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The End of the World: A Love Story By Edward Eggleston Characters: 7454

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

August was very sick at the castle. This wag the first news of his return that reached Julia through Jonas and Cynthy Ann.

But in my interest in Jonas and Cynthy Ann, of whom I think a great deal, I forgot to say that long before the events mentioned in the last chapter, Humphreys had been suddenly called away from his peaceful retreat in the hill country of Clark township. In fact, the "important business," or "the illness of a friend," whichever it was, occurred the very next day after Norman Anderson's father returned from Louisville, and reported that he had secured for his son an "outside situation," that is to say, a place as a collector.

When he had gone, Jonas remarked to Cynthy Ann, "Where the carcass is, there the turkey-buzzards is gethered. That shinin' example of early piety never plays but one game. That is, fox-and-geese. He's gone after a green goslin' now, and he'll find him when he's fattest."

But the gentle singing-master had come back from his excursion, and was taking a profound interest in the coming end of the world. Jonas observed that it "seemed like as ef he hed charge of the whole performance, and meant to shet up the sky like a blue cotton umbrell. He's got a single eye, and it's the same ole game. Fox and geese always, and he's the fox."

Humphreys still lived at Samuel Anderson's, still devoted himself to pleasing Mrs. Abigail, still bowed regretfully to Julia, and spoke caressingly to Betsey Malcolm at every opportunity.

But August was sick at the castle. He was very sick. Every morning Dr. Dibrell, a "calomel-doctor"--not a steam-doctor--rode by the house on his way to Andrew's, and every morning Mrs. Anderson wondered afresh who was sick down that way. But the doctor staid so long that Mrs. Abigail made up her mind it must be somebody four or five miles away, and so dismissed the matter from her mind. For August's return had been kept secret.

But Julia noticed, in her heart of hearts, and with ever-increasing affliction, that the doctor staid longer each day than on the day before, and she thought she noticed also an increasing anxiety on his face as he rode home again. Her desire to know the real truth, and to see August, to do for him, to give her life for him, were wearing her away. It is hard to see a friend go from you when you have done everything. But to have a friend die within your reach, while you are yet unable to help him, is the saddest of all. All this anxiety Julia suffered without even the blessed privilege of showing it. The pent-up fire consumed her, and she was at times almost distract. Every morning she managed to be on the upper porch when the doctor went by, and from the same watch-tower she studied his face when he went back.

Then came a morning when there were two doctors. A physician from the county-seat village went by, in company with Dr. Dibrell. So there must be a consultation at the castle. Julia knew then that the worst had to be looked in the face. And she longed to get away from under the searching black eyes of her mother and utter the long-pent cry of anguish. Another day of such unuttered pain would drive her clean mad.

That evening Jonas came over and sought an interview with Cynthy Ann. He had not been to see her since his unsuccessful courtship. Julia felt that he was the bearer of a message. But Mrs. Anderson was in one of her most exacting humors, and it gave her not a little pleasure to keep Cynthy Ann, on one pretext and another, all the evening at her side. Had Cynthy Ann been less submissive and scrupulous, she might have broken away from this restraint, but in truth she was censuring herself for having any backsliding, rebellious wish to talk with Jonas after

she had imagined the idol cast out of her heart entirely. Her conscience was a tank-master not less grievous than Mrs. Anderson, and, between the two, Jonas had to go away without leaving his message. And Julia had to keep her breaking heart in suspense a while longer.

Why did she not elope long ago and get rid of her mother? Because she was Julia, and being Julia, conscientious, true, and filial in spite of her unhappy life, her own character built a wall against such a disobedience. Nearly all limitations are inside. You could do almost anything if you could give yourself up to it. To go in the teeth of one's family is the one thing that a person of Julia's character and habits finds next to impossible. A beneficent limitation of nature; for the cases in which the judgment of a girl of eighteen is better than that of her parents are very few. Besides, the inevitable "heart-disease" was a specter that guarded the gates of Julia's prison. Night after night she sat looking out over the hills sleeping in hazy darkness, toward the hollow in which stood the castle; night after night she had half-formed the purpose of visiting August, and then the life-long habit of obedience and a certain sense of delicacy held her back. But on this night, after the consultation, she felt that she would see him if her seeing him brought down the heavens.

It was a very dark night. She sat waiting for hours--very long hours they seemed to her--and then, at midnight, she began to get ready to start.

Only those who have taken such a step can understand the pain of deciding, the agony of misgivings in the execution, the trembling that Julia felt when she turned the brass knob on the front door and lifted the latch--lifted the latch slowly and cautiously, for it was near the door of her mother's room--and then crept out like a guilty thing into the dark dampness of the night, groping her way to the gate, and stumbling along down the road. It had been raining, and there was not one star-twinkle in the sky; the only light was that of glow-worms illuminating here and there two or three blades of grass by feeble shining. Now and then a fire-fly made a spot of light in the blackness, only to leave a deeper spot of blackness when he shut off his intermittent ray. And when at last Julia found herself at the place where the path entered the woods, the blackness ahead seemed still more frightful. She had to grope, recognizing every deviation from the well-beaten path by the rustle of the dead leaves which lay, even in summer, half a foot deep upon the ground. The "fox-fire," rotting logs glowing with a faint luminosity, startled her several times, and the hooting-owl's shuddering bass--hoo! hoo! hoo-oo-ah-h! (like the awful keys of the organ which "touch the spinal cord of the universe")--sent all her blood to her heart. Under ordinary circumstances, she surely would not have started at the rustling made by the timid hare in the thicket near by. There was no reason why she should shiver so when a misstep caused her to scratch her face with the thorny twigs of a wild plum-tree. But the effort necessary to the undertaking and the agony of the long waiting had exhausted her nervous force, and she had none left for fortitude. So that when she arrived at Andrew's fence and felt her way along to the gate, and heard the hoarse, thunderous baying of his great St. Bernard dog, she was ready to faint. But a true instinct makes such a dog gallant. It is a vile cur that will harm a lady. Julia walked trembling up to the front-door of the castle, growled at by the huge black beast, and when the Philosopher admitted her, some time after she had knocked, she sank down fainting into a chair.

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