Part First--In Town.
Chapter XIII. A Penelope secret.
 

Shortly after midnight our own little company broke up, loath to leave the charming spectacle. The guests departed with the greatest reluctance, having given Dawson a half-sovereign for waiting up to lock the door. Mrs. Beresford said that it seemed unendurable to leave matters in such an unfinished condition, and her son promised to come very early next morning for the latest bulletins.

"I leave all the romances in your hands," he whispered to me; "do let them turn out happily, do!"

Salemina also retired to her virtuous couch, remembering that she was to visit infant schools with a great educational dignitary on the morrow.

Francesca and I turned the gas entirely out, although we had been sitting all the evening in a kind of twilight, and slipping on our dressing-gowns sat again at the window for a farewell peep into the past, present, and future of the 'Brighthelmston set.'

At midnight the dowager duchess arrived. She must at least have been a dowager duchess, and if there is anything greater, within the bounds of a reasonable imagination, she was that. Long streamers of black tulle floated from a diamond soup-tureen which surmounted her hair. Narrow puffings of white traversed her black velvet gown in all directions, making her look somewhat like a railway map, and a diamond fan-chain defined, or attempted to define, what was in its nature neither definable nor confinable, to wit, her waist, or what had been, in early youth, her waist.

The entire company was stirred by the arrival of the dowager duchess, and it undoubtedly added new eclat to what was already a fashionable event; for we counted three gentlemen who wore orders glittering on ribbons that crossed the white of their immaculate linen, and there was an Indian potentate with a jewelled turban who divided attention with the dowager duchess's diamond soup-tureen.

At twelve-thirty Lord Brighthelmston chided Celandine for flirting too much.

At twelve-forty Lady Brighthelmston reminded Violet (who was a h'orphan niece) that the beautiful being in the white uniform was not the eldest son.

At twelve-fifty there arrived an elderly gentleman, before whom the servants bowed low. Lord Brighthelmston went to fetch Patricia, who chanced to be sitting out a dance with Terence. The three came out on the balcony, which was deserted, in the near prospect of supper, and the personage--whom we suspected to be Patricia's godfather-- took from his waistcoat pocket a string of pearls, and, clasping it round her white throat, stooped gently and kissed her forehead.

Then at one o'clock came supper. Francesca and I had secretly provided for that contingency, and curling up on a sofa we drew toward us a little table which Dawson had spread with a galantine of chicken, some cress sandwiches, and a jug of milk.

At one-thirty we were quite overcome with sleep, and retired to our beds, where of course we speedily grew wakeful.

"It is giving a ball, not going to one, that is so exhausting!" yawned Francesca. "How many times have I danced all night with half the fatigue that I am feeling now!"

The sound of music came across the street through the closed door of our sitting-room. Waltz after waltz, a polka, a galop, then waltzes again, until our brains reeled with the rhythm. As if this were not enough, when our windows at the back were opened wide we were quite within reach of Lady Durden's small dance, where another Hungarian band discoursed more waltzes and galops.

"Dancing, dancing everywhere, and not a turn for us!" grumbled Francesca. "I simply cannot sleep, can you?"

"We must make a determined effort," I advised; "don't speak again, and perhaps drowsiness will overtake us."

It finally did overtake Francesca, but I had too much to think about--my own problems as well as Patricia's. After what seemed to be hours of tossing I was helplessly drawn back into the sitting- room, just to see if anything had happened, and if the affair was ever likely to come to an end.

It was half-past two, and yes, the ball was decidedly 'thinning out.'

The attendants in the lower hall, when they were not calling carriages, yawned behind their hands, and stood first on one foot, and then on the other.

Women in beautiful wraps, their heads flashing with jewels, descended the staircase, and drove, or even walked, away into the summer night.

Lady Brighthelmston began to look tired, although all the world, as it said good night, was telling her that it was one of the most delightful balls of the season.

The English nosegay had lost its white flower, for Patricia was not in the family group. I looked everywhere for the gleam of her silvery scarf, everywhere for Terence, while, the waltz music having ceased, the Spanish students played 'Love's Young Dream.'

I hummed the words as the sweet old tune, strummed by the tinkling mandolins, vibrated clearly in the maze of other sounds:-

     'Oh! the days have gone when Beauty bright
        My heart's chain wove;
      When my dream of life from morn till night
        Was Love, still Love.
      New hope may bloom and days may come,
        Of milder, calmer beam,
      But there's nothing half so sweet in life
        As Love's Young Dream.'

At last, in a quiet spot under the oak-tree, the lately risen moon found Patricia's diamond arrow and discovered her to me. The Japanese lanterns had burned out; she was wrapped like a young nun, in a cloud of white that made her eyelashes seem darker.

I looked once, because the moonbeam led me into it before I realised; then I stole away from the window and into my own room, closing the door softly behind me.

We had so far been looking only at conventionalities, preliminaries, things that all (who had eyes to see) might see; but this was different--quite, quite different.

They were as beautiful under the friendly shadow of their urban oak- tree as were ever Romeo and Juliet on the balcony of the Capulets. I may not tell you what I saw in my one quickly repented-of glance. That would be vulgarising something that was already a little profaned by my innocent participation.

I do not know whether Terence was heir, even ever so far removed, to any title or estates, and I am sure Patricia did not care: he may have been vulgarly rich or aristocratically poor. I only know that they loved each other in the old yet ever new way, without any ifs or ands or buts; that he worshipped, she honoured; he asked humbly, she gave gladly.

How do I know? Ah! that's a 'Penelope secret,' as Francesca says.

Perhaps you doubt my intuitions altogether. Perhaps you believe in your heart that it was an ordinary ball, where a lot of stupid people arrived, danced, supped, and departed. Perhaps you do not think his name was Terence or hers Patricia, and if you go so far as that in blindness and incredulity I should not expect you to translate properly what I saw last night under the oak-tree, the night of the ball on the opposite side, when Patricia made her debut.