Part 6 out of 7
"I have changed my mind," said Ben, "about going home with you."
"Are your plans growing complicated again?"
"Can you go to Surrey alone?"
"Why not, pray?"
"I have an idea of going to Switzerland to spend the summer. Will
Veronica be ready in the autumn?"
"How can I answer? Shall you not take leave of her?"
"Perhaps. Yes,--I must," he said excitedly; "but to-morrow we will
talk more about it. I shall go to Boston with you; pa is going too.
How well you look to-night, Cassy! What sort of dress is this?" taking
up a fold of it. "Is it cotton-silk, or silk-cotton? It is soft and
light. How delicate you are, with your gold hair and morning-glory
"How poetical! My dress is new, and was made by Adelaide's
"Mother beckons me. What a headdress that is of hers!"
"What beckons you to go to Switzerland?" I mused.
I listened for Desmond's voice, which would have sounded like a silver
bell, in the loud, coarse buzz which pervaded the rooms. All the women
were talking shrill, and the men answering in falsetto. He was
not among them, and I moved to and fro unnoticed, for the tide of
entertainment had set in, and I could withdraw, if I chose. I took a
chair near an open door, commanded a view into a small room, on the
other side of the hall, opened only on occasions like these; there
was no one in it. Perceiving that my shoelace was untied, I stooped to
refasten it, and when I looked in the room again saw Desmond standing
under the chandelier, his hands in his pockets, his eyes on the floor,
his hair disordered and falling over his forehead; its blackness was
intense against the relief of the crimson wall-paper. Was it that
which had unaccountably changed his appearance?
He raised his head, looked across the hall, and saw me.
"Come here," he signaled. I rose like an automaton, and cast an
involuntary glance about me; the guests were filing through the
drawing-room, into the room where refreshments were laid. When the
last had gone, I left the friendly protection of the niche by the
fire-place, and stood so near him that I saw his nostrils quiver! Then
there came into his face an expression of pain, which softened it. I
had wished him to please me; _now_ I wished to please him. It seemed
that he had no intention of speaking, and that he had called me to
him to witness a struggle which I must find a key to hereafter, in the
depths of my own heart. I watched him in silence, and it passed. As
he pushed the door to with his foot, the movement caused something
to swing and glitter against his breast--a ring on his watch-ribbon
smaller than I could wear, a woman's ruby ring. The small, feminine
imp, who abides with those who have beams in their eyes, and helps
them to extract motes from the eyes of others, inspired me. I pointed
to the ring. Dropping his eyes, he said: "I loved her shamefully, and
she loved me shamefully. When shall I take it off--cursed sign?" And
he snapped it with his thumb and finger.
I grew rigid with virtue.
"You may not conjure up any tragic ideas on the subject. She is no
outcast. She is here to-night; if there was ruin, it was mutual."
"And your other faults?"
"Ah!" he said, with a terrible accent, "we shall see."
There was a tap on the door; it was Ben's. I fell back a step, and
he came in. "Will you bring Cassandra to the supper-room?" he said,
"Come with me, then; you must." And he put my arm in his.
"Hail, and farewell, Cassandra!" said Desmond, standing before the
door. "Give me your hand."
I gave him both my hands. He kissed one, and then the other, and
moved to let us pass out. But Ben did not go; he fumbled for his
handkerchief to wipe his forehead, on which stood beads of sweat.
"_Allons,_ Ben," I said.
"Go on, go on," said Desmond, holding the door wide open.
A painful curiosity made me anxious to discover the owner of the ruby
ring! The friendly but narrow-minded imp I have spoken of composed
speeches, with which I might assail her, should she be found. I looked
in vain at every women present; there was not a sorrowful or guilty
face among them. Another feeling took the place of my curiosity. I
forgot the woman I was seeking, to remember the love I bore Desmond. I
was mad for the sight of him--mad to touch his hand once more. I could
have put the asp on my breast to suck me to sleep, as Cleopatra did;
but _Caesar_ was in the way. He stayed by me till the lights were
Digby and Devereaux were commenting on Desmond's disappearance, and
Mrs. Somers was politely yawning, waiting their call for candles.
"If you are to accompany me, Ben," I said, "now is the time." And
he slipped out. He preserved a determined silence. I shook him, and
said--"_Veronica_." He put his hand over my mouth with an indignant
look, which was lost upon me, for I whispered in his ear; "Do you know
now that I _love_ Desmond?"
"Will you bring him into our Paradise?"
"Our home, in Surrey."
"Wont an angel with a flaming sword make it piquant?"
"If you marry Desmond Somers," he said austerely, "you will contradict
three lives,--yours, mine, and Veronica's. What beast was it that
suggested this horrible discord? Have you so much passion that you
cannot discern the future you offer yourself?"
"Imperator, you have an agreeable way of putting things. But they are
coming through the hall. Good-night."
At eleven o'clock the next day I was ready for departure. All stood by
the open hall door, criticising Murphy's strapping of my trunks on a
hack. Messrs. Digby and Devereaux, in black satin scarfs, hung over
the step railings; Mrs. Somers, Adelaide, and Ann were within the
door. Mr. Somers and Ben were already on the walk, waiting for me; so
I went through the ceremony of bidding good-by--a ceremony performed
with so much cheerfulness on all sides that it was an occasion for
well-bred merriment, and I made my exit as I should have made it in a
genteel comedy, but with a bitter feeling of mortification, because of
their artificial, willful imperturbability I was forced to oppose them
with manners copied after their own.
I looked from the carriage window for a last view of my room. The
chambermaid was already there, and had thrown open the shutters, to
let in daylight upon the scene of the most royal dreams I had ever
had. The ghost of my individuality would lurk there no longer than
the chairs I had placed, the books I had left, the shreds of paper or
flowers I had scattered, could be moved or swept away.
All the way to Boston the transition to my old condition oppressed me.
I felt a dreary disgust at the necessity of resuming relations which
had no connection with the sentiment that bound me to Belem. After we
were settled at the Tremont, while watching a sad waiter engaged
in the ceremonial of folding napkins like fans, I discovered an
intermediate tone of mind, which gave my thoughts a picturesque tinge.
My romance, its regrets, and its pleasures, should be set in the frame
of the wild sea and shores of Surrey. I invested our isolated house
with the dignity of a stage, where the drama, which my thoughts must
continually represent, could go on without interruption, and remain a
secret I should have no temptation to reveal. Until after the tedious
dinner, a complete rainbow of dreams spanned the arc of my brain. Mr.
Somers dispersed it by asking Ben to go out on some errand. That it
was a pretext, I knew by Ben's expression; therefore, when he had gone
I turned to Mr. Somers an attentive face. First, he circumlocuted;
second, he skirmished. I still waited for what he wished to say,
without giving him any aid. He was sure, he said at last, that my
visit in his family had convinced me that his children could not vary
the destiny imposed upon them by their antecedents, without bringing
upon _others_ lamentable consequences. "Cunning pa," I commented
internally. Had I not seen the misery of unequal marriages?
"As in a glass, darkly."
Doubtless, he went on, I had comprehended the erratic tendency in
_Ben's_ character, good and honorable as he was, but impressive and
visionary. Did I think so?
"Quite the contrary. Have you never perceived the method of his
visions in an unvarying opposition to those antecedents you boast of?"
"Well, _well_, well?"
"Money, Family, Influence,--are a ding-dong bell which you must weary
of, Mr. Somers--sometimes."
"Ben has disappointed me; I must confess that."
"My sister is eccentric. Provided she marries him, the family
programme will be changed. You must lop him from the family tree."
He took up a paper, bowed to me with an unvexed air, and read a column
"It may be absurd," and he looked over his spectacle tops, as if
he had found the remark in his paper, "for parents to oppose the
marriages their children choose to make, and I beg you to understand
that I may _oppose_, not _resist_ Ben. You know very well," and he
dropped the paper in a burst of irritation and candor, "that the devil
will be to pay with Mrs. Somers, who has a right of dictation in the
affair. She does not suspect it. I must say that Ben is mistaking
himself again. I mean, I think so."
I looked upon him with a more friendly countenance. The one rude word
he had spoken had a wonderful effect, after the surprise of it was
over. Real eyes appeared in his face, and a truthful accent pervaded
his voice. I think he was beginning to think that he might confide his
perplexities to me on other subjects, when Ben returned. As it was,
a friendly feeling had been established between us. He said in a
confidential tone to Ben, as if we were partners in some guilty
secret, "You must mention it to your mother; indeed you must."
"You have been speaking with Cassandra, in reference to her sister,"
he answered indifferently. Mr. Somers was chilled in his attempt at a
"Can you raise money, if Desmond should marry?" asked Ben. "Enough for
both of us?"
"Desmond? he will never marry."
"It is certainly possible."
"You know how I am clogged."
I rang for some ice-water, and when the waiter brought it, said that
it was time to retire.
"Now," said Mr. Somers, "I shall give you just such a breakfast as
will enable you to travel well--a beefsteak, and old bread made into
toast. Don't drink that ice-water; take some wine."
I set the glass of ice-water down, and declined the wine. Ben elevated
his eyebrows, and asked:
"What time shall I get up, sir?"
"I will call you; so you may sleep untroubled."
He opened the door, and bade me an affectionate good night.
"The coach is ready," a waiter announced, as we finished our
breakfast. "We are ready," said Mr. Somers. "I have ordered a packet
of sandwiches for you--_beef_, not ham sandwiches--and here is a flask
of wine mixed with water."
I thanked him, and tied my bonnet.
"Here is a note, also," opening his pocketbook and extracting it, "for
your father. It contains our apologies for not accompanying you, and
one or two allusions," making an attempt to wink at Ben, which failed,
his eyes being unused to such an undignified style of humor.
He excused himself from going to the station on account of the morning
air, and Ben and I proceeded. In the passage, the waiter met us with a
paper box. "For you, Miss. A florist's boy just left it." I opened it
in the coach, and seeing flowers, was about to take them out to show
Ben, when I caught sight of the ribbon which tied them--a piece of one
of my collar knots I had not missed. Of course the flowers came from
Desmond, and half the ribbon was in his possession; the ends were
jagged, as if it had been divided with a knife. Instead of taking out
the flowers, I showed him the box.
"What a curious bouquet," he said.
In the cars he put into my hand a jewel box, and a thick letter for
Verry, kissed me, and was out of sight.
"No vestige but these flowers," uncovering them again. "In my room at
Surrey I will take you out," and I shut the box. The clanking of the
car wheels revolved through my head in rhythm, excluding thought for
miles. Then I looked out at the flying sky--it was almost May. The
day was mild and fair; in the hollows, the young grass spread over the
earth like a smooth cloth; over the hills and unsheltered fields, the
old grass lay like coarse mats. A few birds roved the air in anxiety,
for the time of love was at hand, and their nests were not finished.
By twelve I arrived at the town where the railroad branched in a
direction opposite the road to Surrey, and where a stage was waiting
for its complement of passengers from the cars. I was the only lady
"aboard," as one of the passengers intelligently remarked, when we
started. They were desirable companions, for they were gruff to
each other and silent to me. We rode several miles in a state
of unadjustment, and then yielded to the sedative qualities of a
stagecoach. I lunched on my sandwiches, thanking Mr. Somers for his
forethought, though I should have preferred them of ham, instead of
beef. When I took a sip from my flask, two men looked surprised, and
spat vehemently out of the windows. I offered it to them. They
refused it, saying they had had what was needful at the Depot Saloon,
conducted on the strictest temperance principles.
"Those principles are cruel, provided travelers ever have colic, or an
aversion to Depot tea and coffee," I said.
There was silence for the space of fifteen minutes, then one of them
turned and said: "You have a good head, marm."
"Forgetful, may be."
I bowed, not wishing to prolong the conversation.
"Your circulation is too rapid," he continued.
The man on the seat with him now turned round, and, examining me,
informed me that electricity would be first-rate for me.
"Shoo!" he replied, "it's a humbug."
I was forgotten in the discussion which followed, and which lasted
till our arrival at a village, where one of them resided. He left,
telling us he was a "natral bone-setter." One by one the passengers
left the stage, and for the last five miles I was alone. I beguiled
the time by elaborating a multitude of trivial opinions, suggested by
objects I saw along the roadside, till the old and new church spires
of Surrey came in sight, and the curving lines at either end of the
ascending shores. We reached the point in the north road, where the
ground began its descent to the sea, and I hung from the window, to
see all the village roofs humble before it. The streets and dwellings
looked as insignificant as those of a toy village. I perceived no
movement in it, heard no hum of life. At a cross-road, which would
take the stage into the village without its passing our house, a whim
possessed me. I would surprise them at home, and go in at the back
door, while they were expecting to hear the stage. The driver let me
out, and I stood in the road till he was out of sight.
A breeze blew round me, penetrating, but silent; the fields, and the
distant houses which dotted them, were asleep in the pale sunshine,
undisturbed by it. The crows cawed, and flew over the eastern woods.
I walked slowly. The road was deserted. Mrs. Grossman's house was
the only one I must pass; its shutters were closed, and the yard was
empty. As I drew near home a violent haste grew upon me, yet my feet
seemed to impede my progress. They were like lead; I impelled myself
along, as in a dream. Under the protection of our orchard wall I
turned my merino mantle, which was lined with an indefinite color,
spread my veil over my bonnet, and bent my shoulders, and passed down
the carriage-drive, by the dining-room windows, into the stable-yard.
The rays of sunset struck the lantern-panes in the light-house, and
gave the atmosphere a yellow stain. The pigeons were skimming up and
down the roof of the wood-house, and cooing round the horses that were
in the yard. A boy was driving cows into the shed, whistling a lively
air; he suspended it when he saw me, but I shook my finger at him, and
ran in. Slipping into the side hall, I dropped my bonnet and shawl,
and listened at the door for the familiar voices. Mother must be
there, as was her wont, and Aunt Merce. All of them, perhaps, for
I had seen nobody on my way. There was no talking within. The last
sunset ray struck on my hand its yellow shade, through the fan-light,
and faded before I opened the door. I was arrested on the threshold by
a silence which rushed upon me, clutching me in a suffocating embrace.
Mother was in her chair by the fire, which was out, for the brands
were black, and one had fallen close to her feet. A white flannel
shawl covered her shoulders; her chin rested on her breast. "She
is ill, and has dropped asleep," I thought, thrusting my hands out,
through this terrible silence, to break her slumber, and looked at the
clock; it was near seven. A door slammed, somewhere upstairs, so loud
it made me jump; but she did not wake. I went toward her, confused,
and stumbling against the table, which was between us, but reached her
at last. Oh, I knew it! She was dead! People must die, even in their
chairs, alone! What difference did it make, how? An empty cup was in
her lap, bottom up; I set it carefully on the mantel shelf above her
head. Her handkerchief was crumpled in her nerveless hand; I drew it
away and thrust it into my bosom. My gloves tightened my hands as I
tried to pull them off, and was tugging at them, when a door opened,
and Veronica came in.
"She is dead," I said. "I can't get them off."
"It is false"; and she staggered backward, with her hand on her heart,
till she fell against the wall. I do not know how long we remained
so, but I became aware of a great confusion--cries, and exclamations;
people were running in and out. Fanny rolled on the floor in
"Get up," I said. "I can't move; help me. Where did Verry go?"
She got up, and pulled me along. I saw father raise mother in his
arms. The dreadful sight of her swaying arms and drooping head made me
lose my breath; but Veronica forced me to endurance by clinging to me,
and dragging me out of the room and upstairs. She turned the key of
the glass-door at the head of the passage, not letting go of me. I
took her by the arms, placed her in a chair, and closing my window
curtains, sat down beside her in the dark.
"Where will they carry her?" she asked, shuddering, and putting her
fingers in her ears. "How the water splashes on the beach! Is the tide
She was appalled by the physical horror of death, and asked me
"Let us keep her away from the grave," she said.
I could not answer, or hear her at last, for sleep overpowered me. I
struggled against it in vain. It seemed the greatest good; let death
and judgment come, I must sleep. I threw myself on my bed, and the
touch of the pillow sealed my eyes. I started from a dream about
something that happened when I was a little child. "Veronica, are you
"Mother is dead," she answered.
A mighty anguish filled my breast. Mother!--her goodness and beauty,
her pure heart, her simplicity--I felt them all. I pitied her dead,
because she would never know how I valued her. Veronica shed no tears,
but sighed heavily. _Duty_ sounded through her sighs. "Verry,
shall _I_ take care of you? I think I can." She shook her head; but
presently she stretched her hands in search of my face, kissed it, and
"You must go to your own room and rest."
"Can you keep everybody from me?"
"I will try."
Opening her window, she looked out over the earth wistfully, and at
the sky, thickly strewn with stars, which revealed her face. We heard
somebody coming up the back stairs.
"Temperance," said Verry.
"Are you in the dark, girls?" she asked, wringing her hands, when she
had put down her lamp. "What an awful Providence!" She looked with a
painful anxiety at Veronica.
"It is all Providence, Temperance, whether we are alive or dead," I
said. "Let us let Providence alone."
"What did I ever leave her for? She wasn't fit to take care of
herself. Why, Cassandra Morgeson, you haven't got off all your things
yet. And what's this sticking out of your bosom?"
"It is her handkerchief." I kissed it, and now Verry began to weep
over it, begging me for it. I gave it up to her.
"It will kill your father."
I had not thought of him.
"It's most nine o'clock. Sofrony Beals is here; she lays out
"No, no; don't let anybody touch her!" shrieked Verry.
"No, they shan't. Come into the kitchen; you must have something to
I was faint from the want of food, and when Temperance prepared us
something I ate heartily. Veronica drank a little milk, but would
taste nothing. Aunt Merce, who had been out to tea, Temperance said,
came into the kitchen.
"My poor girl, I have not seen you," embracing me, half blind with
crying, "How pale you are! How sunken! Keep up as well as you can.
I little thought that the worthless one of us two would be left to
suffer. Go to your father, as soon as possible."
"Drink this tea right down, Mercy," said Temperance, holding a cup
before her. "There isn't much to eat in the house. Of all times in the
world to be without good victuals! What could Hepsey have meant?"
"Poor old soul," Aunt Merce replied, "she is quite broken. Fanny had
to help her upstairs."
The kitchen door opened, and Temperance's husband, Abram, came in.
"Good Lord!" she said in an irate voice, "have you come, too? Did you
think I couldn't get home to get your breakfast?"
She hung the kettle on the fire again, muttering too low for him to
hear: "Some folks could be spared better than other folks."
Abram shoved back his hat. "'The Lord gives and the Lord takes away,'
but she is a dreadful loss to the poor. There's my poor boy, whose
"Ain't he the beatum of all the men that ever you see?" broke in
Temperance, taking to him a large piece of pie, which he took with a
short laugh, and sat down to eat. I could not help exchanging a look
with Aunt Merce; we both laughed. Veronica, lost in revery, paid no
attention to anything about her. I saw that Temperance suffered; she
was perplexed and irritated.
"Let Abram stay, if he likes," I whispered to her; "and be sure to
stay yourself, for you are needed."
She brightened with an expression of gratitude. "He is a nuisance,"
she whispered back; "but as I made a fool of myself, I must be
punished according to my folly. I'll stay, you may depend. I'll do
_everything_ for you. I vow I am mad, that I ever went away."
"Have the neighbors gone?" I asked.
"There's a couple or so round, and will be, you know. I'll take Verry
to bed, and sleep on the floor by her. You go to your father."
He was in their bedroom, on the bed. She was lying on a frame of wood,
covered with canvas, a kind of bed which went from house to house in
Surrey, on occasions of sickness or death.
"Our last night together has passed," he said in a tremulous voice,
while scanty tears fell from his seared eyes. "The space between then
and now--when her arm was round me, when she slept beside me, when I
woke from a bad dream, and she talked gently close to my face, till
I slept again--is so narrow that I recall it with a sense of
reality which agonizes me; it is so immeasurable when I see her
there--_there_, that I am crushed."
If I had had any thought of speaking to him, it was gone. And I must
go too. Were the hands folded across her breast, where I, also, had
slept? Were the blue eyes closed that had watched me there? I should
never see. A shroud covered her from all eyes but his now. Till I
closed the door upon him, I looked my last farewell. An elderly woman
met me as I was going upstairs, and offered me a small packet; it was
her hair. "It was very long," she said. I tried in vain to thank her.
"I will place it in a drawer for you," she said kindly.
The house was thronged till after the funeral. We sat in state, to be
condoled with and waited upon. Not a jot of the customary rites
was abated, though I am sure the performers thereof had small
encouragement. Veronica alone would see no one; her room was the only
one not invaded; for the neighbors took the house into their hands,
assisted by that part of the Morgesons who were too distantly related
to consider themselves as mourners to be shut up with us. It was put
under rigorous funeral law, and inspected from garret to cellar. They
supervised all the arrangements, if there were any that they did not
make, received the guests who came from a distance, and aided their
departure. Every child in Surrey was allowed to come in, to look at
the dead, with the idle curiosity of childhood. Veronica knew nothing
of this. Her course was taken for granted; mine was imposed upon me.
I remonstrated with Temperance, but she replied that it was all well
meant, and always done. I endured the same annoyances over and over
again, from relays of people. Bed-time especially was their occasion.
I was not allowed to undress alone. I must have drinks, either to
compose or stimulate; I must have something read to me; I must be
watched when I slept, or I must be kept awake to give advice or be
told items of news. All the while, like a chorus, they reiterated the
character, the peculiarities, the virtues of the mother I had lost,
who could never be replaced--who was in a better world. However, I
was, in a measure, kept from myself during this interval. The matter
is often subservient to the manner. Arthur's feelings were played upon
also. He wept often, confiding to me his grief and his plans for the
future. "If people would die at the age of seventy-five, things would
go well," he said, "for everybody must expect to die then; the Bible
says so." He informed me also that he expected to be an architect, and
that mother liked it. He had an idea, which he had imparted to her, of
an arch; it must be made of black marble, with gold veins, and ought
to stand in Egypt, with the word "_Pandemonium_" on it. The kitchen
was the focus of interest to him, for meals were prepared at all hours
for comers and goers. Temperance told me that the mild and indifferent
mourners were fond of good victuals, and she thought their hearts were
lighter than their stomachs when they went away. She presided there
and wrangled with Fanny, who seemed to have lost her capacity for
doing anything steadily, except, as Temperance said, where father was
concerned. "It's a pity she isn't his dog; she might keep at his
feet then. I found her crying awfully yesterday, because he looked so
Aunt Merce was engaged with a dressmaker, and with the orders for
bonnets and veils. She discussed the subject of the mourning with the
Morgesons. I acquiesced in all her arrangements, for she derived a
simple comfort from these external tokens. Veronica refused to wear
the bonnet and veil and the required bombazine. Bombazine made her
flesh crawl. Why should she wear it? Mother hated it, too, for she had
never worn out the garments made for Grand'ther Warren.
"She's a bigger child than ever," Temperance remarked, "and must have
"Do you think the border on my cap is too deep?" asked Aunt Merce,
coming into my room dressed for the funeral.
"The cap came from Miss Nye in Milford; she says they wear them so. I
could have made it myself for half the price. Shall you be ready
soon? I am going to put on my bonnet. The yard is full of carriages
Somebody handed me gloves; my bonnet was tied, a handkerchief given
to me, and the door opened. In the passage I heard a knocking from
Veronica's room, and crossed to learn what she wanted.
"Is this like her?" she asked, showing me a drawing.
"How could you have done this?"
"Because I have tried. _Is_ it like?"
"Yes, the idea."
But what a picture she had attempted to make! Mother's shadowy face
serenely looked from a high, small window, set in clouds, like those
which gather over the sun when it "draws water." It was closely
pressed to the glass, and she was regarding dark, indefinite creatures
below it, which Veronica either could not or would not shape.
"Keep it; but don't work on it any more." And I put it away. She was
wan and languid, but collected.
"I see you are ready. Somebody must bury the dead. Go. Will the house
"Good; I can walk through it once more."
"The dead must be buried, that is certain; but why should it be
certain that _I_ must be the one to do it?"
"You think I can go through with it, then?"
"I have set your behavior down to your will."
"You may be right. Perhaps mother was always right about me too; she
was against me."
She looked at me with a timidity and apprehension that made my heart
bleed. "I think we might kiss each other _now_," she said.
I opened my arms, holding her against my breast so tightly that she
drew back, but kissed my cheek gently, and took from her pocket a
flacon of salts, which she fastened to my belt by its little chain,
and said again, "Go," but recalling me, said, "One thing more; I will
never lose temper with you again."
The landing-stair was full of people. I locked the door, and took out
the key; the stairs were crowded. All made way for me with a silent
respect. Aunt Merce, when she saw me, put her hand on an empty chair,
beside father, who sat by the coffin. Those passages in the Bible
which contain the beautifully poetic images relating to the going of
man to his long home were read, and to my ear they seemed to fall on
the coffin in dull strife with its inmate, who mutely contradicted
them. A discourse followed, which was calculated to harrow the
feelings to the utmost. Arthur began to cry so nervously, that some
considerate friend took him out, and Aunt Merce wept so violently that
she grew faint, and caught hold of me. I gave her the flacon of salts,
which revived her; but I felt as father looked--stern, and anxious to
escape the unprofitable trial.
As the coffin was taken out to the hearse, my heart twisted and
palpitated, as if a command had been laid upon it to follow, and not
leave her. But I was imprisoned in the cage of Life--the Keeper would
not let me go; her he had let loose.
We were still obliged to sit an intolerable while, till all present
had passed before her for the last time. When the hearse moved down
the street, father, Arthur, and I were called, and assisted in our own
chaise, as if we were helpless; the reins were put in father's hands,
and the horse was led behind the hearse. At last the word was given,
and the long procession began to move through the street, which was
deserted. A cat ran out of a house, and scampered across the way;
Arthur laughed, and father jumped nervously at the sound of his laugh.
The graveyard was a mile outside the village--a sandy plain where a
few stunted pines transplanted from the woods near it struggled to
keep alive. As we turned from the street into the lane which led
to it, and rode up a little hill where the sand was so deep that it
muffled the wheels and feet of the horses, the whole round of the gray
sky was visible. It hung low over us. I wished it to drop and blot out
the vague nothings under it. We left the carriage at the palings and
walked up the narrow path, among the mounds, where every stone was
marked "Morgeson." Some so old that they were stained with blotches
of yellow moss, slanting backward and forward, in protest against the
folly of indicating what was no longer beneath them. The mounds were
covered with mats of scanty, tangled grass, with here and there a rank
spot of green. I was tracing the shape of one of those green patches
when I felt father's arm tremble. I shut my eyes, but could not close
my ears to the sound of the spadeful of sand which fell on the coffin.
It was over. We must leave her to the creatures Veronica had seen. I
looked upward, to discern the shadowy reflection behind the gray haze
of cloud, where she might have paused a moment on her eternal journey
to the eternal world of souls.
It was the custom, and father took his hat off to thank his friends
for their sympathy and attention. His lips moved, but no words were
The procession moved down the path again. Arthur's hand was in mine;
he stamped his feet firmly on the sand, as if to break the oppressive
silence which no one seemed disposed to disturb. The same ceremonies
were performed in starting us homeward, by the same person, who let
go the reins, and lifted his hat as we passed, as the final token of
attention and respect.
The windows were open; a wind was blowing through the house, the
furniture was set in order, the doors were thrown back, but not a soul
was there when we went in. The duties of friendship and tradition had
been fulfilled; the neighbors had gone home to their avocations. For
the public, the tragedy was over; all speculation on the degree of
our grief, or our indifference, was settled. We could take off our
mourning garments and our mourning countenance, now that we were
alone; or we could give way to that anguish we are afraid and ashamed
to show, except before the One above human emotion.
Temperance stayed to the house-cleaning. It was lucky, she could not
help saying, as house-cleaning must always be after a funeral, that
it should have happened at the regular cleaning-time. She went back
to her own house as soon as it was over. Father drove to Milford as
usual; Arthur resumed his school, and Aunt Merce, who had at first
busied herself in looking over her wardrobe, and selecting from it
what she thought could be dyed, folded it away. She passed hours in
mother's room, from which father had fled, crying over her Bible,
looking in her boxes and drawers to feed her sorrow with the sight of
the familiar things, alternating those periods with her old occupation
of looking out of the windows. In regard to myself, and Veronica, she
evinced a distress at the responsibility which, she feared, must
rest upon her. Veronica, dark and silent, played such heart-piercing
strains that father could not bear to hear her; so when she played,
for he dared not ask her to desist, he went away. To me she had
scarcely spoken since the funeral. She wore the same dress each
day--one of black silk--and a small black mantle, pinned across her
bosom. Soon the doors began to open and shut after their old fashion,
and people came and went as of old on errands of begging or borrowing.
At the table we felt a sense of haste; instead of lingering, as was
our wont, we separated soon, with an indifferent air, as if we were
called by business, not sent away by sorrow. But if our eyes fell on a
certain chair, empty against the wall, a cutting pang was felt,
which was not at all concealed; for there were sudden breaks in our
commonplace talk, which diverged into wandering channels, betraying
the tension of feeling.
Many weeks passed, through which I endured an aching, aimless
melancholy. My thoughts continually drifted through the vacuum in
our atmosphere, and returned to impress me with a disbelief in the
enjoyment, or necessity of keeping myself employed with the keys of an
instrument, which, let me strike ever so cunningly, it was certain I
could never obtain mastery over.
One day I went to walk by the shore, for the first time since my
return. When I set my foot on the ground, the intolerable light of the
brilliant day blazed through me; I was luminously dark, for it blinded
me. Picking my way over the beach, left bare by the tide, with my eyes
fixed downward till I could see, I reached the point between our
house and the lighthouse and turned toward the sea, inhaling its cool
freshness. I climbed out to a flat, low rock, on the point; it was dry
in the sun, and the weeds hanging from its sides were black and crisp;
I put my woolen shawl on it, and stretched myself along its edge.
Little pools meshed from the sea by the numberless rocks round me
engrossed my attention. How white and pellucid was the shallow near
me--no shadow but the shadow of my face bending over it--nothing to
ripple its surface, but my imperceptible breath! By and by a bunch of
knotted wrack floated in from the outside and lodged in a crevice; a
minute creature with fringed feet darted from it and swam across
it. After the knotted wrack came the fragment of a green and silky
substance, delicate enough to have been the remnant of a web, woven
in the palace of Circe. "There must be a current," I thought, "which
sends them here." And I watched the inlet for other waifs; but nothing
more came. Eye-like bubbles rose from among the fronds of the knotted
wrack, and, sailing on uncertain voyages, broke one by one and were
wrecked to nothingness. The last vanished; the pool showed me the
motionless shadow of my face again, on which I pondered, till I
suddenly became aware of a slow, internal oscillation, which increased
till I felt in a strange tumult. I put my hand in the pool and
troubled its surface.
"Hail, Cassandra! Hail!"
I sprang up the highest rock on the point, and looked seaward, to
catch a glimpse of the flying Spirit who had touched me. My soul was
brought in poise and quickened with the beauty before me! The wide,
shimmering plain of sea--its aerial blue, stretching beyond the
limits of my vision in one direction, upbearing transverse, cloud-like
islands in another, varied and shadowed by shore and sky--mingled its
essence with mine.
The wind was coming; under the far horizon the mass of waters begun to
undulate. Dark, spear-like clouds rose above it and menaced the east.
The speedy wind tossed and teased the sea nearer and nearer, till I
was surrounded by a gulf of milky green foam. As the tide rolled in
I retreated, stepping back from rock to rock, round which the waves
curled and hissed, baffled in their attempt to climb over me. I
stopped on the verge of the tide-mark; the sea was seeking me and I
must wait. It gave tongue as its lips touched my feet, roaring in the
caves, falling on the level beaches with a mad, boundless joy!
"Have then at life!" my senses cried. "We will possess its longing
silence, rifle its waiting beauty. We will rise up in its light
and warmth, and cry, 'Come, for we wait.' Its roar, its beauty, its
madness--we will have--_all_." I turned and walked swiftly homeward,
treading the ridges of white sand, the black drifts of sea-weed, as if
they had been a smooth floor.
Aunt Merce was at the door.
"Now," she said, "we are going to have the long May storm. The gulls
are flying round the lighthouse. How high the tide is! You must want
your dinner. I wish you _would_ see to Fanny; she is lording it over
"Yes, yes, I will do it; you may depend on me. I will reign, and serve
"Oh, Cassandra, _can_ you give up _yourself?_"
"I must, I suppose. Confound the spray; it is flying against the
"Come in; your hair is wet, and your shawl is wringing. Now for a
"I never shall have any more colds, Aunt Merce; never mean to have
anything to myself--entirely, you know."
"You do me good, you dear girl; I love you"; and she began to cry.
"There's nothing but cold ham and boiled rice for your dinner."
"What time is it?"
I opened the door of the dining-room; the table was laid, and I walked
round it, on a tour of inspection.
"I thought you might as well have your dinner, all at once," said
Fanny, by the window, with her feet tucked up on the rounds of her
chair. "Here it is."
"I perceive. Who arranged it?"
"Me and Paddy Margaret."
"How many tablecloths have we?"
"Plenty. I thought as you didn't seem to care about any regular hour
for dinner, and made us all wait, _I_ needn't be particular; besides,
I am not the waiter, you know."
She had set on the dishes used in the kitchen. I pulled off cloth and
all--the dishes crashed, of course--and sat down on the floor, picking
out the remains for my repast.
"What will Mr. Morgeson say?" she asked, turning very red.
"Shall you clear away this rubbish by the time he comes home?"
"Why, I must, mustn't I?"
"I hope so. Where's Veronica?"
"She has been gone since twelve; Sam carried her to Temperance's
I continued my meal. Fanny brought a chair for me, which I did not
take. I scarcely tasted what I ate. A wall had risen up suddenly
before me, which divided me from my dreams; I was inside it, on a
prosaic domain I must henceforth be confined to. The unthought-of
result of mother's death--disorganization, began to show itself. The
individuality which had kept the weakness and faults of our family
life in abeyance must have been powerful; and I had never recognized
it! I attempted to analyze this influence, so strong, yet so
invisibly produced. I thought of her mildness, her dreamy habits, her
indifference, and her incapacity of comprehending natures unlike her
own. Would endowment of character explain it--that faculty which
we could not change, give, or take? Character was a mysterious and
indestructible fact, and a fact that I had had little respect for.
Upon what a false basis I had gone--a basis of extremes. I had seen
men as trees walking; that was my experience.
"You'll choke yourself with that dry bread," exclaimed Fanny, really
concerned at my abstraction.
"Where is my trunk? Did you unlock it?"
"I took from it what you needed at the time: but it is not unpacked,
and it is in the upper hall closet."
She was picking up the broken delf meekly.
"Did you see a small bag I brought? And where's my satchel? Good
heavens! What has made me put off that letter so? For I have thought
of it, and yet I have kept it back."
"It is safe, in your closet, Miss Cassandra; and the box is there."
"Aunt Merce," I called, "will you have nothing to eat?"
She laughed hysterically, when she saw what I had done.
"Where is Hepsey, Aunt Merce?"
"She goes to bed after dinner, you know, for an hour or two."
"She must go from here."
"Oh!" they both chorused, "what for?"
"She is too old."
"She _has_ money, and a good house," said Aunt Merce, "if she must go.
I wonder how Mary stood it so long."
"Turn 'em off," said Fanny, "when they grow useless."
Aunt Merce reddened, and looked hurt.
"I shall keep _you_; look sharp now after your own disinterestedness."
I wanted to go to my room, as I thought it time to arrange my trunks
and boxes; besides, I needed rest--the sad luxury of reaction. But
word was brought to the house that Arthur had disappeared, in company
with two boys notorious for mischief. His teacher was afraid they
might have put out to sea in a crazy sailboat. We were in a state of
alarm till dark, when father came home, bringing him, having found
him on the way to Milford. Veronica had not returned. It stormed
violently, and father was vexed because a horse must be sent through
the storm for her. At last I obtained the asylum of my room, in an
irritable frame of mind, convinced that such would be my condition
each day. Composure came with putting my drawers and shelves in order.
The box with Desmond's flowers I threw into the fire, without opening
it, ribbon and all, for I could not endure the sight of them. I
unfolded the dresses I had worn on the occasions of my meeting him;
even the collars and ribbons I had adorned myself with were conned
with jealous, greedy eyes; in looking at them all other remembrances
connected with my visit vanished. The handkerchief scented with
violets, which I found in the pocket of the dress I had worn when I
met him at Mrs. Hepburn's, made me childish. I was holding it when
Veronica entered, bringing with her an atmosphere of dampness.
"Violet! I like it. There is not one blooming yet, Temperance says.
Why are they so late? There's only this pitiful snake-grass," holding
up a bunch of drooping, pale blossoms.
"Oh, Verry, can you forgive me? I did not forget these, but I felt the
strangest disinclination to look them up." And I gave her the jewel
box and letter.
She seized them, and opened the box first.
"I never was a child, you know; but I am always trying to find my
She took a necklace from the box, composed of a single string of
small, beautiful pearls, from which hung an egg-shaped amethyst of
pure violet. She fastened the necklace round her throat.
"It is as lucent as the moon," she said, looking down at the amethyst,
which shed a watery light; "I wish you had given it to me before."
Breaking the seal of the letter, with a twist of her mouth at the
coat-of-arms impressed upon it, she shook out the closely written
pages, and saying, "There is a volume," began reading. "It is
very good," she observed at the end of the first page, "a regular
composition," and went on with an air of increasing interest. "How
does he look?" she asked, stopping again.
"As if he longed to see you."
Her eyes went in quest of him so far that I thought they must be
startled by a sudden vision.
"How did you find his family?"
"Not like him much."
"I knew that; he would not have loved me so suddenly had I not been
wholly unlike any woman he had known."
"His character is individual."
"I should know that from his influence upon you."
She looked at me wistfully, smoothed my hair with her cool hand, and
resumed the letter.
"He thinks he will not come to Surrey with you; asks me to tell him my
wishes," she repeated rapidly, translating from the original. "What do
I think of our future? How shall we propose any change? Will Cassandra
describe her visit? Will she tell me that he thinks of going abroad?"
She dropped the letter. "What pivot is he swinging on? What is he
"There must be more to read."
She turned another page.
"If I go to Switzerland (I think of going on account of family
affairs), when shall I return? My family, of course, expected me to
marry in their pale; that is, my mother rather prefers to select a
wife for me than that I should do it. But, as you shall never come to
Belem, her plans or wishes need make no difference to us. If Cassandra
would be to us what she might, how things would clear! Don't you
think, my love, that there should be the greatest sympathy between
Verry said she did not like his letter much after all. He evidently
thought her incapable of understanding ordinary matters. It was well,
though; it made their love idyllic.
"Let us speak of matters nearer home."
"Let us go to my room; the storm is so loud this side of the house."
"No; you must stay till the walls tremble. Have you seen, Verry, any
work for me to do here?"
"Everything is changed. I have tried to be as steady as when mother
was here, but I cannot; I whirl with a vague idea of liberty. Did she
keep the family conscience? Now that she has gone I feel responsible
"An idea of responsibility has come to me--what plain people call
"I do not feel it," she cried mournfully. "I must yield to you then.
You can be good.'
"I must act so; but help me, Verry; I have contrary desires."
"What do they find to feed on? What are they? Have you your evil
"Yes; a devil named Temperament."
"Now teach me, Cassandra."
"Not I. Go, and write Ben. Make excuses for my negligence toward you
about his letter. Tell him to come. I shall write Alice and Helen this
evening. We have been shut off from the world by the gate of Death;
but we must come back."
"One thing you may be sure of--though I shall be no help, I shall
never annoy you. I know that my instincts are fine only in a
self-centering direction; yours are different. I shall trust them.
Since you have spoken, I perceive the shadows you have raised and
must encounter. I retreat before them, admiring your discernment, and
placing confidence in your powers. You convince if you do not win
me. Who can guess how your every plan and hope of well-doing may be
thwarted? I need say no more?"
She left the room. There would be no antagonism between us; but there
would be pain--on one side. The distance which had kept us apart was
shortened, but not annihilated. What could I expect? The silent and
serene currents which flow from souls like Veronica's and Ben's, whose
genius is not of the heart, refuse to enter a nature so turbulent as
mine. But my destiny must be changed by such! It was taken for granted
that my own spirit should not rule me. And with what reward? Any, but
that of sympathy. But I muttered:
"'I dimly see
My far-off doubtful purpose, as a mother
Conjectures of the features of her child
Ere it is born.'"
The house trembled in the fury of the storm. The waves were hoarse
with their vain bawling, and the wind shrieked at every crevice of
chimney, door, and window. No answering excitement in me now! I had
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
"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?"
"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."
"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
"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
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
"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."
"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."
"Calls me 'poor girl'; speaks beautifully of his remembrance of
"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
"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
"He is in love?"
"If you choose to call it that."
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.
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.
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--
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
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?"
"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?"
"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
"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!"
"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
"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?"
"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
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.
It was true. Locke Morgeson had been insolvent for five years. All
this time he had thrown ballast out from every side in the shape
of various ventures, which he trusted would lighten the ship, that,
nevertheless, drove steadily on to ruin. Then he steered blindly,
straining his credit to the utmost; and then--the crash. His losses
were so extended and gradual that the public were not aware of his
condition till he announced it. There was a general exasperation
against him. The Morgeson family rose up with one accord to represent
the public mind, which drove Veronica wild.
"Have you acted wrongly, father?" she asked.
"I have confessed, Verry, will that suit you!"
Our house was thronged for several days. "Pay us," cried the female
portion of his creditors. In vain father represented that he was still
young--that his business days were not over--that they must wait, for
paid they should be. "Pay us now, for we are women," they still cried.
Fanny opened the doors for these persons as wide as possible when they
came, and shut them with a bang when they went, astonishing them
with a satirical politeness, or confounding them with an impertinent
silence. The important creditors held meetings to agree what should
be done, and effected an arrangement by which his property was left
in his hands for three years, to arrange for the benefit of his
creditors. The arrangement proved that his integrity was not
suspected; but it was an ingenious punishment, that he should keep in
sight, improve, or change, for others, what had been his own. I was
glad when he decided to sell his real estate and personal property,
and trust to the ships alone, but would build no more. I begged him to
keep our house till Ben should return. He consented to wait; but I
did not tell Verry what I had done. All the houses he owned, lots,
carriages, horses, domestic stock, the fields lying round our
house--were sold. When he began to sell, the fury of retrenchment
seized him, and he laid out a life of self-denial for us three.
Arthur's ten thousand dollars were safe, who was therefore provided
for. He would bring wood and water for us; the rest we must do, with
Fanny's help. We could dine in the kitchen, and put our beds in one
room; by shutting up the house in part, we should have less labor
to perform. We attempted to carry out his ideas, but Veronica was so
dreadfully in Fanny's way and mine, that we were obliged to entreat
her to resume her old role. As for Fanny, she was happy--working
like a beaver day and night. Father was much at home, and took an
extraordinary interest in the small details that Fanny carried out.
When Temperance heard of these arrangements, she came down with Abram
in their green and yellow wagon. Temperance drove the shaggy old white
horse, for Abram was intrusted with the care of a meal bag, in which
were fastened a cock and four hens. We should see, she said when she
let them out, whether we were to keep hens or not. Was Veronica to go
without new-laid eggs? Had he sold the cat, she sarcastically inquired
"Who is going to do your washing, girls?" she asked, taking off her
"We all do it."
"Now I shall die a-laughing!" But she contradicted herself by crying
heartily. "One day in every week, I tell _you_, I am coming; and Fanny
and I can do the washing in a jiffy."
"Sure," said Abram, "you can; the sass is in."
"Sass or no sass, I'm coming."
She made me laugh for the first time in a month. I was too tired
generally to be merry, with my endeavors to carry out father's wishes,
and keep up the old aspect of the house. When she left us we all felt
more cheerful. Aunt Merce wanted to come home, but Verry and I thought
she had better stay at Rosville. We could not deny it to ourselves,
that home was sadly altered, or that we were melancholy; and though
we never needed her more, we begged her not to come. Happily father's
zeal soon died away. A boy was hired, and as there was no out-of-doors
work for him to do, he relieved Fanny, who in her turn relieved
me. Finding time to look into myself, I perceived a change in my
estimation of father; a vague impression of weakness in him troubled
me. I also discovered that I had lost my atmosphere. My life was
coarse, hard, colorless! I lived in an insignificant country
village; I was poor. My theories had failed; my practice was like my
moods--variable. But I concluded that if _to-day_ would go on without
bestowing upon me sharp pains, depriving me of sleep, mutilating me
with an accident, or sending a disaster to those belonging to me, I
would be content. Arthur held out a hope, by writing me, that he meant
to support me handsomely. He wished me to send him some shirt studs;
and told me to keep the red horse. He had heard that I was very
handsome when I was in Rosville. A girl had asked him how I looked
now. When he told her I was handsomer than any woman Rosville could
boast of, she laughed.
October had gone, and we had not heard from Ben. Veronica came to my
room of nights, and listened to wind and sea, as she never had before.
Sometimes she was there long after I had gone to bed, to look out of
the windows. If it was calm, she went away quietly; if the sea was
rough, she was sorrowful, but said nothing. The lethargic summer had
given way to a boisterous autumn of cold, gray weather, driving rains,
and hollow gales. At last he came--to Veronica first. He gave a deep
breath of delight when he stood again on the hearth-rug, before our
now unwonted parlor fire. The sight of his ruddy face, vigorous form,
and gay voice made me as merry as the attendants of a feast are when
they inhale the odor of the viands they carry, hear the gurgle of the
wine they pour, and echo the laughter of the guests.
There was much to tell that astonished him, but he could not be
depressed; everything must be arranged to suit us. He would buy the
house, provided he could pay for it in instalments. Did I know that
his mother had docked his allowance as soon as she knew that he would
"How should I know it?"
I had not heard then that Desmond's was doubled, when she heard his
intention of going to Spain.
"How should I know that?"
One thing I should learn, however--and that was, that Desmond had
begged his mother to make no change in the disposition of her income.
He had declined the extra allowance, and then accepted it, to offer
him--Ben. Was not that astonishing?
"Did you take it?"
"No; but pa did."
All he could call his was fifteen hundred a year. Was that enough for
them to live on, and pay a little every year for the house? Could we
all live there together, just the same? Would we, he asked father, and
allow him to be an inmate?
Father shook hands with him so violently that he winced; and Verry
crumpled up a handful of his tawny locks and kissed them, whereat he
said: "Are you grown a human woman?"
About the wedding? He could only stay to appoint a time, for he must
post to Belem. It must be very soon.
"In a year or two," said Verry.
"In three weeks, then."
"No, that will be the date of the wreck of the _Locke Morgeson_; but
three weeks from to-morrow. Must we have anybody here, Ben?"
"Helen, and Alice, Cassandra?"
"I have no friends," said Verry.
"What will you wear, Verry?" I asked.
"Why, this dress," designating her old black silk. Her eyes filled
with tears, and went on a pilgrimage toward the unknown heaven where
our mother was. _She_ could only come to the wedding as a ghost. I
imagined her flitting through the empty spaces, from room to room,
scared and troubled by the pressure of mortal life around her.
"I shall not wear white," Verry said hastily.
The very day Ben went to Belem one of father's outstanding ships
arrived. She came into the harbor presenting the unusual sight of
trying oil on deck. Black and greasy from hull to spar, she was a
pleasant sight, for she was full of sperm oil. Little boys ran down to
the house to inform us of that fact before she was moored. "Wouldn't
Mr. Morgeson be all right now that his luck had changed?" they asked.
At supper father said "By George!" several times, by that oath
resuming something of his old self. "Those women can now be paid," he
said. "If I could have held out till now, I could have gone on without
failing. This is the first good voyage the _Oswego_ ever made me; if
another ship, the _Adamant_, will come full while oil is high, I shall
arrange matters with my creditors before the three years are up. To
hold my own again--ah! I never will venture all upon the uncertain
field of the sea."
The _Oswego's_ captain sent us a box of shells next day, and a small
Portuguese boy, named Manuel--a handsome, black-eyed, husky-voiced
fellow, in a red shirt, which was bound round his waist with a leather
belt, from which hung a sailor's sheath-knife.
"He is volcanic," said Verry.
"The Portuguese are all handsome," said Fanny, poking him, to see if
he would notice it. But he did not remove his eyes from Veronica.
"He shall be your page, Verry."
The next night a message came to us that Abram was dying. If we ever
meant to come, Temperance sent word, some of us might come now; but
she would rather have Mr. Morgeson. Fanny insisted upon going with him
to carry a lantern. Manuel offered her his knife, when he comprehended
that she was going through a dark road.
"You are a perfect heathen. There's nothing to be afraid of, except
that Mr. Morgeson may walk into a ditch; will a knife keep us out of
"Knife is good--it kills," he said, showing his white, vegetable-ivory
Verry and I sat up till they returned, at two in the morning. Abram
had died about midnight, distressed to the last with worldly cares.
"He asked," said father, "if I remembered his poor boy, whose chest
never came home, and wished to hear some one read a hymn; Temperance
broke down when I read it, while Fanny cried hysterically."
"I was freezing cold," she answered haughtily.
In the morning Verry and I started for Temperance's house; but she
waited on the doorstep till I had inquired whether we were wanted. I
called her in, for Temperance asked for her as soon as she saw me.
"He was a good man, girls," she said with emphasis.
"Indeed he was."
"A little mean, I spose."
I put in a demurrer; her face cleared instantly.
"He thought a great deal of your folks."
"And a great deal of you."
"Oh, what a loss I have met with! He had just bought a first-rate
"But Temperance," said Verry, with a lamentable candor, "you can come
"Can't you wait for him to be put into the ground?" And she tried to
look shocked, but failed.
A friend entered with a doleful face, and Temperance groaned slightly.
"It is all done complete now, Mis Handy. He looks as easy as if he
slept, he was _so_ limber."
"Yes, yes," answered Temperance, starting up, and hurrying us out
of the room, pinching me, with a significant look at Verry. She was
afraid that her feelings might be distressed. "The funeral will be day
after to-morrow. Don't come; your father will be all that must be here
of the family. I shall shut up the house and come straight to you. I
know that I am needed; but you mustn't say a word about pay--I can't
stand it, I have had too much affliction to be pestered about wages."
Verry hugged her, and Temperance shed the honestest tears of the day
then, she was so gratified at Verry's fondness. Before Abram had been
buried a week, she was back again--a fixture, although she declared
that she had only come for a spell, as we might know by the size
of the bundle she had, showing us one, tied in a blue cotton
handkerchief. What should she stay from her own house for, when as
good a man as ever lived left it to her? We knew that she merely
comforted a tender conscience by praising the departed, for whom she
had small respect when living. We felt her brightening influence, but
Fanny sulked, feeling dethroned.
Ben Pickersgill Somers and Veronica Morgeson were "published."
Contrary to the usual custom, Verry went to hear her own banns read
at the church. She must do all she could, she told me, to realize that
she was to be married; had I any thoughts about it, with which I might
aid her? She thought it strange that people should marry, and could
not decide whether it was the sublimest or the most inglorious act of
one's life. I begged her to think about what she should wear--the time
was passing. Father gave me so small a sum for the occasion, I had
little opportunity for the splendid; but I purchased what Veronica
wanted for a dress, and superintended the making of it--black lace
over lavender-colored silk. She said no more about it; but I observed
that she put in order all her possessions, as if she were going to
undertake a long and uncertain journey. Every box and drawer was
arranged. All her clothes were repaired, refolded, and laid away;
every article was refreshed by a turn or shake-up. She made her room a
miracle of cleanliness. What she called rubbish she destroyed--her old
papers, things with chipped edges, or those that were defaced by wear.
She went once to Milford in the time, and bought a purple Angola rug,
which she put before her arm-chair, and two small silver cups, with
covers; in one was a perfume which Ben liked, the other was empty.
Her favorite blank-books were laid on a shelf, and the table, with its
inkstand and portfolio, was pushed against the wall. The last ornament
which she added to her room was a beautifully woven mat of evergreens,
with which she concealed the picture of the avenue and the nameless
man. After it was done, she inhabited my room, appearing to feel at
home, and glad to have me with her. As the time drew near, she grew
silent, and did not play at all. Temperance watched her with anxiety.
"If ever she can have one of those nervous spells again she will have
one now," she said. "Don't let her dream. I am turning myself inside
out to keep up her appetite."
"Do you ever feel worried about _me_, Tempy?"
"Lord 'a marcy! you great, strong thing, why should I? May be you do
want a little praise. I never saw anybody get along as well as you do,
nowadays; you have altered very much; I never would have believed it."
"What _was_ the trouble with me?"
"_I_ always stuck up for you, gracious knows. Do you know what has
been said of you in Surrey?"
"Then I shan't tell you; if I were you, though, I shouldn't trouble
myself to be overpolite to the folks who have come and gone here, nigh
on to twenty years,--hang 'em!"
A few days before the wedding Aunt Merce and Arthur came home. Arthur