A brave story of a brave woman, and how she found the courage to face her past
UNTIL Jocelyn HIS was marriage headed it for had the been top, conceded but after that that Bill the public freely predicted that no man was big enough to marry Delphine Hogan and succeed in politics— at least not in that province of the Dominion, ruled as it was by a society deep-rooted, exclusive and conventional.
It was not that her father was an ex-pugilist and a habitual fighting drunkard, that he kept a hotel, a betting book and worse institutions. It was not that his racehorses did not always run as swiftly as they might, or that, with no entrée to polite society and no taste for the sort the old man kept, Delphine contrived her own from folk Bohemian and varied, chosen by standards only she could fathom. These things, they said, she might live down. What placed her utterly beyond the pale was her notorious affair with a man outlawed for cause by the community in which, if Bill Jocelyn’s advance was to proceed, his wife must take a leading place.
It had been over and the fellow gone away before Bill came to town, but other women made sure that he cherished no illusions as to Delphine’s reputation; and that worldlywise old sinner, Barney Hogan, in a burst of alcoholic frankness, had told her flatly that Bill was a fool to marry her. His profane and picturesque conjecture of what would result to a potential premier’s career from the introduction of a wife such as Delphine, had revived a thousandfold her fears that Bill had only partially allayed, and it took a month of steady argument to bring her round again. But in the end Bill had prevailed, and they were married quietly, with no more than two of his best friends as witnesses.
One evening, when their son was one year old, Bill returned from a three weeks trip, let himself in, pitched his things down on the wide, low hall, and headed for the living room. He looked more the athlete than the lawyer, being big and well-knit, with crisp, sandy hair, and a good-natured, not too handsome face. Few folks suspected the broad streak of idealism which his strong personality concealed.
Delphine, vivid and dainty in a sulphur-yellow négligée of silk brocade and crêpe de Chine, was curled in the comer of a chintz settee beside the fire, and she rose eagerly to greet him: “Hullo, darling. You are nice and early. I’m so glad.” Her voice was low and clear.
He kissed her and she clung to him; and accustomed though he was to her ardor, he felt in her embrace a curious quality of desperation and he wondered at it. He gazed down at her sensitive, small face, with its mop of dark-brown curls, its dark arched brows and mobile mouth, and saw that her eyes were moist and her mouth was quivering.
“Why, what’s the matter?”
“Nothing. Only it’s so good to have you back.” She hid her face and clung to him in hungry silence.
He laughed and hugged her. “You funny kid,” and suddenly she put back her head and gazed at him. Her hazel eyes had a strange, searching look, a manner that seemed almost hunted, the hint of a question of whose answer she might be afraid. She made as though to speak but did not, and it seemed to him she deliberately repressed some utterance. She wriggled out of his embrace, and with a gaiety that did not ring true reached for an engraved invitation card: “Look at this. It came the day you left.”
SHE HAD not overestimated his reaction: “Wow! La Cleethorpes, eh? One of her social parties!”
Hugh Cleethorpes was the power in that province, and rumor said that of that power Sabina Cleethorpes was the better half. But, whether or no, she was unchallenged arbiter of government society.
Regarding the chaste missive bidding them to her most intimate of hospitalities, Bill exclaimed: “Well, honey, it seems you’ve arrived. This fits in with the news I’ve got for you.”
She nodded, watching him apprehensively: “Oh, News?” “Yes. I was on the train with Cleethorpes, and he told me I’m in line for Deputy Attorney-General. So you see? Didn’t I tell you that together we could lick the world?” She nodded, “Yes, Bill, you did,” but though she smiled at him, her face was full of shadows. There was something wrong with her—he definitely felt it now—and her voice held that wistful and uncertain note it used to have when first they were together and the outcome had been still quite problematical. She must be unwell, and concealing it to welcome him. She would. She never thought of herself. Always of others. He’d have to nurse her for a day or two. Or could it be their boy?
He said rather sharply, “How’s young Bill?” and knew profound relief when she replied:
He saw her brace herself into her habitual animation: “Now hurry up and get your bath. Your things are all laid out. Will half an hour be enough? It’s lobster Newburg, and you know that spoils if it’s kept a minute.”
“What? Haven’t you had a meal yet?”
“You don’t suppose I would, alone, on the night you’re coming home.”
“And say, that’s a new thingummy you’re wearing.”
She nodded—almost gaily for the moment: “For you. I’ve been saving it for a surprise. Like it?”
CHE STOOD back for his inspection, and he felt that sense of wonder which the contemplation of her person always brought him. The intimate and dainty yellow gown became her perfectly. Mendel was right—male lines persisting through the female. The long, shapely legs, the slim but sumptuous body, the slender neck and proudly carried head of tight brown curls, must be from the maternal grandsire she had told him of, who had been a broken gentleman of France. But the iron which he knew was in her, the humor, the zest for life and color, were her father’s. For old Barney, if an unmitigated ruffian, was a man of stature and of gusto.
Delphine loved life, and worked untiringly to make it yield the maximum of color and delight for both of them.
She never missed a chance to make an occasion for him. Birthdays, anniversaries, his return from the shortest trip, were always the excuse for some loving gesture, a special meal, the gift of a book, a new garment of the sort that only he would see.
He went upstairs and took his bath. His house was high up on the hill behind the city, and from it could be seen the floodlighted Parliament Building, white and splendid, far below across the river.
When he was dressed, he stepped out to the balcony. The night was fragrant writh the scent of autumn; there was a hint of frost, and a big yellow moon slid up behind the spruce tops. A feeling of well-being and of thankfulness possessed him. Here was his home, below lay the theatre of his ambitions, and all was well with both.
These two years had been a gamble—in his heart he had known them all along—entered with confidence as to the outcome, but for all that a heavy gamble. He had risked his entire future on his judgment of a quantity so unpredictable as the trend of public feeling. Yet from the first it had gone well. They had begun with tact, eschewing all society save that of his few trusted intimates, and not extending until he was certain they had been won over to Delphine. Her success had been slow but sure, her sympathy and generosity, her elemental candor and eager charm disarming one by one a people who had never met her but who had been armed against the things for which her name had always stood. But till now the most conservative, though courteous when they met her, as they often did in public and at semi-public functions, had maintained a quiet reserve. Hugh Cleethorpes’s daughter, Mona—the depth of whose regard for Bill was no one’s business but her own—had been for long a staunch admirer of Delphine. But her mother had betrayed no sign of showing her opinion, and had limited her contacts with “the Hogan girl” to those of chance.
But now that phase was over and the last begun. Only two years, and so much achieved. With such a start and such a woman as Delphine to back him, what was there in the future to which he might not aspire?
Bill filled his lungs with frosty air and told himself that life was good.
Delphine came up for their usual visit to the nursery, and he watched her by the cotside in the rich, dim light. Her head was bent, one hand stretched down to touch that of the child, and her face revealed a look so strange, so deep and poignant as to fill him with mysterious compassion. But he could find no words to express his feeling, and presently they went arm in arm downstairs.
A folding table had been set before the big log fire—one of the many small intimacies by which she set great store. A dainty meal and a small table by the light of fire and candles, and they two alone, she loved more than the finest party.
As she poured sherry Bill picked up the paper. “I see they’ve almost finished with Mark Symonds’s case. It’ll go to the jury tomorrow. This Durand is in a nasty spot, all right.”
■jPvELPHINE’S HAND, pouring, stopped and shook—but he was intent on the paper and so did not see. Her tone was careful: “You mean they may convict him?”
“Why not? He rows with Symonds in the morning. In
the evening he goes to his house and they row again. At ten he goes to his hotel and packs his bags, and the night clerk swears he went out at eleven and did not get back till three. At one-thirty Symonds is shot through his study window, and next day the chap is picked up on the train for the border.”
“But that's only circumstantial evidence. They can’t convict him just on that.”
“They can, and my guess is they will. They’ve proved ample motive—he was heard to threaten Symonds—and he hasn’t got the shadow of an alibi. There are four hours that night to be accounted for, and all he oilers is the story that he couldn’t sleep and spent them walking aimlessly about the city. And he seems to be well known in town, and no one has a decent word for him.”
Delphine flashed out: “And no one had a decent word for me, two years ago; remember that, Bill.”
He looked up in acute surprise and saw that her face was flushed, her eyes bright with anger: “Why, what’s up? Why so heated?”
“I can’t help it. It’s so unfair. People who don’t know you have this power over you, and they form their opinions out of hearsay. Look what they did to me ! They would have shut me out from everything I wanted for the whole of my life. I had to meet you in a stable. If I hadn’t liked horses and you hadn’t put yours in Joe Fahey’s barn, all I ever could have been to you was the name of Barney Hogan’s daughter, who was just what you'd expect.”
“Hold hard, honey. That’s only half the picture. True, you had to pay some for your old man’s errors; there’s a natural law in that we can’t avoid. But these injustices can’t last. The truth comes out. That’s another natural law. It may take time, but the truth comes out. It has for you, and it didn’t take so long. You’re dear already, with your life all before you.”
Her face had that strange, apprehensive look, and her reply, too, was strange. “Perhaps. But what about this man? You know what Symonds was. Even father says he was the hardest money lender in the city, and a crook as well. Heaps of people must hate Symonds. Someone shot him and there’s circumstantial evidence that points toward this man, that’s all. But there’s common talk about him, just as there was of me, and it may swing the verdict. The truth might come too late for him.”
He saw that her whole form was tense with feeling. He had seen her thus roused once or twice before, always by sympathy or indignation, and at such times it seemed to him her spirit was too ardent for her body, and its fervor might consume or break it and the thing he loved escape to where he could not follow'.
That w'as what bound him to her, the simple fervor of her spirit, her charity and the forthrightness of all her thought. For him she embodied something which, until they met, he had known only in the abstract ; a secret idealism that he hid from men but on which he drew' for inspiration in those extremities which the reasoning intelligence can prove so disconcertingly inadequate to deal with.
Then the servant came with soup and the tension passed.
EVER AFTERWARD, Bill could recall each detail of that Sunday supper. Much spiritual harmony had brought them past dependence upon words for the transmission of their thoughts. Tonight, though she scarcely spoke, the room was filled with her emotion, tangible and poignant as the music of a violin.
He recalled always how he felt her reaching out to him, how she lingered on such moments as a condemned man might linger ujxm the last sunlight he would ever see. He recalled how there came to him a phrase of his grandmother’s. She had been Highland Scots, with the hillwomen’s mysticism. “Fey,” she used to say of people touched by the shadow of some destiny impending. And Bill remembered how the thought brought him a frightening constriction of the heart. His impression was not quite correct. Delphine was not fey. The fey do not know the nature of the stroke whose imminence they feel. But Delphine knew. Delphine was saying her good-bys to their unspoiled delight.
The man cleared away, removed the folding table, brought them coffee. She fell completely silent then, sat staring at the fire’s white heart while Bill’s cigar burned halfway through. He watched her covertly. Time had changed her. Her face had matured. Her features were more strongly molded, her eyes steadier, more deep. Suddenly she looked around and said: “Bill, it has been a success, hasn’t it? You and I, I mean, in every way? You’ve not had to compromise, argue with yourself that you are glad?”
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He was accustomed to her heart searchI ings, and answered in her own vein: “Yes. It’s been everything I’d hoped for and a great deal more. All I looked for was the girl I’d learned to know. I found a woman that I’d never known, and finer than I’d ever dreamed a woman could be.”
“I’m so glad,” she said. “That’s something anyway.”
He looked at her, mystified. She certainly was strange tonight. “What did you mean exactly when you said that?” he asked.
“Oh—nothing, Bill. I just said it.” But he felt sure she lied.
They sat on quietly while the cigar burned low. But once or twice she looked at him and smiled, and he smiled back. Presently (lie smoke was finished and he pitched the stump into the fire. As though that were a signal— which indeed it was, for she had placed that limit on her respite from what was to come— she faced him with decision. “Bill,” she said quietly, “there’s something that you’ve got to know.”
He was smiling. “Yes?”
“This man Durand, who’s being tried for murder, is the man. . . You know—he and 1, before you came.”
Startled, he peered at her: "You don’t mean the man, Del?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
“So that’s what’s been on your mind?” he said with a sensation of relief. “And that’s why lately everyone has seemed so queer to me. I couldn’t make out what was making them so cagey any time I mentioned Symonds. Of course—John Humphrey Durand. You always called him Humphrey. I never did know the fellow’s surname. But why didn’t you tell me this before? It would have made it easier for you, wouldn’t it?” She said deliberately, gazing past him with unhappy eyes. “Yes. It would. Very. But you see, knowing that he hadn’t done it, I expected every minute that they’d find who did and let him go.”
Bill’s face was a study in surprised uncertainty. “Knowing that he hadn’t—” he reiterated. “Say, what is this you’re getting at, Del?”
“I know he didn’t do it, because for those four hours he can’t account for he was here with me.”
BILL THOUGHT that he could not have heard aright. “What’s that?” he said slowly.
“It’s true, Bill. Don’t you remember? The week-end of Symonds’s murder you were up North, duck shooting.”
“You had him here alone for best part of the night—that fellow, while I was away?” Bill stared, dumbfounded, between incredulity and dawning anger.
“Yes,” she said simply, “I’m afraid I did. He was with me from half-past eleven till three. When he was arrested and said nothing, I was sure it was because the papers would be bound to get it and he knew what publication of a tale like that would do to me. There was no point in worrying you. Like me, he must have been convinced that soon new evidence would be found and redirect suspicion; then he would have been released and gone away, and that would have been the end of it. It’s incredible that in all this time no new due has come up. Somebody killed Symonds. Humphrey didn’t. There must be evidence somewhere. But it’s gone on and on and now it’s come to this.”
Bill had been listening in silence, his face (lushed and hard. Now he said sharply: “But the trial’s almost finished. Why hasn’t he—” Bill stopped, startled, unbelieving. “Are you telling me this chap will take his medicine rather than say where he was and drag your name in?”
“Yes. That’s what he’ll do. You see, he loves me.”
She nodded. “That was what made me angry when you said that no one had a dec-
ent word for him. It’s true what they say, but there’s more besides. People only know the bad about him; no one knows the good. He did come here with introductions, conceal the fact that he was married and abuse hospitality. But the women themselves were a lot to blame. That always was his trouble; I learned that afterward. Women liked him too much and he never could resist a conquest. So he was ostracized, and that was how we came to meet. In a way, we belonged together. We were both quite alone and outlawed from our proper elements. Something like that was bound to happen to me. I couldn’t stand father’s crowd, I was starved emotionally and a little bitter, and I was in love with the idea of love. Humphrey’s a gentleman, Bill, whatever he may lack in morals, and as to that, he stood for everything I’d been denied.
“In the end I learned that he had been divorced before I met him and could have married me; and then I realized I’d been just one more conquest. To make love to a woman was a habit with him. He’d seen the mood I was in and used it; that was all. The rest of what I’d thought we’d had was lies. All that, everybody knew; but what they didn’t know was that later he came back and told me he’d found he loved me and there’d never be another woman. He begged me to marry him. But I couldn’t. For a while then I hated him, and I told him so, and by and by he went to the States and I didn’t hear of him until that night. He phoned me that he had come here to make Symonds pay him some old debt, but Symonds wouldn’t, and next morning he was going back. He said that he still loved me, that he was down and out, and he begged that I would see him just once more to say good-by for always.
T WAS OVER hating him by then. You
can’t be as happy as I’ve been and go on hating people. And there are things that I shall always feel I owe him. Can you understand? He was the first one of his sort to be kind to me; he saw how much I wanted certain things and did all he could to help me with them. And I was happy while it lasted, for the first time in my life. Perhaps his educating me was only an amusement, but whatever was his reason I shall always feel a certain gratitude. Even you owe him something in that way, if we’ve been happy, Bill. Because, whatever I was when you met me, he had some part in making, and without him it would not have been. So, because I had so much and was happy, and he had so little and was so alone, I let him come.
“I was shocked when I saw him. He was so shabby, so defeated. He was not even warmly clad, and he used to be so smart and gay. He just sat and looked at me, and I couldn’t bear it. I was nice to him, Bill. I got him sandwiches and hot rum punch, and made him lie down while we talked. And presently he went to sleep—that was the warmth and the rum, I suppose. And I let him sleep. When he left he said it was the last time I should see him, but that his feeling could not change and he wished that there was something he could do to prove it.
“I don’t think 1 believed him really then. But now. . . I told you that he was a gentleman and—well, he’s been two months in prison for a murder that he didn’t do. He could prove his alibi, but the trial’s almost over and he hasn’t said a word. I believe him now. He knows what publication of the truth would do to me, and I feel certain that he’ll never speak.”
As she talked, Delphine had been staring at the (ire again, but now she looked around at Bill. I íe had never seen her look so young, so calm or so unhappy; but, though her lips were uncertain, her eyes, meeting his, did not waver. “And so,” she said, “there’s only one thing left for me to do.”
Bill’s gaze, on hers, went out of focus, so that he did not see her waiting tensely for his answer. He was seeing other things—
the past, the future. He was being tempted, fighting cheap impulses that he had not known were in him. His faith, his ambitions, manhood, charity and judgment were alike assaulted, and the mental structure they upheld was near to tumbling down about his ears.
This thing was out of all proportion; it was a decision no one should be asked to make. Events should be allowed to take their course. Why interfere, why wreck the splendid thing Delphine and he were building, for the life of a waster who was glad to justify himself as opportunity had offered?
And while his thoughts raced, Delphine watched his face and waited. Her world trembled in a cruel balance; whichever way it swung, she would lose. If Bill agreed that she must go and tell the truth, she knew her vision of the years to come was ended. And if he argued that they should not interfere, her faith in him was broken; he was not the man she thought him. but a lesser thing.
It seemed an age before he answered. Cars purred down the hill beyond their garden, in the fire the little flames said, “Wimp. Whrrrrrup.” Delphine could hear her own heart beating.
At last his gaze came back and found her own. He leaned across and put his hand on hers. “Of course.’’ lie said, “there’s only one thing left for us to do,” and his grasp tightened.
Neither of them moved, except for a tiny twitching of her lips. Their world was down about their cars, but through the dismay of its fall their spiritual concord struck a deep and dominating note.
BILL HAD been away three weeks and so was desperately busy at the office, and after the hateful morning which lie and Delphine had to spend in court, he was forced to work well on into the evening.
When he reached home, there was no one in the living room and the house seemed somehow strange and unfamiliar. I le picked up the paper. His wife’s name shouted at him from the headlines and the text spared no innuendo. I Ic stood a moment looking at them, each line of his figure eloquent of vigor and of indignation. Then he went upstairs.
Delphine’s door was ajar and there were voices. He knocked and entered. The room was redolent of her personality—firm, fragrant and immaculate—but one end was full of suitcases and gay-colored heaps of garments, in the midst of which Delphine and the maid were busy.
She stood up with a scarlet dress across her arm, her short curls tousled and her face Hushed from stooping. But when she saw him there the color drained away, leaving her pale and hollow. “Hullo, Bill,” she said huskily with the wraith of a smile.
He signed the girl to leave, and as the door closed he said: “What’s this?”
“I’m going back to father.”
“Oh? And why?”
“What else is there to do?”
“Have you done something you’re ashamed of, then?”
“No!” she came back with unexpected passion. “But who’d believe it? Haven’t you seen the papers? Didn’t you hear them laugh this morning? Humphrey Durand here at three in the morning, and you out of town. I can just hear what they’ll be saying —the sow’s ear, and where there’s smoke there’s fire, and the leopard doesn’t change his spots, and all those smug old things.” “And if you do this, they’ll be sure that everything they think is true.”
“There’s nothing else I can do. I’ve had my chance and thrown it away. I’m back where I began—just Barney Hogan’s girl who’s done what everyone expected of her
But I won’t stay with you and see you dropped because your wife is not acceptable.”
“You did what you felt you must. That’s all right with me, and always will be.”
His tenderness broke through her studiously brave front, and tears sprang in her eyes. “Oh, Bill. That’s wonderful of you.” But she shook her head. “It won’t help us any, though. I know these things. I’ve had to live with them before. I'll be cut. And if I stay with you. it’ll be as father said it would before we married—you'll be dropped. You’ll not become Deputy Attorney-General or any other thing, so long as you trail me around.”
He saw that she was close to cracking, and he stepped across a heap of clothes. “Come here. Come and sit down.”
He moved her to the bed and sat down with his arm about her shoulders, and said quietly: “Now listen. You’ve let yourself get overwrought and you've got to chuck it. There’s nothing wrong that we can’t deal with. Sometimes it isn’t sound to try and see the future. This is one of those times. But so long as I’ve got you and can take care of you, somehow I don’t care. I’ve got something so good I can't believe it even yet. Every day I’m finding out how rich I am, and that’s enough for me. We’ll deal with other things as they come up.”
She made to speak, but he cut her off. “We’re going to behave just as we should have done had this not happened. And that’s why you must pull yourself together, because we’re going to Hugh Cleethorpes’s party.”
She turned on him in consternation : “No ! No, Bill! Oh, I couldn’t.”
T_TE RETORTED, with a confidence he was far from feeling: “Why not? We're invited, aren’t we? There’s no reason why we shouldn’t go. You’ve done nothing you’re ashamed of, and we’re not going to behave as though you had.”
"I couldn’t face it. You don’t know what beasts women can be. I do. I’ve been through it. I know how it feels.”
“I see. You’d sooner stay away, and let them think I admit you’ve let me down and you’re ashamed to face them. You’d sooner sneak off, licked, than come with me and show ’em that neither of us cares a hoot what any of ’em think. You’d sooner let them . . ” Bill attacked her ruthlessly with every argument which he knew would cut her where she was most sensitive; and presently, lie saw a glint spring into her eyes and her expression grow defiant.
“At-a-girl!” he exulted. “I thought that wasn’t what you really wanted. And now unclench those fists and let your nerves down. That’s right.” He pulled her head down on his shoulder and began to run his fingers through her mop of curls, till presently he felt the tenseness leave her. “There. That’s better. Now listen. This is a time when we can’t afford to look far ahead, but whatever turns up we can handle it. And tonight we’re going to the party.”
He looked at his watch. “We won’t bother about being early. Have a hot bath and then lie down. I'll make them bring you up a snack. Try and grab a bit of sleep, and when it’s time I'll come and wake you. Then take a shower to put you on your toes and get on your war-paint. You’ve got to turn out looking like a million dollars. Don’t you let me down.”
She began once more to protest, but he cut her off. “Shut up, will you. We’ve said all there is to say. Now off with those things. I’ll shove you in that bath myself.”
Downstairs, he fell to pacing up and down. His own nerves were none too good, he realized, and for all his bold front he had no illusions as to what they had to face. But his only feeling was a fierce devotion to Delphine and a grim determination that, whatever happened, no man should have any doubt of how things stood between him and his wife. . .
“Well? Will I do?”
Bill, big, black-and-white and immaculate, in “tails” and with a red carnation, regarded her in silence as she stood for him beneath the light. She wore black chiffon
velvet, delicate and soft, that clung to her. sleek body and trailed long on one side. It was low-cut and plain, and her neck was bare. She had long earrings of old-fashioned jet and diamonds, and her short brown curls were close about her head, which was held high upon her slender neck as she faced him, waiting for his verdict.
His voice betrayed a boyish note of admiration that was not untouched by awe: “I’ll say you’ll do. Gimme a kiss.”
“Oh ! Bill! Mind my lipstick.”
“And now come on. It’s late.”
He helped her put her cloak on and they went downstairs. As they turned toward the street door, she paused again, looked up at him, her heart in her eyes. “Bill,” she said, “I’m scared to death, but I’ve never been so happy in my life. Kiss me again and never mind the lipstick.”
Speeding through the frosted streets, they sat hand in hand in silence, but every now and then they met each other’s eyes and smiled. Bill was conscious of excitement—no, exhilaration was the word—and he tried in vain to capture his habitual calm.
It was late when they arrived. Supper was served and half the guests were busy with it. In the entrance hall some couples sat or stood about, between whom passed swift glances as they saw who entered. A maid said to Delphine: “This way please,
But Bill’s hand tightened. “No! You’re not leaving me. Give her the things.”
WHEN IT WAS done she took his arm and he led her through the hall. Though her face was drawn, she showed in no other way her fearfulness, but carried her head high, looking before her with wide, steady eyes. Passing the couples by the door, Bill greeted them urbanely: “ ’Lo,
Jake. Evening, Dolly. Tom. . .” and Delphine smiled and bowed. But he did not stop until he reached the ballroom.
The floor was fringed with couples; there was warmth and perfume, color, and from the crowded supper rooms beyond the arches came the hum and clatter of all such occasions. Bill stood, hoping he would see their hostess, while a ripple of surprise ran round the room as they were recognized. Then the drum throbbed softly, setting the time, and Bill said: “Good. Wedance.”
As the music struck up he at once took hold of her. “Let’s go.”
“No. Not the first. Please wait a minute.” “No heel taps.” He swung her out on to the floor, and once they were alone, clear of the crowd, he felt her rise to his demand. He felt her clasp him, felt her form engage his, soft and supple, felt her stride merge smoothly with his own.
The sense of unreality which he had known before that day came over Bill. He did not realize that they danced alone, that everyone had paused to watch the sight they made, all black and white, and rapt upon each other. He was gazing down at her, while she laughed up at him. Her face was reaching toward him, and her eyes were like stars.
People recovered and began to dance, but Delphine and Bill did not know if they danced or not, and when the music stopped Bill wakened to the present as though he had been asleep.
He saw Hugh Cleethorpes by the door and headed for him, but before they got there Nancy Denham—her grandsire had been Lieutenant-Governor in Confederation Year —came to meet them swiftly. She said: “I’m so glad you got here. I was afraid you’d be too tired, after such a ghastly day. You two are an eyeful, in case you don’t know.”
Then they reached Cleethorpes. He was small and dapper, with white mustache and hair groomed perfectly. His face was brown and wrinkled and his pale blue eyes were shrewd.
Bill said: “Hullo, Hugh. Forgive me for not finding you at once. A waltz with my wife is the one thing that I can’t resist.” Cleethorpes was not looking at his young political lieutenant. His gaze was on Delphine, who met it with eyes quiet and steady. Smiling at her, he replied to her husband:
“I can’t say that I blame you, Bill.” Then he bowed to Delphine. “My dear, we’re just going for a bit of supper. Will you honor me?” He offered her his arm.
She gave Bill a swift, startled glance, and answered: “Yes. Yes, thank you very
Nancy Denham slid her arm through Bill’s. “She’s brave, brave. And I never saw anything so lovely.”
Bill said huskily: “Thanks, Nancy.
You’re a pal.”
CLEETHORPES steered Delphine between the tables. There were many people there Delphine knew well, and others she had never met, and many heads were turned as they went by. And there was not a face that was not cordial, and some were filled with sympathy.
Delphine had suddenly gone deathly pale, so that her make-up showed red and unnatural. They reached a table with Sabina Cleethorjies and old Senator Laporte, blonde Mona Cleethorpes with John Hollander, and Jane Searle and young Tommy Hoyle. There were empty places there. Cleethorpes stopiied beside his wife, whose back was toward them. He said: “Sab,
we’re not disappointed after all. See what I’ve brought you.”
Sabina, mountainous and gorgon-faced, in dove-grey silk and diamonds, looked around, to see Delphine, who faced her with the faintest smile upon a dead-white face. Sabina Cleethorpes stared an instant. Then she said: “Good gracious, child, you’re like a ghost. Sit her down, Hugh, for heaven’s sake. Haven’t you any sense?”
Delphine sank down into the chair John Hollander pulled out, and Jane Searle, cool and beautiful, pushed a long-stemmed glass toward her, smiling: “Have some of this. You look done up.”
Delphine did look done up; but her eyes were acutely sentient, and they went from one face to another, wide, half apprehensive, wondering.
Bill was very red, and his chin stuck out aggressively. But his eyes were queerly bright, and Mona Cleethorpes, beside whom he had sat down, saw him swallow hard. Her hand closed on his knee: “Okay, Bill,” she said.
Then she leaned across the table toward Delphine and said brightly: “You came just at the right time, Delphine. We were speaking of you. The pageant we are doing for the Frontenac Centenary, you know. You look exactly like those old French ladies, and we wondered if you’d take the part of Yvonne Arnault.”
Her mother looked at Mona sharply, and Mona’s eyes were urgent and imploring. Old Sabina made a little gesture of abandonment, and said to Delphine: “Yes, I've
wondered where you got that chic, old-world French air of yours.”
And Jane Searle said: “You will do that for us, won't you, Mrs. Jocelyn?”
Delphine’s underlip betrayed the faintest quiver. But her eyes had changed and the fear had left them. She said to Jane Searle, with a straight, quiet look: “Thank you.
I should be most happy. There are some things I have dreamed of all my life.”
And all who were about the table wondered in their various ways exactly what she meant when she said that.