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A young girl called Leila has come to the city to stay with her cousins, the Sheridans. As the story opens, they are going to a ball. Leila is very excited: this is her first ball. Once there, she is both excited and terrified. After dancing with several young men, she dances with an old balding man who has been coming to balls for 30 years. He tells her that she will eventually grow old and only watch the dances, regretting her lost youth and beauty. For a moment, the magic of the occasion is spoilt. Then another young man asks Leila to dance, and her worries disappear.
Leila was on the way to her first ball. In the taxi she imagined that she sat with an unknown young man. TheSheridangirls thought it was strange that she had never been to a ball. Leila tried to stay calm, but she was very excited about this new experience.
They arrived at the drill hall, where the ball was. There were lights and happy couples everywhere in the streets. Inside, the girls went into the Ladies’ room. It was crowded with girls getting ready for the ball. They were putting on powder, hair pins, ribbons.
The programmes were passed around, “Waltz3”, “Polka4”, and Leila and the girls went into the hall. The dancing had not begun, and the hall was very noisy with people talking. Leila was amazed, and was glad she had decided to come. Earlier in the afternoon, she hadn’t wanted to go. The wonderful hall and the beautiful people made her breathless.
All the girls stood together on one side of the door, the men on the other side. Leila was then introduced to a lot of girls by her cousin Meg. However, the girls were all looking towards the men.
Suddenly, the men started walking across the floor. When they came up to the girls, the men’s names were put down in the girls’ programs. Several men put their names in Leila’s program too, and one of them was an older, fat man. Then the music began and couples started dancing.
Leila had learned how to dance at boarding school. Suddenly a man came up to her and offered her his arm. Leila enjoyed dancing with him, he steered so well. The man asked if she had been to the Bells’ last week. He was surprised when she told him this was her first dance.
Soon the music stopped, and then started again. Her second partner came along. He asked exactly the same questions as the last one. They danced for a while, and then they went for an ice in the supper room.
When they came back, the fat man was waiting for her. When they were dancing, he told her he had been to balls for thirty years. That was twelve years before Leila was born. He said that in a few years, Leila would be one of the mothers in the hall. She would be fat, and talk to other old ladies about horrible men trying to kiss her daughter, and she would be sad because no one wanted to kiss her any more.
This made Leila feel bad. What if it was all true? It sounded as though it could be. At that point the music started to sound sad. How quickly her happiness had changed! She didn’t want to dance any more, she only wanted to stand still by the wall. There, she became so sad she could have cried. Why had the fat man spoiled it all? The man said he was only joking, and Leila said she knew. Still she was sad.
Then the music started again. But Leila didn’t want to dance. She just wanted to go home.
But the music was soft and beautiful. And in front of her a young man with curly hair bowed. She had to be polite and dance with him, and they walked onto the dance floor. Then, in only a minute, she again felt the magic of the ball. Everything was beautiful! And when they bumped into the fat man on the dance floor, she didn’t even recognise him.
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