Elizabeth Stoddard.

The Morgesons; a novel online

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dow, while father perched on the music stool.

My attention was diverted to a large dog in the court,
chained to a post near a pump, where a man was giving
water to a handsome bay horse, at the same time keeping
his eye on an individual who stood on a stone block, dressed
in a loose velvet coat, a white felt hat, and slippers down at
the heel. He had a coach whip in his hand the hand
somest hand I ever saw, which he snapped at the dog, who
growled with rage. I heard Ben s voice in remonstrance ;
then a lazy laugh from velvet coat, who gave the dog a cut
which made him bound. Ben, untying him, was over
whelmed with caresses. " Down, you fool ! Off, Rash ! "
he said. " Look there," pointing to the window where I
stood. The gentleman with the coach whip looked at me
also. The likeness to Ben turned my suspicion into cer
tainty that they were brothers. His disposition, I thought,
mast be lovely, judging from the episode with " Rash."


I turned away, almost running against a lady, who ex
tended her fingers toward me with a quick little laugh, and
said :

" How de do ? Where s Ben, to introduce us properly?"

" Here, mother," he said behind her, followed by the dog.
"You were expecting Cassandra, my old chum; and Mr.
Morgeson has come to leave her with us."

"Certainly. Rash, go out, dear. Mr. Morgeson, I am
sorry to say," she spoke with more politeness, " that Mr.
Somers is confined to his room with gout. May I take
you up ? "

" I have a short time to stay," looking at his watch and
rising. " Do you consider the old school friendship be
tween your son and Cassandra a sufficient reason for leav
ing her with you ? To say nothing of the faint relationship
which, we suppose, exists."

" Of course, very happy ; Adelaide expects her," she said
vaguely. I saw at once that she had never heard a word of
our being relations. Ben had managed nicely in the affair
of my invitation to Belem. But I desired to remain, in
spite of Mrs. Somers s reception.

Mr. Somers was bolstered up in bed, in a flowered dress
ing gown, with a bottle of colchicum and a pile of Congres
sional reports on a stand beside him. His urbanity was ex
treme ; it was evident that the gout was not allowed to
interfere with his deportment, though the joints of his hands
were twisted and knotty. He expatiated upon Ben s long
ungratified wish for a visit from me, and thanked father
for complying with it. He mentioned the memento of the
miniature, and gave every particular of Locke Morgeson s
early marriage, explaining the exact shade of consanguin
ity a faint one. I glanced at Mrs. Somers, who sat re
mote, in the act of inspecting me, with an eye askance,
which I afterward found was her mode of looking at those
whom she doubted or disliked ; it changed its expression,
as it met mine, into one of haughty wonder, that said there
could be no tie of blood between us. She irritated and
embarrassed me. I tried to think of something to say, and
uttered a few words, which were uncommonly trivial and
awkward. Mr. Somers touched on politics. The door
opened, and Ben s brother entered, with downcast eyes.
Advancing to the footboard of the bed, he leaned his chin


on its edge, looked at his father, and in a remarkably clear,
ringing voice, said :

" The check."

Mr. Somers coughed behind his hand. "To-morrow will
do, Desmond."

" To-day will do."

" Desmond," said Ben in a low voice, " you do not see
Mr. Morgeson and Miss Morgeson. My brother, Cas

" Beg pardon, good-morning"; and he pulled off his hat
"with an air of grace which became him, though it was very
indifferent. Mrs. Somers in a soft voice said : " Ring, Des,
dear, will you ? " He warned her with a satirical smile,
and gave such a pull at the bell-rope that it came down.
Her florid face flushed a deeper red, but he had gone.
Father looked at his watch, and got up with alacrity.

" You are to dine with us, at least, Mr. Morgeson."

" I must return to Boston on account of my daughter,
who is there alone."

" Have you been remiss, Ben," said his father affection
ately, " in not bringing her also ? "

" She would not come, of course, father."

A tall, black-haired girl of twenty-five rushed in.

" Why, Ben," she said, " you were not expected. And
this is Miss Morgeson," shaking hands with me. " You
will spend a month, wont you ? " She put her chin in her
hand, and scanned me with a cool deliberateness. " Pa,
do you think she is like Caroline Bingham ? "

" Yes, so she is ; but fairer. She is a great belle," nod
ding to me.

" Do you really think she looks like her, Somers ? " said
Mrs. Somers, in a tone of denial.

" Certainly, but handsomer," Adelaide replied for him,
without looking at her mother.

"Would you like to go to your room?" she asked.
" What a pretty dress this is ! " taking hold of the sleeve,
her chin in her hand still. " We will have some walks ;
Belem is nice for walking. Pa, how do you feel now ? "

She allowed me to go downstairs with father, without fol
lowing, and sent Murphy in with wine and biscuit. I put
my arms round his neck and kissed him, for I had a lone
some feeling, which I could not define at the last moment.


"You will not stay long," he said ; "there is something
oppressive in this atmosphere."

" Something artificial, is it ? It must be the blood of the
Bellevue Pickersgills that thickens the air."

" Now," said Ben, with father s hat in his hand, " the
time is up."

Adelaide was at the door to take courteous leave of him,
and Mrs. Somers bowed from the top of the stairs, reveal
ing a pair of large ankles, whose base rested in a pair of
shabby, pudgy slippers. Adelaide then took me to my
room, telling me not to change my dress, but to come down
soon, for dinner was ready. Hearing a bell, I hurried down
to the parlor which we were in before, and waited for direc
tions respecting the dinner. Adelaide came presently.
"We are dining ; come and sit next me," offering her arm.
Mrs. Somers, Desmond, and a girl of fifteen were at the
table. The latter had just come from school, I concluded,
as a satchel of books hung at her chair. Murphy was re
moving the soup, and I derived the impression that I had
been forgotten. While taking mine, they vaguely stared
about till Murphy brought in the roast mutton, except Ade
laide, who rubbed her teeth with a dry crust, making a
feint of eating it. Desmond kept the decanter, occasion
ally swallowing a glassful.

" What wine is that, Murphy ? " Mrs. Somers asked. He
hesitatingly answered, " I think it is the Juno, mum."

" You stole the key from pa s room, Des," said the girl.
He shook the carving-knife at her, at which gesture she
said " Pooh ! " and applied herself to the roast mutton
with avidity. They all ate largely, especially the girl,
whose wide mouth was filled with splendid teeth. Mrs.
Somers made a motion with her glass for Murphy to
bring her the wine, and pouring a teaspoonful, held it to
her mouth, as if she were practicing drinking healths. Her
hands were beautiful, too ; they all had handsome hands,
whose movements were graceful and expressive. When
Ben arrived, Murphy set the dishes before him, and Ade
laide began to talk in a lively, brilliant way. He did not
ask for wine, but I saw him look toward it and Desmond.
The decanter was empty. After the dessert, Mrs. Somers
arose and we followed ; but she soon left us, and we went to
the parlor. The girl, taking a seat beside me, said : " My


name is Ann Somers. I am never introduced ; Adder, my
sister, is in the way, you know. I dare say Ben never
spoke of me to you. I am never spoken of, am never
noticed. I have never had new dresses ; yet pa is my
friend, the dear soul."

Adelaide looked upon her with the same superb indiffer
ence with which she regarded her mother and Desmond.
"Would you like to go to your room ?" she asked again.
" You are too tired to take a walk, perhaps ? "

" Lord ! " said Ann, "do let her do as she likes. Adder,
don t be too disagreeable."

I picked up my bonnet, which she took from me, and put
on the top of her head as we went upstairs.

" Murph must bring up your trunk," said Ann, opening
the closet. " But there is no space to hang anything ; the
great Mogul s wardrobe stops the way."

My chamber was stately in size and appointments. The
afternoon sun shone in, where a shutter was open, behind
the dull red curtains, and illuminated the portrait of a nim
ble old lady in a scarlet cloak, which hung near the gigantic
curtained bed, over a vast chair, covered with faded green

"Grandmother Pickersgill," said Ann, who saw me ob
serving the picture. Adelaide contemplated it also. " It
was painted by Copley," she said, " Lord Lyndhurst after
wards. Grandfather entertained him, and he went to one
of grandmother s parties ; he complimented her on her
beauty. But you see that she has not a handsome hand.
Ours is the Pickersgill hand," and she spread her fingers
like a fan. " She was a regular old screw," continued
Ann, " and used to have mother s underclothes tucked to
last for ever ; she was a beast to servants, too."

My trunk was brought in, which I unlocked and un
packed, while Adelaide opened a drawer in a great bureau.

"Oh, you know it is full of Marm s fineries," said Ann,
in a confidential tone ; " I ll ring for Hannah." Adelaide
busied herself in throwing the contents of the drawers on
the floor. " There s her ball dresses," commented Ann, as
a pink satin, trimmed with magnificent lace, tumbled out.
" Old Carew brought the lace over for her."

" Bring a basket, Hannah, and take these away some
where, to some other closet of Mrs. Somers s."


"That gold fringe, do you remember, Adder? She
looked like an elephant with his howdah on when she
wore it."

Her impertinence inspired Adelaide, who joined her in a
flow of vituperative wit at the expense of their mother and
other relatives, incidentally brought in. Instead of being
aghast, I enjoyed it, and was feverish with a desire to be as
brilliant, for my vocabulary was deficient and my sense of
inferiority was active during the whole of my visit in Belem.
I blushed often, smiled foolishly, and was afflicted with a
general apprehension in regard to gaucherie.

I changed my traveling dress, as they were not inclined
to leave me, with anxiety, for I was weak enough to wish to
make an impression with my elegant bearing and appoint
ments. Being so anatomized, I was oppressed with an in
definite discouragement. Their stealthy, sharp, selfish
scrutiny brought out my failures. My dress seemed ill-
made ; my hair unbecomingly dressed ; my best collar and
ribbon, which I put on, were nothing to the lace I had
just seen falling on the floor. When we descended it was
twilight. Ann said she must study, and left us by the par
lor fire. Adelaide lighted a candle, and took a novel, which
she read reclining on a sofa. Reclining on sofas, I dis
covered, was a family trait, though they were all in a state
of the most robust health, with the exception of Mr. Somers.
I walked up and down the rooms. " They were fine once,"
said Ben, who appeared from a dark corner, " but faded
now. Mother never changes anything if she can help it.
She is a terrible aristocrat," he continued, in a low voice,
" fixed in the ideas imbedded in the Belem institutions,
which only move backward. We laugh, though, at every
body s claims but our own. You despised me for mention
ing the Hiticutts income ; it was the atmosphere."

" It amuses me to be here."

" Of course ; but stir up Adelaide, she is genuine ; has
fine sense, and half despises her life ; but she knows no
other, and is proud."

" Let s go and find tea," she said, yawning, dropping her
book. " Why don t that lazy Murph light the lamp ? I
wish pa was down to regulate affairs." No one was at the
tea-table but Mrs. Somers.

" Ben is very polite, don t you think so ? " she said with


her peculiar laugh, which made my flesh creep, as he pulled
up a chair for me. Her voice made me dizzy, but I smiled.
Ben was not the same in Belem, I saw at once, and no longer
wondered at its influence, or at the vacillating nature of his
plans and pursuits. Mrs. Somers gave me some tea from a
spider-shaped silver tea-pot, which was related to a spider-
shaped cream-jug and a spider-shaped sugar-dish. The
polished surface of the mahogany table reflected a pair of
tall silver candlesticks, and the plates, being of warped
blue and white Chinese ware, joggled and clattered when we
touched them. The tea was delicious ; I said so, but Mrs.
Somers deigned no answer. We were regaled with spread
bread and butter and baked apples. Adelaide ate six.

" We do not have your Surrey suppers," Ben remarked.

"How should you know?" his mother asked. Ben s
eyes looked violent and he bit his lips. Adelaide com
menced speaking before her mother had finished her ques
tion, as if she only needed the spur of her voice to be lively
and agreeable, per contra.

" Hepburn must ask us to tea. Her jam and her gossip
are wonderful. Aunt Tucker might ask us too, with house
keeper Beck s permission. I like tea fights with the old
Hindoos. They like us too, Ben ; we are the children of
Hindoos also superior to the rest of the world. There
will be a party or two for this young person."

" Parties be hanged ! " he said. " Then we must have a
rout here, and I hate "em."

" But we owe an entertainment," said Mrs. Somers. " I
have been thinking of giving one as soon as Mr. Somers
gets out."

" I have no such idea," said Adelaide, with her back
toward her mother. " We shall have no party until some
one has been given to our young friend, Ben."

Ben and I visited his father, who asked questions relative
to the temperature, the water, and the dietetic qualities of
Surrey. He was affable, but there was no nearness in his
affability. He skated on the ice of appearances, and that
was his vocation in his family. He fulfilled it well, but it
was a strain sometimes. His family broke the ice now and
then, which must have made him plunge into the depths of
reality. I learned to respect his courage, bad as his cause
was. Marrying Bellevue Pickersgill for her money, he


married his master, and was endowed only with the privi
lege of settling her taxes. Simon Pickersgill, her father,
tied up the main part of his money for his grandchildren.
It was to be divided among them when the youngest son
should arrive at the age of twenty-one an event which took
place, I supposed, while Ben was on his way to India. Des
mond and an older son, who resided anywhere except at
home, made havoc with the income. As the principal pros-
pectively was theirs, or nearly the whole of it, why should
they not dispose of that ?

At last Mr. Somers looked at his watch, a gentle reminder
that it was time for us to withdraw. Adelaide was still in
the parlor, lying on her favorite sofa contemplating the ceil
ing. I asked permission to retire, which she granted with
out removing her regards. In spite of my sound sleep that
night, I was started from it by the wail of a young child.
The strangeness of the chamber, and the continued crying,
which I could not locate, kept me awake at intervals till
dawn peeped through the curtains.


A FEW days after my arrival, some friends dined with
Mrs. Somers. The daughters of a senator, as Ann
informed me, and an ex-governor, or I should not
have known this fact, for I was not introduced. The din
ner was elaborate, and Desmond did the honors. With the
walnuts one of the ladies asked for the baby.

Mrs. Somers made a sign to Desmond, who pulled the
bell-rope mildly this time. An elderly woman instantly
appeared with a child a few months old, puny and anxious-
looking. Mrs. Somers took it from her, and placed it on
the table ; it tottered and nodded to the chirrups of the
guests. Ben, from the opposite side of the table, addressed
me by a look, which enlightened me. His voyage to India
was useless, as the property would stand for twenty-one
years more, lacking some months, unless Providence inter
posed. Adelaide was oblivious of the child, but Desmond
thumped his glass on the mahogany to attract it, for its


energies were absorbed in swallowing its fists and fretfully
crying. When Murphy announced coffee in the parlor, the
nurse took it away ; and after coffee and sponge cake were
served the visitors drove off. That afternoon some friends
of Adelaide called, to whom she introduced me as " cousin."
She gave graphic descriptions of them, after their depart
ure. One had achieved greatness by spending her winters
in Washington, and contracting a friendship with John C.
Calhoun. Another was an artist who had painted an ideal
head of her ancestor, Sir Roger de Roger, not he who had
arrived some years ago as a weaver from Glasgow, but the
one who had remained on the family estate. A third re
viewed books and collected autographs.

The next afternoon one of the Miss Hiticutts from across
the way came, in a splendid camel s-hair shawl and a
shabby dress. " How is Mr. Somers ? " she asked. " He
is such a martyr."

Here Mrs. Somers entered. " My dear Bellevue, you are
worn out with your devotion to him ; when have you taken
the air?" She did not wait for a reply, but addressed
Adelaide with, " This is your young friend, and where is
my favorite, Mr. Ben, and little Miss Ann ? Have you any
thing new ? I went down to Harris yesterday to tell her
she must sweep away her old trash of a circulating library,
and begin with the New Regime of Novels, which threatens
to overwhelm us."

Adelaide talked slowly at first, and then soared into a
region where I had never seen a woman an intellectual
one. Miss Hiticutt followed her, and I experienced a
new pleasure. Mrs. Somers was silent, but listened with
respect to Miss Hiticutt, for she was of the real Belem
azure in blood as well as in brain ; besides, she was rich,
and would never marry. It was a Pickersgill hallucination
to be attentive to people who had legacies in their power.
Mrs. Somers had a bequested fortune already in hair rings
and silver ware. While appearing to listen to Adelaide,
her eyes wandered over me with speculation askant in them.
Adelaide was so full of esprit that I was again smitten
with my inferiority, and from this time I felt a respect
for her, which never declined, although she married an
Englishman, who, too choleric to live in America, took her
to Florence, where they settled with their own towels and


silver, and are likely to remain, for her heart is too narrow
to comprise any further interest in Belem.

Miss Hiticutt chatted herself out, giving us an invitation
to tea, for any day, including Ben and Miss Ann, who had
not been visible since breakfast.

April rains kept us indoors for several days. Ann
refused to go to school. She must have a holiday ; besides,
pa needed her ; she alone could take care of him, after all.
Her mother said that she must go.

" Who can make me, mum ? "

Desmond ordered the coach for her. When it was ready
he put her in it, seated himself beside her, with provoking
nonchalance, and carried her to school. Murphy, with
his velvet-banded hat, left her satchel at the door, with a
ceremonious air, which made Ann slap his cheek and call
him an old grimalkin. But she was obliged to walk home
in the rain, after waiting an hour for him to come back.

Mr. Somers hobbled about his room, with the help of his
cane, and said that he should be out soon, and requested
Adelaide to put in order some book-shelves that were in
the third story, for he wanted to read without confusion.
We went there together, and sorted some odd volumes ;
piles of Unitarian sermons, bound magazines, political
works, and a heap of histories. Ben found a seat on a
bunch of books, pleased to see us together.

" This is a horrid hole," he said. " I have not been up
in this floor for ages. How do the shelves look ? "

A hiccough near us caused us to look toward the door.

" It is only Des, in his usual afternoon trim," said

She nodded, as he pushed open the door, thrusting in his
head. " What the hell are you doing here ? This region
is sacred to Chaos and old Night," striking the panels, first
one and then the other, with the tassels of his dressing-
gown. No one answered him. Adelaide counted a row of
books, and Ben whistled.

" Damn you, Ben," he said, in a languid voice : " you
never seem bored. Curse you all. I hate ye, especially
that she-Calmuck yonder that Siberian-steppe-natured,
malachite-hearted girl, our sister."

" Oh come away, Mr. Desmond. What are the poor
things doing that you should harry them?" and the


woman who had brought in the baby the day of the dinner
laid her hands on him and pulled him away.

" Sarah will never give him up," said Ben.

" She swears there is good in him. I think he is a
wretch," turning over the leaves of a book with her beauti
ful hand, such a hand as I had just seen beating the
door such a hand as clasped its fellow in Ben s hair.
Adelaide was not embarrassed at my presence. She neither
sought nor avoided my look. But Ben said, " You are

" Is she ?" And Adelaide raised her eyes.

" You are all so much alike," I said.

" You are right," she answered seriously. " Our grand
father "

" Confound him ! " broke in Ben. " I wish he had never
been born. Are you proud, Addie, of being like the Pickers-
gills ? But I know you are. Remember that the part of
us which is Pickersgill hates its like. I am off ; I am going
to walk."

Adelaide coolly said, after he had gone, that he was very
visionary, predicting changes that could not be, and
determined to bring them about.

" Why did he bring me here ? " I asked, as if I were
asking in a dream.

" Ben s hospitality is genuine. He is like pa. Besides,
you are related to us on the Somers side, and are the first
visitor we ever saw, outside of mother s connection. Do
you not know, too, that Ben s friendship is very sincere
very strong ? "

" I begin to comprehend the Pickersgills," I remarked as
if in a.dream. " How words with any meaning glance off,
when addressed to them.. How impossible it is to return
the impression they give. How incapable they are of
appreciating what they cannot appropriate to the use of
their idiosyncrasies."

She gazed at me, as if she heard an abstract subject dis
cussed, with a slight interest in her black eyes.

"Are they vicious to the death?" I went on with this
dream. " It is not fair their overpowering personality
it is not fair to others. It overpowers me, though I know
it is all fallacious."

" I am ignorant of Ethical Philosophy."


" Miss Somers," said Murphy, knocking, " if Major
Millard is below ?"

" I am coming."

She smiled when she looked at me again. I stared at her
with a singular feeling. Had I touched her, or had I made
a fool of myself ?

" There is some nice gingerbread in the closet. Sha n t
I get you a piece ? "

I fell out of my dream.

" Major Millard is an old beau. Come down and capti
vate him. He likes fair women."

Declining the gingerbread, I accepted the Major. He
was an old gentleman, in a good deal of highly starched
linen, amusing himselif by teazing Ann, who liked it, and
paid him in impertinence. Adelaide played chess with him.
Desmond sauntered in about nine, threw himself into a
chair behind the sofa where I sat, and swung his arm over
the back. The chessboard was put aside, and a gossipy
conversation was started, which included Mrs. Somers, who
was on a sofa across the room, but he did not join in it. I
watched Mrs. Somers, as her fingers moved with her Berlin
knitting, feeling more composed and settled as to my
identity, in spite of my late outburst, than I had felt at any
moment since my arrival in Belem. They were laughing
at a funny description, which Ann was giving of a meeting
she had witnessed between Miss Hiticutt and Mr. Pearsall,
a gentleman lately arrived from China, after a twenty years
residence, with several lacs of rupees. Her delineation of
Miss Hiticutt, who attempted to appear as she had twenty
years before, was excellent. Ben, who was rolling and
unrolling his mother s yarn, laughed till the tears ran, but
Major Millard looked uneasy, as if he expected to be served
^-/a-Hiticutt by the satirical Ann after his departure.
Before the laughter subsided, I heard a low voice at my
ear, and felt a slight touch from the tip of a finger on my

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Online LibraryElizabeth StoddardThe Morgesons; a novel → online text (page 16 of 24)