Elizabeth Stoddard.

The Morgesons; a novel online

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by her father the miller. As the trees thereon grew,
promising to make timber, its value increased ; at present
her income was limited to the profit from the annual sale
of a cord or two of wood. So she staid on, in spite of Hep-
sey. There were also two men for the garden and stable.
A boy was always attached to the house ; not the same boy,
but a Boy dynasty, for as soon as one went another came,
who ate a great deal a crime in Hepsey s eyes and whose
general duty was to carry armfuls of wood, pails of milk,
or swill, and to shut doors.

We had many visitors. Though father had no time to
devote to guests, he was continually inviting people for us to
entertain, and his invitations were taken as a matter of course,
and finally for granted. A rich Morgeson was a new fea
ture in the family annals, and distant relations improved the
advantage offered them by coming to spend the summer
with us, because their own houses were too hot, or the
winter, because they were too cold ! Infirm old ladies, who
were not related to us, but who had nowhere else to visit,
came. As his business extended, our visiting list extended.
The captains of his ships whose homes were elsewhere
brought their wives to be inconsolable with us after their
departure on their voyages. We had ministers often, who
always quarter at the best houses, and chance visitors to
dinner and supper, who made our house a way-station.
There was but small opportunity to cultivate family affinities ;
they were forever disturbed. Somebody was always sitting
in the laps of our Lares and Penates. Another class of
visitors deserving notice were those who preferred to oc
cupy the kitchen and back chambers, humbly proud and
bashfully arrogant people, who kept their hats and bonnets
by them, and small bundles, to delude themselves and us
with the idea that they " had not come to stay, and had no
occasion for any attention." These people criticised us
with insinuating severity, and proposed amendments with
unrelenting affability. To this class Veronica was most
attracted it repelled me ; consequently she was petted,
and I was amiably sneered at.

This period of our family life has left small impression of
dramatic interest. There was no development of the senti
ments, no betrayal of the fluctuations of the passions which


must have existed. There was no accident to reveal, no
coincidence to surprise us. Hidden among the Powers
That Be, which rule New England, lurks the Deity of the
Illicit. This Deity never obtained sovereignty in the at
mosphere where the Morgesons lived. Instead of the im
pression which my after-experience suggests to me to seek,
I recall arrivals and departures, an eternal smell of cookery,
a perpetual changing of beds, and the small talk of vacant

Despite the rigors of Hepsey in the kitchen, and the care
ful supervision of Temperance, there was little systematic
housekeeping. Mother had severe turns of planning, and
making rules, falling upon us in whirlwinds of reform, shortly
allowing the band of habit to snap back, and we resumed
our former condition. She had no assistance from father
in her ideas of change. It was enough for him to know
that he had built a good house to shelter us, and to order
the best that could be bought for us to eat and to wear.
He liked, when he went where there were fine shops, to
buy and bring home handsome shawls, bonnets, and dresses,
wholly unsuited in general to the style and taste of each of
us, but much handsomer than were needful for Surrey.
They answered, however, as patterns for the plainer ma
terials of our neighbors. He also bought books for us,
recommended by their covers, or the opinion of the book
seller. His failing was to buy an immense quantity of
everything he fancied.

l< I shall never have to buy this thing again," he would
say ; " let us have enough."

Veronica and I grew up ignorant of practical or econom
ical ways. We never saw money, never went shopping.
Mother was indifferent in regard to much of the business of
ordinary life which children are taught to understand.
Father and mother both stopped at the same point with us,
but for a different reason ; father, because he saw nothing
beyond the material, and mother, because her spiritual in
sight was confused and perplexing. But whatever a house
hold- may be, the Destinies spin the web to their will,
out of the threads which drop hither and thither, floating in
its atmosphere, white, black, or gray.

From the time we moved, however, we were a stirring,
cheerful family, independent of each other, but spite of


our desultory tastes, mutual habits were formed. When
the want of society was felt, we sought the dining-room,
sure of meeting others with the same want. This room was
large and central, connecting with the halls, kitchen, and
mother s room. It was a caravansary where people dropped
in and out on their way to some other place. Our most
public moments were during meal-time. It was known
that father was at home at breakfast and supper, and could
be consulted. As he was away at our noonday dinner,
generally we were the least disturbed then, and it was a
lawless, irregular, and unceremonious affair. Mother estab-
lisher her arm-chair here, and a stand for her workbasket.
Hepsey and Temperance were at hand, the men came for
orders, and it was convenient for the boy to transmit the
local intelligence it was his vocation to collect. The
windows commanded a view of the sea, the best in the
house. This prospect served mother for exercise. Her
eyes roved over it when she wanted a little out-of-doors
life. If she desired more variety, which was seldom, she
went to the kitchen. After we moved she grew averse to
leaving the house, except to go to church. She never
quitted the dining-room after our supper till bedtime, be
cause father rarely came from Milford, where he went on
bank days, and indeed almost every other day, till late, and
she liked to be by him while he ate his supper and smoked
a cigar. All except Veronica frequented this room ; but
she was not missed or inquired for. She liked the parlor,
because the piano was there. As soon as father had bought
it she astonished us by a persistent fingering of the keys,
which produced a feeble melody. She soon played all the
airs she had heard. When I saw what she could do, I re
fused to take music lessons, for while I was trying to learn
"The White Cockade," she pushed me away, played it, and
made variations upon it. I pounded the keys with my fist,
by way of a farewell, and told her she should have the
piano for her own.



ONE winter morning before daylight, Veronica came to
my room, and asked me if I had heard any walking
about the house during the night. She had, and was
going to inquire about it. She soon returned with, "You
have a brother. Temperance says my nose is broken. He
will be like you, I suppose, and have everything he asks
for. I don t care for him ; but," crying out with passion,
"get up. Mother wants to see_y##, I know."

I dressed quickly, and went downstairs with a feeling of
indignation that such an event should have happened with
out my knowledge.

There was an unwonted hush. A bright fire was burn
ing on the dining-room hearth, the lamps were still lighted,
and father was by the fire, smoking in a meditative manner.
He put out his hand, which I did not take, and said, "Do
you like his name Arthur?"

" Yes," I mumbled, as I passed him, and went to the
kitchen, where Hepsey and Temperance were superintend
ing the steeping of certain aromatic herbs, which stood
round the fire in silver porringers and earthern pitchers.

"Another Morgeson s come," said Temperance. " There s
enough of them, such as they are not but what they are
good enough," correcting herself hastily.

" Go into your mother s room, softly," said Hepsey, rub
bing her fingers against her thumb her habit when she was
in a tranquil frame of mind.

" You are mighty glad, Hepsey," said Temperance.

" Locke Morgeson ought to have a son," she replied, " to
leave his money to."

"I vow," answered Temperance, " girls are thought noth
ing of in this ligous section ; they may go to the poor
house, as long as the sons have plenty."

An uncommon fit or shyness seized me, mixed with a
feeling of dread, as I crept into the room where mother was.
My eyes first fell upon an elderly woman, who wore a long,
wide, black apron, whose strings girded the middle of her
cushion-like form. She was taking snuff. It was the
widow Mehitable Allen, a lady whom I had often seen in
other houses on similar occasions.


" Shoo," she whispered nasally.

I was arrested, but turned my eyes toward mother ; hers
were closed. Presently she murmured, "Thank God,"
opened them, and saw me. A smile lighted her pale coun
tenance. " Gassy, my darling, kiss me. I am glad it is not
a woman." As I returned her kiss her glance dropped on
a small bunch by her side, which Mehitable took and deftly
unrolled, informing me as she did so that it was a
" Rouser."

Aunt Mercy came the next day. She had not paid us a
visit in a long time, being confined at home with the care of
her father, Grandfather Warren. She took charge of Ve
ronica and me, if taking charge means a series of guerilla
skirmishes on both sides. I soon discovered, however,
that she was prone to laughter, and that I could provoke
it ; we got on better after that discovery ; but Veronica, dis
daining artifice, was very cross with her. Aunt Mercy had
a spark of fun in her composition, which was not quite
crushed out by her religious education. She frequented
the church oftener than mother, sang more hymns, attend
ed all the anniversary celebrations, but she had no dreams,
no enthusiasm. Her religion had leveled all needs and all
aspirations. What the day brought forth answered her.
She inspired me with a secret pity ; for I knew she carried
in her bosom the knowledge that she was an old maid.

Before mother left her room Veronica was taken ill, and
was not convalescent till spring. Delicacy of constitution
the doctor called her disorder. She had no strength, no
appetite, and looked more elfish than ever. She would not
stay in bed, and could not sit up, so father had a chair made
for her, in which she could recline comfortably. Aunt
Merce put her in it every morning, and took her out every
evening. My presence irritated her, so I visited her but
seldom. She said I looked so. well, it hurt her, and wished
me to keep out of her sight, begged me never to talk loud
in the vicinity of her room, my voice was so breezy. She
amused herself in her own strange way. One of her amuse
ments was to cut off her hair, lock by lock, and cut it short
before she was well enough to walk about. She played on
a jewsharp, and on a little fife when her breath permitted,
and invented grotesque costumes out of bits of silk and
lace. Temperance was much engaged, at her dictation, in


the composition of elaborate dishes, which she rarely ate,
but forced Temperance to. She was more patient with her
than any other person ; with us she was excessively high-
tempered, especially with father. She could not bear to
catch a glimpse of the sea, nor to hear it ; if she heard it
echoing in the house, she played on her fife, or jewsharp,
or asked Aunt Merce to sing some old song. But she
liked the view from the north windows, even when the
boughs were bare and the fields barren. When the grass
came, she ordered handfuls to be brought her and put in
saucers of water. With the coming of the blossoms she
began to mend. As for me, I was as much an animal as
ever robust in health inattentive, and seeking excitement
and exhilaration. I went everywhere, to Bible class, to Sun
day school, and to every funeral which took place within
our precincts. But I never looked upon the dead ; per
haps that sight would have marred the slumbrous security
which possessed me the instinctive faith in the durability
of my own powers of life.

But a change was approaching. Aunt Merce considered
my present state a hopeless one. She was outside the orbit
of the family planet, and saw the tendency of its revolutions,
perceiving that father and mother were absorbed in their
individual affairs. She called mother s attention to my non-
improvement, and proposed that I should return to Bar-
mouth with her for a year, and become a pupil in a young
lady s school, which had been recently established there,
by a graduate of the Nipswich Female Seminary, a school
distinguished for its ethics. Mother looked astonished,
when she heard this proposal. " What ! " she began with
vehemence, " shall I subject " but checked herself when
she caught my eye, and continued more calmly : " We will
decide soon."

It was decided that I should go, without my being con
sulted in the matter. I felt resentful against mother, and
could not understand till afterward, why she had consented
to the plan. It was because she wished me to comprehend
the influences of her early life, and learn some of the les
sons she had been taught. At first, father " poohed " at the
plan, but finally said it was a good place to tame me.
When Veronica heard that I was going, she told me that I
would be stifled, if I lived at Grandfather Warren s ; but


added that the plums in his garden were good, and ad
vised me to sit on the yellow stone doorstep, under which
the toads lived. She also informed me that she was glad
of it, and hoped I would stay forever.

To Barmouth I went, and in May entered Miss Black s
genteel school. Miss Black had a conviction that her vo
cation was teaching. Necessity did not compel it, for she
was connected with one of the richest families in Barmouth.
At the end of the week my curiosity regarding my new po
sition was quenched, and I dropped into the depths of my
first wretchedness. I frantically demanded of father, who
had stopped to see me on his way to Milford, to be taken
home. He firmly resisted me. Once a month, I should go
home and spend a Sunday, if I chose, and he would come
to Barmouth every week.

My agitation and despair clouded his face for a moment,
then it cleared, and pinching my chin, he said, " Why don t
you look like your mother ? "

" But she is like her mother," said Aunt Merce.

" Well, Gassy, good-by " ; and he gave me a kiss with
cruel nonchalance. I knew my year must be stayed out.


MY life at Grandfather Warren s was one kind of penance
and my life in Miss Black s school another. Both dif
fered from our home-life. My filaments found no
nourishment, creeping between the two ; but the fibers of
youth are strong, and they do not perish. Grandfather
Warren s house reminded me of the casket which impris
oned the Genii. I had let loose a Presence I had no power
over the embodiment of its gloom, its sternness, and its

With feeling comes observation ; after that, one reasons.
I began to observe. Aunt Mercy was not the Aunt Merce I
had known at home. She wore a mask before her father.
There was constraint between them ; each repressed the
other. The result of this relation was a formal, petrifying,
unyielding system, a system which, from the fact of its
satisfying neither, was kept up the more rigidly ; on the one


side from a morbid conscience, which reiterated its moni
tions against the dictates of the natural heart ; on the other,
out of respect and timidity.

Grandfather Warren was a little, lean, leather-colored man.
His head was habitually bent, his eyes cast down ; but
when he raised them to peer about, their sharpness and clear
intelligence gave his face a wonderful vitality. He chafed
his small, well-shaped hands continually ; his long polished
nails clicked together with a shelly noise, like that which
beetles make flying against the ceiling. His features were
delicate and handsome ; gentle blood ran in his veins, as I
have said. All classes in Barmouth treated him with invari
able courtesy. He was aboriginal in character, not to be
moved by antecedent or changed by innovation a Puritan,
without gentleness or tenderness. He scarcely concealed
his contempt for the emollients of life, or for those who
needed them. He whined over no misfortune, pined for no
pleasure. His two sons, who broke loose from him, went
into the world, lived a wild, merry life, and died there, he
never named. He found his wife dead by his side one
morning. He did not go frantic, but selected a text for the
funeral sermon ; and when he stood by the uncovered grave,
took off his hat and thanked his friends for their kindness
with a loud, steady voice. Aunt Mercy told me that after
her mother s death his habit of charing his hands com
menced ; it was all the difference she saw in him, for he
never spoke of his trouble or acknowledged his grief by
sign or word.

Though he had been frugal and industrious all his life, he
had no more property than the old, rambling house we lived
in, and a long, narrow garden attached to it, where there
were a few plum and quince trees, a row of currant bushes,
Aunt Mercy s beds of chamomile and sage, and a few flow
ers. At the end of the garden was a peaked-roof pigsty ;
it was cleanly kept, and its inhabitant had his meals served
with the regularity which characterized all that Grandfather
Warren did. Beautiful pigeons lived in the roof, and were
on friendly terms with the occupant on the lower floor.
The house was not unpicturesque. It was built on a corner,
facing two streets. One front was a story high, with a
slanting roof ; the other, which was two-storied, sloped like
a giraffe s back, down to a wood-shed. Clean cobwebs hung


from its rafters, and neat heaps of fragrant chips were
piled on the floor.

The house had many rooms, all more or less dark and ir
regularly shaped. The construction of the chambers was
so involved, I could not get out of one without going into
another. Some of the ceilings slanted suddenly, and some
so gradually that where I could stand erect, and where I
must stoop, I never remembered, until my head was unpleas
antly grazed, or my eyes filled with flakes of ancient lime-
dust. A long chamber in the middle of the house was the
shop, always smelling of woolen shreds. At sunset, sum
mer or winter, Aunt Mercy sprinkled water on the unpainted
floor, and swept it. While she swept I made my thumb
sore, by snipping the bits of cloth that were scattered on the
long counter by the window with Grand ther s shears, or
I scrawled figures with gray chalk, where I thought they
might catch his eye. When she had finished sweeping she
carefully sorted the scraps, and put them into boxes under
the counter ; then she neatly rolled up the brown-paper cur
tains, which had been let down to exclude the afternoon
sun ; shook the old patchwork cushions in the osier-bot
tomed chairs ; watered the rose-geranium and the monthly
rose, which flourished wonderfully in that fluffy atmosphere ;
set every pin and needle in its place, and shut the door,
which was opened again at sunrise. Of late years, Grand
ther s occupation had declined. No new customers came.
A few, who did not change the fashion of their garb, still
patronized him. His income was barely three hundred dol
lars a year eked out to this amount by some small pay for
offices connected with the church, of which he was a promi
nent member. From this income he paid his pulpit tithe,
gave to the poor, and lived independent and respectable.
Mother endeavored in an unobtrusive way to add to his
comfort ; but he would only accept a few herrings from the
Surrey Weir every spring, and a basket of apples every fall.
He invariably returned her presents by giving her a share
of his plums and quinces.

I had only seen Grand ther Warren at odd intervals.
He rarely came to our house ; when he did, he rode down
on the top of the Barmouth stagecoach, returning in a few
hours. As mother never liked to go to Barmouth, she sel
dom came to see me.



IT was five o clock on Saturday afternoon when father left
me. Aunt Mercy continued her preparations for tea, and
when it was ready, went to the foot of the stairs, and
called, " Supper." Grand ther came down immediately
followed by two tall, cadaverous women, Ruth and Sally
Aikin, tailoresses, who sewed for him spring and fall.
Living several miles from Barmouth, they stayed through
the week, going home on Saturday night, to return
on Monday morning. We stood behind the heavy oak
chairs round the table, one of which Grand ther tipped
backward, and said a long grace, not a word of which was
heard ; for his teeth were gone, and he prayed in his throat.
Aunt Mercy s " Moltee " rubbed against me, with her back
and tail erect. I pinched the latter, and she gave a wail.
Aunt Mercy passed her hand across her mouth, but the
eyes of the two women were stony in their sockets. Grand
ther ended his grace with an upward jerk of his head as
we seated ourselves. He looked sharply at me, his gray
eyebrows rising hair by hair, and shaking a spoon at me
said, " You are playing over your mother s capers."

" The caper-bush grows on the shores of the Mediterra
nean sea, Grand ther. Miss Black had it for a theme, out
of the Penny Magazine ; it is full of themes."
" She had better give you a gospel theme."
He was as inarticulate when he quoted Scripture as when
he prayed, but I heard something about " thorns"; then he
helped us to baked Indian pudding our invariable Saturday
night s repast. Aunt Mercy passed cups of tea ; I heard
the gulping swallow of it in every throat, the silence was so
profound. After the pudding we had dried apple-pie, which
we ate from our hands, like bread. Grand ther ate fast, not
troubling himself to ask us if we would have more, but
making the necessary motions to that effect by touching
the spoon in the pudding or knife on the pie. Ruth and
Sally still kept their eyes fixed on some invisible object at
a distance. What a disagreeable interest I felt in them !
What had they in common with me ? What could they
enjoy? How unpleasant their dingy, crumbled, needle-
pricked fingers were ! Sally hiccoughed, and Ruth suf-


fered from internal rumblings. Without waiting for each
other when we had finished, we put our chairs against the
wall and left the room. I rushed into the garden and
trampled the chamomile bed. I had heard that it grew
faster for being subjected to that process, and thought
of the two women I had just seen while I crushed the
spongy plants. Had they been trampled upon? A feeling
of pity stung me ; I ran into the house, and found them
on the point of departure, with little bundles in their

" Aunt Mercy will let me carry your bundles a part of
the way for you ; shall I ?"

" No, indeed," said Ruth, in a mild voice ; " there s no
heft in them ; they are mites to carry."

" Besides," chimed Sally, "you couldn t be trusted with

" Are they worth anything ? " I inquired, noticing then
that both wore better dresses, and that the bundles con
tained their shop-gowns.

" What made you pinch the moltee s tail ? " asked Sally.
" If you pinched my cat s tail, I would give you a sound

" How could she, Sally," said Ruth, " when our cat s tail
is cut short off ? "

" For all the world," remarked Sally, " that s the only
way she can be managed. If things are cut off, and kept
out of sight, or never mentioned before her, she may behave
very well ; not otherwise."

" Good-by, Miss Ruth, and Sally, good-by," modulating
my voice to accents of grief, and making a " cheese."

They retreated with a less staid pace than usual, and I
sought Aunt Mercy, who was preparing the Sunday s din
ner. Twilight drew near, and the Sunday s clouds began
to fall on my spirits. Between sundown and nine o clock
was a tedious interval. I was not allowed to go to bed, nor
to read a secular book, or to amuse myself with anything.
A dim oil-lamp burned on the high shelf of the middle
room, our ordinary gathering-place. Aunt Mercy sat there,
rocking in a low chair ; the doors were open, and I wan
dered softly about. The smell of the garden herbs came in
faintly, and now and then I heard a noise in the water-butt
under the spout, the snapping of an old rafter, or something


falling behind the wall. The toads crawled from under the
plantain leaves, and hopped across the broad stone before
the kitchen door, and the irreverent cat, with whom I sym
pathized, raced like mad in the grass. Growing duller, I

Online LibraryElizabeth StoddardThe Morgesons; a novel → online text (page 3 of 24)