4.

Robbie's birthday party was remembered as the most gallant affair in all of Queen's Shore. Lantern Corners had never seen the like and would not again in the dark years to come. There were little rubber balloons from Toronto, so pink and light, drifting all over the yard. The Stuarts were the only family to have a gramophone, and music from the movies played with such pomp and blare that it could be heard at West Trent, five miles away. Then there was the much anticipated birthday cake - a springy chiffon layered with roseberries, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, pistachios and hazelnut - all enfolded in cream whipped so lightly that you thought you were eating the stuff that dreams are made of. It was lit with nine silver candles, little slender torches that Robbie blew out all in one gust with eyes buttoned shut to make her birthday wish. The most amazing thing, Mrs. Jimmy John whispered to Step-a-Yard, was that candles, cake flour, berries and nut had all cost Jane Stuart less than two dollars.

It was a garden party in the afternoon but the revelry continued late into the night. Robbie, bliss of bliss, was allowed to stay up and watch, probably because everyone was too busy to put her to bed. Dad had one arm on Mother's white shoulders, and the other gesticulating passionately in a debate with Mr. Ford - probably about politics. Boys and girls Jane's age were lingering in pairs by the southernwood, swaying to Judy Garland on the gramophone. Robbie saw to her satisfaction that Gil Ford was pacing in the moonlight with Jane. How beautiful Jane looked with her chestnut hair in a sleek knot behind her ears, and her elbows slipping out modestly from her turqoise gown! She could not see Gil's face but she noted how he stooped and inclined his profile towards Jane. Then she noticed Solomon trailing them. Robbie gritted her teeth in disgust. She marched off to the parlour and rifted through mother's records, searching for an album that would send the couples dancing.

My prayer is to linger with you
At the end of the day

In a dream that's divine...

My prayer is a rapture in blue
With the world far away
And our lips close to mine.

A warm glow filled Robbie's face and she caught Ali up merrily. The pale girl seemed tired, but she submitted to being whirled around madly in circles. She even let out a peal of laughter - a golden, musical trill - when they crashed into a tree. Bobby ran over in astonishment.

"Is everything alright?" he asked his sister. He eyed Robbie warily, and for the first time Robbie found herself scrutinized in a way she did not like.

"I didn't mean any harm, I only wanted someone to dance with," she protested.

Ali shook her head and smiled wanly at her brother. "We were having a lot of fun. Let's dance again," she held out her hands eagerly to Robbie.

The girls found a shadowy corner and Robbie began to teach Ali the steps of the Jitterbug she had learned from the movies. "Aunt Irene doesn't think it's a nice dance," she whispered confidingly. "But that's why I'm determined to learn it."

"Where is your Aunt Irene tonight?" Ali wondered. She had been subjected to the full tirade of Robbie's grievances.

"Oh-oh. She went to Summerside, for a friend's wedding. Her friend Lillian Morrow is marrying an American. She met him while he was staying at the hotel, and they are moving to Honolulu. You should have seen Jane when we heard the news. I'm happy because I don't think I could enjoy myself with Aunt Irene around, but Jane was singing all day."

"I wish you didn't hate your Aunt so," Ali protested timidly. "I can't imagine not loving my own family." she added with a shudder.

"Why - Jane had a friend here last week who said the same thing! She was from North Glen and she drove over to bring Jane a recipe for strawberry cream pies. They are absolutely divine - she brought one with her. She also brought a jelly-roll, but I think jelly-rolls are frightfully old fashioned."

"I think old-fashioned things are best. Like my grandmother's plum-puffs. I hope she'll teach me how to make them when I'm older, my grandmother's recipe came from her own - Aunt, I think - who my mother is named."

Robbie shrugged indifferently. The authenticity of recipes was Jane's manna, not hers. She sat back on the grass and flexed her silver slippers.

"It really takes too long to grow up."

Ali shook her head wistfully. "I'd rather stay a child forever. I'd go back in time - but I shouldn't talk like this."

Ali was quiet for a very long time. Robbie absorbed herself in drinking in the evening. The stars were large and glittering in the sky, despite the faint red tint which forebode rain. The chinese lanterns bobbed in the breeze, throwing long shadows on the grass. Here and there a girl's pale gown gleamed like a flower in the darkness. The scent of tea roses was velvety and musky - muskier by night than by day. The music drifted sweetly and endlessly, and the crowd did not seem to tire. It was nearly midnight. "Cinderella's hour," Robbie murmured dreamily to Ali, recalling the fairytale where all loveliness vanished when the clock struck. But the hour passed, and the new day was yet as mirthful as yesterday.

Robbie and Ali had nearly fallen asleep to Glenn Miller replaying for the tenth time, when Dad bellowed to Uncle Tombstone "Now how 'bout some Annie Laurie? What's an island party wi' no Scotch fiddle?" And Mother put off the gramophone and Uncle Tombstone - who was still around, and awake - took up his violin obligingly, and to crown all Gil lead Jane out on a gay waltz in the centre of the crowd. "Maybe I do wish Aunt Irene was here to see this," Robbie gloated. Bobby shot her a cheerful smile in reply, but Ali's head was drooping on her shoulder. Soon after the children dozed off, with dreams borne of the riotous, magical music of Uncle Tombstone's purring bow.