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

A few days after, I went to Milford with father, to make some purchases. I sought a way to speak to him about the future, intending also to go on with various remarks; but it seemed difficult to begin. Observing him, as he contemplated the road before us, grave and abstracted, I recollected the difference between his age and mother’s, and wondered at my blindness, while I compared the old man of my childhood, who existed for the express purpose of making money for the support and pleasure of his family, and to accommodate all its whims, with the man before me, barely forty-eight, without a wrinkle in his firm, ruddy face, and only an occasional white hair, in ambuscade among his fair, curly locks. My exclusive right over him I felt doubtful about. I gave my attention to the road also, and remarked that I thought the season was late.

“Yes. Why didn’t Somers come home with you?”

“I hardly know. The matter of the marriage was not settled, nor a plan of spending a summer abroad.”

“Will it suit him to vegetate in Surrey? Veronica will not leave home.”

“He has no ambition.”

“It is a curse to inherit money in this country. Mr. Somers writes that Ben will have three thousand a year; but that the disposal, at present, is not in his power.”

I explained as well as I could the Pickersgill property.

“I see how it is. The children are waiting for the principal, and have exacted the income; and their lives have been warped for this reason. Ben has not begun life yet. But I like Somers exceedingly.”

“He is the best of them, his mother the worst.”

“Did you have a passage?”

“She attempted.”

“I can give Veronica nothing beyond new clothes or furniture; whatever she likes that way. To draw money from my business is impossible. My business fluctuates like quicksilver, and it is enormously extended. If they should have two thousand a year, it would be a princely income; I should feel so now, if they had it clear of incumbrance.”

“Do you mean to say that your income does not amount to so much?”

“My outgoes and incomes have for a long time been involved with each other. I do not separate them. I have never lived extravagantly. My luxury has been in doing too much.”

A cold feeling came over me.

“By the way, Mr. Somers pays you compliments in his note. How old are you? I forget.” He surveyed me with a doubtful look. Are you thin, or what is it?”

“East wind, I guess. I am twenty-five.”

“And Veronica?”

“Over twenty.”

“She must be married. I hope she will cut her practical eye-teeth then, for Somers’s sake.”

“He does not require a practically minded woman.”

“What do men require!”

“They require the souls and bodies of women, without having the trouble of knowing the difference between the one and other.”

“So bad as that? Whoa!”

He stopped to pay toll, and the conversation stopped.

On the way home, however, I found a place to begin my proposed talk, and burst out with, “I think Hepsey should leave us.”

“What ails Hepsey?”

“She is so old, and is such a poke.”

“You must tell her yourself to go. She has money enough to be comfortable; I have some of it, as well as that of half the widows, old maids, and sailors’ wives in Surrey,’ being better than the Milford banks, they think.”

I felt another cold twinge.

“What! are our servants your creditors?”

“Servants don’t say that,” he said harshly; “we do not have these distinctions here.”

“It costs you more than two thousand a year.”

“How do you know?”

“Think of the hired people the horses, the cows, pigs, hens, garden, fields all costing more than they yield.”

“What has come over you? Did you ever think of money before? Tell me, have you ever been in our cellar?”

“Yes, to look at the kittens.”

“In the store-room?”

“For apples and sweetmeats.”

“Look into these matters, if you like; they never troubled your mother, at least I never knew that they did; but don’t make your reforms tiresome.”

What encouragement!

In the yard we saw Fanny contemplating a brood of hens, which were picking up corn before her. “Take Fanny for a coadjutor; she is eighteen, and a bright girl.” She sprang to the chaise, and caught the reins, which he threw into her hands, unbuckled the girth, and, before I was out of sight, was leading the horse to water.

“We might economize in the way of a stable-boy,” I said.

“Pooh! you are not indulgent. Here,” whistling to Fanny, “let Sam do that.” She pouted her lips at him, and he laughed.

Aunt Merce gave me a letter the moment I entered. “It is in Alice’s hand; sit down and read it.”

She took her handkerchief and a bit of flagroot from her pocket, to be ready for the sympathetic flow which she expected. But the letter was short. She had seen, it said, the announcement of mother’s death in a newspaper at the time. She knew what a change it had made. We might be sure that we should never find our old level, however happy and forgetful we might grow. She bore us all in mind but sent no message, except to Aunt Merce; she must come to Rosville before summer was over. And could she assist me by taking Arthur for a while? Edward was a quiet, companionable lad, and Arthur would be safe with him at home and at school.

“I wish you would go, Aunt Merce.”

“Yes, why not, Mercy?” asked father. “Would it be a good thing for Arthur, Cassandra? You know what Surrey is for a boy.”

“I know what Rosville was for a girl,” I thought. It was an excellent plan for Arthur; but a feeling of repulsion at the idea of his going kept me silent.

“Is it a good idea?” he repeated.

“Yes, yes, father; send him by all means.”

Aunt Merce sighed. “If he goes, I must go; I can be the receptacle for his griefs and trials for a while at least, and be a little useful that way. You know, Locke, I am but a poor creature.”

“I was not aware of that fact, and am astonished to hear you say so, Mercy, when you know how far back I can remember. Mary shines all along those years, and you with her.”

“Locke, you are the kindest man in the world.”

“He feels fifty years younger than she appears to him,” I thought; but I thanked him for his consideration for her.

“Veronica has had a letter to-day from Mr. Somers. What did you buy in Milford?”

“Mr. Morgeson,” Fanny called, “Bumpus, the horse-jockey, is in the yard. He says Bill is spavined. I think he lies; he wants to trade.”

He went out with her.

“Aunt Merce, let us be more together. What do you think of spending our evenings in the parlor?”

“Do you expect to break up our habits?”

“I would if I could.”

“Try Veronica.”

“I have.”

“Will she give up solitude?”

“Bring your knitting to the parlor and see.”

Veronica came in to tell me that Ben was coming in a week.

“Glad of it.”

“Sends love to you.”

“Obliged.”

“Calls me ‘poor girl’; speaks beautifully of his remembrance of mother, and ”

“What?”

“Tells me to rely on your faithful soul; to trust in the reasonable hope of our remaining together; to try to establish an equality of tastes and habits between us. He tells me what I never knew, that I need you that we need each other.”

“Is that all?”

“There is more for me.”

I left her. Closing the door of my room gently, I thought: “Ben is a good man; but for all that, I feel like blind Sampson just now. Could I lay my hands on the pillars which supported the temple he has built, I would wrench them from their foundation and surprise him by toppling the roof on his head.”

His arrival was delayed for a few days. When he came Surrey looked its best, for it was June; and though the winds were chilly, the grass was grown and the orchard leaves were crowding off the blossoms. The woods were vividly green. The fauns were playing there, and the sirens sang under the sea. But I had other thoughts; the fauns and sirens were not for me, perplexed as I was with household cares. Hepsey proposed staying another year, but I was firm; and she went, begging Fanny to go with her and be as a daughter. She declined; but the proposition influenced her to be troublesome to me. She told me she was of age now, and that no person had a right to control her. At present she was useful where she was, and might remain.

“Will you have wages?” I asked her.

“That is Mr. Morgeson’s business.”

My anger would have pleased her, so I concealed it.

“Your ability, Fanny, is better than your disposition. Me, you do not suit at all; but it is certain that father depends on you for his small comforts, and Veronica likes you. I wish you would stay.”

She placed her arms akimbo.

“I should like to find you out, exactly. I can’t. I never could find out your mother; all the rest of you are as clear as daylight.” And she snapped her fingers as if ‘the rest’ were between them.

“You lack faith.”

“You believe that this is a beautiful world, don’t you? I hate it. I should think you had reason, too, for hating it. Pray what have you got?”

“An ungrateful imp that was bequeathed to me.”

She saw father in the garden beckoning me. “He wants you. I do not hate the world always,” she added, with her eyes fixed on him.

I was disposed to trouble the still waters of our domestic life with theories. Our ways were too mechanical. The old-fashioned asceticism which considered air, sleep, food, as mere necessities was stupid. But I had no assistance; Veronica thought that her share of my plans must consist of a diligent notice of all that I did, which she gave, and then went to her own life, kept sacredly apart. Fanny laughed in her sleeve and took another side the practical, and shone in it, becoming in fact the true manager and worker, while I played. Aunt Merce was helpless. She neglected her former cares; and father was, what he always had been at home, heedless and indifferent.

One morning we stood on the landing stair Ben, Veronica, and myself looking from the window. A silver mist so thinly wrapped the orchard that the wet, shining leaves thrust themselves through in patches. Birds were singing beneath, feeling the warmth of the sun, scarcely hid. The young leaves and blossoms steeping in the mist sent up a delicious odor.

“I like Surrey better and better,” he said; “the atmosphere suits me.”

“Oh, I am glad,” answered Verry. “I could never go away. It is not beautiful, I know; in fact, it is meager when it comes to be talked of; but there are suggestions here which occasionally stimulate me.”

“Verry, can you keep people away from me when I live here?”

“I do not like that feeling in you.”

“I like fishermen.”

“And a boat?”

“Yes, I’ll have a boat.”

“I shall never go out with you.”

“Cass will. I shall cruise with her, and you, in your house, need not see us depart. Eric the Red made excursions in this region. We will skirt the shores, which are the same, nearly, as when he sailed from them, with his Northmen; and the ancient barnacles will think, when they see her fair hair, which she will let ripple around her stately shoulders, that he has come back with his bride.”

Verry looked with delight at him and then at me. “Her long, yellow hair and her stately shoulders,” she repeated.

“Will you go?” he asked.

“Of course,” I answered, going downstairs. I happened to look back on the way. His arm was round Verry, but he was looking after me. He withdrew it as our eyes met, and came down; but she remained, looking from the window. We went into the parlor, and I shut the door.

“Now then,” I said.

He took a note from his pocket and gave it to me.

I broke its seal, and read: “Tell Ben, before you can reflect upon it, that I will go abroad, and then repent of it, as I shall. Desmond.”

“‘Tell Ben,’” I repeated aloud, “‘that I will go abroad. Desmond.’”

“Do you guess, as he does, that my reason for going was that I might be kept aloof from all sight and sound of you and him? In the result toward which I saw you drive I could have no part.”

“Stay; I know that he will go.”

“You do not know. Nor do you know what such a man is when ” checking himself.

“He is in love?”

“If you choose to call it that.”

“I do.”

All there was to say should be said now; but I felt more agitated than was my wont. These feelings, not according with my housewifely condition, upset me. I looked at him; he began to walk about, taking up a book, which he leaned his head over, and whose covers he bent back till they cracked.

“You would read me that way,” I said.

“It is rather your way of reading.”

“Can you remember that Desmond and I influence each other to act alike? And that we comprehend each other without collision? I love him, as a mature woman may love, once, Ben, only once; the fire-tipped arrows rarely pierce soul and sense, blood and brain.”

He made a gesture, expressive of contempt.

“Men are different; he is different.”

“You have already spoken for me, and, I suppose, you will for him.”

“I venture to. Desmond is a violent, tyrannical, sensual man; his perceptions are his pulses. That he is handsome, clever, resolute, and sings well, I can admit; but no more.”

“We will not bandy his merits or his demerits between us. Let us observe him. And now, tell me, what am I?”

“You have been my delight and misery ever since I knew you. I saw you first, so impetuous, yet self-contained! Incapable of insincerity, devoid of affection and courageously naturally beautiful. Then, to my amazement, I saw that, unlike most women, you understood your instincts; that you dared to define them, and were impious enough to follow them. You debased my ideal, you confused me, also, for I could never affirm that you were wrong; forcing me to consult abstractions, they gave a verdict in your favor, which almost unsexed you in my estimation. I must own that the man who is willing to marry you has more courage than I have. Is it strange that when I found your counterpart, Veronica, that I yielded? Her delicate, pure, ignorant soul suggests to me eternal repose.”

“It is not necessary that you should fatigue your mind with abstractions concerning her. It will be the literal you will hunger for, dear Ben.”

“Damn it! the world has got a twist in it, and we all go round with it, devilishly awry.”

I said no more. He had defined my limits, he would, as far as possible, control me without pity or compassion, thinking, probably, that I needed none; the powers he had always given me credit for must be sufficing. I could not comprehend him. How was it that he and Verry gave me such horrible pain? Was it exceptional? Could I claim nothing from women? Had they thought me an anomaly? while I thought it was Veronica who was called peculiar and original? The end of it all must be for me to assimilate with their happiness!

“Well?” he said.

“Thank you.”

Then Veronica came, swinging her bonnet. “The Sagamore has arrived, and I am going to stand on the wharf to count the sailors, and learn if they have all come home. Will you go, Ben?”

He complied, and I was left alone.