The vivid story of girl who didn't grow up with her friends—who stayed twenty until it was almost too late
THERE was a round white moon in the sky. It looked as though at any moment it might roll down the roof of the barn and fall on the heads of the boy and the girl who leaned up against the wall. It laid a pale silvery glaze over the fields, where the sound of the crickets was loud and insistent. The boy edged nearer to the girl, and peered into her face, that was a clear white oval in the moonlight.
She pushed him away from her with a little gasp, in which a hint of pleasure lingered.
“Oh, you mustn’t, Elmer,” she said weakly.
“Why not, Alice.....”
Alice Holmes studied the boy’s face thoughtfully. Elmer Wallace was commonplace. Short, square, with a pasty white face, and red hair, he seemed to her to have a crude, unfinished appearance. His clothes were awkward; his collar was several sizes too large for him and engulfed his thin neck. She almost wished that she hadn’t allowed him to kiss her. It had flattered her for the moment, but now, looking at him critically, almost possessively, she felt the gulf that there was between them. It seemed to her that he was so apparently her inferior. She almost, at that instant, felt a wave of dislike and disgust sweep over her. He must be at least two years younger than she was, for he didn’t look more than eighteen.
“I must go home, Elmer,” she said almost coldly. “It’s getting awfully late.”
He laughed, a current of excitement running beneath his laugh.
“What do you care how late it is?” he said feeling for her hand.'
She recoiled from the touch of his fingers; they felt wet and clammy. “You aren’t like the re t of the girls in this one horse town. You are so different,
Alice. You’re wonderful.”
She was half held by his words of admiration. They appealed to her mo-e than his love making. She liked to think that she could pu that thrill into his voice, even if she didn’t care for him. It gave her a sense of satisfaction; it was a tribute which she could not overlook. It meant that she would have the power to put the same thrill into the voices of men who were worth while. It increased her confidence in her own charms.
She walked leisurely home, along the road that was barred with shadows from the elm trees, listening to Elmer, while flattery dripped from his lips, like honey from a bee’s wings. Her own thoughts were flashing about like the fireflies that were flitting over the fields.' The air was full of the smell of clover and she sniffed it with delight. She loved perfume, moonlight nights, and the touch of the cool night air on her skin. Life was filled with delicious physical sensations.
“I’m not going to stay in this place any more,” Elmer’s voice broke in upon her thoughts. “It’s not good enough for me. I met a man the other day who said I was just wasting myself in a place like Medford. It’s all right for
people who aren’t ambitious. But I am. Life’s got to give me what I want; and you’re one of the things I want, Alice.”
Alice gave a little embarrassed laugh. Didn’t he know how absurd he was? Did he really think that she would consider marrying him? Little Elmer Wallace. It almo.t made her angry to think that he could possibly believe that she would consider marrying him. She was just as ambitious as he was. And she knew that she had only to sit still and wait and a dazzling future would drop into her lap like a ripe red apple. She had always known that something very special had been intended for her, or why would she have all hese yearnings for something different, why would she be so content to wait while all her friends were just marrying anyone at all? The future held for her something glamorous and splendid. Elmer Wallace. It made her laugh just to think of it.
“I’m ambitious too,” she said with a little lift of her head. “I could never be contented to marry the first man who asked me. I’ve always felt that I’m going to marry a great man. I know that everythin is going to be wonderful for me some day, if I just have patience and wait.”
ELMER stared at her profile in admiration. It was so delicate, so clearly defined. Her eyes were brown pools, and her lips were red as geranium flowers. The frills of her soft muslin swayed around her as she walked with a slightly self conscious swing. Her hair had curled in the damp night air, and clung to her forehead in little wet rings. He pressed against her as they came under the shadow of a tall elm that bent low over the road, as though yearning to touch its shadow on the ground.
“You’re a beauty, Alice. You’ve got something that’s more than looks—something that goes to a man’s head.” He moved still closer, and she knew that he meant to try and kiss her again. She felt an even stronger wave of disgust.
“No, no, Elmer. Someone will see. You mustn’t.”
He appeared to read her thoughts and drew away from her with an offended air.
“You don’t think I’m good enough for you. Is that it?” he inquired stiffly. “I suppose you think that I’m nobody at all.”
"Elmer, don’t be silly,” she said, trying to conciliate him. “I’m keeping my kisses for the man I’m going to marry.”
“You’re going to marry me, Alice.”
She laughed, and there was a ghost of mockery in her laughter. Could he really imagine that she would throw herself away like that. It was too ridiculously absurd even to think about.
ALICE was very glad to hear that Elmer Wallace had ■ left Medford. He was altogether too insignificant for her to be bothered with. To be seen with him at all lowered her in people’s opinions. And yet, while he was there, she could not resist listening to his flattery, which was crude but sincere. Their meetings had always given her a vicarious thrill. She could shut her eyes and almost make herself believe that it was someone worth while who was declaring his feelings with such passion. But on the whole she did not regret that he was gone. It was almost an impertinence that Elmer Wallace should try and make love to her.
Most of her friends in Medford were beginning to be married. She was always invited to be bridesmaid at their weddings and enjoyed the thrill and excitement, the pretty clothes, and the round of festivities before each wedding. She inevitably regarded the bride’s choices with scorn. But then if others could be so easily satisfied it was just as well. She wasn’t going to marry a man who had lived in a small town all his life. She wanted a man of importance in the world outside Medford. A diplomat, a politician, a man in public life was the husband for her. She could help him on in his career. She pictured to herself the moment when he would turn to her and tell everyone that he had risen to prominence solely through her ability to help him, through her charm, and magnetism and good looks. The idea of marrying a bank clerk and settling down in a small town to bring up a brood of children almost gave her physical nausea to think of it.
She only had a contemptuous pity as she watched one after another of her friend’s settle down in Medford, in small houses, with patches of lawn in front, and sun parlors of varying dimensions at the side. She visited them, and exclaimed with mild enthusiasm over their new homes, and later was as mildly enthusiastic over their new babies. That sort of thing was all right for them, but it wasn’t what she wanted.
“When are you going to get married, Alice?” Mary Shaw inquired after she had shown Alice through her house, and Alice had exclaimed over the electric range, and the convenience of the ice box.
Alice gave a small cool laugh.
“Oh, my dear, when the right man comes along. I don’t think I was made for this sort of thing. I mean,” she hurried on to explain in confusion, seeing the blank expression that had settled over Mary Shaw’s face, “that I’ve always had the feeling that the future held something big for me. I was told so once by a crystal gazer, and I know it’s true.” She laughed deprecatingly. “It seems queer to talk like this, but then you asked me why I didn’t marry. It isn’t because I haven’t had a chance to marry. But I’m not going to rush into it the way you’ve all done. I know it would be a terrible mistake if I did.”
“Well, we’re none of us getting younger,” Mary Shaw responded with a new coolness in her manner, “I should think you’d want to marry before very long. After a girl gets to be thirty she doesn’t have so many chances.”
Alice laughed distantly
“Well, I’m not thirty yet so I don’t have to worry.”
ALICE dropped quite naturally into a new circle of Ax friends now that the girls her own age were married. She was always in demand for parties; always the centre of an interested group. The girls were so much younger that they looked up to her, listened to her, took her opinions for their own. She became an expert hostess, could be depended upon to handle any situation, and was constantly in demand. The telephone in the Holmes’ household rang all day, and she spent much of her time answering these calls, discussing a dance, or planning one for the near future.
She dressed better than most of the girls in Medford, becoming adept in knowing what suited her colouring and figure. She was sympathetic when she was not scathingly ironical on the subject of the figures of the women who had been her former friends. So many of them were growing thick and heavy. They were absorbed with domesticity, Alice would comment to her mother, dull and stupid with content. They had never had any ambition and now appeared to be quite satisfied with their
lives. She could not understand their point of view and had nothing in common with them. Gradually they drifted quite out of her life.
There was a fresh outbreak of weddings as Alice’s new set of friends began to be married. She was forced to drift into a still younger circle. She did so very gracefully, not appearing to feel any difference between these young girls of twenty and herself.
Mrs. Holmes, a small woman with an anxious expression in her pale eyes, began to worry over the prospects of marriage for her daughter. The men who came to the house now were all too young to be taken seriously as potential sons-in-law. Mrs. Holmes wanted Alice to marry, for she did not seem suited for any other life. She could not imagine Alice ever getting up early enough to go to an office, or having the energy to take up any kind of work. If she didn’t marry, her life would be a very empty one. And she began to be afraid that Alice was too critical and that she would never find the man who came up to her ideas of a possible husband.
npHE only man whom Mrs. Holmes found possible as a 1 husband for Alice was their neighbour, Wentworth White, a man of forty-five, who had always been devoted to Alice. She made fun of his apparent admiration however, and seemed to regard it in the light of a delicious joke. Mrs. Holmes had often heard Alice making use of Wentworth’s attentions to make conversation for her admiring nursery. Alice’s young friends regarded Wentworth White almost as a grandfather, and Alice accepted their opinion.
“Why don’t you marry Wenty White?” Mrs. Holmes asked suddenly one summer evening, as she and Alice sat on the veranda, watching the people pass up and down the wide elm-shaded street. Across the road Wenty White, in his shirt sleeves, was working at his motor. Alice had been watching him with undisguised contempt.
She glanced quickly at her mother’s face.
“Are you joking, mother?”
“No, I’m not joking,” Mrs. Holmes responded steadily with a crisp edge to her voice, “I think it would be a very suitable match.”
“Suitable,” Alice cried in derision, “Wenty White?”
Mrs. Holmes studied her daughter’s face for a moment. “Wenty can’t be more than forty-five,” she said thoughtfully.
“And you’d have me marry a man of forty-five?” Alice laughed, her good humor returning. The idea was too absurd to cause annoyance. “Really, mother, you’re funny.”
“I don’t see anything funny about it,” Mrs. Holmes persisted, “you’re over thirty. I’d like to see you married. You’d be far happier.”
“I wouldn’t be happy married to Wenty White or anyone like him,” Alice said carelessly. “I’m going to marry someone more interesting than that. I can’t help it, mother. I have different ideas from the other girls in Medford. I couldn’t be just wild with excitement because I had got some new awnings for the back veranda, like Mary Shaw. I met her this morning walking with the twins, and she asked me to go over thi evening to see them. Did you ever hear of anything quite so absurd?” Mrs. Holmes didn’t reply. She watched a motor pass down the street, and the flicker of its tail light disappear around the corner before she spoke again.
“I knew I had some news for you,” she said suddenly. “Do you remember Elmer Wallace? Well, he’s gone into the movies, and they say he’s having a wonderful success. I forget what they told me he was getting for a salary. Something incredible. Just think, little Elmer Wallace, who used to bore you so.”
ALICE put down one foot, and stopped the swinging ■ of the hammock.
“Elmer Wallace,” she cried.
She remembered in a flash the contempt which she had felt for him that night beside the barn, when he had been so persistent in his love making. He had said then that he was determined to marry her. And now he was rich and successful. A smile lighted up her face and her eyes shone. Perhaps Elmer Wallace was to be her fate. Not little Elmer as she had known him, but a rich, successful Elmer. This was what she had been waiting for all these years. How little she had suspected, that evening, walking along the road, that Elmer’s boasts were not just empty words. He had really done what he had boasted he was going to do. At least half of his prophecy was fulfilled. The other half_____
“It must be over ten years since he went away,” Mrs. Holmes continued reflectively. “I remember it was the summer that we had the back fence painted green. That was twelve years ago. How time does fly round.”
“We were only children,” Alice said, a patch of bright colour on either cheek. “I thought he was ridiculously conceited in those days. But apparently he had something to be conceited about. I wonder_____I wonder.....”
she said meditatively and then broke off as a motor drove up and stopped before the house. Alice got up and caught a cape off a chair and threw it around her shoulders. A slim boy of eighteen got out of the motor and came up the path. Alice ran down the steps to meet him.
“Well, good night, mother. Don’t sit up for me, I may be late,” she called back over her shoulder.
ALICE heard a great deal about Elmer Wallace in the next few years. She read glowing accounts of him in the moving picture magazines, and although she realized their exaggerations, she was secretly elated. One blurb in particular stirred her imagination.
“Napoleon conquered his world, it is true, but Elmer Wallace now rules a far wider territory than the little Frenchman ever knew. He rules by the power of his personality. He holds the public tense with his daring feats. Elmer Wallace has his shrine in every woman’s heart.”
The magazines also described at length his bungalow at Hollywood and the luxuries that surrounded him. There were photographs of him driving his racing car, piloting an aeroplane, having breakfast in his sitting room, a huge Russian wolf hound standing beside him, sitting with his hand drooped negligently over the back of a marble seat in his garden, photographs of him in every describable pose. Alice cut them all out and pasted them carefully into a book which she kept locked in the drawer of her desk.
The moving picture house in Medford managed to secure a film in which he was starring. It caused a tremendous sensation in the town. People who had never known Elmer Wallace tried to pretend that they were old friends of his. The house was crowded to the doors all that week. Alice went every night, and sat bewildered and dazed as she stared at the film. Was that really Elmer Wallace? Could that perfectly dressed being with the careless manner, be the uncouth boy whom she used to know and despise?
She watched the passionate love scenes with mixed feelings. She resented seeing the girl in his arms. She felt that he belonged to her by prior right. What a fool she had been not to have seen that Elmer Wallace had in him in those old days, the germ of success. She could not criticize him any more. Everything he did seemed to her quite perfect as she watched him pass to and fro across the screen.
ONE evening as she was sitting dreaming on the veranda, Wenty White crossed the road and came and seated himself on the steps. It was a hot night and Wenty looked moist. She noticed that he was dressed with unusual care and seemed self conscious and uncomfortable. Arrayed in spotless white muslin herself, she regarded him critically.
“I don’t seem to get a chance of seeing you these days,” he said, looking admiringly at her as she swayed in the hammock, “you’re such a gay person. I don’t like to come over when you have your friends in. I expect they would think I was a wet blanket.”
“What nonsense, Wenty,” Alice protested, knowing that what he said was true. “Besides, I’m not gay. I just try and fill in the time, that’s all.”
Wenty White regarded her keenly.
“Sometimes I wonder if that’s all it is,” he said slowly, “when I see you going about with all those youngsters. Do you ever want something different, Alice?”
Her eyebrows went up in a quizzical expression.
“You surely don’t think I’m satisfied with just this?” “That’s what I’ve often wondered. I thought perhaps you had had enough of it. It doesn’t seem to lead anywhere. It isn’t good enough for you, Alice. You’re too fine to be spending your time running about with those youngsters.”
She looked at him ruminatingly. He was only telling her what she already knew. Surely he didn’t imagine for a moment that she was going to spend her life in this way.
“You know I’ve been wanting you for years,” he said, his voice thick and husky with feeling. “You know that, Alice. Perhaps you wouldn’t think it much of a marriage. But I’d do everything I could to make you happy.”
SHE frowned. Wenty was too serious to-night for her to be able to laugh it aside as she had done so often before. She looked out across the patch of lawn, silvered by the street lamps and wondered what she could say. A lawn sprinkler was slowly wheeling around and around, spreading the water in a wide silken web.
“I’m going to tell you something, Wenty, that I’ve never told a soul,” she said slowly, as the idea took concrete form in her mind. “Something that I’ve kept a secret for years. The reason that I’ve never married is because I’ve really been in love for a long, long time.” Wenty White’s shoulders drooped heavily forward. He looked as though he had received a crushing blow. He didn’t speak, and Alice continued with a growing elation in her tone, a new excitement born of this Sudden idea.
“I’ll tell you who it is, Wenty, if you won’t speak of it to anyone,” she went on, anxious to have a confidant. “Do you remember Elmer Wallace?”
Wenty White looked at her meditatively.
“Elmer Wallace. Why, yes,” he said slowly. “I remember him. A short red haired chap. It must be ten years and more since he went away. They tell me that he has gone into the Movies. I hear that he’s been very successful. You don’t mean that you care about him?”
Alice blushed and looked down into her lap.
“Well, I never would have guessed it,” Wenty White said in bewilderment.
“We were'only children, of course,” Alicesaid hurriedly, “but there has never been anyone else. Oh, I know I’ve had flirtations the same as every other girl. But they’ve never meant anything to me. It has always been Elmer Wallace.”
“Then—you’re going to marry him?” Wenty White inquired, still dazed by her news.
“Oh, of course nothing is settled_____yet. We haven’t
seen one another for years. He always said that he Was going to succeed, and to get what he wanted in this
world and I was one of the things he wanted. But he
knew that I wouldn’t marry him until he had been successful. I always told him I was ambitious. He had to succeed first. I expect that he’ll come back to Medford one of these days, and then.....”
She broke off, blushing a deeper colour while Wenty White stared at her, a dawning realization of what she was saying sinking into his mind. Then he slowly dragged himself up from the step.
“I see,” he said heavily. “Well, Alice, I can’t say any more :han what I’ve said. But if that is how things are, why, we won’t spea,k of it again. I hope you won’t let what I’ve said make any difference to our being friends, just the same.”
“Why, of course not, Wenty. We’ll always be friends .....just the same.”
A LICE was thirty-six years old the summer that Elmer T*Wallace came to Medford. But except in a very bright light she didn’t look her age. No one in Medford ever thought of Alice as being much older than the friends whom she went about with, except a few women of her own age who smiled to themselves at Alice’s perpetual youthfulness. She entered so enthusiastically into the fun and the amusements of the very youngest set in Medford, that she was accepted as one of them without question.
The papers in Medford were filled with the news of the
honour that was to be paid the town. Elmer Wallace had’ an old aunt living in Medford, and he was supposed to bej coming to see her, and the old town where he had been: born. There were paragraphs devoted to sentimentalizing, about the young movie star who in the midst of his success had not forgotten the poor old aunt who was tucked away in a small country town. But Alice knew that Elmer had always hated his aunt. She knew with a secret thrill that he was not coming back to Medford tosee Miss Simmons. She threw out small hints that spread like wild fire, until everyone knew that Elmer Wallace was really coming back to see Alice Holmes.
No one in Medford could speak of anything else. Thetown was to put on gala attire in his honour. Red archeswere strung across the main street, with “Welcome”' sprawled on them in large white letters. Every shopwindow exhibited photographs of Elmer Wallace. The ice cream parlors advertised an “Elmer Wallace”’ sundae. The younger set were shrill in their excitement.. Why, it might mean a wedding very shortly, with Aliceas the bride, and themselves as the bridesmaids.
“But,” little Babs Davidson exclaimed at a tea where it was being discussed for the hundredth time, “he really looks so much younger than Alice. He doesn’t seem a day more than twenty-five in his pictures, and Alice mustiequite..:.. ”
“Well, twenty-five isn’t too young for Alice,” cried a loyal admirer of Alice’s. “Look at Stevie Mills. He’s only twenty-three. He and Alice are tremendous friends.”
“I know,” little Babs Davidson said with a puzzled frown, “but Alice is really years and years older than weare. Why, mother says that she should marry Wenty White.”
There was a shrill outcry of protest.
“Wenty White. Babs_____you’re joking.”
“Well, I think, of course, that it’s dreadfully absurd.. But I do know that some people think that way. There was a friend of mother’s staying with us and she nicknamed Alice ‘Always Twenty.’ Of course I think lit was horrid of her.” !
“Disgusting of her. Why.....Alice is.. ..well, she’sjust
Alice, that’s all.”
Babs wrinkled her nose thoughtfully.
“I think it is just because she goes about with us,” she said in a perplexed tone. “That’s what they were saying: anyway. If she had friends her own age no one would think of her as being old. Why, I think mother is just as young as anything. Of course, we don’t feel like mother
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and her friends do about Alice. She seems just one of us.”
“Well, I hope she’ll marry Elmer Wallace. Then no one can say that kind of thing any more. Alice is a darling.”
“Of course she is,” they all cried eagerly. “Oh, wouldn’t it be fun if she married Elmer Wallace? She’d have an enormous wedding, and we’d all be bridesmaids. I’m sure he’s coming back to marry her. What else would he come for? He hates his aunt. Alice says so. No, he’s coming to marry Alice. You’ll see.”
A LICE herself was in a state bordering upon hysteria. She thought of nothing else in the world but of Elmer Wallace. She would go to bed early, so as to lie in the darkness, conjuring up pictures.
She saw herself living in a white stucco bungalow in Hollywood; driving in highspeed cars; trailing through luxurious rooms _ in French gowns; sitting in a limousine while people craned to get a glimpse of Elmer Wallace’s wife. Her great moment was approaching. She congratulated herself that she had never weakened and married some perfectly insignificant man.
“Imagine,” she cried to herself in horror, “if I had allowed mother to persuade me to marry Wenty White.”
It seemed almost an insult that her mother could have thought of such a thing. Poor Wenty, of course he was kind and had been devoted for so long, but marrying him was out of the question. Elmer had told her that she was
wonderful. No wonder poor Wenty was in love with her. She blushed as she thought over all the things that Elmer had told her. She made her brain ache with trying to remember them all. He couldn’t fail to see that she was more wonderful now than she had been in those days. She quivered with anticipation of what he would tell her now.
N/iEDFORD was gay with bunting 1 and flags. The station was crowded with people, anxious to be the first to see Elmer Wallace get off the train.
There was a brass band playing at one end of the platform, and the strains of “Home, Sweet Home,” drifted on the bright sunshiny air. The Mayor was hurrying up and down the platform in a frock coat that smelt of camphor. Everyone was dressed in their best, and young girls in their bright colored organdies were like clusters of vari-colored flowers. There was a motor decorated with flags to drive Elmer Wallace around the town before it took him to his aunt’s house on Cherry Street. Everything was to be done to make the day a marked one. The town was on tip-toe to do its best.
Alice Holmes stood a little aloof from the crowd. Her cheeks were red with excitement. She felt that she was looking her very best in a new lace dress and a broad brimmed hat trimmed with fat pink roses. She was conscious that everyone was looking at her, and making whispered comments upon her appearance. She pulled at the creases in her long white kid gloves and tried not to appear conscious.
Babs Davidson rushed up to her, gazing admiringly at the new lace dress.
“Did you hear the train whistle?” she gasped. “Oh, Alice, you are a dream. How thrilled you must be. Oh, aren’t you just crazy to see him?”
“It’s always nice to meet an old friend,” she said, trying to make her voice sound composed and indifferent. “And of course Elmer and I were rather special friends.”
THE crowd swayed forward with excitement as the train roared into the station. There was a babble of exclamations that were drowned as the band broke into a livelier air. As the train slowed down Alice saw a short dapper looking man descending from the train, followed by a man laden with bags. Her heart beat violently. Was that really Elmer, that smooth looking figure in the light gray suit? His panama hat had a purple scarf wound around it that matched his tie. An eye glass hung on a black ribbon around his neck. His dark auburn hair was so glossy that it looked as though it had been polished.
The crowd closed in around him, escorting him to the waiting motor, and Alice could only see the white flicker of his panama hat as he waved it to the eager crowds.
“Oh, isn’t he wonderful?” Babs cried, hugging Alice in her excitement. “He’s so good looking. You never said that he was as wonderful as that.”
She gave Alice a little push into the crowd.
“Go on. You must speak to him. Oh,
But Alice hung back.
“Not here,” she said, her cheeks burning so that they almost brought tears of excitement to her eyes. “I’d rather not meet him here in front of everyone. It might be embarrassing.” ÍT believe he’s going to make a speech,” Babs cried shrilly.
Elmer Wallace was standing up in the motor, looking down upon the assembled people with a bland smile. His words were lost in the outcry of cheers -that broke out at every word he spoke. Alice could only catch snatches of what he said :
“Most gratified . . . this unexpected welcome . . . touches my heart . . . nothing has been laid at my feet that I so value . . . my old home town.” Cheer after cheer broke out again, and Elmer Wallace waved his hand and sat down. The motor drove off with a fluttering of flags, followed by a drove of small boys, shouting as they ran.
ALICE left the station with a feeling of disappointment which she could not quite explain to herself. It had not been quite as she had imagined it would he. Of course he was wonderful . . . and
after all, she could not have said anything of importance before all that crowd if she had tried to speak to him. It was better that they should meet less publicly.
There was to be a public reception that day, and in the evening there was to be a dance at the town hall. Alice had another new dress for the occasion. She _ looked at herself with a sense of gratification as she stood before her mirror that evening. Mrs. Holmes fluttered around her, straightening a ribbon, pulling out a ruffle.
“That pink chiffon certainly suits you,” she said standing back to get a better effect. “And those rose buds were a splendid idea. I’m not certain that I like the wreath in your hair. It looks too much like a debutante perhaps.”
“I think it’s very becoming,” Alice said complacently, turning and twisting before the mirror.
She felt sure that Elmer would be terribly impressed by her appearance, in spite of all that he had seen since he had left Medford. He would find most of the girls hopelessly dowdy and countrified. But he couldn’t think that of her. She was pleased with her appearance. The pink chiffon suited her, and with her cheeks flushed and the wreath of rosebuds in her hair she was sure she didn’t look a day older than when he had left Medford. She was better looking if anything. Yes, she was perfectly satisfied with her appearance.
SHE arrived at the dance purposely a little late. She wanted her entrance to cause a sensation. A dance was just finishing as she appeared in the doorway. She saw Elmer the moment she entered the room. He had been dancing with Babs and as soon as Babs saw her she rushed him straight across the room to Alice.
“Here she is at last,” Babs cried, her brown eyes sparkling with excitement. Elmer extended a white gloved hand. “Well,” he said in cool tones, “think of meeting you again.”
Alice for an instant was slightly dampened by his reception, but she recovered as he asked her for a dance. She gave him the next with a breathless catch in her voice. How splendid he looked.
They stood talking for a few moments until the music started. Alice gave a sigh of pleasure as he slipped his arm around her, and guided her skilfully out to the middle of the floor. She had come into her own at last.
“You’re not married, they tell me,” he said as they glided over the glassy floor.
“And you’re not either.” It was impossible to keep a note of self-consciousness out of her voice.
“I’ve been divorced twice,” he returned carelessly.
Alice gasped, and almost stopped dancing for an instant.
“Why, yes, that’s nothing.”
She tried to adjust her ideas to this point of view. For a moment she was afraid that he would think her a prude. But twice . . . divorced twice.
“No, of course not these days,” she laughed with an effort.
He did not have much to say, so she did not make any attempt at conversation. She concluded that he didn’t like to talk while he danced. He liked to give himself up to the pleasure of the moment. She felt that she and Elmer were made for one another. He was a splendid dancer . . . they danced as
though they had danced together for years.
AT LENGTH the music stopped and he pushed through the group at the door, people falling back to allow him to pass. She saw with a thrill that he was leading her out to the veranda. He found a chair for her at the far end, and leaned nonchalently against the railing in front of her. She looked at him with admiring eyes, while he straightened the white flower in his buttonhole.
“You must find it strange to be back here again, Elmer,” she said softly.
He gave a careless shrug.
“It’s publicity stuff, of course. People lap it up. The old home town and all the rest of it. It takes with the public. When you belong to the public you have to please them, you know.”
“It’s wonderful,” Alice said with feeling, “to think that you are famous.”
A complacent smile settled upon his face.
“I always said I’d amount to something, didn’t I?”
“Elmer ... do you remember . . . that night behind the barn. I’ve never forgotten that night. I can see the moon shining over the roof of the barn and . . . and . . .”
She broke off stammering at the coolness of his gaze.
“Behind the barn? Oh, I see what you’re getting at.” He gave her a penetrating stare. “Why don’t you come into the movies?” he asked suddenly. “I’m sure I could get you into my new picture.”
She clasped her hands in excitement. “Oh, Elmer. That would be heavenly. I’d simply adore it.”
“It’s hard work, but if you would like it, I can fix it up for you.”
“What is the picture?”
“Oh, the usual thing. A poor girl from the country comes to the city and gets work as a stenographer. I’m the hero of course, a dashing young man with loads of money and good looks. I get the business all tied up in knots, and the girl straightens it out in a jiffy. In the end of course, we marry. The church scene is very effective.”
Alice was breathless.
“And do you really think, Elmer, | that you could get me that part?”
“What part,” he inquired in astonishment.
“The girl you marry,” she stammered, growing hot and cold.
He threw back his head and laughed noisily. Alice shrank. His laugh made her tremble, made shivers run up and down her body. It seemed to be shattering something inside of her.
“Heavens above,” Elmer cried, “you’ll be the death of me. You didn’t imagine that you could take the star part? Why we have to have someone young and pretty for that part. I was thinking of having you take the part of the girl’s mother.”
Alice swayed as she stood up, staring for an instant into his amused face. The veranda posts seemed to be reeling drunkenly around her. The outside darkness closed in around her, while the music starting was like little stabs that went through her body. She burned with a terrible hatred . . . never in
her whole life had she hated as she hated at that moment. But in the chaos of her emotions, she didn’t know whether it was Elmer Wallace whom she was hating, or the fool who had been . . . herself.
CHE fled to the dressing room, caught ^ up her cape and crept out the back way. As she went down the path she saw Elmer standing in the midst of a group of very young girls; the circle of young laughing faces stood out clearly; their high shrill laughter pierced her. Were they laughing at her? She felt sick with self pity, with disappointment and most of all with shame. There wasn’t a girl in the room who was over twenty. Anger shook her ... it was anger against herself. It was as though she were two people . . . one seeing clearly the fool that the other had been.
As she whirled around a corner, she almost ran into a man who was walking leisurely along the street. Wenty White.
He stopped in surprise.
“Why, Alice, where are you hurrying to? I just dropped in at your house to talk to your mother for a bit. She said you had gone to the dance.”
His eyes rested admiringly upon her. “How wonderful you look,” he continued, sincerity in his tone, “there couldn’t have been anyone there to hold a candle to you.”
She almost broke into a sob, while there flashed before her that ring of laughing young faces.
“Oh, Wenty,” she gasped, “do you really think so?”
“Think so? I should say I do. You always look different to anyone else.”
The hurt ache was beginning to subside a little. She looked into his kindly face with a gratitude which she could not express. She caught at his solid arm. He could save her from hu iliation . . . from laughter . . . and mockery . . . Wenty White with his big kind heart • • . his sincere admiration. He would ■ never believe what a fool she had been.
. “Wenty,” she said with a subdued note in her voice, “oh, Wenty, will you take me home?”