Elizabeth Stoddard.

The Morgesons; a novel online

. (page 18 of 24)
Online LibraryElizabeth StoddardThe Morgesons; a novel → online text (page 18 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

having seen more of us. " You are a favorite of Mrs.
Hepburn s, Miss Morgeson, I am told. She is a remark
able woman, has great powers." I mentioned my one
interview with her. Guests were going upstairs with smiles,
and coming down without, released from their company
manners. We rode home in silence, except that Adelaide
yawned fearfully, and then we toiled up the long stairs,
separating with a tired, " good-night."

I extinguished my candle by dropping my shawl upon
it, and groped in vain for matches over the tops of table
and shelf.

" To bed in the dark, then," I said, pulling off my gloves
and the band, from my head, for I felt a tightness in it, and
pulled out the hairpins. But a desire to look in the glass
overcame me. I felt unacquainted with myself, and must
see what my aspect indicated just then.

I crept downstairs, to the dining-room, passed my hands
over the sideboard, the mantel shelf, and took the round
of the dinner-table, but found nothing to light my candle

" The fire may not be out in the parlor," I thought ; " it
can be lighted there." I ran against the hatstand in the
hall, knocking a cane down, which fell with a loud noise.
The parlor door was ajar ; the fire was not out, and Des
mond was before it, watching its decay.

" What is it ? " he asked.

" The candle," I stammered, confused with the necessity
of staying to have it lighted, and the propriety of retreating
in the dark.


" Shall I light it ? "

I stepped a little further inside the door and gave it to
him. He grew warm with thrusting it between the bars of
the grate, and I grew chilly. Shivering, and with chatter
ing teeth, I made out to say, " A piece of paper would do
it." Raising his head hastily, it came crash against the edge
of the marble shelf. Involuntarily I shut the door, and
leaned against it, to wait for the effect of the blow ; but
feeling a pressure against the outside, I yielded to it, and
moved aside. Mrs. Somers entered, with a candle flaring
in one hand, and holding with the other her dressing-gown
across her bosom.

" What are you doing here ? " she asked harshly, but in a
whisper, her eyes blazing like a panther s.

" Doing ? " I replied ; " stay and see."

She swept along, and I followed, bringing up close to
Desmond, who had his hand round his head, and was very
pale, either from the effect of the blow or some other cause.
Even the flush across his cheeks had faded. She looked at
him sharply ; he moved his hands from his head, and met
her eyes. " I am not drunk, you see," he said in a low
voice. She made an insulting gesture toward me, which
meant, " Is this an adventure of yours ? "

The blaze in her eyes kindled a more furious one in his ;
he stepped forward with a threatening motion.

Anger raged through me like a fierce rain that strikes
flat a violent sea. I laid my hand on her arm, which she
snapped at like a wolf, but I spoke calmly:

" You tender, true-hearted creature, full of womanly
impulses, allow me to light my candle by yours ! "

I picked it from the hearth, lighted it, and held it close to
her face, laughing, though I never felt less merry. But I
had restrained him.

He took the candle away gently.

" Leave the room," he said to her.

She beckoned me to go.

" No, you shall go."

They made a simultaneous movement with their hands,
he to insist, she to deprecate, and I again observed how
exactly alike they were.

"Desmond" I implored, "pray allow me to go."

A deep flush suffused his face. He bowed, threw wide


the door, and followed me to the foot of the stairs. I
reached my hand for the candle, for he retained both.

" You, pardon first."

" For what ? "

" For much ? oh for much."

What story my face told, I could not have told him. He
kissed my hand and turned away.

At the top of the stairs I looked down. He was there
with upturned face, watching me. Whether he went back
to confer with his mother, I never knew ; if he did, the
expression which he wore then must have troubled her. I
went to bed, wondering over the mischief that a candle
could do. After I had extinguished it, its wick glowed in
the dark like a one-eyed demon.


ANOTHER week passed. Ben had received a letter
from Veronica, informing him that letter-writing was a
kind of composition she was not fond of. He must
come to her, and then there would be no need for writing.
Her letter exasperated him. His tenacious mind, lying
in wait to close upon hers, was irritated by her simple, can
did behavior. I could give him no consolation, nor did
I care to. It suited me thac his feelings for her weakened
his penetration in regard to me.

When he roused at the expression which he saw Des
mond fix upon me the night that Major Millard was there,
I expected a rehearsal from him of watchfulness and sus
picion ; but no symptom appeared. I was glad, for I was
in love with Desmond. I had known it from the night of
Miss Munster s party. The morning after I woke to know my
soul had built itself a lordly pleasure-house ; its dome and
towers were firm and finished, glowing in the light that
"never was on land or sea." How elate I grew in this
atmosphere ! The face of Nemesis was veiled even. No
eye saw the pure, pale nimbus ringed above it. I did not
see him, except as an apparition, for suddenly he had be
come the most unobtrusive member of the family, silent
and absent. Immunity from espionage was the immutable


family rule. Mrs. Somers, under the direction of that spirit
which isolated me from all exterior influences, for a little
time had shut down the lid of her evil feelings, and was
quiet ; watching me, perhaps, but not annoying. Mr.
Somers was engaged with the subject of ventilation. Ann,
to convince herself that she had a musical talent, practiced
of afternoons till she was turned out by Adelaide, who had
a fit of reading abstruse works, sometimes seeking me with
fingers thrust between their leaves to hold abstract conver
sations, which, though I took small part in them, were of

That portion of the world of emotions which I was map
ping out she was profoundly indifferent to. My experiences
to her would have been debasing. As she would not come
to me, I went to her, and gained something.

Ben, always a favorite with his father, pursued him, rode
with him, and made visits of pleasure or business, with a
latent object which kept him on the alert.

I had been in Belem three weeks ; in a week more I de
cided to return home. My indignation against Mrs. Somers,
from our midnight interview, had not suggested that I
should shorten my visit. On the contrary, it had freed me
from any regard or fear of her opinion. I had discovered
her limits.

It was Saturday afternoon. Reflecting that I had but a
few days more for Belem, and summing up the events of
my visit and the people I had met, their fashions and
differences, I unrolled a tolerable panorama, with patches
in it of vivid color, and laid it away in my memory, to be
unrolled again at some future time. Then a faint shadow
dropped across my mind like a curtain, the first that cloud
ed my royal palace, my mental paradise !

I sighed. Joyless, vacant, barren hours prefigured them
selves to me, drifting through my brain, till their vacant
shapes crowded it into darkness. I must do something !
I would go out ; a walk would be good for me. More
over, wishing to purchase a parting gift for Adelaide
and Ann, I would go alone. Wandering from shop to shop
in Norfolk Street, without finding the articles I desired,
I turned into a street which crossed it, and found the right
shop. Seeing Drummond Street on an old gable-end house,
a desire to exchange with some one a language which


differed from my thoughts prompted me to look up Mrs.
Hepburn. I soon came to her house, and knocked at the
door, which Mari opened. The current was already
changed, as I followed her into a room different from the
one where I had seen Mrs. Hepburn. It was dull of aspect,
long and narrow, with one large window opening on the
old-fashioned garden, and from which I saw a discolored
marble Flora. Mrs. Hepburn was by the window, in her
high chair. She held out her hand and thanked me
for coming to see an old woman. Motioning her head
toward a dark corner, she said, " There is a young man who
likes occasionally to visit an old woman aisc.

The young man, twenty-nine years old, was Desmond.
He crossed the room and offered me his hand. We had
not spoken since we parted at the stairs that memorab\e
night. He hastily brought chairs, and placed them near
Mrs. Hepburn, who seized her spectacles, which were on a
silk workbag beside her, scanned us through them, and
exclaimed, " Ah ha ! what is this ? "

" Is it something in me, ma am ? " said Desmond, putting
his head before my face so that it was hid from her.

" Something in both of you ; thief ! thief ! "

She rubbed her frail hand against my sleeve, muttering,
" See now, so ! the same characteristics."

" I spoke of the difference of the rooms ; the one we
were in reminded me of a lizard ! The walls were faint
gray, and every piece of furniture was covered with plain
yellow chintz, while the carpet was a pale green. She re
plied that she always moved from her winter parlor to this
summer room on the twenty-second day of April, which
had fallen the day before, for she liked to watch the coming
out of the shrubs in the garden, which were as old as her
self. The chestnut had leaved seventy times and more ;
and the crippled plum, whose fruit was so wormy to eat,
was dying with age. As for the elms at the bottom of the
garden, for all she knew they were a thousand years old.

" The elms are a thousand years old," I repeated and re
peated to myself, while she glided from topic to topic with
Desmond, whose conversation indicated that he was as
cultivated as any ordinary gentleman, when the Pickersgill
element was not apparent. The form of the garden-
goddess faded, the sun had gone below the garden wall.


The garden grew dusk, and the elms began to nod their
tops at me. I became silent, listening to the fall of the
plummet, which dropped again and again from the topmost
height of that lordly domain, over which shadows had
come. Were they sounding its foundations ?

My eyes roved the garden, seeking the nucelus of an
emotion which beset me now not they, but my senses,
formed it in a garden miles away, where nodded a row of
elms, under which Charles Morgeson stood.

" / am glad you 1 re here, my darling, do you smell the roses ? "

" Are you going ? " I heard Mrs. Hepburn say in a far-off
voice. I was standing by the door.

" Yes, madam ; the summer parlor does not delay the

" Come again. When do you leave Belem ?"

" In few days."

Desmond made a grimace, and went to the window.

" Who returns with you,"she continued, " Ben ? He likes

" I hope he will ; I came here to please him."

" Pooh ! You came here because Mr. Somers had a

" Well ; I was permitted somehow to come."

" It was perfectly right. A woman like you need not
question whether a thing is convenable."

Desmond turned from the window, and bestowed upon
her a benign smile, which she returned with a satisfied nod.

This implied flattery tinkled pleasantly on my ears,
allaying a doubt which I suffered from. Did I realize how
much the prestige of those Belem saints influenced me,
or how proud I was with the conviction of affiliation with
those who were plainly marked with Caste ?

" Walk with me," he demanded, as we were going down
the steps.

We passed out of Drummond Street into a wide open
common. Rosy clouds floated across the zenith, and a
warm, balmy wind was blowing. I thought of Veronica,
calm and happy, as the spring always made her, and the
thought was a finishing blow to the variety of moods I had
passed through. The helm of my will was broken.

" There is a good view from Moss Hill yonder," he said.
" Shall we go up ? "


I bowed, declining his arm, and trudged beside him.
From its summit Belem was only half in sight. Its old,
crooked streets sloped and disappeared from view ; Wolf s
Point was at the right of us, and its thread of sea. I began
talking of our walk, and was giving an extended description
of it, when he abruptly asked why I came to Belem.

" I know," he said, " that you would not have come, had
there been any sentiment between you and Ben."

" Thanks for your implication. But I must have made the
visit, you know, or how could I learn that I should not have
made it ? "

" You regret coming ? "

" Veronica will give me no thanks."

" Who is she ?"

" My sister, whom Ben loves."

" Ben love a sister of yours ? My God how ? when
first ? where ? And how came you to meet him ? "

" That chapter of accidents need not be recounted. Can
you help him? "

"What can I do?" he said roughly. "There is little
love between us. You know what a devil s household ours
is ; but he is one of us he is afraid."

" Of what ? "

" Of mother of our antecedents of himself."

" I could not expect you to speak well of him."

" Of course not. Your sister has no fortune ? "

" She has not. Men whose merchandise is ships are apt
to die bankrupt."

" Your father is a merchant ? "

" Even at that, the greatest of the name.

" We are all tied up, you know. Ben s allowance is smaller
than mine. He is easy about money ; therefore he is pa s

" Why do you not help yourselves? "

" Do you think so ? You have not known us long. Have
you influenced Ben to help himself?"

I marched down the hill without reply. Repassing Mrs.
Hepburn s, he said, " My grandfather was an earl s son."

" Mrs. Hepburn likes you for that. My grandfather was
a tailor ; I should have told her so, when she gave me the
aqua marina jewels."

" Had you the courage ? "


" I forgot both the fact and the courage."

I hurried along, for it grew dark, and presently saw Ben
on the steps of the house.

" Have you been walking ? " he asked.

" It looks so. Yes, with me," answered Desmond. " Wont
you give me thanks for attention to your friend ? "

" It must have been a whim of Cassandra s."

" Break her of whims, if you can "

44 1 will"

We went into the parlor together.

" Where do you think I have been ? " Ben asked.

" Where ? "

"For the doctor. The baby is sick"; and he looked
hard at Desmond.

" I hope it will live for years and years," I said.

" I know what you are at, Ben," said Desmond. " I have
wished the brat dead ; but upon my soul, I have a stronger
wish than that I have forgotten it."

There was no falseness in his voice ; he spoke the truth.

" Forgive me, Des."

" No matter about that," he answered, sauntering off.

I felt happier ; that spark of humanity warmed me. I
might not have another. " I would," I said, " that the last
day, the last moments of my visit had come. You will see
me henceforth in Surrey. I will live and die there."
To-night," Ben said, " I am going to tell pa."
That is best."
Horrible atmosphere ! "
It would kill Verry."

You thrive in it," he said, with a spice of irritation in
his voice.


Adelaide and Ann proved gracious over my gift. They
were talking of the doctor s visit. Ann said the child was
teething, for she had felt its gums ; nothing else was the
matter. There need be no apprehension. She should say so
to Desmond and Ben, and would post a letter to her
brother in unknown parts.

" Miss Hiticutt has sent for us to come over to tea,"
Adelaide informed me. The black silk I wore would do,
for we must go at once.

The quiet, formal evening was a pleasant relief, although


I was troubled with a desire to inform Mrs. Somers of
Ben s engagement, for the sake of exasperating her. We
came home too early for bed, Adelaide said ; beside, she had
music-hunger. I must sing. Mrs. Somers was by the fire,
darning fine napkins, winking over her task, maintaining in
her aspect the determination to avert any danger of a mid
night interview with Desmond. That gentleman was at
present sleeping on a sofa. I seated myself before the piano-,
wondering whether he slept from wine, ennui, or to while
away the time till I should come. I touched the keys softly,
waiting for an interpreting voice, and half unconsciously
sang the lines of Schiller :

" I hear the sound of music, and the halls
Are full of light. Who are the revelers ? "

Desmond made an inarticulate noise and sprang up, as if
in answer to a call. A moment after he stepped quietly
over the back of the sofa and stood bending over me. I
looked up. His eyes were clear, his face alive with intui
tion. Though Adelaide was close by, she was oblivious ;
her eyes were cast upward and her fingers lay languid in
her lap. Ann, more lively, introduced a note here and
there into my song to her own satisfaction. Mrs. Somers I
could not see ; but I stopped and, giving the music stool a
turn, faced her. She met me with her pale, opaque stare,
and began to swing her foot over her knee ; her slipper,
already down at her heel, fell off. I picked it up in spite
of her negative movement and hung it on the foot again.

" I shall speak with you presently," she whispered,
glancing at Desmond.

He heard her and his face flashed with the instinct of
sport, which made me ashamed of any desire for a struggle
with her.

" Good-night," I said abruptly, turning away.

" We are all sleepy except this exemplary housewife with
her napkins," cried Ann. " We will leave her."

" Cassandra," said Adelaide, when we were on the stairs,
" how well you look ! "

Ann, elevating her candle, remarked my eyes shone like
a cat s.

" Hiticutt s tea was too strong," added Adelaide ; " it
dilates the pupils. I am sorry you are going away," and


she kissed me ; this favor would have moved me at any
other time, but now I rejoiced to see her depart and leave
me alone. I sat down by the toilet table and was arrang
ing some bottles, when Mrs. Somers rustled in. Out of
breath, she began haughtily :

" What do you mean ? "

A lethargic feeling crept over me ; my thoughts wandered ;
I never spoke nor stirred till she pulled my sleeve violently.

" If you touch me it will rouse me. Did a child of yours
ever inflict a blow upon you ? "

She turned purple with rage, looming up before my vision
like a peony.

"When are you going home?"

I counted aloud, " Sunday Monday," and stopped at
Wednesday. "Ben is going back with me."
He may go."
And not Desmond ?"
Do you know Desmond ? "
Not entirely."

He has played with such toys as you are, and broken

" Alas, he is hereditarily cruel ! Could / expect not to be
broken ? "

She caught up a glass goblet as if to throw it, but only
grasped it so tight that it shivered. " There goes one of
the Pickersgill treasures, I am sure," I thought.

" I am already scarred, you see. I have been nurtured
in convulsions.

The action seemed to loosen her speech ; but she had to
nerve herself to say what she intended ; for some reason or
other, she could not remain as angry as she wished. What
she said I will not repeat.

" Madam, I have no plans. If I have a Purpose, it is
formless yet. If God saves us what can you do ? "

She made a gesture of contempt.

" You have no soul to thank me for what may be my
work," and I opened the door.

Ben stood on the threshhold.

" In God s name, what is this ?

I pointed to his mother. She looked uneasy, and stepping
forward put her hand on his arm ; but he shook her off.

" You may call me a fool, Cassandra, for bringing you


here," he said in a bitter voice, " besides calling me cruel
for subjecting you to these ordeals. I knew how it would
be with mother. What is it, madam ? " he asked imperi
ously, looking so much like her that I shuddered.

" It is not you she is after," she hotly exclaimed.

" No, I should think not." And he led her out swiftly.

I heard Mrs. Somers say at breakfast, as I went in, " We
are to lose Miss Cassandra on Wednesday." I looked at
Desmond, who was munching toast abstractedly. He made
a motion for me to take the chair beside him, which I
obeyed. Ben saw this movement, and an expression of
pain passed over his face. At that instant I remembered
that Desmond s being seen in the evening and in the morn
ing was a rare occurrence. Mr. Somers took up the remark
of Mrs. Somers where she had left it, and expatiated on it
till breakfast was over, so courteously and so ramblingly
that I was convinced the affair Ben had at heart had been
revealed. He invited me to go to church, and he spent the
whole of the evening in the parlor ; and although Desmond
hovered near me all day and all the evening, we had no
opportunity of speaking to each other.


ON Tuesday morning Adelaide sent out invitations to a
farewell entertainment, as she called it, for Tuesday
evening. Mrs. Somers, affecting great interest in it,
engaged my services in wiping the dust from glass and
china ; " too valuable," she said, " for servants to handle."
We spent a part of the morning in the dining-room and
pantry. Ann was with us. If she went out, Mrs. Somers
was silent ; when present she chatted. While we were busy
Desmond came in, in riding trousers and whip in hand.

" What nonsense ! " he said, touching my hand with the
whiplash. " Will you ride with me after dinner? "

" I must have the horses at three o clock," said his
mother, "to go to Mrs. Flint s funeral. She was a family
friend, you know." The funeral could not be postponed,
even for Desmond ; but he grew ill-humored at once, swore
at Murphy, who was packing a waiter at the sideboard, for


rattling the plates ; called Ann a minx, because she laughed
at him ; and bit a cigar to pieces because he could not light
it. Rash had followed him, his nose against his velveteens,
in entreaty to go with him ; I was pleased at this sign of
amity between them. At a harder push than common he
looked down and kicked him away.

" Noble creature," I said, " try your whip on him. Rash,
go to your master," and I opened the door. Two smaller
dogs, Desmond s property, made a rush to come in ; but I
shut them out, whereat they whined so loudly that Mrs.
Somers was provoked to attack him for bringing his dogs
in the house. An altercation took place, and was ended by
Desmond declaring that he was on his way after a bitch
terrier, to bring it home. He went out, giving me a look
from the door, which I answered with a smile that made
him stamp all the way through the hall. Mrs. Somers s
feelings as she heard him peeped out at me. Groaning in
spirit, I finished my last saucer and betook myself to my
room and read, till summoned by Mrs. Somers to a con
sultation respecting the furniture coverings. Desmond
came home, but spoke to no one, hovering in my vicinity as
on the day before.

In the afternoon Adelaide and I went in the carriage to
make calls upon those we did not expect to see in the even
ing. She wrote P.P.C. on my cards and laughed at the
idea of paying farewell visits to strangers. The last one
was made to Mrs. Hepburn. A soft melancholy crept over
me when I entered the room where I had met Desmond
last. We should probably not see each other alone again.
Mrs. Somers s policy to that effect would be a success, for
I should make no opposition to it. Not a word of my feel
ings could I speak to Mrs. Hepburn Adelaide was there
provided I had the impulse ; and Mrs. Hepburn would be
the last to forgive me should I make the conventional mis
take of a scene or an aside. This old lady had taught me
something. I went to the window, curious to know whether
any nerve of association would vibrate again. Nothing
stirred me ; the machinery which had agitated and con
trolled me was effete.

Mrs. Hepburn said, as we were taking leave :

" If you come to Belem next year, and I am above the
sod, I invite you to pass a month with me. But let it be in


the summer. I ride then, and should like you for a com

She might have seen irresolution in me, for she added
quickly, "You need not promise let time decide," and
shook my hands kindly.

" Hep. is smitten with you, in her selfish way," Adelaide
remarked, as we rode from the door. She ordered the
coachman to drive home by the " Leslie House," which she
wanted me to see. A great aunt had lived and died there,
leaving the house one of the oldest in Belem to her
brother Ned.

"Who is he like?"

"Desmond; but worse. There s only a year s difference

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18 20 21 22 23 24

Online LibraryElizabeth StoddardThe Morgesons; a novel → online text (page 18 of 24)