Read CHAPTER XVIII of The Morgesons, free online book, by Elizabeth Stoddard, on ReadCentral.com.

Alice was unusually gay the next morning. She praised Mr. Somers, and could not imagine what had been the cause of his being expelled from the college.

“Don’t you like him, Cassandra? His family are unexceptionable.”

“So is he, I believe, except in his fists. But how did you learn that his family were unexceptionable?”

“Charles inquired in Boston, and heard that his mother was one of the greatest heiresses in Belem.”

“Did you enjoy last night, Alice?”

“Yes, I am fond of whist parties. You noticed that Charles has not a remarkable talent that way. Did he speak to Mr. Somers at all, while you played? I was too busy to come in. By the by, I must go now, and see if the parlor is in order.”

I followed her with my bonnet in hand, for it was school time. She looked about, then went up to the mantel, and taking out the candle-ends from the candelabra, looked in the glass, and said, “I am a fright this morning.”

“Am I?” I asked over her shoulder, for I was nearly a head taller.

“No; you are too young to look jaded in the morning. Your eyes are as clear as a child’s; and how blue they are.”

“Mild and babyish-like, are they not? almost green with innocence. But Charles has devilish eyes, don’t you think so?”

She turned with her mouth open in astonishment, and her hand full of candle-ends. “Cassandra Morgeson, are you mad?”

“Good-by,” Alice.

I only saw Mr. Somers at prayers during the following fortnight. But in that short time he made many acquaintances. Helen told me that he had decided to study law with Judge Ryder, and that he had asked her how long I expected to stay in Rosville. Nothing eccentric had been discovered in his behavior; but she was convinced that he would astonish us before long. The first Wednesday after our party, I was absent from the elocutionary exercise; but the second came round, and I took my place as usual beside Helen.

“This will be Mr. Somers’s first and last appearance on our stage,” she whispered; “some whim prompts him to come to-day.”

He delighted Dr. Price by translating from the Agamemnon of AEschylus.

“Re-enter Clytemnestra.”

“Men! Citizens! ye Elders of Argos present here.”

“Who was Agamemnon?” I whispered.

“He gave Cassandra her last ride.”

“Did he upset her?”

“Study Greek and you will know,” she replied, frowning at him as he stepped from the platform.

We went to walk in Silver Street after school, and he joined us.

“Do you read Greek?” he asked her.

“My father is a Greek Professor, and he made me study it when I was a little girl.”

“The name of Cassandra inspired me to rub up my knowledge of the tragedies.”

Helen and he had a Homeric talk, while I silently walked by them, thinking that Cassandra would have suited Veronica, and that no name suited me. From some reason I did not discover, Helen began to loiter, pretending that she wanted to have a look at the clouds. But when I looked back her head was bent to the ground. Mr. Somers offered to carry my books.

“Carry Helen’s; she is smaller than I am.”

“Confound Helen!”

“And the books, too, if you like. Helen,” I called, “why do you loiter? It is time for dinner. We must go home.”

“I am quite ready for my dinner,” she replied. “Wont you come to our house this afternoon and take tea with me?”

“Oh, Miss Perkins, do invite me also,” he begged. “I want to bring Tennyson to you.”

“Is he related to Agamemnon?” I asked.

“I’ll ask Mrs. Bancroft if I may invite you,” said Helen, “if you are sure that you would like a stupid, family tea.”

“I am positive that I should. Tennyson, though an eminent Grecian, is not related to the person you spoke of.”

We parted at the foot of Silver Street, with the expectation of meeting before night. Helen sent me word not to fail, as she had sent for Mr. Somers, and that Mrs. Bancroft was already preparing tea. Alice drove down there with me, to call on Mrs. Bancroft. The two ladies compared children, and by the time Alice was ready to go, Mr. Somers arrived. She staid a few moments more to chat with him, and when she went at last, told me Charles would come for me on his way from the mills.

My eyes wandered in the direction of Mr. Somers. His said: “No; go home with me.”

“Very well, Alice, whatever is convenient,” I answered quietly.

Mrs. Bancroft was a motherly woman, and Mr. Bancroft was a fatherly man. Five children sat round the tea-table, distinguished by the Bancroft nose. Helen and I were seated each side of Mr. Somers. The table reminded me of our table at Surrey, it was so covered with vast viands; but the dishes were alike, and handsome. I wondered whether mother had bought the new china in Boston, and, buttering my second hot biscuit, I thought of Veronica; then, of the sea. How did it look? Hark! Its voice was in my ear! Could I climb the housetop? Might I not see the mist which hung over our low-lying sea by Surrey?

“Will you take quince or apple jelly, Miss Morgeson?” asked Mrs. Bancroft.

“Apple, if you please.”

“Do you write that sister of yours often?” asked Mr. Somers, as he passed me the apple jelly.

“I never write her.”

“Will you tell me something of Surrey?”

“Mr. Somers, shall I give you a cup-custard?”

“No, thank you, mam.”

“Surrey is lonely, evangelical, primitive.”

“Belem is dreary too; most of it goes to Boston, or to India.”

“Does it smell of sandal wood? And has everybody tea-caddies? Vide Indian stories.”

“We have a crate of queer things from Calcutta.”

“Are you going to study law with Judge Ryder?” Mr. Bancroft inquired.

“I think so.”

Then Helen pushed back her chair; and Mrs. Bancroft stood in her place long enough for us to reach the parlor door.

“And I must go to the office,” Mr. Bancroft said, so we had the parlor to ourselves; but Mr. Somers did not read from Tennyson for he had forgotten to bring the book.

“Now for a compact,” he said. “I must be called Ben Somers by you; and may I call you Cassandra, and Helen?”

“Yes,” we answered.

“Let us be confidential.”

And we were. I was drawn into speaking of my life at home; my remarks, made without premeditation, proved that I possessed ideas and feelings hitherto unknown. I felt no shyness before him, and, although I saw his interest in me, no agitation. Helen was also moved to tell us that she was engaged. She rolled up her sleeve to show us a bracelet, printed in ink on her arm, with the initials, “L.N.” Those of her cousin, she said; he was a sailor, and some time, she supposed, they would marry.

“How could you consent to have your arm so defaced?” I asked.

Her eyes flashed as she replied that she had not looked upon the mark in that light before.

“We may all be tattooed,” said Mr. Somers.

“I am,” I thought.

He told us in his turn that he should be rich. “There are five of us. My mother’s fortune cuts up rather; but it wont be divided till the youngest is twenty-one. I assure you we are impatient.”

“Some one of your family happened to marry a Morgeson,” I here remarked.

“I wrote father about that; he must know the circumstance, though he never has a chance to expatiate on his side of the house. Poor man! he has the gout, and passes his time in experiments with temperature and diet. Will you ever visit Belem? I shall certainly go to Surrey.”

Mrs. Bancroft interrupted us, and soon after Mr. Bancroft arrived, redolent of smoke. Ten o’clock came, and nobody for me. At half-past ten I put on my shawl to walk home, when Charles drove up to the gate.

“Say,” said Ben Somers, in a low voice, “that you will walk with me.”

“I am not too late, Cassandra?” called Charles, coming up the steps, bowing to all. “I am glad you are ready; Nell is impatient.”

“My dear,” asked Mrs. Bancroft, “how dare you trust to the mercy of such vicious beasts as Mr. Morgeson loves to drive?”

“Come,” he said, touching my arm.

“Wont you walk?” said Mr. Somers aloud.

“Walk?” echoed Charles. “No.”

“I followed him. Nell had already bitten off a paling; and as he untied her he boxed her ears. She did not jump, for she knew the hand that struck her. We rushed swiftly away through the long shadows of the moonlight.

“Charles, what did Ben Somers do at Harvard?”

“He was in a night-fight, and he sometimes got drunk; it is a family habit.”

“Pray, why did you inquire about him?”

“From the interest I feel in him.”

“You like him, then?”

“I detest him; do you too?”

“I like him.”

He bent down and looked into my face.

“You are telling me a lie.”

I made no reply.

“I should beg your pardon, but I will not. I am going away to-morrow. Give me your hand, and say farewell.”

“Farewell then. Is Alice up? I see a light moving in her chamber.”

“If you do, she is not waiting for me.”

“I have been making coffee for you,” she said, as soon as we entered, “in my French biggin. I have packed your valise too, Charles, and have ordered your breakfast. Cassy, we will breakfast after he has gone.”

“I have to sit up to write, Alice. See that the horses are exercised. Ask Parker to drive them. The men will be here to-morrow to enlarge the conservatory.”

“Yes.”

“I shall get a better stock while I am away.”

I sipped my coffee; Alice yawned fearfully, with her hand on the coffee-pot, ready to pour again. “Why, Charles,” she exclaimed, “there is no cream in your coffee.”

“No, there isn’t,” looking into his cup; “nor sugar.”

She threw a lump at him, which he caught, laughing one of his abrupt laughs.

“How extraordinarily affectionate,” I thought, but somehow it pleased me.

“Why do you tempt me, Alice?” I said. “Doctor White says I must not drink coffee.”

“Tempted!” Charles exclaimed. “Cassandra is never tempted. What she does, she does because she will. Don’t worry yourself, Alice, about her.”

“Because I will,” I repeated.

A nervous foreboding possessed me, the moment I entered my room. Was it the coffee? Twice in the night I lighted my candle, looked at the little French clock on the mantel, and under the bed. At last I fell asleep, but starting violently from its oblivious dark, to become aware that the darkness of the room was sentient. A breath passed over my face; but I caught no sound, though I held my breath to listen for one. I moved my hands before me then, but they came in contact with nothing. My forebodings passed away, and I slept till Alice sent for me. I sat up in bed philosophizing, and examining the position of the chairs, the tops of the tables and the door. No change had taken place. But my eyes happened to fall on my handkerchief, which had dropped by the bedside. I picked it up; there was a dusty footprint upon it. The bell rang, and, throwing it under the bed, I dressed and ran down. Alice was taking breakfast, tired of waiting. She said the baby had cried till after midnight, and that Charles never came to bed at all.

“Do eat this hot toast; it has just come in.”

“I shall stay at home to-day, Alice, I feel chilly; is it cold?”

“You must have a fire in your room.”

“Let me have one to day; I should like to sit there.”

She gave orders for the fire, and went herself to see that it burned. Soon I was sitting before it, my feet on a stool, and a poker in my hand with which I smashed the smoky lumps of coal which smoldered in the grate.

I stayed there all day, looking out of the window when I heard the horses tramp in the stable or a step on the piazza. It was a dull November day; the atmosphere was glutinous with a pale mist, which made the leaves stick together in bunches, helplessly cumbering the ground. The boughs dropped silent tears over them, under the gray, pitiless sky. I read Byron, which was the only book in the house, I believe; for neither Charles nor Alice read anything except the newspapers. I looked over my small stores also, and my papers, which consisted of father’s letters. As I was sorting them the thought struck me of writing to Veronica, and I arranged my portfolio, pulled the table nearer the fire, and began, “Dear Veronica.” After writing this a few times I gave it up, cut off the “Dear Veronicas,” and made lamplighters of the paper.

Ben Somers called at noon, to inquire the reason of my absence from school, and left a book for me. It was the poems he had spoken of. I lighted on “Fatima,” read it and copied it. In the afternoon Alice came up with the baby.

“Let me braid your hair,” she said, “in a different fashion.”

I assented; the baby was bestowed on a rug, and a chair was put before the glass, that I might witness the operation.

“What magnificent hair!” she said, as she unrolled it. “It is a yard long.”

“It is a regular mane, isn’t it?”

She began combing it; the baby crawled under the bed, and coming out with the handkerchief in its hand, crept up to her, trying to make her take it. She had combed my hair over my face, but I saw it.

“Do I hurt you, Cass?”

“No, do I ever hurt you, Alice?” And I divided the long bands over my eyes, and looked up at her.

“Were any of your family ever cracked? I have long suspected you of a disposition that way.”

“The child is choking itself with that handkerchief.”

She took it, and, tossing it on the bed, gave Byron to the child to play with, and went on with the hair-dressing.

“There, now,” she said, “is not this a masterpiece of barber’s craft? Look at the back of your head, and then come down.”

“Yes, I will, for I feel better.”

When I returned to my room again it was like meeting a confidential friend.

A few days after, father came to Rosville. I invited Ben Somers and Helen to spend with us the only evening he stayed. After they were gone, we sat in my room and talked over many matters. His spirits were not as buoyant as usual, and I felt an undefinable anxiety which I did not mention. When he said that mother was more abstracted than ever, he sighed. I asked him how many years he thought I must waste; eighteen had already gone for nothing.

“You must go in the way ordained, waste or no waste. I have tried to make your life differ from mine at the same age, for you are like me, and I wanted to see the result.”

“We shall see.”

“Veronica has been let alone is master of herself, except when in a rage. She is an extraordinary girl; independent of kith and kin, and everything else. I assure you, Miss Cassy, she is very good.”

“Does she ever ask for me?”

“I never heard her mention your name but once. She asked one day what your teachers were. You do not love each other, I suppose. What hatred there is between near relations! Bitter, bitter,” he said calmly, as if he thought of some object incapable of the hatred he spoke of.

“That’s Grandfather John Morgeson you think of. I do not hate Veronica. I think I love her; at least she interests me.”

“The same creeping in the blood of us all, Cassy. I did not like my father; but thank God I behaved decently toward him. It must be late.”

As he kissed me, and we stood face to face, I recognized my likeness to him. “He has had experiences that I shall never know,” I thought. “Why should I tell him mine?” But an overpowering impulse seized me to speak to him of Charles. “Father,” and I put my hands on his shoulders. He set his candle back on the table.

“You look hungry-eyed, eager. What is it? Are you well?”

“No.”

“You are faded a little. Your face has lost its firmness.”

My impulse died a sudden death. I buried it with a swallow.

“Do you think so?”

“You are all alike. Let me tell you something; don’t get sick. If you are, hide it as much as possible. Men do not like sick women.”

“I’ll end this fading business as soon as possible. It is late. Good-night, dad.”

I examined my face as soon as he closed the door. There was a change. Not the change from health to disease, but an expression lurking there a reflection of some unrevealed secret.

The next morning was passed with Alice and the children. He was pleased with her prettiness and sprightliness, and his gentle manner and disposition pleased her. She asked him to let me spend another year in Rosville; but he said that I must return to Surrey, and that he never would allow me to leave home again.

“She will marry.”

“Not early.”

“Never, I believe,” I said.

“It will be as well.”

“Yes,” she replied; “if you leave her a fortune, or teach her some trade, that will give her some importance in the world.”

Her wisdom astonished me.

He was sorry, he said, that Morgeson was not at home. When he mentioned him I looked out of the window, and saw Ben Somers coming into the yard. As he entered, Alice gave him a meaning look, which was not lost upon me, and which induced him to observe Ben closely.

“The train is nearly due, Mr. Morgeson; shall I walk to the station with you?”

“Certainly; come, Cassy.”

On the way he touched me, making a sign toward Ben. I shook my head, which appeared satisfactory. The rest of the time was consumed in the discussion of the relationship, which ended in an invitation, as I expected, to Surrey.

“The governor is not worried, is he?” asked Ben, on our way back.

“No more than I am.”

“What a pity Morgeson was not at home!”

“Why a pity?”

“I should like to see them together, they are such antipodal men. Does your father know him well?”

“Does any one know him well?”

“Yes, I know him. I do not like him. He is a savage, living by his instincts, with one element of civilization he loves Beauty beauty like yours.” He turned pale when he said this, but went on. “He has never seen a woman like you; who has? Forgive me, but I watch you both.”

“I have perceived it.”

“I suppose so, and it makes you more willful.”

“You said you were but a boy.”

“Yes, but I have had one or two manly wickednesses. I have done with them, I hope.”

“So that you have leisure to pry into those of others.”

“You do not forgive me.”

“I like you; but what can I do?”

“Keep up your sophistry to the last.”