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   Chapter 10 No.10

The Trumpeter Swan By Temple Bailey Characters: 7368

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The Bird Room at Judge Bannister's was back of the library. It was a big room lined with glass cases. There hung about it always the faint odor of preservatives. The Trumpeter Swan had a case to himself over the mantel. He had been rather stiffly posed on a bed of artificial moss, but nothing could spoil the beauty of him-the white of his plumage, the elegance of his lines. He was one of a dying race-the descendants of the men who had once killed for food had killed later to gratify the vanity of women who must have swansdown to set off their beauty, puffs to powder their noses. No more did great flocks wing an exalted flight, high in the heavens, or rest like a blanket of snow on river banks. The old kings were dead-the glassy eyes of the Trumpeter looked out upon a world which knew his kind no more.

In the other cases were the little birds and big ones-ducks, swimming on crystal pools, canvas-backs and redheads, mallards and teal; Bob-whites, single and in coveys; sandpipers, tip-ups and peeps, those little ghosts of the seashore, shadows on the sand; there were sora and other rails, robins and blackbirds, larks and sparrows, wild turkeys and wild geese, all the toll which the hunter takes from field and stream and forest.

It was in a sense a tragic room, but it had never seemed that to Becky. She came of a race of men who had hunted from instinct but with a sense of honor. The Judge and those of his kind hated wanton killing. Their guns would never have swept away the feathered tribes of tree and sky. It was the trappers and the pot-hunters who had done that. There had motored once to the Judge's mansion a man and his wife who had raged at the brutes who hunted for sport. They had worn fur coats and there had been a bird's breast on the woman's hat.

The Judge, holding on to his temper, had exploded finally. "If you were consistent," he had flung at them, "you would not be decked in the bodies of birds and beasts."

Becky loved the birds in the glass cases, the peeps and the tip-ups, the old owl who did not belong among the game birds, but who, with the great eagle with the outstretched wings, had been admitted because they had been shot within the environs of the estate. She loved the little nests of tinted eggs, the ducks on the crystal pools.

But most of all she loved the Trumpeter. Years ago the Judge had told her of the wild swans who flew so high that no eye could see them. Yet the sound of their trumpets might be heard. It was like the fairy tale of "The Seven Brothers," who were princes, and who were turned into swans and wore gold crowns on their heads. She was prepared to believe anything of the Trumpeter. She had often tiptoed down in the night, expecting to see his case empty, and to hear his trumpet sounding high up near the moon.

There was a moon to-night. Dinner was always late at Huntersfield. In the old days three o'clock had been the fashionable hour for dining in the county, with a hot supper at eight. Aunt Claudia, keeping up with the times, had decided that instead of dining and supping, they must lunch and dine. The Judge had agreed, stipulating that there should be no change in the evening hour. "Serve it in courses, if you like, and call it dinner. But don't have it before candle-light."

So the moon was up when Becky came down in her blue dress. She had not expected to wear the blue. In spite of the fact that Randy and his mother and Major Prime had come back with them for dinner, she had planned to wear her old white, which had been washed and laid out on the bed by Mandy. But the blue was more becoming, and the man with the Apollo head had eyes to see.

She came into

the Bird Room with a candle in her hand. There was a lamp high up, but she could not reach it, so she always carried a candle. She set it down on the case where the Bob-whites were cuddled in brown groups. She whistled a note, and listened to catch the answer. It had been a trick of hers as a child, and she had heard them whistle in response. She had been so sure that she heard them-a far-off silvery call--

Well, why not? Might not their little souls be fluttering close? "You darlings," she said aloud.

Randy, arriving at that moment on the threshold, heard her. "You are playing the old game," he said.

"Oh, yes,", she caught her breath, "Do you remember?"

He came into the room. "I remembered a thousand times when I was in France. I thought of this room and of the Trumpeter Swan, and of how you and I used to listen on still nights and think we heard him. There was one night after an awful day-with a moon like this over the battlefield, and across the moon came a black, thin streak-and a bugle sounded-far away. I was half asleep, and I said, 'Becky, there's the swan,' and the fellow next to me poked his elbow in my ribs, and said, 'You're dreaming.' But I wasn't-quite, for the thin black streak was a Zeppelin--"

She came up close to him and laid her hand on his arm. He towered above her. "Randy," she asked, "was the war very dreadful?"

"Yes," he said, "it was. More dreadful than you people at home can ever grasp. But I want you to know this, Becky, that there isn't one of us who wouldn't go through it again in the same cause."

There was no swagger in his statement, just simple earnestness. The room was very still for a moment.

Then Becky said, "Well, it's awfully nice to have you home again," and Randy, looking down at the little hand on his arm, had to hold on to himself not to put his own over it.

But she was too dear and precious--! So he just said, gently, "And I'm glad to be at home, my dear," and they walked to the window together, and stood looking out at the moon. Behind them the old eagle watched with outstretched wings, the great free bird which we stamp on American silver, backed with "In God We Trust." It is not a bad combination, and things in this country might, perhaps, have been less chaotic if we had taught new-comers to link love of God with love of liberty.

"Mr. Dalton is coming to see the birds," said Becky, and in a moment she had spoiled everything for Randy.

"Is that why you put on your blue dress?"

She was honest. "I am not sure. Perhaps."

"Yet you thought the old white one was good enough for me."

"Well, don't you like me just as well in my old white as in this?"

"Yes, of course."

"Well, then," Becky was triumphant, "why should I bother to change for you, Randy, when you like me just as well in anything?"

The argument was unanswerable, but Randy was not satisfied. "It is a mistake," he said, "not to be as like to old friends as new ones."

"But I am nice. You said so yourself this afternoon. That I was sugar and spice and everything-nice--"

Ha laughed. "You are, of course. And I didn't come all the way from France to quarrel with you--"

"We've always quarreled, Randy."

"I wonder why?"

"Sister Loretto says that people only argue when they like each other. Otherwise they wouldn't want to convince."

"Do you quarrel with Sister Loretto?"

"Of course not. Nuns don't. But she writes notes when she doesn't agree with me-little sermons-and pins them on my pillow. She's a great dear. She hates to have me leave the school. She has the feeling that the world is a dark forest, and that I am Red Riding Hood, and that the Wolf will get me."

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