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   Chapter 8 No.8

Jupiter Lights By Constance Fenimore Woolson Characters: 15453

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


EARLY spring at Romney. The yellow jessamine was nearly gone, the other flowers were coming out; Atamasco lilies shone whitely everywhere; the long line of the islands and the opposite mainland were white with blossoms, the salt-marshes were freshly green; shoals, which had wallowed under water since Christmas, lifted their heads; the great river came back within its banks again.

Three weeks had passed since their return to the island. They had made the journey without the judge, who had remained in South Carolina to give his aid to the widow of his old friend, Roland Pettigru, who had become involved in a lawsuit. The three weeks had been slow and anxious-anxious, that is, to Eve. Cicely had returned to her muteness. Once, at the beginning, when Eve had pressed her with questions, she said, as general answer, "In any case, Ferdie will not come here." After that, when again-once or twice-Eve had asked, "Have you heard anything more?" Cicely had returned no reply whatever; she had let her passive glance rest upon Eve and then glide to something else, as though she had not spoken. Eve was proud, she too remained silent. She knew that she had done nothing to win Cicely's confidence; women understand women, and Cicely had perceived from the first, of course, that Jack's sister did not like her.

But since that midnight revelation at Cousin Sarah Cray's, Eve no longer disliked Cicely; on the contrary, she was attracted towards her by a sort of unwilling surprise. Often, when they were with the others, she would look at her twenty times in a half-hour, endeavoring to fathom something of the real nature of this little girl (to Eve, Cicely always seemed a school-girl), who had borne a tragedy in silence, covering it with her jests, covering it also with her coldness. But was Cicely really cold to all the world but Ferdie? She was not so, at least, as regarded her child; no one who had seen her on her knees that night beside the crib could doubt her love for him. Yet she let Eve have him for hours at a time, she let her have him at night, without even Dilsey to look after him; she never interfered, constantly as Eve claimed him and kept him. In spite of her confidence in her own perceptions, in spite of her confidence, too, in her own will, which she believed could force a solution in almost every case, Eve Bruce was obliged to acknowledge to herself that she was puzzled.

Now and then she would be harassed by the question as to whether she ought not to tell Miss Sabrina what she knew, whether she ought not to tell the judge. But Cicely had spared them, and Cicely had asked her to be equally merciful. At night, when lying awake, the horror of the poor baby's broken arm would sometimes come to her so vividly that she would light the candle in haste to see if he were safe. If Ferdie should come here, after all! Cicely had said that he would not; but who could trust Cicely,-loving the man as she did? To Eve, after all that had happened, Cicely's love seemed a mania as insane as the homicidal deliriums of the husband.

As to these deliriums, she tried to picture what they must be: the baby hurled from his little crib-that made her shudder with rage; she should not be afraid of the madman, then; she should attack him in return! Sometimes it was Cicely whom she saw, Cicely, shrinking under blows; it must have been something heavy and sharp, a billet of wood, perhaps, that had caused the scars across her white breast. She remembered that once, when inwardly exasperated by Cicely's fresh fairness, she had accused her of never having known what it was to be really tired in all her life. Cicely had answered, rather hesitatingly, "I don't know that I have ever been tired, exactly." She had not been tired-no. She had only been half killed.

The poor little girl's muteness, her occasional outbursts of wild sport, her jests and laughter, her abstractions, and the coldness sometimes seen in her beautiful eyes, were these the results of suffering? She questioned Miss Sabrina a little.

"She has always been the same, except that since her second marriage she is much more quiet," replied the unconscious aunt. "Until then she was like quicksilver, she used to run through the thickets so swiftly that no one could follow her, and she used to play ball by the hour with-" Here the speaker paused, disconcerted.

"With Jack," Eve added, her face contracting with the old pain.

Miss Sabrina had at last perceived this pain, and the discovery had stopped her affectionate allusions. But she did not forget-Eve often found her carefully made wreaths laid upon Jack's grave. As for Eve herself, she never brought a flower; she walked to and fro beside the mound, and the sojourn generally ended in angry thoughts. Why should other people keep their loved ones, and she be bereft? What had she done, what had Jack done, that was so wrong? God was not good, because He was not kind; people did not ask Him to create them, but when once He had done it for His own pleasure, and there they were, helpless, in His world, why should He torture them so? To make them better? Why didn't He make them better in the beginning, when He was creating them? Or else not make them at all!

One afternoon during the fourth week after their return to Romney, she was on her way back with Miss Sabrina from Singleton Island; the two had been dining there, the Southern three-o'clock dinner, and now at sunset the row-boat was bringing them home. To Eve the visit had been like a day's truce, a short period, when one merely waits; the afternoon was beautiful, the Sound like a mirror; the home-island, when they left it, had been peacefully lovely, the baby from his wagon kissing his hand to them, and Dilsey squatting on the bank by his side, a broad grin of contentment on her dusky face. Cicely had declined the invitation, sending a jocular message to "little Rupert," which inspired him with laughter all day.

The dinner had been excellent as regards the succulence of its South Carolina dishes. The damask tablecloth was thin from age, the dinner-service a mixture of old Canton blue and the commonest, thickest white plates; coarse dull goblets stood beside cut-glass wine-glasses; the knives were in the last stage of decrepitude, and there was no silver at all, not even a salt-spoon; it had been replaced by cheaply plated spoons and forks, from which the plate was already half gone. Blanche, the old negro woman, waited, assisted by the long-legged Lucasta, and by little Boliver, who was attired for the occasion in a pair of trousers which extended from his knees to his shoulders, over which they were tightly strapped by means of strings. Boliver's part was to bring the hot dishes from the outside kitchen, which was in a cabin at some distance-a task which he performed with dignity, varied, however, by an occasional somerset on the veranda, when he thought no one was looking. Rupert was genial, very gallant to the ladies; he carried his gallantry so far that he even drank their health several times, the only wine being the mainland Madeira. Mrs. Singleton was hospitable and affectionate, remaining unconscious (in manner) as to the many deficiencies. And Eve looked on admiringly, as though it had been a beautiful, half-pathetic little play; for to her it was all pictorial-these ruined old houses on their blooming desolate islands, with the ancient hospitality still animating them in spite of all that had passed. The short voyage over, the row-boat stopped at Romney landing. There was no one waiting for them; Abram assisted Miss Sabrina, and then Eve, to step from one of the boat's seats to the dock. Eve lingered for a moment, looking at the

sunset; then she too turned towards the house. The path winding under the trees was already dusky, Miss Sabrina was a dozen yards in advance; as she approached a bend, Eve saw some one come round it and meet her. It was a figure too tall to be the judge; it was a young man; it was a person she had not seen; she made these successive discoveries as she drew nearer. She decided that it was a neighbor from one of the southern islands, who had taken advantage of the lovely afternoon for a sail.

When she came up she found Miss Sabrina half laughing, half crying; she had given the stranger both her hands. "Oh, Eve, it is Ferdinand. And I did not know him!"

"How could you expect to know me, when you have never seen me in your life?" asked the young man, laughing.

"But we have your picture. I ought to have known-"

"My dear aunt, never accuse yourself; your dearest friends will always do that for you. I dare say my picture doesn't half do me justice."

He spoke jestingly; but there was still twilight enough to show Eve that what he had said was simply the truth. The photograph was handsome, but the real face was handsomer, the features beautiful, the eyes blue and piercing.

"This is Cicely's sister Eve," said Miss Sabrina. "She has come out-so kindly-from England to pay us a visit."

Ferdinand put out his hand with a bright smile. He had a smile which would have been a fitting one for a typical figure of youthful Hope.

Eve could not refuse, conspicuously, to give him her hand in return. It all seemed to her a dream-his sudden appearance in the dusky path, and his striking beauty. She did not speak. But her muteness passed unnoticed, because for once in her life Miss Sabrina was voluble, her words tumbled over one another. "Such a surprise! So nice! so delightful! How little we thought this morning, when we rose as usual, and everything was the same-how little we thought that it would be such a sweet, such a happy day!"

Ferdinand laughed again, throwing back his handsome head a little-a movement that was habitual with him. He gave Miss Sabrina his arm, drew her hand through it and held it in his own, as they moved onward towards the house. On the veranda, Cicely was waiting for them, her cheeks flushed with pink. Eve expected a defiant look, a glance that would dare her to express either her surprise or her fear; instead of that, Cicely's eyes, meeting hers, were full of trust and sweetness, as if she believed that Eve would sympathize with her joy, as if she had entirely forgotten that there was any reason why Eve should not share it. Miss Sabrina sympathized, if Eve did not; she kissed Cicely with a motherly tenderness, and then, as she raised her wet eyes again towards Ferdinand, she looked so extraordinarily pleased that the young man bent and kissed her faded cheek. "There, auntie," he said, "now we've made acquaintance; you must take me in as a genuine nephew. And improve me."

"Oh, improve," murmured Miss Sabrina, gazing at him near-sightedly. She put on her glasses (without turning her back) in order to see him more clearly. It marked a great emotion on her part-the not turning her back.

Eve went to her room; she thought that Cicely would follow her. But no one came until Powlyne knocked to say that tea was ready. At first Eve thought that she would not go to the dining-room, that she would send an excuse. The next moment she felt driven not only to go, but to hasten; to be always present in order to see everything and hear everything; this would be her office; she must watch for the incipient stages of what she dreaded. Cicely had said that it happened rarely. Would to God that the man would be touched by poor Miss Sabrina's loving welcome, and by little Cicely's deep joy, and refrain. But perhaps these very things would excite the longing that led to the madness!

When she reached the dining-room and saw the bright faces at the table, Miss Sabrina looking younger than she had looked for years, and wearing the white lace cape, Cicely, too, freshly dressed, and Ferdinand, they seemed to her like phantasmagoria. Or was it that these were the realities, and the phantasms the frightful visions which had haunted her nightly during all these waiting weeks?

As Ferdie talked (already Miss Sabrina had begun to call him Ferdie), it was impossible not to listen; there was a frankness in what he said, and in his sunny smile, which was irresistibly winning. And the contrast between these and his height and strength-this too was attractive. They sat long at the table; Eve felt that she was the foreign element, not he; that she was the stranger within their gates. She had made no change in her dress; suddenly it occurred to her that Ferdie must hate her for her mourning garb, which of course would bring Jack Bruce to his mind. As she thought of this, she looked at him. His eyes happened to meet hers at the moment, and he gave her a charming smile. No, there was no hate there. In the drawing-room, later, he told them comical stories of South America; he took Cicely's guitar and sang South American songs; the three women sat looking at him, Cicely in her mute bliss, Miss Sabrina with her admiration and her interest, Eve with her perplexity. His hand, touching the strings, was well-shaped, powerful; was that the hand which had struck a woman? A little child? As the evening wore on, she almost began to believe that Cicely had invented the whole of her damning tale; that the baby's arm had never been broken, and that her own hurts had been received in some other way. She looked at Cicely. But there was something very straightforward in her pure little face.

At ten o'clock she rose. Cicely made no motion, she was evidently not coming with her.

"Can I speak to you for a moment, Cicely?"

"Oh, yes," answered Cicely, with alacrity. "What is it?" She followed Eve into the hall.

Eve closed the door; then she drew her into the dining-room, which was still lighted. "You said he would not come here."

"Oh!" with a long breath; "he never would do it for me before, though I asked him, and asked him. And yet he has done it now! Think of that!"

Eve put her hands on Cicely's shoulders as if to keep her, to call her back to realities. "Have you forgotten all you said that night at Mrs. Cray's?"

Cicely gave a joyful laugh. "Yes." Then, more defiantly, "Yes, I have forgotten the whole!" But her tone changed back swiftly to its happy confidence again: "Nothing will happen, Eve; you needn't be afraid."

"Has he told you so?"

"Oh, we never speak of it," answered Cicely, looking at her with large, surprised eyes. "Did you think we spoke of it-of such a thing as that? A husband and wife-people who love each other? But you needn't be troubled; it's over forever." She disappeared.

Eve waited a moment; then she went to her room. Before she reached her door Cicely overtook her; she had run swiftly after her down the long corridor. She put her arms round Eve from behind, and whispered, with her lips against Eve's throat, "I ran after you to say that I hope that you will have, some day, as much happiness as mine." Then she was gone, as swiftly as she had come.

To wish her a love like her own, this seemed almost a curse, a malediction. But, fortunately, there was no danger that she, Eve Bruce, should ever fall a victim to such miseries; to love any man so submissively was weakness, but to love as Cicely loved, that was degradation!

Her image gazed back at her from the mirror, fair in its tints, but strangely, almost fiercely, proud; at that moment she was revolting, dumbly, against the injustice of all the ages, past, present, and to come, towards women.

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