The Trees of Pride HTML version

I. The Tale Of The Peacock Trees
Squire Vane was an elderly schoolboy of English education and Irish extraction.
His English education, at one of the great public schools, had preserved his
intellect perfectly and permanently at the stage of boyhood. But his Irish
extraction subconsciously upset in him the proper solemnity of an old boy, and
sometimes gave him back the brighter outlook of a naughty boy. He had a bodily
impatience which played tricks upon him almost against his will, and had already
rendered him rather too radiant a failure in civil and diplomatic service. Thus it is
true that compromise is the key of British policy, especially as effecting an
impartiality among the religions of India; but Vane's attempt to meet the Moslem
halfway by kicking off one boot at the gates of the mosque, was felt not so much
to indicate true impartiality as something that could only be called an aggressive
indifference. Again, it is true that an English aristocrat can hardly enter fully into
the feelings of either party in a quarrel between a Russian Jew and an Orthodox
procession carrying relics; but Vane's idea that the procession might carry the
Jew as well, himself a venerable and historic relic, was misunderstood on both
sides. In short, he was a man who particularly prided himself on having no
nonsense about him; with the result that he was always doing nonsensical things.
He seemed to be standing on his head merely to prove that he was hard-headed.
He had just finished a hearty breakfast, in the society of his daughter, at a table
under a tree in his garden by the Cornish coast. For, having a glorious
circulation, he insisted on as many outdoor meals as possible, though spring had
barely touched the woods and warmed the seas round that southern extremity of
England. His daughter Barbara, a good-looking girl with heavy red hair and a
face as grave as one of the garden statues, still sat almost motionless as a
statue when her father rose. A fine tall figure in light clothes, with his white hair
and mustache flying backwards rather fiercely from a face that was good-
humored enough, for he carried his very wide Panama hat in his hand, he strode
across the terraced garden, down some stone steps flanked with old ornamental
urns to a more woodland path fringed with little trees, and so down a zigzag road
which descended the craggy Cliff to the shore, where he was to meet a guest
arriving by boat. A yacht was already in the blue bay, and he could see a boat
pulling toward the little paved pier.
And yet in that short walk between the green turf and the yellow sands he was
destined to find. his hard-headedness provoked into a not unfamiliar phase which
the world was inclined to call hot-headedness. The fact was that the Cornish
peasantry, who composed his tenantry and domestic establishment, were far
from being people with no nonsense about them. There was, alas! a great deal of
nonsense about them; with ghosts, witches, and traditions as old as Merlin, they
seemed to surround him with a fairy ring of nonsense. But the magic circle had
one center: there was one point in which the curving conversation of the rustics
always returned. It was a point that always pricked the Squire to exasperation,