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   Chapter 5 No.5

Jupiter Lights By Constance Fenimore Woolson Characters: 21819

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


"OUT rowing? If you are doing it to entertain me-" said Eve.

"I should never think of that; there's only one thing here that entertains you, and that's baby," Cicely answered. She spoke without insistence; her eyes had their absent-minded expression.

"Cicely, give him to me," Eve began. She must put her wish into words some time. "If I could only make you feel how much I long for it! I will devote my life to him; and it will be a pleasure to me, a charity, because I am so alone in the world. You are not alone; you have other ties. Listen, Cicely, I will make any arrangement you like; you shall always have the first authority, but let me have him to live with me; let me take him away when I go. I will even acknowledge everything you have said: my brother was much older than you were; it's natural that those months with him should seem to you now but an episode-something that happened at the beginning of your life, but which need not go on to its close."

"I was young," said Cicely, musingly.

"Young to marry-yes."

"No; I mean young to have everything ended."

"But that is what I am telling you, it must not be ended; Mr. Morrison must come back to you."

"He may," answered Cicely, looking at her companion for a moment with almost a solemn expression.

"Then give baby to me now, and let me go away-before he comes."

Cicely glanced off over the water; they were standing on the low bank above the Sound. "He could not go north now, in the middle of the winter," she answered, after a moment.

"In the early spring, then?"

"I don't know; perhaps."

Eve's heart gave a bound. She was going to gain her point.

Having been brought up by a man, she had learned to do without the explanations, the details, which are dear to most feminine minds; so all she said was, "That's agreed, then." She was so happy that a bright flush rose in her cheeks, and her smile, as she spoke these last few words, was very sweet; those lips, which Miss Sabrina had thought so sullen, had other expressions.

Cicely looked at her. "You may marry too."

Eve laughed. "There is no danger. To show you, to make you feel as secure as I do, I will tell you that there have been one or two-friends of Jack's over there. Apparently I am not made of inflammable material."

"When you are sullen-perhaps not. But when you are as you are now?"

"I shall always be sullen to that sort of thing. But we needn't be troubled; there won't be an army! To begin with, I am twenty-eight; and to end with, every one will know that I have willed my property to baby; and that makes an immense difference."

"How does it make a difference?"

"In opportunities for marrying, if not also-as I really believe-for falling in love."

"I don't see what difference it makes."

"True, you do not," Eve replied; "you are the most extraordinary people in the world, you Southerners; I have been here nearly a month, and I am still constantly struck by it-you never think of money at all. And the strangest point is, that although you never think of it, you don't in the least know how to get on without it; you cannot improve anything, you can only endure."

"If you will tell Dilsey to get baby ready, I will see to the boat," answered Cicely. She was never interested in general questions.

Presently they were afloat. They were in a large row-boat, with Pomp, Plato, Uncle Abram, and a field hand at the oars; Cicely steered; Eve and little Jack were the passengers. The home-island was four miles long, washed by the ocean on one side, the Sound on the other; on the north, Singleton Island lay very near; but on the south there was a broad opening, the next island being six miles distant. Here stood Jupiter Light; this channel was a sea-entrance not only to the line of Sounds, but also to towns far inland, for here opened on the west a great river-mouth, through which flowed to the sea a broad, slow stream coming from the cotton country. They were all good sailors, as they had need to be for such excursions, the Sounds being often rough. The bright winter air, too, was sharp; but Eve was strong, and did not mind it, and the ladies of Romney, like true Southerners, never believed that it was really cold, cold as it is at the North. The voyages in the row-boat had been many; they had helped to fill the days, and the sisters-in-law had had not much else with which to fill them; they had remained as widely apart as in the beginning, Eve absorbed in her own plans, Cicely in her own indifference. Little Jack was always of the party, as his presence made dialogue easy. They had floated many times through the salt marshes between the rattling reeds, they had landed upon other islands, whose fields, like those of Romney, had once been fertile, but which now showed submerged expanses behind the broken dikes, with here and there an abandoned rice-mill. Sometimes they went inland up the river, rowing slowly against the current; sometimes, when it was calm, they went out to sea. To-day they crossed to the other side of the Sound.

"What a long house Romney is!" said Eve, looking back. She did not add, "And if you drop anything on the floor at one end it shakes the other."

"Yes, it's large," Cicely answered. She perceived no fault in it.

"And the name; you know there's a Romney in Kent?"

"Is there?"

"And your post-office, too; when I think of your Warwick, with its one wooden house, those spectral white sand-hills, the wind, and the tall light-house, and then when I recall the English Warwick, with its small, closely built streets, and the great castle looking down into the river Avon, I wonder if the first-comers here didn't feel lost sometimes. All the rivers in central England, put together, would be drowned out of sight in that great yellow stream of yours over there."

But Cicely's imagination took no flight towards the first-comers, nor towards the English rivers; and, in another moment, Eve's had come hastily homeward, for little Jack coughed. "He is taking cold!" she exclaimed. "Let us go back."

"It's a splendid day; he will take no cold," Cicely answered. "But we will go back if you wish." She watched Eve fold a shawl round the little boy. "You ought to have a child of your own, Eve," she said, with her odd little laugh.

"And you ought never to have had one," Eve responded.

As they drew near the landing, they perceived Miss Sabrina on the bank. "She has on her bonnet! Where can she be going?" said Cicely. "Oh, I know; she will ask you to row to Singleton Island, to return Mrs. Singleton's call."

"But Jack looks so pale-"

"You're too funny, Eve! How do you suppose we have taken care of him all this time-before you came?" Eve's tone was often abrupt, but Cicely's was never that; the worst you could say of it was that its sweetness was sometimes mocking.

When they reached the landing, Miss Sabrina proposed her visit; "that is, if you care to go, my dear. Dilsey told me that she saw you coming back, so I put on my bonnet on the chance."

"Eve is going," remarked Cicely, stepping from the boat; "she wants to see Rupert, he is such a sweet little boy."

Dilsey took Jack, and presently Miss Sabrina and her guest were floating northward. Eve longed to put her triumph into words: "The baby is mine! In the spring I am to have him." But she refrained. "When does your spring begin?" she asked. "In February?"

"In March, rather," answered Miss Sabrina. "Before that it is dangerous to make changes; I myself have never been one to put on thin dresses with the pinguiculas."

"What are pinguiculas?-Birds?"

"They are flowers," responded Miss Sabrina, mildly.

"It will be six weeks, then; to-day is the fifteenth."

"Six weeks to what?"

"To March; to spring."

"I don't know that it begins on the very first day," remarked Miss Sabrina.

"Mine shall!" thought Eve.

Romney was near the northern end of the home-island; the voyage, therefore, was a short one. The chimneys of Singleton House came into view; but the boat passed on, still going northward. "Isn't that the house?" Eve asked.

"Yes, but the landing is farther on; we always go to the landing, and then walk back through the avenue."

But when the facade appeared at the end of the neglected road-a walk of fifteen minutes-there seemed to Eve hardly occasion for so much ceremony; the old mansion was in a worse condition than Romney; it sidled and leaned, and one of its wings was a roofless ruin, with the planking of the floor half tilted up, half fallen into the cellar. Miss Sabrina betrayed no perception of the effect of this upon a stranger; she crossed the veranda with her lady-like step, and said to a solemn little negro boy who was standing in the doorway: "Is Mrs. Singleton at home this evening, Boliver? Can she see us?-Miss Bruce and Miss Abercrombie."

An old negro woman came round the corner of the house, and, cuffing the boy for standing there, ushered the visitors into a room on the right of the broad hall. The afternoon had grown colder, but the doors and windows all stood open; a negro girl, who bore a strong resemblance to Powlyne, entered, and chased out a chicken who was prowling about over the matted floor; then she knelt down, with her long thin black legs stretched out behind, and tried to light a fire on the hearth. But the wind was evidently in the wrong direction for the requirements of that chimney; white smoke puffed into the room in clouds.

"Let us go out on the veranda," suggested Eve, half choked.

"Oh, but surely- When they have ushered us in here?" responded Miss Sabrina, remonstratingly, though she too was nearly strangled. "It will blow away in a few minutes, I assure you."

Much of it still remained when Mrs. Singleton entered. She paid no more attention to it than Miss Sabrina had done; she welcomed her guests warmly, kissing Eve on both cheeks, although she had never seen her before. "I have been so much interested in hearing that you are from England, Miss Bruce," she said, taking a seat beside her. "We always think of England as our old home; I reckon you will see much down here to remind you of it."

Eve looked about her-at the puffing smoke, at the wandering chicken, who still peered through one of the windows. "I am not English," she said.

"But you have lived there so long; ever since you were a child; surely it is the same thing," interposed Miss Sabrina. A faint color rose in her cheeks for a moment. Eve perceived that she preferred to present an English rather than a Northern guest.

"We are all English, if you come to that," said Mrs. Singleton, confidently. She was small, white-haired, with a sweet face, and a sweet voice that drawled a little.

"Eve is much interested in our nig-roes," pursued Miss Sabrina; "you know to her they are a novelty."

"Ah dear, yes, our poor, poor people! When I think of

them, Miss Bruce, scattered and astray, with no one to advise them, it makes my heart bleed. For they must be suffering in so many ways; take the one instance of the poor women in their confinements; we used to go to them, and be with them to cheer their time of trial. But now, separated from us, from our care and oversight, what can they do? If the people who have been so rash in freeing them had only thought of even that one thing! But I suppose they did not think of it, and naturally, because the abolitionist societies, we are told, were composed principally of old maids."

Eve laughed. "Why can't they have nurses, as other people do?"

"You don't mean regular monthly nurses, of course?"

"Why not?-if they can afford to pay for them. They might club together to supply them."

"Oh, I don't think that would be at all appropriate, really. And Eve does not mean it, I assure you," said Miss Sabrina, coming to the rescue; "her views are perfectly reasonable, dear Mrs. Singleton; you would be surprised."

"You would indeed!" Eve thought.

But they talked no more of the nig-roes.

"How is Miss Hillsborough?" Miss Sabrina asked.

"Right well, I am glad to say. My dear Aunt Peggy, Miss Bruce; and what she is to me I can hardly tell you! You know I am something of a talker"-here Mrs. Singleton laughed softly. "And we are so much alone here now, that, were it not for Aunt Peggy, I should fairly have to talk to the chickens!" (One at least would be ready, Eve thought.) "Don't you know that there are ever so many little things each day that we want to say to somebody?" Mrs. Singleton went on. "Thinking them is not enough. And these dear people, like Aunt Peggy, who sit still and listen;-it isn't what they answer that's of consequence; in fact they seldom say much; it's just the chance they give us of putting our own thought into words and seeing how it looks. It does make such a difference."

"You are fortunate," Eve answered. "And then you have your little boy, too; Cicely has told me about him-Rupert; she says he is a dear little fellow."

"Dear heart!" exclaimed Miss Sabrina, distressed. "Cicely is sometimes-yes-"

But Mrs. Singleton laughed merrily. "I will show him to you presently," she said.

"Mr. Singleton is so extraordinarily agreeable!" said Miss Sabrina, with unwonted animation.

"Oh yes, he is wonderful; and he is a statesman too, a second Patrick Henry. But then as regards the little things of each day, you know, we don't go to our husbands with those."

"What do you do, then?-I mean with the husbands," Eve asked.

"I think we admire them," answered Mrs. Singleton, simply.

Lucasta, the negro girl, now appeared with a tray. "Pray take some Madeira," said their hostess, filling the tiny glasses. "And plum-cake."

Eve declined. But Miss Sabrina accepted both refreshments, and Mrs. Singleton bore her company. The wine was unspeakably bad, it would have been difficult to say what had entered into its composition; but Madeira had formed part of the old-time hospitality of the house, and something that was sold under that name (at a small country store on the mainland opposite) was still kept in the cut-glass decanter, to be served upon occasion.

Presently a very tall, very portly, and very handsome old man (he well merited three verys) came in, leaning on a cane. "Miss Bruce-little Rupert; our dear little boy," said Mrs. Singleton, introducing him. She had intended to laugh, but she forgot it; she gazed at him admiringly.

The master of the house put aside his cane, and looked about for a chair. As he stood there, helpless for an instant, he seemed gigantic.

Eve laughed.

Miss Sabrina murmured, "Pleasantry, dear Mr. Singleton;-our foolish pleasantry."

After the old gentleman had found his chair and seated himself, and had drawn a breath or two, he gave a broad slow smile. "Nanny, are you in the habit of introducing me to your young lady friends as your dear little Rupert?-your little Rupe?"

"Rupe? Never!" answered Mrs. Singleton, indignantly.

"Only our foolish pleasantry," sighed Miss Sabrina, apologetically.

"It was Cicely," Eve explained.

"If it was Cicely, it was perfect," the lame colossus answered, gallantly. "Cicely is heavenly. Upon my word, she is the most engaging young person I have ever seen in my life."

He then ate some plum-cake, and paid Eve compliments even more handsome than these.

After a while he imparted the news; he had been down to the landing to meet the afternoon steamer, which brought tidings from the outside world. "Melton is dead," he said. "You know whom I mean? Melton, the great stockbroker; one of the richest men living, I suppose."

"Oh! where is his soul now?" said Mrs. Singleton. Her emotion was real, her sweet face grew pallid.

"Why, I have never heard that he was a bad man, especially," remarked Eve, surprised.

"He was sure to be-making all that money; it could not be otherwise. Oh, what is his agony at this very moment!"

But Rupert did not sympathize with this mournfulness; when three ladies were present, conversation should be light, poetical. "Miss Bruce," he said, turning towards Eve-he was so broad that that in itself made a landscape-"have you ever noticed the appropriateness of 'County Guy' to this neighborhood of ours?"

"No," Eve answered. But the words brought her father to her mind with a rush: how often, when she was a child, had he beguiled a dull walk with a chant, half song, half declamation:

"Oh, County Guy, the hour is nigh,

The sun has left the lea."

She looked at her host, but she did not hear him; a mist gathered in her eyes.

"'Oh, County Guy, the hour is nigh,'"

began the colossus, placing his plum-cake on his knee provisionally.

"'The sun has left the lea;

The orange flower perfumes the bower,

The breeze is on the sea.

The lark his lay who trilled all day

Sits hushed his partner nigh.

Breeze, bird, and flower confess the hour;

But where is County Guy? '

"The orange flower perfumes the bower; here we have the orange flower and the lea, the bower and the sea; and it's very rarely that you find all four together. 'The lark his lay who trilled all day'-what music it is! There's no one like Scott."

His lameness prevented him from accompanying his guests on their walk back to the boat; he stood in the doorway leaning on his cane and waving a courtly farewell, while the chicken, with slowly considering steps, crossed the veranda and entered the drawing-room again.

"Miss Sabrina, please tell me what you know of Ferdinand Morrison," Eve began, as soon as a turn in the road hid the old house from their view.

Miss Sabrina had expected to talk about the Singletons. "Oh, Mr. Morrison? we did not see him ourselves, you know."

"But you must have heard."

"Certainly, we heard. The Singletons are delightful people, are they not? So cultivated! Their house has always been one of the most agreeable on the Sound."

"I dare say. But about Ferdinand Morrison?" Eve went on. For it was not often that she had so good an opportunity; at Romney, if there was no one else present, there were always the servants, who came in and out like members of the family. "Cicely met him first in Savannah, didn't she?"

"Yes," answered Miss Sabrina (but giving up the Singletons with regret); "she went to pay a visit to our cousin Emmeline; and there she met him. From the very beginning he appeared to be much in love with her, Cousin Emmeline wrote. And Cicely too-so we heard-appeared to care for him from the first day. At least Cousin Emmeline received that impression; Cicely, of course, did not take her into her confidence."

"Why of course?"

"At that early stage? But don't you think that those first sweet uncertainties are always private? Mr. Morrison used to come every day, and take her out for a drive; I have been in Savannah myself, and I have often thought that probably they went to Bonaventure-so delightful! At last, one evening, Cicely told Cousin Emmeline that she was engaged. And the next day she wrote to us. She did not come home; they were married there at Emmeline's."

"And none of you went to the wedding?"

"There were only father and I to go; we have not always been able to do as we wished," replied Miss Sabrina, gently.

"Mr. Morrison had money, I suppose?"

"I think not; we have never been told so."

"Didn't you ask?"

"That was for Cicely, wasn't it? I dare say she knows. We could only hope, father and I, that she would be happy; but I fear that she has not been, ah no." And Miss Sabrina sighed.

"But we must not give it up so, she is still so young. Why don't you write to Mr. Morrison yourself, and tell him, command him, to come back?" suggested Eve, boldly.

"But-but I don't know where he is," answered Miss Sabrina, bewildered by this sudden attack.

"You said South America."

"But I couldn't write, 'Ferdinand Morrison, Esquire, South America.'"

"Some one must know. His relatives."

"Yes, there is his brother, and a most devoted brother, we are told," responded Miss Sabrina, speaking more fluently now that she had launched upon family affection. "Yes, indeed-from all we have heard of Paul Tennant, we are inclined to think him a most excellent young man. He may not have Ferdinand's beauty (we are told that Ferdinand is remarkably handsome); and it is probable, too, that he has not Ferdinand's cultivation, for he is a business man, and has always lived at the North.-I beg your pardon, my dear, I am sure," said the Southern lady, interrupting herself in confusion.

"It doesn't matter; the North won't die of it. If you know where this brother is- But why has he a different name?"

"The mother, Mrs. Tennant, who was a widow with this one boy, Paul, married one of the Maryland Morrisons-I reckon you know the family. Ferdinand is the child of this second marriage. His father and mother are dead; his only near relative is this half-brother, Paul."

"Write to Paul, then, and find out where Ferdinand is."

"This is a plot, isn't it?" answered Miss Sabrina, smiling. "But I like it; it's so sweet of you to plan for our poor Cicely's happiness."

"You needn't thank me! Then you will write?"

"But I don't know where Mr. Tennant is either.-I dare say Cicely knows."

"But if you ask her, she will suspect something. And if I ask her, it will be worse still! Doesn't anybody in the world know where this Paul Tennant is?" said Eve, irritably.

"I think we heard that it was some place where it is very cold-I remember that. It might have been Canada," suggested Sabrina, reflectively.

"Canada and South America-what a family!" said Eve, in despair.

The wind had risen, the homeward voyage was rough. They reached Romney to find little Jack ill; before morning he was struggling with an attack of croup.

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