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   Chapter 34 No.34

Jupiter Lights By Constance Fenimore Woolson Characters: 9114

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


"DRIVE to the New York steamer."

"She's off, boss. Past her time."

"Drive, I tell you."

The negro coachman cracked his whip, his two rawboned steeds broke into a gallop; the loose-jointed landau behind clattered and danced over the stones.

"Faster," said Paul.

The negro stood up, he shook the reins over the backs of his team with a galloping motion that corresponded with the sound of their feet; in addition, he yelled without intermission. They swayed round corners, they lurched against railings and other carriages; every head turned, people made way for them as for a fire-engine; at last they reached the harbor, and went clattering down the descent to the dock. Here there met them the usual assemblage of loiterers, who were watching the steamer, which was already half a mile distant, churning the blue water into foam behind her, her nose pointed straight towards Sumter.

Paul watched the line of her smoke for a moment; then he got out of his carriage, paid the coachman mechanically, told him to take his luggage to the Charleston Hotel, and walked away, unconscious alike of the mingled derision and sympathy which his late arrival had drawn from the group-boys with market-baskets, girls with baby-wagons, slouching mulattoes with fishing-tackle, and little negroes of tender age with spongy lips and bare prehensile toes, to whose minds the departure of the steamer was a daily drama of intensest interest and excitement.

There was nothing to be done until evening, when he could take the fast train to New York. Paul went to the Battery; but noticed nothing. A band from the arsenal began to play; immediately over all the windows of the tall old houses which looked seaward the white shades descended; Northern music was not wanted there. He went up Meeting Street; and noticed nothing. Yet on each side, within sight, were picturesque ruins, and St. Michael's spire bore the marks of the bomb-shells of the siege. He opened the gate of the church-yard of the little Huguenot church and entered; the long inscriptions on the flat stones were quaint, but he did not read them. He walked into the country by the shaded road across the neck. Then he came back again. He strolled hither and thither, he stared at the old Manigault House. Finally, at three o'clock, he went to the hotel.

Half an hour later an omnibus came up; waiters in white and bell-boys with wisp-brushes rushed out, dusty travellers descended; Paul, standing under the white marble columns, looked on. He still stood there after the omnibus had rolled away, and all was quiet, so quiet that a cat stole out and crossed the street, walking daintily on its clean white paving-stones, and disappearing under a wall opposite.

A figure came to the doorway behind, Paul became conscious that he was undergoing inspection; he turned, and scanned the gazer. It proved to be a muscular, broad-shouldered man of thirty-five, with a short yellow beard and clumsy features, which were, however, lighted by keen blue eyes; his clothes were dusty, he carried a travelling-bag; evidently he was one of the travellers who had just arrived, coming from the Northern train. A bell-boy came out and looked up and down the colonnade; then, with his wisp-brush, he indicated Paul.

"Dat's him, sah.-You was a-asking."

"All right," said the traveller. Putting his travelling-bag on a bench, he walked up to Paul. "Think I know you. Mr. Tennant, isn't it-Port aux Pins? Saw your name on the book. I'm Dr. Knox-the one who was with your brother."

Paul's face changed, its fixed look disappeared. "Will you come to my room?"

"In twenty minutes. I must have a wash first, and something to eat. Be here long?"

"I go North at six o'clock."

"All right, I'll look sharp, then; we'll have time."

In twenty minutes he appeared at Paul's door. The door was open, revealing the usual bachelor's room, with one window, a narrow bed, a washstand, one chair, a red velvet sofa, with a table before it; the bed was draped in white mosquito netting; the open window looked down upon a garden, where were half a dozen negro nurses with their charges-pretty little white children, overdressed, and chattering in the sweet voices of South Carolina.

"Curious that I should have run against you here, when this very moment I am on my way to hunt you up," said Knox, trying first the chair, and then the sofa. "I landed twenty-four hours ago in New York; been off on a long yachting excursion; started immediately after your brother's death,-perhaps Miss Abercrombie

told you? Whole thing entirely unexpected; had to decide in ten minutes, and go on board in an hour, or lose the chance; big salary, expenses paid; couldn't afford to lose it. I'd have written before starting, if it had been possible; but it wasn't. And after I was once off, my eyes gave way suddenly, and I had to give them a rest. It wasn't a thing to write, anyway; it was a thing to tell. There was nothing to be done in any case, and such kind of news will keep; so I decided that as soon as I landed, I'd come down here and find out about you and Miss Abercrombie; then I was going up to Port aux Pins-or wherever you were-to see you."

"I suppose you can tell me-in three words-what all this is about," said Paul, who had not seated himself.

"Yes, easy. What do you suppose was the cause of your brother's death?"

"Pistol-shot," Paul answered, curtly.

"No, that was over, I had cured him of that; I telegraphed you that the wound wasn't dangerous, and it wasn't. No, sir; he died of a spree-of a series of 'em."

Paul sat down.

"I say, have some brandy? No? Well, then I'll go on, and get it over. But don't you go to thinking that I'm down on Ferdie; I'm not, I just loved that fellow; I don't know when I've seen anybody that took me so. I was called to him, you know, after those negroes shot him. 'Twasn't in itself a vital wound; only a tedious one; the difficulty was fever, but after a while we subdued that. Of course I saw what was behind,-he had had an attack of something like delirium tremens; it was that which complicated matters. Well, I went over there every day, sometimes twice a day; I took the biggest sort of interest in the case, and, besides, we got to be first-rate chums. I set about doing everything I could for him, not only in the regular line of business, but also morally, as one may call it; as a friend. You see, I wanted to open his eyes to the danger he was in; he hadn't the least conception of it. He thought that it was only a question of will, and that his will was particularly strong;-that sort of talk. Well, after rather a slow job of it, I pronounced him cured-as far as the wound was concerned; all he needed was rest. Did he take it? By George, sir, he didn't! He slipped off to Savannah, not letting me know a gleam of it, and there he was joined by-I don't know whether you have heard that there was a woman in the case?"

Paul nodded.

"And she wasn't the only one, though she supposed she was. From the first, the drink got hold of him again. And this time it killed him,-he led an awful life of it there for days. As soon as I found out that he had gone-which wasn't at once, as I had given up going over there regularly-I chased up to Savannah after him as fast as I could tear,-I had the feeling that he was going to the devil! I couldn't find him at first, though I scoured the town. And when I did, he was past helping;-all I could do was to try to get him back to Romney; I wanted him to die decently, at home, and not up there among those- Well, sir, he died the next day. I couldn't tell those women down there-Miss Abercrombie, Mrs. Singleton, and her aunt, Miss Peggy. They were all there, of course, and crying; but they would have cried a great deal worse if they had known the truth, and, as there was nothing to be gained by it for any one, it seemed cruel to tell them. For good women are awful fools, you know; they are a great deal harder than we are; they think nothing of sending a man to hell; they're awfully intolerant. 'Tany rate, I made up my mind that I'd say nothing except to you, leaving it to you to inform the wife or not, as you thought best. Then, suddenly, off I had to go on that yachting expedition. But as soon as I landed I started; and, here I am-on the first stage of the journey."

Paul did not speak.

"I say, do you take it so hard, then?" said Knox, with an embarrassed laugh.

Paul got up. "You have done me the greatest service that one man can do another." He put out his hand.

Knox, much relieved, gave it a prolonged shake. "Faults and all, he was the biggest kind of a trump, wasn't he? Drunkards are death to the women-to the wives and mothers and sisters; but some of 'em are more lovable than lots of the moral skinflints that go nagging about, saving a penny, and grinding everybody but themselves. The trouble with Ferdie was that he was born without any conscience, just as some people have no ear for music; it was a case of heredity; and heredity, you know-"

"You needn't excuse him to me," said Paul.

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