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   Chapter 7 No.7

Jupiter Lights By Constance Fenimore Woolson Characters: 13776

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


"SEA-BEACHES," said Eve,-"the minds of such people; you can trace the line of their last high tide, that is, the year when they stopped reading. Along the judge's line, one finds, for instance, Rogers; he really has no idea that there have been any new poets since then."

"Dear me! We have always thought Horatio remarkably literary," protested Cousin Sarah Cray. "That's his step now, I think."

The judge came in, little Jack on his shoulder. "I believe he has dropped some-some portions of his clothing on the stairs," he said, helplessly. "It's astonishing-the facility he has."

"And he has pulled off his shoes," added Eve, taking the little reprobate and kissing him. "Naughty Jack. Tacks!"

"Esss, tacks!" repeated Jack, in high glee. "Dey gets in Jack's foots." That was all he cared for her warning legend.

The judge sat down and wiped his forehead. "I have received a shock," he said.

"Pity's sake!-what?" asked Cousin Sarah Cray, in alarm. Poor Cousin Sarah dealt in interjections. But it might be added that she had lived through times that were exclamatory.

"Our old friend, Roland Pettigru, is dead, Sarah; the news comes to us in this-this Sheet, which, I am told, is published here." He drew a small newspaper from his pocket. "With your permission, ladies, I will read to you the opening sentence of an obituary notice which this-this Sheet-has prepared for the occasion." He put on his spectacles, and, holding the paper off at a distance, read aloud, with slow, indignant enunciation, as follows: "'The Great Reaper has descended amongst us. And this time he has carried back with him sadly brilliant sheaves; for his arrows have been shot at a shining mark' (arrows for a reaper!" commented the judge, surveying his audience squintingly, over his glasses), "'and the aim has been only too true. Gaunt Sorrow stalks abroad, we mourn with Pettigru Hill; we say-and we repeat-that the death of Roland Pettigru has left a vortex among us.' Yes, vortex, ladies;-the death of a quiet, cultivated gentleman a vortex!"

At this moment Deely, the house-maid, appeared at the door; giving her calico skirt a twist by way of "manners," she announced, "Miss Wungfy."

Miss Leontine entered, carrying five books standing in a row upon her left arm as though it had been a shelf. She shook hands with Cousin Sarah Cray and Eve; then she went through the same ceremony with the judge, but in a confused, downcast manner, and seated herself on a slippery ottoman as near as possible to the door.

"I hope you liked the books? Pray let me take them," said Eve, for Miss Leontine was still balancing them against her breast.

"Literature?" remarked the judge, who also seemed embarrassed. He took up one of the volumes and opened it. "Ah, a novel."

"Yes, but one that will not hurt you," Eve answered. "For Miss Leontine prefers those novels where the hero and heroine are married to begin with, and then fall in love with each other afterwards; everything on earth may happen to them during this process-poisonings and murders and shootings; she does not mind these in the least, for it's sure in any case to be moral, don't you see, because they were married in the beginning. And marriage makes everything perfectly safe; doesn't it, Miss Leontine?"

"I am sure I don't know," answered Miss Leontine, still a prey to nervousness; "but-but I have always supposed so. Yes. We read them aloud," she added, turning for relief to Cousin Sarah Cray; "that is, I read to Polly-in the evenings."

"These modern novels seem to me poor productions," commented the judge, turning over the pages of the volume he had taken.

"Naturally," responded Eve.

"May I ask why 'naturally'?"

"Oh, men who read their Montaigne year after year without change, and who quote Charles Lamb, never care for novels, unless, indeed, it may be 'Tom Jones.' Montaigne and Lamb, Latin quotations that are not hard, a glass of good wine with his dinner, and a convexity of person-these mark your non-appreciator of novels, from Warwickshire to Gary Hundred."

"Upon my word, young lady-" began the judge, laughing.

But Miss Leontine, by her rising, interrupted him. "I think I must go now. Yes. Thank you."

"But you have only just come," said Cousin Sarah Cray.

"I stopped to leave the books. Yes; really; that was all. Thanks, you are very kind. Yes; thank you." She fumbled ineffectually for the handle of the door, and, when it was opened for her, with an embarrassed bow she passed out, her long back bent forward, her step hurried.

"I can't imagine what is the matter with her," said Cousin Sarah Cray, returning.

"I am afraid, Sarah, that I can inform you," answered the judge gravely, putting down the volume. "I met her in her own garden about an hour ago, and we fell into conversation; I don't know what possessed me, but in relating some anecdote of a jocular nature which happened to be in my mind at the time, by way of finish-I can't imagine what I was thinking of-but I up and chucked her under the chin."

"Chucked Miss Leontine!" exclaimed Cousin Sarah Cray, aghast, while Eve gave way to irrepressible mirth. "Was she-was she deeply offended?"

"She was simply paralyzed with astonishment. I venture to say"-here the judge sent an eye-beam towards the laughing Eve-"I venture to say that Miss Leontine has never been chucked under the chin in all her life before."

"Certainly not," answered Cousin Sarah Cray; "she is far too dignified." Then, with a desire to be strictly truthful, she added, "Perhaps when she was a baby?"

But even this seemed doubtful.

Not long after this the Misses Wingfield (it was really Miss Polly) gave a party.

"Must we go?" said Eve.

"Why, it will be perfectly delightful!" answered Cousin Sarah Cray, looking at her in astonishment. "Every one will be there. Let me see: there will be ourselves, four; and Miss Polly and Miss Leontine, six; then the Debbses, thirteen-fourteen if Mrs. Debbs comes; the Rev. Mr. Bushey and his wife, sixteen. And perhaps there will be some one else," she added, hopefully; "perhaps somebody has some one staying with them."

"Thomas Scotts, the tub man, will not be invited," remarked Cicely. "He will walk by on the outside. And look in."

"There's nothing I admire more than the way you pronounce that name Debbs," observed Eve. "It's plain Debbs; yet you call it Dessss-holding on to all the s's, and hardly sounding the b at all-so that you almost make it rhyme with noblesse."

"That's because we like 'em, I reckon," responded Cousin Sarah Cray. "They certainly are the sweetest family!"

"There's a faint trace of an original theme in Matilda. The others are all variations," said the caustic Miss Bruce.

They went to the party.

"Theme and variations all here," said Cicely, as they passed the open door of the parlor on their way up-stair

s to lay aside their wraps; "they haven't spared us a trill."

"Well, you won't be spared either," said Cousin Sarah Cray. "You'll have to sing."

She proved a true prophet; Cicely was called upon to add what she could to the entertainments of the evening. Her voice was slender and clear; to-night it pleased her to sing straight on, so rapidly that she made mince-meat of the words of her song, the delicate little notes almost seeming to come from a flute, or from a mechanical music-bird screwed to a chandelier. Later, however, Miss Matilda Debbs supplied the missing expression when she gave them:

"Slee-ping, I dreamed, love,

Dreamed, love, of thee;

O'er-ther-bright waves, love,

Float-ing were we."

Cicely seemed possessed by one of her wild moods. "I've been to the window; the tar-and-turpentine man is looking over the gate," she said, in a low voice, to Eve. "I'm going out to say to him, 'Scotts, wha hae! Send in a tub.'"

Presently she came by Eve's chair again. "Have you seen the geranium in Miss Leontine's hair? Let us get grandpa out on the veranda with her, alone; she has been madly in love with him ever since he chucked her under the chin. What's more, grandpa knows it, too, and he's awfully frightened; he always goes through the back streets now, like a thief."

There was a peal at the door-bell. "Tar-and-turpentine man coming in," murmured Cicely.

Susannah appeared with a letter. "Fer Mis' Morrison," she said.

There was a general laugh. For "Mister Cotesworth," not sure that Eve would keep his secret, and alarmed for the safety of his official position, had taken to delivering his letters in person; clad in his best black coat, with a silk hat, the blue goggles, and a tasselled cane, he not only delivered them with his own hands, but he declaimed the addresses in a loud tone at the door. Not finding Cicely at home, he had followed her hither. "Fer Mis' Fer'nen Morrison. A ferwerded letter," he said to Susannah in the hall, at the top of his voice.

The judge had gone to the dining-room with Miss Polly, to see her little dog, which was ailing. Cicely put the letter in her pocket.

After a while she said to Eve, "I never have any letters, hardly."

"But you must have," Eve answered.

"No; almost never. I am going up-stairs for a moment, Eve. Don't come with me."

When she returned, more music was going on. As soon as she could, Eve said, inquiringly, "Well?"

"It was from Ferdie."

"Is he coming back?"

"Yes," responded Cicely, unmoved.

Eve's thoughts had flown to her own plans. But she found time to think, "What a cold little creature it is, after all!"

At that moment they could say no more.

About midnight, when Eve was in her own room, undressing, there was a tap at the door, and Cicely entered. She had taken off her dress; a forlorn little blue shawl was drawn tightly round her shoulders.

She walked to the dressing-table, where Eve was sitting, took up a brush, and looked at it vaguely. "I didn't mean to tell any one; but I have changed my mind, I am going to tell you." Putting down the brush, she let the shawl fall back. There across her white breast was a long purple scar, and a second one over her delicate little shoulder. "He did it," she said. Her eyes, fixed upon Eve's, were proud and brilliant.

"You don't mean-you don't mean that your husband-" stammered Eve, in horror.

"Yes, Ferdie. He did it."

"Is he mad?"

"Only after he has been drinking."

"Oh, you poor little thing!" said Eve, taking her in her arms protectingly. "I have been so hard to you, Cicely, so cruel! But I did not know-I did not know." Her tears flowed.

"I am telling you on account of baby," Cicely went on, in the same unmoved tone.

"Has he dared to touch baby?" said Eve, springing up.

"Yes, Eve; he broke poor baby's little arm; of course when he did not know what he was doing. When he gets that way he does not know us; he thinks we are enemies, and he thinks it is his duty to attack us. Once he put us out-of-doors-baby and me-in the middle of the night, with only our night-dresses on; fortunately it wasn't very cold. That time, and the time he broke baby's arm (he seized him by the arm and flung him out of his crib), we were not in Savannah; we were off by ourselves for a month, we three. Baby was so young that the bone was easily set. Nobody ever knew about it, I never told. But-but it must not happen again." She looked at Eve with the same unmoved gaze.

"I should rather think not! Give him to me, Cicely, and let me take him away-at least for the present. You know you said-"

"I said 'perhaps.' But I cannot let him go now-not just now. I am telling you what has happened because you really seem to care for him."

"I think I have showed that I care for him!"

"Well, I have let you."

"What are we to do, then, if you won't let me take him away?" said Eve, in despair. "Will that man come here?"

"He may. He will go to Savannah, and if he learns there that I am here, he may follow me. But he will never go to Romney, he doesn't like Romney; even in the beginning, when I begged him to go, he never would. He-" She paused.

"Jealous, I suppose," suggested the sister, with a bitter laugh-"jealous of Jack's poor bones in the burying-ground. Your two ghosts will have a duel, Cicely."

"Oh, Ferdie isn't dead!" said Cicely, with sudden terror. She grasped Eve's arm. "Have you heard anything? Tell me-tell me."

Eve looked at her.

"Yes, I love him," said Cicely, answering the look. "I have loved him ever since the first hour I saw him. It's more than love; it's adoration."

"You never said that of Jack."

"No; for it wouldn't have been true."

The two women faced each other-the tall Eve, the dark little wife.

"Oh, if I could only get away from this hideous country-this whole horrible South!" said Eve, walking up and down the room like a caged tigress.

"You would like him if you knew him," Cicely went on, gently. "It seldom happens-that other; and when it doesn't happen, Eve-"

Eve put out her hand with a repelling gesture. "Let me take baby and go."

"Not now. But he will be safe at Romney."

"In Heaven's name, then, let us get him back to Romney."

"Yes; to-morrow."

Little Jack was asleep in his crib by the side of Eve's bed, for she still kept him with her at night. Cicely went to the crib and looked at her child; Eve followed her.

The little boy's night-dress had fallen open, revealing one shoulder and arm. "It was just here," whispered Cicely, kneeling down and softly touching the baby-flesh. She looked up at Eve, her eyes thick with tears.

"Why, you care?" said Eve. "Care for him?-the baby, I mean." She spoke her thoughts aloud, unwittingly.

"Did you think I didn't care?" asked Cicely, with a smile.

It was the strangest smile Eve had ever seen.

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