William Dean Howells at the ball
William Dean Howells is perhaps best known now for his novel ``The Rise of Silas Lapham'' and for his stress on the smiling aspects of American life (while defying traditional romanticism in favor of realism). But ``Indian Summer'' (1886), with its Turgenev touches, was his own favorite. In it he uses an Italian setting for a comedy of manners involving youth and age, America and Europe. Here the fortyish Colville attends his first dancing party in years, somewhat bemused, to say the l east, by the twentyish Imogene Graham. The officer whom Imogene had danced with brought her to Mrs. Bowen, and resigned her with the regulation bow, hanging his head down before him as if submitting his neck to the axe. She put her hand in Colville's arm, where he stood beside Mrs. Bowen. ``Oh, do take me to get something to eat!''
In the supper-room she devoured salad and ices with a childish joy in them. The place was jammed, and she laughed from her corner at Colville's struggles in getting the things for her and bringing them to her. While she was still in the midst of an ice, the faint note of the piano sounded. ``Oh, they're beginning again. It's the Lancers!'' she said, giving him the plate back. She took his arm again; she almost pulled him along on their return.
``Why don't you dance?'' she demanded mockingly.
``I would if you'd let me dance with you.''
``Oh, that's impossible! I'm engaged ever so many deep.'' She dropped his arm instantly at sight of a young Englishman who seemed to be looking for her. This young Englishman had a zeal for dancing that was unsparing; partners were nothing to him except as a means of dancing; his manner expressed a supreme contempt for people who made the slightest mistake, who danced with less science or less conscience than himself. ``I've been looking for you,'' he said, in a tone of cold rebuke, without looking at h er. ``We've been waiting.''
Colville wished to beat him, but Imogene took his rebuke meekly, and murmured some apologies about not hearing the piano before. He hurried her off without recognizing Colville's existence in any way.
The undancing husband of the dancing wife was boring himself in a corner; Colville . . . joined him, just as a polite officer came up and entreated him to complete a set. ``Oh, I never danced in my life,'' he replied; and then he referred the officer to Colville. ``Don't you dance?''
``I used to dance,'' Colville began, while the officer stood looking patiently at him. This was true. He used to dance the Lancers, too, and very badly, 17 years before. He had danced it with Lina Ridgely and the other one, Mrs. Milbury. His glance wandered to the vacant place on the floor; it was the same set which Miss Graham was in; she smiled and beckoned derisively. A vain and foolish ambition fired him. ``Oh yes, I can dance a little,'' he said.