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   Chapter 16 No.16

Jupiter Lights By Constance Fenimore Woolson Characters: 22911

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


EVE'S cheeks showed a deep rose bloom; she was no longer the snow-white woman whom near-sighted Miss Sabrina had furtively scanned upon her arrival at Romney six months before. She was still markedly erect, but her step had become less confident, her despotic manner had disappeared. Often now she was irresolute, and she had grown awkward-a thing new with her; she did not know how to arrange her smallest action, hampered by this new quality.

But since the terrible hour when Ferdie had appeared at the end of the corridor with his candle held aloft and his fixed eyes, life with her had rushed along so rapidly that she had seemed to be powerless in its current. The first night in Paul's cottage, in her little room next to Cicely's, she had spent hours on her knees by the bedside pouring forth in a flood of gratitude to Some One, Somewhere-she knew no formulas of prayer-that she had been delivered from the horror that had held her speechless through all the long journey. Ferdie was living! She repeated it over and over-Ferdie was living!

At the time there had been no plan; she had stepped back into her room to get the pistol, not with any purpose of attack, but in order not to be without some means of defence. The pistol was one of Jack's, which she had found and taken possession of soon after her arrival, principally because it had been his; she had seen him with it often; with it he himself had taught her to shoot. Then at the last, when Jack's poor little boy had climbed up by the boat's seat, and the madman had made that spring towards him, then she had-done what she did. She had done it mechanically; it had seemed the only thing to do.

But, once away, the horror had come, as it always does and must, when by violence a human life has been taken. She had dropped the pistol into the Sound, but she could not drop the ghastly picture of the dark figure on the sand, with its arms making two or three spasmodic motions, then becoming suddenly still. Was he dead? If he was, she, Eve Bruce, was a murderer, a creature to be imprisoned for life,-hanged. How people would shrink from her if they knew! And how monstrous it was that she should touch Cicely! Yet she must. Cain, where is thy brother? And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him. Would it come to this, that she should be forced at last to take her own life, in order to be free from the horror of murder? These were the constant thoughts of that journey northward, without one moment's respite day or night.

But deliverance had come: he was alive! God was good after all, God was kind; he had lifted from her this pall of death. He was alive! He was alive!

"Oh, I did not do it! I am innocent! That figure has gone from the sand; it got up and walked away!" She laughed in the relief, the reaction, and buried her face in the pillow to stifle it. "Cicely will not know what I am laughing at; she will wonder. I need never tell her anything now, because the only men who were suspected have got safely away. She is safe, little Jack is safe, and Ferdie is not dead; he is alive-alive!" So swept on through the night the tide of her immense joy. For the next day and the next, for many days after, this joy surged within her, its outward expression being the flush, and the brilliant light in her eyes.

Eve Bruce had a strongly truthful nature, she was frank not only with others, but with herself; she possessed the unusual mental quality (unusual in a woman) of recognizing facts, whether they were agreeable or not; of living without illusions. This had helped to give her, perhaps, her brusque manner, with its absence of gentleness, its scanty sweetness. With her innate truthfulness, it was not long before this woman perceived that there was another cause contributing to the excitement that was quickening her breath and making life seem new. The discovery had come suddenly.

It had been arranged that on a certain day they should walk out to the mine, Paul, the judge, Hollis, and herself. When the time came, Hollis appeared alone, Paul was too busy to leave the office. They walked out to the mine. But Eve felt her feet dragging, she was unaccountably depressed. Upon her return, as she came in sight of the cottage, she remembered how happy she had been there the day before, and for many days. What had changed? Had she not the same unspeakable great cause for joy? For what reason did the day seem dull and the sky dark? And then the truth showed itself: it was because Paul Tennant was not there; nothing else.

Another woman would have veiled it, would not have acknowledged the fact even to herself; for women have miraculous power of really believing only what they wish to believe; for many women facts, taken alone, do not exist. But Eve had no such endowments. She had reached her room; she pushed to the door and stood there motionless; after two or three minutes she sank into the nearest chair; here she sat without stirring for some time. Then she rose, went down the stairs, and out again. It was six o'clock, but there were still two hours of daylight; she hurried towards the nearest border of forest, and, just within its fringe, she began walking rapidly to and fro, her hands, clasped together, hanging before her, her eyes on the ground. She did not come back until nightfall.

As she entered she met Paul.

"I was coming to hunt for you. Where have you been?" He spoke with surprise.

Eve looked at him once. Then she turned away. What a change in herself! Now she understood Cicely. Now she understood-yes, she understood everything-the things she had always despised-pettiness, jealousy, impossible hopes, disgrace, shame.

"I was afraid Cicely would be alarmed," Paul went on.

And Eve was not offended that it was Cicely of whom he was thinking. It had not yet occurred to her that he could think of her.

She went in search of Cicely, who had nothing to say to her; then, excusing herself, she retreated to her room. Here she took off her dress and began to unbraid her hair. Then the thought came to her that Paul would go to the parlor about this time, that he would play a game of chess, perhaps, with the judge; hastily repairing the disorder she had made, she rearranged the braids, felt in the rough closet for her evening shoes, put them on, and went down-stairs again with rapid step.

Cicely made no remark as she came in; Paul and the judge were playing their game, with Hollis looking on. Eve took a book and sat reading, or apparently reading, at some distance. "Oh, how abject this is! How childish, how sickening!" Anger against herself rose hotly; under its sting she felt her strength returning. She sat there as long as the others did. "I will not make a second scene by going out" (but no one had noticed her first). She answered Paul's good-night coldly. But when she was back in her room again, when there was no more escape from its four walls until morning, then she found herself without defences, without pretexts, face to face with the fact that she loved this man, this Paul Tennant, with all her heart. It was a surprise as great as if she had suddenly become blind, or deaf, or mad-"stricken of God," as people call it. "I am stricken. But I am not sure it is of God!" That she, no longer a girl, after all these years untouched by such feelings-that she, with her clear vision and strong will (she had always been so proud of her will), should be led captive in this way by a stranger who cared nothing for her, who did not even wish to capture-it was a sort of insanity. She paced her room to and fro as she had paced the fringe of woods. She stretched out her hands and looked at them as though they had been the hands of some one else; she struck one of them upon her bare arm; she was so humiliated that she must hurt something; that something should be herself. "If he should ever care for me, I would refuse him," she repeated, in bitter triumph. Immediately the thought followed, "He will never care!"

"I do not love him really," she kept repeating. "I am not well; it will pass." But while she was saying this, there came a glow that contradicted her, a glow before whose new sway she was helpless. "Oh, I do! I loved him the first day I saw him. What is that old phrase?-I love the ground he walks on." She buried her face in her hands.

"How strange! I am happier than I have ever been in my life before; I didn't know that there was such happiness!" A door seemed to open, showing a way out of her trouble, a way which led to a vision of subtle sweetness-her life through the future with this passion hidden like a treasure in her heart, no one to know it, no one to suspect its existence. "As I am to be nothing to him, as I wish to be nothing to him, I shall not care whom he loves; that is nothing to me." Upon this basis she would arrange her life.

But it is not so easy to arrange life. Almost immediately she began to suffer, a species of suffering, too, to which she was unused: trifles annoyed her like innumerable stings-she was not able to preserve her calm; as regarded anything important, she could have been herself, or so she imagined; but little things irritated her, and the days were full of little things. She rebelled against this nervousness, but she could not subdue it; and gradually the beautiful vision of her life, as she had imagined it, faded away miserably in a cloud of petty exasperations and despair. After wretched hours, unable to endure her humiliation longer, she resolved to conquer herself at any cost, to set herself free; she could not go away, because she would not leave Cicely; there was still her brother's child; but here, on the spot, she would overcome this feeling that had taken possession of her and changed her so that she did not know herself. "I will!" she said. It was a vow; her will was the strongest force of her being.

This very will blinded her, she was too sure of it. She was in earnest about wishing and intending to win in her great battle. But she forgot the details.

These are some of the details:

The one time of day when Paul was neither at the mine nor in his office was at sunset; twice she went through a chain of reasoning to prove to herself that she had a necessary errand at that hour at one of the stores; both times she met him. She had heard Paul say that he liked to see women sew; she was no needlewoman; but presently she began to embroider an apron for Jack (with very poor success). Paul was no reader; he looked through the newspapers once a day, and when it rained very hard in the evening, and there was nothing else to do, occasionally he took up his one book; for he had but one, at least so Hollis declared; at any rate he read but one; this one was Gibbon. The only edition of the great history in the little book-store of Port aux Pins was a miserably printed copy in paper covers. But a lady bought it in spite of its blurred type.

Finally this same lady went to church. It was on a Sunday afternoon, the second service; she came in late, and took a seat in the last pew. When had Eve Bruce been to church before? Paul went once in a while. And it was when she saw his head towering above the heads of the shorter people about him, as the congregation rose to repeat the creed-it was then suddenly that the veil was lifted and she saw the truth: this was what she had come for.

She did not try to deny it, she com

prehended her failure. After this she ceased to struggle, she only tried to be quiet. She lived from day to day, from hour to hour; it was a compromise. "But I shall not be here long; something will separate us; soon, perhaps in a few weeks, it will have come to an end, and then I may never see him again." So she reasoned, passively.

About this time Cicely fell ill. The Port aux Pins doctor had at length given a name to her listlessness and her constantly increasing physical weakness; he called it nervous prostration (one of the modern titles for grief, or an aching heart).

"What do you advise?" Paul had asked.

"Take her away."

Two days later they were living under tents at Jupiter Light.

"We cannot get off this evening; it is perfectly impossible," the judge had declared, bewildered by Paul's sudden decision, not knowing as yet whether he agreed with it or not, and furthermore harried by the arrival of tents, provisions, Indians, cooks, and kettles, the kettles invading even the dining-room, his especial retreat.

"Oh, we shall go; never you fear," said Hollis, who was hard at work boxing up an iron bedstead. "At the last moment Paul will drive us all on board like a flock of sheep."

And, at nine o'clock that night, they did embark, the judge, who had given up comprehending anything, walking desperately behind the others; Hollis, weighed down with rods and guns, and his own clothing escaping from newspapers; a man cook; a band of Indians; Porley and Jack; Eve; and, last of all, Cicely, tenderly carried in Paul's arms. In a week the complete change, the living under canvas in the aromatic air of the pines, produced a visible effect; Cicely began to recover her lost vitality; the alarming weakness disappeared. Every day there came her letter or despatch, one of the Indians going fifteen miles for it, in a canoe; the message was always favorable, Ferdie was constantly improving. All was arranged, Paul was to go southward in July. He and Cicely had frequent talks (talks which Paul tried to make as cheerful as possible); perhaps, next winter, they should all be living together at Port aux Pins; that is, in case it should be thought best to give up Valparaiso, after all. Cicely read and re-read the letters; she always kept the last one under her dress on her heart; for the rest she floated in the canoe, and she played with Jack, who bloomed with health to that extent that he was called the Porpoise. The judge, happy in the improvement of his darling little girl, fished; snarled with Hollis; then fished again. Hollis, always attired in his black coat, showed positive genius in the matter of broiling. And Paul came and went as he was able. As he could not be absent long from the mine, he made the journey to Port aux Pins every three days, leaving Hollis in charge at the camp during his absence. One day Hollis also was obliged to go to Port aux Pins. And while he was there he attended an evening party. This entertainment he described for Cicely's amusement upon his return. For she was the central person to them all; they gathered round her, they obeyed eagerly her slightest wish; when she laughed, they laughed also, they were so glad to see life once more animating her white little face; it was for this that Hollis prolonged his story, and quoted Shakespeare; he would have stood on his head if it would have made her smile.

A part of Hollis's description: "So then her sister Idora started on the piano an accompaniment that went like this: Bang! la-la-la. Bang! la-la-la, and Miss Parthenia, she began singing:

'O why-ee should the white man follow my path

Like the hound on the tiger's track?'

And then, with her hand over her mouth, she gave us a regular Indian war-whoop."

"How I wish I had been there!" said Cicely, with sudden laughter.

"She'll whoop for you at any time; proud to," continued Hollis. "Well, after the song was over, Mother Drone she sat back in her chair, and she loosened her cap-strings on the sly. Says she: 'I hope the girls won't see me doing this, Mr. Hollis; they think tarlatan strings tied under the chin for a widow are so sweet. I told them I'd been a widow fifteen years without 'em; but they say, now they've grown up, I ought to have strings for their sakes, and be more prominent. Is Idora out on the steps with Wolf Roth? Would you mind peeking? ' So I peeked. But Wolf Roth was there alone. 'He don't look dangerous,' I remarked, when I'd loped back. Says she: 'He'd oughter, then. And he would, too, if he knew it was me he sees when he comes serenading. I tap the girls on the shoulder: 'Girls? Wolf Roth and his guitar!' But you might as well tap the seven sleepers! So I have to cough, and I have to glimp, and Wolf Roth-he little thinks it's ma'am!"

"Oh, what is glimp?" said Cicely, still laughing.

"It's showing a light through the blinds, very faint and shy," answered Hollis.

"'Thou know'st the mask of night is on me face,

Else would a maid-en blush bepaint me cheek,'"

he quoted, gravely. "That's about the size of it, I guess."

Having drawn the last smile from Cicely, he went off to his tent, and presently he and the judge started for the nearest trout-brook together.

Paul came up from the beach. "There's an Indian village two miles above here, Cicely; do you care to have a look at it? I could take you and Miss Bruce in the little canoe."

But Cicely was tired: often now, after a sudden fit of merriment (which seemed to be a return, though infinitely fainter, of her old wild moods), she would look exhausted. "I think I will swing in the hammock," she said.

"Will you go, then, Miss Bruce?" Paul asked, carelessly.

"Thanks; I have something to do."

Half an hour later, Paul having gone off by himself, she was sitting on a fallen tree on the shore, at some distance from the tents, when his canoe glided suddenly into view, coming round a near point; he beached it and sprang ashore.

"You surely have not had time to go to that village?" she said, rising.

"Did I say I was going alone? Apparently what you had to do was not so very important," he added, smiling.

"Yes, I was occupied," she answered.

"We can go still, if you like; there is time."

"Thank you;-no."

Paul gave her a look. She fancied that she saw in it regret. "Is it very curious-your village? Perhaps it would be amusing, after all."

He helped her into the canoe, and the next moment they were gliding up the lake. The village was a temporary one, twenty or thirty wigwams in a grove. Only the women and children were at home, the sweet-voiced young squaws in their calico skirts and blankets, the queer little mummy-like pappooses, the half-naked children. They brought out bows and arrows to sell, agates which they had found on the beach, Indian sugar in little birch-bark boxes, quaintly ornamented.

"Tell them to gather some bluebells for me," said Eve. Her face had an expression of joyousness; every now and then she laughed like a merry girl.

Paul repeated her request in the Chippewa tongue, and immediately all the black-eyed children sallied forth, returning with large bunches of the fragile-stemmed flowers, so that Eve's hands were full. She lingered, sitting on the side of an old canoe; she distributed all the small coins she had. Finally they were afloat again; she wondered who had suggested it. "There's a gleam already," she said, as they passed Jupiter Light. "Some day I should like to go out there."

"I can take you now," Paul answered. And he sent the canoe flying towards the reef.

She had made no protest. "He wished to go," she said to herself, contentedly.

The distance was greater than she had supposed; it was twilight when they reached the miniature beach.

"Shall we make them let us in, and climb up to the top?" suggested Paul.

She laughed. "No; better not."

She looked up at the tower. Paul, standing beside her, his arms folded, his head thrown back, was looking up also. "I can't see the least light from here," he said. Then again, "Don't you want to go up?"

"Well-if you like."

It was dark within; a man came down with a lantern, and preceded them up the narrow winding stairway. When they reached the top they could see nothing but the interior of the little room; so down they came again, without even saying the usual things: about the probable queerness of life in such a place; and whether any one could really like it; and that some persons might be found who would consider it an ideal residence and never wish to come away. Though their stay had been so short, their going up so aimless, the expedition did not seem to Eve at all stupid; in her eyes it had the air of an exciting adventure.

"They will be wondering where we are," said Paul, as he turned the canoe homeward. She did not answer, it was sweet to her to sit there in silence, and feel the light craft dart forward through the darkness under his strong strokes. Who were "they"? Why should "they" wonder? Paul too said nothing. Unconsciously she believed that he shared her mood.

When they reached the camp he helped her out. "I hope you are not too tired? At last I can have the credit of doing something that has pleased you; I saw how much you wanted to go."

He saw how much she had wanted to go!-that spoiled all. Anger filled her heart to suffocation.

Two hours later she stood looking from her tent for a moment. Cicely and Jack, with whom she shared it, were asleep, and she herself was wrapped in a blue dressing-gown over her delicate night-dress, her hair in long braids hanging down her back. The judge and Hollis had gone to bed, the Indians were asleep under their own tent; all was still, save the regular wash of the water on the beach. By the dying light of the camp-fire she could make out a figure-Paul, sitting alone beside one of their rough tables, with his elbow upon it, his head supported by his hand. Something in his attitude struck her, and reasonlessly, silently, her anger against him vanished, and its place was filled by a great tenderness. What was he thinking of? She did not know; she only knew one thing-that she loved him. After looking at him for some minutes she dropped the flap of the tent and stole to bed, where immediately she began to imagine what she might say to him if she were out there, and what he might reply; her remarks should be very original, touching, or brilliant; and he would be duly impressed, and would gradually show more interest. And then, when he began to advance, she would withdraw. So at last she fell asleep.

Meanwhile, outside by the dying fire, what was Paul Tennant thinking of? His Clay County iron. He had had another offer, and this project was one in which he should himself have a share. But could he accept it? Could he pledge himself to advance the money required? He had only his salary at present, all his savings having gone to Valparaiso; there were Ferdie's expenses to think of, and Ferdie's wife, that little wife so unreasonable and so sweet, she too must lack nothing. It grew towards midnight; still he sat there pondering, adding figures mentally, calculating. The bird which had so insistently cried "Whip-po-Will," "Whip-po-Will," had ceased its song; there came from a distance, twice, the laugh of a loon; Jupiter Light went on flashing its gleam regularly over the lake.

The man by the fire never once thought of Eve Bruce.

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