The tears sprang to Ella’s eyes.
“No, no,” said Fru Holmbo consolingly, “there is no harm in that.”
Two years later, in the course of the winter, Ella was coming quickly up from the ice with her skates in her hand. She wore her new tight-fitting jacket for the first time; in fact, it was principally this jacket which had tempted her out. The plait hung jauntily down from under her grey cap. It was longer and thicker than ever; it throve wonderfully.
As usual, she went round by “Andresen’s at the corner.” To see the house was enough. Just as her eyes rested on it, Aksel Aaroe appeared in the doorway. He came slowly down the steps. He was at home again! His fair beard lay on the dark fur of his coat, a fur cap covered his low forehead and came down almost to his eyes; those large, attractive eyes. They looked at one another; they had to meet and pass; he smiled as he raised his cap, and she—stood still and curtseyed, like a schoolgirl in a short frock. For two years she had not dropped a curtsey, or done otherwise than bow like a grown-up person. Short people are most particular about this privilege; but to him, before whom she specially wished to appear grown-up, she had stood still and curtseyed as when he had last seen her. Occupied by this mishap she rushed into another. She said to herself, “Do not look round, keep yourself stiff, do not look round; do you hear?” But at the corner, just as she was turning away from him, she did look back for all that, and saw him do the same. From that moment there were no other people, no houses, no time or place. She did not know how she got home, or why she lay crying on her bed, with her face in the pillow.
A fortnight later, there was a large party at the club, in honour of Aksel Aaroe. Every one wished to be there, every one wished to bid their popular friend welcome home. He had been greatly missed. They had heard from Hull how indispensable he had by degrees become in society there. If his voice had had a greater compass—it did not comprise a large range of notes—he would have obtained an engagement at Her Majesty’s Theatre; so it was said over there. At this ball, the Choral Society—his old Choral Society—would again sing with him.
Ella was there; she came too early—only four people before her. She trembled with expectancy in the empty rooms and passages, but more especially in the hall where she had made “a spectacle of herself.” She wore a red ball-dress, without any ornaments or flowers; this was by her mother’s wish. She feared that she had betrayed herself by coming so early, and remained alone in a side room; she did not appear until the rooms had been fully lighted, and the perfume, the buzz of voices, and the tuning of instruments lured her in. Ella was so short, that when she came into the crowd, she had not seen Aksel Aaroe when she heard several whispers of “There he is,” and some one added, “He is coming towards us.” It was Fru Holmbo for whom he was looking, and to whom he bowed; but just behind her stood Ella. When she felt that she was discovered, the bud blushed rosier than its calyx. He left Fru Holmbo at once.