By Life Positive
This short story by Katherine Mansfield masterfully captures the joy and sorrow that are so intertwined in every moment.
Floor’s not bad,’ said the new voice. Did one always begin with the floor? And then, ‘Were you at the Neaves’ on Tuesday?’ And again Leila explained. Perhaps it was a little strange that her partners were not more interested. For it was thrilling. Her first ball! She was only at the beginning of everything. It seemed to her that she had never known what the night was like before. Up till now it had been dark, silent, beautiful very often – oh yes – but mournful somehow. Solemn. And now it would never be like that again – it had opened dazzling bright…
…’Come along, little lady,’ said the fat man. He scarcely troubled to clasp her, and they moved away so gently, it was more like walking than dancing. But he said not a word about the floor. ‘Your first dance, isn’t it?’ he murmured.
‘How did you know?’
‘Ah,’ said the fat man, ‘that’s what it is to be old!’ He wheezed faintly as he steered her past an awkward couple. ‘You see, I’ve been doing this kind of thing for the last thirty years.’
‘Thirty years?’ cried Leila. Twelve years before she was born!
‘It hardly bears thinking about, does it?’ said the fat man gloomily. Leila looked at his bald head, and she felt quite sorry for him.
‘I think it’s marvelous to be still going on,’ she said kindly.
‘Kind little lady,’ said the fat man, and he pressed her a little closer, and hummed a bar of the waltz. ‘Of course,’ he said, ‘you can’t hope to last anything like as long as that. No-o,’ said the fat man, ‘long before that you’ll be sitting up there on the stage, looking on, in your nice black velvet. And these pretty arms will have turned into little short fat ones, and you’ll beat time with such a different kind of fan – a black bony one.’ The fat man seemed to shudder. ‘And you’ll smile away like the poor old dears up there, and point to your daughter, and tell the elderly lady next to you how some dreadful man tried to kiss her at the club ball. And your heart will ache, ache’ – the fat man squeezed her closer still, as if he really was sorry for that poor heart – ‘because no one wants to kiss you now. And you’ll say how unpleasant these polished floors are to walk on, how dangerous they are. Eh, Mademoiselle Twinkletoes?’ said the fat man softly.
Leila gave a light little laugh, but she did not feel like laughing. Was it – could it all be true? It sounded terribly true. Was this first ball only the beginning of her last ball, after all? At that the music seemed to change; it sounded sad, sad; it rose upon a great sigh. Oh, how quickly things changed! Why didn’t happiness last for ever? For ever wasn’t a bit too long.
‘I want to stop,’ she said in a breathless voice. She leaned against the wall, tapping with her foot, pulling up her gloves and trying to smile. But deep inside her a little girl threw her pinafore over her head and sobbed. Why had he spoiled it all?
But presently a soft, melting, ravishing tune began, and a young man with curly hair bowed before her. She would have to dance, out of politeness, until she could find Meg. Very stiffly she walked into the middle; very haughtily she put her hand on his sleeve. But in one minute, in one turn, her feet glided, glided. The lights, the azaleas, the dresses, the pink faces, the velvet chairs, all became one beautiful flying wheel. And when her next partner bumped her into the fat man and he said, ‘Pardon,’ she smiled at him more radiantly than ever. She didn’t even recognize him again.
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