He stood watching Stubby, knowing that Stubby would go straight to Betty Gower. Presently he saw her, marked the cut and color of her gown, watched them swing into the gyrating wave of couples that took the floor when the orchestra began. Indeed, MacRae stood watching them until he recalled with a start that he had this dance with Etta Robbin-Steele, who would, in her own much-used phrase, be “simply furious” at anything that might be construed as neglect; only Etta’s fury would consist of showing her white, even teeth in a pert smile with a challenging twinkle in her very black eyes.
He went to Betty as soon as he found opportunity. He did not quite know why. He did not stop to ask himself why. It was a purely instinctive propulsion. He followed his impulse as the needle swings to the pole; as an object released from the hand at a great height obeys the force of gravity; as water flows downhill.
He took her programme.
“I don’t see any vacancies,” he said. “Shall I create one?”
He drew his pencil through Stubby Abbott’s name. Stubby’s signature was rather liberally inscribed there, he thought. Betty looked at him a trifle uncertainly.
“Aren’t you a trifle—sweeping?” she inquired.
“Perhaps. Stubby won’t mind. Do you?” he asked.
“I seem to be defenseless.” Betty shrugged her shoulders. “What shall we quarrel about this time?”
“Anything you like,” he made reckless answer.
“Very well, then,” she said as they got up to dance. “Suppose we begin by finding out what there is to quarrel over. Are you aware that practically every time we meet we nearly come to blows? What is there about me that irritates you so easily?”
MacRae spoke without weighing his words. Yet that was the truth, although he knew that such a frank truth was neither good form nor policy. He was sorry before the words were out of his mouth. Betty could not possibly understand what he meant. He was not sure he wanted her to understand. MacRae felt himself riding to a fall. As had happened briefly the night of the Blackbird’s wrecking, he experienced that feeling of dumb protest against the shaping of events in which he moved helpless. This bit of flesh and blood swaying in his arms in effortless rhythm to sensuous music was something he had to reckon with powerfully, whether he liked or not. MacRae was beginning dimly to see that. When he was with her—
“But I’m not inaccessible.”
She dropped her voice to a cooing whisper. Her eyes glowed as they met his with steadfast concern. There was a smile and a question in them.
“What ever gave you that idea?”
“It isn’t an idea; it’s a fact.”
The resentment against circumstances that troubled MacRae crept into his tone.
There was a railing note of tenderness in Betty’s voice. MacRae felt his moorings slip. A heady recklessness of consequences seized him. He drew her a little closer to him. Irresistible prompting from some wellspring of his being urged him on to what his reason would have called sheer folly, if that reason had not for the time suffered eclipse, which is a weakness of rational processes when they come into conflict with a genuine emotion.