“I wonder what he is doing now, this very minute!” says Tou Tou, who is dining in public for the first time, and whose conversation is checked and her deportment regulated by Bobby, who has been at some pains to sit beside her, and who guides her behavior by the help of many subtle and unseen pinches under the table; from revolting against which a fear of father hinders her, a fact of which Bobby is most basely aware.
“Had not you better telegraph?” asks Algy, with languid irony (Algy certainly is not quite so nice as he used to be). “Flapping away the blue-tailed fly, with a big red-and-yellow bandana, probably.”
“Playing the banjo for a lot of little niggers to dance to!” suggests the Brat.
“They are all wrong, are not they, Nancy?” says Bobby, in a lowered voice, to me, on whose left hand he has placed himself; “he is sitting in his veranda, is not he? in a palm hat and nankeen breeches, with his arm around the old Wampoo.”
“I dare say,” reply I, laughing. “I hope so,” for, indeed, I am growing quite fond of my dusky rival.
The ball is to be in the servants’ hall; it is a large, long room, and thither, when all the guests are assembled, we repair. We think that we shall make a greater show, and inspire more admiration, if we appear in pairs. I therefore make my entry on father’s arm. Never with greater trepidation have I entered any room, for I am to open the ball with the butler, and the prospect fills me with dismay. If he were a venerable family servant, a hoary-headed old seneschal, who had known Roger in petticoats, it would have been nothing. I could have chattered filially to him; but he is a youngish man, who came only six months ago. On what subjects can we converse? I feel small doubt that his own sufferings will be hardly inferior in poignancy to mine.
The room is well lit, and the candles shine genially down from the laurel garlands and ivy festoons which clothe the walls. They light the faces and various dresses of a numerous assembly—every groom, footman, housemaid, and scullion, from far and near. The ladies seem largely to preponderate both in number and aplomb; the men appearing, for the more part, greatly disposed to run for shelter behind the bolder petticoats; particularly the stablemen. The footmen, being more accustomed to ladies’ society, are less embarrassed by their own hands, and by the exigencies of chivalry. This inversion of the usual attitude of the sexes, will, no doubt, be set more than right when we have retired. The moment has arrived. I quit father’s arm—for the first time in my life I am honestly sorry to drop it—and go up to my destined partner.
“Ashton,” say I, with an attempt at an easy and unembarrassed smile, “will you dance this quadrille with me?”
“Thank you, my lady.”
How calm he is! how self-possessed. Oh, that he would impart to me the secret of his composure! I catch sight of the Brat, who is passing at the moment.