WHAT MADE THE BALL SAE FINE?

“Sure this wild fantastic band
Must have come from Fairy-land.
Those who live in History’s page,
Step once more upon Life’s stage.
All the poet’s dreamings bright,
In the flesh appear to-night,
Columbine and Harlequin,
Knight, Crusader, Saracen,
Cleopatra and her Roman,
Herod, Borgia loved of no man,
Antoinette and Louis Seize,
Faust with Mephistopheles,
All beneath the gas-lamps’ gleam,
Dance as in some magic dream.
Surely at the break of day,
Will the vision fade away,
And these spirits bright and fair,
Vanish into viewless air.”

Mrs. Veilsturm had certainly no reason to complain of lack of
popularity, as she looked at her salons thronged with all fashionable
London. Her diplomatic behaviour towards Errington for the last few
weeks had borne good fruit, having converted foes into friends, and
friends into red-hot partizans, therefore everyone came to her fancy
dress ball, and this entertainment which signalised her exit from
London Society was proving a wonderful success.

Never had she looked so perfectly lovely as she did on this night,
when, robed as Cleopatra, she stood near the door receiving her
guests. Swathed in diaphanous tissues, broidered with strange figures
in gold and silver, with jewels flashing star-like from every portion
of her dress, the double crown of Egypt on her lustrous coils of hair,
and a trailing mantle of imperial purple silk drooping from her
shoulders, she looked like the embodiment of some splendid
civilization long since perished from the earth. Truly this woman,
with her majestic bearing, her voluptuous form, her rich Eastern
beauty, and slow sensuous movements, looked like that antique coquette
of the slow-flowing Nile, whose face, fair and deathless, still smiles
at us across the long centuries from out the darkness of old Egypt.

The huge room resembled a garden of flowers blown by the wind, as the
restless dancers in their brilliant costumes swayed hither and thither
to the music of the band. Dainty Watteau shepherdesses, serene Greek
maidens, mediæval pages, steel-clad knights, Cavaliers, Louis Quatorze
musketeers, and divers other picturesque figures, mingled together in
gay confusion, laughing, talking, jesting, smiling, flirting and
whispering, without pause or rest. And above the murmur of voices, the
sound of feet gliding over the polished floor, and the indistinct
frou-frou of dresses, sounded the rhythmical swing of the valse
“Caprice d’une femme,” played by an unseen orchestra. The gas-lamps in
their many-coloured shades gleamed softly over the noisy crowd, the
faint perfume of myriad flowers, drooping in the heat on the decorated
walls, floated dreamily on the heavy air, and round and round with
laughter and jesting swept the dancers, while the fitful music arose
and fell with its recurrent burden of passionate tenderness.

“Dear, dear!” observed a ponderous Britannia, fanning her red face
with her shield, “how hot it is to be sure! I wonder if there’s such a
thing as an ice to be had?”

“Or champagne?” said a faded-looking Dawn sitting near her. “I’m
positively dying for champagne.”

“Young men are so selfish,” sighed Britannia, looking in vain for a
friendly face; “they come to my dances, but never think of looking
after me when I’m not in my own house. One might starve for all they
care, and an ice—-”

“Would, no doubt, save you from such a fate,” said a languid voice, as
a tall, heavily-built man, in a monkish dress, paused near the
representative of the British Empire. “Come then, Mrs. Trubbles, and
I’ll get you one.”

“Dear me, Mr. Gartney,” observed Mrs. Trubbles, shifting her trident
to her left hand in order to welcome Eustace. “Well, I am astonished.”

“At seeing me here, or at my dress? Both things rather extraordinary,
I must confess. I’m rather fond of fancy dress balls, all the same.
It’s so pleasant to see one’s friends making fools of themselves.”

“How unamiable, Mr. Gartney,” said Dawn, screwing her wrinkled face
into what was meant for a fascinating smile.

“But how true, Mrs. Dills,” responded Gartney, with a bow, “but I see
both you ladies are longing for supper, so perhaps I can make myself
useful.”

“Indeed you can,” said both eagerly, rising and taking an arm each.

“I feel like the royal arms, between the lion and the unicorn,”
remarked Eustace, jestingly.

“No, indeed,” said Mrs. Dills, who set up for being a wit, “we’ve got
the lion between us. But what might you be, Mr. Gartney?”

“Rabelais.”

“What’s Rabelais? cried Britannia, with a faint idea it might be
something to eat.

“Rabelais,” explained Eustace, gravely, “was the creator of Pantagruel
and Gargantua.”

“I never heard of him,” said Mrs. Dills crossly, being in want of her
supper.

“Oh, fame! fame!”

“Bother fame,” observed Mrs. Trubbles, as the two ladies sat down at
the table. “I would give the fame of Nebuchadnezzar for a good meal.”

“You shall have it and without such a sacrifice,” said Eustace,
assisting Dawn and Britannia plenteously; “by-the-way, isn’t Miss
Sheldon with you, to-night?”

“Yes Flora Macdonald, whoever she was,” said Mrs. Trubbles, heavily,
“she’s with that young Macjean. Do you remember him at Como, Mr.
Gartney? He’s in a Scotch dress to-night.”

“Bonnie Prince Charlie, I suppose?”

“Or a tobacconist’s sign,” said Mrs. Dills who was an adept at saying
nasty things. “By-the-way, Mr. Gartney, isn’t the company rather
mixed?”

Mrs. Dills’ papa had been an opulent linen-draper, and Mr. Dills had
made his money by a speciality in sheets, so she thought herself quite
justified in criticising aristocratic society.

Eustace knew all about Mrs. Dills, and was so amused by the little
woman’s insolence, that he did not reply half so severely as he had
intended to do.

“Ah, you see I’ve not had your opportunities for judging,” he replied
drily, “but as far as I can judge, there’s nobody here that isn’t
somebody.”

“But their characters,” hinted Mrs. Dills, with a seraphic look.

“Ah, bah! I’m no Asmodeus to unroof people’s houses.”

“What a lucky thing–for the people.”

“And what a disappointment–for their friends,” said Eustace,
significantly.

He hated Mrs. Dills, who was an adept at damning with faint praise,
and took away people’s characters with the look of a four-year-old
child and the tongue of a serpent. Mrs. Dills saw Gartney’s meaning,
and resenting it with all the viciousness of a small mind, began to be
nasty.

“I see Sir Guy Errington is here,” she said, smiling blandly, “as
Edgar of Ravenswood. He looks like a thundercloud in black velvet. I’m
so sorry for him.”

“That’s really very kind of you,” retorted Eustace, sarcastically.

“Not at all,” murmured Dawn, sympathetically; “it’s such a pity to see
his infatuation.”

“For what?” demanded Gartney, obtusely.

“Oh, really! You know! of course you do! Poor Lady Errington! And then
the ‘Other’ doesn’t care for him.”

“Little viper,” thought Eustace, looking smilingly at her, but saying
nothing, which encouraged Mrs. Dills to proceed.

“It’s a dreadful scandal, but not ‘Her’ fault–oh, dear no! but he
ought to go back to his wife, especially as the ‘Other’ doesn’t care
for him.”

“You talk like a sphinx,” said Eustace, coldly. “Whom do you mean by
the ‘Other’?”

Mrs. Dills smiled sweetly, and having finished her supper arose to
take his arm.

“When one is in Rome, one must not speak evil of the Pope,” she
replied cleverly. “Are you quite ready, Mrs. Trubbles?”

“Quite, my dear,” said that matron, who had made an excellent supper.
“We’ll go back now, Mr. Gartney. Dear me, there’s Mr. Thambits. How do
you do? What is your character, Mr. Thambits?”

“I’m Richard C[oe]ur de Lion,” answered Dolly, who looked very ill at
ease in his armour, “and Jiddy is Blondel.”

“Is he really?” said Britannia, poking Jiddy in the back with her
trident to make him turn round. “Very nice. I saw Blondin on the
tight-rope once.”

“Not Blondin, but Blondel,” explained Jiddy, meekly, “he was a harper,
you know, and sang songs.”

“I hope you don’t carry your impersonation so far as that,” said Mrs.
Dills, spitefully.

“I’ve had singing lessons,” began Blondel, indignantly, “and I
sing—-”

“You do, I’ve heard you,” said Eustace, significantly, and then
hurried his two ladies quickly back to their seats, being somewhat
tired of Mrs. Dills’ spiteful tongue and Britannia’s ponderous
conversation.

Having thus performed his duty, he went away to look for Otterburn,
being anxious to know how that young man had sped in his wooing. Near
the door, however, a man brushed roughly past him with a muttered
apology, and Eustace, turning to see whom this ill-bred person could
be, found himself face to face with Guy Errington. He was dressed as
the Master of Ravenswood, and, in his sombre dress of dark velvet, his
high riding boots of black Spanish leather, and his broad sombrero
with its drooping white plume of feathers, looked remarkably handsome,
though, as Mrs. Dills had remarked, “like a thundercloud in black
velvet,” such was the gloom of his face.

“How are you, Guy?” said his cousin, laying a detaining hand upon the
young man’s shoulder. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”

“I’ve only been here half-an-hour,” replied Errington listlessly.
“Anything wrong?”

“Oh, no I only you’ve avoided me for the last week or so, and I want
to know the reason.”

“There’s no reason that I know of, and I haven’t avoided you.”

As he spoke, his eyes were looking over the heads of the crowd, and in
following their gaze. Eustace saw they rested on Cleopatra, who was
talking to Major Griff.

“Oh, I see the reason,” said Eustace coolly, “and a very handsome
reason it is.”

Errington laughed in a sneering manner and made no reply.

“I say Guy,” remarked Eustace complacently, “isn’t it about time you
stopped making a fool of yourself?”

“I don’t understand you.”

“No? you wish me to speak plainer?”

“I do not wish you to speak at all,” retorted Errington fiercely, his
eyes full of sombre fire. “Our relationship has its privileges,
Gartney, but don’t take too much advantage of them.”

He shook off his cousin’s hand impatiently, and without another word
disappeared in the crowd, leaving Eustace considerably perturbed.

“I’ve done all I can,” he muttered disconsolately. “He’s bent on going
to the devil via Mrs. Veilsturm, so I can’t stop him. If I only dared
to console his wife, but she’s got the boy–that’s consolation enough
for a piece of ice like her.”

Meanwhile, Errington, pushing his way through the dancers, made his
way to Cleopatra, who, having finished with Griff, was chatting to a
young F.O. man. On seeing Errington, she turned towards him with a
slight bow, and began to talk, upon which the F.O. went off to find
some one else.

“Are you not dancing, Sir Guy?” she asked, looking at him brightly.

“No, I don’t care about it, unless you dance with me.”

“And what about my duties as hostess?”

“I think you’ve done enough penance for one evening.”

“Meaning that my reward is to dance with you,” she said mischievously.
“Thank you, Monsieur.”

She was more amiable to him this evening than she had been of late.
And Guy, feeling the change, thawed wonderfully under the sunshine of
her eyes.

“Well, am I to have my dance?” he asked, with a smile.

Cleopatra took up her programme and ran her eyes over the series of
scratches which did duty for names opposite the dances.

“I don’t know if you deserve one,” she whispered coquetishly.

“Don’t say that. As you are strong, be merciful.”

She handed him the card with a laugh.

“You can have that valse,” she said, indicating one far down, “by that
time I will be released from durance vile.”

Errington scribbled his name, and giving her back the card, was about
to renew the conversation, when she dismissed him imperiously.

“Now you have got what you wanted, go away. I have a number of people
to talk to.”

“A lot of fools,” he muttered peevishly.

“Possibly–we can’t all be Ravenswoods, you know.”

“Maraquita!”

“Hold your tongue,” she said, in a fierce whisper, “do you want to
compromise me before all these people? Go away, and don’t come near me
till our valse.”

“And afterwards?”

“Entirely depends upon the humour I am in.”

He took his dismissal in a sufficiently sulky manner, which made Mrs.
Veilsturm smile blandly, on seeing which he turned away with a stifled
curse. It was extraordinary, the change in this man, who, from being a
good-natured-enough fellow, had suddenly changed, through his wife’s
cruelty and his temptress’s caprices, into a morose, disagreeable
individual, whom nobody cared to speak with.

“Is that Sir Guy Errington?” asked a soft voice behind him. “See if it
is, Mr. Macjean.”

“There is no need,” responded Errington with forced civility, turning
round to Otterburn and Miss Shelton. “You have very sharp eyes.”

“Ah, you see I knew what your costume was going to be,” said Victoria,
who looked wonderfully pretty as Flora Macdonald. “Aunt Jelly told
me.”

“By the way, how is Aunt Jelly?”

“She’s not at all well,” replied Victoria, reproachfully, “and you have
not been near her for some weeks.”

“More pleasantly employed, eh?” said Otterburn, laughing, for which he
was rewarded by a fierce glance from Errington.

“I’ve been busy,” he said briefly. “I’ll call shortly. Hope you’ll
enjoy this foolery, Miss Sheldon.”

Jerking out these polite sentences he went off, leaving the young
couple looking after him in undisguised astonishment.

“I don’t know what’s come over Sir Guy,” said Macjean, as they
pursued their way towards the conservatory, “he used to be such a
good-tempered fellow.”

“Oh, _cherchez la femme_.”

“Wouldn’t have to seek far I’m afraid,” replied Angus, glancing at the
distant form of Mrs. Veilsturm.

“She’s a horrid woman,” said Victoria, viciously, as they entered the
conservatory, and found a comfortable nook.

“I quite agree with you.”

“You shouldn’t talk of your hostess in that way,” observed Miss
Sheldon reprovingly.

“But I say, you know,” replied Otterburn, rather bewildered at this
sudden change of front, “you say—-”

“I say lots of things I do not mean.”

“I wish I could be sure of that.”

“Indeed why?”

“Because–oh! you understand?”

“I’m sure I don’t,” replied Miss Sheldon, demurely, then looking up,
she caught his eye, and they both laughed gaily.

The conservatory was certainly a very pleasant place, with its wealth
of palms, of cactuses, of ferns and such-like tropical vegetation. A
pale, emerald radiance from green-shaded lamps bathed the whole place,
and at one end a slender jet of water shot up like a silver rod
from the stillness of a wide pool, in which floated great white
water-lilies. The band in the distant ball-room were playing a _pot
pourri_ of airs from the latest opera, and Otterburn sat under the
drooping fronds of a palm-tree beside Victoria, with the fatal words
which would bind him for life trembling on his lips. So handsome he
looked in his picturesque Scotch dress, with the waving tartans and
gleam of Cairngorm brooches, and his bright young face bent towards
her, full of tender meaning. Victoria knew quite well that he intended
to propose again, and her heart beat rapidly as her eyes fell before
the fiery light which burned in his own.

“I suppose you have quite forgotten Como?” said Otterburn, in what he
meant to be a matter-of-fact tone.

Miss Sheldon began to draw designs on the floor with the toe of her
dainty boot, and laughed nervously.

“Oh no! it was the first time I was in Italy, you know, and first
impressions—-”

“Are always excellent.”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“I hope you don’t think the same about first refusals.”

“Refusals of what?” she replied, wilfully misunderstanding his
meaning, at which Otterburn felt somewhat disappointed.

“Ah, your memory is treacherous.”

“I think not! I can remember most things–when I choose.”

“Then do you remember how we talked about Scotch costumes, and I said
I’d put mine on the first Fancy Dress Ball we went to.”

“Yes! I remember that.”

“This is the first Fancy Dress Ball.”

“And you are in your tartans,” she answered, with a sudden glance.
“How curiously it all comes about. I thought you had forgotten.”

“I never forget anything you say,” he replied eagerly. “I wish I
could.”

“Now that’s very unkind of you! Why?”

“Because I wish to forget how cruel you were to me at the Villa
Medici.”

“Was I cruel?” she asked, with sudden compunction.

“You know you were,” he answered reproachfully, “so I think you ought
to make up for it.”

He took her hand that was lying on her lap, and drew her towards him.
She made no resistance, but still kept her eyes cast down.

“How can I make up for it?” she asked, in a low voice. “By saying Yes,
instead of No,” he replied ardently.

“Certainly. Yes, instead of No.”

“How cruel you are still,” he said impatiently. “You understand what I
mean quite well. You sent me away to wander all over the face of the
earth because you were—-”

“A coquette,” she interrupted.

“I never said so,” he answered, rather taken aback.

“You did–then.”

“I? Well I do not now. I’ll say you are the dearest, sweetest girl in
the world if you’ll only say—-”

“Yes.”

“Ah, you’ve said it,” he said joyfully, slipping his arm round her
waist. “You have said, ‘yes.'”

“Ah! perhaps I did not mean it,” she answered coquettishly.

“I don’t care,” he retorted recklessly, “you have said it, and I hold
you—-”

“Yes you do,” she murmured with a smile.

“To your word,” he finished gaily. “Victoria, say you love me a
little.”

“No, I can’t say that.”

His face whitened, and a pained look came into his eyes, but she laid
her head on his shoulder, and looking up, whispered softly:

“Because I love you a great deal.”

“My darling.”

He bent down and kissed her fondly, and then–then–ah, who can repeat
truly the conversation of lovers, who can write down coldly all the
fond, foolish words, the tender endearments, that go to make up the
happy time that succeeds the little word “yes?”

The music in the distance ceased, there was the noise of approaching
feet, and Victoria sprang to her feet quickly.

“We must go back to the ball-room, Mr. Macjean.”

“Mr. Macjean!”

“Well, then, ‘Angus.'”

“Ah, that’s much better,” he said gaily, giving her his arm. “You are
no doubt engaged for the next dance, but I cannot give you up so soon.
Now I’ve got you I’ll keep you for ever.”

“Ever’s a long time,” laughed Victoria, whose face was beaming with
smiles, as she looked at her handsome young lover walking so proudly
beside her.

“It won’t be long enough for me,” he said fondly, and they passed into
the brilliant ball-room at peace with themselves and the world.

On the way they met Eustace, who glanced keenly at both of them, and
then held out his hands with a laugh.

“I congratulate you both,” he said, smiling; “you will both be
happy–till you get tired of one another.”

“That horrid man,” said Victoria with a shiver as he passed onward.
“We will never get tired, Mr.–I mean Angus?”

“Never,” he whispered fervently.

There’s nothing half so sweet in life as love’s young dream, but what
a pity there should be any awakening.