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   Chapter 35 No.35

The Trumpeter Swan By Temple Bailey Characters: 15039

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Becky, as she journeyed towards the north, had carried with her a vision of a new and rather disturbing Randy-a Randy who, striding across the Hunt Room with high-held head, had delivered her fan, and had, later, asked for an explanation.

"How did he get it, Becky?"

She had told him.

"Why didn't you tell me when I came back and said I would go for it?"

"I was afraid he might still be there."

"Well?"

"And that something might happen."

Something had happened later by the fountain. But Randy did not speak of it. "I saw the fan in his hand and asked for it," grimly, "and he gave it to me--"

On the night before she went away, Randy had said, "I can't tell you all that you mean to me, Becky, and I am not going to try. But I am yours always-remember that--" He had kissed her hand and held it for a moment against his heart. Then he had left her, and Becky had wanted to call him back and say something that she felt had been left unsaid, but had found that she could not.

Admiral Meredith met his granddaughter in New York, and the rest of the trip was made with him.

Admiral Meredith was as different from Judge Bannister in his mental equipment as he was in physical appearance. He was a short little man, who walked with a sailor's swing, and who laughed like a fog-horn. He had ruddy cheeks, and the manners of a Chesterfield. If he lacked the air of aristocratic calm which gave distinction to Judge Bannister, he supplied in its place a sophistication due to his contact with a world which moved faster than the Judge's world in Virginia.

He adored Becky, and resented her long sojourn in the South. "I believe you love the Judge better than you do me," he told her, as he turned to her in the taxi which took them from the train to the boat.

"I don't love anybody better than I do you," she said, and tucked her hand in his.

"What have they been doing to you?" he demanded; "you are as white as paper."

"Well, it has been hot."

"Of all the fool things to keep you down here in summer. I am going to take you straight to 'Sconset to the Whistling Sally and keep you there for a month."

"The Whistling Sally" was the Admiral's refuge when he was tired of the world. It was a gray little house set among other gray little houses across the island from Nantucket town. It stood on top of the bluff and overlooked a sea which stretched straight to Spain. It was called "The Whistling Sally" because a ship's figure-head graced its front yard, the buxom half of a young woman who blew out her cheeks in a perpetual piping, and whose faded colors spoke eloquently of the storms which had buffeted her.

The Admiral, as has been indicated, had an imposing mansion in Nantucket town. For two months in the summer he entertained his friends in all the glory of a Colonial background-white pillars, spiral stairway, polished floors, Chinese Chippendale, lacquered cabinets, old china and oil portraits. He gave dinners and played golf, he had a yacht and a motor boat, he danced when the spirit moved him, and was light on his feet in spite of his years. He was adored by the ladies, lionized by everybody, and liked it.

But when the summer was over and September came, he went to Siasconset and reverted to the type of his ancestors. He hobnobbed with the men and women who had been the friends and neighbors of his forbears. He doffed his sophistication as he doffed his formal clothes. He wore a slicker on wet days, and the rain dripped from his rubber hat. He sat knee to knee with certain cronies around the town pump. He made chowder after a famous recipe, and dug clams when the spirit moved him.

His housekeeper, Jane, adjourned from the town house to "The Whistling Sally" when Becky was there; at other times the Admiral did for himself, keeping the little cottage as neat as a pin, and cooking as if he were born to it.

It seemed to Becky that as the long low island rose from the sea, the burdens which she had carried for so long dropped from her. There were the houses on the cliff, the glint of a gilded dome, and then, gray and blue and green the old town showed against the skyline, resolving itself presently into roofs, and church towers, and patches of trees, with long piers stretching out through shallow waters, boat-houses, fishing smacks, and at last a thin line of people waiting on the wharf.

The air was like wine. The sky was blue with the deep sapphire which follows a wind-swept night. There was not a hint of mist or fog. Flocks of gulls rose and dipped and rose again, or rested unafraid on the wooden posts of the pier.

The 'Sconset 'bus was waiting and they took it. Until two years ago no automobiles had been allowed on the island, but there had been the triumph of utility over the picturesque and quaint, and now one motored across the moor on smooth asphalt, in one-half the time that the trip had been made in the old days.

The Admiral did not like it. He admitted that it was quicker. "But we used to see the pheasants fly up from the bushes, and the ducks from the pools, and now they are gone before we can get our eyes on them."

Becky was not in a captious mood. The moor was before her, rising and falling in low unwooded hills, amber with dwarf goldenrod, red with the turning huckleberry, purple with drying grasses; green with a thousand lovely growing things still unpainted by the brush of autumn. The color was almost unbelievably gorgeous. Even the pools by the roadside were almost unbelievably blue, as if the water had been dyed with indigo, and above all was that incredible blue sky--!

Then out of the distance clear cut like cardboard the houses lifted themselves above the horizon, with the sea a wall to the right, and to the left, across the moor, the Sankaty lighthouse, white and red with the sun's rays striking across it.

They entered the village between rows of pleasant informal residences, many of them closed until another season; they passed the tennis courts, and came to the post-office, with its flag flying. The 'bus stopped, and they found Tristram waiting for them.

"Tristram" is an old name in Nantucket. There was a Tristram among the nine men who had purchased the Island from Thomas Mayhew in 1659 for "30 pounds current pay and two beaver hats." The present Tristram wore the name appropriately. Fair-haired and tall, not young but towards the middle-years, strong with the strength of one who lives out-of-doors in all weathers, browned with the wind and sun, blue-eyed, he called no man master, and was the owner of his own small acres.

Like the Admiral, he gave himself up for two months of the year to the summer people. If his association with them was a business rather than a social affair, it was, none the less, interesting. The occupation of Nantucket by "off-islanders" was a matter of infinite speculation and amusement. Into the serenity of his life came restless men and women who golfed and swam and rode and danced, who chafed when it rained, and complained of the fog, who seemed endlessly trying to get something out of life and who were endlessly bored, who wondered how Tristram could stand the solitudes and who pitied him.

Tristram knew that he did not need their pity. He had a thousand things that they did not have. He was never bored, and he was too busy to manufacture amusements. There were always things happening on the island-each day brought something different.

To-day, it was the winter gulls. "They are coming dow

n-lots of them from the north," he told the Admiral as they drove through the quaint settlement with its gray little houses, "the big ones--"

There was also the gerardia, pale pink and shading into mauve. He had brought a great bunch to "The Whistling Sally," and had put it in a bowl of gray pottery.

When Becky saw the flowers, she knew whom to thank. "Oh, Tristram," she said, "you found them on the moor."

Tristram, standing in the little front room of the Admiral's cottage, seemed to tower to the ceiling. "The Whistling Sally" from the outside had the look of a doll's house, too small for human habitation. Within it was unexpectedly commodious. It had the shipshape air of belonging to a seafaring man. The rooms were all on one floor. There was the big front room, which served as a sitting-room and dining-room. It had a table built out from the wall with high-backed benches on each side of it, and a rack for glasses overhead. There was a window above the table which looked out towards the sea. The walls were painted blue, and there was an old brick fireplace. A model of a vessel from which the figure-head in the front yard had been taken was over the mantel, flanked by an old print or two of Nantucket in the past. There were Windsor chairs and a winged chair; some pot-bellied silver twinkled in a corner cupboard.

The windows throughout were low and square and small-paned and white-curtained. The day was cool, and there was a fire on the hearth. The blaze and the pink flowers, and the white curtains gave to the little room an effect of brightness, although outside the early twilight was closing in.

Jane came in with her white apron and added another high light. She kissed Becky. "Did your grandfather tell you that Mr. Cope is coming over to have chowder?" she asked.

It would be impossible to describe Jane's way of saying "chowder." It had no "r," and she clipped it off at the end. But it is the only way in the world, and the people who so pronounce it are usually the only people in the world who can make it.

"Who is Mr. Cope?" Becky asked.

Mr. Cope, it seemed, had a cottage across the road from the Admiral's. He leased it, and it was his first season at 'Sconset. His sister had been with him only a week ago. She had gone "offshore," but she was coming back.

"Is he young?" Becky asked.

"Well, he isn't old," said Jane, "and he's an artist."

Becky was not in the least interested in Mr. Cope, go she talked to Tristram until he had to go back to his farm and the cows that waited to be milked. Then Becky went into her room, and took off her hat and coat and ran a comb through the bronze waves of her hair. She did not change the straight serge frock in which she had travelled. She went back into the front room and found that Mr. Cope had come.

He was not old. That was at once apparent. And he was not young. He did not look in the least like an artist. He seemed, rather, like a prosperous business man. He wore a Norfolk suit, and his reddish hair was brushed straight back from his forehead. He had rather humorous gray eyes, and Becky thought there was a look of delicacy about his white skin. Later he spoke of having come for his health, and she learned that he had a weak heart.

He had a pleasant laughing voice. He belonged to Boston, but had lived abroad for years.

"With nothing to show for it," he told her with a shrug, "but one portrait. I painted my sister, and she kept that. But before we left Paris we burned the rest--"

"Oh, how dreadful," Becky cried.

"No, it wasn't dreadful. They were not worth keeping. You see, I played a lot and made sketches and things, and then there was the war-and I wasn't very well."

He had had two years of aviation, and after that a desk in the War Department.

"And now I am painting again."

"Gardens?" Becky asked, "or the sea?"

"Neither. I am trying to paint the moor. I'll show you in the morning."

The Admiral was in the kitchen, superintending the chowder. Jane knew how to make it, and he knew that she knew. But he always went into the kitchen at the psychological moment, tied on an apron, and put in the pilot crackers. Then he brought the chowder in, in a big porcelain tureen which was shaped like a goose. Becky loved him in his white apron, with his round red face, and the porcelain goose held high.

"If you could paint him like that," she suggested to Archibald Cope.

"Do you think he would let me?" eagerly.

After supper the two men smoked by the fire, and Becky sat between them and watched the blaze. She heard very little of the conversation. Her mind was in Albemarle. How far away it seemed! Just three nights ago she had danced at the Merriweathers' ball, and George had held her hand as she leaned over the balcony.

"If you can bring yourself back for a moment, Becky, to present company," her grandfather was saying, "you can tell Mr. Cope whether you will walk with us to-morrow to Tom Never's."

"I'd love it."

"Really?" Cope asked. "You are sure you won't be too tired?"

"Not in this air. I feel as if I could walk forever."

"How about a bit of a walk to-night-up to the bluff? Is it too late, Admiral?"

"Not for you two. I'll finish my pipe, and read my papers."

The young people followed the line of the bluff until they came to an open space which looked towards the east. To the left of them was the ridge with a young moon hanging low above it, and straight ahead, brighter than the moon, whitening the heavens, stretching out and out until it reached the sailors in their ships, was the Sankaty light.

"I always come out to look at it before I go to bed," said Cope; "it is such a living thing, isn't it?"

The wind was rising and they could hear the sound of the sea. Becky caught her breath. "On dark nights I like to think how it must look to the ships beyond the shoals--"

"The sea is cruel," said Cope; "that's why I don't paint it."

"Oh, it isn't always cruel."

"When isn't it? Last year, with the submarines, it was-a monster. I saw a picture once in a gallery, 'The Eternal Siren,' just the sea. And a woman asked, 'Where's the Siren?'"

Becky laughed. "If you had sailor blood in you, you wouldn't feel that way. Ask Grandfather."

"The Admiral is prejudiced. He loves-the siren--"

"He would tell you that the sea isn't a siren. It's a bold, blustering lass like the Whistling Sally out there in the front yard. Man has tamed her even if he hasn't quite mastered her."

"He will never master her. She will go on and on, after we are dead, through the ages, wooing men to-destruction--"

Becky shivered. "I hate to think of things-after we are dead."

"Do you? I don't. I like to think way beyond the ages to the time when there shall be no more sea--"

He pulled himself up abruptly. "I am talking rather dismally, I am afraid, about death and destruction. You won't want to walk with me again."

"Oh, yes, I shall. And I want to see your pictures."

"You may not care for them. Lots of people don't. But I have to work in my own way--"

As they walked back, he told her what he was trying to do. As she listened, Becky seemed to have two minds, one that caught his words, and answered them, and another which went back and back to the things which had happened since she had last walked this bluff with the wind in her face and the sound of the sea in her ears.

It seemed to her as if a lifetime had elapsed since last she had looked at the Sankaty light.

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