At eight o’clock the ball opened. Madelon stood up in the little gallery allotted to the violins and lilted, and the march began. Two and two, the young men and the girls swung around the room. Madelon lilted with her eyes upon the moving throng, gay as a garden in a wind; and suddenly her heart stood still, although she lilted on. Down on the floor below Burr Gordon led the march, with Dorothy Fair on his arm. Dorothy Fair, waving a great painted fan with the tremulous motion of a butterfly’s wing, with her blue brocade petticoat tilting airily as she moved, like an inverted bell-flower, with a locket set in brilliants flashing on her white neck, with her pink-and-white face smiling out with gentle gayety from her fair curls, stepped delicately, pointing out her blue satin toes, around the ball-room, with one little white hand on Burr Gordon’s arm.
Suddenly all Madelon’s beauty was cheapened in her own eyes. She saw herself swart and harsh-faced as some old savage squaw beside this fair angel. She turned on herself as well as on her recreant lover with rage and disdain—and all the time she lilted without one break.
The ball swung on and on, and Madelon, up in the musicians’ gallery, sang the old country-dances in the curious dissyllabic fashion termed lilting. It never occurred to her to wonder how it was that Dorothy Fair, the daughter of the orthodox minister, should be at the ball—she who had been brought up to believe in the sinful and hellward tendencies of the dance. Madelon only grasped the fact that she was there with Burr; but others wondered, and the surprise had been great when Dorothy in her blue brocade had appeared in the ball-room.
This had been largely of late years a liberal and Unitarian village, but Parson Fair had always held stanchly to his stern orthodox tenets, and promulgated them undiluted before his thinning congregations and in his own household. Dorothy could not only not play cards or dance, but she could not be present at a party where the cards were produced or the fiddle played. There was, indeed, a rumor that she had learned to dance when she was in Boston at school, but no one knew for certain.
Dorothy Fair was advancing daintily between the two long lines, holding up her blue brocade to clear her blue-satin shoes, to meet the young man from the opposite corner, flinging out gayly towards her, when suddenly, with no warning whatever, a great dark woman sped after her through the dance, like a wild animal of her native woods. She reached out her black hand and caught Dorothy by the white, lace-draped arm, and she whispered loud in her ear.
The people near, finding it hard to understand the African woman’s thick tongue, could not exactly vouch for the words, but the purport of her hurried speech they did not mistake. Parson Fair had discovered Mistress Dorothy’s absence, and home she must hasten at once. It was evident enough to everybody that staid and decorous Dorothy had run away to the ball with Burr Gordon, and a smothered titter ran down the files of the Virginia reel.