“That’s what’s upsetting us so!” the fat man exclaimed. “You keep on going there! Just when we’ve decided you must be there, at last, here you come, going there again. Well, don’t let me detain you. But if you do decide to go in, some time, Noble, I’m afraid you aren’t going to be able to do much dancing.”
Noble, who had begun to walk on, halted in sudden panic. Did this sinister fear of Mr. Atwater’s mean that, as an uncle, he had heard Julia was suddenly ill?
“Why won’t I?” he asked quickly. “Is anything——”
“Your poor feet!” said Mr. Atwater, withdrawing. “Good-night, Noble.”
The youth went on, somewhat disturbed; it seemed to him that this uncle, though Julia’s, was either going queer in the head or had chosen a poor occasion to be facetious. Next time, probably, it would be better to walk round the block below this. But it was no longer advisable to walk round any block. When he came to the happy gateway, the tuning of instruments and a fanfare of voices sounded from within the house; girls in light wraps were fluttering through the hall with young men; it was “time for the party!” And Noble went in.
Throughout the accomplishment of the entrance he made, his outside and his inside were directly contradictory. His inside was almost fluttering: there might have been a nest of nervous young birds in his chest; but as he went upstairs to the “gentlemen’s dressing-room,” to leave his hat and stick, this flopping and scrambling within him was never to be guessed from his outside. His outside was unsympathetic, even stately; he greeted his fellow guests with negligent hauteur, while his glance seemed to say: “Only peasantry here!”
The stairway was crowded as he descended; and as he looked down upon the heads and shoulders of the throng below, in Julia’s hall, the thought came to him that since he had the first and last dances and supper engaged with Julia, the hostess, this was almost the next thing to being the host. It was a pleasing thought, and a slight graciousness now flavoured his salutations.
At the foot of the stairs he became part of the file of young people who were moving into one of the large rooms where Julia stood to “receive.” And then, between two heads before him, he caught a first glimpse of her;—and all the young birds fluttering in his chest burst into song; his heart fainted, his head ballooned, his feet seemed to dangle from him at the ends of two strings.
There glowed sapphire-eyed Julia; never had she been prettier.
The group closed, shutting out the vision, and he found himself able to dry his brow and get back his breath before moving forward in a cold and aristocratic attitude. Then he became incapable of any attitude—he was before her, and she greeted him. A buzzing of the universe confused him: he would have stood forever, but pressure from behind pushed him on; and so, enveloped in a scented cloud, he passed into a corner. He tried to remember what he had said to her, but could not; perhaps it would have discouraged him to know that all he had said was, “Well!”