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   Chapter 33 No.33

The Trumpeter Swan By Temple Bailey Characters: 11145

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The Merriweather fortunes had not been affected by the fall of the Confederacy. There had been money invested in European ventures, and when peace had come in sixty-five, the old grey stone house had again flung wide its doors to the distinguished guests who had always honored it, and had resumed its ancient custom of an annual harvest ball.

The ballroom, built at the back of the main house, was connected with it by wide curving corridors, which contained the family portraits, and which had long windows which opened out on little balconies. On the night of the ball these balconies were lighted by round yellow lanterns, so that the effect from the outside was that of a succession of full moons.

The ballroom was octagonal, and canopied with a blue ceiling studded with silver stars. There were cupids with garlands on the side walls, and faded blue brocade hangings. Across one end of the ballroom was the long gallery reserved for those whom the Merriweathers still called "the tenantry," and it was here that Mary and Mrs. Flippin always sat after baking cakes.

Mrs. Flippin had not baked the cakes to-day, nor was she in the gallery, for her daughter, Mary, was among the guests on the ballroom floor, and her mother's own good sense had kept her at home.

"I shall look after Miss MacVeigh," she had said. "I want Truxton to bring you over and show you in your pretty new dress."

When they came, Madge, who was sitting up, insisted that she, too, must see Mary. "My dear, my dear," she said, "what a wonderful frock."

"Yes," Mary said, "it is. It is one of Becky's, and she gave it to me. And the turquoises are Mrs. Beaufort's."

Madge, who knew the whole alphabet of smart costumers, was aware of the sophisticated perfection of that fluff of jade green tulle. The touch of gold at the girdle, the flash of gold for the petticoat. She guessed the price, a stiff one, and wondered that Mary should speak of it casually as "one of Becky's."

"The turquoises are the perfect touch."

"That was Becky's idea. It seemed queer to me at first, blue with the green. But she said if I just wore this band around my hair, and the ring. And it does seem right, doesn't it?"

"It is perfect. What is Miss Bannister wearing?"

"Silver and white-lace, you know. The new kind, like a cobweb-with silver underneath-and a rose-colored fan-and pearls. You should see her pearls, Miss MacVeigh. Tell her about them, Truxton."

"Well, once upon a time they belonged to a queen. Becky's great-grandfather on the Meredith side was a diplomat in Paris, and he bought them, or so the story runs. Becky only wears a part of them. The rest are in the family vaults."

Madge listened, and showed no surprise. But that account of lace and silver, and priceless pearls did not sound in the least like the new little girl about whom George had, in the few times that she had seen him of late, been so silent.

"If only Flora would get well, and let me leave this beastly hole," had been the burden of his complaint.

"I thought you liked it."

"It is well enough for a time."

"What about the new little girl?"

He was plainly embarrassed, but bluffed it out. "I wish you wouldn't ask questions."

"I wish you wouldn't be-rude-Georgie-Porgie."

"I hate that name, Madge. Any man has a right to be rude when a woman calls him 'Georgie-Porgie.'"

"So that's it? Well, now run along. And please don't come again until you are nice-and smiling."

"Oh, look here, Madge."

"Run along--"

"But there isn't any place to run."

Laughter lurked in her eyes. "Oh, Georgie-Porgie-for once in your life can't you run away?"

"Do you think you are funny?"

"Perhaps not. Smile a little, Georgie."

"How can anybody smile, with everybody sick?"

"Oh, no, we're not. We are better. I am so glad that Flora is improving."

"Oscar thinks it is because that little old man prayed for her. Fancy Oscar--"

Madge meditated. "Yet it might be, you know, George. There are things in that old man's petition that transcend all our philosophy."

"Oh, you're as bad as Oscar," said George. He rose and stood frowning on the threshold. "Well, good-bye, Madge."

"Good-bye, Georgie, and smile when you come again."

She had guessed then that something had gone wrong in the game with the new little girl. She had a consuming curiosity to know the details. But she could never force things with Georgie. Some day, perhaps, he would tell her.

And now here was news indeed! She waited until young Beaufort and his wife had driven away, and until Mrs. Flippin had time for that quiet hour by her bedside.

"Mary looked lovely," said Madge.

"Didn't she?" Mrs. Flippin rocked and talked. "You would never have known that dress was made for anybody but for Mary. Becky gave Mary another dress out of a lot she had down from New York. It is yellow organdie, made by hand and with little embroidered scallops."

Madge knew the house which made a specialty of those organdie gowns with embroidered scallops, and she knew the price.

"But how does-Becky manage to have such lovely things?"

"Oh, she's rich," Mrs. Flippin was rocking comfortably. "You would never know it, and nobody thinks of it much. But she's got money. From her grandmother. And there was something in the will about having her live out of the world as long as she could. That's why they sent her to a convent and kept her down here as much as possible. She ain't ever seemed to care for clothes. She could always have had anything she wanted, but she ain't cared. She

told Mary that she had a sudden notion to have some pretty things, and she sent for them, and it was lucky for Mary that she did. She couldn't have gone to this ball, for there wasn't any time to get anything made. Mr. Flippin and I are going to buy her some nice things when she goes to Richmond. But they won't be like the things that Becky gets, of course."

Madge, listening to further details of the Meredith fortunes, wondered how much of this Georgie knew. "Becky's mother died when she was five, and her father two years later," Mrs. Flippin was saying. "She might have been spoiled to death if she had been brought up as some children are. But she has spent her winters at the convent with Sister Loretto, and she's never worn much of anything but the uniform of the school. You wouldn't think that she had any money to see her, would you, Miss MacVeigh?"

"No, you wouldn't," said Madge, truthfully.

It was after nine o'clock-a warm night-with no sound but the ticking of the clock and the insistent hum of locusts.

"Mrs. Flippin," said Madge, "I wish you'd call up Hamilton Hill and ask for Mr. Dalton, and tell him that Miss MacVeigh would like to have him come and see her if he has nothing else on hand."

Mrs. Flippin looked her astonishment. "To-night?"

"Oh, I am not going to receive him this way," Madge reassured her. "If he can come, I'll get nurse to dress me and make me comfy in the sitting-room."

Having ascertained that Dalton would be over at once, the nurse was called, and Madge was made ready. It was a rather high-handed proceeding, and both Mrs. Flippin and the nurse stood aghast.

The nurse protested. "You really ought not, Miss MacVeigh."

"I love to do things that I ought not to do."

"But you'll tire yourself."

"If you were my Mary," said Mrs. Flippin, severely, "I wouldn't let you have your way--"

"I love to have my own way, Mrs. Flippin. And-I am not your Mary"-then fearing that she had hurt the kind heart, she caught Mrs. Flippin's hand in her own and kissed it,-"but I wish I were. You're such a lovely mother."

Mrs. Flippin smiled at her. "I'm as near like your mother as a hen is mother to a bluebird."

Madge, robed in the mauve gown, refused to have her hair touched. "I like it in braids," and so when George came there she sat in the sitting-room, all gold and mauve-a charming picture for his sulky eyes.

"Oh," she said, as he came in, in a gray sack suit, with a gray cap in his hand, "why, you aren't even dressed for dinner!"

"Why should I be?" he demanded. "Kemp has left me."

She had expected something different. "Kemp?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"He didn't give any reason. Just said he was going-and went. He said he had intended to go before, and had only stayed until Mrs. Waterman was better. Offered to stay on a little longer if it would embarrass me any to have him leave. I told him that if he wanted to go, he could get out now. And he is packing his bags."

"But what will you do without him?"

"I have wired to New York for a Jap."

"Where will Kemp go?"

"To King's Crest. To work for that lame officer-Prime."

"Oh-Major Prime? How did it happen?"

"Heaven only knows. I call it a mean trick."

"Well, of course, Kemp had a right to go if he wanted to. And perhaps you will like a Jap better. You always said Kemp was too independent."

"He is," shortly, "but I hate to be upset. It seems as if everything goes wrong these days. What did you want with me, Madge?"

Her eyelashes flickered as she surveyed him. "I wanted to see you-smile, Georgie."

"You didn't bring me down here to tell me that--" But in spite of himself the corners of his lips curled. "Oh, what's the answer, Madge?" he said, and laughed in spite of himself.

"I wanted to talk a little about-your Becky."

His laughter died at once. "Well, I'm not going to talk about her."

"Please-I am dying of curiosity-I hear that she is very-rich, Georgie."

"Rich?"

"Yes. She has oodles of money--"

"I don't believe it."

"But it is true, Georgie."

"Who told you?"

"Mrs. Flippin."

"It is all-rot--"

"It isn't rot, Georgie. Mrs. Flippin knows about it. Becky inherits from her Meredith grandmother. And her grandfather is Admiral Meredith of Nantucket, with a big house on Beacon Street in Boston. And they all belong to the inner circle."

He stared at her. "But Becky doesn't look it. She doesn't wear rings and things."

"'Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes'? Oh, George, did you think it had to be like that When people had money? Why, her pearls belonged to a queen." She told him their history.

It came back to him with a shock that he had said to Becky that the pearls cheapened her. "If they were real," he had said.

"It was rather strange the way I found it out," Madge was saying. "Mary Flippin had on the most perfect gown-with all the marks on it of exclusive Fifth Avenue. She was going to the Merriweather ball, and Becky is to be there."

She saw him gather himself together. "It is rather a Cinderella story, isn't it?" he asked, with assumed lightness.

"Yes," she said, "but I thought you'd like to know."

"What if I knew already?"

She laughed and let it go at that. "I'm lonesome, Georgie, talk to me," she said. But he was not in a mood to talk. And at last she sent him away. And when he had gone she sat there a long time and thought about him. There had been look in his eyes which made her almost sorry. It seemed incredible as she came to think of it that anybody should ever be sorry for Georgie.

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