MoboReader> Literature > Jupiter Lights

   Chapter 32 No.32

Jupiter Lights By Constance Fenimore Woolson Characters: 19006

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


THE stars were fading, there was a band of clear light in the east over the sea, when Eve reached the veranda of Romney again; with pauses for rest, she had carried her sister all the way. Cicely was small and light, her weight was scarcely more than that of a child; still, owing to the distance, the effort had been great, and Eve's strength was exhausted. She put her burden gently down on the floor of the veranda, and stood leaning against one of the wooden pillars, with her arms hanging by her sides to rest them; they were numb and stiff, almost paralyzed; she began to be afraid lest she should not be able to raise them again; she went to the window to try. The effort of lifting the sash drew a groan of anguish from her. But Cicely did not hear it; she remained unconscious. The dawn grew brighter, soon the sun would appear. It was not probable that at this early hour any one would pass this uninhabited end of the house; still, negroes were inconsequent; Pomp and Plato might be seized with a fancy to come; if she could only get Cicely back to her room unseen, there need be no knowledge of their midnight expedition. She knelt down beside her, and chafed her hands and temples; she spoke her name with insistence: "Cicely! Cicely!"-she put the whole force of her will into the effort of reaching the dormant consciousness, wherever it was, and compelling it to waken. "Cicely!" She looked intently at Cicely's closed eyes.

Cicely stirred, her dark-fringed lids opened; her vague glance caught the gleam of the sound. "Where are we?" she asked.

"We came out for a walk," Eve answered. "Do you think you could climb in-I mean by the window? I am afraid I cannot lift you."

"Of course I can. Why shouldn't I?"

She did it as lightly and easily as ever; she was in perfect possession of all her faculties. Eve followed her. Then she drew down the sash with the same effort.

"What is the matter with your arms?" Cicely asked. "You move them as though they were rusty."

"I think they are rusty."

They went through the ballroom, now looking very prosaic, flooded with the light of the rising sun. "We're always tramping through this old room," said Cicely.

When she reached the door of her own chamber, she abruptly drew Eve in. "Well-are you going to leave me forever?"

"Not unless you send me away."

"Is it on baby's account that you stay?"

"Not more now than at any time."

"You don't mind what I did, then?"

"You didn't do anything."

"That's brave of you, Eve, when you hate lies so. You are trying to make me believe that nothing happened out there in the road-that I was just as usual. But I remember perfectly-I sprang at you; if I had been a man-my hands stronger-you wouldn't be here now!"

"Fortunately you are not a man, nor anything like one," Eve answered, in the tone of a person who makes a joke. She turned towards the door.

"Wait, I want to tell you," said Cicely, going after her, and turning her round with her hands on her shoulders. "This is it, Eve; it comes over me with a rush sometimes, when I look at you-that here you are alive, and Ferdie dead! He was a great deal more splendid than you are, he was so handsome and so young! And yet there he is, down in the ground; and you walking about here! Nothing seems too bad for you then; my feeling is, 'Let her die too! And see how she likes it.'"

"I should like it well enough, if somebody else did it," Eve answered. "Death wouldn't be a punishment, Cicely; it would be a release."

Cicely's grasp relaxed. "Oh, very well. Then why haven't you tried it?"

"Because Paul Tennant is still in the world! I am pusillanimous enough to wish to breathe the same air."

"You do love him!" said Cicely. She paused. "Perhaps-after a little-"

"No, I have thought it all out; it can never be. If he should come to me this moment, and tell me that he loved me in spite of everything, it wouldn't help me; for I should know that it could not last; I should know that, if I should marry him, sooner or later he would hate me; it would be inevitable. Ferdie's face would come always between us."

"I hope it may," said Cicely, savagely. "Why do you keep on staying with me? I don't wish you to stay. Not in the least."

"I thought that I could perhaps be of some use. You were so dear to my brother-"

"Much you care for poor old Jack now! Even I care more."

"Yes, I have changed. But-Jack understands."

"A convenient belief!"

"And you have his child."

-"And I am Paul's sister!"

"Yes; I can sometimes hear of Paul through you."

Eve's voice, as she said this, was so patient that Cicely was softened. She came to Eve and kissed her. "I am sorry for you, Eve."

"Will you promise me to go to bed?" Eve answered, resuming her usual tone, as she turned towards the door. "I must go now, I am tired."

Cicely went with her. "I am never sure of myself, Eve," she said, warningly; "I may say just the same things to you to-morrow,-remember that."

Once in her own room, Eve did not follow the advice which she had given to Cicely; finding that she could not sleep, she dressed herself afresh, and sought the open air again. It was still early, no one was stirring save the servants. Meeting Porley, she asked the girl to bring her some tea and a piece of corn-bread; after this frugal breakfast, taken in the shade of the great live-oaks, she wandered down one of the eastern roads. Her bath had brought no color to her cheeks; her eyes had the contracted look which comes after a night of wakefulness; though the acute pain had ceased, her weary arms still hung lifelessly by her side, her step was languid; only her golden hair looked bright and young as the sun's rays shone across it.

She walked on at random; after a while, upon looking down one of the tracks, bordered by the glittering green bushes, she recognized Miss Sabrina's figure, and, turning, followed it.

Miss Sabrina had come out to pay an early visit to her temple of memories. She heard Eve's step, and looked up. "Oh, is it you, my dear? It's St. Michael and All-Angels; I have only brought a few flowers, I hope you don't mind?" Her voice was apologetic.

"Do you mean for my brother? I wish you had brought more, then; I wish you would always remember him," said Eve, going over and sitting down beside the mound. "He has the worst time of any of us, after all!"

"Oh, my dear, how can we know?" murmured Miss Sabrina, shocked.

"I don't mean that he is in hell," said Eve.

Miss Sabrina had no idea what she meant; she returned to the subject of her temple. "Cicely thinks I come here too often,-she spoke of charnel-houses. Perhaps I do come often; but it has been a comfort to me."

"Miss Sabrina, do you believe in another world?"

"My dear child, most certainly."

"And have we the same feelings, the same affections, there as here?"

"The good ones, I suppose."

"Is love one of these?"

"The best, isn't it?"

"Well, then, my brother took his love for Cicely; if she should die to-day, how much would she care for him, when she met him?"

"I think that something else would be provided for your brother, probably," said Miss Sabrina, timidly.

"Another wife? Why not arrange that for Ferdie Morrison, and give Cicely to Jack?"

"She loved Ferdie the best. Aren't you inclined to think that it must be when they both love?" suggested the maiden lady.

"And when they both love, should anything be permitted to come between them?"

"Oh, nothing! nothing!" said Miss Sabrina, with fervor. "That is, of course, when there is no barrier; when it would be no crime."

"What is crime?" demanded Eve, looking at her sombrely. "I don't think I know."

"Surely the catechism tells us, doesn't it?"

"What does it tell?"

Miss Sabrina murmured reverently: "Idolatry, isn't it?-and blasphemy; desecration of the Lord's Day and irreverence to parents; murder, adultery, theft; falsehood and covetousness."

"And which is the worst? Murder?"

"I suppose so."

"Have you ever spoken to a murderer?"

"Heaven forbid!" said Miss Sabrina. She glanced with suffused eyes towards Ferdie's grave. "It is such a comfort to me to think that though he was in effect murdered, those poor ignorant nig-roes had probably no such intention; it was not done deliberately, by some one who wished to harm him."

"I don't believe his murderer will be afraid to face him in the next world," said Eve. She, too, looked towards the mound; she seemed to see Ferdie lying down below, with closed eyes, but the same grimacing lips.

"Oh, as to that, they would have so little in common that they wouldn't be thrown much together, I reckon," said Miss Sabrina, hopefully; "I doubt if they even meet."

"Your heaven is not like the Declaration of Independence, is it?" said Eve.

Miss Sabrina did not understand. She pinched her throat with her thumb and forefinger, and looked vaguely at Eve.

"I mean that all men 'are created equal;' your heaven has an outside colony for negroes, and once or twice a week white angels go over there, I suppose, ring the Sunday-school bell, and hold meetings for their improvement."

Miss Sabrina colored; she took up her basket.

"Forgive me!" said Eve, dropping her sarcasms. "I am unhappy. That is the reason I talk so."

"I feared so, my dear; I feared so," answered the gentle lady, melted at once.

Eve left her, and wandered across the island to the ocean beach. Low waves came rolling in and broke

upon the sand; no ship was in sight; the blue of the water met the horizon line unbroken. She walked southward with languid step; every now and then she would stop, then walk slowly on again. After half an hour a sound made her turn; Paul Tennant was close upon her, not twenty feet distant; the wash of the waves had prevented her from hearing his approach. She stood still, involuntarily turning towards him as if at bay.

Paul came up. "Eve, I know what I am about now. I didn't know out there at Jupiter Light; I was dazed; but I soon understood. I went back to the camp, but you were gone. As soon as I could I started after you. Here I am."

"You understood? What did you understand?" said Eve, her face deathly white.

"That I loved you," said Paul, taking her in his arms. "That is enough for me; I hope it is for you."

"That you love me in spite of-"

"There is no 'in spite of;' what you did was noble, was extraordinarily brave. A woman is timid; you are timid, though you may pretend not to be; yet with your own hand-"

Eve remembered how Cicely had struck her hand down. "You will strike it down, too!" she said, incoherently, bursting into tears.

Paul soothed her, not by words, but by his touch. Her whole being responded; she leaned her head against his breast.

"To save Cicely you crushed your own feelings; you did something utterly horrible to you. And you faced all the trouble and grief which would certainly come in consequence of it. Why, Eve, it was the bravest thing I have ever heard of."

Eve gave a long sigh. "I have been so unhappy-"

"Never again, I hope," said Paul; "from this moment I take charge of you. We will be married as soon as possible; we will go to Charleston."

"Don't let us talk of that. Just love me here;-- now."

"Well-don't I?" said Paul, smiling.

He found a little nook between two spurs of the thicket which had invaded the beach; here he made a seat for her with a fragment of wreck which had been washed up by the sea.

"Let us stay here all day," she said, longingly.

"You will have me all the days of your life," said Paul. He had seated himself at her feet. "We shall have to live in Port aux Pins for the present; you won't mind that, I hope?"

She drew his head down upon her breast. "How I have loved you!"

"I know it," he said, flushing. "It was that which made me love you." He rose (it was not natural to Paul to keep a lowly position long), and, taking a seat beside her, lifted her in his arms. "I'm well caught," he murmured, looking down upon her with a smile. "Who would ever have supposed that you could sway me so?"

"Oh," cried Eve, breaking away from him, "it's of no use; my one day that I counted on-my one short day-I cannot even dare to take that! Good women have the worst of it; if I could pretend that I was going to marry you, all this would be right; and if I could pretend nothing, but just take it, then at least I should have had it; a remembrance for all the dreary years that have got to come. Instead of that, as I have been brought up a stupid, good woman, I can't change-though I wish I could! I shall have to tell you the truth: I can never marry you; the sooner we part, then, the better." She turned and walked northward towards the Romney road.

With a stride Paul caught up with her. "What are you driving at?"

"I shall never marry you."

He laughed.

She turned upon him. "You laugh-you have no idea what it is to me! I think of you day and night, I have longed to have you in my arms-on my heart. No, don't touch me; it is only that I won't have you believe that I don't know what love is, that I don't love you. Why, once at Port aux Pins, I walked miles at night because I was so mad with jealousy; and I found you playing whist! If I could only have known beforehand-if I could only have seen you once, just once, Ferdie might have done what he chose with Cicely; I shouldn't have stirred!"

"Yes, you would," said Paul.

"No, I shouldn't have stirred; you might as well know me as I am. What I despise myself for now is, that I haven't the force to make an end of it, to relieve you of the thought of me-at least as some one living. But as long as you are alive, Paul-" She looked at him with her eyes full of tears.

"You don't know what you are talking about," said Paul, sternly. "You will live, and as my wife; we will be married here at Romney to-morrow."

"Would you really marry me here?" said Eve, the light of joy coming into her wan face.

"It's a tumble-down old place, I know. But won't it do to be married in?"

"Oh, it is so much harder when you seem to forget,-when for the moment you really do forget! But of course I know that it could not last."

"What could not last?"

She moved away a step or two. "If I should marry you, you would hate me. Not in the beginning. But it would come. For Ferdie was your brother, and I did kill him; nothing can alter these facts-not even love. At first you wouldn't remember; then, gradually, he would come back to you; you would think of the time when you were boys together, and you would be sorry. Then, gradually, you would realize that I killed him; whenever I came near you, you would see-" Her voice broke, but she hurried on. "You said I was brave to do it, and I was. You said it was heroic, and it was. Yet all the same, he was your brother; and I killed him. In defence of Cicely and the baby? Nothing makes any difference. I killed him, and you would end by hating me. Yet I shouldn't be able to leave you; once your wife, I know that I should stay on, even if it were only to fold your clothes,-to touch them; to pick up the burnt match-ends you had dropped, and your newspapers; to arrange the chairs as you like to have them. I should be weak, weak-I should follow you about. How you would loathe me! It would become to you a hell."

"I'll take care of that," said Paul; "I'll see to my own hells; at present I'm thinking of something very different. We will be married to-day, and not wait for to-morrow; I will take you away to-night."

Eve looked at him.-"Haven't you heard what I've been saying?"

"Yes, I heard it; it was rubbish." But something in her face impressed him. "Eve, you are not really going to throw me over for a fancy like that?"

"No; for the horrible truth."

"My poor girl, you are all wrong, you are out of your mind. Let us look at only one side of it: what can you do in the world without me and my love as your shield? Your very position (which you talk too much about) makes me your refuge. Where else could you go? To whom? You speak of staying with Cicely. But Cicely-about Ferdie-is a little devil. The boy will never be yours, she will not give him to you; and, all alone in the world, how desolate you will be! You think yourself strong, but to me you are like a child; I long to take care of you, I should guard you from everything. And there wouldn't be the least goodness in this on my part; don't think that; I'm passionately in love with you-I might as well confess it outright."

Eve quivered as she met his eyes. "I shall stay with Cicely."

"You don't care whether you make me suffer?"

"I want to save you from the far greater suffering that would come."

"As I told you before, I'll take care of that," said Paul. "You needn't be so much concerned about what my feelings will be after you are my wife-I know what they will be. Women are fools about that sort of thing-what the future husband may or may not feel, may or may not think; when he has got the woman he loves, he doesn't think about her at all; he thinks about his business, his affairs, his occupations, whatever he has to do in the world. As to what he feels, he knows. And she too. There comes an end to all her fancies, and generally they're poor stuff." Drawing her to him, he kissed her. "That's better than a fancy! Now we will walk back to the house; there is a good deal to do if we are to be married this afternoon-as we certainly shall be; by this time to-morrow it will be an old story to you-the being my wife. And now listen, Eve, let me make an end of it; Ferdie was everything to me, I don't deny it; he was the dearest fellow the world could show, and I had always had the charge of him. But he had that fault from boyhood. The time came when it endangered Cicely's life and that of her child; then you stepped forward and saved them, though it was sure to cost you a lifetime of pain. I honor you for this, Eve, and always shall. Poor Ferdie has gone, his death was nobody's fault but his own; and it wasn't wholly his own, either, for he had inherited tendencies which kept him down. He has gone back to the Power that made him, and that Power understands his own work, I fancy; at any rate, I am willing to leave Ferdie to Him. But, in the meantime, we are on the earth, Eve, we two,-and we love each other; let us have all there is of it, while we are about it; in fact, I give you warning, that I shall take it all!"

Two hours later, Paul came back from the mainland, where he had been making the necessary arrangements for the marriage, which was to take place at five o'clock; so far, he had told no one of his intention.

A note was handed to him. He opened it.

"It is of no use. In spite of all you have said, I feel sure that in time you could not help remembering. And it would make you miserable beyond bearing.

"Once your wife, I should not have the strength to leave you-as I can now.

EVE."

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