Sivut kuvina



[WHEN Captain Philip Whiteoak and Adeline Court were married in India in 1848, they were the most brilliant couple in their military station. But the inheritance of property in Canada prompted Philip to sell his commission and bring his wife and infant daughter Augusta to Ontario. A great stone manor house was built and a thousand acres of wilderness transformed into the semblance of an English park. 'Jalna' the estate is called, after the military station where the couple first met.

The story is of the present time. Adeline, her husband long since dead, is an indomitable old woman, eagerly on the verge of completing a full century of life. She has two surviving sons, themselves old men: Nicholas, whose wife left him for a young army officer, and Ernest, a bachelor. A third son, Philip, is dead. His two marriages embarrassed the declining estate with six children. From the first marriage came Meg, the only girl, and Renny, now master of the cohesive little Whiteoak clan. From the second came Eden and Piers, now in the twenties, Finch, sixteen, and Wakefield, nine.

As the story opens, Eden has fractured Whiteoak tradition by writing a volume of poems which has been accepted by a New York publisher. The event is the theme of animated family discussion in picturesque scenes at the dinner table and in the rooms of Nicholas and Ernest. Renny is disgusted with Eden for giving up his legal study for poetry; he threatens Eden that by autumn he must make up his mind to enter business or help with the estate. Piers, whose taste is for farming, baits the poet with sarcasm, but brings down upon his own head the warning that there must be no 'nonsense' with Pheasant, a girl whose existence has been a cause of distress to the Whiteoaks. The story proceeds from this point.]

Ir was almost dark when Piers crossed the
lawn, passed through a low wicket gate in
the hedge, and pressed eagerly along a
winding path that led across a paddock
where three horses were still cropping the
new grass. The path wandered then down
into the ravine; became, for three strides, a
little rustic bridge; became a path again
still narrower that wound up the op-
posite steep, curved through a noble wood,
and at last, by a stile, was wedded to
another path that had been shaped for no
but to meet it on the bound-
ary between Jalna and the land belonging
to the Vaughans.

Down in the ravine it was almost night, so darkly the stream glimmered amid the thick undergrowth and so close above him hung the sky, not yet pricked by a star. As he climbed up the steep beyond, it was darker still, except for the luminous shine of the silver birches that seemed to be lighted by some secret beam within. A


whippoorwill darted among the trees catching insects, uttering, each time it struck, a little throaty cluck, and showing a gleam of white on its wings. Then suddenly, right over his head, another whippoorwill burst into its loud, lilting song.

When he reached the open wood above he could see that there was still a deep red glow in the west, and the young leaves of the oaks had taken a burnished look. The trees were lively with the twittering of birds seeking their rest, their love-making over for the day his just to begin.

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he hurried on through the soft night air, each step drawing him nearer to the stile where Pheasant was to meet him, he tormented himself by picturing his disappointment if she were not there. He saw, in his fancy, the stile, bare as a waiting gallows, mocking the sweet urge that pressed him. He saw himself waiting till dark night and then stumbling back to Jalna filled with despair because he had not held her in his arms. . . . What was it that had overtaken them both that day when, meeting down in the ravine, she had been startled by a water snake and had caught his sleeve and pointed down into the stream where it had disappeared? Bending over the water, they had suddenly seen their two faces reflected in a still pool, looking up at them not at all like the faces of Piers and Pheasant who had known each other all their days. The faces reflected had had strange, timid eyes and parted lips. They had turned to look at each other. Their own lips had met.

Remembering that kiss, he began to run across the open field toward the stile.

She was sitting on it, waiting for him, her drooping figure silhouetted against the blur of red in the west. He slackened his pace as soon as he saw her, and greeted her laconically as he came up.

'Hullo, Pheasant!'

'Hullo, Piers! I've been waiting quite a while.'

'I could n't get away. I had to stop and admire a beastly cow Renny bought at Hobbs's sale to-day.'

He climbed to the stile and sat down beside her. 'It's the first warm evening, is n't it?' he observed, not looking at her. 'I got as hot as blazes coming over. I was n't letting the grass grow under my feet, I can tell you.' He took her hand and drew it against his side. 'Feel that.'

'Your heart is beating rather hard,' she said, in a low voice. 'Is it because you hurried or because She leaned against his shoulder and looked into his face.

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It was what Piers had been waiting for, this moment when she should lean toward him. Not without a sign from her would he let the fountain of his love leap forth. Now he put his arms about her and pressed her to him. He found her lips and held

them with his own. The warm fragrance of her body made him dizzy. He was no longer strong and practical. He wished in that moment that they two might die thus happily clasped in each other's arms in the tranquil spring night.

'I can't go on like this,' he murmured. 'We simply must get married.'

'Remember what Renny has said. Are you going to defy him? He'd be in a rage if he knew we were together here now.'

'Renny be damned! He's got to be taught a lesson. It's time he was taught that he can't lord it over everyone. He's spoiled, that's the trouble with him. I call him the Rajah of Jalna.'

'After all, you have the right to say who you will marry, even if the girl is beneath you, have n't you?'

He felt a sob beneath her breast; her sudden tears wet his cheek.

'Oh, Pheasant, you little fool,' he exclaimed. "You beneath me! What rot!' 'Well, Renny thinks so. All your family think so. Your family despise me.'

'My family may go to the devil. Why, after all, you're a Vaughan. Everybody knows that. You're called by the name.'

'Even Maurice looks down on me. He's never let me call him Father.'

'He deserves to be shot. If I had ever done what he did, I'd stand by the child. I'd brave the whole thing out!'

'Well, he has, in a way. He's kept me. Given me his name.'

'His parents did that. He's never liked you or been really kind to you.'

'He thinks I've spoiled his life.'

'With Meggie, you mean. Picture Meg and Maurice married!' He laughed and kissed her temple, and, feeling her silky brow touch his cheek, he kissed that, too.

She said: 'I can picture that more easily than I can our own marriage. I feel as though we should go on and on, meeting and parting like this forever. In a way, I think I'd like it better, too.'

'Better than being married to me? Look here, Pheasant, you're just trying to hurt me!'

'No, really. It's so beautiful, meeting like this. All day I'm in a kind of dream, waiting for it; then after it comes the night, and you're in the very heart of me all night.'

'What if I were beside you?'

'It could n't be so lovely. It could n't. Then in the morning, the moment I waken, I am counting the hours till we meet again. Maurice might not exist. I scarcely see or hear him.'

'Dreams don't satisfy me, Pheasant. This way of living is torture to me. Every day as the spring goes on it's a greater torture. I want you— not dreams of you.' 'Don't you love our meeting like this?' 'Don't be silly! You know what I mean.' He moved away from her on the stile and lighted a cigarette. 'Now,' he went on, in a hard, businesslike tone, 'let us take it for granted that we're going to be married. We are, are n't we? Are we going to be married, eh?'

'Yes. - You might offer me a cigarette.' He gave her one and lighted it for her. 'Very well. Can you tell me any reason for hanging back? I'm twenty, you're seventeen. Marriageable ages, eh?'

"Too young, they say.'

'Rot. They would like us to wait till we're too decrepit to creep to this stile. I'm valuable to Renny. He's paying me decent wages. I know Renny. He's goodnatured at bottom for all his temper. He'd never dream of putting me out. There's lots of room at Jalna. One more would never be noticed.'

'Meg does n't like me. I'm rather afraid of her.'

'Afraid of Meggie! Oh, you little coward! She's gentle as a lamb. And Gran always liked you. I'll tell you what, Pheasant, we'll stand in with Gran. She has a lot of influence with the family. If we make ourselves pleasant to her there's no knowing what she may do for us. She's often said that I am more like my grandfather than any of the others, and she thinks he was the finest man that ever lived.'

'What about Renny? She's always talking about his being a perfect Court. Anyhow, I expect her will was made before we were born.'

'Yes, but she's always changing it or pretending that she does. Only last week she had her lawyer out for hours, and the whole family was upset. Wake peeked in at the keyhole and he said all she did was feed the old fellow peppermints. Still, you can

never tell.' He shook his head sagaciously and then heaved a gusty sigh. 'One thing is absolutely certain. I can't go on like this. I've either got to get married or go away. It's affecting my nerves. I scarcely knew what I was eating at dinner to-day, and such a hullabaloo there was over this book of Eden's. Good Lord! Poetry! Think of it! And at tea time Finch had come home with a bad report from one of his masters and there was another row. It raged for an hour.'

But Pheasant had heard nothing but the calculated cruelty of the words 'go away.' She turned toward him a frightened, wideeyed face.

'Go away! How can you say such a thing? You know I'd die in this place without you!'

'How pale you've got,' he observed, peering into her face. 'Why are you turning pale? Surely it would n't matter to you if I went away. You could go right on dreaming about me, you know.'

Pheasant burst into tears and began to scramble down from the stile. 'If you think I'll stop here to be tortured!' she cried, and began to run from him.

'Yet you expect me to stay and be tortured!' he shouted.

She ran into the dusk across the wet meadow, and he sat obstinately staring after her, wondering if her will would hold out till she reached the other side. Already her steps seemed to be slackening. Still her figure became less clear. What if she should run on and on till she reached home, leaving him alone on the stile with all his love turbulent within him? The mere thought of that was enough to make him jump down and begin to run after her, but even as he did so he saw her coming slowly back, and he clambered again to his seat just in time to save his dignity.

She stopped within ten paces of him. 'Very well,' she said, in a husky voice, 'I'll do it.'

He was acutely aware of her nearness in every sensitive nerve, but he puffed stolidly at his cigarette a moment before he asked gruffly:


'Whenever you say.' Her head drooped and she gave a childish sob.

'Come here, you little baggage,' he ordered peremptorily.

But when he had her on the stile again a most delicious tenderness took possession of him, and withal a thrilling sense of power. He uttered endearments and commands with his face against her hair.

All the way home he was full of lightness and strength, though he had worked hard that day. Halfway down the steep into the ravine a branch of an oak projected across the path above him. He leaped up and caught it with his hands, and so hung aloof from the earth that seemed too prosaic for his light feet. He swung himself gently a moment, looking up at the stars that winked at him through the young leaves. A rabbit ran along the path beneath, quite unaware of him. His mind was no longer disturbed by anxiety, but free and exultant. He felt himself one with the wild things of the wood. It was spring and he had chosen his mate.

When he crossed the lawn he saw that the drawing-room was lighted. Playing cards, as usual, he supposed. He went to one of the French windows and looked in. By the fire he could see a table drawn up, at which sat his grandmother and his uncle Ernest playing at draughts. She was wrapped in a bright green-and-red plaid shawl, and wearing a much-beribboned cap. Evidently she was beating him, for her teeth were showing in a broad grin and a burst of loud laughter made the bridge players at the other table turn in their chairs with looks of annoyance. The long, aquiline face of Uncle Ernest drooped wistfully above the board. On the blackened walnut mantelpiece Sasha lay curled beside a china shepherdess, her gaze fixed on her master with a kind of ecstatic contempt.

At the bridge table sat Renny, Meg, Nicholas, and Mr. Fennel, the rector. The faces of all were illumined by firelight, their expressions intensified: Nicholas, sardonic, watchful; Renny, frowning, puzzled; Meg, sweet, complacent; Mr. Fennel, pulling his beard and glowering.

Poor creatures, all, thought Piers, as he let himself in at the side door and softly ascended the stair playing their little games, their paltry pastimes, while he played the great game of life!

A light showed underneath Eden's door.

More poetry, more paltry pastime. Had Eden ever loved? If he had, he'd kept it well to himself. Probably he only loved his Muse. His Muse ha! ha! He heard Eden groan. So it hurt, did it, loving the pretty Muse? Poetry had its pain, then! He gave a passing thump to the door. 'Want any help in there?'

'You go to hell,' rejoined the young poet, 'unless you happen to have a rag about you. I've upset the ink.'

Piers poked his head in at the door. 'My shirt is n't much better than a rag,' he said. 'I can let you have that.'

Eden was mopping the stained baize top of the desk with blotting paper. On a sheet of a writing pad was neatly written what looked like the beginning of a poem.

'I suppose you get fun out of it,' remarked Piers.

'More than you get from chasing a girl about the wood at night.'

'Look here, you'd better be careful!' Piers raised his voice threateningly, but Eden smiled and sat down at his desk once


It was uncanny, Piers thought, as he went on to his room. However had Eden guessed? Was it because he was a poet? He had always felt, though he had given the matter but little thought, that a poet would be an uncommonly unpleasant person to have in the house, and now they had a full-fledged one at Jalna. He did n't like it at all. The first bloom of his happy mood was gone as he opened the door into his bedroom.

He shared it with sixteen-year-old Finch. Finch was now humped over his Euclid, an expression of extreme melancholy lengthening his already long, sallow face. He had been the centre of a whirlpool of discussion and criticism all tea time, and the effect was to make his brain, never quite under his control, completely unmanageable. He had gone over the same problem six or seven times and now it meant nothing to him, no more than a senseless nursery rhyme. He had stolen one of Piers's cigarettes to see if it would help him out. He had made the most of it, inhaling slowly, savoring each puff, retaining the stub between his bony fingers till they and even his lips were burned, but it had done no good. When he

heard Piers at the door he had dropped the stub, a mere crumb, to the floor and set his foot on it.

Now he glanced sullenly at Piers out of the corners of his long, light eyes.

Piers sniffed. 'H'm. Smoking, eh? One of my fags, too, I bet. I'll just thank you to leave them alone, young man. Do you think I can supply you with smokes? Besides, you're not allowed.'

Finch returned to his Euclid with increased melancholy. If he could not master it when he was alone, certainly he should never learn it with Piers in the room. That robust, domineering presence would crush the last spark of intelligence from his brain. He had always been afraid of Piers. All his life he had been kept in a state of subjection by him. He resented it, but he saw no way out of it. Piers was strong, handsome, a favorite. He was none of these things. And yet he loved all his family, in a secret, sullen way even Piers, who was so rough with him. Now, if Piers had been some brothers, one might ask him to give one a helping hand with the Euclid. Piers had been good at the rotten stuff. But it would never do to ask Piers for help. He was too impatient, too intolerant of a fellow who got mixed up for nothing.

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'I'd thank you,' continued Piers, 'to let my fags, likewise my handkerchiefs, socks, and ties, alone. If you want to pinch other people's property, pinch Eden's. He's a poet and probably does n't know what he has.' He grinned at his reflection in the glass as he took off his collar and tie.

When Piers had divested himself of all his clothes he threw open the window. A chill night wind rushed in. Finch shivered as it embraced him. He wondered how Piers stood it on his bare skin. It fluttered the pages of a French exercise all about the room. There was no use in trying- he could not do the problem.

Piers, in his pajamas now, jumped into bed. He lay staring at Finch with bright blue eyes, whistling softly. Finch began to gather up his books.

'All finished?' asked Piers, politely. "You got through in a hurry, did n't you?' 'I'm not through,' bawled Finch. 'Do you imagine I can work with a cold blast like that on my back and you staring at me

in front? It just means I'll have to get up early and finish before breakfast.'

Piers became sarcastic. 'You're very temperamental, are n't you? You'll be writing poetry next. I dare say you've tried it already. Do you know, I think it would be a good thing for you to go down to New York in the Easter holidays and see if you can find a publisher.'

'Shut up,' growled Finch, 'and let me alone.'

Piers was very happy. He was too happy for sleep. It would ease his high spirits to bait young Finch. He lay watching him speculatively while he undressed his long, lanky body. Finch might develop into a distinguished-looking man. There was something arresting even now in his face, but he had a hungry, haunted look, and he was uncomfortably aware of his long wrists and legs. He always sat in some ungainly posture, and, when spoken to suddenly, would glare up, half defensively, half timidly, as though expecting a blow. Truth to tell, he had had a good many, some quite undeserved.

Piers regarded his thin frame with contemptuous amusement. He offered pungent criticisms of Finch's prominent shoulderblades, ribs, and various other portions of his anatomy. At last the boy, trembling with anger and humiliation, got into his nightshirt, turned out the light, and scrambled over Piers to his place next the wall. He curled himself up with a sigh of relief. It had been a nervous business scrambling over Piers. He had half expected to be grabbed by the ankle and put to some new torture. But he had gained his corner in safety. The day, with its miseries, was over. He stretched out his long limbs.

They lay still, side by side, in the peaceful dark. At length Piers spoke in a low, accusing tone.

'You did n't say your prayers. What do you mean by getting into bed without saying your prayers?'

Finch was staggered. This was something new. Piers, of all people, after him about prayers! There was something ominous about it.

'I forgot,' he returned, heavily.

'Well, you've no right to forget. It's an important thing at your time of life to pray

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