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Of Dark and Bright

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Author's Note: This is the sequel to "Finding Grace." It's a work in progress, of course, so I'm not sure how often I'll be updating. I hope you enjoy it! :)

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 Lincoln Park, IL

New Years Eve, 1927

The mayor’s ball. As expected, it was quite crowded and lively. The elite members of the Chicago social scene were all in attendance. They sipped champagne and made merry, waiting for the stroke of midnight and the arrival of the new year.

 Henry Shaw ran a hand through his dark hair, turning away from a political discussion that was growing heated. He was familiar with nearly everyone, thanks to their patronage at his jazz club. But he did not feel the need to linger in a conversation that was growing too intense. Politics were all well and good, but he had no desire to enter into a raging debate. Besides, there were more pleasant things to do at a party. As he stepped away, a friend stopped him. Patrick was a banker, and an old acquaintance of the Shaw family, and like Henry, he was a fellow Irishman. As they shook hands, exchanging friendly smiles, Patrick looked around.

 “Where is that lovely lady of yours?” he asked.

 Henry smiled. “She’s around somewhere. I’m looking for her now.”

 Patrick smiled back, giving him a slap on the arm. “Give her my best, will you? And tell her that I’m dying for her beans and cornbread. My woman couldn’t make food like that if she tried.”

 In reply, Henry gave a pleased and proud expression. As he moved away, he thought of the compliment that Patrick had made. It wasn’t the first such remark about his wife’s talents, and it wouldn’t be the last. She loved to entertain, and she had a lovely way of making others feel at home. His eyes searched the room, looking for her. It took just a few moments. She was with a group of ladies, and they were sharing a jovial conversation, punctuated with smiles and laughter. All of the ladies in attendance were dressed in their finest, most of them wearing dresses of bright color. Feathered hair-bands and long strings of beads seemed to be the ornaments of choice, as the fashion pages dictated them to be in vogue.

 His wife stood out from the crowd.

 Not that she wasn’t dressed in her best. She was, after all, the wife of a wealthy businessman. But even in her finest...an elegant, sleeveless gown of violet silk...there was not an air of pretentiousness about her. Her blonde hair was shortly bobbed, just like the others. But she wore it with no jewels or feathers, and rather than having her neck draped with pearls, she wore only a silver cross and chain. He smiled as he observed her, so at ease with a crowd of women who were mostly older than herself. She was barely eighteen years old, but she carried herself with the dignity of a woman far beyond her years.

 As he watched her, he saw her take her eyes off of her companions. Something had caught her eye. Something on the floor, apparently. She stepped foot on something, and bent down to pick it up.

 A burst of hysterical screams broke out, and all of the women went running wildly away. But not his Gracie. She stood in the center of the room, holding a mouse up by its tail. She was perfectly calm, and she spoke in her soft and slight country accent.

 “It’s just a little old mouse. He won’t eat much.”

 The women were unconvinced, staying far away from her while she held the squirming rodent in the air. With a shrug, she went to the nearest window, where she opened it and tossed the vermin out. Turning back to the crowd, she looked at them with curious eyes. She was all innocence.

 “What?” she asked. 

 Slowly, the crowd came back to their senses. Many of the women circled around her with their hands over their hearts, laughing nervously and marveling at her “heroics.” Most of the men were chuckling, amused by the sudden burst of dramatics and the calm, cool reaction of Mrs. Henry Shaw. Standing close by, Henry overheard one of their comments.

 I wish my wife had such spunk.

 A beaming smile came to his lips. That was his wife. There was no one quite like her. And he was proud...so very proud...to have her for his own.

 *****

Late February

 The air of a Chicago winter, brutal in its usual way, was seeping through the closed window. The furnace was working hard to provide heat but, there was still a nip in the air. Even under a heavy blanket, Henry trembled slightly.

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