Jalna: A Novel

XX

FINCH had given Wakefield his Boy Scout bugle. Finch had got over being a Boy Scout very quickly. The only thing about it that had suited him was the fact of his being a bugler. Now he had given his instrument to Wake for his birthday. Having once decided to do this, he did not hold it till the day itself. The little boy had been in possession of it for a fortnight. And every morning he wakened with his nerves tingling with delicious excitement. For there at the head of the bed was the bugle, and he must not get up until he had sounded the reveille.

It was thrilling to sit up in bed and send forth from swelling chest and distended cheeks those glorious brazen notes. Feeble, croaking they might sound to the listener, but to Wake they were round with a noble roundness, and stirring to the soul.

Luckily he was usually the last of the family to awake. But this morning was his birthday and he had been the very first. All, all had been roused by that sleep-shattering reveille. Renny, stretched on his back, his arms flung above his head, had been dreaming of galloping on a great wild horse along a steep precipice. Suddenly, with a neigh that shook the universe, the horse had leaped over the precipice, and plunged with him into the sunlit sea.

With a convulsive twitch of the body Renny awoke into the sunlight of the early morning, his face so comic in its astonishment that Wakefield laughed aloud, lost his wind, and sputtered helplessly into the instrument.

Then Renny laughed, too, for the sight of his little brother sitting up in bed, so alert, so important, with hair on end, and one dark eye cocked roguishly at him above one bulging cheek, was so ridiculous. He was ridiculous, and he was pathetic, too. Poor little beggar, thought Renny — a human being like myself, who will have a man’s feelings, a man’s queer thoughts one day.

‘It’s my birthday,’ quoth Wakefield, wiping his chin.

‘Many happy returns,’ said Renny, trying not to look as though he had a delightful present for him.

‘I shall probably not live to be as old as Gran. But I may reach ninety if I have good care.’

‘Oh, you’ll get good care, all right. Cuddle down here a bit. It’s early yet.’

Wake laid the bugle on the table at the head of the bed and flung himself down into the bedclothes. He burrowed against Renny, putting his arms about his neck.

‘Oh! I’m so happy,’ he breathed. ‘A picnic to-day if you please! The first of the season. It’s June! The first of June! My birthday.’ His eyes were two narrow slits. ‘Renny, have you a — you know what?’

Renny yawned prodigiously. ‘Well, I guess I’ll get up.’

’Renny, Renny—’ He bumped and struggled against his elder’s chest. ’Oh, Renny, I could kill you!’

‘Why?’

‘’Cause you won’t tell me —'

‘Tell you what?’ Renny held him as in a vise.

‘ You know what.’

‘How can I know if you won’t tell me?’

‘Oh, you beast, Renny, it’s you who won’t tell me!’

‘Tell you what?'

‘Whether you have a — you know what — for me.’

Renny closed his eyes. ‘You sound halfwitted this morning,’ he said, coldly. ‘It seems a pity when you’ve reached such an age.’

Wakefield examined his brother’s hard, weather-bitten visage with its relentlesslooking nose. Certainly it was a forbidding face — a face that belonged to a man who was his adored brother and who had no birthday present for him. He too closed his eyes, murmuring to himself, ‘Oh, this is terrible!’ A tear trickled down his cheek and fell on Renny’s wrist.

The older Whiteoak gave the younger a little shake. ‘Cut that out,’ he said.

They looked into each other’s eyes.

’It nearly broke me.’

‘What did, Renny?’

‘ Why, the present.’

‘The present?’

' Rather. The birthday present.’

‘Oh, Renny, for God’s sake—’

‘ Stop your swearing.’

‘But what is it?’

‘It’s a—’ he plunged the word into Wake’s ear — ‘a pony — a beautiful Welsh pony.’

After the first ecstatic questions Wake lay silent, floating in a golden haze of happiness. He did not want to miss the savor of one lovely moment of this day of days. First a pony — then a picnic, and, in between, an orgy of other presents. A birthday cake with ten tall candles. At last he whispered, ‘Is it a he or a she?’

‘A little mare.’

A mare! He could hardly believe it. There would be colts — tiny, shaggy colts. His very own. It was almost too much. He wriggled against Renny, adoring him.

‘ When will she — oh, I say, Renny, what’s her name?’

' She has no name. You may name her.’

A nameless gift from the gods! Oh, responsibility overpowering, to name her!

‘ When will she come?’

‘She is here, in the stable.’

With a squeal of joy Wake leaped up in the bed; then, espying the bugle, he had an inspiration.

‘Renny, wouldn’t it be splendid if I’d sound the reveille and then we’d both instantly get up? I’d like terribly to sound the reveille for you, Renny.’

‘Fire away, then.’

Solemnly the little boy placed the bugle against his lips, took a prodigious breath. Renny lay looking at him, amused and compassionate. Poor little devil — a man some day, like himself.

Loudly, triumphantly, the notes of the reveille were sounded. Simultaneously they sprang out on to the floor. June sunshine blazed into the room.

Downstairs Wakefield said to Finch: ‘ What do you suppose? Renny has given me a pony. We’ve just been out to the stable to see her. A little pony mare, mind you. Finch. There’ll be colts one day. And thanks again for the bugle. Renny and I both got up by it in the morning. And there’s to be a picnic on the shore, and an absolutely ’normous birthday cake.’

‘Humph,’ grunted Finch. ‘I never remember such a fuss on any of my birthdays.’

‘You have always had a cake, dear,’ said Meggie, reproachfully. ‘And don’t forget that nice little engine thing, and your bicycle, and your wrist watch.’

‘You don’t expect the family to rejoice because you were born, do you?’ asked Piers, grinning.

‘No, I don’t expect anything,’ bawled Finch, ‘but to be badgered.’

‘Poor little boy, he’s jealous.’ Piers passed a sunburnt hand over Finch’s head, stroking downward over his long nose, and ending with a playful jolt under the chin.

Finch’s nerves were raw that morning. He was in the midst of the end-of-the-term examinations, and his increasing preoccupation with music seemed to render him less than ever able to cope with mathematics. He knew with dreadful certainty that he was not going to pass into the next form. The fact that his music teacher was not only pleased with him, but deeply interested in him, would not make up for that. Combined with a skulking sense of helpless inferiority he felt the exalted arrogance of one whose spirit moves on occasion in the free and boundless spaces of art.

With a kind of bellow he turned on Piers and struck him in the chest. Piers caught his wrists and held them, smiling lazily into his wild, distorted face.

‘See here, Eden,’ he called. ‘This little lamb is baaing because we celebrate Wake’s birthday with more pop than we do his. Is n’t it a crime?’

Eden lounged over, his lips drawn in a faint smile from his teeth, which held a cigarette, and joined in the baiting.

All morning Finch’s heart raged within him.

At dinner Meggie and her grandmother both chose to correct him, to nag at him. He slouched, they said. He stuck his elbows out. He bolted his food so that he might be ready for the last helping of cherry tart before poor dear Gran.

Furious, he muttered something to himself to the effect that she might have it for all he cared, and that if it choked her —

She heard. ‘Renny! Reimy! ’ she shouted, turning purple. ‘He says he hopes it chokes me! Chokes me — at my age! Flog him, Renny! I won’t stand it. I’ll choke. I know I will.’ She glared wildly at the head of the house, her eyes blazing under her shaggy red brows.

‘Mama, Mama,’ said Ernest.

‘It’s true,’ growled Nicholas. ‘I heard him say it.’

Renny had been talking to Alayne, trying not to notice the disturbance. Now, in sudden auger, he got up and in a stride stood over Finch.

‘Apologize to Gran,’ he ordered.

‘Sorry,’ muttered Finch, turning white.

‘No mumbling! Properly.’

‘I’m very sorry. Grandmother.’

The sight of his hunched shoulders and unprepossessing sheepish face suddenly threw his elder into one of his quick passions. He gave him a sound and ringing cuff.

Perhaps it was because Finch was not properly balanced that day. In any case it always seemed easy to send him sprawling. The next second he was in a sobbing heap on the floor, and his heavy chair had fallen with a crash.

Alayne smothered a cry, and stared at her plate. Her heart was thudding, but she thought: ‘I must hang on to myself. I must. He did n’t mean to do it. He will be sorry. They drove him to it.’

Renny sat down. He avoided looking at her. He was humiliated at having been drawn into violence before her. However, if she thought him a brute, so much the better.

Finch gathered up himself and his chair, and resumed his place at the table with a look of utter dejection.

‘Now will you give back chat?’ asked Grandmother, and she added, after another mouthful of tart, ‘Somebody kiss me.’

She kept asking what time the picnic was to be, for she was even more excited about it than Wake. She had her bonnet and cape on long before the hour when the phaëton was to convey her to the shore. She had the picnic hampers ranged beside her chair, and passed the period of waiting by a prolonged and bitter discussion with Boney as to whether or not he should forage among the edibles.

The picnic party was separated into the same parts as the church party, with the difference that Finch rode his bicycle, instead of walking, and Piers arrived late on horseback, for it was a busy season with him.

As Piers tethered his mare to an iron stake which had been driven into that field before any of them could remember, he glanced toward the picnickers to see where Pheasant was. He had not had as much of her company of late as he would have liked. To the regular spring work of his men and himself had been added the setting out of a new cherry orchard and the clearing of a piece of woodland for cultivation. Piers was as strong and wholesome as a vigorous young tree. He was ambitious and he was not afraid of work, but it did seem rather hard sometimes that he had so little time to spare in these lovely days of early summer for happy and indolent hours with Pheasant. She seldom came out into the fields or orchards with him now, as she used to do. She looked pale, too, and was often petulant, even depressed. He wondered if she were possibly going to have a child. He must take good care of her, give her a little change of some kind. Perhaps he could arrange a little motor trip over the week-end. The poor girl was quite probably envious of Alayne, who had Eden always at her side.

He saw Pheasant standing on a bluff, her slender figure outlined against the sky. Her short green dress was fluttering about her knees. She looked like a flower poised there above the breezy blueness of the lake.

The phaëton had been drawn down the narrow stony road that led to the water’s edge between two bluffs. Hodge had loosed the horses, and had led them out into the lake to drink. A fire had been lighted on the beach and around it the family, with the exception of Pheasant and old Mrs. Whiteoak, were enjoying themselves in their own fashions. Wake, with upturned knickers, was paddling along the water’s rim. Renny was throwing sticks for his spaniels. Nicholas and Ernest were skipping stones. Meg, in a disreputable old sweater, was bent over the fire cherishing the teakettle. Alayne was carrying driftwood. Lady Buckley, very upright on a rug spread on the beach, was knitting at something of a bright red color.

Before Piers joined the others on the beach he went to speak to his grandmother, who sat regarding the scene from the safety of her seat in the phaëton.

' Well, Gran, are you having a good time?’

‘Put your head in so I can kiss you. Ah, there’s the boy! Yes, I’m having a very good time. I used to bring the children to picnics here more than sixty years ago. I remember sitting on this very spot and watching your grandfather teach the boys to swim. Nick was a little water dog, but Ernest was always screaming that lie was going down. Oh, we had the times!’

‘I suppose so, Gran.’

‘Go and see when tea will be ready. I want my tea. And Philip, — I mean Piers, — keep your eye on Pheasant. She’s young, ay, she’s young — and her mother was bad, and her father a rip. She’s worth watching.’

‘Look here, Gran, I don’t like your saying such things about Pheasant. She’s all right.’

‘ I dare say she is — but she’s worth watching. All women are — if they’ve any looks. I want my tea.’

Piers was smiling at the old lady’s advice as he strode along the beach. He was tolerantly amused by her, and yet he thought: There’s a grain of truth in what she says. Girls are worth watching. Still, there’s no one about but Tom Fennel that she could

— Eden, there’s Eden. He has nothing to do . . . might amuse himself . . . poets . . . immoral fellows. I’ll spend more time with her. I might take her to the Falls for the week-end. There’s that new inn there. She’d like that, poor little young’un.

Piers went up to Renny, whose eyes were fixed on Flossie swimming after a stick, while Merlin, having retrieved his, barked himself off his feet in agonized demand for another opportunity to exhibit his powers. As Piers approached, the spaniel shook himself vigorously, sending a drenching shower over the brothers’ legs.

‘Damn Merlin,’ said Piers. ‘He’s soaked my trouser legs!’

’All in white, eh?’ observed Renny, looking him over.

‘You did n’t expect me to come in overalls, did you? Have we time for a swim before tea?’

Renny bent and put his hand in the water. ‘It’s not very cold. Suppose we do. Tea can wait.’

‘ Where is Eden?’ asked Piers, casting his eyes over the party.

’He was up on the bluff with Pheasant a bit ago.’ Looking up, they saw his fair head rising just above the grass where he lay stretched at Pheasant’s feet.

’I won’t have him hanging about her,’ burst out Piers.

‘Tell him so, then,’ said Renny, curtly.

‘By the Lord I will! I’ll tell him so he’ll not forget.’ His mind suddenly was a seething sea of suspicions. ‘Why, even Gran thinks there’s something wrong. She was warning me just now.’

‘No need to get in a stew,’ said Renny, throwing the stick for Merlin, who leaped to the water with a bark of joy, while his place was immediately taken by a dripping, importunate Flossie. ‘Eden and Alayne will be leaving before the first of July. Evans has a job for him then.’

‘What a loafer he is!’

‘You did n’t expect him to work with a broken leg, did you? Don’t grouse about anything now. This is Wake’s birthday party. Come on and have our swim.’ He shouted to Wakefield: ‘Wake, should you like to go in for a swim?’

Wakefield came galloping through the wavelets. ‘Should I? Oh, splendid! What if I had the pony here? She’d swim out with me, I’ll bet.’

‘Eden!’ called Renny. ‘We’re going in swimming. Better come.'

They stared up at him as he scrambled to his feet and began to descend the steep path down the side of the bluff. He still limped from the effects of his fall.

‘Where’s Finch?’ asked Renny. ‘Finch will want to come.’

Wakefield answered: ‘He’s in the little cove already, lying on the sand.’

When the four brothers reached the little willow-fringed cove they found Finch lying face downward, his head propped on his arms.

‘Still sulking?’ asked Piers. ‘Did you know, Renny, that the poor youth is obsessed by the idea that we make more of Wake’s birthday than his? Is n’t it heartrending, Wake?’

Wakefield, smiling and self-conscious, stared down at Finch’s prostrate form.

‘If I get this leg chilled,’ observed Eden, ‘ I might have rheumatism.’

‘You won’t get chilled if I am with you,’ said Piers, pulling off his coat.

When the others had plunged into the lake, and Wake was already screaming with delight and terror at Piers’s hands, Renny returned to Finch and said with a fatherly air: ‘Better come in, Finch. It’ll do you good. You’ve been studying too much.’

‘No. I d’ want to,’ mumbled the boy against his arm.

‘Don’t be a duffer,’ said Renny, poking him with his bare foot. ‘The more Piers sees he can rattle you, the more he’ll do it.’

‘’T isn’t only that.’

‘Well, look here. It was too bad I gave you that cuff before the others. But you were too damned cheeky. Come along and forget it.’

Finch rolled over, disclosing a distorted red face. ‘Is there no place I can be let alone?’ he bawled. ‘Have I got to go to the end of the world to be let alone? All I ask is to be let alone, in peace here, and you all come prodding me up!’

‘Stay alone, then, you little idiot!’

Renny tossed away the cigarette he was smoking and strode to the water’s edge.

All very well, Finch thought, for a lordly being like Renny, safe, always sure of himself, unmenaced by dreadful thoughts and bewitchment, of whom even Piers stood in some awe.

With his head propped on his hand he watched his brothers, swimming, splashing, diving, the sunshine glistening on their white shoulders. As a creature apart he watched them, with the idea in his mind that there was a conspiracy against him, that each member of the family played a different part against him, talking him over among themselves, sneering and laughing at him.

But in spite of himself a slow smile of pleasure in their glistening grace, their agility, crept over his features. Their robust shouts were not unmusical. And the shine of their sleek heads, blond and russet and black, pleased his eyes.

He saw that Piers was rough with Eden, and he was glad. He wished they would fight, half kill each other, while he reclined on the sand looking on.

Eden came limping out of the water. ‘Are there any towels?’ he asked, ‘Run and ask Meg for towels, like a good fellow, Finch.’

Oh, yes! He was a good fellow when there was an errand to be run. But he hurried across the shingle to his sister.

‘Towels? Yes, here they are. This big red and white one for Renny, mind! And the two smaller ones for Eden and Piers. And send Wake to me. I must give him a good rubbing so be shan’t take a chill.’

A sudden mood of savage playfulness came over Finch. Snatching the towels, he went, with a wild fling of his body, back toward the cove. There he hurled the twisted bundle at his brothers.

‘There are your old towels!’ he yelled; and as he crashed among the bushwood beyond the willows he called back, ‘You’re to go to Meggie, young Wake, and get walloped!’

Alayne had joined Pheasant on the bluff, and presently Renny too mounted the path, his damp russet head appearing first above the brink, like the ruffled crest of some bird of prey. He threw himself on the short thick clover that carpeted the bluff and lighted his pipe.

‘It seems rather hard,’ said Pheasant in her childish voice, ‘ that Alayne and I could not have bathed. By the noise you made we could imagine the fun you were having.

‘It was too cold for girls,’ he returned.

‘It is a scientific fact,’ she said, sententiously, ‘that our sex can endure more cold than yours.’

‘We had no bathing suits.’

‘ We should have all brought bathing suits and made a proper party of it. You have no idea how stupid it is to sit twiddling one’s thumbs while you males are enjoying yourselves.’

Renny continued to stare out across the moving brilliance of the water, puffing at his pipe. With a sort of taciturn tyranny he overrode the younger girl’s desire for chatter and chaff. She too fell silent, plucking at the grass, and then, after a sidelong glance at the other two, she rose and began slowly to descend the path.

‘Why are you going. Pheasant?’ called Alayne sharply.

I think someone should help Meggie to lay the cloth.’

‘Very well. If I can be of use please call me.’

Now a shudder of excitement ran through her. It was the first time in weeks that she had been alone with Renny. She almost wished that she had followed Pheasant.

For some time he had avoided her. Their rides, which had been interrupted by the heavy snowfalls of January and the illness of Eden, had not been resumed. Although they lived in the house together, they were separated by a wall —a relentless wall of ice, through which each was visible to the other, though distorted by its glacial diffusions. Now on the cliff, in the sunshine, the wall seemed likely to melt, and with it the barrier of her intellectual selfcontrol. If she could only know what he was feeling! His very silence was to her a tentative embrace.

Like incense the sweetness of the wood smoke rose from the beach. Wake’s little naked figure was darting here and there like a sandpiper.

She studied Renny’s profile, the carved nose, the lips gripping the pipe, the damp hair plastered against the temple. It was so immobile that a heavy depression began to drown her mood of passionate excitement. Looking at him, remembering Eden, she began to feel that she had had enough of Whiteoaks. She had bruised her soul against their wanton egotism.

This Renny whom she loved was as remote, as self-sufficient as that rock out yonder. His look of passionate immobility might be the mask of nothing more than a brooding desire to acquire some mettlesome piece of horseflesh for his stalls.

Yet, how could that be, and she have that feeling that his very silence was an embrace! Two shadowy arms seemed to spring from his shoulders toward her, crushing her to him, and he was kissing her with the passion of his kisses in the orchard, with, added to them, all the hunger of these months of self-restraint.

His fleshly arms had not moved. One lay across his thigh, the other slanted toward his pipe, the bowl of which lay in his palm. He took the pipe from his lips, and spoke in a low, husky voice. Llis words overwhelmed her. She was like a mariner who, fearing certain shoals, watching with both dread and desire for the light that warned of their nearness, is suddenly blinded by that light full in the; eyes. Excitement, resentment, depression, left her. She was conscious only of his love.

He said, ‘ I love you — and I am in hell because I love you — and there is no way out.’

The magical experience of sitting on the cliff with Renny and hearing these words from his mouth, in his restrained voice, filled Alayne with a sense of reckless surrender rather than tragic renunciation. Like a crop from virgin soil, this profound love gushed upward from her being to embrace the hot sun of his passion.

With Renny it was very different. A man who had loved women both casually and licentiously, who could not speak their language, who had thought to have and craved to have no other sort of feelings toward them, he felt himself betrayed by this new and subtle passion that went deeper than mere possession, that could not be gratified and forgotten.

In his eyes was something of the bewilderment of the animal that finds itself wounded, unable to exercise the faculties which had been its chief delight. Love, which had hitherto been to him as a drink of fresh water, now tasted of the bitter salt of renunciation. He muttered again, ‘There is no way out.'

She said, almost in a whisper, ‘No, I suppose there is nothing to be done.'

It was as though a traveler, pointing to the rising moon, had said to another, ‘There is no moon.’

He caught that strange denial of her words in her tone. Looking into her face, he perceived the warmth and pathos there. He exclaimed, with a groan: ‘I would cut everything — take you away — if only — he were not my brother!’

In an odd, choking voice that seemed to come from a long way off she reminded him, ‘Your half brother.’

‘I never think of that,’ he said, coldly. His attachment to his brothers was so tenacious that it always had annoyed him to hear them spoken of as half brothers.

After a moment of silence that seemed made manifest by a veil of wood smoke that rose and hung over them for a space, she said, with a tremor in her voice: ‘I will do whatever you tell me to.’

‘I believe you would.’ he answered. With sudden realization he knew that her life was to her as important as his to himself, and yet she was putting it into his hands, with heroic selflessness.

They became aware that those on the beach were calling to them, and, looking down, they saw that they were beckoning. The cloth was laid, and already Nicholas, with the help of Piers, was letting himself down heavily into the unaccustomed posture of sitting on the ground.

‘Tea is ready. Come down! Come!’ echoed the voices.

The two rose mechanically, like two untroubled puppets, under the blue immensity of heaven, and turned toward the path.

‘Your heels are too high for such a rough place. Let me take your hand.’

She placed her hand in his, and he held it in his thin, muscular grasp till they reached the shingle.

XXI

Two members of the picnic party did not return with the others to Jalna. Piers went through the ravine to Vaughanlands, and with Maurice Vaughan drove to Steed to a meeting of fruit growers. Finch too went to Vaughanlands, but he cycled along the country road and entered by the front door into the house. He knew Maurice was going out with Piers, and, since the housekeeper was almost totally deaf, he might therefore make music with all the wild fervor that he chose.

All day he had been straining toward the hour. Yet he knew that he should at this moment be in his room at home ‘swatting’ for the physics examination to-morrow. He should not have gone to the picnic at all, though he had compromised by taking a textbook to study at odd moments. In reality he had not read one word of it. The book had been nothing more than a mask behind which he had hidden for a while his angry, sullen face. When he had fastened it in its strap to the handlebar of his bicycle, he had muttered something about going to study with George Fennel. He had lied, and he did not care. This evening he must be free. His soul must stretch its wings in the spaces of the night. Music would set him free.

This new freedom which music had the power to cast over him like a bright armor was most of all freedom from his own menacing thoughts, and, better still, freedom from God. God no longer frightened him, no longer pursued him in his loneliness, following him even to his bed with face that changed from thunderous darkness to fiery whiteness, from old to young. On evenings when music had made him brave and free he marched home through the ravine, singing as he marched, and no more afraid of God than of the whippoorwills that called to their loves among the trees or of the quivering stars.

Sometimes the thought of being loved by God rather than pursued by Him filled him with ecstasy, blinded him with tears. Often, and more often as the months flew on, he did not believe in God at all. God was nothing but a dragon of childhood, — Fear personified, — of which a Scotch nurse he had in tiny boyhood had sown the seed.

Yet he did not want to lose this fear of God entirely, for he had in it the power of submerging the more terrible fear of himself. Once in a strange flash of inwardness he had thought that perhaps God and he were both afraid, each afraid of his own reflection as seen in the other’s eyes. Perhaps, even, God and he were one.

In the forsaken house he sat very upright on the piano stool, only his hands moving firmly, and with spirit, over the keys. The piece he played was no more pretentious than that which any boy of talent might execute after an equal number of lessons. Nevertheless there was something special in Finch’s playing, in the way his sheepish air gave place to confidence when he sat before the piano, in the firm dexterity of his beautiful hands, in such contrast to his unprepossessing face, which kept him in his teacher’s mind long after the lesson was over. More than once the teacher had said to a colleague: ‘I have one pupil — a boy named Whiteoak — who isn’t like any of the others. He has genius of some kind, I am sure, but whether music is its natural expression, or whether it is just a temporary outlet for something else, I can’t yet make out. He’s a queer, shy boy.’

He sat playing now, neither shy nor queer, The room was dark except for the moonlight that serenely fell across his hands on the keys. Through the open window the rich, sweet scents of this June night poured in a changeful stream, now the odor of the cool fresh earth, now the heavy scent of certain yellow lilies that grew beneath the window, now the mixed aroma of wild flowers, last year’s leaves, and rich mould that poured up from the ravine.

All these scents and warmths and coolnesses Finch wove into his music. He had a strange sensation that night that many years had fled by with averted faces since the hour of the picnic. He felt the wondrous elation of creating, and at the same time a great sadness, for he knew that the world he was creating could not last, that it was no more than the shadow of a shadow, that the dancing streams, the flying petals, the swift winds that were born beneath his fingers, would dry and wither and fall as the music sank to silence.

A clock on the chimney piece struck ten in a thin, far-away tone. Finch remembered ’to-morrow’s examination. He must, go home and study for a couple of hours, try to get something into that brain of his besides music. But at any rate his brain felt clearer for the music. He felt wonderfully clear-headed to-night. All sights and sounds seemed to him magnified, intensified. With luck he might in the next two hours absorb the very problems upon which the questions of the examination would be based. The worst was that, as he had told Meggie he was going to study with George Fennel, he must go a long piece out of his way in order that he might arrive from the direction of the rectory. The night was so mild that some of the family were almost certain to be about, and if he appeared out of the ravine it would at once be suspected that he had been at Vaughanlands.

Just one piece more! He could not tear himself away yet. He played on, losing himself in the delight of that growing sympathy between his hands and the keyboard. Then he gently closed the piano and went out on to the verandah, shutting the door behind him.

He mounted his wheel and rode across the lawn. He flew along the road, faster and faster, through the little hamlet, past the rectory. There was a light up in George’s attic room, and poor George swatting away. What if he went in and spent the night with George? He could telephone to Jalna.

No, he wanted to be by himself. George was too solid, too prosaic for him to-night. He could see his slow smile, hear his ‘Whatever puts such fool ideas into your head, Finch? ’

Down the lane into the old woods of Jalna. The black pine trees blacker than the blackest night. How did they manage it? No darkness could obliterate them.

How lovely the little birch wood must look in the moonlight! All the silver birches in their own fair communion in the midst of Lhe black pines. If he left his wheel here he might go to the birch wood and see it in this first silvery night of June, take a picture of it back to his room in his mind’s eye.

His mind’s eye. What a singular phrase! He thought of his mind’s eye — round, glowing: rapturous and frightened by turns.

The mind has a thousand eyes,
And the heart but one;
Yet the light of a whole life dies
When love is done.

It must have been the eye of his heart which he had been imagining — that flaming, rapturous, terrified eye. ‘When love is done —’ Love had not begun for him. He thought it never would. Not that kind of love. He was not at all sure he wanted it.

He was running lightly along the woodland path that wound among the pines. There were before him five slender young birches sprung from the trunk of a fallen and decayed pine, like five fabled virgins from the torso of a slain giant. Beyond them the birch wood lay in the mystery of moonlight, the delicate, drooping boughs seeming to floatabove the immaculate boles.

This was the spot where one morning he had seen Renny standing with a strange woman in his arms. The place had ever since been haunted by that vision. He was therefore scarcely surprised when he heard low voices as he reached the outer fringe of trees. Was Renny up to his love games again? He halted among the young ferns and listened. He peered through the strange misty radiance that seemed to be distilled from the trunks and foliage of the birches themselves rather than to fall from above, and tried to see who were the two that had sought this hidden spot. Every nerve in his body was quivering, taut as the string of a musical instrument.

At first he could make out nothing but the dew-wet mistiness of light and shade, the strange lustre that hung above a patch of greensward. All about him the air was full of mysterious rustlings and sighings, as though every leaf and blade and fern frond were sentient to what was happening in the enchanted glade. Then the murmur of voices, the sound of long, passionate kisses, drew his gaze toward a particular spot sheltered by some hazel bushes. Scarcely breathing, he crept closer. He heard a low laugh, and then the voice that laughed said, ‘Pheasant, Pheasant, Pheasant,’ over and over again.

It was Eden’s voice.

Then rushing, breathless words from Pheasant, and then a deep sigh, and again the sound of kisses!

Oh, they were wicked! He could have rushed in on them in his rage and slain them. It would have been right and just. They had betrayed Piers, his beloved brother, his hero! In his imagination he crashed in on them through the hazel bushes, tramping the ferns, and struck them again and again till they screamed for pity. But he had no pity; he beat them down as they clung about his knees till their blood soaked the greensward and the glade reverberated with their cries.

He was dazed. He drew his hand across his eyes. Then he moved closer toward them through the hazels, not seeing where he was going, dizzy. Her voice gasped, ‘ What was that? ’

He stopped.

There was silence, except that the beating of his heart filled the universe.

‘What was that?’

‘Nothing but a rabbit or a squirrel.’

Finch dropped to his knees. With great caution he turned and began to creep away from them. He crept till he reached the path into the pine wood, then he got to his feet and began to run. He sped along the needle-strewn path with great strides like a hunted deer. His mouth was open, his breath coming in sobbing gasps.

When he reached the place where he had left his wheel he did not stop. Nothing mechanical could move with the speed of his swift, avenging feet. He ran down the lane, waving his arms; he flew across the pasture, past a group of sleeping cattle, and, missing the bridge, waded across the stream through the thick, clinging watercress; slipped, and sprawled on the bank into a great golden splash of kingcups; and pressed on toward the stables.

Piers had just driven into the yard when he arrived. He ran up in front of the car, his wild white face and disheveled hair startling in the glare of the lamps. His hand was on his side, where a pain like a knife was stabbing him.

‘What’s the matter?’ cried Piers, springing out of the car.

Finch pointed in the direction from whence he had come.

‘They’re there!’ he said, thickly. ‘Back there — in the woods! ’

What the devil is the matter with you?’ asked Piers, coming around to him. ‘Have you had a fright?’

Finch caught his brother by the arm and repeated, ‘In the wood — making love — both of them — kissing — making love —'

‘Who? Tell me whom you mean. I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Piers was impatient, yet in spite of himself he was excited by the boy’s wild words,

‘Eden, the traitor!’ cried Finch, his voice breaking into a scream. ’He’s got Pheasant in the wood there — Pheasant! They’re wicked, I tell you — false as hell!’

Piers’s hand was as a vise on his arm.

‘What did you see?’

‘Nothing — nothing! But behind the hazel bushes — I heard them whispering — kissing — oh, I know — I was n’t born yesterday! Why did they go so far away? She would n’t have let him kiss her like that unless —’

Piers gave him a shake. ‘Shut up! No more of that! Now listen to me! You are to go straight to your room, Finch. You are to say nothing of this to anyone. I am going to find them.’ His full, healthy face was ghastly, his eyes blazed. ‘I’ll kill them both — if what you say is so, Finch! Now, go to the house!’

He asked then, in a tone almost matterof-fact, just where Finch had seen them, why he had gone there himself. Finch incoherently repeated everything. Something of their excitement must have been transmitted to the animals, for the dogs began to bark and a loud whinny came from the stables. The moon was sinking, and a deathlike pallor lay across the scene.

Piers turned away, cursing as he stumbled over the tongue of a cart. A mist was rising above the paddock, and he ran into this obscurity, disappearing from Finch’s eyes as though swallowed up by some sinister force of nature.

Finch stared after him till he was lost to view, then stumbled toward the house. He felt suddenly tired and weak, and yet he could not go to the house as he had been bid. He saw a light in Alayne’s room. Poor Alayne! He shuddered as he thought of what Piers would do to Eden, and yet he had done right to tell this terrible thing. He could not have hidden such evildoing in his heart, connived at their further sin. Still it was possible that his own evil imagination had magnified their act into heinousness. Perhaps, even, they were no worse than others. He had heard something about the loose morals of the younger generation. Well, Pheasant was only eighteen, Eden twenty-four; they were young, and perhaps no worse than others. What about Alayne herself? Was she good? Those long rides with Renny — her moving into a room by herself, away from Eden. Finch had heard a whispered reference to that between Meg and Aunt Augusta. Would he ever know right from wrong? Would he ever know peace? All he knew was that he was alone, very lonely, afraid — afraid now for Eden and Pheasant, while a few minutes ago he had thought only of crushing them in the midst of their wickedness.

He crossed the lawn and followed the path into the ravine. The stream, narrower here than where he had waded through it crossing the meadows, ran swiftly, still brimming from heavy spring rains. Luxuriant bushes, covered by starry white flowers, filled the night with their fragrance.

Renny was sitting on the strong wooden handrail of the little bridge, smoking and staring dreamily down into the water.

Finch wouid have turned away, but Renny had heard his step on the bridge. ‘That you, Piers?’ he asked.

‘No, it’s me — Finch.’

‘Have you just come back from the rectory ?’

‘No, Renny, I’ve been — practising.’

He expected a rebuke, but none came. Renny scarcely seemed to hear him, seemed scarcely aware of his presence. Finch moved closer to him, with some dim idea of absorbing some of his strength by mere proximity. In the shadow of that unique magnificence he did not feel quite so frightened. He wished that he might touch him, hold on to his fingers, even his tweed sleeve, as he had when he was a little fellow.

Down there in the dark brightness of the water he saw a picture: Eden lying dead, with Alayne wringing her hands above his body; and as the wavelets obliterated it another took its place — Piers, purplefaced, struggling, kicking on a gallows. Icy sweat poured down Finch’s face. He put out a hand, gropingly, and staggered from the bridge and up the path. On the ridge above the ravine he hesitated. Should he go back and pour out the whole terrible tale to Renny? Perhaps it was not too late, if they ran all the way, to prevent a disaster.

He stood, gnawing at his knuckle distractedly, the clinging wetness of his trouser legs making him shiver from head to foot. He seemed incapable of movement or even thought now, but suddenly he was stirred to both by the sound of Eden’s laugh, near at hand, on the lawn. Then Pheasant’s voice came, speaking in a natural, unhurried tone. Piers had somehow missed them, and while he was crashing through the woods in pursuit they were strolling about the lawn, as though they had been there all the while.

He moved out from the darkness and stood before them. Eden had just struck a match and was holding it to a cigarette. The flame danced in his eyes, which looked very large and bright, and gave an ironical twist to the faint smile that so often hovered about his lips. Pheasant uttered an exclamation that was almost a cry.

‘Don’t go in the house,’ said Finch, heavily. ‘I mean — go away. I’ve told Piers about you. I heard you in the birch wood, and I ran back and told Piers —’

Eden held the still flaring match near Finch’s face, as though it were some supernatural ray by which he could look into his very soul. ‘Yes?' he said, steadily. ‘Go on.’

‘ He’s after you. He — he looked terrible. You’d better go away.’

Pheasant made a little moaning sound like a rabbit caught in a trap.

Eden dropped the match. ‘What a worm you are, brother Finch,’he said. ‘I don’t know where we Whiteoaks ever got you.’ He turned to Pheasant. ‘Don’t be frightened, darling. I will take care of you.’

‘Oh, oh,’ she cried, ‘what shall we do?’

‘ Hush. ’

‘He’ll be back any minute,’ said Finch, and turned away.

He could not go into that house with its peacefully shining lights, where the others were still talking perhaps of the picnic, all unwitting of the thunderbolt that hung over them. He skulked around the house, through the kitchen garden, through the orchard, and out on the road that led to the churchyard.

The church steeple, rising from among the tapering cedars, pointed more sharply than they toward the sky. The church had gathered to itself the darkest shadows of tree and tomb and drawn them like a cloak about its walls. The dead, lying beneath the dewy young grass, seemed to Pinch to be watching him, as he climbed the steep steps from the road, out of hollow eye sockets in which no longer was boldness, or terror, or lust, but only resigned decay. They no longer were afraid of God. All was over. They had nothing to do but lie there till their bones were light as the pollen of a flower.

Ah, but he was afraid of God! Fear was his flesh, his marrow, his very essence. Why had the moon sunk and left him in this blackness alone? What had he done? He had ruined the lives of Piers and Eden, and Pheasant and Alayne. Were Eden and Pheasant sinful? Sin — what a mad word! Could there be sin? All the mouldering bones under this grass — their sins were no more than the odors of spring growth — warm earth, sticky leaf bud, blessed rain — sweetness. But there was that saying: ‘unto the third and fourth generation.’ Perhaps he was suffering to-night for the heady sin of some far-off Whiteoak. Perhaps that baby sister, over whose grave he stood, had given up her little ghost because of some shadowy bygone sin. He pictured her lying there, not horrible, not decayed, but fair and tender as the bud of an April flower, with little hands held out to him.

Hands held out to him. Oh, beautiful thought! That was what his lonely spirit yearned for — the comfort of outstretched hands. A sob of self-pity shook him, tears rushed to his eyes and poured down his cheeks. He cast himself on the ground among the graves and lay there, his face against the grass. All the accumulated experience of the dead beneath him, passing into his body, became one with him. He lay there inert, exhausted, drinking in at every pore the bitter sweetness of the past. Hands stretched out to him — the hands of soldiers, gardeners, young mothers, infants, and One far different from the others. Hands from which emanated a strange white glow; not open-palmed, but holding something toward him — ‘the living Bread.’ Christ’s hands!

He knelt among the mounds and held up his own hands, curved like petals, to receive. His thin boy’s body was torn by sobs as a sapling in a hailstorm. He put his hands to his mouth — he had received the Bread. He felt the sacred fire of it burn through his veins — scorch his soul — Christ in him.

Overcome, he sank beside his mother’s grave and threw his arm about it. Little white daisies shone out of the dark grass like tender, beaming eyes. He pressed closer, closer, drawing up his knees, curling his body like a little child’s, thrusting his breast against the grave, and cried: ‘Mother, oh, Mother — speak to me! I am Finch, your boy.’

XXII

Maurice Vaughan was sitting alone in his dining room. When he and Piers had returned from Steed, he had brought the young fellow into the house for a drink and some cold viands which he had got himself from the pantry. If he had had his way, Piers would still be there, smoking, drinking, and talking with ever less clarity about fertilizers and spraying and the breeding of horses. But Piers had refused to stay for long. He had to rise early, and for some reason he could not get Pheasant out of his head. His thoughts kept flying back to her, to her little white face, her brown cropped hair. Her thin, eager hands seemed to tug at his sleeve, drawing him home. He had been abstracted all the evening.

However. Maurice had scarcely noticed this. All he craved was company, the warmth of a human presence to pierce the chill loneliness of the house. When Piers was gone he sat on and on; slowly, heavily drinking without enjoyment; slowly, heavily thinking in the same numbing circle which his mind, like the glassy-eyed steed of a roundabout, had traversed for twenty years.

He thought of Meg, tender and sedate, a noble young girl, as she was when they had become engaged. He thought of his old parents, their fond joy in him, their ambition— with which he was in accord — that he should become one of the most brilliant and influential men in the country. He pictured his marriage with Meggie, their life together, their family of lovely girls and boys. There were six of these children of his fancy. He had named them all — the boys with family names, the girls with romantic names from the poets he had once admired. For them he had a love he had never given to Pheasant.

He thought of that affair with her mother, of their meetings in the twilight, of her clutching his knees and begging him to marry her when she found she was with child, of his tearing himself away. Then the basket with the baby. And so on through the whole gloomy business of his life.

As he completed the circle, the room reeled a little with him, his chin sank on his breast, and the electric light brought out the increasing whiteness of the patches on his temples. He did not sleep, but consciousness was suspended. The sound of someone softly entering the room did not rouse him. With his heavy underlip dropped, his eyes staring into space, he sat motionless, as a sullen rock buried in the heaviness of the sea.

Pheasant felt a pang of pity as she saw him sitting alone in the cold unshaded electric light. ‘He looks frightfully blue,’ she thought, ‘and he’s getting roundshouldered.’ Then her mind flew back to her own tragic situation, and she went to him and touched him on the arm.

‘ Maurice.’

He started, and then, seeing who it was, he said in a surly tone, ‘Well, what do you want?’

‘Oh, Maurice,’ she breathed, ‘be kind to me! Don’t let Piers into the house. I’m afraid he’ll kill me.’

He stared stupidly at her, and then growled, ‘Well, it’s what you deserve, is n’t it?’

‘Maurice, you’re drunk! Oh, whatever shall I do?’ She threw herself on his knees, clasping his neck. ‘Try to understand! Say that you’ll not let Piers kill me!’ She broke into pitiful wails. ‘Oh, Maurice, I’ve had to run away from Piers, and I love him so!’

‘He was here a bit ago,’ said Vaughan, staring around, as though he expected to find him in a corner. Then, noticing her head against his shoulder, he laid his hand on it in a rough caress, as a man might stroke a dog. ‘Don’t cry, youngster. I’ll take care of you. Glad to have you back. Damned lonely.’

She caught his hand and pressed a dozen wild kisses on it.

‘Oh, Maurice, how good you are! How good to me! And how good Piers was to me — and I did n’t deserve it. Hanging is too good for me!' And she added, melodramatically, '’T were better I had never been born!'

She rose then and wiped her eyes. She was a pitiful little figure. Her clothes were torn from running distractedly through a blackberry plantation. Her hands and even her pale face were bleeding from scratches. She had lost a shoe, and the stockinged foot was wet with mud.

‘Yes, ’t were,’ he repeated, agreeably.

With a certain pathetic dignity she turned toward the door. ‘Will it be all the same to you, Maurice, if I go to my room?’

‘Same to me—wherever you go — absolutely,’

How different this hall, she thought, as she dragged herself up the bare stairs, from the luxurious hall at Jalna, with its thickly carpeted stairs, its dark red rugs, its stained-glass window.

She felt dazed. She scarcely suffered, except for the aching in her legs, as she threw herself across her old bed. With half-shut eyes she lay staring at the two little pictures on the wall opposite, ‘Wide Awake’ and ‘Fast Asleep,’ which had once hung in Maurice’s nursery. Darling little baby pictures, how she had always loved them! She wished she had the strength of mind to kill herself — tear the sheets into strips and wind them tighter and tighter around her throat; or, better still, hang herself from one of the rafters in that back room in the attic. She saw herself dangling there, purple-faced — saw horrified Maurice discovering her — saw herself buried at the crossroad with a stake in her inside. She did not know whether that was still done, but it was possible that the custom would he revived for her.

She fell into a kind of nightmare doze, in which the bed rocked beneath her like a cradle. It rocked faster and faster, rolling her from side to side. She was not a real, a wholesome infant, but a grotesque changeling leering up at the distraught mother who now peered in at her, shrieking, tearing her hair. Again the scream rent the silence, and Pheasant, with sweat starting on her face, sprang up in bed.

She was alone. The electric light shone brightly. Again came the loud peal — not a scream, but the ringing of the doorbell.

She leaped to the floor. The lock of the door had been broken many years. She began to drag at the washstand to barricade it.

Downstairs the sound had also penetrated Vaughan’s stupor. He lurched to the door, which Pheasant had locked behind her, and threw it open. Renny and Piers Whiteoak stood there, their faces like two pale discs against the blackness. Renny at once stepped inside, but Piers remained in the porch.

‘Is Pheasant here?’ asked Renny.

‘ Yes.’ He eyed them with solemnity.

Renny turned to his brother. ‘Come in, Piers.’

Vaughan led the way toward the dining room, but Piers stopped at the foot of the stairs. ‘Is she upstairs?’ he asked in a thick voice, placing one hand on the newel post as though to steady himself.

Vaughan, somewhat sobered by the strangeness of the brothers’ aspect, remembered something. ‘ Yes, but you ’re not going up to her. You’ll let her alone.’

’He won’t hurt her,’ said Renny.

‘He’s not to go up! I promised her.’

He took the youth’s arm, but Piers wrenched himself away.

‘I order you! ’ shouted Vaughan. ‘ Whose house is this? Whose daughter is she? She’s left you. Very well — let her stay. I want her.’

‘She is my wife. I’m going to her.’

‘What the hell’s the matter anyway? I don’t know what it’s all about. She comes here, done in, frightened out of her wits — I remember now. Then you come like a pair of murderers.’

‘I must see her.’

‘You shall not see her.’ Again he clutched Piers’s arm.

In a moment Piers had freed himself and was springing up the stairs. Renny said, ‘Come into the dining room, Maurice, and I’ll tell you what is wrong. Did she tell you nothing?’

‘I don’t remember what she said.’ He picked up the decanter. ‘ Have a drink.’

‘No, nor you either.’ He took the decanter from his friend and put it in the sideboard, decisively locking the door.

Vaughan regarded the action with dismal whimsicality. ‘What a to-do,’ he said, ‘because the kids have had a row !’

Renny turned on him savagely. ‘Good God, Maurice, you don’t call this a row, do you ? ’

‘Well, what’s the trouble anyway?’

‘The trouble is this — that brat of yours has wrecked poor young Piers’s life!’

‘The hell she has! Who is the man?’

‘His own brother — Eden.’

Vaughan groaned, calling Pheasant a hard name. ‘Where is he?’

‘He made off in the car.’

‘Why did n’t she go with him? Why did she come to me?’

‘How can I tell? He probably didn’t ask her. Oh, the whole rotten business harks back to me! It’s my fault. I’d no right to let Eden loaf about all winter writing poetry. It’s made a scoundrel of him!’

A wry smile flitted across Vaughan’s face at the unconscious humor of the remark.

‘I shouldn’t blame myself too much if I were you. If writing poetry has made Eden into a scoundrel, he was probably well on the way beforehand. Possibly that’s why he turned to it.’

There was a deep understanding between these two. They had confided in each other as they had in no one else. Renny, stirred by the dark disclosures of the night, burst out, ‘Maurice, in thought I am no better than Eden! I love his wife. She’s never out of my mind.’

Vaughan looked into the tormented eyes of his friend with commiseration.

‘Do you, Renny? I had never thought of such a thing. She does n’t seem to me your sort of girl at all.’

‘That is the trouble. She is n’t. If she were, it would be easier to put the thought of her aside. She’s intellectual, she’s —’

‘I should say she is cold.’

‘You’re wrong. It is I — all my life — who have had a sort of cold sensuality. No tenderness went with my love for a woman. I don’t think I had any compassion. No, I’m sure I had n’t,’ — he knit his brows as though recalling past affairs, — ‘but I’m full of compassion for Alayne.’

‘Does she love you?’

‘Yes.’

‘What about Eden?’

‘She had a romantic devotion to him, but it’s over.’

‘Does she know about this?’ He lifted his head in the direction of the room above.

‘ Yes. I had only a glimpse of her in the hall — the house was in an uproar. She looked very strange. She had a peculiar, exalted look as though nothing mattered now.’

I see. What is Piers going to do?’

‘Piers is a splendid fellow — tough as an oak. He said to me, “She’s mine — nothing can change that. I’m going to fetch her home.” But I should pity Eden if he got his hands on him.’

‘They are coming down. Heavens, they were quiet enough! Must I speak to them? ’

‘No, let the poor young beggars alone.’

The two came slowly down the stairs. Like people leaving the scene of a catastrophe, they carried in their eyes the terror of what they had beheld. Their faces were rigid. Piers’s mouth was drawn to one side in an expression of disgust. It was like a mask of tragedy.

They stood in the wide doorway of the dining room as in a picture framed.

Maurice and Renny smiled at them awkwardly, trying to put a decent face on the affair. Maurice said,‘Going, eh? Have something first. Piers.’ He made a movement toward the sideboard.

‘Thanks,’ returned Piers in a lifeless voice. He entered the room. ‘Where’s that key, Renny?’

Renny produced the key. A tantalus was brought forth and a drink poured tor Piers. Maurice, with Reeny’s eye on him, did not take one himself.

Piers gulped down the spirits, the glass rattling grotesquely against his teeth. Under the ashen tan of his face, color crept back.

No one spoke, but the three men stared with gloomy intensity at Pheasant, still framed in the doorway. Putting up her hands, as though to push their peering faces back from her, she exclaimed, ‘Don’t stand staring at me like that! One would think you’d never seen me before.’

‘You look awfully done,’ said Maurice. ‘I think you ought to have a mouthful of something to brace you. A little Scotch and water, eh?’

‘I might if I were asked,’ she returned, with a pathetic attempt at bravado.

She took in a steady little hand the glass which Maurice brought, and drank.

‘I shall come along later,’ said Renny to Piers. ‘I’m going to stop awhile with Maurice.’ But he continued to stare at Pheasant.

She said, in a voice as steady as her hand, ‘I know I’m a scarlet woman, but I think you’re very cruel. Your eyes are like a brand, Renny Whiteoak.’

‘Pheasant, I was not even thinking of you. My — my mind was quite somewhere else.’

Piers turned on Maurice in a sudden rage. ‘It’s all your fault!’ he broke out, vehemently. ‘You never gave the poor child a chance! She was as ignorant as any little immigrant when I married her.'

‘She doesn’t seem to have learned any good from you,’ retorted Vaughan.

‘You are talking like fools,’ said Renny.

‘Gentlemen, please do not quarrel about me,’ put in Pheasant. ‘I think I’m going to faint, or something.’

‘Better take her out in the air,’ said Renny. ‘ The liquor was too strong for her.’

‘Come along,’ said Piers, and took her arm.

The touch of his hand had an instant effect on Pheasant. A deep blush suffused her face and neck; site swayed toward him, raising her eyes to his with a look of tragic humility.

Outside, the coolness of the dawn refreshed her. He released her arm, and preceded her through the grove and down into the ravine. They walked in silence, she seeming no more than his shadow, following him through every divergence of the path, hesitating when he hesitated. On the bridge above the stream he stopped. Below lay the pool where they had first seen their love reflected as an opening flower. They looked down into it now, no longer able to share the feelings its mirrored loveliness excited in them. A primrose light suffused the sky, and in a deeper tone lay cupped in the pool, around the brink of which things tender and green strove with gentle urgency to catch the sun’s first rays.

An English pheasant, one of some imported by Renny, moved sedately among the young rushes, its plumage shining like a coat of mail. Careless, irresponsible bird, thought Piers, and for one wild instant wished that Pheasant were one with the bird, that no man might recognize a woman in her but himself, that he might keep her hidden and love her secretly, untortured by the fear and loathing he now felt toward her.

Pheasant saw, drowned in that pool, all the careless irresponsibility of the past, the weakness, the indolence that had made her a victim of Eden’s dalliance. If Piers loathed her, how much more she loathed the image of Eden’s face which faintly smiled at her from the changeful mirror of the pool! Just to live, to make up to Piers by her devotion for what he had suffered —to win from his eyes love again instead of that look of fear which he had turned on her when he entered the bedroom! She had expected rage — fury — and he had looked at her in an agony of fear! But he had taken her back! They were going home to Jalna. She longed for the thick walls of the house as a broken-winged bird for its nest.

‘Come,’ he said, as though awakening from a dream, and moved on up the path that led from the ravine to the lawn.

The turkeys were crossing the lawn, led by the cock, whose blazing wattles swung arrogantly in the first sun rays. His wives, with burnished breasts and beaming eyes, followed close behind, craning their necks, alternately lifting and dragging their slender feet, echoing his bold gobble with plaintive pipings.

Inside, the house lay in silence except for the heavy snoring of Grandmother in her bedroom off the lower hall. It was as if some strange beast had his lair beneath the stairs and was growling his challenge to the sun.

They passed the closed doors of the hall above and went into their own room. Pheasant dropped into a chair by the window, but Piers, with a businesslike air, began collecting various articles — his brushes, his shaving things, the clothes he wore about the farm. She watched his movements with the unquestioning submissiveness of a child. One thought sustained her: ‘How glad I am that him here with Piers, and not flying with Eden, as he wanted me to!’

When he had got together what he wanted, he took the key from the door and inserted it on the outside. He said, without looking at her, ‘Here you stay, till I can stand the sight of your face again.’

He went out, locking the door behind him. He climbed the long stairs to the attic, and, throwing his things on a bed in an unused room, began to change his clothes for the day’s work. In the passage he had met Alayne, looking like a ghost. They had passed without speaking.

XXIII

Three weeks later Mr. Wragge was an object of great interest one morning to a group of Jersey calves as he crossed their pasture. He was in his shirt sleeves, his coat being thrown over one arm, for the day was hot; his hat was tilted over his eyes, and he carried, balanced on one hand, a tray covered with a white cloth. When he reached a stile at the far end of the paddock he set the tray on the top, climbed over, then, balancing the tray at a still more dangerous angle, proceeded on his way. It now lay through an old uncared-for apple orchard, the great trees of which were green with moss, and half-smothered in wild grapevines and Virginia creeper. Following a winding path, he passed a spring where long ago a primitive well had been made by the simple process of sinking a wooden box. The lid of this was now gone, the wood decayed, and it was used by birds as a drinking fountain and bath.

Embowered in vines, and almost hidden by flowering dogwood, stood the hut where Fiddler Jock, by the consent of Captain Philip Whiteoak, had lived in solitude. Here Meg Whiteoak had been living for three weeks.

Before approaching the threshold Mr. Wragge again set down the tray, put on his coat, straightened his hat, threw away his cigarette, and intensified his expression of concern.

‘Miss W’iteoak, it’s me, ma’am,’ he said loudly then, as though to reassure her, immediately after knocking.

The door opened and Meg Whiteoak appeared, with an expression sweetly calm, but a face paler than formerly.

‘Thank you, Rags,’ she said, taking the tray. ‘Thank you very much.’

‘I’d be gratified, ma’am,’ he said anxiously, ‘if you was to lift the napkin and tike a look at wot I’ve brought you. I’d be better pleased if I knew you found it tempting.’

Miss Whiteoak accordingly peeped under the napkin and discovered a plate of fresh scones, a bowl of ripe strawberries, and a jug of thick clotted cream such as she liked with them. A sweet smile curved her lips. She took the tray and set it on the table in the middle of the low, scantily furnished room.

‘It looks very tempting, Rags. These are the first strawberries I’ve seen.’

‘They are the very first,’ he announced eagerly. ‘I picked them myself, ma’am. There’s going to be a wonderful crop, they s’y, but it don’t seem to matter, the w’y things are going on with us these days.’

‘That’s very true,’ she said, sighing. ‘How is my grandmother to-day. Rags?’

‘Flourishing, amazing, ma’am. My wife says she talked of nothink but her birthday the ’ole time she was doing up ’er room. She had a queer little spell on Thursday, but Mr. Ernest, ’e thought it was just that she’d eat too much of the goose grivy.’

‘That is good.’ She bit her full underlip, and then asked, with an attempt at nonchalance, ' Have you heard anything about Mrs. Eden’s leaving?’

‘I believe she’s to go as soon as the birthd’y celebrations are over. The old lidy would n’t ’ear of it before. Ow, Miss W’iteoak, she’s only a shadder of ’er former self, Mrs. Eden is! And Mr. Piers is not much better. Of course, I’ve never seen Mrs. Piers. She ain’t never shown up in the family circle yet, but my wife saw her looking out of the window and she says she looks just the sime. Dear me, some people can stand anythink. As for me, I’m not the man I was at all. My nerves ’ave all gone back on me.’

He took out a clean folded handkerchief and wiped his brow. ‘It is n’t as though my own family relations was wot they were, ma’am. Mrs, Wragge and me, we ’ad our little altercations, as you know, but, tike it as a ’ole, our life together was amiable; but now’—he dolefully shook his head — ‘it’s nothink more nor less than terrific. Me being on your side and she all for Mr. Renny, there’s never a moment’s peace. W’y, yesterd’y — Sunday and all as it was

— she up and shied the stove lifter at my ’ead. And as for ’er language! Well, Mr. Renny, he ’eard the goings on and he came rattling down the bisement stairs in a fine rage, and said if he ’eard any more of it we should go. The worst was ’e seemed to blime me for the ’ole affair. I never thought I’d live to see the d’y he’d glare at me the w’y he did!’.

’That’s because you are on my side, Rags,’ she said sadly.

’I know, and that makes it all the worse. It’s a house divided against itself. I’ve seen deadlocks in my time, but I’ve never seen a deadlock like this. Well, I’ll be tiking aw’y wot little appetite you ’ave with my talk, I must be off. I’ve a thousand things to do, and of course Mrs. Wragge puts all the ’ard work on to me as usual. And if you’ll believe me, ma’am, she’s so evilly disposed that I ’ad to steal those little scones I brought you.’

He turned away, and when he had gone a few yards he put on his hat, removed his coat, and lighted a cigarette. Just as he reached the stile he met Renny Whiteoak.

Renny said sarcastically, ‘I see you have a path worn to the hut, Rags. Been carrying trays to Miss Whiteoak, I suppose.’

Rags straightened himself with an air of self-righteous humility, and said, ‘And if I did n’t carry tr’ys to ’er, wot do you suppose would ’appen, sir? W’y, she’d starve — that’s wot she’d do!'

This remark was thrown after the retreating figure of his master, who strode angrily away.

When Renny reached the hut he found the door open, and inside he could see his sister sitting by the table, pouring herself a cup of tea.

She looked up as she heard his step, and then, with an expression of remote calm, dropped her eyes to the stream of amber liquid issuing from the spout of the teapot. She sat with one rounded elbow on the table, her head supported on her hand. She looked so familiar and yet so strange, sitting in these poverty-stricken surroundings, that he scarcely knew what to say to her. However, he went in, and stood looking down at the tray.

‘What particular meal is this?’ he asked.

’I have no idea,’ she answered, buttering a scone. ‘I keep no count of meals now.’

He looked about him, at the low rainstained ceiling, the rusty stove, the uneven worm-eaten floor, the inner room, with its narrow cot bed.

‘This is an awful hole you’ve chosen to sulk in,’ he commented.

She did not answer, but ate her scone with composure, and after it two strawberries smothered in cream.

‘You’ll make a charming old lady, after you’ve spent ten years or so here,’ he jibed.

He saw a sparkle of temper in her eyes then.

‘You will have the satisfaction of knowing that you drove me to it.’

‘That is utter nonsense. I did everything I could to prevent you.’

‘You did not send that girl away. You allowed Piers to bring her into the house with me, after her behavior,’

‘Meggie, can’t you see anyone’s side of this question but your own? Can’t you see that poor young Piers was doing a rather heroic thing in bringing her home?’

‘I will not live under the same roof with that girl. I told you that three weeks ago, and you still try to force me.’

‘But I can’t allow you to go on like this!’ he cried. ‘We shall be the talk of the countryside.’

She regarded him steadfastly. ‘ Have you ever cared what the countryside thought of you?’

‘No, but I can’t have people saying that my sister is living in a tumbledown hut.’

‘You can turn me out, of course.’

He ignored this and continued, ‘People will simply say that you have become demented.’

’It will not surprise me if I do.’

He stared at her, positively frightened.

' Meggie, how can you say such things? By God, I have enough to bear without your turning against me!’

She said, with calculated cruelty, ‘You have Alayne. Why should you need me?’

‘I have not got Alayne,’he retorted furiously. ‘She is going away the day after Gran’s birthday.'

‘I do not think she will go away.'

‘What do you mean?’ he asked, suspiciously.

’Oh, I think you have a pretty little game of progressive marriage going on at Jalna. No, Alayne will not go away.'

His highly colored face took on a deeper hue. Its lines became harsh. ‘You’ll drive me to do something desperate,’he said, and flung to the door.

She pushed the tray from her and rose to her feet. ‘Will you please go? You are mistaken if you think you can abuse me into putting up with loose women in my house. As to being the talk of the countryside, there must be strange stories about the married couples of our family already.'

‘ Rot! It’s all within the family.'

‘All within the family! Just think those words over. They’ve got a sinister sound, like the goings on in families in the Middle Ages. We should have been horn two hundred years ago at the very least. No woman who respects herself could stay at Jalna.'

He broke into a tirade against her, and all hard, narrow-minded women.

She followed him to the door, laying her hand on the latch. ‘ You can never argue, Renny, without using such dreadful language. I can’t stand any more of it.’

He had stepped outside, and his spaniels, having traced him to the hut, ran to meet him with joyous barks, jumping up to paw him and lick his hands. For an instant Meg almost relented, seeing him there with his dogs, looking so entirely her beloved Renny. But the instant passed, and she closed the door firmly and returned to her chair, where she sat plunged in thought, not bitterly reviewing the past, as Maurice did, nor creating an imaginary and happy present, but with all her mind concentrated on those two hated alien women in her house.

Renny, returning to his stables, found Maurice there, waiting to talk over some proposed exchange. He was in the stall with Wakefield’s pony, feeding her sugar from his pocket. He turned as Renny entered. ‘Well,’ he said, ’how are things going now?’

‘Like the devil,’he returned, slapping the pony sharply, for she had bitten at him, not liking the interruption of her feast. ’Piers still keeps Pheasant locked in her room and goes about with an expression like the wrath of God. Uncle Nicholas and Aunt Augusta quarrel all day long. He’s trying to worry her out of the house and back to England, and she won’t go. He and Uncle Ernest are n’t speaking at all. Alayne is looking ill, and Grandmother talks ceaselessly about her birthday. She’s so afraid that something will happen to her before she achieves it that she refuses to leave her room.'

‘When is it?’

‘A week from to-day. Alayne is stopping here till it’s over, then she goes back to New York, to her old position with a publisher’s firm.'

‘Look here, why doesn’t she divorce Eden? Then you and she could marry.’

‘The proceedings would be too beastly unsavory. No. there’s no hope there.'

As they left the loose box Maurice asked, ‘How is Meg, Renny?’

‘I’ve just been to see her. She’s still stuck in that awful hut sulking. Nothing will budge her. It looks as though she will spend the rest of her days there. I don t know what I’m to do. If you could only see her! It would be pathetic if it were n’t ridiculous. She has a few sticks of furniture she took from the attic. The floor is bare. They say that all she eats is the little that Rags carries over to her. I met him with a tray. The fellow is nothing but a spy and a talebearer. He keeps her thoroughly posted as to all that goes on in the house. Aunt Augusta was for starving her out, forbidding Rags to take food to her, but I could n’t do that. She shut the door in my face just now.'

They walked in silence for a space, along the passage between stalls, among the sounds and smells they both loved — deep, quiet drinking, peaceful crunching, soft whinnying; straw, harness oil, liniment.

Vaughan said, ‘I’ve been wondering — in fact, I lay awake half the night wondering — if there is a chance that Meg might take me now. Pheasant’s being gone, and Jalna in such an upset, and things having reached a sort of deadlock, it would be a way of solving the problem for her. Do you think I’d have a show?'

Renny looked at his friend with amazement. ‘Maurice, do you really mean it? Are you still in love with her?’

‘You know perfectly well I’ve never cared for any other woman,’ he answered, with some irritation. ‘It’s not easy for you Whiteoaks to understand that.’

‘I quite understand, only — twenty years is a long time between proposals.’

‘If things had not turned out as they have, I should never have asked her again.’

‘I hope to God she’ll have you!’ And then, fearing that his tone had been too fervent, he added, ‘I hate to see you living such a lonely life, old man.’

Meg had come out of the cottage and was bending over a spray of sweetbrier that had thrust its thorny way up through a mass of dogwood. She loved its wild sweetness, and yet it made her saddler than before. Maurice noticed, as she raised a startled face to his, that her white cheeks were dappled by tears. One of them fell, and hung, like a bright dewdrop, on the brier.

‘I’m sorry if I frightened you.’

His voice, unheard for twenty years, came to her with the sombre cadence of a bell sounding through the dark. She had forgotten what a deep voice he had. As a youth it had seemed too deep for his slenderness, but now, from this heavy frame, she found it strangely, thrillingly moving.

‘I had no right to intrude on you,’ he went on, and stopped, his eyes resting on the spray of brier, for he would not embarrass her by looking into her tearstained face. Why did she not wipe her checks? He reflected with a shade of annoyance that it was just like Meggie to leave those glittering evidences of her anguish in full view. It gave her a strange advantage, set her on a plane of suffering above those around her.

Unable to speak, he rolled a cigarette deftly in one hand, for the other had been crippled in the War. He could not have found a more poignant way of pleading his case. She had passed him often on the road and seen that he was going gray. She had heard that one of his hands was useless, but it was not until she saw the wrist in its leather bandage, above the helpless hand, that she realized how atone he was, how pathetic, how he needed to be taken care of. Renny was hard, careless, unhurt. He was arrogant, immovable. Eden was gone. Piers clung to his wretched young wife. Finch was unsatisfactory, moody; Wake a self-sufficient little rogue. But here was Maurice, her unhappy lover, seeking her out with a strange, hungry expression in his eyes.

The droop of his mouth stirred something in her that she had forgotten, something buried for years and years. It did not stir weakly, feebly, like a half-dead thing, but boundingly, richly, like the sap that thrilled the growing things in this June day. She swayed beneath the sudden rush of its coming, and put out a hand to steady herself. Color flooded her face and neck.

He dropped the cigarette and caught her hand.

’ Meggie, Meggie,’ he burst out. ‘ Have me — marry me! Meggie, oh, my darling girl!’

She did not answer in words, but put her arms about his neck and raised her lips to his. All the stubbornness was gone from their pretty curves, and only the sweetness was left.

XXIV

The darkness had just fallen on Grandmother’s birthday. The sky was a royal purple, and quite a hundred stars twinkled, with all the mystic glamour of birthday candles.

Grandmother had not slept a wink since dawn. Not for worlds would she have missed the savor of one moment of this day toward which she had been straining for many years. She could sleep all she wanted to after the celebration was over. There would be little else to do. Nothing to look forward to.

With her breakfast had come all the household to congratulate her, to wish her joy and other birthdays to follow. She had put her strong old arms about each body that in succession had leaned over her bed, and, after a hearty kiss, had mumbled, ‘Thank you. Thank you, my dear.’ Wakefield, on behalf of the tribe, had presented her with a huge bouquet of red, yellow, and white roses, an even hundred of them, tied with red streamers.

The day had been a succession of hearttouching surprises. Her old eyes had become red-rimmed from tears of joy. The farmers and villagers of the neighborhood, to whom she had been a generous friend in her day, besieged her with calls and gilts of fruit and flowers. Mr. Fennel had had the church bell ring one hundred merry peals for her, the clamor of which, sounding through the valley, had transported her to her childhood in Ireland. She did not know just why, but there it was — she was in County Meath again!

Mrs. Wragge had baked a three-tiered birthday cake which had been decorated in the city. On the top, surrounded by waves of icing, was a white and silver model of a sailing vessel such as she had crossed the ocean in, from India; on the side, in silver comfits, the date of her birth. This stood on a rosewood table in the middle of the drawing-room, beside it a silverframed photograph of Captain Philip Whiteoak. How Grandmother wished he could have seen the cake! She imagined herself, strong and springy of step, leading him up to the table to view it. She pictured his start of surprise, his blue eyes bulging with amazement, and his ‘Ha, Adeline, there’s a cake worth living a hundred years for!’

Now night had fallen and the guests were arriving for the evening party. The Fennels, the admiral’s daughters, Miss Pink, and even old friends from a long distance. Her chair had been moved to the terrace, where she could see the bonfire all ready to be lighted. It had taken her an unconscionably long time to make the journey there, for she was weak from excitement and lack of sleep.

In the summerhouse two violins and a flute discoursed the insouciant, trilling airs of sixty years ago, filling the air with memories and the darkness with plaintive ghosts. Grandmother’s sons and eldest grandson had spared no trouble or expense to make the party memorable.

On her right hand sat Ernest and Nicholas, and on her left Augusta and Alayne. Augusta remarked to Alayne, ‘What a blessing that Meg is off on her honeymoon, and not sulking in Fiddler’s hut! It would have spoiled the party completely if she had been there, and even more so if she had come. ’

‘She wasted no time when she finally made up her mind, did she?’

‘No, indeed. I think she was simply shamed into it. She might have gone on living there forever. Renny would never have given in.’

Lady Buckley regarded her nephew’s tall figure, silhouetted against the flare of the musicians’ torches, with complacency.

’I am afraid,’ said Alayne, ‘that Meg hated me very much after our quarrel about Pheasant. I know that she thought my attitude toward her positively indecent.’

‘My dear, Meg is a narrow-minded Victorian. So are my brothers, though Ernest’s gentleness gives him the appearance of broad-mindedness. You and I are moderns. You by birth, and I by the progression of an open mind. I shall be very sorry to see you go to-morrow. I have grown very fond of you. ’

‘Thank you — and I have of you —of most of you. There are so many things I shall miss.’

’I know, I know, my dear! You must come back to visit us. I shall not leave Jalna while Mama lives, though Nicholas would certainly like to see me depart. Yes, you must visit us!’

‘I’m afraid not. You must come to see me in New York. My aunts would be delighted to meet you.’

Augusta whispered, ‘What do they know about Eden and you?’

‘Only that we have separated, and I am going back to my old work. ’

‘ Sensible — very. The less one’s relatives know of one’s life the better. Dear me, Renny’s lighting the bonfire! I hope it’s quite safe. I wonder if you would mind, Alayne, going down and asking him to be very careful. A spark from it smouldering on the roof, and we might be burned in our beds to-night. ’

As Alayne moved slowly down the lawn the first sparkle curled about the base of the pyramid of hardwood sticks that had as their foundation a great chunk of resinous pine. A column of smoke arose, steady and dense, and then was dispersed by the sudden and furious blossoming of flowers of flame. In an instant the entire scene was changed. The ravine lay a cavernous gulf of blackness, while the branches of the near-by trees were flung out in fierce, metallic grandeur. The torches in the summerhouse became mere flickering sparks; the stars were blown out like birthday candles. The figures of the young men moving about the bonfire became heroic; their monstrous shadows strove together upon the rich tapestry of the evergreens. The air was full of music, of voices, of the crackling of flames.

Out of the shadow thrown by a chestnut tree in bloom Pheasant ran across the grass to Alayne’s side. She seemed to have grown during those weeks of her imprisonment. Her dress looked too short for her. Her movements had the wistful energy of those of a growing child. Her hair, uncut for some time, curved in a quaint little tail at her nape.

‘This freedom is wonderful,’ she breathed. ‘And all that pretty firelight — and the fiddles! Try as I will, Alayne, I can’t help feeling happy to-night.’

‘Why should you try not to be happy? You must be as happy as a bird, Pheasant. I’m so glad we had that hour together this morning. ’

‘You’ve been beautiful to me, Alayne. No one in the world has ever been so good to me. Those little notes you slipped under my door! ’

Alayne took her hand. ‘Come. I am to go and tell Renny to be careful. Aunt Augusta is afraid we shall be burned in our beds. ’

The three youngest of the Whiteoaks were in a group together. As the girls approached, Finch turned his back on them and skulked into the shadow, but Wakefield ran to meet them and put an arm about the waist of each.

‘Come, my girls,’ he said airily, ‘join the merry circle. Let’s take hands and dance around the bonfire! If only we could get Granny to dance, too! Please let’s dance!’ He tugged at their hands. ‘Piers, take Pheasant’s other hand! Renny, take Alayne’s hand! We’re going to dance. ’

Alayne felt her hand being taken into Renny’s. Wakefield’s exuberance was not transmittable, but he ran hither and thither, exhorting the guests to dance, till at last he did get a circle together on the lawn for Sir Roger de Coverley. But it was the elders who were moved to disport themselves, after a glass or two of punch from the silver bowl on the porch. The younger ones hung back in the shelter of the blazing pile, entangled in the web of emotions which they had woven about themselves.

Eden was not among them, but the vision of his fair face, with its smiling lips, mocked each in turn. To Renny it said: ‘I have shown you a girl at last whom you can continue to love without possessing, with no hope of possessing, who will haunt you all your days.’ To Alayne: ‘I have made you experience, in a few months, love, passion, despair, shame, enough for a lifetime. Now go back to your sterile work and see if you can forget!’ To Piers: ‘You sneered at me for a poet. Do you acknowledge that I am a better lover than you?’ To Pheasant: ‘I have poisoned your life.’ To Finch, hiding in the darkness: ‘I have flung you, headfirst, into the horrors of awakening. ’

Renny and Alayne, their fingers still locked, stood looking upward at the flamecolored smoke that rose toward the sky in billows endlessly pursuing each other, while after the crashing of a log a shower of sparks sprang upward like a swarm of fireflies.

In the glare their faces were transfigured to a strange beauty, yet this beauty was lost, not registered on any consciousness, for they dared not look at each other.

‘I have been watching two of those sparks,’ she said, ‘that flew up, and then together, and then apart again, till out of sight — like us. ’

‘I won’t have it so. Not till out of sight. Extinguished — if you mean that. No, I am not hopeless. There’s something for us besides separation. you could n’t believe that we’ll never meet again, could you?’

‘Oh, we may meet again! That is, if you ever come to New York. By that time your feelings may have changed. ’

‘Changed! Alayne, why should you want to spoil our last moments together by suggesting that?’

’I suppose — being a woman — I just wanted to hear you deny it. You’ve no idea what it is to be a woman. I used to think in my old life that we were equal — men and women. Since I’ve lived at Jalna it seems to me that women are only slaves. ’

Someone had thrown an armful of brushwood on the fire. For a space it died down to a subdued but threatening crackle. In the dimness they turned to each other.

‘Slaves!’ he repeated. ‘Not to us!’

‘Well — to the life you create, and — to the passions you arouse in us. Oh, you don’t know what it is to be a woman! I tell you it’s nothing less than horrible. Look at Meg, and Pheasant, and me!’

She caught the glint of a smile.

‘Look at Maurice, and Piers, and me!’ ‘It’s not the same. It’s not the same. You have your land, your horses, your interests that absorb almost all your waking hours. ’

‘What about our dreams?

‘Dreams are nothing. It’s reality that tortures women. Think of Meg, hiding in that awful cabin. Pheasant, locked in her room. Me — grinding away in an office!’

‘I can’t,’ he answered, hesitatingly. ‘I can’t put myself in your place. I suppose it’s awful. But never think we don’t know a hell more torturing.’

‘ You do, you do! But when you are tired of being tortured you leave your hell — go out and shut the door behind you, while we — only heap on more fuel.’

‘ My darling!’ His arms were about her. ‘Don’t talk like that!’ He kissed her, quickly, hotly. ‘There, I said I would n’t kiss you again, but I have — just for good-bye. ’

She felt that she was sinking, fainting in his arms. A swirl of smoke, perfumed by pine boughs, enveloped them. A rushing, panting sound came from the heart of the fire. The violins sang together.

‘Again,’ she breathed, clinging to him, ‘again.’

‘No,’ he said, through his teeth. ‘Not again.’ He put her from him and went to the other side of the bonfire, which now blazed forth anew. He stood among his brothers, taller than they, his hair red in the firelight, his face set and pale.

Recovering herself, she looked across at him, thinking that she would like to remember him so.

In a pool of serene radiance Grandmother sat. A black velvet cloak, lined with crimson silk, had been thrown about her; her hands, glittering with rings, rested on the top of her gold-headed ebony stick. Boney, chained to his perch, had been brought out to the terrace at her command, that he might bask in the light of the birthday conflagration. But his head was under his whig. He slept, and paid no heed to lights or music.

She was very tired. The figures moving about the lawn looked like gyrating, gesticulating puppets. The jigging of the fiddles, the moaning of the flute, beat down upon her, dazed her. She was sinking lower and lower in her chair. Nobody looked at her. One hundred years old! She was frightened suddenly by the stupendousness of her achievement. The plumes of the bonfire were drooping. The sky loomed black above. Beneath her the solid earth, which had borne her up so long, swayed with her, as though it would like to throw her off into space. She blinked. She fumbled for something, she knew not what. She was frightened.

She made a gurgling sound. She heard Ernest’s voice say, ‘ Mama, must you do that?’

She gathered her wits about her. ‘Somebody,’ she said, thickly, ‘somebody kiss me — quick!’

They looked at her kindly — hesitated to determine which should deliver the required caress; then from their midst Pheasant darted forth, flung herself before the old lady, and lifted up her child’s face.

Grandmother peered, grinning, to see which of them it was; then, recognizing Pheasant, she clasped her to her breast. From that hug she gathered new vitality. Her arms grew strong. She pressed the young body to her and planted warm kisses on her face. ‘Ha,’ she murmured, ‘that’s good!’ And again, ‘Ha!’

(The End)

  1. A synopsis of the preceding chapters will be found in the Contributors’ Column. — THE EDITORS