Elizabeth Stoddard.

The Morgesons; a novel online

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in their ages. They were educated together, kept in the
nursery till they were great boys and tyrants, and then sent
abroad. They were in Amiens three years."

" There are Desmond and Ben ; they are walking in the
street we are passing."

She looked out.

" They are quarreling, I dare say. Ben is a prig, and
preaches to Des."

While we were in the house, and Adelaide talked with
the old servant of her aunt, my thoughts were occupied
with Desmond. What had they quarreled on ? Desmond
was pale, and laughed ; but Ben was red, and looked

" Why do you look at me so fixedly ? " Adelaide asked,
when we were in the carriage again.

It was on my tongue to say, " Because I am beset." I
did not, however ; instead I asked her if she never noticed
what a rigid look people wore in their best bonnets, and
holding a card-case ? She said, " Yes," and shook out her
handkerchief, as if to correct her own rigidity.

After an early tea she compelled me to sing, and we
delayed dressing till Mrs.. Somers bloomed in, with purple
satin and feather head-dress.

" Now we must go," she said, " and get ready."

" What shall you wear ?" Mrs. Somers asked, advising a
certain ugly, claret-colored silk.

" Be sure not," said Adelaide on the stairs. " That dress
makes your hair too yellow."

I heard loud laughing in the third story, and heavy steps,


while I was in my room ; and when I went down, I saw
two gentlemen in evening dress, standing by Desmond, at
the piano, and singing, " fill, fill the sparkling brimmer."
They were, as Ann informed me, college friends of Des,
who had arrived for a few days visit, she supposed ; dis
agreeable persons, of course. They were often in Belem
to ride, fish, or play billiards. " Pa hates them," she said
in conclusion. Mr. Somers entering at this moment, in his
diplomatique style, his gouty white hands shaded with
wristbands, and his throat tied with a white cravat, appeared
to contradict her assertion, he was so affable in his saluta
tions to the young men. Desmond turned from the piano
when he heard his father s voice, and caught sight of me.
He started toward me ; but his attention was claimed by
one of the gentlemen, who had been giving me a prolonged
stare, and he dropped back on his seat, with an indifferent
air, answering some question relating to myself. He looked
as when I first saw him flushed, haughty, and bored.
His hair and dress were disordered, his boots splashed with
mud ; and it was evident that he did not intend to appear
at the party.

Adelaide called me to remain by her ; but I slipped away
when I thought no more would arrive, and sought a retired
corner, to which Mr. Somers brought Desmond s friends,
introducing them as the sons of his college chums, and
leaving them, one lolling against the mantel, the other over
the back of a chair. They were muzzy with drink, and
seemed to grow warm, as I looked from one to the other,
with an attentive air.

" You are visiting in Belem," said one.

"That is true," I replied.

" It is too confoundedly aristocratic for me ; it knocks
Beacon Street into nothingness."

" Where is Beacon Street ? "

" Don t you know that? Nor the Mall ? "

" No."

Our conversation was interrupted by Ben, whom I had
not seen since the day before. He had been out of town,
transacting some business for his father. We looked at
each other without speaking, but divined each other s
thoughts. " You are as true and noble as I think you are,
Gassy. I must have it so. You shall not thwart me."


" Faithful and good Ben, do you pass a sufficiently strict
examination upon yourself? Are you not disposed to carry
through your own ideas without considering me? " What
ever our internal comments were, we smiled upon each
other with the sincerity of friendship, and I detected Mr.
Digby in the act of elevating his eyebrows at Mr. Dever-
eaux, who signified his opinion by telegraphing back : " It
is all over with them."

" Hey, Somers," said the first ; " what are you doing
nowadays ?"

" Pretty much the same work that I always have on

" Do you mean to stick to Belem ? "

" No."

" I thought so. But what has come over Des. lately ?
He is spoony."

" He is going backward, may be, to some course he
omitted in his career with you fellows. We must run the
same round somehow, you know."

" He ll not find much reason for it, when he arrives," Mr.
Devereaux said.

Miss Munster joined us, with the intention of breaking
up our conclave, and soon moved away, with Mr. Digby
and Devereaux in her train.

" I have changed my mind," said Ben, " about going
home with you."

" Are your plans growing complicated again ? "

" Can you go to Surrey alone ? "

" Why not, pray ? "

" I have an idea of going to Switzerland to spend the
summer. Will Veronica be ready in the autumn ? "

" How can I answer ? Shall you not take leave of

"Perhaps. Yes, I must," he said excitedly; "but to
morrow we will talk more about it. I shall go to Boston
with you ; pa is going too. How well you look to-night,
Gassy ! What sort of dress is this ?" taking up a fold of it.
" Is it cotton-silk, or silk-cotton ? It is soft and light.
How delicate you are, with your gold hair and morning-
glory eyes ! "

" How poetical ! My dress is new, and was made by
Adelaide s dressmaker."


" Mother beckons me. What a headdress that is of
hers ! "

" What beckons you to go to Switzerland ? " I mused.

I listened for Desmond s voice, which would have
sounded like a silver bell, in the loud, coarse buzz which
pervaded the rooms. All the women were talking shrill,
and the men answering in falsetto. He was not among
them, and I moved to and fro unnoticed, for the tide of
entertainment had set in, and I could withdraw, if I chose.
I took a chair near an open door, commanded a view into
a small room, on the other side of the hall, opened only on
occasions like these ; there was no one in it. Perceiving
that my shoelace was untied, I stooped to refasten it, and
when I looked in the room again saw Desmond standing
under the chandelier, his hands in his pockets, his eyes on
the floor, his hair disordered and falling over his forehead ;
its blackness was intense against the relief of the crimson
wall-paper. Was it that which had unaccountably changed
his appearance ?

He raised his head, looked across the hall, and saw me.

" Come here," he signaled. I rose like an automaton,
and cast an involuntary glance about me ; the guests were
filing through the drawing-room, into the room where
refreshments were laid. When the last had gone, I left the
friendly protection of the niche by the fire-place, and stood
so near him that I saw his nostrils quiver ! Then there
came into his face an expression of pain, which softened
it. I had wished him to please me ; now I wished to
please him. It seemed that he had no intention of
speaking, and that he had called me to him to witness a
struggle which I must find a key to hereafter, in the depths
of my own heart. I watched him in silence, and it passed.
As he pushed the door to with his foot, the movement
caused something to swing and glitter against his breast
a ring on his watch-ribbon smaller than I could wear, a
woman s ruby ring. The small, feminine imp, who abides
with those who have beams in their eyes, and helps them to
extract motes from the eyes of others, inspired me. I
pointed to the ring. Dropping his eyes, he said : "I loved
her shamefully, and she loved me shamefully. When shall
I take it off cursed sign ? " And he snapped it with his
thumb and finger.


I grew rigid with virtue.

" You may not conjure up any tragic ideas on the subject.
She is no outcast. She is here to-night ; if there was ruin,
it was mutual."

"And your other faults ?"

" Ah ! " he said, with a terrible accent, " we shall see."

There was a tap on the door ; it was Ben s. I fell back
a step, and he came in. " Will you bring Cassandra to the
supper-room? " he said, turning pale.

" No."

" Come with me, then ; you must." And he put my arm
in his.

" Hail, and farewell, Cassandra ! " said Desmond, stand
ing before the door. " Give me your hand."

I gave him both my hands. He kissed one, and then
the other, and moved to let us pass out. But Ben did not
go ; he fumbled for his handkerchief to wipe his forehead,
on which stood beads of sweat.

"Allans, Ben," I said.

"Go on, go on," said Desmond, holding the door wide

A painful curiosity made me anxious to discover the
owner of the ruby ring ! The friendly but narrow-minded
imp I have spoken of composed speeches, with which I
might assail her, should she be found. I looked in vain at
every women present ; there was not a sorrowful or guilty
face among them. Another feeling took the place of my
curiosity. I forgot the woman I was seeking, to remember
the love I bore Desmond. I was mad for the sight of him
mad to touch his hand once more. I could have put the
asp on my breast to suck me to sleep, as Cleopatra did ;
but Ccesar was in the way. He stayed by me till the lights
were turned down.

Digby and Devereaux were commenting on Desmond s
disappearance, and Mrs. Somers was politely yawning,
waiting their call for candles.

" If you are to accompany me, Ben," I said, " now is the
time." And he slipped out. He preserved a determined
silence. I shook him, and said " Veronica." He put his
hand over my mouth with an indignant look, which was
lost upon me, for I whispered in his ear : " Do you know
now that I love Desmond ? "


" Will you bring him into our Paradise ? "

" Where ? "

" Our home, in Surrey."

" Wont an angel with a flaming sword make it piquant?"

" If you marry Desmond Somers," he said austerely,
"you will contradict three lives, yours, mine, and Veron
ica s. What beast was it that suggested this horrible dis
cord ? Have you so much passion that you cannot discern
the future you offer yourself ? "

" Imperator, you have an agreeable way of putting
things. But they are coming through the hall. Good


AT eleven o clock the next day I was ready for departure.
All stood by the open hall door, criticising Murphy s
strapping of my trunks on a hack. Messrs. Digby and
Devereaux, in black satin scarfs, hung over the step rail
ings ; Mrs. Somers, Adelaide, and Ann were within the
door. Mr. Somers and Ben were already on the walk, wait
ing for me ; so I went through the ceremony of bidding
good-by a ceremony performed with so much cheerfulness
on all sides that it was an occasion for well-bred merriment,
and I made my exit as I should have made it in a genteel
comedy, but with a bitter feeling of mortification, because
of their artificial, willful imperturbability I was forced to
oppose them with manners copied after their own.

I looked from the carriage window for a last view of my
room. The chambermaid was already there, and had
thrown open the shutters, to let in daylight upon the scene
of the most royal dreams I had ever had. The ghost of my
individuality would lurk there no longer than the chairs I
had placed, the books I had left, the shreds of paper or
flowers I had scattered, could be moved or swept away.

All the way to Boston the transition to my old condition
oppressed me. I felt a dreary disgust at the necessity of
resuming relations which had no connection with the senti
ment that bound me to Belem. After we were settled at
the Tremont, while watching a sad waiter engaged in the
ceremonial of folding napkins like fans, I discovered an in-


termediate tone of mind, which gave my thoughts a pictur
esque tinge. My romance, its regrets, and its pleasures,
should be set in the frame of the wild sea and shores of
Surrey. I invested our isolated house with the dignity of
a stage, where the drama, which my thoughts must continu
ally represent, could go on without interruption, and remain
a secret I should have no temptation to reveal. Until after
the tedious dinner, a complete rainbow of dreams spanned
the arc of my brain. Mr. Somers dispersed it by asking
Ben to go out on some errand. That it was a pretext, I
knew by Ben s expression ; therefore, when he had gone I
turned to Mr. Somers an attentive face. First, he circum-
locuted ; second, he skirmished. I still waited for what he
wished to say, without giving him any aid. He was sure,
he said at last, that my visit in his family had convinced
me that his children could not vary the destiny imposed
upon them by their antecedents, without bringing upon
others lamentable consequences. " Cunning pa," I com
mented internally. Had I not seen the misery of unequal
marriages ?

" As in a glass, darkly."

Doubtless, he went on, I had comprehended the erratic
tendency in Bens character, good and honorable as he was,
but impressive and visionary. Did I think so ?

" Quite the contrary. Have you never perceived the
method of his visions in an unvarying opposition to those
antecedents you boast of ? "

" Well, well, well ? "

" Money, Family, Influence, are a ding-dong bell which
you must weary of, Mr. Somers sometimes."

" Ben has disappointed me ; I must confess that."

" My sister is eccentric. Provided she marries him, the
family programme will be changed. You must lop him from
the family tree."

He took up a paper, bowed to me with an unvexed air,
and read a column or so.

" It may be absurd," and he looked over his spectacle
tops, as if he had found the remark in his paper, " for pa
rents to oppose the marriages their children choose to make,
and I beg you to understand that I may oppose, not resist
Ben. You know very well," and he dropped the paper in
a burst of irritation and candor, " that the devil will be to


pay with Mrs. Soraers, who has a right of dictation in the
affair. She does not suspect it. I must say that Ben is
mistaking himself again. I mean, I think so."

I looked upon him with a more friendly countenance.
The one rude word he had spoken had a wonderful effect,
after the surprise of it was over. Real eyes appeared in his
face, and a truthful accent pervaded his voice. I think he
was beginning to think that h e might confide his perplexi
ties to me on other subjects, when Ben returned. As it was,
a friendly feeling had been established between us. He said
in a confidential tone to Ben, as if we were partners in some
guilty secret, " You must mention it to your mother ; indeed
you must."

"You have been speaking with Cassandra, in reference
to her sister," he answered indifferently. Mr. Somers was
chilled in his attempt at a mutual confidence.

" Can you raise money, if Desmond should marry ? "
asked Ben. " Enough for both of us ? "

" Desmond ? he will never marry."

" It is certainly possible."

" You know how I am clogged."

I rang for some ice-water, and when the waiter brought
it, said that it was time to retire.

" Now," said Mr. Somers, " I shall give you just such a
breakfast as will enable you to travel well a beefsteak, and
old bread made into toast. Don t drink that ice-water ;
take some wine."

I set the glass of ice-water down, and declined the wine.
Ben elevated his eyebrows, and asked :

" What time shall I get up, sir ? "

" I will call you ; so you may sleep untroubled."

He opened the door, and bade me an affectionate good"

" The coach is ready," a waiter announced, as we fin
ished our breakfast. " We are ready," said Mr. Somers.
" I have ordered a packet of sandwiches for you beef, not
ham sandwiches and here is a flask of wine mixed with

I thanked him, and tied my bonnet.

" Here is a note, also," opening his pocketbook and ex
tracting it, " for your father. It contains our apologies for
not accompanying you, and one or two allusions," making


an attempt to wink at Ben, which failed, his eyes being un
used to such an undignified style of humor.

He excused himself from going to the station on account
of the morning air, and Ben and I proceeded. In the pas
sage, .the waiter met us with a paper box. " For you, Miss.
A florist s boy just left it." I opened it in the coach, and
seeing flowers, was about to take them out to show Ben,
when I caught sight of the ribbon which tied them a piece
of one of my collar knots I had not missed. Of course the
flowers came from Desmond, and half the ribbon was in his
possession ; the ends were jagged, as if it had been divided
with a knife. Instead of taking out the flowers, I showed
him the box.

" What a curious bouquet," he said.

In the cars he put into my hand a jewel box, and a thick
letter for Verry, kissed me, and was out of sight.

" No vestige but these flowers," uncovering them again.
" In my room at Surrey I will take you out," and I shut the
box. The clanking of the car wheels revolved through my
head in rhythm, excluding thought for miles. Then I
looked out at the flying sky it was almost May. The day
was mild and fair ; in the hollows, the young grass spread
over the earth like a smooth cloth ; over the hills and un
sheltered fields, the old grass lay like coarse mats. A few
birds roved the air in anxiety, for the time of love was at
hand, and their nests were not finished. By twelve I ar
rived at the town where the railroad branched in a direction
opposite the road to Surrey, and where a stage was waiting
for its complement of passengers from the cars. I was the
only lady " aboard," as one of the passengers intelligently
remarked, when we started. They were desirable compan
ions, for they were gruff to each other and silent to me.
We rode several miles in a state of unadjustment, and
then yielded to the sedative qualities of a stagecoach.
I lunched on my sandwiches, thanking Mr. Somers for his
forethought, though I should have preferred them of ham,
instead of beef. When I took a sip from my flask, two men
looked surprised, and spat vehemently out of the windows.
I offered it to them. They refused it, saying they had had
what was needful at the Depot Saloon, conducted on the
strictest temperance principles.

" Those principles are cruel, provided travelers ever


have colic, or an aversion to Depot tea and coffee," I

There was silence for the space of fifteen minutes, then
one of them turned and said : " You have a good head,

" Too good ? "

" Forgetful, may be."

I bowed, not wishing to prolong the conversation.

"Your circulation is too rapid," he continued.

The man on the seat with him now turned round, and,
examining me, informed me that electricity would be first-
rate for me.

" Shoo !" he replied, "it s a humbug."

I was forgotten in the discussion which followed, and
which lasted till our arrival at a village, where one of them
resided. He left, telling us he was a " natral bone-setter."
One by one the passengers left the stage, and for the last
five miles I was alone. I beguiled the time by elaborating
a multitude of trivial opinions, suggested by objects I saw
along the roadside, till the old and new church spires of
Surrey came in sight, and the curving lines at either end
of the ascending shores. We reached the point in the north
road, where the ground began its descent to the sea, and I
hung from the window, to see all the village roofs humble
before it. The streets and dwellings looked as insignificant
as those of a toy village. I perceived no movement in it,
heard no hum of life. At a cross-road, which would take
the stage into the village without its passing our house, a
whim possessed me. I would surprise them at home, and
go in at the back door, while they were expecting to hear
the stage. The driver let me out, and I stood in the road
till he was out of sight.

A breeze blew round me, penetrating, but silent ; the
fields, and the distant houses which dotted them, were
asleep in the pale sunshine, undisturbed by it. The crows
cawed, and flew over the eastern woods. I walked slowly.
The road was deserted. Mrs. Grossman s house was the
only one I must pass ; its shutters were closed, and the
yard was empty. As I drew near home a violent haste
grew upon me, yet my feet seemed to impede my progress.
They were like lead ; I impelled myself along, as in a dream.
Under the protection of our orchard wall I turned my


merino mantle, which was lined with an indefinite color,
spread my veil over my bonnet, and bent my shoulders, and
passed down the carriage-drive, by the dining-room win-
dows, into the stable-yard. The rays of sunset struck the
lantern-panes in the light-house, and gave the atmosphere
a yellow stain. The pigeons were skimming up and down
the roof of the wood-house, and cooing round the horses
that were in the yard. A boy was driving cows into the shed,
whistling a lively air ; he suspended it when he saw me, but
I shook my finger at him, and ran in. Slipping into the
side hall, I dropped my bonnet and shawl, and listened at
the door for the familiar voices. Mother must be there, as
was her wont, and Aunt Merce. All of them, perhaps, for
I had seen nobody on my way. There was no talking
within. The last sunset ray struck on my hand its yellow
shade, through the fan-light, and faded before I opened the
door. I was arrested on the threshold by a silence which
rushed upon me, clutching me in a suffocating embrace.
Mother was in her chair by the fire, which was out, for the
brands were black, and one had fallen close to her feet.
A white flannel shawl covered her shoulders ; her chin
rested on her breast. " She is ill, and has dropped asleep,"
I thought, thrusting my hands out, through this terrible
silence, to break her slumber, and looked at the clock ; it
was near seven. A door slammed, somewhere upstairs, so
loud it made me jump ; but she did not wake. I went to
ward her, confused, and stumbling against the table, which
was between us, but reached her at last. Oh, I knew it !
She was dead ! People must die, even in their chairs, alone !
What difference did it make, how ? An empty cup was in
her lap, bottom up ; I set it carefully on the mantel shelf
above her head. Her handkerchief was crumpled in her
nerveless hand ; I drew it away and thrust it into my
bosom. My gloves tightened my hands as I tried to pull
them off, and was tugging at them, when a door opened,
and Veronica came in.

" She is dead," I said. " I can t get them off."
" It is false " ; and she staggered backward, with her
hand on her heart, till she fell against the wall. I do not
know how long we remained so, but I became aware of a
great confusion cries, and exclamations ; people were run
ning in and out. Fanny rolled on the floor in hysterics.


" Get up," I said. "I can t move ; help me. Where did
Verry go ?"

She got up, and pulled me along. I saw father raise
mother in his arms. The dreadful sight of her swaying
arms and drooping head made me lose my breath ; but
Veronica forced me to endurance by clinging to me, and
dragging me out of the room and upstairs. She turned the
key of the glass-door at the head of the passage, not letting
go of me. I took her by the arms, placed her in a chair,
and closing my window curtains, sat down beside her in
the dark.

" Where will they carry her ? " she asked, shuddering,
and putting her fingers in her ears. " How the water
splashes on the beach ! Is the tide coming in ? "

She was appalled by the physical horror of death, and
asked me incessant questions.

" Let us keep her away from the grave," she said.

I could not answer, or hear her at last, for sleep over
powered me. I struggled against it in vain. It seemed
the greatest good ; let death and judgment come, I must
sleep. I threw myself on my bed, and the touch of the
pillow sealed my eyes. I started from a dream about some
thing that happened when I was a little child. " Veronica,
are you here ? "

" Mother is dead," she answered.

A mighty anguish filled my breast. Mother ! her good
ness and beauty, her pure heart, her simplicity I felt them
all. I pitied her dead, because she would never know
how I valued her. Veronica shed no tears, but sighed
heavily. Duty sounded through her sighs. " Verry, shall
/take care of you ? I think I can." She shook her head ;
but presently she stretched her hands in search of my face,
kissed it, and answered, " Perhaps."

" You must go to your own room and rest."

"Can you keep everybody from me ? "

" I will try."

Opening her window, she looked out over the earth wist
fully, and at the sky, thickly strewn with stars, which
revealed her face. We heard somebody coming up the

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Online LibraryElizabeth StoddardThe Morgesons; a novel → online text (page 19 of 24)