Authors: Mazo de La Roche
Morning at Jalna
Mazo de la Roche
To Jack and Tony Gray with my love
I -- The Home in the New Country
II -- The Visitors
III -- The Tutor
IV -- Night
V -- A Call on Wilmott
VI -- The Meeting
VII -- The Night Prowlers
VIII -- Up the River
IX -- Counterplots
X -- A Variety of Scenes
XI -- News from the South
XII -- Reward
XIII -- Departure
XIV -- The Visit Over
XV -- The Golden Pen
XVI -- Events of the Fall
XVII -- The Ivory Pen
XVIII -- A Night Visitor
XIX -- Doings of the Whiteoak Children
XX -- Punishment
XXI -- The Plan
XXII -- Voyage
XXIII -- The Search
XXIV -- The Runaways
XXV -- The Rescue
XXVI -- Tite and Belle
XXVII -- Another Voyage
The Home in the New Country
When the American Civil War broke out, this house Jalna, in Ontario, had been completed not many years before. The owner, Captain Whiteoak, and his family had been installed there since the birth of his second son. He and his Irish wife, Adeline Court, had come from India and romantically named the house after the military station to which his regiment there was assigned. Captain Whiteoak had been tired of the restraints of army life. He had longed for the freedom and space of the New World. Adeline Whiteoak always was eager for adventure. Now they felt themselves, if not actually pioneers, to be imbued with the spirit of pioneers, yet they had surrounded themselves with many of the amenities of the old land.
The house, a substantial one of a pleasing shade of brick, with green shutters and five tall chimneys, stood in a thousand acres of land only a few miles from Lake Ontario, the shores of which were deeply wooded and were the haunt of thousands of birds. The virgin soil was rich and prolific of its life-giving growth. Whatever was planted in it flourished with abandon.
The children of the Whiteoaks knew no life other than this free and healthy round of seasons. There were four of them — Augusta, Nicholas, Ernest, and the last comer, the baby Philip. (His father had gone back on his earlier determination to be the only Philip in the family.) The parents were indulgent with them, though at times severe in discipline. Their father would give them orders, when they displeased him, in a stern military voice. Their mother would sometimes, in exasperation, beat them with her own hands, for she had a fiery temper. The daughter, Augusta, suffered discipline with dignified resignation; Nicholas, with a certain haughtiness; Ernest, with tears and promises to be good. Philip, the baby, scarcely knew what it was to be crossed, and if he were, lay down on the floor and kicked and screamed.
On this summer day, husband and wife were looking forward, with not unmixed pleasure, to a visit from an American couple from South Carolina.
“I can’t understand,” Philip was saying, “why you are so concerned over this visit. The Sinclairs must take us as they find us. We have nothing to be ashamed of in the way we live. There is no finer house or better-run estate in this province, I’ll be bound.”
“But think what they are used to,” cried Adeline. “A huge plantation, with hundreds of slaves to wait on them — We don’t know the first thing about real elegance. We should have an entire suite to offer them, instead of one paltry bedroom and a cubbyhole for Mrs. Sinclair’s maid.”
“The guestroom is not paltry. It’s a fine room handsomely furnished. If they don’t like it they can lump it.”
“And how are you going to entertain Mr. Sinclair?” she demanded. “Escort him to view the turnip field? To inspect the twin calves?”
This conversation was interrupted by the noise of their two sons racing along the passage and clattering in their sturdy boots down the stairs. As Nicholas overtook Ernest, the little boy gave a shriek of pretended terror. Ordinarily this display of high spirits would have passed unnoticed by their parents but now Philip said, “They must not carry on like this after our visitors arrive.”
“Don’t worry,” said Adeline. “I am sending the older children to the Busbys for three days. I arranged it with Mrs. Busby yesterday.”
“Gussie knows how to behave herself,” remarked Philip.
“She would miss her brothers. I want an atmosphere of complete peace when the Sinclairs arrive. In Lucy Sinclair’s last letter she spoke of the sad state of her nerves.”
“Are you aware,” demanded Philip, “that the Busbys are completely on the side of the Yankees?”
“I have not told them,” she said, “who our visitors are. Simply that they are friends we made on our last trip to England.”
Philip was perturbed. “Elihu Busby would not like it. I’m certain of that.”
“The Sinclairs are not visiting him.” She spoke hotly. “Let him mind his own business.”
“The children will tell.”
“They’d better not,” she exclaimed. She gathered her three eldest about her.
“You are to spend three days with the Busbys,” she said.
“Hurrah,” cried Nicholas. “I’ve always wanted a visit to their farm. Everybody works but they always have time for fun.”
“Listen to me, children.” Adeline spoke in a tone of portentous warning. “You are not on any account to mention that our guests are from the South and may be bringing one or two servants with them.”
“Blackamoors!” exclaimed Nicholas. “I’ve never seen one and I’m dying to.”
“Are they dangerous?” asked Ernest.
“Of course not, you little ninny,” said his mother. “Remember to say that our guests are friends we met in England. I depend on you, Augusta.”
“I’ll remember,” Augusta promised, in her low voice that would become contralto, “but sooner or later the Busbys will find out.”
“Of course they will, but if they find out at once they’ll probably be so disgusted they’ll send you home again. Patsy will drive you to the Busbys’. Now go, and remember also your manners.”
She left them.
“Manners, my eye,” said Ernest. Augusta was shocked.
“Ernest, wherever did you hear that horrid expression?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, you had better forget it. Come now and wash your face and brush your hair.” She took him by the hand.
Patsy O’Flynn, the Irish servant from Adeline’s old home who had accompanied the family to Canada, was waiting on the drive with a wagonette drawn by a sturdy piebald cob. His sharp features looked out from a fringe of sandy whiskers and unkempt hair.
“Come along, do,” he urged the children, “for I’ve no time to be gallivanting the countryside, with the work of two men piled on to me.”
Philip and Adeline had come into the porch to see their children depart. It was as if they were setting out on a journey, rather than going to spend a few days with a neighbour. The children were somewhat pampered. Captain Whiteoak himself carried their portmanteau, though Nicholas was a strong lad. Adeline took out her own handkerchief and wiped Ernest’s pert little nose, though he had a clean handkerchief of his own, with the initial E on a corner, in the pocket of his blouse.
“See to it that his nose does not dribble,” she admonished Augusta. Captain Whiteoak lifted Ernest into the wagonette. Their mother raised her handsome face and gave each of her children a hearty kiss.
“Whatever comes your way,” she said, “accept it with the gracious calm shown by me.” She said to the driver, “Patsy Joe, if you let that pony wander into the ditch and overturn the wagonette, as you did once before, I’ll be the death of you.”
The wagonette moved swiftly away. Nero, the great black Newfoundland dog, bounded alongside. Summer sunshine found its way through the densest trees and glittered on the rump of the piebald cob whose hooves made only a soft thud on the sandy loam of the road.
When the Busbys’ rambling frame farmhouse appeared, Augusta said to Ernest, “Not a word now about blackamoors. Remember.”
“Blackamoors, my eye!” said Ernest. There was no time to reprimand him. They all clambered out.
Lucy Sinclair remarked to her husband:
“That little fellow could be a perfect pest but so far he’s rather sweet.”
“Certainly he’s very pretty,” said Curtis Sinclair.
Both turned their weary eyes on little Philip Whiteoak who was struggling to build a house of toy bricks on the grass nearby. It was as much as he could do to place one brick on top of another but he heaped them with commanding concentration and pouted his baby lips in resolve.
“He favours his papa,” said Lucy Sinclair.
“A typical Englishman.” Her husband spoke half-admiringly, half in resentment. “A stubborn, self-opinionated type.”
“These people,” said she, “are our friends; it’s heaven to be here.”
“They are generosity itself,” he agreed. “Whiteoak said to me this morning — ‘You are to consider this your home — you and Mrs. Sinclair and your servants — till the war is over.’”
She took out a lace handkerchief and wiped her eyes. “What will be left to us?” she exclaimed with a sob.
The tiny boy left his building bricks and came to her. He patted her on the knee. “Poor lady,” he said. “Don’t cry.”
She stroked his blond curls. “You little darling,” she said, and added, “No, I won’t cry. I’ll be brave to please you.”
Her husband laid his hand on her other knee. It was a singularly handsome hand. Always had she admired the thumb in particular. It was almost as long as a finger and perfectly rounded, the nail showing a half-moon. Her eyes moved from his hand to his pale elegant profile, and from his profile to his strong thickset body, with the pronounced hump on the back. He was a hunchback, and because of this affliction had not been able to remain in the South and fight for his country but had come to Canada with his delicate wife, hoping that he might do something to influence the fortunes of the South. In any case it was necessary to get Lucy out of the country. He was now impoverished yet still thought of himself as an independent Southern planter.
Shortly before the Civil War the Sinclairs had met the Whiteoaks in England where Philip and Adeline were on holiday. The meeting had quickly blossomed into friendship. Both couples were fascinated by the differences in the others — the Sinclairs typically Carolinian, the Whiteoaks English and Irish. The Whiteoaks had invited the Sinclairs to visit them in Canada but it was only now, and in such tragic circumstances, that the visit was paid.
They had arrived three days before. Everything to the Sinclairs was so strange, so Northern, yet so friendly, the Whiteoak family so healthy, so amiable. The days were warm but the nights cool. They slept in a great four-poster and under them a feather bed. They felt far removed from the ruin of their own home, from all that was familiar to them. They had brought with them three slaves, for they felt incapable of living without them. One was Lucy Sinclair’s personal maid, an attractive mulatto. One was a cook, already quarrelling with the Whiteoaks’ cook. The third was a man, a sturdy young Negro.
Lucy Sinclair remarked to her husband: “At any moment we shall be summoned to tea, a meal I could very well do without. Oh, this eternal tea-drinking!”
Her husband grunted in sympathy but said, “Control your voice, Lucy. Even that child appears to be listening to you.”
The small Philip had his blue eyes fixed disapprovingly on them. He looked about to cry. Lucy bent towards him as though admiring the house of blocks he was building.
She clapped her hands and exclaimed: “Pretty! Pretty!”
“Be thankful we’re here, Lucy. Show the Whiteoaks that you appreciate their kindness. Here comes Philip. Eager, I suppose, for three cups of tea, scones, and blackberry jam. Smile, Lucy.”
She did not need to be told that. The sight of the handsome blond Philip Whiteoak was enough to bring a pleased smile to any woman’s face. He said:
“I hope you’re feeling better, Mrs. Sinclair, and ready for a hearty tea. I’m told that it’s waiting in the dining room.”
He gave her an admiring look as she rose and shook out the folds of her skirt. He averted his eyes from Curtis Sinclair’s disfigured back. At that moment a nursemaid came hurrying from the house, picked up the tiny boy, who gave a cry of protest, and carried him indoors.
They found Adeline Whiteoak and her three older children standing about the tea table: Augusta, with long black curls and a heavy fringe of hair over her high forehead — a reserved child, just nicely into her teens; Nicholas, next in age, an eager boy, with beautiful dark eyes and wavy hair. He looked fearless and proud, even bold, but was well-mannered. The blue-eyed, fair-haired Ernest was two years younger. Adeline appeared almost consciously to make a picturesque group with her children.
“My brood,” she said, “all but the baby. They have been spending a few days with friends. I thought it a good idea, while you settled in, for I knew you must be very tired.”
The Sinclairs greeted the three children with formal courtesy, most flattering to them. Nicholas drew himself up and looked manly. Ernest gave a pleased smile. Augusta, with downcast eyes, wore an expression of uncertainty. She could not decide whether or not she would like these slave owners. Certainly they were the guests of her papa, but in the house where she had been visiting she had heard things said against them. How beautiful the lady was and how elegantly dressed! Even though Augusta’s eyes were downcast, she was conscious of all this.
“Thank God,” exclaimed Lucy Sinclair, “I have no children to inherit the tragedy of our lives! That would be beyond bearing.”
Her husband, to relieve the tension caused by her emotion, remarked: “I suppose all your children were born here at Jalna.”
“No, indeed,” said Philip. “Our daughter was born in India where my regiment was stationed. I sold my commission. We sailed to England and Ireland to visit our people and from there sailed for Canada.”
It was not in Adeline Whiteoak’s nature to be outdone in an exhibition of feeling. Now, the picture of a tragedy queen, she recalled that voyage.
“What a heartbreaking time it was!” she cried. “The goodbyes to my family in Ireland. We knew we might never see them again. There were my father and mother mourning — all my dear brothers. And then a terrible voyage. My Indian ayah died and we buried her at sea.”
Here Philip broke in to say, “And I had the baby to dandle! That one,” and he pointed to Augusta whose head drooped in shame. He went on, “This boy Nicholas was born in Quebec. Ernest was the first Whiteoak to be born in this house.” He put his arm about the little boy’s shoulders and Ernest looked proudly about the table at which all were now seating themselves.
Adeline poured tea and Lucy Sinclair remarked, “I’ve been admiring those handsome portraits of you and Captain Whiteoak.”
“In his Hussars’ uniform,” said Adeline. “We had them done just before we sailed for Canada.”
“In Ireland?” asked Lucy Sinclair.
Adeline nodded, avoiding Philip’s eyes, but he said firmly, “No. They were painted in London by a very fashionable artist. Do you think they are good likenesses?”
Both the Sinclairs found the likenesses perfect. They gazed at them in admiration, then Lucy Sinclair said, “It breaks my heart to think what has probably happened to the portraits, going back for four generations, in my old home.”
“You must not feel discouraged,” said Philip, with his strong, comforting glance. “Things will take a turn for the better.”
They were now seated at the table. Nicholas said suddenly, addressing the Sinclairs, “In the house where my brother and sister and I have been visiting, they think Mr. Lincoln is a splendid man.”
“Do they indeed?” Curtis Sinclair said tranquilly.
“One of their sons is fighting with the Yankees,” continued Nicholas. “They pray for him and Mr. Lincoln. Do you think that is wrong?”
“Nobody wants to hear your voice,” said Philip sternly. “Eat your bread and butter.”
Little Ernest spoke up. “Our friend Mr. Busby says Lincoln is a hero.”
“One word more from either of you,” said their father, “and you go.”
The small boys subsided but appeared less crushed under the rebuke than did their sister.
“I hear,” said Adeline Whiteoak, “that the Lincolns know nothing of good manners.”
“Neither they nor their sons,” said Mrs. Sinclair. “They are an uncouth quartet.”
“Manners maketh man,” spoke up little Ernest. “That’s in my copy book.”
“Children,” said their mother, “you may be excused.”
The three rose, each gave a little bow to the grownups and sedately left the room. Once outdoors they danced across the lawn in their excitement. It was so unusual to have visitors, especially visitors from America.
“They’re having a civil war,” said Nicholas.
“Does that mean they’re fighting to be civilized?” asked little Ernest.
Augusta put an arm about him. “No, little silly,” she said. “They are very elegant and well-mannered, Mr. and Mrs. Sinclair, I mean. But the Yankees won’t let them keep their slaves in peace. So they are at war.”
“There goes the man slave now,” said Nicholas. “I’m going to speak to him.”
“No, no,” begged Augusta. “He might not like it.”
He put aside her restraining hand. Gussie and Ernest remained aloof but Nicholas marched straight to the Negro.
“You like being in Canada?” he asked.
“Yaas, suh, it’s fine here,” said the man, his inscrutable eyes looking toward the treetops.
“Do you like to get away from the war?”
“Yaas, suh, it’s good to get away from the war,” answered the man.
Ernest had followed his brother. Now clinging to his arm he asked, in a small voice, “Did you like being a slave?”
“Yaas, suh, it was fine.”
“But you’re free, now that you’re in Canada, aren’t you?” persisted Nicholas.
“I haven’t thought about it,” said the Negro.
“What is your name?” asked Ernest.
Augusta called sternly to her brothers, “Boys! You were told not to ask questions. You’ll get into trouble with Mamma. Do leave off and come for a walk.”
The two boys came reluctantly. They saw the pretty young mulatto housemaid come out of the side door and linger near the Negro.
“She’s not supposed to talk to him,” said Augusta.
“How can she help it when she’s in the same house with him?” Nicholas eyed the pair with curiosity.
“Is that flirting?” asked little Ernest.
“Wherever did you hear such talk, Ernest?” She took her small brother by the hand and led him firmly away.
Nicholas said, “I asked Mrs. Sinclair’s lady’s maid.”
“What is a lady’s maid?” interrupted Ernest.
“Little silly! A lady’s maid dresses a lady, brushes her hair, sews on her buttons. This Annabelle gives Mrs. Sinclair’s hair one hundred strokes with the brush every night. Have you noticed how her hair glistens? That’s the brushing.”
“Our mamma’s hair is red,” said Ernest. “She says she is glad none of us got it from her. Why, I wonder.”
“It’s considered a blemish,” said Augusta.
“I don’t know, but I suppose black or brown or golden are better.”
“Gussie, I heard someone say to Mamma, ‘Your beautiful hair, Mrs. Whiteoak.’”
“Who said that?”
“I think it was Mr. Wilmott.”
“What did Mamma say?” asked Nicholas.
“She said — ‘You old silly.’”
“That’s just her way,” said Nicholas. “She didn’t mean it.”
“Do you think she
it?” asked Augusta, shocked.
“Certainly. Women love compliments. When you’re grown up you’ll love them.”
“Indeed I shan’t.” She looked offended.
Two manly figures now emerged from the woods that bordered the very paths of the estate, giving it an air of primeval seclusion and grandeur. These were the figures of Elihu Busby, the neighbour in whose house the three children had been visiting. He had been born in Canada and was excessively patriotic, and proud of the fact. Compared with him his neighbours were newcomers and he expected them to look to him for guidance in the affairs of the country. One of his sons was fighting with the army of the North in the American Civil War and of this he was proud. He looked on slavery as an abomination.
The other manly figure was that of David Vaughan, another neighbour.
“I hear,” said Busby, “that you have visitors.”
“Yes,” said Augusta. “They have come for a visit because we are peaceful here.”
“Do come and meet them, Uncle David,” put in Ernest, tugging at David Vaughan’s sleeve. He was not related to the Whiteoaks but the young ones always addressed him so. “They are nice, Uncle David.”
But David Vaughan and Elihu Busby showed no inclination to meet the Southerners.
“You will see little of us while they are in your house,” said Busby. “You know what is our opinion of slavery.”
Nicholas’s eyes sparkled with mischief. He said:
“I guess they’ll be staying a long while because they’ve brought three slaves with them.”