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   Chapter 15 No.15

The Trumpeter Swan By Temple Bailey Characters: 9371

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Becky went to the train with her aunt. George Dalton drove Madge down and passed the old surrey on the way.

Later Madge met Mrs. Beaufort and Becky on the station platform, and it was when Dalton settled her in her chair in the train that she said, "She's a darling. Keep her on a pedestal, Georgie--"

"You're a good sport," he told her; "you know you'd hate it if I did."

"I shouldn't. I'd like to think of you on your knees--"

It was time for him to leave her. She gave him her hand. "Until we meet again, Georgie."

Her eyes were cool and smiling. Yet later as she looked out on the flying hills, there was trouble in them. There had been a time when Dalton had seemed to square with her girlish dreams.

And now, there was no one to warn this other girl with dreams in her eyes. George was not a vulture, he was simply a marauding bee--!

Becky was already in the surrey when George came back, and Calvin was gathering up his reins.

"Oh, look here, I wish you'd let me drive you up, Miss Bannister," George said, sparkling; "there's no reason, is there, why you must ride alone?"

"Oh, no."

"Then you will?"

Her hesitation was slight. "I should like it."

"And can't we drive about a bit? You'll show me the old places? It is such a perfect day. I hope you haven't anything else to do."

She had not. "I'll go with Mr. Dalton, Calvin."

Calvin, who had watched over more than one generation of Bannister girls, and knew what was expected of them, made a worried protest.

"Hit's gwine rain, Miss Becky."

Dalton dismissed him with a wave of the hand. "I won't let her get wet," he lifted Becky from the surrey and walked with her to his car.

Kemp, who had come down in the house truck with Madge's trunks, stood stiff and straight by the door. Being off with Miss MacVeigh he was on with Miss Bannister. Girls might come and girls might go in his master's life, but Kemp had an air of going on forever.

When he had seated Becky, Dalton stepped back and gave hurried instructions.

"At four, Kemp," he said, "or if you are later, wait until we come."

"Very well, sir." Kemp stood statuesquely at attention until the car whirled on. Then he sat down on the station platform, and talked to the agent. He was no longer a servant but a man.

As the big car whirled up the hill, Becky, looking out upon the familiar landscape, saw it with new eyes. There was a light upon it which had never been for her on sea or land. She had not believed that in all the world there could be such singing, blossoming radiance.

They drove through the old mill town and the stream was bright under the willows. They stopped on the bridge for a moment to view the shining bend.

"There are old chimneys under the vines," Becky said; "doesn't it seem dreadful to think of all those dead houses--"

George gave a quick turn. "Why think of them? You were not made to think of dead houses, you were made to live."

On and on they went, up the hills and down into the valleys, between rail fences which were a riot of honeysuckle, and with the roads in places rough. Under their wheels, with the fields gold with stubble, the sky a faint blue, with that thick look on the horizon.

George talked a great deal about himself. Perhaps if he had listened instead to Becky he might have learned things which would have surprised him. But he really had very interesting things to tell, and Becky was content to sit in silence and watch his hands on the wheel. They were small hands, and for some tastes a bit too plump and well-kept, but Becky found no fault with them. She felt that she could sit there forever, and watch his hands and listen to his clear quick voice.

At last George glanced at the little clock which hung in front of him. "Look here," he said, "I told Kemp to have tea for us at a place which I found once when I walked in the woods. A sort of summer house which looks towards Monticello. Do you know it?"

"Yes. Pavilion Hill. It's on Randy Paine's plantation-King's Crest."

"Then you've been there?"

"A thousand times with Randy."

"I thought it was Waterman's. We shan't be jailed as trespassers, shall we?"

"No. But how could you tell your man to have tea for us when you didn't know that I'd be-willing?"

"But I did-know--"

A little silence, then "How?"

"Because when I put my mind on a thing I usually get my way."

She sat very still. He bent down to her. "You're not angry?"

"No." Her cheeks were flaming. She was thrilled by his masterfulness. No man had ever spoken to her like that. She was, indeed, having her first experience of ardent, impassioned pursuit. So might young Juliet have given

ear to Romeo. And if Romeo had been a Georgie-Porgie, then alas, poor Juliet!

The Pavilion had been built a hundred and fifty years before of cedar logs. There had been a time when Thomas Jefferson had walked over to drink not tea, but something stronger with dead and gone Paines. Its four sides were open, but the vines formed a curtain which gave within a soft gloom. They approached it from the east side, getting out of their car and climbing the hill from the roadside. They found Kemp with everything ready. The kettle was boiling, and the tea measured into the Canton teapot which stood in its basket--

"Aren't you glad you came?" Dalton asked. "Kemp, when you've poured the tea, you can look after the car."

The wind, rising, tore the dry leaves from the trees. Kemp, exiled, as it were, from the Pavilion, sat in the big car and watched the gathering blackness. Finally he got out and put up the curtains. Everything would be ready when Dalton came. He knew better, however, than to warn his master. George was apt to be sharp when his plans were spoiled.

And now throughout the wooded slope there was the restless movement of nature disturbed in the midst of peaceful dreaming. The trees bent and whispered. The birds, flying low, called sharp warnings. A small dog, spurning the leaves, as she followed a path up the west side of the hill, stopped suddenly and looked back at the man who followed her.

"We'll make the Pavilion if we can, old girl," he told her, and as if she understood, she went up and up in a straight line, disregarding the temptation of side tours into bush and bramble.

George and Becky had finished their tea. There had been some rather delectable sweet biscuit which Kemp kept on hand for such occasions, and there was a small round box of glacé nuts, which George had insisted that Becky must keep. The box was of blue silk set off by gold lace and small pink roses.

"Blue is your color," George had said as he presented it.

"That's what Randy says."

"You are always talking of Randy."

She looked her surprise. "I've always known him."

"Is he in love with you?"

She set down the box and looked at him. "Randy is only a boy. I am very fond of him. But we aren't either of us-silly."

She brought the last sentence out with such scorn that George had a moment of startled amaze.

Then, recovering, he said with a smile, "Is being in love silly?"

"I think it's rather sacred--"

The word threw him back upon himself. Love was, you understand, to George, a game. And, here was Becky acting as if it were a ritual.

Yet the novelty of her point of view made her seem more than ever adorable. In his heart he found himself saying, "Oh, you lovely, lovely little thing."

But he did not say it aloud. Indeed he, quite unaccountably, found himself unable to say anything, and while he hesitated, there charged up the west hill a panting dog with flapping ears. At the arched opening of the Pavilion she paused and wagged a tentative question.

"It's Nellie Custis--" Becky rose and ran towards her. "Where's your master, darling? Randy--"

In response to her call came an eerie cry-the old war cry of the Indian chiefs. Then young Paine came running up. "Becky! Here? There's going to be a storm. You better get home--"

He stopped short. Dalton was standing by the folding table.

"Hello, Paine," he said, with ease. "We're playing 'Babes in the Wood.'"

"You seem very comfortable," Randy was as stiff as a wooden tobacco sign.

"We are," Becky said. "Mr. Dalton waved his wand like the Arabian nights--"

"My man did it," said Dalton; "he's down there in the car."

Randy felt a sense of surging rage. The Pavilion was his. It was old and vine-covered, and hallowed by a thousand memories. And here was Dalton trespassing with his tables and chairs and his Canton teapot. What right had George Dalton to bring a Canton teapot on another man's acres?

Becky was pouring tea for him. "Two lumps, Randy?"

"I don't want any tea," he said ungraciously. His eyes were appraising the flame of her cheeks, the light in her eyes. What had Dalton been saying? "I don't want any tea. And there's a storm coming."

All her life Becky had been terrified in a storm. She had cowered and shivered at the first flash of lightning, at the first rush of wind, at the first roll of thunder. And now she sat serene, while the trees waved despairing arms to a furious sky, while blackness settled over the earth, while her ears were assailed by the noise of a thousand guns.

What had come over her? More than anything else, the thing that struck against Randy's heart was this lack of fear in Becky!

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