A GENTLEMAN’S LIE
Becky was not well. Aunt Claudia, perceiving her listlessness, decided that she needed a change. Letters were written to the Nantucket grandfather, and plans made for Becky’s departure. She was to spend a month on the island, come back to Boston to the Admiral’s big old house on the water-side of Beacon Street, and return to Huntersfield for Christmas.
Becky felt that it was good of everybody to take so much trouble. She really didn’t care in the least. She occupied herself steadily with each day’s routine. She bent her head over the fine embroidery of a robe she was making for Mary. She cut the flowers for the vases and bowls, she recited nursery rhymes to Fiddle, entrancing that captious young person with “Oranges and Lemons” and “Lavender’s Blue.” She read aloud to the Judge, planned menus for Aunt Claudia, and was in fact such an angel in the house that Truxton, after three days of it, protested.
“Oh, what’s the matter with Becky, Mums?”
“She hasn’t any pep.”
“Isn’t she well?”
“I have tried to have her see a doctor. But she won’t. She insists that she is all right——”
“She is not. She is no more like the old Becky than champagne is like—milk—— Becky was the kind that—went to your head—Mums. You know that—sparkling.”
“I have wondered,” Mrs. Beaufort said, slowly, “if anything happened while I was away.”
“What could happen——”
His mother sighed. “Nothing, I suppose——” She let it go at that. Her intuitions carried her towards the truth. She had learned from Mandy and the Judge that Dalton had spent much time at Huntersfield in her absence. Becky never mentioned him. Her silence spoke eloquently, Mrs. Beaufort felt, of something concealed. Becky was apt to talk of things that interested her. And there had been no doubt of her interest in Dalton before her aunt had gone away.
Randy, coming often now to Huntersfield, had his heart torn for his beloved. No one except himself knew what had happened, and the knowledge stirred him profoundly. He held that burning torches and a stake were none too good for Dalton. He sighed for the old days in Virginia when gentlemen settled such matters in the woods at dawn, with pistols, seconds, a shot or two. Farther back it would have been an affair of knives and tomahawks—Indian chiefs in a death struggle.
But neither duels nor death struggles were in the modern mode, nor would any punishment which he might inflict on Dalton help Becky in this moment of deep humiliation. He knew her pride and the hurt that had come to her, he knew her love, and the deadly inertia which had followed the loss of illusion.
Randy’s love was not a selfish love. In that tense moment of Becky’s confession on the day of the barbecue, his own hopes had died. The boy in him had died, too, and he had reached the full stature of a man. He wanted to protect and shield—he was all tenderness. He felt that he would dare anything, do anything, if he could bring back to Becky the dreams of which Dalton robbed her.