“I have the tickets for next Thursday. Are we still on?”
     “Thursday evening is Dad’s surgery.” She looked at him as he pivoted her around and his heart sank. And then she said, “But I expect my sister can help out.”
     “Great!” His face showed only some of the relief he felt. “You had me going there for a moment.”
     She laughed. “Well, you didn’t ask what night I was free. Where shall I meet you and what time?”
     “I can pick you up from the house, or if you’d rather I can meet you in town. Say about four-thirty.”
     She thought for a moment. “I expect the house will be alright. Is four-thirty a bit early? What time does the show start?”
     “Eight o’clock, but I have to go to my flat first. The tickets are there and I have to pick up my mess jacket. If there is time, we can get something to eat.”
     “You have a flat?”
     As Marshal was about to answer he felt a hard tap on his shoulder. He turned to find Bertie Grover-Smith staring belligerently. “Excuse me, my turn I think.” As he spoke, Grover-Smith pushed himself between them. Dianne looked appalled.
     “Very well,” said Marshal taking a slight step back. He bowed his head gracefully to Dianne and walked off the floor, his face aflame with anger.
     Both Sanderson and Hatch had bought their partners back to the table and were chatting cheerfully when Marshal returned. “Shot you down, old chap,” said Sanderson, as Marshal sat down.
     “She didn’t. It seems our friend Bertie’s a bit possessive.”
     “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
     “Rich and titled he may be, but all the same he needs a lesson in manners.” Marshal picked up his beer and emptied the glass.
     Hatch said. “Dave, meet Trudy,” He introduced his partner, a slim blonde of about nineteen. Trudy, this is Dave Marshal, my flight commander.”
     “Please to meet you,” said Trudy, acknowledging Marshal’s greeting. “You Canadian?”
     She must have seen the flash on his uniform, but Marshal just smiled and said, “Yes. Long way from home.”
     “Sanderson, who was already becoming a little drunk, said, “Dave meet…” Then he turned to the woman beside him and said, “What was your name again?”
    The woman, dark haired and looked to be about thirty-five, some ten years older than Sanderson, smiled at Marshal and said, “Dorothy. Dot to my friends.”
     Hatch and Trudy went off together to bring in another round of drinks and Dorothy said to Marshal, “You look lonely. Want a dance?”
     “Sure,” said Marshal, looking at Sanderson, who nodded in agreement.
     She held Marshal very tightly as they danced, but she moved well and made a good partner. Marshal had seen the ring on her left hand. “You married?” he asked.
     “Yes. He’s in Italy. A sergeant in the Tank Corps.”
     “Tough guy,” said Marshal. “Not one to tangle with.”
     “He’s a long way from here,” she said quietly. “There’s no worry on that score.”
     “Oh, I wasn’t worried. Just a comment, that’s all. It’s just that I met a few guys from the Tank Corps when I was out there and they were all tough guys.”
     “You were in Italy?”
     “Up until a few weeks ago.”
     “His name is Sherwood. Joe Sherwood.”
     Marshal shook his head. “There are a lot of our guys out there.”
     As they danced around the floor they suddenly came close to Dianne, partnering one of the other pilots from Grover-Smith’s table. As they passed, Marshal looked over to her and she shook her head slightly, a momentary look of hopelessness in her eyes. Aha! So he doesn’t mind her dancing with other men. It’s just me, he thought.
     “Whereabouts were you stationed in Italy?” Dorothy’s voice broke into his thoughts.
     “Careless talk and all that.”
     “Oh, if you think I’m a spy.”
     “No,” Marshal laughed. “I was stationed at Taranto. There’s no secret in it.”
     The dance came to an end and Marshal escorted Dorothy back to the table, where there were fresh drinks waiting for them. They chatted for a while and then Marshal looked at his watch and realized that the dance would soon be over. “Well, Al,” he said to Sanderson. “Now or never. I’ll try for one more dance.” Before Sanderson could reply, Marshal stood up and went again to Grover-Smith’s table. Ignoring the others, he said to Dianne. “Can we try again? Perhaps we can have one dance before the evening is over.”
     She looked doubtful for a moment and then got up and said, “Yes. Why not?”
     As they walked away from the table they heard Grover-Smith say, “Damn lumberjack. He doesn’t seem to get it, does he?”
     “I’m sorry about that,” she said, as he placed his arm around her.
     “Never mind. Let’s not worry about him, but enjoy the moment.”
     This time the band played a waltz and they seemed to just glide over the floor. He held her closer than he did before and she seemed to respond. “I think there is something here that is meant to be,” he said quietly.
     “David, you hardly know me.”
     “I’d very much like to remedy that.”
     She looked up to him and smiled. “You’re complicating my life and it is getting a bit difficult.”
     “How come?” he asked.
     “I told you, Bertie’s asked me to marry him.”
     “But you haven’t given him your answer yet. And, if you ask me, the fact that you are taking so long about it speaks volumes.”
     “It’s more complicated than that. It seems everyone is expecting me to say yes.”
     Marshal laughed. “Is everyone going to marry him? It is what you want that counts. Tell me that you love him and I’ll stay clear away.”
     At that moment Marshal felt another sharp tap on his shoulder. “Excuse me.” Bertie stood behind him again, the same aggressive look on his face. “I’m afraid she’s with me.”
     Dianne looked visibly upset. “Go and sit down, Bertie.”
     “Dianne may be with you, but presently I am dancing with her,” put in Marshal.
     Bertie stood his ground. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to dance with my fiancée.”
     Dianne was incensed. “I’m not your fiancée. Now please sit down.”
     Marshal struggled to overcome an overwhelming urge to hit Bertie. Instead he said, “You heard the lady, go and sit down.”
     With that Bertie snapped. “Bloody lumberjack telling me what to do!” And he threw a punch. Marshal saw the punch coming and side-stepped quickly. It missed his jaw, but struck him fully on the shoulder blade while he was off balance. He went down, knocking into several couples that were standing behind him. A lot of things happened at once. The music stopped, a crowd gathered around, and before Bertie could do any further fighting, his two buddies had him by the arms and were pulling him away.
Dianne bent over Marshal with a look of total concern on her face. “Are you alright?”
     As he struggled to his feet, he smiled. “I think I just heard you tell him that you are not going to marry him.”
     She sighed as he stood up. “I didn’t actually say that. But you’re right; I’m not going to marry him.”
     Marshal wondered for a moment whether she was just saying that because she was angry, but then Bertie, having regained some self-control, approached. “I am going now Dianne. I’ll get your coat.”
     Dianne shook her head and said, “Don’t bother.”
     “Dianne, you either come with me now or it’s all over between us.”
     Still shaking her head, she said, “Bertie, I’m afraid it is all over. I’m sorry.”
A Nightingale Sang.
Excerpt. (continue.)
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