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   Chapter 36 No.36

The Trumpeter Swan By Temple Bailey Characters: 12403

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Randy's letter had set Becky adrift. She was not in love with him. She was sure of that. And he had said he would not marry her without love. He had said that if she owned her soul she would think of Dalton as a cad and as a coward.

It seemed queer that Randy should be demanding things of her. He had always been so glad to take anything she would give, and now she had offered him herself, and he wouldn't have her. Not till she owned her soul.

She knew what he meant. The thought of George was always with her. She kept seeing him as she had first seen him at the station; as he had been that wonderful day when they had had tea in the Pavilion; the night in the music room when he had hissed her; the old garden with its pale statues and box hedges; and always there was his sparkling glance, his quick voice.

She would never own her soul until she forgot George. Until she put him out of her life; until the thought of him would not make her burn hot with humiliation; until the thought of him would not thrill to her finger-tips.

She found Cope's easy and humorous companionship a balance for her hidden emotions. And when Louise Cope came, she proved to be a rather highly emphasized counterpart of her brother. Her red-gold hair was thick and she wore it bobbed. Her skin was white but lacked the look of delicacy which seemed to contradict constantly Cope's vivid personality. She seemed to laugh at the world as he did. She called Becky "quaint," but took to her at once.

"Archie has been writing to me of you," she told Becky; "he says you came up like a bird from the south."

"Birds don't fly north in the fall--"

"Well, you were the-miracle," Cope asserted.

Louise Cope's shrewd glance studied him. "He has fallen in love with you, Becky Bannister," was her blunt assurance, "but you needn't let it worry you. As yet it is only an aesthetic passion. But there is no telling what may come of it--"

"Does he fall in love-like that?" Becky demanded.

"He has never been in love," Louise declared, "not really. Except with me."

Becky felt that the Copes were a charming pair. When she answered Randy's letter she spoke of them.

"Louise adores her brother, and she thinks he would be a great artist if he would take himself seriously. But neither of them seems to take anything seriously. They always seem to be laughing at the world in a quiet way. Louise is not pretty, but she gives an effect of beauty-- She wears a big gray cape and a black velvet tam, and I am not sure that the color in her cheeks is real. She is different from other people, but it doesn't seem to be a pose. It is just because she has lived in so many places and has seen so many people and has thought for herself. I have always let other people think for me, haven't I, Randy?

"And now that I have done with the Copes, I am going to talk about the things that you said to me in your letter, and which are really the important things.

"I hated to think that you dropped Mr. Dalton in the fountain. I hated to think that you wanted to burn him at the stake-there was something-cruel-and-dreadful in it all. I have kept thinking of that struggle between you-in the dark-- I have hated to think that a few years ago if you had felt as you do about him-that you might have-killed him. But perhaps men are like that. They care more for justice than for-mercy.

"I am trying to take your advice and tell myself the truth about Mr. Dalton. That he isn't worth a thought of mine. Yet I think of him a great deal. I am being very frank with you, Randy, because we have always talked things out. I think of him, and wonder which is the real man-the one I thought he was-and I thought him very fine and splendid. Or is he just trifling and commonplace? Perhaps he is just between, not as wonderful as I thought him, nor as contemptible as I seem forced to believe.

"Yet I gave him something that it is hard to take back. I gave a great deal. You see I had always been shut up in a glass case like the bob-whites and the sandpipers in the Bird Room, and I knew nothing of the world. And the first time I tried my wings, I thought I was flying towards the sun, and it was just a blaze that-burned me.

"Of course you are right when you say that you won't marry me unless I love you. I had a queer feeling at first about it-as if you were very far away and I couldn't reach you. But I know that you are right, and that you are thinking of the thing that is best for me. But I know I shall always have you as a friend. I don't think that I shall ever love anybody. And after this we won't talk about it. There are so many other things that we have to say to each other that don't hurt--"

Becky could not, of course, know the effect of her letter on Randy. The night after its receipt, he roamed the woods. She had thought him cruel-and dreadful. Well, let her think it. He was glad that he had dropped George in the fountain. He should always be glad. But women were not like that-they were tender-and hated-hardness. Perhaps that was because they were-mothers--

And men were-hard. He had been hard, perhaps, in the things he had said in his letter. Her words rang in his ears. "I had a queer feeling at first that you were very far away, and that I could not reach you." And she had said that, when his soul ached to have her near.

Yet he had tried to do the best that he could for Becky. He had felt that she must not be bound by a tie that was no longer needed to protect her from Dalton. She was safe at 'Sconset, with the Admiral and her new friends the Copes. He envied them their hours with her. He was desperately lonely, with a loneliness which had no hope.

He worked intensively. The boarders had gone from King's Crest, and he and the Major had moved into the big house. Randy spent a good deal of time in the Judge's library at Huntersfield. He and Truxton had great plans for their future. They read law, sold cars, and talked of their partnership. The firm was to be "Bannister, Paine and Beaufort"; it was to have brains, conscience, and business acumen.

"In the order named," Truxton told the Major. "The Judge has brains, Randy has a conscience. There'

s nothing left for me but to put pep into the business end of it."

Randy worked, too, on his little story. He did not know in the least what he was going to do with it, but it was an outlet for the questions which he kept asking himself. The war was over and the men who had fought had ceased to be important. He and the Major and Truxton talked a great deal about it. The Major took the high stand of each man's satisfaction in the thing he had done. Truxton was light-heartedly indifferent. He had his Mary, and his future was before him. But Randy argued that the world ought not to forget. "It was a rather wonderful thing for America. I want her to keep on being wonderful."

The Major in his heart knew that the boy was right. America must keep on being wonderful. Her young men must go high-hearted to the tasks of peace. It was the high-heartedness of people which had won the war. It would be the high-heartedness of men and women which would bring sanity and serenity to a troubled world.

"The difficulty lies in the fact that we are always trying to make laws to right the world, when what we need is to form individual ideals. The boy who says in his heart, 'I want to be like Lincoln,' and who stands in front of a statue of Lincoln, and learns from that rugged countenance the lesson of simple courage and honesty, has a better chance of a future than the boy who is told, 'There is evil in the world, and the law punishes those who transgress.' Half of our Bolsheviks would be tamed if they had the knowledge and love of some simple hero in their hearts, and felt that there was a chance for them to be heroic. The war gave them a chance. We have now to show them that there is beauty and heroism in orderly living--"

He was talking to Madge. She was still with the Flippins. The injury to her foot had been more serious than it had seemed. She might have gone with Oscar and Flora when they left Hamilton Hill. But she preferred to stay. Flora was to go to a hospital; Madge would not be needed.

"I am going to stay here as long as you will let me," she said to Mrs. Flippin; "you will tell me if I am in the way--"

Mrs. Flippin adored Madge. "It is like having a Princess in the house," she said, "only she don't act like a Princess."

The Major came over every afternoon. Kemp drove him, as a rule, in the King's Crest surrey. If the little man missed Dalton's cars, he said no word. He made the Major very comfortable. He lived a life of ease if not of elegance, and he loved the wooded hills, the golden air, the fine old houses, the serene autumn glory of this southern world.

On the afternoon when the Major talked to Madge of the world at peace, they were together under the apple tree which Madge had first seen from the window of the east room. There were other apple trees in the old orchard, but it was this tree that Madge liked because of its golden globes. "The red ones are wonderful," she said, "but red isn't my color. With my gold skin, they make me look like a gypsy. If I am to be a golden girl, I must stay away from red--"

"Is that what you are-a golden girl?"

"That was always George Dalton's name for me."

"I am sorry."

"Why?"

"Because I should like it to be mine for you. I should like to link my golden West with the thought of you."

"And you won't now, because it was somebody else's name for me?"

Kemp, before he went away, had made her comfortable with cushions in a chair-like crotch of the old tree. The Major was at her feet. He meditated a moment. "I shall make it my name for you. What do I care what other men have called you."

"Do you know what you called me-once?" she was smiling down at him.

"No."

"A little lame duck. It was when I first tried to use my foot. And you laughed, and said that it-linked us-together. And now you are trying to link me with your West--"

"You know why, of course."

"Yes, I do."

He drew a long breath. "Most women would, have said, 'No, I don't know.' But you told the truth. I want to link you with my life in every way I can because I love you. And you know that I care-very much-that I want you for my wife-my golden girl in my golden West--?"

"You have never told me before that-you cared."

"There was no need to tell it. You knew."

"Yes. I was afraid it was true--"

He was startled. "Afraid? Why?"

"Oh, I oughtn't to let you care," she said. "You don't know what a slacker I've been. And I don't want you to find out--"

"The only thing that I want to find out is whether you care for me."

She flushed a little under his steady gaze, then quite unexpectedly she reached her hand down to him. He took it in his firm clasp. "I do care-an awful lot," she said, "but I've tried not to. And I shouldn't let you care for me."

"Why-shouldn't?"

"I'm not-half good enough. My life has always been lived at loose ends. Nothing bad, but a thousand things that you wouldn't-like to hear-I'm not a golden girl-I'm a gilded one--"

"Why should you tell me things like that? I don't believe it."

"Please believe it," she said earnestly, "don't whitewash things. Just let me begin again-loving you--"

Her voice broke. He drew himself up, and took her in his arms. "My dear girl," he said, "my dear girl--"

"I never met a man like you, I never believed there were-such men--" He felt her tears against his hand.

"Listen," he said quietly; "let me tell you something of my life." He told her the things he had told Randy. Of the little wife he had not loved. "Perhaps if it had not been for her, I should not have had the courage to offer to you my-maimed-self. When I married her I was strong and young and had wealth to give her. Yet I did not give her love. And love is more than all the rest. I have that to give you-you know it."

"Yes."

"I have some money. I don't think it is going to count much with either of us. What will count is the way we plan our future. I have a big old ranch, and we'll live in it-with the dairy and the wide kitchen that you've talked about-and you won't have to wait for another world, dearest, to get your heart's desire--"

"I have my heart's desire," she whispered; "you are-my world."

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