Elizabeth Stoddard.

The Morgesons; a novel online

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pale blossoms.

" Oh, Verry, can you forgive me ? I did not forget these,
but I felt the strangest disinclination to look them up."
And I gave her the jewel box and letter.

She seized them, and opened the box first.

" Child-Verry."

"I never was a child, you know ; but I am always trying
to find my childhood."

She took a necklace from the box, composed of a single
string of small, beautiful pearls, from which hung an egg-
shaped amethyst of pure violet. She fastened the necklace
round her throat.

" It is as lucent as the moon," she said, looking down at
the amethyst, which shed a watery light ; " I wish you had
given it to me before."

Breaking the seal of the letter, with a twist of her mouth
at the coat-of-arms impressed upon it, she shook out the
closely written pages, and saying, " There is a volume,"
began reading. " It is very good," she observed at the end
of the first page, " a regular composition," and went on with
an air of increasing interest. " How does he look ? " she
asked, stopping again.


"As if he longed to see you."

Her eyes went in quest of him so far that I thought they
must be startled by a sudden vision.

" How did you find his family ? "

" Not like him much."

" I knew that ; he would not have loved me so suddenly
had I not been wholly unlike any woman he had known."

" His character is individual."

" I should know that from his influence upon you."

She looked at me wistfully, smoothed my hair with her
cool hand, and resumed the letter.

" He thinks he will not come to Surrey with you ; asks
me to tell him my wishes," she repeated rapidly, translating
from the original. " What do I think of our future ? How
shall we propose any change ? Will Cassandra describe
her visit ? Will she tell me that he thinks of going abroad ? "

She dropped the letter. " What pivot is he swinging on?
What is he uncertain about ? "

" There must be more to read."

She turned another page.

" If I go to Switzerland (I think of going on account of
family affairs), when shall I return ? My family, of course,
expected me to marry in their pale ; that is, my mother
rather prefers to select a wife for me than that I should do
it. But, as you shall never come to Belem, her plans or
wishes need make no difference to us. If Cassandra would
be to us what she might, how things would clear ! Don t
you think, my love, that there should be the greatest sym
pathy between sisters ? "

I laughed.

Verry said she did not like his letter much after all. He
evidently thought her incapable of understanding ordinary
matters. It was well, though ; it made their love idyllic.

" Let us speak of matters nearer home."

" Let us go to my room ; the storm is so loud this side of
the house."

" No ; you must stay till the walls tremble. Have you
seen, Verry, any work for me to do here ? "

" Everything is changed. I have tried to be as steady as
when mother was here, but I cannot ; I whirl with a vague
idea of liberty. Did she keep the family conscience ? Now
that she has gone I feel responsible no more."


" An idea of responsibility has come to me what plain
people call Duty."

" I do not feel it," she cried mournfully. " I must yield
to you then. You can be good.

" I must act so ; but help me, Verry ; I have contrary

" What do they find to feed on ? What are they ? Have
you your evil spirit ? "

" Yes ; a devil named Temperament."

" Now teach me, Cassandra."

" Not I. Go, and write Ben. Make excuses for my neg
ligence toward you about his letter. Tell him to come. I
shall write Alice and Helen this evening. We have been
shut off from the world by the gate of Death ; but we must
come back."

"One thing you may be sure of though I shall be no
help, I shall never annoy you. I know that my instincts
are fine only in a self-centering direction ; yours are differ
ent. I shall trust them. Since you have spoken, I per
ceive the shadows you have raised and must encounter. I
retreat before them, admiring your discernment, and plac
ing confidence in your powers. You convince if you
do not win me. Who can guess how your every plan
and hope of well-doing may be thwarted ? I need say no
more ?"

" Nothing more."

She left the room. There would be no antagonism be
tween us ; but there would be pain on one side. The
distance which had kept us apart was shortened, but not
annihilated. What could I expect ? The silent and serene
currents which flow from souls like Veronica s and Ben s,
whose genius is not of the heart, refuse to enter a nature so
turbulent as mine. But my destiny must be changed by
such ! It was taken for granted that my own spirit should
not rule me. And with what reward ? Any, but that of
sympathy. But I muttered :

" I dimly see

My far-off doubtful purpose, as a mother
Conjectures of the features of her child
Ere it is born. "

The house trembled in the fury of the storm. The waves


were hoarse with their vain bawling, and the wind shrieked
at every crevice of chimney, door, and window. No answer
ing excitement in me now ! I had grown older.


A FEW days after, I went to Milford with father, to make
some purchases. I sought a way to speak to him about
the future, intending also to go on with various remarks ;.
but it seemed difficult to begin. Observing him, as he con
templated the road before us, grave and abstracted, I
recollected the difference between his age and mother s, and
wondered at my blindness, while I compared the old man
of my childhood, who existed for the express purpose of
making money for the support and pleasure of his family,
and to accommodate all its whims, with the man before
me, barely forty-eight, without a wrinkle in his firm, ruddy
face, and only an occasional white hair, in ambuscade among
his fair, curly locks. My exclusive right over him I felt
doubtful about. I gave my attention to the road also, and
remarked that I thought the season was late.

" Yes. Why didn t Somers come home with you ? "

" I hardly know. The matter of the marriage was not
settled, nor a plan of spending a summer abroad."

" Will it suit him to vegetate in Surrey ? Veronica will
not leave home."

" He has no ambition."

" It is a curse to inherit money in this country. Mr.
Somers writes that Ben will have three thousand a year ; but
that the disposal, at present, is not in his power."

I explained as well as I could the Pickersgill property.

" I see how it is. The children are waiting for the princi
pal, and have exacted the income ; and their lives have been
warped for this reason. Ben has not begun life yet. But I
like Somers exceedingly."

" He is the best of them, his mother the worst."

" Did you have a passage ? "

" She attempted."

" I can give Veronica nothing beyond new clothes or
furniture ; whatever she likes that way. To draw money


from my business is impossible. My business fluctuates
like quicksilver, and it is enormously extended. If they
should have two thousand a year, it would be a princely
income ; I should feel so now, if they had it clear of

" Do you mean to say that your income does not amount
to so much ? "

" My outgoes and incomes have for a long time been in
volved with each other. I do not separate them. I have
never lived extravagantly. My luxury has been in doing
too much."

A cold feeling came over me.

" By the way, Mr. Somers pays you compliments in his
note. How old are you ? I forget." He surveyed me with
a doubtful look. Are you thin, or what is it ? "

" East wind, I guess. I am twenty-five."

" And Veronica ?"

" Over twenty."

" She must be married. I hope she will cut her practical
eye-teeth then, for Somers s sake."

" He does not require a practically minded woman."

" What do men require ! "

" They require the souls and bodies of women, without
having the trouble of knowing the difference between the
one and other."

" So bad as that ? Whoa ! "

He stopped to pay toll, and the conversation stopped.

On the way home, however, I found a place to begin my
proposed talk, and burst out with, " I think Hepsey should
leave us."

" What ails Hepsey ? "

" She is so old, and is such a poke."

" You must tell her yourself to go. She has money
enough to be comfortable ; I have some of it, as well as that
of half the widows, old maids, and sailors wives in Surrey,*
being better than the Milford banks, they think."

I felt another cold twinge.

" What ! are our servants your creditors?"

" Servants don t say that," he said harshly ; "we do not
have these distinctions here."

" It costs you more than two thousand a year."

" How do you know ? "


" Think of the hired people the horses, the cows, pigs,
hens, garden, fields all costing more than they yield."

" What has come over you ? Did you ever think of money
before ? Tell me, have you ever been in our cellar ? "

"Yes, to look at the kittens."

" In the store-room? "

" For apples and sweetmeats."

" Look into these matters, if you like ; they never troubled
your mother, at least I never knew that they did ; but don t
make your reforms tiresome."

What encouragement !

In the yard we saw Fanny contemplating a brood of hens,
which were picking up corn before her. " Take Fanny for
a coadjutor ; she is eighteen, and a bright girl." She sprang
to the chaise, and caught the reins, which he threw into her
hands, unbuckled the girth, and, before I was out of sight,
was leading the horse to water.

" We might economize in the way of a stable-boy," I said.

" Pooh ! you are not indulgent. Here," whistling to
Fanny, " let Sam do that." She pouted her lips at him, and
he laughed.

Aunt Merce gave me a letter the moment I entered. " It
is in Alice s hand ; sit down and read it."

She took her handkerchief and a bit of flagroot from her
pocket, to be ready for the sympathetic flow which she ex
pected. But the letter was short. She had seen, it said,
the announcement of mother s death in a newspaper at the
time. She knew what a change it had made. We might
be sure that we should never find our old level, however
happy and forgetful we might grow. She bore us all in mind
but sent no message, except to Aunt Merce ; she must come
to Rosville before summer was over. And could she assist
me by taking Arthur for a while ? Edward was a quiet,
companionable lad, and Arthur would be safe with him at
home and at school.

" I wish you would go, Aunt Merce."

" Yes, why not, Mercy ? " asked father. " Would it be a
good thing for Arthur, Cassandra ? You know what Sur
rey is for a boy."

" I know what Rosville was for a girl," I thought. It was
an excellent plan for Arthur ; but a feeling of repulsion at
the idea of his going kept me silent.


" Is It a good idea ? " he repeated.

" Yes, yes, father ; send him by all means."

Aunt Merce sighed. " If he goes, I must go ; I can be
the receptacle for his griefs and trials for a while at least,
and be a little useful that way. You know, Locke, I am
but a poor creature."

" I was not aware of that fact, and am astonished to hear
you say so, Mercy, when you know how far back I can re
member. Mary shines all along those years, and you with

" Locke, you are the kindest man in the world."

" He feels fifty years younger than she appears to him,"
I thought ; but I thanked him for his consideration for her.

" Veronica has had a letter to-day from Mr. Somers
What did you buy in Milford ?"

" Mr. Morgeson," Fanny called, " Bumpus, the horse-
jockey, is in the yard. He says Bill is spavined. I think
he lies ; he wants to trade."

He went out with her.

" Aunt Merce, let us be more together. What do you
think of spending our evenings in the parlor?"

Do you expect to break up our habits ? "

I would if I could."

Try Veronica."

I have."

Will she give up solitude ? "

Bring your knitting to the parlor and see."

Veronica came in to tell me that Ben was coming in a

" Glad of it."

" Sends love to you."

" Obliged."

" Calls me poor girl ; speaks beautifully of his remem
brance of mother, and "


" Tells me to rely on your faithful soul ; to trust in the
reasonable hope of our remaining together; to try to establish
an equality of tastes and habits between us. He tells me
what I never knew, that I need you that we need each

"Is that all?"

" There is more for me"


I left her. Closing the door of my room gently, I thought:
" Ben is a good man ; but for all that, I feel like blind
Sampson just now. Could I lay my hands on the pillars
which supported the temple he has built, I would wrench
them from their foundation and surprise him by toppling
the roof on his head."

His arrival was delayed for a few days. When he came
Surrey looked its best, for it was June ; and though the
winds were chilly, the grass was grown and the orchard
leaves were crowding off the blossoms. The woods were
vividly green. The fauns were playing there, and the sirens
sang under the sea. But I had other thoughts ; the fauns
and sirens were not for me, perplexed as I was with house
hold cares. Hepsey proposed staying another year, but I
was firm ; and she went, begging Fanny to go with her and
be as a daughter. She declined ; but the proposition in
fluenced her to be troublesome to me. She told me she
was of age now, and that no person had a right to control
her. At present she was useful where she was, and might

" Will you have wages ? " I asked her.

" That is Mr. Morgeson s business."

My anger would have pleased her, so I concealed it.

"Your ability, Fanny, is better than your disposition.
Me, you do not suit at all ; but it is certain that father
depends on you for his small comforts, and Veronica likes
you. I wish you would stay."

She placed her arms akimbo.

" I should like to find you out, exactly. I can t. I never
could find out your mother ; all the rest of you are as clear
as daylight." And she snapped her fingers as if the rest
were between them.

" You lack faith."

" You believe that this is a beautiful world, don t you ?
I hate it. I should think you had reason, too, for hating it.
Pray what have you got ? "

" An ungrateful imp that was bequeathed to me."

She saw father in the garden beckoning me. " He wants
you. I do not hate the world always," she added, with her
eyes fixed on him.

I was disposed to trouble the still waters of our domestic
life with theories. Our ways were too mechanical. The


cld-fashioned asceticism which considered air, sleep, food,
as mere necessities was stupid. But I had no assistance ;
Veronica thought that her share of my plans must consist
of a diligent notice of all that I did, which she gave, and
then went to her own life, kept sacredly apart. Fanny
laughed in her sleeve and took another side the practical,
and shone in it, becoming in fact the true manager and
worker, while I played. Aunt Merce was helpless. She
neglected her former cares ; and father was, what he always
had been at home, heedless and indifferent.

One morning we stood on the landing stair Ben, Ve
ronica, and myself looking from the window. A silver mist
so thinly wrapped the orchard that the wet, shining leaves
thrust themselves through in patches. Birds were singing
beneath, feeling the warmth of the sun, scarcely hid. The
young leaves and blossoms steeping in the mist sent up a
delicious odor.

" I like Surrey better and better," he said ; " the atmos
phere suits me."

" Oh, I am glad," answered Verry. " I could never go
away. It is not beautiful, I know ; in fact, it is meager
when it comes to be talked of ; but there are suggestions
here which occasionally stimulate me."

" Verry, can you keep people away from me when I live
here ? "

I do not like that feeling in you."
; I like fishermen."

And a boat ? "

Yes, I ll have a boat."

I shall never go out with you."

; Casswill. I shall cruise with her, and you, in your
house, need not see us depart. Eric the Red made excur
sions in this region. We will skirt the shores, which are
the same, nearly, as when he sailed from them, with his
Northmen ; and the ancient barnacles will think, when they
see her fair hair, which she will let ripple around her stately
shoulders, that he has come back with his bride."

Verry looked with delight at him and then at me. " Her
long, yellow hair and her stately shoulders," she repeated.

" Will you go ? " he asked.

" Of course," I answered, going downstairs. I happened
to look back on the way. His arm was round Verry, but


he was looking after me. He withdrew it as our eyes met,
and came down ; but she remained, looking from the win
dow. We went into the parlor, and I shut the door.

" Now then," I said.

He took a note from his pocket and gave it to me.

I broke its seal, and read : " Tell Ben, before you can
reflect upon it, that / will go abroad, and then repent of
it, as I shall. Desmond."

" Tell Ben, " I repeated aloud, " that/ will go abroad.
Desmond. "

" Do you guess, as he does, that my reason for going was
that I might be kept aloof from all sight and sound of you
and him ? In the result toward which I saw you drive I
could have no part."

" Stay ; I know that he will go."

" You do not know. Nor do you know what such a man
is when " checking himself.

" He is in love ? "

" If you choose to call it that."

" I do."

All there was to say should be said now ; but I felt more
agitated than was my wont. These feelings, not accord
ing with my housewifely condition, upset me. I looked at
him ; he began to walk about, taking up a book, which he
leaned his head over, and whose covers he bent back till
they cracked.

" You would read me that way," I said.

" It is rather your way of reading."

" Can you remember that Desmond amd I influence
each other to act alike ? And that we comprehend each
other without collision ? I love him, as a mature woman
may love, once, Ben, only once ; the fire-tipped arrows
rarely pierce soul and sense, blood and brain."

He made a gesture, expressive of contempt.

" Men are different ; he is different."

" You have already spoken for me, and, I suppose, you
will for him."

" I venture to. Desmond is a violent, tyrannical, sensual
man ; his perceptions are his pulses. That he is handsome,
clever, resolute, and sings well, I can admit ; but no more."

" We will not bandy his merits or his demerits between
us. Let us observe him. And now, tell me, what am I ? "


" You have been my delight and misery ever since I knew
you. I saw you first, so impetuous, yet self-contained !
Incapable of insincerity, devoid of affection and courage
ously naturally beautiful. Then, to my amazement, I saw
that, unlike most women, you understood your instincts ;
that you dared to define them, and were impious enough
to follow them. You debased my ideal, you confused me,
also, for I could never affirm that you were wrong ; forcing
me to consult abstractions, they gave a verdict in your
favor, which almost unsexed you in my estimation. I must
own that the man who is willing to marry you has more
courage than I have. Is it strange that when I found
your counterpart, Veronica, that I yielded ? Her delicate,
pure, ignorant soul suggests to me eternal repose."

" It is not necessary that you should fatigue your mind
with abstractions concerning her. It will be the literal you
will hunger for, dear Ben."

" Damn it ! the world has got a twist in it, and we all go
round with it, devilishly awry."

I said no more. He had defined my limits, he would,
as far as possible, control me without pity or compassion,
thinking, probably, that I needed none ; the powers he
had always given me credit for must be sufficing. I could
not comprehend him. How was it that he and Verry gave
me such horrible pain ? Was it exceptional ? Could I
claim nothing from women ? Had they thought me an
anomaly ? while I thought it was Veronica who was called
peculiar and original ? The end of it all must be for me
to assimilate with their happiness !

" Well ? " he said.

" Thank you."

Then Veronica came, swinging her bonnet. " The Saga
more has arrived, and I am going to stand on the wharf to
count the sailors, and learn if they have all come home.
Will you go, Ben ? "

He complied, and I was left alone.



WHEN Ben left Surrey, I sent no message or letter by
him, and he asked for none. But at once I wrote to
Desmond, and did not finish my letter till after midnight.
Intoxicated with the liberty my pen offered me, I roamed
over a wide field of paper. The next morning I burnt it.
But there was something to be said to him before his de
parture, and again I wrote. I might have condensed still
more. In this way


When the answer came I reflected before I read it, that it
might be the last link of the chain between us. Not a bright
one at the best, nor garlanded with flowers, nor was it metal,
silver, or gold. There was rust on it, it was corroded, for
it was forged out of his and my substance.

I read it : "I am yours, as 1 have been, since the night
I asked you How came those scars ? Did you guess
that I read your story? I go from you with one idea ; I love
you, and I must go. Brave woman ! you have shamed me
to death almost."

He sent me a watch. I was to wear it from the second
of July. It was small and plain, but there were a few
words scratched inside the case with the point of a knife,
which I read every day. Veronica s eye fell on it the first
time I put it on.

" What time is it ? "

" Near one."

" I thought, from the look of it, that it might be near two."

" Don t mar my ideal of you, Verry, by growing witty."

She shrugged her shoulders. "I guess you found it
washed ashore, among the rocks ; was it bruised ? "

" A man gave it to me."

" A merman, who fills the sea-halls with a voice of power? "

"May be."

" Tut, Ben gave it to you. It is a kind of housekeepish
present ; did he add scissors and needle-case ?"


" What if the merman should take me some day to the
pale sea-groves straight and high ?

" You must never, never go. You cannot leave me,
Cass ! " She grasped my sleeve, and pulled me round..
" How much was there for you to do in the life before us,
which you talked about ? "

" I remember. There is much, to be sure."

Fanny s quick eye caught the glitter of the watch. The
mystery teased her, but she said nothing.

Aunt Merce had gone to Rosville with Arthur. There
was no visitor with us ; there had been none beside Ben
since mother died. All seemed kept at bay. I wrote
to Helen to come and pass the summer, but her child
was too young for such a journey, she concluded. Ben
had sailed for Switzerland. The summer, whose bio
graphy like an insignificant life must be written in a few
words, was a long one to live through. It happened to be
a dry season, which was unfrequent on our coast. Days
rolled by without the variation of wind, rain, or hazy
weather. The sky was an opaque blue till noon, when solid
white clouds rose in the north, and sailed seaward, or
barred the sunset, which turned them crimson and black.
The mown fields grew yellow under the stare of the brassy
sun, and the leaves cracked and curled for the want of
moisture. It was dull in the village, no ships were build
ing, none sailed, none arrived. But father was more ab
sorbed than ever, more away from home. He wrote often
in the evening, and pored over ledgers with his book
keeper. Late at night I found him sorting and reading
papers. He forgot us. But Fanny, as he grew forgetful,
improved as housekeeper. Her energy was untiring ; she
waited so much on him that I grew forgetful of him.
Veronica was the same as before ; her room was pleasant
with color and perfume, the same delicate pains with her
dress each day was taken. She looked as fair as a lily, as
serene as the lake on which it floats, except when Fanny
tried her. With me she never lost temper. But I saw
little of her ; she was as fixed in her individual pursuits as

There were intervals now when all my grief for mother
returned, and I sat in my darkened chamber, recalling with
a sad persistence her gestures, her motions, the tones of


her voice, through all the past back to my first remem
brance. The places she inhabited, her opinions and her
actions I commented on with a minuteness that allowed no
detail to escape. When my thoughts turned from her, it

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Online LibraryElizabeth StoddardThe Morgesons; a novel → online text (page 21 of 24)