He took her programme to write on it.
“Why,” he said, “there’s a name down here for the supper dance. ‘Herbert,’ it looks like.”
“Oh!” she replied carelessly, “that’s nothing. Cross it out.”
So he crossed Herbert out.
“Why don’t you ask Nellie here for a dance?” said Ruth Earp.
And Nellie blushed. He gathered that the possible honour of dancing with the supremely great man had surpassed Nellie’s modest expectations.
“Can I have the next one?” he said.
“Oh, yes!” Nellie timidly whispered.
“It’s a polka, and you aren’t very good at polking, you know,” Ruth warned him. “Still, Nellie will pull you through.”
Nellie laughed, in silver. The naive child thought that Ruth was trying to joke at Denry’s expense. Her very manifest joy and pride in being seen with the unique Mr Machin, in being the next after the Countess to dance with him, made another mirror in which Denry could discern the reflection of his vast importance.
At the supper, which was worthy of the hospitable traditions of the Chell family (though served standing-up in the police-court), he learnt all the gossip of the dance from Ruth Earp; amongst other things that more than one young man had asked the Countess for a dance, and had been refused, though Ruth Earp for her part declined to believe that aldermen and councillors had utterly absorbed the Countess’s programme. Ruth hinted that the Countess was keeping a second dance open for him, Denry. When she asked him squarely if he meant to request another from the Countess, he said no, positively. He knew when to let well alone, a knowledge which is more precious than a knowledge of geography. The supper was the summit of Denry’s triumph. The best people spoke to him without being introduced. And lovely creatures mysteriously and intoxicatingly discovered that programmes which had been crammed two hours before were not, after all, quite full.
“Do tell us what the Countess was laughing at?” This question was shot at him at least thirty times. He always said he would not tell. And one girl who had danced with Mr Stanway, who had danced with the Countess, said that Mr Stanway had said that the Countess would not tell either. Proof, here, that he was being extensively talked about!
Towards the end of the festivity the rumour floated abroad that the Countess had lost her fan. The rumour reached Denry, who maintained a culpable silence. But when all was over, and the Countess was departing, he rushed down after her, and, in a dramatic fashion which demonstrated his genius for the effective, he caught her exactly as she was getting into her carriage.
“I’ve just picked it up,” he said, pushing through the crowd of worshippers.
“On! thank you so much!” she said. And the Earl also thanked Denry. And then the Countess, leaning from the carriage, said, with archness in her efficient smile: “You do pick things up easily, don’t you?”