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The Morgesons by Elizabeth Stoddard

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was shy at first regarding the great change, but being agreeably
disappointed, grew lively. I perceived that Aunt Merce had aged since
mother's death; her manner was changed; the same objects no longer
possessed an interest. She looked at me penitentially. "I wish I
could say," she said, "what I used to say to you,--that you were
'possessed.' Now that there is no occasion for me to comprehend
people, I begin to. My education began wrong end foremost. I think
Mary's death has taught me something. Do you think of her? She was the
love of my life."

"Women do keep stupid a long time; but I think they are capable of
growth, beyond the period when men cease to grow or change."

"Oh, I don't know anything about men, you know."

Temperance and I cleaned the house, opened every room, and made every
fire-place ready for a fire--a fire being the chief luxury which I
could command. Baking went on up to within a day of the wedding, under
Hepsey's supervision, who had been summoned as a helper; Fanny was
busy everywhere.

"Mr. Morgeson," said Temperance, "the furniture is too darned shabby
for a wedding."

"It is not mine, you must remember."

"Plague take the creditors! they know as well as I that you turned
Surrey from a herring-weir into a whaling-port, and that the houses
they live in were built out of the wages you gave them. I am thankful
that most of them have water in their cellars."

CHAPTER XXXIX.

The day came. Alice Morgeson, and Helen with her baby, arrived the
night before; and Ben and Mr. Somers drove from Milford early in the
afternoon. Mr. Somers was affable and patronizing. When introduced to
Veronica, he betrayed astonishment. "She is not like you, Cassandra.
Are you in delicate health, my dear!" addressing her.

"I have a peculiar constitution, I believe." He made excuses to her
for Mrs. Somers and his daughters to which she answered not a word.
He was in danger of being embarrassed, and I enticed him away from
her--not before she whispered gravely, "Why did _he_ come?" I went
over the house with him, he remarking on its situation, for sun and
shade, and protection from, or exposure to, the winds; and tasting
the water, pronounced it excellent. He thought I had a true idea of
hospitality; the fires everywhere proclaimed that. Temperance had the
air of a retainer; there was an atmosphere about our premises which
placed them at a distance from the present. Then Alice came to my
assistance and entertained him so well that I could leave him.

We had invited a few friends and relations to witness the ceremony, at
eight o'clock. I had been consulted so often on various matters that
it was dark before I finished my tasks. The last was to arrange some
flowers I had ordered in Milford. I kept a bunch of them in reserve
for Verry's plate; for we were to have a supper, at father's request,
who thought it would be less tiresome to feed the guests than to talk
to them. Verry did not know this, though she had asked several times
why we were all so busy.

It was near seven when I went upstairs to find her. Temperance had
sent Manuel and Fanny to the different rooms with tea, bread and
butter, and the message that it was all we were to have at present.
Ben had been extremely silent since his arrival, and disposed to
reading. I looked over his shoulder once, and saw that it was "Scott's
Life of Napoleon" he perused; and an hour after, being obliged to ask
him a question, saw him still at the same page. He was now dressing
probably. Helen and Alice were in their rooms. Mr. Somers was napping
on the parlor sofa; father was meditating at his old post in the
dining-room and smoking. It was a familiar picture; but there was
a rent in the canvas and a figure was missing--she who had been its
light!

I found Verry sound asleep on the sofa in my room.

A glass full of milk was on the floor beside her, and a plate with a
slice of bread. The lamp had been lighted by some one, and carefully
shaded from her face. She had been restless, I thought, for her hair
had fallen out of the comb and half covered her face, which was like
marble in its whiteness and repose. Her right arm was extended; I took
her hand, and her warm, humid fingers closed over mine.

"Wake up, Verry; it is time to be married."

She opened her eyes without stirring and fixed them upon me. "Do you
know any man who is like Ben? Or was it he whom I have just left in
the dark world of sleep?"

"I know his brother, who is like him, but dark in complexion--and his
hair is black."

"His hair is not black."

I rushed out of the room, muttering some excuse, came back and
arranged her toilette; but she remained with her arm still extended,
and continued:

"It was a strange place where we met; curious, dusty old trees grew
about it. He was cutting the back of one with a dagger, and the pieces
he carved out fell to the ground, as if they were elastic. He made me
pick them up, though I wished to listen to a man who was lying under
one of the trees, wrapped in a cloak, keeping time with _his_ dagger,
and singing a wild air.

"'What do you see?' said the first.

"'A letter on every piece,' I answered, and spelt Cassandra. 'Are you
Ben transformed?' I asked, for he had his features, his air, though
he was a swarthy, spare man, with black, curly hair, dashed with gray;
but he pricked my arm with his dagger, and said, 'Go on.' I picked up
the rest, and spelt 'Somers.'

"'Cassandra Somers! now tell her,' he whispered, turning me gently
from him, with a hand precisely like Ben's."

"No, it is handsomer," I muttered.

"Before me was a space of sea. Before I crossed I wanted to hear that
wild music; but your voice broke my dream."

She sat up and unbuttoned her sleeve. _As I live_, there was a red
mark on her arm above her elbow!

I crushed my hands together and set my teeth, for I would have kissed
the mark and washed it with my tears. But Verry must not be agitated
now. She divined my feelings for the first time in her life. "I have
indeed been in a long sleep, as far _you_ are concerned; this means
something. My blindness is removed by a dream. Do you despise me?" Two
large, limpid tears dropped down her smooth cheeks without ruffling
the expression of her face.

"I have prided myself upon my delicacy of feeling. You may have
remarked that I considered myself your superior?"

"You are all wrong. I have no delicate feelings at all; they are as
coarse and fibrous as the husk of a cocoanut. Do for heaven's sake get
up and let me dress you."

She burst into laughter. "Bring me some water, then."

I brought her a bowl full, and stood near her with a towel; but
she splashed it over me, and dribbled her hands in it till I was in
despair. I took it away and wiped her face, which looked at me so
childly, so elfish, so willful, and so tenderly, that I took it
between my hands and kissed it. I pulled her up to a chair, for she
was growing willful every moment; but she must be humored. I combed
her hair, put on her shoes and stockings, and in short dressed her.
Father came up and begged me to hurry, as everybody had come. I sent
him for Ben, who came with a pale, happy face and shining eyes. She
looked at him seriously. "I like you best," she said.

"It _is_ time you said that. Oh, Verry! how lovely you are!"

"I feel so."

"Come, come," urged father.

"I do not want these gloves," she said, dropping them.

Ben slipped on the third finger of her left hand a plain ring. She
kissed it, and he looked as if about to be translated.

"Forever, Verry?"

"Forever."

"Wait a moment," I said, "I want a collar," giving a glance into the
glass. What a starved, thin, haggard face I saw, with its border of
pale hair! Whose were those wide, pitiful, robbed eyes?

I hurried into the room in advance to show them their place in front
of a screen of plants. When they entered the company rose, and the
ceremony was performed. Veronica's dress was commented upon and not
approved of; being black, it was considered ominous. She looked like
a 'cloud with a silver lining.' I also made my comments. Temperance,
whose tearful eyes were fixed on her darling, was unconscious that she
had taken from her pocket, and was flourishing, a large red and yellow
silk handkerchief, while the cambric one she intended to use was
neatly folded in her left hand. She wore the famous plum-colored silk,
old style, which had come into a fortune in the way of wrinkles. A
large bow of black ribbon testified that she was in mourning. Hepsey
rubbed her thumb across her fingers with the vacant air of habit. I
glanced at Alice; she was looking intently at Fanny, whose eyes were
fixed upon father. A strange feeling of annoyance troubled me, but
the ceremony was over. Arthur congratulated himself on having a big
brother. Ben was so pale, and wore so exalted an expression, that he
agitated me almost beyond control.

After the general shaking of hands, there came retorts for me. "When
shall we have occasion to congratulate you?" And, "You are almost at
the corner." And, "Your traveling from home seems only to have been an
advantage to Veronica."

"I tell you, Cousin Sue," said Arthur, who overheard the last remark,
"that you don't know what they say of Cassandra in Rosville. She's the
biggest beauty they ever had, and had lots of beaus."

A significant expression passed over Cousin Sue's face, which was
noticed by Alice Morgeson, who colored deeply.

"Have you not forgotten?" I asked her.

"It was of you I thought, not myself. I cannot tell you how utterly
the past has gone, or how insignificant the result has proved."

"Alice," said father, "can you carve?"

"Splendidly."

"Come and sit at the foot of my table; Mr. Somers will take charge of
the smaller one."

"With pleasure."

"Slip out," whispered Fanny, "and look at the table; Temperance wants
you."

"For the Lord's sake!" cried Temperance, "say whether things are
ship-shape."

I was surprised at the taste she had displayed, and told her so.

"For once I have tried to do my best," she said; "all for Verry. Call
'em in; the turkeys will be on in a whiffle."

Tables were set in the hall, as well as in the dining-room. "They
must sit down," she continued, "so that they may eat their victuals
in peace." The supper was a relief to Veronica, and I blessed
father's forethought. Nobody was exactly merry, but there was a proper
cheerfulness. Temperance, Fanny, and Manuel were in attendance; the
latter spilled a good deal of coffee on the carpet in his enjoyment of
the scene; and when he saw Veronica take the flowers in her hand, he
exclaimed, "Santa Maria!"

Everybody turned to look at him.

"What are you doing here, Manuel?" asked Ben.

"I wait on the senoritas," he answered. "Take plum-duff?"

Everybody laughed.

"Do you like widows?" whispered Fanny at the back of my chair. I made
a sign to her to attend to her business, but, as she suggested, looked
at Alice. At that moment she and father were drinking wine together. I
thought her handsomer than ever; she had expanded into a fair, smooth
middle age.

The talking and clattering melted vaguely into my ears; I was a
lay-figure in the scene, and my soul wandered elsewhere. Mr. Somers
began to fidget gently, which father perceiving, rose from the table.
Soon after the guests departed. The remains of the feast vanished; the
fires burnt down, "winding sheets" wrapped the flame of the candles,
and suppressed gaping set in.

The flowers, left to themselves, began to give out odors which
perfumed the rooms. I went about extinguishing the waning candles and
stifling the dying fires, finished my work, and was going upstairs
when I heard Veronica playing, and stopped to listen. It was not a
paean nor a lament that she played, but a fluctuating, vibratory air,
expressive of mutation. I hung over the stair-railing after she had
ceased, convinced that she had been playing for herself a farewell,
which freed me from my bond to her. Mr. Somers came along the hall
with a candle, and I waited to ask him if I could do anything for his
comfort.

"My dear," he said with apprehension, "your sister is a genius, I
think."

"In music--yes."

"What a deplorable thing for a woman!"

"A woman of genius is but a heavenly lunatic, or an anomaly sphered
between the sexes; do you agree?"

He laughed, and pushed his spectacles up on his forehead.

"My dear, I am astonished that Ben's choice fell as it did--"

"Good-night, sir," I said so loudly that he almost dropped his candle,
and I retired to my room, taking a chair by the fire, with a sigh of
relief. After a while Ben and Veronica came up.

"It is a cold night," I remarked.

"I am in an enchanted palace," said Ben, "where there is no weather."

"Cassy, will you take these pins out of my hair?" asked Verry, seating
herself in an easy-chair. "Ben, we will excuse you."

"How good of you." He strode across the passage, went into her room,
and shut the door.

"There, Verry, I have unbound your hair."

"But I want to talk."

I took her hand, and led her out. She stood before her door for a
moment silently, and then gave a little knock. No answer came. She
knocked again; the same silence as before. At last she was obliged to
open it herself, and enter without any bidding.

"Which will rule?" I thought, as I slipped down the back stairs, and
listened at the kitchen door. I heard nothing. Finding an old cloak
in the entry, I wrapped myself in it and left the house. The moon was
out-riding black, scudding clouds, and the wind moaned round the sea,
which looked like a vast, wrinkled serpent in the moonlight.

I walked to Gloster Point, and rested under the lee of the lighthouse,
but could not, when I made the attempt, see to read the inscription
inside my watch, by the light of the lantern. I must have fallen
asleep from fatigue, still holding it in my hand; for when I started
homeward, there was a pale reflection of light in the east, and the
sea was creeping quietly toward it with a murmuring morning song.

CHAPTER XL.

I looked across the bay from my window. "The snow is making 'Pawshee's
Land' white again, and I remain this year the same. No change, no
growth or development! The fulfillment of duty avails me nothing; and
self-discipline has passed the necessary point."

I struck the sash with my closed hand, for I would now give my life a
new direction, and it was fettered. But I would be resolute, and break
the fetters; had I not endured a "mute case" long enough? Manuel, who
had been throwing snowballs against the house, stopped, and looked
toward the gate, and then ran toward it. A pair of tired, splashed
horses dashed down the drive. Manuel had the reins, and Ben was beside
him, reeling slightly on the seat of the wagon. I ran down to meet
him; he had been on a trip to Belem, where he never went except when
he wanted money.

"I have some news for you," he said, putting his arm in mine, as he
jumped from the wagon. "Come in, and pull off my boots, Manuel." I
brought a chair for him, and waited till his boots were off. "Bring me
a glass of brandy."

I stamped my foot. Verry entered with a book. "Ah, Verry, darling,
come here."

"Why do you drink brandy? Have you over-driven the horses?"

He drank the brandy. She nodded kindly to him, shut her book, and
slipped out, without approaching him.

"That's _her_ way," he said, staring hard at me. "She always says in
the same unmoved voice, 'Why do you drink brandy?'"

"And then--she will not come to kiss you."

"The child is dead, for the first thing. (Cigar, Manuel.) Second,
I was possessed to come home by the way of Rosville. When did your
father go away, Cass?"

I felt faint, and sat down.

"Ah, we _all_ have a weakness; does yours overcome you?"

"He went three days ago."

"I saw him at Alice Morgeson's."

"Arthur?"

"He didn't go to see Arthur. He will marry Alice, and I must build my
house now."

A devil ripped open my heart; its fragments flew all over me, blinding
and deafening me.

"He will be home to-night."

"Very well."

"What shall you say, Cassy?"

"Expose that little weakness to him."

"When will you learn real life?"

"Please ask him, when he comes, if he will see me in my room."

I waited there. My cup was filled at last. My sin swam on the top.

Father came in smoking, and taking a chair between his legs, sat
opposite me, and tapped softly the back of it with his fingers. "You
sent for me?"

"I wanted to tell you that Charles Morgeson loved me from the first,
and you remember that I stayed by him to the last."

"What more is there?" knocking over the chair, and seizing me; "tell
me."

His eyes, that were bloodshot with anger, fastened on my mouth. "I
know, though, damn him! I know his cunning. Was Alice aware of this?"
And he pushed me backward.

"All."

An expression of pain and disappointment crossed his face; he ground
his teeth fiercely.

"Don't marry her, father; you will kill me if you do!"

"Must you alone have license?"

He resumed his cigar, which he picked up from the floor.

"It would seem that we have not known each other. What evasiveness
there is in our natures! Your mother was the soul of candor, yet I am
convinced I never knew her."

"If you bring Alice here, I must go. We cannot live together."

"I understand why she would not come here. She said that she must see
you first. She is in Milford."

He knocked the ashes from his cigar, looked round the room, and then
at me, who wept bitterly. His face contracted with a spasm.

"We were married two days ago." And turning from me quickly, he left
the room.

I was never so near groveling on the face of the earth as then; let me
but fall, and I was sure that I never should rise.

Ben knew it, but left it to me to tell Veronica.

My grief broke all bounds, and we changed places; she tried to comfort
me, forgetting herself.

"Let us go away to the world's end with Ben." But suddenly
recollecting that she liked Alice, she cried, "What shall I do?"

What could she do, but offer an unreasoning opposition? Aunt Merce
cried herself sick, fond as she was of Alice, and Temperance declared
that if she hadn't married a widower herself, she would put in an oar.
Anyhow, she hadn't married a man with grown-up daughters.

"What ails Fanny?" she asked me the next day. "She looks like a froze
pullet."

"Where is she now?"

"Making the beds."

Temperance knew well what was the matter, but was too wise to
interfere. I found her, not bed-making, but in a spare room, staring
at the wall. She looked at me with dry eyes, bit her lips, and folded
her hands across her chest, after her old, defiant fashion. I did not
speak.

"It is so," she said; "you need not tear me to pieces with your eyes,
I can confess it to _you_, for you are as I am. I love him!" And she
got up to shake her fist in my face. "My heart and brain and soul are
as good as hers, and _he_ knows it."

I could not utter a word.

"I know him as you never knew him, and have for years, since I was
that starved, poor-house brat your mother took. Don't trouble yourself
to make a speech about ingratitude. I know that your mother was good
and merciful, and that I should have worshiped her; but I never did.
Do you suppose I ever thought he was perfect, as the rest of you
thought? He is full of faults. I thought he was dependant on me. He
knows how I feel. Oh, what shall I do?" She threw up her arms, and
dropped on the floor in a hysteric fit. I locked the door, and picked
her up. "Come out of it, Fanny; I shall stay here till you do."

By dint of shaking her, and opening the window, she began to come to.
After two or three fearful laughs and shudders, she opened her eyes.
She saw my compassion, and tears fell in torrents; I cried too. The
poor girl kissed my hands; a new soul came into her face.

"Oh, Fanny, bear it as well as you can! You and I will be friends."

"Forgive me! I was always bad; I am now. If that woman comes here,
I'll stab her with Manuel's knife."

"Pooh! The knife is too rusty; it would give her the lockjaw. Besides,
she will never come. I know her. She is already more than half-way to
meet me; but I shall not perform my part of the journey, and she will
return."

"You don't say so!" her ancient curiosity reviving.

"Manuel keeps it sharp," she said presently, relapsing into jealousy.

"You are a fool. Have you eaten anything to-day?"

"I can't eat."

"That's the matter with you--an empty stomach is the cause of most
distressing pangs."

Ben urged me to go to Milford to meet Alice, and to ask her to come to
our house. But father said no more to me on the subject. Neither did
Veronica. In the afternoon they drove over to Milford, returning
at dusk. She refused to come with them, Ben said, and never would
probably. "You have thrown out your father terribly."

"You notice it, do you?"

"It is pretty evident."

"What is your opinion?"

He was about to condemn, when he recollected his own interference in
my life. "Ah! you have me. I think you are right, as far as the past
which relates to Alice is concerned. But if she chooses to forget,
why don't you? We do much that is contrary to our moral ideas, to make
people comfortable. Besides, if we do not lay our ghosts, our closets
will be overcrowded."

"We may determine some things for ourselves, irrespective of
consequences."

"Well, there is a mess of it."

Fanny had watched for their return, counting on an access of misery,
for she believed that Alice would come also. It was what _she_ would
have done. Rage took possession of her when she saw father alone.
She planted herself before him, in my presence, in a contemptuous
attitude. He changed color, and then her mood changed.

"What shall I do?" she asked piteously.

I tried to get away before she made any further progress; but
he checked me, dreading the scene which he foreboded, without
comprehending.

"Fanny," he said harshly, but with a confused face, "you mistake me."

"Not I; it was your wife and children who mistook you."

"What is it you would say?"

"You have let me be your slave."

"It is not true, I hope--what your behavior indicates?"

I forgave him everything then. Fanny had made a mistake. He had only
behaved very selfishly toward her, without having any perception of
her--that was all! She was confounded, stared at him a moment, and
rushed out. That interview settled her; she was a different girl from
that day.

"Father, you will go to Rosville, and be rich again. Can you buy this
house from Ben, for me? A very small income will suffice me and Fanny,
for you may be sure that I shall keep her. Temperance will live with
Verry; Ben will build, now that his share of his grandfather's estate
will come to him."

"Very well," he said with a sigh, "I will bring it about."

"It is useless for us to disguise the fact--I have lost you. You are
more dead to me than mother is."

"You say so."

It was the truth. I was the only one of the family who never went
to Rosville. Aunt Merce took up her abode with Alice, on account of
Arthur, whom she idolized. When father was married again, the Morgeson
family denounced him for it, and for leaving Surrey; but they accepted
his invitations to Rosville, and returned with glowing accounts of his
new house and his hospitality.

By the next June, Ben's house was completed and they moved. Its site
was a knoll to the east of our house, which Veronica had chosen. Her
rooms were toward the orchard, and Ben's commanded a view of the sea.
He had not ventured to intrude, he told her, upon the Northern Lights,
and she must not bother him about his boat-house or his pier. They
were both delighted with the change, and kept house like children.
Temperance indulged their whims to the utmost, though she thought
Ben's new-fangled notions were silly; but they might keep him from
_something worse_. This something was a shadow which frightened me,
though I fought it off. I was weary of trouble, and shut my eyes as
long as possible. Whenever Ben went from home, and he often drove to
Milford, or to some of the towns near, he came back disordered with
drink. At the sight my hopes would sink. But they rose again, he was
so genial, so loving, so calmly contented afterward. As Verry never
spoke of it either to Temperance or me, I imagined she was not
troubled much. She could not feel as I felt, for she knew nothing of
the Bellevue Pickersgill family history.

The day they moved was a happy one for me. I was at last left alone in
my own house, and I regained an absolute self-possession, and a sense
of occupation I had long been a stranger to. My ownership oppressed
me, almost, there was so much liberty to realize.

I had an annoyance, soon after I came into sole possession. Father's
business was not yet settled, and he came to Surrey. He was paying his
debts in full, he told me, eking out what he lacked himself with the
property of Alice. He could not have used much of it, however, for the
vessels that were out at the time of the failure came home with good
cargoes. I fancied that he had more than one regret while settling his
affairs; that he missed the excitement and vicissitudes of a maritime
business. Nothing disagreeable arose between us, till I happened to
ask him what were the contents of a box which had arrived the day
before.

"Something Alice sent you; shall we open it?"

"I made no answer; but it was opened, and he took out a sea-green
and white velvet carpet, with a scarlet leaf on it, and a piece of
sea-green and white brocade for curtains. Had she sought the world
over, she could have found nothing to suit me so well.

"She thought that Verry might have a fancy for some of the old
furniture, and that you would accept these in its place."

"There's nothing here to match this splendor, and I cannot bear to
make a change. Verry must have them, for she took nothing from me."

"Just as you please."

CHAPTER XLI.

"What a hot day!" said Fanny. "Every door and window is open. There is
not a breath of air."

"It will be calm all day," I said. "We have two or three days like
this in a year. Give me another cup of coffee. Is it nine yet?"

"Nearly. I ought to go to Hepsey's to-day. She wont be able to leave
her bed, the heat weakens her so."

"Do go. How still it is! The shadows of the trees on the Neck reach
almost from shore to shore, and there's a fish-boat motionless."

"The boat was there when I got up."

"Everything is blue and yellow, or blue and white."

"How your hair waves this morning! It is handsomer than ever."

I went to the glass with my cup of coffee. "I look younger in the
summer."

"What's the use of looking younger here?" she asked gruffly. "You
never see a man."

"I see Ben coming with Verry, and Manuel behind."

"Hillo!" cried Ben, pulling up his horses in front of the window. "We
are going on a picnic. Wont you go?"

"How far?"

"Fifteen or twenty miles."

"Go on; I had rather imprison the splendid day here."

"There's nothing for dinner," said Fanny.

"The fish-boat may come in, in time."

"Will three o'clock do for you? If so, I'll stay with Hepsey till
then."

"Four will answer?"

She cleared away my breakfast things and left me. I sat by the window
an hour, looking over the water, my thoughts drifting through a golden
haze, and then went up to my room and looked out again. If I turned my
eyes inside the walls, I was aware of the yearning, yawning empty void
within me, which I did not like. I sauntered into Verry's room, to see
if any clouds were coming up from the north. There were none. The sun
had transfixed the sky, and walked through its serene blue, "burning
without beams." Neither bird nor insect chirped; they were hid from
the radiant heat in tree and sod. I went back again to my own window.
The subtle beauty of these inorganic powers stirred me to mad regret
and frantic longing. I stretched out my arms to embrace the presence
which my senses evoked.

It would be better to get a book, I concluded, and hunted up Barry
Cornwall's songs. With it I would go to the parlor, which was shaded.
I turned the leaves going down, and went in humming:

"Mount on the dolphin Pleasure," and threw myself on the sofa
beside--_Desmond_!

I dropped Barry Cornwall.

"I have come," he said, in a voice deathly faint.

"How old you have grown, Desmond!"

"But I have taken such pains with my hands for you! You said they were
handsome; are they?"

I kissed them.

He was so spare, and brown, and his hair was quite gray! Even his
mustache looked silvery.

"Two years to-day since I have worn the watch, Desmond."

He took one exactly like it from his pocket, and showed me the
inscription inside.

"And the ruby ring, on the guard?"

"It is gone, you see; you must put one there now."

"Forgive me."

"Ah, Cassy! I couldn't come till now. You see what battles _I_ must
have had since I saw you. It took me so long to break my cursed
habits. I was afraid of myself, afraid to come; but I have tried
myself to the utmost, and hope I am worthy of you. Will you trust me?"

"I am yours, as I always have been."

"I have eaten an immense quantity of oil and garlic," he said with a
sigh. "But Spain is a good place to reform in. How is Ben?"

I shook my head.

"Don't tell me anything sad now. Poor fellow! God help him."

Fanny was talking to some one on the walk; the fisherman probably, who
was bringing fish.

"Do you want some dinner?"

"I have had no breakfast."

"I must see about something for you."

"Not to leave me, Cassy."

"Just for a few minutes."

"No."

"But I want to cry by myself, besides looking after the dinner."

"Cry here then, with me. Come, Cassandra, my wife! My God, I shall die
with happiness."

A mortal paleness overspread his face.

"Desmond, Desmond, do you know how I love you? Feel my heart,--it has
throbbed with the weight of you since that night in Belem, when you
struck your head under the mantel."

He was speechless. I murmured loving words to him, till he drew a deep
breath of life and strength.

"These fish are small," said Fanny at the door. "Shall I take them!"

"Certainly," said Desmond, "I'll pay for them."

"It is Ben in black lead," said Fanny.

We laughed.

At dusk Ben and Veronica drove up. Desmond was seated in the window.
Ben fixed his eyes upon him, without stopping.

We ran out, and called to him.

"Old fellow," said Desmond, "willing or not, I have come."

Ben's face was a study; so many emotions assailed him that my heart
was wrung with pity.

"Give her to me," Desmond continued in a touching voice. "You are her
oldest friend, and have a right."

"She was always yours," he answered. "To contend with her was folly."

Veronica took hold of Ben's chin and raised his head to look into his
face. "What dreams have you had?"

But he made no reply to her. We were all silent for a moment, then he
said, "Was I wrong, Des.?"

"No, no."

While, I was saying to myself, in behalf of Veronica, whose calm face
baffled me, "Enigma, Sphinx"; she turned to Desmond, holding out her
right arm, and said, "You are the man I saw in my dream."

"And you are like the Virgin I made an offering to, only not quite so
bedizened." He took her extended hand and kissed it.

Ben threw the reins with a sudden dash toward Manuel, who was standing
by, and jumped down.

"Have tea with me," I asked, "and music, too. Verry, will you play for
Desmond?"

She took his arm, and entered the house.

"Friend," I said to Ben, who lingered by the door, "to contend with me
was not folly, unless it has kept you from contending with yourself.
Tell me--how is it with you?"

"Cassandra, the jaws of hell are open. If you are satisfied with the
end, I must be."

* * * * *

After I was married, I went to Belem. But Mrs. Somers never forgave
me; and Mr. Somers liked Desmond no better than he had in former
times. Neither did Adelaide and Ann ever consider the marriage in any
light but that of a misalliance. Nor did they recognize any change
in him. It might be permanent, but it was no less an aberration which
they mistrusted. The ground plan of the Bellevue Pickersgill character
could not be altered.

In a short time after we were married we went to Europe and stayed two
years.

These last words I write in the summer time at our house in Surrey,
for Desmond likes to be here at this season, and I write in my old
chamber. Before its windows rolls the blue summer sea. Its beauty
wears a relentless aspect to me now; its eternal monotone expresses no
pity, no compassion.

Veronica is lying on the floor watching her year-old baby. It smiles
continually, but never cries, never moves, except when it is moved.
Her face, thin and melancholy, is still calm and lovely. But her
eyes go no more in quest of something beyond. A wall of darkness lies
before her, which she will not penetrate. Aunt Merce sits near me with
her knitting. When I look at her I think how long it is since mother
went, and wonder whether death is not a welcome idea to those who
have died. Aunt Merce looks at Verry and the child with a sorrowful
countenance, exchanges a glance with me, shakes her head. If Verry
speaks to her, she answers cheerfully, and tries to conceal the grief
which she feels when she sees the mother and child together.

Ben has been dead six months. Only Desmond and I were with him in his
last moments. When he sprang from his bed, staggered backwards, and
fell dead, we clung together with faint hearts, and mutely questioned
each other.

"God is the Ruler," he said at last. "Otherwise let this mad world
crush us now."

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