“Just the same as dancing with any other woman!” He told this untruth in reply to a question from Shillitoe. It was the least he could do. And any other young man in his place would have said as much or as little.
“What was she laughing at?” somebody asked.
“Ah!” said Denry, judiciously, “wouldn’t you like to know?”
“Here you are!” said Etches, with an inattentive, plutocratic gesture handing over a five-pound note. He was one of those men who never venture out of sight of a bank without a banknote in their pockets— “Because you never know what may turn up.”
Denry accepted the note with a silent nod. In some directions he was gifted with astounding insight, and he could read in the faces of the haughty males surrounding him that in the space of a few minutes he had risen from nonentity into renown. He had become a great man. He did not at once realise how great, how renowned. But he saw enough in those eyes to cause his heart to glow, and to rouse in his brain those ambitious dreams which stirred him upon occasion. He left the group; he had need of motion, and also of that mental privacy which one may enjoy while strolling about on a crowded floor in the midst of a considerable noise. He noticed that the Countess was now dancing with an alderman, and that the alderman, by an oversight inexcusable in an alderman, was not wearing gloves. It was he, Denry, who had broken the ice, so that the alderman might plunge into the water. He first had danced with the Countess, and had rendered her up to the alderman with delicious gaiety upon her countenance. By instinct he knew Bursley, and he knew that he would be talked of. He knew that, for a time at any rate, he would displace even Jos Curtenty, that almost professional “card” and amuser of burgesses, in the popular imagination. It would not be: “Have ye heard Jos’s latest?” It would be: “Have ye heard about young Machin, Duncalf’s clerk?”
Then he met Ruth Earp, strolling in the opposite direction with a young girl, one of her pupils, of whom all he knew was that her name was Nellie, and that this was her first ball: a childish little thing with a wistful face. He could not decide whether to look at Ruth or to avoid her glance. She settled the point by smiling at him in a manner that could not be ignored.
“Are you going to make it up to me for that waltz you missed?” said Ruth Earp. She pretended to be vexed and stern, but he knew that she was not. “Or is your programme full?” she added.
“I should like to,” he said simply.
“But perhaps you don’t care to dance with us poor, ordinary people, now you’ve danced with the Countess!” she said, with a certain lofty and bitter pride.
He perceived that his tone had lacked eagerness.
“Don’t talk like that,” he said, as if hurt.
“Well,” she said, “you can have the supper dance.”