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St. Armand's nature would preclude her, at least, from going to the bal masqué, though they expected that her husband might be tempted to adopt their mischievous advice. In order, therefore, that he, at all events, might be imposed upon, they dressed the femme de chambre of one of the clique in a pink domino, and instructed her to place herself near the orchestra at the appointed hour, and give the concerted signal.
They also wrote an anonymous letter to M. de Melfort, stating that a lady, who had an important communication to make to him, desired to meet him, at eleven o'olock, at the bal masqué; concluding by repeating the instructions already detailed in the letter to Madame St. Armand.
The hours that intervened between the
purchase of the domino and the moment for assuming their disguise, seemed interminable to the unhappy husband and wife. A hundred times was Alicia about to abandon her intention, as the dread and indecorum of exposing herself, alone, in so vast and profligate an assembly, arose to her imagination. But, then, the idea that her absence would leave her hated rival
undisputed possession of her husband, again maddened her, and determined her to execute her plan, in defiance of all the feminine misgivings which still made her shrink from the anticipation of the scene which she felt must
Soon her embarrassment was excited by the thought, that her servants must be acquainted with her visit to so disreputable a place — and alone, too; she, who never went any where without her husband.
" But what avail now,” thought the wretched Alicia,“ my fears of the condemnation of my own menials? What signifies to
me what the whole world may think, in comparison with the necessity of preventing Jules from meeting that wicked woman!”
The astonishment depicted on the countenances of her domestics, when, at half-past ten o'clock, she entered her carriage, disguised in a mask and domino, made the blush of shame mount to her very forehead, and almost induced her to abandon her resolution. But
now that the servants had seen her in her disguise, and had formed their surmises and conclusions, any pusillanimous retrogradation would be even worse than fruitless. Away, therefore, with all irresolution; and she de
termined to proceed in her perilous enterprise.
On arriving at the Opera House, and discovering the throng around the entrance, she became so much alarmed, that she shrank back in the carriage; and again, for a moment, meditated a return to her home. But, growing desperate at the thought, that in a few minutes she might be too late to prevent the meeting between her husband and the object of his guilty love, she hurriedly alighted ; and, giving the servant orders to await her return as near the spot as possible, tremblingly entered the theatre.
The lights, the music, the tumultuous rush of persons, and, above all, the noise, struck upon her terrified senses, and made her feel scarcely capable of preventing herself from sinking on the earth. Various masks accosted her with the usual hacknied addresses ; and, amused by her evident alarm, seemed peculiarly bent on persecuting her with their flip
The strangeness of her position, alone in a crowd for the first time in her life, the motley throng of hideous masks, and the disguised and squeaking tones of those who wore them, appalled her; and she shrank in painful alarm from each person who addressed her, though, in escaping from one tormentor, she only found herself assailed by another. But, in spite of her fears, one passion, painful and mighty in its influence, still supported and gave her resolution to proceed. This passion was jealousy, which steeled her nerves, and deadened all other feelings in her troubled breast.
She advanced towards the appointed spot ; but, though eleven o'clock had struck, in sounds that vibrated like a death-knell in her ear, no person like the one described in her letter was visible. She repeatedly made the concerted signal with her bouquet, but in vain; she was only addressed by a crowd of masks, all utterly dissimilar in appearance to the one she sought with so much fearful interest. What if he had already joined her detested rival ? there was agony and madness in the thought!