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   Chapter 22 No.22

Jupiter Lights By Constance Fenimore Woolson Characters: 10223

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


"Up the airy mountain,

Down the rushy glen,

We daren't go a-hunting,

For fear of little men:

Wee folk, good folk,

Trooping all together;

Green jacket, red cap,

And white owl's feather!"

SO, in a sweet little thread of a voice, sang Cicely; her tones, though clear, were so faint that they seemed to come from far away. She was sitting in an easy-chair, with pillows behind her, her hands laid on the arms of the chair, her feet on a footstool. Her eyes wandered over the opposite wall, and presently she began again, beating time with her hand on the arm of the chair:

"Down along the rocky shore

Some make their home;

They live on crispy pancakes

Of yellow tide foam;

Some in the reeds

Of the black mountain lake,

With frogs for their watch-dogs,

All night awake-awake."

She laughed.

The judge left the room. He walked on tiptoe; but he might have worn hobnailed shoes, and made all the noise possible-Cicely would not have noticed it. "I can't stand it!" he said to Paul, outside.

"How it must feel-to be as stiff and old as that!" was the thought that passed through the younger man's mind. For the judge's features were no longer able to express the sorrows that lay beneath; even while speaking his despair his face remained immovable, like a mask.

"But it's merciful, after all," Paul had answered, aloud.

"Merciful?"

"Yes. Come to my room and I'll tell you why."

Straw was laid down before Paul's cottage. Within, all was absolutely quiet; even little Jack had been sent away. He had been sent to Hollis, who was taking care of him so elaborately, with so many ingenious devices for his entertainment, that Porley was wildly idle; there was nothing for her to do.

Standing beside the white-pine table in Paul's bare bedroom, the two men held their conference. Paul's explanation lasted three minutes. "Ferdie was entangled with her long before he ever saw Cicely," he concluded, "and he always liked her; that was her hold upon him-he liked her, and she knew it; he didn't drop her even after he was married."

From the rigid old face there came a hot imprecation.

"Let him alone-will you?-now he's dead," suggested Paul, curtly. "I don't suppose that you yourself have been so immaculate all your life that you can afford to set up as a pattern?"

"But my wife, sir-Nothing ever touched her."

"You mean that you arranged things so that she shouldn't know. All decent men do that, I suppose, and Ferdie didn't in the least intend that Cicely should know, either. He told her to stay here; if she had persisted in going down there against his wish, and against his arrangements also, fancy what she would have put her head into! I couldn't let her do that, of course. But though I told her enough to give her some clew, she hadn't the least suspicion of the whole truth, and now she need never know."

"She won't have time, she's dying," answered the grandfather.

Cicely's state was alarming. A violent attack of brain-fever had been followed by the present condition of comparative quiet; she recognized no one; much of the time she sang to herself gayly. The doctor feared that the paroxysms would return. They had been terrible to witness; Paul had held her, and he had exerted all the force of his strong arms to keep her from injuring herself, her fragile little form had thrown itself about so wildly, like a bird beating its life out against the bars of its cage.

No one in this desolate cottage had time to think of the accumulation of troubles that had come upon them: the silence, broken only by Cicely's strange singing, the grief of Paul for his brother, the dumb despair of the old man, the absence of little Jack, the near presence of Death. But of the four faces, that of Eve expressed the deepest hopelessness. She stayed constantly in the room where Cicely was, but she did nothing; from the first she had not offered to help in any way, and the doctor, seeing that she was to be of no use, had sent a nurse. On the fourth day, Paul said: "You must have some sleep, Eve. Go to your room; I will have you called if she grows worse."

"No; I must stay here."

"Why? There is nothing for you to do."

"You mean that I do nothing. I know it; but I must stay."

On the seventh evening he spoke again; Cicely's quiet state had now lasted twenty-four hours. "Lying on a lounge is no good, Eve; to-night you must go to bed. Otherwise we shall have you breaking down too."

"Do I look as though I should break down?"

They had happened to meet in the hall outside of Cicely's door; the sunset light, coming through a small window, flooded the place with gold.

"If you put it in that way, I must say you do not."

"I knew it. I am very strong."

"You speak as though you regretted it."

"I do regret it." She put out her hand to open the door.-"Don't think that I am trying to be sensational," she pleaded.

"All I think is that you are an obstinate girl; and one very much in need of rest, too."

Her eyes filled, he had spoken as one speaks to a tired child; but she turned her head

so that he should not see her face, and left him, entering Cicely's room, and closing the door behind her; her manner and the movement, as he saw them, were distinctly repellent.

Cicely did not notice her entrance; the nurse, who had some knitting in her hand in order not to appear too watchful, but who in reality saw the rise and fall of her patient's every breath, was near. Eve went to the place where she often sat-a chair partially screened by the projection of a large wardrobe; she could see only a towel-stand opposite, and the ingrain carpet, in ugly octagons of red and green, at her feet. The silence was profound.

"I am a murderer, it is a murderer who is sitting here. If people only knew! But it is enough for me to know.

-"They said he was getting better. Instead of that he is dead,-he is dead, and I shot him; I lifted the pistol and fired. At the time it didn't seem wrong. But this is what it means to kill, I suppose;-this awful agony.

-"I have never been one of the afraid kind. I wish now that I had been; then this wouldn't have happened; the baby might have been horribly hurt, Cicely too; but at least I shouldn't have been a murderer. For if you kill you are a murderer, no matter whether the person you kill is good or bad, or what you do it for; you have killed some one, you have made his life come to a sudden stop, and for that you must take the responsibility.

-"Oh, God! it is too dreadful! I cannot bear it. Sometimes, when I have been unhappy, I have waked and found it was only a dream; couldn't this be a dream?

-"I was really going to tell, I was going to tell Cicely. But I thought I would wait until he was well-as every one said he would be soon-so that she wouldn't hate me quite so much. If she should die without coming to her senses, I shouldn't be able to tell her.

-"Hypocrite! even to myself. In reality I don't want her to come to her senses; I have sat here for days, afraid to leave her, watching every moment lest she should begin to talk rationally. For then I should have to tell her; and she would tell Paul. Oh, I cannot have him know-I cannot."

Made stupid by her misery, she sat gazing at the floor, her eyes fixed, her lips slightly apart.

She was exhausted; for the same thoughts had besieged her ever since she had read the despatch, "Morrison died this morning,"-an unending repetition of exactly the same sentences, constantly following each other, and constantly beginning again; even in sleep they continued, like a long nightmare, so that she woke weeping. And now without a moment's respite, while she sat there with her eyes on the carpet, the involuntary recital began anew: "I am a murderer, it is a murderer who is sitting here. If people only knew!"

"They may rail at this life; from the hour I began it

I've found it a life full of kindness and bliss;

And until you can show me some happier planet,

More social, more gay, I'll content me with this,"

chanted Cicely, sweetly.

"The song of last Christmas at Romney," Eve's thoughts went on. "Oh, how changed I am since then-how changed! That night I thought only of my brother. Now I have almost forgotten him;-Jack, do you care? All I think of is Paul, Paul, Paul. How beautiful it was in that gray-green wood! But what am I dreaming about? How can the person who killed his brother be anything to him?

-"Once he said-he told me himself-'I care for Ferdie more than for anything in the world.' It's Ferdie I have killed.

-"'Morrison buried this afternoon. Address me Charleston Hotel, Charleston.' He put those despatches in his pocket and went into the back room. He sat down by the table, and laid his head upon his arms. His shoulders shook, I know he was crying, he was crying for his brother. Oh, I will go down-stairs and tell him the whole; I will go this moment." She rose.

On the stairs she met the judge. "Is she worse?" he asked, alarmed at seeing her outside of the room.

"No; the same."

She found Paul in the lower hall. "Is she worse?" he said.

"No. How constantly you think of her!"

"Of course."

"Can I speak to you for a moment?" She led the way to the small back room where he had sat with his head on his arms. "I want to tell you-" she began. Then she stopped.

His face had a worn look, his eyes were dull-a dullness caused by sorrow and the pressure of care. But to her, as he stood there, he was supreme, her whole heart went out to him. "How I love him!" The feeling swept over her like a flood, overwhelming everything else.

"What is it you wish to tell me?" Paul asked, seeing that she still remained silent.

"How can I do it!-how can I do it!" she said to herself.

"Don't tell me, then, if it troubles you," he added, his voice taking the kindly tones she dreaded.

Her courage vanished. "Another time," she said hurriedly, and, turning, she left the room.

But as she went up the stairs she knew that there would be no other time. "Never! never! I shall never tell him. What do I care for truthfulness, or courage, compared with one word of his spoken in that tone!"

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