The Trumpeter Swan
Author of "The Tin Soldier" "Contrary Mary" "Mistress Anne" "Glory of Youth"
Sonus ex nubibus te revocabit a mundo A sound from the clouds shall call thee from this earth
Illustrated by ALICE BARBER STEPHENS
THE PENN PUBLISHING COMPANY PHILADELPHIA 1920
COPYRIGHT 1920 BY THE PENN PUBLISHING COMPANY
I. A Major and Two Minors 7 II. Stuffed Birds 33 III. A Wolf in the Forest 61 IV. Rain and Randy's Soul 88 V. Little Sister 108 VI. Georgie-Porgie 127 VII. Mademoiselle Midas 147 VIII. Ancestors 161 IX. "T. Branch" 181 X. A Gentleman's Lie 214 XI. Wanted—a Pedestal 245 XII. Indian—Indian 263 XIII. The Whistling Sally 289 XIV. The Dancer on the Moor 313 XV. The Trumpeter Swan 333 XVI. The Conqueror 361
"When I am Married Will You Sound Your Trumpet High Up Near the Moon?" Frontispiece
"It's So Heavenly to Have You Home" 9
Becky Drew A Sharp Breath—Then Faced Dalton Squarely—"I Am Going to Marry Randy" 143
"Oh, Oh," She Whispered, "You Don't Know How I Have Wanted You" 257
THE TRUMPETER SWAN
A MAJOR AND TWO MINORS
It had rained all night, one of the summer rains that, beginning in a thunder-storm in Washington, had continued in a steaming drizzle until morning.
There were only four passengers in the sleeper, men all of them—two in adjoining sections in the middle of the car, a third in the drawing-room, a fourth an intermittent occupant of a berth at the end. They had gone to bed unaware of the estate or circumstance of their fellow-travellers, and had waked to find the train delayed by washouts, and side-tracked until more could be learned of the condition of the road.
The man in the drawing-room shone, in the few glimpses that the others had of him, with an effulgence which was dazzling. His valet, the intermittent sleeper in the end berth, was a smug little soul, with a small nose which pointed to the stars. When the door of the compartment opened to admit breakfast there was the radiance of a brocade dressing-gown, the shine of a sleek head, the staccato of an imperious voice.
Randy Paine, long and lank, in faded khaki, rose, leaned over the seat of the section in front of him and drawled, "'It is not raining rain to me—it's raining roses—down——'"
A pleasant laugh, and a deep voice, "Come around here and talk to me. You're a Virginian, aren't you?"
"By the grace of God and the discrimination of my ancestors," young Randolph, as he dropped into the seat opposite the man with the deep voice, saluted the dead and gone Paines.
"Then you know this part of it?"
"I was born here. In this county. It is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh," there was a break in the boy's voice which robbed the words of grandiloquence.
"Hum—you love it? Yes? And I am greedy to get away. I want wider spaces——"
"Yes. Haven't seen it for three years. I thought when the war was over I might. But I've got to be near Washington, it seems. The heat drove me out, and somebody told me it would be cool in these hills——"
"It is, at night. By day we're not strenuous."
"I like to be strenuous. I hate inaction."
He moved restlessly. There was a crutch by his side. Young Paine noticed it for the first time. "I hate it."
He had a strong frame, broad shoulders and thin hips. One placed him immediately as a man of great physical force. Yet there was the crutch. Randy had seen other men, broad-shouldered, thin-hipped, who had come to worse than crutches. He did not want to think of them. He had escaped without a scratch. He did not believe that he had lacked courage, and there was a decoration to prove that he had not. But when he thought of those other men, he had no sense of his own valor. He had given so little and they had given so much.
Yet it was not a thing to speak of. He struck, therefore, a note to which he knew the other might respond.
"If you haven't been here before, you'll like the old places."
"I am going to one of them."
A moment's silence. Then, "That's my home. I have lived there all my life."
The lame man gave him a sharp glance. "I heard of it in Washington—delightful atmosphere—and all that——"
"You are going as a—paying guest?"
A deep flush stained the younger man's face. Suddenly he broke out. "If you knew how rotten it seems to me to have my mother keeping—boarders——"
"My dear fellow, I hope you don't think it is going to be rotten to have me?"
"No. But there are other people. And I didn't know until I came back from France—— She had to tell me when she knew I was coming."
"She had been doing it all the time you were away?"
"Yes. Before I went we had mortgaged things to help me through the University. I should have finished in a year if I hadn't enlisted. And Mother insisted there was enough for her. But there wasn't with the interest and everything—and she wouldn't sell an acre. I shan't let her keep on——"
"Are you going to turn me out?"
His smile was irresistible. Randy smiled back. "I suppose you think I'm a fool——?"
"Yes. For being ashamed of it."
Randy's head went up. "I'm not ashamed of the boarding-house. I am ashamed to have my mother work."
"So," said the lame man, softly, "that's it? And your name is Paine?"
"Randolph Paine of King's Crest. There have been a lot of us—and not a piker in the lot."
"I am Mark Prime."
"Major Prime of the 135th?"
The other nodded. "The wonderful 135th—God, what men they were——" his eyes shone.
Randy made his little gesture of salute. "They were that. I don't wonder you are proud of them."
"It was worth all the rest," the Major said, "to have known my men."
He looked out of the window at the drizzle of rain. "How quiet the world seems after it all——"
Then like the snap of bullets came the staccato voice through the open door of the compartment.
"Find out why we are stopping in this beastly hole, Kemp, and get me something cold to drink."
Kemp, sailing down the aisle, like a Lilliputian drum major, tripped over Randy's foot.
"Beg pardon, sir," he said, and sailed on.
Randy looked after him. "'His Master's voice——'"
"And to think," Prime remarked, "that the coldest thing he can get on this train is ginger ale."
Kemp, coming back with a golden bottle, with cracked ice in a tall glass, with a crisp curl of lemon peel, ready for an innocuous libation, brought his nose down from the heights to look for the foot, found that it no longer barred the way, and marched on to hidden music.
"Leave the door open, leave it open," snapped the voice, "isn't there an electric fan? Well, put it on, put it on——"
"He drinks nectar and complains to the gods," said the Major softly, "why can't we, too, drink?"
They had theirs on a table which the porter set between them. The train moved on before they had finished. "We'll be in Charlottesville in less than an hour," the conductor announced.
"Is that where we get off, Paine?"
"One mile beyond. Are they going to meet you?"
"I'll get a station wagon."
Young Paine grinned. "There aren't any. But if Mother knows you're coming she'll send down. And anyhow she expects me."
"After a year in France—it will be a warm welcome——"
"A wet one, but I love the rain, and the red mud, every blooming inch of it."
"Of course you do. Just as I love the dust of the desert."
They spoke, each of them, with a sort of tense calmness. One doesn't confess to a lump in one's throat.
The little man, Kemp, was brushing things in the aisle. He was hot but unconquered. Having laid out the belongings of the man he served, he took a sudden recess, and came back with a fresh collar, a wet but faultless pompadour, and a suspicion of powder on his small nose.
"All right, sir, we'll be there in fifteen minutes, sir," they heard him say, as he was swallowed up by the yawning door.
Fifteen minutes later when the train slowed up, there emerged from the drawing-room a man some years older than Randolph Paine, and many years younger than Major Prime. He was good-looking, well-dressed, but apparently in a very bad temper. Kemp, in an excited, Skye-terrier manner, had gotten the bags together, had a raincoat over his arm, had an umbrella handy, had apparently foreseen every contingency but one.
"Great guns, Kemp, why are we getting off here?"
"The conductor said it was nearer, sir."
Randolph Paine was already hanging on the step, ready to drop the moment the train stopped. He had given the porter an extra tip to look after Major Prime. "He isn't used to that crutch, yet. He'd hate it if I tried to help him."
The rain having drizzled for hours, condensed suddenly in a downpour. When the train moved on, the men found themselves in a small and stuffy waiting-room. Around the station platform was a sea of red mud. Misty hills shot up in a circle to the horizon. There was not a house in sight. There was not a soul in sight except the agent who knew young Paine. No one having come to meet them, he suggested the use of the telephone.
In the meantime Kemp was having a hard time of it. "Why in the name of Heaven didn't we get off at Charlottesville," his master was demanding.
"The conductor said this was nearer, sir," Kemp repeated. His response had the bounding quality of a rubber ball. "If you'll sit here and make yourself comfortable, Mr. Dalton, I'll see what I can do."
"Oh, it's a beastly hole, Kemp. How can I be comfortable?"
Randy, who had come back from the telephone with a look on his face which clutched at Major Prime's throat, caught Dalton's complaint.
"It isn't a beastly hole," he said in a ringing voice, "it's God's country—— I got my mother on the 'phone, Major. She has sent for us and the horses are on the way."
Dalton looked him over. What a lank and shabby youth he was to carry in his voice that ring of authority. "What's the answer to our getting off here?" he asked.
"Depends upon where you are going."
"To Oscar Waterman's——"
"Never heard of him."
"Hamilton Hill," said the station agent.
Randy's neck stiffened. "Then the Hamiltons have sold it?"
"Yes. A Mr. Waterman of New York bought it."
Kemp had come back. "Mr. Waterman says he'll send the car at once. He is delighted to know that you have come, sir."
"How long must I wait?"
"Not more than ten minutes, he said, sir," Kemp's optimism seemed to ricochet against his master's hardness and come back unhurt. "He will send a closed car and will have your rooms ready for you."
"Serves me right for not wiring," said Dalton, "but who would believe there is a place in the world where a man can't get a taxi?"
Young Paine was at the door, listening for the sound of hoofs, watching with impatience. Suddenly he gave a shout, and the others looked to see a small object which came whirling like a bomb through the mist.
"Nellie, little old lady, little old lady," the boy was on his knees, the dog in his arms—an ecstatic, panting creature, the first to welcome her master home!
Before he let her go, the little dog's coat was wet with more than rain, but Randy was not ashamed of the tears in his eyes as he faced the others.
"I've had her from a pup—she's a faithful beast. Hello, there they come. Gee, Jefferson, but you've grown! You are almost as big as your name."
Jefferson was the negro boy who drove the horses. There was a great splashing of red mud as he drew up. The flaps of the surrey closed it in.
Jefferson's eyes were twinkling beads as he greeted his master. "I sure is glad to see you, Mr. Randy. Miss Caroline, she say there was another gemp'mun?"
"He's here—Major Prime. You run in there and look after his bags."
Randy unbuttoned the flaps and gave a gasp of astonishment:
In another moment she was out on the platform, and he was holding her hands, protesting in the meantime, "You'll get wet, my dear——"
"Oh, I want to be rained on, Randy. It's so heavenly to have you home. I caught Jefferson on the way down. I didn't even wait to get my hat."
She did not need a hat. It would have hidden her hair. George Dalton, watching her from the door, decided that he had never seen such hair, bronze, parted on the side, with a thick wave across the forehead, it shaded eyes which were clear wells of light.
She was a little thing with a quality in her youth which made one think of the year at the spring, of the day at morn, of Botticelli's Simonetta, of Shelley's lark, of Wordsworth's daffodils, of Keats' Eve of St. Agnes—of all the lovely radiant things of which the poets of the world have sung——
Of course Dalton did not think of her in quite that way. He knew something of Browning and little of Keats, but he had at least the wit to discern the rareness of her type.
As for the rest, she wore faded blue, which melted into the blue of the mists, stubbed and shabby russet shoes and an air of absorption in her returned soldier. This absorption Dalton found himself subconsciously resenting. Following an instinctive urge, he emerged, therefore, from his chrysalis of ill-temper, and smiled upon a transformed universe.
"My raincoat, Kemp," he said, and strode forth across the platform, a creature as shining and splendid as ever trod its boards.
Becky, beholding him, asked, "Is that Major Prime?"
"No, thank Heaven."
Jefferson, steering the Major expertly, came up at this moment. Then, splashing down the red road whirled the gorgeous limousine. There were two men on the box. Kemp, who had been fluttering around Dalton with an umbrella, darted into the waiting-room for the bags. The door of the limousine was opened by the footman, who also had an umbrella ready. Dalton hesitated, his eyes on that shabby group by the mud-stained surrey. He made up his mind suddenly and approached young Paine.
"We can take one of you in here. You'll be crowded with all of those bags."
"Not a bit. We'll manage perfectly, thank you," Randy's voice dismissed him.
He went, with a lingering glance backward. Becky, catching that glance, waked suddenly to the fact that he was very good-looking. "It was kind of him to offer, Randy."
Nothing more was said, but Becky wondered a bit as they drove on. She liked Major Prime. He was an old dear. But why had Randy thanked Heaven that the other man was not the Major?
The Waterman motor passed the surrey, and Dalton, straining his eyes for a glimpse of the pretty girl, was rewarded only by a view of Randy on the front seat with his back turned on the world, while he talked with someone hidden by the curtains.
Perhaps the fact that she was hidden by the curtains kept Dalton's thoughts upon her. He felt that her beauty must shine even among the shadows—he envied Major Prime, who sat next to her.
The Major was aware that his position was enviable. It was worth much to watch these two young people, eager in their reunion. "Becky Bannister, whom I have known all my life," had been Randy's presentation of the little lady with the shining hair.
"Grandfather doesn't know that I came, or Aunt Claudia. They felt that your mother ought to see you first and so did I. Until the last minute. Then I saw Jefferson driving by—I was down at the gate to wave to you, Randy—and I just came——" her gay laugh was infectious—the men laughed with her.
"You must let me out when we get to Huntersfield, and you mustn't tell—either of you. We are all to dine together to-night at your house, Randy, and when you meet me, you are to say—'Becky'—just as you did to-day, as if I had fallen from the skies."
"Well, you did fall—straight," Randy told her. "Becky, you are too good to be true; oh, you're too pretty to be true. Isn't she, Major?"
"It is just because I am—American. Are you glad to get back to us, Randy?"
"Glad," he drew a long breath. Nellie, who had wedged herself in tightly between her master and Jefferson, wriggled and licked his hand. He looked down at her, tried to say something, broke a little on it, and ended abruptly, "It's Heaven."
"And you weren't hurt?"
"Not a scratch, worse luck."
She turned to Major Prime and did the wise thing and the thing he liked. "You were," she said, simply, "but I am not going to be sorry for you, shall I?"
"No," he said, "I am not sorry for—myself——"
For a moment there was silence, then Becky carried the conversation into lighter currents. "Everybody is here for the Horse Show next week. Your mother's house is full, and those awful Waterman people have guests."
"One of them came down with us."
"The good-looking man who offered us a ride?"
"Oh, of course if you like that kind of looks, he's the kind of man you'd like," said Randy, "but coming down he seemed rather out of tune with the universe."
"How out of tune?"
"Well, it was hot and he was hot——"
"It is hot, Randy, and perhaps he isn't used to it."
"Are you making excuses for him?"
"I don't even know him."
Major Prime interposed. "His man was a corking little chap, never turned a hair, as cool as a cucumber, with everybody else sizzling."
They were ascending a hill, and the horse went slowly. Ahead of them was a buggy without a top. In the buggy were a man and a woman. The woman had an umbrella over her, and a child in her arms.
"It's Mary Flippin and her father. See if you can't overtake them, Jefferson. I want you to see Fiddle Flippin, Randy."
"Who is Fiddle Flippin?"
"Mary's little girl. Mary is a war bride. She was in Petersburg teaching school when the war broke out, and she married a man named Branch. Then she came home—and she called the baby Fidelity."
"I hope he was a good husband."
"Nobody has seen him, he was ordered away at once. But she is very proud of him. And the baby is a darling. Just beginning to walk and talk."
"Stop a minute, Jefferson, while I speak to them."
Mr. Flippin pulled up his fat horse. He was black-haired, ruddy, and wide of girth. "Well, well," he said, with a big laugh, "it is cert'n'y good to see you."
Mary Flippin was slender and delicate and her eyes were blue. Her hair was thick and dark. There was Scotch-Irish blood in the Flippins, and Mary's charm was in that of duskiness of hair and blueness of eye. "Oh, Randy Paine," she said, with her cheeks flaming, "when did you get back?"
"Ten minutes ago. Mary, if you'll hand me that corking kid, I'll kiss her."
Fiddle was handed over. She was rosy and round with her mother's blue eyes. She wore a little buttoned hat of white pique, with strings tied under her chin.
"So," said Randy, after a moist kiss, "you are Fiddle-dee-dee?"
"Who gave you that name?"
"It is her own way of saying Fidelity," Mary explained.
"Isn't she rather young to say anything?"
"Oh, Randy, she's a year and a half," Becky protested. "Your mother says that you talked in your cradle."
Randy laughed, "Oh, if you listen to Mother——"
"I'm glad you're in time for the Horse Show," Mr. Flippin interposed, "I've got a couple of prize hawgs—an' when you see them, you'll say they ain't anything like them on the other side."
"Well, they ain't. I reckon Virginia's good enough for you to come back to, ain't it, Mr. Randy——?"
"It is good enough for me to stay in now that I'm here."
"So you're back for good?"
"Well, we're mighty glad to have you."
Fiddle Flippin, dancing and doubling up on Randy's knee like a very soft doll, suddenly held out her arms to her mother.
As Mary leaned forward to take her, Randy was aware of the change in her. In the old days Mary had been a gay little thing, with an impertinent tongue. She was not gay now. She was a Madonna, tender-eyed, brooding over her child.
"She has changed a lot," Randy said, as they drove on.
"Why shouldn't she change?" Becky demanded.
"Wouldn't any woman change if she had loved a man and had let him go to France?"
It was still raining hard when the surrey stopped at a high and rusty iron gate flanked by brick pillars overgrown with Virginia creeper.
"Becky," said young Paine, "you can't walk up to the house. It's pouring."
"I don't see any house," said Major Prime.
"Well, you never do from the road in this part of the country. We put our houses on the tops of hills, and have acres to the right of us, and acres to the left, and acres in front, and acres behind, and you can never visit your neighbors without going miles, and nobody ever walks except little Becky Bannister when she runs away."
"And I am going to run now," said Becky. "Randy, there's a raincoat under that seat. I'll put it on if you will hand it out to me."
"You are going to ride up, my dear child. Drive on, Jefferson."
"Randy, please, your mother is waiting. She didn't come down to the station because she said that if she wept on your shoulder, she would not do it before the whole world. But she is waiting—— And it isn't fair for me to hold you back a minute."
He yielded at last reluctantly. "Remember, you are to act as if you had never met me," she said to Major Prime as she gave him her hand at parting, "when you see me to-night."
"Becky," Randy asked, in a sudden panic, "are the boarders to be drawn up in ranks to welcome me?"
"No, your mother has given you and Major Prime each two rooms in the Schoolhouse, and we are to dine out there, in your sitting-room—our families and the Major. And there won't be a soul to see you until morning, and then you can show yourself off by inches."
"Until to-night then," said Randy, and opened the gate for her.
"Until to-night," she watched them and waved her hand as they drove off.
"A beautiful child," the Major remarked from the shadow of the back seat.
"She's more than beautiful," said Randy, glowing, "oh, you wait till you really know her, Major."
The Schoolhouse at King's Crest had been built years before by one of the Paines for two sons and their tutor. It was separated from the old brick mansion by a wide expanse of unmowed lawn, thick now in midsummer with fluttering poppies. There was a flagged stone walk, and an orchard at the left, beyond the orchard were rolling fields, and in the distance one caught a glimpse of the shining river.
On the lower floor of the Schoolhouse were two ample sitting-rooms with bedrooms above, one of which was reached by outside stairs, and the other by an enclosed stairway. Baths had been added when Mrs. Paine had come as a widow to King's Crest with her small son, and had chosen the Schoolhouse as a quiet haven. Later, on the death of his grandparents, Randy had inherited the estate, and he and his mother had moved into the mansion. But he had kept his rooms in the Schoolhouse, and was glad to know that he could go back to them.
Major Prime had the west sitting-room. It was lined with low bookcases, full of old, old books. There was a fireplace, a winged chair, a broad couch, a big desk of dark seasoned mahogany, and over the mantel a steel engraving of Robert E. Lee. The low windows at the back looked out upon the wooded green of the ascending hill; at the front was a porch which gave a view of the valley.
Randolph's arrival had had something of the effect of a triumphal entry. Jefferson had driven him straight to the Schoolhouse, but on the way they had encountered old Susie, Jefferson's mother, who cooked, and old Bob, who acted as butler, and the new maid who waited on the table. These had followed the surrey as a sort of ecstatic convoy. Not a boarder was in sight but behind the windows of the big house one was aware of watching eyes.
"They are all crazy to meet you," Randy's mother had told him, as they came into the Major's sitting-room after those first sacred moments when the doors had been shut against the world, "they are all crazy to meet you, but you needn't come over to lunch unless you really care to do it. Jefferson can serve you here."
"What do you want me to do?"
"My dear, I'm so proud of you, I'd like to show you to the whole world."
"But there are so many of us, Mother."
"There's only one of you——"
"And we haven't come back to be put on pedestals."
"You were put on pedestals before you went away."
"I'll be spoiled if you talk to me like that."
"I shall talk as I please, Randy. Major Prime, isn't he as handsome as a—rose?"
"Well, you are——"
"Mother, if you talk like this to the boarders, I'll go back and get shot up——"
She clung to him. "Randy, don't say such a thing. He mustn't talk like that, must he, Major?"
"He doesn't mean it. Paine, this looks to me like the Promised Land——"
"I'm glad you like it," said Mrs. Paine, "and now if you don't mind, I'll run along and kill the fatted calf——"
She kissed her son, and under a huge umbrella made her way through the poppies that starred the grass——
"On Flanders field—where poppies blow"—the Major drew a sudden quick breath—— He wished there were no poppies at King's Crest.
"I hate this hero stuff," Randy was saying, "don't you?"
"I am not so sure that I do. Down deep we'd resent it if we were not applauded, shouldn't we?"
Randy laughed. "I believe we should."
"I fancy that when we've been home for a time, we may feel somewhat bitter if we find that our pedestals are knocked from under us. Our people don't worship long. They have too much to think of. They'll put up some arches, and a few statues and build tribute houses in a lot of towns, and then they'll go on about their business, and we who have fought will feel a bit blank."
Randy laughed, "You haven't any illusions about it, have you?"
"No, but you and I know that it's all right however it goes."
Randy, standing very straight, looked out over the valley where the river showed through the rain like a silver thread. "Well, we didn't do it for praise, did we?"
"No, thank God."
Their eyes were seeing other things than these quiet hills. Things they wanted to forget. But they did not want to forget the high exaltation which had sent them over, or the quiet conviction of right which had helped them to carry on. What the people at home might do or think did not matter. What mattered was their own adjustment to the things which were to follow.
Randy went up-stairs, took off his uniform, bathed and came down in the garments of peace.
"Glad to get out of your uniform?" the Major asked.
"I believe I am. Perhaps if I'd been an officer, I shouldn't."
"Everybody couldn't be. I've no doubt you deserved it."
"I could have pulled wires, of course, before I went over, but I wouldn't."
From somewhere within the big house came the reverberation of a Japanese gong.
Randy rose. "I'm going over to lunch. I'd rather face guns, but Mother will like it. You can have yours here."
"Not if I know it," the Major rose, "I'm going to share the fatted calf."
It was late that night when the Major went to bed. The feast in Randy's honor had lasted until ten. There had been the shine of candles, and the laughter of the women, the old Judge's genial humor. Through the windows had come the fragrance of honeysuckle and of late roses. Becky had sung for them, standing between two straight white candles.
"In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea, With the glory in his bosom which transfigures you and me. As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free While God is marching on——"
The last time the Major had heard a woman sing that song had been in a little French town just after the United States had gone into the war. She was of his own country, red-haired and in uniform. She had stood on the steps of a stone house and weary men had clustered about her—French, English, Scotch, a few Americans. Tired and spent, they had gazed up at her as if they drank her in. To them she was more than a singing woman. She was the daughter of a nation of dreamers, the daughter of a nation which made its dreams come true! Behind her stood a steadfast people, and—God was marching on——!
He had had his leg then, and after that there had been dreadful fighting, and sometimes in the midst of it the voice of the singing woman had come back to him, stiffening him to his task.
And here, miles away from that war-swept land, another woman sang. And there was honeysuckle outside, and late roses—and poppies, and there was Peace. And the world which had not fought would forget. But the men who had fought would remember.
He heard Randy's voice, sharp with nerves. "Sing something else, Becky. We've had enough of war——"
The Major leaned across the table. "When did you last hear that song, Paine?"
"On the other side, a red-haired woman—whose lover had been killed. I never want to hear it again——"
It was as if they were alone at the table, seeing the things which they had left behind. What did these people know who had stayed at home? The words were sacred—not to be sung; to be whispered—over the graves of—France.
The Country Club was, as Judge Bannister had been the first to declare, "an excrescence."
Under the old regime, there had been no need for country clubs. The houses on the great estates had been thrown open for the county families and their friends. There had been meat and drink for man and beast.
The servant problem had, however, in these latter days, put a curb on generous impulse. There were no more niggers underfoot, and hospitality was necessarily curtailed. The people who at the time of the August Horse Show had once packed great hampers with delicious foods, and who had feasted under the trees amid all the loveliness of mellow-tinted hills, now ordered by telephone a luncheon of cut-and-dried courses, and motored down to eat it. After that, they looked at the horses, and with the feeling upon them of the futility of such shows yawned a bit. In due season, they held, the horse would be as extinct as the Dodo, and as mythical as the Centaur.
The Judge argued hotly for the things which had been. Love of the horse was bred in the bone of Old Dominion men. He swore by all the gods that when he had to part with his bays and ride behind gasoline, he would be ready to die.
Becky agreed with her grandfather. She adored the old traditions, and she adored the Judge. She spent two months of every year with him in his square brick house in Albemarle surrounded by unprofitable acres. The remaining two months of her vacation were given to her mother's father, Admiral Meredith, whose fortune had come down to him from whale-hunting ancestors. The Admiral lived also in a square brick house, but it had no acres, for it was on the Main Street of Nantucket town, with a Captain's walk on top, and a spiral staircase piercing its middle.
The other eight months of the year Becky had spent at school in an old convent in Georgetown. She was a Protestant and a Presbyterian; the Nantucket grandfather was a Unitarian of Quaker stock, Judge Bannister was High Church, and it was his wife's Presbyterianism which had been handed down to Becky. Religion had therefore nothing to do with her residence at the school. A great many of the Bannister girls had been educated at convents, and when a Bannister had done a thing once it was apt to be done again.
Becky was nineteen, and her school days were just over. She knew nothing of men, she knew nothing indeed of life. The world was to her an open sea, to sail its trackless wastes she had only a cockle-shell of dreams.
"If anybody," said Judge Bannister, on the first day of the Horse Show, "thinks I am going to eat dabs of things at the club when I can have Mandy to cook for me, they think wrong."
He gave orders, therefore, which belonged to more opulent days, when his father's estate had swarmed with blacks. There was now in the Judge's household only Mandy, the cook, and Calvin, her husband. Mandy sat up half the night to bake a cake, and Calvin killed chickens at dawn, and dressed them, and pounded the dough for biscuits on a marble slab, and helped his wife with the mayonnaise.
When at last the luncheon was packed there was coffee in the thermos bottle. Prohibition was an assured fact, and the Judge would not break the laws. The flowing glass must go into the discard with other picturesque customs of the South. His own estate that had once been sold by John Randolph to Thomas Jefferson for a bowl of arrack punch——! Old times, old manners! The Judge drank his coffee with the air of one who accepts a good thing regretfully. He stood staunchly by the Administration. If the President had asked the sacrifice of his head, he would have offered it on the platter of political allegiance.
So on this August morning, an aristocrat by inheritance, and a democrat by assumption, he drove his bays proudly. Calvin, in a worn blue coat, sat beside him with his arms folded.
Becky was on the back seat with Aunt Claudia. Aunt Claudia was a widow and wore black. She was small and slight, and the black was made smart by touches of white crepe. Aunt Claudia had not forgotten that she had been a belle in Richmond. She was a stately little woman with a firm conviction of the necessity of maintaining dignified standards of living. She was in no sense a snob. But she held that women of birth and breeding must preserve the fastidiousness of their ideals, lest there be social chaos.
"There would be no ladies left in the world," she often told Becky, "if we older women went at the modern pace."
Becky, in contrast to Aunt Claudia's smartness, showed up rather ingloriously. She wore the stubbed russet shoes, a not too fresh cotton frock of pale yellow, and a brown straw sailor.
"You might at least have stopped to change your shoes," Aunt Claudia told her, as they left the house behind.
"I was out with Randy and the dogs. It was heavenly, Aunt Claudia."
"My dear, if a walk with Randy is heavenly, what will you call Heaven when you get to it?"
They drove through the first gate, and Calvin climbed down to open it. Beyond the gate the road descended gradually through an open pasture, where sheep grazed on the hillside or lay at rest in the shade. The bells of the leaders tinkled faintly, the ewes and the lambs were calling. Beyond the big gate, the highroad was washed with the recent rains. From the gate to the club was a matter of five miles, and the bays ate up the distance easily.
The people on the porch of the Country Club were very gay and gorgeous, so that Becky in her careless frock and shabby shoes would have been a pitiful contrast if she had cared in the least what the people on the porch thought of her. But she did not care. She nodded and smiled to a friend or two as the Judge stopped for a moment in the crush of motors.
George Dalton was on the porch. When he saw Becky he leaned forward for a good look at her.
"Some girl," he said to Waterman, as the surrey moved on, "the one in the sailor hat. Who is she?"
Oscar Waterman was a newcomer in Albemarle. He had bought a thousand acres, with an idea of grafting on to Southern environment his own ideas of luxurious living. The county families had not called, but he was not yet aware of his social isolation. He was rich, and most of the county families were poor—from his point of view the odds were in his favor—and it was never hard to get guests. He could always motor up to Washington and New York, and bring a crowd back with him. His cellars were well stocked, and his hospitality undiscriminating.
"I don't know the girl," he told Dalton, "but the old man is Judge Bannister. He's one of the natives—no money and oodles of pride."
In calling Judge Bannister a "native," Oscar showed a lack of proportion. A native, in the sense that he used the word, is a South Sea Islander, indigenous but negligible. Oscar was fooled, you see, by the Judge's old-fashioned clothes, and the high surrey, and the horses with the flowing tails. His ideas of life had to do with motor cars and mansions, and with everybody very much dressed up. He felt that the only thing in the world that really counted was money. If you had enough of it the world was yours!
Year after year the Bannisters of Huntersfield had eaten their Horse Show luncheon under a clump of old oaks beneath which the horses now stopped. The big trees were dropping golden leaves in the dryness. From the rise of the hill one looked down on the grandstand and the crowd as from the seats of an amphitheater.
Judge Bannister remembered when the women of the crowd had worn hoops and waterfalls. Aunt Claudia's memory went back to bustles and bonnets. There were deeper memories, too, than of clothes—of old friends and young faces—there was always a moment of pensive retrospect when the Bannisters stopped under the old oak on the hill.
Randolph Paine, his mother and Major Prime were to join them at luncheon. Separate plans had been made by the boarders who had packed themselves into various cars and carriages, and had their own boxes and baskets.
"Caroline Paine is always late," the Judge said with some impatience; "if we don't eat on time, we shall have to hurry. I have never hurried in my life and I don't want to begin now."
Claudia Beaufort was accustomed to impatience in men, and she was inflexible as a hostess. "Well, of course, we couldn't begin without them, could we?" she asked. "There they come now, Father. William, you'd better help Major Prime."
Randy was driving the fat mare, Rosalind. Nellie Custis, Randolph's wiry hound, loped along with flapping ears in the rear of the low-seated carriage. Major Prime was on the back seat with Mrs. Paine.
"My dear Judge," he said, as the old gentleman came to the side of the carriage, "I can't tell you how honored I am to be included in your party. This is about the best thing that has happened to me in a long time."
"I wanted you to get the old atmosphere. You can't get it at the Country Club. We Bannisters have lunched up here for sixty years—older than you are, eh?"
"We used to call it the races, but now they tack on the Horse Show. It was different, of course, when all the old places were owned by the old families. But they can't change the oaks and the sweep of the hills, and the mettle of the horses, thank God."
"I am sorry I was late," said Caroline Paine, as they settled themselves under the trees, "but I went to town to have my hair waved."
"I wish you wouldn't, Caroline," Mrs. Beaufort told her, "your hair is nice enough without it."
Caroline Paine took off her hat, "I couldn't get it up to look like this, could I?"
The Judge surveyed the undulations critically. "Caroline," he said, "you are too pretty to need it."
"I want to keep young for Randolph's sake," Mrs. Paine told him, "then he'll like me better than any other girl."
"You needn't think you have to get your hair curled to make me love you," said her tall son; "you are ducky enough as you are."
Major Prime, delighting in their lack of self-consciousness, made a diplomatic contribution. "Why quarrel with such a charming coiffure?"
Mrs. Paine smiled at him, comfortably. "I feel much better," she said; "they are always trying to hold me back."
She was a woman of ample proportions and of leisurely habit. Life had of late hurried her a bit, but she still gave the effect of restful calm. She was of the same generation as Aunt Claudia, and a widow. But she wore her widowhood with a difference. She had on to-day a purple hat. Her hair was white, her dress was white, and her shoes. She was prettier than Aunt Claudia but she lacked her distinction of manner and of carriage.
"They always want to hold me back when I try to be up-to-date," she repeated.
Randy threw an acorn at her. "Nobody can hold you back, Mother," he said, "when you get your mind on a thing. Aunt Claudia, what do you hear from Truxton?"
"A letter came this morning," said Mrs. Beaufort, lighting up with the thought of it. "I hadn't heard for days before that. And I was worried."
"Truxton hasn't killed himself writing letters since he went over," the Judge asserted. "Claudia, can't we have lunch?"
"William is unpacking the hamper now, Father. And I think Truxton has done very well. It isn't easy for the boys to find time."
"Randy wrote to me every week."
"Well, you did."
"But I'm that kind. I have to get things off my mind. Truxton isn't. And I'll bet when Aunt Claudia does get his letters that they are worth reading."
Mrs. Beaufort nodded. "They are lovely letters. I have the last one with me; would you like to hear it?"
"Not before lunch, Claudia," the Judge urged.
"I will read it while the rest of you eat." There were red spots in Mrs. Beaufort's cheeks. She adored her son. She could not understand her father's critical attitude. Had she searched for motives, however, she might have found them in the Judge's jealousy.
It was while she was reading Truxton's letter that the Flippins came by—Mr. Flippin and his wife, Mary, and little Fidelity. A slender mulatto woman followed with a basket.
The Flippins were one of the "second families." Between them and the Paines of King's Crest and the Bannisters of Huntersfield stretched a deep chasm of social prejudice. Three generations of Flippins had been small farmers on rented lands. They had no coats-of-arms or family trees. They were never asked to dine with the Paines or Bannisters, but there had been always an interchange of small hospitalities, and much neighborliness, and as children Mary Flippin, Randy and Becky and Truxton had played together and had been great friends.
So it was now as they stopped to speak to the Judge's party that Mrs. Beaufort said graciously, "I am reading a letter from Truxton. Would you like to hear it?"
Mary, speaking with a sort of tense eagerness, said, "Yes."
So the Flippins sat down, and Mrs. Beaufort read in her pleasant voice the letter from France.
Randy, lying on his back under the old oak, listened. Truxton gave a joyous diary of the days—little details of the towns through which he passed, of the houses where he was billeted, jokes of the men, of the food they ate, of his hope of coming home.
"He seems very happy," said Mrs. Beaufort, as she finished.
"He is and he isn't——"
"You might make yourself a little clearer, Randolph," said the Judge.
"He is happy because France in summer is a pleasant sort of Paradise—with the cabbages stuck up on the brown hillsides like rosettes—and the minnows flashing in the little brooks and the old mills turning—and he isn't happy—because he is homesick."
Randy raised himself on his elbow and smiled at his listening audience—and as he smiled he was aware of a change in Mary Flippin. The brooding look was gone. She was leaning forward, lips parted—"Then you think that he is—homesick?"
"I don't think. I know. Why, over there, my bones actually ached for Virginia."
The Judge raised his coffee cup. "Virginia, God bless her," he murmured, and drank it down!
The Flippins moved on presently—the slender mulatto trailing after them.
"If the Flippins don't send that Daisy back to Washington," Mrs. Paine remarked, "she'll spoil all the negroes on the place."
Mrs. Beaufort agreed, "I don't know what we are coming to. Did you see her high heels and tight skirt?"
"Once upon a time," the Judge declaimed, "black wenches like that wore red handkerchiefs on their heads and went barefoot. But the world moves, and some day when we have white servants wished on us, we'll pray to God to send our black ones back."
Calvin was passing things expertly. Randy smiled at Becky as he filled her plate.
"You don't look it."
"No. You're not a bread and butter sort of person."
"What kind am I?"
"Sugar and spice and everything nice."
"Did you learn to say such things in France?"
"Haven't I always said them?"
"Not in quite the same way. You've grown up, Randy. You seem years older."
"Do you like me—older?"
"Of course." There was warmth in her voice but no coquetry. "What a silly thing to ask, Randy."
Calvin, having served the lunch, ate his own particular feast of chicken backs and necks under the surrey from a pasteboard box cover. Having thus separated himself as it were from those he served, he was at his ease. He knew his place and was happy in it.
Mary Flippin also knew her place. But she was not happy. She sat higher up on the hill with her child asleep in her arms, and looked down on the Judge's party. Except for an accident of birth, she might be sitting now among them. Would she ever sit among them? Would her little daughter, Fidelity?
"We are the only one of the old families who are eating lunch out of a basket," said Caroline Paine; "next year we shall have to go to the Country Club with the rest of them."
"I shall never go to the Country Club," said Judge Bannister, "as long as there is a nigger to fry chicken for me."
"We may have to swim with the tide."
"Don't tell me that you'd rather be up there than here, Caroline."
"I'd like it for some things," Mrs. Paine admitted frankly; "you should see the clothes that those Waterman women are wearing."
"What do you care what they wear. You don't want to be like them, do you?"
"I may not care to be like them, but I want to look like them. I got the pattern of this sweater I am knitting from one of my boarders. Do you want it, Claudia?"
Mrs. Beaufort winced at the word "boarders." She hated to think that Caroline must—— "I never wear sweaters, Caroline. They are not my style. But I am knitting one for Becky."
"Is it blue?" Randy asked. "Becky ought always to wear blue, except when she wears pale yellow. That was a heavenly thing you had on at dinner the night we arrived, wasn't it, Major?"
"Everything was heavenly. I felt like one who expecting a barren plain sees—Paradise."
It was not flattery and they knew it. They were hospitable souls, and in a week he had become, as it were, one of them.
Randy, returning to the subject in hand, asked, "Will you wear the blue if I come up to-night, Becky?"
"I will not." Becky was making herself a chaplet of yellow leaves, and her bronze hair caught the light. "I will not. I shall probably put on my old white if I dress for dinner."
"Of course you'll dress," said Mrs. Beaufort; "there are certain things which we must always demand of ourselves——"
Caroline Paine agreed. "That's what I tell Randy when he says he doesn't want to finish his law course. His father was a lawyer and his grandfather. He owes it to them to live up to their standards."
Randy was again flat on his back with his hands under his head. "If I stay at the University, it means no money for either of us except what you earn, Mother."
The war had taken its toll of Caroline Paine. Things had not been easy since her son had left her. They would not be easy now. "I know," she said, "but you wouldn't want your father to be ashamed of you."
Randy sat up. "It isn't that—but I ought to make some money——"
The word was a challenge to the Judge. "Don't run with the mob, my boy. The world is money-mad."
"I'm not money-mad," said Randy; "I know what I should like to do if my life was my own. But it isn't. And I'm not going to have Mother twist and turn as she has twisted and turned for the last fifteen years in order to get me educated up to the family standard."
"If you don't mind I shouldn't." Caroline Paine was setting her feet to a rocky path, but she did not falter. "You shouldn't mind if I don't."
Becky laid down the chaplet of leaves. She knew some of the things Caroline Paine had sacrificed and she was thrilled by them. "Randy," she admonished, with youthful severity, "it would be a shame to disappoint your mother."
Randolph flushed beneath his dark skin. The Paines had an Indian strain in them—Pocahontas was responsible for it, or some of the other princesses who had mixed red blood with blue in the days when Virginia belonged to the King. Randy showed signs of it in his square-set jaw, the high lift of his head, his long easy stride, the straightness of his black hair. He showed it, too, in a certain stoical impassiveness which might have been taken for indifference. His world was, for the moment, against him; he would attempt no argument.
"I am afraid this doesn't interest Major Prime," he said.
"It interests me very much," said the Major. "It is only another case of the fighting man's adjustment to life after his return. We all have to face it in one way or another." His eyes went out over the hills. They were gray eyes, deep set, and, at this moment, kindly. They could blaze, however, in stress of fighting, like bits of steel. "We all have to face it in one way or another. And the future of America depends largely on our seeing things straight."
"Well, there's only one way for Randy to face it," said Caroline Paine, firmly, "and that is to do as his fathers did before him."
"If I do," Randy flared, "it will be three years before I can make a living, and I'll be twenty-five."
Becky put on the chaplet of leaves. It fitted like a cap. She might have been a dryad, escaped for a moment from the old oak. "Three years isn't long."
"Suppose I should want to marry——"
"But why shouldn't I?"
"I don't want you to get married," she told him; "when I come down we couldn't have our nice times together. You'd always be thinking about your wife."
From the porch of the Country Club, George Dalton had seen the Judge's party at luncheon. According to George's lexicon no one who could afford to go to the club would eat out of a basket. He rather blushed for Becky that she must sit there in the sight of everybody and share a feast with a shabby old Judge, a lean and lank stripling with straight hair, a lame duck of an officer, and two middle-aged women, who made spots of black and purple on the landscape. Like Oscar, George's ideas of life had to do largely with motor cars and yachts, and estates on Long Island, palaces at Newport and Len ox and Palm Beach. During the war he had served rather comfortably in a becoming uniform in the Quartermaster's Department in Washington. Now that the war was over, he regretted the becomings of the uniform. He felt to-day, however, that there were compensations in his hunting pink. He was slightly bronzed and had blue eyes. He was extremely popular with the women of the Waterman set, but was held to be the especial property of Madge MacVeigh.
Madge had observed his interest in the party on the hill.
"George," she said, "what are you looking at?"
"I am looking at those people who are picnicking. They probably have ants in the salad and spiders in their coffee."
"They are getting more out of it than you and I," said Madge.
"How getting more?"
"We are tired of things, Georgie-Porgie."
"Speak for yourself, Madge."
"I am speaking for both of us. You are tired of me, for example."
"My dear girl, I am not."
"You are. And I am tired of you. It's not your fault, and it's not mine. It is the fault of any house-party. People see too much of each other. I am glad I am going away to-morrow, and you'll be glad. And when we have been separated a month, you will rush up to see me, and say you couldn't live without me."
She dissected him coolly. Madge had a modern way of looking at things. She was not in the least sentimental. But she had big moments of feeling. It was because of this deep current which swept her away now and then from the shallows that she held Dalton's interest. He never knew in what mood he should find her, and it added spice to their friendship.
"I didn't know you were going to-morrow."
"Neither did I till this morning, but I am bored to death, Georgie."
She did not look it. She was long-limbed, slender, with heavy burned-gold hair, a skin which was pale gold after a July by the sea. The mauve of her dress and hat emphasized the gold of hair and skin. Some one had said that Madge MacVeigh at the end of a summer gave the effect of a statue cast in new bronze. Dalton in the early days of their friendship had called her his "Golden Girl." The name had stuck to her. She had laughed at it but had liked it. "I should hate it," she had said, "if I were rich. Perhaps some day some millionaire will turn me into gold and make it true."
"Just because you are bored to death," Dalton told her, "is no reason why you should accuse me of it."
"It isn't accusation. It's condolence. I am sorry for both of us, George, that we can't sit there under the trees and eat out of a basket and have spiders and ants in things and not mind it. Here we are in the land of Smithfield hams and spoon-bread and we ate canned lobster for lunch, and alligator pear salad."
"Baked ham and spoon-bread—for our sins?"
"It is because you and I have missed the baked ham and spoon-bread atmosphere, that we are bored to death, Georgie. Everything in our lives is the same wherever we go. When we are in Virginia we ought to do as the Virginians do, and instead Oscar Waterman brings a little old New York with him. It's Rome for the Romans, Georgie, lobsters in New England, avocados in Los Angeles, hog and hominy here."
There were others listening now, and she was aware of her amused audience.
"If you don't like my little old New York," Waterman said, "I'll change it."
"No, I am going back to the real thing, Oscar. To my sky-scrapers and subways. You can't give us those down here—not yet. Perhaps some day there will be a system of camouflage by which no matter where we are—in desert or mountain, we can open our windows to the Woolworth Building on the skyline or the Metropolitan Tower, or to Diana shooting at the stars,—and have some little cars in tunnels to run us around your estate."
"By Jove, Jefferson nearly did it," said Waterman; "you should see the subterranean passages at Monticello for the servants, so that the guests could look over the grounds without a woolly head in sight."
"Great old boob, Jefferson," said Waterman's wife, Flora.
"No," Madge's eyes went out over the hills to where Monticello brooded over great memories, "he was not a boob. He was so big that little people like us can't focus him, Flora."
She came down from her perch. "I adore great men," she said; "when I go back, I shall make a pilgrimage to Oyster Bay. I wonder how many of us who weep over Great heart's grave would have voted for him if he had lived. In a sense we crucified him."
"Madge is serious," said Flora Waterman, "now what do you think of that?"
"I have to be serious sometimes, Flora, to balance the rest of you. You can be as gay as you please when I am gone, and if you perish, you perish."
George walked beside her as the party moved towards the grandstand. "I've half a mind to go to New York with you, Madge. I came down on your account."
"It's because you followed me that I'm tired of you, Georgie. If you go, I'll stay."
She was smiling as she said it. But he did not smile. "Just as you wish, of course. But you mustn't expect me to come running when you crook your finger."
"I never expect things, but you'll come."
Perhaps she would not have been so sure if she could have looked into his mind. The day that Becky had ridden away, hidden by the flaps of the old surrey, the spark of his somewhat fickle interest had been lighted, and the glimpse that he had had of her this morning had fanned the spark into a flame.
"Did you say the old man's name is Bannister?" he asked Oscar as the Judge's party passed them later on their way to their seats.
"Yes. Judge Bannister. I tried to buy his place before I decided on Hamilton Hill. But he wouldn't sell. He said he wouldn't have any place for his stuffed birds."
"His hobby is the game birds of Virginia. He has a whole room of them. I offered him a good price, but I suppose he'd rather starve than take it."
The Judge's box was just above Oscar Waterman's. Becky, looking up, saw Dalton's eyes upon her.
"It's the man who came with you on the train," she told Randy.
"What's he wearing a pink coat for?" Randy demanded. "He isn't riding."
"He probably knows that he looks well in it."
"That isn't a reason."
Becky took another look. "He has a head like the bust of Apollo in our study hall."
"I'd hate to have a head like that."
"Well, you haven't," she told him; "you may hug that thought to yourself if it is any consolation, Randy."
Caroline Paine's boarders sat high up on the grandstand. If the boarders seem in this book to be spoken of collectively, like the Chorus in a Greek play, or the sisters and aunts and cousins in "Pinafore," it is not because they are not individually interesting. It is because, en Massey only, have they any meaning in this history.
Now as they sat on the grandstand, they discerned Mrs. Paine in the Judge's box. They waved at her, and they waved at Randy, they waved also at Major Prime. They demanded recognition—some of the more enthusiastic detached themselves finally from the main group and came down to visit Caroline. The overflow straggled along the steps to the edge of the Waterman box. One genial gentleman was forced finally to sit on the rail, so that his elbow stuck straight into the middle of the back of George's huntsman's pink.
George moved impatiently. "Can't you find any other place to sit?"
The genial gentleman beamed on him. "I have a seat over there. But we came down to see Mrs. Paine. She is in Judge Bannister's box and we board with her—at King's Crest. And say, she's a corker!"
George, surveying Becky with increasing interest, decided that she was a bit above her surroundings. She sat as it were with—Publicans. George may not have used the Scriptural phrase, but he had the feeling. He was Pharisaic ally thankful that he was not as that conglomerate group in the Bannister box. A cheap crowd was his estimate. It would be rather nice to give the little girl a good time!
Filled, therefore, with a high sense of his philanthropic purpose, he planned a meeting. With his blue eyes on the flying horses, with his staccato voice making quick comments, he had Becky in the back of his mind. He found a moment, when the crowd went mad as the county favorite came in, to write a line on the back of an envelope, and hand it to Kemp, who hovered in the background, giving him quiet instructions.
"Yes, sir," said Kemp guardedly, and stood at attention until the races were over, and the crowd began to move, and then he handed the note to Judge Bannister.
The Judge put on his glasses and read it. "Where is he?" he asked Kemp.
"In the other box, sir. The one above."
"Tell him to come down."
"Yes, sir, thank you, sir."
The Judge was as pleased as Punch. "That man up there in Waterman's box has heard of my collection," he explained to his party. "He wants me to settle a point about the Virginia partridge."
"Which man?" Randy's tone was ominous.
Dalton's arrival saved the Judge an answer. In his hunting pink, with his Apollo head, Dalton was upon them. The Judge, passing him around to the members of his party, came at last to Becky.
"My granddaughter, Becky Bannister."
With George's sparkling gaze bent full upon her, Becky blushed.
Randy saw the blush. "Oh, Lord," he said, under his breath, and stuck his hands in his pockets.
"I've always called it a quail," Dalton was saying.
"You would if you come from the North. To be exact, it isn't either, it's an American Bob-white. I'd be glad to have you come up and look at my collection. There is every kind of bird that has been shot in Virginia fields or Virginia waters. I've got a Trumpeter Swan. The last one was seen in the Chesapeake in sixty-nine. Mine was killed and stuffed in the forties. He is in a perfect state of preservation, and in the original glass case."
"I'd like to come," George told him. "Could I—to-night? I don't know just how long I shall be staying down."
"Any time—any time. To-night, of course. There's nothing I like better than to talk about my birds, unless it is to eat them. Isn't that so, Claudia?"
"Yes, Father." Mrs. Beaufort was studying Dalton closely. His manner was perfect. It was, indeed, she decided, too perfect. "He is thinking too much of the way he does it." The one sin in Aunt Claudia's mind was social self-consciousness. People who thought all of the time about manners hadn't been brought up to them. They must have them without thinking. George was not, she decided, a gentleman in the Old Dominion sense. Dalton would have been amazed could he have looked into Aunt Claudia's mind and have seen himself a—Publican.
"Father," she said, after Dalton had left them, "did I hear you invite him to dinner?"
"Yes, my dear, but he could not come——"
"I'm glad he couldn't."
"I'm not sure that he's—our kind——"
"Nonsense, he's a very fine fellow."
"How do you know?"
"Well, I know this," testily, "that I am not to be instructed as to the sort of person I can ask to my house."
"Oh, Father, I didn't mean that. Of course you can do as you please."
"Of course I shall, Claudia."
"I think he is charming," said Mrs. Paine. "He has lovely eyes."
"Hasn't he?" said little Becky.
THE WOLF IN THE FOREST
The Bird Room at Judge Bannister's was back of the library. It was a big room lined with glass cases. There hung about it always the faint odor of preservatives. The Trumpeter Swan had a case to himself over the mantel. He had been rather stiffly posed on a bed of artificial moss, but nothing could spoil the beauty of him—the white of his plumage, the elegance of his lines. He was one of a dying race—the descendants of the men who had once killed for food had killed later to gratify the vanity of women who must have swans down to set off their beauty, puffs to powder their noses. No more did great flocks wing an exalted flight, high in the heavens, or rest like a blanket of snow on river banks. The old kings were dead—the glassy eyes of the Trumpeter looked out upon a world which knew his kind no more.
In the other cases were the little birds and big ones—ducks, swimming on crystal pools, canvas-backs and redheads, mallards and teal; Bob-whites, single and in coveys; sandpipers, tip-ups and peeps, those little ghosts of the seashore, shadows on the sand; there were soar and other rails, robins and blackbirds, larks and sparrows, wild turkeys and wild geese, all the toll which the hunter takes from field and stream and forest.
It was in a sense a tragic room, but it had never seemed that to Becky. She came of a race of men who had hunted from instinct but with a sense of honor. The Judge and those of his kind hated wanton killing. Their guns would never have swept away the feathered tribes of tree and sky. It was the trappers and the pot-hunters who had done that. There had motored once to the Judge's mansion a man and his wife who had raged at the brutes who hunted for sport. They had worn fur coats and there had been a bird's breast on the woman's hat.
The Judge, holding on to his temper, had exploded finally. "If you were consistent," he had flung at them, "you would not be decked in the bodies of birds and beasts."
Becky loved the birds in the glass cases, the peeps and the tip-ups, the old owl who did not belong among the game birds, but who, with the great eagle with the outstretched wings, had been admitted because they had been shot within the environs of the estate. She loved the little nests of tinted eggs, the ducks on the crystal pools.
But most of all she loved the Trumpeter. Years ago the Judge had told her of the wild swans who flew so high that no eye could see them. Yet the sound of their trumpets might be heard. It was like the fairy tale of "The Seven Brothers," who were princes, and who were turned into swans and wore gold crowns on their heads. She was prepared to believe anything of the Trumpeter. She had often tiptoed down in the night, expecting to see his case empty, and to hear his trumpet sounding high up near the moon.
There was a moon to-night. Dinner was always late at Huntersfield. In the old days three o'clock had been the fashionable hour for dining in the county, with a hot supper at eight. Aunt Claudia, keeping up with the times, had decided that instead of dining and supping, they must lunch and dine. The Judge had agreed, stipulating that there should be no change in the evening hour. "Serve it in courses, if you like, and call it dinner. But don't have it before candle-light."
So the moon was up when Becky came down in her blue dress. She had not expected to wear the blue. In spite of the fact that Randy and his mother and Major Prime had come back with them for dinner, she had planned to wear her old white, which had been washed and laid out on the bed by Mandy. But the blue was more becoming, and the man with the Apollo head had eyes to see.
She came into the Bird Room with a candle in her hand. There was a lamp high up, but she could not reach it, so she always carried a candle. She set it down on the case where the Bob-whites were cuddled in brown groups. She whistled a note, and listened to catch the answer. It had been a trick of hers as a child, and she had heard them whistle in response. She had been so sure that she heard them—a far-off silvery call——
Well, why not? Might not their little souls be fluttering close? "You darlings," she said aloud.
Randy, arriving at that moment on the threshold, heard her. "You are playing the old game," he said.
"Oh, yes," she caught her breath, "do you remember?"
He came into the room. "I remembered a thousand times when I was in France. I thought of this room and of the Trumpeter Swan, and of how you and I used to listen on still nights and think we heard him. There was one night after an awful day—with a moon like this over the battlefield, and across the moon came a black, thin streak—and a bugle sounded—far away. I was half asleep, and I said, 'Becky, there's the swan,' and the fellow next to me poked his elbow in my ribs, and said, 'You're dreaming.' But I wasn't—quite, for the thin black streak was a Zeppelin——"
She came up close to him and laid her hand on his arm. He towered above her. "Randy," she asked, "was the war very dreadful?"
"Yes," he said, "it was. More dreadful than you people at home can ever grasp. But I want you to know this, Becky, that there isn't one of us who wouldn't go through it again in the same cause."
There was no swagger in his statement, just simple earnestness. The room was very still for a moment.
Then Becky said, "Well, it's awfully nice to have you home again," and Randy, looking down at the little hand on his arm, had to hold on to himself not to put his own over it.
But she was too dear and precious——! So he just said, gently, "And I'm glad to be at home, my dear," and they walked to the window together, and stood looking out at the moon. Behind them the old eagle watched with outstretched wings, the great free bird which we stamp on American silver, backed with "In God We Trust." It is not a bad combination, and things in this country might, perhaps, have been less chaotic if we had taught newcomers to link love of God with love of liberty.
"Mr. Dalton is coming to see the birds," said Becky, and in a moment she had spoiled everything for Randy.
"Is that why you put on your blue dress?"
She was honest. "I am not sure. Perhaps."
"Yet you thought the old white one was good enough for me."
"Well, don't you like me just as well in my old white as in this?"
"Yes, of course."
"Well, then," Becky was triumphant, "why should I bother to change for you, Randy, when you like me just as well in anything?"
The argument was unanswerable, but Randy was not satisfied. "It is a mistake," he said, "not to be as nice to old friends as new ones."
"But I am nice. You said so yourself this afternoon. That I was sugar and spice and everything—nice——"
He laughed. "You are, of course. And I didn't come all the way from France to quarrel with you——"
"We've always quarreled, Randy."
"I wonder why?"
"Sister Loretta says that people only argue when they like each other. Otherwise they wouldn't want to convince."
"Do you quarrel with Sister Loretta?"
"Of course not. Nuns don't. But she writes notes when she doesn't agree with me—little sermons—and pins them on my pillow. She's a great dear. She hates to have me leave the school. She has the feeling that the world is a dark forest, and that I am Red Riding Hood, and that the Wolf will get me."
Dalton found them all at dinner when he reached Huntersfield. He was not in the least prepared for the scene which met his eyes—shining mahogany, old silver and Sheffield, tall white candles, Calvin in a snowy jacket, Mrs. Beaufort and Mrs. Paine in low-necked gowns, the Judge and Randy in dinner coats somewhat the worse for wear, Becky in thin, delicate blue, with a string of pearls which seemed to George an excellent imitation of the real thing.
He had thought that the trail of Mrs. Paine's boarding-house might be over it all. He had known boarding-houses as a boy, before his father made his money. There had been basement dining-rooms, catsup bottles, and people passing everything to everybody else!
"I'm afraid I'm early," he said in his quick voice.
"Not a bit. Calvin, place a chair for Mr. Dalton."
There were fruit and nuts and raisins in a great silver Pegeen, with fat cupids making love among garlands. There was coffee in Severus cups.
Back among the shadows twinkled a priceless mirror; shutting off Calvin's serving table was a painted screen worth its weight in gold. It was a far cry from the catsup bottles and squalid service of George's early days. The Bannisters of Huntersfield wore their poverty like a plume!
The Judge carried Dalton off presently to the Bird Boom. George went with reluctance. This was not what he had come for. Becky, slim and small, with her hair peaked up to a topknot, Becky in pale blue, Becky as fair as her string of imitation pearls, Becky in the golden haze of the softly illumined room, Becky, Becky Bannister—the name chimed in his ears.
Dalton had had some difficulty in getting away from Hamilton Hill.
"It's my last night," Madge had said; "shall we go out in the garden and watch the moon rise?"
"Sorry," George had told her, "but I've promised Flora to take a fourth hand at bridge."
"And after that?" asked Madge softly.
"What do you mean?"
"Who is the new—little girl?"
It was useless to pretend. "She's a beauty, rather, isn't she?"
"Oh, Georgie-Porgie, I wish you wouldn't."
"Kiss the girls—and make them—cry——"
"You've never cried——"
She laughed at that. "If I haven't it is because I know that afterwards you always—run away."
He admitted it. "One can't marry them all."
"I wonder if you are ever serious," she told him, her chin in her hand.
"I am always serious. That's what makes it—interesting——"
"But the poor little—hearts?"
"Some one has to teach, them," said George, "that it's a pretty game——"
"Will it be always a game—to you—Georgie?"
"Who knows?" he said. "So far I've held trumps——"
"Your conceit is colossal, but somehow you seem to get away with it." She smiled and stood up. "I'm going to bed early. I have been losing my beauty sleep lately, Georgie."
He chose to be gallant. "You are not losing your beauty, if that's what you mean."
Her dinner gown was of the same shade of mauve that she had worn in the afternoon. But it was of a material so sheer that the gold of her skin seemed to shine through.
"Good-night, Golden Girl," said Dalton, and kissed the tips of her fingers as she stood on the stairs. Then he went off to join the others.
Madge did not go to bed. She went out alone and watched the moon rise. Oscar Waterman's house was on a hill which gave a view of the whole valley. Gradually under the moon the houses of Charlottesville showed the outlines of the University, and far beyond the shadowy sweep of the Blue Ridge. What a world it had been in the old days—great men had ridden over these red roads in swaying carriages, Jefferson, Lafayette, Washington himself.
If she could only meet men like that. Men to whom life was more than a game—a carnival. From the stone bench where she sat she had a view through the long French windows of the three tables of bridge—there were slender, restless girls, eager, elegant youths. "Perhaps they are no worse than those who lived here before them," Madge's sense of justice told her. "But isn't there something better?"
From her window later, she saw Dalton's car flash out into the road. The light wound down and down, and appeared at last upon the highway. It was not the first time that George had played the game with another girl. But he had always come back to her. She had often wondered why she let him come. "Why do I let him?" she asked the moon.
It really was a great moon. It shone through the windows of the Bird Room at Huntersfield, wooing George out into the fragrant night. He could hear voices on the lawn—young Paine's laugh—Becky's. Once when he looked he saw them on the ridge, silhouetted against the golden sky. They were dancing, and Randy's clear whistle, piping a modern tune, came up to him, tantalizing him.
But the Judge held him. It took him nearly an hour to get through with the Bob-whites and the sandpipers, the wild turkeys, the ducks and the wild geese. And long before that time George was bored to extinction. He had little imagination. To him the Trumpeter was just a stuffed old bird. He could not picture him as blowing his trumpet beside the moon, or wearing a golden crown as in "The Seven Brothers." He had never heard of "The Seven Brothers," and nobody in the world wore crowns except kings. As for the old eagle, it is doubtful whether George had ever felt the symbolism of his presence on a silver coin, or that he had ever linked him in his heart with God.
Then, suddenly, the whole world changed. Becky appeared on the threshold.
"Grandfather," she said, "Aunt Claudia says there is lemonade on the lawn."
"In a moment, my dear."
George rose hastily. "Don't let me keep you, Judge——"
Becky advanced into the room. "Aren't the birds wonderful?"
"They are," said George, seeing them wonderful for the first time.
"I always feel," she said, "as if some time they will flap their wings and fly away—on a night like this—the swans going first, and then the ducks and geese, and last of all the little birds, trailing across the moon——" Her hands fluttered to show them trailing. Becky used her hands a great deal when she talked. Aunt Claudia deplored it as indicating too little repose. The nuns, she felt, should have corrected the habit. But the nuns had loved Becky's descriptive hands, poking, emphasizing, and had let her alone.
The three of them, the Judge and Becky and Dalton, went out together. The little group which sat in the wide moonlighted space in front of the house was dwarfed by the great trees which hung in masses of black against the brilliant night. The white dresses of the women seemed touched with silver.
The lemonade was delicious, and Aunt Claudia forced herself to be gracious. Caroline Paine was gracious without an effort. She liked Dalton. Not in the same way, perhaps, that she liked Major Prime, but he was undoubtedly handsome, and of a world which wore lovely clothes and did not have to count its pennies.
Major Prime had little to say. He was content to sit there in the fragrant night and listen to the rest. A year ago he had been jolted over rough roads in an ambulance. There had been a moon and men groaning. There had seemed to him something sinister about that white night with its spectral shadows, and with the trenches of the enemy wriggling like great serpents underground. The trail of the serpent was still over the world. He had been caught but not killed. There was still poison in his fangs!
He spoke sharply, therefore, when Dalton said, "It was a great adventure for a lot of fellows who went over——"
"Don't," said the Major, and sat up. "Does it matter what took them? The thing that matters is how they came back——"
"What do you mean?"
"A thousand reasons took them over. Some of them went because they had to, some of them because they wanted to. Some of them dramatized themselves as heroes and hoped for an opportunity to demonstrate their courage. Some of them were scared stiff, but went because of their consciences, some of them wanted to fight and some of them didn't, but whatever the reason, they went. And now they are back, and it is much more important to know what they think now about war than what they thought about it when they were enlisted or drafted. If their baptism of fire has made them hate cruelty and injustice, if it has opened their eyes to the dangers of a dreaming idealism which refuses to see evil until evil has had its way, if it has made them swear to purge America of the things which has made Germany the slimy crawling enemy of the universe, if they have come back feeling that God is in His Heaven but that things can't be right with the world until we come to think in terms of personal as well as of national righteousness—if they have come back thus illumined, then we can concede to them their great adventure. But if they have come back to forget that democracy is on trial, that we have talked of it to other nations and do not know it ourselves, if they have come back to let injustice or ignorance rule—then they had better have died on the fields of France——"
He stopped suddenly amid a startled silence. Not a sound from any of them.
"I beg your pardon," he laughed a bit awkwardly, "I didn't mean to preach a sermon."
"Don't spoil it, please," Aunt Claudia begged brokenly; "I wish more men would speak out."
"May I say this, then, before I stop? The future of our country is in the hands of the men who fought in France. On them must descend the mantles of our great men, Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt—we must walk with these spirits if we love America——"
"Do you wonder," Randy said, under his breath to Becky, "that his men fought, and that they died for him?"
She found her little handkerchief and wiped her eyes. "He's a—perfect—darling," she whispered, and could say no more.
Dalton was for the time eclipsed. He knew it and was not at ease. He was glad when Mrs. Paine stood up. "I am sorry to tear myself away. But I must. I can't be sure that Susie has made up the morning rolls. There's a camp-meeting at Jessica, and she's lost the little mind that she usually puts on her cooking."
Randy and the Major went with her in the low carriage, with Rosalind making good time towards the home stable, and with Nellie Custis following with flapping ears.
Dalton stayed on. The Judge urged him. "It's too lovely to go in," he said; "what's your hurry?"
Aunt Claudia, who was inexpressibly weary, felt that her father was exceeding the bounds of necessary hospitality. She felt, too, that the length of Dalton's first call was inexcusable. But she did not go to bed. As long as Becky was there, she should stay to chaperon her. With a sense of martyrdom upon her, Mrs. Beaufort sat stiffly in her chair.
The Judge was talkative and brilliant, glad of a new and apparently attentive listener. Becky had little to say. She sat with her small feet set primly on the ground. Her hands were folded in her lap. Dalton was used to girls who lounged or who hung fatuously on his words, as if they had set themselves to please him.
But Becky had no arts. She was frank and unaffected, and apparently not unconscious of Dalton's charms. The whole thing was, he felt, going to be rather stimulating.
When at last he left them, he asked the Judge if he might come again. "I'd like to look at those birds by daylight."
Becky, giving him her hand, hoped that he might come. She had been all the evening in a sort of waking dream. Even when Dalton had been silent, she had been intensely aware of his presence, and when he had talked, he had seemed to speak to her alone, although his words were for others.
"I saw you dancing," he said, before he dropped her hand.
"Oh, did you?"
Back of the house the dogs barked.
"Will you dance some time with me?"
"Oh, could I?"
A moment later he was gone. The light of his motor flashed down the hills like a falling star.
"I wonder what made the dogs bark," the Judge said as they went in.
"They probably thought it was morning," was Mrs. Beaufort's retort, as she preceded Becky up the stairs.
The dogs had barked because Randy after a quick drive home had walked back to Huntersfield.
"Look here," he burst out as he and the Major had stood on the steps of the Schoolhouse, "do you like him?"
"He's not a man's man," the Major said, "and he doesn't care in the least what you and I think of him."
"No, and he doesn't care for—stuffed birds—and he doesn't care for the Judge, and he doesn't care for Mrs. Beaufort——"
"Oh, you needn't rub it in. I know what he's after."
The Major whistled softly a lilting tune. He had been called "The Whistling Major" by his men and they had liked his clear piping.
He stopped abruptly. "Well, you can't build fences around lovely little ladies——"
"I wish I could. I'd like to shut her up in a tower——"
They left it there. It was really not a thing to be talked about. They both knew it, and stopped in time.
Randy, climbing the outside stairs, presently, to his bedroom, turned at the upper landing to survey the scene spread out before him. The hills were steeped in silence. The world was black and gold—the fragrance of the honeysuckle came up from the hedge below. On such a night as this one could not sleep. He felt himself restless, emotionally keyed up. He descended the stairs. Then, suddenly, he found himself taking the trail back towards Huntersfield.
He walked easily, following the path which led across the hills. The distance was not great, and he had often walked it. He loved a night like this. As he came to a stretch of woodland, he went under the trees with the thrill of one who enters an enchanted forest.
An owl hooted overhead. A whip-poor-will in a distant swamp sounded his plaintive call.
Randy could not have analyzed the instinct which sent him back to Becky. It was not in the least to spy upon her, nor upon Dalton. He only knew that he could not sleep, that something drew him on and on, as Romeo was drawn perchance to Capulet's orchard.
He came out from under the trees to other hills. He was still on his own land. These acres had belonged to his father, his grandfather, his great-grandfather, and back of that to a certain gallant gentleman who had come to Virginia with grants from the King. There had been, too, a great chief, whose blood was in his veins, and who had roamed through this land before Europe knew it. Powhatan was a rare old name to link with one's own, and Randy had a Virginian's pride in his savage strain.
So, as he went along, he saw canoes upon the shining river. He saw tall forms with feathers blowing. He saw fires on the heights.
The hill in front of him dipped to a little stream. He and Becky had once waded in that stream together. How white her feet had been on the brown stones. His life, as he thought of it, was bound up in memories of Becky. She had come down from school for blissful week-ends and holidays, and she and Randy had tramped over the hills and through the pine woods, finding wild-flowers in the spring, arbutus, flushing to beauty in its hidden bed, blood-root, hepatica, wind-flowers, violets in a purple glory; finding in the summer wild roses, dewberries, blackberries, bees and butterflies, the cool shade of the little groves, the shine and shimmer of the streams; finding in the fall a golden stillness and the redness of Virginia Creeper. They had ridden on horseback over the clay roads, they had roamed the stubble with a pack of wiry hounds at their heels, they had gathered Christmas greens, they had sung carols, they had watched the Old Year out and the New Year in, and their souls had been knit in a comradeship which had been a very fine thing indeed for a boy like Randy and a girl like Becky.
There had been, too, about their friendship a rather engaging seriousness. They had talked a great deal of futures. They had dreamed together very great dreams. Their dreams had, of course, changed from time to time. There had been that dream of Becky's when she first went to the convent, that she wanted some day to be a nun like Sister Loretto. The fact that it would involve a change of faith was thrashed over flamingly by Randy. "It is all very well for an old woman, Becky. But you'd hate it."
Becky had been sure that she would not hate it. "You don't know how lovely she looks in the chapel."
"Well, there are other ways to look lovely."
"But it would be nice to be—good."
"You are good enough."
"I am not really, Randy. Sister Loretto says her prayers all day——"
"How often do you say yours?"
"Oh, at night. And in the mornings—sometimes——"
"That's enough for anybody. If you say them hard enough once, what more can the Lord ask?"
He had been a rather fierce figure as he had flung his questions, but he had not swerved her in the least from her thought of herself as a novice in a white veil, and later as a full-fledged sister, with beads and a black head-dress.
This dream had, in time, been supplanted by one imposed upon her by the ambitions of a much-admired classmate.
"Maude and I are going to be doctors," Becky had announced as she and Randy had walked over the fields with the hounds at their heels. "It's a great opportunity for women, Randy, and we shall study in Philadelphia."
"Shall you like cutting people up?" he had demanded brutally.
She had shuddered. "I shan't have to cut them up very much, shall I?"
"You'll have to cut them up a lot. All doctors do, and sometimes they are dead."
She had argued a bit shakily after that, and that night she had slept badly. The next morning they had gone over it again. "You fainted when the kitten's paw was crushed in the door."
"It was dreadful——"
"And you cried when I cut my foot with the hatchet and we were out in the woods. And if you are going to be a doctor you'll have to look at people who are crushed and cut——"
"Oh, please, Randy——"
Three days of such intensive argument had settled it. Becky decided that it was, after all, better to be an authoress. "There was Louisa Alcott, you know, Randy."
He was scornful. "Women weren't made for that—to sit in an attic and write. Why do you keep talking about doing things, Becky? You'll get married when you grow up and that will be the end of it."
"I am not going to get married, Randy."
"Well, of course you will, and I shall marry and be a lawyer like my father, and perhaps I'll go to Congress."
Later he had a leaning towards the ministry. "If I preached I could make the world better, Becky."
That was the time when she had come down for Hallowe'en, and it was on Sunday evening that they had talked it over in the Bird Room at Huntersfield. There had been a smouldering fire on the wide hearth, and the Trumpeter Swan had stared down at them with shining eyes. They had been to church that morning and the text had been, "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved."
"I want to make the world better, Becky," Randy had said in the still twilight, and Becky had answered in an awed tone, "It would be so splendid to see you in the pulpit, Randy, wearing a gown like Dr. Hodge."
But the pulpit to Randy had meant more than that. And the next day when they walked through the deserted mill town, he had said, "Everybody is dead who lived here, and once they were alive like us."
She had shivered, "I don't like to think of it."
"It's a thing we've all got to think of. I like to remember that Thomas Jefferson came riding through and stopped at the mill and talked to the miller."
"How dreadful to know that they are—dead."
"Mother says that men like Jefferson never die. Their souls go marching on."
The stream which ground the county's corn was at their feet. "But what about the miller?" Becky had asked; "does his soul march, too?"
Randy, with the burden of yesterday's sermon upon him, hoped that the miller was saved.
He smiled now as he thought of the rigidness of his boyish theology. To him in those days Heaven was Heaven and Hell was Hell.
The years at school had brought doubt—apostasy. Then on the fields of France, Randy's God had come back to him—the Christ who bound up wounds, who gave a cup of cold water, who fought with flaming sword against the battalions of brutality, who led up and up that white company who gave their lives for a glorious Cause. Here, indeed, was a God of righteousness and of justice, of tenderness and purity. To other men than Randy, Christ had in a very personal and specific sense been born across the sea.