“As far as I know,” he said, “the application was dismissed on its demerits.”
“Of course it was,” said Mr Winter good-humouredly. “You don’t need to tell me that. Well, now, this looks like dancing. Miss Filkin, I see, is going to oblige on the piano. Now I wonder whether I’m going to get Miss Dora to give me a waltz or not.”
Chairs and table were in effect being pushed back, and folding doors opened which disclosed another room prepared for this relaxation. Miss Filkin began to oblige vigorously on the piano, Miss Dora granted Mr Winter’s request, which he made with elaborate humour as an impudent old bachelor whom “the boys” would presently take outside and kill. Lorne watched him make it, envying him his assurance; and Miss Milburn was aware that he watched and aware that he envied. The room filled with gaiety and movement: Mr Milburn, sidling dramatically along the wall to escape the rotatory couples, admonished Mr Murchison to get a partner. He withdrew himself from the observation of Miss Dora and Mr Winter, and approached a young lady on a sofa, who said “With very great pleasure.” When the dance was over he re-established the young lady on the sofa and fanned her with energy. Looking across the room, he saw that Walter Winter, seated beside Dora, was fanning himself. He thought it disgusting and, for some reason which he did not pause to explore, exactly like Winter. He had met Miss Milburn once or twice before without seeing her in any special way: here, at home, the centre of the little conventions that at once protected and revealed her, conventions bound up in the impressive figures of her mother and her aunt, she had a new interest, and all the attraction of that which is not easily come by. It is also possible that although Lorne had met her before, she had not met him; she was meeting him now for the first time, as she sat directly opposite and talked very gracefully to Walter Winter. Addressing Walter Winter, Lorne was the object of her pretty remarks. While Mr Winter had her superficial attention, he was the bland medium which handed her on. Her consciousness was fixed on young Mr Murchison, quite occupied with him: she could not imagine why they had not asked him long ago; he wasn’t exactly “swell,” but you could see he was somebody. So already she figured the potential distinction in the set of his shoulders and the carriage of his head. It might have been translated in simple terms of integrity and force by anyone who looked for those things. Miss Milburn was incapable of such detail, but she saw truly enough in the mass.
Lorne, on the opposite sofa, looked at her across the town’s traditions of Milburn exclusiveness. Oddly enough, at this moment when he might have considered that he had overcome them, they seemed to gather force, exactly in his line of vision. He had never before been so near Dora Milburn, and he had never before perceived her so remote. He had a sense of her distance beyond those few yards of carpet quite incompatible with the fact. It weighed upon him, but until she sent him a sudden unexpected smile he did not know how heavily. It was a dissipating smile; nothing remained before it. Lorne carefully restored his partner’s fan, bowed before her, and went straight across the room.