My companion was more expert in social maneuvers. She waited until the crowd had somewhat thinned about the young lady and her escort. I saw now with certain qualms that this latter was none other than my whilom friend Jack Dandridge. For a wonder, he was most unduly sober, and he made, as I have said, no bad figure in his finery. He was very merry and just a trifle loud of speech, but, being very intimate in Mr. Polk’s household, he was warmly welcomed by that gentleman and by all around him.
“She is beautiful!” I heard the lady at my arm whisper.
“Is she beautiful to you?” I asked.
“Very beautiful!” I heard her catch her breath. “She is good. I wish I could love her. I wish, I wish—”
I saw her hands beat together as they did when she was agitated. I turned then to look at her, and what I saw left me silent. “Come,” said I at last, “let us go to her.” We edged across the floor.
When Elisabeth saw me she straightened, a pallor came across her face. It was not her way to betray much of her emotions. If her head was a trifle more erect, if indeed she paled, she too lacked not in quiet self-possession. She waited, with wide straight eyes fixed upon me. I found myself unable to make much intelligent speech. I turned to see Helena von Ritz gazing with wistful eyes at Elisabeth, and I saw the eyes of Elisabeth make some answer. So they spoke some language which I suppose men never will understand—the language of one woman to another.
I have known few happier moments in my life than that. Perhaps, after all, I caught something of the speech between their eyes. Perhaps not all cheap and cynical maxims are true, at least when applied to noble women.
Elisabeth regained her wonted color and more.
“I was very wrong in many ways,” I heard her whisper. For almost the first time I saw her perturbed. Helena von Ritz stepped close to her. Amid the crash of the reeds and brasses, amid all the broken conversation which swept around us, I knew what she said. Low down in the flounces of the wide embroidered silks, I saw their two hands meet, silently, and cling. This made me happy.
Of course it was Jack Dandridge who broke in between us. “Ah!” said he, “you jealous beggar, could you not leave me to be happy for one minute? Here you come back, a mere heathen, and proceed to monopolize all our ladies. I have been making the most of my time, you see. I have proposed half a dozen times more to Miss Elisabeth, have I not?”
“Has she given you any answer?” I asked him, smiling.
“The same answer!”
“Jack,” said I, “I ought to call you out.”
“Don’t,” said he. “I don’t want to be called out. I am getting found out. That’s worse. Well—Miss Elisabeth, may I be the first to congratulate?”
“I am glad,” said I, with just a slight trace of severity, “that you have managed again to get into the good graces of Elmhurst. When I last saw you, I was not sure that either of us would ever be invited there again.”