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   Chapter 30 No.30

The Trumpeter Swan By Temple Bailey Characters: 9672

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was while the family at Huntersfield were at dinner that the telephone rang. Calvin answered, and came in to say that Miss Becky was wanted. She went listlessly. But the first words over the wire stiffened her.

It was George's voice, quick imploring. Saying that he had something to tell her. That he must see her--

"Let me come, Becky."

"Of course."

"You mean that I-may--?"

"Why not?"

He seemed to hesitate. "But I thought--"

Her laugh was light and clear. "I must get back to my dinner. I have only had my soup. And I am simply-starving--"

It was not what he had expected. Not in the least. As he hung up the receiver he was conscious too of a baffled feeling that Becky had, in a sense, held the reins of the situation.

In spite of her famished condition, Becky did not at once go to the dining-room. She called up King's Crest, and asked for Randy.

She wanted to know, she said, whether he had anything on for the evening. No? Then could he come over and bring the boarders? Oh, as many of them as would come. And they would dance. She was bored to death. Her laugh was still clear and light, and Randy wondered.

Then she went back to the dinner table and ate the slice of lamb which the Judge had carved for her. She ate mint sauce and mashed potatoes, she ate green corn pudding, and a salad, and watermelon. Her cheeks were red, and Aunt Claudia felt that Becky was looking much better. For how could Aunt Claudia know that everything that Becky ate was like sawdust to her palate. She found herself talking and laughing a great deal, and Truxton teased her.

After dinner she went up-stairs with Mary and showed her a new way to do her hair, and found an entrancing wisp of a frock for Mary to wear.

"It will be great fun having the boarders from King's Crest. There are a lot of young people of all kinds-and not many of them our kind, Mary."

Mary smiled at her. "I am not quite your kind, am I?"

"Why not? And oh, Mary, you are happy, happy. And you are lovely with your hair like that, close to your head and satin-smooth."

Mary, surveying herself in the glass, gave an excited laugh. "Do you know when I married Truxton I never thought of this?"

"Of what?" Becky asked.

"Of pretty clothes-and dances-and dinners. I just knew that he-loved me, and that he had to leave me. But I don't suppose I could make the world believe it."

"Truxton believes it, doesn't he, Mary?"

"Yes."

"And I believe it. And what do you care for the others? It is what we know of ourselves, Mary," she drew a quick breath. "It is what we know of ourselves--"

Becky was wearing the simple frock of pale blue in which George had seen her on that first night when he came to Huntersfield.

"Aren't you going to change?" Mary asked.

"No. It is too much trouble." Becky was in front of the mirror. Her pearls caught the light of the candles. Her bronze hair was a shining wave across her forehead. "It is too much trouble," she said, again, and turned from the mirror.

She had a dozen frocks that had come in the rosy hamper-frocks that would have made the boarders open their eyes. Frocks that would have made Dalton open his. But Becky had the feeling that this was not the moment for lovely clothes. She felt that she would be cheapened if she decked herself for George.

When the two girls went down-stairs Truxton was waiting for his wife. "I thought you would never come," he said. He drew her within the circle of his arm, and they went out into the garden. The Judge and Mrs. Beaufort were on the porch. Becky sat on the step and leaned her head against Aunt Claudia's knee.

"What in the world made you ask all those people over, Becky?" the Judge demanded.

"Oh, they're great fun, Grandfather, and I felt like it."

"Have you planned anything for them to eat, Claudia?"

"Watermelons. Calvin has put a lot of them in the spring."

The stars were thick overhead. Becky looked up at them and relaxed a little. Since Dalton had spoken to her over the wire she had gone through the motions of doing normal things. She had eaten and talked, and now she was sitting quite still on the step while Aunt Claudia smoothed her hair, and the Judge talked of things to eat.

But shut up within her was a clock which ticked and never stopped. "He will come-when he thinks-you are mine-- He will come-when he thinks-you are mine--"

Randy and his mother arrived in Little Sister, with two of the boarders for good measure in the back seat. They had dropped Major Prime at Flippins', where he was to make a call on Madge MacVeigh. He had promised to come later, however, if Randy would drive over and get him.

The rest of the boarders were packed variously into their cars and the surrey, and as soon as they arrived they proceeded to occupy the lawn and the porch

, and to overflow the garden. They made a great deal of pleasant noise about it, and the white gowns of the women, and the white flannels of the men gave an impressionistic effect of faint blue against the deeper blue of the night.

Within the house, the rugs were up in the drawing-room, the library, the dining-room, and the wide hall; there sounded, presently, the tinkling music of the phonograph, and there was the unceasing movement of white-clad figures which seemed to float in a golden haze.

Becky danced a great deal, with Randy, with the younger boarders, and with the genial gentleman. She laughed with an air of unaffected gayety. And she felt that her heart stopped beating, when at last she looked up and saw Dalton standing in the door.

She at once went towards him, and gave him her hand. "I wonder if you know everybody?"

Her clear eyes met his without self-consciousness. He attempted a swagger. "I don't want to know everybody. How do they happen to be here?"

"I asked them. And they are really very nice."

He did not see the niceness. He had thought to find her in the setting which belonged to her beauty. The silent night, the fragrance of the garden, the pale statues among the trees, and himself playing the game with a greater sense of its seriousness than ever before.

Throughout the evening George watched for a chance to see Becky alone. Without conspicuously avoiding him, she had no time for him. He complained constantly. "I want to talk to you. Run away with me, Becky-and let these people go."

"It isn't proper for a hostess to leave her guests."

"Are you trying to-punish me?"

"For what?"

So-she too was playing--! She had let him come that he might see her-indifferent.

Becky had danced with George once, and with Randy three times. George had protested, and Becky had said, "But I promised him before you came--"

"You knew I was coming?"

"Yes."

"You might have kept a few--"

She seemed to consider that. "Yes, I might. But not from Randy--"

At last he said to her, "I have been out in the garden. There is a star shining in the little pool where the fishes are. I want you to see the star."

It was thus he had won her. He had always seen stars shining in little pools, or a young moon rising from a rosy bed. But it had never meant anything. She shook her head. "I should like to see your little star. But I haven't time."

"Are you afraid to come?"

"Why should I be?"

"Well, there's Love-in the garden," he was daring-his sparkling eyes tried to hold hers and failed.

She was looking straight beyond him to where Randy stood, by a window, tall and thin with his Indian profile, and his high-held head.

"We are going to have watermelons in a minute," was her romantic response to Dalton's fire. "You'd better stay and eat some."

"I don't want to eat. And if you aren't afraid you'll come."

Calvin and Mandy and their son, John, with Flippins' Daisy, had assembled the watermelons on a long table out-of-doors. Above the table on the branch of a tree was hung an old ship's lantern brought by Admiral Meredith to his friend, the Judge. It gave a faint but steady light, and showed the pink and green and white of the fruit, the dusky faces of the servants as they cut and sliced, and handed plates to the eager and waiting guests.

Becky, standing back in the shadows with Randy by her side, watched the men surge towards the table, and retire with their loads of lusciousness. Grinning boys were up to their ears in juice, girls, bare-armed and bare-necked, reached for plates held teasingly aloft. It was all rather innocently bacchanal-a picture which for Becky had an absolutely impersonal quality. She had entertained her guests as she had eaten her dinner, outwardly doing the normal and conventional thing, while her mind was chaotic. This jumble of people on the lawn seemed unreal and detached. The only real people in the world were herself and Dalton.

"How did you happen to ask us?" Randy was saying.

"Because I wanted you--"

"That doesn't explain it. It has something to do with Dalton--"

"He said he was coming-and I wanted a crowd."

"Were you afraid to see him alone?"

"He says that I am."

"When did he say it?"

"Just now. He's in the garden, Randy."

"Waiting for you?"

"He says that he is waiting."

Randy gave a quick exclamation. "Surely you won't go."

"Why not? I've got to turn-the knife--"

He groaned. "So this is what I've let you in for--"

"Well, I shall see it through, Randy."

"Becky, don't go to him in the garden."

"Why not?"

"The whole thing is wrong," the boy said, slowly. "I lied to give you your opportunity, and now, I'd rather die than think of you out there--"

"Then you don't trust me, Randy?"

"My dear, I do. But I don't trust-him."

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