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   Chapter 1 No.1

Jupiter Lights By Constance Fenimore Woolson Characters: 20580

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


"IT'S extraordinary navigation, certainly," said Miss Bruce.

"Oh, mem, if you please, isn't it better than the hother?" answered Meadows, respectfully.

Meadows was Miss Bruce's maid; one could have told that she was English (even if one had not heard her speak) from her fresh, rosy complexion, her smooth hair put plainly and primly back from her forehead, her stiff-backed figure with its elbows out, and her large, thick-soled boots.

"I don't mind being 'umped-up on the bank, miss, if you please," she went on in her sweet voice, dropping her h's (and adding them, too) in unexpected places. "It's those great waves we 'ad last week, mem, if you please, that seemed so horful."

"I am sorry you will have to see them again so soon," Miss Bruce answered, kindly.

For Meadows was to return to England immediately; she was accompanying the American lady for the journey only. Miss Bruce was not rich; in her own land she did not intend to give herself the luxury of a lady's-maid-an indulgence more unusual in the great Republic (at least the northern half of it) than fine clothes, finer houses, or the finest diamonds.

The little steamboat which carried these travellers was aground in a green plain, a grassy, reedy prairie, which extended unbroken as far as the eye could reach on all sides save one; here there was, at some distance, a bank or shore of dark land, dark in comparison with the green. Beyond this shore-and one could easily see over it-stretched the sea, "the real sea," as Miss Bruce called it, "and not all this grass!" It was this remark of hers which had drawn out the protest of poor Meadows.

Miss Bruce had crossed from England to New York; she had then journeyed southward, also by sea, to Savannah, and from that leafy town, as fair as is its name, she had continued her voyage in this little boat, the Altamaha, by what was called the Inland Route, a queer, amusing passage, winding in and out among the sounds and bays, the lagoons and marsh channels of the coast, the ocean almost always in sight on the left side, visible over the low islands which constantly succeeded each other, and which formed the barrier that kept out the "real sea," that ravaging, ramping, rolling, disturbing surface upon whose terrific inequalities the Inland Route relied for its own patronage. There were no inequalities here, certainly, unless one counted as such the sensation which Meadows had described as "being 'umped up." The channel was very narrow, and as it wound with apparent aimlessness hither and thither in the salt-marsh, it made every now and then such a short turn, doubling upon itself, that the steamer, small as she was, could only pass it by running ashore, and then allowing her bows to be hauled round ignominiously by the crew in a row-boat; while thus ashore, one side half out of water, her passengers, sitting on that side, had the sensation which the English girl had pictured. At present the Altamaha had not run herself aground purposely, but by accident; the crew did not descend to the row-boat this time, but, coming up on deck, armed with long poles, whose ends they inserted in the near bank with an air of being accustomed to it, they shoved the little craft into deep water with a series of pushes which kept time to their chorus of

"Ger-long! Ger-long! Mo-ses!"

"I don't see how we are to get on here at all at night," said Miss Bruce.

But before night the marsh ended as suddenly as it had begun, and the Altamaha was gliding onward again between banks equally low and near, but made of solid earth, not reeds. The sun sank in the west, the gorgeous colors of the American sunset flamed in the sky. The returning American welcomed them. She was not happy; she was as far as possible from being what is called amiable; but for the moment she admired, forgetting her own griefs. Then the after-glow faded; Meadows brought a shawl from their tiny cabin and folded it round her mistress; it was the 23d of December, and the evening air was cool, but not cold. By-and-by in the dusky twilight a gleam shone out ahead, like an immense star.

"What is that, captain?" Miss Bruce asked, as this official happened to pass near her chair.

"That? Jupiter Light."

"Then we must be near Warwick?" She gave to the name its English pronunciation, the only one she knew.

The captain declined to say whether they were near it or not, as it was a place he had never heard of. "The next landing is War-wick," he announced, impersonally, pronouncing the name according to its spelling.

"So near?" said Miss Bruce, rising.

"No hurry. Ain't there yet."

And so it proved. A moon rose, and with it a mist. The Altamaha, ceasing her nosing progress through the little channels, turned sharply eastward, and seemed suddenly to have entered the ocean, for great waves began to toss her and knock her about with more and more violence, until at last the only steady thing in sight was the blazing star of Jupiter Light, which still shone calmly ahead. After half an hour of this rough progress a low beach presented itself through the mist, and the blazing star disappeared, its place being taken by a spectral tower, tall and white, which stood alone at the end of a long curving tongue of sand. The steamer, with due caution, drew near a lonely little pier.

"It isn't much of a place, then?" said Miss Bruce, as the captain, in the exigencies of making a safe landing with his cockle-shell, again paused for a moment near her chair.

"Place? Post-office and Romney; that's all. Slacken off that line there-you hear? Slacken, I tell you!"

A moment later the traveller, having made her way with difficulty through the little boat's dark, wet, hissing lower regions, emerged, and crossed a plank to the somewhat safer footing beyond.

"Is this Cicely?" she asked, as a small figure came to meet her.

"Yes, I am Cicely."

Eve Bruce extended her hand. But Cicely put up her face for a warmer greeting.

"Are those your trunks? Oh, you have brought some one with you?"

"It's only Meadows, my maid; she goes back to-morrow when the boat returns."

"There's room for her, if you mean that; the house is large enough for anything. I was only wondering what our people would make of her; they have never seen a white servant in their lives."

"You didn't bring-the baby?" asked Eve Bruce.

"Jack? Oh, no; Jack's asleep."

Eve quivered at the name.

"Are you cold?" said Cicely. "We'll start as soon as that hissing boat gets off. I hope you don't mind riding behind a mule? Oh, look!" and she seized her companion's arm. "Uncle Abram is shocked that your maid-what did you call her-Fields?-should be carrying anything-a white lady, as he supposes; and he is trying to take the bag away from her. She's evidently frightened; Pomp and Plato haven't as many clothes on as they might have, I acknowledge. Oh, do look!"

Eve, still quivering, glanced mechanically in the direction indicated.

A short negro, an old man with abnormally long arms, was endeavoring to take from Meadows's grasp a small hand-bag which she was carrying. Again and again he tried, and the girl repulsed him. Two more negroes approached, and lifted one of the trunks which she was guarding. She followed the trunk; and now Uncle Abram, coming round on the other side, tried to get possession of a larger bag which she held in her left hand. She wrenched it from him several times desperately, and then, as he still persisted, she used it as a missile over the side of his head, and began to shriek and run.

The noise of the hissing steam prevented Miss Bruce from calling to her distracted handmaid.

Cicely laughed and laughed. "I didn't expect anything half so funny," she said.

The little Altamaha now backed out from the pier into rough water again, and the hissing ceased. Besides the dark heaving waves, the tall light-house, and the beach, there was now nothing to be seen but a row of white sand-hills which blocked the view towards the north.

"This is the sea-shore, isn't it?" said Eve. As she asked her question her voice had in her own ears a horribly false sound; she was speaking merely for the sake of saying something; Cicely's "I didn't expect anything half so funny" had hurt her like the edge of a knife.

"Oh, no; this isn't the sea; this is the Sound," Cicely answered. "The sea is round on the other side. You will hear it often enough at Romney; it booms dreadfully after a storm."

Plato and Pomp now emerged from the mist, each leading a mule; one of these animals was attached to a wagon which had two seats, and the other to a rough cart.

"Will you get in, please?" said Cicely, going towards the wagon. "I reckon your maid had better come with us."

"Meadows! Meadows!" called Miss Bruce. "Never mind the luggage; it is quite safe. You are to come with us in this wagon."

"Yes, mem," responded the English voice. The girl had ceased running; but she still stood guard over the trunks. "And shall I bring the dressing-bags with me, mem?" she added.

"She is bringing them whether or no," said her mistress; "I knew she would. She likes to pretend that one contains a gold-mounted dressing-case and the other a jewel-casket; she is accustomed to such things, and considers them the proper appendages of a lady." Her voice still had to herself a forced sound. But Cicely noticed nothing.

The two ladies climbed into the wagon and placed themselves on the back seat; Meadows, still hugging the supposed treasures, mounted gingerly to her place beside Uncle Abram, disarmed a little by his low brows; and then, after some persuasion, the mule was induced to start, the cart with the luggage following behind, Plato and Pomp beside it. The road was deeply covered with sand; both mules could do no more than walk. At last, after passing the barrier of sand-hills, they came to firmer ground; bushes began to appear, and then low trees. The trees all slanted westward.

"The wind," Cicely explained.

The drive lasted half an hour. "Meadows, put down those bags," said Eve; "they are too heavy for you. But not too near Mrs. Bruce-to trouble her."

The wagon was passing between two high gate-posts (there was no gate); it entered an avenue bordered with trees whose

boughs met overhead, shutting out the moonlight. But Uncle Abram knew the way; and so did the mule, who conducted his wagon over the remaining space, and up to the porch of a large low house, in a sudden wild gallop. "Hi-yi!" said Uncle Abram, warningly; "All ri', den, ef yer wanter," he added, rattling the reins. "Lippity-clip!"

The visitor's eyes perceived lights, an open door, and two figures waiting within. The wagon stopped, and Meadows dismounted from her perch. But Cicely, before following her, put her face close to Eve's, and whispered: "I'd better tell you now, so that you won't call me that again-before the others: I'm not Mrs. Bruce any longer; my name is Morrison. I married Ferdinand Morrison six months ago." After this stupefying declaration she pressed Eve's hand, and, jumping lightly to the ground, called out, "Bring the steps, some of you."

There was a sudden dispersion of the group of negroes near the porch; a horse-block with a flight of steps attached was brought, and placed in position for the visitor's descent. It appeared that she needed this assistance, for she had remained motionless in the wagon, making no effort to follow Cicely's example. Now she descended, jealously aided by Meadows, who had retained but one clear idea amid all these bewilderments of night-drives with half-dressed blacks and mad mules through a desert of sand, and that was to do all in her power for the unfortunate lady whom for the moment she was serving; for what must her sufferings be-to come from Hayling Hall to this!

"Here is Eve," Cicely said, leading the visitor up the steps.

The white-haired man and the tall woman who had been waiting within, came forward.

"Grandpa," said Cicely, by way of introduction. "And Aunt Sabrina."

"My father, Judge Abercrombie," said the tall lady, correctingly. Then she put her arms round Eve and kissed her. "You are very welcome, my dear. But how cold your hands are, even through your gloves! Dilsey, make a fire."

"I am not cold," Eve answered.

But she looked so ill that the judge hastily offered her his arm.

She did not accept it. "It is nothing," she said. Anger now came to her aid, Cicely's announcement had stunned her. "I am perfectly well," she went on, in a clear voice. "It has been a long voyage, and that, you know, is tiresome. But now that it is over, I shall soon be myself again, and able to continue my journey."

"Continue! Are you going any further, then?" inquired Miss Abercrombie, mildly. "I had hoped-we have all hoped-that you would spend a long time with us." Miss Abercrombie had a soft voice with melancholy cadences; her tones had no rising inflections; all her sentences died gently away.

"You are very kind. It will be impossible," Miss Bruce responded, briefly.

While speaking these words they had passed down the hall and entered a large room on the right. A negro woman on her knees was hastily lighting a fire on the hearth, and, in another moment, the brilliant blaze, leaping up, made a great cheer. Cicely had disappeared. Judge Abercrombie, discomfited by the visitor's manner, rolled forward an arm-chair vaguely, and then stood rubbing his hands by the fire, while his daughter began to untie Miss Bruce's bonnet strings.

"Thanks; I will not take it off now. Later, when I go to my room." And the visitor moved away from the friendly fingers. Miss Sabrina was very near-sighted. She drew her eye-glasses furtively from her pocket, and, turning her back for an instant, put them on; she wished to have a clearer view of John Bruce's sister. She saw before her a woman of thirty (as she judged her to be; in reality Eve was twenty-eight), tall, broad-shouldered, slender, with golden hair and a very white face. The eyes were long and rather narrow; they were dark blue in color, and they were not pleasant eyes-so Miss Sabrina thought; their expression was both angry and cold. The cheeks were thin, the outline of the features bold. The mouth was distinctly ugly, the full lips prominent, the expression sullen. At this moment Cicely entered, carrying a little child, a boy of two years, attired only in his little white night-gown; his blue eyes were brilliant with excitement, his curls, rumpled by sleep, was flattened down on one side of his head and much fluffed up on the other. The young mother came running across the slippery floor, and put him into Miss Bruce's arms. "There he is," she said-"there's your little Jack. He knows you; I have talked to him about you scores of times."

The child, half afraid, put up a dimpled hand and stroked Eve's cheek. "Auntie?" he lisped, inquiringly. Then, after inspecting her carefully, still keeping up the gentle little stroke, he announced with decision, "Ess; Aunty Eve!"

Eve drew him close, and hid her face on his bright hair. Then she rose hurriedly, holding him in her arms, and, with an involuntary motion, moved away from Cicely, looking about the room as if in search of another place, and finally taking refuge beside Miss Sabrina, drawing a low chair towards her with the same unseeing action and sinking into it, the baby held to her breast.

Tall Miss Sabrina seemed to understand; she put one arm round their guest. Cicely, thus deserted, laughed. Then she went to her grandfather, put her arm in his, and they left the room together. When the door had closed after them, Eve raised her eyes. "He is the image of Jack!" she said.

"Yes, I know it," answered Miss Sabrina. "And I knew how it would affect you, my dear. But I think it is a comfort that he does look like him; don't you? And now you must not talk any more about going away, but stay here with us and love him."

"Stay!" said Eve. She rose, and made a motion as if she were going to give the child to her companion. But little Jack put up his hand again, and stroked her cheek; he was crooning meanwhile to himself composedly a little song of his own invention; it was evident that he would never be afraid of her again. Eve kissed him. "Do you think she would give him to me?" she asked, hungrily. "She cannot care for him-not as I do."

Miss Sabrina drew herself up (in the excess of her sympathy, as well as near-sightedness, she had been leaning so far forward that her flat breast had rested almost on her knees). "Give up her child-her own child? My niece? I think not; I certainly think not." She took off her glasses and put them in her pocket decisively.

"Then I shall take him from her. And you must help me. What will she care in a month from now-a year? She has already forgotten his father."

Miss Sabrina was still angry. But she herself had not liked her niece's second marriage. "The simplest way would be to stay here for the present," she said, temporizing.

"Stay here? Now? How can you ask it?"

Tears rose in the elder lady's eyes; she began to wipe them away clandestinely one by one with her long taper finger. "It's a desolate place now, I know; but it's very peaceful. The garden is pretty. And we hoped that you wouldn't mind. We even hoped that you would like it a little-the child being here. We would do all we could. Of course I know it isn't much."

These murmured words in the melancholy voice seemed to rouse in Eve Bruce an even more stormy passion than before. She went to Miss Sabrina and took hold of her shoulder. "Do you think I can stand seeing him," she demanded-"here-in Jack's place? If I could, I would go to-night." Turning away, she broke into tearless sobs. "Oh Jack-Jack-"

Light dawned at last in Sabrina Abercrombie's mind. "You mean Mr. Morrison?" she said, hurriedly rising. "You didn't know, then? Cicely didn't tell you?"

"She told me that she had married again; nothing more. Six months ago. She let me come here-you let me come here-without knowing it."

"Oh, I thought you knew it," said Miss Sabrina, in distress. "I did not like the marriage myself, Miss Bruce; I assure you I did not. I was very fond of John, and it seemed too sudden. If she had only waited the year-and two years would have been so much more appropriate. I go there very often-to John's grave-indeed I do; it is as dear to me as the graves of my own family, and I keep the grass cut very carefully; I will show you. You remember when I wrote you that second time? I feared it then, though I was not sure, and I tried to prepare you a little by saying that the baby was now your chief interest, naturally. And he wasn't going to be married," she added, becoming suddenly incoherent, and taking hold of her throat with little rubs of her thumb and forefinger as Eve's angry eyes met hers; "at least, not that we knew. I did not say more, because I was not sure, Miss Bruce. But after it had really happened, I supposed of course that Cicely wrote to you."

"She!"

"But Mr. Morrison is not here; he is not here, and never has been. She met him in Savannah, and married him there; it was at a cousin's. But she only stayed with him for a few months, and we fear that it is not a very happy marriage. He is in South America at present, and you know how far away that is. I haven't the least idea when he is coming back."

The door at the end of the room opened. Cicely's little figure appeared on the threshold. Miss Sabrina, who seemed to know who it was by intuition, as she could see nothing at that distance, immediately began to whisper. "Of course we don't know that it is an unhappy marriage; but as she came back to us so soon, it struck us so-it made that impression; wouldn't it have made the same upon you? She must have suffered extremely, and so we ought to be doubly kind to her." And she laid her hand with a warning pressure on Eve's arm.

"I am not likely to be unkind as long as there is the slightest hope of getting this child away from her," answered Eve. "For she is the mother, isn't she? She couldn't very well have palmed off some other baby on you, for Jack himself was here then, I know. Oh, you needn't be afraid, I shall defer to her, yield to her, grovel to her!" She bent her head and kissed the baby's curls. But her tone was so bitter that poor Miss Sabrina shrank away.

Cicely had called to them, "Supper is ready." She remained where she was at the end of the long room, holding the door open with her hand.

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