Read CHAPTER XXV of The Morgesons, free online book, by Elizabeth Stoddard, on

Before spring there were three public events in Surrey. A lighthouse was built on Gloster Point, below our house. At night there was a bridge of red, tremulous light between my window and its tower, which seemed to shorten the distance. A town-clock had been placed in the belfry of the new church in the western part of the village. Veronica could see the tips of its gilded hands from the top of her window, and hear it strike through the night, whether the wind was fair to bring the sound or not. She liked to hear the hours cry that they had gone. Soon after the clock was up, she recollected that Mrs. Crossman’s dog had ceased to bark at night, as was his wont, and sent her a note inquiring about it, for she thought there was something poetical in connection with nocturnal noises, which she hoped Mrs. Crossman felt also. Fanny conveyed the note, and read it likewise, as Mrs. Crossman declared her inability to read writing with her new spectacles, which a peddler had cheated her with lately. She laughed at it, and sent word to Veronica that she was the curiousest young woman for her age that she had ever heard of; that the dog slept in the house of nights, for he was blind and deaf now; but that Crossman should get a new dog with a loud bark, if the dear child wanted it.

A new dog soon came, so fierce that Abram told Temperance that people were afraid to pass Crossman’s. She guessed it wasn’t the dog the people were afraid of, but of their evil consciences, which pricked them when they remembered Dr. Snell.

The third event was Mr. Thrasher’s revival. It began in February, and before it was over, I heard the April frogs croaking in the marshy field behind the church. We went to all the meetings, except Veronica, who continued her custom of going only on Sunday afternoons. Mr. Thrasher endeavored to proselyte me, but he never conversed with her. His manner changed when he was at our house; if she appeared, the man tore away the mask of the minister. She called him a Bible-banger, that he made the dust fly from the pulpit cushions too much to suit her; besides, he denounced sinners with vituperation, larding his piety with a grim wit which was distasteful. He was resentful toward me, especially after he had seen her. It was needful, he said, from my influence in Surrey, that I should become an example, and asked me if I did not think my escape from sudden death in Rosville was an indication from Providence that I was reserved for some especial work?

Surrey was never so evangelical as under his ministration, and it remained so until he was called to a larger field of usefulness, and offered a higher salary to till it. We settled into a milder theocracy after he left us. Mr. Park renewed his zeal, about this time, resuming his discussions; but mother paid little attention to what he said. There were days now when she was confined to her room. Sometimes I found her softly praying. Once when I went there she was crying aloud, in a bitter voice, with her hands over her head. She was her old self when she recovered, except that she was indifferent to practical details. She sought amusement, indeed, liked to have me with her to make her laugh, and Aunt Merce was always near to pet her as of old, and so we forgot those attacks.

Abram Handy, inspired with religious fervor during the revival, was also inspired with the twin passion love to visit Temperance, and begged her, with so much eloquence, to marry him before his cow should calve, that she consented, and he was happy. He spent the Sunday evenings with her, coming after conference meeting, hymn-book in hand. She was angry and ashamed, if I happened to see them sitting in the same chair, and singing, in a quavering voice, “Greenland’s Icy Mountains,” and continued morose for a week, in consequence.

“What will Veronica do without me?” she said. “I vow I wish Abram Handy would keep himself out of my way; who wants him?”

“She will visit you, and so shall I.”

“Certain true, will you, really?”

“If you will promise to return our visits, and leave Abram at home, for a week now and then.”

“Done. I can mend your things and look after Mis Morgeson. Your mother is not the woman she was, and you and Veronica haven’t a mite of faculty. What you are all coming to is more than I can fathom.”

“Who will fill your place?”

“I don’t want to brag, but you wont find a soul in Surrey to come here and live as I have lived. You will have to take a Paddy; the Paddies are spreading, the old housekeeping race is going. Hepsey and I are the last of the Mohicans, and Hepsey is failing.”

She was right, we never found her equal, and when she went, in May, a Celtic dynasty came in. We missed her sadly. Verry refused to be comforted. Symptoms of disorganization appeared everywhere.

In the summer Helen visited Surrey. Her enlivening gayety was the means of our uniting about her. She was never tired of Veronica’s playing, nor of our society; so we must stay where she and the piano were. We trimmed the parlor with flowers every day. Veronica transferred some of her favorite books to the round table, and privately sent for a set of flower vases. When they came, she said we must have a new carpet to match them, and although mother protested against it, she was loud in her admiration when she saw the handsome white Brussels, thickly covered with crimson roses. Helen’s introduction proved an astonishing incentive; we set a new value on ourselves. I never saw so much of Veronica as at that time; her health improved with her temper. She threw us into fits of laughter with her whimsical talk, never laughing herself, but enjoying the effect she produced. To please her, Helen changed her style of dress, and bought a dress at Milford, which Veronica selected and made. The trying on of this dress was the means of her discovering the letters on Helen’s arm, which never ceased to be a source of interest. She asked to see them every day afterward, and touched them with her fingers, as if they had some occult power.

“You think her strange, do you not?” I asked Helen.

“She has genius, but will be a child always.”

“You are mistaken; she was always mature.”

“She stopped in the process of maturity long ago. It is her genius which takes her on. You advance by experience.”

“I shall learn nothing more.”

“Of course you have suffered immensely, and endured that which isolates you from the rest of us.”

“You are as wise as ever.”

“Well, I am married, you know, and shall grow no wiser. Marriage puts an end to the wisdom of women; they need it no longer.”

“You are nineteen years old?”

“What is the use of talking to you? Besides, if we keep on we may tell secrets that had better not be revealed. We might not like each other so well; friendship is apt to dull if there is no ground for speculation left. Let us keep the bloom on the fruit, even if we know there is a worm at the core.”

I owed it to her that I never had any confidante. My proclivities were for speaking what I felt; but her strong common-sense influenced me greatly against it; her teaching was the more easy to me, as she never invaded my sentiments.

Her visit was the occasion of our exchanging civilities with our acquaintances, which we neglected when alone. Tea parties were always fashionable in Surrey. Veronica went with us to one, given by our cousin, Susan Morgeson. She had taken tea out but twice, since she was grown, she told us, then it was with her friend Lois Randall, a seamstress. To this girl she read the contents of her blank-books, and Lois in her turn confided to Veronica her own compositions. Essays were her forte. We met her at Susan Morgeson’s, and, as I never saw her without her having on some article given her by Veronica, this occasion was no exception. She wore an exquisitely embroidered purple silk apron, over a dull blue dress. I saw Verry’s grimace when her eyes fell on it, and could not help saying, “I hope Lois’s essays are better than her taste in dress.”

“She is an idiot in colors; but she admires what I wear so much that she fancies the same must become her.”

“As they become you?”

“I make a study of dress an anomaly must. It may be wicked, but what can I do? I love to look well.”

The dress she wore then was an India stuff, of linen, with a cream-colored ground, and a vivid yellow silk thread woven in stripes through it; each stripe had a cinnamon-colored edge. There were no ornaments about her, except a band of violet-colored ribbon round her head. When tea was brought in, she asked me in a whisper whether it was tea or coffee in the cup which was given her.

“Why, Cass,” said Helen, “are you making a wonderment because she does not know? It is strange that you have not known that she drinks neither.”

“What does she drink?”

“Is it eccentric to drink milk?” Verry asked, swallowing the tea with an accustomed air. “I think this must be coffee, it stings my mouth so.”

“It is green tea,” said Helen; “don’t drink it, Verry.”

“Green tea,” she said, in a dreamy voice. “We drank green tea ten years ago, in our old house; and I did not know it! Cassandra, do you remember that I drank four cups once, when mother had company? I laughed all night, and Temperance cried.”

She contributed her share toward entertaining, and invariably received the most attention. My indifference was called pride, and her reserve was called dignity, and dignity was more popular than pride.

Before Helen went, Ben wrote me that he was going to India. It was a favorite journey with the Belemites. By the time the letter reached me he should be gone. Would I bear him in remembrance? He would not forget me, and promised me an Indian idol. In eighteen months he expected to be at home again; sooner, perhaps. P.S. Would I give his true regards to my sister? N.B. The property might be divided according to his grandfather’s will, before his return, and he wanted to be out of the way for sundry reasons, which he hoped to tell me some day. I read the letter to Helen and Veronica. Helen laughed, and said “Unstable as water”; but Veronica looked displeased; she closed her eyes as if to recall him to mind, and asked Helen abruptly if she did not like him.

“Yes; but I doubt him. With all his strength of character he has a capacity for failure.”

“I consider him a relation,” I said.

“I do not own him,” said Veronica.

“At all events, he is not an affectionate one,” Helen remarked. “You have not heard from him in a year.”

“But I knew that I should hear,” I said.

“We shall see him,” said Veronica, “again.”

I was dull after I received his letter. My youth grew dim; somehow I felt a self-pity. I found no chance to embalm those phases of sensation which belonged to my period, and I grew careless; Helen’s influence went with her. The observances so vital to Veronica, so charming in her, I became utterly neglectful of. For all this a mad longing sometimes seized me to depart into a new world, which should contain no element of the old, least of all a reminiscence of what my experience had made me.