Elizabeth Stoddard.

The Morgesons; a novel online

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" How came those scars ? "

I brushed my cheek with my handkerchief, and answered,
" I got them in battle."

He left his chair, and walked slowly through the room
into the dark front parlor. Major Millard took leave, and
was followed by Mrs. Somers and Ann, neither of whom


returned. As Ben stretched himself on his sofa with an
air of relief, Desmond emerged from the dark and stood
behind him. leaning against a column, with his hands in his
coat pockets and his eyes searchingly fixed upon me. Ben,
turning his head in my direction, sprang up so suddenly
that I started ; but Desmond s eyes did not move till Ben
confronted him ; then he gave him a haughty smile, and
begged him to take his repose again.

I went to the piano and ran my fingers over the keys.

" Do you play ? Can you sing ? " asked Adelaide, rous
ing herself.

" Yes."

" Do sing. I never talk music ; but I like it."

" Some old song," said Ben.


" Drink to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine,"

I became conscious that Desmond was near me. With a
perfectly pure voice he joined in the song :

" The thirst that from the soul doth rise,
Doth ask a drink divine."

As the tones of his voice floated through the room, I was
where I saw the white sea-birds flashing between the blue
deeps of our summer sea and sky, and the dark rocks that
rose and dipped in the murmuring waves.


ONE pleasant afternoon Adelaide and I started on a walk.
We must go through the crooked length of Norfolk
Street, till we reached the outskirts of Belem, and its
lew fields not yet green ; that was the fashionable prome
nade, she said. After the two o clock dinner, Belem walked.
All her acquaintances seemed to be in the street, so many
bows were given and returned with ceremony. Nothing
familiar was attempted, nothing beyond the courtliness of
an artificial smile.

Returning, we met Desmond with a lady, and a series of


bows took place. Desmond held his hat in his hand till we
had passed ; his expression varied so much from what it
was when I saw him last, at the breakfast table, he being in
a desperate humor then, that it served me for mental com
ment for some minutes.

" That is Miss Brewster," said Adelaide. " She is an
heiress, and fancies Desmond s attentions : she will not
marry him, though."

" Is every woman in Belem an heiress ? "

" Those we talk about are, and every man is a fortune-
hunter. Money marries money ; those who have none do
not marry. Those who wait hope. But the great fortunes
of Belem are divided ; the race of millionaires is decaying."

"Is that Ann yonder?"

" I think so, from that bent bonnet."

It proved to be Ann, who went by us with the universal
bow and grimace, sacrificing to the public spirit with her
fine manners. She turned soon, however, and overtook
us, proposing to make a detour to Drummond Street, where
an intimate family friend, " Old Hepburn," lived, so that the
prospect of our going to tea with her might be made prob
able by her catching a passing glimpse of us ; at this time
she must be at the window with her Voltaire, or her Rous
seau. The proposition was accepted, and we soon came
near the house, which stood behind a row of large trees,
and looked very dismal, with three-fourths of its windows
barred with board shutters.

"Walk slow," Ann entreated. " I see her blinking at us.
She has not shed her satin pelisse yet."

Before we got beyond it a dirty little girl came out of the
gate, in a pair of huge shoes and a canvas apron, which
covered her, to call us back. Mrs. Hepburn had seen us,
and wished us to come in, wanting to know who Miss Ade
laide had with her, and to talk with her. She ran back,
reappearing again at the door, out of breath, and minus a
shoe. As we entered a small parlor, an old lady in a black
dress, with a deep cape, held out her withered hand, with
out rising from her straight-backed arm-chair, smiling at
us, but shaking her head furiously at the small girl, who
lingered in the door.

" Mari, Mari," she called, but no Mari came, and the
small girl took our shawls, for Mrs. Hepburn said we must


stay, now that she had inveigled us inside her doors. Ann
mimicked her at her back, but to her face behaved servilely.
The name of Morgeson belonged to the early historical
time of New England, Mrs. Hepburn informed me. I
never knew it ; but bowed, as if not ignorant. Old Mari
must be consulted respecting the sweetmeats, and she went
after her.

" What an old mouser it is ! " said Ann. " What unex
pected ways she has ! She scours Belem in her velvet
shoes, to find out everybody s history. Don t you smell
buttered toast ? "

"Your father is getting the best of the gout," said Mrs.
Hepburn, returning. " How is Desmond ? He may be
the wickedest of you all, but I like him the best. I shall
not throw away praise of him on you, Adelaide." And she
looked at me.

" He bows well," I said.

" He resembles his mother, who was a great beauty.
Mr. Somers was handsome, too. I was at a ball at Gover
nor Flam s thirty years ago. Your mother was barely fif
teen, then, Adelaide ; she was just married, and opened the

She examined me all the while, with a pair of small,
round eyes, from which the color had faded, but which were
capable of reading me.

Tea was served by candlelight, on a small table. Mrs.
Hepburn kept her eyes on everything, talking volubly, and
pulled the small girl s ears, or pushed her by the shoulder,
with faith that we were not observing her. The toast was
well buttered, the sweetmeats were delicious, and the cake
was heavenly, as Ann said. Mrs. Hepburn ate little, but
told us a great deal about marriages in prospect and in
comes which waxed or waned in consequence. When tea
was over, she said to the small girl who removed the tea
things, " On your life taste not of the cake or the sweet
meats ; and bring me two sticks of wood, you huzzy." She
arranged the sticks on a decaying fire, inside a high brass
fender, pulled up a stand near the hearth, lighted two can
dles, and placed on it a pack of cards.

" Some one may come, so that we can play."

Meantime she dozed upright, walking, talking, and doz
ing again, like a crafty old parrot.


" She has a great deal of money saved," Ann whispered
behind a book. " She is over seventy. Oh, she is opening
her puss eyes ! "

Adelaide mused, after her fashion, on the slippery hair
cloth sofa, looking at the dim fire, and I surveyed the room.
Its aspect attracted me, though it was precise and stiff.
An ugly Turkey carpet covered the floor ; a sideboard was
against the wall, with a pair of silver pitchers on it, and
two tall vases, filled with artificial flowers, under glass
shades. Old portraits hung over it. Upon one I fixed my

That is the portrait of Count Rumford," Mrs. Hepburn

" Can t we see the letters? " begged Ann. " And wont
you show us your trinkets ? It is three or four years since
we looked them over."

" Yes," she answered, good-humoredly ; " ring the bell."

An old woman answered it, to whom Mrs. Hepburn said,
in a friendly voice, " The box in my desk." Adelaide and
Ann said, " How do you do, Mari ? " When she brought
the box, Mrs. Hepburn unlocked it, and produced some
yellow letters, which we looked over, picking out here and
there bits of Parisian gossip, many, many years old. They
were directed to Cavendish Hepburn, by his friend, the
original of the portrait. But the letters were soon laid
aside, and we examined the contents of the box. Old
brooches, miniatures painted on ivory, silhouettes, hair
rings, necklaces, ear-rings, chains, and finger-rings.

" Did you wear this ? " asked Ann with a longing voice,
slipping an immense sapphire ring on her forefinger.

" In Mr. Hepburn s day," she answered, taking up a small
case, which she unfastened and gave me. It contained a
peculiar pair of ear-rings, and a brooch of aqua-marina
stones, in a setting perforated like a net.

" They suit you. Will you accept such an old-fashioned b
ornament ? Put the rings in ; here Ann, fasten them."

Ann glared at her in astonishment, and then at me, for
the reason which had prompted so unexpected a gift.

" Is it possible that I am to have them ? Why do you
give them to me ? They are beautiful," I replied.

" They came from Europe long ago," she said. And
they happen to suit you."


Sabrina fair,

Under the glassy, cool, translucent wave,
In twisted braids of lilies knitting
The loose train of thy amber-dropping hair. "

" Those lines make me forgive Paradise Lost," said

" They are very long, these ear-rings," Ann remarked.

I put the brooch in the knot of ribbon I wore ; Mrs.
Hepburn joggled the white satin bows of her cap in appro

The knocker resounded. " There is our partner," she

" It must be late, ma am," said Adelaide ; " and I sus
pect it is some one for us. You know we never venture on
impromptu visits, except to you, and our people know where
to send."

" Late or not, you shall stay for a game," she said, as
Ben came in, hat in hand, declaring he had been scouting
for us since dark. Mrs. Hepburn snuffed the candles, and
rang the bell. The small girl, with a perturbed air, like one
hurried out of a nap, brought in a waiter, which she placed
on the sideboard.

" Get to bed," Mrs. Hepburn loudly whispered, looking
over the waiter, and taking from it a silver porringer, she
put it inside the fender, and then shuffled the cards.

" Now, Ann, you may sit beside me and learn."

" If it is whist, mum, I know it. I played every after
noon at Hampton last summer, and we spoiled a nice pol
ished table, we scratched it so with our nails, picking up
the cards."

" Young people do too much, nowadays."

I was in the shadow of the sideboard; Ben stood against it.

" When have you played whist, Cassandra ? " he asked in
a low voice. " Do you remember ? "

" Is my name Cassandra? "

" Have you forgotten that, too ? "

" I remember the rain."

" It is not October, yet."

" And the yellow leaves do not stick to the panes. Would
you like to see Helen ? "

" Come, play with me, Ben," called Mrs. Hepburn.

"Ann, try your skill," I entreated, " and let me off."


" She can try," Mrs. Hepburn said sharply. " Don t you
like games ? 1 should have said you were by nature a bold
gamester." She dealt the cards rapidly, and was soon ab
sorbed in the game, though she quarreled with Ann occa
sionally, and knocked over the candlestick once. Adelaide
played heroically, and was praised, though I knew she
hated play.

Two hours passed before we were released. The fire
went out, the candles burnt low, and whatever the contents
of the silver porringer, they had long been cold. When
Mrs. Hepburn saw us determined to go, she sent us to the
sideboard for some refreshment. "My caudle is cold,"
taking off the cover of the porringer. " Why, Mari, what is
this ? " she said, as the woman made a noiseless entrance
with a bowl of hot caudle.

" I knew how it would be," she answered, putting it into
the hands of her mistress.

" I am a desperate old rake, you mean, Mari. There, take
your virtue off, you appall me."

She poured the caudle into small silver tumblers, and gave
them to us. " The Bequest of a Friend " was engraved on
them. Her fingers were like ice, and her head shook with
fatigue ; but her voice was sprightly and her smile bright.
Ann ate a good deal of sponge cake, and omitted the caudle,
but I drank mine to the memory of the donor of the cup.

" You know that sherry, Ben," and Mrs. Hepburn nodded
him toward a decanter. He put his hand on it, and took
it away. " None to-night," he said. Mari came with our
shawls, and we hastened away, hearing her shoot the bolt
of the door behind us. Ben drew my arm in his, and the
girls walked rapidly before us. It was a white, hazy night,
and the moon was wallowing in clouds.

" Let us walk off the flavor of Hep s cards," said Adelaide,
" and go to Wolf s Point."

" Do you wish to go ? " he asked me.

" Yes."

Ann skipped. A nocturnal excursion suited her exactly.

" You are not to have the toothache to-morrow, or pre
tend to be lame," said Adelaide.

" Not another hiss, Adder. En avant ! "

We passed down Norfolk Street, now dark and silent, and
reached our house. A light was burning in a room in the


third story, and a window was open. Desmond sat by it,
his arms folded across his chest, smoking, and contemplat
ing some object beyond our view. Ann derisively apostro
phized him, under her breath, while Ben unlocked the court
gate and went in after Rash, who came out quietly, and we
proceeded. In looking behind me, I stumbled.

What s the matter ? " he asked. " Are you afraid ? "

< Of what ? "

The Prince of Darkness."

The devil lives a little behind us."
In you, too, then ?"

In Rash. Look at him ; he is bigger than Faust s dog,
jumps higher, and is blacker. You can t hear the least
sound from him as he gambols with his familiar."

We left the last regular street on that side of the city, and
entered a road, bordered by trees and bushes, which hid the
country from us. We crept through a gap in it, crossed
two or three spongy fields, and ascended a hill, reaching an
abrupt edge of the rocks, over whose earthy crest we walked.
Below it I saw a strip of the sea, hemmed in on all sides,
for the light was too vague for me to see its narrow outlet.
It looked milky, misty, and uncertain ; the predominant
shores stifled its voice, if it ever had one. Adelaide and Ann
crouched over the edge of the rock, reciting, in a chanting
tone, from a poem beginning :

" The river of thy thoughts must keep
Its solemn course too still and deep
For idle eyes to see."

Their false intonation of voice and the wordy spirit of
the poem convinced me that poetry with them was an arti
ficial taste. I turned away. The dark earth and the roll
ing sky were better. Ben followed.

" I hope Veronica s letter will come to-morrow," he said
with a groan.

Veronica ! Why Veronica ? "
Don t torment me."
She writes letters seldom."
I have written her."
She has never written me."


" It might be the means of revealing you to each other to
do so."

" Ben, your native air is deleterious."

" You laugh. I feel what you say. I do not attempt to
play the missionary at home, for my field is not here."

" You were wise not to bring Veronica, I see already."

" She would see what I hate myself for."

" One may venture farther with a friend than a lover."

" I thought \.\\aiyou might understand the results of my
associations. Curse them all ! Come, girls, we must go



I TOOK a cold that night. Belem was damp always, but
its midnight damp was worse than any other. Mrs.
Somers sent me medicine. Adelaide asked me, with am
air of contemplation, what made me sick, and felt her own
pulse. Ann criticised my nightgown ruffles, and accused
me of wearing imitation lace ; but nursing was her forte,
and she stayed by me, annoying me by a frequent beating
up of my pillow, and the bringing in of bowls of strange
mixtures for me to swallow, which she persuaded the cook
to make and her father to taste.

Before I left my room, Mrs. Somers came to see me.

" You are about well, I hear," she said, in a cold voice.

I felt as if I had been shamming sickness.

" I thought you were in remarkable health, your frame is
so large."

Adelaide was there, and answered for me. "You are
delicate. It must be because you do not take care of your

" Wolf s Point to be avoided, perhaps ! "

" I have walked to Wolf s Point for fifteen years, night
and day, many times."

" Mr. Munster s man left this note for you," her mother
said, handing it to her.

She read an invitation from Miss Munster, a cousin, to a
small party.

" You will not be able to go," Mrs. Somers remarked
to me.


" You will go," Adelaide said ; " it is an attention to you

She never replied to her mother, never asked her any
questions, so that talking between them was a one-sided

" Let us go out shopping, Adelaide ; I want some lace to
wear," I begged.

Mrs. Somers looked into her drawers, out of which Ade
laide had thrust her finery, and found mine, but said nothing.

" We are going to a party, Ann. Thanks to your messes
and your nursing," as I passed her in the hall.

" Where is your evening dress ? "

" Pinned in a napkin like my talent."

" Old Cousin Munster, the pirate, who made his money in
the opium trade, has good things in his house. I suppose,"
with a coquettish air, " that you will see Ned Munster ; he
would walk to the door with me to-day. He wishes me out,
I know."

We consumed that evening in talking of dress. Adelaide
showed me her camel s-hair scarfs which Desmond had
brought, and her dresses. Ann tried them all on, walking
up and down, and standing tiptoe before the glass, while I
trimmed a handkerchief with the lace I had purchased. I
unfolded my dress after they were gone, with a dubious
mind. It was a heavy white silk, with a blue satin stripe.
It might be too old-fashioned, for it belonged to mother,
who would never wear it. The sleeves were puffed with
bands of blue velvet, and the waist was covered with a berthe"
of the same. It must do, however, for I had no other.

We were to go at nine. Adelaide came to my room
dressed, and with her hair arranged exactly like mine. She
looked well, in spite of her Mongolic face.

" Pa wants to see us in his room ; he has gone to bed."

" Wait a moment," I begged. I took my hair down, un-
braided it, brushed it out of curl as much as I could, twisted
it into a loose mass, through which I stuck pins enough to
hold it, bound a narrow fillet of red velvet round my head,
and ran after her.

"That is much better," she said ; "you are entirely
changed." Desmond was there, in his usual careless dress,
hanging over the footboard of the bed, and Ann was hud
dled on the outside. Mrs. Somers was reading.


" Pa," said Ann, "just think of Old Hepburn s giving her
a pair of lovely ear-rings."

" Did she ? Where are they ? " asked Mrs. Somers.

" I am not surprised," said Mr. Somers. " Mrs. Hepburn
knows where to bestow. Why not wear them ? "

" I ll get them," said Ann.

Mr. Somers continued his compliments. He thought
there was a pleasing contrast between Adelaide and myself,
referred to Diana, mentioned that my hair was remarkably
thick, and proceeded with a dissertation on the growth and
decay of the hair, when she returned with the ear-rings.

" It is too dark here," she said.

Desmond, who had remained silent, took the candle,
which Mrs. Somers was reading by, and held it for Ann,
close to my face. The operation was over, but the candle
was not taken away till Mrs. Somers asked for it sharply.

" I dare say," murmured Mr. Somers, who was growing
drowsy, " that Mrs. Hepburn wore them some night, when
she went to John Munster s, forty years ago, and now you
wear them to the son s. How things come round ! "

The Munsters man opened the door for us.

The rooms were full. "Very glad," said Mr., Mrs., and
Miss Munster, and amid a loud buzz we fell back into
obscurity. Adelaide joined a group, who were talking at the
top of their voices, with most hilarious countenances.

" They pretend to have a Murillo here, let us go and
find it," said Ben.

It was in a small room. While we looked at a dark-
haired, handsome woman, standing on brown clouds, with
hands so fat that every finger stood apart, Miss Munster
brought up a young gentleman with the Munster cast of

" My brother begs an introduction, Miss Morgeson."

Ben retired, and Mr. Munster began to talk volubly, with
wandering eyes, repeating words he was in danger of forget
ting. No remarks were required from me. At the proper
moment he asked me to make the tour of the rooms, and
offered his arm. As we were crossing the hall, I saw Des
mond, hat in hand, and in faultless evening dress, bowing to
Miss Munster.

" Your Cousin Desmond, and mine, is a fine-looking man,
is he not ? Let us speak to him."


I drew back. " I ll not interrupt his devoir"

He bowed submissively.

" My cousin Desmond," I thought ; " let me examine
this beauty." He was handsomer than Ben, his complexion
darker, and his hair black. There was a flush across his
cheek-bones, as if he had once blushed, and the blush had
settled. The color of his eyes I could not determine. As
if to resolve my doubt, he came toward us ; they were a
deep violet, and the lids were fringed with long black lashes.
I speculated on something animal in those eyes. He stood
beside me, and twisted his heavy mustache.

"What a pretty boudoir this is," I said, backing into a
little room behind us.

" Ned," he said abruptly, " you must resign Miss Morge-
son ; I am here to see her."

" Of course," Ned answered ; " I relinquish."

Before a word was spoken between us, Mrs. Munster
touched Desmond on the shoulder, and told him that he
must come with her, to be introduced to Count Montholon.

" Bring him here, please."

" Tyrant," she answered playfully, " the Count shall

He brought a chair. " Take this ; you are pale. You
have been ill." Bringing another, he seated himself before
me and fanned himself with his hat.

Mrs. Munster came back with the Count, an elderly man,
and Desmond rose to meet him, keeping his hand on the
back of his chair. They spoke French. The freedom of
their conversation precluded the idea of my understanding
it. The Count made a remark about me. Desmond re
plied, glancing at me, and both pulled their mustaches.
The Count was called away soon, and Desmond resumed
his chair.

" I understood you," I said.

" The deuce you did."

He placed his hat over a vase of flowers, which tipping
over, he leisurely righted, and bending toward me, said :

" It was in battle."

" Yes."

" And women like you, pure, with no vice of blood, some
times are tempted, struggle, and suffer."

His words, still more his voice, made we wince.


" Even drawn battles bring their scars," I replied.

" Convince me beyond all doubt that a woman can reason
with her impulses, or even fathom them, and I will be in
your debt."

" Maybe but Ben is coming."

He looked at me strangely.

" You must find this very dull, Cassandra," said Ben,
joining us.

" Cassandra" said Desmond, " are you bored ? "

The accent with which he spoke my name set my pulses
striking like a clock. I got up mechanically, as Ben di

" They are going to supper. There s game. Des.
Munster told me to take the northeast corner of the

" I shall take the southwest, then," he replied, nodding
to a tall gentleman who passed with Adelaide. When we
left him, he was observing a carved oak chair, in occult
sympathy probably with the grain of the wood. Nature
strikes us with her phenomena at times when other re
sources are not at hand.

We were compelled to wait at the door of the supper-
room, the jam was so great.

" What fairy story do you like best ? " asked Ben

" I know which you like."

Well ? "

" Bluebeard. You have an affinity with Sister Ann in the

" Do you think I see nothing but the sun which makes
a dust and the grass which looks green ? I believe you
like Bluebeard, too."

That was a great joke, at which we both laughed.

When I saw Desmond again, he was surrounded by
men, the French Count among them, drinking champagne.
He held a bottle, and was talking fast. The others were
laughing. His listless, morose expression had disap
peared ; in the place of a brutal-tempered, selfish, bored
man, I saw a brilliant, jovial gentleman. Which was the
real man ?

" Finish your jelly," said Ben.

" I prefer looking at your brother."

" Leave my brother alone."


"- You see nothing but the sun which makes a dust, and
the grass which looks green. "

Miss Munster hoped I was cared for. How gay Des
mond was ! she had not seen such a look in his face in a
long time. And how strongly he was marked with the
family traits.

" How am I marked, May ? " asked Ben.

" Oh, we know worse eccentrics than you are. What are
you up to now ? You are not as frank as Desmond."

He laughed as he looked at me, and then Adelaide
called to us that it was time to leave.

We were among the last ; the carriage was waiting. We
made our bows to Mrs. Munster, who complained of not

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Online LibraryElizabeth StoddardThe Morgesons; a novel → online text (page 17 of 24)