Elizabeth Stoddard.

The Morgesons; a novel online

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back stairs.

" Temperance," said Verry.

" Are you in the dark, girls ? " she asked, wringing her


hands, when she had put down her lamp. " What an
awful Providence ! " She looked with a painful anxiety
at Veronica.

" It is all Providence, Temperance, whether we are alive
or dead," I said. " Let us let Providence alone."

" What did I ever leave her for ? She wasn t fit to take
care of herself. Why, Cassandra Morgeson, you haven t
got off all your things yet. And what s this sticking out
of your bosom ? "

" It is her handkerchief." I kissed it, and now Verry
began to weep over it, begging me for it. I gave it up
to her.

" It will kill your father."

I had not thought of him.

" It s most nine o clock. Sofrony Beals is here ; she lays
out beautifully."

" No, no ; don t let anybody touch her ! " shrieked

" No, they shan t. Come into the kitchen ; you must
have something to eat."

I was faint from the want of food, and when Temperance
prepared us something I ate heartily. Veronica drank a
little milk, but would taste nothing. Aunt Merce, who
had been out to tea, Temperance said, came into the

" My poor girl, I have not seen you," embracing me, half
blind with crying, " How pale you are ! How sunken !
Keep up as well as you can. I little thought that the
worthless one of us two would be left to suffer. Go to
your father, as soon as possible."

" Drink this tea right down, Mercy," said Temperance,
holding a cup before her. " There isn t much to eat in the
house. Of all times in the world to be without good
victuals ! What could Hepsey have meant ?"

"Poor old soul," Aunt Merce replied, "she is quite
broken. Fanny had to help her upstairs."

The kitchen door opened, and Temperance s husband,
Abram, came in.

" Good Lord ! " she said in an irate voice, " have you
come, too ? Did you think I couldn t get home to get your

She hung the kettle on the fire again, muttering too low


for him to hear : " Some folks could be spared better than
other folks."

Abram shoved back his hat. " The Lord gives and the
Lord takes away, but she is a dreadful loss to the poor.
There s my poor boy, whose clothes "

" Aint he the beatum of all the men that ever you see ? "
broke in Temperance, taking to him a large piece of pie,
which he took with a short laugh, and sat down to eat. I
could not help exchanging a look with Aunt Merce ; we
both laughed. Veronica, lost in revery, paid no attention
to anything about her. I saw that Temperance suffered ;
she was perplexed and irritated.

" Let Abram stay, if he likes," I whispered to her; " and
be sure to stay yourself, for you are needed."

She brightened with an expression of gratitude. " He is
a nuisance," she whispered back ; "but as I made a fool of
myself, I must be punished according to my folly. " I ll
stay, you may depend. I ll do everything for you. I vow
I am mad, that I ever went away."

" Have the neighbors gone ?" I asked.

" There s a couple or so round, and will be, you know.
I ll take Verry to bed, and sleep on the floor by her. You
go to your father."

He was in their bedroom, on the bed. She was lying on
a frame of wood, covered with canvas, a kind of bed which
went from house to house in Surrey, on occasions of sick
ness or death.

"Our last night together has passed," he said in a
tremulous voice, while scanty tears fell from his seared
eyes. " The space between then and now when her arm
was round me, when she slept beside me, when I woke from
a bad dream, and she talked gently close to my face, till I
slept again is so narrow that I recall it with a sense of
reality which agonizes me ; it is so immeasurable when I
see her there there, that I am crushed."

If I had had any thought of speaking to him, it was
gone. And I must go too. Were the hands folded across
her breast, where I, also, had slept ? Were the blue eyes
closed that had watched me there ? I should never see.
A shroud covered her from all eyes but his now. Till I
closed the door upon him, I looked my last farewell. An
elderly woman met me as I was going upstairs, and offered


me a small packet ; it was her hair. " It was very long,"
she said. I tried in vain to thank her. " I will place it in
a drawer for you," she said kindly.


"PHE house was thronged till after the funeral. We sat
in state, to be condoled with and waited upon. Not a
jot of the customary rites was abated, though I am sure
the performers thereof had small encouragement. Veronica
alone would see no one ; her room was the only one not
invaded ; for the neighbors took the house into their hands,
assisted by that part of the Morgesons who were too dis
tantly related to consider themselves as mourners to be
shut up with us. It was put under rigorous funeral law,
and inspected from garret to cellar. They supervised all
the arrangements, if there were any that they did not make,
received the guests who came from a distance, and aided
their departure. Every child in Surrey was allowed to come
in, to look at the dead, with the idle curiosity of childhood.
Veronica knew nothing of this. Her course was taken for
granted ; mine was imposed upon me. I remonstrated with
Temperance, but she replied that it was all well meant, and
always done. I endured the same annoyances over and
over again, from relays of people. Bed-time especially was
their occasion. I was not allowed to undress alone. I
must have drinks, either to compose or stimulate ; I must
have something read to me ; I must be watched when I
slept, or I must be kept awake to give advice or be told
items of news. All the while, like a chorus, they reiterated
the character, the peculiarities, the virtues of the mother I
had lost, who could never be replaced who was in a better
world. However, I was, in a measure, kept from myself
during this interval. The matter is often subservient to the
manner. Arthur s feelings were played upon also. He
wept often, confiding to me his grief and his plans for the
future. " If people would die at the age of seventy-five,
things would go well," he said, " for everybody must expect
to die then ; the Bible says so." He informed me also
that he expected to be an architect, and that mother liked


it. He had an idea, which he had imparted to her, of an
arch ; it must be made of black marble, with gold veins,
and ought to stand in Egypt, with the word " Pandemo
nium " on it. The kitchen was the focus of interest to him,
for meals were prepared at all hours for comers and goers.
Temperance told me that the mild and indifferent mourners
were fond of good victuals, and she thought their hearts
were lighter than their stomachs when they went away.
She presided there and wrangled with Fanny, who seemed
to have lost her capacity for doing anything steadily, except,
as Temperance said, where father was concerned. " It s a
pity she isn t his dog ; she might keep at his feet then. I
found her crying awfully yesterday, bacause he looked so

Aunt Merce was engaged with a dressmaker, and with
the orders for bonnets and veils. She discussed the subject
of the mourning with the Morgesons. I acquiesced in all
her arrangements, for she derived a simple comfort from
these external tokens. Veronica refused to wear the bon
net and veil and the required bombazine. Bombazine made
her flesh crawl. Why should she wear it ? Mother hated
it, too, for she had never worn out the garments made for
Grand ther Warren.

"She s a bigger child than ever," Temperance remarked,
" and must have her way."

" Do you think the border on my cap is too deep ? "
asked Aunt Merce, coming into my room dressed for the


" The cap came from Miss Nye in Milford ; she says
they wear them so. I could have made it myself for half
the price. Shall you be ready soon ? I am going to put
on my bonnet. The yard is full of carriages already."

Somebody handed me gloves ; my bonnet was tied, a
handkerchief given to me, and the door opened. In the
passage I heard a knocking from Veronica s room, and
crossed to learn what she wanted.

" Is this like her ? " she asked, showing me a drawing.

" How could you have done this ? "

" Because I have tried. Is it like ? "

" Yes, the idea."

But what a picture she had attempted to make ! Mother s


shadowy face serenely looked from a high, small window,
set in clouds, like those which gather over the sun when it
" draws water." It was closely pressed to the glass, and
she was regarding dark, indefinite creatures below it, which
Veronica either could not or would not shape.

" Keep it ; but don t work on it any more." And I
put it away. She was wan and languid, but collected.

" I see you are ready. Somebody must bury the dead.
Go. Will the house be empty ? "

" Yes."

" Good ; I can walk through it once more."

" The dead must be buried, that is certain ; but why
should it be certain that / must be the one to do it ? "

" You think I can go through with it, then ?"

" I have set your behavior down to your will."

" You may be right. Perhaps mother was always right
about me too ; she was against me."

She looked at me with a timidity and apprehension that
made my heart bleed. " I think we might kiss each other
now," she said.

I opened my arms, holding her against my breast so
tightly that she drew back, but kissed my cheek gently, and
took from her pocket a flagon of salts, which she fastened
to my belt by its little chain, and said again, " Go," but re
calling me, said, " One thing more ; I will never lose temper
with you again."

The landing-stair was full of people. I locked the door,
and took out the key ; the stairs were crowded. All made
way for me with a silent respect. Aunt Merce, when she
saw me, put her hand on an empty chair, beside father, who
sat by the coffin. Those passages in the Bible which con
tain the beautifully poetic images relating to the going of
man to his long home were read, and to my ear they seemed
to fall on the coffin in dull strife with its inmate, who mutely
contradicted them. A discourse followed, which was cal
culated to harrow the feelings to the utmost. Arthur began
to cry so nervously, that some considerate friend took him
out, and Aunt Merce wept so violently that she grew faint,
and caught hold of me. I gave her the flagon of salts,
which revived her ; but I felt as father looked stern, and
anxious to escape the unprofitable trial.

As the coffin was taken out to the hearse, my heart


twisted and palpitated, as if a command had been laid upon
it to follow, and not leave her. But I was imprisoned in
the cage of Life the Keeper would not let me go ; her he
had let loose.

We were still obliged to sit an intolerable while, till all
present had passed before her for the last time. When the
hearse moved down the street, father, Arthur, and I were
called, and assisted in our own chaise, as if we were help
less ; the reins were put in father s hands, and the horse was
led behind the hearse. At last the word was given, and the
long procession began to move through the street, which was
deserted. A cat ran out of a house, and scampered across
the way ; Arthur laughed, and father jumped nervously at
the sound of his laugh.

The graveyard was a mile outside the village a sandy
plain where a few stunted pines transplanted from the
woods near it struggled to keep alive. As we turned from
the street into the lane which led to it, and rode up a little
hill where the sand was so deep that it muffled the wheels
and feet of the horses, the whole round of the gray sky was
visible. It hung low over us. I wished it to drop and blot
out the vague nothings under it. We left the carriage at
the palings and walked up the narrow path, among the
mounds, where every stone was marked " Morgeson."
Some so old that they were stained with blotches of yellow
moss, slanting backward and forward, in protest against
the folly of indicating what was no longer beneath them.
The mounds were covered with mats of scanty, tangled
grass, with here and there a rank spot of green. I was
tracing the shape of one of those green patches when I
felt father s arm tremble. I shut my eyes, but could not
close my ears to the sound of the spadeful of sand which
fell on the coffin.

It was over. We must leave her to the creatures Veron
ica had seen. I looked upward, to discern the shadowy
reflection behind the gray haze of cloud, where she might
have paused a moment on her eternal journey to the eternal
world of souls.

It was the custom, and father took his hat off to thank
his friends for their sympathy and attention. His lips
moved, but no words were audible.

The procession moved down the path again. Arthur s


hand was in mine ; he stamped his feet firmly on the sand,
as if to break the oppressive silence which no one seemed
disposed to disturb. The same ceremonies were performed
in starting us homeward, by the same person, who let go
the reins, and lifted his hat as we passed, as the final token
of attention and respect.

The windows were open ; a wind was blowing through
the house, the furniture was set in order, the doors were
thrown back, but not a soul was there when we went in.
The duties of friendship and tradition had been fulfilled ;
the neighbors had gone home to their avocations. For the
public, the tragedy was over ; all speculation on the degree
of our grief, or our indifference, was settled. We could
take off our mourning garments and our mourning coun
tenance, now that we were alone ; or we could give way to
that anguish we are afraid and ashamed to show, except
before the One above human emotion.


H^EMPERANCE stayed to the house-cleaning. It was
J[ lucky, she could not help saying, as house-cleaning
must always be after a funeral, that it should have hap
pened at the regular cleaning-time. She went back to her
own house as soon as it was over. Father drove to Milford
as usual ; Arthur resumed his school, and Aunt Merce, who
had at first busied herself in looking over her wardrobe,
and selecting from it what she thought could be dyed,
folded it away. She passed hours in mother s room, from
which father had fled, crying over her Bible, looking in her
boxes and drawers to feed her sorrow with the sight of the
familiar things, alternating those periods with her old occu
pation of looking out of the windows. In regard to myself,
and Veronica, she evinced a distress at the responsibility
which, she feared, must rest upon her. Veronica, dark and
silent, played such heart-piercing strains that father could
not bear to hear her ; so when she played, for he dared not
ask her to desist, he went away. To me she had scarcely
spoken since the funeral. She wore the same dress each
day one of black silk and a small black mantle, pinned


across her bosom. Soon the doors began to open and shut
after their old fashion, and people came and went as of old
on errands of begging or borrowing.

At the table we felt a sense of haste ; instead of linger
ing, as was our wont, we separated soon, with an indiffer
ent air, as if we were called by business, not sent away by
sorrow. But if our eyes fell on a certain chair, empty
against the wall, a cutting pang was felt, which was not at
all concealed ; for there were sudden breaks in our com
monplace talk, which diverged into wandering channels,
betraying the tension of feeling.

Many weeks passed, through which I endured an aching,
aimless melancholy. My thoughts continually drifted
through the vacuum in our atmosphere, and returned to
impress me with a disbelief in the enjoyment, or necessity
of keeping myself employed with the keys of an instrument,
which, let me strike ever so cunningly, it was certain I
could never obtain mastery over.

One day I went to walk by the shore, for the first time
since my return. When I set my foot on the ground, the
intolerable light of the brilliant day blazed through me ; I
was luminously dark, for it blinded me. Picking my way
over the beach, left bare by the tide, with my eyes fixed
downward till I could see, I reached the point between our
house and the lighthouse and turned toward the sea, in
haling its cool freshness. I climbed out to a flat, low rock,
on the point ; it was dry in the sun, and the weeds hang
ing from its sides were black and crisp ; I put my woolen
shawl on it, and stretched myself along its edge. Little
pools meshed from the sea by the numberless rocks round
me engrossed my attention. How white and pellucid was
the shallow near me no shadow but the shadow of my face
bending over it nothing to ripple its surface, but my im
perceptible breath ! By and by a bunch of knotted wrack
floated in from the outside and lodged in a crevice ; a
minute creature with fringed feet darted from it and swam
across it. After the knotted wrack came the fragment of
a green and silky substance, delicate enough to have been
the remnant of a web, woven in the palace of Circe. " There
must be a current," I thought, "which sends them here."
And I watched the inlet for other waifs ; but nothing more
came. Eye-like bubbles rose from among the fronds of the


knotted wrack, and, sailing on uncertain voyages, broke one
by one and were wrecked to nothingness. The last van
ished ; the pool showed me the motionless shadow of my
face again, on which I pondered, till I suddenly became
aware of a slow, internal oscillation, which increased till I
felt in a strange tumult. 1 put my hand in the pool and
troubled its surface.

" Hail, Cassandra ! Hail ! "

I sprang up the highest rock on the point, and looked
seaward, to catch a glimpse of the flying Spirit who had
touched me. My soul was brought in poise and quick
ened with the beauty before me ! The wide, shimmering
plain of sea its aerial blue, stretching beyond the limits of
my vision in one direction, upbearing transverse, cloud-like
islands in another, varied and shadowed by shore and sky
mingled its essence with mine.

The wind was coming ; under the far horizon the mass
of waters begun to undulate. Dark, spear-like clouds rose
above it and menaced the east. The speedy wind tossed
and teased the sea nearer and nearer, till I was surrounded
by a gulf of milky green foam. As the tide rolled in I re
treated, stepping back from rock to rock, round which the
waves curled and hissed, baffled in their attempt to climb
over me. I stopped on the verge of the tide-mark ; the
sea was seeking me and I must wait. It gave tongue as
its lips touched my feet, roaring in the caves, falling on the
level beaches with a mad, boundless joy !

" Have then at life ! " my senses cried. " We will pos
sess its longing silence, rifle its waiting beauty. We will
rise up in its light and warmth, and cry, Come, for we
wait. Its roar, its beauty, its madness we will have all."
I turned and walked swiftly homeward, treading the ridges
of white sand, the black drifts of sea-weed, as if they had
been a smooth floor.

Aunt Merce was at the door.

" Now," she said, "we are going to have the long May
storm. The gulls are flying round the lighthouse. How
high the tide is ! You must want your dinner. I wish you
would see to Fanny ; she is lording it over us all."

" Yes, yes, I will do it ; you may depend on me. I will
reign, and serve also."

" Oh, Cassandra, can you give


" I must, I suppose. Confound the spray ; it is flying
against the windows."

" Come in ; your hair is wet, and your shawl is wringing.
Now for a cold."

" I never shall have any more colds, Aunt Merce ; never
mean to have anything to myself entirely, you know."

" You do me good, you dear girl ; I love you "; and she
began to cry. " There s nothing but cold ham and boiled
rice for your dinner."

" What time is it ? "

" Near three."

I opened the door of the dining-room ; the table was
laid, and I walked round it, on a tour of inspection.

" I thought you might as well have your dinner, all at
once," said Fanny, by the window, with her feet tucked up
on the rounds of her chair. " Here it is."

" I perceive. Who arranged it ? "

" Me and Paddy Margaret."

" How many tablecloths have we ? "

" Plenty. I thought as you didn t seem to care about
any regular hour for dinner, and made us all wait, /needn t
be particular ; besides, I am not the waiter, you know."

She had set on the dishes used in the kitchen. I pulled
off cloth and all the dishes crashed, of course and sat
down on the floor, picking out the remains for my repast.

" What will Mr. Morgeson say ? " she asked, turning
very red.

" Shall you clear away this rubbish by the time he comes
home ? "

" Why, I must, mustn t I ? "

" I hope so. Where s Veronica ? "

" She has been gone since twelve ; Sam carried her to
Temperance s house."

I continued my meal. Fanny brought a chair for me,
which I did not take. I scarcely tasted what I ate. A
wall had risen up suddenly before me, which divided me
from my dreams ; I was inside it, on a prosaic domain I
must henceforth be confined to. The unthought-of result
of mother s death disorganization, began to show itself.
The individuality which had kept the weakness and faults
of our family life in abeyance must have been powerful ;
and I had never recognized it ! I attempted to analyze


this influence, so strong, yet so invisibly produced. I
thought of her mildness, her dreamy habits, her indifference,
and her incapacity of comprehending natures unlike her
own. Would endowment of character explain it that fac
ulty which we could not change, give, or take ? Character
was a mysterious and indestructible fact, and a fact that I
had had little respect for. Upon what a false basis I had
gone a basis of extremes. I had seen men as trees walk
ing ; that was my experience.

" You ll choke yourself with that dry bread," exclaimed
Fanny, really concerned at my abstraction.

" Where is my trunk ? Did you unlock it ? "

" I took from it what you needed at the time : but it is
not unpacked, and it is in the upper hall closet."

She was picking up the broken delf meekly.

" Did you see a small bag I brought ? And where s my
satchel ? Good heavens ! What has made me put off that
letter so ? For I have thought of it, and yet I have kept it

" It is safe, in your closet, Miss Cassandra ; and the box
is there."

" Aunt Merce," I called, " will you have nothing to eat ?"

She laughed hysterically, when she saw what I had done.

" Where is Hepsey, Aunt Merce ?"

" She goes to bed after dinner, you know, for an hour or

" She must go from here."

" Oh ! " they both chorused, " what for ? "

" She is too old."

" She has money, and a good house," said Aunt Merce,
" if she must go. I wonder how Mary stood it so long."

* Turn em off," said Fanny, " when they grow useless."

Aunt Merce reddened, and looked hurt.

" I shall keepjwy look sharp now after your own disin

I wanted to go to my room, as I thought it time to ar
range my trunks and boxes ; besides, I needed rest the
sad luxury of reaction. But word was brought to the house
that Arthur had disappeared, in company with two boys
notorious for mischief. His teacher was afraid they might
have put out to sea in a crazy sailboat. We were in a state
of alarm till dark, when father came home, bringing him,


having found him on the way to Milford. Veronica had
not returned. It stormed violently, and father was vexed
because a horse must be sent through the storm for her.
At last I obtained the asylum of my room, in an irritable
frame of mind, convinced that such would be my condition
each day. Composure came with putting my drawers and
shelves in order. The box with Desmond s flowers I threw
into the fire, without opening it, ribbon and all, for I could
not endure the sight of them. I unfolded the dresses I had
worn on the occasions of my meeting him ; even the collars
and ribbons I had adorned myself with were conned with
jealous, greedy eyes ; in looking at them all other remem
brances connected with my visit vanished. The handker
chief scented with violets, which I found in the pocket of
the dress I had worn when I met him at Mrs. Hepburn s,
made me childish. I was holding it when Veronica entered,
bringing with her an atmosphere of dampness.

" Violet ! I like it. There is not one blooming yet,
Temperance says. Why are they so late ? There s only
this pitiful snake-grass," holding up a bunch of drooping,

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Online LibraryElizabeth StoddardThe Morgesons; a novel → online text (page 20 of 24)