“Availing herself of the privilege of her mask, she turned to me, and in the tone of
an old friend, and calling me by my name, opened a conversation with me, which
piqued my curiosity a good deal. She referred to many scenes where she had
met me— at Court, and at distinguished houses. She alluded to little incidents
which I had long ceased to think of, but which, I found, had only lain in abeyance
in my memory, for they instantly started into life at her touch.
“I became more and more curious to ascertain who she was, every moment. She
parried my attempts to discover very adroitly and pleasantly. The knowledge she
showed of many passages in my life seemed to me all but unaccountable; and
she appeared to take a not unnatural pleasure in foiling my curiosity, and in
seeing me flounder in my eager perplexity, from one conjecture to another.
“In the meantime the young lady, whom her mother called by the odd name of
Millarca, when she once or twice addressed her, had, with the same ease and
grace, got into conversation with my ward.
“She introduced herself by saying that her mother was a very old acquaintance of
mine. She spoke of the agreeable audacity which a mask rendered practicable;
she talked like a friend; she admired her dress, and insinuated very prettily her
admiration of her beauty. She amused her with laughing criticisms upon the
people who crowded the ballroom, and laughed at my poor child’s fun. She was
very witty and lively when she pleased, and after a time they had grown very
good friends, and the young stranger lowered her mask, displaying a remarkably
beautiful face. I had never seen it before, neither had my dear child. But though it
was new to us, the features were so engaging, as well as lovely, that it was
impossible not to feel the attraction powerfully. My poor girl did so. I never saw
anyone more taken with another at first sight, unless, indeed, it was the stranger
herself, who seemed quite to have lost her heart to her.
“In the meantime, availing myself of the licence of a masquerade, I put not a few
questions to the elder lady.
“ ‘You have puzzled me utterly,’ I said, laughing. ‘Is that not enough? Won’t you,
now, consent to stand on equal terms, and do me the kindness to remove your
“ ‘Can any request be more unreasonable?’ she replied. ‘Ask a lady to yield an
advantage! Beside, how do you know you should recognise me? Years make
“ ‘As you see,’ I said, with a bow, and, I suppose, a rather melancholy little laugh.
“ ‘As philosophers tell us,’ she said; ‘and how do you know that a sight of my face
would help you?’
“ ‘I should take chance for that,’ I answered. ‘It is vain trying to make yourself out
an old woman; your figure betrays you.’
“ ‘Years, nevertheless, have passed since I saw you, rather since you saw me,
for that is what I am considering. Millarca, there, is my daughter; I cannot then be
young, even in the opinion of people whom time has taught to be indulgent, and I
may not like to be compared with what you remember me. You have no mask to
remove. You can offer me nothing in exchange.’
“ ‘My petition is to your pity, to remove it.’