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   Chapter 24 No.24

Jupiter Lights By Constance Fenimore Woolson Characters: 14867

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


MIDSUMMER at Port aux Pins. The day was very hot; there was no feeling of dampness, such as belongs sometimes to the lower-lake towns in the dog-days, up here the air remained dry and clear and pure; but the splendid sunshine had almost the temperature of flame; it seemed as if the miles of forest must take fire, as from a burning-glass.

Eve stood at the open window of Paul's little parlor. A figure passed in the road outside, but she did not notice it. Reappearing, it opened the gate and came in. "Many happy returns-of cooler weather! We ought to pity the Eyetalians; what must their sufferings be on such a day as this!"

Eve gazed at the speaker unseeingly. Then recognition arrived;-"Oh, Mr. Hollis."

Hollis came into the house; he joined her in the parlor. "My best respects. Can't help thinking of the miserable Eyetalians." Eve made no reply. "Just heard a piece of news," Hollis went on. "Paul has sold his Clay County iron. He would have made five times as much by holding on. But he has been so jammed lately by unexpected demands made upon him that he had no other course; all his brother's South American speculations have come to grief, and the creditors have come down on him like a thousand of brick!"

"Will he have to pay much?" asked Eve, her lassitude gone.

"More than he's got," answered Hollis, putting his hands still more deeply into his trousers pockets, his long, lean, fish-like figure projecting itself forward into space from the sixth rib. "I don't get this from Paul, you may depend; he don't blab. But the law sharks who came up here to get hold of whatever they could (for you see Paul has always been a partner in his brother's enterprises, so that gives 'em a chance), these scamps talked to me some. So I know. But even the sale of his Clay County iron won't clear Paul-he will have to guarantee other debts; it will take him years to clear it all off, unless he has something better than his present salary to do it with."

"You ought to have told me. I have money."

"I guess he wouldn't take it. He's had pretty hard lines all round; he wanted terribly bad to go straight to Ferdie, as soon as he heard he was shot. But Mrs. Morrison-she had come here, you know; and he had all Ferdie's expenses to think of too, so that kept him grinding along. But he wanted awfully to go; he thought the world and all of Ferdie."

"I know he did," said Eve. And now her face was like a tragic mask-deadly white, with a frown, the eyes under her straight brows looking at him fixedly.

"Oh, eheu!" thought Hollis distressfully, disgustedly. "You screw yourself up to tell her all these things about him, because you think it will please her; and this is the way she takes 'em!"

He looked at her again; she gave no sign. Feeling painfully insignificant and helpless, he turned and left the room.

A few minutes later Paul came in. "You have sold your Clay County iron!" said Eve.

"I have always intended to sell it."

"Not at a sacrifice."

"One does as one can-a business transaction."

"How much money have you sent to your brother all these years?"

"I don't know that it is-I don't know what interest you can have in it," Paul answered.

"You mean that it is not my business. Oh, don't be so hard! Say three words just for once."

"Why, I'll say as many as you like, Eve. Ferdie was one of the most brilliant fellows in the world; if he had lived, all his investments would have turned out finely, he was sure of a fortune some time."

"And, in the meanwhile, you supported him; you have always done it."

"You are mistaken. I advanced him money now and then when he happened to be short, but it was always for the time being only; he would have paid me back if he had lived."

The door opened, and the judge came in. "I'm glad you're here," said Paul; "now we can decide, we three, upon what is best to be done. The doctor says that while this heat is very bad for Cicely, travel would be still worse; she cannot go anywhere by train, and hardly by steamer-though that is better; there would be no use, then, in trying to take her south."

"It's ten times hotter here to-day than I ever saw it at Romney," interposed the judge. "It's a tophet-this town of yours!"

"I was thinking also of Miss Abercrombie's illness," Paul went on. "Though her fever is light, her room is still a sick-room, and that would depress Cicely, I feel sure. But, meanwhile, the poor girl is hourly growing weaker, and so this is what I have thought of: we will go into camp in the pines near Jupiter Light. Don't you remember how much good camp-life did her before?"

Six days later they were living in the pine woods at Jupiter. This time lodges had been built; the nurse accompanied Cicely; they were a party of eight, without counting the cook and the Indians.

At first Cicely remained in much the same state, she recognized no one but Jack.

Jack continued to be his mother's most constant adorer; he climbed often into her lap, and, putting his arms round her neck, "loved" her with his cheek against hers, and with all his little heart; he came trotting up many times a day, to stroke her face with his dimpled hand. Cicely looked at him, but did not answer. After ten days in the beneficent forest, however, her strength began to revive, and their immediate fears were calmed. One evening she asked for her grandfather, and when he came hastily in and bent over her couch, she smiled and kissed him. He sat down beside her, holding her hand; after a while she fell into a sleep. The old man went softly out, he went to the camp-fire, and made it blaze, throwing on fresh pine-cones recklessly.

"Sixty-five in the shade," remarked Hollis.

"This Northern air is always abominable. Will you make me a taste of something spicy? I feel the need of it. Miss Bruce,-Eve-Cicely knows me!"

Eve looked at his brightened face, at the blazing fire, the rough table with the tumblers, the flask, and the lemons. Hollis had gone to the kitchen to get hot water.

"She knows me," repeated the judge, triumphantly. "She sent for me herself."

Paul now appeared, and the good news was again told. Paul had just come from Port aux Pins. After establishing them at Jupiter, he had been obliged to return to town immediately, and he had remained there closely occupied for more than a week. He sat down, refusing Hollis's proffered glass. The nurse came out, and walked to and fro before Cicely's lodge, breathing the aromatic air; this meant that Cicely still slept. Eve had seated herself a little apart from the fire; her figure was in the shadow. Her mind was filled with but one thought: "Cicely better? Then must I tell her?" By-and-by the conversation of the others came to her.

"Hanging is too good for them," said the judge.

"But wasn't it supposed to be a chance shot?" remarked Hollis. "Not intentional, exactly?"

"That makes no difference. You may call it absolute chance, if you like; but the negro who dares to lift a pistol against a white man should not be left alive five minutes afterwards," declared the old planter, implacably.

"You'd ought to have lived in the days of religious wars," drawled Hollis. "I don't know anything else carnivorous enough to suit you."

"You must be a Quaker, sir! Tennant feels as I do, he'd shoot at sight."

"Oh no, he wouldn't," said Hollis. "He ain't a Southerner."

"Tennant can speak for himse

lf," said the judge, confidently.

"I'd shoot the man who shot my brother," answered Paul. "I'd go down there to-morrow-I should have gone long ago-if I thought there was the least chance of finding him." A dark flush rose in his face. "I'm afraid-even if it was an unintentional shot-that I should want to kill that man just the same; I should be a regular savage!"

"Would you never forgive him?" asked Eve's voice from the shadow.

"Blood for blood!" responded Paul, hotly. "No, not unless I killed him; then I might."

Eve rose.

Paul got up. "Oh, are you going?" But she did not hear him; she had gone to her lodge. He sat down again. She did not reappear that night.

The next morning she went off for a solitary walk. By chance her steps took the direction of a small promontory that jutted sharply into the lake, its perpendicular face rising to a height of forty feet from the deep water below; she had been here several times before, and knew the place well; it was about a mile from the camp. As she sat there, Paul's figure appeared through the trees. He came straight to her. "I have been looking for you, I tried to find you last night." He paused a moment. "Eve, don't you see what I've come for? Right in the midst of all this grief and trouble I've found out something. It's just this, Eve: I love you."

She tried to rise, but he put his hand on her shoulder to keep her where she was. "Oh, but I do, you needn't doubt it," he went on, with an amused smile-amused at himself; "in some way or other the thing has come about, I may say, in spite of me. I never thought it would. But here 'tis-with a vengeance! I think of you constantly, I can't help thinking of you; I recognize, at last, that the thing is unchangeable, that it's for life; have you I must." The words were despotic, but the tone was entreating; and the eyes, looking down upon her, were caressing-imploring. "Yes, I'm as helpless as any one," Paul went on, smiling as he said it; "I can't sleep, even. Come, take me; I'm not such a bad fellow, after all-I really think I'm not. And as regards my feeling for you, you need not be troubled; it's strong enough!"

She quailed under his ardor.

"I haven't spoken before because there has been so much to do," Paul continued; "there has been Cicely, and then I've been harassed about business; I've been in a box, and trying to get out. Besides, I wasn't perfectly sure that my time had come." He laughed. "I'm sure now." He took her in his arms. "Don't let us make any delays, Eve; we're not so young, either of us. Not that you need be afraid that you're to be the less happy on that account; I'll see to that!"

She broke from him.

But again he came to her, he took her hands, and, kneeling, laid his forehead upon them. "I will be as humble as you like; only-be good to me. I long for it, I must have it."

A sob rose in her throat. He sprang up. "Don't do that! Why, I want to make you absolutely happy, if I can. We shall have troubles enough, and perhaps we shall have sorrows, but at least we shall be together; you must never leave me, and I will do all I can to be less rough. But on your side there's one thing, Eve: you must love me." These last words were murmured in her ear.

She drew herself away from him. The expression of her face was almost like death.

"You look as though you were afraid of me! I thought you loved me, Eve?"

"I do."

"Pretend you are a man, then, long enough to say 'yes' without any more circumlocution. We will be married at Port aux Pins. Then we can take care of Cicely together."

"I shall never marry."

"Yes, you will."

"I do not wish to leave Cicely."

"She wouldn't care about that. She isn't even fond of you."

"Oh, what shall I say to you?" cried Eve, her hands dropping by her sides. "Listen: it will be absolutely impossible for you to change my determination. But I am so horribly unhappy that I do believe I cannot stand anything more-any more contests with you. Leave me to myself; say nothing to me. But don't drive me away; at least let me stay near you."

"In my arms, Eve."

"Let me stay near you; see you; hear you talk; but that is all."

"And how long do you suppose that could last? It's a regular woman's idea: nonsense."

"Paul, be merciful!"

"Merciful? Oh, yes!" He took her again in his arms.

"I swear to you that I cannot marry you," she said, trembling as his cheek touched hers. "Since I've known you I haven't wanted to die, I've wanted to live-live a long life. But now I do want to die; there is a barrier between us, I cannot lift it."

He released her. "There could be but one.-I believe that you are truthful; is the barrier another man?"

Another man? She hesitated a moment. "Yes."

He looked at her. "I don't believe you! You are lying for some purpose of your own. See here, Eve, I don't want to be played with in this way; you love me, and I worship you; by this time next week you are to be my wife."

"I must go away from you, then? You won't help me? Where can I go!" She left him; she walked slowly towards the lake, her head bowed.

He followed her. He had paid no attention to what she was saying; "feminine complications"-this was all he thought. He was very masterful with women.

As he came up she turned her head and looked at him. And, by a sort of inspiration, he divined that the look was a farewell. He caught her, and none too soon, for, as he touched her, he felt the impulse, the first forward movement of the spring which would have taken her over the edge, down to the deep water below.

Carrying her in his arms, close against his breast, he hastened away from the edge; he went inland for a long distance. Then he stopped, releasing her. He was extremely pale.

"I believe you now," he said. "All shall be as you like-just as you like; I will do anything you wish me to do." He seemed to be still afraid, he watched her anxiously.

She came and put her hands on his shoulders; she lifted her head and kissed his cheek. It was like the kiss one gives in the chamber of death.

He did not move, he was holding himself in strict control. But he felt the misery of her greeting so acutely that moisture rose in his eyes.

She saw it. "Don't be troubled about me," she said. "I didn't want to die-really, I didn't want to at all. It was only because just at that moment I could not bear it to have you keep asking me when it was impossible,-I felt that I must go away; and apart from you, and Cicely and baby, there seemed no place in the world for me! But now-now I want to live. Perhaps we shall both live long lives."

"I'm not a woman, you know," said Paul, with a faint smile. "Women do with make-believes; men can't."

She had left him. "Go now," she said.

He turned to obey. Then he came back. "Eve, can't you tell me your real reason?"

But her face changed so quickly to its old look of agony that he felt a pang of regret that he had spoken. "I will never ask you again," he said.

This was the offering he made her-a great one for Paul Tennant. He went away.

An hour later she came back to the camp.

"Paul has gone to Potterpins," said Hollis, who was sitting by the fire. "Told me to give you this." He handed her a note.

It contained but two lines: "I shall come back next week. But send a note by mail; I want to know if you are contented with me."

Eve wrote but one word-"Yes."

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