They fell into silence. Jean finished her parfait. Derry’s was untouched.
Then the music brought them again to their feet, and they danced. The Doctor smoked alone. Back of him somebody murmured, “It is Derry Drake.”
“Confounded slacker,” said a masculine voice. Then came a warning “Hush,” as Derry and Jean returned.
“It is snowing,” Derry told the Doctor. “I have ordered my car.”
Late that night when the Doctor rode forth again alone in his own car on an errand of mercy, he thought of the thing which he had heard. Then came the inevitable question: why wasn’t Derry Drake fighting?
It was at the Witherspoon dinner that Jean McKenzie first heard the things that were being said about Derry.
“I can’t understand,” someone had remarked, “why Derry Drake is staying out of it.”
“I fancy he’ll be getting in,” Ralph Witherspoon had said. “Derry’s no slacker.”
Ralph could afford to be generous. He was in the Naval Flying Corps. He looked extremely well in his Ensign’s uniform, and he knew it; he was hoping, in the spring, for active service on the other side.
“I don’t see why Derry should fight. I don’t see why any man should. I never did believe in getting into other people’s fusses.”
It was Alma Drew who said that. Nobody took Alma very seriously. She was too pretty with her shining hair and her sea-green eyes, and her way of claiming admiration.
Jean had recognised her when she first came in as the girl she had seen descending from her motor car with Derry Drake on the night of the Secretary’s dinner. Alma again wore the diamond-encrusted comb. She was in sea-green, which matched her eyes.
“If I were a man,” Alma pursued, “I should run away.”
There was a rustle of uneasiness about the table. In the morning papers had been news of Italy—disturbing news; news from Russia—Kerensky had fled to Moscow—there had been pictures of our men in gas masks! It wasn’t a thing to joke about. Even Alma might go too far.
Ralph relieved the situation. “Oh, no, you wouldn’t run away,” he said; “you don’t do yourself justice, Alma. Before you know it you will be driving a car over there, and picking me up when I fall from the skies.”
“Well, that would be—compensation—.” Alma’s lashes flashed up and fluttered down.
But she turned her batteries on Ralph in vain. Jean McKenzie was on the other side of him. It would never be quite clear to him why he loved Jean. She was neither very beautiful nor very brilliant. But there was a dearness about her. He hardly dared think of it. It had gone very deep with him.
He turned to her. Her eyes were blazing. “Oh,” she said, under her breath, “how can she say things like that? If I knew a man who would run away, I’d never speak to him.”