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

Alice and I were preparing for the first ball, when Charles came home, having been absent several weeks. The conservatory was finished, and looked well, jutting from the garden-room, which we used often, since the weather had been cold. The flowers and plants it was filled with were more fragrant and beautiful than rare. I never saw him look so genial as when he inspected it with us. Alice was in good-humor, also, for he had brought her a set of jewels.

“Is it not her birthday,” he said, when he gave her the jewel case, “or something, that I can give Cassandra this?” taking a little box from his pocket.

“Oh yes,” said Alice; “show it to us.”

“Will you have it?” he asked me.

I held out my hand, and he put on my third finger a diamond ring, which was like a star.

“How well it looks on your long hand!” said Alice.

“What unsuspected tastes I find I have!” I answered. “I am passionately fond of rings; this delights me.”

His swarthy face flushed with pleasure at my words; but, according to his wont, he said nothing.

A few days after his return, a man came into the yard, leading a powerful horse chafing in his halter, which he took to the stable. Charles asked me to look at a new purchase he had made in Pennsylvania. The strange man was lounging about the stalls when we went in, inspecting the horses with a knowing air.

“I declare, sir,” said Jesse, “I am afeared to tackle this ere animal; he’s a reglar brute, and no mistake.”

“He’ll be tame enough; he is but four years old.”

“He’s never been in a carriage,” said the man.

“Lead him out, will you?”

The man obeyed. The horse was a fine creature, black, and thick-maned; but the whites of his eyes were not clear; they were streaked with red, and he attempted continually to turn his nostrils inside out. Altogether, I thought him diabolical.

“What’s the matter with his eyes?” Charles asked.

“I think, sir,” the man replied, “as how they got inflamed like, in the boat coming from New York. It’s nothing perticalar, I believe.”

Alice declared it was too bad, when she heard there was another horse in the stable. She would not look at him, and said she would never ride with Charles when he drove him.

I had been taking lessons of Professor Simpson, and was ready for the ball. All the girls from the Academy were going in white, except Helen, who was to wear pink silk. It was to be a military ball, and strangers were expected. Ben Somers, and our Rosville beaux, were of course to be there, all in uniform, except Ben, who preferred the dress of a gentleman, he said, silk stockings, pumps, and a white cravat.

We were dressed by nine o’clock, Alice in black velvet, with a wreath of flowers in her black hair I in alight blue velvet bodice, and white silk skirt. We were waiting for the ball hack to come for us, as hat was the custom, for no one owned a close coach in Rosville, when Charles brought in some splendid scarlet flowers which he gave to Alice.

“Where are Cassandra’s?”

“She does not care for flowers; besides, she would throw them away on her first partner.”

He put us in the coach, and went back. I was glad he did not come with us, and gave myself up to the excitement of my first ball. Alice was surrounded by her acquaintances at once, and I was asked to dance a quadrille by Mr. Parker, whose gloves were much too large, and whose white trowsers were much too long.

“I kept the flowers you gave me,” he said in a breathless way.

“Oh yes, I remember; mustn’t we forward now?”

“Mr. Morgeson’s very fond of flowers.”

“So he is. How de do, Miss Ryder.”

Miss Ryder, my vis-a-vis, bowed, looking scornfully at my partner, who was only a clerk, while hers was a law student. I immediately turned to Mr. Parker with affable smiles, and went into a kind of dumb-show of conversation, which made him warm and uncomfortable. Mrs. Judge Ryder sailed by on Ben Somers’s arm.

“Put your shoulders down,” she whispered to her daughter, who had poked one very much out of her dress. “My love,” she spoke aloud, “you mustn’t dance every set.”

“No, ma,” and she passed on, Ben giving a faint cough, for my benefit. We could not find Alice after the dance was over. A brass band alternated with the quadrille band, and it played so loudly that we had to talk at the top of our voices to be heard. Mine soon gave out, and I begged Mr. Parker to bring Helen, for I had not yet seen her. She was with Dr. White, who had dropped in to see the miserable spectacle. The air, he said, shaking his finger at me, was already miasmal; it would be infernal by midnight Christians ought not to be there. “Go home early, Miss. Your mother never went to a ball, I’ll warrant.”

“We are wiser than our mothers.”

“And wickeder; you will send for me to-morrow.”

“Your Valenciennes lace excruciates the Ryders,” said Helen. “I was standing near Mrs. Judge Ryder and the girls just now. ’Did you ever see such an upstart?’ And, ’What an extravagant dress she has on it is ridiculous,’ Josephine Ryder said. When Ben Somers heard this attack on you, he told them that your lace was an heirloom. Here he is.” Mr. Parker took her away, and Ben Somers went in pursuit of a seat. The quadrille was over, I was engaged for the next, and he had not come back. I saw nothing of him till the country dance before supper. He was at the foot of the long line, opposite a pretty girl in blue, looking very solemn and stately. I took off the glove from my hand which wore the new diamond, and held it up, expecting him to look my way soon. Its flash caught his eyes, as they roamed up and down, and, as I expected, he left his place and came up behind me.

“Where did you get that ring?” wiping his face with his handkerchief.

“Ask Alice.”

“You are politic.”

“Handsome, isn’t it?”

“And valuable; it cost as much as the new horse.”

“Have you made a memorandum of it?”

“Destiny has brilliant spokes in her wheel, hasn’t she?”

“Is that from the Greek tragedies?”

“To your places, gentlemen,” the floor-manager called, and the band struck up the Fisher’s Hornpipe. At supper, I saw Ben Somers, still with the pretty girl in blue; but he came to my chair and asked me if I did not think she was a pretty toy for a man to play with.

“How much wine have you drunk? Enough to do justice to the family annals?”

“Really, you have been well informed. No, I have not drunk enough for that; but Mrs. Ryder has sent her virgins home with me. I am afraid their lamps are upset again. I drink nothing after to-night. You shall not ask again, ‘How much?’”

My fire was out when I reached home. My head was burning and aching. I was too tired to untwist my hair, and I pulled and dragged at my dress, which seemed to have a hundred fastenings. Creeping into bed, I perceived the odor of flowers, and looking at my table discovered a bunch of white roses.

“Roses are nonsense, and life is nonsense,” I thought.

When I opened my eyes, Alice was standing by the bed, with a glass of roses in her hand.

“Charles put these roses here, hey?”

“I suppose so; throw them out of the window, and me too; my head is splitting.”

“To make amends for not giving you any last night,” she went on; “he is quite childish.”

“Can’t you unbraid my hair, it hurts my head so?”

She felt my hands. I was in a fever, she said, and ran down for Charles. “Cass is sick, in spite of your white roses.”

“The devil take the roses. Can’t you get up, Cassandra?”

“Not now. Go away, will you?”

He left the room abruptly. Alice loosened my hair, bound my head, and poured cologne-water over me, lamenting all the while that she had not brought me home; and then went down for some tea, presently returning to say that Charles had been for Dr. White, who said he would not come. But he was there shortly afterward. By night I was well again.

Dr. Price gave us a lecture on late hours that week, requesting us, if we had any interest in our education, or expected him to have any, to abstain from balls.

Ben Somers disappeared; no one knew where he had gone. The Ryders were in consternation, for he was an intimate of the family, since he had gone into Judge Ryder’s office, six weeks before. He returned, however, with a new overcoat trimmed with fur, the same as that with which my new cloak was trimmed. A great snowstorm began the day of his return, and blocked us indoors for several days, and we had permanent sleighing afterward.

In January it was proposed that we should go to the Swan Tavern, ten miles out of Rosville.

I had made good resolutions since the ball, and declined going to the second, which came off three weeks afterward. The truth was, I did not enjoy the first; but I preferred to give my decision a virtuous tinge. I also determined to leave the Academy when the spring came, for I felt no longer a schoolgirl. But for Helen, I could not have remained as I did. She stayed for pastime now, she confessed, it was so dull at home; her father was wrapped in his studies, and she had a stepmother. I resolved again that I would study more, and was translating, in view of this resolve, “Corinne,” with Miss Prior, and singing sedulously with Mrs. Lane, and had begun a course of reading with Dr. Price.

I refused two invitations to join the sleighing party, and on the night it was to be had prepared to pass the evening in my own room with Oswald and Corinne. Before the fire, with lighted candles, I heard a ringing of bells in the yard and a stamping of feet on the piazza. Alice sent up for me. I found Ben Somers with her, who begged me to take a seat in his sleigh. Helen was there, and Amelia Bancroft. Alice applauded me for refusing him; but when he whispered in my ear that he had been to Surrey I changed my mind. She assisted me with cheerful alacrity to put on a merino dress, its color was purple; a color I hate now, and never wear and wrapped me warmly. Charles appeared before we started. “Are you really going?” he asked, in a tone of displeasure.

“She is really going,” Ben answered for me. “Mr. and Mrs. Bancroft are going,” Helen said. “Why not drive out with Mrs. Morgeson?”

“The night is splendid,” Ben remarked.

“Wont you come?” I asked.

“If Alice wishes it. Will you go?” he asked her.

“Would you?” she inquired of all, and all replied, “Yes.”

We started in advance. Helen and Amelia were packed on the back seat, in a buffalo robe, while Ben and I sat in the shelter of the driver’s box, wrapped in another. It was moonlight, and as we passed the sleighs of the rest of the party, exchanging greetings, we grew very merry. Ben, voluble and airy, enlivened us by his high spirits.

We were drinking mulled wine round the long pine dinner-table of the Swan, when Charles and Alice arrived. There were about thirty in the room, which was lighted by tallow candles. When he entered, it seemed as if the candles suddenly required snuffing, and we ceased to laugh. All spoke to him with respect, but with an inflection of the voice which denoted that he was not one of us. As he carelessly passed round the table all made a movement as he approached, scraping their chairs on the bare floor, moving their glass of mulled wine, or altering the position of their arms or legs. An indescribable appreciation of the impression which he made upon others filled my heart. His isolation from the sympathy of every person there gave me a pain and a pity, and for the first time I felt a pang of tenderness, and a throe of pride for him. But Alice, upon whom he never made any impression, saw nothing of this; her gayety soon removed the stiffness and silence he created. The party grew noisy again, except Ben, who had not broken the silence into which he fell as soon as he saw Charles. The mulled wine stood before him untouched. I moved to the corner of the table to allow room for the chair which Charles was turning toward me. Ben ordered more wine, and sent a glass full to him. Taking it from the boy who brought it, I gave it to him. “Drink,” I said. My voice sounded strangely. Barely tasting it, he set the glass down, and leaning his arm on the table, turned his face to me, shielding it with his hand from the gaze of those about us. I pushed away a candle that flared in our faces.

“You never drink wine?”

“No, Cassandra.”

“How was the ride down?”

“Delightful.”

“What about the new horse?”

“He is an awful brute.”

“When shall we have a ride with him?”

“When you please.”

The boy came in to say would we please go to the parlor; our room was wanted for supper. An immediate rush, with loud laughing, took place, for the parlor fire; but Charles and I did not move. I was busy remaking the bow of my purple silk cravat.

“‘I drink the cup of a costly death,’” Ben hummed, as he sauntered along by us, hands in his pockets the last in the room, except us two.

“Indeed, Somers; perhaps you would like this too.” And Charles offered him his glass of wine.

Ben took it, and with his thumb and finger snapped it off at the stem, tipping the wine over Charles’s hand.

I saw it staining his wristband, like blood. He did not stir, but a slight smile traveled swiftly over his face.

“I know Veronica,” said Ben, looking at me. “Has this man seen her?”

His voice crushed me. What a barrier his expression of contempt made between her and me!

Withal, I felt a humiliating sense of defeat.

Charles read me.

As he folded his wristband under his sleeve, carefully and slowly, his slender fingers did not tremble with the desire that possessed him, which I saw in his terrible eyes as plainly as if he had spoken, “I would kill him.”

They looked at my hands, for I was wringing them, and a groan burst from me.

“Somers,” said Charles, rising and touching his shoulder, “behave like a man, and let us alone; I love this girl.”

His pale face changed, his eyes softened, and mine filled with tears.

“Cassandra,” urged Ben, in a gentle voice, “come with me; come away.”

“Fool,” I answered; “leave me alone, and go.”

He hesitated, moved toward the door, and again urged me to come.

“Go! go!” stamping my foot, and the door closed without a sound.

For a moment we stood, transfixed in an isolation which separated us from all the world beside.

“Now Charles, we” a convulsive sob choked me, a strange taste filled my mouth, I put my handkerchief to my lips and wiped away streaks of blood. I showed it to him.

“It is nothing, by God!” snatching the handkerchief. “Take mine oh, my dear ”

I tried to laugh, and muttered the imperative fact of joining the rest.

“Be quiet, Cassandra.”

He opened the window, took a handful of snow from the sill and put it to my mouth. It revived me.

“Do you hear, Charles? Never say those frightful words again. Never, never.”

“Never, if it must be so.”

He touched my hand; I opened it; his closed over mine.

“Go, now,” he said, and springing to the window, threw it up, and jumped out. The boy came in with a tablecloth on his arm, and behind him Ben.

“Glass broken, sir.”

“Put it in the bill.”

He offered me his arm, which I was glad to take.

“Where is Charles?” Alice asked, when we went in.

“He has just left us,” Ben answered; “looking after his horses, probably.”

“Of course,” she replied. “You look blue, Cass. Here, take my chair by the fire; we are going to dance a Virginia reel.”

I accepted her offer, and was thankful that the dance would take them away. I wanted to be alone forever. Helen glided behind my chair, and laid her hand on my shoulder; I shook it off.

“What is the matter, Cass?”

“I am going away from Char school.”

“We are all going; but not to-night.”

“I am going to-night.”

“So you shall, dear; but wait till after supper.”

“Do you think, Helen, that I shall ever have consumption?” fumbling for my handkerchief, forgetting in whose possession it was. Charles came in at that instant, and I remembered that he had it.

“What on earth has happened to you? Oh!” she exclaimed, as I looked at her. “You were out there with Morgeson and Ben Somers,” she whispered; “something has occurred; what is it?”

“You shall never know; never never never.”

“Cassandra, that man is a devil.”

“I like devils.”

“The same blood rages in both of you.”

“It’s mulled wine, thick and stupid.”

“Nonsense.”

“Will there be tea, at supper?”

“You shall have some.”

“Ask Ben to order it.”

“Heaven forgive us all, Cassandra!”

“Remember the tea.”

Charles stood near his wife; wherever she moved afterwards he moved. I saw it, and felt that it was the shadow of something which would follow.

At last the time came for us to return. Helen had plied me with tea, and was otherwise watchful, but scarcely spoke.

“It is an age,” I said, “since I left Rosville.”

She raised her eyebrows merely, and asked me if I would have more tea.

“In my room,” I thought, “I shall find myself again.” And as I opened my door, it welcomed me with so friendly and silent an aspect, that I betrayed my grief, and it covered my misery as with a cloak.