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HOME > Classical Novels > The House Behind the Cedars33 > XXIV SWING YOUR PARTNERS
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 Moved by tenderness and thoughts of self-sacrifice, which had occupied his mind to the momentary1 exclusion2 of all else, Tryon had scarcely noticed, as he approached the house behind the cedars3, a strain of lively music, to which was added, as he drew still nearer, the accompaniment of other festive4 sounds. He suddenly awoke, however, to the fact that these signs of merriment came from the house at which he had intended to stop;—he had not meant that Rena should pass another sleepless5 night of sorrow, or that he should himself endure another needless hour of suspense6.  
He drew rein7 at the corner. Shocked surprise, a nascent8 anger, a vague alarm, an insistent9 curiosity, urged him nearer. Turning the mare10 into the side street and keeping close to the fence, he drove ahead in the shadow of the cedars until he reached a gap through which he could see into the open door and windows of the brightly lighted hall.
There was evidently a ball in progress. The fiddle11 was squeaking12 merrily so a tune13 that he remembered well,—it was associated with one of the most delightful14 evenings of his life, that of the tournament ball. A mellow15 negro voice was calling with a rhyming accompaniment the figures of a quadrille. Tryon, with parted lips and slowly hardening heart, leaned forward from the buggy-seat, gripping the rein so tightly that his nails cut into the opposing palm. Above the clatter16 of noisy conversation rose the fiddler's voice:—
"Swing yo' pa'dners; doan be shy,
Look yo' lady in de eye!
Th'ow yo' ahm aroun' huh wais';
Take yo' time—dey ain' no has'e!"
To the middle of the floor, in full view through an open window, advanced the woman who all day long had been the burden of his thoughts—not pale with grief and hollow-eyed with weeping, but flushed with pleasure, around her waist the arm of a burly, grinning mulatto, whose face was offensively familiar to Tryon.
With a muttered curse of concentrated bitterness, Tryon struck the mare a sharp blow with the whip. The sensitive creature, spirited even in her great weariness, resented the lash17 and started off with the bit in her teeth. Perceiving that it would be difficult to turn in the narrow roadway without running into the ditch at the left, Tryon gave the mare rein and dashed down the street, scarcely missing, as the buggy crossed the bridge, a man standing18 abstractedly by the old canal, who sprang aside barely in time to avoid being run over.
Meantime Rena was passing through a trying ordeal19. After the first few bars, the fiddler plunged20 into a well-known air, in which Rena, keenly susceptible22 to musical impressions, recognized the tune to which, as Queen of Love and Beauty, she had opened the dance at her entrance into the world of life and love, for it was there she had met George Tryon. The combination of music and movement brought up the scene with great distinctness. Tryon, peering angrily through the cedars, had not been more conscious than she of the external contrast between her partners on this and the former occasion. She perceived, too, as Tryon from the outside had not, the difference between Wain's wordy flattery (only saved by his cousin's warning from pointed23 and fulsome24 adulation), and the tenderly graceful25 compliment, couched in the romantic terms of chivalry26, with which the knight27 of the handkerchief had charmed her ear. It was only by an immense effort that she was able to keep her emotions under control until the end of the dance, when she fled to her chamber28 and burst into tears. It was not the cruel Tryon who had blasted her love with his deadly look that she mourned, but the gallant29 young knight who had worn her favor on his lance and crowned her Queen of Love and Beauty.
Tryon's stay in Patesville was very brief. He drove to the hotel and put up for the night. During many sleepless hours his mind was in a turmoil30 with a very different set of thoughts from those which had occupied it on the way to town. Not the least of them was a profound self-contempt for his own lack of discernment. How had he been so blind as not to have read long ago the character of this wretched girl who had bewitched him? To-night his eyes had been opened—he had seen her with the mask thrown off, a true daughter of a race in which the sensuous31 enjoyment32 of the moment took precedence of taste or sentiment or any of the higher emotions. Her few months of boarding-school, her brief association with white people, had evidently been a mere33 veneer34 over the underlying35 negro, and their effects had slipped away as soon as the intercourse36 had ceased. With the monkey-like imitativeness of the negro she had copied the manners of white people while she lived among them, and had dropped them with equal facility when they ceased to serve a purpose. Who but a negro could have recovered so soon from what had seemed a terrible
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