A tack on the Shrewsbury road made Emily fifteen minutes late for Mrs. Chidlaw's dinner. She flung a hasty glance into the mirror before she went down and turned away satisfied. An arrow of rhinestones in her dark hair—she had hair that wore jewels well—lent the necessary note of brilliance to the new dress of silvery-green lace over a pale-blue slip that became her so well. Miss Royal had picked it for her in New York—and Aunts Elizabeth and Laura had looked askance at it. Green and blue wassuch an odd combination. And there was so little of it. But it did something to Emily when she put it on. Cousin Jimmy looked at the exquisite, shimmering young thing with stars in her eyes, in the old candle-lighted kitchen and said ruefully to Aunt Laura after she had gone, "She doesn't belong to us in that dress."
"It made her look like an actress," said Aunt Elizabeth freezingly.
Emily did not feel like an actress as she ran down Mrs. Chidlaw's stairs and across the sun-room to the wide verandah where Mrs. Chidlaw had elected to hold her dinner party. She felt real, vital, happy, expectant. Teddy would be there—their eyes would meet significantly across the table—there would be the furtive sweetness of watching him secretly when he talked to some one else—and thought of her—they would dance together afterwards. Perhaps he would tell her—what she was longing to hear—
She paused for a second in the open doorway, her eyes soft and dreamy as a purple mist, looking out on the scene before her—one of those scenes which are always remembered from some subtle charm of their own.
The table was spread in the big rounded alcove at the corner of the vine-hung verandah. Beyond it tall, dark firs and Lombardies stood out against the after-sunset sky of dull rose and fading yellow. Through their stems she caught glimpses of the bay, dark and sapphire. Great masses of shadow beyond the little island of light—the gleam of pearls on Ilse's white neck. There were other guests—Professor Robins of McGill with his long, melancholy face made still longer by his odd spade-shaped beard; Lisette Chidlaw's round, cream-coloured, kissable face with its dark hair heaped high over it and her round, dark eyes; Jack Glenlake, dreamy and handsome; Annette Shaw, a sleepy, gold-and-white thing, always affecting a Mona Lisa smile; stocky little Tom Hallam with his humorous Irish face; Aylmer Vincent. Quite fat. Beginning to be bald. Still making pretty speeches to the ladies. How absurd to recall that she had once thought him Prince Charming! Solemn-looking Gus Rankin, with a vacant chair beside him, evidently for her. Elsie Borland, young and chubby, showing off her lovely hands a little in the candlelight. But of all the party Emily only saw Teddy and Ilse. The rest were puppets.
They were sitting together just opposite her. Teddy sleek and well-groomed as usual, his black head close to Ilse's golden one. Ilse, a glorified shining creature in torquoise-blue taffeta, looking the queen with a foam of laces on her full bosom and rose-and-silver nosegays at her shoulder. Just as Emily looked at them Ilse lifted her eyes to Teddy's face and asked some question—some intimate, vital question, Emily felt sure, from the expression of her face. She did not recall ever having seen just that look on Ilse's face before. There was some sort of definite challenge in it. Teddy looked down and answered her. Emily knew or felt that the word "love" was in his answer. Those two looked long into each other's eyes—at least it seemed long to Emily, beholding that interchange of rapt glances. Then Ilse blushed and looked away. When had Ilse ever blushed before? And Teddy threw up his head and swept the table with eyes that seemed exultant and victorious.
Emily went out into the circle of radiance from that terrible moment of disillusion. Her heart, so gay and light a moment before, seemed cold and dead. In spite of the lights and laughter a dark, chill night seemed to be coming towards her. Everything in life seemed suddenly ugly. It was for her a dinner of bitter herbs and she never remembered anything Gus Rankin said to her. She never looked at Teddy, who seemed in wonderful spirits and was keeping up a stream of banter with Ilse, and she was chilly and unresponsive through the whole meal. Gus Rankin told all his favourite stories but like Queen Victoria of blessed memory, Emily was not amused. Mrs. Chidlaw was provoked and repented of having sent her car for so temperamental a guest. Annoyed probably over being paired with Gus Rankin, who had been asked at the last minute to fill Perry Miller's place. And looking like an outraged duchess over it. Yet you had to be civil to her. She might put you in a book if you weren't. Remember that time she wrote the review of our play! In reality, poor Emily was thanking whatever gods there be that she was beside Gus Rankin, who never wanted or expected any one to talk.
The dance was a ghastly affair for Emily. She felt like a ghost moving among revellers she had suddenly outgrown. She danced once with Teddy and Teddy, realizing that it was only her slim, silvery-green form he held, while her soul had retreated into some aloof impregnable citadel, did not ask her again. He danced several dances with Ilse and then sat out several more with her in the garden. His devotion to her was noticed and commented upon. Millicent Chidlaw asked Emily if the report that Ilse Burnley and Frederick Kent were engaged were true.
"He was always crazy about her, wasn't he?" Millicent wanted to know.
Emily, in a cool and impertinent voice, supposed so. Was Millicent watching her to see if she would flinch?
Of course he was in love with Ilse. What wonder? Ilse was so beautiful. What chance could her own moonlit charm of dark and silver have against that gold and ivory loveliness? Teddy liked her as a dear old pal and chum. That was all. She had been a fool again. Always deceiving herself. That morning by Blair Water—when she had almost let him see—perhaps he had seen—the thought was unbearable. Would she ever learn wisdom? Oh, yes, she had learned it to-night. No more folly. How wise and dignified and unapproachable she would be henceforth.
Wasn't there some wretched, vulgar old proverb anent locking a stable door after the horse was stolen?
And just how was she to get through the rest of the night?