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   Chapter 10 No.10

Jupiter Lights By Constance Fenimore Woolson Characters: 14410

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


"EVE!" A hand on Eve's shoulder.

Eve sat up in bed with a start; Cicely stood beside her, candle in hand. "Help me to dress Jack," she said.

Eve was out of bed in an instant. She lighted her own candle.

Cicely lifted the sleeping child from his crib, and began hastily to dress him. Eve brought all the little garments quickly. "Are you going to take him out of the house?" she asked. (They spoke in whispers.)

"Yes."

Eve threw on her own clothes.

After a moment, during which the hands of both women moved rapidly, Eve said, "Where is he?"

"Outside-out of the house for the moment. But he will come back; and then, if he comes down this hall, we must escape."

"Where? We must have the same ideas, you know," said Eve, buttoning her dress, and taking her hat and shawl from the wardrobe.

"I thought we could go through the ballroom, and out by the north wing."

"And once outside?"

"We must hide."

"But where?"

"In the thicket."

"It isn't a very large space. Supposing Jack should cry?"

Cicely went on fastening Jack's little coat. "I can't talk!"

"You needn't," said Eve; "I'll take care of you!"

The hasty dressing completed, the two candles were extinguished. Jack had fallen asleep again. Cicely held him herself; she would not let Eve take him. They opened the door softly, and stood together outside in the dark hall. The seconds passed and turned into minutes; the minutes became three, then five; but the space of time seemed a half-hour. Eve, standing still in the darkness, recovered her coolness; she stepped noiselessly back into her room for a moment or two; then she returned and resumed the watch. Cicely's little figure standing beside her looked very small.

By-and-by the door at the far end of the hall opened, and for the first time in her life Eve saw a vision: Ferdie, half dressed and carrying a lighted candle, appeared, his eyes fierce and fixed, his cheeks flushed. At that moment his beauty was terrible; but he saw nothing, heard nothing; he was like a man listening to something afar off.

"Come," whispered Cicely.

Swiftly and noiselessly she went round the angle of the corridor, opened a door, and, closing it behind them, led the way to the north wing; Eve followed, or rather she kept by her side. After a breathless winding transit through the labyrinth of halls and chambers, they reached the ballroom.

"Now we can run," Cicely whispered. Silently they ran.

Before they had quite reached the door at the far end, they heard a sound behind them, and saw a gleam across the floor: he had not waited in Eve's room, then; he had divined their flight, and was following. Cicely's hand swiftly found and lifted the latch; she opened the door, and they passed through. Eve gave one glance over her shoulder; he was advancing, but he was not running; his eyes had the same stare.

Cicely threw up a window, gave Jack to Eve, climbed by the aid of a chair to the sill and jumped out; then she put up her arms for Jack, and Eve followed her; they drew down the window behind them from the outside. There was a moon, but dark clouds obscured its light; the air was still. Cicely led the way to the thicket; pushing her way within, she sank down, the bushes crackling loudly as she did so. "Hurry!" she said to Eve.

Eve crouched beside her beneath the dense foliage. They could see nothing, but they could hear. They remained motionless.

After several minutes of suspense they heard a step on the plank floor of the veranda; he had made his way out. Then followed silence; the silence was worse than the sound of his steps; they had the sense that he was close upon them.

After some time without another sound, suddenly his candle gleamed directly over them; he had approached them unheard by the road, Eve not knowing and Cicely having forgotten that it was so near. For an instant Eve's heart stopped beating, she thought that they were discovered; escape was cut off, for the thorns and spiny leaves held their skirts like so many hands. But the fixed eyes did not see them; after a moment the beautiful, cruel face, lit by the yellow gleam of the candle, disappeared from above; the light moved farther away. He was going down the road; every now and then they could see that he threw a ray to the right and the left, as if still searching.

"He will go through the whole thicket, now that he has the idea," Cicely whispered. They crept into the road, Eve carrying Jack. But, once outside, Cicely took him again. They stood erect, they looked back; he and his candle were still going on towards the sea.

Cicely turned; she took a path which led to the north point. "There's no thicket there. And if he comes, there's a boat."

The distance to the point was nearly a mile. The white sand of the track guided them through the dark woods.

"Shouldn't you be safer, after all, in the house?" Eve asked.

"No, for this time he is determined to kill us; he thinks that I am some one else, a woman who is going to attack his wife; and he thinks that Jack is some other child, who has injured his Jack."

"He shall never touch Jack! Give him to me, Cicely; he is too heavy for you."

"I will not give him to any one-any one," Cicely answered, panting.

As they approached the north point, the moon shone through a rift in the clouds; suddenly it was as light as day; their faces and hands were ivory white in the radiance.

"What is that on your throat, and down the front of your dress?" said Eve. "It's wet. Why, it's blood!"

"Yes; I am cut here a little," Cicely answered, making a gesture with her chin towards her left shoulder; "I suppose it has begun to bleed again. He has a knife to-night. That is what makes me so afraid."

The Sound now came into view. At the same instant Eve, looking back, perceived a point of yellow light behind them; the path was straight for a long distance, and the light was far away; but it was advancing in their direction. Little Jack, fully awakened by their rapid flight, had lifted his head, trying to see his mother's face; as no one paid any attention to him, he began to cry. His voice seemed to make Cicely frantic; clasping him close, pressing his head down against her breast, she broke into a run.

"Get into the boat and push off, don't wait for me; I'm in no danger," Eve called after her. She stood there watching.

Cicely reached the beach, put Jack into the boat, and then tried to push it off. It was a heavy old row-boat, kept there for the convenience of the negroes who wished to cross to Singleton Island; to-night it was drawn up so high on the sands that with all her effort Cicely could not launch it. She strained every muscle to the utmost; in her ears there was a loud rushing sound; she paused dizzily, turning her head away from the water for a moment, and as she did so, she too saw the gleam, pale in the moonlight, far down the path. She did not scream, there was a tension in her throat which kept all sound from her parched mouth; she climbed into the boat, seized Jack, and staggered forward with the vague purpose of jumping into the water from the boat's stern; but she did not get far, she sank suddenly dow

n.

"She has fainted; so much the better," Eve thought. Jack, who had fallen as his mother fell, cried loudly. "He is not hurt; at least not seriously," she said to herself. Then, turning into the wood, she made her way back towards the advancing point of light. After some progress she stopped.

Ferdie was walking rapidly now; in his left hand he held his candle high in the air; in his right, which hung by his side, there was something that gleamed. The moonlight shone full upon his face, and Eve could see the expression, whose slight signs she had noticed, the flattening of the corners of the mouth; this was now so deepened that his lips wore a slight grin. Jack's wail, which had ceased for several minutes, now began again, and at the same instant his moving head could be seen above the boat's side; he had disengaged himself, and was trying to climb up higher, by the aid of one of the seats, in order to give larger vent to his astonishment and his grief.

Ferdie saw him; his shoulders made a quick movement; an inarticulate sound came from his flattened, grimacing mouth. Then he began to run towards the boat. At the same moment there was the crack, not loud, of a pistol discharged very near. The running man lunged forward and fell heavily to his knees; then to the sand. His arms made one or two spasmodic movements. Then they were still.

Eve's figure went swiftly through the wood towards the shore; she held her skirts closely, as if afraid of their rustling sound. Reaching the boat, she made a mighty effort, both hands against the bow, her body slanting forward, her feet far behind her, deep in the sand and pressing against it. She was very strong, and the boat moved, it slid down slowly and gratingly; more and more of its long length entered the water, until at last only the bow still touched the sand. Eve jumped in, pushed off with an oar, and then, stepping over Cicely's prostrate form to reach one of the seats, she sat down and began to row, brushing little Jack aside with her knee (he fell down more amazed and grief-stricken than ever), and placing her feet against the next seat as a brace. She rowed with long strokes and with all her might; perhaps he was not much hurt, after all; perhaps he too had a pistol, and could reach them. She watched the beach breathlessly.

The Sound was smooth; before long a wide space of water, with the silvery path of the moon across it, separated them from Abercrombie Island. Still she could not stop. She looked at Cicely's motionless figure; Jack, weary with crying, had crawled as far as one of her knees and laid his head against it, sobbing "Aunty Eve? Aunty Eve?"

"Yes, darling," said Eve, mechanically, still watching the other shore.

At last, with her hands smarting, her arms strained, she reached Singleton Island. After beaching the boat, she knelt down and chafed Cicely's temples, wetting her handkerchief by dipping it over the boat's side, and then pressing it on the dead-white little face. Cicely sighed. Then she opened her eyes and looked up, only half consciously, at the sky. Next she looked at Eve, who was bending over her, and memory came back.

"We are safe," Eve said, answering the look; "we are on Singleton Island, and no one is following us." She lifted the desperate little Jack and put him in his mother's arms.

Cicely sat up, she kissed her child passionately. But she fell back again, Eve supporting her.

"Let me see that-that place," Eve said. With nervous touch she turned down the little lace ruffle, which was dark and limp with the stain of the life-tide.

"It's nothing," murmured Cicely. The cut had missed its aim, it was low down on the throat, near the collar-bone; it was a flesh-wound, not dangerous.

Cicely pushed away Eve's hands and sat up. "Where is Ferdie?" she demanded.

"He-he is on the other island," Eve answered, hesitatingly. "Don't you remember that he followed us?-that we were trying to escape?"

"Well, we have escaped," said Cicely. "And now I want to know where he is."

She got on her feet, stepped out of the boat to the sand, and lifted Jack out; she muffled the child in a shawl, and made him walk with her to the edge of the water. Here she stood looking at the home-island, straining her eyes in the misty moonlight.

Eve followed her. "I think the farther away we go, Cicely, the better; at least for the present. The steamer stops at Singleton Landing at dawn; we can go on board as we are, and get what is necessary in Savannah."

"Why don't I see him on the beach?" said Cicely. "I could see him if he were there-I could see him walking. If he followed us, as you say, why don't I see him!" She put a hand on each side of her mouth, making a circle of them, and called with all her strength, "Ferdie? Fer-die?"

"Are you mad?" said Eve.

"Fer-die?" cried Cicely again.

Eve pulled down her hands. "He can't hear you."

"Why can't he?" said Cicely, turning and looking at her.

"It's too far," answered Eve, in a trembling voice.

"Perhaps he has gone for a boat," Cicely suggested.

"Yes, perhaps he has," Eve assented, eagerly. And for a moment the two women gazed southward with the same hopefulness.

Then Eve came back to reality. "What are we thinking of? Do you want to have Jack killed?"

Cicely threw up her arms. "Oh, if it weren't for Jack!" Her despair at that moment gave her majesty.

"Give him to me; let me take him away," urged Eve again.

"I will never give him to any one; I will never leave him, never."

"Then you must both go with me for the present; we will go farther north than Savannah; we will go to New York."

"There is only one place I will go to-one person, and that is Paul; Ferdie loves Paul;-I will go nowhere else."

"Very well; we will go to Paul."

The struggle was over; Cicely's voice had grown lifeless. Little Jack, tired out, laid himself despairingly down on the sand; she sat down beside him, rearranged the shawl under him and over him, and then, as he fell asleep, she clasped her hands round her knees, and waited inertly, her eyes fixed on the opposite beach.

Eve, standing behind her, also watched the home-island. "If I could only see him!" was her constant prayer. She was even ready to accept the sight of a boat shooting from the shadows which lay dark on the western side, a boat coming in pursuit; he would have had time, perhaps, to get to the skiff which was kept on that side, not far from the point; he knew where all the boats were. Five minutes-six-had elapsed since they landed; yes, he would have had time. She looked and looked; she was almost sure that she saw a boat advancing, and clasped her hands in joy.

But where could they go, in case he should really come? To Singleton House, where there was only a lame old man, and women? There was no door there which he could not batter down, no lock which could keep him out-the terrible, beautiful madman. No; it was better to think, to believe, that he could not come.

She walked back to the trees that skirted the beach, leaned her clasped arms against the trunk of one of them, and, laying her head upon the arm that was uppermost, stood motionless.

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