Elizabeth Stoddard.

The Morgesons; a novel online

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and made a dust. When Mrs. Desire detected me she
turned white with anger. I pushed it again, making so much
noise that the visitors turned to see the cause. She shook
her head in my direction, and I knew what was in store,
as we had been at enmity a long time, and she only waited
for a decisive piece of mischief on my part. As soon as
the visitors had gone, she said in a loud voice : " Cassan
dra Morgeson, take your books and go home. You shall
not come here another day."

I was glad to go, and marched home with the air of a
conqueror, going to the keeping-room where mother sat
with a basket of sewing. I saw Temperance Tinkham, the
help, a maiden of thirty, laying the table for supper.


" Don t wrinkle the tablecloth," she said crossly ; " and
hang up your bonnet in the entry, where it belongs," taking
it from me as she gave the order, and going out to hang it
up herself.

" I am turned out of school, mother, for pushing a board
with my foot." ,

" Hi," said father, who was waiting for his supper ; " come *
here," and he whistled to me. He took me on his knee,
while mother looked at me with doubt and sorrow.

" She is almost a woman, Mary."

" Locke, do you know that I am thirty-eight ?"

" And you are thirty-three, father," I exclaimed. He
looked younger. I thought him handsome ; he had a frank, v/
firm face, an abundance of light, curly hair, and was very
robust. I took off his white beaver hat, and pushed the
curls away from his forehead. He had his riding-whip in
his hand. I took that, too, and snapped it at our little dog,
Kip. Father s clothes also pleased me a lavender-colored
coat, with brass buttons, and trousers of the same color. I
mentally composed for myself a suit to match his, and
thought how well we should look calling at Lady Teazle s
house in London, only I was worried because my bonnet
seemed to be too large for me. A loud crash in the kitchen
disturbed my dream, and Temperance rushed in, dragging
my sister Veronica, whose hair was streaming with milk ; \/
she had pulled a panful over her from the buttery shelf,
while Temperance was taking up the supper. Father
laughed, but mother said :

" What have I done, to be so tormented by these terrible
children ?"

Her mild blue eyes blazed, as she stamped her foot and
clenched her hands. Father took his hat and left the room.
Veronica sat down on the floor, with her eyes fixed upon
her, and I leaned against the wall. It was a gust that I
knew would soon blow over. Veronica knew it also. At
the right moment she cried out : " Help Verry, she is

" Do eat your supper," Temperance called out in a loud
voice. " The hash is burnt to flinders."

She remained in the room to comment on our appetites,
and encourage Veronica, who was never hungry, to eat.

Veronica was an elfish creature, nine years old, diminu- J


tive and pale. Her long, silky brown hair, which was as
straight as an Indian s, like mother s, and which she tore
out when angry, usually covered her face, and her wild
eyes looked wilder still peeping through it. She was too
/ strange-looking for ordinary people to call her pretty, and
so odd in her behavior, so full of tricks, that I did not
love her. She was a silent child, and liked to be alone.
But whoever had the charge of her must be watchful.
She tasted everything, and burnt everything, within her
reach. A blazing fire was too strong a temptation to be re
sisted. The disappearance of all loose articles was ascribed
to her ; but nothing was said about it, for punishment
made her more impish and daring in her pursuits. She had
a habit of frightening us by hiding, and appearing from
places where no one had thought of looking for her. Peo
ple shook their heads when they observed her. The Mor-
^ gesons smiled significantly when she was spoken of, and
asked :

" Do you think she is like her mother ?"

There was a conflict in mother s mind respecting Ver-
J onica. She did not love her as she loved me ; but strove
the harder to fulfill her duty. When Verry suffered
long and mysterious illnesses, which made her helpless for
weeks, she watched her day and night, but rarely caressed
her. At other times Verry was left pretty much to her
self and her ways, which were so separate from mine that
I scarcely saw her. We grew up ignorant of each other s
character, though Verry knew me better than I knew her ;
* in time I discovered that she had closely observed me,
when I was most unaware.

We began to prosper about this time.

" Old Locke Morgeson had a long head," people said,
when they talked of our affairs. Father profited by his
grandfather s plans, and his means, too ; less visionary, he
had modified and brought out practically many of his pro
jections. Old Locke had left little to his son John Morge
son, in the belief that father was the man to carry out his
ideas. Besides money, he left him a tract of ground run
ning north and south, a few rods beyond the old house, and
desired him to build upon it. This he was now doing, and
we expected to move into our new house before autumn.

All the Morgesons wished to put money in a company,


as soon as father could prove that it would be profit
able. They were ready to own shares in the ships which
he expected to build, when it was certain that they would
make lucky voyages. He declined their offers, but they
all " knuckled " to the man who had been bold enough to
break the life-long stagnation of Surrey, and approved his
plans as they matured. His mind was filled with the hope
of creating a great business which should improve Surrey.
New streets had been cut through his property and that of
grandfather, who, narrow as he was, could not resist the
popular spirit ; lots had been laid out, and cottages had
gone up upon them. To matters of minor importance father
gave little heed ; his domestic life was fast becoming a
habit. The constant enlargement of his schemes was
already a necessary stimulant.

I did not go back to Mrs. Desire s school. Mother said
that I must be useful at home. She sent me to Temperance,
and Temperance sent me to play, or told me to go "a
visitin ." I did not care to visit, for in consequence of
being turned out of school, which was considered an indel
ible disgrace and long remembered, my schoolmates re
garded me in the light of a Pariah, and put on insufferably
superior airs when they saw me. So, like Veronica, I
amused myself, and passed days on the sea-shore, or in the
fields and woods, mother keeping me in long enough to
make a square of patchwork each day and to hear her read
a Psalm a duty which I bore with patience, by guessing
when the "Selahs" would come in, and counting them.
But wherever I was, or whatever I did, no feeling of beauty
ever stole into my mind. I never turned my face up to the
sky to watch the passing of a cloud, or mused before the
undulating space of sea, or looked down upon the earth
with the curiosity of thought, or spiritual aspiration. I was
moved and governed by my sensations, which continually
changed, and passed away to come again, and deposit
vague ideas which ignorantly haunted me. The literal
images of all things which I saw were impressed on my
shapeless mind, to be reproduced afterward by faculties
then latent. But what satisfaction was that? Doubtless
the ideal faculty was active in Veronica from the beginning ;
in me it was developed by the experience of years. No
remembrance of any ideal condition comes with the remem-


brance of my childish days, and I conclude that my mind,
if I had any, existed in so rudimental a state that it had
little influence upon my character.


ONE afternoon in the following July, tired of walking in
the mown fields, and of carrying a nest of mice, which
I had discovered under a hay-rick, I concluded I would
begin a system of education with them ; so arranging them
on a grape-leaf, I started homeward. Going in by the
kitchen, I saw Temperance wiping the dust from the best
china, which elated me, for it was a sign that we were going
to have company to tea.

" You evil child," she said, " where have you been ? Your
mother has wanted you these hours, to dress you in your
red French calico with wings to it. Some of the members
are coming to tea ; Miss Seneth Jellatt, and she that was
Clarissa Tripp, Snow now, and Miss Sophrony G. Dexter,
and more besides."

I put my mice in a basket, and begged Temperance to
allow me to finish wiping the china ; she consented, adjur
ing me not to let it fall. " Mis Morgeson would die if any
of it should be broken." I adored it, too. Each piece
had a peach, or pear, or a bunch of cherries painted on it,
in lustrous brown. The handles were like gold cords, and
the covers had knobs of gilt grapes.

" What preserves are you going to put on the table ? " I

" Them West Ingy things Capen Curtis s son brought
home, and quartered quince, though I expect Mis Dexter
will remark that the surup is ropy."

" I wish you wouldn t have cheese."

" We must have cheese," she said solemnly. " I expect
they ll drink our green tea till they make bladders of them
selves, it is so good. Your father is a first-rate man ; he is
an excellent provider, and any woman ought to be proud
of him, for he does buy number one in provisions."

I looked at her with admiration and respect.

" Capen Curtis," she continued, pursuing a train of


thought which the preserves had started, " will never come
home, I guess. He has been in furen parts forever and a
day ; his wife has looked for him, a-twirling her thumb and
fingers, every day for ten years. I heard your mother had
engaged her to go in the new house ; she ll take the upper
hand of us all. Your grandfather. Mr. Johji_j>lorgeso_n. is
willing to part with her 7 :; tired of her, I spose~ 1-Jhe has
been housekeeping there, off and on, these thirty years.
She s fifty, if she is a day, is Hepsy Curtis."

" Is she as stingy as you are ? " I asked.

" You ll find out for yourself, Miss. I rather think you
won t be allowed to crumble over the buttery shelves."

I finished the cup, and was watching her while she grated
loaf-sugar over a pile of doughnuts, when mother entered,
and begged me to come upstairs with her to be dressed.

"Where is Verry, mother?"

"In the parlor, with a lemon in one hand and Robinson
Crusoe in the other. She will be good, she says. Gassy,
you won t teaze me to-day, will you?"

" No, indeed, mother," and clapping my hands, " I like
you too well."

She laughed.

" These Morgesons beat the dogs," I heard Temperance
say, as we shut the door and went upstairs.

I skipped over the shiny, lead-colored floor of the chamber
in my stockings, while mother was taking from the bureau
a clean suit for me, and singing "Bonny Doon," with the
sweetest voice in the world. She soon arrayed me in my
red calico dress, spotted with yellow stars. I was proud of
its buckram undersleeves, though they scratched my arms,
and admired its wings, which extended over the protecting

" It is three o clock ; the company will come soon. Be
careful of your dress. You must stand by me at the table
to hand the cups of tea."

She left me standing in a chair, so that I might see my
pantalettes in the high-hung glass, and the effect of my
balloon-like sleeves. Then I went back to the kitchen
to show myself to Temperance, and to enjoy the progress
of tea.

The table was laid in the long keeping-room adjoining
the kitchen, covered with a striped cloth of crimson and


blue, smooth as satin to the touch. Temperance had turned
the plates upside-down around the table, and placed in a
straight line through the middle a row of edibles. She was
going to have waffles, she said, and shortcake ; they were
all ready to bake, and she wished to the Lord they would
come and have it over with. With the silver sugar-tongs I
slyly nipped lumps of sugar for my private eating, and sur
veyed my features in the distorting mirror of the pot-bellied
silver teapot, ordinarily laid up in flannel. When the com
pany had arrived, Temperance advised me to go in the

" Sit down, when you get there, and show less," she said.
I went in softly, and stood behind mother s chair, slightly
abashed for a moment in the presence of the party some
eight or ten ladies, dressed in black levantine, or cinna
mon-colored silks, who were seated in rocking-chairs, ail
the rocking-chairs in the house having been carried to the .,
parlor for the occasion. They were knitting, and every *
one had a square velvet workbag. Most of them wore
lace caps, trimmed with white satin ribbon. They were
larger, more rotund, and older than mother, whose appear- v
ance struck me by contrast. Perhaps it was the first time
I observed her dress; her face I must have studied before,
for I knew all her moods by it. Her long, lusterless, brown
hair was twisted around a high-topped tortoise-shell comb ;
it was so heavy and so carelessly twisted that the comb
started backward, threatening to fall out. She had minute
rings of filigreed gold in her ears. Her dress was a gray
pongee, simply made and short ; I could see her round-toed
morocco shoes, tied with black ribbon. She usually took
out her shoestrings, not liking the trouble of tying them.
A ruffle of fine lace fell around her throat, and the sleeves
of her short-waisted dress were puffed at the shoulders.
Her small white hands were folded in her lap, for she was
idle ; on the little finger of her left hand twinkled a bril
liant garnet ring, set with diamonds. Her face was color
less, the forehead extremely low, the nose and mouth
finely cut, the eyes of heavenly blue. Although youth had
gone, she was beautiful, with an indescribable air of indi
viduality. She influenced all who were near her ; her at
mosphere enveloped them. She was not aware of it, being
too indifferent to the world to observe what effect she had


in it, and only realized that she was to herself a self-tor
mentor. Whether she attracted or repelled, the power was
the same. I make no attempt to analyze her character.
I describe her as she appeared, and as my memory now
holds her. I never understood her, and for that reason she
attracted my attention. I felt puzzled now, she seemed so
different from anybody else. My observation was next .
drawn to Veronica, who, entirely at home, walked up and *
down the room in a blue cambric dress. She was twisting
in her fingers a fine gold chain, which hung from her neck.
I caught her cunning glance as she flourished some tansy
leaves before her face, imitating Mrs. Dexter to the life.
I laughed, and she came to me.

" See," she said softly, " I have something from heaven."
She lifted her white apron, and I saw under it, pinned to
her dress, a splendid black butterfly, spotted with red and

"It is mine," she said, "you shall not touch it. God
blew it in through the window ; but it has not breathed

" Pooh ; I have three mice in the kitchen."

" Where is the mother ? "

" In the hayrick, I suppose, I left it there."

" I hate you," she said, in an enraged voice. " I would
strike you, if it wasn t for this holy butterfly."

"Cassandra," said Mrs. Dexter, "does look like her pa ;
the likeness is ex-tri-ordinary. They say my William re
sembles me ; but parients are no judges."

A faint murmur rose from the knitters, which signified
agreement with her remark.

"I do think," she continued, "that it is high time Dr.
Snell had a colleague ; he has outlived his usefulness. I
never could say that I thought he was the right kind of man
for our congregation ; his principalls as a man I have nothing
to say against ; but why don t we have revivals ?"

When Mrs. Dexter wished to be elegant she stepped out
of the vernacular. She was about to speak again when the
whole party broke into a loud talk on the subject she had
started, not observing Temperance, who appeared at the
door, and beckoned to mother. I followed her out.

" The members are goin it, aint they ? " she said. " Do see
if things are about right, Mis Morgeson." Mother made a


few deviations from the straight lines in which Temperance
had ranged the viands, and told her to put the tea on the
tray, and the chairs round the table.

" There s no place for Mr. Morgeson," observed Tem

" He is in Milford," mother replied.

" The brethren wont come, I spose, till after dark?"

" I suppose not."

" Glad to get rid of their wives clack, I guess."

From the silence which followed mother s return to the
parlor, I concluded they were performing the ancient cere
mony of waiting for some one to go through the doorway
first. They came at last with an air of indifference, as if
the idea of eating had not yet occurred, and delayed taking
seats till mother urged it ; then they drew up to the table,
hastily, turned the plates right-side up, spread large silk
handkerchiefs over their laps, and, with their eyes fixed on
space, preserved a dead silence, which was only broken by
mother s inquiries about their taste in milk or sugar. Tem
perance came in with plates of waffles and buttered short
cake, which she offered with a cut and thrust air, saying, as
she did so, " I expect you can t eat them ; I know they are

Everybody, however, accepted both. She then handed
round the preserves, and went out to bake more waffles.

By this time the cups had circled the table, but no one
had tasted a morsel.

" Do help yourselves," mother entreated, whereat they
fell upon the waffles.

"Temperance is as good a cook as ever," said one ; "she
is a prize, isn t she, Mis Morgeson ? "

" She is faithful and industrious," mother replied.

All began at once on the subject of help, and were as sud
denly quenched by the reappearance of Temperance, with
fresh waffles, and a dish of apple-fritters.

" Do eat these if you can, ladies ; the apples are only
russets, and they are kinder dead for flavoring. I see you
don t eat a mite ; I expected you could not ; it s poor trash."
And she passed the cake along, everybody taking a piece
of each kind.

After drinking a good many cups of tea, and praising it,
their asceticism gave way to its social effect, and they began


to gossip, ridiculing their neighbors, and occasionally launch- ,
ing innuendoes against their absent lords. It is well known **
that when women meet together they do not discuss their
rights, but take them, in revealing the little weaknesses
and peculiarities of their husbands. The worst wife-driver
would be confounded at the air of easy superiority assumed
on these occasions by the meekest and most unsuspicious
of her sex. Insinuations of So and So s not being any bet
ter than she should be passed from mouth to mouth, with a
glance at me ; and I heard the proverb of " Little pitchers,"
when mother rose suddenly from the table, and led the way
to the parlor.

" Where is Veronica ? " asked Temperance, who was
piling the debris of the feast. " She has been in mischief,
I ll warrant ; find her, Cassandra."

She was upstairs putting away her butterfly, in the leaves of
her little Bible. She came down with me, and Temperance
coaxed her to eat her supper, by vowing that she should be
sick abed, unless she liked her fritters and waffles. I thought
of my mice, while making a desultory meal standing, and
went to look at them ; they were gone. Wondering if
Temperance had thrown the creatures away, I remembered
that I had been foolish enough to tell Veronica, and rushed
back to her. When she saw me, she raised a saucer to her
face, pretending to drink from it.

Verry, where are the mice ? "

Are they gone ? "

Tell me."

What will you do if I don t ? "

I know," and I flew upstairs, tore the poor butterfly
from between the leaves of the Bible, crushed it in my hand,
and brought it down to her. She did not cry when she saw
it, but choked a little, and turned away her head.

It was now dark, and hearing a bustle in the entry I
looked out, and saw several staid men slowly rubbing their
feet on the door-mat ; the husbands had come to escort
their wives home, and by nine o clock they all went. Ve
ronica and I stayed by the door after they had gone.

" Look at Mrs. Dexter," she said ; " I put the mice in
her workbag."

I burst into a laugh, which she joined in presently.

" I am sorry about the butterfly, Verry." And I at-



tempted to take her hand, but she pushed me away, and
marched off whistling.

A few days after this, sitting near the window at twilight,
intent upon a picture in a book of travels, of a Hindoo
swinging from a high pole with hooks in his flesh, and try
ing to imagine how much it hurt him, my attention was ar
rested by a mention of my name in a conversation held
between mother and Mr. Park, one of the neighbors. He
occasionally spent an evening at our house, passing it in
polemical discussion, revising the prayers and exhortations
which he made at conference meetings. The good man
was a little vain of having the formulas of his creed at his
tongue s end. She sometimes lot thse thread of his dis
course, but argued also as if to convince herself that she
could rightly distinguish between Truth and Illusion, but
never discussed religious topics with father. Like all the
Morgesons, he was Orthodox, accepting what had been pro
vided by others for his spiritual accommodation. He
thought it well that existing Institutions should not be dis
turbed. " Something worse might be established instead."
His turn of mind, in short, was not Evangelical.

"Are the Hindoos in earnest, mother?" and I thrust the
picture before her. She warned me off.

" Do you think, Mr. Park, that Cassandra can understand
the law of transgression ? "

An acute perception that it was in my power to escape a
moral penalty, by willful ignorance, was revealed to me, that
I could continue the privilege of sinning with impunity.
His answer was complicated, and he quoted several pas
sages from the Scriptures. Presently he began to sing, and
I grew lonesome ; the life within me seemed a black cave.

" Our nature s totally depraved

The heart a sink of sin ;
Without a change we can t be saved,
Ye must be born again."

Temperance opened the door. "Is Veronica going to
bed to-night ? " she asked.



HHHE next September we moved. Our new house was
large and handsome. On the south side there was
nothing between it and the sea, except a few feet of
sand. No tree or shrub intercepted the view. To the
eastward a promontory of rocks jutted into the sea, serving
as a pier against the wash of the tide, and adding a pictur-
esqueness to the curve of the beach. On the north side
flourished an orchard, which was planted by Grandfather
Locke. Looking over the tree-tops from the upper north
windows, one would have had no suspicion of being in the
neighborhood of the sea. From these windows, in winter,
we saw the nimbus of the Northern Light. The darkness of
our sky, the stillness of the night, mysteriously reflected the
perpetual condition of its own solitary world. In summer
ragged white clouds rose above the horizon, as if they had
been torn from the sky of an underworld, to sail up the blue
heaven, languish away, or turn livid with thunder, and roll
off seaward. Between the orchard and the house a lawn
sloped easterly to the border of a brook, which straggled
behind the outhouses into a meadow, and finally lost itself
among the rocks on the shore. Up by the lawn a willow
hung over it, and its outer bank was fringed by the tangled
wild-grape, sweet-briar, and alder bushes. The premises,
except on the seaside, were enclosed by a high wall of
rough granite. No houses were near us, on either side of
the shore ; up the north road they were scattered at in

Mothersaid I must be considered a young lady, and should
have my own room. Veronica was to have one opposite,
divided from it by a wide passage. This passage extended
beyond the angle of the stairway, and was cut off by a
glass door. A wall ran across the lower end of the pas
sage ; half the house was beyond its other side, so that
when the door was fastened, Veronica and myself were in
a cul-de-sac.

The establishment was put on a larger footing. Mrs.
Hepsey Curtis was installed mistress of the kitchen. Tem
perance declared that she could not stand it ; that she
wasn t a nigger ; that she must go, but she had no home,


and no friends nothing but a wood lot, which was left her

Online LibraryElizabeth StoddardThe Morgesons; a novel → online text (page 2 of 24)