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   Chapter 1 No.1

The Trumpeter Swan By Temple Bailey Characters: 6829

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It had rained all night, one of the summer rains that, beginning in a thunder-storm in Washington, had continued in a steaming drizzle until morning.

There were only four passengers in the sleeper, men all of them-two in adjoining sections in the middle of the car, a third in the drawing-room, a fourth an intermittent occupant of a berth at the end. They had gone to bed unaware of the estate or circumstance of their fellow-travellers, and had waked to find the train delayed by washouts, and side-tracked until more could be learned of the condition of the road.

The man in the drawing-room shone, in the few glimpses that the others had of him, with an effulgence which was dazzling. His valet, the intermittent sleeper in the end berth, was a smug little soul, with a small nose which pointed to the stars. When the door of the compartment opened to admit breakfast there was the radiance of a brocade dressing-gown, the shine of a sleek head, the staccato of an imperious voice.

Randy Paine, long and lank, in faded khaki, rose, leaned over the seat of the section in front of him and drawled, "It is not raining rain to me-it's raining roses-down--?"

A pleasant laugh, and a deep voice, "Come around here and talk to me. You're a Virginian, aren't you?"

"By the grace of God and the discrimination of my ancestors," young Randolph, as he dropped into the seat opposite the man with the deep voice, saluted the dead and gone Paines.

"Then you know this part of it?"

"I was born here. In this county. It is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh," there was a break in the boy's voice which robbed the words of grandiloquence.

"Hum-you love it? Yes? And I am greedy to get away. I want wider spaces--"

"California?"

"Yes. Haven't seen it for three years. I thought when the war was over I might. But I've got to be near Washington, it seems. The heat drove me out, and somebody told me it would be cool in these hills--"

"It is, at night. By day we're not strenuous."

"I like to be strenuous. I hate inaction."

He moved restlessly. There was a crutch by his side. Young Paine noticed it for the first time. "I hate it."

He had a strong frame, broad shoulders and thin hips. One placed him immediately as a man of great physical force. Yet there was the crutch. Randy had seen other men, broad-shouldered, thin-hipped, who had come to worse than crutches. He did not want to think of them. He had escaped without a scratch. He did not believe that he had lacked courage, and there was a decoration to prove that he had not. But when he thought of those other men, he had no sense of his own valor. He had given so little and they had given so much.

Yet it was not a thing to speak of. He struck, therefore, a note to which he knew the other might respond.

"If you haven't been here before, you'll like the old places."

"I am going to one of them."

"Which?"

"King's Crest."

A moment's silence. Then, "That's my home. I have lived there all my life."

The lame man gave him a sharp glance. "I heard of it in Washington-delightful atmosphere-and all that--"

"You are going as a-paying guest?"

"Yes."

A deep flush stained the younger man's face. Suddenly he broke out. "If you knew how rotten it seems to me to have my mother keeping-boarders--"

"My dear fellow, I hope you don't think it is going to be rotten to have me?"

"No. But ther

e are other people. And I didn't know until I came back from France-- She had to tell me when she knew I was coming."

"She had been doing it all the time you were away?"

"Yes. Before I went we had mortgaged things to help me through the University. I should have finished in a year if I hadn't enlisted. And Mother insisted there was enough for her. But there wasn't with the interest and everything-and she wouldn't sell an acre. I shan't let her keep on--"

"Are you going to turn me out?"

His smile was irresistible. Randy smiled back. "I suppose you think I'm a fool--?"

"Yes. For being ashamed of it."

Randy's head went up. "I'm not ashamed of the boarding-house. I am ashamed to have my mother work."

"So," said the lame man, softly, "that's it? And your name is Paine?"

"Randolph Paine of King's Crest. There have been a lot of us-and not a piker in the lot."

"I am Mark Prime."

"Major Prime of the 135th?"

The other nodded. "The wonderful 135th-God, what men they were--" his eyes shone.

Randy made his little gesture of salute. "They were that. I don't wonder you are proud of them."

"It was worth all the rest," the Major said, "to have known my men."

He looked out of the window at the drizzle of rain. "How quiet the world seems after it all--"

Then like the snap of bullets came the staccato voice through the open door of the compartment.

"Find out why we are stopping in this beastly hole, Kemp, and get me something cold to drink."

Kemp, sailing down the aisle, like a Lilliputian drum major, tripped over Randy's foot.

"Beg pardon, sir," he said, and sailed on.

Randy looked after him. "'His Master's voice--'"

"And to think," Prime remarked, "that the coldest thing he can get on this train is ginger ale."

Kemp, coming back with a golden bottle, with cracked ice in a tall glass, with a crisp curl of lemon peel, ready for an innocuous libation, brought his nose down from the heights to look for the foot, found that it no longer barred the way, and marched on to hidden music.

"Leave the door open, leave it open," snapped the voice, "isn't there an electric fan? Well, put it on, put it on--"

"He drinks nectar and complains to the gods," said the Major softly, "why can't we, too, drink?"

They had theirs on a table which the porter set between them. The train moved on before they had finished. "We'll be in Charlottesville in less than an hour," the conductor announced.

"Is that where we get off, Paine?"

"One mile beyond. Are they going to meet you?"

"I'll get a station wagon."

Young Paine grinned. "There aren't any. But if Mother knows you're coming she'll send down. And anyhow she expects me."

"After a year in France-it will be a warm welcome--"

"A wet one, but I love the rain, and the red mud, every blooming inch of it."

"Of course you do. Just as I love the dust of the desert."

They spoke, each of them, with a sort of tense calmness. One doesn't confess to a lump in one's throat.

The little man, Kemp, was brushing things in the aisle. He was hot but unconquered. Having laid out the belongings of the man he served, he took a sudden recess, and came back with a fresh collar, a wet but faultless pompadour, and a suspicion of powder on his small nose.

"All right, sir, we'll be there in fifteen minutes, sir," they heard him say, as he was swallowed up by the yawning door.

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