It was—the other ball. For Washington is itself, and something else besides. Along beside it ever runs that dark and haunting echo; that shadowy world-in-world with its accusing silence, its emphatic self-sufficiency. Mrs. Cresswell at first demurred. She thought of Elspeth’s cabin: the dirt, the smell, the squalor: of course, this would be different; but—well, Mrs. Cresswell had little inclination for slumming. She was interested in the under-world, but intellectually, not by personal contact. She did not know that this was a side-world, not an under-world. Yet the imposing building did not look sordid.
“Hired?” asked some one.
Then there was a hitch.
“Where can we buy them?”
“Not on sale,” was the curt reply.
“Actually exclusive!” sneered Cresswell, for he could not imagine any one unwelcome at a Negro ball. Then he bethought himself of Sam Stillings and sent for him. In a few minutes he had a dozen complimentary tickets in his hand.
They entered the balcony and sat down. Mary Cresswell leaned forward. It was interesting. Beneath her was an ordinary pretty ball—flowered, silked, and ribboned; with swaying whirling figures, music, and laughter, and all the human fun of gayety and converse.
And then she was impressed with the fact that this was no ordinary scene; it was, on the contrary, most extraordinary.
There was a black man waltzing with a white woman—no, she was not white, for Mary caught the cream and curl of the girl as she swept past: but there was a white man (was he white?) and a black woman. The color of the scene was wonderful. The hard human white seemed to glow and live and run a mad gamut of the spectrum, from morn till night, from white to black; through red and sombre browns, pale and brilliant yellows, dead and living blacks. Through her opera-glasses Mary scanned their hair; she noted everything from the infinitely twisted, crackled, dead, and grayish-black to the piled mass of red golden sunlight. Her eyes went dreaming; there below was the gathering of the worlds. She saw types of all nations and all lands swirling beneath her in human brotherhood, and a great wonder shook her. They seemed so happy. Surely, this was no nether world; it was upper earth, and—her husband beckoned; he had been laughing incontinently. He saw nothing but a crowd of queer looking people doing things they were not made to do and appearing absurdly happy over it. It irritated him unreasonably.
“See the washer-woman in red,” he whispered. “Look at the monkey. Come, let’s go.”
They trooped noisily down-stairs, and Cresswell walked unceremoniously between a black man and his partner. Mrs. Vanderpool recognized and greeted the girl as Miss Wynn. Mrs. Cresswell did not notice her, but she paused with a start of recognition at the sight of the man.