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always make a point of coming to these balls in filthy dresses, to mark the distinction between themselves and the clean, crisp, townspeople.”
“It is patrician dirt, is it? I respect it.”
“Do you see that big person in pink? Last year she went to the Assembly in a wreath of mistletoe ; you may imagine the consequences.
“Her partner always gets very drunk. Last time I saw him was • in the Ansons' supper-room; he was sitting on a lump of ice, crying bitterly."
“Lenore, why are you hiding your face ?”
“Hush ! hush! young Anson is coming this way; he would be sure to ask me to dance, and dancing with him is like going into a battle, without the glory.”
Young Anson passes safely by, looking neither to the right hand nor the left.
“I breathe again. Paul !” (edging a little nearer to him, and dropping her voice, more for the pleasure of whispering than from any dread of being overheard); “Paul, do you mean to let me dance when we are married ?”
“H'm! I shall see.”
“We shall not be able to go to many balls,” says Lenore, sighing, “ for we shall have no clothes.”
“Speak for yourself.”
“We must stay at home, and have tea and shrimps; of course, we shall not be able to afford dinner.
“Shall not we ?” (looking rather aghast). “Does dinner cost more than tea and shrimps ?"
“Of course it does: shrimps are only fourpence a pint ?”
Certainly not; tea and shrimps it must be-perhaps watercresses in the height of the season--and after tea, you will read the paper in carpet slippers—not the Times,—we shall not be able to afford the Times—but some penny paper—and I shall sit opposite you, with my hair flat to my head, and low down over my ears—is not that it ?hemming a duster!"
“I do not believe you can hem.”
The music has struck up again : Lancers, this time. Fewer couples trail and saunter by: most have returned to the ball-room. The fiddles' sharp loud squeak comes more softly to their ears; the merry cadence and marked time of the Lancers; then the little pause in the music, that tells one, without one's seeing, that the girls are all courtesying, and the men, with arms linked together, are galloping madly round, like savages before a wooden god.
Lenore's eyes dance softly, too, in this dusk place.
He had expected her to accede with eager alacrity, but on the contrary, she says nothing.
“I know that I dance badly, vilely,” continues Paul, colouring a little. “I have long suspected it, and to-night” (laughing a little) “I learned it for a certainty, from your face, and from the eagerness with which you engaged me in conversation in the pauses of the dance, to hinder me from starting afresh. But why should we dance ? Could we be better off than we are now ?”
“ Not easily,” she says, and says it truly; but she still evades replying to his request.
"I want to have a feast of your society to-night,” says Paul, earnestly; "think what a fast I have had !-six months! We seem to know each other so little yet, and even there,” (giving a vague nod to express Sylvia's abode), “jolly as it is, we never seem to get five minutes' talk, without Jemima bouncing in at one door, or Sylvia ambling in at another, or those imps of Satan rushing in and playing the devil's tattoo on one's shins.”
“Children of Belial!” says Lenore, tersely. “Good heavens, Paul! how I hate the young of the human species ! Don't you
u ?” Paul looks rather shocked. “Don't say that—it is unwomanly.'
“Of course," retorts she, sarcastically, “ to a man they may be imps of Satan, but to the ideal woman they must always be cherubs—biting, kicking, scratching cherubs—but cherubs always. By-the-by, Paul (with a sudden change of tone), “how is the ideal woman? Have you seen her lately?”
Paul turns his head away, and says, “Fiddlesticks!”
“Paul, Paul! I have an idea! How red you are! Look me in the face—don't turn the back of your head to me. Is it she that wears her hair flat, ard eschews frisettes ?"
Paul turns round as bidden. His face is undeniably red; he is not laughing, and his eyes are rather defiant. " What if it is ?"
“Does she wear a poke bonnet ?”
“I know all about her," says Lenore resentfully, her eyes flashing and cheeks ablaze; "a puritanical little prig !" “I do not see what good it does you abusing a person you
have never seen,” says Paul, in a rather surly voice, “nor what it has to say to whether you are willing to sacrifice this one evening to me or not.”
Certainly not!" replies the girl, angrily; Why should I? What have you done to deserve it?
done to deserve it? Yesterday you scolded me till I cried-everybody saw my red eyes; to-day you forgot the common civility of getting me a bouquet ; and you are always trotting out another woman's virtues and beauties at my expense. Certainly not! I will dance like a Mænad with all my old friends.”
Paul's forehead wrinkles into a frown, and his mouth turns down, as is his way when extremely vexed. “All right! Do!” he says, in a constrained voice. She had spoken with petulant half-meaning; had expected to be coaxed, entreated, scolded even, out of her perverse determination ; but he employs neither coaxings, entreaties, nor scoldings-he acquiesces with dumb pride. They sit side by side in sullen silence, till disturbed by the sound of approaching voices, feet, and the long rustle and swish of a woman's infinite gown.
"You must take me back to the ball-room,” Sylvia is saying, as she flutters her fan and smiles ; "you must indeed. If people come out and find us sauntering about here they will be sure to say that I am flirting with you, and there is nothing in life that I should dislike so much as that-oh! here you are !"
Both are too sulky to answer.
“Not been dancing ? Very wise of you! Look how much better you have come off than I !-in ribbons—absolutely in tatters. And Charlie has got a yard and a half of me in his pocket, have not you?” She looks up at him playfully, with round complacent eyes, and then stops suddenly.
To even Sylvia's comprehension it is evident that he has not heard a word she has been saying ; his eyes are fixed with steady intentness on Lenore. Paul is gazing vacantly down the long vista of the fast refilling corridors. “Are you engaged for the next dance, Miss Lenore ?"
“What is it ?" (nonchalantly) “a quadrille ?"
peeps at Paul, out of the corner of one eye; not a sign of relenting on the ill-tempered gravity of his face. Well ! she can be as cross and sulky as he, at a pinch.
“No-I am not."
Certainly." “Shall I be likely to find you here still after I have taken Mrs. Prodgers back to the ball-room ?”
“I will not trouble you,” replies Sylvia, rather offended at the . slight hint of anxiety to be rid of her, unintentionally implied in these last words. “I am going” (with a coquettish smile) “ to put
myself under Paul's protection. Do you hear, Paul ? I am going to put myself under your protection. You are not going to dance ? No? Neither will I. We will sit here and criticise everybody, yes, we will talk you both well over” (shaking her bouquet at Scrope); “if your ears burn you will know what to attribute it to.”
Lenore has risen, and while Sylvia is speaking she bends and whispers maliciously to Paul, “ Pleasant meditations on poke bonnets and flat heads to you!"
He does not take the slightest notice.
She puts her hand on Scrope's arm, and walks off. Twice, thrice, she looks back, but not once has she the satisfaction of detecting her lover's eyes wistfully seeking hers. Silently they enter the ball-room and join the just beginning whirl. Lenore is thoroughly out of tune —angry with herself, enraged with Paul, furious with Scrope. If any hole can be picked in his performance, he may be quite sure that she she will not spare him. She is, however, deprived of that satisfaction. Scrope's performance is as much above praise as Paul's was below blame. He dances superbly. It is a small accomplishment, and does not add much to a man's social value, but in a ball-room it is the giver of great joy. Once in his arms, a delightful sense of security and strength comes over Scrope's partner; a blessed certainty of immunity from jostling; of being borne along steadily, rapidly, buoyantly, with the swift smoothness of a swallow's flight; all trouble taken off her hands, and only pleasure left. Lenore loves dancing intensely; with an intensity, indeed, seldom met with among sad and sober English women. On her, the mere music, motion, and measure of the dance have an effect verging on intoxication. Down the long room they fly together; the floor seems nothing to them; they are floating on air, while the music swells loud and sighs faint, bursts into mad merriment and dies in voluptuous complaints. Lenore has forgotten her anger-has forgotten even Paul; all feelings are merged in one of acute sensuous enjoyment-a feeling languid, yet exciting; luxurious, yet exhilarating. Many couples who set off at the same time as they did are standing still to rest, panting and breathless ; but they still fly on, with untired joyous grace.
“Shall we stop ? Am I tiring you ?” Scrope asks. “No, no! Go on, go on!”
“I wish to heavens it could go on for ever!" says the young man, losing his head, and foolishly.whispering into the white ear that is so temptingly close to his face. The spell is broken.
Stop!” says Lenore imperatively. He obeys, and stands gravely beside her, his broad chest heaving a little with his late exertions; some strong suppressed excitement giving an expression, painful yet eminently becoming to his straight-cut Greek face.
" I thought you said you were not tired ?"
“I began that long ago; six months ago, in church; in Guingamp cathedral—if you wish to be exact.”
“ You went on being a fool, then ?”
“ I said that I wished this valse could last for ever, and I stick to it,” says the young man, doggedly. “I do wish it."
“ Tastes differ,” says Lenore, scornfully. “ I know nothing that I should dislike more than an eternity of capering with you.”
He bites his lip hard, but attempts no retort.
“Shall we take another turn?” says Lenore, presently; mollified by his silence, after an interval spent by her in tapping with her feet and beating time to the music. “ That is to say, if you will promise not to be a fool.”
“I promise nothing."
“Well, then, we must risk it, I suppose,” replies she, with a careless laugh. " Mind, it is no compliment to you. It is solely for my own satisfaction ; for though you may be a fool you dance like a seraph, and I cannot bear to lose a bar of this.”
Away, again, light as a feather; as if blown by the breath of the music. Once off–her anger unroused again by any rash remarks from her partner—the same sense of delicious enervation as before, steals over Lenore. It is like floating on a summer sea, as the music whispers, whispers, then laughs out and triumphs, in a loud glad clash.
And Scrope—every dog has his day, they say, and this is his. It is a wretched little day; but still it is his. She may be Paul's for all after life—nay, she will be, of course; who can hinder her ? But for these divine mad minutes she is his! It is not Paul's arm that is round her waist; it is not Paul's heart against which hers is panting : it is not Paul's shoulder on which the milk-white beauty of her arm is lying. All earthly pleasures must end, and a valse is, in its very essence, one of the shortest.
The music ceases. As they turn towards the door they come face to face with Paul. He makes as though he would pass them without speaking; but Lenore addresses him :
“ What have you done with Sylvia ?”
“ You might have given Jemima a turn; she very seldom gets a partner, and she likes dancing."
“Even with me?" (with a sneer.)