“Can’t we finish the waltz?” he suggested, crestfallen.
“No!” she said, and continued her solitary way downwards.
She was hurt. He tried to think of something to say that was equal to the situation, and equal to the style of his suit. But he could not. In a moment he heard her, below him, greeting some male acquaintance in the most effusive way.
Yet, if Denry had not committed a wicked crime for her, she could never have come to the dance at all!
He got a programme, and with terror gripping his heart he asked sundry young and middle-aged women whom he knew by sight and by name for a dance. (Ruth had taught him how to ask.) Not one of them had a dance left. Several looked at him as much as to say: “You must be a goose to suppose that my programme is not filled up in the twinkling of my eye!”
Then he joined a group of despisers of dancing near the main door. Harold Etches was there, the wealthiest manufacturer of his years (barely twenty-four) in the Five Towns. Also Shillitoe, cause of another of Denry’s wicked crimes. The group was taciturn, critical, and very doggish.
The group observed that the Countess was not dancing. The Earl was dancing (need it be said with Mrs Jos Curtenty, second wife of the Deputy Mayor?), but the Countess stood resolutely smiling, surrounded by aldermen. Possibly she was getting her breath; possibly nobody had had the pluck to ask her. Anyhow, she seemed to be stranded there, on a beach of aldermen. Very wisely she had brought with her no members of a house-party from Sneyd Hall. Members of a house-party, at a municipal ball, invariably operate as a bar between greatness and democracy; and the Countess desired to participate in the life of the people.
“Why don’t some of those johnnies ask her?” Denry burst out. He had hitherto said nothing in the group, and he felt that he must be a man with the rest of them.
“Well, you go and do it. It’s a free country,” said Shillitoe.
“So I would, for two pins!” said Denry.
Harold Etches glanced at him, apparently resentful of his presence there. Harold Etches was determined to put the extinguisher on him.
“I’ll bet you a fiver you don’t,” said Etches scornfully.
“I’ll take you,” said Denry, very quickly, and very quickly walked off.
“She can’t eat me. She can’t eat me!”
This was what he said to himself as he crossed the floor. People seemed to make a lane for him, divining his incredible intention. If he had not started at once, if his legs had not started of themselves, he would never have started; and, not being in command of a fiver, he would afterwards have cut a preposterous figure in the group. But started he was, like a piece of clockwork that could not be stopped! In the grand crises of his life something not himself, something more powerful than himself, jumped up in him and forced him to do things. Now for the first time he seemed to understand what had occurred within him in previous crises.