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The Story
“With all my heart,” said the General, with an effort; and after a short pause in
which to arrange his subject, he commenced one of the strangest narratives I
ever heard.
“My dear child was looking forward with great pleasure to the visit you had been
so good as to arrange for her to your charming daughter.” Here he made me a
gallant but melancholy bow. “In the meantime we had an invitation to my old
friend the Count Carlsfeld, whose schloss is about six leagues to the other side
of Karnstein. It was to attend the series of fetes which, you remember, were
given by him in honour of his illustrious visitor, the Grand Duke Charles.”
“Yes; and very splendid, I believe, they were,” said my father.
“Princely! But then his hospitalities are quite regal. He has Aladdin’s lamp. The
night from which my sorrow dates was devoted to a magnificent masquerade.
The grounds were thrown open, the trees hung with coloured lamps. There was
such a display of fireworks as Paris itself had never witnessed. And such
music—music, you know, is my weakness—such ravishing music! The finest
instrumental band, perhaps, in the world, and the finest singers who could be
collected from all the great operas in Europe. As you wandered through these
fantastically illuminated grounds, the moon-lighted chateau throwing a rosy light
from its long rows of windows, you would suddenly hear these ravishing voices
stealing from the silence of some grove, or rising from boats upon the lake. I felt
myself, as I looked and listened, carried back into the romance and poetry of my
early youth.
”When the fireworks were ended, and the ball beginning, we returned to the
noble suite of rooms that were thrown open to the dancers. A masked ball, you
know, is a beautiful sight; but so brilliant a spectacle of the kind I never saw
“It was a very aristocratic assembly. I was myself almost the only ‘nobody’
“My dear child was looking quite beautiful. She wore no mask. Her excitement
and delight added an unspeakable charm to her features, always lovely. I
remarked a young lady, dressed magnificently, but wearing a mask, who
appeared to me to be observing my ward with extraordinary interest. I had seen
her, earlier in the evening, in the great hall, and again, for a few minutes, walking
near us, on the terrace under the castle windows, similarly employed. A lady,
also masked, richly and gravely dressed, and with a stately air, like a person of
rank, accompanied her as a chaperon. Had the young lady not worn a mask, I
could, of course, have been much more certain upon the question whether she
was really watching my poor darling. I am now well assured that she was.
“We were now in one of the salons. My poor dear child had been dancing, and
was resting a little in one of the chairs near the door; I was standing near. The
two ladies I have mentioned had approached and the younger took the chair next
my ward; while her companion stood beside me, and for a little time addressed
herself, in a low tone, to her charge.