Elizabeth Stoddard.

The Morgesons; a novel online

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seemed as if she were newly lost in the vast and wandering
Universe of the Dead, whence I had brought her.

In September a letter came from Ben, which promised a
return by the last of October. With the ruffling autumnal
breezes my stagnation vanished, and I began my shore life
again in a mood which made memory like hope ; but stay
ing out too late one evening, I came home in a chill. From
the chill I went to a fever, which lasted some days. Ve
ronica came every day to see me, and groaned over my hair,
which fell off, but she could not stay long, the smell of
medicine made her ill, the dark room gave her an uneasiness ;
besides, she did not know what she should say. 1 sent her
away always. Fanny took care of me till I was able to
move about the room, then she absented herself most of
the time. One afternoon Veronica came to tell me that
Margaret, the Irish girl, was going ; she supposed that
Fanny was insufferable, and that she could not stay.

" I must be well by to-morrow," I said.

The next day I went down stairs, and was greeted with
the epithet of " Scarecrow."

" Do you feel pretty strong ? " asked Fanny, with a pe
culiar accent, when we happened to be alone.

" What is the matter ? " Out with it ! "

" Something s going to turn up here ; something ails Mr.

I guess his ailment.

" He is going to fail, he is smashed all to nothing. He
knows what will be said about him, yet he goes about with
perfect calmness. But he feels it. I tried him this morning,
I gave him tea instead of coffee, and he didn t know it ! "

" Margaret s gone ? "

" There must be rumors ; for she asked him for her
wages a day or two ago. He paid her, and said she had
better go."

I examined my hands involuntarily She tittered.

" How easily you will wash the long-necked glasses and
pitchers, with your slim hand ! "

I dropped into a mental calculation, respecting the cost


of an entire change of wardrobe suitable to our reduced
circumstances, and speculated on a neat cottage-style of

" I think I must go, too," she said with cunning eyes.

"How can you bear to, when there will be so much
trouble for you to enjoy ?"

"How tired you look, Cass," said Veronica, slipping in
quietly. " What are you talking about ? Has Fanny been
tormenting you ? "

" Of course," she answered. " But if am not mistaken,
you will be tormented by others besides me."

" Go out ! " said Veronica. " Leave us, pale pest."

" You may want me here yet."

" What does she mean, Cass ? "

I hesitated.

" Tell me," she said, in her imperative, gentle voice.
" What is there that I cannot know ? "

" Now she is what you call high-toned, isn t it ? " inquired

Veronica threw her book at her.

" The truth is, ladies, that your father, the principal
man in Surrey, is not worth a dollar. What do you think
of it ? And how will you come off the high horse ? " And
Fanny drummed on the table energetically.

" Did you really think of going, Fanny?" asked Veronica.
" You will stay, and do better than ever, for if you attempt
to go, I shall bring you back."

This was the invitation she wanted, and was satisfied

" I must give up flowers," said Veronica, " of course."

" I wonder if we shall keep pigs this fall ?" said Fanny.
" Must we sit in the free seats in the meeting-house ?
It will be fine for the boys to drop paper balls on our
heads from the gallery. I d like to see them do it,
though," she concluded, as if she felt that such an insult
would infringe upon her rights.



IT was true. Locke Morgeson had been insolvent fof
five years. All this time he had thrown ballast out

from every side in the shape of various ventures, which
he trusted would lighten the ship, that, nevertheless, drove
steadily on to ruin. Then he steered blindly, straining his
credit to the utmost ; and then the crash. His losses
were so extended and gradual that the public were not
aware of his condition till he announced it. There was a
general exasperation against him. The Morgeson family
rose up with one accord to represent the public mind,
which drove Veronica wild.

" Have you acted wrongly, father ? " she asked.

" I have confessed, Verry, will that suit you ! "

Our house was thronged for several days. " Pay us,"
cried the female portion of his creditors. In vain father
represented that he was still young that his business days
were not over that they must wait, for paid they should
be. " Pay us now, for we are women," they still cried.
Fanny opened the doors for these persons as wide as pos
sible when they came, and shut them with a bang when
they went, astonishing them with a satirical politeness,
or confounding them with an impertinent silence. The im
portant creditors held meetings to agree what should be
done, and effected an arrangement by which his property
was left in his hands for three years, to arrange for the
benefit of his creditors. The arrangement proved that his
integrity was not suspected ; but it was an ingenious pun
ishment, that he should keep in sight, improve, or change,
for others, what had been his own. I was glad when he
decided to sell his real estate and personal property,
and trust to the ships alone, but would build no more. I
begged him to keep our house till Ben should return. He
consented to wait ; but I did not tell Verry what I had
done. All the houses he owned, lots, carriages, horses, do
mestic stock, the fields lying round our house were sold.
When he began to sell, the fury of retrenchment seized
him, and he laid out a life of self-denial for us three.
Arthur s ten thousand dollars were safe, who was there
fore provided for. He would bring wood and water for us;


the rest we must do, with Fanny s help. We could dine in
the kitchen, and put our beds in one room ; by shutting up
the house in part, we should have less labor to perform. We
attempted to carry out his ideas, but Veronica was so dread
fully in Fanny s way and mine, that we were obliged to en
treat her to resume her old role. As for Fanny, she was
happy working like a beaver day and night. Father was
much at home, and took an extraordinary interest in the
small details that Fanny carried out.

When Temperance heard of these arrangements, she
came down with Abram in their green and yellow wagon.
Temperance drove the shaggy old white horse, for Abram
was intrusted with the care of a meal bag, in which were
fastened a cock and four hens. We should see, she said
when she let them out, whether we were to keep hens or not.
Was Veronica to go without new-laid eggs ? Had he sold
the cat, she sarcastically inquired of father.

" Who is going to do your washing, girls ? " she asked,
taking off her bonnet.

"We all do it."

"Now I shall die a-laughing ! " But she contradicted
herself by crying heartily. " One day in every week, I tell
you, I am coming ; and Fanny and I can do the washing in
a jiffy."

" Sure," said Abram, " you can ; the sass is in."

" Sass or no sass, I m coming."

She made me laugh for the first time in a month. I was
too tired generally to be merry, with my endeavors to carry
out father s wishes, and keep up the old aspect of the house.
When she left us we all felt more cheerful. Aunt Merce
wanted to come home, but Verry and I thought she had
better stay at Rosville. We could not deny it to ourselves,
that home was sadly altered, or that we were melancholy ;
and though we never needed her more, we begged her not
to come. Happily father s zeal soon died away. A boy
was hired, and as there was no out-of-doors work for him
to do, he relieved Fanny, who in her turn relieved me.
Finding time to look into myself, I perceived a change in
my estimation of father ; a vague impression of weakness in
him troubled me. I also discovered that I had lost my at
mosphere. My life was coarse, hard, colorless ! I lived in
an insignificant country village ; I was poor. My theories


had failed ; my practice was like my moods variable.
But I concluded that if to-day would go on without
bestowing upon me sharp pains, depriving me of sleep,
mutilating me with an accident, or sending a disaster to
those belonging to me, I would be content. Arthur held
out a hope, by writing me, that he meant to support me
handsomely. He wished me to send him some shirt studs ;
and told me to keep the red horse. He had heard that
I was very handsome when I was in Rosville. A girl had
asked him how I looked now. When he told her I was
handsomer than any woman Rosville could boast of, she

October had gone, and we had not heard from Ben.
Veronica came to my room of nights, and listened to wind
and sea, as she never had before. Sometimes she was there
long after I had gone to bed, to look out of the windows.
If it was calm, she went away quietly ; if the sea was rough,
she was sorrowful, but said nothing. The lethargic sum
mer had given way to a boisterous autumn of cold, gray
weather, driving rains, and hollow gales. At last he came
to Veronica first. He gave a deep breath of delight when
he stood again on the hearth-rug, before our now unwonted
parlor fire. The sight of his ruddy face, vigorous form, and
gay voice made me as merry as the attendants of a feast
are when they inhale the odor of the viands they carry, hear
the gurgle of the wine they pour, and echo the laughter of
the guests.

There was much to tell that astonished him, but he could
not be depressed ; everything must be arranged to suit us.
He would buy the house, provided he could pay for it in
instalments. Did I know that his mother had docked his
allowance as soon as she knew that he would marry Verry ?

" How should I know it ? "

I had not heard then that Desmond s was doubled, when
she heard his intention of going to Spain.

" How should I know that ? "

One thing I should learn, however and that was, that
Desmond had begged his mother to make no change in the
disposition of her income. He had declined the extra
allowance, and then accepted it, to offer him Ben. Was
not that astonishing ?

" Did you take it ? "


" No ; but pa did."

All he could call his was fifteen hundred a year. Was
that enough for them to live on, and pay a little every year
for the house ? Could we all live there together, just the
same ? Would we, he asked father, and allow him to be an
inmate ?

Father shook hands with him so violently that he winced;
and Verry crumpled up a handful of his tawny locks and
kissed them, whereat he said : " Are you grown a human
woman ? "

About the wedding ? He could only stay to appoint a
time, for he must post to Belem. It must be very soon.

In a year or two," said Verry.

1 Verry ! "

In three weeks, then."

From to-day ? "

No, that will be the date of the wreck of the Locke
Morge son ; but three weeks from to-morrow. Must we
have anybody here, Ben ? "

" Helen, and Alice, Cassandra ? "

" Certainly."

" I have no friends," said Verry.

" What will you wear, Verry ? " I asked.

" Why, this dress," designating her old black silk. Her
eyes filled with tears, and went on a pilgrimage toward the
unknown heaven where our mother was. She could only
come to the wedding as a ghost. I imagined her flitting
through the empty spaces, from room to room, scared and
troubled by the pressure of mortal life around her.

" I shall not wear white," Verry said hastily.

The very day Ben went to Belem one of father s out
standing ships arrived. She came into the harbor present
ing the unusual sight of trying oil on deck. Black and
greasy from hull to spar, she was a pleasant sight, for she
was full of sperm oil. Little boys ran down to the house
to inform us of that fact before she was moored. " Wouldn t
Mr. Morgeson be all right now that his luck had changed ? "
they asked.

At supper father said " By George ! " several times, by
that oath resuming something of his old self. " Those
women can now be paid," he said. " If I could have held
out till now, I could have gone on without failing. This is


the first good voyage the Oswego ever made me ; if another
ship, the Adamant, will come full while oil is high, I shall
arrange matters with my creditors before the three years
are up. To hold my own again ah ! I never will venture
all upon the uncertain field of the sea."

The Oswegd s captain sent us a box of shells next day,
and a small Portuguese boy, named Manuel a handsome,
black-eyed, husky-voiced fellow, in a red shirt, which was
bound round his waist with a leather belt, from which hung
a sailor s sheath-knife.

" He is volcanic," said Verry.

" The Portuguese are all handsome," said Fanny, poking
him, to see if he would notice it. But he did not remove
his eyes from Veronica.

"He shall be your page, Verry."

The next night a message came to us that Abram was
dying. If we ever meant to come, Temperance sent word,
some of us might come now ; but she would rather have
Mr. Morgeson. Fanny insisted upon going with him to
carry a lantern. Manuel offered her his knife, when he
comprehended that she was going through a dark road.

" You are a perfect heathen. There s nothing to be afraid
of, except that Mr. Morgeson may walk into a ditch ; will
a knife keep us out of that ? "

" Knife is good it kills," he said, showing his white,
vegetable-ivory teeth.

Verry and I sat up till they returned, at two in the morn
ing. Abram had died about midnight, distressed to the
last with worldly cares. " He asked," said father, " if I
remembered his poor boy, whose chest never came home,
and wished to hear some one read a hymn ; Temperance
broke down when I read it, while Fanny cried hysterically."

" I was freezing cold," she answered haughtily.

In the morning Verry and I started for Temperance s
house ; but she waited on the doorstep till I had inquired
whether we were wanted. I called her in, for Temperance
asked for her as soon as she saw me.

" He was a good man, girls," she said with emphasis.

" Indeed he was."

" A little mean, I spose."

I put in a demurrer ; her face cleared instantly.

" He thought a great deal of your folks."


" And a great deal of you."

" Oh, what a loss I have met with ! He had just bought
a first-rate overcoat."

" But Temperance," said Verry, with a lamentable can
dor, " you can come back now."

" Can t you wait for him to be put into the ground ? "
And she tried to look shocked, but failed.

A friend entered with a doleful face, and Temperance
groaned slightly.

" It is all done complete now, Mis Handy. He looks as
easy as if he slept, he was so limber."

" Yes, yes," answered Temperance, starting up, and hur
rying us out of the room, pinching me, with a significant
look at Verry. She was afraid that her feelings might be
distressed. " The funeral will be day after to-morrow.
Don t come ; your father will be all that must be here of
the family. I shall shut up the house and come straight to
you. I know that I am needed ; but you mustn t say a
word about pay I can t stand it, I have had too much
affliction to be pestered about wages."

Verry hugged her, and Temperance shed the honestest
tears of the day then, she was so gratified at Verry s fond
ness. Before Abram had been buried a week, she was back
again a fixture, although she declared that she had only
come for a spell, as we might know by the size of the bun
dle she had, showing us one, tied in a blue cotton handker
chief. What should she stay from her own house for, when
as good a man as ever lived left it to her ? We knew that
she merely comforted a tender conscience by praising the
departed, for whom she had small respect when living.
We felt her brightening influence, but Fanny sulked, feeling

Ben Pickersgill Somers and Veronica Morgeson were
" published." Contrary to the usual custom, Verry went to
hear her own banns read at the church. She must do all
she could, she told me, to realize that she was to be mar
ried ; had I any thoughts about it, with which I might aid
her ? She thought it strange that people should marry, and
could not decide whether it was the sublimest or the most
inglorious act of one s life. I begged her to think about
what she should wear the time was passing. Father gave
me so small a sum for the occasion, I had little opportunity


for the splendid ; but I purchased what Veronica wanted for
a dress, and superintended the making of it black lace over
lavender-colored silk. She said no more about it ; but I
observed that she put in order all her possessions, as if she
were going to undertake a long and uncertain journey.
Every box and drawer was arranged. All her clothes were
repaired, refolded, and laid away ; every article was re
freshed by a turn or shake-up. She made her room a mir
acle of cleanliness. What she called rubbish she de
stroyed her old papers, things with chipped edges, or
those that were defaced by wear. She went once to Mil-
ford in the time, and bought a purple Angola rug, which
she put before her arm-chair, and two small silver cups,
with covers ; in one was a perfume which Ben liked, the
other was empty. Her favorite blank-books were laid on a
shelf, and the table, with its inkstand and portfolio, was
pushed against the wall. The last ornament which she
added to her room was a beautifully woven mat of ever
greens, with which she concealed the picture of the avenue
and the nameless man. After it was done, she inhabited my
room, appearing to feel at home, and glad to have me with
her. As the time drew near, she grew silent, and did not
play at all. Temperance watched her with anxiety. " If
ever she can have one of those nervous spells again she will
have one now," she said. " Don t let her dream. I am
turning myself inside out to keep up her appetite."

" Do you ever feel worried about me, Tempy ? "

" Lord a marcy ! you great, strong thing, why should I ?
May be you do want a little praise. I never saw anybody
get along as well as you do, nowadays ; you have altered
very much ; I never would have believed it."

" What was the trouble with me ? "

" / always stuck up for you, gracious knows. Do you
know what has been said of you in Surrey ? "

" No."

Then I shan t tell you ; if I were you, though, I
shouldn t trouble myself to be overpolite to the folks who
have come and gone here, nigh on to twenty years, hang
"em ! "

A few days before the wedding Aunt Merce and Arthur
came home. Arthur was shy at first regarding the great
change, but being agreeably disappointed, grew lively.


I perceived that Aunt Merce had aged since mother s
death ; her manner was changed ; the same objects no
longer possessed an interest. She looked at me peniten-
tially. " I wish I could say," she said, " what I used to say
to you, that you were possessed. Now that there is no
occasion for me to comprehend people, I begin to. My ed
ucation began wrong end foremost. I think Mary s death
has taught me something. Do you think of her ? She was
the love of my life."

" Women do keep stupid a long time ; but I think they
are capable of growth, beyond the period when men cease
to grow or change."

" Oh, I don t know anything about men, you know."

Temperance and I cleaned the house, opened every room,
and made every fire-place ready for a fire a fire being the
chief luxury which I could command. Baking went on up
to within a day of the wedding, under Hepsey s super
vision, who had been summoned as a helper ; Fanny was
busy everywhere.

" Mr. Morgeson," said Temperance, " the furniture is too
darned shabby for a wedding."

"It is not mine, you must remember."

" Plague take the creditors ! they know as well as I that
you turned Surrey from a herring-weir into a whaling-port,
and that the houses they live in were built out of the wages
you gave them. I am thankful that most of them have
water in their cellars."


day came. Alice Morgeson, and Helen with her
X baby, arrived the night before ; and Ben and Mr.
Somers drove from Milford early in the afternoon.
Mr. Somers was affable and patronizing. When intro
duced to Veronica, he betrayed astonishment. " She is not
like you, Cassandra. Are you in delicate health, my dear ! "
addressing her.

" I have a peculiar constitution, I believe."
He made excuses to her for Mrs. Somers and his daugh
ters to which she answered not a word. He was in danger
of being embarrassed, and I enticed him away from her


not before she whispered gravely, " Why did he come ? " I
went over the house with him, he remarking on its situa
tion, for sun and shade, and protection from, or exposure
to, the winds ; and tasting the water, pronounced it excel
lent. He thought I had a true idea of hospitality ; the fires
everywhere proclaimed that. Temperance had the air of a
retainer ; there was an atmosphere about our premises
which placed them at a distance from the present. Then
Alice came to my assistance and entertained him so well
that I could leave him.

We had invited a few friends and relations to witness the
ceremony, at eight o clock. I had been consulted so often
on various matters that it was dark before I finished my
tasks. The last was to arrange some flowers I had ordered
in Milford. I kept a bunch of them in reserve for Verry s
plate ; for we were to have a supper, at father s request,
who thought it would be less tiresome to feed the guests
than to talk to them. Verry did not know this, though she
had asked several times why we were all so busy.

It was near seven when I went upstairs to find her.
Temperance had sent Manuel and Fanny to the different
rooms with tea, bread and butter, and the message that it
was all we were to have at present. Ben had been extremely
silent since his arrival, and disposed to reading. I looked
over his shoulder once, and saw that it was " Scott s Life
of Napoleon " he perused ; and an hour after, being obliged
to ask him a question, saw him still at the same page. He
was now dressing probably. Helen and Alice were in their
rooms. Mr. Somers was napping on the parlor sofa ;
father was meditating at his old post in the dining-room
and smoking. It was a familiar picture ; but there was a
rent in the canvas and a figure was missing she who had
been its light !

I found Verry sound asleep on the sofa in my room.

A glass full of milk was on the floor beside her, and a
plate with a slice of bread. The lamp had been lighted by
some one, and carefully shaded from her face. She had
been restless, I thought, for her hair had fallen out of the
comb and half covered her face, which was like marble in
its whiteness and repose. Her right arm was extended ; I
took her hand, and her warm, humid fingers closed over


" Wake up, Verry ; it is time to be married."

She opened her eyes without stirring and fixed them upon
me. " Do you know any man who is like Ben ? Or was it
he whom I have just left in the dark world of sleep ? "

"I know his brother, who is like him, but dark in com
plexion and his hair is black."

" His hair is not black."

I rushed out of the room, muttering some excuse, came
back and arranged her toilette ; but she remained with her
arm still extended, and continued :

" It was a strange place where we met ; curious, dusty
old trees grew about it. He was cutting the back of one
with a dagger, and the pieces he carved out fell to the
ground, as if they were elastic. He made me pick them
up, though I wished to listen to a man who was lying under
one of the trees, wrapped in a cloak, keeping time with his
dagger, and singing a wild air.

" What do you see ? said the first.

" A letter on every piece, I answered, and spelt Cas
sandra. Are you Ben transformed ? I asked, for he had
his features, his air, though he was a swarthy, spare man,
with black, curly hair, dashed with gray ; but he pricked
my arm with his dagger, and said, Go on. I picked up
the rest, and spelt Somers."

" Cassandra Somers ! now tell her, he whispered,
turning me gently from him, with a hand precisely like
Ben s."

" No, it is handsomer," I muttered.

" Before me was a space of sea. Before I crossed I
wanted to hear that wild music ; but your voice broke my

She sat up and unbuttoned her sleeve. As I live, there
was a red mark on her arm above her elbow !

I crushed my hands together and set my teeth, for I
would have kissed the mark and washed it with my tears.
But Verry must not be agitated now. She divined my feel
ings for the first time in her life. " I have indeed been in

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Online LibraryElizabeth StoddardThe Morgesons; a novel → online text (page 22 of 24)