Elizabeth Stoddard.

The Morgesons; a novel online

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ward voice which claimed her attention. Leaning her head
against her chair, she had quite pushed out her comb,
her hair dropped on her shoulder, and looked like a brown,
coiled serpent. Veronica, who had been silently observing
her, rose from the sofa, picked up the comb, and fastened
her hair, without speaking. As she passed she gave me a
dark look.

" Eh, Verry," said father, " are you there ? Were you
glad to see Cassy home again ? "

" Should 1 be glad ? What can she do ? "

Grandfather pursed up his mouth, and turned toward
mother, as if he would like to say : " You understand bring
ing up children, don t you ? "

She comprehended him, and, giving her head a slight toss,
told Verry to go and play on the piano.

" I was going," she answered pettishly, and darting out a
moment after we heard her.

Grandfather went, and presently Mr. Park got up in a


lingering way, said that Verry must learn to play for the
Lord, and bade us " Good night." But he came back
again, to ask me if I would join Dr. Snail s Bible Class.
It would meet the next evening ; the boys and girls of my
own age went. I promised him to go, wondering whether
I should meet an ancient beau, Joe Bacon. Mother retired ;
Verry still played.

" Her talent is wonderful," said father, taking the cigar
from his mouth. " By the way, you must take lessons in
Milford ; I wish you would learn to sing." I acquiesced,
but I had no wish to learn to play. I could never perform
mechanically what I heard now from Verry. When she
ceased, I woke from a dream, chaotic, but not tumultuous,
beautiful, but inharmonious. Though the fire had gone out,
the lamps winked brightly, and father, moving his cigar to the
other side of his mouth, changed his regards from one lamp
to the other, and said he thought I was growing to be an
attractive girl. He asked me if I would take pains to make
myself an accomplished one also ? I must, of course, be
left to myself in many things ; but he hoped that I would con
fide in him, if I did not ask his advice. A very strong rela-
lation of reserve generally existed between parent and child,
instead of a confidential one, and the child was apt to dis
cover that reserve on the part of the parent was not supe
riority, but cowardice, or indifference. " Let it not be so
with us," was his conclusion. He threw away the stump
of his cigar, and went to fasten the hall-door. I took one
of the brass lamps, proposing to go to bed. As I passed
through the upper entry, Veronica opened her door. She
was undressed, and had a little book in her hand, which she
shook at me, saying, " There is the day of the month put
down on which you came home ; and now mind," then
shut the door. I pondered over what father had said ;
he had perceived something in me which I was not aware
of. I resolved to think seriously over it ; in the morning
I found I had not thought of it at all.



next evening I dressed my hair after the fashion of
the Barmouth girls, with the small pride of wishing to
make myself look different from the Surrey girls. I
expected they would stare at me in the Bible Class. It
would be my debut as a grown girl, and I must offer myself
to their criticism. I went late, so that I might be observed
by the assembled class. It met in the upper story of Tem
perance Hall a new edifice. As I climbed the steep stairs,
Joe Bacon s head came in view ; he had stationed himself
on a bench at the landing to watch for my arrival, of which
he had been apprized by our satellite, Charles. Joe was the
first boy who had ever offered his arm as my escort home
from a party. After that event I had felt that there was
something between us which the world did not understand.
I was flattered, therefore, at the first glimpse of him on this
occasion. When Dr. Snell made his opening prayer, Joe
thrust a Bible before me, open at the lesson of the evening,
and then, rubbing his nose with embarrassment, fixed his
eyes with timid assurance on the opposite wall. Several
of my Morgeson cousins were present, greeting me with
sniffs. But I was disappointed in Joe Bacon ; how young
and shabby he looked ! He wore a monkey jacket, probably
a remnant of his sea-going father s wardrobe. He had done
his best, however, for his hair was greased, and combed to
a marble smoothness ; its sleekness vexed me, not re
membering at that moment the pains I had taken to dress
my own hair, for a more ignoble end.

The girls gathered round me, after the class was dis
missed ; and when Dr. Snell came down from his desk, he
said he was glad to see me, and that I must come to his
rooms to look over the new books he had received. Dr.
Snell was no exception to the rule that a minister must not
be a native among his own people. His long residence in
Surrey had failed to make him appear like one. A bache
lor, with a small private fortune, his style of living differed
from the average of Congregational parsons. His library
was the only lion in our neighborhood. His taste as a col
lector made him known abroad, and he had a reputation
which was not dreamed of by his parishioners, who thought


him queer and simple. He loved old fashions ; wore knee-
breeches, and silver buckles in his shoes ; brewed metheg-
lin in his closet, and drank it from silver-pegged flagons ;
and kept diet bread on a salver to offer his visitors. He
lived near us on the north road, and was very much afraid
of his landlady, Mrs. Grossman, who sat in terrible state in
her parlor, the year through, wearing a black satin cloak
and an awful structure of a cap, which had a potent nod.

I was pleased with Dr. Snell s notice ; his smile was
courtly and his bow Grandisonian.

Joe Bacon was waiting at the foot of the stairs. He ob
truded his arm, and hoarsely muttered, " See you home."
I took it, and we marched along silently, till we were beyond
the sound of voices. He began, rather inarticulately, to say
how glad he was to see me, and that he hoped he was going
to have better times now ; but I could make no response
to his wishes ; the suspicion that he had a serious liking for
me was disgusting. As he talked on I grew irritable,
and replied shortly. When we reached our house, I slipped
my hand from his arm, and ran up the steps, turning back
with my hand on the door-knob to say, " Good-night." The
lamp in the hall shone through the fanlight upon his face ;
it looked intelligent with pain. I skipped down the steps.
" Please open the door, Joe." He brightened, but be
fore he could comply with my request Temperance flung it
wide, for the purpose of making a survey of the clouds and
guessing at to-morrow s weather. His retreat was pre

" Oh ho," said Temperance, " a feller came home with
you. We shall have somebody sitting up a-Thursday nights,
I reckon, before long."

" Nonsense with your Thursday nights."

" Everybody is just alike. We shall have rain, see if we
don t ; rain or no rain, I ll whitewash to-morrow."

Poor Joe ! That night ended my first sentiment. He
died with the measles in less than a month.

" I wish," said Temperance, who was spelling over a
newspaper, " that Dr. Snell would come in before the plum-
cake is gone, that Hepsey made last. The old dear loves
it ; he is always hungry. I candidly believe Mis Grossman
keeps him short."

I expected that Temperance would break out then about


Joe ; but she never mentioned him, except to tell me that she
had heard of his death. She did not whitewash the next day,
for Charles came down with the measles, and was tended by
her with a fretful tenderness. Veronica was seized soon
after, and then Arthur, and then I had them. Veronica was
the worst patient. When her room was darkened she got
out of bed, tore down the quilt that was fastened to the
window, and broke three panes of glass before she could
be captured and taken back. The quilt was not put up
again, however. She cried with anger, unless her hands
were continually washed with lavender water, and made
little pellets of cotton which she stuffed in her ears and
nose, so that she might not hear or smell.

I went to Dr. Snell s as soon as I was able. He was in
his bedchamber, writing a sermon on fine note-paper, and
had disarranged the wide ruffles of his shirt so that he
looked like a mildly angry turkey. Thrusting his spectacles
up into the roots of his hair, he rose, and led me into a
large room adjoining his bedroom, which contained nothing
but tall bookcases, threw open the doors of one, pushed up
a little ladder before it, for me to mount to a row of vol
umes bound in calf, whose backs were labeled " British
Classics." "There," he said, "you will find The Spec
tator, " and trotted back to his sermon, with his pen in his
mouth. I examined the books, and selected Tom Jones
and Goldsmith s Plays to take home. From that time I
grazed at pleasure in his oddly assorted library, ranging
from " The Gentleman s Magazine " to a file of the " Bos
ton Recorder"; but never a volume of poetry anywhere.
I became a devourer of books which I could not digest, and
their influence located in my mind curious and inconsistent
relations between facts and ideas.

My music lessons in Milford were my only task. I re
mained inapt, while Veronica played better and better ;
when I saw her fingers interpreting her feelings, touching
the keys of the piano as if they were the chords of her
thoughts, practice by note seemed a soulless, mechanical
effort, which I would not make. One day mother and I
were reading the separate volumes of charming Miss Austen s
" Mansfield Park," when a message arrived from Aunt
Mercy, with the news of Grand ther Warren s dangerous ill
ness. Mother dropped her book on the floor, but I turned


down the leaf where I was reading. She went to Barmouth
immediately, and the next day grand ther died. He gave
all he had to Aunt Mercy, except six silver spoons, which
he directed the Barmouth silversmith to make for Caroline,
who was now married to her missionary. Mother came
home to prepare for the funeral. When the bonnets, veils,
and black gloves came home, Veronica declared she would not
go. As she had been allowed to stay away from Grand ther
Warren living, why should she be forced to go to him when
dead ? She was so violent in her opposition that mother
ordered Temperance to keep her in her room. Father tried
to persuade her, but she grew white, and trembled so that
he told her she should stay at home. While we were gone
she sent her bonnet to the Widow Smith s daughter, who
appeared in the Poor Seats wearing it, on the very Sunday
after the funeral, when we all went to church in our mourn
ing to make the discovery, which discomposed us exceed

All the church were present at grand ther s funeral, ob
sequies, as Mr. Boold called it, who exalted his character
and behavior so greatly in his discourse that his nearest
friends would not have recognized him, although every
body knew that he was a good man. Mr. Boold expatiated
on his tenderness and delicate appreciation, and his study
of the feelings and wants of others, till he was moved to
tears himself by the picture he drew. I thought of the
pigeons he had shot, and of the summary treatment he gave
me of his coldness and silence toward Aunt Mercy, and
my eyes remained dry ; but mother and Aunt Mercy wept
bitterly. After it was over, and they had gone back to the
empty house, they removed their heavy bonnets, kissed
each other, said they knew that he was in heaven, and held
a comforting conversation about the future ; but my mind
was chained to the edge of the yawning grave into which I
had seen his coffin lowered.

" Shut up the old shell, Mercy," said father. " Come,
and live with us."

She was rejoiced at the prospect, for the life at our house
was congenial, and she readily and gratefully consented.
She came in a few days, with a multitude of boxes, and her
plants. Mother established her in the room next the stairs
a good place for her, Veronica said, for she could be easily


locked out of our premises. The plants were placed on a
new revolving stand, which stood on the landing-place be
neath the stair window. Veronica was so delighted with
them that she made amicable overtures to Aunt Mercy,
and never quarreled with her afterward, except when she
was ill. She entreated her to leave off her bombazine
dresses ; the touch of them interfered with her feelings for
her, she said ; in fact, their contact made her crawl all

Aunt Mercy took upon herself many of mother s irksome
cares ; such as remembering where the patches and old
linen were the hammer and nails ; watching the sweet
meat pots ; keeping the run of the napkins and blankets ;
packing the winter clothing, and having an eye on mice
and ants, moth and mold. Occasionally she read a novel ;
but was faithful to all the week-day meetings, making the
acquaintance thereby of mother s tea-drinking friends, who
considered her an accomplished person, because she worked
lace so beautifully, and had such a faculty for raising plants !
Mother left the house in her charge, and made several
journeys with father this year. This period was perhaps
her happiest. The only annoyance, visible to me, that I
can remember, was one between her and father on the sub
ject of charity. He was for giving to all needy persons,
while she only desired to bestow it on the deserving, but
they had renounced the wish of manufacturing each other s
habits and opinions. Whether mother ever desired the ex
pression of that exaltation of feeling which only lasts in a
man while he is in love, I cannot say. It was not for me
to know her heart. It is not ordained that these beautiful
secrets of feeling should be revealed, where they might
prove to be the sweetest knowledge we could have.

Though the days flew by, days filled with the busy
nothings of prosperity, they bore no meaning. I shifted
the hours, as one shifts the kaleidoscope, with an eye only
to their movement. Neither the remembrance of yesterday
nor the hope of to-morrow stimulated me. The mere fact
of breathing had ceased to be a happiness, since the day I
entered Miss Black s school. But I was not yet thoughtful.
As for my position, I was loved and I was hated, and it
pleased me as much to be hated as to be loved. My ac
quaintances were kind enough to let me know that I was


generally thought proud, exacting, ill-natured, and apt to
expect the best of everything. But one thing I know of my
self then that I concealed nothing ; the desires and emo
tions which are usually kept as a private fund I displayed
and exhausted. My audacity shocked those who possessed
this fund. My candor was called anything but truthful
ness ; they named it sarcasm, cunning, coarseness, or tact,
as those were constituted who came in contact with me.
Insight into character, frankness, generosity, disinterested
ness, were sometimes given me. Veronica alone was un
compromising ; she put aside by instinct what baffled or
attracted others, and, setting my real value upon me, acted
accordingly. I do not accuse her of injustice, but of a
fierce harshness which kept us apart for long years. As
for her, she was the most reticent girl I ever knew, and but
for her explosive temper, which betrayed her, she would
have been a mystery. The difference in our physical con
stitutions would have separated us, if there had been no
other cause. The weeks that she was confined to her room,
preyed upon by some inscrutable disease, were weeks of
darkness and solitude. Temperance and Aunt Merce took
as much care of her as she would allow ; but she preferred
being alone most of the time. Thus she acquired the forti
tude of an Indian ; pain could extort no groan from her.
It reacted on her temper, though, for after an attack she
was exasperating. Her invention was put to the rack to
tease and offend. I kept out of her way ; if by chance she
caught sight of me, she forced me to hear the bitter truth
of myself. Sometimes she examined me to learn if I had
improved by the means which father so generously provided
for me. " Is he not yet tired of his task ? " she asked once.
And, " Do you carry everything before you, with your wide
eyebrows and sharp teeth ? Temperance, where s the
Buffon Dr. Snell sent me ? I want to classify Cass."

" I ll warrant you ll find her a sheep," Temperance re

4< Sheep are innocent," said Veronica. " You may go,"
nodding to me, over the book, and Temperance also made
energetic signs to me to go, and not bother the poor girl.

Always regarding her from the point of view she pre
sented, I felt little love for her ; her peculiarities offended
me as they did mother. We did not perceive the process,


but Verry was educated by sickness ; her mind fed and
grew on pain, and at last mastered it. The darkness in
her nature broke ; by slow degrees she gained health,
though never much strength. Upon each recovery a change
was visible ; a spiritual dawn had risen in her soul ; moral
activity blending with her ideality made her life beautiful,
even in the humblest sense. Veronica ! you were endowed
with genius ; but while its rays penetrated you, we did not
see them. How could we profit by what you saw and
heard, when we were blind and deaf ? To us, the voices
of the deep sang no epic of grief ; the speech of the woods
was not articulate ; the sea-gull s flashing flight, and the
dark swallow s circling sweep, were facts only. Sunrise and
sunset were not a paean to day and night, but five o clock
A.M. or P.M. The seasons that came and went were changes
from hot to cold ; to you, they were the moods of nature,
which found response in those of your own life and soul ;
her storms and calms were pulses which bore a similitude
to the emotions of your heart !

Veronica s habits of isolation clung to her ; she would
never leave home. The teaching she had was obtained in
Surrey. But her knowledge was greater than mine. When
I went to Rosville she was reading " Paradise Lost," and
writing her opinions upon it in a large blank book. She
was also devising a plan for raising trees and flowers in the
garret, so that she might realize a picture of a tropical
wilderness. Her tastes were so contradictory that time
never hung heavy with her ; though she had as little prac
tical talent as any person I ever knew, she was a help to
both sick and well. She remembered people s ill turns,
and what was done for them ; and for the well she remem
bered dates and suggested agreeable occupations gave
them happy ideas. Besides being a calendar of domestic
traditions, she was weather-wise, and prognosticated gales,
meteors, high tides, and rains.

Home, father said, was her sphere. All that she required,
he thought he could do ; byt of me he was doubtful.
Where did I belong ? he asked.

I was still " possessed," Aunt Merce said, and mother
called me "lawless." "What upon earth are you coming
to?" asked Temperance. "You are sowing your wild
oats with a vengeance."


" Locke Morgeson s daughter can do anything," com"
mented the villagers. In consequence of the unlimited
power accorded me I was unpopular. " Do you think she
is handsome ?" inquired my friends of each other. "In
what respect can she be called a beauty? " " Though she
reads, she has no great wit," said one. " She dresses oddly
for effect," another avowed, " and her manners are ridicu
lous." But they borrowed my dresses for patterns, imitated
my bonnets, and adopted my colors. When I learned to
manage a sailboat, they had an aquatic mania. When I
learned to ride a horse, the ancient and moth-eaten side
saddles of the town were resuscitated, and old family nags
were made back-sore with the wearing of them, and their
youthful spirits revived by new beginners sliding about on
their rounded sides. My whims were sneered at, and then
followed. Of course I was driven from whim to whim, to
keep them busy, and to preserve my originality, and at last
I became eccentric for eccentricity s sake. All this pre
pared the way for my Nemesis. But as yet my wild oats
were green and flourishing in the field of youth.


I WAS preaching one day to mother and Aunt Merce a
sermon after the manner of Mr. Boold, of Barmouth,

taking the sofa for a desk, and for my text " Like
David s Harp of solemn sound," and had attracted Tem
perance and Charles into the room by my declamation, when
my audience was unexpectedly increased by the entrance
of father, with a strange gentleman. Aunt Merce laughed
hysterically ; I waved my hand to her, a la Boold, and de
scended from my position.

" Take a chair," said Temperance, who was never abashed,
thumping one down before the stranger.

"What is all this ?" inquired father.

" Only a Ranz des Vaches, father, to please Aunt Merce."

The stranger s eyes were fastened upon me, while father
introduced us to " Mr. Charles Morgeson, of Rosville."

"Please receive me as a relative," he said, turning to
shake hands with mother. " We have an ancestor in


common that makes a sufficient cousinship for a claim, Mrs.

" Why not have looked us up before ? " I asked.

"Why," said Veronica, who had just come in, " there are
six Charles Morgesons buried in our graveyard."

"I supposed," he said, "that the name was extinct. I
lately saw your father s in a State Committee List, and
feeling curious regarding it, I came here."

He bowed distantly to Veronica when she entered, but
she did not return his bow, though she looked at him fix
edly. Temperance and Hepsey hurried up a fine supper
immediately. A visitor was a creature to be fed. Feeding
together removes embarrassment, and before supper was
over we were all acquainted with Mr. Morgeson. There
were three cheerful old ladies spending the week with us
the widow Desire Carver, and her two maiden sisters, Polly
and Serepta Chandler. They filled the part of chorus in
the domestic drama, saying, "Aha," whenever there was a
pause. Veronica affected these old ladies greatly, and
when they were in the house gave them her society. But
for their being there at this time, I doubt whether she
would have seen Mr. Morgeson again. That evening she
played for them. Her wild, pathetic melodies made our
visitor s gray eyes flash with pleasure, and light up his cold
face with gleams of feeling ; but she was not gratified by his
interest. "I think it strange that you should like my
music," she said crossly.

" Do you " he answered, amused at her tone, " perhaps
it is ; but why should I not as well as your friends here ?"
indicating the old ladies.

"Ah, we like it very much," said the three, clicking their

" You, too, play ? " he asked me.

" Miss Gassy don t play," answered the three, looking at
me over their spectacles. " Miss Verry s sun puts out
her fire."

" Cassandra does other things better than playing,"
Veronica said to Mr. Morgeson.

" Why, Veronica," I said, surprised, going toward her.

" Go off, go off," she replied, in an undertone, and struck
up a loud march. He had heard her, and while she played
looked at her earnestly. Then, seeming to forget the pres-


ence of the three, he turned and put out his hand to me,
with an authority I did not resist. I laid my hand in his ;
it was not grasped, but upheld. Veronica immediately
stopped playing.

He stayed several days at our house. After the first
evening we found him taciturn. He played with Arthur,
spoke of his children to him, and promised him a pony if
he would goto Rosville. With father he discussed business
matters, and went out with him to the shipyards and offices.
I scarcely remember that he spoke to me, except in a casual
way, more than once. He asked me if I knew whether the
sea had any influence upon me ; I replied that I had not
thought of it. " There are so many things you have not
thought of," he answered, " that this is not strange."

Veronica observed him closely ; he was aware of it, but
was not embarrassed ; he met her dark gaze with one
keener than her own, and neither talked with the other.
The morning he went away, while the chaise was waiting,
which was to go to Milford to meet the stagecoach, and he
was inviting us to visit him, a thought seemed to strike
him. " By the way, Morgeson, why not give Miss Cas
sandra a finish at Rosville ? I have told you of our Acad
emy, and of the advantages which Rosville affords in the
way of society. What do you say, Mrs. Morgeson, will you

Online LibraryElizabeth StoddardThe Morgesons; a novel → online text (page 6 of 24)