Page:The Voyage Out.djvu/153

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151
THE VOYAGE OUT

"They're all coming!" he told Hirst. "Pepper!" he called, seeing William Pepper slip past in the wake of the soup with a pamphlet beneath his arm, "We're counting on you to open the ball."

"You will certainly put sleep out of the question," Pepper returned.

"You are to take the floor with Miss Allan," Hewet continued, consulting a sheet of pencilled notes.

Pepper stopped and began a discourse upon round dances, country dances, morris dances, and quadrilles, all of which are entirely superior to the bastard waltz and spurious polka which have ousted them most unjustly in contemporary popularity—when the waiters gently pushed him on to his table in the corner.

The dining-room at this moment had a certain fantastic resemblance to a farmyard scattered with grain on which bright pigeons kept descending. Almost all the ladies wore dresses which they had not yet displayed, and their hair rose in waves and scrolls so as to appear like carved wood in Gothic churches rather than hair. The dinner was shorter and less formal than usual, even the waiters seeming to be affected by the general excitement. Ten minutes before the clock struck nine the committee made a tour through the ballroom. The hall, when emptied of its furniture, brilliantly lit, adorned with flowers whose scent tinged the air, presented a wonderful appearance of ethereal gaiety.

"Its like a starlit sky on an absolutely cloudless night," Hewet murmured, looking about him, at the airy empty room.

"A heavenly floor, anyhow," Evelyn added, taking a run and sliding two or three feet along it.

"What about those curtains?" asked Hirst. The crimson curtains were drawn across the long windows. "It's a perfect night outside."

"Yes, but curtains inspire confidence," Miss Allan decided. "When the ball is in full swing it will be time to draw them. We might even open the windows a little.… If we do it now elderly people will imagine there are draughts."

Her wisdom had come to be recognised, and held in respect. Meanwhile as they stood talking, the musicians were unwrap-