Elizabeth Stoddard.

The Morgesons; a novel online

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cups once, when mother had company ? I laughed all
night, and Temperance cried."

She contributed her share toward entertaining, and in
variably received the most attention. My indifference was
called pride, and her reserve was called dignity, and dignity
was more popular than pride.

Before Helen went, Ben wrote me that he was going to
India. It was a favorite journey with the Belemites. By
the time the letter reached me he should be gone. Would
1 bear him in remembrance ? He would not forget me,


and promised me an Indian idol. In eighteen months he
expected to be at home again ; sooner, perhaps. P.S.
Would I give his true regards to my sister? N.B. The
property might be divided according to his grandfather s
will, before his return, and he wanted to be out of the way
for sundry reasons, which he hoped to tell me some day.
I read the letter to Helen and Veronica. Helen laughed,
and said "Unstable as water "; but Veronica looked dis
pleased ; she closed her eyes as if to recall him to mind,
and asked Helen abruptly if she did not like him.

" Yes ; but I doubt him. With all his strength of char
acter he has a capacity for failure."

" I consider him a relation," I said.

"/do not own him," said Veronica.

" At all events, he is not an affectionate one," Helen re
marked. " You have not heard from him in a year."

"But I knew that I should hear," I said.

" We shall see him," said Veronica, " again."

I was dull after I received his letter. My youth grew dim ;
somehow I felt a self-pity. I found no chance to embalm
those phases of sensation which belonged to my period,
and I grew careless ; Helen s influence went with her.
The observances so vital to Veronica, so charming in her,
I became utterly neglectful of. For all this a mad longing
sometimes seized me to depart into a new world, which
should contain no element of the old, least of all a remi
niscence of what my experience had made me.


A LICE MORGESON sent for Aunt Merce, asking her to
\ fulfill the promise she had made when she was in Rosville.
With misgivings she went, stayed a month, and returned
with Alice. I felt a throe of pain when we met, which she
must have seen, for she turned pale, and the hand she had
extended toward me fell by her side ; overcoming the im
pulse, she offered it again, but I did not take it. I had no
evidence to prove that she came to Surrey on my account ;
but I was sure that such was the fact, as I was sure that
there was a bond between us, which she did not choose to


break, nor to acknowledge. She appeared as if expecting
some explanation or revelation from me ; but I gave her
none, though I liked her better than ever. She was busi
ness-like and observant. Her tendencies, never romantic,
were less selfish ; it was no longer society, dress, house
keeping, which absorbed her, but a larger interest in the
world which gave her a desire to associate with men and
women, independent of caste. None of her children were
with her ; had it been three years earlier, she would not
have left home without them. Her hair was a little gray,
and a wrinkle or two had gathered about her mouth ; but
there was no other change. I was not sorry to have her go,
for she paid me a close and quiet observation. At the
moment of departure, she said in an undertone : " What
has become of that candor of which you were so proud ? "

"I am more candid than ever," I answered, "for I am

" I understand you better, now that I have seen you en

" What do you think now ? "

" I don t think I know ; the Puritans have much to
answer for in your mother " Turning to her she said,
" My children, too, are so different."

Mother gave her a sad smile, as Fanny announced the
carriage, and they drove away.

" No more visitors this year," said Veronica, yawning.

" No agreeable ones, I fancy," I answered.

"All the relations have had their turn for this year," re
marked Aunt Merce. But she was mistaken ; an old lady
came soon after this to spend the winter. She lived but
four miles from Surrey, but brought with her all her clothes,
and a large green parrot, which her son had brought from
foreign parts. Her name was Joy Morgeson ; the fact of
her being cousin to father s grandmother entitled her to a
raid upon us at any season, and to call us " cousins." She
felt, she said, that she must come and attend the meetings
regular, for her time upon earth was short. But Joy was a
hearty woman still, and, pious as she was, delighted in
rough and scandalous stories, the telling of which gave her
severe fits of repentance. She quilted elaborate petticoats
for us, knit stockings for Arthur, and was useful. Mr. and
Mrs. Elisha Peckham surprised us next. They arrived


from " up country " and stayed two weeks. I did not clearly
understand why they came before they went ; but as they
enjoyed their visit, it was of little consequence whether I
did or not.

Midwinter passed, and we still had company. There
was much to do, but it was done without system. Mother
or Aunt Merce detailed from their ordinary duties as keeper
of the visitors, Fanny was for the first time able to make
herself of importance in the family tableaux, and assumed
cares no one had thought of giving her. She left the town-
school, telling mother that learning would be of no use to
her. The rights of a human being merely was what she
wanted ; she should fight for them ; that was what paupers
must do. Mother allowed her to do as she pleased. Her
duties commenced with calling us up to breakfast en masse,
and for once the experiment was successful, for we all met
at the table. The dining-room was in complete order, a
thing that had never happened early before ; the rest of us
missed the straggling breakfast which consumed so much

" Whose doing is this ? " asked father, looking round the

" It is Fanny s," I answered, rattling the cups. " All
the coffee to be poured out at once, don t agitate me."

Fanny, bearing buckwheat cakes, looked proud and mod
est, as people do who appreciate their own virtues.

" Why, Fanny," said the father, " you have done won
ders ; you are more original than Gassy or Verry."

Her green eyes glowed ; her aspect was so feline that I
expected her hair to rise.

" Father s praise pleases you more than ours," Verry said.

" You never gave me any," she answered, marching out.

Father looked up at Verry, annoyed, but said nothing.
We paid no attention to Fanny s call afterward ; but she
continued her labors, which proved acceptable to him.
Temperance told me, when she was with us for a week, that
his overcoats, hats, umbrellas, and whips never had such
care as Fanny gave them. He omitted from this time to
ask us if we knew where his belongings were, but went to
Fanny ; and I noticed that he required much attendance.

Temperance, who had arrived in the thick of the com
pany, as she termed it, was sorry to go back to Abram.


He was a good man, she said ; but it was a dreadful thing
for a woman to lose her liberty, especially when liberty
brought so much idle time. " Why, girls, I have quilted
and darned up every rag in the house. He will do half
the housework himself ; he is an everlasting Betty." She
was cheerful, however, and helped Hepsey, as well as the
rest of us.

The guests did not encroach on my time, but it was a
relief to have them gone and the house our own once

I went to Milford again, almost daily, to feast my eyes
on the bleak, flat, gray landscape. The desolation of win
ter sustains our frail hopes. Nature is kindest then ; she
does not taunt us with fruition. It is the luxury of summer
which tantalizes her long, brilliant, blossoming days, her
dewy, radiant nights.

Entering the house one March evening, when it was unus
ually still, I had reached the front hall, when masculine
tones struck my ears. I opened the parlor door softly, and
saw Ben Somers in an easy-chair, basking before a glowing
fire, his luminous face set toward Veronica, who was near
him, holding a small screen between her and the fire. " She
is always ready," I thought, contemplating her as I would a
picture. Her ruby-colored merino dress absorbed the
light ; she was a mass of deep red, except her face and hair,
above which her silver crescent comb shone. Her slender
feet were tapping the rug. She wore boots the color of her
dress ; Ben was looking at them. Mother was there, and
in the background Aunt Merce and Fanny figured. I
pushed the door wide ; as the stream of cold air reached
them, they looked toward it, and cried " Cassandra ! "
Ben started up with extended hands.

" I went as far as Cape Horn only, but I bought you the
idol and lots of things I promised from a passing ship. I
have been home a week, and I am here. Are you glad ?
Can I stay ? "

" Yes, yes," chorused the company, and I was too busy
trying to get off my gloves to speak. Father came in, and
welcomed him with warmth. Fanny ran out for a lamp ;
when she brought it, Veronica changed the position of her
screen, and held it close to her face.

" Did you have a cold ride, Locke ? " asked mother, gaz-


ing into the fire with that expression of satisfaction we have
when somebody beside ourselves has been exposed to
hardships. It is the same principle entertained by those
who depend upon and enjoy seeing criminals hung.

Meanwhile my bonnet-strings got in a knot, which
Fanny saw, and was about to apply scissors, when Aunt
Merce, unable to bear the sacrifice, interfered and untied
them, all present so interested in the operation that conver
sation was suspended. Presently Aunt Merce was called
out, and was shortly followed by mother and Fanny. Ben
stood before me ; his eyes, darting sharp rays, pierced
me through ; they rested on the thread-like scars which
marked my cheek, and which were more visible from the
effect of cold.

" Tattooed still," I said in a low voice, pointing to them.

" I see " a sorrowful look crossed his face ; he took my
hand and kissed it. Veronica, who had dropped the screen,
met my glance toward her with one perfectly impassive.
As they watched me, I saw myself as they did. A tall girl
in gray, whose deep, controlled voice vibrated in their ears,
like the far-off sounds we hear at night from woods or the
sea, whose face was ineffaceably marked, whose air impressed
with a sense of mystery. I think both would have annihi
lated my personality if possible, for the sake of compre
hending me, for both loved me in their way.

" What are you reading, father ? " asked Veronica suddenly.

" To-day s letters, and I must be off for Boston ; would
you like to go?"

" My sister Adelaide has sent for you, Cassandra, to
visit us," said Ben, " and will you go too, Veronica ? "

" Thanks, I must decline. If Cass should go and she
will I may go to Boston."

He looked at her curiously. " It would not be pleasant
for you to attempt Belem. I hate it, but I feel a fate-impell
ing power in regard to Cassandra ; I want her there."

" May I go then ? " I asked.

"Certainly," father replied.

" Please come out to supper," called Fanny. " We have
something particular for you, Mr. Morgeson."

We saw mother at the table, a book in her hand. She was
finishing a chapter in " The Hour and the Man." Aunt
Merce stood eyeing the dishes with the aspect of a judge.


As father took his seat, near Veronica, Fanny, according to
habit, stood behind it. With the most degagJ air, Ben
suffered nothing to escape him, and I never forgot the pic
ture of that moment.

We talked of Helen s visit a subject that could be com
mented on freely. Veronica told Ben Helen s opinion of
him ; he reddened slightly, and said that such a sage could
not be contradicted. When father remarked that the
opinions of women were whimsical, Fanny gave an audible
sniff, which made Ben smile.

Soon after tea I met Veronica in the hall, with a note in
her hand. She stopped and hesitatingly said that she was
going to send for Temperance ; she wanted her while Mr.
Somers stayed.

" Your forethought astonishes me."

" She is a comfort always to me."

" Do you stand in especial need of a comforter ? "

She looked puzzled, laughed, and left me.

Temperance arrived that evening, in time to administer
a scolding to Fanny.

" That girl needs looking after," she said. " She is as
sharp as a needle. She met me in the yard and told me
that a man fit for a nobleman had come on a visit. It
may be for Cass, says she, and it may not be. I have my
doubts. Did you ever?" concluded Temperance, counting
the knives. " There s one missing. By jingo ! it has been
thrown to the pigs, I ll bet."

When Ben made a show of going, we asked him to stay
longer. He said " Yes," so cordially, that we laughed. But
it hurt me to see that he had forgotten all about my going to
Belem. " I like Surrey so much," he said, " and you all, I
have a fancy that I am in the Hebrides, in Magnus Troil s
dwelling ; it is so wild here, so naive. The unadulterated
taste of sea-spray is most beautiful."

" We will have Cass for Norna," said Verry ; "but, by
the way, it is you that must be of the fitful head ; have you
forgotten that she is going to Belem soon ?"

" I shall remember Belem in good time ; no fear of my
forgetting that ace ancient spot. At least I may wait till
your father goes to Boston, and we can make a party. You
will be ready, Cassandra ? I wrote Adelaide yesterday that
you were coming, and mother will expect you."


It often stormed during his visit. We had driving rains,
and a gale from the southeast, oceanward, which made our
sea dark and miry, even after the storm had ceased and
patches of blue sky were visible.

Our rendezvous was in the parlor, which, from the way in
which Ben knocked about the furniture, cushions, and books,
assumed an air which somehow subdued Veronica s love for
order ; she played for him, or they read together, and some
times talked ; he taught her chess, and then they quarreled.
One day a long one to me, they were so much absorbed
in each other, I did not seek them till dusk.

" Come and sing to me," called Ben.

" So you remember that I do sing ? "

"Sing ; there is a spell in this weird twilight ; sing, or I
go out on the rocks to break it."

He dropped the window curtains and sat by me at the
piano, and I sang :

" I feel the breath of the summer night,

Aromatic fire ;

The trees, the vines, the flowers are astir
With tender desire.

If I were alone, I could not sing,

Praises to thee ;
O night ! unveil the beautiful soul

That awaiteth me ! "

" A foolish song," said Veronica, pulling her hair across
her face. No reply. She glided to the flower-basket,
broke a rosebud from its stalk, and mutely offered it to
him. Whether he took it, I know not ; but he rose up from
beside me, like a dark cloud, and my eyes followed him.

" Come Veronica," he whispered, " give me yourself. I
love you, Veronica."

He sank down before her ; she clasped her hands round
his head, and kissed his hair.

" I know it," she said, in a clear voice.

I shut the door softly, thinking of the Wandering Jew,
went upstairs, humming a little air between my teeth, and
came down again into the dining-room, which was in a
blaze of light.

" What preserves are these, Temperance ? " I asked,
going to the table. " Some of Abram s quinces ? "


" Best you ever tasted, since you were born."

" Call Mr. Somers, Fanny," said mother. " Is Verry in
the parlor, too ? "

" I ll call them," I said ; " I have left my handkerchief

"Is anything else of yours there ?" said Fanny, close to
my ear.

Ben had pushed back the curtain, and was staring into
the darkness ; Veronica was walking to and fro on the rug.

"Haven t I a great musical talent ? " I inquired.

" Am I happy ? " she asked, coming toward me.

Ben turned to speak, but Veronica put her hand over his
mouth, and said :

" Why should I be hushed, my darling ? "

" Come to supper, and be sensible," I urged.

The light revealed a new expression in Verry s face an
unsettled, dispossessed look ; her brows were knitted, yet
she smiled over and over again, while she seemed hardly
aware that she was eating like an ordinary mortal. The
imp Fanny tried experiments with her, by offering the same
dishes repeatedly, till her plate was piled high with food she
did not taste.

The next day was clear, and mild with spring. Ben and
I started for a walk on the shore. We were half-way to
th*. lighthouse before he asked why it was that Veronica
would not come with us.

" She never walks by the shore ; she detests the sea."

" Is it so ? I did not know that."

" Do you mind that you know few of her tastes or habits ?
I speak of this as a general truth."

" I am a spectacle to you, I suppose. But this sea
charms me ; I shall live by it, and build a house with all
the windows and doors toward it."

" Not if you mean to have Verry in it."

" I do mean to have her in it. She shall like it. Are
you willing to have me for a brother ? Will you go to
Belem, and help break the ice ? She could never go," and
he began to skip pebbles in the water.

" I will take you for a brother gladly. You are a fool
not for loving her, but all men are fools when in love, they
are so besotted with themselves. But I am afraid of one
fault in you."


"Yes," he answered hurriedly, "don t I know ? On my
honor, I have tried ; why not leave me to God ? Didn t
you leave yourself that way once ? "

" Oh, you are cruel."

" Pardon me, dear Cass. I must do well now, surely.
Will you believe in me ? Oh, do you not know the strength,
the power, that comes to us in the stress of passion and
duty ? "

" This from you, Ben."

" Never mind ; I knew I wanted to marry her, when I
saw her. I love her passionately," and he threw a pebble
in the water farther than he had yet ; "but she is so pure,
so delicate, that when I approach her, in spite of my be-
sottedness, my love grows lambent. That s not like me,
you know," with great vehemence. " Will she never under-
stand me ?"

His face darkened, and he looked so strangely intent
into my eyes that I was obliged to turn away ; he dis
turbed me.

" Veronica probably will not understand you, but you
must manage for yourself. As you have discerned, she and
I are far apart. She is pure, noble, beautiful, and peculiar.
I will have no voice between you."

" You must, you do. We shall hear it if you do not
speak. You have a great power, tall enchantress."

" Certainly. What a powerful life is mine ! "

" You come to these shores often. Are you not different
beside them ? This colorless picture before us these
vague spaces of sea and land the motion of the one the
stillness of the other have you no sense that you have a
powerful spirit ?"

" Is it power ? It is pain."

" Your gold has not been refined then."

" Yes, I confess I have a sense of power ; but it is not a
spiritual sense."

" Let us go back," he said abruptly.

We mused by our footprints in the wet sand, as we passed
them. We were told when we reached home that Veronica
had gone on some expedition with Fanny. She did not
return till time for supper, looking elfish, and behaving
whimsically, as if she had received instructions accordingly.
I fancied that the expression Ben regarded her with might


be the Bellevue Pickersgill expression, it was so different
from any I had seen. There was a haughty curiosity in
his face ; as she passed near him, he looked into her eyes,
and saw the strange cast which made their sight so far off.

" Veronica, where are you ? " he asked.

The tone of his voice attracted mother s regards ; an
intelligent glance was exchanged, and then her eyes sought
mine. " It is not as you thought, mamma," I telegraphed.
But Verry, not bringing her eyes back into the world,
merely said, " I am here, am I not ? " and went to shut her
self up in her room. I found her there, looking through
the wicket.

" The buds are beginning to swell," she said. " I should
hear small voices breaking out from the earth. I grow
happy every day now."

" Because the earth will be green again ? " I asked, in a
coaxing voice.

She shut the wicket, and, looking in my face, said, " I
will go down immediately." For some reason the tears
came into my eyes, which she, taking up the candle, saw.
" I am going to play," she said hurriedly, " come." She ran
down before me, but turning, by the foot of the stairs, she
pointed to the parlor door, and said, " Is he my husband ? "

" Answer for yourself. Go in, in God s name."

Ben was chatting with father over the fire ; he stretched
out his hand to her, with so firm and assured an air, and
looked so noble, that I felt a pang of admiration for him.
She laid her hand in his a moment, passed on to the piano,
and began to play divinely, drawing him to her side.
Father peeled and twisted his cigar, as he contemplated
them with a thoughtful countenance.


WHEN we went to Boston we went to a new hotel, as
Ben had advised, deserting the old Bromfield for the
Tremont. It was dusk when we arrived, and tea was
served immediately, in a large room full of somber mahogany
furniture. Its atmosphere oppressed Veronica, who ate her
supper in silence.


" Charles Dickens is here, sir," said the waiter, who knew
Ben. " Two models of the Curiosity Shop have just gone
upstairs, sir. His room is right over here, sir."

Veronica looked adoringly at the ceiling.

" Then," said Ben, " our hunters are up from Belem.
Anybody in from Belem, John ? "

"Oh yes, sir, every day."

" I ll look them up," he said to us ; but he returned soon,
and begged us not to look at Dickens, if we had a chance.

Veronica, with a sigh, gave him up, and lost a chance of
being immortalized with that perpetual and imperturbable
beefsteak, covered with " the blackest of all possible pep
per," which was daily served to him.

Father being out in pursuit of a cigar, Ben asked Veronica
what she would do while he was in Belem.

Walk round this lion-clawed table."

I shall be gone from you."

Alas ! "

Are we to part this way ? "

Father," she cried, as he entered with a theater bill,
" had I better marry this friend of Cassy s? "

" Have you the courage ? Do you know each
other ? "

" Having known Cassandra so long, sir," began Ben, but
was interrupted by Veronica s exclaiming, " We do not
know each other at all. What is the use of making that
futile attempt ? I am over eighteen, and do you know me,

" If I do not, it is because you have no shadow."

"Shall I, then?" giving Ben a delicious smile. "I

" I promise, too, Veronica," heaven dawning in his eyes.

" We will see about it," said father. " Now who will go
to the theater ? "

We declined, but Ben signified his willingness to accom
pany him.

We took the first morning train, so that father could re
turn before evening, and ran through in the course of an
hour the wooden suburbs of Belem, bordered by an ancient
marsh, from which the sea had long retired. Taking a
cab, we turned into Norfolk Street, at the head of which,
Ben said, a mile distant, was his father s house. It was not


a cheerful street, and when we stopped before an immense,
square, three-storied house, it looked still more gloomy.
There was a gate on one side, with white wooden urns on
the posts, that shut off a paved courtway, On each side of
the street were houses of the same pattern, with the same
gates. Down the paved court of the opposite house a coach
pulled by two fat horses clattered, and as the coach turned
we saw two old ladies inside, highly dressed, bowing and
smiling at Ben.

u The Miss Hiticutts hundred thousand apiece."

" Hundred thousand apiece," I echoed in an anguish of
admiration, which made my father laugh and Ben scowl.
A servant in a linen jacket opened the door. " Is it your
self, Mr. Ben ? "

" Open the parlor door, Murph. Where s my mother and
my sister ? "

" Miss Somers is taking her exercise, sir, and Mrs. Somers
is with the owld gentleman "; opening the door, with the
performance of taking father s hat.

" Sit down, Cassandra. I ll look up somebody."

It was a bewildering matter where to go ; the room, vast
and dark, was a complete litter of tables and sofas. The
tables were loaded with lamps, books, and knick-knacks of
every description ; the sofas were strewn with English and
French magazines, novels, and papers. I went to the win^

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Online LibraryElizabeth StoddardThe Morgesons; a novel → online text (page 15 of 24)