A story of musicality and pictorial intensity, "Her First Ball" describes Leila's excitement at the idea of attending a ball where she will get to dance with young men rather than the other girls in her class as she has done back in New Zealand.
The verbal movement of Mansfield's narrative has the tempo of a waltz, and her description of Leila's delight mark "the beginning of everything." As she rides to the ball, Leila's absorbs all that she can so that she "will remember forever" this wonderful night. As the cab pulls up to the ball,
The road was bright on either side with moving fan-like lights, and on the payment gay couples seemed to float through the air; little satin shoes chased each other like birds.
Once at the ball, a basket is passed along and the girls pick from them:
Darling little pink-and-silver programs, with pink pencils and fluffy tassels. Leila's finger shook as she took one out of the basket.
As she work around, Leila feels a "rush of joy so sweet that it was hard to bear alone." And, as she gazes around her and at the polished floor, Leila catches her breath, and thinks, "How heavenly; how simply heavenly."
Leila's ecstasy is only broken by the cynical words of the fat man who points out the ephemeral nature of beauty and youth. He tells her that she will someday be like the older ladies who sit on the stage watching the youths dance, and her heart will "ache, ache." When she hears this melancholy thought, Leila's heart aches, and "the music seemed to change; it sounded sad, sad it rose upon a great sigh."
The fat man's words ruin Leila's joy, and she desires to return home. "When she looked through the windows at the stars, they had long beams like wings." But, Leila decides to stay, after all, and enjoy the moment. Soon, her feet "glided, glided." She dances, and the "lights, the azaleas, the dresses, the pink faces, the velvet chairs, all became one beautiful flying wheel." When the older man smiles at her she turns away and does not recognize him.