“I hope people aren’t talking about us,” she said, with a pleased laugh. “I oughtn’t to have given you all these dances. It’s perfectly fatal for a girl to show such preference for one man. But we are so congenial, and you do remind me—”
“If it’s embarrassing to you—” began Sandy, grasping the straw with both hands.
“Not one bit,” she asserted. “If you would rather have a good confidential time here with me than to meet a lot of silly little girls, then I don’t care what people say. But, as I was telling you, I met him the year I came out, and he was interested in me right off—”
On and on and on she went, and Sandy ceased to struggle. He sank in his chair in dogged dejection. He felt that she had been talking ever since he was born, and was going to continue until he died, and that all he could do was to wait in anguish for the end. He watched the flushed, happy faces whirling by. How he envied the boys their wilted collars! After eons and eons of time the band played “Home, Sweet Home.”
“It’s the last dance,” said she. “Aren’t you sorry? We’ve had a perfectly divine time—” She got no further, for her partner, faithful through many numbers, had deserted his post at last.
Sandy pushed eagerly through the crowd and presented himself at Ruth’s side. She was sitting with several boys on the stage steps, her cheeks flushed from the dance, and a loosened curl falling across her bare shoulder. He tried to claim his dance, but the words, too long confined, rushed to his lips so madly as to form a blockade.
She looked up and saw him—saw the longing and doubt in his eyes, and came to his rescue.
“Isn’t this our dance, Mr. Kilday?” she said, half smiling, half timidly.
In the excitement of the moment he forgot his carefully practised bow, and the omission brought such chagrin that he started out with the wrong foot. There was a gentle, ripping sound, and a quarter of a yard of lace trailed from the hem of his partner’s skirt.
“Did I put me foot in it?” cried Sandy, in such burning consternation that Ruth laughed.
“It doesn’t matter a bit,” she said lightly, as she stooped to pin it up. “It shows I’ve had a good time. Come! Don’t let’s miss the music.”
He took her hand, and they stepped out on the polished floor. The blissful agony of those first few moments was intolerably sweet.
She was actually dancing with him (one, two, three; one, two, three). Her soft hair was close to his cheek (one, two, three; one, two, three). What if he should miss a step (one, two, three)—or fall?
He stole a glance at her; she smiled reassuringly. Then he forgot all about the steps and counting time. He felt as he had that morning on shipboard when the America passed the Great Britain. All the joy of boyhood resurged through his veins, and he danced in a wild abandonment of bliss; for the band was playing “Home, Sweet Home,” and to Sandy it meant that, come what might, within her shining eyes his gipsy soul had found its final home.