, inflexible voice,
holding Fanny against the wall. " I must attend to this
little demon. Do you dare to think," addressing Fanny
with a gentle vehemence, " that what you have just said, is
true of me ? Are you, with your small, starved spirit, equal
to any judgment against her? I admire her ; you do, too.
I love her, and I love you, you pitiful, ignorant brat."

Her strength gave way, and she let her go.

" All declarations in my behalf are made to third persons,"
I thought.

" I do believe, Miss Veronica," said Fanny, who did not
express any astonishment or resentment at the treatment
she had received, " that you are going to be sick ; I feel so
in my bones."

" Never mind your bones. Twist up my hair, and think,
while you do it, how to get rid of your diabolical curiosity."

" I have had nothing to do all my life," she answered,


carefully knotting Verry s hair, " but to be curious. I
never found out much, though, till lately"; and she cast
her eyes in my direction.

" Put her out, Cassandra," said Verry, " if you like to
touch her."

" I ll sweep the hearth, if you please, first," Fanny
answered. " I am a good drudge, you know. Good-night,

I followed Veronica, wishing to know if her room was
uncomfortable. She had made slight changes since my
visit to her. The flowers had been moved, the stand
where the candle stood was covered with crimson cloth.
The dead bough and the autumn leaves were gone ; but
instead there was a branch of waving grasses, green and
fresh, and on the table was a white flower, in a vase.

" It is freezing here, but it looks like summer. Is it
design ?"

"Yes ; I can t sit here much ; still, I can read in bed, and
write, especially under my new quilt, which you have not

It was composed of red, black, and blue bits of silk, and
beautifully quilted. Hepsey and Temperance had made it
for her.

" How about the wicket, these winter nights ? "

" I drag the quilt off, and wrap it round me when I want
to look out.

We heard a bump on the floor, and Temperance appeared
with warm bricks wrapped in flannel.

"You know that I will not have those things," Verry said.

" Dear me, how contrary you are ! And you have not
eaten a thing to-day."

" Carry them out."

Her voice was so unyielding, but always so gentle !
Temperance was obliged to deposit the bricks outside the
door, which she did with a bang.

" I should think you might sleep in Cassandra s room ;
her bed is big enough for three."

No answer was made to this proposition, but Verry said,

"You may undress me, if you like, and stay till you are
convinced I shall not freeze."

" I ve stayed till I am in an ager. I might as well finish
the night here, I spose."


She called me after midnight, for she had not left
Verry, who had been attacked with one of her mysterious

" You can do nothing for her ; but I am scared out, when
she faints so dreadful ; I don t like to be alone."

Veronica could not speak, but she shook her head at me
to go away. Her will seemed to be concentrated against
losing consciousness ; it slipped from her occasionally, and
she made a rotary motion with her arms, which I attempted
to stop, but her features contracted so terribly, I let her

" Mustn t touch her," said Temperance, whose efforts to
relieve her were confined to replacing the coverings of the
bed, and drawing her nightgown over her bosom, which
she often threw off again. Her breath scarcely stirred her
breast. I thought more than once she did not breathe at
all. Its delicate, virgin beauty touched me with a holy
pity. We sat by her bed in silence a long time, and
although it was freezing cold, did not suffer. Suddenly she
turned her head and closed her eyes. Temperance softly
pulled up the clothes over her and whispered : " It is over
for this time ; but Lord, how awful it is ! I hoped she was
cured of these spells."

Ina few minutes she asked, " What time is it ? "

" It must be about eleven," Temperance replied ; but it
was nearly four. She dozed again, but, opening her eyes
presently, made a motion toward the window.

" There s no help for it," muttered Temperance, " she
must go."

I understood her, and put my arm under Verry s neck to
raise her. Temperance wrapped the quilt round her, and
we carried her to the window. Temperance pushed open
the pane ; an icy wind blew against us.

" It is the winter that kills little Verry," she said, in a
childlike voice. " God s breath is cold over the world,
and my life goes. But the spring is coming ; it will come

I looked at Temperance, whose face was so corrugated
with the desire for crying and the effort to keep from it,
that for the life of me, I could not help smiling. As soon as
I smiled I laughed, and then Temperance gave way to crying
and laughing together. Veronica stared, and realized the


circumstances in a second. She walked back to the bed,
laughing faintly, too. " Go to bed, do. You have been
here a long time, have you ? "

I left Temperance tucking the clothes about her, kissing
her, and calling her " deary and her best child."

I could not go to bed at once, for Fanny was on my
hearth before the fire, which she had rekindled, watching
the boiling of something.

She has come to, hasn t she?" stirring the contents of
the kettle. " I knew it was going to be so with her, she
was so mad with me. She is like the Old Harry before
she has a turn, and like an angel after. I am fond of
people who have their ups and downs. I have seen her so
before. She asked me to keep the doors locked once ; they
are locked now. Bnt I couldn t keep you out. The doctor
said she must have warm drinks as soon as she was better.
This is gruel."

" If it is done, away with you. Calamity improves you,
don t it ? You seem in excellent spirits."

" First-rate ; I can be somebody then."


"QEFORE spring there were three public events in Sur-
|3 rev - A lighthouse was built on Gloster Point, below
our house. At night there was a bridge of red, tremu
lous light between my window and its tower, which seemed
to shorten the distance. A town-clock had been placed in
the belfry of the new church in the western part of the vil
lage. Veronica could see the tips of its gilded hands from
the top of her window, and hear it strike through the night,
whether the wind was fair to bring the sound or not. She
liked to hear the hours cry that they had gone. Soon after
the clock was up, she recollected that Mrs. Grossman s dog
had ceased to bark at night, as was his wont, and sent her
a note inquiring about it, for she thought there was some
thing poetical in connection with nocturnal noises, which
she hoped Mrs. Grossman felt also. Fanny conveyed the
note, and read it likewise, as Mrs. Grossman declared her
inability to read writing with her new spectacles, which a


peddler had cheated her with lately. She laughed at it, and
sent word to Veronica that she was the curiousest young
woman for her age that she had ever heard of ; that the
dog slept in the house of nights, for he was blind and deaf
now ; but that Grossman should get a new dog with a loud
bark, if the dear child wanted it.

A new dog soon came, so fierce that Abram told Temper
ance that people were afraid to pass Grossman s. She
guessed it wasn t the dog the people were afraid of, but of
their evil consciences, which pricked them when they re
membered Dr. Snell.

The third event was Mr. Thrasher s revival. It began in
February, and before it was over, I heard the April frogs
croaking in the marshy field behind the church. We went
to all the meetings, except Veronica, who continued her cus
tom of going only on Sunday afternoons. Mr. Thrasher
endeavored to proselyte me, but he never conversed with
her. His manner changed when he was at our house ; if
she appeared, the man tore away the mask of the minister.
She called him a Bible-banger, that he made the dust fly
from the pulpit cushions too much to suit her ; besides,
he denounced sinners with vituperation, larding his piety
with a grim wit which was distasteful. He was resentful
toward me, especially after he had seen her. It was need
ful, he said, from my influence in Surrey, that I should
become an example, and asked me if I did not think my
escape from sudden death in Rosville was an indication from
Providence that I was reserved for some especial work ?

Surrey was never so evangelical as under his ministra
tion, and it remained so until he was called to a larger field
of usefulness, and offered a higher salary to till it. We
settled into a milder theocracy after he left us. Mr. Park
renewed his zeal, about this time, resuming his discus
sions ; but mother paid little attention to what he said.
There were days now when she was confined to her room.
Sometimes I found her softly praying. Once when I went
there she was crying aloud, in a bitter voice, with her
hands over her head. She was her old self when she recov
ered, except that she was indifferent to practical details. She
sought amusement, indeed, liked to have me with her to
make her laugh, and Aunt Merce was always near to pet her
as of old, and so we forgot those attacks.


Abram Handy, inspired with religious fervor during the
revival, was also inspired with the twin passion love to
visit Temperance, and begged her, with so much eloquence,
to marry him before his cow should calve, that she con
sented, and he was happy. He spent the Sunday evenings
with her, coming after conference meeting, hymn-book in
hand. She was angry and ashamed, if I happened to see
them sitting in the same chair, and singing, in a quavering
voice, " Greenland s Icy Mountains," and continued morose
for a week, in consequence.

"What will Veronica do without me?" she said. "I
vow I wish Abram Handy would keep himself out of my
way ; who wants him ? "

" She will visit you, and so shall I."

" Certain true, will you, really ?"

" If you will promise to return our visits, and leave Abiam
at home, for a week now and then."

" Done. I can mend your things and look after Mis
Morgeson. Your mother is not the woman she was, and
you and Veronica haven t a mite of faculty. What you are
all coming to is more than I can fathom."

" Who will fill your place ? "

" I don t want to brag, but you wont find a soul in Sur
rey to come here and live as I have lived. You will have
to take a Paddy ; the Paddies are spreading, the old house
keeping race is going. Hepsey and I are the last of the
Mohicans, and Hepsey is failing."

She was right, we never found her equal, and when she
went, in May, a Celtic dynasty came in. We missed her
sadly. Verry refused to be comforted. Symptoms of dis
organization appeared everywhere.

In the summer Helen visited Surrey. Her enlivening
gayety was the means of our uniting about her. She was
never tired of Veronica s playing, nor of our society ; so we
must stay where she and the piano were. We trimmed the
parlor with flowers every day. Veronica transferred some
of her favorite books to the round table, and privately sent
for a set of flower vases. When they came, she said we
must have a new carpet to match them, and although
mother protested against it, she was loud in her admiration
when she saw the handsome white Brussels, thickly covered
with crimson roses. Helen s introduction proved an aston-


ishing incentive ; we set a new value on ourselves. I never
saw so much of Veronica as at that time ; her health im
proved with her temper. She threw us into fits of laughter
with her whimsical talk, never laughing herself, but enjoy
ing the effect she produced. To please her, Helen changed
her style of dress, and bought a dress at Milford, which
Veronica selected and made. The trying on of this dress
was the means of her discovering the letters on Helen s
arm, which never ceased to be a source of interest. She
asked to see them every day afterward, and touched them
with her fingers, as if they had some occult power.

" You think her strange, do you not ? " I asked Helen.

" She has genius, but will be a child always."

" You are mistaken ; she was always mature."

" She stopped in the process of maturity long ago. It is
her genius which takes her on. You advance by experi

"I shall learn nothing more."

"Of course you have suffered immensely, and endured
that which isolates you from the rest of us."

" You are as wise as ever."

" Well, I am married, you know, and shall grow no wiser.
Marriage puts an end to the wisdom of women ; they need
it no longer."

" You are nineteen years old ? "

" What is the use of talking to you ? Besides, if we keep
on we may tell secrets that had better not be revealed. We
might not like each other so well ; friendship is apt to dull
if there is no ground for speculation left. Let us keep the
bloom on the fruit, even if we know there is a worm at the

I owed it to her that I never had any confidante. My
proclivities were for speaking what I felt ; but her strong
common-sense influenced me greatly against it ; her teach
ing was the more easy to me, as she never invaded my

Her visit was the occasion of our exchanging civilities with
our acquaintances, which we neglected when alone. Tea
parties were always fashionable in Surrey. Veronica went
with us to one, given by our cousin, Susan Morgeson. She
had taken tea out but twice, since she was grown, she told us,
and then it was with her friend Lois Randall, a seamstress.


To this girl she read the contents of her blank -books, and
Lois in her turn confided to Veronica her own compositions.
Essays were her forte. We met her at Susan Morgeson s,
and, as I never saw her without her having on some article
given her by Veronica, this occasion was no exception.
She wore an exquisitely embroidered purple silk apron,
over a dull blue dress. I saw Verry s grimace when her
eyes fell on it, and could not help saying, "I hope Lois s
essays are better than her taste in dress."

" She is an idiot in colors ; but she admires what I wear
so much that she fancies the same must become her."

" As they become you ? "

" I make a study of dress an anomaly must. It may
be wicked, but what can I do ? I love to look well."

The dress she wore then was an India stuff, of linen, with
a cream-colored ground, and a vivid yellow silk thread
woven in stripes through it ; each stripe had a cinnamon-
colored edge. There were no ornaments about her, except
a band of violet-colored ribbon round her head. When tea
was brought in, she asked me in a whisper whether it was
tea or coffee in the cup which was given her.

" Why, Cass," said Helen, "are you making a wonder
ment because she does not know ? It is strange that you
have not known that she drinks neither."

" What does she drink ? "

" Is it eccentric to drink milk ? " Verry asked, swallow
ing the tea with an accustomed air. " I think this must be
coffee, it stings my mouth so."

" It is green tea," said Helen ; "don t drink it, Verry."

" Green tea," she said, in a dreamy voice. " We drank
green tea ten years ago, in our old house ; and I did not
know it ! Cassandra, do you remember that I drank four

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Online LibraryElizabeth StoddardThe Morgesons; a novel → online text (page 14 of 24)