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

Helen was called home by the illness of her father and did not return to Rosville. She would write me, she said; but it was many weeks before I received a letter. Ben Somers about this time took a fit of industry, and made a plan for what he called a well-regulated life, averring that he should always abide by it. Every hour had its duty, which must be fulfilled. He weighed his bread and meat, ate so many ounces a day, and slept watch and watch, as he nautically termed it. I guessed that the meaning of his plan was to withdraw from the self-chosen post of censor. His only alienation was an occasional disappearance for a few days. I never asked him where he went, and had never spoken to him concerning his mysterious remark about having been in Surrey. Neither had I heard anything of his being there from father. Once he told me that his father had explained the marriage of old Locke Morgeson; but that it was not clear to him that we were at all related.

In consequence of his rigorous life, I saw little of him. Though urged by Alice, he did not come to our house, and we rarely met him elsewhere. People called him eccentric, but as he was of a rich family he could afford to be, and they felt no slight by his neglect.

There was a change everywhere. The greatest change of all was in Charles. From the night of the sleigh-ride his manner toward me was totally altered. As far as I could discern, the change was a confirmed one. The days grew monotonous, but my mind avenged itself by night in dreams, which renewed our old relation in all its mysterious vitality. So strong were their impressions that each morning I expected to receive some token from him which would prove that they were not lies. As my expectation grew cold and faint, the sense of a double hallucination tormented me the past and the present.

The winter was over. I passed it like the rest of Rosville, going out when Alice went, staying at home when she stayed. It was all one what I did, for my aspect was one of content.

Alice alone was unchanged; her spirits and pursuits were always the same. Judging by herself, if she judged at all, she perceived no change in us. Her theory regarding Charles was too firm to be shaken, and all his oddity was a matter of course. As long as I ate, and drank, and slept as usual, I too must be the same. He was not at home much. Business, kept him at the mills, where he often slept, or out of town. But the home machinery was still under his controlling hand. Not a leaf dropped in the conservatory that he did not see; not a meal was served whose slightest detail was not according to his desire. The horses were exercised, the servants managed, the children kept within bounds; nothing in the formula of our daily life was ever dropped, and yet I scarcely ever saw him! When we met, I shared his attentions. He gave me flowers; noticed my dress; spoke of the affairs of the day; but all in so public and matter-of-fact a way that I thought I must be the victim of a vicious sentimentality, or that he had amused himself with me. Either way, the sooner I cured myself of my vice the better. But my dreams continued.

“I miss something in your letters,” father complained. “What is it? Would you like to come home? Your mother is failing in health she may need you, though she says not.”

I wrote him that I should come home.

“Are you prepared,” he asked in return, “to remain at home for the future? Have you laid the foundation of anything by which you can abide contented, and employed? Veronica has been spending two months in New York, with the family of one of my business friends. All that she brings back serves to embellish her quiet life, not to change it. Will it be so with you?”

I wrote back, “No; but I am coming.”

He wrote again of changes in Surrey. Dr. Snell had gone, library and all, and a new minister, red hot from Andover, had taken his place. An ugly new church was building. His best ship, the Locke Morgeson, was at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, he had just heard. Her loss bothered him, but his letters were kinder than ever.

I consulted with Alice about leaving the Academy. She approved my plan, but begged me not to leave her. I said nothing of my determination to that effect, feeling a strange disinclination toward owning it, though I persisted in repeating it to myself. I applied diligently to my reading, emulating Ben Somers in the regularity of my habits, and took long walks daily a mode of exercise I had adopted since I had ceased my rides with Charles. The pale blue sky of spring over me, and the pale green grass under me, were charming perhaps; but there was the same monotony in them, as in other things. I did not frequent our old promenade, Silver Street, but pushed my walks into the outskirts of Rosville, by farms bordered with woods. My schoolmates, who were familiar with all the pleasant spots of the neighborhood, met me in groups. “Are you really taking walks like the rest of us?” they asked. “Only alone,” I answered.

I bade farewell at last to Miss Prior. We parted with all friendliness and respect; from the fact, possibly, that we parted ignorant of each other. It was the most rational relation that I had ever held with any one. We parted without emotion or regret, and I started on my usual walk.

As I was returning I met Ben Somers. When he saw me he threw his cap into the air, with the information that he had done with his plans, and had ordered an indigestible supper, in honor of his resolve. As people had truly remarked, he could afford to be eccentric. He was tired of it; he had money enough to do without law. “Not as much as your cousin Morgeson, who can do without the Gospel, too.”

This was the first time that he had referred to Charles since that memorable night. Trifling as his words were, they broke into the foundations of my stagnant will, and set the tide flowing once more.

“You went to Surrey.”

“I was there a few hours. Your father was not at home. He asked me there, you remember. I introduced myself, therefore, and was politely received by your mother, who sent for Veronica. She came in with an occupied air, her hands full of what I thought were herbs; but they were grasses, which she had been re-arranging, she said.

“‘You know my sister?’ she asked, coming close, and looking at me with the most singular eyes that were ever on earth.” He stopped a moment. “Not like yours, in the least,” he continued. “’Cassandra is very handsome now, is she?’

“‘Why, Veronica,’ said your mother, ‘you astonish Mr. Somers.’

“‘You are not astonished,’ she said with vehemence, ’you are embarrassed.’

“‘Upon my soul I am,’ I replied, feeling at ease as soon as I had said so.

“’Tell me, what has Cassandra been taught? Is Rosville suited to her? We are not.’

“‘Veronica!’ said your mother again.

“’Mother,” and she shook the grasses, and made a little snow fall round her; ’what shall I say then? I am sure he knows Cassandra. What did you come here for?’ turning to me again.

“‘To see you,’ I answered foolishly.

“‘And has Cassandra spoken of me?’ Her pale face grew paler, and an indescribable expression passed over it. ’I do not often speak of her.’

“‘She does not of you,’ I was obliged to answer. And then I said I must go. But your mother made me dine with them. When I came away Veronica offered me her hand, but she sent no message to you. She has never been out of my mind a moment since.”

“You remember the particulars of the interview very well.”

“Why not?”

“Would she bear your supervision?”

“Forgive me, Cassandra. Have I not been making a hermit of myself, eating bread and meat by the ounce, for an expiation?”

“How did it look there? Oh, tell me!”

“You strange girl, have you a soul then? It is a grand place, where it has not been meddled with. I hired a man to drive me as far as any paths went, into those curving horns of land, on each side of Surrey to the south. The country is crazy with barrenness, and the sea mocks it with its terrible beauty.”

“You will visit us, won’t you?”

“Certainly; I intend to go there.”

“Do you know that I left school to-day?”

“It is time.”

I hurried into the house, for I did not wish to hear any questions from him concerning my future. Charlotte, who was rolling up an umbrella in the hall, said it was tea-time, adding that Mr. Morgeson had come, and that he was in the dining-room. I went upstairs to leave my bonnet. As I pulled off my glove the ring on my finger twisted round. I took it off, for the first time since Charles had given it to me. A sense of haste came upon me; my hands trembled. I brushed my hair with the back of the brush, shook it out, and wound it into a loose mass, thrust in my comb and went down. Charlotte was putting candles on the tea table. Edward was on his father’s knee; Alice was waiting by the tray.

“Here is Cassandra,” said Charles, mentioning the fact as if he merely wished to attract the child’s attention.

“Here is Cassandra,” I repeated, imitating his tone. He started. Some devil broke loose in him, and looking through his eyes an instant, disappeared, like a maniac who looks through the bars of his cell, and dodges from the eye of his keeper. Jesse brought me a letter while we were at the table. It was from Helen. I broke its seal to see how long it was, and put it aside.

“I am free, Alice. I have left the Academy, and am going to set up for an independent woman.”

“What?” said Charles; “you did not tell me. Did you know it, Alice?”

“Yes; we can’t expect her to be at school all her days.”

“Cassandra,” he said suddenly, “will you give me the salt?”

He looked for the ring on the hand which I stretched toward him.

He not only missed that, but he observed the disregard of his wishes in the way I had arranged my hair. I shook it looser from the comb and pushed it from my face. An expression of unspeakable passion, pride, and anguish came into his eyes; his mouth trembled; he caught up a glass of water to hide his face, and drank slowly from it.

“Are you going away again soon?” Alice asked him presently.

“No.”

“To keep Cassandra, I intend to ask Mrs. Morgeson to come again. Will you write Mr. Morgeson to urge it?”

“Yes.”

“I shall ask them to give up Cass altogether to us.”

“You like her so much, do you, Alice?”

His voice sounded far off and faint.

Again I refrained from speaking my resolution of going home. I would give up thinking of it even! I felt again the tension of the chain between us. That night I ceased to dream of him.

“My letter is from Helen, Alice,” I said.

“When did you see Somers?” Charles asked.

“To-day. I have an idea he will not remain here long.”

“He is an amusing young man,” Alice remarked.

“Very,” said Charles.

Helen’s letter was long and full of questions. What had I done? How had I been? She gave an account of her life at home. She was her father’s nurse, and seldom left him. It was a dreary sort of business, but she was not melancholy. In truth, she felt better pleased with herself than she had been in Rosville. She could not help thinking that a chronic invalid would be a good thing for me. How was Ben Somers? How much longer should I stay in Rosville? It would know us no more forever when we left, and both of us would leave it at the same time. Would I visit her ever? They lived in a big house with a red front door. On the left was a lane with tall poplars dying on each side of it, up which the cows passed every night. At the back of it was a huge barn round which martíns and pigeons flew the year through. It was dull but respectable and refined, and no one knew that she was tattooed on the arm.

I treasured this letter and all she wrote me. It was my first school-girl correspondence and my last.

Relations of Alice came from a distance to pay her a visit. There was a father, a mother, a son about twenty-one, and two girls who were younger. Alice wished that they had stayed at home; but she was polite and endeavored to make their visit agreeable. The son, called by his family “Bill,” informed Charles that he was a judge of horseflesh, and would like to give his nags a try, having a high-flyer himself at home that the old gentleman would not hear of his bringing along. His actions denoted an admiration of me. He looked over the book I was reading or rummaged my workbox, trying on my thimble with an air of tenderness, and peeping into my needlebook. He told Alice that he thought I was a whole team and a horse to let, but he felt rather balky when he came near me, I had such a smartish eye.

“What am I to do, marm?” asked Jesse one morning when Charles was away. “That ere young man wants to ride the new horse, and it is jist the one he mus’n’t ride.”

“I will speak to Cousin Bill myself,” she said.

“He seems a sperrited young feller, and if he wants to break his neck it’s most a pity he shouldn’t.”

“I think,” she said when Jesse had retired, “that Charles must be saving up that beast to kill himself with. He will not pull a chaise yet.”

“Has Charles tried him?”

“In the lane in an open wagon. He has a whim of having him broken to drive without blinders, bare of harness; he has been away so of late that he has not accomplished it.”

Bill entered while we were talking, and Alice told him he must not attempt to use the horse, but proposed he should take her pair and drive out with me. I shook my head in vain; she was bent on mischief. He was mollified by the proposal, and I was obliged to get ready. On starting he placed his cap on one side, held his whip upright, telling me that it was not up to the mark in length, and doubled his knuckles over the reins. He was a good Jehu, but I could not induce him to observe anything along the road.

“Where’s Mr. Morgeson’s mills?”

We turned in their direction.

“He is a man of property, ain’t he?”

“I think so.”

“He has prime horses anyhow. That stallion of his would bring a first-rate price if he wanted to sell. Do you play the piano?”

“A little.”

“And sing?”

“Yes.”

“I have not heard you. Will you sing ’A place in thy memory, dearest,’ some time for me?”

“Certainly.”

“Are you fond of flowers and the like?”

“Very fond of them.”

“So am I; our tastes agree. Here we are, hey?”

Charles came out when he saw us coming over the bridge, and Bill pulled up the horses scientifically, giving him a coachman’s salute. “You see I am quite a whip.”

“You are,” said Charles.

“What a cub!” he whispered me. “I think I’ll give up my horses and take to walking as you have.”

On the way home Bill held the reins in one hand and attempted to take mine with the other, a proceeding which I checked, whereupon he was exceedingly confused. The whip fell from his clutch over the dasher, and in recovering it his hat fell off; shame kept him silent for the rest of the ride.

I begged Alice to propose no more rides with Cousin Bill. That night he composed a letter which he sent me by Charlotte early the next morning.

“Why, Charlotte, what nonsense is this?”

“I expect,” she answered sympathizingly, “that it is an offer of his hand and heart.”

“Don’t mention it, Charlotte.”

“Never while I have breath.”

In an hour she told Phoebe, who told Alice, who told Charles, and there it ended. It was an offer, as Charlotte predicted. My first! I was crestfallen! I wrote a reply, waited till everybody had gone to breakfast, and slipping into his room, pinned it to the pincushion. In the evening he asked if I ever sang “Should these fond hopes e’er forsake thee." I gave him the “Pirate’s Serenade” instead, which his mother declared beautiful. I saw Alice and Charles laughing, and could hardly help joining them, when I looked at Bill, in whose countenance relief and grief were mingled.

It was a satisfaction to us when they went away. Their visit was shortened, I suspected, by the representations Bill made to his mother. She said, “Good-by,” with coldness; but he shook hands with me, and said it was all right he supposed.

The day they went I had a letter from father which informed me that mother would not come to Rosville. He reminded me that I had been in Rosville over a year. “I am going home soon,” I said to myself, putting away the letter. It was a summer day, bright and hot. Alice, busy all day, complained of fatigue and went to bed soon after tea. The windows were open and the house was perfumed with odors from the garden. At twilight I went out and walked under the elms, whose pendant boughs were motionless. I watched the stars as they came out one by one above the pale green ring of the horizon and glittered in the evening sky, which darkened slowly. I was coming up the gravel walk when I heard a step at the upper end of it which arrested me. I recognized it, and slipped behind a tree to wait till it should pass by me; but it ceased, and I saw Charles pulling off a twig of the tree, which brushed against his face. Presently he sprang round the tree, caught me, and held me fast.

“I am glad you are here, my darling. Do you smell the roses?”

“Yes; let me go.”

“Not till you tell me one thing. Why do you stay in Rosville?”

The baby gave a loud cry in Alice’s chamber which resounded through the garden.

“Go and take care of your baby,” I said roughly, “and not busy yourself with me.”

“Cassandra,” he said, with a menacing voice, “how dare you defy me? How dare you tempt me?”

I put my hand on his arm. “Charles, is love a matter of temperament?”

“Are you mad? It is life it is heaven it is hell.”

“There is something in this soft, beautiful, odorous night that makes one mad. Still I shall not say to you what you once said to me.”

“Ah! you do not forget those words ’I love you.’”

Some one came down the lane which ran behind the garden whistling an opera air.

“There is your Providence,” he said quietly, resting his hand against the tree.

I ran round to the front piazza, just as Ben Somers turned out of the lane, and called him.

“I have wandered all over Rosville since sunset,” he said “and at last struck upon that lane. To whom does it belong?”

“It is ours, and the horses are exercised there.”

“’In such a night,
Troilus, methinks, mounted the Trojan walls,
And sighed his soul towards the Grecian tents,
Where Cressid lay that night.’”

’"In such a night,
Stood Dido with a willow in her hand,
Upon the wild sea banks, and waved her love
To come again to Carthage.’”

“Talk to me about Surrey, Cassandra.”

“Not a word.”

“Why did you call me?”

“To see what mood you were in.”

“How disagreeable you are! What is the use of venturing one’s mood with you?”