The waltz was over. He could see her now, on a rout seat against the wall with the other young man, turning her eyes constantly as if to make sure that he was still standing there. What subtle fuel was always being added to the fire by that flattery of her inexplicable adoration—of those eyes that dragged him to her, yet humbly followed him, too! Five times while she sat there he saw the red-haired girl or Oliver bring men up; saw youths cast longing glances; saw girls watching her with cold appraisement, or with a touching, frank delight. From the moment that she came in, there had been, in her father’s phrase, ‘only one in it.’ And she could pass all this by, and still want him. Incredible!
At the first notes of the polka he went to her. It was she who found their place of refuge—a little alcove behind two palm-plants. But sitting there, he realized, as never before, that there was no spiritual communion between him and this child. She could tell him her troubles or her joys; he could soothe or sympathize; but never would the gap between their natures and their ages be crossed. His happiness was only in the sight and touch of her. But that, God knew, was happiness enough—a feverish, craving joy, like an overtired man’s thirst, growing with the drink on which it tries to slake itself. Sitting there, in the scent of those flowers and of some sweet essence in her hair, with her fingers touching his, and her eyes seeking his, he tried loyally not to think of himself, to grasp her sensations at this her first dance, and just help her to enjoyment. But he could not— paralyzed, made drunk by that insensate longing to take her in his arms and crush her to him as he had those few hours back. He could see her expanding like a flower, in all this light, and motion, and intoxicating admiration round her. What business had he in her life, with his dark hunger after secret hours; he—a coin worn thin already—a destroyer of the freshness and the glamour of her youth and beauty!
Then, holding up the flowers, she said:
“Did you give me these because of the one I gave you?”
“What did you do with that?”
“Oh! but why?”
“Because you are a witch—and witches must be burned with all their flowers.”
“Are you going to burn me?”
He put his hand on her cool arm.
“Feel! The flames are lighted.”
“You may! I don’t care!”
She took his hand and laid her cheek against it; yet, to the music, which had begun again, the tip of her shoe was already beating time. And he said:
“You ought to be dancing, child.”
“Oh, no! Only it’s a pity you don’t want to.”
“Yes! Do you understand that it must all be secret—underground?”
She covered his lips with the fan, and said: “You’re not to think; you’re not to think—never! When can I come?”