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   Chapter 16 No.16

The Trumpeter Swan By Temple Bailey Characters: 5971

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It is one thing, however, to fling a challenge to the hills, and another to live up to the high moment. Looking at it afterwards in cold blood, Randy was forced to admit that his chances of beating George Dalton in a race for Becky were small.

There seemed some slight hope, however, in the fact that Becky was a Bannister and ought to know a gentleman when she saw one.

"And Dalton's a-a bounder," said Randy to Nellie Custis.

Nellie Custis, who was as blue-blooded as any Bannister, cocked a sympathetic ear. Cocking an ear with Nellie was a weighty matter. Her ears were big and unmanageable. When she got them up, she kept them there for some time. It was a rather intriguing habit, as it gave her an air of eager attention which wooed confidence.

"He's a bounder," said Randy as if that settled it.

But it did not settle it in the least. A man with an Apollo head may not be a gentleman under his skin, but how are you to prove it? The world, spurning Judy O'Grady, sanctions the Colonel's lady, and their sisterhood becomes socially negligible. Randy should have known that he could not sweep George Dalton away with a word. Perhaps he did know it, but he did not care to admit it.

He and Nellie Custis were in the garage. It had once been a barn, but the boarders had bought cars, so there was now the smell of gasoline where there had once been the sweet scent of hay. And intermittently the air was rent with puffs and snorts and shrieks which drowned the music of that living chorus which has been sung in stables for centuries.

There were three cars. Two of them have nothing to do with this story, but the third will play its part, and merits therefore description.

It was not an expensive car, but it was new and shining, and had a perky snub-nosed air of being ready for anything. It belonged to the genial gentleman who used it without mercy, and thus the little car wove back and forth over the hills like a shuttle, doing its work sturdily, coming home somewhat noisily, and even at rest, seeming to ask for something more to do.

The genial gentleman was very proud of his car. He talked a great deal about it to Randy, and on this particular morning when he came out and found young Paine sitting on a wheelbarrow with Nellie Custis lending him a cocked ear, he grew eloquent.

"Look here, I've been thinking. There ought to be a lot of cars like this in the county."

To Randy the enthusiasms of the genial gentleman were a constant source of amazement. He was always wanting the world to be glad about something. Randy felt that at this moment any assumption of gladness would be a hollow mockery.

"Any man," said the genial gentleman, rubbing a cloth over the enamel of the little car, "any man who would start selling this machine down here would make a fortune."

Randy pricked up his ears.

"How could he make a fortune?"

"Selling cars. Why, the babies cry for them--" he chuckled and rubbed harder.

"How much could he

make?" Randy found himself saying.

The genial gentleman named a sum, "Easy."

Randy got up from the wheelbarrow and came over. "Is she really as good as that?"

"Is she really? Oh, say--" the genial gentleman for the next ten minutes dealt in superlatives.

Towards the end, Randy was firing questions at him.

"Could I own a car while I was selling them?"

"Sure-they'd let you have it on installments to be paid for out of your commissions--"

"And I'd have an open field?"

"My dear boy, in a month you could have cars like this running up and down the hills like ants after sugar. They speak for themselves, and they are cheap enough for anybody."

"But it is a horse-riding country, especially back in the hills. They love horse-flesh, you know."

"Oh, they'll get the gasoline bug like the rest of us," said the genial gentleman and slapped him on the back.

Randy winced. He did not like to be slapped on the back. Not at a moment-when he was selling his soul to the devil--

For that was the way he looked at it.

"I shall have to perjure myself," he said to Major Prime later, as they talked it over in the Schoolhouse, "to go through the country telling mine own people to sell their horses and get cars."

"If you don't do it, somebody else will."

"But a man can't be convincing if he doesn't believe in a thing."

"No, of course. But you've got to look at it this way, the world moves, and horses haven't had an easy time. Perhaps it is their moment of emancipation. And just for the sake of a sentiment, a tradition, you can't afford to hold back."

"I can't afford to lose this chance if there is money in it. But it isn't what I had planned."

As he sat there on the step and hugged his knees, every drop of blood in Randy seemed to be urging "Hurry, hurry." He felt as a man might who, running a race, finds another rider neck and neck and strains towards the finish.

To sell cars in order to win Becky seemed absurd on the face of it. But he would at least be doing something towards solving the problem of self-support, and towards increasing the measure of his own self-respect.

"What had you planned?" the Major was asking.

"Well of course there is the law-- And I like it, but there would be a year or two before I could earn a living-- And I've wanted to write--"

"Write what? Books?"

"Anything," said Randy, explosively, "that would make the world sit up."

"Ever tried it?"

"Yes. At school. I talked to a teacher of mine once about it. He said I had better invent a-pill--"

The Major stared, "A pill?"

Randy nodded. "He didn't quite mean it, of course. But he saw the modern trend. A poet? A poor thing! But hats off to the pillmaker with his multi-millions!"

"Stop that," said the Major.

"Stop what?"

"Blaming the world for its sordidness. There is beauty enough if we look for it."

"None of us has time to look for it. We are too busy trying to sell cars to people who love horses."

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