BY ELIZABETH STODDARD
"Time is a clever devil,"—BALZAC
I suppose it was environment that caused me to write these novels; but the mystery of it is, that when I left my native village I did not dream that imagination would lead me there again, for the simple annals of our village and domestic ways did not interest me; neither was I in the least studious. My years were passed in an attempt to have a good time, according to the desires and fancies of youth. Of literature and the literary life, I and my tribe knew nothing; we had not discovered "sermons in stones." Where then was the panorama of my stories and novels stored, that was unrolled in my new sphere? Of course, being moderately intelligent I read everything that came in my way, but merely for amusement. It had been laid up against me as a persistent fault, which was not profitable; I should peruse moral, and pious works, or take up sewing,—that interminable thing, "white seam," which filled the leisure moments of the right-minded. To the personnel of writers I gave little heed; it was the hero they created that charmed me, like Miss Porter's gallant Pole, Sobieski, or the ardent Ernest Maltravers, of Bulwer.
I had now come to live among those who made books, and were interested in all their material, for all was for the glory of the whole. Prefaces, notes, indexes, were unnoticed by me,—even Walter Scott's and Lord Byron's. I began to get glimpses of a profound ignorance, and did not like the position as an outside consideration. These mental productive adversities abased me. I was well enough in my way, but nothing was expected from me in their way, and when I beheld their ardor in composition, and its fine emulation, like "a sheep before her shearers," I was dumb. The environment pressed upon me, my pride was touched; my situation, though "tolerable, was not to be endured."
Fortunate or not, we were poor. It was not strange that I should marry, said those who knew the step I had taken; but that I should follow that old idyl; and accept the destiny of a garret and a crust with a poet, was incredible! Therefore, being apart from the diversions of society, I had many idle hours. One day when my husband was sitting at the receipt of customs, for he had obtained a modest appointment, I sat by a little desk, where my portfolio lay open. A pen was near, which I took up, and it began to write, wildly like "Planchette" upon her board, or like a kitten clutching a ball of yarn fearfully. But doing it again—I could not say why—my mind began upon a festival in my childhood, which my mother arranged for several poor old people at Thanksgiving. I finished the sketch in private, and gave it the title of "A Christmas Dinner," as one more modern. I put in occasional "fiblets" about the respectable guests, Mrs. Carver and Mrs. Chandler, and one dreadful little girl foisted upon me to entertain. It pleased the editor of Harper's Magazine, who accepted it, and sent me a check which would look wondrous small now. I wrote similar sketches, which were published in that magazine. Then I announced my intention of writing a "long story," and was told by him of the customs that he thought I "lacked the constructive faculty." I hope that I am writing an object lesson, either of learning how, or not learning how, to write.
I labored daily, when alone, for weeks; how many sheets of foolscap I covered, and dashed to earth, was never told. Since, by my "infinite pains and groans," I have been reminded of Barkis, in "David Copperfield," when he crawled out of his bed to get a guinea from his strong box for David's dinner. Naturally, I sent the story to Harper's Magazine, and it was curtly refused. My husband, moved by pity by my discouragement, sent it to Mr. Lowell, then editor of the Atlantic Monthly. In a few days I received a letter from him, which made me very happy. He accepted the story, and wrote me then, and afterwards, letters of advice and suggestion. I think he saw through my mind, its struggles, its ignorance, and its ambition. Also I got my guinea for my pains. The Atlantic Monthly sent me a hundred dollars. I doubt but for Mr. Lowell's interest and kindness I should ever have tried prose again. I owe a debt of gratitude to him which I shall always give to his noble memory.
My story did not set the river on fire, as stories are apt to do nowadays. It attracted so little notice from those I knew, and knew of, that naturally my ambition would have been crushed. Notwithstanding, and saying nothing to anybody, I began "The Morgesons," and everywhere I went, like Mary's lamb, my MS. was sure to go. Meandering along the path of that family, I took them much to heart, and finished their record within a year. I may say here, that the clans I marshaled for my pages had vanished from the sphere of reality—in my early day the village Squire, peerless in blue broadcloth, who scolded, advised, and helped his poorer neighbors; the widows, or maidens, who accepting service "as a favor," often remained a lifetime as friend as well as "help;" the race of coast-wise captains and traders, from Maine to Florida, as acute as they were ignorant; the rovers of the Atlantic and the Pacific, were gone not to return. If with these characters I have deserved the name of "realist," I have also clothed my skeletons with the robe of romance. "The Morgesons" completed, and no objections made to its publication, it was published. As an author friend happened to be with us, almost on the day it was out, I gave it to him to read, and he returned it to me with the remark that there were "a good many whiches in it." That there were, I must own, and that it was difficult to extirpate them. I was annoyed at their fertility. The inhabitants of my ancient dwelling place pounced upon "The Morgesons," because they were convinced it would prove to be a version of my relations, and my own life. I think one copy passed from hand to hand, but the interest in it soon blew over, and I have not been noticed there since.
"Two Men" I began as I did the others, with a single motive; the shadow of a man passed before me, and I built a visionary fabric round him. I have never tried to girdle the earth; my limits are narrow; the modern novel, as Andrew Lang lately calls it,—with its love-making, disquisition, description, history, theology, ethics,—I have no sprinkling of. My last novel, "Temple House," was personally conducted, so far that I went to Plymouth to find a suitable abode for my hero, Angus Gates, and to measure with my eye the distance between the bar in the bay and the shore, the scene of a famous wreck before the Revolution. As my stories and novels were never in touch with my actual life, they seem now as if they were written by a ghost of their time. It is to strangers from strange places that I owe the most sympathetic recognition. Some have come to me, and from many I have had letters that warmed my heart, and cheered my mind. Beside the name of Mr. Lowell, I mention two New England names, to spare me the fate of the prophet of the Gospel, the late Maria Louise Pool, whose lamentable death came far too early, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, who lived to read "The Morgesons" only, and to write me a characteristic letter. With some slight criticism, he wrote, "Pray pardon my frankness, for what is the use of saying anything, unless we say what we think?... Otherwise it seemed to me as genuine and lifelike as anything that pen and ink can do. There are very few books of which I take the trouble to have any opinion at all, or of which I could retain any memory so long after reading them as I do of 'The Morgesons.'"
Could better words be written for the send-off of these novels?
ELIZABETH STODDARD. New York, May 2nd, 1901.
TO MRS. KATHARINE HOOKER
OF LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
THESE NOVELS ARE DEDICATED IN GRATEFUL REMEMBRANCE OF A KIND DEED
"That child," said my aunt Mercy, looking at me with indigo-colored eyes, "is possessed."
When my aunt said this I was climbing a chest of drawers, by its knobs, in order to reach the book-shelves above it, where my favorite work, "The Northern Regions," was kept, together with "Baxter's Saints' Rest," and other volumes of that sort, belonging to my mother; and those my father bought for his own reading, and which I liked, though I only caught a glimpse of their meaning by strenuous study. To this day Sheridan's Comedies, Sterne's Sentimental Journey, and Captain Cook's Voyages are so mixed up in my remembrance that I am still uncertain whether it was Sterne who ate baked dog with Maria, or Sheridan who wept over a dead ass in the Sandwich Islands.
After I had made a dash at and captured my book, I seated myself with difficulty on the edge of the chest of drawers, and was soon lost in an Esquimaux hut. Presently, in crossing my feet, my shoes, which were large, dropped on the painted floor with a loud noise. I looked at my aunt; her regards were still fixed upon me, but they did not interfere with her occupation of knitting; neither did they interrupt her habit of chewing cloves, flagroot, or grains of rice. If these articles were not at hand, she chewed a small chip.
"Aunt Merce, poor Hepburn chewed his shoes, when he was in Davis's Straits."
"Mary, look at that child's stockings."
Mother raised her eyes from the Boston Recorder, and the article she had been absorbed in the proceedings of an Ecclesiastical Council, which had discussed (she read aloud to Aunt Merce) the conduct of Brother Thaddeus Turner, pastor of the Congregational Church of Hyena. Brother Thaddeus had spoken lightly of the difference between Sprinkling and Immersion, and had even called Hyena's Baptist minister "Brother." He was contumacious at first, was Brother Thaddeus, but Brother Boanerges from Andover finally floored him.
"Cassandra," said mother, presently, "come here."
I obeyed with reluctance, making a show of turning down a leaf.
"Child," she continued, and her eyes wandered over me dreamily, till they dropped on my stockings; "why will you waste so much time on unprofitable stories?"
"Mother, I hate good stories, all but the Shepherd of Salisbury Plain; I like that, because it makes me hungry to read about the roasted potatoes the shepherd had for breakfast and supper. Would it make me thankful if you only gave me potatoes without salt?"
"Not unless your heart is right before God."
"'The Lord my Shepherd is,'" sang Aunt Merce.
I put my hands over my ears, and looked defiantly round the room. Its walls are no longer standing, and the hands of its builders have crumbled to dust. Some mental accident impressed this picture on the purblind memory of childhood.
We were in mother's winter room. She was in a low, chintz-covered chair; Aunt Merce sat by the window, in a straight-backed chair, that rocked querulously, and likewise covered with chintz, of a red and yellow pattern. Before the lower half of the windows were curtains of red serge, which she rattled apart on their brass rods, whenever she heard a footstep, or the creak of a wheel in the road below. The walls were hung with white paper, through which ran thread-like stripes of green. A square of green and chocolate-colored English carpet covered the middle of the floor, and a row of straw chairs stood around it, on the bare, lead-colored boards. A huge bed, with a chintz top shaped like an elephant's back, was in one corner, and a six-legged mahogany table in another. One side of the room where the fireplace was set was paneled in wood; its fire had burned down in the shining Franklin stove, and broken brands were standing upright. The charred backlog still smoldered, its sap hissed and bubbled at each end.
Aunt Merce rummaged her pocket for flagroot; mother resumed her paper.
"May I put on, for a little while, my new slippers?" I asked, longing to escape the oppressive atmosphere of the room.
"Yes," answered mother, "but come in soon, it will be supper-time."
I bounded away, found my slippers, and was walking down stairs on tiptoe, holding up my linsey-woolsey frock, when I saw the door of my great-grandfather's room ajar. I pushed it open, went in, and saw a very old man, his head bound with a red-silk handkerchief, bolstered in bed. His wife, grandmother-in-law, sat by the fire reading a great Bible.
"Marm Tamor, will you please show me Ruth and Boaz?" I asked.
She complied by turning over the leaves till she came to the picture.
"Did Ruth love Boaz dreadfully much?"
"Oh, oh," groaned the old man, "what is the imp doing here? Drive her away. Scat."
I skipped out by a side door, down an alley paved with blue pebbles, swung the high gate open, and walked up and down the gravel walk which bordered the roadside, admiring my slippers, and wishing that some acquaintance with poor shoes could see me. I thought then I would climb the high gateposts, which had a flat top, and take there the position of the little girl in "The Shawl Dance." I had no sooner taken it than Aunt Merce appeared at the door, and gave a shriek at the sight, which tempted me to jump toward her with extended arms. I was seized and carried into the house, where supper was administered, and I was put to bed.
At this time I was ten years old. We lived in a New England village, Surrey, which was situated on an inlet of a large bay that opened into the Atlantic. From the observatory of our house we could see how the inlet was pinched by the long claws of the land, which nearly enclosed it. Opposite the village, some ten miles across, a range of islands shut out the main waters of the bay. For miles on the outer side of the curving prongs of land stretched a rugged, desolate coast, indented with coves and creeks, lined with bowlders of granite half sunken in the sea, and edged by beaches overgrown with pale sedge, or covered with beds of seaweed. Nothing alive, except the gulls, abode on these solitary shores. No lighthouse stood on any point, to shake its long, warning light across the mariners' wake. Now and then a drowned man floated in among the sedge, or a small craft went to pieces on the rocks. When an easterly wind prevailed, the coast resounded with the bellowing sea, which brought us tidings from those inaccessible spots. We heard its roar as it leaped over the rocks on Gloster Point, and its long, unbroken wail when it rolled in on Whitefoot Beach. In mild weather, too, when our harbor was quiet, we still heard its whimper. Behind the village, the ground rose toward the north, where the horizon was bounded by woods of oak and pine, intersected by crooked roads, which led to towns and villages near us. The inland scenery was tame; no hill or dale broke its dull uniformity. Cornfields and meadows of red grass walled with gray stone, lay between the village and the border of the woods. Seaward it was enchanting—beautiful under the sun and moon and clouds. Our family had lived in Surrey for years. Probably some Puritan of the name of Morgeson had moved from an earlier settlement, and, appropriating a few acres in what was now its center, lived long enough upon them to see his sons and daughters married to the sons and daughters of similar settlers. So our name was in perpetuation, though none of our race ever made a mark in his circle, or attained a place among the great ones of his day. The family recipes for curing herbs and hams, and making cordials, were in better preservation than the memory of their makers. It is certain that they were not a progressive or changeable family. No tradition of any individuality remains concerning them. There was a confusion in the minds of the survivors of the various generations about the degree of their relationship to those who were buried, and whose names and ages simply were cut in the stones which headed their graves. The meum and tuum of blood were inextricably mixed; so they contented themselves with giving their children the old Christian names which were carved on the headstones, and which, in time, added a still more profound darkness to the anti-heraldic memory of the Morgesons. They had no knowledge of that treasure which so many of our New England families are boastful of—the Ancestor who came over in the Mayflower, or by himself, with a grant of land from Parliament. It was not known whether two or three brothers sailed together from the Old World and settled in the New. They had no portrait, nor curious chair, nor rusty weapon—no old Bible, nor drinking cup, nor remnant of brocade.
Morgeson—Born—Lived—Died—were all their archives. But there is a dignity in mere perpetuity, a strength in the narrowest affinities. This dignity and strength were theirs. They are still vital in our rural population. Occasionally something fine is their result; an aboriginal reappears to prove the plastic powers of nature.
My great-grandfather, Locke Morgeson, the old man whose head I saw bound in a red handkerchief, was the first noticeable man of the name. He was a scale of enthusiasms, ranging from the melancholy to the sarcastic. When I heard him talked of, it seemed to me that he was born under the influence of the sea, while the rest of the tribe inherited the character of the landscape. Comprehension of life, and comprehension of self, came too late for him to make either of value. The spirit of progress, however, which prompted his schemes benefited others. The most that could be said of him was that he had the rudiments of a Founder.
My father, whose name was Locke Morgeson also, married early. My mother was five years his elder; her maiden name was Mary Warren. She was the daughter of Philip Warren, of Barmouth, near Surrey. He was the best of the Barmouth tailors, though he never changed the cut of his garments; he was a rigidly pious man, of great influence in the church, and was descended from Sir Edward Warren, a gentleman of Devon, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth. The name of his more immediate ancestor, Richard Warren, was in "New England's Memorial." How father first met mother I know not. She was singularly beautiful—beautiful even to the day of her death; but she was poor, and without connection, for Philip Warren was the last of his name. What the Warrens might have been was nothing to the Morgesons; they themselves had no past, and only realized the present. They never thought of inquiring into that matter, so they opposed, with great promptness, father's wish to marry Mary Warren. All, except old Locke Morgeson, his grandfather, who rode over to Barmouth to see her one day, and when he came back told father to take her, offered him half his house to live in, and promised to push him in the world. His offer quelled the rioters, silencing in particular the opposition of John Morgeson, father's father.
In a month from this time, Locke Morgeson, Jr., took Mary Warren from her father's house as his wife. Grandfather Warren prayed a long, unintelligible prayer over them, helped them into the large, yellow-bottomed chaise which belonged to Grandfather Locke, and the young couple drove to their new home, the old mansion. Grandfather Locke went away in the same yellow-bottomed chaise a week after, and returned in a few days with a tall lady of fifty by his side—"Marm Tamor," a twig of the Morgeson tree, being his third cousin, whom he had married. This marriage was Grandfather Locke's last mistake. He was then near eighty, but lived long enough to fulfill his promises to father. The next year I was born, and four years after, my sister Veronica. Grandfather Locke named us, and charged father not to consult the Morgeson tombstones for names.
"Mrs. Saunders," said mother, "don't let that soap boil over. Cassy, keep away from it."
"Lord," replied Mrs. Saunders, "there's no fat in the bones to bile. Cassy's grown dreadful fast, ain't she? How long has the old man been dead, Mis Morgeson?"
"Three years, Mrs. Saunders."
"How time do fly," remarked Mrs. Saunders, mopping her wrinkled face with a dark-blue handkerchief. "The winter's sass is hardly put in the cellar 'fore we have to cut off the sprouts, and up the taters for planting agin. We shall all foller him soon." And she stirred the bones in the great kettle with the vigor of an ogress.
When I heard her ask the question about Grandfather Locke, the interval that had elapsed since his death swept through my mind. What a little girl I was at the time! How much had since happened! But no thought remained with me long. I was about to settle whether I would go to the beach and wade, or into the woods for snake-flowers, till school-time, when my attention was again arrested by Mrs. Saunders saying, "I spose Marm Tamor went off with a large slice, and Mr. John Morgeson is mad to this day?"
Mother was prevented from answering by the appearance of the said Mr. John Morgeson, who darkened the threshold of the kitchen door, but advanced no further. I looked at him with curiosity; if he were mad, he might be interesting. He was a large, portly man, over sixty, with splendid black hair slightly grizzled, a prominent nose, and fair complexion. I did not like him, and determined not to speak to him.
"Say good-morning, Cassandra," said mother, in a low voice.
"No," I answered loudly, "I am not fond of my grandfather."
Mrs. Saunders mopped her face again, grinning with delight behind her handkerchief.
"Debby, my wife, wants you, Mis Saunders, after you have made Mary's soap," he said.
"Surely," she answered.
"Where is the black horse to-day?" he asked mother.
"Locke has gone to Milford with him."
"I wanted the black horse to-day," he said, turning away.
"He's a mighty grand man, he is," commented Mrs. Saunders. "I am pesky glad, Mis Morgeson, that you have never put foot in his house. I 'plaud your sperit!"
"School-time, Cassy," said mother. "Will you have some gingerbread to carry? Tell me when you come home what you have read in the New Testament."
"My boy does read beautiful," said Mrs. Saunders. "Where's the potash, Mis Morgeson?"
I heard the bell toll as I loitered along the roadside, pulling a dandelion here and there, for it was in the month of May, and throwing it in the rut for the next wheel to crush. When I reached the schoolhouse I saw through the open door that the New Testament exercise was over. The teacher, Mrs. Desire Cushman, a tall, slender woman, in a flounced calico dress, was walking up and down the room; a class of boys and girls stood in a zigzag line before her, swaying to and fro, and drawling the multiplication table. She was yawning as I entered, which exercise forbade her speaking, and I took my seat without a reprimand. The flies were just coming; I watched their sticky legs as they feebly crawled over my old unpainted notched desk, and crumbled my gingerbread for them; but they seemed to have no appetite. Some of the younger children were drowsy already, lulled by the hum of the whisperers. Feeling very dull, I asked permission to go to the water-pail for a drink; let the tin cup fall into the water so that the floor might be splashed; made faces at the good scholars, and did what I could to make the time pass agreeably. At noon mother sent my dinner, with the request that I should stay till night, on account of my being in the way while the household was in the crisis of soap-making and whitewashing. I was exasperated, but I stayed. In the afternoon the minister came with two strangers to visit the school. I went through my lessons with dignified inaccuracy, and was commended. Going back, I happened to step on a loose board under my seat. I determined to punish Mrs. Desire for the undeserved praise I had just received, and pushed the board till it clattered and made a dust. When Mrs. Desire detected me she turned white with anger. I pushed it again, making so much noise that the visitors turned to see the cause. She shook her head in my direction, and I knew what was in store, as we had been at enmity a long time, and she only waited for a decisive piece of mischief on my part. As soon as the visitors had gone, she said in a loud voice: "Cassandra Morgeson, take your books and go home. You shall not come here another day."
I was glad to go, and marched home with the air of a conqueror, going to the keeping-room where mother sat with a basket of sewing. I saw Temperance Tinkham, the help, a maiden of thirty, laying the table for supper.
"Don't wrinkle the tablecloth," she said crossly; "and hang up your bonnet in the entry, where it belongs," taking it from me as she gave the order, and going out to hang it up herself.
"I am turned out of school, mother, for pushing a board with my foot."
"Hi," said father, who was waiting for his supper; "come here," and he whistled to me. He took me on his knee, while mother looked at me with doubt and sorrow.
"She is almost a woman, Mary."
"Locke, do you know that I am thirty-eight?"
"And you are thirty-three, father," I exclaimed. He looked younger. I thought him handsome; he had a frank, firm face, an abundance of light, curly hair, and was very robust. I took off his white beaver hat, and pushed the curls away from his forehead. He had his riding-whip in his hand. I took that, too, and snapped it at our little dog, Kip. Father's clothes also pleased me—a lavender-colored coat, with brass buttons, and trousers of the same color. I mentally composed for myself a suit to match his, and thought how well we should look calling at Lady Teazle's house in London, only I was worried because my bonnet seemed to be too large for me. A loud crash in the kitchen disturbed my dream, and Temperance rushed in, dragging my sister Veronica, whose hair was streaming with milk; she had pulled a panful over her from the buttery shelf, while Temperance was taking up the supper. Father laughed, but mother said:
"What have I done, to be so tormented by these terrible children?"
Her mild blue eyes blazed, as she stamped her foot and clenched her hands. Father took his hat and left the room. Veronica sat down on the floor, with her eyes fixed upon her, and I leaned against the wall. It was a gust that I knew would soon blow over. Veronica knew it also. At the right moment she cried out: "Help Verry, she is sorry."
"Do eat your supper," Temperance called out in a loud voice. "The hash is burnt to flinders."
She remained in the room to comment on our appetites, and encourage Veronica, who was never hungry, to eat.
Veronica was an elfish creature, nine years old, diminutive and pale. Her long, silky brown hair, which was as straight as an Indian's, like mother's, and which she tore out when angry, usually covered her face, and her wild eyes looked wilder still peeping through it. She was too strange-looking for ordinary people to call her pretty, and so odd in her behavior, so full of tricks, that I did not love her. She was a silent child, and liked to be alone. But whoever had the charge of her must be watchful. She tasted everything, and burnt everything, within her reach. A blazing fire was too strong a temptation to be resisted. The disappearance of all loose articles was ascribed to her; but nothing was said about it, for punishment made her more impish and daring in her pursuits. She had a habit of frightening us by hiding, and appearing from places where no one had thought of looking for her. People shook their heads when they observed her. The Morgesons smiled significantly when she was spoken of, and asked:
"Do you think she is like her mother?"
There was a conflict in mother's mind respecting Veronica. She did not love her as she loved me; but strove the harder to fulfill her duty. When Verry suffered long and mysterious illnesses, which made her helpless for weeks, she watched her day and night, but rarely caressed her. At other times Verry was left pretty much to herself and her ways, which were so separate from mine that I scarcely saw her. We grew up ignorant of each other's character, though Verry knew me better than I knew her; in time I discovered that she had closely observed me, when I was most unaware.
We began to prosper about this time.
"Old Locke Morgeson had a long head," people said, when they talked of our affairs. Father profited by his grandfather's plans, and his means, too; less visionary, he had modified and brought out practically many of his projections. Old Locke had left little to his son John Morgeson, in the belief that father was the man to carry out his ideas. Besides money, he left him a tract of ground running north and south, a few rods beyond the old house, and desired him to build upon it. This he was now doing, and we expected to move into our new house before autumn.
All the Morgesons wished to put money in a company, as soon as father could prove that it would be profitable. They were ready to own shares in the ships which he expected to build, when it was certain that they would make lucky voyages. He declined their offers, but they all "knuckled" to the man who had been bold enough to break the life-long stagnation of Surrey, and approved his plans as they matured. His mind was filled with the hope of creating a great business which should improve Surrey. New streets had been cut through his property and that of grandfather, who, narrow as he was, could not resist the popular spirit; lots had been laid out, and cottages had gone up upon them. To matters of minor importance father gave little heed; his domestic life was fast becoming a habit. The constant enlargement of his schemes was already a necessary stimulant.
I did not go back to Mrs. Desire's school. Mother said that I must be useful at home. She sent me to Temperance, and Temperance sent me to play, or told me to go "a visitin'." I did not care to visit, for in consequence of being turned out of school, which was considered an indelible disgrace and long remembered, my schoolmates regarded me in the light of a Pariah, and put on insufferably superior airs when they saw me. So, like Veronica, I amused myself, and passed days on the sea-shore, or in the fields and woods, mother keeping me in long enough to make a square of patchwork each day and to hear her read a Psalm—a duty which I bore with patience, by guessing when the "Selahs" would come in, and counting them. But wherever I was, or whatever I did, no feeling of beauty ever stole into my mind. I never turned my face up to the sky to watch the passing of a cloud, or mused before the undulating space of sea, or looked down upon the earth with the curiosity of thought, or spiritual aspiration. I was moved and governed by my sensations, which continually changed, and passed away—to come again, and deposit vague ideas which ignorantly haunted me. The literal images of all things which I saw were impressed on my shapeless mind, to be reproduced afterward by faculties then latent. But what satisfaction was that? Doubtless the ideal faculty was active in Veronica from the beginning; in me it was developed by the experience of years. No remembrance of any ideal condition comes with the remembrance of my childish days, and I conclude that my mind, if I had any, existed in so rudimental a state that it had little influence upon my character.
One afternoon in the following July, tired of walking in the mown fields, and of carrying a nest of mice, which I had discovered under a hay-rick, I concluded I would begin a system of education with them; so arranging them on a grape-leaf, I started homeward. Going in by the kitchen, I saw Temperance wiping the dust from the best china, which elated me, for it was a sign that we were going to have company to tea.
"You evil child," she said, "where have you been? Your mother has wanted you these hours, to dress you in your red French calico with wings to it. Some of the members are coming to tea; Miss Seneth Jellatt, and she that was Clarissa Tripp, Snow now, and Miss Sophrony G. Dexter, and more besides."
I put my mice in a basket, and begged Temperance to allow me to finish wiping the china; she consented, adjuring me not to let it fall. "Mis Morgeson would die if any of it should be broken." I adored it, too. Each piece had a peach, or pear, or a bunch of cherries painted on it, in lustrous brown. The handles were like gold cords, and the covers had knobs of gilt grapes.
"What preserves are you going to put on the table?" I asked.
"Them West Ingy things Capen Curtis's son brought home, and quartered quince, though I expect Mis Dexter will remark that the surup is ropy."
"I wish you wouldn't have cheese."
"We must have cheese," she said solemnly. "I expect they'll drink our green tea till they make bladders of themselves, it is so good. Your father is a first-rate man; he is an excellent provider, and any woman ought to be proud of him, for he does buy number one in provisions."
I looked at her with admiration and respect.
"Capen Curtis," she continued, pursuing a train of thought which the preserves had started, "will never come home, I guess. He has been in furen parts forever and a day; his wife has looked for him, a-twirling her thumb and fingers, every day for ten years. I heard your mother had engaged her to go in the new house; she'll take the upper hand of us all. Your grandfather, Mr. John Morgeson, is willing to part with her; tired of her, I spose. She has been housekeeping there, off and on, these thirty years. She's fifty, if she is a day, is Hepsy Curtis."
"Is she as stingy as you are?" I asked.
"You'll find out for yourself, Miss. I rather think you won't be allowed to crumble over the buttery shelves."
I finished the cup, and was watching her while she grated loaf-sugar over a pile of doughnuts, when mother entered, and begged me to come upstairs with her to be dressed.
"Where is Verry, mother?"
"In the parlor, with a lemon in one hand and Robinson Crusoe in the other. She will be good, she says. Cassy, you won't teaze me to-day, will you?"
"No, indeed, mother," and clapping my hands, "I like you too well."
"These Morgesons beat the dogs," I heard Temperance say, as we shut the door and went upstairs.
I skipped over the shiny, lead-colored floor of the chamber in my stockings, while mother was taking from the bureau a clean suit for me, and singing "Bonny Doon," with the sweetest voice in the world. She soon arrayed me in my red calico dress, spotted with yellow stars. I was proud of its buckram undersleeves, though they scratched my arms, and admired its wings, which extended over the protecting buckram.
"It is three o'clock; the company will come soon. Be careful of your dress. You must stand by me at the table to hand the cups of tea."
She left me standing in a chair, so that I might see my pantalettes in the high-hung glass, and the effect of my balloon-like sleeves. Then I went back to the kitchen to show myself to Temperance, and to enjoy the progress of tea.
The table was laid in the long keeping-room adjoining the kitchen, covered with a striped cloth of crimson and blue, smooth as satin to the touch. Temperance had turned the plates upside-down around the table, and placed in a straight line through the middle a row of edibles. She was going to have waffles, she said, and shortcake; they were all ready to bake, and she wished to the Lord they would come and have it over with. With the silver sugar-tongs I slyly nipped lumps of sugar for my private eating, and surveyed my features in the distorting mirror of the pot-bellied silver teapot, ordinarily laid up in flannel. When the company had arrived, Temperance advised me to go in the parlor.
"Sit down, when you get there, and show less," she said. I went in softly, and stood behind mother's chair, slightly abashed for a moment in the presence of the party—some eight or ten ladies, dressed in black levantine, or cinnamon-colored silks, who were seated in rocking-chairs, all the rocking-chairs in the house having been carried to the parlor for the occasion. They were knitting, and every one had a square velvet workbag. Most of them wore lace caps, trimmed with white satin ribbon. They were larger, more rotund, and older than mother, whose appearance struck me by contrast. Perhaps it was the first time I observed her dress; her face I must have studied before, for I knew all her moods by it. Her long, lusterless, brown hair was twisted around a high-topped tortoise-shell comb; it was so heavy and so carelessly twisted that the comb started backward, threatening to fall out. She had minute rings of filigreed gold in her ears. Her dress was a gray pongee, simply made and short; I could see her round-toed morocco shoes, tied with black ribbon. She usually took out her shoestrings, not liking the trouble of tying them. A ruffle of fine lace fell around her throat, and the sleeves of her short-waisted dress were puffed at the shoulders. Her small white hands were folded in her lap, for she was idle; on the little finger of her left hand twinkled a brilliant garnet ring, set with diamonds. Her face was colorless, the forehead extremely low, the nose and mouth finely cut, the eyes of heavenly blue. Although youth had gone, she was beautiful, with an indescribable air of individuality. She influenced all who were near her; her atmosphere enveloped them. She was not aware of it, being too indifferent to the world to observe what effect she had in it, and only realized that she was to herself a self-tormentor. Whether she attracted or repelled, the power was the same. I make no attempt to analyze her character. I describe her as she appeared, and as my memory now holds her. I never understood her, and for that reason she attracted my attention. I felt puzzled now, she seemed so different from anybody else. My observation was next drawn to Veronica, who, entirely at home, walked up and down the room in a blue cambric dress. She was twisting in her fingers a fine gold chain, which hung from her neck. I caught her cunning glance as she flourished some tansy leaves before her face, imitating Mrs. Dexter to the life. I laughed, and she came to me.
"See," she said softly, "I have something from heaven." She lifted her white apron, and I saw under it, pinned to her dress, a splendid black butterfly, spotted with red and gold.
"It is mine," she said, "you shall not touch it. God blew it in through the window; but it has not breathed yet."
"Pooh; I have three mice in the kitchen."
"Where is the mother?"
"In the hayrick, I suppose, I left it there."
"I hate you," she said, in an enraged voice. "I would strike you, if it wasn't for this holy butterfly."
"Cassandra," said Mrs. Dexter, "does look like her pa; the likeness is ex-tri-ordinary. They say my William resembles me; but parients are no judges."
A faint murmur rose from the knitters, which signified agreement with her remark.
"I do think," she continued, "that it is high time Dr. Snell had a colleague; he has outlived his usefulness. I never could say that I thought he was the right kind of man for our congregation; his principals as a man I have nothing to say against; but why don't we have revivals?"
When Mrs. Dexter wished to be elegant she stepped out of the vernacular. She was about to speak again when the whole party broke into a loud talk on the subject she had started, not observing Temperance, who appeared at the door, and beckoned to mother. I followed her out.
"The members are goin' it, ain't they?" she said. "Do see if things are about right, Mis Morgeson." Mother made a few deviations from the straight lines in which Temperance had ranged the viands, and told her to put the tea on the tray, and the chairs round the table.
"There's no place for Mr. Morgeson," observed Temperance.
"He is in Milford," mother replied.
"The brethren wont come, I spose, till after dark?"
"I suppose not."
"Glad to get rid of their wives' clack, I guess."
From the silence which followed mother's return to the parlor, I concluded they were performing the ancient ceremony of waiting for some one to go through the doorway first. They came at last with an air of indifference, as if the idea of eating had not yet occurred, and delayed taking seats till mother urged it; then they drew up to the table, hastily, turned the plates right-side up, spread large silk handkerchiefs over their laps, and, with their eyes fixed on space, preserved a dead silence, which was only broken by mother's inquiries about their taste in milk or sugar. Temperance came in with plates of waffles and buttered shortcake, which she offered with a cut and thrust air, saying, as she did so, "I expect you can't eat them; I know they are tough."
Everybody, however, accepted both. She then handed round the preserves, and went out to bake more waffles.
By this time the cups had circled the table, but no one had tasted a morsel.
"Do help yourselves," mother entreated, whereat they fell upon the waffles.
"Temperance is as good a cook as ever," said one; "she is a prize, isn't she, Mis Morgeson?"
"She is faithful and industrious," mother replied.
All began at once on the subject of help, and were as suddenly quenched by the reappearance of Temperance, with fresh waffles, and a dish of apple-fritters.
"Do eat these if you can, ladies; the apples are only russets, and they are kinder dead for flavoring. I see you don't eat a mite; I expected you could not; it's poor trash." And she passed the cake along, everybody taking a piece of each kind.
After drinking a good many cups of tea, and praising it, their asceticism gave way to its social effect, and they began to gossip, ridiculing their neighbors, and occasionally launching innuendoes against their absent lords. It is well known that when women meet together they do not discuss their rights, but take them, in revealing the little weaknesses and peculiarities of their husbands. The worst wife-driver would be confounded at the air of easy superiority assumed on these occasions by the meekest and most unsuspicious of her sex. Insinuations of So and So's not being any better than she should be passed from mouth to mouth, with a glance at me; and I heard the proverb of "Little pitchers," when mother rose suddenly from the table, and led the way to the parlor.
"Where is Veronica?" asked Temperance, who was piling the debris of the feast. "She has been in mischief, I'll warrant; find her, Cassandra."
She was upstairs putting away her butterfly, in the leaves of her little Bible. She came down with me, and Temperance coaxed her to eat her supper, by vowing that she should be sick abed, unless she liked her fritters and waffles. I thought of my mice, while making a desultory meal standing, and went to look at them; they were gone. Wondering if Temperance had thrown the creatures away, I remembered that I had been foolish enough to tell Veronica, and rushed back to her. When she saw me, she raised a saucer to her face, pretending to drink from it.
"Verry, where are the mice?"
"Are they gone?"
"What will you do if I don't?"
"I know," and I flew upstairs, tore the poor butterfly from between the leaves of the Bible, crushed it in my hand, and brought it down to her. She did not cry when she saw it, but choked a little, and turned away her head.
It was now dark, and hearing a bustle in the entry I looked out, and saw several staid men slowly rubbing their feet on the door-mat; the husbands had come to escort their wives home, and by nine o'clock they all went. Veronica and I stayed by the door after they had gone.
"Look at Mrs. Dexter," she said; "I put the mice in her workbag."
I burst into a laugh, which she joined in presently.
"I am sorry about the butterfly, Verry." And I attempted to take her hand, but she pushed me away, and marched off whistling.
A few days after this, sitting near the window at twilight, intent upon a picture in a book of travels, of a Hindoo swinging from a high pole with hooks in his flesh, and trying to imagine how much it hurt him, my attention was arrested by a mention of my name in a conversation held between mother and Mr. Park, one of the neighbors. He occasionally spent an evening at our house, passing it in polemical discussion, revising the prayers and exhortations which he made at conference meetings. The good man was a little vain of having the formulas of his creed at his tongue's end. She sometimes lot these thread of his discourse, but argued also as if to convince herself that she could rightly distinguish between Truth and Illusion, but never discussed religious topics with father. Like all the Morgesons, he was Orthodox, accepting what had been provided by others for his spiritual accommodation. He thought it well that existing Institutions should not be disturbed. "Something worse might be established instead." His turn of mind, in short, was not Evangelical.
"Are the Hindoos in earnest, mother?" and I thrust the picture before her. She warned me off.
"Do you think, Mr. Park, that Cassandra can understand the law of transgression?"
An acute perception that it was in my power to escape a moral penalty, by willful ignorance, was revealed to me, that I could continue the privilege of sinning with impunity. His answer was complicated, and he quoted several passages from the Scriptures. Presently he began to sing, and I grew lonesome; the life within me seemed a black cave.
"Our nature's totally depraved— The heart a sink of sin; Without a change we can't be saved, Ye must be born again."
Temperance opened the door. "Is Veronica going to bed to-night?" she asked.
The next September we moved. Our new house was large and handsome. On the south side there was nothing between it and the sea, except a few feet of sand. No tree or shrub intercepted the view. To the eastward a promontory of rocks jutted into the sea, serving as a pier against the wash of the tide, and adding a picturesqueness to the curve of the beach. On the north side flourished an orchard, which was planted by Grandfather Locke. Looking over the tree-tops from the upper north windows, one would have had no suspicion of being in the neighborhood of the sea. From these windows, in winter, we saw the nimbus of the Northern Light. The darkness of our sky, the stillness of the night, mysteriously reflected the perpetual condition of its own solitary world. In summer ragged white clouds rose above the horizon, as if they had been torn from the sky of an underworld, to sail up the blue heaven, languish away, or turn livid with thunder, and roll off seaward. Between the orchard and the house a lawn sloped easterly to the border of a brook, which straggled behind the outhouses into a meadow, and finally lost itself among the rocks on the shore. Up by the lawn a willow hung over it, and its outer bank was fringed by the tangled wild-grape, sweet-briar, and alder bushes. The premises, except on the seaside, were enclosed by a high wall of rough granite. No houses were near us, on either side of the shore; up the north road they were scattered at intervals.
Mother said I must be considered a young lady, and should have my own room. Veronica was to have one opposite, divided from it by a wide passage. This passage extended beyond the angle of the stairway, and was cut off by a glass door. A wall ran across the lower end of the passage; half the house was beyond its other side, so that when the door was fastened, Veronica and myself were in a cul-de-sac.
The establishment was put on a larger footing. Mrs. Hepsey Curtis was installed mistress of the kitchen. Temperance declared that she could not stand it; that she wasn't a nigger; that she must go, but she had no home, and no friends—nothing but a wood lot, which was left her by her father the miller. As the trees thereon grew, promising to make timber, its value increased; at present her income was limited to the profit from the annual sale of a cord or two of wood. So she staid on, in spite of Hepsey. There were also two men for the garden and stable. A boy was always attached to the house; not the same boy, but a Boy dynasty, for as soon as one went another came, who ate a great deal—a crime in Hepsey's eyes—and whose general duty was to carry armfuls of wood, pails of milk, or swill, and to shut doors.
We had many visitors. Though father had no time to devote to guests, he was continually inviting people for us to entertain, and his invitations were taken as a matter of course, and finally for granted. A rich Morgeson was a new feature in the family annals, and distant relations improved the advantage offered them by coming to spend the summer with us, because their own houses were too hot, or the winter, because they were too cold! Infirm old ladies, who were not related to us, but who had nowhere else to visit, came. As his business extended, our visiting list extended. The captains of his ships whose homes were elsewhere brought their wives to be inconsolable with us after their departure on their voyages. We had ministers often, who always quarter at the best houses, and chance visitors to dinner and supper, who made our house a way-station. There was but small opportunity to cultivate family affinities; they were forever disturbed. Somebody was always sitting in the laps of our Lares and Penates. Another class of visitors deserving notice were those who preferred to occupy the kitchen and back chambers, humbly proud and bashfully arrogant people, who kept their hats and bonnets by them, and small bundles, to delude themselves and us with the idea that they "had not come to stay, and had no occasion for any attention." These people criticised us with insinuating severity, and proposed amendments with unrelenting affability. To this class Veronica was most attracted—it repelled me; consequently she was petted, and I was amiably sneered at.
This period of our family life has left small impression of dramatic interest. There was no development of the sentiments, no betrayal of the fluctuations of the passions which must have existed. There was no accident to reveal, no coincidence to surprise us. Hidden among the Powers That Be, which rule New England, lurks the Deity of the Illicit. This Deity never obtained sovereignty in the atmosphere where the Morgesons lived. Instead of the impression which my after-experience suggests to me to seek, I recall arrivals and departures, an eternal smell of cookery, a perpetual changing of beds, and the small talk of vacant minds.
Despite the rigors of Hepsey in the kitchen, and the careful supervision of Temperance, there was little systematic housekeeping. Mother had severe turns of planning, and making rules, falling upon us in whirlwinds of reform, shortly allowing the band of habit to snap back, and we resumed our former condition. She had no assistance from father in her ideas of change. It was enough for him to know that he had built a good house to shelter us, and to order the best that could be bought for us to eat and to wear. He liked, when he went where there were fine shops, to buy and bring home handsome shawls, bonnets, and dresses, wholly unsuited in general to the style and taste of each of us, but much handsomer than were needful for Surrey. They answered, however, as patterns for the plainer materials of our neighbors. He also bought books for us, recommended by their covers, or the opinion of the bookseller. His failing was to buy an immense quantity of everything he fancied.
"I shall never have to buy this thing again," he would say; "let us have enough."
Veronica and I grew up ignorant of practical or economical ways. We never saw money, never went shopping. Mother was indifferent in regard to much of the business of ordinary life which children are taught to understand. Father and mother both stopped at the same point with us, but for a different reason; father, because he saw nothing beyond the material, and mother, because her spiritual insight was confused and perplexing. But whatever a household may be, the Destinies spin the web to their will, put of the threads which drop hither and thither, floating in its atmosphere, white, black, or gray.
From the time we moved, however, we were a stirring, cheerful family, independent of each other, but spite of our desultory tastes, mutual habits were formed. When the want of society was felt, we sought the dining-room, sure of meeting others with the same want. This room was large and central, connecting with the halls, kitchen, and mother's room. It was a caravansary where people dropped in and out on their way to some other place. Our most public moments were during meal-time. It was known that father was at home at breakfast and supper, and could be consulted. As he was away at our noonday dinner, generally we were the least disturbed then, and it was a lawless, irregular, and unceremonious affair. Mother establisher her arm-chair here, and a stand for her workbasket. Hepsey and Temperance were at hand, the men came for orders, and it was convenient for the boy to transmit the local intelligence it was his vocation to collect. The windows commanded a view of the sea, the best in the house. This prospect served mother for exercise. Her eyes roved over it when she wanted a little out-of-doors life. If she desired more variety, which was seldom, she went to the kitchen. After we moved she grew averse to leaving the house, except to go to church. She never quitted the dining-room after our supper till bedtime, because father rarely came from Milford, where he went on bank days, and indeed almost every other day, till late, and she liked to be by him while he ate his supper and smoked a cigar. All except Veronica frequented this room; but she was not missed or inquired for. She liked the parlor, because the piano was there. As soon as father had bought it she astonished us by a persistent fingering of the keys, which produced a feeble melody. She soon played all the airs she had heard. When I saw what she could do, I refused to take music lessons, for while I was trying to learn "The White Cockade," she pushed me away, played it, and made variations upon it. I pounded the keys with my fist, by way of a farewell, and told her she should have the piano for her own.
One winter morning before daylight, Veronica came to my room, and asked me if I had heard any walking about the house during the night. She had, and was going to inquire about it. She soon returned with, "You have a brother. Temperance says my nose is broken. He will be like you, I suppose, and have everything he asks for. I don't care for him; but," crying out with passion, "get up. Mother wants to see you, I know."
I dressed quickly, and went downstairs with a feeling of indignation that such an event should have happened without my knowledge.
There was an unwonted hush. A bright fire was burning on the dining-room hearth, the lamps were still lighted, and father was by the fire, smoking in a meditative manner. He put out his hand, which I did not take, and said, "Do you like his name—Arthur?"
"Yes," I mumbled, as I passed him, and went to the kitchen, where Hepsey and Temperance were superintending the steeping of certain aromatic herbs, which stood round the fire in silver porringers and earthen pitchers.
"Another Morgeson's come," said Temperance. "There's enough of them, such as they are—not but what they are good enough," correcting herself hastily.
"Go into your mother's room, softly," said Hepsey, rubbing her fingers against her thumb—her habit when she was in a tranquil frame of mind.
"You are mighty glad, Hepsey," said Temperance.
"Locke Morgeson ought to have a son," she replied, "to leave his money to."
"I vow," answered Temperance, "girls are thought nothing of in this 'ligous section; they may go to the poor house, as long as the sons have plenty."
An uncommon fit or shyness seized me, mixed with a feeling of dread, as I crept into the room where mother was. My eyes first fell upon an elderly woman, who wore a long, wide, black apron, whose strings girded the middle of her cushion-like form. She was taking snuff. It was the widow Mehitable Allen, a lady whom I had often seen in other houses on similar occasions.
"Shoo," she whispered nasally.
I was arrested, but turned my eyes toward mother; hers were closed. Presently she murmured, "Thank God," opened them, and saw me. A smile lighted her pale countenance. "Cassy, my darling, kiss me. I am glad it is not a woman." As I returned her kiss her glance dropped on a small bunch by her side, which Mehitable took and deftly unrolled, informing me as she did so that it was a "Rouser."
Aunt Mercy came the next day. She had not paid us a visit in a long time, being confined at home with the care of her father, Grandfather Warren. She took charge of Veronica and me, if taking charge means a series of guerilla skirmishes on both sides. I soon discovered, however, that she was prone to laughter, and that I could provoke it; we got on better after that discovery; but Veronica, disdaining artifice, was very cross with her. Aunt Mercy had a spark of fun in her composition, which was not quite crushed out by her religious education. She frequented the church oftener than mother, sang more hymns, attended all the anniversary celebrations, but she had no dreams, no enthusiasm. Her religion had leveled all needs and all aspirations. What the day brought forth answered her. She inspired me with a secret pity; for I knew she carried in her bosom the knowledge that she was an old maid.
Before mother left her room Veronica was taken ill, and was not convalescent till spring. Delicacy of constitution the doctor called her disorder. She had no strength, no appetite, and looked more elfish than ever. She would not stay in bed, and could not sit up, so father had a chair made for her, in which she could recline comfortably. Aunt Merce put her in it every morning, and took her out every evening. My presence irritated her, so I visited her but seldom. She said I looked so well, it hurt her, and wished me to keep out of her sight, begged me never to talk loud in the vicinity of her room, my voice was so breezy. She amused herself in her own strange way. One of her amusements was to cut off her hair, lock by lock, and cut it short before she was well enough to walk about. She played on a jewsharp, and on a little fife when her breath permitted, and invented grotesque costumes out of bits of silk and lace. Temperance was much engaged, at her dictation, in the composition of elaborate dishes, which she rarely ate, but forced Temperance to. She was more patient with her than any other person; with us she was excessively high-tempered, especially with father. She could not bear to catch a glimpse of the sea, nor to hear it; if she heard it echoing in the house, she played on her fife, or jewsharp, or asked Aunt Merce to sing some old song. But she liked the view from the north windows, even when the boughs were bare and the fields barren. When the grass came, she ordered handfuls to be brought her and put in saucers of water. With the coming of the blossoms she began to mend. As for me, I was as much an animal as ever—robust in health—inattentive, and seeking excitement and exhilaration. I went everywhere, to Bible class, to Sunday school, and to every funeral which took place within our precincts. But I never looked upon the dead; perhaps that sight would have marred the slumbrous security which possessed me—the instinctive faith in the durability of my own powers of life.
But a change was approaching. Aunt Merce considered my present state a hopeless one. She was outside the orbit of the family planet, and saw the tendency of its revolutions, perceiving that father and mother were absorbed in their individual affairs. She called mother's attention to my non-improvement, and proposed that I should return to Barmouth with her for a year, and become a pupil in a young lady's school, which had been recently established there, by a graduate of the Nipswich Female Seminary, a school distinguished for its ethics. Mother looked astonished, when she heard this proposal. "What!" she began with vehemence, "shall I subject"—but checked herself when she caught my eye, and continued more calmly: "We will decide soon."
It was decided that I should go, without my being consulted in the matter. I felt resentful against mother, and could not understand till afterward, why she had consented to the plan. It was because she wished me to comprehend the influences of her early life, and learn some of the lessons she had been taught. At first, father "poohed" at the plan, but finally said it was a good place to tame me. When Veronica heard that I was going, she told me that I would be stifled, if I lived at Grandfather Warren's; but added that the plums in his garden were good, and advised me to sit on the yellow stone doorstep, under which the toads lived. She also informed me that she was glad of it, and hoped I would stay forever.
To Barmouth I went, and in May entered Miss Black's genteel school. Miss Black had a conviction that her vocation was teaching. Necessity did not compel it, for she was connected with one of the richest families in Barmouth. At the end of the week my curiosity regarding my new position was quenched, and I dropped into the depths of my first wretchedness. I frantically demanded of father, who had stopped to see me on his way to Milford, to be taken home. He firmly resisted me. Once a month, I should go home and spend a Sunday, if I chose, and he would come to Barmouth every week.
My agitation and despair clouded his face for a moment, then it cleared, and pinching my chin, he said, "Why don't you look like your mother?"
"But she is like her mother," said Aunt Merce.
"Well, Cassy, good-by"; and he gave me a kiss with cruel nonchalance. I knew my year must be stayed out.
My life at Grandfather Warren's was one kind of penance and my life in Miss Black's school another. Both differed from our home-life. My filaments found no nourishment, creeping between the two; but the fibers of youth are strong, and they do not perish. Grandfather Warren's house reminded me of the casket which imprisoned the Genii. I had let loose a Presence I had no power over—the embodiment of its gloom, its sternness, and its silence.
With feeling comes observation; after that, one reasons. I began to observe. Aunt Mercy was not the Aunt Merce I had known at home. She wore a mask before her father. There was constraint between them; each repressed the other. The result of this relation was a formal, petrifying, unyielding system,—a system which, from the fact of its satisfying neither, was kept up the more rigidly; on the one side from a morbid conscience, which reiterated its monitions against the dictates of the natural heart; on the other, out of respect and timidity.
Grandfather Warren was a little, lean, leather-colored man. His head was habitually bent, his eyes cast down; but when he raised them to peer about, their sharpness and clear intelligence gave his face a wonderful vitality. He chafed his small, well-shaped hands continually; his long polished nails clicked together with a shelly noise, like that which beetles make flying against the ceiling. His features were delicate and handsome; gentle blood ran in his veins, as I have said. All classes in Barmouth treated him with invariable courtesy. He was aboriginal in character, not to be moved by antecedent or changed by innovation—a Puritan, without gentleness or tenderness. He scarcely concealed his contempt for the emollients of life, or for those who needed them. He whined over no misfortune, pined for no pleasure. His two sons, who broke loose from him, went into the world, lived a wild, merry life, and died there, he never named. He found his wife dead by his side one morning. He did not go frantic, but selected a text for the funeral sermon; and when he stood by the uncovered grave, took off his hat and thanked his friends for their kindness with a loud, steady voice. Aunt Mercy told me that after her mother's death his habit of chafing his hands commenced; it was all the difference she saw in him, for he never spoke of his trouble or acknowledged his grief by sign or word.
Though he had been frugal and industrious all his life, he had no more property than the old, rambling house we lived in, and a long, narrow garden attached to it, where there were a few plum and quince trees, a row of currant bushes, Aunt Mercy's beds of chamomile and sage, and a few flowers. At the end of the garden was a peaked-roof pigsty; it was cleanly kept, and its inhabitant had his meals served with the regularity which characterized all that Grandfather Warren did. Beautiful pigeons lived in the roof, and were on friendly terms with the occupant on the lower floor. The house was not unpicturesque. It was built on a corner, facing two streets. One front was a story high, with a slanting roof; the other, which was two-storied, sloped like a giraffe's back, down to a wood-shed. Clean cobwebs hung from its rafters, and neat heaps of fragrant chips were piled on the floor.
The house had many rooms, all more or less dark and irregularly shaped. The construction of the chambers was so involved, I could not get out of one without going into another. Some of the ceilings slanted suddenly, and some so gradually that where I could stand erect, and where I must stoop, I never remembered, until my head was unpleasantly grazed, or my eyes filled with flakes of ancient lime-dust. A long chamber in the middle of the house was the shop, always smelling of woolen shreds. At sunset, summer or winter, Aunt Mercy sprinkled water on the unpainted floor, and swept it. While she swept I made my thumb sore, by snipping the bits of cloth that were scattered on the long counter by the window with Grand'ther's shears, or I scrawled figures with gray chalk, where I thought they might catch his eye. When she had finished sweeping she carefully sorted the scraps, and put them into boxes under the counter; then she neatly rolled up the brown-paper curtains, which had been let down to exclude the afternoon sun; shook the old patchwork cushions in the osier-bottomed chairs; watered the rose-geranium and the monthly rose, which flourished wonderfully in that fluffy atmosphere; set every pin and needle in its place, and shut the door, which was opened again at sunrise. Of late years, Grand'ther's occupation had declined. No new customers came. A few, who did not change the fashion of their garb, still patronized him. His income was barely three hundred dollars a year—eked out to this amount by some small pay for offices connected with the church, of which he was a prominent member. From this income he paid his pulpit tithe, gave to the poor, and lived independent and respectable. Mother endeavored in an unobtrusive way to add to his comfort; but he would only accept a few herrings from the Surrey Weir every spring, and a basket of apples every fall. He invariably returned her presents by giving her a share of his plums and quinces.
I had only seen Grand'ther Warren at odd intervals. He rarely came to our house; when he did, he rode down on the top of the Barmouth stagecoach, returning in a few hours. As mother never liked to go to Barmouth, she seldom came to see me.
It was five o'clock on Saturday afternoon when father left me. Aunt Mercy continued her preparations for tea, and when it was ready, went to the foot of the stairs, and called, "Supper." Grand'ther came down immediately followed by two tall, cadaverous women, Ruth and Sally Aikin, tailoresses, who sewed for him spring and fall. Living several miles from Barmouth, they stayed through the week, going home on Saturday night, to return on Monday morning. We stood behind the heavy oak chairs round the table, one of which Grand'ther tipped backward, and said a long grace, not a word of which was heard; for his teeth were gone, and he prayed in his throat. Aunt Mercy's "Moltee" rubbed against me, with her back and tail erect. I pinched the latter, and she gave a wail. Aunt Mercy passed her hand across her mouth, but the eyes of the two women were stony in their sockets. Grand'ther ended his grace with an upward jerk of his head as we seated ourselves. He looked sharply at me, his gray eyebrows rising hair by hair, and shaking a spoon at me said, "You are playing over your mother's capers."
"The caper-bush grows on the shores of the Mediterranean sea, Grand'ther. Miss Black had it for a theme, out of the Penny Magazine; it is full of themes."
"She had better give you a gospel theme."
He was as inarticulate when he quoted Scripture as when he prayed, but I heard something about "thorns"; then he helped us to baked Indian pudding—our invariable Saturday night's repast. Aunt Mercy passed cups of tea; I heard the gulping swallow of it in every throat, the silence was so profound. After the pudding we had dried apple-pie, which we ate from our hands, like bread. Grand'ther ate fast, not troubling himself to ask us if we would have more, but making the necessary motions to that effect by touching the spoon in the pudding or knife on the pie. Ruth and Sally still kept their eyes fixed on some invisible object at a distance. What a disagreeable interest I felt in them! What had they in common with me? What could they enjoy? How unpleasant their dingy, crumbled, needle-pricked fingers were! Sally hiccoughed, and Ruth suffered from internal rumblings. Without waiting for each other when we had finished, we put our chairs against the wall and left the room. I rushed into the garden and trampled the chamomile bed. I had heard that it grew faster for being subjected to that process, and thought of the two women I had just seen while I crushed the spongy plants. Had they been trampled upon? A feeling of pity stung me; I ran into the house, and found them on the point of departure, with little bundles in their hands.
"Aunt Mercy will let me carry your bundles a part of the way for you; shall I?"
"No, indeed," said Ruth, in a mild voice; "there's no heft in them; they are mites to carry."
"Besides," chimed Sally, "you couldn't be trusted with them."
"Are they worth anything?" I inquired, noticing then that both wore better dresses, and that the bundles contained their shop-gowns.
"What made you pinch the moltee's tail?" asked Sally. "If you pinched my cat's tail, I would give you a sound whipping."
"How could she, Sally," said Ruth, "when our cat's tail is cut short off?"
"For all the world," remarked Sally, "that's the only way she can be managed. If things are cut off, and kept out of sight, or never mentioned before her, she may behave very well; not otherwise."
"Good-by, Miss Ruth, and Sally, good-by," modulating my voice to accents of grief, and making a "cheese."
They retreated with a less staid pace than usual, and I sought Aunt Mercy, who was preparing the Sunday's dinner. Twilight drew near, and the Sunday's clouds began to fall on my spirits. Between sundown and nine o'clock was a tedious interval. I was not allowed to go to bed, nor to read a secular book, or to amuse myself with anything. A dim oil-lamp burned on the high shelf of the middle room, our ordinary gathering-place. Aunt Mercy sat there, rocking in a low chair; the doors were open, and I wandered softly about. The smell of the garden herbs came in faintly, and now and then I heard a noise in the water-butt under the spout, the snapping of an old rafter, or something falling behind the wall. The toads crawled from under the plantain leaves, and hopped across the broad stone before the kitchen door, and the irreverent cat, with whom I sympathized, raced like mad in the grass. Growing duller, I went to the cellar door, which was in the front entry, opened it, and stared down in the black gulf, till I saw a gray rock rise at the foot of the stairs which affected my imagination. The foundation of the house was on the spurs of a great granite bed, which rose from the Surrey shores, dipped and cropped out in the center of Barmouth. It came through the ground again in the woodhouse, smooth and round, like the bald head of some old Titan, and in the border of the garden it burst through in narrow ridges full of seams. As I contemplated the rock, and inhaled a moldy atmosphere whose component parts were charcoal and potatoes, I heard the first stroke of the nine o'clock bell, which hung in the belfry of the church across the street. Although it was so near us that we could hear the bellrope whistle in its grooves, and its last hoarse breath in the belfry, there was no reverberation of its clang in the house; the rock under us struck back its voice. It was an old Spanish bell, Aunt Mercy told me. How it reached Barmouth she did not know. I recognized its complaining voice afterward. It told me it could never forget it had been baptized a Catholic; and it pined for the beggar who rang it in the land of fan-leaved chestnuts! It would growl and strangle as much as possible in the hands of Benjamin Beals, the bell-ringer and coffin-maker of Barmouth. Except in the morning when it called me up, I was glad to hear it. It was the signal of time past; the oftener I heard it, the nearer I was to the end of my year. Before it ceased to ring now Aunt Mercy called me in a low voice. I returned to the middle room, and took a seat in one of the oak chairs, whose back of upright rods was my nightly penance. Aunt Mercy took the lamp from the shelf, and placed it upon a small oak stand, where the Bible lay. Grand'ther entered, and sitting by the stand read a chapter. His voice was like opium. Presently my head rolled across the rods, and I felt conscious of slipping down the glassy seat. After he had read the chapter he prayed. If the chapter had been long, the prayer was short; if the chapter had been short, the prayer was long. When he had ceased praying, he left the room without speaking, and betook himself to bed. Aunt Mercy dragged me up the steep stairs, undressed me, and I crept into bed, drugged with a monotony which served but to deepen the sleep of youth and health. When the bell rang the next morning, Aunt Mercy gave me a preparatory shake before she began to dress, and while she walked up and down the room lacing her stays entreated me to get up.
If the word lively could ever be used in reference to our life, it might be in regard to Sunday. The well was so near the church that the house was used as an inn for the accommodation of the church-goers who lived at any distance, and who did not return home between the morning and afternoon services. A regular set took dinner with us, and there were parties who brought lunch, which they ate off their handkerchiefs, on their knees. It was also a watering-place for the Sunday-school scholars, who filed in troops before the pail in the well-room, and drank from the cocoanut dipper. When the weather was warm our parlor was open, as it was to-day. Aunt Mercy had dusted it and ornamented the hearth with bunches of lilacs in a broken pitcher. Twelve yellow chairs, a mahogany stand, a dark rag-carpet, some speckled Pacific sea-shells on the shelf, among which stood a whale's tooth with a drawing of a cranky ship thereon, and an ostrich's egg that hung by a string from the ceiling, were the adornments of the room. When we were dressed for church, we looked out of the window till the bell tolled, and the chaise of the Baxters and Sawyers had driven to the gate; then we went ourselves. Grand'ther had preceded us, and was already in his seat. Aunt Mercy went up to the head of the pew, a little out of breath, from the tightness of her dress, and the ordeal of the Baxter and Sawyer eyes, for the pew, though off a side aisle, was in the neighborhood of the elite of the church; a clove, however, tranquilized her. I fixed my feet on a cricket, and examined the bonnets. The house filled rapidly, and last of all the minister entered. The singers began an anthem, singing in an advanced style of the art, I observed, for they shouted "Armen," while our singers in Surrey bellowed "Amen." When the sermon began I settled myself into a vague speculation concerning my future days of freedom; but my dreams were disturbed by the conduct of the Hickspold boys, who were in a pew in front of us. As in the morning, so in the afternoon and all the Sundays in the year. The variations of the season served but to deepen the uniformity of my heartsickness.
Aunt Mercy had not introduced me to Miss Black as the daughter of Locke Morgeson, the richest man in Surrey, but simply as her niece. Her pride prevented her from making any exhibition of my antecedents, which was wise, considering that I had none. My grandfather, John Morgeson, was a nobody,—merely a "Co."; and though my great-grandfather, Locke Morgeson, was worthy to be called a Somebody, it was not his destiny to make a stir in the world. Many of the families of my Barmouth schoolmates had the fulcrum of a moneyed grandfather. The knowledge of the girls did not extend to that period in the family history when its patriarchs started in the pursuit of Gain. Elmira Sawyer, one of Miss Black's pupils, never heard that her grandfather "Black Peter," as he was called, had made excursions, in an earlier part of his life, on the River Congo, or that he was familiar with the soundings of Loango Bay. As he returned from his voyages, bringing more and more money, he enlarged his estate, and grew more and more respectable, retiring at last from the sea, to become a worthy landsman; he paid taxes to church and state, and even had a silver communion cup, among the pewter service used on the occasion of the Lord's Supper; but he never was brought to the approval of that project of the Congregational Churches,—the colonization of the Blacks to Liberia. Neither was Hersila Allen aware that the pink calico in which I first saw her was remotely owing to West India Rum. Nor did Charlotte Alden, the proudest girl in school, know that her grandfather's, Squire Alden's, stepping-stone to fortune was the loss of the brig Capricorn, which was wrecked in the vicinity of a comfortable port, on her passage out to the whaling-ground. An auger had been added to the meager outfit, and long after the sea had leaked through the hole bored through her bottom, and swallowed her, and the insurance had been paid, the truth leaked out that the captain had received instructions, which had been fulfilled. Whereupon two Insurance Companies went to law with him, and a suit ensued, which ended in their paying costs, in addition to what they had before paid Squire Alden, who winked in a derisive manner at the Board of Directors when he received its check.
There were others who belonged in the category of Decayed Families, as exclusive as they were shabby. There were parvenus, which included myself. When I entered the school it was divided into clans, each with its spites, jealousies, and emulations. Its esprit de corps, however, was developed by my arrival; the girls united against me, and though I perceived, when I compared myself with them, that they were partly right in their opinions, their ridicule stupefied and crushed me. They were trained, intelligent, and adroit; I uncouth, ignorant, and without tact. It was impossible for Miss Black not to be affected by the general feeling in regard to me. Her pupils knew sooner than I that she sympathized with them. She embarrassed me, when I should have despised her. At first her regimen surprised, then filled me with a dumb, clouded anger, which made me appear apathetic.
Miss Emily Black was a young woman, and, I thought, a handsome one. She had crenelated black hair, large black eyes, a Roman nose, and long white teeth. She bit her nails when annoyed, and when her superiority made her perceive the mental darkness of others she often laughed. Being pious, she conducted her school after the theologic pattern of the Nipswich Seminary, at which she had been educated. She opened the school each day with a religious exercise, reading something from the Bible, and commenting upon it, or questioning us regarding our ideas of what she read. She often selected the character of David, and was persistent in her efforts to explain and reconcile the discrepancies in the history of the royal Son of Israel.
"Miss C. Morgeson, we will call you," she said, in our first interview; "the name of Cassandra is too peculiar."
"My Grandfather Locke liked the name; my sister's is Veronica; do you like that better?"
"It is of no consequence in the premises what your sister may be named," she replied, running her eyes over me. "What will she study, Miss Warren?"
Aunt Mercy's recollections of my studies were dim, and her knowledge of my school days was not calculated to prepossess a teacher in my favor; but after a moment's delay, she said: "What you think best."
"Very well," she answered; "I will endeavor to fulfill my Christian duty toward her. We will return to the school-room."
We had held the conversation in the porch, and now Aunt Mercy gave me a nod of encouragement, and bidding Miss Black "Good day," departed, looking behind her as long as possible. I followed my teacher. As she opened the door forty eyes were leveled at me; my hands were in my way suddenly; my feet impeded my progress; how could I pass that wall of eyes? A wisp of my dry, rough hair fell on my neck and tickled it; as I tried to poke it under my comb, I glanced at the faces before me. How spirited and delicate they were! The creatures had their heads dressed as if they were at a party—in curls, or braids and ribbons. An open, blank, noli me tangere expression met my perturbed glance. I stood still, but my head went round. Miss Black mounted her desk, and surveyed the school-room. "Miss Charlotte Alden, the desk next you is vacant; Miss C. Morgeson, the new pupil, may take it."
Miss Charlotte answered, "Yes mim," and ostentatiously swept away an accumulation of pencils, sponges, papers, and books, to make room for me. I took the seat, previously stumbling against her, whereat all the girls, whose regards were fixed upon me, smiled. That was my initiation.
The first day I was left to myself, to make studies. The school-room was in the vestry of the church, a building near grand'ther's house. Each girl had a desk before her. Miss Black occupied a high stool in a square box, where she heard single recitations, or lectured a pupil. The vestry yard, where the girls romped, and exercised with skipping ropes, a swing, and a set of tilting-boards, commanded a view of grand'ther's premises; his street windows were exposed to the fire of their eyes and tongues.
After I went home I examined myself in the glass, and drew an unfavorable conclusion from the inspection. My hair was parted zigzag; one shoulder was higher than the other; my dress came up to my chin, and slipped down to my shoulder-blades. I was all waist; no hips were developed my hands were red, and my nails chipped. I opened the trunk where my wardrobe was packed; what belonged to me was comfortable, in reference to weather and the wash, but not pretty. I found a molasses-colored silk, called Turk satin—one of mother's old dresses, made over for me, or an invidious selection of hers from the purchases of father, who sometimes made a mistake in taste, owing to the misrepresentations of shopkeepers and milliners. While thus engaged Aunt Mercy came for me, and began to scold when she saw that I had tumbled my clothes out of the trunk.
"Aunt Mercy, these things are horrid, all of them. Look at this shawl," and I unrolled a square silk fabric, the color of a sick orange. "Where did this come from?"
"Saints upon earth!" she exclaimed, "your father bought it at the best store in New York. It was costly."
"Now tell me, why do the pantalettes of those girls look so graceful? They do not twirl round the ankle like a rope, as mine do."
"I can't say," she answered, with a sigh. "But you ought to wear long dresses; now yours are tucked, and could be let down."