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IV LOVE IN A MAZE DESPITE Virginia's endeavour to efface herself for her guests, she shone unrivalled at the party, and Dan, who had held her hand for an ecstatic moment under the mistletoe, felt, as he rode home in the moonlight afterwards, that his head was fairly on fire with her beauty. She had been sweetly candid and flatteringly impartial. He could not honestly assert that she had danced with him oftener than with Morson, or a dozen others, but he had a pleasant feeling that even when she shook her head and said, "I cannot," her soft eyes added for her, "though I really wish to." There was something almost pitiable, he told himself in the complacency with which that self-satisfied ass Morson would come and take her from him. As if he hadn't sense enough to discover that it was merely because she was his hostess that she went with him at all. But some men would never understand women, though they lived to be a thousand, and got rejected once a day. Out in the moonlight, with the Governor's wine singing in his blood, he found that his emo~ions had a way of tripping lightly off his tongue. There were hot words with Diggs, who hinted that Virginia was not the beauty of the century, and threats of blows 135 136 The Battle-Ground with Morson, who too boldly affirmed that she was. In the end Champe rode between them, and sent Prince Rupert on his way with a touch of the whip. " For heaven's sake, keep your twaddle to yourselves ! " he exclaimed impatiently, " or take my advice , and make for the nearest duck pond. You've both gone over your depth in the Governor's Madeira , and I advise you to keep quiet until you've had your heads in a basin of ice water. There, get out of my road, Morson. I can't sit here freezing all night." "Do you dare to imply that I am drunk, sir?" demanded Morson, in a fury. "Bear witness, gentlemen , that the insult was unprovoked." " Oh, insult be damned! " retorted Champe. "If you shake your fist at me again, I'll pitch you head over heels into that snowdrift." "Pitch whom, sir?" roared Morson, riding at the wall, when Diggs caught his bridle and roughly dragged him back. " Come, now, don't make a beast of yourself," he implored. " Who's a beast? " was promptly put by Morson; but leaving it unanswered, Diggs wheeled his horse about and started up the turnpike. "You've let Beau get out of sight," he said. "We'd better catch up with him," and he set off at a gallop. Dan, who had ridden on at Champe's first words, did not even turn his head when the three tame abreast with him. The moonlight was in his eyes, and the vision of Virginia floated before him at his saddle bow. He let the reins fall loosely on Prince Rupert's neck, and as the hoofs rang on the frozen. Love in a Maze 137 road, thrust his hands for warmth into his coat. In another dress, with his dark hair blown backward in the wind, he might have been a cavalier fresh from the service of his lady or his king, or riding carelessly to his death for the sake of the drunken young Pretender. But he was only following his dreams, and they hovered round Virginia, catching their rosy glamour from her dress. In the cold night air he saw her walking demurely through the lancers, her skirt held up above her satin shoes, her coral necklace glowing deeper pink against her slim white throat. Mistletoe and holly hung over her, and the light of the candles shone brighter where her radiant figure passed. He caught the soft flash of her shy brown eyes, he heard her gentle voice speaking trivial things with profound tenderness. His hand still burned from the light pressure of her finger tips. Oh, his day had come, he told himself, and he was furiously in love at last. As for going back to college, the very idea was absurd. At twenty years it was quite time for him to settle down and keep open house like other men. Virginia, in rose pink, flitted up the crooked stair and across the white panels of the parlor, and with a leap, his heart went after her. He saw Great-aunt...


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