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

When we went to Boston we went to a new hotel, as Ben had advised, deserting the old Bromfield for the Tremont. It was dusk when we arrived, and tea was served immediately, in a large room full of somber mahogany furniture. Its atmosphere oppressed Veronica, who ate her supper in silence.

“Charles Dickens is here, sir,” said the waiter, who knew Ben. “Two models of the Curiosity Shop have just gone upstairs, sir. His room is right over here, sir.”

Veronica looked adoringly at the ceiling.

“Then,” said Ben, “our hunters are up from Belem. Anybody in from Belem, John?”

“Oh yes, sir, every day.”

“I’ll look them up,” he said to us; but he returned soon, and begged us not to look at Dickens, if we had a chance.

Veronica, with a sigh, gave him up, and lost a chance of being immortalized with that perpetual and imperturbable beefsteak, covered with “the blackest of all possible pepper,” which was daily served to him.

Father being out in pursuit of a cigar, Ben asked Veronica what she would do while he was in Belem.

“Walk round this lion-clawed table.”

“I shall be gone from you.”


“Are we to part this way?”

“Father,” she cried, as he entered with a theater bill, “had I better marry this friend of Cassy’s?”

“Have you the courage? Do you know each other?”

“Having known Cassandra so long, sir,” began Ben, but was interrupted by Veronica’s exclaiming, “We do not know each other at all. What is the use of making that futile attempt? I am over eighteen, and do you know me, father?”

“If I do not, it is because you have no shadow.”

“Shall I, then?” giving Ben a delicious smile. “I promise.”

“I promise, too, Veronica,” heaven dawning in his eyes.

“We will see about it,” said father. “Now who will go to the theater?”

We declined, but Ben signified his willingness to accompany him.

We took the first morning train, so that father could return before evening, and ran through in the course of an hour the wooden suburbs of Belem, bordered by an ancient marsh, from which the sea had long retired. Taking a cab, we turned into Norfolk Street, at the head of which, Ben said, a mile distant, was his father’s house. It was not a cheerful street, and when we stopped before an immense square, three-storied house, it looked still more gloomy! There was a gate on one side, with white wooden urns on the posts, that shut off a paved courtway. On each side of the street were houses of the same pattern, with the same gates. Down the paved court of the opposite house a coach pulled by two fat horses clattered, and as the coach turned we saw two old ladies inside, highly dressed, bowing and smiling at Ben.

“The Miss Hiticutts hundred thousand apiece.”

“Hundred thousand apiece,” I echoed in an anguish of admiration, which made my father laugh and Ben scowl. A servant in a linen jacket opened the door. “Is it yourself, Mr. Ben?”

“Open the parlor door, Murph. Where’s my mother and my sister?”

“Miss Somers is taking her exercise, sir, and Mrs. Somers is with the owld gentleman”; opening the door, with the performance of taking father’s hat.

“Sit down, Cassandra. I’ll look up somebody.”

It was a bewildering matter where to go; the room, vast and dark, was a complete litter of tables and sofas. The tables were loaded with lamps, books, and knick-knacks of every description; the sofas were strewn with English and French magazines, novels, and papers. I went to the window, while father perched on the music stool.

My attention was diverted to a large dog in the court, chained to a post near a pump, where a man was giving water to a handsome bay horse, at the same time keeping his eye on an individual who stood on a stone block, dressed in a loose velvet coat, a white felt hat, and slippers down at the heel. He had a coach whip in his hand the handsomest hand I ever saw, which he snapped at the dog, who growled with rage. I heard Ben’s voice in remonstrance; then a lazy laugh from velvet coat, who gave the dog a cut which made him bound. Ben, untying him, was overwhelmed with caresses. “Down, you fool! Off, Rash!” he said. “Look there,” pointing to the window where I stood. The gentleman with the coach whip looked at me also. The likeness to Ben turned my suspicion into certainty that they were brothers. His disposition, I thought, must be lovely, judging from the episode with “Rash.” I turned away, almost running against a lady, who extended her fingers toward me with a quick little laugh, and said:

“How de do? Where’s Ben, to introduce us properly?”

“Here, mother,” he said behind her, followed by the dog. “You were expecting Cassandra, my old chum; and Mr. Morgeson has come to leave her with us.”

“Certainly. Rash, go out, dear. Mr. Morgeson, I am sorry to say,” she spoke with more politeness, “that Mr. Somers is confined to his room with gout. May I take you up?”

“I have a short time to stay,” looking at his watch and rising. “Do you consider the old school friendship between your son and Cassandra a sufficient reason for leaving her with you? To say nothing of the faint relationship which, we suppose, exists.”

“Of course, very happy; Adelaide expects her,” she said vaguely. I saw at once that she had never heard a word of our being relations. Ben had managed nicely in the affair of my invitation to Belem. But I desired to remain, in spite of Mrs. Somers’s reception.

Mr. Somers was bolstered up in bed, in a flowered dressing gown, with a bottle of colchicum and a pile of Congressional reports on a stand beside him. His urbanity was extreme; it was evident that the gout was not allowed to interfere with his deportment, though the joints of his hands were twisted and knotty. He expatiated upon Ben’s long ungratified wish for a visit from me, and thanked father for complying with it. He mentioned the memento of the miniature, and gave every particular of Locke Morgeson’s early marriage, explaining the exact shade of consanguinity a faint one. I glanced at Mrs. Somers, who sat remote, in the act of inspecting me, with an eye askance, which I afterward found was her mode of looking at those whom she doubted or disliked; it changed its expression, as it met mine, into one of haughty wonder, that said there could be no tie of blood between us. She irritated and embarrassed me. I tried to think of something to say, and uttered a few words, which were uncommonly trivial and awkward. Mr. Somers touched on politics. The door opened, and Ben’s brother entered, with downcast eyes. Advancing to the footboard of the bed, he leaned his chin on its edge, looked at his father, and in a remarkably clear, ringing voice, said:

“The check.”

Mr. Somers coughed behind his hand. “To-morrow will do, Desmond.”

“To-day will do.”

“Desmond,” said Ben in a low voice, “you do not see Mr. Morgeson and Miss Morgeson. My brother, Cassandra.”

“Beg pardon, good-morning”; and he pulled off his hat with an air of grace which became him, though it was very indifferent. Mrs. Somers in a soft voice said: “Ring, Des, dear, will you?” He warned her with a satirical smile, and gave such a pull at the bell-rope that it came down. Her florid face flushed a deeper red, but he had gone. Father looked at his watch, and got up with alacrity.

“You are to dine with us, at least, Mr. Morgeson.”

“I must return to Boston on account of my daughter, who is there alone.”

“Have you been remiss, Ben,” said his father affectionately, “in not bringing her also?”

“She would not come, of course, father.”

A tall, black-haired girl of twenty-five rushed in.

“Why, Ben,” she said, “you were not expected. And this is Miss Morgeson,” shaking hands with me. “You will spend a month, won’t you?” She put her chin in her hand, and scanned me with a cool deliberateness. “Pa, do you think she is like Caroline Bingham?”

“Yes, so she is; but fairer. She is a great belle,” nodding to me.

“Do you really think she looks like her, Somers?” said Mrs. Somers, in a tone of denial.

“Certainly, but handsomer,” Adelaide replied for him, without looking at her mother.

“Would you like to go to your room?” she asked. “What a pretty dress this is!” taking hold of the sleeve, her chin in her hand still. “We will have some walks; Belem is nice for walking. Pa, how do you feel now?”

She allowed me to go downstairs with father, without following, and sent Murphy in with wine and biscuit. I put my arms round his neck and kissed him, for I had a lonesome feeling, which I could not define at the last moment.

“You will not stay long,” he said; “there is something oppressive in this atmosphere.”

“Something artificial, is it? It must be the blood of the Bellevue Pickersgills that thickens the air.”

“Now,” said Ben, with father’s hat in his hand, “the time is up.”

Adelaide was at the door to take courteous leave of him, and Mrs. Somers bowed from the top of the stairs, revealing a pair of large ankles, whose base rested in a pair of shabby, pudgy slippers. Adelaide then took me to my room, telling me not to change my dress, but to come down soon, for dinner was ready. Hearing a bell, I hurried down to the parlor which we were in before, and waited for directions respecting the dinner. Adelaide came presently. “We are dining; come and sit next me,” offering her arm. Mrs. Somers, Desmond, and a girl of fifteen were at the table. The latter had just come from school, I concluded, as a satchel of books hung at her chair. Murphy was removing the soup, and I derived the impression that I had been forgotten. While taking mine, they vaguely stared about till Murphy brought in the roast mutton, except Adelaide, who rubbed her teeth with a dry crust, making a feint of eating it. Desmond kept the decanter, occasionally swallowing a glassful.

“What wine is that, Murphy?” Mrs. Somers asked. He hesitatingly answered, “I think it is the Juno, mum.”

“You stole the key from pa’s room, Des,” said the girl. He shook the carving-knife at her, at which gesture she said “Pooh!” and applied herself to the roast mutton with avidity. They all ate largely, especially the girl, whose wide mouth was filled with splendid teeth. Mrs. Somers made a motion with her glass for Murphy to bring her the wine, and pouring a teaspoonful, held it to her mouth, as if she were practicing drinking healths. Her hands were beautiful, too; they all had handsome hands, whose movements were graceful and expressive. When Ben arrived, Murphy set the dishes before him, and Adelaide began to talk in a lively, brilliant way. He did not ask for wine, but I saw him look toward it and Desmond. The decanter was empty. After the dessert, Mrs. Somers arose and we followed; but she soon left us, and we went to the parlor. The girl, taking a seat beside me, said: “My name is Ann Somers. I am never introduced; Adder, my sister, is in the way, you know. I dare say Ben never spoke of me to you. I am never spoken of, am never noticed. I have never had new dresses; yet pa is my friend, the dear soul.”

Adelaide looked upon her with the same superb indifference with which she regarded her mother and Desmond.

“Would you like to go to your room?” she asked again. “You are too tired to take a walk, perhaps?”

“Lord!” said Ann, “do let her do as she likes. Adder, don’t be too disagreeable.”

I picked up my bonnet, which she took from me, and put on the top of her head as we went upstairs.

“Murph must bring up your trunk,” said Ann, opening the closet. “But there is no space to hang anything; the great Mogul’s wardrobe stops the way.”

My chamber was stately in size and appointments. The afternoon sun shone in, where a shutter was open, behind the dull red curtains, and illuminated the portrait of a nimble old lady in a scarlet cloak, which hung near the gigantic curtained bed, over a vast chair, covered with faded green damask.

“Grandmother Pickersgill,” said Ann, who saw me observing the picture. Adelaide contemplated it also. “It was painted by Copley,” she said, “Lord Lyndhurst afterwards. Grandfather entertained him, and he went to one of grandmother’s parties; he complimented her on her beauty. But you see that she has not a handsome hand. Ours is the Pickersgill hand,” and she spread her fingers like a fan. “She was a regular old screw,” continued Ann, “and used to have mother’s underclothes tucked to last for ever; she was a beast to servants, too.”

My trunk was brought in, which I unlocked and unpacked, while Adelaide opened a drawer in a great bureau.

“Oh, you know it is full of Marm’s fineries,” said Ann, in a confidential tone; “I’ll ring for Hannah.” Adelaide busied herself in throwing the contents of the drawers on the floor. “There’s her ball dresses,” commented Ann, as a pink satin, trimmed with magnificent lace, tumbled out. “Old Carew brought the lace over for her.”

“Bring a basket, Hannah, and take these away somewhere, to some other closet of Mrs. Somers’s.”

“That gold fringe, do you remember, Adder? She looked like an elephant with his howdah on when she wore it.”

Her impertinence inspired Adelaide, who joined her in a flow of vituperative wit at the expense of their mother and other relatives, incidentally brought in. Instead of being aghast, I enjoyed it, and was feverish with a desire to be as brilliant, for my vocabulary was deficient and my sense of inferiority was active during the whole of my visit in Belem. I blushed often, smiled foolishly, and was afflicted with a general apprehension in regard to gaucherie.

I changed my traveling dress, as they were not inclined to leave me, with anxiety, for I was weak enough to wish to make an impression with my elegant bearing and appointments. Being so anatomized, I was oppressed with an indefinite discouragement. Their stealthy, sharp, selfish scrutiny brought out my failures. My dress seemed ill-made; my hair unbecomingly dressed; my best collar and ribbon, which I put on, were nothing to the lace I had just seen falling on the floor. When we descended it was twilight. Ann said she must study, and left us by the parlor fire. Adelaide lighted a candle, and took a novel, which she read reclining on a sofa. Reclining on sofas, I discovered, was a family trait, though they were all in a state of the most robust health, with the exception of Mr. Somers. I walked up and down the rooms. “They were fine once,” said Ben, who appeared from a dark corner, “but faded now. Mother never changes anything if she can help it. She is a terrible aristocrat,” he continued, in a low voice, “fixed in the ideas imbedded in the Belem institutions, which only move backward. We laugh, though, at everybody’s claims but our own. You despised me for mentioning the Hiticutts’ income; it was the atmosphere.”

“It amuses me to be here.”

“Of course; but stir up Adelaide, she is genuine; has fine sense, and half despises her life; but she knows no other, and is proud.”

“Let’s go and find tea,” she said, yawning, dropping her book. “Why don’t that lazy Murph light the lamp? I wish pa was down to regulate affairs.” No one was at the tea-table but Mrs. Somers.

“Ben is very polite, don’t you think so?” she said with her peculiar laugh, which made my flesh creep, as he pulled up a chair for me. Her voice made me dizzy, but I smiled. Ben was not the same in Belem, I saw at once, and no longer wondered at its influence, or at the vacillating nature of his plans and pursuits. Mrs. Somers gave me some tea from a spider-shaped silver tea-pot, which was related to a spider-shaped cream-jug and a spider-shaped sugar-dish. The polished surface of the mahogany table reflected a pair of tall silver candlesticks, and the plates, being of warped blue and white Chinese ware, joggled and clattered when we touched them. The tea was delicious; I said so, but Mrs. Somers deigned no answer. We were regaled with spread bread and butter and baked apples. Adelaide ate six.

“We do not have your Surrey suppers,” Ben remarked.

“How should you know?” his mother asked. Ben’s eyes looked violent and he bit his lips. Adelaide commenced speaking before her mother had finished her question, as if she only needed the spur of her voice to be lively and agreeable, per contra.

“Hepburn must ask us to tea. Her jam and her gossip are wonderful. Aunt Tucker might ask us too, with housekeeper Beck’s permission. I like tea fights with the old Hindoos. They like us too, Ben; we are the children of Hindoos also superior to the rest of the world. There will be a party or two for this young person.”

“Parties be hanged!” he said. “Then we must have a rout here, and I hate ’em.”

“But we owe an entertainment,” said Mrs. Somers. “I have been thinking of giving one as soon as Mr. Somers gets out.”

“I have no such idea,” said Adelaide, with her back toward her mother. “We shall have no party until some one has been given to our young friend, Ben.”

Ben and I visited his father, who asked questions relative to the temperature, the water, and the dietetic qualities of Surrey. He was affable, but there was no nearness in his affability. He skated on the ice of appearances, and that was his vocation in his family. He fulfilled it well, but it was a strain sometimes. His family broke the ice now and then, which must have made him plunge into the depths of reality. I learned to respect his courage, bad as his cause was. Marrying Bellevue Pickersgill for her money, he married his master, and was endowed only with the privilege of settling her taxes. Simon Pickersgill, her father, tied up the main part of his money for his grandchildren. It was to be divided among them when the youngest son should arrive at the age of twenty-one an event which took place, I supposed, while Ben was on his way to India. Desmond and an older son, who resided anywhere except at home, made havoc with the income. As the principal prospectively was theirs, or nearly the whole of it, why should they not dispose of that?

At last Mr. Somers looked at his watch, a gentle reminder that it was time for us to withdraw. Adelaide was still in the parlor, lying on her favorite sofa contemplating the ceiling. I asked permission to retire, which she granted without removing her regards. In spite of my sound sleep that night, I was started from it by the wail of a young child. The strangeness of the chamber, and the continued crying, which I could not locate, kept me awake at intervals till dawn peeped through the curtains.