A WOMAN’S OFFERING
Looking back upon the hours that followed that talk with Bobby behind the tamarisks, Muriel could never recall in detail how they passed. She moved in a whirl, all her pulses racing, all her senses on the alert. None of her partners had ever seen her gay before, but she was gay that night with a spontaneous and wonderful gaiety that came from the very heart of her. It was not a gaiety that manifested itself in words, but it was none the less apparent to those about her. For her eyes shone as though they looked into a radiant future, and she danced as one inspired. She was like a statue waked to splendid life.
Swiftly the hours flew by. She scarcely noted their passage, any more than she noted the careless talk and laughter that hummed around her. She moved in an atmosphere of her own to a melody that none other heard.
The ball was wearing to a close when at length Lady Bassett summoned her to return. Lady Bassett was wearing her most gracious smile.
“You have been much admired to-night, dear child,” she murmured to the girl, as they passed into the cloakroom.
Muriel’s eyes looked disdainful for an instant, but they could not remain so. As swiftly the happiness flashed back into them.
“I have enjoyed myself,” she said simply.
She threw a gauzy scarf about her neck, and turned to go. She did not want her evening spoilt by criticisms however honeyed.
The great marble entrance was crowded with departing guests. She edged her way to one of the pillars at the head of the long flight of steps, watching party after party descend to the waiting carriages. The dancing had not yet ceased, and strains of waltz-music came to her where she stood, fitful, alluring, plaintive. They were playing “The Blue Danube.”
She listened to it as one in a dream, and while she listened the tears gathered in her eyes. How was it she had been so slow to understand? Would she ever make it up to him? She wondered how long he meant to keep her in suspense. It was not like him to linger thus if he had indeed received her message. She hoped he would come soon. The waiting was hard to bear.
She called to mind once more the last words he had spoken to her. He had said that he would not swoop a second time, but she could not imagine him doing anything else. He would be sudden, he would be disconcerting, he would be overwhelming. He would come on winged feet in answer to her call, but he would give her no quarter. He would neither ask nor demand. He would simply take.
She caught her breath and hastened to divert her thought, realising that she was on the verge of the old torturing process of self-intimidation which had so often before unnerved her.