Part 14 (1/2)

”My wife, my dear wife, gives this ball,” he would say, referring timidly to the subject. ”My dear wife enjoys these things. Mrs. Chapman is very fond of young society, you see. I hope you are enjoying yourselves. There will be dancing soon--I never dance--and supper at twelve.”

There was no man more elaborately got up that night than Gusher. Every hair on his head was trained into exact position, and his tailoring was faultless. In short, Gusher had got himself up with a view to making the greatest destruction on the female heart. He whisked about here and there, making himself useful as well as ornamental, for he felt that he had got the Chapman family on his shoulders, and was responsible for its reputation as very distinguished.

”Miz, you shall permit me ze pleazure, and ze 'onar, to open ze dance wiz you,” said Gusher, approaching Mattie with his right hand on his heart, and making one of his extensive bows, ”You shall do me ze 'onar, I am sure,” he continued, and as he raised his head with an air of confidence, expecting to see her extend her hand, his eye fell on the familiar face of a young man standing at her side, engaging her in conversation. He paused suddenly, his face changed color from pale to crimson, and his manner became nervous and agitated. His whole system, mental and physical, seemed to have received a sudden and unexpected shock.

”Yes, my daughter, you must open the ball with Mr. Gusher. How very kind of you, Mr. Gusher,” said Mrs. Chapman, with a courtesy. ”It will be so very appropriate, my daughter, for you and Mr. Gusher to lead off.” Mrs.

Chapman had not noticed the singular change in Mr. Gusher's manner. He, however, recovered himself in a minute, and affecting not to notice the young man at Mattie's side, who still kept his eyes fixed on him, he resumed:

”Do me ze 'onar, Miz, and you shall make me so happy.”

”I am sure, mamma,” returned Mattie, ”Mr. Gusher will excuse me. It was very kind of you to remember me,” (turning to Mr. Gusher.) ”But really I should appear very awkward dancing with you, who are so good a dancer. I am sure you will excuse me for the opening dance, Mr. Gusher, and I shall have the pleasure, if you will condescend to honor me, of dancing with you during the evening.”

”My daughter, my daughter!” interrupted Mrs. Chapman, motioning with her fan, ”pray don't be eccentric to-night. Accept the honor Mr. Gusher intended and please me--if only for once.”

”I am sure, mamma, I always try to please you,” returned Mattie, ”and I appreciate the honor Mr. Gusher would do me, knowing how much my dear mamma admires him.” Here Mattie paused for a moment and tapped her fingers with her fan, as the young man who had stood by her side turned and walked away for a moment. ”It was very thoughtless of me, mother,”

resumed Mattie, (”you know I am only a thoughtless girl, after all)--but the truth is I am already engaged for the first dance.”

”Engaged, my daughter, engaged?” Mrs. Chapman rejoined. ”Pray, who to?

It was very strange of you!” Here the young man returned to Mattie's side.

”Allow me to introduce you to my mother, Mr. Romer,” said Mattie. ”Mr.

Romer, Mr. Gusher,--a friend of our family.” Mrs. Chapman made a courtesy, and the two gentlemen bowed formally and coldly.

”If I mistake not,” said Mr. Romer, who was a young man of polished manners, slender of form, with a frank, open countenance, and evidently a gentleman, ”we have met before.” He kept his eyes fixed on Gusher, as if resolved to read his thoughts in the changes that were going on in his countenance.

”Pardon, pardon, monsieur,” returned Mr. Gusher, affecting an air of self-confidence supported by innocence. ”I ne-var re-mem-bar as we has meets before. You shall zee I shall make you my respects. We shall meet again, I am sure of zat, zen we shall be such good friends. But I ne-var re-mem-bar zat we meets before.”

”You were living in a castle then,” returned the young man, coolly, ”and I was only an outsider. People who live in castles at times don't remember common people.”

It was a strange and curious meeting. Mattie saw there was something embarra.s.sing between the two gentlemen, and came quickly to their relief.

”I am Mr. Romer's partner for the first dance,” she said, addressing Mr.

Gusher, with a bow. ”It was very thoughtless of me. You were so very kind. But I am sure you are too generous not to excuse me.”

”It is my great misfortune, miz. But you shall zee as I ne-var intrude myself. I shall have ze pleazure during ze evening.” Gusher blushed and withdrew to another part of the ball room, where he captured Mrs.

Topman, who was delighted at having such a partner for the first dance.

Mrs. Topman was indeed popular as a dancing lady, and nothing pleased her better than to show her skill in the art in company with Gusher, whom all the pretty young girls said moved so nice on his feet.

The music now struck up and fell softly and sweetly on the ear, and the dancing began, and each figure seemed floating in the very poetry of motion, until the bewitching scene carried the mind away captive in its gyrations.

Mattie had never seen Mr. Romer, nor indeed heard of him before that night. She knew nothing of the relations existing between him and Gusher. She was equally a stranger to Mr. Gusher's antecedents. Her mind had, however, for some time been engaged trying to solve the mysterious agency that had brought him into business relations with her father.

Being a girl of fixed character and good common sense, it was only natural that she should entertain an instinctive dislike for Gusher, in whom she saw a nature, if not really bad, at least frivolous and artificial.

The unexpected meeting between Romer and Gusher threw a shadow over the entertainment, so far as it affected the latter. Here he had been for weeks sounding the trumpet of Mrs. Chapman's ball, and looking forward to it as the means of making a temple of triumph of himself, and captivating no end of female hearts, Mattie's included; but how sadly he was disappointed. It had suddenly thrown around him a chain of difficulties that might blast his ambition, destroy all his hopes, and cause the veil he supposed was forever drawn over his past life to be lifted. The only way he saw of extricating himself from these difficulties, of cutting through them as it were, was by the force and skilful exercise of great coolness and impudence, and these he resolved to use, and use quickly.

And while the dancing was progressing a number of young fellows, who found more congenial enjoyment in their gla.s.ses and cigars, were seated at a table in a room down stairs, which Mrs. Chapman had provided as a sort of free-and-easy for such of her guests as were inclined to enjoy themselves in their own way. Chapman had provided generously, both of wines and cigars, which might have seemed strange to one of his Dogtown acquaintances. He had, however, so modified his ideas as to what const.i.tuted strict morality as to believe it would be nothing against a man in the other world that he had drank a gla.s.s of wine and smoked a cigar in this.