Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd
By Dorothy Clapp Robinson
It was the evening of March seventeenth. My first, and it had taken on greater proportions than we had at first anticipated. For weeks our social and enlistment committees had worked to make it a success. Gloria and I had written a pageant and after its presentation we were to have a dance. That was a gesture toward the younger group. I wanted the younger women, especially, to see the pageant to help build within them a consciousness of what Relief Society really is.
I had been at the recreation hall all afternoon superintending last minute preparations and was hurrying home when I overtook Salle Richards. We walked together.
“How is your work by now?”
“Better than ever. I am going to night school, too. Do you know I am a secretary?”
“Yes, Mr. Holsinger told me. He sings your praises every time I see him. He thinks himself quite clever to have discovered you.”
“I still do not understand why he hired me in preference to many who were both experienced and better trained.”
“He undoubtedly had his reasons. Are you going to the dance tonight?”
“I’d love to, but it would be no fun going without a date.”
“Date? What about Don? Wouldn’t he take you?”
“Yes, but – well, I have never gone to anything at the church with him. He would seem rather out of place.”
I stopped suddenly. “And yet you expect to marry him. What happened that you were not married before Christmas?”
“I got my promotion and was too interested. I can have a good home without taking him with me everywhere.”
“A good house you mean, not a home. And you will have a great time trying to live in his world. Better think it over.”
“I have. I know I shall never be deeply in love with anyone, and without that I couldn’t do better than Don.”
“Come to the dance with me tonight. Tim can’t be there until late, and I have been dreading going alone. Bring your clothes over to my place and dress.”
“May I?” Salle fairly skipped. “Really, I am dying to go. I bought a new dress yesterday. The sweetest thing I have ever had. I’d like to have one good time at the church before I marry Don, if for no other reason than to be able to tell him about it truthfully. He thinks the church people like me as much as he does.” She gave a short hard laugh. “If he knew the truth, he would probably turn against me, too. Apparently the only reason boys like a girl is because someone else does.”
“She has improved unbelievably,” I thought to myself. “She sounds bitter just now but she really is too satisfied to care about being a martyr.” Aloud I said, “Come over as soon as you can.”
Salle came in time to help me with my dinner work. When she walked out of my spare bedroom we stared incredulously at her.
“Salle Richards, you beautiful creature!” I cried. Mrs. Jenkins added, “All the boys will fall for you tonight.”
There is nothing so beautiful as a girl dressed for a good time when her heart is full of expectancy. Salle’s hair was an incredible mass of light and shadow. It lay back from her face in soft downy waves. She had been wise enough to avoid artificial curling. Her dress was exactly the same shade as the copper tint in her hair, and clung to her in flattering lines. But it was her face that brought the quick trip to my pulse. She was going to have a good time. She was, she was, and the eagerness with which she was going to meet it set her apart from ordinary girls.
“Dear Father,” I prayed under my breath, “let her have her good time – just this once. It might change the course of her life.”
The hall was already crowded when we arrived. A member of the reception committee, who was receiving the people as they came in, laughed at our surprise.
“It was the hand-made blue and gold invitations that did it. We would not have had nearly as large a crowd if we had given out a mere blanket announcement.”
“Oh, I am not so sure,” another member of the committee added. “Everyone, these days, is intrigued by Relief Society. It has been put on the map. But the verse on the invitations was a direct challenge.”
Gloria Holsinger led the community singing. Her flawless appearance and her own keen appreciation of the songs communicated itself to the audience. They sang because they could not help singing. Irene told me afterward that she heard a man say, “If singing sets the spirit of the gathering, this will be a grand party.”
It was. The pageant was a thing of beauty and recompensed fully for the long hours spent on its preparation. The audience, set for it by the singing and prayer, paid silent but eloquent tribute to it. Relief Society, portrayed by Mary Grosbeck, dressed in white, led the watchers from Nauvoo, to the western banks of the Big River where she went from tent to tent ministering to the needy. Then they saw her at evening camp fires and beside broken-down wagons on the open plains. They followed her, breathlessly, among the lowly huts in the valleys of the mountains, and finally went with her back over the old trail and on into the far-flung countries of Christendom. Her handmaidens were Peace and Unity; her ladies-in-waiting were Light and Knowledge. The Singing Mothers provided a background of harmony for each scene.
The final tableau showed Relief Society climbing to a higher stage where before her, in a sweeping picture, lay the dark places of the earth waiting her coming. (What an unbelievable amount of work had been required to secure properties for that scene.)
A replica of the monument erected at Nauvoo was unveiled and rallying round it came women from every country in native costume, also the pioneer, the modern, the rich, the lowly – all joined in a common sisterhood, eager to serve and learn. The chorus hummed “On the Banks of the River” with Mrs. Holsinger’s clear tones carrying the melody.
As the curtain closed there were deep sighs of appreciation from over the room. Now the audience knew Relief Society, knew its beginning, had seen its past, and had caught a glimpse of its future. Never again, to them, would it be just another organization.
Seeing to the putting away of the things and greeting the women, kept me occupied, and it was not until the fourth dance that I again thought of Salle. Finding her was like a dash of cold water on my spirits. I hadn’t dreamed anyone could be so alone in a crowd. Each little clique was dancing with its own and no strangers need apply for entrance to its exalted circle. Not a girl in the room looked sweeter or more exquisite than Salle, but she was alone. To the dancers, she was still Salle Richards and did not belong.
Just then Dave Holsinger came to claim me for a waltz.
“Oh, Dave, I am not dancing. I have too many other things on my mind.”
“Come along.” He led me onto the floor. “I can’t get near Glory. You two covered yourselves with honor this night. I was so proud of her – and you.”
The way his wife’s name lingered on his lips told me the “you” was merely a concession to courtesy. For him the entire evening had centered around his beautiful “Glory.” Never had he been so proud of her and never had the fact been so evident.
“It was a beautiful pageant,” I agreed, but was unable to hide the edge in my voice, “and it shall not be spoiled by a crowd of thoughtless people.”
Quickly I explained. As I talked is glance went to the girl who was trying so bravely to be unconcerned. He whistled.
“Habit,” he said shortly. “Easy to maintain – hard to break.”
“It is being broken right now if I have to stop the dance. Will you dance with her?”
“I’d love to, but that will only partly fill the bill. She wants companionship with those of her age. Who is managing your dance?”
“The chairman of the social committee.”
“Let’s talk to her without attracting attention.”
That was not hard and she readily agreed to a plan he sketched for her.
When the next dance was called he went to Salle and led her onto the floor first. Everyone saw them. All about I heard quick comments. “Hasn’t Salle changed?” “Why, she is beautiful!” “They say she has a good job.” “What a striking couple!” Dave managed her slowly past a group of young people, even stopped to exchange quick-witted repartee with them. A surreptitious glance showed him that Kent Evans was watching them closely.
When the floor was well filled the manager called “circle-all.” Holding tightly to Salle’s hand Mr. Holsinger joined the ring. But when it again changed to a waltz he still held her possessively. Two boys tagged them but laughingly he shrugged them off. Then Kent Evans stopped them.
“My dance, Old Boy.”
“Go jump in the lake.” Dave made a great show of protesting, but the young man persisted. Salle turned readily to his inviting arms. “That’s gratitude,” Dave grumbled to himself, but his eyes danced as he winked at me. To be seen dancing with Mr. Holsinger and Kent Evans, and both so openly enjoying themselves, did the trick. The girl sat out no more dances, and as the evening progressed she gained in poise and assurance. Never again would she be “that Richards girl,” even to herself.
Tim had come and we watched Salle as she danced with Kent. Supremely easy their steps followed each other in a rhythm of motion that built a wall between the world and them. When it was nearly time to close they came up to where I sat alone. Salle’s arm was through one of Kent’s and her hand was imprisoned in his larger one. Her face was shining with a glory from within.
“Do you mind,” she asked shyly, “if I do not go home with you?”
Mind! This was too perfect. Words refused to come. Mistaking my silence, Kent cried:
“Don’t tell me you do mind. I have waited ages for his chance. We’ll see you home if – so you needn’t go alone.”
Ages. Chance. And his had been the prerogative. Men are queer sometimes.
“Run along, children,” I told them gaily. “Evidently you haven’t noticed that Timothy Maylord is here. I will walk to the door with you.”
As we neared the door I went suddenly limp with fear. Standing just inside, leaning against the door jam, was Don Grow. He had been drinking and his face was hot with anger and jealousy. Unnoticing, Salle was clinging to Kent’s arm, laughing up into his face that was bent slightly toward her. Neither saw the waiting figure until it was too late to retreat. Then with a little half-smothered cry she tightened her hold on her companion’s arm. They stopped before Don.
“So,” he began, in a passionate undertone, “this is why you would not let me come? I might have known. Dressed up for him, didn’t you?” His eyes had not failed to see the change in the girl nor the effectiveness of her new dress.
“Oh, Don,” Salle tried to withdraw her hand but Kent held it. “That was not the reason. Really, it wasn’t.”
“You were going home with him, weren’t you?”
“Yes, but –”
“I had forgotten.”
My heart leaped at the implication but the boy laughed shortly.
“Well, my memory is better.” He turned with forced calm to Kent. “Thanks, but I will relieve you now.”
“Like something you will – unless she prefers.” He turned to her with a grim smile. Salle had wilted. Her shoulders were stooped and all her brightness and self-assurance were as if they hadn’t been. She was torn as she had never been before. The two forces, what she had thought she was and what she wanted to be, fought for control.
“After all,” Don reminded her, “we are engaged. She belongs to me.”
The possessiveness of his tone aroused Salle’s stubbornness. Her shoulders straightened. Her head came up.
“But until we are married I am still Salle Richards.” She said it clearly and unhesitatingly. “Come, Kent.”
They would have passed out, but Don, by now thoroughly aroused, blocked their way. I was suddenly panic stricken. They must not disturb my lovely party. Kent must not lower himself to a brawl. Then Tim spoke over my shoulder.
“Hello, Don. I was over to see you tonight but you were not there. I wanted to talk over the trip with you.” He laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder. It broke the tension. The couple passed out. Afterward I squeezed Tim’s arm in appreciation.
“You are my salvation,” I whispered.
“Let’s hope!” But the look he gave me warmed me through and through. He was my Tim after all, and this had been a perfect evening.