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   Chapter 42 No.42

The Trumpeter Swan By Temple Bailey Characters: 6444

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


George Dalton, entering the little sitting-room of "The Whistling Sally," had to bend his head. He was so shining and splendid that he seemed to fill the empty spaces. It seemed, indeed, to Becky, as if he were too shining and splendid, as if he bulked too big, like a giant, top-heavy.

But she was not unmoved. He had been the radiant knight of her girlish dreams-some of the glamour still remained. Her cheeks were touched with pink as she greeted him.

He took both of her hands in his. "Oh, you lovely, lovely little thing," he said, and stood looking down at her.

They were the words he had said to her in the music-room. They revived memories. Flushing a deeper pink, she drew away from him. "Why did you come?"

"I could not stay away."

"How long have you been here?"

"Five days--"

"Please-sit down"-she indicated a chair on the other side of the hearth. She had seated herself in the Admiral's winged chair. It came up over her head, and she looked very slight and childish.

George, surveying the room, said, "This is some contrast to Huntersfield."

"Yes."

"Do you like it?"

"Oh, yes. I have spent months here, you know, and Sally, who whistles out there in the yard, is an old friend of mine. I played with her as a child."

"I should think the Admiral would rather have one of those big houses on the bluff."

"Would you?"

"Yes."

"But he has so many big houses. And this is his play-house. It belonged to his grandfather, and that ship up there is one on which our Sally was the figure-head."

He forced himself to listen while she told him something of the history of the old ship. He knew that she was making conversation, that there were things more important to speak of, and that she knew it. Yet she was putting off the moment when they must speak.

There came a pause, however. "And now," he said, leaning forward, "let's talk about ourselves. I have been here five days, Becky-waiting--"

"Waiting? For what?"

"To ask you to-forgive me."

Her steady glance met his. "If I say that I forgive you, will that be-enough?"

"You know it will not," his sparkling eyes challenged her. "Not if you say it coldly--"

"How else can I say it?"

"As if-oh, Becky, don't keep me at long distance-like this. Don't tell me that you are engaged to Randy Paine. Don't--. Let this be our day--" He seemed to shine and sparkle in a perfect blaze of gallantry.

"I am not engaged to Randy."

He gave an exclamation of triumph. "You broke it off?"

"No," she said, "he broke it."

"What?"

She folded her hands in her lap. "You see," she said, "he felt that I did not love him. And he would not take me that way-unloving."

"He seemed to want to take you any way, the day he talked to me. I asked him what he had to offer you--" He gave a light laugh-seemed, to brush Randy away with a gesture.

Her cheeks flamed. "He has a great deal to offer."

"For example?" lazily, with a lift of the eyebrows.

"He is a gentleman-and a genius--"

His face darkened. "I'll pass over the first part of that until later. But why call him a 'genius'?"

"He has written a story," breathlessly, "oh, all the world will know it soon. The people who have read it,

in New York, are crazy about it--"

"Is that all? A story? So many people write nowadays."

"Well," she asked quietly, "what more have you to offer?"

"Love, Becky. You intimated a moment ago that I was not-a gentleman-because I failed-once. Is that fair? How do you know that Paine has not failed-how do you know--? And love hasn't anything to do with genius, Becky, it has to do with that night in the music-room, when you sang and when I-kissed you. It has to do with nights like those in the old garden, with the new moon and the stars, and the old goddesses."

"And with words which meant-nothing--"

"Becky," he protested.

"Yes," she said, "you know it is true-they meant nothing. Perhaps you have changed since then. I don't know. But I know this, that I have changed."

He felt back of her words the force which had always baffled him.

"You mean that you don't love me?"

"Yes."

"I-I don't believe it--"

"You must--"

"But--" he rose and went towards her.

"Please-we won't argue it. And-Jane is going to give us some tea." She left him for a moment and came back to sit behind the little table. Jane brought tea and fresh little cakes.

"For Heaven's sake, Becky," George complained, when the old woman had returned to her kitchen, "can you eat at a moment like this?"

"Yes," she said, "I can eat and the cakes are very nice."

She did not let him see that her hand trembled as she poured the tea.

George had had five days in the company of the dancer in yellow. He had found her amusing. She played the game at which he had proved himself so expert rather better than the average woman. She served for the moment, but no sane man would ever think of spending his life with her. But here was the real thing-this slip of a child in a blue velvet smock, with bows on her slippers, and a wave of bronze hair across her forehead. He felt that Becky's charms would last for a lifetime. When she was old, and sat like that on the other side of the hearth, with silver hair and bent figure, she would still retain her loveliness of spirit, the steadfast gaze, the vivid warmth of word and gesture.

For the first time in his life George knew the kind of love that projects itself forward into the future, that sees a woman as friend and as companion. And this woman whom he loved had just said that she did not love him.

"I won't give you up," he said doggedly.

"How can you keep me?" she asked quietly, and suddenly the structure of hope which he had built for himself tumbled.

"Then this is the-end?"

"I am afraid it is," and she offered him a cup.

His face grew suddenly gray. "I don't want any tea. I want you," his hands went over his face. "I want you, Becky."

"Don't," she said, shakily, "I am sorry."

She was sorry to see him no longer shining, no longer splendid, but she was glad that the spell was broken-the charm of sparkling eyes and quick voice gone-forever.

She said again, as she gave him her hand at parting, "I'm sorry."

His laugh was not pleasant. "You'll be sorrier if you marry Paine."

"No," she said, and he carried away with him the look which came into her eyes as she said it, "No, if I marry Randy I shall not be sorry."

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