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   Chapter 23 No.23

The Trumpeter Swan By Temple Bailey Characters: 15393

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The Judge and Mr. Flippin were fishing, with grasshoppers for bait. The fish that they caught they called "shiners." As an edible product "shiners" were of little account. But the Judge and Mr. Flippin did not fish for food, they fished for sport. It was mild sport compared to the fishing of other days when the Judge had waded into mountain streams with the water coming up close to the pocket of his flannel shirt where he kept his cigars, or had been poled by Bob Flippin from "riffle" to pool. Those had been the days of speckled trout and small-mouthed bass, and Bob had been a boy and the Judge at middle age. Now Bob Flippin had reached the middle years, and the Judge was old, but they still fished together. They were comrades in a very close and special sense. What Bob Flippin lacked in education and culture he made up in wisdom and adoration of the Judge. When he talked he had something to say, but as a rule he let the Judge talk and was always an absorbed listener.

There was in their relations, however, a complete adjustment to the class distinctions which separated them. The Judge accepted as his right the personal service with which Bob Flippin delighted to honor him. It was always Bob who pulled the boat and carried the basket. It was Bob who caught the grasshoppers and cooked the lunch.

There was one dish dedicated to a day's fishing-fried ham and eggs. Bob had a long-handled frying-pan, and the food was seasoned with the salt and savor of the out-of-doors.

There were always several dogs to bear their masters company. The Judge's three were beagles-tireless hunters of rabbits, and somewhat in disgrace as a species since Germany had gone to war with the world. Individually, however, they were beloved by the Judge because they were the children and grandchildren of a certain old Dinah who had slept in a basket by his bed until she died.

Bob Flippin had a couple of setters, and the five canines formed a wistful semicircle around the lunch basket.

The lunch basket was really a fishing-basket, lined with tin. In one end was a receptacle for ice. After the lunch was eaten, the fish were put next to the ice, and the basket thus served two purposes.

Among the other edibles there were always corncakes for the dogs. They knew it, and had the patience of assured expectation.

"Truxton comes on Saturday," said the Judge as he watched Bob turn the eggs expertly in the long-handled pan, "and Claudia. I told Becky to ride over this morning and ask your wife if she could help Mandy. Mandy's all right when there's nobody but the family, but when there's company in prospect she moans and groans."

"Mollie's up at the Watermans'; Mrs. Waterman is worse. They expected to take her to New York, but she is too ill, and they are going to have the doctors bring another nurse."

"I had a note from Mr. Dalton," said the Judge, "saying they were going. It was rather sudden, and he was sorry. Nice fellow. He liked to come over and look at my birds."

Bob Flippin's eyes twinkled. "I reckon he liked to look at a pretty girl--"

The Judge stared at him. "At Becky?"

Flippin nodded. "Didn't you know it?"

"Bless my soul." The Judge was unquestionably startled. "But I don't know anything about him. I can't have him running after Becky."

"Seems to me he's been a-runnin'."

"But what would Claudia say? I don't know anything about his family. Maybe he hasn't any family. How do I know he isn't a fortune-hunter?"

"Well, he isn't a bird hunter, I can tell you that. I saw him kick one of your dogs. A man that will kick a dog isn't fit to hold a gun."

"No, he isn't," said the Judge, soberly. "I'm upset by what you've said, Flippin. Dalton's all right as far as I can see as a friend of mine. But when anybody comes courting at Huntersfield he's got to show credentials."

He ate his lunch without much appetite. He was guiltily aware of what Claudia would say if she knew what had happened.

But perhaps nothing had happened and perhaps she need not know. He cheered up and threw a bit of ham to the waiting dogs. Perhaps Becky wasn't interested. Perhaps, after all, Dalton had been genuine in his interest in the stuffed birds.

"Becky's too young for things like that," he began hopefully.

But Bob Flippin shook his head. "Girls are queer, Judge, and you never can tell what they're goin' to do next. Now, there's my Mary-running off and getting married, and coming home and not talking much about it. She-didn't even bring her marriage certificate. Said that he had kept it. But she's never lied to me, and I know when she says she's married, she's-married-but it's queer. He ain't written now for weeks, but she ain't worried. She says she knows the reason, but she can't tell me. And when I try to ask questions, she just looks me straight in the eye and says, 'I never lied to you, Father, did I? And it's all right.'"

"He has a good name," said the Judge. "Branch-it's one of our names-my wife's family."

"But I reckon there ain't never been any Truelove Branches in your family tree. I laugh at Mary when she calls him that. '"Truelove" ain't any name for a man, Mary,' I tell her. But she says there couldn't be a better one. And she insisted on naming the child 'Fidelity.' But if anybody had told me that my little Mary-would take things into her own hands like that-why, Judge, before she went away to teach school, she leaned on me and her mother-and now she's as stiff as a poker when we try to ask about her affairs--"

"Does he support her?" the Judge asked.

"Sends her plenty of money. She always seems to have enough, even when he doesn't write. He'll be coming one of these days-and then we'll get the thing straight, but in the meantime there ain't any use in asking Mary."

He brought out the bag of corn-cakes and fed the dogs. They were a well-bred crew and took their share in turn, sitting in a row and going through the ceremony with an air of enjoying not only the food but the attention they attracted front the two men.

"Of course," said Mr. Flippin as he gathered, up the lunch things, "I'm saying to you what I wouldn't say to another soul. Mary's my girl, and she's all right. But I naturally have the feelings of a father."

The Judge stretched himself on the grass, and pulled his hat over his eyes. "Girls are queer, and if that Dalton thinks he can court my Becky--" He stopped, and spoke again from under his hat, "Oh, what's the use of worrying, Bob, on a day like this?"

The Judge always napped after lunch, and Bob Flippin, stretched beside him, lay awake and watched the stream slip by in a sheet of silver, he watched a squirrel flattened on the limb above him, he watched the birds that fluttered down to the pools to bathe, he watched the buzzards sailing high above the hills.

And presently he found himself watching his own daughter Mary, as she came along the opposite bank of the stream.

She was drawing Fiddle-dee-dee in a small red cart and was walking slowly.

She walked well. Country-born and country-bred, there was nothing about her of plodding peasant. All her life she had danced with the Bannisters and the Beauforts. Yet she had never been invited to the big balls. When the Merriweathers gave their Harvest Dance, Mary and her mother would go over and help bake the cakes, and at night they would sit in the gallery of the great ballroom and watch the dancers, but Mary would not be asked out on the floor.

Seeing the Judge asleep, Mary stopped and beckoned from the other side.

Flippin rose and made his way across the stream, stepping from stone to stone.

"Mother wants you to come right up to the Watermans', F

ather. Mrs. Waterman is to have an operation, and you are to direct the servants in fitting up a room for the surgeons. The nurse will tell you what to do."

Mr. Flippin rubbed his face with his handkerchief. "I don't like to wake the Judge."

"I'll stay here and tell him," Mary said. "And you can send Calvin down to carry the basket."

She was standing beside him, and suddenly she laid her cheek against his arm. "I love you," she said, "you are a darling, Daddy."

He patted her cheek. "That sounds like my little Mary."

"Don't I always sound like your little Mary?"

"Not always."

"Well-I've had things on my mind." Her blue eyes met his, and she flushed a bit. "Not things that I am sorry for, but things that I am worried about. But now-well, I am very happy in my heart, Daddy."

He smiled down at her. "Have you heard from T. Branch?"

"Yes, by wireless--"

He looked his astonishment. "Wireless?"

"Heart-wireless, Daddy. Didn't you get messages that way when you were young-from Mother?"

"How do I know? It's been twenty-five years since then, and we haven't had to send messages. We've just held on to each other's hands, thank God." He bent and kissed her. "You stay and tell the Judge, Mary. He'll sleep for a half-hour yet: he's as regular as the clock."

His own two dogs followed him, but the Judge's beagles lay with their noses on their paws at their master's feet. Now and then they snapped at flies but otherwise they were motionless.

Before the half hour was up Fiddle-dee-dee fell asleep, and the Judge waking, saw on the other side of a stream propped against the gray old oak, the young mother cool in her white dress, her child in her arms.

"Father had to go," she told him, and explained the need; "he'll send Calvin for the basket."

"I can carry my own basket, Mary; I'm not a thousand years old."

"It isn't that. But you've never carried baskets, Judge."

The Judge chuckled. "You say that as if it were an accusation."

"It isn't. Only some of us seem born to carry baskets and others are born to-let us carry them." Her smile redeemed her words from impertinence.

"Are you a Bolshevik, Mary?"

"No. I believe in the divine rights of kings and-Judges. I'd hate to see you carry a basket. It would rob you of something-just as I would hate to see a king without his crown or a queen without her scepter."

"Oh, Mary, Mary, your father has never said things like that to me."

"He doesn't feel them. Father believes in The God of Things as They are--"

"And don't you?"

"I believe in you," she rose and carrying her sleeping child, crossed the stream on the stones as easily as if she carried no burden; "you know I believe in you, don't you-and in all the Bannisters?"

It was said so lightly that he took it lightly. No one was so touchy as the Judge about his dignity if it were disregarded. But here was little Mary smiling up at him and telling him that he was a king with a crown and she liked it.

"Well, well. Let's sit down, Mary."

"Fish, if you want to, and I'll watch."

He baited his hook and cast his line into the stream. It had a bobbing red cork which fascinated Fiddle-dee-dee. She tried to wade out and get it, and had to be held by her very short skirts lest she drown in the attempt.

"So I'm a confounded autocrat," the Judge chuckled. "Nobody ever said that to me before, but maybe some of them have been thinking it."

"Maybe they have," said Mary gravely, "but they haven't really cared. Having the Bannisters at Huntersfield is like the English having a Victoria or an Edward or a George at Buckingham Palace or at Windsor; it adds flavor to their-democracy--"

"Mary-who's been saying all this to you?" he demanded.

"My husband."

"Truelove Branch?"

She nodded.

"I'd like to meet him, by Jove, I'd like to meet him. He has been teaching his wife to poke fun at her old friend--"

She faced him fearlessly. "I'm not poking fun. I-I'd hate to have the Bannisters lose one little bit of their beautiful traditions. I-I-- Some day I'm going to teach little Fiddle those traditions, and tell her what it means when-when people have race back of them. You see, I haven't it, Judge, but I know what it's worth."

He was touched by her earnestness. "My dear Mary," he said, "I wish my own grandson looked at it that way. His letters of late have been very disturbing."

A little flush crept into her cheeks. "Disturbing?"

"He writes that we Americans have got to fit our practice to our theories. He says that we shout democracy and practice autocracy. That we don't believe that all men are free and equal, and that, well, in your words, Mary-we let other people carry our baskets."

Mary was smiling to herself. "You are glad he is coming home?"

"Truxton? Yes. On Saturday."

"Becky told me. She rode over to get Mother to help Mandy."

"I am going to have a lot of people to dine the day he arrives," said the Judge, "and next week there'll be the Merriweathers' ball. He will have a chance to see his old friends."

"Yes," said Mary, "he will."

They talked a great deal about Truxton after that.

"I wish he bore the Bannister name," said the Judge. "Becky is the only Bannister."

After the death of her husband Mrs. Beaufort had come to live with the Judge. Truxton's boyhood had been spent on the old estate. The Judge's income was small, and Truxton had known few luxuries. Like the rest of the boys of the Bannister family he was studying law at the University. He and Randy had been classmates, but had gone into different branches of the service.

"When he comes back," the Judge told Mary, "he must show the stuff he is made of. I can't have him selling cars around the county like Randy Paine."

"Well, Randy has sold a lot of them," said Mary. "Father has given him an order--"

"You don't mean to gay that Bob Flippin is going to buy a car--"

"He is."

"He didn't dare tell me," the Judge said; "what's he going to do with his horses?"

"Keep them," said Mary serenely; "the car is for Mother-she's going to drive it herself."

The Judge, with a vision of Mollie Flippin's middle-aged plumpness upon him, exclaimed: "You don't mean that your mother is going to-drive a car?"

"Yes," said Mary, "she is."

"I would as soon think of Claudia--"

"No," said Mary, "Mrs. Beaufort will never drive her own car. She has the coachman habit, and if she ever gets a car, there'll be a man at the wheel."

She brought the conversation back to Truxton. "Do you remember how we had a picnic here years ago, Mother packed the lunch, and Truxton ate up all the raspberry tarts?"

"He loved tarts," said the Judge, "and chocolate cake. Well, well, I shall be glad to see him."

"Perhaps-perhaps when he gets here you'll be disappointed."

"Why," sharply, "why should I?"

Mary did not answer. She stood up with Fiddle in her arms. "Calvin's coming for the basket," she said, "and I shall have to go up on the other side-I left the cart."

She said "good-bye" and crossed by the stepping-stones. The Judge wound up his fishing tackle. The day's sport resulted in three small "shiners." But he had enjoyed the day-there been the stillness and the sunlight, and the good company of Bob Flippin and his daughter Mary.

The dogs followed, and Mary from the other side of the stream watched the little procession, Calvin in the lead with the load, the Judge straight and slim with his fluff of white hair, the three little dogs paddling on their short legs.

"Judge Bannister of Huntersfield," said Mary Flippin. Then she raised Fiddle high in her arms. "Say Granddad, Fiddle," she whispered, "say Granddad."

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