Elizabeth Stoddard.

The Morgesons; a novel online

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went to the cellar door, which was in the front entry, opened
it, and stared down in the black gulf, till I saw a gray rock
rise at the foot of the stairs which affected my imagination.
The foundation of the house was on the spurs of a great
granite bed, which rose from the Surrey shores, dipped and
cropped out in the center of Barmouth. It came through the
ground again in the woodhouse, smooth and round, like the
bald head of some old Titan, and in the border of the garden
it burst through in narrow ridges full of seams. As I con
templated the rock, and inhaled a moldy atmosphere whose
component parts were charcoal and potatoes, I heard the
first stroke of the nine o clock bell, which hung in the bel
fry of the church across the street. Although it was so
near us that we could hear the bellrope whistle in its
grooves, and its last hoarse breath in the belfry, there was
no reverberation of its clang in the house ; the rock
under us struck back its voice. It was an old Spanish bell,
Aunt Mercy told me. How it reached Barmouth she did
not know. I recognized its complaining voice afterward.
It told me it could never forget it had been baptized a
Catholic ; and it pined for the beggar who rang it in the
land of fan-leaved chestnuts ! It would growl and strangle
as much as possible in the hands of Benjamin Beals, the
bell-ringer and coffin-maker of Barmouth. Except in the
morning when it called me up, I was glad to hear it. It was
the signal of time past ; the oftener I heard it, the nearer
I was to the end of my year. Before it ceased to ring-
now Aunt Mercy called me in a low voice. I returned to
the middle room, and took a seat in one of the oak chairs,
whose back of upright rods was my nightly penance. Aunt
Mercy took the lamp from the shelf, and placed it upon a
small oak stand, where the Bible lay. Grand ther entered,
and sitting by the stand read a chapter. His voice was like
opium. Presently my head rolled across the rods, and I felt
conscious of slipping down the glassy seat. After he had
read the chapter he prayed. If the chapter had been long,
the prayer was short ; if the chapter had been short, the
prayer was long. When he had ceased praying, he left the


room without speaking, and betook himself to bed. Aunt
Mercy dragged me up the steep stairs, undressed me, and
I crept into bed, drugged with a monotony which served but
to deepen the sleep of youth and health. When the bell
rang the next morning, Aunt Mercy gave me a preparatory
shake before she began to dress, and while she walked
up and down the room lacing her stays entreated me to
get up.

If the word lively could ever be used in reference to our
life, it might be in regard to Sunday. The well was so near
the church that the house was used as an inn for the accom
modation of the church-goers who lived at any distance, and
who did not return home between the morning and afternoon
services. A regular set took dinner with us, and there were
parties who brought lunch, which they ate off their handker
chiefs, on their knees. It was also a watering-place for the
Sunday-school scholars, who filed in troops before the pail
in the well-room, and drank from the cocoanut dipper.
When the weather was warm our parlor was open, as it was
to-day. Aunt Mercy had dusted it and ornamented the
hearth with bunches of lilacs in a broken pitcher. Twelve
yellow chairs, a mahogany stand, a dark rag-carpet, some
speckled Pacific sea-shells on the shelf, among which stood
a whale s tooth with a drawing of a cranky ship thereon, and
an ostrich s egg that hung by a string from the ceiling,
were the adornments of the room. When we were dressed
for church, we looked out of the window till the bell tolled,
and the chaise of the Baxters and Sawyers had driven to the
gate ; then we went ourselves. Grand ther had preceded
us, and was already in his seat. Aunt Mercy went up to
the head of the pew, a little out of breath, from the tight
ness of her dress, and the ordeal of the Baxter and Sawyer
eyes, for the pew, though off a side aisle, was in the neigh
borhood of the elite of the church ; a clove, however, tran-
quilized her. I fixed my feet on a cricket, and examined
the bonnets. The house filled rapidly, and last of all the
minister entered. The singers began an anthem, singing in
an advanced style of the art, I observed, for they shouted
" Armen" while our singers in Surrey bellowed "Amen."
When the sermon began I settled myself into a vague spec
ulation concerning my future days of freedom ; but my
dreams were disturbed by the conduct of the Hickspold


boys, who were in a pew in front of us. As in the morning,
so in the afternoon and all the Sundays in the year. The
variations of the season served but to deepen the uniformity
of my heartsickness.


A UNT MERCY had not introduced me to Miss Black
\ as the daughter of Locke Morgeson, the richest man in
Surrey, but simply as her niece. Her pride prevented
her from making any exhibition of my antecedents, which
was wise, considering that I had none. My grandfather,
John Morgeson, was a nobody, merely a " Co."; and
though my great-grandfather, Locke Morgeson, was worthy
to be called a Somebody, it was not his destiny to make a
stir in the world. Many of the families of my Barmouth
schoolmates had the fulcrum of a moneyed grandfather. The
knowledge of the girls did not extend to that period in the
family history when its patriarchs started in the pursuit of
Gain. Elmira Sawyer, one of Miss Black s pupils, never
heard that her grandfather " Black Peter," as he was called,
had made excursions, in an earlier part of his life, on the
River Congo, or that he was familiar with the soundings of
Loango Bay. As he returned from his voyages, bringing
more and more money, he enlarged his estate, and grew
more and more respectable, retiring at last from the sea,
to become a worthy landsman ; he paid taxes to church and
state, and even had a silver communion cup, among the
pewter service used on the occasion of the Lord s Supper ;
but he never was brought to the approval of that project of
the Congregational Churches, the colonization of the
Blacks to Liberia. Neither was Hersila Allen aware that
the pink calico in which I first saw her was remotely owing
to West India Rum. Nor did Charlotte Alden, the proud
est girl in school, know that her grandfather s, Squire
Aiden s, stepping-stone to fortune was the loss of the brig
Capricorn, which was wrecked in the vicinity of a comfort
able port, on her passage out to the whaling-ground. An
auger had been added to the meager outfit, and long after
the sea had leaked through the hole bored through her bot
tom, and swallowed her, and the insurance had been paid,


the truth leaked out that the captain had received instruc
tions, which had been fulfilled. Whereupon two Insurance
Companies went to law with him, and a suit ensued, which
ended in their paying costs, in addition to what they had
before paid Squire Alden, who winked in a derisive man
ner at theBoard of Directors when he received its check.

There were others who belonged in the category of De
cayed Families, as exclusive as they were shabby. There
were parvenus, which included myself. When I entered
the school it was divided into clans, each with its spites, jeal
ousies, and emulations. Its esprit de corps, however, was de
veloped by my arrival ; the girls united against me, and though
I perceived, when I compared myself with them, that they were
partly right in their opinions, their ridicule stupefied and
crushed me. They were trained, intelligent, and adroit ; I
uncouth, ignorant, and without tact. It was impossible for
Miss Black not to be affected by the general feeling in regard
to me. Her pupils knew sooner than I that she sympathized
with them. She embarrassed me, when I should have de
spised her. At first her regimen surprised, then filled me
with a dumb, clouded anger, which made me appear

Miss Emily Black was a young woman, and, I thought, a
handsome one. She had crenelated black hair, large black
eyes, a Roman nose, and long white teeth. She bit her
nails when annoyed, and when her superiority made her
perceive the mental darkness of others she often laughed.
Being pious, she conducted her school after the theologic
pattern of the Nipswich Seminary, at which she had been
educated. She opened the school each day with a relig
ious exercise, reading something from the Bible, and com
menting upon it, or questioning us regarding our ideas of
what she read. She often selected the character of David,
and was persistent in her efforts to explain and reconcile
the discrepancies in the history of the royal Son of Israel.

" Miss C. Morgeson, we will call you," she said, in our
first interview ; " the name of Cassandra is too peculiar."

" My Grandfather Locke liked the name ; my sister s is
Veronica ; do you like that better ? "

"It is of no consequence in the premises what your sister
may be named," she replied, running her eyes over me.
" What will she study, Miss Warren ? "


Aunt Mercy s recollections of my studies were dim, and
her knowledge of my school days was not calculated to pre
possess a teacher in my favor ; but after a moment s delay,
she said : " What you think best."

" Very well," she answered ; " I will endeavor to fulfill
my Christian duty toward her. We will return to the school

We had held the conversation in the porch, and now Aunt
Mercy gave me a nod of encouragement, and bidding Miss
Black " Good day," departed, looking behind her as long
as possible. I followed my teacher. As she opened the
door forty eyes were leveled at me ; my hands were in my
way suddenly ; my feet impeded my progress ; how could I
pass that wall of eyes ? A wisp of my dry, rough hair fell
on my neck and tickled it ; as I tried to poke it under my
comb, I glanced at the faces before me. Ho\v spirited and
delicate they were ! The creatures had their heads dressed
as if they were at a party in curls, or braids and ribbons.
An open, blank, noli me tangere expression met my per
turbed glance. I stood still, but my head went round.
Miss Black mounted her desk, and surveyed the school
room. " Miss Charlotte Alden, the desk next you is vacant ;
Miss C. Morgeson, the new pupil, may take it."

Miss Charlotte answered, " Yes mini," and ostentatiously
swept away an accumulation of pencils, sponges, papers, and
books, to make room for me. I took the seat, previously
stumbling against her, whereat all the girls, whose regards
were fixed upon me, smiled. That was my initiation.

The first day I was left to myself, to make studies. The
school-room was in the vestry of the church, a building near
grand ther s house. Each girl had a desk before her.
Miss Black occupied a high stool in a square box. where she
heard single recitations, or lectured a pupil. The vestry
yard, where the girls romped, and exercised with skipping
ropes, a swing, and a set of tilting-boards, commanded a
view of grand ther s premises ; his street windows were
exposed to the fire of their eyes and tongues.

After I went home I examined myself in the glass, and
drew an unfavorable conclusion from the inspection. My
hair was parted zigzag ; one shoulder was higher than the
other ; my dress came up to my chin, and slipped down to
my shoulder-blades. I was all waist ; no hips were devel-


oped ; my hands were red, and my nails chipped. I opened
the trunk where my wardrobe was packed ; what belonged
to me was comfortable, in reference to weather and the
wash, but not pretty. I found a molasses-colored silk,
called Turk satin one of mother s old dresses, made over
for me, or an invidious selection of hers from the purchases
of father, who sometimes made a mistake in taste, owing
to the misrepresentations of shopkeepers and milliners.
While thus engaged Aunt Mercy came for me, and began to
scold when she saw that I had tumbled my clothes out of
the trunk.

" Aunt Mercy, these things are horrid, all of them. Look
at this shawl," and I unrolled a square silk fabric, the color
of a sick orange. " Where did this come from ? "

" Saints upon earth ! " she exclaimed, " your father
bought it at the best store in New York. It was costly."

" Now tell me, why do the pantalettes of those girls look
so graceful ? They do not twirl round the ankle like a rope,
as mine do."

" I can t say," she answered, with a sigh. " But you
ought to wear long dresses ; now yours are tucked, and
could be let down."

" And these red prunella boots they look like boiled
crabs." I put them on, and walked round the room crab-
fashion, till she laughed hysterically. " Miss Charlotte
Alden wears French kid slippers every day, and I must
wear mine."

" No," she said, " you must only wear them to church."

" I shall talk to father about that, when he comes here

" Gassy, did Charlotte Alden speak to you to-day ?"

" No ; but she made an acquaintance by stares."

" Well, never mind her if she says anything unpleasant to
you ; the Aldens are a high set."

"Are they higher than .we are in Surrey? Have they
heard of my father, who is equal to the President ? "

" We are all equal in the sight of God."

" You do not look as if you thought so, Aunt Mercy.
Why do you say things in Barmouth you never said in

" Come downstairs, Cassandra, and help me finish the


Our conversation was ended ; but I still had my thoughts
on the clothes question, and revolved my plans.

After the morning exercises the next day, Miss Black
called me in to her desk. " I think," she said, " you had
better study Geology. It is important, for it will lead your
mind up from nature to nature s God. My young ladies
have finished their studies in that direction ; therefore you
will recite alone, once a day."

"Yes "em," I replied ; but it was the first time that I had
heard of Geology. The compendium she gave me must
have been dull and dry. I could not get its lessons per
fectly. It never inspired me with any interest for land or
sea. I could not associate any of its terms, or descriptions,
with the great rock under grand ther s house. It was not
for Miss Black to open the nodules of my understanding,
with her hammer of instruction. She proposed Botany
also. The young ladies made botanical excursions to the
fields and woods outside Barmouth ; I might as well join
the class at once. It was now in the family of the Legumes.
I accompanied the class on one excursion. Not a soul ap
peared to know that I was present, and I declined going
again. Composition I must write once a month. A few
more details closed the interview. I mentioned in it that
father desired me to study arithmetic. Miss Black placed
me in a class ; but her interests were in the higher and
more elegant branches of education. I made no more ad
vance in the humble walks of learning than in those adorned
by the dissection of flowers, the disruption of rocks, or the
graces of composition. Though I entered upon my duties
under protest, I soon became accustomed to their routine,
and the rest of my life seemed more like a dream of the
future than a realization of the present. I refused to go
home at the end of the month. I preferred waiting, I said,
to the end of the year. I was not urged to change my
mind ; neither was I applauded for my resolution. The
day that I could have gone home, I asked father to drive
me to Milford, on the opposite side of the river which ran
by Barmouth. I shut my eyes tight, when the horse struck
the boards of the long wooden bridge between the towns,
and opened them when we stopped at an inn by the water
side of Milford. Father took me into a parlor, where sat a
handsome, fat woman, hemming towels.


" Is that you, Morgeson ? " she said. " Is this your

" Yes ; can I leave her with you, while I go to the bank ?
She has not been here before."

" Lord ha mercy on us ; you clip her wings, don t you ?
Come here, child, and let me pull off your pelisse."

I went to her with a haughty air ; it did not please me to
hear my father called " Morgeson," by a person unknown to
me. She understood my expression, and looked up at
father ; they both smiled, and I was vexed with him for his
unwarrantable familiarity. Pinching my cheek with her fat
fingers, which were covered with red and green rings, she
said, "We shall do very well together. What a pretty silk
pelisse, and silver buckles, too."

After father went out, and my bonnet was disposed of,
Mrs. Tabor gave me a huge piece of delicious sponge-cake,
which softened me somewhat.

What is your name, dear ? "


It is easy to see that."

Well, Cassandra."

Oh, what a lovely name," and she drew from her work-
basket a paper-covered book ; " there is no name in this
novel half so pretty ; I wish the heroine s name had been
Cassandra instead of Aldebrante."

" Let me see it," I begged.

" There is a horrid monk in it " ; but she gave it to me,
and was presently called out. I devoured its pages, and
for the only time in that year of Barmouth life, I forgot my
own wants and woes. She saw my interest in the book
when she came back, and coaxed it from me, offering me
more cake, which I accepted. She told me that she had
known father for years, and that he kept his horse at the
inn stables, and dined with her. " But I never knew that
he had a daughter," she continued. " Are you the only

" I have a sister," and after a moment remembered that
I had a brother, too ; but did not think it a fact necessary
to mention.

" I have no children."

" But you have novels to read."

She laughed, and by the time father returned we were


quite chatty. After dinner I asked him to go to some
shops with me. He took me to a jeweler s, and without
consulting me bought an immense mosaic brooch, with a
ruined castle on it, and a pretty ring with a gold stone.

Is there anything more ? " he asked, you would like?

Yes, I want a pink calico dress."

Why ? "

Because the girls at Miss Black s wear pink calico."

Why not get a pink silk ? "

I must have a pink French calico, with a three-cornered
white cloud on it ; it is the fashion."

" The fashion ! " he echoed with contempt. But the dress
was bought, and we went back to Barmouth.

When I appeared in school with my new brooch and ring
the girls crowded round me.

"What does that pin represent, whose estate ? " inquired
one, with envy in her voice.

" Don t the ring make the blood rush into your hand ? "
asked another ; " it looks so."

" Does it ? " I answered ; " I ll hold up my hand in the
air, as you do, to make it white."

"What is your father s business ? " asked Elmira Sawyer,
" is he a tailor ? "

Her insolence made my head swim ; but I did not reply.
When recess was over a few minutes afterward, I cried
under the lid of my desk. These girls overpowered me,
for I could not conciliate them, and had no idea of revenge,
believing that their ridicule was deserved. But I thought
I should like to prove myself respectable. How could I ?
Grand ther was a tailor, and I could not demean myself by
assuring them that my father was a gentleman.

In the course of a month Aunt Mercy had my pink calico
made up by the best dressmaker in Barmouth. When I put
it on I thought I looked better than I ever had before, and
went into school triumphantly with it. The girls surveyed
me in silence ; but criticised me. At last Charlotte Alden
asked me in a whisper if old Mr. Warren made my dress.
She wrote on a piece of paper, in large letters " Girls, don t
let s wear our pink calicoes again," and pushing it over to
Elmira Sawyer, made signs that the paper should be passed
to all the girls. They read it, and turning to Charlotte
Alden nodded. I watched the paper as it made its


round, and saw Mary Bennett drop it on the floor with a

It was a rainy day, and we passed the recess indoors. I
remained quiet, looking over my lesson. " The first period
ends with the carboniferous system ; the second includes
the saliferous and magnesian systems ; the third comprises
the oolitic and chalk systems ; the fourth " " How at
tentive some people are to their lessons," I heard Charlotte
Alden say. Looking up, I saw her near me with Elmira

" What is that you say ? " I asked sharply.

" I am not speaking to you."

"I am angry," I said in a low tone, and rising, " and have
borne enough."

" Who are yoti that you should be angry ? We have heard
about your mother, when she was in love, poor thing."

I struck her so violent a blow in the face that she stag
gered backward. "You are a liar," I said, "and you must
let me alone." Elmira Sawyer turned white, and moved
away. I threw my book at her ; it hit her head, and her
comb was broken by my geological systems. There was a
stir ; Miss Black hurried from her desk, saying, " Young
ladies, what does this mean ? Miss C. Morgeson, your tem
per equals your vulgarity, I find. Take your seat in my

I obeyed her, and as we passed Mary Bennett s desk, where
I saw the paper fall, I picked it up. " See the good man
ners of your favorite, Miss Black ; read it." She bit her
lips as she glanced over it, turned back as if to speak to
Charlotte Alden, looked at me again, and went on: "Sit
down, Miss C. Morgeson, and reflect on the blow you have
given. Will you ask pardon ? "

" I will not ; you know that."

" I have never resorted to severe punishment yet ; but I
fear I shall be obliged to in your case."

" Let me go from here." I clenched my hands, and tried
to get up. She held me down on the seat, and we looked
close in each other s eyes. " You are a bad girl." "And
you are a bad woman," I replied ; " mean and cruel." She
made a motion to strike me, but her hand dropped ; I felt
my nostrils quiver strangely. " For shame," she said, in a
tremulous voice, and turned away. I sat on the bench at


the back of the desk, heartily tired, till school was dis
missed ; as Charlotte Alden passed out, courtesying, Miss
Black said she hoped she would extend a Christian forgive
ness to Miss C. Morgeson, for her unladylike behavior.
" Miss C. Morgeson is a peculiar case."

She gave her a meaning look, which was not lost upon
me. Charlotte answered, "Certainly," and bowed to me
gracefully, whereat I felt a fresh sense of my demerits, and
concluded that I was worsted in the fray.

Miss Black asked no explanation of the affair ; it was
dropped, and none of the girls alluded to it by hint or look
afterward. When I told Aunt Mercy of it, she turned pale,
and said she knew what Charlotte Alden meant, and that
perhaps mother would tell me in good time.

" We had a good many troubles in our young days,


r PHE atmosphere of my two lives was so different, that
J[ when I passed into one, the other ceased to affect me.
I forgot all that I suffered and hated at Miss Black s, as
soon as I crossed the threshold, and entered grand ther s
house. The difference kept up a healthy mean ; either alone
would perhaps have been more than I could then have sus
tained. All that year my life was narrowed to that house, my
school, and the church. Father offered to take me to ride,
when he came to Barmouth, or carry me to Milford ; but
the motion of the carriage, and the conveying power of the
horse, created such a fearful and realizing sense of escape,
that I gave up riding with him. Aunt Mercy seldom left
home ; my schoolmates did not invite me to visit them ; the
seashore was too distant for me to ramble there ; the store
houses and wharves by the river-side offered no agreeable
saunterings ; and the street, in Aunt Mercy s estimation,
was not the place for an idle promenade. My exercise,
therefore, was confined to the garden a pleasant spot, now
that midsummer had come, and inhabited with winged and
crawling creatures, with whom I claimed companionship,
especially with the red, furry caterpillars, that have, alas,
nearly passed away, and given place to a variegated, fan-


tastic tribe, which gentleman farmers are fond of writing

Mother rode over to Barmouth occasionally, but seemed
more glad when she went away than when she came. Ve
ronica came with her once, but said she would come no more
while I was there. She too would wait till the end of the
year, for I spoiled the place. She said this so calmly that
I never thought of being offended by it. I told her the

Online LibraryElizabeth StoddardThe Morgesons; a novel → online text (page 4 of 24)