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   Chapter 7 No.7

The Trumpeter Swan By Temple Bailey Characters: 8609

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Year after year the Bannisters of Huntersfield had eaten their Horse Show luncheon under a clump of old oaks beneath which the horses now stopped. The big trees were dropping golden leaves in the dryness. From the rise of the hill one looked down on the grandstand and the crowd as from the seats of an amphitheater.

Judge Bannister remembered when the women of the crowd had worn hoops and waterfalls. Aunt Claudia's memory went back to bustles and bonnets. There were deeper memories, too, than of clothes-of old friends and young faces-there was always a moment of pensive retrospect when the Bannisters stopped under the old oak on the hill.

Randolph Paine, his mother and Major Prime were to join them at luncheon. Separate plans had been made by the boarders who had packed themselves into various cars and carriages, and had their own boxes and baskets.

"Caroline Paine is always late," the Judge said with some impatience; "if we don't eat on time, we shall have to hurry. I have never hurried in my life and I don't want to begin now."

Claudia Beaufort was accustomed to impatience in men, and she was inflexible as a hostess. "Well, of course, we couldn't begin without them, could we?" she asked. "There they come now, Father. William, you'd better help Major Prime."

Randy was driving the fat mare, Rosalind. Nellie Custis, Randolph's wiry hound, loped along with flapping ears in the rear of the low-seated carriage. Major Prime was on the back seat with Mrs. Paine.

"My dear Judge," he said, as the old gentleman came to the side of the carriage, "I can't tell you how honored I am to be included in your party. This is about the best thing that has happened to me in a long time."

"I wanted you to get the old atmosphere. You can't get it at the Country Club. We Bannisters have lunched up here for sixty years-older than you are, eh?"

"Twenty years--"

"We used to call it the races, but now they tack on the Horse Show. It was different, of course, when all the old places were owned by the old families. But they can't change the oaks and the sweep of the hills, and the mettle of the horses, thank God."

"I am sorry I was late," said Caroline Paine, as they settled themselves under the trees, "but I went to town to have my hair waved."

"I wish you wouldn't, Caroline," Mrs. Beaufort told her, "your hair is nice enough without it."

Caroline Paine took off her hat. "I couldn't get it up to look like this, could I?"

The Judge surveyed the undulations critically. "Caroline," he said, "you are too pretty to need it."

"I want to keep young for Randolph's sake," Mrs. Paine told him, "then he'll like me better than any other girl."

"You needn't think you have to get your hair curled to make me love you," said her tall son; "you are ducky enough as you are."

Major Prime, delighting in their lack of self-consciousness, made a diplomatic contribution. "Why quarrel with such a charming coiffure?"

Mrs. Paine smiled at him, comfortably. "I feel much better," she said; "they are always trying to hold me back."

She was a woman of ample proportions and of leisurely habit. Life had of late hurried her a bit, but she still gave the effect of restful calm. She was of the same generation as Aunt Claudia, and a widow. But she wore her widowhood with a difference. She had on to-day a purple hat. Her hair was white, her dress was white, and her shoes. She was prettier than Aunt Claudia but she lacked her distinction of manner and of carriage.

"They always want to hold me back when I try to be up-to-date," she repeated.

Randy threw an acorn at her. "Nobody can hold you back, Mother," he said, "when you get your mind on a thing. Aunt Claudia, what do you hear from Truxton?"

"A letter came this morning," said Mrs. Beaufort, lighting up with the thought of it. "I hadn't heard for days before that. And I was worried."

"Truxton hasn't killed himself writing letters since he went over," the Judge asserted. "Claudia, can't we have lunch?"

"William is unpacking the hamper now, Father. And I think Truxton has done very well. It isn't easy for the boys to find time."

"Randy wrote to me every week."

"Now, Mother--"

"Well, you did."

"But I'm that kind. I have to get things off my mind. Truxton isn't. A

nd I'll bet when Aunt Claudia does get his letters that they are worth reading."

Mrs. Beaufort nodded. "They are lovely letters. I have the last one with me; would you like to hear it?"

"Not before lunch, Claudia," the Judge urged.

"I will read it while the rest of you eat." There were red spots in Mrs. Beaufort's cheeks. She adored her son. She could not understand her father's critical attitude. Had she searched for motives, however, she might have found them in the Judge's jealousy.

It was while she was reading Truxton's letter that the Flippins came by-Mr. Flippin and his wife, Mary, and little Fidelity. A slender mulatto woman followed with a basket.

The Flippins were one of the "second families." Between them and the Paines of King's Crest and the Bannisters of Huntersfield stretched a deep chasm of social prejudice. Three generations of Flippins had been small farmers on rented lands. They had no coats-of-arms or family trees. They were never asked to dine with the Paines or Bannisters, but there had been always an interchange of small hospitalities, and much neighborliness, and as children Mary Flippin, Randy and Becky and Truxton had played together and had been great friends.

So it was now as they stopped to speak to the Judge's party that Mrs. Beaufort said graciously, "I am reading a letter from Truxton. Would you like to hear it?"

Mary, speaking with a sort of tense eagerness, said, "Yes."

So the Flippins sat down, and Mrs. Beaufort read in her pleasant voice the letter from France.

Randy, lying on his back under the old oak, listened. Truxton gave a joyous diary of the days-little details of the towns through which he passed, of the houses where he was billeted, jokes of the men, of the food they ate, of his hope of coming home.

"He seems very happy," said Mrs. Beaufort, as she finished.

"He is and he isn't--"

"You might make yourself a little clearer, Randolph," said the Judge.

"He is happy because France in summer is a pleasant sort of Paradise-with the cabbages stuck up on the brown hillsides like rosettes-and the minnows flashing in the little brooks and the old mills turning-and he isn't happy-because he is homesick."

Randy raised himself on his elbow and smiled at his listening audience-and as he smiled he was aware of a change in Mary Flippin. The brooding look was gone. She was leaning forward, lips parted-"Then you think that he is-homesick?"

"I don't think. I know. Why, over there, my bones actually ached for Virginia."

The Judge raised his coffee cup. "Virginia, God bless her," he murmured, and drank it down!

The Flippins moved on presently-the slender mulatto trailing after them.

"If the Flippins don't send that Daisy back to Washington," Mrs. Paine remarked, "she'll spoil all the negroes on the place."

Mrs. Beaufort agreed, "I don't know what we are coming to. Did you see her high heels and tight skirt?"

"Once upon a time," the Judge declaimed, "black wenches like that wore red handkerchiefs on their heads and went barefoot. But the world moves, and some day when we have white servants wished on us, we'll pray to God to send our black ones back."

Calvin was passing things expertly. Randy smiled at Becky as he filled her plate.

"Hungry?"

"Ravenous."

"You don't look it."

"Don't I?"

"No. You're not a bread and butter sort of person."

"What kind am I?"

"Sugar and spice and everything nice."

"Did you learn to say such things in France?"

"Haven't I always said them?"

"Not in quite the same way. You've grown up, Randy. You seem years older."

"Do you like me-older?"

"Of course." There was warmth in her voice but no coquetry. "What a silly thing to ask, Randy."

Calvin, having served the lunch, ate his own particular feast of chicken backs and necks under the surrey from a pasteboard box cover. Having thus separated himself as it were from those he served, he was at his ease. He knew his place and was happy in it.

Mary Flippin also knew her place. But she was not happy. She sat higher up on the hill with her child asleep in her arms, and looked down on the Judge's party. Except for an accident of birth, she might be sitting now among them. Would she ever sit among them? Would her little daughter, Fidelity?

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