MoboReader> Literature > Jupiter Lights

   Chapter 3 No.3

Jupiter Lights By Constance Fenimore Woolson Characters: 13847

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


WHILE the meal, which Cicely had announced as supper, was going on in the dining-room, Meadows was occupying herself in her accustomed evening effort to bring her mistress's abiding-place for the night, wherever it might happen to be, into as close a resemblance to an English bedroom as was, under the circumstances, possible. The resemblance had not been striking, so far, with all her toil, there having been something fundamentally un-English both in the cabins of the Ville de Havre and in the glittering salons which served as bedrooms in the Hotel of the Universe in New York. The Savannah boat had been no better, nor the shelf with a roof over it of the little Altamaha; on the steamer of the Inland Route her struggle had been with an apartment seven feet long; here at Romney it was with one which had six times that amount of perspective.

A fire, freshly lighted, flared on the hearth, the spicy odor of its light wood still filling the air. And there was air enough to fill, for not one of the doors nor of the row of white windows which opened to the floor fitted tightly in its casing; there were wide cracks everywhere, and Meadows furthermore discovered, to her horror, that the windows had sashes which came only part of the way down, the lower half being closed by wooden shutters only. She barred these apertures as well as she could (some of the bars were gone), and then tried to draw the curtains; but these muslin protections, when they reached the strong current of air which came through the central crack of the shutters, were blown out towards the middle of the room like so many long white ghosts. Meadows surveyed them with a sigh; with a sigh she arranged the contents of Miss Bruce's dressing-bag on the outlandish bare toilet-table; she placed the slippers by the fire and drew forward the easiest chair. But when all was done the room still remained uncomfortably large, and uncomfortably empty. Outside, the wind whistled, the near sea gave out a booming sound; within, the flame of the candle flared now here, now there, in the counter-draughts that swept the room.

"It certainly is the farawayest place!" murmured the English girl.

There came a sound at the door; not a knock, but a rub across the panels. This too was alarming. Meadows kept the door well bolted, and called fearfully, "Who's there?"

"It's ony me-Powlyne," answered a shrill voice. "I's come wid de wines; Miss S'breeny, she sont me."

The tones were unmistakably feminine; Meadows drew back the bolt and peeped out. A negro girl of twelve stood there, bearing a tray which held a decanter and wineglass; her wool was braided in little tails, which stood out like short quills; her one garment was a calico dress, whose abbreviated skirt left her bare legs visible from the knees down-ward.

"Do you want to come in?" said Meadows. "I can take it." And she stretched out her hand for the tray.

"Miss S'breeny she done tole me to put 'em myse'f on de little table close ter der bed," answered Powlyne, craning her neck to look into the room.

Meadows opened the door a little wider, and Powlyne performed her office. Seeing that she was very small and slight, the English girl recovered courage.

"I suppose you live here?" she suggested.

"Yass, 'm."

"And when there isn't any one else 'andy, they send you?"

"Dey sonds me when dey wanster, I's Miss S'breeny's maid," answered Powlyne, digging her bare heel into the matting.

"Her maid?-for gracious sake! What can you do?"

"Tuckenoffener shoes. En stockin's."

"Tuckenoffener?"

"Haul'em off. Yass,'m."

"Well, if I hever!" murmured Meadows, surveying this strange coadjutor, from the erect tails of wool to the bare black toes.

There was a loud groan in the hall outside. Meadows started.

"Unc' Abram, I spec, totin' up de wood," said Powlyne.

"Is he ill?"

"Ill!" said the child, contemptuously. "He's dat dair sassy ter-night!"

"Is he coming in here? Oh, don't go away!" pleaded Meadows. She had a vision of another incursion of black men in bathing costumes.

But Uncle Abram was alone, and he was very polite; he bowed even before he put the wood down, and several times afterwards. "Dey's cookin' suppah for yer, miss," he announced, hospitably. "Dey'll be fried chickens en fixin's; en hot biscuits; en jell; en coffee."

"I should rather have tea, if it is equally convenient," said Meadows, after a moment's hesitation.

"Dere, now, doan yer like coffee?" inquired Uncle Abram, looking at her admiringly. For it was such an extraordinary dislike that only very distinguished people could afford to have it. "Fer my part," he went on, gazing meditatively at the fire which he had just replenished, "I 'ain't nebber had 'nuff in all my borned days-no, not et one time. Pints wouldn't do me. Ner yet korts. I 'ain't nebber had a gallion."

Voices were now heard in the hall. Cicely entered, followed by Eve Bruce.

"All the darkies on the island will be coming to look at her to-morrow," said Cicely, after Meadows had gone to her supper; "they'll be immensely stirred up about her. She's still afraid-did you see?-she kept as far away as she could from poor old Uncle Abram as she went down the hall. The field hands will be too much for her; some of the little nigs have no clothes at all."

"She won't see them; she goes to-morrow."

"That's as you please; if I were you, I would keep her. They will bring a mattress in here for her presently; perhaps she has never slept on the floor?"

"I dare say not. But she can for once."

Cicely went to one of the windows; she opened the upper half of the shutter and looked out. "How the wind blows! Jupiter Light shines right into your room."

"Yes, I can see it from here," said Eve. "It's a good companion-always awake." She was speaking conventionally; she had spoken conventionally through the long supper, and the effort had tired her: she was not in the least accustomed to concealing her thoughts.

"Always awake. Are you always awake?" said Cicely, returning to the fire.

"I? What an idea!"

"I don't know; you look like it."

"I must look very tired, then?"

"You do."

"Fortunately you do not," answered Eve, coldly. For there was something singularly fresh about Cicely; though she had no color, she always looked fair and perfectly rested, as though she had just risen from a refreshing sleep. "I suppose you have never felt tired, really tired, in all your life?" Eve went on.

"N-no; I don't know that I have ever felt tired, exactly," Cicely answered, emphasizing slightly the word "tired."

"You have always had so many servants to do everything for you," Eve responded, explaining herself a little.

"We haven't many now; only four. And they help in the fields whenever they can-all except Dilsey, who stays with Jack."

Again the name. Eve felt that she must overcome her dread of it. "Jack is very li

ke his father," she said, loudly and decidedly.

"Yes," answered Cicely. Then, after a pause, "Your brother was much older than I."

"Oh, Jack was young!"

"I don't mean that he was really old, he hadn't gray hair. But he was thirty-one when we were married, and I was sixteen."

"I suppose no one forced you to marry him?" said the sister, the flash returning to her eyes.

"Oh, yes."

"Nonsense!"

"I mean he did-Jack himself did. I thought that perhaps you would feel so."

"Feel how?"

"Why, that we made him-that we tried, or that I tried. And so I have brought some of his letters to show you." She took a package from her pocket and laid it on the mantelpiece. "You needn't return them; you can burn them after reading."

"Oh, probably," answered Eve, incoherently. She felt choked with her anger and grief.

There was a murmuring sound in the hall, and Miss Sabrina, pushing the door open with her foot, entered apologetically, carrying a jar of dark-blue porcelain, ornamented with vague white dragons swallowing their tails. The jar was large; it extended from her knees to her chin, which rested upon its edge with a singular effect. "My dear," she said, "I've brought you some po-purry; your room hasn't been slept in for some time, though I hope it isn't musty."

The jar had no handles; she had difficulty in placing it upon the high chest of drawers. Eve went to her assistance. And then Miss Sabrina perceived that their guest was crying. Eve changed the jar's position two or three times. Miss Sabrina said, each time, "Yes, yes; it is much better so." And, furtively, she pressed Eve's hand.

Jack Bruce's wife, meanwhile-forgotten Jack-stood by the hearth, gazing at the fire. She was a little creature, slight and erect, with a small head, small ears, small hands and feet. Yet somehow she did not strike one as short; one thought of her as having the full height of her kind, and even as being tall for so small a person. This effect was due, no doubt, to her slender litheness; she was light and cool as the wind at dawn, untrammelled by too much womanhood. Her features were delicate; the oval of her face was perfect, her complexion a clear white without color. Her lustreless black hair, very fine and soft, was closely braided, the plaits arranged at the back of the head as flatly as possible, like a tightly fitting cap. Her great dark eyes with long curling lashes were very beautiful. They had often an absent-minded look. Under them were bluish rings. Slight and smooth as she was-the flesh of her whole body was extraordinarily smooth, as though it had been rubbed with pumice-stone-she yet seemed in one way strong and unyielding. She was quiet in her looks, in her actions, in her tones.

Eve had now choked down her tears.

"I sent Powlyne with some cherry-bounce," said Miss Sabrina, giving Eve's hand, secretly, a last pressure, as they came back to the hearth. "Your maid will find it-such a nice, worthy person as she seems to be, too; so generally desirable all round. If she is really to leave you to-morrow, you must have some one else. Let me see-"

"I don't want any one, thanks," Eve answered. Two spots of color rose in her cheeks. "That is, I don't want any one unless I can have Jack?" She turned to Cicely, who still stood gazing at the fire. "May Jack sleep here?"

"With Dilsey?" said Cicely, lifting her eyes with a surprised glance.

"Yes, with Dilsey. The room is large."

"I am sure I don't care; yes, if you like. He cries at night sometimes."

"I hope he will," responded Eve, and her tone was almost fierce. "Then I can comfort him."

"Dilsey does that better than any one else; he is devoted to her; when he cries, I never interfere," said Cicely, laughing.

Eve bit her lips to keep back the retort, "But I shall!"

"It is a sweet idea," said Miss Sabrina, in her chanting voice. "It is sweet of Miss Bruce to wish to have him, and sweet of you, Cicely, to let him go. We can arrange a little nursery at the other end of this room to-morrow; there's a chamber beyond, where no one sleeps, and the door could be opened through, if you like. I am sure it will be very nice all round."

Eve turned and kissed her. Cicely pushed back a burning log with her foot, and laughed again, this time merrily. "It seems so funny, your having the baby in here at night, just like a mother, when you haven't been married at all. Now I have been married twice. To be sure, I never meant to be!"

"My precious child!" Miss Sabrina remonstrated.

"No, auntie, I never did. It came about," Cicely answered, her eyes growing absent again and returning to the fire.

Meadows now came in with deferential step, and presently she was followed by her own couch, which Uncle Abram spread out, in the shape of a mattress, on the floor. The English girl looked on, amazed. But this was a house of amazements; it was like a Drury Lane pantomime.

Later, when the girl was asleep, Eve rose, and, taking the package of letters, which she had put under her pillow, she felt for a candle and matches, thrust her feet into her slippers, and, with her dressing-gown over her arm, stole to the second door; it opened probably into the unoccupied chamber of which Miss Sabrina had spoken. The door was not locked; she passed through, closing it behind her. Lighting her candle, she looked about her. The room was empty, the floor bare. She put her candle on the floor, and, kneeling down beside it, opened the letters. There were but four; apparently Cicely had thought that four would be enough to confirm what she had said. They were enough. More passionate, more determined letters man never wrote to woman; they did not plead so much as insist; they compelled by sheer force of persistent unconquerable love, which accepts anything, bears anything, to gain even tolerance.

And this was Jack, her brother Jack, who had thus prostrated himself at the feet of that indifferent little creature, that cold, small, dark girl who already bore another name! She was angry with him. Then the anger faded away into infinite pity. "Oh, Jack, dear old Jack, to have loved her so, she caring nothing for you! And I am to burn your poor letters that you thought so much about-your poor, poor letters." Sinking down upon the floor, she placed the open pages upon her knees, laying her cheek upon them as though they had been something human. "Some one cares for you," she murmured.

There was now a wild gale outside. One of the shutters was open, and she could see Jupiter Light; she sat there, with her cheek on the letters, looking at it.

Suddenly everything seemed changed, she no longer wept; she felt sluggish, cold. "Don't I care any more?" she thought, surprised. She rose and went back to her bed, glad to creep into its warmth, and leaving the letters on a chair by her bedside. Then, duly, she put them under her pillow again.

* * *

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares