The gay, pleasure-loving Parisians were on the _qui vive_ for Mrs.
Carlyle’s masquerade ball, for it was everywhere conceded that her
entertainments were the most _recherche_ and delightful in the whole
city. Colonel Carlyle spared neither pains nor expense to render them
In his laudable desire to further Bonnibel’s happiness, the colonel
lavished gold like water. He knew no other path to success than this.
He wanted to win her regard, if possible, and his experience in society
had disposed him to believe that the most potent “open sesame” to a
woman’s heart was wealth and power.
How far the colonel’s convictions were true, or how ably he might have
succeeded in the darling wish of his heart, had things gone well,
we shall never know, for the frail superstructure of his happiness,
builded on the sand, was destined to be thrown down and shattered into
fragments by the wild winds of fate, that should converge into storms
on that fatal night to which so many looked forward with pleasure.
And yet not the faintest presentiment of evil came to him that day to
whisper of the gathering clouds of destiny. He knew not that his “house
of cards” tottered on its foundation, that the wreck and ruin of his
dearest hope was about to be consummated. He knew not, or he might have
exclaimed with the poet:
“Of all that life can teach us,
There’s naught so true as this;
The winds of fate blow ever,
But ever blow amiss!”
* * * * *
The brief winter day came at length, gloomy and overcast, with clouded
sky that overflowed with a wild, tempestuous rain, as though
“The heart of Heaven was breaking
In tears o’er the fallen earth.”
At night the storm passed over, the bright stars shone through the
misty veil of darkness, a lovely silver moon hung its crescent in the
sky. All things seemed propitious for the hour that was “big with fate”
to the lovely girl whose changing fortunes we have followed to the
turning point of her life.
Cold, and dark, and gloomy though it seemed outside, all was light, and
warmth, and summer in the splendid chateau.
Hot-house flowers bloomed everywhere in the most lavish profusion. The
air was heavy with their fragrance.
Entrancing strains of music echoed through the splendid halls, tempting
light feet to the gay whirl of the dance. The splendid drawing-rooms,
opening into each other, looked like long vistas of fairy-land, in
the glow of light, and the beauty shed around by countless flowers
overflowing great marble vases everywhere. The gay masquers moved
through the entrancing scene, chatting, laughing, dancing, as though
life itself were but one long revel. In the banqueting hall the long
tables were loaded with every luxury under the sun, temptingly spread
on gold and silver plates. Nothing that taste could devise, or wealth
could procure, was lacking for the enjoyment of the guests; and
pleasure reigned supreme.
It was almost the hour for unmasking, and Colonel Carlyle stood alone,
half hidden by a crimson-satin curtain, looking on idly at the gay
dancers before him.
He felt weary and dull, though he would not have owned it for the
world. He hated to feel the weakness and feebleness of old age creeping
over him, as it was too surely doing, and affected to enter into all
the gaieties of the season, with the zest and ardor of a younger and
He had for a few moments felt dull, sad and discontented. The reason
was because he had lost sight of his beautiful idol whom no mask could
hide from his loving eyes.
She had disappeared in the moving throng a little while ago, and now he
impatiently waited until some happy chance should restore her to his
“I am very foolish over my darling,” he said to himself, half proudly,
half seriously. “I do not believe that any young man could worship her
as passionately as I do. I watch over her as closely and jealously as
if some dread mischance might remove her from my sight at any moment.
Ah, those dreadful two years in which I so cruelly put her out of my
life and starved my eyes and my heart–would that I might recall them
and undo their work! Those years of separation and repentance have
sadly aged me!”
He sighed heavily, and again his anxious gaze roved through the room.
“Ah, there she is,” he murmured, delightedly. “My beautiful Bonnibel!
how I wish the time for unmasking would come. I cannot bear for her
sweet face to be hidden from my sight.”
At that moment a small hand fluttered down upon his arm.
He turned abruptly.
Beside him stood a woman whose dark eyes shone through her concealing
mask like coals of fire. She spoke in a low, unfamiliar voice:
“I know you, sir. Your mask cannot hide Colonel Carlyle from my eyes.”
“Madam, you have the advantage of me,” he answered politely. “Will you
accord me the privilege of your name?”
“It matters not,” she answered, with a low, eerie laugh, whose
strangeness sent a cold thrill like an icy chill along his veins, “I am
but a wandering sibyl; I claim no name, no country.”
“Perhaps you will foretell my future,” he said, humoring her assumption
of the character.
“It were best concealed,” she said, and again he heard that strange,
He bowed and stood gazing at her silently, wondering a little who she
The wandering sibyl stood silent, too, as if lost in thought. Presently
she started and spoke like one waking from a dream:
“And yet perhaps I may give you a word of warning.”
“Pray do so,” he answered carelessly, for his eyes had returned to the
graceful form of Bonnibel as she stood leaning against a tall stand of
flowers at a little distance from him.
The woman’s eyes followed his. She frowned darkly beneath her mask.
“You have gathered many distinguished guests around you to-night,
Colonel Carlyle,” she said, abruptly.
“None more honored than yourself, madam, be sure, although unknown,” he
answered, with a courtly bow.
“Pretty words,” she answered, with a mocking laugh. “Let me repay them
by a friendly warning.”
She bent nearer and breathed in a low, sibilant whisper:
“Your wife and the great artist who is your honored guest to-night,
were lovers long ago. Watch well how they meet when unmasked to-night!”
With the words she glided from him like the serpent forsaking Eden.
And that deadly serpent, jealousy, that had lain dormant in the
colonel’s heart for months, “scotched but not killed,” now coiled
itself anew for a fatal spring.
The blood in his veins seemed turning to liquid fire.
His heart beat so wildly that he could distinctly hear its rapid throbs.
He felt frightened at the swiftness and violence of the passion that
flooded his whole being.
The words spoken by the masked woman seemed to burn themselves into his
“Your wife and the great artist who is your honored guest to-night were
lovers long ago. Watch well how they meet when unmasked to-night.”
For a moment Reason tried to assert her supremacy, and whisper, “Peace,
be still,” to the seething whirlpool of emotion.
“Do not believe it,” she said. “Someone is trying to tease you. It is
quite impossible that Bonnibel and this foreign artist should have met
before. Anonymous warnings should always be treated with contempt.”
And then he remembered the anonymous note he had received at Long
Branch two years before.
“_That_ was true,” he said to himself. “Bonnibel as good as admitted
it, for she would not show me the inscription in the ring, and she
refused to give up wearing it. But she said that the giver was dead.
Had she had two lovers, then, innocent and youthful as she was? Perhaps
she deceived me. Women are not to be trusted, they say. I will obey the
warning of my unknown friend and watch.”
He waited impatiently for the summons to supper, which would be the
signal for laying aside the masks.
“It must be true,” he said to himself, “for that would explain why he
was so discourteous about painting her portrait. He did not wish to
be thrown into familiar contact with her again. Perhaps she had used
him cruelly. It may be that she threw him over because he was poor and
unknown, then, and accepted me only for the sake of my wealth.”
He was nearly maddened by these tumultuous thoughts. He was almost
on the point of going to her at once and overwhelming her with the
accusation of her wrong-doing.
At that moment the signal came and his guests unmasked.
He saw Monsieur Favart coming toward him accompanied by a handsome
distinguished-looking young man in the costume of a knight. He had
never met the great Roman artist, yet he felt a quick intuition that
this must be the man. The premonition was verified for Monsieur Favart
paused before him and said:
“Colonel Carlyle, it gives me pleasure to present my artist friend, Mr.
The two gentlemen bowed to each other, but for a moment Colonel Carlyle
could not speak. When he did his voice was hoarse and strained, and
his words of welcome were so few that Monsieur Favart looked at him in
surprise. What had become of the old colonel’s urbanity and courtliness?
“You will allow me to present you to my wife, Mr. Dane,” said the host,
breaking the silence with an effort.
The artist bowed and they moved down the long room side by side, the
old man with his white face and silvery beard, the young one with his
princely grace and refined beauty.
Leslie Dane had been most reluctant to attend the ball given by the
American colonel, but Carl Muller had teased him into compliance. He
had nerved himself for the trial, and found that he could bear the
contact with one from his native land with more _sang froid_ than he
“Now I shall see the old lady,” was his half-smiling comment to himself
as he walked along. “I wonder if she is very angry with me because I
would not paint her portrait.”
The next moment, before he had time to raise his eyes, he found himself
bowing hurriedly at the sound of his host’s voice uttering the usual
formal words of introduction.
Bonnibel was standing alone by a tall _jardiniere_ of flowers, looking
downward a little thoughtfully. She was dressed as Undine, in a
floating robe of sea-green, with billows of snowy tulle, looped with
water-lilies and sea-grasses, and lightly embroidered with pearls and
tiny sea-shells. Her appropriate ornaments were _aquamarines_ in a
setting of golden shells. Her long, golden hair fell unbound over her
shoulders and rippled to her waist, enveloping her form in a halo of
brightness. She looked like a beautiful siren of old ocean, as fair and
fresh and beautiful as Venus when she first arose from its coral caves.
Someone had said to her just a moment before, “Mrs. Carlyle, you look
like a beautiful picture,” and the words had recalled to her mind the
great artist who had refused to paint her portrait.
“I wonder if Mr. _Deane_ is here to-night,” she was thinking, when
Colonel Carlyle’s voice spoke suddenly beside her, and she bowed
haughtily, actuated by a little feeling of pique, and lifted her
sea-blue eyes to the face of the artist. She met his gaze fixed
steadily upon her with a look of utter surprise, bitter pain and
bitterer scorn upon his deathly pale face. In an instant the tide of
time rolled backward and these two, standing face to face the first
time in years, knew each other!
Ah, me! how could she bear the revelation that flashed over her so
swiftly, and live through its horror, its shame and disgrace! The words
she had been about to speak died unuttered on her lips, the lights,
the flowers, the stern, set face of Leslie Dane, all swam before her
eyes as things “seen in a glass, darkly.” She threw up her hands
blindly and reeled backward, striking against the light _jardiniere_
as she fell. It was overturned by the shock, and scattered its wealth
of flowers about her as she lay there unconscious, as beautiful, as
fragile, as innocent as they.
For a moment neither Colonel Carlyle nor Leslie Dane moved or spoke. It
was a third person who pushed past them and lifted the fair, inanimate
form. For Colonel Carlyle, there was murder seething in his jealous
heart that moment, and in the breast of Leslie Dane a grand scorn was
strangling every emotion of pity.
“Falser than all fancy fathoms,
Falser than all songs have sung,”
was the thought in his heart as he looked down on the pale and lifeless
People crowded around, with advice and restoratives, and as she came
back slowly to life they asked her what had caused her to faint. Was
she ill, were the flowers too overpowering, were the rooms too warm?
“I struck my head against the _jardiniere_ and fell,” was all she would
say as she hid her pale face in her hands to shut out the sight of the
cold, calm eyes that looked down upon her with veiled scorn.
Colonel Carlyle revived sufficiently to lead her away to her room, and
people told each other that an accident had happened to Mrs. Carlyle.
She had struck her head against the _jardiniere_ of flowers and fainted
from the pain.