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   Chapter 21 No.21

The Trumpeter Swan By Temple Bailey Characters: 4313

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Aunt Claudia was away for three weeks.

"I wish she would come home," young Paine said one morning to his mother.

"Why?" Caroline Paine was at her desk with her mind on the dinner. "Why, Randy?"

"Oh, Dalton's going there a lot."

Mrs. Paine headed her list with gumbo soup. "Do you think he goes to see Becky?"

"Does a duck swim? Of course he goes there to see her, and he's turning her head."

"He is enough to turn any woman's head. He has nice eyes." Mrs. Paine left the topic as negligible, and turned to more important things.

"Randy, would you mind picking a few pods of okra for the soup? Susie is so busy and Bob and Jefferson are both in the field."

"Certainly, Mother," his cool answer gave no hint of the emotions which were seething within him. Becky's fate was hanging in the balance, and his mother talked of okra! He had decided some weeks ago that boarders were disintegrating-and that a mother was not a mother who had three big meals a day on her mind.

He went into the garden. An old-fashioned garden, so common at one time in the South-with a picket fence, a little gate, orderly paths-a blaze of flowers to the right, and to the left a riot of vegetables-fat tomatoes weighing the vines to the ground, cucumbers hiding under their sheltering leaves, cabbages burgeoning in blue-green, and giving the promise of unlimited boiled dinners, onions enough to flavor a thousand delectable dishes, sweet corn running in countless rows up the hill, carrots waving their plumes, Falstaffian watermelons. It was evident with the garden as an index that the boarders at King's Crest were fed on more than milk and honey.

Randy picked the okra and carried it to the kitchen, and returning to the Schoolhouse found the Major opening his morning mail.

Randy sat down on the step. "Once upon a time," he said, "we had niggers to work in our gardens. And now we are all niggers."

The Major's keen eyes studied him. "What's the matter?"

"I've been picking okra-for soup, and I'm a Paine of King's Crest."

"Well, you peeled potatoes in France."

"That's different."

"Why should it be different? If a thing is

for the moment your job you are never too big for it."

"I wish I had stayed in the Army. I wish I had never come back."

The Major whistled for a moment, thoughtfully. Then he said, "Look here, Paine, hadn't you better talk about it?"

"Talk about what?"

"That's for you to tell me. There's something worrying you. You are more tragic than-Hamlet--"

"Well-it's-Becky--"

"And Dalton, of course. Why don't you cut him out, Paine--"

"Me? Oh, look here, Major, what have I to offer her?"

"Youth and energy and a fighting spirit," the Major rapped out the words.

"What is a fighting spirit worth," Randy asked with a sort of weary scorn, "when a man is poor, and the woman's rich?"

The Major had been whistling a silly little tune from a modern opera. It was an air which his men would have recognized. It came to an end abruptly. "Rich? Who is rich?"

"Becky."

The Major got up and limped to the porch rail.

"I thought she was as poor as--"

"The rest of us? Well, she isn't."

It appeared that Becky's fortune came from the Nantucket grandmother, and that there would be more when the Admiral died. It was really a very large fortune, well invested, and yielding an amazing income. One of the clauses of the grandmother's will had to do with the bringing up of Becky. Until she was of age she was to be kept as much as possible away from the distractions and temptations of modern luxury. The Judge and the Admiral had agreed that nothing could be better. The result, Randy said, was that nobody ever thought of Becky Bannister as rich.

"Yet those pearls that she wears are worth more than I ever expect to earn."

"It is rather like a fairy tale. The beggar-maid becomes a queen."

"You can gee now why I can't offer her just youth and a fighting spirit."

"I wonder if Dalton knows."

"I don't believe he does," Randy; said slowly, "I give him credit for that."

"He might have heard--"

"I doubt it. He hasn't mingled much, you know."

"It will be rather a joke on him--"

"To find that he has married-Mademoiselle Midas?"

"To find that she is Mademoiselle Midas, whether he marries her or not."

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