The Trees of Pride HTML version

II. The Wager Of Squire Vane
It was more than a month before the legend of the peacock trees was again
discussed in the Squire's circle. It fell out one evening, when his eccentric taste
for meals in the garden that gathered the company round the same table, now lit
with a lamp and laid out for dinner in a glowing spring twilight. It was even the
same company, for in the few weeks intervening they had insensibly grown more
and more into each other's lives, forming a little group like a club. The American
aesthete was of course the most active agent, his resolution to pluck out the
heart of the Cornish poet's mystery leading him again and again to influence his
flighty host for such reunions. Even Mr. Ashe, the lawyer, seemed to have
swallowed his half-humorous prejudices; and the doctor, though a rather sad and
silent, was a companionable and considerate man. Paynter had even read
Treherne's poetry aloud, and he read admirably; he had also read other things,
not aloud, grubbing up everything in the neighborhood, from guidebooks to
epitaphs, that could throw a light on local antiquities. And it was that evening
when the lamplight and the last daylight had kindled the colors of the wine and
silver on the table under the tree, that he announced a new discovery.
"Say, Squire," he remarked, with one of his rare Americanisms, "about those
bogey trees of yours; I don't believe you know half the tales told round here about
them. It seems they have a way of eating things. Not that I have any ethical
objection to eating things," he continued, helping himself elegantly to green
cheese. "But I have more or less, broadly speaking, an objection to eating
"Eating people!" repeated Barbara Vane.
"I know a globe-trotter mustn't be fastidious," replied Mr. Paynter. "But I repeat
firmly, an objection to eating people. The peacock trees seem to have
progressed since the happy days of innocence when they only ate peacocks. If
you ask the people here--the fisherman who lives on that beach, or the man that
mows this very lawn in front of us--they'll tell you tales taller than any tropical one
I brought you from the Barbary Coast. If you ask them what happened to the
fisherman Peters, who got drunk on All Hallows Eve, they'll tell you he lost his
way in that little wood, tumbled down asleep under the wicked trees, and then--
evaporated, vanished, was licked up like dew by the sun. If you ask them where
Harry Hawke is, the widow's little son, they'll just tell you he's swallowed; that he
was dared to climb the trees and sit there all night, and did it. What the trees did
God knows; the habits of a vegetable ogre leave one a little vague. But they even
add the agreeable detail that a new branch appears on the tree when somebody
has petered out in this style."
"What new nonsense is this?" cried Vane. "I know there's some crazy yarn about
the trees spreading fever, though every educated man knows why these
epidemics return occasionally. And I know they say you can tell the noise of them
among other trees in a gale, and I dare say you can. But even Cornwall isn't a
lunatic asylum, and a tree that dines on a passing tourist--"