After the ball.

The young woman sighed as she handed the crumpled silk ballgown to Betsy, who turned and shuffled sulkily down the corridor, but not before her mistress had glimpsed the sullen distaste in her dark eyes.  She closed the door on the departing back of her petulant young maid, and sighed again, more deeply, pushing out breath heavy with regret and heavier with despair.

Across the room she saw herself in the long glass, the thin white fabric of her ''shimmy'' showing the outline of her belly, certainly more rounded than usual.   It had been a mistake to wear the jade silk gown tonight.  It brought back too many memories.  Memories of that other night, that other ball.

She closed her eyes, and immediately saw his, bright blue and beautiful, the corners crinkling; the lines there predicting creases which would surely become more pronounced and permanent in years to come.  The boy's smile was engaging - the secret of his popularity with all the ladies hereabouts, and the secret to her downfall.  She heard his honey-smooth voice, the voice which made her tremble from her neck to her knees.  You're one in a million.  Anybody ever tell you that?  No.  Nobody ever had, before.  Nobody ever would, now.

He had gone, oh, how many months ago?  His name was never spoken in town these days, at least not too loudly.  Not if you wanted to keep your friends.  It shouldn't really have been such a shock to folks here that he did what he did.  After all, his granddaddy had come South from Boston all those years ago, so maybe his heart was rooted in the North.  Perhaps it was because this youngest son had betrayed his three brothers - loyal, patriotic - and like him, Southern-born boys.  But he had spurned the uniform of the shade that echoed the colour of his eyes, for the dark, ugly tunic of the enemy.

She thought back to that other night, that other ball, trembling again, as she had done then, when his fingers had slid round her waist and he had murmured against her neck. 

"That dress sure sets off those dazzling green eyes.  You're one in a million.''  She was trembling, yes.  Not only with suppressed joy, but with strangled fear.  The war was on the minds of all, young and old, male and female, but whenever dreadful thoughts of the future intruded on her blissful reveries, she pushed them firmly away.  She should have known, then, that this wonderful time would come to an end.  He was one of only a handful of young men who remained while others had already gone away to fight.  Why hadn't she troubled to find out why it was taking him so long?  It would have made no difference.  She knew that now.  Why, he had cared so little for her that he hadn't even stopped by to tell her where he was going.  She had found out the terrible truth the next day in the store.  He had disappeared in the night, leaving a scribbled note for his poor, mortified mother.

She sank to her knees, poised for a second to raise her clasped hands in prayer.  For what?  His safety?  His return?  Her own sanity?  She raised them anyway, bent her head and covered her eyes, hiding the glitter of sudden tears.

She shivered as an ice cold breeze ruffled the hem of her shimmy.  She looked up, disturbed, and froze when she saw the tableau in the long glass.  A tall figure stood behind her, the dark blue of his tunic reflected in the cold blue of his eyes.

The End

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