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   Chapter 34 No.34

The Trumpeter Swan By Temple Bailey Characters: 9564

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Since that night with Becky in the garden at Huntersfield George had been torn by conflicting emotions. He knew himself at last in love. He knew himself beaten at the game by a little shabby girl, and a lanky youth who had been her champion.

He would not acknowledge that the thing was ended, and in the end he had written her a letter. He cried to Heaven that a marriage between her and young Paine would be a crime. "How can you love him, Becky-you are mine."

The letter had been returned unopened. His burning phrases might have been dead ashes for all the good they had done. She had not read them.

And now Madge had told him the unbelievable thing-that Becky Bannister, the shabby Becky of the simple cottons and the stubbed shoes, was rich, not as Waterman was rich, flamboyantly, vulgarly, with an eye to letting all the world know. But rich in a thoroughbred fashion, scorning display-he knew the kind, secure in a knowledge of the unassailable assets of birth and breeding and solid financial standing.

No wonder young Paine wanted to marry her. George, driving through the night, set his teeth. He was seeing Randy, poor as Job's turkey, with Becky's money for a background.

Well, he should not have it. He should not have Becky.

George headed the car for the Merriweathers'. Becky was there, and he was going to see Becky. How he was to see her he left to the inspiration to the moment.

He parked his car by the road, and walked through the great stone gates. The palatial residence was illumined from top to bottom, its windows great squares of gold against the night. The door stood open, but except for a servant or two there was no one in the wide hall. The guests were dancing in the ballroom at the back, and George caught the lilt of the music as he skirted the house, then the sound of voices, the light laughter of the women, the deeper voices of the men.

The little balconies, lighted by the yellow lanterns, were empty. As soon as the music stopped they would be filled with dancers seeking the coolness of the outer air. He stood looking up, and suddenly, as if the stage had been set, Becky stepped out on the balcony straight in front of him, and stood under the yellow lantern. The light was dim, but it gave to her white skin, to her lace frock, to the pink fan, a faint golden glow. She might have been transmuted from flesh into some fine metal. George had not heard the Major's name for her, "Mademoiselle Midas," but he had a feeling that the little golden figure was symbolic-here was the real Golden Girl for him-not Madge or any other woman.

Randy was with her, back in the shadow, but unmistakable, his lean height, the lift of his head.

George moved forward until, hidden by a bush, he was almost under the balcony. He could catch the murmur of their voices. But not a word that they said was intelligible.

They were talking of Mary. Her introduction to her husband's friends had been an ordeal for Bob Flippin's daughter. But she had gone through it simply, quietly, unaffectedly, with the Judge by her side standing sponsor for his son's wife in chivalrous and stately fashion, with Mrs. Beaufort at her elbow helping her over the initial small talk of her presentation. With Truxton beaming, and with Becky drawing her into that charmed circle of the younger set which might so easily have shut her out. More than one of those younger folk had had it in mind that at last year's ball Mary Flippin had sat in the gallery. But not even the most snobbish of them would have dared to brave Becky Bannister's displeasure. Back of her clear-eyed serenity was a spirit which flamed and a strength which accomplished. Becky was an amiable young person who could flash fire at unfairness or injustice or undue assumption of superiority.

The music had stopped and the balconies were filled. George, in the darkness, was aware of the beauty of the scene-the lantern making yellow moons-the golden groups beneath them. Mary and Truxton with a friend or two were in the balcony adjoining the one where Becky sat with young Paine.

"Isn't she a dear and a darling, Randy?" Becky was saying; "and how well she carries it off. Truxton is so proud of her, and she is so pretty."

"She can't hold a candle to you, Becky."

"It is nice of you to say it." She leaned on the stone balustrade and swung her fan idly.

"I am not saying it to be nice."

"Aren't you-oh--!" She gave a quick exclamation.

"What's the matter?"

"I dropped my fan."

"I'll go and get it," he said, and just then the music started.

"No," said Becky, "never mind now. This is your dance with Mary-and she mustn't be kept waiting."

"Aren't you dancing this?"

"It is Truxton's, and I begged off. Run along, dear boy."

When he w

as gone she leaned over the rail. Below was a tangle of bushes, and the white gleam of a stone bench. Beyond the bushes was a path, and farther on a fountain. It was a rather imposing fountain, with a Neptune in bronze riding a sea-horse, with nymphs on dolphins in attendance. Neptune poured water from a shell which he held in his hand, and the dolphins spouted great streams. The splash of the water was a grateful sound in the stillness of the hot night, and the mist which the slight breeze blew towards a bed of tuberoses seemed to bring out their heavy fragrance. Always afterwards when Becky thought of that night, there would come to her again that heavy scent and the splash of streaming water.

"Becky," a voice came up from below, "I have your fan."

She peered down into the darkness, but did not speak.

"Becky, I am punished, enough, and I am-starved for you--"

"Give me my fan--"

"I want to talk to you-I must-talk to you."

"Give me my fan--"

"I can't reach--"

"You can stand on that bench."

He stood on it, and she could see his figure faintly defined.

"I am afraid I am still too far away. Lean over a bit, Becky-and I'll hand it to you."

She stretched her white arm down into the darkness. Her hand was caught in a strong clasp. "Becky, give me just five minutes by the fountain."

"Let me go."

"Not until you promise that you'll come."

"I shall never promise."

"Then I shall keep your fan--"

"Keep it-I have others."

"But you will think about this one, because I have it." There was a note of triumph in his soft laugh.

He kissed her finger-tips and reluctantly released her hand. "The fan is mine, then, until you ask for it."

"I shall never ask."

"Who knows? Some day you may-who knows?" and he was gone.

He could not have chosen a better way in which to fire her imagination. His voice in the dark, his laughing triumph, the daring theft of her fan. Her heart followed him, seeing him a Conqueror even in this, seeing him a robber with his rose-colored booty, a Robin Hood of the Garden, a Dick Turpin among the tuberoses.

The spirit of Romance went with him. The things that Pride had done for her looked gray and dull. She had promised to marry Randy, and felt that she faced a somewhat sober future. Set against it was all that George had given her, the sparkle and dash and color of his ardent pursuit.

He was not worth a thought, yet she thought of him. She was still thinking of him when Randy came back.

"Did you get your fan?" he asked.

"No. Never mind, Randy. I will have one of the servants look for it."

"But I do mind."

She hesitated. "Well, don't look for it now. Let's go in and join the others. Are they going down to supper?"

Supper was served in the great Hunt Room, which was below the ballroom. It was a historic and picturesque place, and had been the scene for over a century of merry-making before and after the fox-hunts for which the county was famous. There were two great fireplaces, almost hidden to-night by the heaped-up fruits of the harvest, orange and red and green, with cornstalks and goldenrod from the fields for decorations.

Becky found Mary alone at a small table in a corner. Truxton had left her to forage for refreshments and Randy followed him.

"Are you having a good time, Mary?"

Mary did not answer at once. Then she said, bravely, "I don't quite fit in, Becky. I am still an-outsider."

"Oh, Mary!"

"I am not-unhappy, and Truxton is such a dear. But I shall be glad to get home, Becky."

"But you look so lovely, Mary, and everybody seems so kind."

"They are, but underneath I am just plain-Mary Flippin. They know that, and so do I, and it will take them some time to forget it."

There was an anxious look in Becky's eyes. "It seems to me that you are feeling it more than the others."

"Perhaps. And I shouldn't have said anything. Don't let Truxton know."

"Has anyone said anything to hurt you, Mary?"

"No, but when I dance with the men, I can't speak their language. I haven't been to the places-I don't know the people. I am on the outside."

Becky had a sudden forlorn sense that things were wrong with the whole world. But she didn't want Mary to be unhappy.

"Truxton loves you," she said, "and you love him. Don't let anything make you miserable when you have-that. Nothing else counts, Mary."

There was a note of passion in her voice which brought a pulsing response from Mary.

"It is the only thing that counts, Becky. How silly I am to worry."

Her young husband was coming towards her-flushed and eager, a prince among men, and he was hers!

As he sat down beside her, her hand sought his under the table.

He looked down at her. "Happy, little girl?"

"Very happy, lover."

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