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Mansfield's Short Stories
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Her First Ball
Exactly when the ball began Leila would have found it hard to say. Perhaps her first real
partner was the cab. It did not matter that she shared the cab with the Sheridan girls and
their brother. She sat back in her own little corner of it, and the bolster on which her hand
rested felt like the sleeve of an unknown young man's dress suit; and away they bowled,
past waltzing lamp-posts and houses and fences and trees.
"Have you really never been to a ball before, Leila? But, my child, how too weird--" cried
the Sheridan girls.
"Our nearest neighbour was fifteen miles," said Leila softly, gently opening and shutting
Oh dear, how hard it was to be indifferent like the others! She tried not to smile too
much; she tried not to care. But every single thing was so new and exciting ...Meg's
tuberoses, Jose's long loop of amber, Laura's little dark head, pushing above her white fur
like a flower through snow. She would remember for ever. It even gave her a pang to see
her cousin Laurie throw away the wisps of tissue paper he pulled from the fastenings of
his new gloves. She would like to have kept those wisps as a keepsake, as a
remembrance. Laurie leaned forward and put his hand on Laura's knee.
"Look here, darling," he said. "The third and the ninth as usual. Twig?"
Oh, how marvellous to have a brother! In her excitement Leila felt that if there had been
time, if it hadn't been impossible, she couldn't have helped crying because she was an
only child, and no brother had ever said "Twig?" to her; no sister would ever say, as Meg
said to Jose that moment, "I've never known your hair go up more successfully than it has
But, of course, there was no time. They were at the drill hall already; there were cabs in
front of them and cabs behind. The road was bright on either side with moving fan-like
lights, and on the pavement gay couples seemed to float through the air; little satin shoes
chased each other like birds.
"Hold on to me, Leila; you'll get lost," said Laura.
"Come on, girls, let's make a dash for it," said Laurie.
Leila put two fingers on Laura's pink velvet cloak, and they were somehow lifted past the
big golden lantern, carried along the passage, and pushed into the little room marked
"Ladies." Here the crowd was so great there was hardly space to take off their things; the
noise was deafening. Two benches on either side were stacked high with wraps. Two old
women in white aprons ran up and down tossing fresh armfuls. And everybody was
pressing forward trying to get at the little dressing-table and mirror at the far end.