Love in a Mask by Honoré de Balzac
THAT night was spent by Léon in the greatest agitation.
At last, then, he had found the object of such keen desire and such lasting regret! Soon he was to know her! He was to see his daughter–his daughter, whose image he had so vainly tried to conjure up. No doubt it was now open to him to take up the position of husband and father! The title for which he had longed was now, probably, within his reach.
And yet the remembrance of Mme. de Roselis would place itself in the midst of the picture, and the comparison was not to the advantage of the Unknown Lady. Indeed, could any woman match Elinor in his eyes?
On the following day, punctual to the appointment, he arrived at the hour named, and the first person who met his eyes was the Negro who was so closely associated with his recollections.
The black conducted him through several richly furnished apartments to a door which he threw open, announcing M. de Préval.
Léon went forward, and found himself in a boudoir that instantly recalled to his mind one that three long years had not effaced from his memory. The illusion was completed by the sight of a woman in the same attitude as before, wearing the same dress and seated on a sofa. A child was sitting on her lap.
As Léon approached, she turned around.
“What do I see?” he cried. “Elinor! Is such happiness possible? Ah! if this be some cruel game, stop, I beg you, or I die before your eyes.”
At the same moment the little Léonie ran to throw herself in his arms, and showing him a half ring that was hanging round her neck, she said in her sweet, childish way:
“Friend Léon, will you mend my ring for me?”
He glanced at it, made an exclamation, and then, overcome with surprise and happiness, he was forced to drop into a chair, murmuring feebly:
“Elinor! My daughter!”
But Elinor was already at his side. He threw one arm around her, and with the other he held their child on his knee. They gazed into each other’s eyes, their tears falling, mingling. Neither could find a word to express what both were feeling.
Then Elinor, leaning her head softly against her lover’s shoulder, said tenderly:
“Yes, this is your daughter. And your Unknown Lady, your mistress, friend, and nurse, who in so many different shapes has been caring for your welfare, wants nothing henceforth but to be her mother and your wife. Forgive me, Léon, forgive me all the troubles I have caused you; forgive the wicked folly by which I, too, have suffered; it was the first offense and shall be the last. That haughty, heedless Unknown Lady learned a salutary lesson last night at the ball, and your wife will never forget it.”
“Ah, forgive me, too!” said Léon. “My friend, my baby, the dear objects of such anxiety and sorrow, how shall I make up to myself the three years that you have been out of reach of my love!”
Then Mme. de Gernancé arrived, and with friendly cordiality entered into the rapturous joy of the happy couple. But, ever practical and sensible, “Confess, Elinor,” she said to her friend, “you would have attained this happy end as surely had you never departed from the path marked out for us by duty and social laws, and you would even have spared yourselves three years of grief.”
“Don’t let us say anything more about it,” said Mme. de Roselis, kissing her. “Don’t let us ever say another word about it. I am wholly converted now. It is only at the expense of her happiness that a woman can attempt to escape from the trammels that have been imposed on her sex.”