Whiteoaks of Jalna: A Novel

I

FROM the turnstile where the tickets were taken, a passage covered by red and white awning led to the hall of the Coliseum. The cement floor of this passage was wet from many muddy footprints, and an icy draft raced through it with a speed greater than that of the swift horses within.

There were but a few stragglers entering now, and among these was eighteen-year-old Finch Whiteoak. His raincoat and soft felt hat were dripping; even the smooth skin on his thin cheeks was shining with moisture.

He carried a strap holding a couple of textbooks and a dilapidated notebook. He was unpleasantly conscious of these as the mark of a student, and wished he had not brought them along. He tried to conceal them under his raincoat, but they made such a repulsive-looking lump on his person that he sheepishly brought them forth again.

Inside the hall he found himself in a hubbub of voices and sounding footfalls, and in the midst of a large display of flowers. Monstrous chrysanthemums, strange colors flaming behind their curled petals, perfect pink roses that seemed to be musing delicately on their own perfection, indolent crimson roses, weighed down by their rich color and perfume, crowded on every side.

With the sheepish smile still lingering on his lips, Finch wandered among them. Their elegance, their fragility, combined with the vividness of their coloring, gave him a feeling of tremulous happiness. He wished that there were not so many people. He would have liked to drift about among the flowers alone, absorbing their perfume rather than inhaling it, absorbing their rich gayety rather than beholding it.

He was roused by the sound of a man’s voice shouting through a megaphone in the inner part of the building where the horse show was in progress. He looked at his wrist watch and discovered that it was a quarter to four o’clock. He would not dare to show himself at the ringside for at least another half hour. He had cut the last period at school so that he might have time to see something of the other exhibits before the events in which his brother Renny was to take part were due. Renny would expect to see him then, but he would certainly be sharp with him if he discovered that he had missed any of his lessons. Finch had failed to pass his matriculation examinations the summer before, and his present attitude toward Renny was one of humble propitiation.

He thought he would have a look at the kennels of silver foxes. A long stairway led to this section. Up here under the roof was a quite different world, a world smelling of disinfectants, a world of glittering eyes, of pointed muzzles and upstanding, vigorous fur. Trapped, all of them, behind the strong wire of their cages. Curled up in tight balls, with just one watchful eye peering; scratching in the clean straw, trying to find a way out of this drear imprisonment; standing on hind legs, with contemptuous little faces pointing through the netting. Finch wished he might open the doors of all the cages. He pictured that wild scampering, that furious padding across the fields, that mad digging of burrows and hiding in the hospitable earth, when he had set them free!

A bugle sounded from below. Finch hurried toward the stairs.

At the head of the stairway an elderly man was drooping mournfully before an exhibit of canaries. He accosted the boy, offering him a ticket in a lottery. The prize was to be a handsome bird in full song.

‘Only twenty-five cents for the ticket,’ he said, ‘and the canary is worth twenty-five dollars. A regular beauty. Here ’e is in this cage. I’ve never bred a grander bird. Look at the shape and color of ’im. And you ought to ’ear ’im sing! What a present for your mother, young man, and Christmas coming in another six weeks!’

Finch thought that if he had had a mother living it would have been an extremely nice present for her. He pictured himself presenting it, in its glittering gilt cage, to a shadowy lovely young mother of about twentyfive. He fixed his hungry light eyes on the canary, trig and sleek from special feeding, and muttered something incoherent. The exhibitor produced a ticket.

‘Here you are — number thirty-one. I should n’t be a bit surprised if it was the lucky number. Sure you would n’t like to buy two? You might as well buy two while you’re about it.’

Finch shook his head, and produced the twenty-five cents. As he descended the stairs he cursed himself for his weakness. He had been short enough of funds without throwing away any. He tried to picture Renny’s being chivied into buying a lottery ticket for a canary.

Judging was taking place inside the ring. The tanbark was dotted with men holding their mounts. Three judges, notebooks in hand, strolled from horse to horse, now and again consulting together. The horses stood motionless, except one which capered pettishly at the end of the reins. The exhilarating odor of tanbark and good horseflesh hung on the air, which was still cool in spite of the closely packed spectators.

The man with the megaphone announced the winners. They were trotted once around the ring, then disappeared after the defeated competitors into the regions behind. The band struck up.

The next event was the judging of three-year-old hunters. There were fifteen entries, among them Silken Lady, ridden by Finch’s sister-in-law, Pheasant Whiteoak. She came in at the tail of the string, a large number 15 on a white square attached to her waist. Finch felt a sudden leap of pride as he watched Lady circle the tanbark, showing Her good blood and her pride of life in every step. He felt a pleasant sense of proprietorship in Pheasant, too. She was like a slender boy in her brown coat and breeches, with her bare, closely cropped head. Odd how young she looked, after all she’d been through. That affair of hers with Eden that had nearly separated Piers and her. The two seemed happier now. Piers was awfully keen that Pheasant should make a good showing in the jumps. A hard fellow, Piers — he must have given her a rough time of it for a while. A good thing that Eden was safely out of the way. He'd made trouble enough — been a bad brother to Piers, a bad husband to Alayne.

A stout man in the uniform of a colonel put the riders through their paces, sending them trailing, now swift, now slow, around the ring. Pheasant’s pale face grew pink. Ahead of her rode a short plump girl in immaculate English riding clothes, a glossy little belltopped hat, a snowy stock. A youth next to Finch told him that she came from Philadelphia. She had a noblelooking mount. The judges were noticing him. Finch felt a sinking of the heart as the American horse swept rhythmically over the tanbark. When the riders dismounted, Finch’s eyes were riveted on Pheasant and the girl from Philadelphia.

It was as he feared. The blue ribbon was attached to the bridle of the plump girl’s horse. Silken Lady did not even get the second or third.

Now came the high jumpers, gray and chestnut, bay and black, streaming along the track close on each other’s heels. Ah, there was Renny! That thin, strong figure that looked as though it were a part of the longlegged roan mare. A quiver of excitement ran through the crowd, like a breeze stirring a field of wheat. As the sound of the band died away the thunder of hoofs took up the music, sweeter by far! Finch could not bear to remain in his seat. He slid past the knees of those between him and the aisle, and descended the steps. He joined the line of men that lounged against the paling that surrounded the track.

Here the tanbark looked like brown velvet. Here one heard the straining of leather, the blowing, the snorting of the contesting glossy beasts, their heavy grunts as they alighted on the ground after the clearing of the hedge. His eyes were directed toward its greenness. He looked up at each horse as it. rose, at its rider bending above it, their muscular organisms exquisitely merged into the semblance of a centaur.

No women in this contest. Only men. Men and horses. Oh, the heartstraining thrill of it! As Renny’s horse skimmed the barrier, the hedge, flew through the air, dropped to its thudding hoofs again, and thundered down the tanbark, its nostrils stretched, its mouth open, its breath rushing from its great barrel of a body, it seemed the embodiment of savage prehistoric power. Renny, with his carven nose, his brown eyes blazing in his narrow, foxlike face, his grin that had always something vindictive in it, he too seemed possessed by this savage power.

The boy’s imagination, liberated by the tumult of plunging horses whose breath comes in warm gusts against his face as they pass, spreads itself like a fantastic screen between him and the reality of the scene before him. He sees his soul, opaque, iridescent, strangely shaped, leap to the back of the mare, behind Renny, clasping him about the waist with its shadowy yet savagely strong arms, and soaring with him above the circling riders, above the hand-clapping spectators, up among the lights which rise in rushing billows of color toward a thunderous sky above. The drums beat, and the soaring music of the horns accompanies them. . . . He stands clinging to the paling, a lanky boy with hollow cheeks, hungry eyes, one bony shoulder blade projecting a sharp ridge through his coat. His expression is so ridiculous that Renny, trotting tranquilly around the track, the blue ribbon fluttering against the roan’s neck, on suddenly discovering him thinks, ‘Good Lord, the kid looks little more than an idiot!’

His greeting to Finch, when the boy sought him out among the groups of men and horses in the enclosure behind the arena, was only a nod. He continued his conversation with a rigidlooking officer in the uniform of an American lieutenant. Finch had seen this man taking part in several jumping events. He had followed Renny with the red ribbon.

Finch stood humbly by, listening to their talk of horseflesh and hunting. Mutual admiration beamed from their eyes. At last Renny, glancing at his wrist watch, said, ‘Well, I must be getting on. By the way, this is my young brother. Finch, Mr. Rogers.’

The American shook hands with the boy kindly, but looked him over without enthusiasm.

‘Grown fast, I suppose,’he commented to the elder Whiteoak, as they turned away together.

‘Oh yes,’returned Renny. ‘No bone to speak of,’and he added, apologetically, ‘He’s musical.'

‘Is he studying music?’

‘He was, but I stopped it last summer after he failed in his matric. I feel regularly up against it with him. Now the music is cut off, he has taken to play-acting. It seems that he’d rather do anything than work. But I dare say he’ll turn out all right. Sometimes the most unpromising colt, you know . . .’

They were now crossing an open paved space, unlighted save by the blurred beam from a motor car cautiously moving among the horses that were being led lo stable or station.

Renny Whiteoak and the American parted. Finch, who had been slouching behind, moved to his brother’s side.

‘Gosh, it’s cold,’mumbled the boy.

‘Cold!’ exclaimed the elder, in astonishment. ‘Why, I’m hot. The trouble with you is that you don’t get enough exercise. If you'd go in for sports more, you’d get your circulation up. A foal just dropped would n’t feel the cold to-night.'

A voice called from the car which they were approaching: —

‘Is that you, Renny? I thought you were never coming. I ‘m beastly cold.'

It was young Pheasant.

Renny got in and turned on the lights. Finch clambered in beside the girl.

‘What a pair!’ said Renny, letting out the clutch. ‘ I ’ll need to keep you in a nest of cotton wool.’

‘Just the same,’she persisted, ‘it’s very bad for Baby, my getting chilled, and I ’ve been away from him too long already. Can’t you get the car started ?’

‘Something’s gone wrong with its blasted old innards,’ he growled, then added hopefully, ‘Perhaps the engine’s just a bit cold.’ He did various spasmodic things to the antiquated mechanism of the car, unloosing at the same time, in a concentrated undertone, the hatred of seven years. Loving and understanding horses, he was bewildered by the eccentricities of a motor.

Finch was suddenly filled with intense irritation toward them both. What had they to do when they did get home but lounge about a stable or suckle a kid? While he would be forced to lash his wretched brains to the study of trigonometry.

Suddenly the motor started. Renny gave a grunt of satisfaction.

He slouched behind the wheel staring ahead into the November night. His mind flew ahead to the stables at Jalna. Mike, a handsome gelding, had got his leg badly cut by a kick from a vicious new horse that morning. He felt much disturbed about Mike. The vet had said it might be a serious business. He was anxious to get home and find out what sort of day he had passed. ... He thought of the new horse that had done the damage. One of Piers’s purchases. He himself had not liked the look in the brute’s eyes, but Piers cared nothing about disposition if a horse’s body was right. Piers would make over the disposition to suit himself. Well, he’d better make this new nag’s temper over and be sharp about it. . . . He scowled in a way that always moved his grandmother to exclaim ecstatically, ‘Eh, what a perfect Court the lad is! He can give a savage look when he’s a mind to!’

Extraordinary things, horses. Nature an extraordinary thing altogether. The differences between one mare and another -— between a farm horse and a hunter. The strange, unaccountable differences between members of the same family. His young half brothers and himself. The boys more difficult to handle than horseflesh, by a long shot. They should n’t be, for they were the same flesh and blood, got by the same sire. Yet what two boys could be more unlike than little Wakefield, so sensitive, affectionate, and clever, and young Finch, whom one could n’t browbeat into studying or shame into taking an interest in games, who was always mooning about with a sheepish air? He had seemed more odd, more mopy than ever of late. . . . And then Piers. Piers was different again. Sturdy, horse-loving, landloving Piers. They were very congenial, he and Piers, in their love of horses and their devotion to Jalna. . . . And Eden. He uttered a sound between a growl and a sigh when he thought of Eden. Not a line from him since he had disappeared after his affair with Pheasant, nearly a year and a half ago. That showed what writing poetry could do to a chap — make him forget decency, spoil the life of a girl like Alayne. What a disgraceful mess it had been, that affair! Piers had been quieter, more inclined to moods ever since, though the coming of the baby had done a good deal to straighten things up. Poor little kid, he must be howling for his supper by now.

He increased the speed regardless of the slippery road, and called over his shoulder, ‘Home in ten minutes now, so cheer up, Pheasant! Have either of you got a cigarette? I’ve smoked my last.’

‘ I’ve done the same, Renny. Oh, I’m so glad we’re nearly there! You’ve made wonderful time considering the night.’

‘Have you any, Finch?’

‘Me!’ exclaimed the boy, rubbing one of his bony knees, which had got cramped from sitting so long in one position. ‘I never have any! I can’t afford them. It takes all my allowance to pay my railway fare, and buy my lunch, and pay fees for this and that. I’ve nothing left for cigarettes.’

‘So much the better for you, at your age,’ returned his brother, curtly.

Renny peered through the window. ‘There’s the station,’ he said. ‘I suppose your wheel is there. Shall you get it? Or had you sooner stop in the car with us?’

‘ It’s a beast of a night. I think I ’ll go with you. No — I ’ll — yes — oh Lord, I don’t know what to do!’ He peered forlornly into the night.

Renny brought up the car with a jolt. He demanded over his shoulder, ‘ What the devil is the matter with you ? You seem to have a perpetual grouch. Now make up your mind, if it’s possible. I think myself you had better leave the wheel where it is and walk to the station in the morning.’

‘It’ll be a beastly walk in such weather as this,’ mumbled Finch, moving his leg with his hands to bring life into it. ‘My books’ll be all muddy.’

‘Well, get one of the men to run you down in the car.’

‘Piers will want the car early. I heard him say so.’

Renny stretched back a long arm and threw open the door beside the youth. ‘Now,’ he said quietly, but with an ominous chest vibration in his voice, ‘get out. I’ve had enough of this shilly-shallying!

Finch scrambled out, giving a ridiculous hop as his numb foot touched the ground. He stood with dropped jaw as the door was slammed and the motor rattled away, sending a spray of muddy water against his trouser legs.

II

There was a special dish for supper that night. Finch was aware of that, before ever he sniffed it, from the ingenuous air of festivity brightening the faces of those about the board. Doubtless Aunt Augusta had ordered it because she knew that Renny would be famished after his long day and strenuous exertion in the horse show. Finch was supposed to have a hot dinner at school, but he preferred to husband his allowance by buying a light lunch, and so have a respectable sum left for cigarettes, chocolates, and other luxuries. Consequently he had always an enormous appetite by night, for he did not get home in time for tea. The amount of food that disappeared into his bony person without putting any flesh upon it was a source of wonderment and even anxiety to his aunt.

The special dish was a cheese souffle. Mrs. Wragge was particularly good at a cheese soufflé. Finch’s eyes were riveted on it from the moment when he slid into his chair, between his brother Piers and little Wakefield. There was not much of it left, and it. had been out of the oven long enough to have lost its first palate-pleasing fluffiness, but he longed passionately to be allowed to scrape the last cheesy crust from the bottom of the silver dish.

Renny, after helping him to a thick slab of cold beef, fixed him with his penetrating gaze and, indicating the soufflé by a nod, asked, ‘Want the dish to scrape?’

Finch, reddening, muttered an assent.

Renny, however, looked across the table at Lady Buckley. ‘Some more of the soufflé, Aunt Augusta?'

‘No, thank you, my dear. I really should not have eaten as much as I have. Cheese at night is not very digestible, though cooked in this way it is not so harmful, and I thought that you, after your — ’

The master of Jalna listened deferentially, his eyes on her face, then he turned to his uncle Nicholas. ‘Another helping, Uncle Nick.”

Nicholas wiped his drooping gray moustache with an immense table napkin and rumbled, 'Not another bite of anything. But I should like one more cup of tea, Augusta, if you’ve any left.’

‘Uncle Ernest, more of this cheese stuff?'

Ernest waved the offer aside with a delicate white hand. ‘My dear boy, no!

I should not have touched it at all. I wish we might not have these hot dishes for supper. I am tempted, and then I suffer.’

‘ Piers?’

Piers had already had two helpings, but, with a teasing look out of the corner of his eye at Finch’s long face, he said, ‘ I should n't mind another spoonful.’

‘Me, too!’ exclaimed W akefield. ‘I’d like some more.’

‘I forbid it,’ said Augusta, pouring her third cup of tea. ‘ You are too young a boy to eat a cheese dish at night.'

‘And you,’ put in her brother Nicholas, ‘are too old a woman to swill down a potful of tea at this hour.’

‘Who ever heard of tea hurting anyone? It’s coffee that is dangerous. The Whiteoaks, and the Courts, too, were all indefatigable drinkers of tea.’

‘And rum,’ added Nicholas. ‘What do you say, Renny, to having a bottle of something really decent to celebrate the prowess of our nags?’

‘Good head!’ agreed Renny, spreading a layer of mustard over his cold beef.

Piers in the meantime had helped himself to more of the soufflé, and then pushed the dish to Finch, who, gripping it in one bony hand, began savagely to scrape it clean with a massive spoon.

Wakefield regarded this performance with the patronizing wonder of one who had shared the dish in its first hot puffiness. ‘There’s a little stuck on there, just by the handle,’ he said, helpfully pointing to the morsel.

Finch desisted from his scraping long enough to hit him a smart blow on the knuckles with the spoon.

Wake loudly cried, ‘Ouch!’ and was ordered from the table by Lady Buckley.

Renny shot a look of annoyance down the table. ‘Please don’t send the kid away, Aunt. He could n’t help squeaking when he was hit. If anyone is sent away it will be Finch.’

‘Wakefield was not hurt,’ said Augusta, with dignity. ‘He screams if Finch looks in his direction.’

‘Then let Finch look in another direction.’ And Renny returned to the consumption of his beef with an air of making up for lost time, as well as putting an end to the matter.

Nicholas leaned toward him. ‘What do you say, Renny, to a bottle?’

‘What do you suggest, Uncle Nick?’

‘What have you got?’

‘ Besides the keg of ale and the native wine, there ’s nothing but a few bottles of Burke’s Jamaica and some sloe gin — and Scotch, of course.’

Nicholas smiled sardonically. ‘And you call that a wine cellar!’

‘Well,’ replied his nephew, testily, ‘it’s always been called the wine cellar. We can’t stop calling it that, even if there is nothing much in it. Aunt?’

‘A glass of native port, my dear. And I really think Finch should have one, too, studying as he does.’

Poor Finch did not wait for the ironic laughter which followed this appeal in his behalf to slump still lower in his chair, to crimson in deprecatory embarrassment. Yet, even as he did so, he felt a warm rush of love toward Augusta. She was not against him, anyhow.

Renny moved in the direction of the hall, and in passing Wakefield’s chair he caught the expectant little boy by the arm and took him along, as though he had been a parcel.

They descended the stairs to the basement. Here the Wragges lived their strange subterranean life of bickerings, of mutual suspicion, of occasional amorousness, such as Wake had once surprised them in.

As soon as their steps were heard by Rags he appeared in the doorway of the kitchen, the stub of a cigarette glowing against his pallid little face.

‘Yes, Mr. W’iteoak?’ he inquired. ‘Were you wanting me, sir?’

‘Fetch a candle, Rags. I’m after a bottle.’

The light of sympathy now brightened the cockney’s face. ‘Right you are, sir,’he said, and, dropping the cigarette stub to the brick floor, he turned back to the kitchen, reappearing in a moment with a candle.

With Rags leading the way, the three passed in Indian file along a narrow passage that ended in a heavy padlocked door. Here Renny inserted the key, and the door, dragging stubbornly, was pushed open. The candlelight discovered what was apparently a wellstocked though untidily arranged cellar, but in truth the bottles and containers were mostly empties, which, in accordance with the negligence characteristic of the family, had never been returned.

Wakefield espied an old wicker fishing basket pushed under the lowest of a tier of shelves. He dragged it forth and saw three dark squatty bottles, cobwebbed, leaning toward each other as though in elfin conspiracy.

‘Oh, I say, Renny,’he exclaimed, ‘here is something stimulative!’

Renny had made his selection, but he now set the bottles on a shelf and, snatching Wakefield’s treasure from him, restored it to its fellows and pushed the basket hastily out of sight.

‘If you had dropped that, you young devil’s spawn,’ he observed, ‘I should have put an end to you on the spot.’ And he added, grinning at his henchman, ‘A man must have a secret in His life, eh, Rags?’

A secret in his life! The little boy was filled with ecstasy at the thought. Oh, if Renny would only make a partner of him in his secret doings!

He was told to hold the candle while Rags locked the door. He saw Renny’s eyes fixed shrewdly on the servant’s grayish-white hands. He saw the eyes narrow; then Renny transferred one of the two bottles he carried to his armpit and, with the hand thus freed, gave a sharp tug to the padlock. It slipped off into his palm. ‘Try again, Rags,’ he said, and his carven face looked uncannily like his grandmother’s.

Rags remarked, this time successfully securing the door, ‘I never did know ’ow to manage them blinkin’ padlocks, sir.’ He was unabashed.

‘Not with me looking on, Rags. There, take the candle from the youngster. He’s got it tilted sidewise.'

At the foot of the stairway Rags stood aside, holding the candle aloft to light the others as they mounted upward. ‘A pleasant evenin’ to you, sir,’he said, ‘and good luck to the Jalna ’orses. We’ll be drinkin’ yer ’ealth down ’ere — in tea, sir.’

‘Keep it weak, Rags. Better for your nerves,’adjured his master, callously, as he pushed the door at the top of the stairs shut with his heavy boot.

In the dining room Nicholas sat waiting, his large shapely hand, adorned by a heavy seal ring, stroking his drooping moustache, an expression of humorous satisfaction in his eyes. Ernest’s expression was already one of regret, for he knew that he would drink and he knew only too well that his digestion would suffer for it.

Augusta sat admirably upright, her cameo brooch and long gold chain rising and falling on her breast, which was neither large nor small, but corseted in perfect accordance with the model of her young-womanhood. She drew back her head and regarded her nephew expectantly. He dusted the bottle of port and set it down before her.

‘There, Aunt. The corkscrew, Wake. . . . Uncle Nick—Burke’s Jamaica. That rascal Rags was for leaving the cellar door unlocked, so he could sneak in and swipe something for himself. But I caught him, thank goodness.’

‘He’s an incorrigible rascal,’ said Nicholas.

'He deserves to be flayed alive,’ agreed Ernest, pleasantly.

‘I’d have done the same, myself,’laughed Piers.

Augusta looked upon the redness of the wine in her glass and remarked, ‘Our old nurse used to put a little wine in the bottom of our shoes when we went out in the wet to prevent our taking a chill. We did not. know what it was to wear rubbers, and we never had colds.’

‘You forget, Augusta,’ interposed her brother Ernest. I had severe colds. I can remember looking down front the nursery window when I had one of my colds and watching you two — and, of course, Philip — romping on the lawn with the little pet lamb we had. I can remember how the wood pigeons were always calling then.'

He had had but one glass of rum and water, but it took only that to imbue his gentle spirit with sentimental melancholy.

‘Good Lord!’ said Renny. ’If only the wood pigeons were thick as that now! What shooting! Eh, Floss? Eh, Merlin?’

His tone, the word ‘shooting,’ which they perfectly understood, aroused the two clumber spaniels sleeping on either side of his chair. They sprang up, with joyous barks.

Above the barking of the dogs Finch raised his voice: ‘I think I might have something. A fellow going on nineteen can stand a drink or two, I guess.’

Renny gently cuffed his dogs.

‘Down, Merlin. Down, Floss, old pet. What’s that, Finch?’

There was silence now and Finch’s voice boomed loudly but with an ominous break in it. ‘I say I’m eighteen and I don’t see why I can’t have a drin k.’

Piers said, ‘Give him a sip of your wine, quickly, Aunt Augusta — he’s going to cry.’

Finch with difficulty controlled his temper, gazing down at the remnant of apple tart that had been saved for him from the family dinner.

‘Give the boy a glass of rum,’ said Nicholas. ‘Do him good.’

Renny put out a long arm and pushed the decanter, which he had filled with port, across to Finch. ‘Help yourself. Finch,’ he said, with a suddenly protective air.

Finch selected a glass and took up the decanter. He was afraid that his hand was going to shake. He set his teeth. He would not let it shake. . . . Oh, God, he was saying to himself, keep my hand from shaking!

His hand was steady enough until the glass was almost filled; then it began to shake. He barely escaped slopping the wine on to the table. By the time he had set the decanter down he was trembling from head to foot.

Everyone at the table had begun to talk at once. Not noisily or confusedly, but pleasantly in accord. Aunt Augusta began to tell of the old days at Jalna, when Papa and Mamma had entertained in lavish fashion, had even entertained a Governor-General and his lady. Then, of course, she drifted to social life in England in the eighties and nineties, when, she now liked to imagine, she had held an important social position. Nicholas, too, talked of London, but of a different London, where he and his wife, Millicent, had enjoyed themselves in the racing set till his funds gave out, and she left him, and he was obliged to return to the shelter of Jalna.

After two glasses, the mind of Ernest was centred on one thing only — what he should wear to the horse show the next day. He had a new fall overcoat of expensive English melton, made by the best tailor in town, such an extravagance as he had not indulged in for years. It had been bought with an eye on the horse show, yet the weather was so cold and wet that Ernest, with his dread of afflicting his delicate chest, was in a quandary. A severe cold at that time of year might lead to anything. ‘Now, Renny,’ he was saying, ‘what about the atmosphere in the Coliseum? Was there a noticeable chill there to-day?’

‘Chill!’ ejaculated Renny, interrupted in a rhapsody on the powers of the high jumper he was to ride the next day. ‘Why, there was no chill at all! It was like a conservatory. A flapper might have gone there in a chiffon shift, and felt none the worse for it.’

He hugged Wake against his side, and gave him a sip from his glass.

Piers no longer sat. He stood by the side of the table smiling at everyone. He looked remarkably well standing thus, with his stocky figure, his blue eyes softly shining. He talked of the land and the crops, and of a Jersey heifer he was going to trade for an exquisite bull calf.

Pheasant thought, 'How darling he looks standing there! His eyes are as bright, as Mooey’s.’

Aunt Augusta whispered to Finch, ‘You must go to your studies, my dear. You should learn a great deal to-night, after those two nice glasses of wine.’

‘Huh-huh,’ muttered Finch, rising from the table obediently. He took up his books from a side table where he had laid them, sighing at the thought of leaving this genial, relaxed atmosphere for the grind of mathematics. As he turned away, the lottery ticket fell from between the leaves of his Euclid to the floor.

Wakefield sprang from the arm of Renny’s chair and picked it up. Finch was already in the hall. ‘He’s dropped something,’ and the little boy peered at it inquisitively. ‘It’s a ticket — look, number thirty-one! Hello, Finch, you dropped something, my boy!’

Finch turned back angrily. Little beast, with his cheeky ‘my boy’!

‘Let’s see,’ said Piers, taking the ticket from Wakefield and examining it. ‘Well, I'll be shot if it is n’t a lottery ticket! What are you going in for, young Finch? You’re a deep one. Out to make a fortune, eh, unknown to your family? You ’re still a schoolboy, you know,’ — this taunt because of his failure to matriculate, — ‘and you’re not supposed to gamble.’

‘What’s this?’ demanded Kenny, suspiciously. ‘Fetch it here.’

Piers returned the ticket to its owner. ‘Take it to your big brother,’ he advised, ‘and then run upstairs for his shaving strop.’

Finch, glaring, thrust the ticket in his pocket and lunged toward the hall.

‘Come back here!' ordered Renny.

‘Now,’ he continued, as the boy reappeared, ‘just say what that lottery ticket is for.’

‘Good Lord!’ bawled the goaded Finch. ‘Can’t I buy a lottery ticket if I want to? You’d think I was an infant in arms!’

‘You may buy a dozen if you wish, but I don't like the way you are acting about this one. What, is it for?’

‘It’s for a canary, that’s what it’s for!’ His voice was hoarse with anger. ‘If I can’t buy a lottery ticket for a goddam canary it’s a funny thing!’

The outburst of merriment that leaped from the lungs of his brothers and uncles could have been equaled in volume and vitality by few families. After the roar had subsided, Renny gave another of his metallic shouts. ‘A canary!’ he repeated. ‘Next thing he’ll be wanting a goldfish and a rubber plant!’ But, though he laughed, in his heart he was deeply ashamed for Finch. He was fond of the boy. It was humiliating that he should be such a sissy — wanting to own a canary, of all things!

A vigorous thumping came from the bedroom across the hall.

‘There now,’ cried Ernest, irritated concern clouding his features, ‘what did I tell you! You’ve wakened her. I knew you would. It’s very bad for her to be disturbed like this at her age.’

Augusta said, without flurry, ‘Wakefield, go to my mother’s room. Open the floor quietly and say, “There is nothing wrong, Grandmamma. Please compose yourself.'”

Wakefield crossed the hall, solemn with the weight of his own importance. He opened the door of his grandmother’s room and, gliding in, looked almost fearfully about that dim chamber, revealed, rather than lighted, by a night light placed on a low table near the head of the bed. He wanted to frighten himself a little —just a little — with the strangeness of being alone with Grandmother in this ghostly light, with the rain dripping from the eaves outside her windows, and a single red eye glowing on the hearth, as though some crouching evil spirit were watching him. He stood very still, listening to her rather wheezy breathing, just able to make out the darkness of her face upon the pillows and the restless movement of one hand upon the crimson quilt.

The flowers and fruit painted on the old leather bedstead which she had brought with her from the East glowed duskily, less bright than the plumage of the parrot perching there. A sigh from the bed quivered on the heavy air like the perfume from some forgotten potpourri of petals gathered long ago.

The bygone memories of the bed were drawn upward in the sigh. In it Augusta, Nicholas, Ernest, dead Philip, father of the turbulent young Whiteoaks, had been given birth. There Philip, their father, had died. What tremors, what pains, what ecstasies, what perversities and dreams the bed had known! Here Grandmother now spent the greater part of her time.

Her hand rose and hung above the quilt. A tiny red beam shone from the ruby ring she always wore. She was feeling for her stick. Before she was able to grasp it and rap, Wakefield trotted to her side. He said, like a little parrot, ‘There is nothing wrong, Grandmamma. Please compose yourself.’ He enjoyed the dignified words Aunt Augusta had put into his mouth.

She peered up at him from under her shaggy red brows. Her nightcap had got askew and one eye was completely hidden by it, but the other fixed him with peculiar intensity.

‘Hey?’ she demanded. ‘What’s that?’

‘Compose yourself,’ he reiterated, earnestly, and patted the quilt.

‘I'll compose this family,’ she said, savagely, ‘with my stick! Where’s my stick?’

He put it into her hand and then backed away a little.

She thought a moment, trying to recall what she had wanted; then a burst of half-smothered laughter from the dining room reminded her.

‘What’s that noise mean? What are they shouting about?’

‘About a canary, Gran. Finch has a lottery ticket for one.’ He came close to her now, looking eagerly into her face to watch the effect of his words.

The effect was terrible. Her features were contorted by rage. She glared up at him, speechless, for a moment, then articulated thickly, ‘ A canary—a bird — another bird in the house! I won’t have it! It'll put Boney in a rage. He won’t bear it— he’ll tear it to pieces! ’

Boney, disturbed by the sound of his name, took his head from under his wing and thrust it forward, peering down at his mistress from his perch on the painted headboard.

‘Haramzada!' he cried, wildly. ‘Haramzada! Platoon! Paji! Paji!’ He rose on his toes and flapped his wings, creating a little gust of warm air that fanned Wakefield’s face.

Old Mrs. Whiteoak had heaved herself up in the bed. She had protruded from under the quilt her large feet in purple bed socks, and followed them by long yellowish legs.

‘My dressing gown,’ she gasped. ‘On the chair there. Hand It to me. I’ll show them whether I'll have a chitchat flibbertigibbet canary in the house. ’

Wakefield knew that he should have run to the dining room and called one of his elders. It was an unprecedented thing that Grandmother was doing, getting up without Aunt Augusta or one of the uncles to help her. But his desire for novelty, for excitement, was greater than his prudence. He brought the heavy purple dressing gown, and helped her to put it on. He put her stick into her eager, shapely old hand.

But to get her on to her feet! That was a different matter. Drag as he would at her arm, he could not budge her. ‘Ha!’ she would grunt with each heroic effort, her face getting more and more the color of her dressing gown.

At last she laid down the stick. 'What were we doing?’ she asked blankly.

‘ I was trying to get you up, Granny.'

‘What for?’ Her eye gleamed suspiciously.

‘Why, the canary, Gran. Finch’s canary, don’t you remember?’

On the instant her old face was alight with rage.

‘Remember! Of course I remember. A canary in the house! I won’t have it. I '11 stir things up. I ’ll make a scene. I must get out to the dining room.’

‘Shall I fetch Renny?’

‘No. No. No, no, no. He’d put me back in bed. Cover me up, the rascal. I know him. I must get to the dining room and give ’em all a fright.’ She looked about her rather wildly. ‘But what was I going to make a scene about?’

‘About the canary, Gran.’

‘Ah, yes. We must attend to that. Try pushing me from behind, Wakefield. Mount the bed.’

Nothing loath to try his force from another angle, the little boy scrambled on to the bed, and, kneeling behind her, pushed mightily against her shoulders.

Grunting, straining, her eye prominent with the exertion, she rose. Rose so thoroughly, in fact, that she all but toppled forward on her face. But she balanced herself. Like some unscaworthy old vessel, battered by a storm, she still could ride the waves on occasion with a staunch front.

Leaning heavily on Wakefield’s thin shoulder, she appeared in the doorway of the dining room, and cast an authoritative look over her descendants gathered there. Shock and concern displaced hilarity on their strongly marked countenances. Piers, who was nearest her, jumped to his feet and came to her side. Ernest brought a chair, and they placed her in it.

‘Mamma, Mamma,’ chided Ernest, adjusting her cap, so that her other too bright eye was discovered, ‘this is very bad for you.’

Augusta said, sternly, ‘Wakefield, you are a very naughty boy. You deserve a whipping.’

‘Let the child be,’ rapped out her mother, ‘He minds his business, and he does what he is told, which is more than you do. ’

Lady Buckley fingered her cameo brooch and looked offendedly down her nose.

‘Are you hungry, Gran?’ asked Renny. ‘Is that what brought you out?’

‘No, no, no,’ ejaculated Ernest. ‘She’s not hungry! She had a large bowl of cornflakes and puffed rice before she went to bed.’

His mother turned her hawklike face on him. ‘Cornflakes,’ she muttered. ‘Cornflakes — silly leaves . . . puffed rice — silly seeds . . . leaves and seeds — fit food for a silly canary.’ She dropped her chin on her breast, turning a word over in her mind. ‘Canary.’ Her brain fumbled over it like a blind old tigress frying to discover the nature of a strange morsel. ‘ Canary. ’ Of what did it remind her? Her deep dark eyes roved over the faces of the clan till they fell on young Finch in the doorway, He was gazing at her in sheepish fascination. The instant she saw him she remembered why she had risen so vehemently from her bed. A canary! Finch’s canary in that house!

A little chirping, squeaking, hopping bird at Jalna! She would n't have it!

Her face became dark with anger. She found it difficult to speak. ‘Finch,’ she articulated. ‘I want Finch.’

Finch slouched into the room, grinning deprecatingly.

‘Now,’ she said, peering at him from under her shaggy rust-colored brows with sudden, lucid firmness, ‘what’s this I hear about a canary?’

Finch, staring into her eyes with a bewitched feeling, could otdy stammer, ‘Oh, look here now, Gran — look here — there’s no darned canary at all—’

‘There is a canary,’ she shouted, thumping her stick on the floor. ‘A nasty, flibbertigibbet canary that you’ve smuggled into the house. Fetch it here and I’ll wring its neck for it.!’

‘Oh, I say, Gran, it’s only a lottery ticket. There’s not one chance in a hundred that I 'll win. I don’t want the thing anyway.’

'Ha!’ she retorted, furiously. ‘You’d lie, would you? Come here!’

He approached guardedly, but she was swifter than he gave her credit for. With the sweeping gesture of one indulging in some sport, she caught him a blow on the knuckles, so sharp that it skinned three of them and doubled him up with the sting of it.

Ernest rose from his chair, trembling. ‘Mamma, this is very bad for you. You might have a stroke.’

‘Stroke, is it?’ she shouted. ‘I gave the brat a stroke — a stroke he’ll remember. I drew the blood, I did! Put out your hand, boy, till I see it.’ She was purple with excitement.

Renny set down his glass of rum and water. He came and leaned over her. ‘Don’t you want to be kissed, Gran?’ he inquired on a coaxing note.

She raised her eyes and, from under the rim of her cap, peered into his face. Its lean redness, thus suddenly brought close to hers, shutting out her view of the others; his strongly carved nose, resembling her own; his lips, drawn back from his strong teeth in a smile, hard, yet still somehow tolerant and tender, caught her attention, submerged her in an enchantment she could not resist. Renny, bone of her bone, a Court of Courts, one of the old stock-— nothing puling about him.

‘Kiss me!’ she ejaculated. ‘Kiss me quick!'

Finch, under screen of the embrace, slipped from the room. Going up the thickly carpeted stairs, he could hear the loud exchange of kisses.

Panting a good deal, the old lady looked around the room triumphantly after Renny had released her, -—she seemed to have gathered strength from his pressing vitality, — and, giving a valiant tug to her cap which again disposed it over one eye, she demanded, ‘My teeth! I want my teeth. I’m hungry. Somebody get my teeth. ’

Wakefield blithely danced back to the bedroom, reappearing instantly with the two sets of teeth in a tumbler of water. Mrs. Whiteoak leaned toward him as he approached, and stretched out her hands. She could scarcely endure the waiting for them. The little boy joggled the tumbler before her.

‘For pity’s sake be careful, child,’ exclaimed Augusta.

‘He should never have been allowed to fetch them,’ observed Ernest, and, despising himself for doing it, he poured a little more rum into his glass.

It had been a good evening, Renny thought. What a supper the old lady had made! And how the old boys had enjoyed their spot of rum! A good day. His horses had done well. He had done well. He was conscious of a pleasant ache of honorable fatigue in legs and arms. Not perhaps so much an ache as a wholesome consciousness of every muscle. How the mare had pulled, had striven!

Rags was clearing the table. As he lifted the bottle of spirits, of which a small part remained, the master of Jalna, nodding toward it, observed curtly, ‘Yours, Rags.’

III

Finch, seated under an oil lamp, with a green paper shade on which were pictured the heavily smiling faces of two German girls, was writing in his diary.

‘All but missed train. Rotten day at school. Must swat for math exam. Had interesting talk with Leigh in spare hour. Horse show. Renny simply great. Best in the show. Pheasant not bad. Motored home. Row about lottery ticket for canary. Gran absolutely awful. Had two glasses of port!! Saw Joan.’

He sucked the abrasions on his knuckles and let his eyes run over the entries of the preceding days. There was more or less variety in these. School was more or less rotten. There were noted several good times with

Leigh, and a ‘ hof an evening'

with George and Tom. One peculiarity was common to all the entries. They all ended with ‘Saw Joan' or ‘Did not see Joan.'

He took out his Euclid and laid it on the table before him. The book had a habit of opening of itself at page 107. He hoped it would not do that to-night, because, if it did, he might be unable to study. His jaw dropped and his hand shook as he raised the cover—107 stared up at him. ... He stared blankly at the number—107. Why did he fear it? 1 — that was the same as I ... I, Finch Whiteoak. 0 — that was nothing ... he, Finch, was nothing! Ah, he was getting at it! That was why he dreaded the number, and no wonder! Then, 7—that, of course, was magic. Magic 7. I, Finch, am nothing. He closed the Euclid sharply and opened it in a fresh place. Page 70 this time. Again the magic 7, and after that naught. Magic followed by nothingness, void. That was life — magic, with naught to follow! He tried again. Page 123. Again the I. Then two ... I and another. Two of us. . . . Then three. I and the other have made a third. Three of us. . . . He saw himself, himself and Joan together in a bedroom. They were bending over the crib where lay the Third which they had made, as he had seen Piers and Pheasant bending over Mooey’s crib. Joan, to whom he had never yet spoken a word! He had been introduced to her at a football match by his friend, Arthur Leigh.

The thought of her had troubled him a great deal during the month that had since passed; but he had made no effort to become acquainted with her and had never spoken of her again to Leigh, though he would have liked to know her surname, which he had not caught at the moment of introduction.

She went to a girls' school not far from his own school, and few days passed without an encounter on the street. One swift glance was all he ever gave her as he took off his cap, but his meeting or not meeting with her always provided the last words for the day’s entry in his diary. It was always either ‘Saw Joan' or ‘Did not see Joan.'

He supposed that if he had never met Joan he would have found some other instrument with which to torture himself. If only he had passed his exams, so that Renny would not have stopped his music lessons! He felt that to-night, if he had been allowed to spend an hour at the piano, it would have quieted him, lifted him into happiness, freed him from the sense of longing, of fear. He did not question the justness of Renny in stopping the piano playing. He knew that he had spent a lot of time — wasted it, he humbly admitted — hanging over the keyboard, when he was not practising but feverishly attempting to compose. How happy he had been at those times!

Resolutely he opened his Euclid at the problems and deductions he was to study for the next day. He placed the corner of the book exactly on the blot on the table. Then he dropped his pencil. A bad beginning to drop one’s pencil, . . . He would pick it up and begin to work. . . .

But he found that he could not pick it up. Three times his fingers wavered above it, but they could not close on it. He groaned, hating and fearing himself. . . . He began to count the dim medallions of the carpet. He found that he was kneeling on the sixth medallion from the north end of the room, and the fifth from the west. Six and five were eleven — it was the eleventh day of November. Six times five — thirty. Thirty was the number of his locker at school. Thirty was the number of marks he had taken in the Euclid examination when he had failed . . . Christ was thirty years old when He was crucified. . . .

He thought that if he had a cigarette to smoke he might be able to pick up the pencil and begin his work. He got to his feet and stole cautiously down the attic stairs. The door of the bedroom occupied by Piers and Pheasant stood ajar. A lowered lamp cast a peaceful light over the white bed and Mooey’s cradle beside it. It was the same solid hooded cradle that had rocked all the infant Whiteoaks.

He opened the top drawer of the chest of drawers where he knew Piers sometimes kept an extra package or two of cigarettes. Ah, there they were — Piers was good to himself! A largesize tin box of Players, more than half full. A package containing at least a dozen Turkish cigarettes. Finch helped himself, but with caution, and closed the drawer.

As he turned to go he bent over the cradle and looked in curiously at young Maurice. He was curled, sweet and warm, in baby sleep. Finch went suddenly weak with tenderness as he looked at him. He put his head under the hood of the cradle and sniffed him, as a dog might sniff at a sleeping puppy. He kissed his cheek and felt his own blood turn to some mild sweet nectar, and his bones to nothing but a tender desire for love.

He took the baby into his arms and bent over him, his lank blond forelock falling over the little head. He kissed the head, the cheeks, the mouth extravagantly. He could not be satisfied. He poured out his soul in love. His eyes filled with tears, which dropped on to the little hands. My God, was it possible that Piers felt this way?

Voices were in the hall below. Pheasant and Aunt Augusta were coming up. . . . He thrust the child back into the cradle and drew the covers over him. Not for anything would he have been caught caressing his young nephew.

Upstairs he found he was no longer the victim of his nerves. He picked up the pencil, the Euclid, lighted one of Piers’s cigarettes, and set to work.

Lady Buckley had laid aside her bracelets, her brooch, and her gold chain. She had taken off her black satin dress, her long black silk petticoat, and now, in camisole and short white underpetticoat, was brushing her still abundant hair. Even in such jaunty apparel as this, her appearance of being on her dignity was not lessened. She regarded her reflection in the glass with her accustomed air of mingled complacence and offense. Her complexion had never been good — now it was mottled and liverish; her eyes had a peculiar glassy dullness, unlike her mother’s, which still retained a clear fire. But her features were excellent. Her nose—the Court nose, though in a modified form. Not the fierce, carven feature that her mother and Renny thrust into the world. An improvement, she thought. More becoming to a lady, the widow of an English baronet. She began to think of her husband. . . .

How insignificant her parents and her brothers had thought him, with his pale side whiskers, and his mild eyes, and his neat little feet! He had had a little lisp, too. She could almost hear him, even now, calling her: ‘ Auguthta! But what character! He had never lost his self-control, no matter what happened. Nothing had ever surprised him. Even when the word had come from England that two sudden deaths had brought the baronetcy to him, together with an old house in Dorsetshire and a respectable income, he had shown no surprise. He had merely turned from the cablegram in his hand and remarked, ‘You had better begin packing our bags at once, Lady Buckley. We're going home.' Lady Buckley! How the title had always stuck in her mother’s throat! How disagreeable it was of her mother, always pretending that she could not remember her name! Speaking of her to friends as ‘my daughter, Lady Bunkley' — or perhaps ‘Bilgeley.’ If her mother had not been a Court she would have called it illbred. But, of course, the Courts were like that. She thought of England. How she longed to be back there! She thought of the hedgerows, the beds of geraniums about her own house (she did hope the tenants were keeping things in order), the song of the linnets on the moist sweet air, her friends. She had been away from all these things for a year, and it seemed like two. But it was her duty to remain in Canada till her mother’s death. Surely Mamma — well, she was a hundred and one. It almost frightened Augusta . . . what if Mamma were to live forever! But then, no one lived forever!

She put on her flannelette nightdress, buttoned up to the chin, with silk featherstitching at the wrists. Little knobs of hair in wire wavers stuck out on her head. She drew the curtains closely across the two windows. How the rain beat! She caught sight of her reflection in the pier glass, as she stood against the long dark curtain. She drew back her head and stared. A stately figure she made, truly. An upright, noblelooking creature, she could not help thinking.

She posed thus for a moment like a statue, then turned out the light and sought her bed.

Ernest had felt a little odd coming up the stairs, almost light-headed, but when he got to his own room he was quite himself, except that he had a feeling of agreeable exhilaration. He very much liked the rose-colored shade for his lamp that Alayne had sent him from New York on his birthday. Alayne had always been so sweet to him. Her going had left a real blank in his life. And Eden, too, he missed him greatly. It was such a pity their marriage had turned out as it did. They had been such a lovely young couple, intellectual, good to look upon.

He stood meditatively, enjoying the soft pink glow that was diffused over the room. It imparted a fragile liveliness to the Dresden china figures on the mantelpiece.

The little china clock between the shepherd and the shepherdess chimed twelve. What an hour for him to begetting to bed! But what a jolly evening! He hoped that the rum and water would do him no harm. Yes, and he had had a glass or two of wine before the rum. . . . He hoped and prayed that Mamma would be all right after that second supper of hers. How roguish she had been! He smiled as he thought of her. Really, one could scarcely believe that he was seventyone with Mamma so active. . . .

He remembered his new overcoat. Not a bad idea to try it on now when he was looking his best, flushed a little, his eyes bright. He got it from its hanger in the tall wardrobe and turned it round, looking it over very critically, his lips stern, his eyes knowing. ‘A damned fine coat!’ He uttered the words aloud in the tone one might use in similar praise of mare or woman. Gad, it was a handsome coat!

He put it on, and it slipped over him with a firm yet satiny embrace. He stared at his reflection in the glass. No wonder the tailor had complimented him on his figure! Slender, upright (when he used a little will power), with an air of elegance such as one did not associate with the colonies.

Suddenly he felt the colonial’s strange nostalgia for England. He remembered a top hat he had bought once in Bond Street. Twenty years since he had bought that hat in England, and he had not been back since! Perhaps when Mamma, died, and Augusta returned to her home, he would go back with her on a visit.

When Mamma died! The thought of her death always brought a tremor of apprehension with it. There was first the dread of losing her, and, added to that, the prolonged uncertainty as to who would inherit her money. Not a hint had dropped from her lips. She had thought, it enough for them to know it was willed in its entirety to one member of the family. Ah, if she should leave it to him, he would have independence, power in the family! He would do so many nice things for the boys! Dear boys, it would be best for them if all the money were left to him. . . .

Before he got into bed he went to the basket where his cat, Sasha, lay sleeping with her kitten beside her. He looked down on them with a wry smile. Sasha, at her age, — she was twelve, — to have a mongrel kitten! And not only have it, but be brazen about it!

He murmured, ‘Kitty, kitty,’and touched her with his fingers. It was as though he had touched a vital nerve that controlled her whole body. She unfolded like a fan, uncurling her body to its full length, raising the great golden plume of her tail. She opened her eyes, and then grinned impudently up at him — a great three-cornered grin that showed the roof of her month and her curling tongue.

‘Naughty, naughty,’he said, tickling her.

Her kitten butted its little bullet head against her.

Even after he was in bed he stretched out his hand and felt for the pair in the basket. It was amusing to lie in bed with one’s hand snuggled against those warm furry bodies. It was comforting.

Piers found Pheasant already in bed, her shingled brown head quite off the pillow on the edge of the mattress, her bright eyes gazing into the cradle.

'Piers, do you know, Mooey ’s perfectly wonderful! What do you suppose he 'd done? Got in between quite different layers of the blankets! I don't see how he managed it. Goodness, you’ve been a long time.'

‘We got to talking.' He came over and looked down at the five-monthsold baby. ‘Looks pretty fit, doesn't he?'

‘Oo, the precious! Hand him in to me. I want him beside me while you get ready.'

‘Don’t be siily. I shan’t be five minutes. You’ll only disturb him.’

‘I want to see his little toes, don’t you?’

‘Pheasant, you’re nothing but a baby yourself.’

He came and bent over her. Lying relaxed on the bed, her hair rumpled, a white shoulder showing above the slipped-down nightdress, she seemed suddenly very tender and appealing to Piers. She seemed as sweet and delicately vigorous as one of the young silver birches in the ravine.

The light out, Pheasant snuggling close to him. Mooey making comfortable little snuggling noises in his sleep like a puppy. The rain beating on the windows, accentuating the snugness and warmth of the indoors, the peace. The peace. Why was it that at times like these Eden’s face should come out of the darkness to trouble him? He clenched his teeth and pressed his forehead against Pheasant’s shoulder, trying not to think, trying not to see Eden’s face with its mocking smile.

He tried to draw comfort from her nearness and warmth. She was his! That awful night when Finch had discovered the two in the wood together was a dream, a nightmare. He would not let the dreadful thought of it into his mind. But the thought came like a slinking beast, and Piers’s mouth was suddenly drawn to one side in a grimace of pain. Pheasant must have felt his unease, for she turned to him and put an arm about his head, drawing it against her breast.

Nicholas could not sleep. ‘Too damn much rum,’ he thought. ‘This comes of drinking scarcely anything stronger than tea. You get your system into such a state that a little honest spirits knocks your sleep into a cocked hat.’

However, he did n’t particularly mind lying awake. His body was in a tranquil, steamy state, and pleasant visions from his past drifted before his eyes. The glamour of women he had cared for long ago hung like an essence in the room. He had forgotten their names (or would have had to make an effort to recall them), their faces were a blur, but the froufrou of their skirts — that adorable word ‘froufrou’ that had no meaning now — whispered about him, more significant, more entrancing, than euphonious names or pretty faces. And their little hands (in days when women’s hands were really small, and ‘dazzling’ was a word not too intense for the whiteness of their flesh) held out to him offering the flowers of dalliance.

Nip, his Yorkshire terrier, who was curled up against his back, uncurled himself suddenly and began to scratch the quilt with concentrated vehemence.

Nicholas began to get drowsy. . . . What had he been thinking of.? Oh yes, old days. Affairs. When Nip had begun that bout of scratching he had been recalling a little affair with an Irish girl at Cowes — it must have been quite thirty-five years ago, and the memory of it as fresh as her skin had been then! Ha—he had it! Adeline, that had been her name—the same name as his mother’s. His mother. How she had hung on to Renny and kissed! And how they had stared into each other’s eyes! A thought came to him with a nasty jolt. Suppose Renny were trying to get around her — get on the inside track after her money. . . . One never could tell. . . . That red head of his. What if all his caresses were calculated?

Nicholas became blazing hot, his brain a hotbed of suspicion. He flung the covers from his shoulders and put his arms out on the quilt. He lay staring into the darkness, going over in his mind encounters between the two — little things trivial in themselves, but which seemed to indicate that Renny’s influence was unduly strong with the old lady. Good heaven, if Renny were worming his way in there, how dreadful! He would never forgive him!

He heard a step in the hall, Renny’s step. He felt that he must speak to him, see his face, discover perhaps some telltale predatory gleam in his eye. He called, 'Is that you, Renny?’

Renny opened the door. ‘Yes, Uncle Nick. Want something?’

‘Light my lamp, will you? I can’t sleep.’

‘H’m. What’s the matter with this family?’ He struck a match and came toward the lamp. ‘Wake’s been having a heart attack.'

Nicholas growled sympathetically. ‘That’s too bad. Too bad. Poor little fellow. Is he better of it? Can I do anything?’

‘I should n’t have left him if he had n’t been better. I think he overdid it helping Gran to get up. He gets excited about things, too. ... Is that high enough?’ The clear flame of the lamp illumined the strongly marked features that looked as though they had been fashioned for the facing of high winds, carved more deeply the line of anxiety between the brows, accented the close-lying pointed ears.

Nothing underhand, self-seeking, in that face, Nicholas thought, but I must n’t let the old lady get too doting about him. He’s the kind of man that women . . . ‘One thing that was keeping me awake,’ he observed, peering shrewdly into the illumined face, ‘was the thoughts of Mamma. Her spirit, is n't it amazing?’

‘A corker.’

‘It seems impossible to think that some day . . . Renny, has she ever said anything to you about how she’s left her money?’

‘Not a word. I’ve always taken it for granted that you’ll get it. You’re the eldest son and her favorite — a Court and all I hat — you ought to have it. ’

Nicholas’s voice was sweet with reassurance. ‘Yes, I suppose that’s the natural thing. Just, set the lamp on the table here where I can reach it. Thanks, Renny. Good night, and tell Wake that he’s to go straight to sleep and dream of a glorious trip to England Uncle Nick’s going to take him.’

‘Righto. Good night.’

He took front the mantel his special pipe, the sweet instrument of his bedtime smoke, and filled it. He stretched his leather-legginged legs before him, and, as he pressed the tobacco down into the bowl with his little finger, he gazed thoughtfully at Wake sleeping on the bed. Poor little beggar! What a time he’d had with him! A rotten bad spell, and that after weeks and weeks of seeming so well. He supposed it was the raw chill of the weather they’d been having that had pulled him down. That and heaving Gran about. He was such a game youngster, he’d tackle anything.

Renny leaned forward and gently took the little thin wrist in his, felt the pulse. Quieter, more even. Wake lifted his lids.

‘Oh, hello, Renny!’

‘Hello. What are you awake for?’

I don’t know. I think I’m better. I say, Renny, may I go to the horse show to-morrow ? ’

‘Not if I know it. You’ll wait and go with the other kids on Saturday.’

‘I say, Renny, I love watching your face. The way your nostrils go. They’re funny. And the way you wiggle your eyebrow. I love watching you, more ’specially when you don’t know it.’

How cleverly the little rascal could change the subject! Renny laughed.

‘Well, I guess you’re the one person who does, then.'

‘Oh no. There was someone else. Alayne. She loved watching you. I often caught her at it.’

His elder sent forth a cloud of smoke. ‘What surprises me is the number of things you know which you ’ve no right, to know, and how slow you are on the uptake with useful information.’

Wakefield closed his eyes. ‘ He’s getting himself worked up to cry,’thought Renny. He asked, ‘How about those legs? Nice and warm now? That nasty feeling gone, eh?’ He put his hand under the clothes and began soothingly to rub them.

Alayne! What was she doing tonight? Was she happy? Forgetting him? Oh no, she would n’t forget — any more than he! He wished to God he could forget! It had always been so easy for him to forget — the natural thing. And now, after more than a year, a sudden mention of her name sent the same tremor through him — gave him a sudden jolt, as though his horse had stumbled. . . . He rubbed the little legs rhythmically. Wake slept. The room was dimmed by a blue-gray haze of smoke. . . . Renny heard Finch moving in the room above and remembered that the boy’s school fees were overdue. He unlocked a drawer and took out a slim roll of bank notes. Separating three tens and a five, he put them into an envelope, addressed and sealed it.

In the attic the only sign of habitation was the rim of light beneath Finch’s door. He was about to turn the knob when a bolt was shot on the inside and he heard the boy’s quick breathing.

‘Hello,’ he rapped out. ‘What’s this mean?’

‘Oh, darn it all, Renny. I did n’t know it was you!' He slid back the bolt and stood sheepish and red.

‘Did you think it was the canary fellow come to get the lottery ticket?’ He grinned down at Finch sarcastically.

Finch mumbled, ‘Thought it was Piers.’

‘Why? Had you been pinching something of his? ’

The random shot went home. The boy’s flush deepened, he stammered a weak denial, and Renny’s grin exploded in a laugh. ‘You’re certainly going to the dogs! What was it —ties? Cigarettes?’

‘Cigarettes.’

‘H’m. . . . Well, here is your fee for the term. I should have sent it by check, but — the truth is, my account is a bit overdrawn. Just hand it to the bursar —and no frenzied finance on the way!’ He laid a dollar bill on the envelope, ‘Get some fags for yourself, and cut out this light-fingered business. Also, keep inside your allowance.’

Finch’s hand shook as he took the money. He brought the lamp to light his elder down the stairs. ‘Is Wake feeling rocky to-night?’ he asked.

‘Yes.’

‘Gosh, I’m sorry.’

He watched the lean figure descend, noticing how the lamplight sought the warm russet of leather leggings and close-cropped head. He wished to God he’d some of Renny’s ginger!

Strength from music — that was what he wanted. He thought of the ivory expanse of the keyboard, and felt an ache through his soul, a quiver through his arms. . . .

Carefully he placed the notes in a shabby leather pocketbook; then from his desk he took an old mouth organ. He went into the clothes closet and shut the door. Then, putting his head under a heavy overcoat to muffle the sound, he laid his lips against the instrument and began wistfully to play.

(To be continued)