Jalna: A Novel

I

WAKEFIELD WHITEOAK ran on and on, faster and faster, till he could run no farther. He did not know why he had suddenly increased his speed. He did not even know why he ran. When, out of breath, he threw himself face down on the new spring sod of the meadow, he completely forgot that he had been running at all, and lay, his cheek pressed against the tender grass, his heart thudding against his ribs, without a thought in his head. He was no more happy or unhappy than the April wind that raced across his body or the young grass that quivered with life beneath it.

A delicious drowsiness stole over him. A tender recollection of the lovely warm breakfast he had eaten filled him with peace. He wondered if it were still in his stomach, or had already changed into blood and bone and muscle. Such a breakfast should do a great deal of good. He clenched the hand belonging to the arm stretched under his head to test its muscle. Yes, it felt stronger — no doubt about that. If he kept on eating such breakfasts the day would come when he would not stand any nonsense from Finch, nor from any of his brothers, even up to Renny. He supposed he would always let Meg bully him; but then, Meg was a woman. A fellow could n’t hit a woman, even though she was his sister.

There came no sound of a footstep to warn him. He simply felt himself helpless in the grasp of two iron hands. He was dazed by a shake and set roughly on his feet, facing his eldest brother, who was frowning sternly. The two clumber spaniels at his heels jumped on Wakefield, licking his face and almost knocking him down in their joy at discovering him.

Renny, still gripping his shoulder, demanded: ‘Why are you loafing about here, when you ought to be at Mr. Fennel’s? Do you know what time it is? Where are your books?’

Wakefield tried to wriggle away. He ignored the two first questions, feeling instinctively that the third led to less dangerous channels. ‘Left them at Mr. Fennel’s yesterday,’ he murmured.

‘Left them at Fennel’s! How the devil did you expect to do your home work?’

Wakefield thought a moment. ‘I used an old book of Finch’s for my Latin. I knew the poetry already. The history lesson was just to be the same thing over again, so’s I’d have time to think up my opinion of Cromwell. The Scripture, of course, I could get out of Meg’s Bible at home, and —’ he warmed to his subject, his large dark eyes shining — ‘and I was doing the arithmetic in my head as you came along.’ He looked earnestly up into his brother’s face.

‘A likely story.’ But Renny was somewhat confused by the explanation, as he was meant to be. ‘Now look here, Wake, I don’t want to be hard on you, but you’ve got to do better. Do you suppose I pay Mr. Fennel to teach you for the fun of it? Just because you’re too delicate to go to school is n’t any excuse for your being an idle little beast without an idea in your head but play. What have you got in your pockets?’

‘Marbles — just a few, Renny.’

‘Hand them over.’

Renny held out his hand while the marbles were reluctantly extracted from the child’s pockets and heaped on his palm. Wakefield did not feel in the least like crying, but his sense of the dramatic prompted him to shed tears as he handed over his treasures. He could always cry when he wanted to. He had only to shut his eyes tightly a moment, and repeat to himself, ‘Oh, how terrible! How terrible!’ — and in a moment the tears would come. When he made up his mind not to cry, no amount of abuse would make him. Now, as he dropped the marbles into Renny’s hand, he secretly moaned the magic formula: ‘Oh, how terrible! How terrible!’ His chest heaved, the muscles in his throat throbbed, and soon tears trickled down his cheeks like rain.

Renny pocketed the marbles. ‘No sniveling now.’ But he did not say it unkindly. ‘And see that you’re not late for dinner.’ He lounged away, calling his dogs.

Wakefield took out his handkerchief, — a clean one, still folded in a little square, put in his pocket by his sister that morning, — and wiped his eyes. He watched Renny’s tall, retreating figure till Renny looked back over his shoulder at him, then he broke into a jog trot toward the Rectory. But the freedom of the morning was no longer his. He was full of care, a slender, sallow boy of nine whose dark brown eyes seemed too large for his pointed face, wearing a greenish tweed jacket and shorts and green stockings that showed his bare brown knees.

He crossed the field, climbed a sagging rail fence, and began to trot along a path that led beside a muddy, winding road. Soon the blacksmith shop appeared, noisy and friendly, between two majestic elms. An oriole was darting to and fro, from elm to elm, and, when the clanging on the anvil ceased for a moment, its sweet liquid song was scattered down in a shower. Wakefield stopped in the doorway to rest.

‘Good morning, John,’ he said to John Chalk, the smith, who was paring the hoof of a huge hairy-legged farm horse.

‘Good morning,’ answered Chalk, glancing up with a smile, for he and Wake were old friends. ‘It’s a fine day.’

‘A fine day for those that have time to enjoy it. I’ve got beastly old lessons to do.’

‘I suppose you don’t call what I’m doing work, eh?’ returned Chalk.

‘Oh, well, it’s nice work. Interesting work. Not like history and comp.’

‘What’s comp?’

‘Composition. You write about things you’re not interested in. Now, my last subject was a Spring Walk.’

‘ Well, that ought to be easy. You’ve just had one.’

‘Oh, but that’s different. When you sit down to write about it, it all seems stupid. You begin, “I set out one fine spring morning” — and then you can’t think of a single thing to write about.’

‘Why not write about me? ’

Wakefield gave a jeering laugh. ‘Who’d want to read about you! This comp stuff has got to be read, don’t you see?’

Conversation was impossible for a space, while the blacksmith hammered the shoe into place. Wakefield sniffed the delicious odor of burnt hoof that hung almost visibly on the air.

Chalk put down the large foot he had been nursing, and remarked: ‘There was a man wrote a piece of poetry about a blacksmith once. “Under a spreading chestnut tree,” it began. Ever read it? He must have wrote it to be read, eh?’

‘Oh, I know that piece. It’s awful bunk. And besides, he was n’t your kind of blacksmith. He did n’t get drunk and give his wife a black eye and knock his kids around —’

‘Look here!’ interrupted Chalk with great heat. ‘Cut out that insultin’ kind of talk or I’ll shy a hammer at you!’

Wakefield backed away, but said, judicially, ‘There you go! Just proving what I said. You’re not the kind of blacksmith to write comp or even poetry about. You’re not beautiful. Mr. Fennel says we should write of beautiful things.’

‘Well, I know I ain’t beautiful,’ agreed Chalk, reluctantly. ‘ But I ain’t as bad as all that.’

‘All what?’ Wakefield successfully assumed Mr. Fennel’s air of schoolmasterish probing.

‘That I can’t be writ about.’

‘Well, then, Chalk, suppose I was to write down everything I know about you and hand it to Mr. Fennel for comp. Would you be pleased?’

‘I say I’ll be pleased to fire a hammer at you if you don’t clear out!’ shouted Chalk, backing the heavy mare toward the door.

Wakefield moved agilely aside as the great dappled flank approached, then he set off down the road, which had suddenly become a straggling street, with much dignity.

Already he could see the church, perched on an abrupt, cedar-clad knoll, its square stone tower rising, almost menacing, like a battlement against the sky. His grandfather had built it seventy-five years before. His grandfather, his father, and his mother slept in the churchyard beside it. Beyond the church and hidden by it was the Rectory, where he had his lessons.

Now his footsteps lagged. He was before the shop of Mrs. Brawn, who had not only sweets but soft drinks, buns, pies, and sandwiches for sale. The shop was simply the front room of her cottage, fitted with shelves and a counter, and her wares displayed on a table in the window. He felt weak and faint. His tongue clove to the roof of his mouth with thirst. His stomach felt hollow and slightly sick. Plainly, no one on earth had ever needed refreshment more than he, and no one on earth had less means for the payment for such succor. He examined the contents of his pockets, but, though there was much in them of great value to himself, there was not one cent in hard cash, which was all that Mrs. Brawn really cared about. He could see her crimson face inside the window, and he smiled ingratiatingly, for he owed her thirteen cents and he did not see where he was ever going to get the money to pay it. She came to the door.

‘Well, young man, what about that money you owe me?’ She was brusque indeed.

‘Oh, Mrs. Brawn, I are n’t feeling very well this morning. I get these spells. I dare say you’ve heard about them. I’d like a bottle of lemon soda, please. And about paying—’ He passed his hand across his brow and continued hesitatingly: ‘I don’t believe I should have come out in the sun without my cap, do you? What was I saying? Oh, yes, about paying. Well, you see, my birthday’s coming very soon, and I ’ll be getting money presents from all the family. Eighteen cents will seem no more to me than thirteen then. Even a dollar will be nothing.’

‘When does your birthday come?’ Mrs. Brawn was weakening.

Again he passed his hand across his forehead, then laid it on his stomach, where he believed his heart to be. ‘I can’t ezactly remember, ’cos there are so many birthdays in our family I get mixed up. Between Grandmother’s great age and my few years and all those between, it’s a little confusing, but I know it’s very soon.’ As he talked he had entered the shop and stood leaning against the counter. ‘Lemon soda, please, and two straws,’ he murmured.

Peace possessed him as Mrs. Brawn produced the bottle, uncorked it, and set it before him with the straws.

‘How is the old lady?’ she inquired.

‘Nicely, thank you. We’re hoping she’ll reach one hundred yet. She’s trying awfully hard to. ’Cos she wants to see the celebration we’ll have. A party, with a big bonfire, and skyrockets. She says she’d be sorry to miss it, though of course we won’t have it if she’s dead, and she could n’t miss what never really happened, could she, even if it was her own birthday party?’

‘ You’ve a wonderful gift of the gab.’ Mrs. Brawn beamed at him admiringly.

‘Yes, I have,’ he agreed, modestly. ‘If I had n’t I’d have no show at all, being the youngest of such a large family. Grandmother and I do a good deal of talking, she at her end of the line and I at mine. You see, we both feel that we may not have many years more to live, so we make the most of everything that comes our way.’

‘Oh, my goodness, don’t talk that way. You ’ll be all right.’ She was round-eyed with sympathy. ‘Don’t worry, my dear.’

‘ I’m not worrying, Mrs. Brawn. It’s my sister does the worrying. She’s had a terrible time raising me, and, of course, I’m not raised yet.’ He smiled sadly, and then bent his small dark head over the bottle, sucking ecstatically.

Mrs. Brawn disappeared into the kitchen behind the shop. A fierce heat came from there, and the tantalizing smell of cakes baking, and the sound of women’s voices. What a good time women had! Red-faced Mrs. Brawn especially. Baking all the cakes she wanted and selling all those she could n’t eat, and getting paid for them. How he wished he had a cake! Just one little hot cake!

As he drew the lovely drink up through the straws his eyes, large and bright, roved over the counter. Near him was a little tray of packets of chewing gum. He was not allowed to chew it, but he yearned over it, especially that first moment of chewing, when the thick, sweet, highly flavored juice gushed down the throat, nearly choking him. Before he knew it — well, almost before he knew it — he had taken a packet from the tray, dropped it into his pocket, and gone on sucking, but now with his eyes tightly closed.

Mrs. Brawn returned with two hot little sponge cakes on a plate and set them down before him. ‘I thought you’d like them just out of the oven. They’re a present, mind. They’ll not go on your account.’

He was almost speechless with gratitude. ‘Oh, thank you, thank you,’ was all he could say, at first. Then — ‘But what a shame! I’ve gone and drunk up all my soda and now I’ll have to eat my cakes dry — unless, of course, I buy another bottle of something.’ His eyes flew over the shelves. ‘ I believe I ’ll take ginger ale this time, Mrs. Brawn, thank you. And those same straws will do.’

‘All right.’ And Mrs. Brawn opened another bottle, and plumped it down before him.

The cakes had a delicious crisp crust, and, buried in the heart of each, about six juicy currants. Oh, they were lovely!

As he sauntered from the shop and then climbed the steep steps to the church, he pondered on the subjects assigned for to-day’s lessons. Which of his two most usual moods, he wondered, would Mr. Fennel be in. Exacting, alert, or absent-minded and drowsy? Well, whatever the mood, he was now at the mercy of it, little, helpless, alone.

The Rectory was a mellow-looking house with a long sloping roof and high pointed gable. The front door stood open. He was not expected to knock, so he entered quietly, first composing his face into an expression of meek receptiveness. The library was empty. There lay his books on the little desk in the corner at which he always sat. Feebly he crossed the worn carpet and sank into his accustomed chair, burying his head in his hands. The tall clock ticked heavily, saying, ‘ Wake-field — Wake-field — Wake — Wake — Wake — Wake!’ Then, strangely, ‘Sleep — sleep — sleep — sleep . . .

The smell of stuffy furniture and old books oppressed him. He heard the thud of a spade in the garden. Mr. Fennel was planting potatoes. Wakefield dozed a little, his head sinking nearer and nearer the desk. At last he slept peacefully.

He was awakened by Mr. Fennel’s coming in, rather earthy, rather dazed, very contrite.

‘Oh, my dear boy,’ he stammered. ‘I’ve kept you waiting, I’m afraid. I was just hurrying to get my potatoes in before the full of the moon. Superstitious, I know, but still — now, let’s see, what Latin was it for to-day?’

The clock buzzed, struck twelve.

Mr. Fennel came and bent over the little boy. ‘How have you got on this morning?’ He was peering at the Latin textbook that Wakefield had opened.

‘As well as could be expected, by myself, thank you.’ He spoke with gentle dignity, just touched by reproach.

Mr. Fennel leaned still closer over the page. ‘Um-m, let’s see. Etsi in his locismaturae sunt hiemes —’

‘Mr. Fennel,’ interrupted Wakefield.

‘Yes, Wake.’ He turned his shaggy beard, on which a straw was pendent, toward the boy.

‘ Renny wondered if you would let me out promptly at twelve to-day. You see, yesterday I was late for dinner, and it upset Grandmother, and at her age —’

‘Certainly. Certainly. I’ll let you off. Ah, that was too bad, upsetting dear Mrs. Whiteoak. It must not happen again. We must be prompt, Wakefield. Both you and I. Run along, then, and I’ll get back to my potatoes.’ Hurriedly he assigned the tasks for to-morrow.

‘I wonder,’ said Wakefield, ‘if Tom’ (Mr. Fennel’s son) ‘when he’s got the pony and cart out this afternoon would drop my books at the house for me. You see, I’ll need both dictionaries and the atlas. They’re pretty heavy, and, as I am late already, I’ll need to run every bit of the way.’

He emerged into the noontide brightness, light as air, the transportation of his books arranged for, his brain untired by encounters with Cæsar or Oliver Cromwell, and his body, refreshed by two sponge cakes and two bottles of soft drink, ready for fresh pleasurable exertion.

He returned the way he had come, only pausing once to let an importunate sow, deeply dissatisfied with the yard where she was imprisoned, into the road. She trotted beside him for a short distance, pattering along gayly, and when they parted, where an open garden gate attracted her, she did not neglect to throw a glance of roguish gratitude over her shoulder to him.

Glorious, glorious life! When he reached the field where the stream was, the breeze had become a wind that ruffled up his hair and whistled through his teeth as he ran. It was as good a playfellow as he wanted, racing him, blowing the clouds about for his pleasure, shaking out the blossoms of the wild cherry tree like spray.

As he ran, he flung his arms forward alternately like a swimmer; he darted off at sudden tangents, shying like a skittish horse, his face now fierce with rolling eyes, now blank as a gamboling lamb’s.

It was an erratic progress, and as he crept through his accustomed hole in the cedar hedge on to the shaggy lawn he began to be afraid that he might, after all, be late for dinner. He entered the house quietly and heard the click of dishes and the sound of voices in the dining room.

Dinner was in progress, the older members of the family already assembled, when the youngest (idler, liar, thief, wastrel that he was!) presented himself at the door.

II

There seemed a crowd of people about the table, and all were talking vigorously at once. Yet in talking they did not neglect their meal, which was a hot, steaming dinner, for dishes were continually being passed, knives and forks clattered energetically, and occasionally a speaker was not quite coherent until he had stopped to wash down the food that impeded his utterance with a gulp of hot tea. No one paid any attention to Wakefield as he slipped into his accustomed place on the right of his half sister, Meg.

‘I want my dinner!’ He raised his voice, in a very different tone from the conciliatory one he had used to Mrs. Brawn and the Rector. ‘My dinner, please!’

‘Hush.’ Meg took from him the fork with which he was stabbing the air. ' Renny, will you please give this child some beef. He won’t eat the fat, remember. Just nice lean.’

‘He ought to be made to eat the fat. It’s good for him.’ Renny hacked off some bits of the meat, adding a rim of fat.

Grandmother spoke, in a voice guttural with food. ‘Make him eat the fat. Good for him. Children spoiled nowadays. Give him nothing but the fat. I eat fat and I ’m nearly a hundred.’

Wakefield glared across the table at her resentfully. ‘Shan’t eat the fat. I don’t want to be a hundred.’

Grandmother laughed throatily, not at all ill pleased. ‘Never fear, my dear, you won’t do it. None of you will do it but me. Ninety-nine and I never miss a meal. Some of the dish gravy, Renny, on this bit of bread. Dish gravy, please.’

She held up her plate, shaking a good deal. Uncle Nicholas, her eldest son, who sat beside her, took it from her and passed it to Renny, who tipped the platter till the ruddy juice collected in a pool at one end. He put two spoonfuls of this over the square of bread. ‘More — more,’ordered Grandmother, and he trickled a third spoonful. ‘Enough, enough,’ muttered Nicholas.

Wakefield watched her enthralled as she ate. She wore two sets of artificial teeth, probably the most perfect, most efficacious that had ever been made. Whatever was put between them they ground remorselessly into fuel for her endless vitality. To them many of her ninety-and-nine years were due. His own plate, to which appetizing little mounds of mashed potatoes and turnips had been added by Meg, lay untouched before him, while he stared at Grandmother.

‘Stop staring,’ whispered Meg, admonishingly, ‘and eat your dinner.’

‘Well, take off that bit of fat, then,’ he whispered back, leaning toward her.

She took it on to her own plate.

The conversation buzzed on in its former channel. What was it all about, Wake wondered vaguely, but he was too much interested in his dinner to care very much. Phrases flew over his head, words clashed. Probably it was just one of the old discussions provocative of endless talk: what crops should be sown that year; what to make of Finch, who went to school in town; which of Grandmother’s three sons had made the worst mess of his life — Nicholas, who sat on her left, and who had squandered his patrimony on fast living in his youth; Ernest, who sat on her right, and who had ruined himself by nebulous speculations and the backing of notes for his brothers and his friends; or Philip, who lay in the churchyard, and had made a second marriage (and that beneath him!) which had produced Eden, Piers, Finch, and Wakefield, unnecessary additions to the family’s already too great burdens.

The dining room was a very large room, full of heavy furniture that would have overshadowed and depressed a weaker family. The sideboard, the cabinets, towered toward the ceiling. Heavy cornices glowered ponderously from above. Inside shutters and long curtains of yellow velours caught back by cable-like cords, with tassels at the ends shaped like the wooden human figures in a Noah’s ark, seemed definitely to shut out the rest of the world from the World of the Whiteoaks, where they squabbled, ate, drank, and indulged in their peculiar occupations.

Those spaces on the wall not covered by furniture were covered by family portraits in oil, heavily framed, varied in one instance by the bright Christmas supplement of an English periodical, framed in red velvet by the mother of Renny and Meg, when she was a gay young bride.

Chief among the portraits was that of Captain Philip Whiteoak in his uniform of a British officer. He was Grandfather, who if he were living would have been more than a hundred, for he was older than Grandmother. The portrait showed a well-set-up gentleman of fair skin, waving brown hair, bold blue eyes, and sweet, stubborn mouth.

He had been stationed at Jalna, in India, where he had met handsome Adeline Court, who had come out from Ireland to visit a married sister. Miss Court not only had been handsome and of good family (even better than the Captain’s own, as she had never allowed him to forget), but she had had a pleasing little fortune of her very own, left to her by a maiden great-aunt, the daughter of an earl. The pair had fallen deeply in love, she with his sweet, stubborn mouth, and he with her long, graceful form, rendered more graceful by voluminous hooped skirts, her ‘waterfall’ of luxuriant dark red hair, and, most of all, her passionate redbrown eyes.

They had been married in Bombay in 1848, a time of great uneasiness and strife almost throughout the world. They felt no unease and anticipated no strife, though enough of that and to spare followed, when much of the sweetness of his mouth was merged into stubbornness, and the tender passion of her eyes was burned out by temper. They were the handsomest, most brilliant couple in the station. All went well till a baby girl arrived, a delicate child, unwanted by the pleasure-loving couple, who, with its wailing advent, brought a train of physical ills to the young mother which, in spite of all that doctors and a long and dull sojourn in the hills could do, seemed likely to drag her down into invalidism. About the same time, Captain Whiteoak had a violent quarrel with his colonel, and he felt that his whole world, both domestic and military, had somehow suddenly become bewitched.

Fate seemed to have a hand in bringing the Whiteoaks to Canada, for just at the moment when the doctor insisted that the wife, if she were to be restored to health, must live for some time in a cool and bracing climate, the husband got notice that an uncle, stationed in Quebec, had died, leaving him a considerable property. Captain Whiteoak had a very poor opinion of the French (he had been born in the year of Waterloo, and his father had been killed there), but he liked the descriptions of Quebec, and when he found himself the owner of property there, with a legacy of money attached, he thought he would like nothing better than to go there to live — for a time, at any rate. He sold his commission, and the two sailed for England with the delicate baby and a native ayah. The few relations they had in England did not proffer them a very warm welcome, so their stay there was short, for they were equally proud and high-spirited. They found time, however, to have their portraits painted by a really firstclass artist, he in the uniform he was about to discard, and she in a low-cut yellow evening gown with camellias in her hair.

Armed with the two portraits, and a fine collection of inlaid mahogany furniture (for their position must be upheld in the Colony), they took passage in a large sailing vessel. Two months of battling with storms and fogs, and even icebergs, passed like a nightmare before they sighted the battlements of Quebec.

As they had lingered in London long enough to have their portraits done, so they lingered in Quebec long enough to become the parents of a little son. Unlike little Augusta, he was strong and healthy. They named him Nicholas, after the uncle who had left Philip the legacy. (Now himself ‘ Uncle Nicholas,’ who sat at his mother’s right hand when Wakefield entered the dining room.)

With two young children in a cold, drafty house; with Adeline’s health a source of anxiety; with far too many French about Quebec to be congenial to an English gentleman; with a winter temperature that played coyly about twenty dazzling degrees below zero, the Whiteoaks felt driven to find a more suitable habitation.

Captain Whiteoak had a friend, a retired Anglo-Indian colonel, who had already settled on the fertile southern shore of Ontario. ‘ Here,’he wrote, ‘ the winters are mild. We have little snow, and in the long, fruitful summer the land yields grain and fruit in abundance. An agreeable little settlement of respectable families is being formed. You and your talented lady, my dear Whiteoak, would receive the welcome here that people of your consequence merit.’

The property in Quebec was disposed of. The mahogany furniture, the portraits, the two infants and their nurse, were somehow or other conveyed to the chosen province. Colonel Vaughan, the friend, took them into his own house for nearly a year while their own was in process of building.

Philip Whiteoak bought from the government a thousand acres of rich land, traversed by a deep ravine through which ran a stream lively with speckled trout. Some of the land was cleared, but the greater part presented the virgin grandeur of the primeval forest. Tall, unbelievably dense pines, hemlocks, spruces, balsams, with a mingling of oak, ironwood, and elm, made a sanctuary for countless song birds, wood pigeons, partridges, and quail. Rabbits, foxes, and hedgehogs abounded. Labor was cheap. A small army of men was employed to make the semblance of an English park in the forest, and to build a house that should overshadow all others in the county. When completed, decorated, and furnished, it was the wonder of the countryside. It was a square house of dark red brick with a wide stone porch; a deep basement where the kitchens and servants’ quarters were situated; an immense drawing room, a library (called so, but more properly a sitting room, since few books lived there), a dining room, and a bedroom on the ground floor; and five large bedrooms on the floor above, topped by a long low attic. The wainscoting and doors were of walnut. From five fireplaces the smoke ascended through the picturesque chimneys that rose among the treetops.

In a burst of romantic feeling Philip and Adeline named the place Jalna, after the military station where they had first met. Everyone agreed that it was a pretty name, and Jalna became a place for gayety. An atmosphere of impregnable well-being grew up around it. Under their clustering chimneys, in the midst of their unpretentious park with its short, curving drive, with all their thousand acres spread like a green mantle around them, the Whiteoaks were as happy as the sons of man can be. They felt themselves cut off definitely from the mother country, though they sent their children to England to be educated.

Two boys were born to them at Jalna. One was named Ernest, because Adeline, just before his birth, had been entranced by the story of Ernest Maltravers. The other was given the name Philip, for his father. Nicholas, the eldest son, married in England, and, after a short and stormy life together, his wife left him for a young Irish officer, and he returned to Canada, never to see her again. Ernest remained unmarried, devoting himself with almost monastic preoccupation to the study of Shakespeare and the care of himself. He had always been the delicate one. Philip, the youngest, married twice. First, the daughter of a Scotch physician who had settled near Jalna, and who had brought his future son-inlaw into the world. She had given him Meg and Renny. His second wife was the pretty young governess of his two children, who were early left motherless. The second wife, treated with coldness by all his family, had four sons, dying at the birth of Wakefield. Eden, the eldest of these, was now twentythree; Piers was twenty; Finch, sixteen; and little Wake, nine.

Young Philip had always been his father’s favorite, and when the captain died it was to Philip that he left Jalna and its acres — no longer, alas, a thousand, for land had had to be sold to meet the extravagances of Nicholas and the foolish credulities of Ernest, with his penchant for backing other men’s notes. They had had their share, and more than their share, by God, swore Captain Whiteoak! He had never had any deep affection for his only daughter, Augusta. But, if he had never loved her, at least he had never had any cause to worry over her. She had married young — an insignificant young Englishman, Edgar Buckley, who had surprised them all by inheriting a baronetcy, by the sudden deaths of an uncle and a cousin.

All this had happened years ago. Captain Whiteoak was long dead. Young Philip and both his wives were dead. Renny was master of Jalna, and Renny himself was thirty-eight.

The clock seemed to stand still at Jalna. Renny’s uncles, Nicholas and Ernest, thought of him as only a headlong boy. And old Mrs. Whiteoak thought of her two sons as mere boys, and of her dead son, Philip, as a poor dead boy.

She had sat at that same table for nearly seventy years. At that table she had held Nicholas on her knee, giving him little sips out of her cup. Now he slouched beside her a heavy man of seventy-two. At that table Ernest had cried with fright when first he heard the explosion of a Christmas cracker. Now he sat on her other side, white-haired, which she herself was not. The central chamber of her mind was hazy. Its far recesses were lit by clear candles of memory. She saw them more clearly as little boys than as they now appeared.

Countless suns had shone yellowly through the shutters on Whiteoaks eating heartily as they ate to-day, talking loudly, disagreeing, drinking quantities of strong tea.

The family was arranged in orderly fashion about the table, with its heavy plate and vegetable dishes, squat cruets, and large English cutlery. Wakefield had his own little knife and fork, and a battered silver mug which had been handed down from brother to brother and had many a time been hurled across the room in childish tantrums. At one end sat Renny, the head of the house, tall, thin, with a small head, covered with dense, dark red hair, a narrow face, with something of foxlike sharpness about it, and quicktempered red-brown eyes; facing him, Meg, the one sister. She was forty, but looked older because of her solid bulk, which made it appear that, once seated, nothing could budge her. She had a colorless, very round face, full blue eyes, and brown hair with a strand of gray springing from each temple. Her distinguishing feature was her mouth, inherited from Captain Whiteoak. In comparison with the mouth in the portrait, however, hers seemed to show all its sweetness with none of its stubbornness. In her it became a mouth of ineffable feminine sweetness. She ate little at the table, attending always to the wants of others, keeping the younger boys in order, cutting up her grandmother’s food for her, sipping endless cups of China tea. Between meals she was always indulging in little lunches, carried to her own room on a tray—thick slices of fresh bread and butter with gooseberry jam, hot muffins with honey, or even French cherries and pound cake. She loved all her brothers, but her love and jealousy for Renny sometimes shook her solidity into a kind of ecstasy.

The half brothers were ranged in a row along one side of the table, facing the window. Wakefield; then Finch (whose place was always vacant at dinner time because he was a day boy at a school in town); next Piers, he too resembling Captain Whiteoak, but with less of the sweetness and more of the stubbornness in his boyish mouth; last Eden, slender, fair, with the appealing gaze of the pretty governess, his mother.

Across the table the grandmother and the two uncles; Ernest with his cat, Sasha, on his shoulder; Nicholas with his Yorkshire terrier, Nip, on his knees. Renny’s two clumber spaniels lay on either side of his armchair.

Thus the Whiteoaks at table.

‘What is accepted?’ shouted Grandmother.

‘Poems,’ explained Uncle Ernest, gently. ‘Eden’s poems. They’ve been accepted.’

‘Is that what you’re all chattering about?’

‘Yes, Mama.’

‘Who is she?’

‘Who is who?’

‘The girl who’s accepted them.’

‘It’s not a girl, Mama. It’s a publisher.’ Eden broke in: ‘For God’s sake, don’t try to explain to her!’

‘He shall explain it to me,’ retorted Grandmother, rapping the table violently with her fork. ‘Now then, Ernest, speak up! What’s this all about?’

Uncle Ernest swallowed a juicy mouthful of rhubarb tart, passed up his cup for more tea, and then said: ‘You know that Eden has had a number of poems published in the University magazine and — and in other magazines, too. Now an editor, I mean a publisher, is going to bring out a book of them. Do you understand?’

She nodded, the ribbons on her large purple cap shaking. ‘When’s he going to bring it out? When’s he coming? If he’s coming to tea I want my white cap with the mauve ribbons on. Is he going to bring it out in time for tea?’

‘My God,’ groaned Eden, under his breath. ‘Listen to her. Why do you try to tell her things? I knew how it would be.’

His grandmother glared across at him. She had heard every word. In spite of her great age she still bore traces of having been a handsome woman. Her fierce eyes still were bright under her shaggy reddish eyebrows. Her nose, defiant of time, looked as though it had been moulded by a sculptor who had taken great pains to make the sweep of the nostrils and arch of the bridge perfect. She was so bent that her eyes stared straight on to the victuals that she loved.

‘Don’t you dare to curse at me!’ She thrust her face toward Eden. ‘Nicholas, order him to stop cursing at me.’

‘Stop cursing at her,’ growled Nicholas, in his rich, deep voice. ‘More tart, Meggie, please.’

Grandmother nodded and grinned, subsiding into her tart, which she ate with a spoon, making little guttural noises of enjoyment.

‘Just the same,’ said Renny, carrying on the conversation, ‘I don’t altogether like it. None of us have ever done anything like that.’

‘ You seemed to think it was all right for me to write poetry when I only had it published in the Varsity magazine. Now when I’ve got a publisher to bring it out —’

Grandmother was aroused. ‘ Bring it out! Will he bring it to-day? If he does, I shall wear my white cap with mauve —'

‘Mama, have some more tart,’ interrupted Nicholas. ‘Just a little more tart.’

Old Mrs. Whiteoak’s attention was easily diverted by an appeal to her palate. She eagerly held out her plate, tilting the juice from it to the cloth, where it formed a pinkish puddle.

Eden, after sulkily waiting for her to be helped to some tart, went on, a frown indenting his forehead: ‘You simply have no idea, Renny, how difficult it is to get a book of poems published, And by a New York house, too! I wish you could hear my friends talk about it. They’d give a good deal to have accomplished what I have at my age.'

‘It would have been more to the point,’ returned Renny, testily, ‘to have passed your exams. When I think of the money that’s been wasted on your education —’

‘Wasted! Could I have done this if I had n’t had my education?’

‘You’ve always been scribbling verses. The question is, can you make a living by it ? ’

‘Give me time! Good Lord, my book is n’t in the printer’s hands yet! I can’t, tell what it may lead to. If you — any of you — only appreciated what I’ve really done — ’

‘I do, dear,’ exclaimed his sister. ‘I think it’s wonderfully clever of you, and, as you say, it may lead to - to anywhere.’

‘It may lead to my being obliged to go to New York to live, if I’m going to go in for writing,’ said Eden. ‘One should be near one’s publishers.’

Piers, the brother next to him, put in: ‘Well, it’s getting late. One must go back to one’s spreading of manure. One’s job may be lowly — one regrets that one’s job is not writing poetry.’

Eden pocketed the insult of his tone, but retorted: ‘You certainly smell of your job.’

Wakefield tilted back in his chair, leaning toward Piers. ‘Oh, I smell him!’ he cried. ‘I think the smell of stable is very appetizing.’

‘Then I wish,’ said Eden, ‘that you’d change places with me. It takes away my appetite.’

Wakefield began to scramble down, eager to change, but his sister restrained him. ‘ Stay where you are, Wake. You know how Piers would torment you if you were next him. As for you going to New York, Eden — you know how I should feel about that.’ Tears filled her eyes.

The family rose from the table and moved in groups toward the three doorways. In the first group Grandmother dragged her feet heavily, supported by a son on either side, Nicholas having his terrier tucked under one arm and Ernest his cat perched on his shoulder. Like some strange menagerie on parade they slowly traversed the faded medallions of the carpet toward the door that was opposite Grandmother’s room.

Renny, Piers, and Wakefield went through the door that led into a back passage, the little boy trying to swarm up the back of Piers, who was lighting a cigarette.

Meg and Eden disappeared through the double doors that led into the library.

Immediately the manservant, John Wragge, known as ‘Rags,’ began to clear the table, piling the dishes precariously on an immense black tray decorated with faded red roses, preparatory to carrying it down the long steep stairs to the basement kitchen. He and his wife inhabited the regions below, she doing the cooking, he carrying (besides innumerable trays up the steep stairs) all the coal and water, cleaning brasses and windows, and waiting on his wife in season and out. Yet she complained that he put the burden of the work on her, while he declared that he did his own and hers too. The basement was the scene of continuous quarrels. Through its subterranean ways they pursued each other with latter recriminations, and occasionally, through its brick-floored passages, a boot hurtled or a cabbage flew like a bomb. Jalna was so well built that none of these altercations were audible upstairs. In complete isolation the two lived their stormy life together, usually effecting a reconciliation late at night, with a pot of strong tea on the table between them.

Rags was a drab-faced, voluble little cockney with a pert nose, and a mouth that seemed to have been formed for a cigarette-holder. He was at the head of the back stairs as Renny, Piers, and Wakefield came along the passage. Wakefield waited till his brothers had passed, and then leaped on Rags’s back, scrambling up him as though he were a tree, and nearly precipitating themselves and the loaded tray down the stairs.

‘Ow!’ screamed Rags. ‘’E’s done it again! ’E’s always at it! This time ’e nearly ’ad me down. There goes the sugar bison! There goes the grivy boat! Tike ’im orf me for pity’s sike, Mr. W’iteoak!’

Piers, who was nearest, dragged Wakefield from his back, laughing hilariously as he did so. But Renny came back frowning. ‘He ought to be thrashed,’ he said, sternly. ‘It’s just as Rags says — he’s always after him.’ He peered down the dim stairway at the Whiteoak butler gathering up the débris.

‘I’ll stand him on his head,’ said Piers.

‘No. Don’t do that. It’s bad for his heart.’

But Piers had already done it, and the packet of gum had fallen from Wakefield’s pocket.

‘Put him on his feet,’ ordered Renny. ‘Here, what’s this!’ And he picked up the pink packet.

Wake hung a bewildered, buzzing head. ‘It’s g-gum,’ he said faintly. ‘Mrs. Brawn gave it to me. I did n’t like to offend her by saying I was n’t allowed to chew it. I thought it was better not to offend her, seeing that I owe her a little bill. But you’ll notice, Renny,’ he raised his large eyes pathetically to his brother’s face, ‘you’ll notice it’s never been opened.’

‘Well, I’ll let you off this time.’ Renny threw the packet down the stairs after Rags. ‘Here, Rags, throw this out!’ He turned to Wakefield. ‘How much do you owe Mrs. Brawn?’

‘I think it’s eighteen cents, Renny. Unless you think I ought to pay for the gum. In that case it would be twentythree.’

Renny took out a handful of silver and picked out a quarter. ‘Now, take this and pay Mrs. Brawn and don’t run into debt again.’

Grandmother had by this time reached the door of her room, but hearing sounds that seemed to contain the germ of a row, which she loved only second to her meals, she ordered her sons to steer her in the direction of the back stairs. The three bore down, clasped closely together, presenting a solid overwhelming front, awe-inspiring to Wakefield as a Juggernaut. The sun, beaming through a stained-glass window behind them, splashed bright patches of color over their bodies. Grandmother’s taste ran to gaudy hues. It was she who had installed the bright window there to light the dim passage. Now, clad in a red velvet dressing gown, clasping her goldheaded ebony stick, she advanced toward the grandsons, long-beaked, brilliant as a parrot.

‘What’s this going on?’ she demanded. ‘ What’s the child been doing, Piers?’

‘Climbing up Rags’s back, Gran. He nearly threw him downstairs. Renny promised him a licking next time he did it and now he’s letting him off.’

Her face turned crimson with excitement. She looked more like a parrot than ever. ‘Let him off, indeed!’ she cried. ‘There’s too much letting off here! That’s what’s the matter. I say flog him! Do you hear, Renny? Flog him well. I want to see it done. Get a cane and flog him! ’

With a terrified scream, Wakefield threw his arms about Renny’s waist and hid his face against him. ‘Don’t whip me, Renny!’ he implored.

‘I’ll do it myself,’ she cried. ‘I’ve flogged boys before now. I’ve flogged Nicholas. I’ve flogged Ernest. I’ll flog this spoiled little rascal. Let me have him!’ She shuffled toward him, eager with lust of power.

‘Come, come, Mama,’ interposed Ernest. ‘This excitement’s bad for you. Come and have a nice peppermint pâté or a glass of sherry.’ Gently he began to wheel her around.

‘No, no, no!’ she screamed, struggling, and Nip and Sasha began to bark and mew.

Renny settled it by picking up the little boy under his arm and hurrying along the passage to the side entrance. He set him down on the flagged path outside and shut the door behind them with a loud bang.

Wakefield stood staring up at him like a ruffled young robin that has just been tossed from its nest by a storm, very much surprised, but tremendously interested in the world in which it finds itself.

‘Well,’ observed Renny, lighting a cigarette, ‘that’s that.’

III

Ernest Whiteoak was at this time seventy years old. He had reached the age when after a hearty dinner a man likes repose of body and spirit. Such scenes as the one his mother had just staged inclined to upset his digestion, and it was with as petulant a look as ever shadowed his gentle face that he steered her at last to her padded chair by her own fire and ensconced her there. He stood looking down at her with a singular mixture of disgust and adoration. She was a deplorable old vixen, but he loved her more than anyone else in the world.

‘Comfortable, Mama?’ he asked.

‘Yes. Bring me a peppermint. A Scotch mint, not a humbug.’

He selected one from a little tin box on the dresser and brought it to her in his long pale fingers that seemed almost unnaturally smooth.

‘Put it in my mouth, boy.’ She opened it, pushing forward her lips till she looked like a hungry old bird.

He popped in the peppermint, withdrawing his fingers quickly as though he were afraid she would bite him.

She sucked the sweet noisily, staring into the dancing firelight from under shaggy red brows. On the high back of her chair her brilliantly colored parrot, Boney, perched, vindictively pecking at the ribbons on her cap. She had brought a parrot with her from India, named Boney in derision of Bonaparte. She had had several since the first one, but the time was long past when she was able to differentiate between them. They were all Boney, and she frequently would tell a visitor of the time she had had fetching this one across the ocean seventy-five years ago. He had been almost as much trouble as the baby, Augusta.

Grandmother’s room was thickly carpeted and curtained. It smelled of sandalwood, camphor, and hair oil. The windows were only opened once a week when Mrs. Wragge ‘turned it out’ and threw the old lady into a temper for the day.

Her bed was an old painted leather one. The head blazed with Oriental fruit, clustered about the gorgeous plumage of a parrot and the grinning faces of two monkeys. On this Boney perched all night, only at daylight flapping down to torment his mistress with pecks and Hindoo curses which she herself had taught him.

He began to swear now at Sasha, who, standing on her hind legs, was trying to reach his tail with a curving gray paw.

‘Kutni! Kutni! Kutni!’ he rapped out. ‘Paji! Paji! Shaitanka Katla!’ He rent the air with a metallic scream.

‘Pick up your horrid cat, Ernest!’ ordered his mother. ‘He’s making Boney swear. Poor Boney! Pretty Boney! Peck his eyes out, Boney!’

Ernest lifted Sasha to his shoulder, where she humped furiously, spitting out in her turn curses less coherent but equally vindictive.

‘Comfortable now, Mama?’ Ernest repeated, fondling the ribbon on her cap.

‘ M-m. . . . More wood. Put more wood on the fire. I like to be warm as well as anyone.’

Ernest laid a heavy piece of oak log on the fire and stood looking down at it till slender flames began to caress it; then he turned to look at his mother. She was fast asleep, her chin buried in her breast. The Scotch mint had slipped out of her mouth, and Boney had snatched it up and carried it to a corner of the room, where he was striking it on the floor to crack it, imagining it was some rare sort of nut. Ernest smiled and retreated, gently closing the door after him.

He slowly mounted the stairs, Sasha swaying on his shoulder, and sought his own room. The door of his brother’s room stood open and, as he passed, he had a glimpse of Nicholas sprawling in an armchair, his gouty leg supported on an ottoman, his untidy head enveloped in cigar smoke. In his own room he was surprised and pleased to find his nephew Eden. The young men did not often call on him; they favored Nicholas, who had ribald jokes to tell. Nevertheless he liked their company, and was always ready to lay aside his work, which was the annotating of Shakespeare, for the sake of it.

‘I hope I’m not troubling you, Uncle,’ Eden said. ‘Just say the word if you don’t want me and I’ll clear out.’

Ernest sat down in the chair farthest from his desk to show that he had no thought of study. ‘I’m glad to have you, Eden. You know that. I’m very pleased about this success of yours — this book — and all the more so because you’ve read a good many of the poems to me in this very room. I take a great interest in it.’

‘You’re the only one that really understands,’ answered Eden. ’Understands the difference the publishing of this book will make in my life, I mean. Of course, Uncle Nick has been very nice about praising my poems—'

‘Oh,’ interrupted Ernest, with a hurt feeling, ‘you read them to Nicholas in his room, also, eh?’

‘Just a few. The ones I thought would interest him. Some of the love poems. I wanted to see how they affected him. After all, he’s a man of the world. He’s experienced a good deal in his time.’

4 And how did they affect him?' asked Ernest, polishing the nails of one hand against the palm of the other.

‘They amused him, I think. Like yourself, he has difficulty in appreciating the new poetry. Still, he thinks I have good stuff in me.’

‘ I wish you could have gone to Oxford.'

‘I wish I could. And so I might if Renny could have been brought to see reason. Of course, he feels now that the education he has given me has been wasted, since I refuse to go on with the study of law. But I can’t, and that’s all there is to it. I’m awfully fond of Benny, but I wish he were n’t so frightfully materialistic. The first thing he asked about my book was whether I could make much money out of it. As though one ever made much out of a first book.’

‘And poetry at that,’ amended Ernest.

‘He does n’t seem to realize that I’m the first one of the family who has done anything to make our name known to the world—’ The armor of his egotism was pierced by a hurt glance from Ernest, and he hastened to add: ‘Of course, Uncle, there’s your work on Shakespeare. That will get a lot of attention when it comes out. But Renny won’t see anything in either achievement to be proud of. I think he’s rather ashamed for us. He thinks a Whiteoak should be a gentleman farmer or a soldier. His life’s been rather cramped, after all.’

‘He was through the War,’ commented Ernest. ‘That was a great experience.’

‘And what impressions did he bring back from it?’ demanded Eden. ‘Almost the first questions he asked when he returned were about the price of hay and steers, and he spent most of his first afternoon leaning over a sty watching a litter of squirming young pigs.’

4I sympathize with you very greatly, my dear boy. And so does Moggie. She thinks you’re a genius.'

‘ Good old Meg. I wish she could convince the rest of the clan of that. Piers is a young beast.'

‘You must n’t mind Piers. He jibes at everything connected with learning. After all, he’s very young. Now tell me, Eden, what shall you do? Shall you take up literature as a profession?' Eager to be sympathetic, he peered into the boy’s face.

‘Oh, I’ll look about me. I’ll go on writing. I may join an expedition into the North this summer. I’ve an idea for a cycle of poems about the Northland. Not wild, woody stuff, but something delicate, austere. One thing is certain — I’m not going to mix up law and poetry. It would n’t do for me at all.'

They discussed the hazards of literature as a means of livelihood. Ernest spoke as a man of experience, though in all his seventy years he had never earned a dollar by his pen. Where would he be now, Eden wondered, if it were not for the shelter of Renny’s roof. He supposed Gran would have had to come across with enough to support him, though to get money from her was to draw blood from a stone.

When Eden had gone, Ernest remained motionless in his chair by the window, looking out over the green meadows, and thinking also of his mother’s fortune. It was the cause of much disturbing thought to him. Not that it was what one could call a great fortune, but a comfortable sum it certainly was. And there it was lying, accumulating for no one knew whom. In moments of the closest intimacy and affection with her she never could be ever so gently led to disclose in whose favor her will was made. She knew that much of her power lay in keeping that tantalizing secret. He felt sure by the mirthful gleam he had discovered in her eyes when the subject of money or wills was approached that in secret she hugged the joy of baffling them all.

Ernest loved his family. He would feel no deep bitterness should any one of them inherit the money. He greatly longed, nevertheless, to be the next heir himself, to be in his turn the holder of power at Jalna, to experience the thrill of independence. By means of that power he would guide their lives into the channels that would be best for them. Whereas if Nicholas inherited it, — it had been divulged by Mrs. Whiteoak that the money was to be left solidly to one person, — well, Ernest could not quite think dispassionately of Nicholas as his mother’s heir. He might do something very reckless. He frequently made very reckless jokes about what he would do when he got it (he seemed to take it for granted that, as the eldest, he would get it) — jokes which Ernest was far too generous to repeat to his mother, but it made him positively tremble to think where the family might end if Nicholas had a fling with it.

As for Renny, he was a good fellow, but he was letting the place run down. It had deteriorated while he was away at the War, and his return had not stayed the downward progression. The younger nephews could scarcely be looked on as rivals. Still, one never could be certain where the whim of an aged woman was in question.

Ernest sighed and looked toward the bed. He thought he should take a little nap after such a substantial dinner. With a last look at the pretty green meadows, he drew down the blind and laid his slender body along the coverlet. Sasha leaped up after him, snuggling her head close to his on the pillow. They gazed into each other’s eyes, his blue and drowsy, hers vivid green in the shadowed room, speculative, mocking.

She stretched out a round paw and laid it on his cheek; then, lest he should rest too secure in her love, she put out her claws just a little way and let him feel their sharpness.

‘Sasha, dear, you’re hurting me,’ he breathed.

She withdrew her claws, patted him, and uttered short throaty purrs.

‘Pretty puss,’ sighed Ernest, closing his eyes. ‘ Gentle puss! ’

She was sleepy, too, so they slept.

As Nephew Eden had sought out Uncle Ernest that he might discuss his future with him, so that same afternoon Nephew Renny sought out Uncle Nicholas that they too might discuss Eden’s prospects.

Both rooms, the scenes of these conversations, would appear to an outside observer overfurnished. The two elderly men had collected there all the things which they particularly fancied, or to which they thought they had a claim. But while Ernest’s taste ran to pale water colors, china figures, and chintz-covered chairs, Nicholas had the walls of his room almost concealed by hunting prints and pictures of pretty women. His furniture was leathercovered. An old square piano, the top of which was littered with pipes, several decanters and a mixer, medicine bottles (he was always dosing himself for gout), and music, stood by the window.

Nip, the Yorkshire terrier, had a bone on the hearthrug when Renny entered. Hearing the step, he darted forward, nipped Renny on the ankle, and darted back to his bone, snarling as he gnawed. Nicholas, his bad leg stretched on the ottoman, looked up from his book with a lazy smile.

‘Hullo, Renny! Come for a chat? Can you find a chair? Throw those slippers on to the floor. Place always in a mess — yet if I let Rags in here to tidy up he hides everything I use, and what with my knee — well, it puts me in the devil of a temper for a week.’

‘I know,’ agreed Renny. He dropped the slippers to the floor and himself into the comfort of the chair. ‘Have you got a good book, Uncle Nick? I never seem to have any time for reading.’

‘I wish I had n’t so much, but — when a man’s tied to his chair as I am a great deal of the time he must do something. This is one Meggie got the last time she was in town. An English authoress. The new books puzzle me, Renny. My God, if everything in this one is true, it’s amazing what nice women will do and think these days. Have a cigar.’

Renny helped himself from a box on the piano. Nip, thinking Renny had designs on his bone, darted forth once more, bit the intruder’s ankle, and darted back growling, fancying himself a terrifying beast.

’Little brute,’ said Renny. ‘I really felt his teeth that time. Does he think I’m after his bone?’

Nicholas said: ‘Catch a spider! Catch a spider, Nip!’ Nip flew to his master, tossing his long-haired body round and round him, and yapping loudly.

A loud thumping sounded through the thick walls. Nicholas smiled maliciously. ‘ It always upsets Ernie to hear Nip raise his voice. Yet I’m expected to endure the yowls of that cat of his at any hour of the night.’ He clapped his palms together at the little dog. ‘Catch a spider, Nip! Catch a spider!’ Hysterically yelping, Nip sped around the room, looking in corners and under chairs for an insect. The thumping on the wall became frantic.

Renny picked up the terrior and smothered his barks under his arm. ‘Poor Uncle Ernest, you’ll have him unnerved for the rest of the day. Shut up, Nip, you little scoundrel.’

Nicholas’s long face, the deep downward lines of which gave an air of sagacity to his most trivial remarks, was lit by a sardonic smile. ’Does him good to be stirred up,’ he remarked. ‘He spends too much time at his desk. Came to me the other day jubilant. He had got what he believed to be two hundred and fifty mistakes in the text of Shakespeare’s plays. Fancy trying to improve Shakespeare’s text at this time. I tell him he has not an adequate knowledge of the handwriting of the day, but he thinks he has. Poor Ernie, he always was a little nutty.’

Renny puffed soberly at his cigar. ‘I hope to God Eden is not going to take after him. Wasting his time over poetry. I feel a bit upset about this book of his. It’s gone to his head. I believe the young fool thinks he can make a living from poetry. You don’t think so, do you, Uncle Nick?’ He regarded Nicholas almost pathetically.

’I don’t believe it’s ever been done. I like his poetry, though. It’s very nice poetry.’

‘Well, he must understand he’s got to work. I’m not going to waste any more money on him. He’s quite made up his mind he won’t go on with his profession. After all I ’ve spent on him! I only wish I had it back.’

Nicholas tugged at his drooping moustache. ‘Oh, he had to have a university education.’

‘No, he did n’t. Piers has n’t. He did n’t want it. Would n’t have it. Eden could have stopped at home. We could find plenty of work for him on one of the farms.’

‘Eden farming! My dear Renny! Don’t worry. Let him go on with his poetry and wait and see what happens.’

‘It’s such a damned silly life for a man! All very well for the classic poets — ’

‘They were young fellows once. Disapproved of by their families, too.'

‘ Is his poetry good enough ?'

‘Well, it’s good enough to take the fancy of this publisher. For my part, I think it’s very adroit. A sort of delicate perfection. A very wistful beauty that’s quite remarkable.’

Renny stared at his uncle, suspiciously. Was he making fun of Eden? Or was he just pulling the wool over his eyes to protect Eden? ‘Adroit, delicate, wistful’*—the adjectives made him sick.

‘One thing’s damned certain,’ he growled. ‘He’ll not get any more money out of me.’

Nicholas heaved himself about in his chair, achieving a more comfortable position. ‘How are things going? Pretty close to the wind ? ’

‘Could n’t be closer,’ Renny assented.

Nicholas chuckled. ‘And yet you would like to keep all the boys at Jalna instead of sending them out into the world to shift for themselves. Renny, you have the instincts of the patriarch. To be the head of a swarming tribe. To mete out justice and rewards, and grow a long red beard.’

Renny, somewhat nettled, felt like saying that both Nicholas and his brother Ernest had taken advantage of this instinct in him, but he satisfied himself by pulling the little dog’s ears. Nip growled.

‘Catch a spider, Nip,’ commanded his master, clapping his hands at him.

Once again Nip hurled himself into a frenzy of pursuit after an imagined insect. The thumping on the wall broke out anew. Renny got up to go. He felt that his troubles were not being taken seriously. Nicholas, looking up from under his shaggy brows, saw the shadow on Renny’s face. He said, with sudden warmth: ‘You’re an uncommonly good brother, Renny, and nephew. Have a drink?’

Renny said he would and Nicholas insisted on getting up to mix it for him. ‘Should n’t take one myself with this damn knee.’ But he did. hobbling about his liquor cabinet in sudden activity.

‘Well, Eden can do as he likes this summer,’ said Renny, cheered by his glass, ‘but by fall he’s got to settle down, either in business or here at Jalna.’

‘But what would the boy do at Jalna, Renny?’

‘Help Piers. Why not? If he would turn in and help, we could take over the land that is rented to old Hare, and make twice as much out of it. It’s a good life. He could write poetry in his spare time if he wanted to. I’d not say a word against it, so long as I was n’t asked to read it.’

Renny had got to the door when Nicholas asked suddenly: ‘How about Piers? Have you spoken to him of the girl yet?’

‘Yes. I’ve told him he must cut out these meetings with her. He never dreamed they’d been seen. He was staggered.’

‘He seemed all right at dinner time.’

‘Oh, we had our little talk two days ago. He’s not a bad youngster. He took it very well. There are n’t many girls about here — attractive ones — and there’s no denying Pheasant is pretty.’

Nicholas’s brow darkened. ‘But think what she is. We don’t want that breed in the family. Meg would never stand it.’

‘The girl is all right,’ said Renny, in his contradictory way. ‘She did n’t choose the manner of her coming into the world. The boys have always played about with her.’

‘Piers wall play about with her once too often.’

‘That’s all right,’ returned Renny, testily. ‘He knows I’ll stand no nonsense.’

He went out, shutting the door noisily, as he always did.

Nip was still busy with his bone. Regarding him, Nicholas feared that he would be in for an attack of indigestion if he got any more of the gristle off it. He dragged the treasure from him, and with difficulty straightened himself. Once bent over, it was no joke to rise. What a responsibility a little pet dog was! ‘No, no, no more gristle. You’ll get a tummy-ache.’

Nip protested, dancing on his hind legs. Nicholas laid the bone on the piano and wiped his fingers on the tail of his coat. Then the bottle of Scotch and the siphon caught his eye. He took up his glass. ‘Good Lord, I should n’t be doing this,’ he groaned, but he mixed himself another drink. ‘Positively the last to-day,’ he murmured, as he hobbled toward his chair, glass in hand.

A deep note was struck on the piano. Nip had leaped to the stool and from there to the keys. Now he had stretched his head to recapture the bone. Nicholas sank with a grunt of mingled pain and amusement into his chair. ‘I suppose we may as well kill ourselves,’ he commented, ruefully.

‘You in your small corner,
And I in mine.’

Nip growled, gnawing his bone on the top of the piano.

Nicholas sipped his whiskey and soda dreamily. The house was beautifully quiet now. He would doze a little, just in his chair, when he had finished his glass and Nip his bone. The rhythmic crunching of Nip’s teeth as he excavated for marrow was soothing. A smile flitted over Nicholas’s face as he remembered how the little fellow’s barking had upset Ernest. Ernest did get upset easily, poor old boy. Well, he was probably resting quietly now beside his beloved Sasha. Cats. Selfish things. Only loved you for what they could get out of you. Now Nip — there was devotion.

He stretched out his hand and looked at it critically. Yes, that heavy ring with the square green stone in its antique setting became it. He was glad he had inherited his mother’s hands — Court hands. Renny had them, too, but badly cared for. No doubt about it — character, as well as breeding, showed in hands. A vision of the hands of his wife, Millicent, came before him — clawlike hands with incredibly thin, very white fingers, and large curving nails. . . . She was still living, he knew that. . . . Good God, she would be seventy! He tried to picture her at seventy, then shook his head impatiently — no, he did not want to picture her at either seventy or seventeen. He wanted to forget her. . . . When Mama should die, as she must soon, poor old dear, and he should inherit the money, he would go to England for a visit. He’d like to see old England once again before he — well, even he would die some day, though he expected to live to be at least ninetynine like Mama. He was a Court, and they were famous for their longevity and — what was the other? — oh, yes, their tempers. Well, thank goodness, he had n’t inherited the Court temper! It would die with Mama — though Renny, when he was roused, was a fierce fellow.

Nip was whining to be lifted from the piano top. He was tired of his bone, and wanted his afternoon nap. Little devil, to make him get out of his chair again just when he was so comfortable!

With a great grunt he heaved himself on to his feet and limped to the piano. He took up the little dog, now entirely gentle and confiding, and carried him back under his arm. His knee gave him a sharp twinge as he lowered his weight into the chair once more, but his grimace of pain changed to a smile at the shaggy little face that was turned up to his. He had a sudden impulse to say, ‘Catch a spider, Nip!' and start a fresh skirmish. He even framed the words with his lips, and a sudden tenseness in Nip’s body, a gleam in his eye, showed that he was ready; but he must not upset old Ernie again, and he was very drowsy — that second drink had been soothing. ‘No, no, Nip,’he murmured, ‘go to sleep. No more racketing, old boy.’ He stroked the little dog’s back with a large, indolent hand.

Nip lay along his body, as he half reclined, gazing into his eyes. Nicholas blew into Nip’s face. Nip thumped his tail on Nicholas’s stomach.

They slept.

(To be continued)