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[-34-]

CHAPTER CXLIX.

THE MASQUERADE

    The evening of the masquerade arrived.
    It Is not our Intention to enter Into a long description of a scene the nature of which must be so well known to our readers.
    Suffice it to say that at an early hour Old Drury was, within, a blaze of light. The pit had been boarded over so as to form a floor level with the stage, at the extremity of which the orchestra was placed. The spacious arena thus opened, soon wore a busy and interesting appearance, when the masques began to arrive; and the boxes were speedily filled with ladies and gentlemen who, wearing no fancy costumes, had thronged thither for the purpose of beholding, but not commingling with, the diversions of the masquerade.
    To contemplate that blaze of female loveliness which adorned the boxes, one would imagine that all the most charming women of the metropolis had assembled there by common consent that night; and the traveller, who had visited foreign climes, must have been constrained to admit that no other city in the universe could produce such a brilliant congress.
    For the fastidious elegancies of fashion, sprightliness of manners, sparkling discourse, and all the refinements of a consummate civilization, which are splendid substitutes for mere animal beauty, the ladies of Paris are unequalled but for female loveliness in all its glowing perfection in all its most voluptuous expansion, London is the sovereign city that knows in this respect no rival.
    In sooth, the scene was ravishing and gorgeous within Old Drury on the night of which we are writing.
    The spacious floor was crowded with masques in the most varied and fanciful garbs.
    There were Turks who had never uttered a "Bismillah," and Shepherdesses who had seen more of mutton upon their tables than ever they had in the fields; Highlanders who had never been twenty miles north of London, and Princesses whose fathers were excellent aldermen or most conscientious tradesmen; Generals without armies, and Flower-Girls whose gardens consisted of a pot of mignonette on the ledge of their bed-room windows; Admirals whose nautical knowledge had been gleaned on board Gravesend steamers, and Heathen Goddesses who were devoted Christians:-Ancient Knights who had not even seen so much as the Eglintoun Tournament, and Witches whose only charms lay in their eyes; and numbers, of both sexes, attired in fancy-dresses which were very fanciful indeed.
    Then there was all the usual fun and frolic of a masquerade; friends availing themselves of their masks and disguises to mystify each other, witticism and repartee, which if not sharp nor pointed, still served the purpose of eliciting laughter, and strange mistakes in respect to personal identity, which were more diverting than all.
    There was also plenty of subdued whispering between youthful couples; for Love is as busy at masquerades as elsewhere.
    The brilliancy of the dresses in the boxes, and the variety of those upon the floor, combined with the blaze of light and the sounds of the music [-36-] formed a scene at once gay, exhilarating, and ravishing.
    At about a quarter before ten o'clock, a masque, attired in the sombre garb of a Carmelite Friar, with his cowl drawn completely over his face, and a long rosary hanging from the rude cord which girt his waist, entered the theatre.
    He cast a wistful glance, through the slight opening in his cowl, all around; and, not perceiving the person whom he sought, retired into the most obscure nook which be could find, but whence he could observe all that passed.
    At five minutes to ten, a lady, habited as a Circassian slave, and wearing an ample white veil, so thick that it was impossible to obtain a glimpse of her countenance, alighted from a cab at the principal entrance of the theatre.
    Lightly she tripped up the steps; but as she was about to enter the vestibule, her veil caught the buttons of a lounger's coat, and was drawn partly of her face.
    She immediately re-adjusted it-but not before a gentleman, masked, and in the habit of a Greek Brigand, who was entering it the time, obtained, glimpse of her features.
    "What! Ellen here!" murmured the Greek Brigand to himself: "I must not lose sight of her!"
    Ellen did not however notice that she had been particularly observed; much less did she suspect that she was recognised.
    But as she hastened up the great staircase, the Greek Brigand followed her closely.
    Although her countenance was so completely concealed, her charming figure was nevertheless set off to infinite advantage by the dualma which she wore, and which, fitting close to her shape, reached down to her knees. Her ample trousers were tied just above the ankle where the graceful swell of the leg commenced; and her little feet were protected by red slippers.
    The Brigand who had recognised her, and now watched her attentively, was tall, slender, well-made, and of elegant deportment.
    Ellen soon found herself in the midst of the busy scene, where her graceful form and becoming attire immediately attracted attention.
    "Fair eastern lady," said an Ancient Knight in buff jerkin and plumed tocque, "if thou hast lost the swain that should attend upon thee, accept of my protection until thou shalt find him."
    "Thanks for thy courtesy, Sir Knight," answered Ellen, gaily: "I am come to confess to a holy father whom I see yonder."
    "Wilt thou then abjure thine own creed, and imbrace ours!" asked the Knight.
    "Such is indeed my intention, Sir Knight," replied Ellen; and she darted away towards the Carmelite Friar whom she had espied in his nook.
    The Ancient Knight mingled with a group of Generals and Heathen Goddesses, and did not offer to pester Ellen with any more of his attentions.
    "Sweet girl," said Reginald Tracy (whom the reader has of course recognised in the Carmelite Friar), when Ellen joined him, how can I sufficiently thank you for this condescension on your part?"
    "I am fully recompensed by the attention you have shown to the little caprice which prompted me to choose this scene for the interview that you desired," answered Ellen.
    Both spoke in a subdued tone but not so low as to prevent the Greek Brigand, who was standing near, from overhearing every word they uttered.
    "Mr. Tracy,' continued Ellen, "why did you entrust your message of love to another!? why could you not impart with your own lips that which you were anxious to communicate to me!"
    "Dearest Ellen," answered the rector, "I dared not open my heart to you in person I was compelled to do so by means of another."
    "If your passion be an honourable one," said Ellen, "there was no need to feel shame in revealing it."
    "My passion is most sincere, Ellen. I would die for you! Oh! from the first moment that I beheld you by your father's sick-bed, I felt myself drawn towards you by an irresistible influence; and each time that I have since seen you has only tended to rivet more firmly the chain which makes me your slave. Have I not given you an unquestionable proof of my sincerity by meeting you here?"
    "A proof of your desire to please me, no doubt," said Ellen. "But what proof have I that your passion is an honourable one! You speak of its sincerity you avoid all allusion to the terms on which you would desire me to return it."
    "What terms do you demand?" asked the rector. "Shall I lay my whole fortune at your feet? Shall I purchase a splendid house, with costly appointments, for you? In a word, what proof of my love do you require?"
    "Are you speaking as a man who would make a settlement upon a wife, or as one who is endeavouring to arrange terms with a mistress?" demanded Ellen.
    "My sweet girl," replied Reginald. know you not that, throughout my career, I have from the pulpit denounced the practice of a man in holy orders marrying, and that I have more than once declared solemnly declared my intention of remaining single upon principle! You would not wish me to commit an inconsistency which might throw a suspicion upon my whole life!"
    "Then, sir, by what right do you presume that I will compromise my fair fame for your sake, if you tremble to sacrifice your reputation for mine?" asked Ellen. "Is every compromise to be effected by poor woman, and shall man make no sacrifice for her! Are you vile, or base, or cowardly enough to ask me to desert home and friends to gratify your selfish passion, while you carefully shroud your weakness beneath the hypocritical cloak of reputed sanctity! Was it to hear such language as this that I agreed to meet you? But know, sir, that you have greatly oh! greatly mistaken me! By the most unmanly the most disgraceful means you endeavoured to wring from me, a few days ago, a secret which certain expressions of mine, incautiously uttered over what I conceived to be my father's death-bed, had perhaps made you more than half suspect. Those words, which escaped me in a moment of bitter anguish, you treasured up, and converted them into the text for a sermon which you preached me."
    "Ellen," murmured the rector; "why these reproaches?"
    "Oh! why these reproaches? I will tell you," continued the young lady, whose bosom palpitated violently beneath the dualma. "Do you think that you did well to press me to reveal the secret of my [-36-] shame! Do you think that you adopted an honourable means to discover it? When you addressed me in that saintly manner a manner which I now know to have been that of a vile hypocrisy I actually believed you to be sincere; for the time I fancied that a man of God was offering me consolation. Nevertheless, think you that my feelings were not wounded! But an accident made you acquainted with that truth which you vainly endeavoured to extort from me! And now you perhaps believe that I cannot read your heart. Oh! I can fathom its depths but too well. You cherish the idea that because I have been frail once, I am fair game for a licentious sportsman like you. You are wrong, sir you are wrong. I never erred but once but once, mark you; and then not through passion nor through love-nor in a moment of surprise. I erred deliberately no matter why. The result was the child whom you have seen. But never, never will I err more no, not even though tempted, as I have been, by the father of my child! You sent to me a messenger-the same filthy hag who pandered to my first, my only disgrace, you sent her as your herald of love. Ah! sir, you must have already plunged into ways at variance with the sanctity of your character or you could not have known her! I told her-as I now assure you that I do not affect a virtue which I possess not; but if I henceforth remain pure and chaste, it is because I am a mother because I love my child because I will keep myself worthy of the respect of him who is the father of that child, should God ever move his heart towards me. Say then that I am virtuous upon calculation I care not: still I am virtuous!"
    The individual in the garb of the Greek Bandit drew a pace or two nearer as these words met his ears.
    Neither the rector nor Ellen observed that he was paying any attention to them: on the contrary, he appeared to be entirely occupied in contemplating the dancers from beneath his impervious mask.
    "Ellen, what means all this?" asked Reginald: "are you angry with me? You alarm me!"
    "Suffer me to proceed, that you may understand me fully," said Ellen. "You mercilessly sought to cover me with humiliation, when you rudely probed that wound in my heart, the existence of which an unguarded expression of mine had revealed to you. Your conduct was base-was cowardly; and as a woman, I eagerly embraced the opportunity to avenge myself."
    "To avenge yourself!" faltered Reginald, nearly sinking with terror as these words fell upon his ears.
    "Yes-to avenge myself," repeated Ellen hastily "When your messenger that vile agent of crime proposed to me that I should grant you an interview, I bethought myself of this ball which I had seen announced in the newspapers. It struck me that if I could induce you you, the man of sanctity to clothe yourself in the mummery of a mask and meet me at a scene which you and your fellow ecclesiastics denounce as one worthy of Satan, I should hurl back with tenfold effect that deep, deep humiliation which you visited upon me. It was for this that I made the appointment here to-night for this that I retired early to my chamber, and thence stole forth unknown to my father and my benefactor for this that I now form one at an assembly which has no charms for me! My intention was to seize an opportunity to tear your disguise from you, and allow all present to behold amongst them the immaculate rector of Saint David's. But I will be more merciful to you than you were to me: I will not inflict upon you that last and most poignant humiliation!"
    "My God! Miss Monroe, are you serious?" said the rector, deeply humbled; "or is this merely a portion of the pastime!"
    "Does it seem sport to you?" asked Ellen: "if so, I will continue it, and wind it up with the scene which I had abandoned."
    "For heaven's sake, do not expose me, Miss Monroe!" murmured Reginald, now writhing in agony at the turn which the matter had taken. "Let me depart and forget that I ever dared to address you rudely."
    "Yes go," said Ellen: "you are punished sufficiently. You possess the secret of my frailty I possess the secret of your hypocrisy: beware of the use you make of your knowledge of me, lest I retaliate by exposing you."
    There was something very terrible in the lesson which that young woman gave the libidinous priest on this occasion; and he felt it in its full force.
    Cowering within himself, he uttered not another word, but stole away, completely subdued cruelly humiliated.
    Ellen lingered for a few moments on the spot where she had so effectually chastised the insolent hypocrite; and then hastily retired.
    The Greek Brigand made a movement as if he were about to follow her; but, yielding to a second thought, he stopped, murmuring, "By heavens! she is a noble creature!

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