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

When Ben left Surrey, I sent no message or letter by him, and he asked for none. But at once I wrote to Desmond, and did not finish my letter till after midnight. Intoxicated with the liberty my pen offered me, I roamed over a wide field of paper. The next morning I burnt it. But there was something to be said to him before his departure, and again I wrote. I might have condensed still more. In this way

VESTIGIA RETRORSUM.

CHARLES MORGESON.

When the answer came I reflected before I read it, that it might be the last link of the chain between us. Not a bright one at the best, nor garlanded with flowers, nor was it metal, silver, or gold. There was rust on it, it was corroded, for it was forged out of his and my substance.

I read it: “I am yours, as I have been, since the night I asked you ‘How came those scars?’ Did you guess that I read your story? I go from you with one idea; I love you, and I must go. Brave woman! you have shamed me to death almost.”

He sent me a watch. I was to wear it from the second of July. It was small and plain, but there were a few words scratched inside the case with the point of a knife, which I read every day. Veronica’s eye fell on it the first time I put it on.

“What time is it?”

“Near one.”

“I thought, from the look of it, that it might be near two.”

“Don’t mar my ideal of you, Verry, by growing witty.”

She shrugged her shoulders. “I guess you found it washed ashore, among the rocks; was it bruised?”

“A man gave it to me.”

“A merman, who fills the sea-halls with a voice of power?”

“May be.”

“Tut, Ben gave it to you. It is a kind of housekeepish present; did he add scissors and needle-case?”

“What if the merman should take me some day to the ’pale sea-groves straight and high?’”

“You must never, never go. You cannot leave me, Cass!” She grasped my sleeve, and pulled me round. “How much was there for you to do in the life before us, which you talked about?”

“I remember. There is much, to be sure.”

Fanny’s quick eye caught the glitter of the watch. The mystery teased her, but she said nothing.

Aunt Merce had gone to Rosville with Arthur. There was no visitor with us; there had been none beside Ben since mother died. All seemed kept at bay. I wrote to Helen to come and pass the summer, but her child was too young for such a journey, she concluded. Ben had sailed for Switzerland. The summer, whose biography like an insignificant life must be written in a few words, was a long one to live through. It happened to be a dry season, which was unfrequent on our coast. Days rolled by without the variation of wind, rain, or hazy weather. The sky was an opaque blue till noon, when solid white clouds rose in the north, and sailed seaward, or barred the sunset, which turned them crimson and black. The mown fields grew yellow under the stare of the brassy sun, and the leaves cracked and curled for the want of moisture. It was dull in the village, no ships were building, none sailed, none arrived. But father was more absorbed than ever, more away from home. He wrote often in the evening, and pored over ledgers with his bookkeeper. Late at night I found him sorting and reading papers. He forgot us. But Fanny, as he grew forgetful, improved as housekeeper. Her energy was untiring; she waited so much on him that I grew forgetful of him. Veronica was the same as before; her room was pleasant with color and perfume, the same delicate pains with her dress each day was taken. She looked as fair as a lily, as serene as the lake on which it floats, except when Fanny tried her. With me she never lost temper. But I saw little of her; she was as fixed in her individual pursuits as ever.

There were intervals now when all my grief for mother returned, and I sat in my darkened chamber, recalling with a sad persistence her gestures, her motions, the tones of her voice, through all the past back to my first remembrance. The places she inhabited, her opinions and her actions I commented on with a minuteness that allowed no detail to escape. When my thoughts turned from her, it seemed as if she were newly lost in the vast and wandering Universe of the Dead, whence I had brought her.

In September a letter came from Ben, which promised a return by the last of October. With the ruffling autumnal breezes my stagnation vanished, and I began my shore life again in a mood which made memory like hope; but staying out too late one evening, I came home in a chill. From the chill I went to a fever, which lasted some days. Veronica came every day to see me, and groaned over my hair, which fell off, but she could not stay long, the smell of medicine made her ill, the dark room gave her an uneasiness; besides, she did not know what she should say. I sent her away always. Fanny took care of me till I was able to move about the room, then she absented herself most of the time. One afternoon Veronica came to tell me that Margaret, the Irish girl, was going; she supposed that Fanny was insufferable, and that she could not stay.

“I must be well by to-morrow,” I said.

The next day I went down stairs, and was greeted with the epithet of “Scarecrow.”

“Do you feel pretty strong?” asked Fanny, with a peculiar accent, when we happened to be alone.

“What is the matter? Out with it!”

“Something’s going to turn up here; something ails Mr. Morgeson.”

I guess his ailment.

“He is going to fail, he is smashed all to nothing. He knows what will be said about him, yet he goes about with perfect calmness. But he feels it. I tried him this morning, I gave him tea instead of coffee, and he didn’t know it!”

“Margaret’s gone?”

“There must be rumors; for she asked him for her wages a day or two ago. He paid her, and said she had better go.”

I examined my hands involuntarily. She tittered.

“How easily you will wash the long-necked glasses and pitchers, with your slim hand!”

I dropped into a mental calculation, respecting the cost of an entire change of wardrobe suitable to our reduced circumstances, and speculated on a neat cottage-style of cookery.

“I think I must go, too,” she said with cunning eyes.

“How can you bear to, when there will be so much trouble for you to enjoy?”

“How tired you look, Cass,” said Veronica, slipping in quietly. “What are you talking about? Has Fanny been tormenting you?”

“Of course,” she answered. “But if am not mistaken, you will be tormented by others besides me.”

“Go out!” said Veronica. “Leave us, pale pest.”

“You may want me here yet.”

“What does she mean, Cass?”

I hesitated.

“Tell me,” she said, in her imperative, gentle voice. “What is there that I cannot know?”

“Now she is what you call high-toned, isn’t it?” inquired Fanny.

Veronica threw her book at her.

“The truth is, ladies, that your father, the principal man in Surrey, is not worth a dollar. What do you think of it? And how will you come off the high horse?” And Fanny drummed on the table energetically.

“Did you really think of going, Fanny?” asked Veronica. “You will stay, and do better than ever, for if you attempt to go, I shall bring you back.”

This was the invitation she wanted, and was satisfied with.

“I must give up flowers,” said Veronica, “of course.”

“I wonder if we shall keep pigs this fall?” said Fanny. “Must we sit in the free seats in the meeting-house? It will be fine for the boys to drop paper balls on our heads from the gallery. I’d like to see them do it, though,” she concluded, as if she felt that such an insult would infringe upon her rights.