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   Chapter 12 No.12

The Trumpeter Swan By Temple Bailey Characters: 7751

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It really was a great moon. It shone through the windows of the Bird Room at Huntersfield, wooing George out into the fragrant night. He could hear voices on the lawn-young Paine's laugh-Becky's. Once when he looked he saw them on the ridge, silhouetted against the golden sky. They were dancing, and Randy's clear whistle, piping a modern tune, came up to him, tantalizing him.

But the Judge held him. It took him nearly an hour to get through with the Bob-whites and the sandpipers, the wild turkeys, the ducks and the wild geese. And long before that time George was bored to extinction. He had little imagination. To him the Trumpeter was just a stuffed old bird. He could not picture him as blowing his trumpet beside the moon, or wearing a golden crown as in "The Seven Brothers." He had never heard of "The Seven Brothers," and nobody in the world wore crowns except kings. As for the old eagle, it is doubtful whether George had ever felt the symbolism of his presence on a silver coin, or that he had ever linked him in his heart with God.

Then, suddenly, the whole world changed. Becky appeared on the threshold.

"Grandfather," she said, "Aunt Claudia says there is lemonade on the lawn."

"In a moment, my dear."

George rose hastily. "Don't let me keep you, Judge--"

Becky advanced into the room. "Aren't birds wonderful?"

"They are," said George, seeing them wonderful for the first time.

"I always feel," she said, "as if some time they will flap their wings and fly away-on a night like this-the swans going first, and then the ducks and geese, and last of all the little birds, trailing across the moon--" Her hands fluttered to show them trailing. Becky used her hands a great deal when she talked. Aunt Claudia deplored it as indicating too little repose. The nuns, she felt, should have corrected the habit. But the nuns had loved Becky's descriptive hands, poking, emphasizing, and had let her alone.

The three of them, the Judge and Becky and Dalton, went out together. The little group which sat in the wide moonlighted space in front of the house was dwarfed by the great trees which hung in masses of black against the brilliant night. The white dresses of the women seemed touched with silver.

The lemonade was delicious, and Aunt Claudia forced herself to be gracious. Caroline Paine was gracious without an effort. She liked Dalton. Not in the same way, perhaps, that she liked Major Prime, but he was undoubtedly handsome, and of a world which wore lovely clothes and did not have to count its pennies.

Major Prime had little to say. He was content to sit there in the fragrant night and listen to the rest. A year ago he had been jolted over rough roads in an ambulance. There had been a moon and men groaning. There had seemed to him something sinister about that white night with its spectral shadows, and with the trenches of the enemy wriggling like great serpents underground. The trail of the serpent was still over the world. He had been caught but not killed. There was still poison in his fangs!

He spoke sharply, therefore, when Dalton said, "It was a great adventure for a lot of fellows who went over--"

"Don't," said the Major, and sat up. "Does it matter what took them? The thing that matters is how they came back--"

"What do you mean?"

"A thousand reasons took them over. Some of them went because they had to, some of them because they wanted to. Some of them dramatized themselves as heroes and hoped for an opportunity to demonstrate their courage. Some of them were scared stiff, but went because of their consciences, some of them wanted to fight and some of them didn't, but whatever the reason, they went. And now they are back, and it is much more important to know what they think now about war than what they thought about it when they were enlisted or drafted. If their baptis

m of fire has made them hate cruelty and injustice, if it has opened their eyes to the dangers of a dreaming idealism which refuses to see evil until evil has had its way, if it has made them swear to purge America of the things which has made Germany the slimy crawling enemy of the universe, if they have come back feeling that God is in His Heaven but that things can't be right with the world until we come to think in terms of personal as well as of national righteousness-if they have come back thus illumined, then we can concede to them their great adventure. But if they have come back to forget that democracy is on trial, that we have talked of it to other nations and do not know it ourselves, if they have come back to let injustice or ignorance rule-then they had better have died on the fields of France--"

He stopped suddenly amid a startled silence. Not a sound from any of them.

"I beg your pardon," he laughed a bit awkwardly, "I didn't mean to preach a sermon."

"Don't spoil it, please," Aunt Claudia begged brokenly; "I wish more men would speak out."

"May I say this, then, before I stop? The future of our country is in the hands of the men who fought in France. On them must descend the mantles of our great men, Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt-we must walk with these spirits if we love America--"

"Do you wonder," Randy said, under his breath to Becky, "that his men fought, and that they died for him?"

She found her little handkerchief and wiped her eyes. "He's a-perfect-darling," she whispered, and could say no more.

Dalton was for the time eclipsed. He knew it and was not at ease. He was glad when Mrs. Paine stood up. "I am sorry to tear myself away. But I must. I can't be sure that Susie has made up the morning rolls. There's a camp-meeting at Keswick, and she's lost the little mind that she usually puts on her cooking."

Randy and the Major went with her in the low carriage, with Rosalind making good time towards the home stable, and with Nellie Custis following with flapping ears.

Dalton stayed on. The Judge urged him. "It's too lovely to go in," he said; "what's your hurry?"

Aunt Claudia, who was inexpressibly weary, felt that her father was exceeding the bounds of necessary hospitality. She felt, too, that the length of Dalton's first call was inexcusable. But she did not go to bed. As long as Becky was there, she should stay to chaperon her. With a sense of martyrdom upon her, Mrs. Beaufort sat stiffly in her chair.

The Judge was talkative and brilliant, glad of a new and apparently attentive listener. Becky had little to say. She sat with her small feet set primly on the ground. Her hands were folded in her lap. Dalton was used to girls who lounged or who hung fatuously on his words, as if they had set themselves to please him.

But Becky had no arts. She was frank and unaffected, and apparently not unconscious of Dalton's charms. The whole thing was, he felt, going to be rather stimulating.

When at last he left them, he asked the Judge if he might come again. "I'd like to look at those birds by daylight."

Becky, giving him her hand, hoped that he might come. She had been all the evening in a sort of waking dream. Even when Dalton had been silent, she had been intensely aware of his presence, and when he had talked, he had seemed to speak to her alone, although his words were for others.

"I saw you dancing," he said, before he dropped her hand.

"Oh, did you?"

"Yes."

Back of the house the dogs barked.

"Will you dance some time with me?"

"Oh, could I?"

"Why not?"

A moment later he was gone. The light of his motor flashed down the hills like a falling star.

"I wonder what made the dogs bark," the Judge said as they went in.

"They probably thought it was morning," was Mrs. Beaufort's retort, as she preceded Becky up the stairs.

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