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Sheridan Le Fanu
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summoned, and also of the arrangement she had made for her under my care,
adding that I was one of her earliest and most valued friends.
“I made, of course, such speeches as the case seemed to call for, and found
myself, on reflection, in a position which I did not half like.
“The gentleman in black returned, and very ceremoniously conducted the lady
from the room.
“The demeanour of this gentleman was such as to impress me with the
conviction that the Countess was a lady of very much more importance than her
modest title alone might have led me to assume.
“Her last charge to me was that no attempt was to be made to learn more about
her than I might have already guessed, until her return. Our distinguished host,
whose guest she was, knew her reasons.
“ ‘But here,’ she said, ‘neither I nor my daughter could safely remain for more
than a day. I removed my mask imprudently for a moment, about an hour ago,
and, too late, I fancied you saw me. So I resolved to seek an opportunity of
talking a little to you. Had I found that you
seen me, I would have thrown
myself on your high sense of honour to keep my secret some weeks. As it is, I
am satisfied that you did not see me; but if you now
, or, on reflection,
suspect, who I am, I commit myself, in like manner, entirely to your
honour. My daughter will observe the same secrecy, and I well know that you
will, from time to time, remind her, lest she should thoughtlessly disclose it.’
“ She whispered a few words to her daughter, kissed her hurriedly twice, and
went away, accompanied by the pale gentleman in black, and disappeared in the
“ ‘In the next room,’ said Millarca, ‘there is a window that looks upon the hall
door. I should like to see the last of mamma, and to kiss my hand to her.’
“We assented, of course, and accompanied her to the window. We looked out,
and saw a handsome old-fashioned carriage, with a troop of couriers and
footmen. We saw the slim figure of the pale gentleman in black, as he held a
thick velvet cloak, and placed it about her shoulders and threw the hood over her
head. She nodded to him, and just touched his hand with hers. He bowed low
repeatedly as the door closed, and the carriage began to move.
“ ‘She is gone,’ said Millarca, with a sigh.
“ ‘She is gone,’ I repeated to myself, for the first time —in the hurried moments
that had elapsed since my consent— reflecting upon the folly of my act.
“ ‘She did not look up,’ said the young lady, plaintively.
“ ‘The Countess had taken off her mask, perhaps, and did not care to show her
face,’ I said; ‘and she could not know that you were in the window.’
“She sighed, and looked in my face. She was so beautiful that I relented. I was
sorry I had for a moment repented of my hospitality, and I determined to make
her amends for the unavowed churlishness of my reception.
“The young lady, replacing her mask, joined my ward in persuading me to return
to the grounds, where the concert was soon to be renewed. We did so, and
walked up and down the terrace that lies under the castle windows. Millarca
became very intimate with us, and amused us with lively descriptions and stories