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   Chapter 15 THE WEB BROKEN.

The End of the World: A Love Story By Edward Eggleston Characters: 10037

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"Poverty," says Béranger, "is always superstitious." So indeed is human extremity of any sort. Julia's healthy constitution had resisted the threatened illness, the feverishness had gone with the headache. She felt now only one thing: she must have a friend. But the hard piousness of Cynthy Ann's face had never attracted her sympathy. It had always seemed to her that Cynthy disapproved of her affection quite as much as her mother did. Cynthy's face had indeed a chronic air of disapproval. A nervous young minister said that he never had any "liberty" when sister Cynthy Ann was in his congregation. She seemed averse to all he said.

But now Julia felt that there was just one chance of getting advice and help. Had she not in her dream seen Cynthy Ann with a broom? She would ask help from Cynthy Ann. There must be a heart under her rind.

But to get to her. Her mother's affectionate vigilance never left her alone with Cynthy. Perhaps it was this very precaution that had suggested Cynthy Ann to her as a possible ally. She must contrive to have a talk with her somehow. But how? There was one way. Black-eyed people do not delay. Bight or wrong, Julia acted with sharp decision. Before she had any very definite view of her plan, she had arisen and slipped on a calico dress. But there was one obstacle. Mr. Humphreys kept late hours, and he might be on the front-porch. She might meet him in the hall, and this seemed worse to her than would the chance of meeting a tribe of Indians. She listened and looked out of her window; but she could not be sure; she would run the risk. With silent feet and loud-beating heart she went down the hall to the back upper porch, for in that day porches were built at the back and front of houses, above and below. Once on the back-porch she turned to the right and stood by Cynthy Ann's door. But a new fear took possession of her. If Cynthy Ann should be frightened and scream!

AT CYNTHY'S DOOR.

"Cynthy! Cynthy Ann!" she said, standing by the bed in the little bare room which Cynthy Ann had occupied, for five years, but into which she had made no endeavor to bring one ray of sentiment or one trace of beauty.

"Cynthy! Cynthy Ann!"

Had Cynthy Ann slept anywhere but in the L of the house, her shriek--what woman could have helped shrieking a little when startled?--her shriek must have alarmed the family. But it did not. "Why, child! what are you doing here? You are out of your head, and you must go back to your room at once." And Cynthy had arisen and was already tugging at Julia's arm.

"I a'n't out of my head, Cynthy Ann, and I won't go back to my room--not until I have had a talk with you."

"What is the matter, Jule?" said Cynthy, sitting on the bed and preparing to begin again her old fight between duty and inclination. Cynthy always expected temptation. She had often said in class-meeting that temptations abounded on every hand, and as soon as Julia told her she had a communication to make, Cynthy Ann was sure that she would find in it some temptation of the devil to do something she "hadn't orter do," according to the Bible or the Discipline, strictly construed. And Cynthy was a "strict constructionist."

Julia did not find it so easy to say anything now that she had announced herself as determined to have a conversation and now that her auditor was waiting. It is the worst beginning in the world for a conversation, saying that you intend to converse. When an Indian has announced his intention of having a "big talk," he immediately lights his pipe and relapses into silence until the big talk shall break out accidentally and naturally. But Julia, having neither the pipe nor the Indian's stolidity, found herself under the necessity of beginning abruptly. Every minute of delay made her position worse. For every minute increased her doubt of Cynthy Ann's sympathy.

"O Cynthy Ann! I'm so miserable!"

"Yes, I told your ma this morning that you was looking mis'able, and that you had orter have sassafras to purify the blood, but your ma is so took up with steam-docterin' that she don't believe in nothin' but corn-sweats and such like."

"Oh! but, Cynthy, it a'n't that. I'm miserable in my mind. I wish I knew what to do."

"I thought you'd made up your mind. Your ma told me you was engaged to Mr. Humphreys."

Julia was appalled. How fast the spider spins his web!

"I a'n't engaged to him, and I hate him. He got me to say yes when I was crazy, and I believe he brought about the things that make me feel so nigh crazy. Do you think he's a good man, Cynthy Ann?"

"Well, no, though I don't want to set in no jedgment on nobody; but I don't see as how as he kin be good and wear all of them costly apparels that's so forbid in the Bible, to say nothing of the Discipline. The Bible says you must know a tree by its fruits, and I 'low his'n is mostly watch-seals. I think a good sound conversion at the mourners' bench would make him strip off some of them things, and put them into the mission

ary collection. Though maybe he a'n't so bad arter all, fer Jonas says that liker'n not the things a'n't gold, but pewter washed over. But I'm afeard he's wor'ly-minded. But I don't want to be too hard on a feller-creatur'."

CYNTHY ANN HAD OFTEN SAID IN CLASS-MEETING

THAT TEMPTATIONS ABOUNDED ON EVERY HAND.

"Cynthy, I drempt just now I was a fly and he was a spider, and that he had me all wrapped up in his web, and that just then you came along with a broom."

"That must be a sign," said Cynthy Ann. "It's good you didn't dream after daylight. Then 'twould a come true. But what about him? I thought you loved Gus Wehle, and though I'm afeard you're makin' a idol out o' him, and though I'm afeard he's a onbeliever, and I don't noways like marryin' with onbelievers, yet I did want to help you, and I brought a note from him wunst and put it under the head of your bed. I was afeard then I was doin' what Timothy forbids, when he says not to be pertakers in other folks's sins, but, you see, how could I help doin' it, when you was lookin' so woebegone like, and Jonas, he axed me to do it. It's awful hard to say you won't to Jonas, you know. So I put the letter there, and I don't doubt your ma mistrusted it, and got a holt on it."

"Did he write to me? A'n't he going with that Betsey Malcolm?"

"Can't be, I 'low. On'y this evenin' Jonas said to me, says he, when I tole him you was engaged to Mr. Humphreys, says he, in his way, 'The hawk's lit, has he? That'll be the death of two,' says he, 'fer she'll die on it, an' so'll poor Gus,' says he. And then he went on to tell as how as Gus is all ready to leave, and had axed him to tell him of any news; but he said he wouldn't tell him that. He'd leave him some hope. Fer he says Gus was mighty nigh distracted to-day, that is yisterday, fer its most mornin' I 'low."

Now this speech did Julia a world of good. It showed her that Gus was not faithless, that she might count on Cynthy, and that Jonas was her friend, and that he did not like Humphreys. Jonas called him a hawk. That agreed with her dream. He was a hawk and a spider.

"But, Cynthy Ann, I got a letter night before last; ma threw it in the window. In it Gus said he released me. I hadn't asked any release. What did he mean?"

"Honey, I wish I could help you. It's that hawk, as Jonas calls him, that's at the bottom of all this trouble. I don't believe but what he's told some lies or 'nother. I don't believe but what he's a bad man. I allers said I didn't 'low no good could come of a man that puts on costly apparel and wears straps. I'm afeard you're making a idol of Gus Wehle. Don't do it. Ef you do, God'll take him. Misses Pearsons made a idol of her baby, a kissin' it and huggin' it every minute, and I said, says I, Misses Pearsons, you hadn't better make a idol of a perishin' creature. And sure enough, God tuck it. He's jealous of our idols. But I can't help helpin' you. You're a onbeliever yet yourself, and I 'low taint no sin fer you to marry Gus. It's yokin' like with like. I wish you was both Christians. I'll speak to Jonas. I don't know what I ought to do, but I'll speak to Jonas. He's mighty peart about sech things, is Jonas, and got as good a heart as you ever see. And--"

"Cynth-ee A-ann!" It was the energetic voice of Mrs. Anderson rousing the house betimes. For the first time Julia and Cynthy Ann noticed the early light creeping in at the window. They sat still, paralyzed.

"Cynth-ee!" The voice was now at the top of the stairs, for Mrs. Anderson always carried the war into Africa if Cynthy did not wake at once.

"Answer quick, Cynthy Ann, or she'll be in here!" said Julia, sliding behind the bed.

"Ma'am!" said Cynthy Ann, starting toward the door, where she met Mrs. Abigail. "I'm up," said Cynthy.

"Well, what makes you so long a-answerin' then? You make me climb the steps, and you know I may drop down dead of heart-disease any day. I'll go and wake Jule."

"Better let her lay awhile," said Cynthy, reproaching herself instantly for the deception.

Mrs. Anderson hesitated at the top of the stairs.

"Jul-yee!" she called. Poor Jule shook from head to foot. "I guess I'll let her lay awhile; but I'm afraid I've already spoiled the child by indulgence," said the mother, descending the stairs. She relented only because she believed Julia was conquered.

"I declare, child, it's a shame I should be helping you to disobey your mother. I'm afeard the Lord'll bring some jedgment on us yet." For Cynthy Ann had tied her conscience to her rather infirm logic. Better to have married it to her generous heart. But before she had finished the half-penitent lamentation, Jule was flying with swift and silent feet down the hall. Arrived in her own room, she was so much relieved as to be almost happy; and she was none too soon, for her industrious mother had quickly repented her criminal leniency, and was again climbing the stairs at the imminent risk of her precarious life, and calling "Jul-yee!"

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