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   Chapter 11 No.11

The Trumpeter Swan By Temple Bailey Characters: 4417

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Dalton found them all at dinner when he reached Huntersfield. He was not in the least prepared for the scene which met his eyes-shining mahogany, old silver and Sheffield, tall white candles, Calvin in a snowy jacket, Mrs. Beaufort and Mrs. Paine in low-necked gowns, the Judge and Randy in dinner-coats somewhat the worse for wear, Becky in thin, delicate blue, with a string of pearls which seemed to George an excellent imitation of the real thing.

He had thought that the trail of Mrs. Paine's boarding-house might be over it all. He had known boarding-houses as a boy, before his father made his money. There had been basement dining-rooms, catsup bottles, and people passing everything to everybody else!

"I'm afraid I'm early," he said in his quick voice.

"Not a bit. Calvin, place a chair for Mr. Dalton."

There were fruit and nuts and raisins in a great silver epergne, with fat cupids making love among garlands. There was coffee in Sevres cups.

Back among the shadows twinkled a priceless mirror; shutting off Calvin's serving table was a painted screen worth its weight in gold. It was a far cry from the catsup bottles and squalid service of George's early days. The Bannisters of Huntersfield wore their poverty like a plume!

The Judge carried Dalton off presently to the Bird Room. George went with reluctance. This was not what he had come for. Becky, slim and small, with her hair peaked up to a topknot, Becky in pale blue, Becky as fair as her string of imitation pearls, Becky in the golden haze of the softly illumined room, Becky, Becky Bannister-the name chimed in his ears.

Dalton had had some difficulty in getting away from Hamilton Hill.

"It's my last night," Madge had said; "shall we go out in the garden and watch the moon rise?"

"Sorry," George had told her, "but I've promised Flora to take a fourth hand at bridge."

"And after that?" asked Madge softly.

"What do you mean?"

"Who is the new-little girl?"

It was useless to pretend. "She's a beauty, rather, isn't she?"

"Oh, Georgie-Porgie, I wish you wouldn't."

"Wouldn't what?"

"Kiss the girls-and make them-cry--"

"You've never cried--"

She laughed at that. "If I haven'

t it is because I know that afterwards you always-run away."

He admitted it. "One can't marry them all."

"I wonder if you are ever serious," she told him, her chin in her hand.

"I am always serious. That's what makes it interesting--"

"But the poor little-hearts?"

"Some one has to teach them," said George, "that it's a pretty game--"

"Will it be always a game-to you-Georgie?"

"Who knows?" he said. "So far I've held trumps--"

"Your conceit is colossal, but somehow you seem to get away with it." She smiled and stood, up. "I'm going to bed early. I have been losing my beauty sleep lately, Georgie."

He chose to be gallant. "You are not losing your beauty, if that's what you mean."

Her dinner gown was of the same shade of mauve that she had worn in the afternoon. But it was of a material so sheer that the gold of her skin seemed to shine through.

"Good-night, Golden Girl," said Dalton, and kissed the tips of her fingers as she stood on the stairs. Then he went off to join the others.

Madge did not go to bed. She went out alone and watched the moon rise. Oscar Waterman's house was on a hill which gave a view of the whole valley. Gradually under the moon the houses of Charlottesville showed the outlines of the University, and far beyond the shadowy sweep of the Blue Ridge. What a world it had been in the old days-great men had ridden over these red roads in swaying carriages, Jefferson, Lafayette, Washington himself.

If she could only meet men like that. Men to whom life was more than a game-a carnival. From the stone bench where she sat she had a view through the long French windows of the three tables of bridge-there were slender, restless girls, eager, elegant youths. "Perhaps they are no worse than those who lived here before them," Madge's sense of justice told her. "But isn't there something better?"

From her window later, she saw Dalton's car flash out into the road. The light wound down and down, and appeared at last upon the highway. It was not the first time that George had played the game with another girl. But he had always come back to her. She had often wondered why she let him come. "Why do I let him?" she asked the moon.

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