AND FOR ETERNITY
Olive Woolley Burt
SYNOPSIS: Delsa Marriott, who has not divulged the fact that her fiance, Hugh Temple, wants to break their engagement, is condemned by the townsfolk for what they consider an unseemly interest in Jeff Holden. In order to show them that Jeff means nothing to her, and yet save her face in the affair with Hugh, Delsa decides to appear captivated by Alec Windsor, a marine visiting Delsa’s friend, Jim Lewis.
The whole town was excited over Jim’s and Lina’s wedding. No one was so small, so unimportant, that he didn’t have a part in the preparations that now went forward.
Jim and Lina were to go to Salt Lake City on Thursday and be married in the temple. Then they would return home, and that evening a big reception would be given for them. Not only was the whole town invited – but the whole valley, as well. Friends and relatives from far and near would gather in the ward amusement hall to wish the young couple happiness, and to dance and eat.
“It’s going to be a real, old-fashioned wedding,” Lina told Delsa happily. “Dad and Mother think it would be nice to have a get-together like they used to have, years ago. In spite of rationing, some of the women think they can get up a good, hot meal. There’ll be dancing and a program – everyone who wants to take part on the program can.”
“I wonder if you know what you’re letting yourself in for?” she asked. “I’ve heard Mother tell of those old-time affairs – they lasted a good part of the night. You’ll be tired after the day in Salt Lake – going through the temple and all.”
“I don’t care!” Lina said. “If Mother and Dad and Jim’s folks want an old-time party again, we’ll give it to them. We’ve been so sober for so long. We’re going to be happy and all together again for once!”
Talk of the wedding even permeated the schoolroom and grounds. Nellie Gibson was learning a recitation to say at Lina’s wedding, and the girls’ quartet was practicing a song. Delsa stayed after school and played the piano for them.
Jeff came over and leaned his elbows on the piano and beat time for the girls, watching Delsa over the bright heads of the youngsters.
After the practicing was over, Jeff and Delsa walked down the road toward Jeff’s house together.
Jeff said, with a strange urgency in his voice, “Are you going to let me take you to the wedding, Delsa?”
Delsa laughed, surprise giving a ring to her voice.
“Oh, Jeff! You know I don’t go anywhere with anyone!”
Jeff smiled wryly. “I should think you could go with your principal without hurting your conscience at all. Goodness knows, Delsa, I haven’t any idea of beating Hugh’s time. It’s just that everyone will be going and I thought –”
Delsa put her hand impulsively on Jeff’s arm.
“It’s all right, Jeff,” she said. She had remembered, then, that she was no longer bound to Hugh. She could go to the dance with anyone she chose. She felt suddenly cold and alone.
Jeff must have been watching her face more closely than she knew for he spoke quickly. “Don’t look like that, Delsa. Hugh’ll be back one of these days and then we’ll all be dancing at your wedding. I’m sorry I made you unhappy.”
They went on in silence, each busy with his own thoughts, until they reached Jeff’s gate and Davy came running to meet them.
But when Delsa’s work at Jeff’s had been done and she went out into the clear blue night, she was startled to see a man’s form leaning over the gate, obviously waiting for her. She knew at once that it wasn’t Jeff; and almost as immediately she knew who it was – Alec Windsor, the forest green of his marine uniform dark against the starlit sky.
“Hello, there!” he said happily, familiarly, as if he had waited for her every night for years.
Delsa smiled up at him. “This is a surprise!” she cried. “It’s been a long, long time since there were young men in town with leisure to lean on gates!”
He answered soberly, “It’s been a long, long time since I had leisure to lean on a gate, I assure you. But now that I do have the leisure, I am going to make good use of it.”
He fell into step beside her and they walked up the road toward the Marriott home.
“How has the town been treating you?” Delsa asked, for want of something better to say.
“Fine!” he laughed. “Only everyone is so busy with Jim and Lina and plans for the wedding, I’ve had to shift for myself a bit today. Not that I mind,” he hastened to add, “but I had plenty of time to remember you and how pretty you looked last night with that blue ribbon in your hair. Gosh,” he went on, “what you girls could teach those South Sea natives – or could you?”
Delsa laughed,. It was definitely pleasant to have someone to walk with in the cool spring evening. and when Alec took her arm and drew her a little closer to his side, she felt the old, half-forgotten thrill of being liked and protected.
They walked slowly, talking of many things, and when they reached Delsa’s, she turned and looked up at the tall, dark, serious boy who reminded her so much of Hugh.
“Come in and have supper with us,” she invited.
He hesitated a moment, and then smiled like a little boy caught in mischief.
“Thanks,” he said.
“I can get Dad to step over and tell your friends …” she began, but he grinned more broadly.
“I’ve already told them that I might not be home to supper,” he said. “I had hopes.”
“Oh, you marines!” Delsa laughed, and opened the door.
Her parents were happy to have a young man at the table again, and the meal went gaily. Afterward, Alec put on one of Mrs. Marriott’s aprons and wiped the dishes for Delsa.
When the kitchen was ship-shape and Delsa would have gone into the living room where her parents were, Alec stopped her.
“Let’s sit here in the kitchen,” he suggested. “Gosh, it’s been so long since I sat in a real kitchen!” He sniffed audibly.”I like the smell of it!”
So they drew up chairs and sat beside the table with its red-checked cloth, and talked, with Alec getting up now and then to put sticks of wood into the big, old-fashioned stove. After a while Delsa said, “It’s rather late in the year for popping corn – we generally do that in the winter time. But we still have some good corn left – and it’s always fun!”
So they popped corn and sprinkled it with salt and with home-made, unrationed butter, and ate it in big handfuls.
But at last Alec had to go. He frowned at the big wooden clock ticking away persistently on the kitchen shelf, and said, “You’re a school marm, and I know what modern kids are. You’ll need all the reinforcement of a good night’s sleep to handle them, I bet.”
Delsa smiled. “These children aren’t bad,” she said. “They are just the town kids – I’ve known them all ever since they were born. I’ve taught them in Sunday school and Primary – and they aren’t spoiled like city children. They all have plenty of work to do in their homes – it makes them more responsible and obedient.”
He looked at her wonderingly.
“You really like them, don’t you?” he asked. “I wonder if I ever had a teacher that really liked me?”
“Of course you did, silly!” Delsa said with a sudden tightening of her throat.
Alec reached across the table and put his big, brown, hard hand over hers.
“Who’s taking you to the wedding dance, Delsa?” he asked gently.
There it was, her chance, handed to her on a silver platter. But she couldn’t take it – not just yet. Delsa thought of Hugh and of Jeff. She could go with Alec – but that was so sudden. It might fool her mother and Hugh’s mother, who wanted her to be attracted by the newcomer; but it wouldn’t fool Jeff Holden. He would think she had refused him and then had accepted Alec’s invitation to show him that she didn’t care for him at all – that she didn’t want even to trust him as her escort to Jim’s and Lina’s wedding.
She shook her head gently.
“No one,” she said. “I go with Mother and Dad.”
Alec opened his hand, which now held hers, and looked down at her fingers. Hugh’s ring, a simple little token – but all that she had wanted – circled her finger. The tiny diamond winked up at Alec, like a bright tear.
“He’s pretty wonderful, I’ll bet, to have a girl like you waiting for him.”
Delsa felt that she ought to defend her position, somehow. She began, hesitatingly, “And there’s Millie, Alec. Oh, I don’t want to point out your social obligations – it’s not that – but I know Millie would feel hurt if you took me –”
A sudden smile broke across Alec’s dark features, and he squeezed her hand gently. “You’re absolutely right,” he said positively. “I’m a bear, I guess, but I actually forgot about Millie. But this won’t keep you from dancing with me, will it?” and he frowned at the little ring.
“Of course not,” Delsa laughed. “I love to dance. Do you?”
He nodded, and let go of her hand. rising, he reached for his cap, which he had hung on a hook behind the door when he came in.
Delsa followed him, and as he stood, waiting to leave, twirling his cap in his two hands, Delsa thought, how lonely he is! How alone and away from all the folks that love him – his mother – his sweetheart! That’s the way Hugh was, down there in Australia!
She laid her hands on his arm, feeling the rough texture of the cloth beneath her palms.
“Drop in any time,” she said. “If you feel lonely, come here. The Lewises, of course, are wrapped up in their plans for Jim – but we have nothing to distract us. Mother and Dad would love it –”
He bent toward her in that slanting, eager posture so like Hugh’s and said, “It’s been a wonderful evening, Delsa. And I am going to take you at your word – I am going to drop in here often. I only wish I could go to school, too!”
After he was gone Delsa went slowly upstairs to her room, but her mother called to her from her bedroom, and Delsa turned and went in.
“He’s a nice boy,” her mother said, with a little gesture that reminded Delsa of the past – of the many nights she had come in from a dance or a party to sit on the pieced coverlet and tell her mother and father of the good time she had had.
But Delsa didn’t sit down tonight – the old easy confidence was gone – gone with Hugh – though her mother didn’t know it yet. Now between them lay a shadow of restraint and, perhaps, deceit. So Delsa stood beside the bed, ignoring that gentle gesture, and said, “He’s had a tough time, out there.”
“I could see that,” her father went on, and his gruff voice was gentled. “I don’t suppose he told you much about the fighting? It’s terrible – I can’t help thinking of all our boys – ”
Delsa patted his heavy, calloused hand where it lay on the coverlet.
“You took yours in the last war, Dad,” she said softly. “I guess the boys can take theirs now.”
They talked a little longer, and Delsa stooped and kissed her parents before she went out of the room.
Somehow, tonight, she felt sorrier for them than for herself. They both loved Hugh so much. He had taken the place of the son they had never had, and her father had been the only father Hugh had known.
“If it were only my problem alone!” she whispered, “I could go away – I could even face it here. But it is theirs, too. Hugh, Hugh, did you forget Dad – did you forget the pony he gave you when you were ten – the days you have helped him stack hay – the way he taught you to box and wrestle so you could hold your own with the bigger boys? Did you forget mother – and her cookies and her presents – her affection that gave you two mothers where less fortunate boys have but one?”
She knelt by the window, looking out over the trees to where the snowy crest of the mountain that guarded the valley stood pale and white in the moonlight. Between the mountain and her window lay the acres of her father’s farm, and beyond them other acres, and then the road and the foothills where she and Hugh had gone Eastering and May walking and hunting pine nuts and cutting Christmas trees.
“I am not a dog in the manger,” she told herself at last, “hanging onto Hugh when he is tired of me and wants to be free. I am remembering my parents and Aunt Martha – and I am holding on for them, too.”
Suddenly she bent her head onto her arms and cried, “And for you, too, Hugh – Oh, now, tonight, I know how you must have felt, out there. And, tonight, I don’t blame that girl so much – I know how she must have felt, too.”