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The Morgesons by Elizabeth Stoddard

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It was near morning when I shook off my drowsiness and looked about;
Miss Prior was nodding in an arm-chair. I asked for drink, and when
she gave it to me, begged her to lie down on the sofa; she did not
need urging, and was soon asleep.

"What room is he in?" I thought. "I must know where he is."

I sat up in the bed, and pushed myself out by degrees, keeping my eyes
on Miss Prior; but she did not stir. I staggered when I got into the
passage, but the cool air from some open window revived me, and I
crept on, stopping at Alice's door to listen. I heard a child murmur
in its sleep. He could not be there. The doors of all the
chambers were locked, and I must go downstairs. I went into the
garden-room--the door was open, the scent of roses came in and made me
deadly sick; into the dining-room, and into the parlor--he was there,
lying on a table covered with a sheet. Alice sat on the floor, her
face hid in her hands, crying softly. I touched her. She started on
seeing me. "Go away, Cassy, for God's sake! How came you out of bed?"

"Hush! Tell me!" And I went down on the floor beside her. "Was he dead
when they found us?"

She nodded.

"What was said? Did you hear?"

"They said he must have made a violent effort to save you. The side
of the chaise was torn. The horse kicked him after you were thrust out
over the wheel. Or did you creep out?"

I groaned. "Why did he thrust me out?"

"What?"

"Where is Aspen?"

She pointed to the stable. "He had a fit. Penn says he has had one
before; but he thought him cured. He stood quiet in the ditch after he
had broken from the chaise."

"Alice, did you love him?"

"My husband!"

A door near us opened, and Ben Somers and young Parker looked in. They
were the watchers. Parker went back when he saw me; but Ben came in.
He knelt down by me, put his arm around me, and said, "Poor girl!"
Alice raised her tear-stained face, looking at me curiously, when
he said this. She took hold of my streaming hair and pulled my head
round. "Did _you_ love him?" Ben rose quickly and went to the window.

"Alice!" I whispered, "you may or you may not forgive me, but I was
strangely bound to him. And I must tell you that I hunger now for the
kiss he never gave me."

"I see. Enough. Go back to your room. I must stay by him till all is
over."

"I can't go back. Ben!"

"What is it?"

"Take me upstairs."

Raising me in his arms, he whispered: "Leave him forever, body and
soul. I am not sorry he is dead." He called Charlotte on the way, and
with her he put me to back to bed. I asked him to let me see the dress
they had taken off.

"That is enough," I said, "Charles broke my arm."

It was torn through the shoulder, and the skirt had been twisted like
a rope. Ben made no reply, but bent over me and kissed me tenderly.
All this time Miss Prior had slept the sleep of the just; but he had
barely gone when she started up and said, "Did you call, my dear?"

"No, it is day."

"So it is; but you must sleep more."

I could not obey, and kept awake so long that Dr. White said he
himself should go crazy unless I slept.

"Presently, presently," I reiterated; "and am I going home?"

At last my mind went astray; it journeyed into a dismal world, and
came back without an account of its adventures. While it was gone,
my friends were summoned to witness a contest, where the odds were
in favor of death. But I recovered. Whether it was youth, a good
constitution, or the skill of Dr. White, no one could decide. It was a
faint, feeble, fluttering return at first. The faces round me, mobile
with life, wearied me. I was indifferent to existence, and was more
than once in danger of lapsing into the void I had escaped.

When I first tottered downstairs, he had been buried more than three
weeks. It was a bright morning; the windows of the parlor, where
Charlotte led me, were open. Little Edward was playing round the table
upon which I had seen his father stretched, dead. I measured it with
my eye, remembering how tall he looked. I would have retreated, when
I saw that Alice had visitors, but it was too late. They rose, and
offered congratulations. I was angry that there was no change in the
house. The rooms should have been dismantled, reflecting disorder and
death, by their perpetual darkness and disorder. It was not so. No
dust had been allowed to gather on the furniture, no wrinkles or
stains. No mist on the mirrors, no dimness anywhere. Alice was
elegantly dressed, in the deepest mourning. I examined her with a
cynical eye; her bombazine was trimmed with crape, and the edge of her
collar was beautifully crimped. A mourning brooch fastened it, and
she wore jet ear-rings. She looked handsome, composed, and contented,
holding a black-edged handkerchief. Charlotte had placed my chair
opposite a glass; I caught sight of my elongated visage in it. How
dull I looked! My hair was faded and rough; my eyes were a pale,
lusterless blue. The visitors departed, while I still contemplated my
rueful aspect, and Alice and I were alone.

"I want some broth, Alice. I am hungry."

"How many bowls have you had this morning?"

"Only two."

"You must wait an hour for the third; it is not twelve o'clock."

We were silent. The flies buzzed in and out of the windows; a great
bee flew in, tumbled against the panes, loudly hummed, and after a
while got out again. Alice yawned, and I pulled the threads out of the
border of my handkerchief.

"The hour is up; I will get your broth."

"Bring me a great deal."

She came back with a thin, impoverished liquid.

"There is no chicken in it," I said tearfully.

"I took it out."

"How could you?" And I wept.

She smiled. "You are very weak, but shall have a bit." She went for
it, returning with an infinitesimal portion of chicken.

"What a young creature it must have been, Alice!"

She laughed, promising me more, by and by.

"Now you must lie down. Take my arm and come to the sofa.

"Not here; let us go into another room."

"Come, then."

"Don't leave me," I begged, after she had arranged me comfortably. She
sat down by me with a fan.

"What happened while I was ill?"

She fanned rapidly for an instant, taking thought what to say.

"I shot Aspen, a few days after."

"With your own hand?"

"Yes."

"Good."

"Penn protested, said I interfered with Providence. Jesse added, also,
that what had happened was ordained, and no mistake, and then I sent
them both away."

"And I am going at last, Alice; father will be here again in a few
days."

"You did not recognize Veronica, when they came."

"Was she here?"

"Yes, and went the same day. What great tears rolled down her
unmovable face, when she stood by your bed! She would not stay; the
atmosphere distressed her so, she went back to Boston to wait for your
father. I could neither prevail on her to eat, drink, or rest."

"What will you do, Alice?"

"Take care of the children, and manage the mills."

"Manage the mills?"

"I can. No wonder you look astonished," she said, with a sigh. "I am
changed. When perhaps I should feel that I have done with life, I am
eager to begin it. I have lamented over myself lately."

"How is Ben?"

"He has been here often. How strange it was that to him alone Veronica
gave her hand when they met! Indeed, she gave him both her hands."

"And he?"

"Took them, bowing over them, till I thought he wasn't coming up
again. I do not call people eccentric any more," she said, faintly
blushing. "I look for a reason in every action. Tell me fairly, have
you had a contempt for me--for my want of perception? I understand you
now, to the bone and marrow, I assure you."

"Then you understand more than I do. But you will remember that once
or twice I attempted to express my doubts to you?"

"Yes, yes, with a candor which misled me. But you are talking too
much."

"Give me more broth, then."

CHAPTER XXII.

I was soon well enough to go home. Father came for me, bringing Aunt
Merce. There was no alteration in her, except that she had taken to
wearing a false front, which had a claret tinge when the light struck
it, and a black lace cap. She walked the room in speechless distress
when she saw me, and could not refrain from taking an immense pinch of
snuff in my presence.

"Didn't you bring any flag-root, Aunt Merce?"

"Oh Lord, Cassandra, won't anything upon earth change you?"

And then we both laughed, and felt comfortable together. Her knitting
mania had given way to one she called transferring. She brought a
little basket filled with rags, worn-out embroideries, collars, cuffs,
and edges of handkerchiefs, from which she cut the needle-work, to sew
again on new muslin. She looked at embroidery with an eye merely to
its capacity for being transferred. Alice proved a treasure to her,
by giving her heaps of fine work. She and Aunt Merce were pleased with
each other, and when we were ready to come away, Alice begged her to
visit her every year. I made no farewell visits--my ill health was
sufficient excuse; but my schoolmates came to bid me good-bye, and
brought presents of needlebooks, and pincushions, which I returned by
giving away yards of ribbon, silver fruit-knives, and Mrs. Hemans's
poems, which poetess had lately given my imagination an apostrophizing
direction. Miss Prior came also, with a copy of "Young's Night
Thoughts," bound in speckled leather This hilarious and refreshing
poem remained at the bottom of my trunk, till Temperance fished it
out, to read on Sundays, in her own room, where she usually passed her
hours of solitude in hemming dish-towels, or making articles called
"Takers." Dr. Price came, too, and even the haughty four Ryders. Alice
was gratified with my popularity. But I felt cold at heart, doubtful
of myself, drifting to nothingness in thought and purpose. None saw my
doubts or felt my coldness.

I shook hands with all, exchanged hopes and wishes, and repeated the
last words which people say on departure. Alice and I neither kissed
nor shook hands. There was that between us which kept us apart.
A hard, stern face was still in our recollection. We remembered a
certain figure, whose steps had ceased about the house, whose voice
was hushed, but who was potent yet.

"We shall not forget each other," she said.

And so I took my way out of Rosville. Ben Somers went with us to
Boston, and stayed at the Bromfield. In the morning he disappeared,
and when he returned had an emerald ring, which he begged me to wear,
and tried to put it on my finger, where he had seen the diamond. I put
it back in its box, thanking him, and saying it must be stored with
the farewell needlebooks and pincushions.

"Shall we have some last words now?"

Aunt Merce slipped out, with an affectation of not having heard him.
We laughed, and Ben was glad that I could laugh.

"How do you feel?"

"Rather weak still."

"I do not mean so, but in your mind; how are you?"

"I have no mind."

"Must I give up trying to understand you, Cassandra?"

"Yes, do. You'll visit Alice? You can divine her intentions. She is a
good woman."

"She will be, when she knows how."

"What o'clock is it?"

"Incorrigible! Near ten."

"Here is father, and we must start."

The carriage was ready; where was Aunt Merce?

"Locke," she said, when she came in, "I have got a bottle of port for
Cassandra, some essence of peppermint, and sandwiches; do you think
that will do?"

"We can purchase supplies along the road, if yours give out. Come, we
are ready. Mr. Somers, we shall see you at Surrey? Take care, Cassy.
Now we are off."

"I shall leave Rosville," were Ben's last words.

"What a fine, handsome young man he is! He is a gentleman," said Aunt
Merce.

"Of course, Aunt Merce."

"Why of course? I should think from the way you speak that you had
only seen young gentlemen of his stamp. Have you forgotten Surrey?"

Father and she laughed. They could laugh very easily, for they were
overjoyed to have me going home with them. Mother would be glad, they
said. I felt it, though I did not say so.

How soundly I slept that night at the inn on the road! A little after
sunset, on the third day, for we traveled slowly, we reached the woods
which bordered Surrey, and soon came in sight of the sea encircling it
like a crescent moon. It was as if I saw the sea for the first time.
A vague sense of its power surprised me; it seemed to express my
melancholy. As we approached the house, the orchard, and I saw
Veronica's window, other feelings moved me. Not because I saw familiar
objects, nor because I was going home--it was the relation in which
_I_ stood to them, that I felt. We drove through the gate, and saw
a handsome little boy astride a window-sill, with two pipes in his
mouth, "Papa!" he shrieked, threw his pipes down, and dropped on the
ground, to run after us.

"Hasn't Arthur grown?" Aunt Merce asked. "He is almost seven."

"Almost seven? Where have the years gone?"

I looked about. I had been away so long, the house looked diminished.
Mother was in the door, crying when she put her arms round me; she
could not speak. I know now there should have been no higher beatitude
than to live in the presence of an unselfish, unasking, vital love. I
only said, "Oh, mother, how gray your hair is! Are you glad to see me?
I have grown old too!"

We went in by the kitchen, where the men were, and a young girl with a
bulging forehead. Hepsey looked out from the buttery door, and put
her apron to her eyes, without making any further demonstration of
welcome. Temperance was mixing dough. She made an effort to giggle,
but failed; and as she could not cover her face with her doughy hands,
was obliged to let the tears run their natural course. Recovering
herself in a moment, she exclaimed:

"Heavenly Powers, how you're altered! I shouldn't have known you. Your
hair and skin are as dry as chips; they didn't wash you with Castile
soap, I'll bet."

"How you do talk, Temperance," Hepsey quavered.

The girl with the bulging forehead laughed a shrill laugh.

"Why, Fanny!" said mother.

The hall door opened. "Here _she_ is," muttered this Fanny.

"Veronica!"

"Cassandra!"

We grasped hands, and stared mutely at each other. I felt a
contraction in the region of my heart, as if a cord of steel were
binding it. She, at least, was glad that I was alive!

"They look something alike now," Hepsey remarked.

"Not at all," said Veronica, dropping my hand, and retreating.

"Why, Arthur dear, come here!"

He clambered into my lap.

"Were you killed, my dear sister?"

"Not quite, little boy."

"Well; do you know that I am a veteran officer, and smoke my pipe,
lots?"

"You must rest, Cassy," said mother. "Don't go upstairs, though, till
you have had your supper. Hurry it up, Temperance."

"It will be on the table in less than no time, Miss Morgeson," she
answered, "provided Miss Fanny is agreeable about taking in the
teapot."

I had a comfortable sense of property, when I took possession of my
own room. It was better, after all, to live with a father and mother,
who would adopt my ideas. Even the sea might be mine. I asked father
the next morning, at breakfast, how far out at sea his property
extended.

"I trust, Cassandra, you will now stay at home," said mother; "I am
tired of table duty; you must pour the coffee and tea, for I wish to
sit beside your father."

"You and Aunt Merce have settled down into a venerable condition. You
wear caps, too! What a stage forward!"

"The cap is not ugly, like Aunt Merce's; I made it," Veronica called,
sipping from a great glass.

"Gothic pattern, isn't it?" father asked, "with a tower, and a bridge
at the back of the neck?"

"This hash is Fanny's work, mother," said Verry.

"So I perceive."

"Hepsey is not at the table," I said.

"It is her idea not to come, since I have taken Fanny. Did you notice
her? She prefers to have her wait."

"Who is Fanny?"

"Her father is old Ichabod Bowles, who lives on the Neck. Last winter
her mother sent for me, and begged me to take her. I could not refuse,
for she was dying of consumption; so I promised. The poor woman died,
in the bitterest weather, and a few days after Ichabod brought Fanny
here, and told me he had done with womankind forever. Fanny was sulky
and silent for a long time. I thought she never would get warm. If
obliged to leave the fire, she sat against the wall, with her face hid
in her arms. Veronica has made some impression on her; but she is not
a good girl."

"She will be, mother. I am better than I was."

"Never; her disposition is hateful. She is angry with those who are
better off than herself. I have not seen a spark of gratitude in her."

"I never thought of gratitude," said Verry, "it is true; but why must
people be grateful?"

"We might expect little from Fanny, perhaps; she saw her mother die in
want, her father stern, almost cruel to them, and soured by poverty.
Fanny never had what she liked to eat or wear, till she came here,
or even saw anything that pleased her; and the contrast makes her
bitter."

"She is proud, too," said Aunt Merce. "I hear her boasting of what she
would have had if she had stayed at home."

"She is a child, you know," said Verry.

"A year younger than you are."

"Where is the universal boy?"

"Abolished," father answered. "Arthur is growing into that estate."

"Papa, don't forget that I am a veteran officer."

"Here, you rascal, come and get this nice egg."

He slipped down, went to his father, who took him on his knee.

"What shall I do first? the garden, orchard, village, or what?" I
asked.

"Gardens?" said Verry. "Have they been a part of your education?"

"I like flowers."

"Have you seen my plants?" Aunt Merce inquired.

"I will look at them. How different this is from Rosville?"

Then a pang cut me to the soul. The past whirled up, to disappear,
leaving me stunned and helpless. Veronica's eye was upon me. I forced
myself to observe her. The difference between us was plainer than
ever. I was in my twentieth year, she was barely sixteen; handsome,
and as peculiar-looking as when a child. Her straight hair was a vivid
chestnut color. Her large eyes were near together; and, as Ben Somers
said, the most singular eyes that were ever upon earth. They tormented
me. There was nothing willful in them; on the contrary, when she
was willful, she had no power over them; the strange cast was then
perceptible. Neither were they imperious nor magnetic; they were
_baffling_. She pushed her chair from the table, and stood by me
quiet. Tall and slender, she stooped slightly, as if she were not
strong enough to stand upright. Her dress was a buff-colored cambric,
trimmed with knots of ribbon of the same color, dotted with green
crosses. It harmonized with her colorless, fixedly pale complexion.
I counted the bows of ribbon on her dress, and would have counted the
crosses, if she had not interrupted me with, "What do you think of
me?"

"Do you ever blush, Verry?"

"I grow paler, you know, when I blush."

"What do you think of me?"

"As wide-eyed as ever, and your eyebrows as black. Who ever saw light,
ripply hair with such eyebrows? I see wrinkles, too."

"Where?"

"Round your eyes, like an opening umbrella."

We dispersed as our talk ended, in the old fashion. I followed
Aunt Merce to the flower-stand, which stood in its old place on the
landing.

"I have a poor lot of roses," she said, "but some splendid cactuses."

"I do not love roses."

"Is it possible? But Verry does not care so much for them, either.
Lilies are her favorites; she has a variety. Look at this Arab lily;
it is like a tongue of fire."

"Where does she keep her flowers?"

"In wire baskets, in her room. But I must go to make Arthur some
gingerbread. He likes mine the best, and I like to please him."

"I dare say you spoil him."

"Just as you were spoiled."

"Not in Barmouth, Aunt Merce."

"No, not in Barmouth, Cassy."

I went from room to room, seeing little to interest me. My zeal oozed
away for exploration, and when I entered my chamber I could have said,
"This spot is the summary of my wants, for it contains me." I must
be my own society, and as my society was not agreeable, the more
circumscribed it was, the better I could endure it. What a dreary
prospect! The past was vital, the present dead! Life in Surrey must be
dull. How could I forget or enjoy? I put the curtains down, and told
Temperance, who was wandering about, not to call me to dinner. I
determined, if possible, to surpass my dullness by indulgence. But
underneath it all I could not deny that there was a specter, whose
aimless movements kept me from stagnating. I determined to drag it up
and face it.

"Come," I called, "and stand before me; we will reason together."

It uncovered, and asked:

"Do you feel remorse and repentance?"

"Neither!"

"Why suffer then?"

"I do not know why."

"You confess ignorance. Can you confess that you are selfish,
self-seeking--devilish?"

"Are you my devil?"

No answer.

"Am I cowardly, or a liar?"

It laughed, a faint, sarcastic laugh.

"At all events," I continued, "are not my actions better than my
thoughts?"

"Which makes the sinner, and which the saint?"

"Can I decide?"

"Why not?"

"My teachers and myself are so far apart! I have found a counterpart;
but, specter, you were born of the union."

My head was buried in my arms; but I heard a voice at my elbow--a
shrill, scornful voice it was. "Are you coming down to tea, then?"

Looking up, I saw Fanny. "Tea-time so soon?"

"Yes, it is. You think nothing of time; have nothing to do, I
suppose."

And she clasped her hands over her apron--hands so small and thin that
they looked like those of an old woman. Her hair was light and scanty,
her complexion sallow, and her eyes a palish gray; but her features
were delicate and pretty. She seemed to understand my thoughts.

"You think I am stunted, don't you?"

"You are not large to my eye."

"Suppose you had been fed mostly on Indian meal, with a herring or a
piece of salted pork for a relish, and clams or tautog for a luxury,
as I have been, would you be as tall and as grand-looking as you are
now? And would you be covering up your face, making believe worry?"

"May be not. You may tell mother that I am coming."

"I shall not say 'Miss Morgeson,' but 'Cassandra.' 'Cassandra
Morgeson,' if I like."

"Call me what you please, only tone down that voice of yours; it is
sharper than the east wind."

I heard her beating a tattoo on Veronica's door next. She had been
taught to be ceremonious with her, at least. No reply was made, and
she came to my door again. "I expect Miss Veronica has gone to see
poor folks; it is a way _she_ has," and spitefully closed it.

After tea mother came up to inquire the reason of my seclusion. My
excuse of fatigue she readily accepted, for she thought I still looked
ill. I had changed so much, she said, it made her heart ache to look
at me. When I could speak of the accident at Rosville, would I tell
her all? And would I describe my life there; what friends I had made;
would they visit me? She hoped so. And Mr. Somers, who made them so
hurried a visit, would he come? She liked him. While she talked, she
kept a pitying but resolute eye upon me.

"Dear mother, I never can tell you all, as you wish. It is hard
enough for me to bear my thoughts, without the additional one that my
feelings are understood and speculated upon. If I should tell you, the
barrier between me and self-control would give way. You will see Alice
Morgeson, and if she chooses she can tell you what my life was in her
house. She knows it well."

"Cassandra, what does your bitter face and voice mean?"

"I mean, mother, all your woman's heart might guess, if you were not
so pure, so single-hearted."

"No, no, no."

"Yes."

"Then I understand the riddle you have been, one to bring a curse."

"There is nothing to curse, mother; our experiences are not foretold
by law. We may be righteous by rule, we do not sin that way. There was
no beginning, no end, to mine."

"Should women curse themselves, then, for giving birth to daughters?"

"Wait, mother; what is bad this year may be good the next. You blame
yourself, because you believe your ignorance has brought me into
danger. Wait, mother."

"You are beyond me; everything is beyond."

"I will be a good girl. Kiss me, mother. I have been unworthy of you.
When have I ever done anything for you? If you hadn't been my mother,
I dare say we might have helped each other, my friendship and sympathy
have sustained you. As it is, I have behaved as all young animals
behave to their mothers. One thing you may be sure of. The doubt
you feel is needless. You must neither pray nor weep over me. Have I
agitated you?"

"My heart _will_ flutter too much, anyway. Oh, Cassy, Cassy, why
are you such a girl? Why will you be so awfully headstrong?" But she
hugged and kissed me. As I felt the irregular beating of her heart,
a pain smote me. What if she should not live long? Was I not a wicked
fool to lacerate myself with an intangible trouble--the reflex of
selfish emotions?

CHAPTER XXIII.

Veronica's room was like no other place. I was in a new atmosphere
there. A green carpet covered the floor, and the windows had light
blue silk curtains.

"Green and blue together, Veronica?"

"Why not? The sky is blue, and the carpet of the earth is green."

"If you intend to represent the heavens and the earth here, it is very
well."

The paper on the wall was ash-colored, with penciled lines. She had
cloudy days probably. A large-eyed Saint Cecilia, with white roses in
her hair, was pasted on the wall. This frameless picture had a curious
effect. Veronica, in some mysterious way, had contrived to dispose
of the white margin of the picture, and the saint looked out from the
soft ashy tint of the wallpaper. Opposite was an exquisite engraving,
which was framed with dark red velvet. At the end of an avenue of
old trees, gnarled and twisted into each other, a man stood. One hand
grasped the stalk of a ragged vine, which ran over the tree near him;
the other hung helpless by his side, as if the wrist was broken. His
eyes were fixed on some object behind the trees, where nothing was
visible but a portion of the wall of a house. His expression of
concentrated fury--his attitude of waiting--testified that he would
surely accomplish his intention.

"What a picture!"

"The foliage attracted me, and I bought it; but when I unpacked it,
the man seemed to come out for the first time. Will you take it?"

"No; I mean to give my room a somnolent aspect. The man is too
terribly sleepless."

A table stood near the window, methodically covered with labelled
blank-books, a morocco portfolio, and a Wedgewood inkstand and vase.
In an arch, which she had manufactured from the space under the garret
stairs, stood her bed. At its foot, against the wall, a bunch of
crimson autumn leaves was fastened, and a bough, black and bare, with
an empty nest on it.

"Where is the feminine portion of your furnishing?"

"Look in the closet."

I opened a door. What had formerly been appropriated by mother to
blankets and comfortables, she had turned into a magazine of toilet
articles. There were drawers and boxes for everything which pertained
to a wardrobe, arranged with beautiful skill and neatness. She
directed my attention to her books, on hanging shelves, within reach
of the bed. Beneath them was a small stand, with a wax candle in a
silver candlestick.

"You read o' nights?"

"Yes; and the wax candle is my pet weakness."

"Have you put away Gray, and Pope, and Thomson?"

"The Arabian Nights and the Bible are still there. Mother thought you
would like to refurnish your room. It is the same as when we moved,
you know."

"Did she? I will have it done. Good-by."

"Good-by."

She was at the window now, and had opened a pane.

"What's that you are doing?"

"Looking through my wicket."

I went back again to understand the wicket. It had been made, she
said, so that she might have fresh air in all weathers, without
raising the windows. In the night she could look out without danger of
taking cold. We looked over the autumn fields; the crows were flying
seaward over the stubble, or settling in the branches of an old fir,
standing alone, midway between the woods and the orchard. The ground
before us, rising so gradually, and shortening the horizon, reminded
me of my childish notion that we were near the North Pole, and that
if we could get behind the low rim of sky we should be in the Arctic
Zone.

"The Northern Lights have not deserted us, Veronica?"

"No; they beckon me over there, in winter."

"Do you never tire of this limited, monotonous view--of a few uneven
fields, squared by grim stone walls?"

"That is not all. See those eternal travelers, the clouds, that hurry
up from some mysterious region to go over your way, where I never
look. If the landscape were wider, I could never learn it. And the
orchard--have you noticed that? There are bird and butterfly lives
in it, every year. Why, morning and night are wonderful from these
windows. But I must say the charm vanishes if I go from them. Surrey
is not lovely." She closed the wicket, and sat down by the table. My
dullness vanished with her. There might be something to interest me
beneath the calm surface of our family life after all.

"Veronica, do you think mother is changed? I think so."

"She is always the same to me. But I have had fears respecting her
health."

Outside the door I met Temperance, with a clothes-basket.

"Oh ho!" she said, "you are going the rounds. Verry's room beats all
possessed, don't it? It is cleaned spick and span every three months.
She calls it inaugurating the seasons. She is as queer as Dick's
hatband. Have you any fine things to do up?"

Her question put me in mind of my trunks, and I hastened to them, with
the determination of putting my room to rights. The call to dinner
interrupted me before I had begun, and the call to supper came before
anything in the way of improvement had been accomplished. My mind
was chaotic by bed-time. The picture of Veronica, reading by her wax
candle, or looking through the wicket, collected and happy in her
orderly perfection, came into my mind, and with it an admiration which
never ceased, though I had no sympathy with her. We seemed as far
apart as when we were children.

I was eager for employment, promising to perform many tasks, but the
attempt killed my purpose and interest. My will was nerveless, when I
contemplated Time, which stretched before me--a vague, limitless sea;
and I only kept Endeavor in view, near enough to be tormented.

One day father asked me to go to Milford, and I then asked him for
money to spend for the adornment of my room.

"Be prudent," he replied. "I am not so rich as people think me.
Although the _Locke Morgeson_ was insured, she was a loss. But you
need not speak of this to your mother. I never worry her with my
business cares. As for Veronica, she has not the least idea of the
value of money, or care for what it represents."

When we went into the shops, I found him disposed to be more
extravagant than I was. I bought a blue and white carpet; a piece
of blue and white flowered chintz; two stuffed chairs, covered with
hair-cloth (father remonstrated against these), and a long mirror to
go between the windows, astonishing him with my vanity. What I wanted
besides I could construct myself, with the help of the cabinet maker
in Surrey.

In one of the shops I heard a familiar voice, which gave me a thrill
of anger. I turned and saw Charlotte Alden, of Barmouth, the girl who
had given me the fall on the tilt. She could not control an expression
of surprise at the sight of the well-dressed woman before her. It was
my dress that astonished her. Where could _I_ have obtained style?

"Miss Alden, how do you do? Pray tell me whether you have collected
any correct legends respecting my mother's early history. And do you
tilt off little girls nowadays?"

She made no reply, and I left her standing where she was when I began
speaking. When we got out of town, my anger cooled, and I grew ashamed
of my spitefulness, and by way of penance I related the affair to
father. He laughed at what I said to her, and told me that he had long
known her family. Charlotte's uncle had paid his addresses to mother.
There might have been an engagement; whether there was or not, the
influence of his family had broken the acquaintance. This explained
what Charlotte said to me in Miss Black's school about mother's being
in love.

"You might have been angry with the girl, but you should not have felt
hurt at the fact implied. Are you so young still as to believe that
only those who love marry? or that those who marry have never loved,
except each other?"

"I have thought of these things; but I am afraid that Love, like
Theology, if examined, makes one skeptical."

We jogged along in silence for a mile or two.

"Whether every man's children overpower him, I wonder? I am positively
afraid of you and Veronica."

"What do you mean?"

"I am always unprepared for the demonstrations of character you and
she make. My traditional estimate, which comes from thoughtfulness, or
the putting off of responsibility, or God knows what, I find will not
answer. I have been on my guard against that which everyday life might
present--a lie, a theft, or a meanness; but of the undercurrent, which
really bears you on, I have known nothing."

"If you happen to dive below the surface, and find the roots of our
actions which are fixed beneath its tide--what then? Must you lament
over us?"

"No, no; but this is vague talk."

Was he dissatisfied with me? What could he expect? We all went our
separate ways, it is true; was it that? Perhaps he felt alone. I
studied his face; it was not so cheerful as I remembered it once, but
still open, honest, and wholesome. I promised myself to observe his
tastes and consult them. It might be that his self-love had never been
encouraged. But I failed in that design, as in all others.

"Much of my time is consumed in passing between Milford and Surrey,
you perceive."

"I will go with you often."

According to habit, on arriving, I went into the kitchen. It was dusk
there, and still. Temperance was by the fire, attending to something
which was cooking.

"What is there for supper, Temperance? I am hungry."

"I spose you are," she answered crossly. "You'll see when it's on the
table."

She took a coal of fire with the tongs, and blew it fiercely, to
light a lamp by. When it was alight, she set it on the chimney-shelf,
revealing thereby a man at the back of the room, balancing his chair
on two legs against the wail; his feet were on its highest round, and
he twirled his thumbs.

"Hum," he said, when he saw me observing him; "this is the oldest
darter, is it?"

"Yes," Temperance bawled.

"She is a good solid gal; but I can't recollect her christened name."

"It is Cassandra."

"Why, 'taint Scriptur'."

"Why don't you go and take off your things?" Temperance asked,
abruptly.

"I'll leave them here; the fire is agreeable."

"There is a better fire in the keeping-room."

"How are you, Mr. Handy?" father inquired, coming in.

"I should be well, if my grinders didn't trouble me; they play the
mischief o'nights. Have you heard from the _Adamant_, Mr. Morgeson?
I should like to get my poor boy's chist. The Lord ha' mercy on him,
whose bones are in the caverns of the deep."

"Now, Abram, do shut up. Tea is ready, Mr. Morgeson. I'll bring in the
ham directly," said Temperance.

There was no news from the _Adamant_. I lingered in the hope of
discovering why Mr. Handy irritated Temperance. He was a man of sixty,
with a round head, and a large, tender wart on one cheek; the two
tusks under his upper lip suggested a walrus. Though he was no beauty,
he looked thoroughly respectable, in garments whose primal colors
had disappeared, and blue woolen stockings gartered to a miracle of
tightness.

"Temperance," he said, "my quinces have done fust rate this year. I
haint pulled 'em yet; but I've counted them over and over agin. But my
pig wont weigh nothin' like what I calkerlated on. Sarved me right. I
needn't have bought him out of a drove; if Charity had been alive, I
shouldn't ha' done it. A man can't--I say, Tempy--a man _can't_ git
along while here below, without a woman."

She gave my arm a severe pinch as she passed with the ham, and I
thought it best to follow her. Mother looked at her with a smile, and
said: "Deal gently with Brother Abram, Temperance."

"Brother be fiddlesticked!" she said tartly. "Miss Morgeson, _do_ you
want some quinces?"

"Certainly."

"We'll make hard marmalade this year, then. You shall have the quinces
to-morrow." And she retired with a softened face. I was told that
Abram Handy was a widower anxious to take Temperance for a second
helpmeet, and that she could not decide whether to accept or refuse
him. She had confessed to mother that she was on the fence, and didn't
know which way to jump. He was a poor, witless thing, she knew; but
he was as good a man as ever breathed, and stood as good a chance
of being saved as the wisest church-member that ever lived! Mother
thought her inclined to be mistress of an establishment over which she
might have sole control. Abram owned a house, a garden, and kept pigs,
hens, and a cow; these were his themes of conversation. Mother could
not help thinking he was influenced by Temperance's fortune. She was
worth two thousand dollars, at least. The care of her wood-lot,
the cutting, selling, or burning the wood on it, would be a supreme
happiness to Abram, who loved property next to the kingdom of heaven.
The tragedy of the old man's life was the loss of his only son, who
had been killed by a whale a year since. The _Adamant_, the ship he
sailed in, had not returned, and it was a consoling hope with Abram
that his boy's chist might come back.

"We heard of poor Charming Handy's death the tenth of September, about
three months after Abram began his visits to Temperance," Veronica
said.

"Was his name Charming?" I asked.

"His mother named him," Abram said, "with a name that she had picked
out of Novel's works, which she was forever and 'tarnally reading."

"What day of the month is it, Verry?"

"Third of October."

"What happened a year ago to-day?"

"Arthur fell off the roof of the wood-house."

"Verry," he cried, "you needn't tell my sister of that; now she knows
about my scar. You tell everything; she does not. You have scars," he
whispered to me; "they look red sometimes. May I put my finger on your
cheek?"

I took his hand, and rubbed his fingers over the cuts; they were not
deep, but they would never go away.

"I wish mine were as nice; it is only a little hole under my hair.
Soldiers ought to have long scars, made with great big swords, and I
am a soldier, ain't I, Cassy?"

"Have I heard you sing, Cassy?" asked father. "Come, let us have some
music."

"'And the cares which infest the day,'" added Verry.

I had scarcely been in the parlor since my return, though the fact had
not been noticed. Our tacit compact was that we should be ignorant of
each other's movements. I ran up to my room for some music, and, not
having a lamp, stumbled over my shawl and bonnet and various bundles
which somebody had deposited on the floor. I went down by the back
way, to the kitchen; Fanny was there alone, standing before the fire,
and whistling a sharp air.

"Did you carry my bonnet and shawl upstairs?"

"I did."

"Will you be good enough to take this music to the parlor for me?"

She turned and put her hands behind her. "Who was your waiter last
year?"

"I had one," putting the leaves under her arm; they fluttered to the
floor, one by one.

"You must pick them up, or we shall spend the night here, and father
is waiting for me."

"Is he?" and she began to take them up.

"I am quite sure, Fanny, that I could punish you awfully. I am sick to
try."

She moved toward the door slowly. "Don't tell him," she said, stopping
before it.

"I'll tell nobody, but I am angry. Let us arrive."

She marched to the piano, laid the music on it, and marched out.

"By the way, Fanny," I whispered, "the bonnet and shawl are yours, if
you need them."

"I guess I do," she whispered back.

When I returned to my room, I found it in order and the bundles
removed.

One day some Surrey friends called. They told me I had changed very
much, and I inferred from their tone they did not consider the change
one for the better.

"How much Veronica has improved," they continued, "do not you think
so?"

"You know," she interrupted, "that Cassandra has been dangerously ill,
and has barely recovered."

Yes, they had heard of the accident, everybody had; Mr. Morgeson must
be a loss to his family, a man in the prime of life, too.

"The prime of life," Veronica repeated.

She was asked to play, and immediately went to the piano. Strange
girl; her music was so filled with a wild lament that I again fathomed
my desires and my despair. Her eyes wandered toward me, burning with
the fires of her creative power, not with the feelings which stung
me to the quick. Her face was calm, white, and fixed. She stopped and
touched her eyelids, as if she were weeping, but there were no tears
in her eyes. They were in mine, welling painfully beneath the lids. I
turned over the music books to hide them.

"That is a singular piece," said one. "Now, Cassandra, will you favor
us? We expect to find you highly accomplished."

"I sang myself out before you came in."

In the bustle of their going, Veronica stooped over my hand and kissed
it, unseen. It was more like a sigh upon it than a kiss, but it swept
through me, tingling the scars on my face, as if the flesh had become
alive again.

"Take tea with us soon, do. We do not see you in the street or at
church. It must be dull for you after coming from a boarding-school.
Still, Surrey has its advantages." And the doors closed on them.

"Still, Surrey has its advantages," Veronica repeated.

"Yes, the air is sleepy; I am going to bed."

I made resolutions before I slept that night, which I kept, for I
said, "Let the dead bury its dead."

CHAPTER XXIV.

Helen's letters followed me. She had heard from Rosville all that had
happened, but did not expatiate on it. Her letters were full of minute
details respecting her affairs. It was her way of diverting me from
the thoughts which she believed troubled me. "L.N." was expected soon.
Since his last letter, she had caught herself more than once making
inventories of what she would like to have in the way of a wardrobe
for a particular occasion, which he had hinted at.

I heard nothing from Alice, and was content that it should be so. Our
acquaintance would be resumed in good time, I had no doubt. Neither
did I hear from Ben Somers. He very likely was investing in another
plan. Of its result I should also hear.

My chief occupation was to drive with father. The wharves of Milford,
the doors of its banks and shipping offices, became familiar. I
witnessed bargains and contracts, and listened to talk of shipwrecks,
mutinies, insurance cases, perjuries, failures, ruin, and rascalities.
His private opinions, and those who sought him, were kept in the
background; the sole relation between them was--Traffic. Personality
was forgotten in the absorbed attention which was given to business.
They appeared to me, though, as if pursuing something beyond Gain,
which should narcotize or stimulate them to forget that man's life was
a vain going to and fro.

Mother reproached father for allowing me to adopt the habits of a man.
He thought it a wholesome change; besides, it would not last. While
I was his companion there were moments when he left his ledger for
another book.

"You never call yourself a gambler, do you, Locke?" mother asked.
"Strange, too, that you think of Cassy in your business life instead
of me."

"Mary, could I break your settled habits. Cassy is afloat yet. I can
guide her hither and yon. Moreover, with her, I dream of youth."

"Is youth so happy?" we both asked.

"We think so, when we see it in others."

"Not all of us," she said. "You think Cassandra has no ways of her
own! She can make us change ours; do you know that?"

"May be."

A habit grew upon me of consulting the sea as soon as I rose in the
morning. Its aspect decided how my day would be spent. I watched it,
studying its changes, seeking to understand its effect, ever attracted
by an awful materiality and its easy power to drown me. By the shore
at night the vague tumultuous sphere, swayed by an influence mightier
than itself, gave voice, which drew my soul to utter speech for
speech. I went there by day unobserved, except by our people, for I
never walked toward the village. Mother descried me, as she would a
distant sail, or Aunt Merce, who had a vacant habit of looking from
all the windows a moment at a time, as if she were forever expecting
the arrival of somebody who never came. Arthur, too, saw me, as he
played among the rocks, waded, caught crabs and little fish, like all
boys whose hereditary associations are amphibious. But Veronica never
came to the windows on that side of the house, unless a ship was
arriving from a long voyage. Then her interest was in the ship alone,
to see whether her colors were half-mast, or if she were battered and
torn, recalling to mind those who had died or married since the ship
sailed from port; for she knew the names of all who ever left Surrey,
and their family relations.

Weeks passed before I had completed the furnishing of my room; I
had been to Helen's wedding, and had returned, and it was still in
progress. The ground was covered with snow. The sea was dark and rough
under the frequent north wind, sometimes gray and silent in an icy
atmosphere; sometimes blue and shining beneath the pale winter sun.
The day when the room was ready, Fanny made a wood fire, which burned
merrily, and encouraged the new chairs, tables, carpet, and curtains
into a friendly assimilation; they met and danced on the round tops
of the brass dogs. It already seemed to me that I was like the room.
Unlike Veronica, I had nothing odd, nothing suggestive. My curtains
were blue chintz, and the sofa and chairs were covered with the
same; the ascetic aspect of my two hair-cloth arm-chairs was entirely
concealed. The walls were painted amber color, and varnished. There
were no pictures but the shining shadows. A row of shelves covered
with blue damask was on one side, and my tall mirror on the other. The
doors were likewise covered with blue damask, nailed round with brass
nails. When I had nothing else to do I counted the nails. The wooden
mantel shelf, originally painted in imitation of black marble, I
covered with damask, and fringed it. I sent Fanny down for mother and
Aunt Merce. They declared, at once, they were stifled; too many things
in the room; too warm; too dark; the fringe on the mantel would catch
fire and burn me up; too much trouble to take care of it. What was
under the carpet that made it so soft and the steps so noiseless? How
nice it was! Temperance, who had been my aid, arrived at this juncture
and croaked.

"Did you ever see such a stived-up hole, Mis Morgeson?"

"I like it now," she answered, "it is so comfortable. How lovely this
blue is!"

"It's a pity she wont keep the blinds shut. The curtains will fade to
rags in no time; the sun pours on 'em."

"How could I watch the sea then?" I asked.

"Good Lord! it's a mystery to me how you can bother over that salt
water."

"And the smell of the sea-weed," added Aunt Merce.

"And its thousand dreary cries," said mother.

"Do you like my covered doors?" I inquired.

"I vow," Temperance exclaimed, "the nails are put in crooked! And I
stood over Dexter the whole time. He said it was damned nonsense, and
that you must be awfully spoiled to want such a thing. 'You get your
pay, Dexter,' says I, 'for what you do, don't you?' 'I guess I do,'
says he, and then he winked. 'None of your gab,' says I. I do believe
that man is a cheat and a rascal, I vow I do. But they are all so."

"In my young days," Aunt Merce remarked, "young girls were not allowed
to have fires in their chambers."

"In our young days, Mercy," mother replied, "_we_ were not allowed to
have much of anything."

"Fires are not wholesome to sleep by," Temperance added.

"Miss Veronica never has a fire," piped Fanny, who had remained,
occasionally making a stir with the tongs.

"But she ought to have!" Temperance exclaimed vehemently. "I do
wonder, Mis Morgeson, that you do not insist upon it, though it's none
of my business."

Father was conducted upstairs, after supper. The fire was freshly
made; the shaded lamp on the table before the sofa and the easy-chair
pleased him. He came often afterward, and stayed so long, sometimes,
that I fell asleep, and found him there, when I woke, still smoking
and watching the fire.

Veronica looked in at bed-time. "I recognize you here," she said as
she passed. But she came back in a few moments in a wrapper, with a
comb in her hand, and stood on the hearth combing her hair, which was
longer than a mermaid's. The fire was grateful to her, and I believe
that she was surprised at the fact.

"Why not have a fire in your room, Verry?"

"A fire would put me out. One belongs in this room, though. It is the
only reality here."

"What if I should say you provoke me, perverse girl?"

"What if you should?"

She gathered up her hair and shook it round her face, with the same
elfish look she wore when she pulled it over her eyes as a child. It
made me feel how much older I was.

"I do not say so, and I will not."

"I wish you would; I should like to hear something natural from you."

Fanny, coming in with an armful of wood, heard her. Instead of putting
it on the fire, she laid it on the hearth, and, sitting upon it with
an expression of enjoyment, looked at both of us with an expectant
air.

"You love mischief, Fanny," I said.

"Is it mischief for me to look at sisters that don't love each other?"
and, laughing shrilly, she pulled a stick from under her, and threw it
on the fire.

Veronica's eyes shot more sparks than the disturbed coals, for Fanny's
speech enraged her. Giving her head a toss, which swept her hair
behind her shoulders, she darted at Fanny, and picked her up from the
wood, with as much ease as if it had been her handkerchief, instead of
a girl nearly as heavy as herself. I started up.

"Sit still," she said to me, in her low, inflexible voice, holding
Fanny against the wall. "I must attend to this little demon. Do you
dare to think," addressing Fanny with a gentle vehemence, "that what
you have just said, is true of _me_? Are you, with your small, starved
spirit, equal to any judgment against _her?_ I admire her; you do,
too. I _love_ her, and I love you, you pitiful, ignorant brat."

Her strength gave way, and she let her go.

"All declarations in my behalf are made to third persons," I thought.

"I do believe, Miss Veronica," said Fanny, who did not express any
astonishment or resentment at the treatment she had received, "that
you are going to be sick; I feel so in my bones."

"Never mind your bones. Twist up my hair, and think, while you do it,
how to get rid of your diabolical curiosity."

"I have had nothing to do all my life," she answered, carefully
knotting Verry's hair, "but to be curious. I never found out much,
though, till lately"; and she cast her eyes in my direction.

"Put her out, Cassandra," said Verry, "if you like to touch her."

"I'll sweep the hearth, if you please, first," Fanny answered. "I am a
good drudge, you know. Good-night, ladies."

I followed Veronica, wishing to know if her room was uncomfortable.
She had made slight changes since my visit to her. The flowers had
been moved, the stand where the candle stood was covered with crimson
cloth. The dead bough and the autumn leaves were gone; but instead
there was a branch of waving grasses, green and fresh, and on the
table was a white flower, in a vase.

"It is freezing here, but it looks like summer. Is it design?"

"Yes; I can't sit here much; still, I can read in bed, and write,
especially under my new quilt, which you have not seen."

It was composed of red, black, and blue bits of silk, and beautifully
quilted. Hepsey and Temperance had made it for her.

"How about the wicket, these winter nights?"

"I drag the quilt off, and wrap it round me when I want to look out."

We heard a bump on the floor, and Temperance appeared with warm bricks
wrapped in flannel.

"You know that I will not have those things," Verry said.

"Dear me, how contrary you are! And you have not eaten a thing
to-day."

"Carry them out."

Her voice was so unyielding, but always so gentle! Temperance was
obliged to deposit the bricks outside the door, which she did with a
bang.

"I should think you might sleep in Cassandra's room; her bed is big
enough for three."

No answer was made to this proposition, but Verry said,

"You may undress me, if you like, and stay till you are convinced I
shall not freeze."

"I've stayed till I am in an ager. I might as well finish the night
here, I spose."

She called me after midnight, for she had not left Verry, who had been
attacked with one of her mysterious disorders.

"You can do nothing for her; but I am scared out, when she faints so
dreadful; I don't like to be alone."

Veronica could not speak, but she shook her head at me to go away.
Her will seemed to be concentrated against losing consciousness; it
slipped from her occasionally, and she made a rotary motion with
her arms, which I attempted to stop, but her features contracted so
terribly, I let her alone.

"Mustn't touch her," said Temperance, whose efforts to relieve her
were confined to replacing the coverings of the bed, and drawing her
nightgown over her bosom, which she often threw off again. Her breath
scarcely stirred her breast. I thought more than once she did not
breathe at all. Its delicate, virgin beauty touched me with a holy
pity. We sat by her bed in silence a long time, and although it was
freezing cold, did not suffer. Suddenly she turned her head and
closed her eyes. Temperance softly pulled up the clothes over her and
whispered: "It is over for this time; but Lord, how awful it is! I
hoped she was cured of these spells."

In a few minutes she asked, "What time is it?"

"It must be about eleven," Temperance replied; but it was nearly four.
She dozed again, but, opening her eyes presently, made a motion toward
the window.

"There's no help for it," muttered Temperance, "she must go."

I understood her, and put my arm under Verry's neck to raise her.
Temperance wrapped the quilt round her, and we carried her to the
window. Temperance pushed open the pane; an icy wind blew against us.

"It is the winter that kills little Verry," she said, in a childlike
voice. "God's breath is cold over the world, and my life goes. But the
spring is coming; it will come back."

I looked at Temperance, whose face was so corrugated with the desire
for crying and the effort to keep from it, that for the life of me,
I could not help smiling. As soon as I smiled I laughed, and then
Temperance gave way to crying and laughing together. Veronica stared,
and realized the circumstances in a second. She walked back to the
bed, laughing faintly, too. "Go to bed, do. You have been here a long
time, have you?"

I left Temperance tucking the clothes about her, kissing her, and
calling her "deary and her best child."

I could not go to bed at once, for Fanny was on my hearth before the
fire, which she had rekindled, watching the boiling of something.

"She has come to, hasn't she?" stirring the contents of the kettle. "I
knew it was going to be so with her, she was so mad with me. She is
like the Old Harry before she has a turn, and like an angel after.
I am fond of people who have their ups and downs. I have seen her so
before. She asked me to keep the doors locked once; they are locked
now. But I couldn't keep _you_ out. The doctor said she must have warm
drinks as soon as she was better. This is gruel."

"If it is done, away with you. Calamity improves you, don't it? You
seem in excellent spirits."

"First-rate; I can be somebody then."

CHAPTER XXV.

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.

CHAPTER XXVI.

Alice Morgeson sent for Aunt Merce, asking her to fulfill the promise
she had made when she was in Rosville.

With misgivings she went, stayed a month, and returned with Alice. I
felt a throe of pain when we met, which she must have seen, for she
turned pale, and the hand she had extended toward me fell by her side;
overcoming the impulse, she offered it again, but I did not take it. I
had no evidence to prove that she came to Surrey on my account; but I
was sure that such was the fact, as I was sure that there was a bond
between us, which she did not choose to break, nor to acknowledge. She
appeared as if expecting some explanation or revelation from me; but
I gave her none, though I liked her better than ever. She was
business-like and observant. Her tendencies, never romantic, were less
selfish; it was no longer society, dress, housekeeping, which absorbed
her, but a larger interest in the world which gave her a desire
to associate with men and women, independent of caste. None of her
children were with her; had it been three years earlier, she would not
have left home without them. Her hair was a little gray, and a wrinkle
or two had gathered about her mouth; but there was no other change.
I was not sorry to have her go, for she paid me a close and quiet
observation. At the moment of departure, she said in an undertone:
"What has become of that candor of which you were so proud?" "I am
more candid than ever," I answered, "for I am silent."

"I understand you better, now that I have seen you _en famille."_

"What do you think now?"

"I don't think I know; the Puritans have much to answer for in
your mother--" Turning to her she said, "My children, too, are so
different."

Mother gave her a sad smile, as Fanny announced the carriage, and they
drove away.

"No more visitors this year," said Veronica, yawning.

"No agreeable ones, I fancy," I answered.

"All the relations have had their turn for this year," remarked Aunt
Merce. But she was mistaken; an old lady came soon after this to spend
the winter. She lived but four miles from Surrey, but brought with her
all her clothes, and a large green parrot, which her son had brought
from foreign parts. Her name was Joy Morgeson; the fact of her being
cousin to father's grandmother entitled her to a raid upon us at any
season, and to call us "cousins." She felt, she said, that she must
come and attend the meetings regular, for her time upon earth was
short. But Joy was a hearty woman still, and, pious as she was,
delighted in rough and scandalous stories, the telling of which gave
her severe fits of repentance. She quilted elaborate petticoats for
us, knit stockings for Arthur, and was useful. Mr. and Mrs. Elisha
Peckham surprised us next. They arrived from "up country" and stayed
two weeks. I did not clearly understand why they came before they
went; but as they enjoyed their visit, it was of little consequence
whether I did or not.

Midwinter passed, and we still had company. There was much to do, but
it was done without system. Mother or Aunt Merce detailed from their
ordinary duties as keeper of the visitors, Fanny was for the first
time able to make herself of importance in the family tableaux,
and assumed cares no one had thought of giving her. She left the
town-school, telling mother that learning would be of no use to her.
The rights of a human being merely was what she wanted; she should
fight for them; that was what paupers must do. Mother allowed her
to do as she pleased. Her duties commenced with calling us up to
breakfast _en masse_, and for once the experiment was successful,
for we all met at the table. The dining-room was in complete order, a
thing that had never happened early before; the rest of us missed the
straggling breakfast which consumed so much time.

"Whose doing is this?" asked father, looking round the table.

"It is Fanny's," I answered, rattling the cups. "All the coffee to be
poured out at once, don't agitate me."

Fanny, bearing buckwheat cakes, looked proud and modest, as people do
who appreciate their own virtues.

"Why, Fanny," said the father, "you have done wonders; you are more
original than Cassy or Verry."

Her green eyes glowed; her aspect was so feline that I expected her
hair to rise.

"Father's praise pleases you more than ours," Verry said.

"You never gave me any," she answered, marching out.

Father looked up at Verry, annoyed, but said nothing. We paid no
attention to Fanny's call afterward; but she continued her labors,
which proved acceptable to him. Temperance told me, when she was with
us for a week, that his overcoats, hats, umbrellas, and whips never
had such care as Fanny gave them. He omitted from this time to ask us
if we knew where his belongings were, but went to Fanny; and I noticed
that he required much attendance.

Temperance, who had arrived in the thick of the company, as she termed
it, was sorry to go back to Abram. He _was_ a good man, she said; but
it was a dreadful thing for a woman to lose her liberty, especially
when liberty brought so much idle time. "Why, girls, I have quilted
and darned up every rag in the house. He _will_ do half the housework
himself; he is an everlasting Betty." She was cheerful, however, and
helped Hepsey, as well as the rest of us.

The guests did not encroach on my time, but it was a relief to have
them gone and the house our own once more.

I went to Milford again, almost daily, to feast my eyes on the bleak,
flat, gray landscape. The desolation of winter sustains our frail
hopes. Nature is kindest then; she does not taunt us with fruition.
It is the luxury of summer which tantalizes--her long, brilliant,
blossoming days, her dewy, radiant nights.

Entering the house one March evening, when it was unusually still,
I had reached the front hall, when masculine tones struck my ears. I
opened the parlor door softly, and saw Ben Somers in an easy-chair,
basking before a glowing fire, his luminous face set toward Veronica,
who was near him, holding a small screen between her and the fire.
"She is always ready," I thought, contemplating her as I would a
picture. Her ruby-colored merino dress absorbed the light; she was
a mass of deep red, except her face and hair, above which her silver
crescent comb shone. Her slender feet were tapping the rug. She wore
boots the color of her dress; Ben was looking at them. Mother was
there, and in the background Aunt Merce and Fanny figured. I pushed
the door wide; as the stream of cold air reached them, they looked
toward it, and cried--"Cassandra!" Ben started up with extended hands.

"I went as far as Cape Horn only, but I bought you the idol and lots
of things I promised from a passing ship. I have been home a week, and
I am _here_. Are you glad? Can I stay?"

"Yes, yes," chorused the company, and I was too busy trying to get
off my gloves to speak. Father came in, and welcomed him with warmth.
Fanny ran out for a lamp; when she brought it, Veronica changed the
position of her screen, and held it close to her face.

"Did you have a cold ride, Locke?" asked mother, gazing into the
fire with that expression of satisfaction we have when somebody beside
ourselves has been exposed to hardships. It is the same principle
entertained by those who depend upon and enjoy seeing criminals hung.

Meanwhile my bonnet-strings got in a knot, which Fanny saw, and
was about to apply scissors, when Aunt Merce, unable to bear the
sacrifice, interfered and untied them, all present so interested in
the operation that conversation was suspended. Presently Aunt Merce
was called out, and was shortly followed by mother and Fanny. Ben
stood before me; his eyes, darting sharp rays, pierced me through;
they rested on the thread-like scars which marked my cheek, and which
were more visible from the effect of cold.

"Tattooed still," I said in a low voice, pointing to them.

"I see"--a sorrowful look crossed his face; he took my hand and kissed
it. Veronica, who had dropped the screen, met my glance toward her
with one perfectly impassive. As they watched me, I saw myself as they
did. A tall girl in gray, whose deep, controlled voice vibrated in
their ears, like the far-off sounds we hear at night from woods or the
sea, whose face was ineffaceably marked, whose air impressed with a
sense of mystery. I think both would have annihilated my personality
if possible, for the sake of comprehending me, for both loved me in
their way.

"What are you reading, father?" asked Veronica suddenly.

"To-day's letters, and I must be off for Boston; would you like to
go?"

"My sister Adelaide has sent for you, Cassandra, to visit us," said
Ben, "and will you go too, Veronica?"

"Thanks, I must decline. If Cass should go--and she will--I may go to
Boston."

He looked at her curiously. "It would not be pleasant for you to
attempt Belem. I hate it, but I feel a fate-impelling power in regard
to Cassandra; I want her there."

"May I go then?" I asked.

"Certainly," father replied.

"Please come out to supper," called Fanny. "We have something
particular for you, Mr. Morgeson."

We saw mother at the table, a book in her hand. She was finishing a
chapter in "The Hour and the Man." Aunt Merce stood eyeing the dishes
with the aspect of a judge. As father took his seat, near Veronica,
Fanny, according to habit, stood behind it. With the most _degage_
air, Ben suffered nothing to escape him, and I never forgot the
picture of that moment.

We talked of Helen's visit--a subject that could be commented
on freely. Veronica told Ben Helen's opinion of him; he reddened
slightly, and said that such a sage could not be contradicted. When
father remarked that the opinions of women were whimsical, Fanny gave
an audible sniff, which made Ben smile.

Soon after tea I met Veronica in the hall, with a note in her hand.
She stopped and hesitatingly said that she was going to send for
Temperance; she wanted her while Mr. Somers stayed.

"Your forethought astonishes me."

"She is a comfort always to me."

"Do you stand in especial need of a comforter?"

She looked puzzled, laughed, and left me.

Temperance arrived that evening, in time to administer a scolding to
Fanny.

"That girl needs looking after," she said. "She is as sharp as a
needle. She met me in the yard and told me that a man fit for a
nobleman had come on a visit. 'It may be for Cass,' says she, 'and it
may not be. I have my doubts.' Did you ever?" concluded Temperance,
counting the knives. "There's one missing. By jingo! it has been
thrown to the pigs, I'll bet."

When Ben made a show of going, we asked him to stay longer. He said
"Yes," so cordially, that we laughed. But it hurt me to see that he
had forgotten all about my going to Belem. "I like Surrey so much,"
he said, "and you all, I have a fancy that I am in the Hebrides,
in Magnus Troil's dwelling; it is so wild here, so _naive_. The
unadulterated taste of sea-spray is most beautiful."

"We will have Cass for Norna," said Verry; "but, by the way, it is you
that must be of the fitful head; have you forgotten that she is going
to Belem soon?"

"I shall remember Belem in good time; no fear of my forgetting that
ace--ancient spot. At least I may wait till your father goes to
Boston, and we can make a party. You will be ready, Cassandra? I wrote
Adelaide yesterday that you were coming, and mother will expect you."

It often stormed during his visit. We had driving rains, and a gale
from the southeast, oceanward, which made our sea dark and miry, even
after the storm had ceased and patches of blue sky were visible.

Our rendezvous was in the parlor, which, from the way in which Ben
knocked about the furniture, cushions, and books, assumed an air which
somehow subdued Veronica's love for order; she played for him, or they
read together, and sometimes talked; he taught her chess, and then
they quarreled. One day--a long one to me,--they were so much absorbed
in each other, I did not seek them till dusk.

"Come and sing to me," called Ben.

"So you remember that I do sing?"

"Sing; there is a spell in this weird twilight; sing, or I go out on
the rocks to break it."

He dropped the window curtains and sat by me at the piano, and I sang:

"I feel the breath of the summer night,
Aromatic fire;
The trees, the vines, the flowers are astir
With tender desire.

"If I were alone, I could not sing,
Praises to thee;
O night! unveil the beautiful soul
That awaiteth me!"

"A foolish song," said Veronica, pulling her hair across her face.
No reply. She glided to the flower-basket, broke a rosebud from its
stalk, and mutely offered it to him. Whether he took it, I know not;
but he rose up from beside me, like a dark cloud, and my eyes followed
him.

"Come Veronica," he whispered, "give me yourself. I love you,
Veronica."

He sank down before her; she clasped her hands round his head, and
kissed his hair.

"I know it," she said, in a clear voice.

I shut the door softly, thinking of the Wandering Jew, went upstairs,
humming a little air between my teeth, and came down again into the
dining-room, which was in a blaze of light.

"What preserves are these, Temperance?" I asked, going to the table.
"Some of Abram's quinces?"

"Best you ever tasted, since you were born."

"Call Mr. Somers, Fanny," said mother. "Is Verry in the parlor, too?"

"I'll call them," I said; "I have left my handkerchief there."

"Is anything else of yours there?" said Fanny, close to my ear.

Ben had pushed back the curtain, and was staring into the darkness;
Veronica was walking to and fro on the rug.

"Haven't I a great musical talent?" I inquired.

"Am I happy?" she asked, coming toward me.

Ben turned to speak, but Veronica put her hand over his mouth, and
said:

"Why should I be 'hushed,' my darling?"

"Come to supper, and be sensible," I urged.

The light revealed a new expression in Verry's face--an unsettled,
dispossessed look; her brows were knitted, yet she smiled over and
over again, while she seemed hardly aware that she was eating like an
ordinary mortal. The imp Fanny tried experiments with her, by offering
the same dishes repeatedly, till her plate was piled high with food
she did not taste.

The next day was clear, and mild with spring. Ben and I started for a
walk on the shore. We were half-way to the lighthouse before he asked
why it was that Veronica would not come with us.

"She never walks by the shore; she detests the sea."

"Is it so? I did not know that."

"Do you mind that you know few of her tastes or habits? I speak of
this as a general truth."

"I am a spectacle to you, I suppose. But this sea charms me; I shall
live by it, and build a house with all the windows and doors toward
it."

"Not if you mean to have Verry in it."

"I do mean to have her in it. She shall like it. Are you willing to
have me for a brother? Will you go to Belem, and help break the ice?
_She_ could never go," and he began to skip pebbles in the water.

"I will take you for a brother gladly. You are a fool--not for loving
her, but all men are fools when in love, they are so besotted with
themselves. But I am afraid of one fault in you."

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