Months afterward, Clayton Spencer, looking back, realized that the night of the
dinner at the Chris Valentines marked the beginning of a new epoch for him. Yet
he never quite understood what it was that had caused the change. All that was
clear was that in retrospect he always commenced with that evening, when he
was trying to trace his own course through the months that followed, with their
various changes, to the momentous ones of the following Summer.
Everything pertaining to the dinner, save the food, stood out with odd
distinctness. Natalie's silence during the drive, broken only by his few questions
and her brief replies. Had the place looked well? Very. And was the planting
going on all right? She supposed so. He had hesitated, rather discouraged.
"I don't want to spoil your pleasure in the place, Natalie - " he had said, rather
awkwardly. "After all, you will be there more than I shall. You'd better have it the
way you like it."
She had appeared mollified at that and had relaxed somewhat. He fancied that
the silence that followed was no longer resentful, that she was busily planning.
But when they had almost reached the house she turned to him.
"Please don't talk war all evening, Clay," she said. "I'm so ghastly sick of it."
"All right," he agreed amiably. "Of course I can't prevent the others doing it."
"It's generally you who lead up to it. Ever since you came back you've bored
everybody to death with it."
"Sorry," he said, rather stiffly. "I'll be careful."
He had a wretched feeling that she was probably right. He had come back so full
of new impressions that he had probably overflowed with them. It was a very
formal, extremely tall and reticent Clayton Spencer who greeted Audrey that
Afterward he remembered that Audrey was not quite hernusual frivolous self that
evening. But perhaps that was only in retrospect, in view of what he learned later.
She was very daringly dressed, as usual, wearing a very low gown and a long
chain and ear-rings of black opals, and as usual all the men in the room were
grouped around her.
"Thank heaven for one dignified man," she exclaimed, looking up at him.
"Clayton, you do give tone to my parties."
It was not until they went in to dinner that he missed Chris. He heard Audrey
giving his excuses.
"He's been called out of town," she said. "Clay, you're to have his place. And the
flowers are low, so I can look across and admire you."
There were a dozen guests, and things moved rapidly. Audrey's dinners were
always hilarious. And Audrey herself, Clayton perceived from his place of
vantage, was flirting almost riotously with the man on her left. She had two high
spots of color in her cheeks, and Clayton fancied - or was that in retrospect, too?