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   Chapter 6 No.6

Jupiter Lights By Constance Fenimore Woolson Characters: 23067

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


"CICELY, what did you say to those people, that they stared at us so when they passed?"

"Oh, they asked me if you were the man who went round with the panorama-to explain it, you know. So I told them that you were the celebrated Jessamine family-you and Miss Leontine; and that you were going to give a concert in Gary Hundred to-night; I advised them to go."

"Bless my soul!-the celebrated Jessamine family? What possessed you?"

"Well, they saw the wagon, and they thought it looked like a panorama. They seemed to want something, so I told them that."

Eve broke into a laugh.

But the judge put on his spectacles, and walked round the wagon with indignant step. "It is an infernal color," he declared, angrily.

"Our good Dickson had that paint on hand-he told me about it," explained Miss Leontine. "It was left over"-here she paused. "I don't know what you will think, but I believe it really was left over after a circus-or was it a menagerie? At any rate, the last thing that was exhibited here before the war."

The vehicle in question was a long-bodied, two seated wagon, with a square box behind, which opened at the back like the box of a carrier's cart; its hue was the liveliest pea green.

"Dickson had no business to give it to us; it was a damned impertinence!" said the judge, with a snort.

"Don't spoil your voice, when you've got to sing to-night, grandpa," remarked Cicely. "And you will have to lead out Miss Leontine-who will sing 'Waiting.'"

The judge glanced at Miss Leontine. He could not repress a grin.

But tall Miss Leontine remained amiable, she had never heard of "Waiting." In any case she seldom penetrated jokes; they seemed to her insufficiently explained; often, indeed, abstruse. She was fifty-two, and very maidenly; her bearing, her voice, her expression, were all timidly virginal, as were also the tints of her attire, pale blues and lavenders, and faint green. Her face bore a strong resemblance to the face of a camel; give a camel a pink-and-white complexion, blue eyes, and light-brown hair coming down in flat bands on each side of its long face, and you have Miss Leontine. She was extraordinarily tall-she attained a stature of nearly six feet. Her step, as if conscious of this, was apologetic; her long narrow back leaned forward as though she were trying to reduce her height in front as she came towards one. She wore no crinoline; her head was decked with a large gypsy hat, from which floated a blue tissue veil.

The little party of four-Eve, Cicely, the judge, and Miss Leontine-with Master Jack, had driven from Gary Hundred to Bellington; their hostess, Cousin Sarah Cray, had an old horse, and this wagon had been borrowed from Dickson, the village grainer (who had so mistakenly saved the circus paint); it would be a pleasant excursion in itself, and it would be good for Jack-which last was the principal point with them all.

For the much longer excursion from Abercrombie Island to this inland South Carolina village had been taken on Jack's account; the attack of croup had left him with a harassing cough, a baby's little cough, which is so distressing to the ears of those who love him. Eve had walked about, day and night, carrying him in her arms, his languid head on her shoulder; she could not bear to see how large his eyes looked in his little white face; she did not sleep; she could scarcely speak.

"We might go to Cousin Sarah Cray's for a while, away from the coast," Cicely suggested. She was always present when Eve walked restlessly to and fro; but she did not interfere, she let Eve have the child.

Eve had no idea who or where was Cousin Sarah Cray, but she agreed to anything that would take Jack away from the coast. It was very cold now at Romney; the Sound was dark and rough all the time, the sea boomed, the winds were bitter. They had therefore journeyed inland, Jack and Eve, Cicely and her grandfather, leaving Miss Sabrina to guard the island-home alone.

When they reached Gary Hundred and the softer air, Jack began to revive; Eve too revived, she came back to daily life again. One of the first things she said was: "I ought not to be staying here, Cicely; you must let me go to the hotel; your cousin is not my cousin."

"She's Jack's."

"Do you mean by that that Jack must stay, and if he does, I shall? But it isn't decent; here we have all descended upon her at a moment's notice, and filled up her house, and tramped to and fro. She doesn't appear to be rich."

"We are all as poor as crows, but we always go and stay with each other just the same. As for Cousin Sarah Cray, she loves it. Of course we take her as we find her."

"We do indeed!" was Eve's thought. "It is all very well for you," she went on, aloud. "But I am a stranger."

"Cousin Sarah Cray doesn't think so; she thinks you very near-a sister of her cousin."

"If you count in that way, what families you must have! But why shouldn't we all go to the hotel, and take her with us? There's an idea."

"For one reason, there's no hotel to go to," responded Cicely, laughing.

They continued, therefore, to stay with Cousin Sarah Cray; they had been there ten days, and Jack was so much better that Eve gladly accepted her obligations, for the present. She accepted, too, the makeshifts of the rambling housekeeping. But if the housekeeping was of a wandering order, the welcome did not wander-it remained fixed; there was something beautiful in the boundless affection and hospitality of poverty-stricken Cousin Sarah Cray.

Bellington was a ruin. In the old days it had been the custom of the people of Gary Hundred, and the neighboring plantations, to drive thither now and then to spend an afternoon; the terraces and fish-ponds were still to be seen, together with the remains of the Dutch flower-garden, and the great underground kitchens of the house, which had been built of bricks imported from Holland a hundred and twenty years before. In the corner of one of the fields bordering the river were the earthworks of a Revolutionary fort; in a jungle a quarter of a mile distant there was a deserted church, with high pews, mouldering funeral hatchments, and even the insignia of George the Third in faded gilt over the organ-loft. Bellington House had been destroyed by fire, accidentally, in 1790. Now, when there were in the same neighborhood other houses which had been destroyed by fire, not accidentally, there was less interest in the older ruin. But it still served as an excuse for a drive, and drives were excellent for the young autocrat of the party, to whom all, including Miss Leontine, were shamelessly devoted.

The judge did his duty as guide; he had visited Bellington more times than he could count, but he again led the way (with appropriate discourse) from the fish-ponds to the fort, and from the fort to the church, Miss Leontine, in her floating veil, ambling beside him.

When the sun began to decline they returned to their pea-green wagon. The judge walked round it afresh. Then he turned away, put his head over a bush, and muttered on the other side of it.

"What is he saying?" Eve asked.

"I am afraid 'cuss words,' as the darkies call them," answered Cicely, composedly. "He is without doubt a very desperate old man."

Miss Leontine looked distressed, she made a pretext of gathering some leaves from a bush at a little distance; as she walked away, her skirt caught itself behind at each step upon the tops of her prunella boots, which were of the pattern called "Congress," with their white straps visible.

"She is miserable because I called him that," said Cicely; "she thinks him perfect. Grandpa, I have just called you a desperate old man."

But the judge had resumed his grand manner; he assisted the ladies in climbing to their high seats, and then, mounting to his own place, he guided the horse down the uneven avenue and into the broad road again. The cotton plantations of this neighborhood had suffered almost as much as the rice fields of Romney: they had been flooded so often that much of the land was now worthless, disintegrated and overgrown with lespedeza. They crossed the river (which had done the damage) on-or rather in-a long shaking wooden bridge, covered and nearly dark, and guarding in its dusky recesses a strong odor of the stable. Beyond it the judge had an inspiration: he would go across the fields by one of the old cotton-tracks, thus shortening the distance by more than two miles.

"Because you're ashamed of

'Our pea-green wagon, our wagon of green,

Lillibulero, bullen-a-la,'"

chanted Cicely on the back seat.

"Cecilia!" said the judge, with dignity.

Eve sat beside him; courteously he entertained her. "Have you ever reflected, Miss Bruce, upon the very uninteresting condition of the world at present? Everything is known. Where can a gentleman travel now, with the element of the unexpected as a companion? There are positively no lands left unvulgarized save the neighborhood of the Poles."

"Central Africa," Eve suggested.

"Africa? I think I said for gentlemen."

"You turbulent old despot, curb yourself," said Cicely, sotto voce.

"In the old days, Miss Bruce," the judge went on, "we had Arabia, we had Thibet, we had Cham-Tartary; we could arrive on camels at Erzerum. Hey! what are you about there, boy? Turn out!"

"Turn out yourself."

The track had passed down into a winding hollow between sloping banks about six feet high; on the other side of a curve they had come suddenly upon an empty hay-cart which was approaching from the opposite direction, drawn by two mules; the driver, an athletic young negro with an insolent face, was walking beside his team. His broad cart filled every inch of the track; it was impossible to pass it without climbing the bank. The judge, with his heavy wagon and one horse, could not do this; but it would have been easy for the mules to take their light cart up the slope, and thus leave room for the wagon.

The old planter could not believe that he had heard aright. "Turn out, boy!" he repeated, with the imperious manner which only a lifetime of absolute authority can give.

The negro brought his mules up until their noses touched the nose of the horse; then, putting his hands in his pockets, he planted himself, and called out, "W'at yer gwine ter do 'bout it?"

In an instant the judge was on his feet, whip in hand. But Cicely touched him. "You are not going to fight with him, grandpa?" she said, in a low tone. "For he will fight; he isn't in the least afraid of you."

The judge had now reached the ground. In his rage he was white, with his eyes blazing. Eve, greatly alarmed, clasped little Jack closer.

Cicely jumped lightly down. "Grandpa," she said, under her breath, "he is a great deal stronger than you are, and after he has struck you down we shall be here alone with him-think of that. We will all get out, and then you can lead the horse up the bank, and go by him. Dear grandpa, it is the only way; this isn't the island, this is South Carolina."

Eve, seeing the speechless passion of the old man, had not believed that Cicely would prevail; she had closed her eyes with a shuddering, horrible vision of the forward rush, the wrested whip, and the silver-haired head in the dust. But, with a mighty effort, trembling like a leaf with his repressed rage, the judge put up his hand to help her in her descent. She accepted his aid hurriedly, giving Jack to Cicely; Miss Leontine had climbed down alon

e, the tears dropping on her cheeks behind her veil. The judge then led the horse up the bank and past the wagon, the negro keeping his position beside his mules; the ladies followed the wagon, and mounted to their places again when it had reached the track, Cicely taking the seat by the side of her grandfather. Then they drove off, followed by the negro's jeering laughter.

The old planter remained perfectly silent. Eve believed that, after he had deposited them safely at home, he would go back in search of that negro without fail. She and Cicely tried to keep up a conversation; Miss Leontine joined them whenever she was able, but the tears constantly succeeded each other on her long face, and she was as constantly putting her handkerchief to her eyes in order to repress them, the gesture much involved with her blue veil. On the borders of the village they passed the little railway station. By the side of the station-house there was a new shop, which had a broad show-window filled with wooden wash-tubs.

"This is the shop of Thomas Scotts, the tar-and-turpentine man who is in love with Matilda Debbs," said Cicely. "How is that coming on now, Miss Leontine?"

Miss Leontine took down her handkerchief. "The family do not consent."

"But there's nothing against the man, is there?"

Miss Leontine took down the handkerchief again-she had already replaced it. "As regards his character, n-nothing. But he is a manufacturer of tubs. It appears that it is the business of the family; his father also manufactures them. In Connecticut."

"If Thomas Scotts should make a beautiful new tub for each of the Misses Debbs, it wouldn't be a bad idea; there are twelve or fourteen of them, aren't there?"

"Ner-nine," replied the afflicted maiden lady, with almost a convulsion of grief. "But two of them are yer-young yet."

"And seven are not. Now seven new tubs."

"Cecilia, let us have no more of this," said the judge.

It was the first time he had spoken; Cicely put her hand behind her and furtively pinched Eve's knee in token of triumph.

They came into the main street of Gary Hundred. It was a broad avenue, wandering vaguely onward amid four rows of trees; there was no pavement; the roadway was deeply covered with yellow sand; the spacious sidewalks which bordered it were equally in a state of nature. The houses, at some distance back from the street, were surrounded by large straggling gardens. Farther down were the shops, each with its row of hitching-posts across the front.

They left Miss Leontine at her own door, and went on towards the residence of Cousin Sarah Cray.

"Here comes Miss Polly's bread-cart, on the way back from Mellons," said Cicely. "Grandpa, wouldn't it be a good idea to buy some little cakes?"

The judge stopped the horse; Cicely beckoned to the old negro who was wheeling the covered hand-cart along the sandy road. "Uncle Dan, have you any cakes left?"

Uncle Dan touched his hat, and opened the lid of the cart; there, reposing on snowy napkins, were biscuit and bread, and little cakes of inviting aspect. While Cicely made her selection, Eve bent down and took one of the circulars which were lying, neatly piled, in a corner. It announced, not in print, but in delicate hand-writing, that at the private bakery, number ten Queen Street, Gary Hundred, fresh bread, biscuits, and rolls could be obtained daily; muffins, crumpets, and plum-cake to order. The circular was signed "Mary Clementina Diana Wingfield."

"They have names enough, those sisters," Eve commented. "Miss Leontine's is Clotilda Leontine Elizabeth; I saw it in her prayer-book."

Cousin Sarah Cray's residence was a large white house, with verandas encircling it both up stairs and down; the palings of the fence were half gone, the whole place looked pillaged and open. The judge drove up to the door and helped Cicely to descend; and then Eve, who had little Jack, fast asleep, in her arms. Cicely motioned to Eve to go into the house; she herself followed her grandfather as he led the horse round to the stables. Eve went in, carrying Jack and the cakes. Cousin Sarah Cray, hurrying down the stairs to meet her, took the child affectionately. "Dear little fellow, he begins to look right rosy." She was delighted with the cakes. "They will help out the tea be-u-tifully; we've only got waffles."

Instead of going to her room, Eve took a seat at the window; she was anxious about the judge.

"Miss Polly's cakes are always so light," pursued Cousin Sarah Cray, looking at them; "she never makes a mistake, there's never the tinetiest streak of heaviness in her little pounds! And her breads are elegant, too; when one sees her beautiful hands, one wonders how she can do all the kneading."

"Does she do it herself?"

"Every single bit; their old Susannah only heats the oven. It was a courageous idea, Miss Bruce, from the beginning; you know they are among our best people, and, after the war, they found themselves left with nothing in the world but their house. They could have kept school in it, of course, for they are accomplished beyond everything; Miss Leontine paints sweetly-she was educated in France. But there was no one to come to the school; the girls, of course, could not afford to go away."

"You mean pupils?-to leave their homes and come here?"

"No, I mean the girls, Polly and Leontine; they could not open a school anywhere else-in Charleston, for instance; they had not money enough."

"I beg your pardon-it was only that I did not recognize them as 'the girls.'"

"Well, I suppose they really are not quite girls any longer," responded Cousin Sarah Cray, thoughtfully. "Polly is forty-four and Leontine fifty-two; but I reckon they will always be 'the girls' to us, even if they're eighty," she added, laughing. "Well, Polly had this idea. And she has been so successful-you can't think! Her bread-cart goes over to Mellons every day of your life, as regularly as the clock. And they buy a great deal."

"It's the camp, isn't it?-Camp Mellons?"

"No; it has always been Mellons, Mellons Post-office. The camp is near there, and it has some Yankee name or other, I believe; but of course you know, my dear, that we never go there."

"You only sell them bread. I am glad, at least, that they buy Miss Polly's. And does Miss Leontine help?"

"I fancy not. Dear Miss Leontine is not as practical as Miss Polly; she has a soft poetical nature, and she makes beautiful afghans. But the judge prefers Miss Polly."

"Does he really admire her?" said Eve, with a sudden inspiration.

"Beyond everything," answered Cousin Sarah Cray, clasping her plump hands.

"Then will you please go out and tell him that she is coming here to tea, that she will be here immediately?"

"Mercy! But she won't."

"Yes, she will; I will go and ask her. Do please make haste, Mrs. Cray; we are so afraid, Cicely and I, that he will try to whip a negro."

"Mercy!" said Cousin Sarah Cray again, this time in alarm; stout as she was, she ran swiftly through the hall and across the veranda, her cap strings flying, and disappeared on the way to the stables.

Eve carried little Jack up-stairs, and gave him to Deely, the house-maid; then, retracing her steps, she went out through the side-gate, and up the street to the home of the Misses Wingfield. The door stood open, Miss Polly was in the hall. She was a handsome woman, vigorous, erect, with clear blue eyes, and thick sandy hair closely braided round her well-shaped head. Eve explained her errand. "But perhaps Miss Leontine told you?" she added.

"No, Lonny told me nothing; she went straight to her room. I noticed that she had been crying; but she is so sweet that she cries rather easily. Whip, indeed! I'd rather shoot."

"We must keep the judge from being whipped," Eve answered.

"Yes, I suppose so; he is an old man, though he doesn't look it. I will go with you, of course. Or rather I will follow you in a few moments."

The post-office of Gary Hundred was opposite the Wingfield house; as Eve crossed the broad street on her way back, the postmaster appeared at his door, and beckoned to her mysteriously. He was a small elderly negro, with a dignified manner; he wore blue goggles; Eve knew him slightly, she had paid several visits to the office, and had been treated with deferential attention. When she reached the sidewalk, therefore, she paused.

"Would yer min' droppin' in fer one brief momen', miss? 'Portant marter."

Eve stepped over the low sill of the small building-it was hardly more than a shed, though smartly whitewashed, and adorned with bright green blinds-and the postmaster immediately closed the door. He then cautiously took from his desk a letter.

"Dere's sump'n' rudder quare 'bout dishyer letter, miss," he said, glancing towards the window to see that no one was looking in. "Carn't be too pertikler w'en it's guv'ment business; en so we 'lowed to ax de favior ef you'd sorter glimpse yer eye ober it fer us."

"Read a letter?" said Eve. "Whose letter?"

"Not de letter, but him outside, miss. Whoms is it? Dat's de p'int. En I wouldn't have you s'pose we 'ain't guv it our bes' cornsideration. We knows de looks ob mos' ob 'em w'at comes yere; but dishyer one's diffunt. Fuddermo', de stamp's diffunt too."

The postmaster's wife, a little yellow woman, was looking anxiously at them from the small window in the partition of the real post-office, a space six feet by three.

Eve took the letter. "It's an English stamp. And the name is plainly written, 'Henry Barker, Esquire; Gary Hundred.'"

"No sech pusson yere. Dat's w'at I tol' Mister Cotesworth," said the yellow woman, triumphantly.

"Do you mean to tell me that you cannot read?" said Eve, surveying "Mister Cotesworth," with astonishment.

The government official had, for the moment, an abashed look. "We 'lowed," he began, "dat as you's fum de Norf-"

But his wife interrupted him. "He reads better'n mos', miss, Mister Cotesworth does. But his eyes done got so bad lately-dat's w'at. Take de letter, Mister Cotesworth, and doan' trouble de lady no mo'. Fine wedder, miss." She came round and opened the door officiously; "seem lak we 'ain't nebber see finer."

Miss Polly arrived at Cousin Sarah Cray's; she walked with apparent carelessness round towards the stables, where the judge was superintending the rubbing down and the feeding of the horse. A saddle had been brought out, and was hanging on the fence; Cousin Sarah hovered anxiously near.

"Grandpa is going out for a ride," explained Cicely. "But I told him that the poor horse must be fed first, in common charity; he has been so far already-to Bellington and back."

"Oh, but the judge is not going, now that I have come," said Miss Polly; "he wouldn't be so uncivil." She went up to him; smiling winningly, she put out her beautiful hand.

The judge was always gallant; he took the fair hand, and, bending his head, deposited upon it a salute.

Miss Polly smiled still more graciously. "And is a stable-yard a place for such courtesies, judge?" she said, in her rich voice, with her luscious, indolent, Southern pronunciation. "Oh, surely not-surely not. Let us go to Cousin Sarah Cray's parlor; I have something to tell you; in fact, I came especially to see you." Looking very handsome and very straight, she took his arm with a caressing touch.

The judge admired Miss Polly deeply.

And Miss Polly kept a firm hold upon his arm.

The judge yielded.

* * *

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