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London Balls by W. D. R.

BY A LONDONER.

How London balls came to be what, in this latter half of the nineteenth century, they are—by what process of development or natural or artificial selection they acquired their present characteristics, and where and when their congregation of frequenters picked up their current ritual—are matters which I, for one, am content to leave to the Dryasdusts of social history. The existing phase of the subject affords phenomena enough and to spare to gossip about, without delving into the rubbish-heaps of the past.

Well, of course there are different sorts of London balls, and indifferent sorts, too, for that matter. It would be a hopeless and endless task to try to classify their various species accurately; and this paper isn't meant for scientific readers, who are hereby solemnly warned off frivolous ground; so let us just mark out the field into three broad divisions—the Public, the Semi-Public and the Private Ball—and take a look at each successively.

About the public ball I do not intend to say much. Take the whole year round, it perhaps gets together the biggest crowds, merely from the fact of its affecting the biggest dancing-areas; but as anybody who wants to realize it has at most only to spend the handful of dollars requisite for a journey to London and a ticket of admission, it hasn't anything but the charm of mere geographical inaccessibility to recommend it. But if you must make acquaintance with the London variety of the public ball, you will hardly find a better place for studying it than St. James's Hall, that big, many-mouthed structure between Regent street and Piccadilly, which with impartial alacrity, provided the hire is paid, opens its doors to every sort of gathering—its platform occupied one night by Joachim and Hallé, the next by Jolly Nash or the Christy Minstrels; on Wednesday, maybe, by a knot of Total Abstinence enthusiasts, denouncing publicans as sinners; and on Thursday by the band to which Licensed Victualers and their friends are dancing at their annual public ball. You really want to go in? Very well. Gentlemen's tickets, one guinea; ladies', twenty-five per cent. less—a supposed inducement to the sordid, money-grubbing male relative or friend who has the purse to bring them. Are the prices expressed to be inclusive of wine? If they are, you will be poisoned with some frothy compound of white ordinaire and chemicals—a truly "excellent substitute" for champagne—with which ingenious Cette supplies refreshment contractors (and, alas! others) in inexhaustible abundance. If not, you will have to disburse a sixpence every time a partner accepts your offer of a glass of claret-cup between the dances, and half a sovereign for your bottle of indifferent "fizz" at supper-time. This latter is about the very worst of conceivable arrangements: it is an improper and aggravating tax upon the man, who, as likely as not, has not bethought him of bringing the requisite pocketful of change; while the ladies—at any rate, all the best of them—naturally hate the idea of letting stranger partners pay for them, and often decline refreshments all the evening in consequence.

But now for the company. Mark the splendor of the gentlemen—the glossiness of their hair, the velvet collars of their dress-coats, the snowy amplitude of their wristbands, the shininess of their patent-leather boots or steel-buckled shoes. They don't don this kind of gear every evening, like your blasé Belgravian; so it is surely meet and right that the get-up should be more elaborate and brilliant than his when the festive occasions do come round. The aspect of the ladies, gallantry and an imperfect acquaintance with the language of millinery forbid one to criticise. Enough to say that they harmonize perfectly with the gentlemen. The music is generally pretty good on these public occasions, but apt to be over-brazen. It is often a military band. And to organize the dancers—not always an easy task in a crowded hall—and see that the business of introductions goes on duly, a small staff of energetic professional gentlemen, styled M.C.'s (which in London, you know, stands for Master of the Ceremonies), flit ever hither and thither amongst the throng, now catching a wildly errant waltzing couple in politely resolute arms and sending them back into the regular ring, now getting up sets for Lancers and quadrilles, and at all points doing their best to keep the ball a-rolling. Useful members of society, these M.C.'s—a congenial profession for retired Harlequins and—what is pretty much the same thing—dancing-masters. And it is their influence, maybe, in some measure that is accountable for the extraordinary variety of dances that is apt to be found in the programme of the public ball. Mazurka, Schottische, Varsoviana, La Tempête and other curiosities of the art Terpsichorean flourish and abound there, to the distraction of folk who are not fresh from a dancing academy. Away go our friends, though, with happy audacity, whether they're certain of the step or not. If in doubt, make a waltz of it, is the golden rule; and you can't be wrong in twisting your partner half a dozen times in loco whenever you seem to have a few bars to spare in a quadrille.

But we have lingered full long enough at the public ball, though indeed it is quite the correct thing, you know, to go early and stay late at such, and get one's money's worth for one's money. Jump into a swift imaginary hansom, and pass on without more delay to what I have ventured to call, in default of a better name, the semi-public ball. The term will perhaps serve as well as any other to cover all those balls which, though nominally private, are given so much as a matter of course, and on such a large scale, that they tend to exhibit some characteristics of the public ball, and also those which are got up by subscription amongst the members of some semi-public body, such as a volunteer corps. The lady mayoress's annual balls at the Mansion House, and those of the Devil's Own (the Inns of Court Rifle Volunteers) in the Temple or Lincoln's Inn, may stand as typical samples of the species semi-public.

Note those words "Full Dress" in the corner of your card of invitation to the Mansion House ball. They mean that if you are the possessor of anything in the nature of a uniform—military, naval, diplomatic, consular, or what not—you are expected to appear in it. But, in any case, do not omit to put your card in your pocket, for it will be demanded at the door—a not unreasonable precaution against the influx of uninvited guests in such a crowd. And start Cityward betimes, not later than 10 or a quarter-past 10 P. M., if your home lies in Belgravian or Mayfair parts, for it's a terribly long journey to that spot where the Mansion House stands staring at the Bank, and City dances always begin early. Come, now, isn't it something worth living for to have one's coat and hat taken by one of this knot of magnificent crimson-velvet-coated, gold-beplastered, silken-calved beings who are ranged along the sides of the vestibule? For my part, I protest that, familiar though their aspect is to me, I cannot see a lord mayor's flunkeys in their state liveries—their hues varying chameleon-wise from year to year—without feelings of almost reverential wonderment. What a study for the great clothes-philosopher of Sartor Resartus! But it will never do to stand moralizing in the gangway here. Besides, a superb majordomo has caught up our names and announced them electrifyingly; so hurry we forward to where, between two pillars, the lord mayor, distinguished by his chain of office, and the lady mayoress, stand to receive their guests with bow and hand-shaking, and on, past them, into the scene of action, the Egyptian Hall. A fine big room for a dance, now that all those chairs and tables are cleared away that groan so frequently under aldermanic bodies and things edible and potable (for this hall is, as everybody knows, the home and centre of civic hospitality). The platform, see, is occupied by the band of the Grenadier Guards, so the music is sure to be, from a dancer's point of view, pretty good. Though, in truth, at present one might wonder where the dancers are to find space for their gyrations. The whole area of the floor is covered by a gay crowd, all chattering away in a very Babel of tongues. Some royal highness or other is expected to-night, it seems, and it isn't etiquette to begin dancing before he or she arrives. But a few minutes may well be spent in a quick survey of the assembled guests. All peoples, nations and languages appear to be represented in the crowd. Nawabs and other Indian dignitaries of unpronounceable names and indefinite rank, in gorgeous, many-colored raiment (presumably their national idea of evening full dress), culminating in jeweled caps and terminating in the opposite direction, somewhat incongruously, in London-made dress-boots; envoys from Burmah or the khanates, appareled in a kind of bedgowns; diplomates from all the embassies and ministries, in uniforms of all sorts and colors, the amount of stars, orders and suchlike decorations on each illustrious chest being usually in the inverse ratio of the real importance of the country to which the wearer belongs; gallant generals in scarlet and gallant admirals in blue; and gallant militia officers and deputy lieutenants just as scarlet and blue, ay, and golden too, as anybody; and all these encircled and enwrapped by billowy masses of tulle and gauze and silk and satin in which the ladies have come forth conquering and to conquer.

Meanwhile H.R.H. has arrived, and first-quadrille sets forming in every direction speedily drive the non-dancers into the background. Those who mean dancing have turned the preliminary twenty minutes' waiting to useful account by getting their ball-programmes duly penciled with engagements. In doing this one little difficulty peculiar to such places as the Mansion House has to be met. The hall is so vast and the multitude so bewildering that, unless you know exactly where to look, it is as hopeless to expect to find any given partner at the right moment as to seek a needle in a haystack. The only safe expedient is to agree upon a pillar. A row of substantial pillars runs down either side of the hall, the base of each fringed with seats, apt head-quarters for chaperons, who, sitting there at ease, survey the fray and note their charges' movements in it. So, as soon as an introduction is over, and the engagement noted on the cards, "Where will you be?" asks the old hand. "Oh, mamma's by the second pillar from the dais;" and thereupon he and she go their ways, confident of meeting when their dance's turn is reached.

Have you ever gone a-skating on the Serpentine after a fall of snow? Here and there a more or less circular space has been swept clear, and on each space a batch of skaters whirl and attitudinize, the uncleared interspaces of snow-covered, impracticable ice given up to miscellaneous loafers. Even so it is with the wide area of the Egyptian Hall when the ball is in full swing. The waltzers clear four or five ever-shifting rings for themselves, in each of which a dozen to twenty couples go round and round, colliding, jostling and (righteously enough) eliminating the vagrant do-nothings who in aimless perambulation are for ever trenching upon the dancers' ground. For which reprehensible proceeding, mind, there is positively no excuse at the Mansion House, where the range of drawing-rooms and vestibule is ample enough to accommodate without difficulty the largest numbers that ever come together there. There is always the Long Parlor, too, to resort to, where, at about the longest buffet to be found in Christendom, an army of waiters are assiduous all the evening through in dispensing tea, coffee, ices, cakes, claret- and champagne-cups, fruit, and suchlike light refections to all comers. Pretty well thronged the parlor is, too, in the intervals between the dances, until between midnight and 1 A. M., when it begins to be comparatively deserted. The reason? Follow that couple hurrying to a far corner of the vestibule, and you will soon see the reason. Up a flight of stairs we follow to the first floor, to find ourselves at the end of a long queue of couples, all patiently waiting with faces turned toward a doorway barred by two authoritative footmen. Inside that doorway is—Supper, a word of substantial import to the genuine London citizen; and it is with a keen practical appreciation of its meaning that these good folk are gathered here, content to wait their turn till those guardians of the doorway, letting down the barrier of their arms, shall permit them to pass into the supper-room. Truly an instructive and elevating sight! Still, people who dance, and still more devoted matrons who chaperon, need and deserve to be fed, and when one comes to deal with six or seven hundred feeders, it is perhaps necessary to be somewhat methodical and systematic about it; so possibly the queue is inevitable, and not greatly to be sneered at.

The scene inside the supper-room may be dismissed with a very few words. Narrowish tables, with a background of waiters, line all four sides, leaving the centre space for the guests. No seats: every couple occupy the first open standing room they can find at a table, and sup on whatever viands happen to be opposite them. Maybe there is a certain stony sameness about the food, a harping ad infinitum on some eight or ten hackneyed culinary ideas which one always finds where, as here, food and drink for a great many relays of people are provided by contract; but so long as chicken and jelly and fairly wholesome wine, with plenty of that best of antidotal safeguards, seltzer, are obtainable, folk are not apt to be hypercritical on such occasions.

Another staircase leads down again to the vestibule and hall, where the crowd is by this time perceptibly thinning. Chaperons are sailing off to the cloak-room, each followed by her brood; and the hoarse voices of the servants and policemen outside—"Call Mrs. Thingummy's carriage," "Mrs. Whatshername's carriage stops the way"—penetrate almost to the dancers' ears. Let us get our coats and hats and be off. There is an almost amusing coolness in that open display of a saucer for the receipt of tips on the counter at which the coats are applied for. It prosaically recalls one to the fact that these magnificent flunkeys are after all but human, and not above a regard for shillings. Next Tuesday, mind, you must not fail to drop in for a few minutes at the lady mayoress's afternoon "at home," in acknowledgment of your (I trust) pleasant evening at the dance; and be sure you write your name and address in the callers' book on the table near the entrance door, if you wish to be remembered when the cards of invitation for the next dance are going out.

Turn we now to a quite different phase of the ball semi-public. The Inns of Court Rifle Volunteers—familiarly styled (as I have said) The Devil's Own—are giving a dance in the fine newly-rebuilt hall of the Inner Temple; which, by the way, stands on the very site where in past days the Knights Templars used to laugh and quaff. It is a strictly professional corps, this of the Inns of Court. Not only every officer, but every man of the rank and file, is either actually a barrister, or at any rate a student-member of one of the four old Inns, on his way, by means of eating thirty-six dinners in term-time and passing an examination, to achieve his "call" to the Bar. Still, overladen though they be with briefs and business—as of course everybody knows all London barristers are—the Devil's Own manage somehow to find time to attain a passable proficiency in drill and rifle practice, and not a few of them in waltzing too. So the corps determine to get up a dance. Prompted by their festive and hospitable feelings? Oh, of course; that is to say, partly, and partly, at least the moving spirits in the affair, with a shrewdish eye to business. For, behold! it is rumored one summer's day through the Inns that a ball is projected; ay, and such a ball! so well managed, so brilliant, so in every way desirable as has never been known before. Every barrister, every student must be there. But—and this is an all-important "but"—it is at the same time to be understood that tickets will be issued to members of the corps only, and that members of the Inns of Court who are not also members of the corps will be specially and particularly inadmissible. Observe the moral pressure thus brought to bear. Brown, Jones and Robinson have hitherto withstood all the persuasive recruiting efforts of their friends in the corps, but this dance turns the scale. They have sisters of their own who beg and demand and insist upon their procuring tickets, and they know sisters of their friends who are sure to be there, and whom they feel ready to give any price to meet; so the long and short of it is that they go off to the orderly-room and qualify themselves for tickets by taking the oath and becoming enrolled members of the corps. Whereat those moving spirits in the affair wink their shrewd eyes gleefully. They will dance all the more heartily, remembering the good stroke of business they have done in the interest of the corps and its recruiting.

The ball committee and their workmen have been hard at the work of preparation till the last minute, and now it is half-past 10 P. M., and carriages are beginning to roll up to the hall with their freights of fair and—other ones. The staircase and corridor are lined with stately tropical plants and banks of many-colored flowers. First to the tea-room, as the stream seems to be flowing in that direction. This suite of cozy paneled rooms are the sacred and most private haunts of the Benchers, the self-electing governing body of the Inn. How astonished, not to say shocked, those berobed and bewigged legal luminaries, in their frames upon the walls, must be to look down upon this gay laughing, talking, tea-and-ice-consuming mob of invaders! I fear no one heeds their possible feelings much to-night, though: there are far more important matters—searching in the crowd for friends, engaging partners for dances, introducing and being introduced—to occupy all one's time and thoughts.

From the dais-end of the hall, where on other days the Benchers' table stands, you may well take a preliminary survey of the scene of action. What a flood of light those sun-burners in the roof pour down! The blazoned escutcheons of past and present judges, members of the Inn, with which the walls are lined, show off all their colors, and the stained-glass windows do their best to look illuminated. In the gallery opposite a band of no less than nine-and-twenty picked men of Coote and Tinney's sit ready to play all the latest dance-music as long as any one will stay to dance to it; while all over the smoothly-polished floor the dancers are somehow evolving a kind of order out of chaos, and sorting themselves into pairs and sets for the opening quadrille. The male half of the gathering is, of course, almost exclusively legal, but there are no distinctions of legal rank to-night. Learned vice-chancellors, queen's counsel, juniors and students fraternize and compete for chats and dances with the ladies quite promiscuously. The hosts of the evening, the members of the corps, are distinguished by a small knot of ribbons, the corps colors, in their button-holes; but, for comfort's sake, uniforms have been tabooed in favor of the ordinary civilian's black and white. There is present, however, a military element, after all. Something like eight hundred guests are assembled here, and no little method is needed to enable such a crowd to move about from room to room without confusion and blocking-up of doorways and passages. So a couple of tall Guardsmen have been providently posted in every doorway, who, you will find, allow you readily enough to pass them in one direction, but, once passed, politely prohibit your returning on your steps, and point you forward on a course which, circling through a suite of rooms and passages, will bring you round again by another entrance into the ball-room. By this simple expedient free circulation to and from the tea-rooms and the supper-tent—a temporary erection stretching nearly to the Temple church outside—is effectually kept up all the evening, and much loss of time and temper saved. Note how, in the hall, too, the crowd of dancers are kept, in their own interest, within bounds. Half a score of the little drummers of the Grenadiers are on duty there, in all the finery of scarlet, braid and overwhelming bearskins. These, as soon as the band strikes up a waltz or galop, raise slender barriers of silken cords at intervals across the hall, cutting up the whole big area into three or four moderate-sized ones, in each of which a distinct ring may spin round and round, without fear of collisions with unexpected errant couples from other quarters of the hall. Truly the ball committee deserve the credit of having been ingeniously provident of many things; though, to be sure, it is just part of their legal stock in trade to be so. But the author of that arrangement in the passage-nooks—have you noticed it in your between-dances saunterings?—smooth-hewn pyramids of crystal ice, embowered in ferns and palms, and lit up from behind by some device which makes them glow a lovely rose-color all over—that man deserves a prize, I protest, for an inspiration that hardly could be expected from the frowsy atmosphere of lawyers' chambers. It will be morning, pale and gray, before the last volunteers see the last ladies to their carriage, and betake themselves bedward with ears ringing with half a dozen waltz tunes, and pleasantly oblivious for the nonce of briefs and work-a-day botherations.

Kind, patient reader—I feel the adjectives are justly due to any one who has accompanied my roving pen thus far—did you ever watch a street-child eating, say, a jam-tart? The dry corners of pastry are first all nibbled off; gradually the outworks where the jam lies thin are trenched upon all round; while the toothsome centre is fondly kept intact for the final morsel. Even so have I been reserving my bonne bouche, the private ball; which in its happiest developments is, to my thinking, as far superior to the semi-public ball as this latter to the public. In its happiest developments, mind; for private balls in London are as infinitely diverse in character as they are infinitely multitudinous in number; and some sorts are (to speak politely) comparatively undesirable. So, in deference to the exigencies of time and space, let us confine our attention to the private dance as it appears in what is called (or calls itself) "society."

And first, as to the people who give these private balls, or dances, or dancing-parties (for these two synonyms are very commonly preferred to the more pretentious word "ball"). They may be roughly classified under five heads:

1st (and foremost). Mothers of marriageable daughters.

2d. People who for some reason or other—official or social position, wealth, vanity, or what not—are expected, or think they are expected, to give balls.

3d. Good-natured, amusement-loving married folk, with money and without grown children.

4th. Benevolent grandfathers, dowagers and aunts.

5th. The most unlikely people.

And how, where and when are these various dance-givers' gifts bestowed? The "how" is the easiest thing possible if the lady about to give the dance is of established position in society. Her set of friends and acquaintances is numerous, even to embarrassment. All the people whose dinners or drums or dances she goes to must of course be asked: a dance for a dance is a rule as obligatory as that of "cutlet for cutlet" (as a matter-of-fact old lady of the world phrased it) is in dinner-giving circles. At least as many young ladies as she can do with are sure to be supplied by this means; while as for men, there are all the host of bachelors to resort to who at the beginning of the season have left their visiting-cards at her door, thereby intimating, "I am in town, and ready to be asked to any entertainment you may happen to get up, and here is my address." But if our intending hostess is a new-comer in London, and has not yet picked up a sufficiency of town-acquaintances, or if those whom she has are not altogether the style of folk she wishes to invite, a different course of procedure has to be adopted. It may be taken as an axiom that there are always plenty of people in society who are ready to go anywhere (within recognized limits) to a ball, provided that some lady of acknowledged experience in such matters will stand sponsor for its probable goodness. So our hostess betakes herself to the half dozen or dozen of her lady friends who are possessed of the most extended and desirable sets of acquaintances, and, diplomatically interesting them in her design, leaves with each of them, for distribution at discretion, a little pack of cards of invitation. And next day young Jones, coming home to his bachelor lodgings in St. James's, find on his table the conventional oblong card:

Knowing that he has not the pleasure of Mrs. Smythe's acquaintance, he turns to the back of the card, and reading there (just the sort of thing he had expected to find) the endorsement, "With Lady Fitzbattleaxe's compliments," he at once grasps the situation, and sends off a note to 150 Queen's Gate, to the effect that he has much pleasure in accepting Mrs. Smythe's kind invitation. He feels quite safe. Lady Fitzbattleaxe and her set, all of whom he knows, will be there; and she wouldn't have sent the card unless she had reason to know that the thing was going to be well done. Unattached bachelors who dance have, in fact, little difficulty in getting their fill of dancing in the season if they lay themselves out for doing so. A young lady can't, as a rule, be asked without at the same time sending a card to her mother or other chaperon, whom the hostess may, from considerations of space or otherwise, not want to have; whereas your dancing-man takes up very little room, brings no one but himself, shifts for himself, and is indeed more or less positively useful toward promoting the avowed object of the gathering. Aware of this, it is a not uncommon practice with dance-going bachelors to interrogate a partner whom they feel a wish to meet again as to the locales of her coming dance-engagements, and thereupon, through the medium of some friend of that potent and wonderful class, the Know-everybodys, to manage somehow to procure for themselves cards of invitation to the houses and parties indicated, whosoever and wherever they may be.

But now, supposing Lady This or Mrs. That to have made up her mind to give a ball, where will she give it? At home, no doubt, in the great majority of cases; but if her rooms happen to be small, or she wishes to avoid the nuisance of having her own house turned upside down (as it must be for a couple of days at the least if a ball is to be held in it), she may prefer—I am assuming expense to be no object—to hire some public rooms, like Willis's, or an empty house for the occasion; of which alternatives it is ten to one that the latter will be adopted. True it is that the ball-room at Willis's (in old days so well known as Almack's), though far too narrow for its length, offers a floor of superlative smoothness, and that its position, in the very heart of the St. James's quarter, leaves nothing to be desired; but the place is so generally associated with festivities of the public and semi-public classes that anybody giving a private dance there may feel sure that the guests will not regard it as quite the same sort of thing as a dance in a private house. The empty-house plan is not open to this objection. Owing its origin, doubtless, to the prodigious amount of house-building that has been going on of late in fashionable London, it has become quite a recognized institution of these last few seasons; and it certainly saves the ball-giver a world of trouble. There stand plenty of newly-built first-class mansions in Belgravia that have not yet found tenants, thoroughly finished off, externally and internally, so far as floors and doors and windows and staircases go, but of course entirely unfurnished. One of these is selected and hired (at a cost that would make some people gasp) for the determined evening. An upholsterer is turned in to put up temporary mirrors, chandeliers and curtains, and lay down temporary carpets; a florist, following, covers bare mantelpieces with captivating layers of cut-roses, ferns and mosses, and empties a whole conservatoryful of plants and flowers into halls and passages; essential Gunter, always equal to any accumulation of occasions, sends in the conventional foods and drinks, and a competent staff of waiters to dispense them; from equally essential and omnipresent Coote and Tinney's comes a detachment of competent musicians; and hey, presto! the empty house bursts into light and life and music, and, exulting in its Cinderella finery, welcomes the guests with all the air of an establishment that has been accustomed to this kind of thing for years.

It is not always an easy matter to time one's arrival at a private ball quite satisfactorily. The old hands have of course certain general rules to go by: for instance, if the invitation-card has borne the words "Small and early" in one corner, that dancing may be expected to begin by eleven o'clock or thereabouts; but in the absence of any such guide it is almost impossible to predict with accuracy the time when arrivals will set in; and so one oftentimes falls into the Scylla of over-lateness in anxiety to steer clear of the Charybdis of over-earliness, or vice versâ. I call to mind a ball at the close of last season to which I went expressly to meet certain friends, and thought to have hit off the happy mean by entering the ball-room just twenty minutes before midnight; but, lo! the musicians had not yet taken possession of their corner, and sofas and chairs were but sparsely occupied by some couple of dozen specimens of that portion of the fair sex who in outward seeming not attractive, for dancing purposes, to the frivolous male, yet for some inscrutable reason always put in the earliest appearances in ball-rooms.

It is all very well to cry out against dances that don't begin till near midnight as absurd and reprehensible; but, after all, their lateness is easily accounted for. In May and June from six to half-past seven in the evening are the pleasantest of hours for driving in the Park or strolling to see others drive there. Nobody willingly goes home till those pleasant hours are over; so no wonder that dinners tend to begin at a quarter- or even half-past eight; that they consequently are not over much before eleven; and that people who have, after that, to look in and gossip for ten minutes at somebody or other's drum, do not find themselves at the ultimate evening engagement, the ball, much before the stroke of twelve. The balls of the London season will not become much earlier, methinks, until some thorough revolution takes place in the likings and habits of the folk who give and go to them.

Suppose, then, the arrival accurately timed, or, at any rate, any fault on the side of over-earliness corrected by a judicious waste of minutes in the cloak- and tea-rooms down stairs. At the top of the inevitable staircase, or just inside her drawing-room, our hostess stands ready with smile and hand-shake for each and every guest announced by the sonorous butler. Many of the younger men (who have received cards by one or other of the side-winds above spoken of) she has very likely never seen or heard of till this moment; but no matter—they and she are equally equal to the occasion. Perhaps the lady who has sent the stranger a card "with her compliments" hears him announced, and stepping forward introduces him to the hostess. If not, the hardly formidable ordeal of a polite bow and a hand-shake passes him on into the ball-room, where, once arrived, he looks about for friends, and proceeds to engage dances, and (let us hope) enjoy them without the slightest sense of strangeness in the strange house, provided only that he has chanced upon a fair sprinkling of his own set there. Who the master of the house may be he probably, if an average careless Gallio, knows little and cares less. Indeed, Paterfamilias is usually content to sink his own personality and be a nonentity for the nonce on the night of his wife's dancing-party.

The suite of drawing-rooms, usually two rooms occupying the whole of the first floor, have been gutted of furniture and stripped of carpets to form the ball-room. The floor is hardly ever of polished wood in modern London houses, but the boards are smooth, and a very tolerable surface for dancing purposes is produceable by the simple process of washing them over with milk. Some people, not caring to go to the trouble of having carpets taken up, content themselves with a holland cloth tightly stretched over the carpeting, which is indeed preferable to that abomination, a beeswaxed floor, but is, at best, but heavy traveling for the dancers, and apt, too, to tear during the evening into dangerous foot-ensnaring holes.

Are you a connoisseur in costumes? The men's dress is, of course, the same, in general appearance, all the Western world over, and the only varieties in a London ball-room are the better or worse styles of tailoring and an occasional white waistcoat. Fortunately, the fair sex, with all the colors of the rainbow and all the inspirations of the fashion-books and dressmakers at command, can and do give a kaleidoscopic plentitude of variety to the scene. Débutantes just "come out" in society are conventionally confined to simple white, but their more experienced sisters may indulge in any combinations of tulle and other gauzy substance, white or colored, with ribbons, flowers, and all the materials and devices known to millinery, at discretion; to all which the rich and stately velvets and silks of the chaperoning matrons form an effective background.

And now for the introductions. There is no getting on at all in a private dance, nor indeed in any London society, without introductions. Society rigidly requires of every man that he submit to the process as a preliminary to addressing even a remark anent the weather to a lady—much more before asking of her such a favor as a dance. But a man who goes much to dances soon grows somewhat wary in this matter. He learns to shun the overtures of the seemingly benevolent people—above all, the master of the house—who proffer willingness to introduce him to partners; for has not experience taught him that such folk are always actuated by the desire (laudable enough, perhaps) of procuring partners for some lady friend whose personal attractions are not, by themselves, calculated to bring them? No, he prefers, the selfish wretch! to seek and choose for himself—first, to look about and determine to which of all the strange faces in the room he would wish to be introduced, and then to set about finding out means of getting introduced to them.

It is a misfortune that the present habits of society, placing the fair sex in the position of waiting to be asked by would-be male partners, as well for dances as for life-partnerships, do not at the same time, in the former as they do in the latter case, countenance their meeting undesired proposals with a direct negative. It is fully admitted in principle, and is said to be experienced in practice, that a lady may reply to the question, "Will you marry me?" with a conclusive "No." But the same answer, given to the stock ball-room interrogatory, "May I have the (honor/pleasure) of a dance?" would be conventionally reprobated as discourteous, and is practically impossible. The natural consequence is, that the fair answerer is driven to all manner of distressing—sometimes almost amusingly distressing—shifts and equivocations, merely to escape the necessity of dancing with men whom she doesn't wish to dance with, but who insist on asking her to do so. Sometimes she salves her conscience by the device of arranging beforehand with a brother or other near relative that she shall be understood to be engaged to him for every and any dance that may be asked for by a person undesired. At other times she will have mislaid her programme, or "think mamma will want to be gone" before the proposed dance is reached. To young ladies thus embarrassed a practice which has recently gained some hold at private balls, of supplying no dance-programmes at all, has afforded a novel and most happy relief. For when one man has asked for (and perhaps fondly noted on his ample cuff) "the third dance from now," another "the second galop," and a third "the fourth round," she is so genuinely bewildered as to how many and what dances she is and is not engaged for that it becomes alike easy to checkmate proposals by the reply "engaged," and at any time in the course of the evening to give an immediate dance to any favored partner, in sheer hopelessness of remembering to whom, if at all, it has already been promised, and on the chance that the unknown will not appear to claim it.

But suppose, on the other hand, there are programmes. If one could get a sight of any dozen, taken at random, after all, I warrant there would be some curious if not edifying reading there. Names are (unintentionally enough) so slurred in the hurry of introduction—"Miss Mumble-mumble, allow me to introduce Mr. Jumble-jumble"—that, more often than not, neither party catches the other's name; and so She, even if she gives up her programme to be marked with the engagement, probably gets it back just scrawled with some initials; while He is driven to the expedient of entering on his programme some brief memorandum of dress or ornament—"blue and roses," "pearls," or the like—which may or may not serve to recall to him each fair personality in turn. Sisters, though, are apt to upset this descriptive arrangement by their provoking habit of going about in identical costumes. Some luckless wight has taken a satisfactory note of the dress and general appearance of a Miss Unknown, and then, horror! half an hour afterward he discovers that there are two wearers of such dress in the room, each the very ditto of the other. There is only one way out of it: when the destined dance arrives he must go boldly up to one of them with the usual "My dance, I believe?" For there's, at any rate, an even chance of his being right; while, at worst, if she answers, "I think not," his doubt is at once solved in favor of the other sister.

In the dances themselves there is not much variety. Society knows of four only—two "squares," quadrille and Lancers, and two "round," waltz and galop. Of these, waltzes are the most, and quadrilles the least, popular, it being of course understood that "round" dances occupy considerably more than half of every programme. Still, "squares" are not likely ever actually to disappear. There is a certain undeniable utility about them. They give breathing-times between waltz and galop; a share in the amusement of the evening to people who are too old or too ponderous, or otherwise unsuited for the whirling "rounds;" and scope for that pleasant institution, "sitting out," which, as everybody knows, consists in ostensibly engaging a partner for a "square," and then, instead of dancing it, deliberately spending the time in a quiet sit-down chat. "Dancing it," I see I have written, but truly it is only by courtesy that the word can be applied to a private-ball quadrille, in which nobody dreams of doing steps or attending to time, and the conventional ideal is reached by a sort of unconcerned-looking saunter, distantly suggestive of the formulated movements of the figures. But if you can't dance too ill for the "squares," on the other hand you can't dance too well for the "rounds," especially waltzes. All thorough-going dancers will now have nothing but the valse à trois temps, which requires both partners to be exactly in time both with one another and the music, and a partner who can only dance the old deux temps, or whose trois temps step is faulty, is not very likely, if a man, to be favored with many "rounds," or if a lady to be asked for them.

As for the talk of ball-rooms, its silliness and inanity are almost proverbial. And yet what else can one expect? In the "squares" one's attention is so constantly called off to some process of bowing, or setting, or crossing over, or turning round, that it is next to impossible to get half a dozen consecutive sentences of conversation at a time. Indeed, I have often meditated making a fortune by publishing, for the use of men whose small talk is limited, a pocket Dancers Conversation Book, to consist wholly of three-word beginnings of sentences, such as "Don't you think—," "Have you seen—," "Do you know—," and so on. The reader would be instructed, every time he found himself at rest beside his partner, to start one of these fragments, with a pleasant smile and an interrogative air, in well-founded confidence that by the time the third word was out of his mouth some exigency of the figure would require him to turn off to some independent movement on his own part, which ended, his partner might safely be assumed to have forgotten all about his last remark, and to be ready to listen to another equally illusory. But even supposing a couple have comparatively time to talk—as, for instance, during the short interval between two dances—how, if (as must continually happen) they were utter strangers to one another till ten minutes ago—how, I say, can they be expected to get beyond the veriest outworks and superficialities of conversation? The man (with whom it lies to take the lead) may possibly have a host of interests, and be able to talk sensibly or speciously on a variety of subjects, but at the start he is quite in the dark as to his partner's tastes and pursuits, and so almost perforce breaks ground with first one, and if that fails another, of the ordinary small-talk questions, on the chance of lighting upon some topic that the lady knows or cares about. There is always a hope of turning up trumps. "Have you been to the opera lately?" may discover an ardent musician, and pave the way for a long "sit-out" gossip on things musical. "Have you been in town long?" may lead to any amount of pleasantly rambling talk about places and people in the counties, or recollections of continental travel, perhaps the most fascinating of all kinds of "shop." Of course, if the partners are old friends, or even tolerably familiar acquaintances, the surface-fishing process is happily unnecessary, and they can plunge at once into deep waters. Still, even if they get upon so-called tender subjects, it's long odds they won't have time enough to get out of their depth. That danger is reserved for the quieter and more prolonged intercourse of picnic-parties and country-house life. Cupid's arrows seldom penetrate deep at a ball.

A careful observer of ball-room talk will not fail to notice what may be called the exclusive slang of society. He will find people "in society" habitually using a few pet words which they love, not because they are a bit better than the synonyms used by other people, but just because other people don't use them, whereby they serve as a sort of passwords or Masonic signs among the initiated. Just now plainness is all the fashion. Ladies who are not in society talk of "dresses" and "gentlemen," and grammatically contract "are not" into "aren't;" so the ladies of the Upper Ten say "gowns" and "men" and "ain't" for distinction's sake. And the same idea comes out at many points. The public-ball cavaliers rejoice in lavender- or lemon-colored kids, and display exuberant activity in the "squares;" so the dancing-man of society punctiliously gloves his hands in white, and strolls through a quadrille with an air of languid indifference. One romp, and one only, does the private ball countenance in the merry-go-round of the third figure of a "sixteen" (double) set of Lancers.

After every dance, in the early stage of the ball, there is a general set of the dancers in the direction of the tea-room. Till some time between midnight and one o'clock the door of the supper room is kept strictly closed, and light refreshments—tea, iced coffee, cream- and water-ices, various "cups" and lemonades and strawberryades, and cakes and biscuits and such-like—have undisputed possession of the field. Anything to get away for five minutes from the heated atmosphere of the dancing-room; so it is generally advisable to propose "tea" to your partner as an excuse for a visit to the back room down stairs (probably Paterfamilias's study or the children's school-room on other days); and, once there, you will ask instructions as to whether "tea" shall this time take the form of "cup," or something-ade, or ice. Most likely it will be the latter, and between "cream" and "water" [ices] her voice is almost sure, despite the certainty of consequential thirst, to be for "cream." But hardly has the preux chevalier successfully struggled at the buffet for the creamy spoonful when harp and horn are heard preluding to the next dance up stairs, and everybody must hurry back from passage, stairs or tea-room to find or await his or her next partner.

When the ball is at its fullest is the time for the really first-rate dancer to turn his talent to the best advantage. Nearly all London ball-givers have such an immense circle of acquaintances that, for some shorter or longer period of the evening, their parties are pretty sure to be overcrowded. Soon after midnight, it may be, all the world and his wife will just have arrived together, and the abomination of suffocation sets in. The staircase is congested and impassable: the dancing area in the ball-room is encroached upon till a space about as big as a dining-table is all the dancers have to dance in. At which crisis it wants no little skill and practice in a man to steer his partner deftly and without collisions through the intricate mêlée. It can be done, though, to a degree hardly credible till practically tested, the really greatest difficulties being, in point of fact, rather to start and stop than to avoid bumpings when once fairly underweight; but ladies suffer sufficiently from dizzy or clumsy partners to make them often, in a crowd, prefer to give their "rounds" to a man whose steering is good, rather than to one whose feet are less dexterous than his tongue.

At some unperceived moment toward one o'clock couples descending to the ice-room find the dining-room door wide open, the signal that the supper period has commenced. First, one or two make up their minds that the discovery is opportune, and enter shyly in the face of an expectant line of waiters drawn up behind the buffet. Note the arrangement of the room while there is yet space to grasp its details, for ten minutes hence, be sure, the place will be so thronged, with such an all-pervading hurry-scurry going on, that there will be no chance of noting anything. Facing you as you enter, down the length of one side of the room, runs a long buffet-table, the nearer side spread with the apparatus of eating and drinking, the centre laden with every variety of comestibles, interspersed at intervals with tall épergnes and other silver ornaments sacred to all that's aesthetically captivating in fruit and flower; while in the rear, calm, collected and decorous, stand a row of middle-aged ministering persons from Gunter's. There are no chairs at the buffet. If you sup there, you must sup standing—no great hardship, as the table is of course of a height just convenient for the purpose—and you can either accept the services of the ministering person opposite you, or help yourself from the multitude of dishes within reach. All very well, this, for those who are in a hurry, just snatching a morsel between two dances, and for all who see no practicable opportunity of doing better for their partners and themselves. For, an intervening gangway being of course left clear for folk to pass up and down to and along the buffet, the rest of the floor-space is occupied by three or more (according to the size of the room) small round tables, low, chair-surrounded, each laden with a due complement of plates, glasses, victuals, and so on, and each capable of accommodating three or four couples at a time. To one of these, if you are wise, and have the luck to espy any vacant chairs, you will surely—I am of course addressing my male readers—lead your partner. I assume that, with an experienced eye to this very thing, you have purposely contrived to engage one with whom you specially enjoy, or think it likely that you will enjoy, a good gossip, for a quadrille that occurs just at this period of the evening, and that you have suggested "sitting out" the dance in the supper-room; so that you have now descended the stairs happy in the consciousness of ten minutes or more of leisure before the next "round" will again demand your indefatigable trois temps in the ball-room.

Well, two chairs secured, and partner comfortably seated on one of them, the next thing for the man to do, before settling down into conversation, is to forage at the buffet for supplies; for the stock originally placed on the little table is pretty sure to have been eviscerated in the course of the first half hour's attack. He doesn't ask his partner to say what she will have, knowing full well that ladies, young and old, even if so interrogated, are sure to give that invariable pair of successive answers, "chicken" and "jelly," not because they really prefer those to any other viands—as a matter of fact, their own inclinations, so far as they are earthly enough to have any, are generally very much otherwise—but from a modest wish to give the least possible trouble; chicken and jelly being stock dishes that are quite certain to be at hand in every supper-room. No, he is far more likely to please by asking to have the matter left in his hands, and thereupon going off to the buffet, to return with a small but varied collection of three or four samples, each on a separate plate, of the most novel and attractive of the culinary triumphs there displayed, for her to choose from. Which duty done, and some champagne and seltzer-water deftly mixed, he will with a light heart take possession of his reserved chair, and fall to upon one or other of the unchosen samples and the most thoroughly zestful chat of the evening.

Behooves it to say a word or two of the materials of the typical ball-supper? There is a family likeness about those turned out by Gunter that the experience of one season is enough to make one recognize. And, on the whole, the Gunterian supper is as good, in its way, as; need be. Nothing hot, of course, except oyster soup (specially adapted for deserving chaperons), and, maybe, some delicately browned cutlets; but cold meats of every shade of substantiality, from boars' heads and chickens and raised pies to the most delicate of sandwiches, tempting translucent aspics, in which larks, lobsters, prawns, fillets of sole, and such-like lie "imbedded and injellied," and ethereal plovers' eggs. Of sweets the multitude and variety is almost infinite; and indeed the possible combinations of things creamy and jammy and gelatinous are tolerably well known all over the world. Among them fresh strawberries combined with plain iced cream may be mentioned as holding a high place in general favor. As to the drinkables, sherry and claret are always at hand, but the almost universal beverage is a mixture of, say, two thirds of champagne to one of seltzer-water. The idea of this mixture is, no doubt, partly to get rid of that excess of fixed air which is apt to make undiluted champagne a rather uncomfortable material for a draught; but the custom is mainly the result of sad experience of the unwisdom of doing otherwise, owing (it must be admitted) to the badness of the so-called champagne only too commonly dispensed at ball suppers. How the man who wouldn't dream of giving his guests a glass of inferior wine at his dinner-table comes to think nothing of poisoning them with the cheap rubbish that audaciously flouts in advertising columns as "supper-champagne," has puzzled sager brains than mine. Surely, bad wine is not less injurious taken in repeated draughts in the small hours of the morning than it would be sipped in small doses at dinner-time; yet it's only here and there a logically-minded individual produces his dinner-champagne at his wife's dancing-parties; and everywhere else old and young with equal caution demand a prudent admixture of the seltzer that will, if anything can, avert a next-morning headache. The chaperon, warrantably hungry, taking her time over her supper in a comfortable corner, is often not to be tempted by any sparkling liquid; but the dancers want the nervous exhilaration that champagne, however inferior, at least temporarily supplies, and are rarely careful enough to shun the danger altogether.

"Are you going on anywhere?" is a query that not unfrequently meets one's ears about halfway through the evening. "Going on" is an essentially town practice. In the country, houses lie too far scattered for it, and there is seldom such a press of gayeties on foot together as to make it likely that two or more engagements will have been made for one night. But in London, owing to the limited number of evenings comprised in a season, as compared with the host of people who want to give their parties in the course of it, it constantly happens that folk who go out much find themselves invited to a dinner, a drum and a couple of dances, all on one and the same evening. Ay, and they manage to achieve them all, too, thanks to determination and broughams. To the dinner at eight P. M.; away at a quarter to eleven to put in an appearance and for ten minutes swell the hurried and promiscuous chatter at the drum; thence off again to one of the balls—to stay if it is good, or if it isn't to go on after a dance or two to the other. The custom is so thoroughly recognized that no hostess would ever dream of being offended with any of her guests for "going on" elsewhere whenever they think fit. Not that she is ever likely to know whether this or that individual does or does not do so; for it's not at all necessary before one goes off to say any formal good-night to the hostess, and in fact men very seldom do so. When they have had dancing enough, or, remembering some disagreeable necessity of being up and alert for work next morning, feel it's about time to be going bedward, they quietly slink down stairs to the cloak-room, get hats and wraps, and are off in a fast hansom without a word to anybody. It's all very well for the young lady, who has from day to day no calls upon her time but those of her own pleasures and engagements, to stay late at any particularly pleasant dance. She may collapse to her heart's content next morning, and still be ready again by nightfall for another round of excitements; but with her partners things are very different, unless, indeed, they are officers in the Household Brigade. The young barrister or banker, or what not, who is frivolous enough to like combining some nights of dancing in the season with hard days of work, soon finds that the only way of gratifying both tastes is to partake sparingly, in point of hours, of the former one; so he comforts himself with the reflection that there are as good balls in the season as ever came out of it, and resolutely says good-night to the most festive scenes by 2 A. M. at latest. By that time, indeed, the best of a private ball is very commonly over. No doubt there are delicious and long-to-be-remembered opportunities now and then seizable by staying later. Strauss' world-known "Blue Danube" waltz with an appreciative partner, and the rare luxury of ample dancing-space in an emptying room, is one such. But when the minute-hand of the hall-clock is approaching the third of the small hours, the endurance of the most indulgent and enduring of matrons is apt to get exhausted, and she carries off her brood, determined, like everybody else, not to be the last to go. In the tea-room she will get a strengthening draught of some clear soup or other in a tea-cup, and meanwhile John Thomas will have called the carriage to the door.

Next morning the Morning Post will serve up to its (mostly lady) readers a full list of the names of those who were at last night's balls, under the head of "Fashionable Entertainments." The Post is the one daily paper that systematically goes in for this kind of news, publishing every day during the season a long list of coming fixtures, as well as catalogues of the guests attending them. And I fear it must be owned that there are people not a few who take delight in having their parties and appearances chronicled in this small-beer manner, and that there are several grains of truth contained in the good-humoredly sarcastic lines in which that clever rhymer "C.S.C," parodying the Proverbial Philosophy of Mr. Tupper, gives worldly advice to young ladies entering society. Says "C.S.C.":

Choose judiciously thy friends, for to discard them is undesirable;
Yet it is better to drop thy friends, O my daughter, than to drop thy H's.
Dost thou know a wise woman? yea, wiser than the children of light?
Hath she a position? and a title? and are her parties in the Morning Post?
If thou dost, cleave unto her, and give up unto her thy body and mind;
Think with her ideas, and distribute thy smiles at her bidding:
So shalt thou become like unto her, and thy manners shall be "formed:"
And thy name shall be a sesame at which the doors of the great shall fly open:
Thou, shalt know every peer, his arms, and the date of his creation,
His pedigree and their intermarriages, and cousins to the sixth remove;
Thou shalt kiss the hand of royalty, and lo! in next morning's papers,
Side by side with rumors of wars and stories of shipwrecks and sieges,
Shall appear thy name, and the minutiae of thy headdress and petticoat,
For an enraptured public to muse upon over their matutinal muffin.

Society expects every guest after a dance to go through the form of paying a call upon the giver. If you are an old friend of the house, or for any reason want to go in, it will be wise to defer your visit for two or three days, until the interior of the house has recovered its normal condition; for of course on the very day that follows a dance the rooms are in such a universal state of up-side-downness (if the word may be coined) that callers can't expect to be admitted. For which reason, if you don't want to go in, you can't do better than select this very day for leaving a card at the door; which last ceremony duly concluded, all possible respect and duty may be taken to have been shown and done to the private ball: at all events, the present writer—rejoice, long-suffering reader, if you still exist—has no further word or suggestion to offer, on this occasion, on the subject.

W. D. R.