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   Chapter 26 No.26

The Trumpeter Swan By Temple Bailey Characters: 12393

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The two cars had to pass the Flippins. Mrs. Flippin and Mary were baking cakes for the feast at Huntersfield. Mrs. Flippin was to go over in the afternoon and help Mandy, and to-morrow Truxton and his mother would arrive.

"The Judge is like a boy," said Mrs. Flippin, "he's so glad to have Truxton home."

"Perhaps he won't be so glad when he gets here--"

"Why not?" Mrs. Flippin turned and stared at her daughter.

Mary was seeding raisins, wetting her fingers now and then in a glass of water which stood on a table by her side. "Well, Truxton may be changed-most of the men are, aren't they?"

"Is Randy Paine changed?"

"Yes, Mother."

"How?"

"He's a grown-up."

"Well, he needed to grow, and it wouldn't hurt Truxton either."

"But if Truxton has grown up and wants his own way-the Judge won't like it. The Judge has always ruled at Huntersfield."

"Well, he supports Truxton; why shouldn't he?"

A bright flush stained Mary's skin. "Truxton has his officer's pay now."

"He won't have it when he gets out of the Army."

Mary rose and went to the stove. She came back with a kettle and poured boiling water over a dish of almonds to blanch them.

"We ought to have made this fruit cake a week ago to have it really good," she said, and shelved the subject of Truxton Beaufort.

"It will be good enough as it is," said Mrs. Flippin; "there isn't anybody in the county that can beat me when it comes to baking cakes."

"Where's Fiddle," Mary said, suddenly; "can you see her from the window, Mother?"

Mrs. Flippin could not.

"Well, she's probably sailing her celluloid fish in the chickens' water pan," said Mary; "I'll go out and look her up in a minute."

But Fiddle was not sailing celluloid fish. Columbus-like she had decided that there were wider seas than the water pan. Once upon a time her grandmother had taken her to the bottom of the hill, and at the bottom of the hill there had been a lot of water, and Fiddle had walked in it with her bare feet, and had splashed. She had liked it much better than the chickens' pan.

So she had picked up her three celluloid fish and had trotted down the path. She wore her pink rompers, and as she bobbed along she was like a mammoth rose-petal blown by the wind.

At the foot of the hill she came upon a little brown stream. It was just a thread of a stream, very shallow with a lot of big flat stones. Fiddle walked straight into it, and the clear water swept over her toes. She put in her little fish, and quite unexpectedly, they swam away. She followed and came to where the stream was spanned by a rail-fence which separated the Flippin farm from the road. The lowest rail was about as high above the stream as her own fast-beating heart. She ducked under it and discovered one of her fish whirling in a small eddy. It was a red fish and she was very fond of it. She made a sudden grab, caught it, lost her balance and sat down in the water. After the first shock, she found that she liked it. The other fish had continued on their journey towards the river. Perhaps some day they would come to the sea. Fiddle forgot them. She held the little red fish fast and splashed the water with her heels.

Now on each side of the water was a road, which went up a hill each way, so that cars coming down put on speed to go up, and forded the stream which was a mere thread of water except after high rains.

Randy was talking to the Major as he came down the hill. He did not see Fiddle until he was almost upon her. He was driving at high speed, and there was only a second in which to jam things down and pull things up and stop the car.

Kemp was behind him. He was not prepared for Randy's sudden stop. He swerved sharply to the left, slammed into a telegraph pole-and came back to life to find somebody bending over him. "Who is looking after the lady, sir?" he managed to murmur.

"Young Paine and Mr. Flippin are carrying her to the house. You are cut a bit. Let me tie up your head." The Major gave efficient first aid and after that Kemp got to his feet, painfully. "Is Miss MacVeigh badly hurt?"

"She is conscious, and not in great pain. I'm not much of a prop to lean on, but I think we can make that hill together."

They climbed slowly, the man of crutches and the man with the bound-up head.

"It's like a little bit of over there, Kemp, isn't it?"

"Yes it as, sir-many's the time I've seen them helping each other-master and man."

When they got to the house, they found Madge on the sofa, and Mrs. Flippin bending over her. "My husband has gone for the doctor," she told the Major. "I think the blood comes from her hand; she must have put it up to save her face."

"I bent my head," murmured Madge, "and my hat was broad. Think what might have happened if I had worn a little hat."

She had started the sentence lightly but she stopped with a gasp of pain. "Oh-my foot--" she said, "the pain-is-dreadful--"

The Major drew up a chair, and handed his crutches to Randy. "If you'll let us take off your shoe, it might help till the doctor comes."

She fainted dead away while they did it, and came back to life to find her foot bandaged, and her uncut hand held in the firm clasp of the man with the crutches. He was regarding her with grave gray eyes, but his face lighted as she looked up at him.

"Drink this," he told her. "The doctor is on the way, and I think it will help the pain until he comes."

She liked his voice-it had a deep and musical quality. She was glad he was there. Something in his strength seemed to reach out to her and give her courage.

When the pain began again, he gave her another drink from the glass, and when she drifted off, she came back to the echo of a softly-whistled tune.

"I beg your pardon," the Major said as she opened her eyes; "it is a bad habit that I permit myself when I have things on my mind. My men said they always knew by the tune I whistled the mood I was in. And that there was only one tune they were afraid of."

"What was that?"

"'Good-night, Ladies--'" He threw back his head and laughed. "When I began on that they knew it was all up with them--"

She tried to laugh with him,

but it was a twisted grin. "Oh," she said and began to tremble. She saw his eyes melt to tenderness. "Oh, you poor little thing."

She was conscious after that of the firm hand which held hers. The deep voice which soothed. Through all that blinding agony she was conscious of his call to courage-she wondered if he had called his men like that-over there--

When the doctor came, he shook his head. "We'd better keep her here. She is in no condition to be moved to Hamilton Hill, not over these roads. Can you make room for her, Mrs. Flippin?"

"She can have my room," said Mary; "Fiddle and I can go up-stairs--"

They moved Madge, and Mrs. Flippin and Mary got her to bed. The Major sat in the sitting-room and talked to Randy, and as he talked he held Madge's hat in his hand. It had a brim of straw and a crown of mauve silk. The Major, turning it round and round on a meditative finger, thought of the woman who had worn it. She was a pretty woman, a very oddly pretty woman.

"Is she related to Mrs. Waterman, Kemp?" he asked.

"No, sir. But she's been there all summer. And then she went away, and they sent for her because Mrs. Waterman is ill."

Randy rather indiscreetly flung out, "It seems as if the trail of that Waterman crowd is over our world. I suppose we shall have to get the news of this up to them somehow."

"I can telephone Mr. Dalton, sir."

"Is Dalton still there?"

"Yes, sir. And he had a headache this morning, and stayed in bed, or he would have been in the car, sir--"

Randy wished bloodthirstily that Dalton had been in the car. Why couldn't Dalton have been smashed instead of Madge?

"I might call up Mr. Waterman instead of Mr. Dalton," Kemp suggested. "If Mr. Dalton's in bed, he'll hate to be disturbed."

"Are you afraid of him, Kemp?"

Kemp's honest eyes met Randy's burning glance. "No, I am not afraid. I am leaving his service, sir."

They stared at him. "Leaving his service, why?" Randy demanded.

"He called me a fool this morning. And I am not a fool, sir."

"What made him say that?" Randy asked, with interest.

"He ordered a kidney omelette for breakfast, and I brought it, and he wouldn't eat it, and blamed me. I am willing to serve any man, but not without self-respect, sir."

"What are you going to do now, Kemp?" the Major asked.

"Find a better man to work for."

"It won't be hard," Randy interpolated.

"Work for me," said the Major.

Kemp was eager--! "For you, sir?"

"Yes. I need somebody to be legs for me-I'm only half a man. The place is open for you if you want it."

"I shall want it in a week;" said Kemp; "I shall have to give him notice."

"There will be three musketeers in the old Schoolhouse, Paine. We have all seen service."

"It will be the best thing that ever happened to me sir," said Kemp ecstatically, "to know that I can wait on a fighting man." He swung down the hall to the telephone as if he marched to the swirl of pipes.

"Isn't Dalton a brute?" said Randy.

"He that calleth his brother a fool--" mused the Major. He was still turning the mauve hat in his hands. "It is queer," he said unexpectedly, "how some women make you think of some flowers. Did you notice everything Miss MacVeigh wore was lilac-and there's the perfume of it about her things--"

"Becky's a rose," said Randy, "from her own garden. She's as fresh and sweet," his voice caught. "Oh, hang Dalton," he said, "I hate the whole tribe of them--"

Kemp came back to say that Oscar Waterman would be down at once. He insisted that Miss MacVeigh should be brought up to Hamilton Hill.

"He must talk with the doctor."

"He is bringing a doctor of his own. One who came down for Mrs. Waterman."

Randy picked up his hat. "I'm going home. The same house won't hold us--"

Kemp was discreet. "Can I help you with your car, sir?"

"I'll come over later and look at it." Randy, escaping by the back way, walked over the hills.

The Major stayed, and was in the sitting-room with the county doctor when the others arrived.

Dr. Dabney, the county doctor, was not old. He rode to hounds and he enjoyed life. But he was none the less a good doctor and a wise one. Waterman's physician confirmed the diagnosis. It would be very unwise to move Miss MacVeigh.

"But she can't stay here," said Dalton.

"Why not?"

"She can't be made comfortable." Dalton surveyed the Flippin sitting-room critically. He was aware that Mr. Flippin was in the doorway, and that Mrs. Flippin and Mary could not fail to catch his words. But he did not care who heard what he said. All was wrong with his world. It was bad enough to have Flora ill, but to have Madge out of commission would be to forge another chain to hold him to Hamilton Hill.

"She can be made very comfortable here," said Dr. Dabney. "Mrs. Flippin is a famous housekeeper. And anyone who has ever slept in that east room in summer knows that there is nothing better."

Dalton ignored him. "What do you think?" He turned to the Washington doctor. "What do you think?"

"I think it best not to move her. We can send a nurse, and with Dr. Dabney on the case, she will be in good hands."

"The only trouble is," said Dr. Dabney, unexpectedly, "that we may impose too much on Mrs. Flippins' hospitality."

"We will pay--" said Dalton with a touch of insolence.

From the doorway, Mr. Flippin answered him. "We don't want pay-- Neighbors don't ask for money when they-help out--"

There was a fine dignity about him. He was a rough farmer in overalls, but Dalton would never match the simple grace of his fine gesture of hospitality.

The Major, who had been silent, now spoke up. "You are having more than your share of trouble, Mr. Waterman. First your wife, and now your guest."

"Oh, I am, I am," said Oscar, brokenly. "I don't get what I've done to deserve it."

He was a pathetic figure. Whatever else he lacked, he loved his wife. If she died-he felt that he could not bear it. For the first time in his life Oscar faced a situation in which money did not count. He could not buy off Death-all the money in the world would not hold back for one moment the shadow of the Dark Angel from his wife's door.

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