Then her thoughts flew onward to the ball of the evening, for it was the night of the Marmion ball. No more escape! If she went—and nothing should prevent her from going—it would be Falloden’s evening, Falloden’s chance. She had been perfectly conscious of evading and thwarting him during the previous week. There had been some girlish mischief, but more excitement in it. Now, would he take his revenge?
Her heart beat fast. She had never yet danced with him. To-night she would feel his arm round her in the convention of the waltz. And she knew that for her it would be no convention; but something either to be passionately accepted—or impatiently endured.
* * * * *
Oxford went early to the Marmion ball. It was a very popular gathering. So that before ten o’clock the green quadrangle was crowded with guests waiting to see other guests come in; while the lights from the Gothic hall, and the notes of the “Blue Danube,” then in its first prime, flung out their call to youth and sex.
In they thronged—young men and maidens—a gay procession through the lawns and quadrangles, feeling the world born anew for them, and for them only, as their fathers and mothers had felt before them.
Falloden and Meyrick, with half a dozen other chosen spirits, met Constance at the entrance and while Mrs. Hooper and Alice followed, pleased against their will by the reflected fame which had fallen upon them also, the young men formed a body-guard round Constance, and escorted her like a queen to the hall.
Sorell, eagerly waiting, watched her entrance into the beautiful and spacious room, with its throng of dancers. She came in, radiant, with that aureole of popular favour floating round her, which has so much to do with the loveliness of the young. All the world smiled on her; she smiled in return; and that sarcastic self behind the smile, which Nora’s quick sense was so often conscious of, seemed to have vanished. She carried, Sorell saw, a glorious bunch of pale roses. Were they Falloden’s gift?
That Douglas Falloden danced with her repeatedly, that they sat out together through most of the supper-dances, that there was a sheltered corner in the illuminated quad, beside the Graeco-Roman fountain which an archaeological warden had given to the college, where, involuntarily, his troubled eyes discovered them more than once:—this at least Sorell knew, and could not help knowing. He saw that she danced twice with Radowitz, and that Falloden stood meanwhile in the doorway of the hall, twisting his black moustache, and chaffing Meyrick, yet all the time with an eye on the ballroom. And during one long disappearance, he found himself guessing that Falloden had taken her to the library for greater seclusion. Only a very few people seemed to know that the fine old room was open.
“Where is Connie?” said poor Mrs. Hooper fretfully—when three o’clock had long struck. “I can’t keep awake!”