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Exclusive Excerpt from Newly Discovered Pearl Buck Novel



[An unpublished manuscript by Nobel laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Pearl S. Buck, who died in 1973, was discovered in a Texas storage last year and is being published today by Open Road Integrated Media. Buck apparently completed The Eternal Wonder shortly before she died of cancer at the age of 80. (Prolific to the end, it is estimated that Buck--best known for her 1931 bestseller, The Good Earth--wrote 100 books in her lifetime.) The Eternal Wonder tells the coming-of-age story of Randolph Colfax and his lifelong pursuit of a Chinese-American beauty named Stephanie Kung.]

Pearl.Buck.OpenRoadTHE ADDRESS WAS IN BROOKLYN and he had not yet been to Brooklyn. He disliked the subway and he liked to walk, especially in the early morning, when the air was still clean and the streets were almost empty. Only great trucks lumbered in from the coun­tryside, bearing their loads of fowl and vegetables and fruits, eggs and meat. He stopped to saunter through Wall Street, that narrow center of the city’s financial heart. He lingered to peer through the iron fence of an ancient cemetery set about an old smoke-blackened church, Fraunce’s Tavern—he knew its history, and paused to stare at its sign, its doors not yet open for the day. And reaching at last to the great Brooklyn Bridge, he stood gazing into the flowing water beneath. The ships, the barges, were on their way. He saw it all in his usual, absorbed fashion, in his habit of wonder, each sight sinking into the depths of mind and memory, and deeper still, into his subconscious, somehow, sometime to emerge when he needed it, whole or in fragment.

Thus he followed one street and another, having studied his map well before he came. He did not like to ask his way, he liked to find it and for that he learned to memorize a map visually so that he always knew where he was. Thus in time, before the sun had reached the zenith of noon, he found himself standing before an old but very clean apartment house. The street was quiet and lined with trees now beginning the first autumn coloring.

He entered the building and found an old doorman in a gray uniform, asleep in an armchair, its brocaded upholstery rich and soft.

“Would you please—,” he began.

Instantly the old man woke. “What do you want, boy?” he asked, his voice quavering with age.

“My grandfather lives here—Dr. James Harcourt.”

“Does he expect you? He don’t usually get up until afternoon.”

“Will you tell him his grandson, Randolph Colfax, is here from Ohio?”

The old man heaved himself stiffly from his chair and went to the house telephone. In a few minutes he was back.

“He says he’s still eatin’ his breakfast but you can come up. Top floor, to the right, third door. I’ll run you up. The elevator’s over here.”

BuckThe vehicle conveyed him to the top floor, and he turned to the right and knocked on the third door. There was an old-fashioned brass knocker and a small engraved card was fastened to the centerpanel of the mahogany door—JAMES HARCOURT, PHD, MD. And now the door opened and his grandfather stood before him, a white linen napkin in his hand.

“Come in, Randolph,” he said, his voice surprisingly deep and strong. “I’ve been expecting you. Your mother wrote me you were coming. Have you had your breakfast?”

“Yes, sir. I got up early and walked.”

“Then sit down and call it luncheon. I’ll have some eggs scram­bled freshly.”

He followed the tall, very thin old figure into a small dining room. The oldest man he had ever seen, wearing a spotless white jacket over black trousers, came into the room.

“This is my grandson,” his grandfather said. “And Randolph, this is my faithful manservant, Sung. He attached himself to me some years ago because I was able to—ah, do him a small favor. Now Sung takes good care of me. Eggs, Sung, scrambled, and fresh coffee and toast.”

The old man bowed deeply and went away. Still standing, he met his grandfather’s electric blue eyes.

“And why have you waited so long to come to me?” his grand­father demanded. “Sit down.”

“I really don’t know,” he answered. “I think,” he continued after a few seconds of thought, “I think I wanted to see everything—the city, the people—first for myself, so that I could always keep them, you know, inside me, as they are . . . to me, I mean. As one does with pictures, you know—laid away for what purpose I don’t know, but that’s my way of learning: first I see, then I wonder, then I know.”

His grandfather listened attentively. “Very sound,” he said. “An analytical mind—good! Well, here you are now. Where are your bags?”

“At the hotel, sir.”

“You must fetch them at once. Of course we must live together. I have plenty of extra room, especially since my wife died. I live in her room, not my own. We believed in separate rooms, but after she went on her way I moved into her room, thinking it would be easier for her to visit me then—as seems to be the case. Not that she comes often—she’s independent, always was—but when she feels the need, or understands my need, she comes quite promptly. We arranged for all that before she went.”

He listened to this in amazement and with puzzlement. Was his grandmother dead or was she not? His grandfather was still talking.

“I would send Sung with you to get your bags, Randolph, but he is afraid to go to Manhattan. Ten years ago he was wanted by the police for jumping ship. Serena—that’s my wife—and I were shopping on Fifth Avenue. I believe we were looking for a white mink stole for her Christmas gift that year, and he came dashing in, obviously escaping from someone. He couldn’t speak a word of English, but luckily I’d been in Peking for some years doing research at the great Rockefeller Hospital there. I’m a med­ical doctor as well as a demographer—and my Chinese is fluent enough that I was able to ask him what was wrong. I am entirely out of sympathy with our immigration policies toward Asians, so I told him not to be afraid, for I’d take him as my servant. I gave him my overcoat to carry and took him at once to the men’s department and bought him a decent black suit and had him put it on, and when the police came into the store, I was very angry with them for interfering with my manservant. He came home with us but he is still afraid to go to Manhattan, with which I have every sympathy, not because I am afraid, but because it is a hell hole. So leave it at once, my dear boy, and come here.”

“But Grandfather, I hadn’t planned—”

“Never plan, please. Just do the next thing that happens. You can always go your way. But it would please me to know my only grandson, even briefly.”

How could he refuse? The old gentleman was charming. Sung brought in eggs scrambled with a dash of something delicious—

“Soy sauce,” his grandfather explained.

He was always hungry; he ate heartily, drank three cups of coffee with sugar and thick, sweet cream, ate his way through a mound of buttered toast spread with English marmalade, and in an hour was on his way—“in a taxi,” his grandfather said, stuffing a bill into his coat pocket. “I’m a poor one at waiting.”

[Author photo: Courtesy of Pearl S. Buck Estate]



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