“You shall now have my entire regard as long as you will permit it.”
“That will depend a little upon yourself. Mamma is tired, and I’m of no account compared with that infant upstairs; therefore I can’t keep her as a chaperon this evening, and I will go to my room as soon as you are tired of me.”
“Not till then?”
“Not unless I go before.”
“At some time in the indefinite future, Mrs. Wildmere, you may hope to see your daughter again.”
The poor lady smiled encouragingly and gratefully. She would be most happy to have Graydon take the brilliant creature for better or worse as soon as possible. She liked him, as did all women, for she saw that he had a large, kindly nature. She now stole meekly away, while he with his fair partner glided out upon the floor. All eyes followed them, and even the veterans of society remarked that they had never seen more graceful dancing.
From her seat on the piazza Madge also watched the couple. The struggle to which she had looked forward so long had indeed begun, and most inauspiciously. Her rival had every advantage. The mood in which Graydon had returned predisposed him to prompt action, while she had lost her influence for the present by a course that seemed to him so unnatural as to be prudish. Miss Wildmere’s manner gave all the encouragement that a man could wish for, and it was hard to view with charity the smiling, triumphant belle. Madge suddenly became conscious that Mr. Muir was observing her, and she remarked, quietly: “I never saw better dancing than that. It’s grace itself. Miss Wildmere waltzes superbly.”
“Not better than you, Miss Alden,” said Mr. Henderson, a young man who prided himself on his skill in the accomplishment under consideration, and with whom she had danced several times. “I’ve been looking for you, in the hope that you would favor me this evening.”
She rose and passed with him through the open window. The waltz was drawing to a close; the majority had grown weary and sat down; and soon Madge and Miss Wildmere were the only ladies on the floor. Opinion was divided, some declaring that the former was the more graceful and lovely, while perhaps a larger number gave their verdict for the latter.
The strains ceased, and left the couples near each other. Graydon immediately introduced Miss Wildmere. The girls bowed a little too profoundly to indicate cordiality. Madge also presented Mr. Henderson, hoping that he might become a partner for Miss Wildmere, and give Graydon an opportunity to dance with her. He resolved to break the ice at once so far as his relatives were concerned, and he conducted Miss Wildmere to Mrs. Muir, and gave her a seat beside that lady. The girl of his choice should have not only a gallant for the evening, but also a chaperon. He was not one to enter on timid, half-way measures; and he determined that his brother’s prejudice should count for nothing in this case. His preference was entitled to respect, and must be respected. Of course the group chatted courteously, as well-bred people do in public, but Miss Wildmere felt that the atmosphere was chilly. She was much too politic to permit the slightest tinge of coldness in her manner toward those with whom she meditated such close relations should the barring “if” melt out of the way.