At the ball, Kate thought Ann Bradley had danced with every single man who was wearing a uniform and even some of the men who weren’t. She was everywhere on the dance floor. She was practically twins, triplets even, and Kate knew she was dressed beautifully in the dress from Mrs. Owen that had certainly come from Europe and that, between the dress and her high color from dancing, she had every man’s eye. Kate wondered if there would always be an Ann Bradley. It was an idle question, she decided, and it didn’t keep her from feeling that she looked fine herself and that there were men looking at Ann she was just as glad were not looking at her.
She turned around to hunt for Mary in the crowd. When she spotted her, she saw she’d gone from the careful execution of her schoolroom steps to a carefree sideline jig. All of her friends were clapping to it. The shawl drifted back. It fell to the floor, and Kate was alarmed and ready to get it but Margaret was already there. She danced by, and bending smoothly from the waist, she picked it up and draped it across her arm. Kate thought what good sisters she had. She curtsied for a new soldier. She took his arm for the promenade, and she went on dancing and dancing until the candles had burned down and the musicians began to put their instruments away.
When she found Mary and Margaret, there were men besides Michael McShane to escort them all home. Two soldiers offered her their arms, and she accepted one and tilted her head ever so slightly for the other man to walk with Mary. Then they went out into the night, which had a first hint of autumn chill.
It had been a reprieve, Kate thought. For the days of the fair and this happy ball, the war had fallen away. It was still out there, she knew, its drums in the far distance of places like Memphis and Richmond. It was out there with men—some that she knew—lying in hospitals until they would die or come home with a leg shortened or an arm gone, like a man that she’d danced a reel with. But the war wasn’t in Harmony tonight. They had set it aside as the familiar thing it had become, and if they had danced as though it didn’t exist, Kate felt it was all right. Even with John gone and people like Mollie Owen never returning, for one night, Kate thought, everything had been achingly fine.