Page images


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 Englishwomen. 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 ?" "No more I am." A

"Why did you say 'stop' then?"

"Because you were beginning to be a fool."

"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 ?”

"She is dancing."

"And you? Why are not you?

"Because I hate it!" (emphatically.)

"You might have given Jemima a turn; she very seldom gets a partner, and she likes dancing."

"Even with me?" (with a sneer.)

"I wish you a better temper," says Lenore hastily, moving on, They pass out into the passage.

[ocr errors]

"it is

Why have you come here?" cries the girl fretfully; draughty. I shiver; let us go back to Sylvia-to Mrs. Websteranywhere!"

"You do not shiver when you are with other men," says Scrope, resentfully.

"Other men do not stare at one, as if they were going to eat one!" cries the girl, indignantly. "Good heavens, Charlie! how much better I liked you when you were only a stupid, silent, sulky boy, before you adopted these unpleasant man's airs.'

In defiance of appearances, Scrope stands stock still; he is young enough to be galled by allusions to his age.

"Lenore," he says, almost imperatively, "stop gibing at me; after to-night, I give you carte blanche to abuse me as much as you please behind my back-to mimic me for your friends' amusementto show me up in as humiliating a light as it pleases you—you are quite capable of it but, for to-night, be civil."


"Mend your own manners, then," cries the girl, tartly. gave you leave to call me 'Lenore'? For the last few days I have remarked that you have been slurring over the 'Miss'; please to replace my style and title immediately."

"Is it worth while," asks the young fellow, more calmly, but with great bitterness; "is it worth while accustoming oneself to call you Miss,' when you will so soon be Mrs.'? For all my future life, I swear to you, I will try to think of you only as Mrs. Le Mesurier;' but, for to-night, be Lenore, plain Lenore!"

For all answer, she bursts out laughing. "Excuse me; it is rude, I know; but you reminded me so forcibly of the tale of the man at a ball, who, when the music stopped suddenly, was heard saying to his partner, at the top of his voice: Do not call me Mr. Smith; call me plain William!' and, as he was remarkably ugly, he was called 'plain William' ever after."



IN the meantime, Mrs. Prodgers has been restored to her eminent position on the bench: she has been danced and talked and walked about, into a state of even more than her usual complaisance.

Jemima still stands where she left her.

"Have you been dancing, dear? Yes? Oh, I am so glad-I thought you would. I don't know what has come to the people to-night; they would tear one in pieces, if one would let them. One

thing I do set my face against, and that is, those passages. I said to young Anson, 'There is no one fonder of laughing and talking, and fun, than I am, but if you talk from now till Doomsday you will not persuade me to sit out with you.' I daresay there is no harm in it really, but people do let their tongues run on so, when a person is young and tolerable looking."

Jemima makes no answer.

Sylvia's conversation is like a Gregorian chant; there is a certain sameness about it.

Miss Webster has been valsing with an Eton boy, in a round jacket: her shins are black with bruises, her elbow is scratched, but at least she has not been a wallflower.

Another galop strikes up. Sylvia's talk drops into silence; she fiddles with her bouquet, and tries to look as if she would not dance if she were asked. Men hurry hither and thither, seeking for their promised partners; raising and dashing in the same instant false hopes in unengaged girls, by making apparently straight for them, staring hard at them, and then flying off at a tangent on discovering that they are not the right ones. Jemima scans the crowd to see

whether she can discover any one likely to ask her (in many women the love of dancing survives the probability of being invited), but finding no one, resigns herself with philosophy to her fate. Other people's enjoyment is not so good as one's own, but it is perhaps better than none. It is some people's lot to be spectators through life. She looks on. The pink calico; the laurels, the mirrors, the pretty rose-red ladies, the plunging grocers and floundering groceresses; a tremendous thud!-two people fallen like one log; now sprawling in a confused heap of broadcloth and illusion on the floor; the lady has ingeniously wound herself, like swaddling clothes, round her squire's legs she is unwound, feels for her head, settles her wreath, and off again! There are so many people, and they go so quickly, that it is difficult to follow any one: a blue couple, a pink couple, a white couple; they dazzle the eyeballs with the celerity with which they shoot across them! A black couple-taller than most of the others; the soft sparkle of silver flowers flashing like meteors down the


Why, it is Lenore! Lenore and Scrope again!

"I thought I had understood that your sister's fiancé was a plain man," says an old woman, who, unable to find room on a bench, is standing behind Jemima, and tapping her, on her bare shoulder to attract her attention.

"Quite the contrary" (with a complimentary smile). "Have you ever seen him?" asks Jemima.

"Is not it he with whom she is dancing?"

[ocr errors][merged small]

"Really? What a stupid mistake! I thought it must be, because I have always seen them together. A cousin, no doubt ?"

Jemima does not relieve her curiosity. She affects not to hear. Turning her head aside a little, she finds Paul at her elbow. Judging by his face he has heard, apparently.

"Oh, there you are!" cries Sylvia, catching sight of him at the same moment and resuming her animation. "You are in disgrace, do you know, deep disgrace? You have not asked me to dance once to-night," (looking at him with large round eyes, and smiling archly). Paul smiles too, but not very cheerfully.

"My dancing is such that it is only on very old acquaintance that I dare inflict it."

"I saw you dancing with Lenore."

He shrugs his shoulders.

I believe I did shamble round the room once or twice, but it was not a very successful experiment."

After the dance, which is surely ten minutes longer than any galop that ever was played before, after a prolonged stroll in the corridors, after tea, Lenore returns to her chaperone; returns, laughing and flushed, but with a look of uneasy excitement underlying the surface merriment of her face.

Paul has been waiting, with no outward sign of impatience on his grave sad face. He goes up to her.

"May I have five minutes' talk with you?" he asks formally. She takes his arm, and they walk off.

Neither speaks till they reach the bench on which, in the earlier and happier part of the evening, they had sat together, gaily chattering. Then Paul addresses her with cutting, cold politeness.

"May I ask, Lenore, what is inducing you to make yourself so remarkable with Scrope to-night? Is it solely for your own satisfaction, or for the double pleasure of amusing yourself and annoying me?"

The opening is not conciliatory. The colour rushes red and headlong to Lenore's cheeks: she flings up her proud head.

[ocr errors]

I killed two birds with one stone," she says, in angry jest; "he dances like an archangel, and it makes you jealous."

"I do not doubt your first assertion," says Paul, more coldly than ever, "and I fully agree with your last; perhaps I am more prone to jealousy than other men. I have not been so used to women and their ways. But I confess I do not enjoy seeing my future wife hauled about by a man, who is (as is evident to the most casual observer) making passionate and unrestrained love to her."

She is about to interrupt him, but he stops her.

"I confess I do not relish seeing him pointed out as occupying the position which, till to-night, I supposed was mine."

« PreviousContinue »