The supper passed off as brilliantly as most successful suppers do. Mrs. Carr looked charming, and her conversation sparkled like her own champagne; but it seemed to him that, as in the case of the wine, there was too much sting in it. The wine was a little too dry, and her talk a little too full of suppressed sarcasm, though he could not quite tell what it was aimed at, any more than he could trace the source of the champagne bubbles.
Supper done, he led her back to the ball-room. The second extra was just beginning, and she stood as though she were expecting him to ask her to dance it.
“I am sorry, Mildred, but I must go now. I am engaged this dance.”
“Indeed—who to?” This was very coldly said.
“Lady Florence,” he answered, confusedly, though there really was no reason why he should be ashamed.
She looked at him steadily.
“Oh! I forgot, for to-night you are her monopoly. Good-bye.”
A little while after this, Arthur thought that he had had about enough dancing for awhile, and went and sat by himself in a secluded spot under the shadow of a tree-fern in a temporary conservatory put up outside a bow-window. The Chinese lantern that hung upon the fern had gone out, leaving his chair in total darkness. Presently a couple, whom he did not recognize, for he only saw their backs, strayed in, and placed themselves on a bench before him in such a way as to entirely cut off his retreat. He was making up his mind to disturb them, when they began a conversation, in which the squeezing of hands and mild terms of endearment played a part. Fearing to interrupt, lest he should disturb their equanimity, he judged it best to stop where he was. Presently, however, their talk took a turn that proved intensely interesting to him. It was something as follows:—
She. “Have you seen the hero of the evening?”
He. “Who? Do you mean the Portuguese Governor in his war-paint?”
She. “No, of course not. You don’t call him a hero, do you? I mean our hostess’s fiance, the nice-looking young fellow who took her in to supper.”
He. “Oh, yes. I did not think much of him. Lucky dog! but he must be rather mean. They say that he is engaged to a girl in England, and has thrown her over for the widow.”
She. “Ah, you’re jealous! I know that you would like to be in his shoes. Come, confess.”
He. “You are very unkind. Why should I be jealous when——”
She. “Well, you need not hurt my hand, and will you never remember that black shows against white!”
He. “It’s awfully hot here; let’s go into the garden.” [Exuent.]
Arthur emerged from his hiding-place, horror-struck at hearing what was being said about him, and wondering, so far as he was at the moment capable of accurate thought, how long this report had been going about, and whether by any chance it had reached the ears of the Bellamys. If it had, the mischief might be very serious. In the confusion of his mind, only two things were clear to him—one was, that both for Mildred’s and his own sake, he must leave Madeira at once; and, secondly, that he would dance no more with her that night.