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   Chapter 14 No.14

Jupiter Lights By Constance Fenimore Woolson Characters: 23314

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


FOUR days had passed slowly by. "What do you think, judge, of this theory about the shooting,-the one they believe at Romney?" said Paul, on the fifth morning.

"It's probable enough. Niggers are constitutionally timid, and they always have pistols nowadays; these two boys, it seems, had come over from the mainland to hide; they had escaped from a lock-up, got a boat somewhere and crossed; that much is known. Your brother, perhaps, went wandering about the island; if he came upon them suddenly, with that knife in his hand, like as not they fired."

"Ferdie was found lying very near the point where your boat was kept."

"And the niggers might have been hidden just there. But I don't think we can tell exactly where our boat was; Cicely doesn't remember-I have asked her."

"Miss Bruce may have clearer ideas."

"No; Eve seems to have a greater confusion about it than Cicely even; she cannot speak of it clearly at all."

"Yes, I have noticed that," said Paul.

"I suppose it is because, at the last, she had it all to do; she is a brave woman."

Paul was silent.

"Don't you think so?" said the judge.

"I wasn't there. I don't know what she did."

"You're all alike, you young men; she's too much for you," said the judge, with a chuckle.

"Why too much? She seems to me very glum and shy. When you say that we are all alike, do you mean that Ferdie didn't admire her, either? Yet Ferdie is liberal in his tastes," said the elder brother, smiling.

But the judge did not want to talk about Ferdie. "So you find her shy? She did not strike us so at Romney. Quiet enough-yes. But very decidedly liking to have her own way."

Paul dismissed the subject. "I suppose those two scamps, who shot him, got safely away?"

"Yes, they were sure to have run off on the instant; they had the boat they came over in, and before daylight they were miles to the southward probably; I dare say they made for one of the swamps. In the old days we could have tracked them; but it's not so easy now. And even if we got them we couldn't string them up."

"You wouldn't hang them?"

"By all the gods, I would!" said the planter, bringing his fist down upon the table with a force that belonged to his youth.

"Ferdie may have attacked them first, you know."

"What difference does that make? Damnation, sir! are they to be allowed to fire upon their masters?"

"They did not fire very well, these two; according to Dr. Knox, the wound is not serious; his despatch this morning says that Ferdie is coming on admirably."

"Yes, I suppose he is," said the old man, relapsing into gloom.

"As soon as he is up and about, I am going down there," Paul went on; "I must see him and have a serious talk. Some new measures must be taken. I don't think it will be difficult when I have once made him see his danger; he is so extraordinarily intelligent."

"I wish he were dull, then,-dull as an owl!" said the judge, with a long sigh.

"Yes, regarded simply as husbands, I dare say the dull may be safer," responded Paul. "But you must excuse me if I cannot look upon Ferdie merely as the husband of your daughter; I expect great things of him yet."

"Granddaughter. If her father had lived-my boy Duke-it would have been another story; Duke wouldn't have been a broken old man like me." And the judge leaned his head upon his hand.

"I beg your pardon, sir; don't mind my roughness. It's only that I'm fond of Ferdie, and proud of him; he has but that one fault. But I appreciate how you feel about Cicely; we must work together for them both."

Paul had risen, and was standing before him with outstretched hand. "Thank you; you mean well," said the judge. He had let his hand be taken, but he did not look up. He felt that he could never really like this man-never.

"I am to understand, then, that you approve of my plan?" Paul went on, after a short silence. "Cicely to stay here for the present-the house, I hope, is fairly comfortable-and then, when Ferdie is better, I to go down there and see what I can do; I have every hope of doing a great deal! Oh, yes, there's one more thing; you needn't feel obliged to stay here any longer than you want to, you know; I can see to Cicely. Apparently, too, Miss Bruce has no intention of leaving her."

"I shall stay, sir-I shall stay."

"On my own account, I hope you will; I only meant that you needn't feel that you must; I thought perhaps there was something that called you home."

"Calls me home? Do you suppose we do anything down there nowadays with the whole coast ruined? As for the house, Sabrina is there, and women like illness; they absolutely dote on medicines, and doctors, and ghastly talking in whispers."

"Very well; I only hope you won't find it dull, that's all. The mine isn't bad; you might come out there occasionally. And the steamers stop two or three times a day. There's a good deal going on in the town, too; building's lively."

"I am much obliged to you."

"But you don't care for liveliness," pursued Paul, with a smile. "I am afraid there isn't much else. I haven't many books, but Kit Hollis has; he is the man for you. Queer; never can decide anything; always beating round the bush; still, in his way, tremendously well read and clever."

"He appears to be a kind of dry-nurse to you," said the judge, rising.

Paul laughed, showing his white teeth. He was very good-natured, his guest had already discovered that.

The judge was glad that their conversation had come to an end. He could no longer endure dwelling upon sorrow. Trouble was not over for them by any means; their road looked long and dark before them. But for the moment Cicely and her child were safe under this roof; let them enjoy that and have a respite. As for himself, he could-well, he could enjoy the view.

The view consisted of the broad lake in front, and the deep forest which stretched unbroken towards the east and the west. The water of the lake was fresh, the great forest was primeval; this made the effect very unlike that of the narrow salt-water sounds, and the chain of islands, large and small, with their gardens and old fields. The South had forgotten her beginnings; but here one could see what all the new world had once been, here one could see traces of the first struggle for human existence with the inert forces of nature. With other forces, too, for Indians still lived here. They were few in number, harmless; but they carried the mind back to the time of sudden alarms and the musket laid ready to the hand; the days of the block-house and the guarded well, the high stockade. The old planter as he walked about did not think of these things. The rough forest was fit only for rough-living pioneers; the Indians were but another species of nigger; the virgin air was thin and raw,-he preferred something more thick, more civilized; the great fresh-water sea was abominably tame, no one could possibly admire it; Port aux Pins itself was simply hideous; it was a place composed entirely of beginnings and mud, talk and ambition, the sort of place which the Yankees produced wherever they went, and which they loved; that in itself described it; how could a Southern gentleman like what they loved?

And Port aux Pins was ugly. Its outlying quarters were still in the freshly plucked state, deplumed, scarred, with roadways half laid out, with shanties and wandering pigs, discarded tin cans and other refuse, and everywhere stumps, stumps. Within the town there were one or two streets where stood smart wooden houses with Mansard-roofs. But these were elbowed by others much less smart, and they were hustled by the scaffolding of the new mansions which were rising on all sides, and, with republican freedom, taking whatever room they found convenient during the process. Even those abodes which were completed as to their exteriors had a look of not being fully furnished, a blank, wide-eyed, unwinking expression across their fa?ades which told of bare floors and echoing spaces within. Always they had temporary fences. Often paths of movable planks led up to the entrance. Day after day a building of some sort was voyaging through Port aux Pins streets by means of a rope and windlass, a horse, and men with boards; when it rained, the house stopped and remained where it was, waiting for the mud to dry; meanwhile the roadway was blocked. But nobody minded that. All these things, the all-pervading beginnings, the jokes and slang, the smell of paint, and always the breathless constant hurry, were hateful to the old Georgian. It might have been said, perhaps, that between houses and a society uncomfortable from age, falling to pieces from want of repairs, and houses and a society uncomfortable from youth, unfurnished, and encumbered with scaffolding, there was not much to choose. But the judge did not think so; to his mind there was a great deal to choose.

As the days passed, Christopher Hollis became more and more his companion; the judge grew into the habit of expecting to see his high head, topped with a silk hat, put stealthily through the crevice of the half-open door of Paul's dining-room (Hollis never opened a door widely; whether coming in or going out, he always squeezed himself through), with the query, "Hello! What's up?" There was never anything up; but the judge, sitting there forlornly, with no companion but the local newspaper (which he loathed), was glad to welcome his queer guest. Generally they went out together; Port aux Pins people grew accustomed to seeing them walking down to the end first of one pier, then of the other, strolling among the stumps in the suburbs, or sitting on the pile of planks which adorned one corner of the Public Square, the long-legged, loose-jointed Kit an amusing contrast to the small, precise figure by his side.

"I say, he's pretty hard up for entertainment, that old gentleman of yours," announced Hollis one day, peering in through the crevice of the door of Paul Tennant's office in the town.

"I depended on you to entertain him," answered Paul without lifting his head, which was bent over a ledger.

"Well, I've taken him all over the place, I've pretty nearly trotted his legs off," Hollis responded, edging farther in, the door scraping the buttons of his waistcoat as he did so. "And I've shot off all my Latin at him too-all I can remember. I read up on purpose."

"Is he such a scholar, then?"

"No, he ain't. But it does him good to hear a little Horace in such an early-in-the-morning, ten-minutes-ago place as this. See here, Paul; if you keep him on here long he won't stand it-he'll mizzle out. He'll simply die of Potterpins."

"I'm not keeping him. He stays of his own accord."

"I don't believe it. But, I say, ain't he a regular old despot though! You ought to hear him hold forth sometimes."

"I don't want to hear him."

"Well, I guess he don't talk that way to you, on the whole. Not much," said Hollis, jocularly.

And Paul Tennant did not look like a man who would be a comfortable companion for persons of the aggressive temperament. He was tall and broad-shouldered; not graceful like Ferdie, but powerful. His neck was rather short; the lower part of his face was strong and firm. His features were good; his eyes, keen, gray in hue. His hair was yellow and thick, and he had a moustache and short beard of the same yellow hue. No one would have called him handsome exactly. There was something of the Scandinavian in his appearance; nothing of the German. His manner, compared with Ferdie's quick, light brilliancy, was quiet, his speech slow.

"Have you been thinking about that pr

oposition-that sale?" Hollis went on.

"Yes."

"What are you going to do?"

"It's done. I've declined."

"What! not already? That's sudden, ain't it?"

Paul did not answer; he was adding figures.

"Have you been over the reasons?-weighed 'em?"

"Oh, I leave the reasons to you," said Paul, turning a page.

Hollis gave his almost silent laugh. But he gave it uneasily. "Positively declined? Letter gone?"

"Yes."

"Oh; well!" He waited a moment; then, as Paul did not speak, he opened the door and edged himself out without a sound.

Ten minutes later his head reappeared with the same stealth. "Oh, I thought I'd just tell you-perhaps you don't know-the mail doesn't go out to-day until five o'clock: you can get that letter back if you like."

"I don't want it back."

"Oh; well." He was gone again.

Outside in the street he saw the judge wandering by, and stopped him. "That there son-in-law of yours-" he began.

"Son-in-law?" inquired the judge, stiffly.

"Whatever pleases you; step-sister."

"Mr. Tennant is the half-brother of the husband of my granddaughter."

"'T any rate, that man in there, that Paul, he's so tremendously rash there's no counting on him; if there's anything to do he goes and does it right spang off without a why or a wherefore. He absolutely seems to have no reasons!-not a rease!"

"I cannot agree with you. To me Mr. Tennant seems to have a great many."

"But you haven't heard about this. Come along out to the Park for a walk, and I'll tell you."

He moved on. But the judge did not accompany him. A hurrying mulatto, a waiter from one of the steamers, had jostled him off the narrow plank sidewalk; at the same moment a buggy which was passing, driven at a reckless speed, spattered him with mud from shoulder to shoe.

"Never mind, come on; it'll dry while you're walking," suggested Hollis from the corner where he was waiting.

The judge stepped back to the planks; he surveyed his befouled person; then he brought out a resounding expletive-half a dozen of them.

"Do it again-if it'll ease you off," called Kit, grinning. "When you're blessing Potterpins, I'm with you every time."

The judge rapped the planks with his cane. "Go on, sir! go on!" he said, violently.

Hollis went loafing on. And presently the judge caught up with him, and trotted beside him in silence.

"Well, that Paul now, as I was telling you, I don't know what to make of him," said Hollis, returning to his topic. "I think I know him, and then, suddenly he stumps me. Once he has made up his mind to anything-and it does not take long-off he goes and does it, I tell you! He does it."

"I don't know what he does; his conversation has a good deal of the sledge-hammer about it," remarked the judge.

"So it has," responded Hollis, delighted with the comparison; he was so delighted that he stopped and slapped his thigh. "So it has, by George!-convincing and knock-you-down." The judge walked on. He had intended no compliment. "To-day, now, that fellow has gone and sent off a letter that he ought to have taken six months to think over," Hollis continued. "Told you about his Clay County iron?"

"No."

"Well, he was down there on business-in Clay County. It was several years ago. He had to go across the country, and the roads were awful-full of slew-holes. At last, tired of being joggled to pieces, he got out and walked along the fields, leaving the horse to bring the buggy through the mud as well as he could. By-and-by he saw a stone that didn't look quite like the others, and he gave it a kick. Still it didn't look quite like, so he picked it up. The long and short of it was that it turned out to be hematite iron, and off he went to the county-seat and entered as much of the land as he could afford to buy. He hasn't any capital, so he has never been able to work it himself; all his savings he has invested in something or other in South America. But the other day he had a tip-top offer from a company; they wanted to buy the whole thing in a lump. And that's the chance he has refused this identical morning!" The judge did not reply. "More iron may be discovered near by, you know," Hollis went on, warningly, his forefinger out. His companion still remained silent. "He may never have half so good an offer in his whole life again!"

They had now reached the Park, a dreary enclosure where small evergreens had been set out here and there, together with rock-work, and a fountain which did not play. The magnificent forest trees which had once covered the spot had all been felled; infant elms, swathed in rags and tied to whitewashed stakes, were expected to give shade in fifteen or twenty years. There were no benches; Hollis seated himself on the top of a rail-fence which bordered the slight descent to the beach of the lake; the heels of his boots, caught on a rail below, propped him, and sent his knees forward at an acute angle.

"There were all sorts of side issues and possibilities which that fellow ought to have considered," he pursued, ruminatively, his mind still on Paul's refusal. "There were other things that might have come of it. It was an A number one chance for a fortune." The judge did not answer. "For a fortune," repeated Hollis, dreamily, gazing down at him from his perch. No reply. "A for-chun!"

"Da-a-a-m your fortune!" said the judge, at the end of his patience, bringing out the first word with a long emphasis, like a low growl from a bull-dog.

Hollis stared. Then he gave his silent laugh, and, stretching down one long arm, he laid it on the old man's shoulder soothingly. "There, now; we are awful Yankees up here, all of us, I'm afraid; forever thinking of bargains. Fact is, we ain't high-minded; you can't be, if you are forever eating salt pork." The judge had pulled himself from the other's touch in an instant. But Hollis remained unconscious of any offence.

"'At the battle of the Nile I was there all the while;

I was there all the while at the battle of the Nile.'"

he chanted.

"'At the bat- '

"Hello, isn't that Miss Bruce coming down the beach? Yes, sure-ly; I know her by the way she carries her head." Detaching his boot-heels from the rail, he sprang down, touching the ground with his long legs wide apart; then, giving his waistcoat a pull over the flatness below it, he looked inquiringly at the judge.

But that gentleman ignored the inquiry. "It is time to return, I reckon," he remarked, leading the way inflexibly towards the distant gate and the road.

Hollis followed him with disappointed tread. "She won't think us very polite, skooting off in this fashion," he hazarded.

The judge vouchsafed him no reply. It was one thing for this backwoodsman to go about with him; it was another to aspire to an acquaintance with the ladies of his family. Poor Hollis aspired to nothing; he was the most modest of men; all the same it would never have occurred to him that he was not on an equality with everybody. They returned to Port aux Pins by the road.

The beach was in sight all the way on the left; Eve's figure in three-quarter length was visible whenever Hollis turned his head in that direction, which was often. She gained on them. Then she passed them.

"She's a tip-top walker, isn't she? I see her coming in almost every day from 'way out somewhere-she doesn't mind how far. Our ladies here don't walk much; they don't seem to find it interesting. But Miss Bruce, now-she says the woods are beautiful. Can't say I have found 'em so myself."

"Have you had any new cases lately?" inquired the judge, coldly.

"Did that Paul tell you I was a lawyer? Was once, but have given up practising. I've got an Auction and Commission store now; never took you there because business hasn't been flourishing; sometimes for days together there's been nothing but the skeleton." The judge looked at him. "I don't mean myself! Say, now, did you really think I meant myself?" And he laughed without a sound. "No, this is a real one; it was left with me over a year ago to be sold on commission-medical students, or a college, you know. Man never came back-perhaps he's a skeleton himself in the lake somewhere-so there it hangs still; first-class, and in elegant condition. To-day there are six bonnets to keep it company; so we're full."

They were now entering the town. Presently, at a corner, they came suddenly upon Eve; she was waiting for them. "I saw you walking in from the Park, so I came across to join you," she said.

Hollis showed his satisfaction by a broad smile; he did not raise his hat, but, extracting one of his hands from the depths of his trousers pocket, he offered it frankly. "You don't mind a longish walk, do you? You look splendid."

"We need not take you further, Mr. Hollis," said the judge. "Your time must be valuable to you."

"Not a bit; there's no demand to-day for the bonnets-unless the skeleton wants to wear 'em."

"Is it an exhibition?" asked Eve, non-comprehendingly.

"It's my store-Auction and Commission. Not crowded. It's round the next corner; want to go in?" And he produced a key and dangled it at Eve invitingly.

"By all means," said Eve.

It was evident that she liked to be with him. The judge had perceived this before now.

Hollis unlocked a door, or rather two doors, for the place had been originally a wagon shop. A portion of the space within was floored, and here, between the two windows, the long white skeleton was suspended, moving its legs a little in the sudden draught.

"Here are the bonnets," said Hollis. "They may have to go out to the mines. You see, it's part of a bankrupt stock. Not but what they ain't first-class;-remarkably so." He went to a table where stood six bandboxes in a row; opening one of them, he took out a bonnet, and, freeing it from its wrappings, held it anxiously towards Eve, perched on one of his fingers.

"Are you trying to make Miss Bruce buy that old rubbish?" said a voice at the door. It was Paul Tennant's voice.

"Old?" said Hollis, seriously. "Why, Paul, I dare say this here bonnet was made in Detroit not later than one year ago."

"If I cannot buy it myself," said Eve, "I might take it out to the mines for you, Mr. Hollis, and sell it to the women there; I might take out all six." She spoke gayly.

"You'd do it a heap better than I could," Hollis declared, admiringly.

"Let me see, I can try." She opened a bandbox and took out a second bonnet. This she began to praise in very tropical language; she turned it round, now rapidly, now slowly; she magnified its ribbons, its general air. Finally, taking off her round-hat, she perched it on her own golden braids, and, holding the strings together under her chin, she said, dramatically: "What an effect!" She did not smile, but her eyes shone. She looked brilliant.

The judge stared, amazed. Hollis, contorting himself like an angle-worm in his delight, applauded. Paul looked on tranquilly.

"Whatever the rest of you may do, I must be going," said the judge, determinedly. He went towards the door, each short step sounding on the planks.

"So must I," said Eve. "Wait until I put back the bonnets." With deft hands she returned them to their boxes, Paul and Hollis looking on. Then they all went out together, Hollis relocking the door.

"I was on my way home," said Paul, "and I suppose you were too? Hollis, won't you come along?"

He went on in advance with Eve, Hollis following with the unwilling judge, whose steps were still like little taps with a hammer.

The cottage was on the outskirts of the town. To walk thither took twenty minutes.

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