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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Reflections Of Ambrosine: A Novel - Book 1 - Chapter 4
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The Reflections Of Ambrosine: A Novel - Book 1 - Chapter 4 Post by :punter Category :Long Stories Author :Elinor Glyn Date :May 2012 Read :2264

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The Reflections Of Ambrosine: A Novel - Book 1 - Chapter 4

BOOK I CHAPTER IV

It is difficult to judge of a thing when your mind is prejudiced on any point. Balls may be delightful, but my first ball contained hours which I can only look back upon as a nightmare.

The Marquis and I arrived not too early; Mrs. Gurrage and her bevy of nieces and friends were already in the dressing-room. They seemed to be plainish, buxom girls, several of the bony, _passe description. They looked at me with eyes of deep interest. My dress, as I said before, was perfection. Mrs. Gurrage wore what she told me were the "family jewels." Her short neck and undulating chest were covered with pearls, diamonds, sapphires, and rubies, all jumbled together, necklace after necklace. On top of her head, in front of an imitation lace cap, a park paling of diamonds sat up triumphantly; one almost saw its reflection in her shining forehead below. In spite of this splendor, my future mother-in-law had an unimportant, plebeian appearance, and as we walked down the corridor I wished I was not so tall, that I might hide behind her.

Augustus was waiting among the other men of their party, with an enormous bouquet. Not one of those dainty posies with dropping sprays one sees in the Paris shops, but a good lump of flowers, arranged like a cauliflower, evidently the work of the Tilchester florist. How I should like to have thrown it at his head!

He gave me his arm, and in this fashion we entered the ballroom. A bride of the Saturday weddings in the Bois de Boulogne could not have looked more foolish than I felt. A valse was being played; the room was full of light and color, all the officers of the Yeomanry in their pretty uniforms (Augustus puffed with pride in his), and a general air of gayety and animation that would have made my pulse skip a month ago. We passed on to the other end of the room in this ridiculous procession. I am quite as tall as Augustus, and I felt I was towering over him, my head was so high in the air--not with exaltation, but with a vague sense of defiance.

There were several nice-looking people standing around when at last we arrived on the dais. Mrs. Gurrage greeted most of them gushingly and introduced me.

"My future daughter-in-law, Miss Athelstan."

It may have been fancy, but I thought I caught flashes of surprise in their eyes. One lady--Lady Tilchester--the great magnate in the neighborhood, spoke to me. She had gracious, beautiful manners, and although she could not know anything about me or my history, there seemed to be sympathy in her big, brown eyes.

"This is your first ball Mrs. Gurrage tells me," she said, kindly. "I hope you will enjoy it. I must introduce some of my party to you. Ah, they are dancing now; I must find them presently."

During this Augustus fidgeted. He kept touching my arm, half in an outburst of affection and half to keep my attention from wandering from him. He blustered politenesses to Lady Tilchester, who smiled vacantly while she was attending to something else. Then my _fiance suggested that we should dance. I agreed; it would be an opportunity to get rid of my cauliflower bouquet, which I flung viciously into a chair, and off we started.

Augustus dances vilely. When he was not bumping me against other _valseurs he was treading on my toes--a jig or a funeral-march might have been playing instead of a valse, for all the time of it mattered to him.

"I never dance fast, I hate it," he said, in the first pause; "don't you?"

"No! I like it--at least, I mean, I like to do whatever the music is doing," I answered, trying to keep my voice from showing the anger and disgust I felt.

"Darling!" was all he muttered, as he seized me round the waist again.

"Oh! it makes me giddy," I said, which was a lie I am ashamed of. "Let us stop."

It was from Scylla to Charybdis, for I was led to one of the sitting-out places. So stupidly ignorant was I in the ways of balls that I did not realize that we should be practically alone, or I would have remained glued to the ballroom. However, before I knew it we were seated on a sofa behind a screen, in a subdued light.

"Are you never going to give me a kiss, Ambrosine?" Augustus said, pleadingly.

"Certainly not here," I exclaimed. "How can you be so horrid?"

"You are a little vixen."

"You may call me what you like; I do not care. But you shall not me a public disgrace," I retorted.

"I think you are deucedly unkind to me," he said, his sulky underlip pouting.

I controlled myself, I tried to remember grandmamma's last advice to me, to be as agreeable as possible and not come to a quarrel. She said I must even submit to a certain amount of familiarity from my betrothed. These were her words: "It is in the nature of men, my child, to wish to demonstrate by outward marks of affection their possession and appreciation of their _fiancees_, and, unfortunately, the English customs permit such an amount of license in this direction that I fear you must submit to a little, at least, with a good grace."

I softened my voice. "I do not mean to be unkind," I said, "but it is all so very sudden. You must give me time to accustom myself to the idea of having a _fiance_-you see, I have never had one before," and I tried to laugh.

He was slightly mollified.

"Well, at least let me hold your hand," he said.

I gave him a stiff, unsympathetic set of fingers, which he proceeded to kiss through the glove. My attention was so taken up with trying to see if any one was coming, to avoid the disgrace of being caught thus, that I had not even time to feel the nastiness of it.

Augustus was murmuring sentences of love all the time. It must have sounded like this:

"Darling, what a dear little paw!"

"Oh! is not that a lady looking this way?"

"I should like to kiss your arm--"

"I am sure they can see in here by that looking-glass."

"Why won't you let me kiss just that jolly little curl on your neck?"

"I am certain some one is coming--oh!--oh!"

These "ohs" were caused by Augustus having got so beside himself that he actually bent down and kissed my shoulder!

A sudden sense of helplessness came over me. I felt crushed, as if I could not fight any more, as if all was ended.

"Good God! How white you are, darling! What is the matter?" I heard his voice saying, as if in a dream. "Come, let me take you to have some champagne."

I bounded up at that--I should get out of this cage. In the refreshment-room some of the other Yeomen were standing with their partners. The dance was over and they came up, and Augustus introduced several of them, and, mercifully, I was soon engaged to dance for numbers ahead. Neither their faces nor their conversation made the slightest impression on me. These were the "jolly fellows," I suppose, but I felt grateful to them for taking up my time, and I talked as gayly as I could, and one or two of them danced nicely. Between each dance there was Augustus waiting for me. But I soon found it was the custom to stay with one's partner until the next dance began, and so after that I hid in every possible place for the intervals, and then took refuge with the Marquis. Presently there was a set of lancers. Augustus rushed up to me before I could hide.

"I don't care who you are engaged to," he said, savagely, "You must dance this with me. I have been deuced patient these last four dances, but I won't stand being chucked like this any longer."

"I am not engaged to any one," I said, stiffly.

He tucked my hand under his arm and dragged me to where a set was forming, but on the way Lady Tilchester beckoned us to the middle. We took up our position at one of the sides of her set. Augustus was so flattered at this notice that he forgot to grumble further at my long absence.

Except ourselves, the rest of the sixteen people appeared to be all of her party, and they looked so gay and seemed enjoying themselves; I am afraid grandmamma would have said they romped, rather. Our _vis-a-vis were such a pretty girl and a very tall man, and when first he advanced to meet us I felt I had seen him before, and by the second figure I knew it was my friend of the knife. He is very good-looking without the mud. Not the least expression of recognition came into his face, but he laughed gayly at the fun of the thing. After the mad whirl of a _chasse_, instead of a ladies' chain I have been accustomed to, we came to an end. This dance was the first moment of the evening I had enjoyed. All these people interested me; they seemed of another world, a world where grandmamma and I could live happily if we might. They made quite a noise, and they danced badly, but there was nothing vulgar or _bourgeois about them. I felt like an animal who sees its own kind again, after captivity; I wanted to break away and join them. Augustus, on the contrary, was extremely ill at ease.

After that, one dance succeeded another--numbers of which I had to spend with my _fiance_, but, warned by my first experience, I always pretended a great thirst, or a desire to see the rooms, or an obligation to return to the Marquis, and so went to no more sitting-out places. I did not again see the tall man--he seemed to have disappeared until a dance after supper, when we met him with Lady Tilchester.

"Ah! here you are," she said. "I have been wanting to find you to introduce--" At that moment an old gentleman guffawed loudly near us, and so I did not catch the name she said, but we bowed, and the tall man asked me if I would dance that one with him.

Without the least hesitation I disengaged my hand from the arm of Augustus (he likes to walk thus on every occasion), and said, "Yes."

"Oh! I say," said my _fiance_, with the savage look in his face, "you were going to dance with me."

Then Lady Tilchester interfered--what a dear and kind soul she must have! She said so sweetly, as if Augustus was a prince, "Won't you accept me as a substitute, Mr. Gurrage?"

Augustus was overcome with pride, and relinquished me with the best grace.

Now it was really bliss, dancing with this man; we swam along, swift and smoothly. I could no longer see the walls; a maze of lights was all my vision grasped--I felt bewildered--happy. We stopped a moment and he bent down and smiled at me.

"You look as if you liked dancing," he said. "Poor Lady Tilchester is being mauled by that bear in your place."

I laughed. "I love dancing."

"I seldom do this sort of thing," he continued, "but you are a beautiful mover," and we began again.

When it was over we went and sat down in the very alcove of my first dance with Augustus. I had no uneasiness this time!

I can't say what there was about my partner--a whimsical humor, a slight mocking sound in his voice, which pleased me; he took nothing seriously; everything he said was as light as a thistle-down; he reminded me of the wit of grandmamma and the Marquis; we got on beautifully.

"I seem to have seen you before," he said, at last. "Have I met you in Paris? or am I only dreaming? because I know you so well in the galleries at Versailles--you stepped down from those frames just to honor us to-night, did you not?--and you will go back at cock-crow!"

"If I only could!"

He asked me if I was staying at Brackney or Henchhurst, and when I said no, that I lived only a few miles off, he seemed so surprised.

His brown hair crimps nicely and is rather gray above the ears, but he does not look very old, perhaps not more than thirty-five or so, and now that one can see both his eyes, one realizes that they are rather attractive. A grayish, greeny-blue, with black edges, and such black eyelashes! They are as clear as clear, and I am sure he is a cat and can see in the dark. He laughed at some of the people, even the ones who think themselves great, and he made me feel that he and I were the same and on a plane by ourselves, which was delightful. All this time I did not know his name, nor he mine. As he moved I saw a gold chain in the pocket of his white waistcoat, and just peeping out was the hilt of my little lost knife. I said nothing--I don't know why--it pleased me to see it there. He had been away in the smoking-room most of the evening, he said, playing bridge.

The Marquis is teaching it to grandmamma out of a book, but I do not care for cards--and it seemed to me such a dull way to spend a ball. I told him so.

"I like this better," he said, quite simply, "but then at most balls one does not meet a dainty marquise out of the eighteenth century. Let me see, was there not a story of the great Dumas about a _demoiselle d'honneur of Marie Antoinette--I don't remember her name or her history, but she became the Comtesse de Charny. Now I shall think of you by that name--the Comtesse de Charny. Tell me, Comtesse, does it not shock your senses, our modern worship of that excellent, useful, comfortable fellow, the Golden Calf?"

"I don't know anything at all about him--who is he?" I said.

"Oh, he is a Jew, or a Turk, or an African millionaire--any one with a hundred thousand a year."

I thought of Augustus--"calf" seemed just the word for him.

I laughed.

"We have a beautiful example of one here to-night," he continued; "indeed you were dancing with him--the bear who mauled Lady Tilchester. How did you get to know such a person?"

My heart gave a bound.

"I am engaged to Mr. Gurrage," I said, in a half voice, but raising my head.

Oh, the surprise and--and _disgust in his eyes! Then, I don't know what he saw in my face, I tried only to look calm and indifferent, but the contempt went out of his manner, his eyes softened, and he put out his hand and touched my fingers very gently.

"Oh, you poor little white Comtesse!" he said.

I ought to have been furious. Pity, as a rule, angers me so that it would render me capable of being torn to pieces by lions without flinching; but I am ashamed--oh! so ashamed--to say that tears sprang up into my eyes--tears! Mercifully, grandmamma will never know.

"Come," I said, and we rose and walked down the corridor. There we met Augustus, with a face like thunder. He had been looking everywhere for me, he said. It appeared we had been sitting out for two dances.

"You promised me this one more turn," said the tall man, quite unabashed; "they are playing a charming valse."

"She is engaged to me," growled Augustus.

"No, I am not," I said, smiling into his angry face; "I am quite my own mistress as regards whom I dance with. I will come back when it is finished and you shall have the next one," and I walked off with my friend of the knife.

Whether my _fiance stood there and swore or not I do not know; I did not look back. We did not speak a word until the dance was finished, my partner and I. Then he said:

"Thank you, little lady. We have, at all events, snatched some few good moments out of this evening. Now, I suppose, we must return to your--bear."

Augustus was standing by the buffet drinking champagne when we caught sight of him. We stepped for a moment out of his view behind some palms.

"Good-bye, Comtesse."

"Good-bye," I said, "Will you tell me your name? I did not hear it--"

"My name! Oh, my name is Antony Thornhirst--why do you start?"

"I--did not start--good-bye--"

"No, you shall not go until you tell me why you started? And your name, too; I do not know it either!"

"Ambrosine de Calincourt Athelstan."

He knitted his level eyebrows as if trying to recall something, and absently began to pull the knife out of his pocket. Augustus was coming towards us.

"Yes," I said, "but it is too late. Good-bye."

The look of indifference, the rather mocking smile, the _sans souci_, which are the chief characteristics of his face, altered. I left him puzzled--moved.

* * * * *

Grandmamma was awake, propped up in bed, her hair still powdered and her lace night-cap on, when the Marquis and I got home. I leaned over the rail and told her all about the ball. The Marquis sat in the arm-chair by the fire.

"And where is your promised bouquet, my child?" she asked.

I faltered.

"Well, you see, grandmamma, I put it in a chair after the beginning, and Mrs. Gurrage sat on it, so I thought perhaps, as it was all mashed, I could leave it behind."

Grandmamma laughed; she was pleased, I could see, that the evening had gone off without a fiasco!

"I met Sir Antony Thornhirst," I said.

The blue mark appeared vividly and suddenly round grandmamma's mouth--she shut her eyes for a moment. I rushed to her.

"Oh, dear grandmamma," I said, "what can I do?"

She drank something out of a glass beside her, and then said, in rather a weak voice:

"You were saying you met your kinsman. And what was he like, Ambrosine?"

"Well, he was tall and very straight, and had small ears and--er--a fairish mustache that was brushed up a little away from his lips, and--and cat's eyes, and--brown, crimpy hair, getting a little gray."

"Yes, yes; but I mean what sort of a man?"

"Oh! a gentleman."

"But of course."

"Well, he laughed at everything and called me an eighteenth-century comtesse."

"Did he know who you were?"

"No, not till the end, and then I do not think he realized that I was a connection of his."

"It does not matter," said grandmamma, low to herself, "as it is too late."

"Yes, I told him it was too late."

Grandmamma's voice sharpened.

"You told him! What do you mean?" and she leaned forward a little.

"I don't quite know what I did mean--those words just slipped out."

She lay back on her pillows--poor grandmamma--as if she was exhausted.

"Child," she said, very low, "yes--never forget we have given our word; whatever happens, any change is too late."

A look of anguish came over her face. Oh, how it hurt me to see her suffering!

"Dear grandmamma," said, "do not think I mind. I have done and will do all you wish, and--and--as the Marquis said--it will not matter in a year."

The Marquis, I believe, had been dozing, but at the sound of his name he looked up and spoke.

"_Chere amie_, you can indeed be proud of _la belle debutante to-night; she was by far the most beautiful at the ball--_sans exception_! Even the adorable Lady Tilchester had not her grand air. _Les demoiselles anglaises! Ce sont des fagotages inouis pour la plus part_, with their movements of the wooden horse and their skins of the goddess! As for _le fiance, il etait assez retenu, il avait pourtant l'air maussade, mais il se consolait avec du champagne--il fera un tres brave mari_."

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