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   Chapter 28 No.28

The Trumpeter Swan By Temple Bailey Characters: 12620

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Becky was not well. Aunt Claudia, perceiving her listlessness, decided that she needed a change. Letters were written to the Nantucket grandfather, and plans made for Becky's departure. She was to spend a month on the island, come back to Boston to the Admiral's big old house on the water-side of Beacon Street, and return to Huntersfield for Christmas.

Becky felt that it was good of everybody to take so much trouble. She really didn't care in the least. She occupied herself steadily with each day's routine. She bent her head over the fine embroidery of a robe she was making for Mary. She cut the flowers for the vases and bowls, she recited nursery rhymes to Fiddle, entrancing that captious young person with "Oranges and Lemons" and "Lavender's Blue." She read aloud to the Judge, planned menus for Aunt Claudia, and was in fact such an angel in the house that Truxton, after three days of it, protested.

"Oh, what's the matter with Becky, Moms?"

"Why?"

"She hasn't any pep."

"I know."

"Isn't she well?"

"I have tried to have her see a doctor. But she won't. She insists that she is all right--"

"She is not. She is no more like the old Becky than champagne is like-milk-- Becky was the kind that-went to your head-Mums. You know that-sparkling."

"I have wondered," Mrs. Beaufort said, slowly, "if anything happened while I was away."

"What could happen--"

His mother sighed. "Nothing, I suppose--" She let it go at that. Her intuitions carried her towards the truth. She had learned from Mandy and the Judge that Dalton had spent much time at Huntersfield in her absence. Becky never mentioned him. Her silence spoke eloquently, Mrs. Beaufort felt, of something concealed. Becky was apt to talk of things that interested her. And there had been no doubt of her interest in Dalton before her aunt had gone away.

Randy, coming often now to Huntersfield, had his heart torn for his beloved. No one except himself knew what had happened, and the knowledge stirred him profoundly. He held that burning torches and a stake were none too good for Dalton. He sighed for the old days in Virginia when gentlemen settled such matters in the woods at dawn, with pistols, seconds, a shot or two. Farther back it would have been an affair of knives and tomahawks-Indian chiefs in a death struggle.

But neither duels nor death struggles were in the modern mode, nor would any punishment which he might inflict on Dalton help Becky in this moment of deep humiliation. He knew her pride and the hurt that had come to her, he knew her love, and the deadly inertia which had followed the loss of illusion.

Randy's love was not a selfish love. In that tense moment of Becky's confession on the day of the barbecue, his own hopes had died. The boy in him had died, too, and he had reached the full stature of a man. He wanted to protect and shield-he was all tenderness. He felt that he would dare anything, do anything, if he could bring back to Becky the dreams of which Dalton robbed her.

Night after night he sat in his room up-stairs in the old Schoolhouse, and wrote on "The Trumpeter Swan." It was an outlet for his pent-up emotions, and something of the romance which was denied him, something of the indignation which stirred him, something of the passions of love and revenge which fought within him, drove his pen onward, so that his little tale took on color and life. Crude, perhaps, in form, it was yet a song of youth and patriotism. It was Randy's call to his comrades. There was to be no compromise. They must make men look up and listen-to catch the sound of their clear note. The ideals which had made them fight brutality and greed were living ideals. They were not to be doffed with their khaki and overseas caps. Their country called, the whole world called, for men with faith and courage. There was no place for pessimism, no place for materialism, no place for sordidness.

His hero was, specifically, a man who had come back from the fighting, flaming with the thought of his high future. He had found the world smiling and unconcerned. It was this world which needed to listen to the call of trumpets-high up--

The chapters in which he wrote of love-for there was a woman in the story-were more beautiful than Randy realized. It was of a boy's love that he told-delicately. It was his own story of love denied, yet enriching a life.

Yet-because man cannot live up always to the measure of his own vision, there came often between Randy and the written page the image of George Dalton, smiling and insolent. And he would lay down his pen, and lean his head on his hand, and gaze into space, and sometimes he would speak on in the silence. "I will make him suffer."

It was in one of these moments that he saw how it might be done. "He would let fruit drop to the ground and rot if no other man wanted it," he analyzed keenly, "but if another man tried to pick it up, he would fight for it."

Dalton was still at King's Crest. Mrs. Waterman had not responded satisfactorily to the operation. The doctors had grave doubts as to her recovery. Madge was convalescing at the Flippins'.

Randy had been content, hitherto, to receive bulletins indirectly from both of the invalids. But on the morning following the birth of his great idea he rode on horseback to King's Crest. He looked well on horseback, and in his corduroys, with a soft shirt and flowing tie, a soft felt hat, he was at his best.

He found George and Oscar on the west terrace, shaded by blue and white-striped awnings, with a macaw, red and blue on a perch-a peacock glimmering at the foot of the steps-and the garden blazing beyond.

There were iced drinks in tall glasses-a litter of cigarettes on smoking-stands, magazines and newspapers on the stone floors, packs of cards on a small table. Oscar, hunched up in a high-backed Chinese chair, was white and miserable. George looked bored to extinction.

Randy, coming in, gave a clear-cut impression of strength and youth.

"Mother sent some wine jelly for Mrs. Waterman," he said to Oscar. "It was made from an old recipe, and she thought it might be different. And there were some hundred-leaved roses from our bush. I gave them to your man."

Oscar brightened. He was grateful for the kindness of these quee

r neighbors of his who would have nothing to do with him and his wife when they were well, and who had seemed to care not at all for his money. But who, now that sickness had come and sorrow, offered themselves and their possessions unstintedly.

"I'll go and see that Flora gets them," he said. "She hasn't any appetite. She's-it's rather discouraging--"

Randy, left alone with Dalton, was debonair and delightful. George, looking at him with speculative eyes, decided that there was more to this boy than he would have believed. He had exceedingly good manners and an ease that was undeniable. There was of course good blood, back of him. And in a way it counted. George knew that he could never have been at ease in old clothes in the midst of elegance.

It was Randy who spoke first of Becky. Dalton's heart jumped when he heard her name. Night after night he had ridden towards Huntersfield, only to turn back before he reached the lower gate. Once he had ventured on foot as far as the garden, and in the hush had called softly, "Becky." But no one had answered. He wondered what he would have done if Becky had responded to his call. "I am not going to be fool enough to marry her," he told himself, angrily, yet knew that if he played the game with Becky there could be no other end to it.

Randy said, quite naturally, that Becky was going away. To Nantucket. He asked if George had been there.

"Once, on Waterman's yacht. It's quaint-but a bit spoiled by summer people--"

"Becky doesn't know the summer people. Her great-grandparents were among the first settlers and the Merediths have never sold the old home."

"She is a pretty little thing," George said. "And she's buried down here."

"I shouldn't call it exactly-buried."

George, with his eyes on the peacock, smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

Randy smiled and his eyes, too, were on the peacock. He was thinking that there were certain points of resemblance between the gorgeous bird and Dalton. They glimmered in the sunlight and strutted a bit--

He came back to say easily, "Has Becky told you of our happiness--"

George gave him a startled glance. "Happiness?"

"We are to be married when she comes back-at Christmas."

"Married--"

"Yes," coolly, "it was rather to be expected, you know. We played together as children-our fathers played together-our grandfathers-our great-grandfathers."

A cold wave seemed to sweep over George. So this young cub would have her beauty!

"Aren't you rather young--?" he demanded, "and what have you to give her?"

"Love," said Randy calmly, "a man's respect for her goodness and worth-for her innocence. She's a little saint in a shrine."

"Is she?" Georgie-Porgie asked, and smiled to himself; "few women are that."

After Randy had gone George Dalton walked the floor. He knew innocence when he saw it, and he knew that Randy had told the truth. Becky Bannister was as white as the doves that were flittering down to the garden pool to drink. He had never cared particularly for innocence. But he cared for Becky. He knew now that he cared tremendously. Randy had made him know it. It had not seemed so bad to think of Becky as breaking her heart and waiting for a word from him. It seemed very bad, indeed, when he thought of her as married to Randy.

He felt that, of course, she did not love Randy; that he, Georgie-Porgie, had all that she had to give-- But woman-like, she had taken this way to get back at him. He wondered if she had sent Randy.

Up and down the terrace he raged like a lion. He wanted to show that cub-oh, if he might show him--!

Randy had known that he would rage, and as he rode home he had the serene feeling that he had stuck a splinter in George's flesh.

Oscar Waterman joined George on the terrace, but noticed nothing. His mind was full of Flora. "I am sorry young Paine went so soon. I wanted to thank him. Flora can't eat the jelly, but it was good of them to send it. She can't eat anything. She's worse, George. I don't know how I am going to stand it."

George was in no mood for condolence. Yet he was not quite heartless. "Look here," he said, "you mustn't give up."

"George, if she dies," Oscar said, wildly, "what do you think will happen to me? I never planned for this. I planned for a good time. I thought maybe that when we were old-one of us might go. But it wouldn't be fair to take her now-and leave me."

"I have given her-everything--" he went on. "I-I think I've been a good husband. I have always loved her a lot, George, you know that."

He was a plain little man, but at this moment he gained something of dignity. And there was this to say for him, that what he felt for Flora was a deeper emotion than George had ever known.

"The doctor says the crisis comes to-night. I am not going to bed. I couldn't sleep. George-I've been wondering if I oughtn't to call in-some kind of clergyman-to see her."

"People don't, nowadays, do they?" George asked rather uncomfortably.

"Well, I don't see why they shouldn't. There ought to be somebody to pray for Flora."

There was, it developed upon inquiry, a little old rector who lived not far away. George went for him in his big car.

The little man, praying beside Flora's gorgeous bed, felt that this was the hundredth sheep who had wandered and was found. The other ninety and nine were safely in the fold. He had looked after the spiritual condition of the county for fifty years. There had been much to discourage him, but in the main if they strayed they came back.

He prayed with fervor, the fine old prayers of his church.

"Look down from heaven, we humbly beseech thee, with the eyes of mercy upon this child now lying upon the bed of sickness: Visit her, O Lord, with thy salvation; deliver her in thy good appointed time from bodily pain, and save her soul for thy mercies' sake; that, if it shall be thy pleasure to prolong her days here on earth, she may live for thee, and be an instrument of thy glory, by serving thee faithfully, and doing good in her generation; or else receive her into those heavenly habitations, where the souls of those who sleep in the Lord Jesus enjoy perpetual rest and felicity."

Flora, lying inert and bloodless, opened her eyes. "Say it again," she whispered. "Say it again."

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