50 Years at Project Gutenberg

Hot off the Press

On July 4, 1971, Michael S. Hart, who had been given access to a mainframe computer at the University of Illinois, typed the United States Declaration of Independence into the machine and sent it off to about 100 users via ARPANET – the infant Internet. And so the first e-book was born, along with Hart’s vision of making literature “as free as the air we breathe”: Project Gutenberg. Half a century later, PG offers readers over 65,000 free e-books in the U.S. public domain, available in a wide variety of formats and languages.

In the first couple of decades, Michael typed in most of the books himself in his spare time. The 10th e-book, released in 1989, was the King James Bible. By 1994, there were 100 books at PG – the 100th e-book was The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Just three years later came…

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Our 18th Anniversary


Congratulations and many thanks to all for the many books so lovingly provided.

Hot off the Press

18th anniversaryEighteen years ago, on October 1, 2000, Distributed Proofreaders volunteers began “preserving history one page at a time” by preparing public-domain e-books for Project Gutenberg. Since then, DP has contributed over 36,000 unique titles. Here’s a look back at some of DP’s accomplishments since our last retrospective.


33,000 titles. In November 2016, Distributed Proofreaders posted its 33,000th unique title to Project Gutenberg, A Flower Wedding, by the great children’s book illustrator Walter Crane. You can read all about it in this celebratory post.

34,000 titles. Our 34,000th title was, appropriately, A Manual of the Art of Bookbinding, and was posted in July 2017. The DP blog post on this milestone is here.

35,000 titles. DP contributed its 35,000th title, Shores of the Polar Sea, in January 2018. This beautifully illustrated account of a 19th-Century expedition to the North Pole is celebrated in this…

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Discovering a Centuries Old Library


In the end she turned the key but left it in the lock, and stepped cautiously through the door she had opened into what had probably been a dining room but was as large as the ballroom of her aunt’s house in Mayfair. It was lined floor to ceiling with books: goods boxes had been stacked on top of the original ten-foot bookshelves, and planks stretched over windows and doors so that no one square foot of the original paneling showed and the tops of the highest ranks brushed the coffered ceiling. Yellow-backed adventure novels by Conan Doyle and Clifford Ashdown shouldered worn calf saints’ lives, antiquated chemistry texts, Carlyle, Gibbon, de Sade, Balzac, cheap modern reprints of Aeschylus and Plato, Galsworthy, Wilde, Shaw.

Traveling with the Dead (James Asher #2) by Barbara Hambly



Need I say that the name Balzac grabbed my attention! There is another great quote from later in the book when one of the vampires says, “We follow families, names, neighborhoods for years, sometimes decades. To us, chains of events are like the lives of Balzac’s characters, or Dickens’. The nights are long.”

I was unfamiliar with the name Clifford Ashdown. Research showed that it is a nom de plume used by Richard Austin Freeman and John James Pitcairn for books on which they collaborated.

December 1 in Literary History: Project Gutenberg Launched


1971 – Project Gutenberg!

Interesting Literature

The most significant events in the history of books on the 1st of December

1723: Susanna Centlivre dies. She was a popular playwright during the early eighteenth century, working closely with the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Her belated Restoration comedy, The Basset Table (1705), is probably her most famous play, although A Bold Stroke for a Wife (1718) has remained well-known too.

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Love in a Mask – Chapter XII

Love in a Mask by Honoré de Balzac

Chapter XI


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.”

Table of Contents

Love in a Mask – Chapter XI

Love in a Mask by Honoré de Balzac

Chapter X


ALONE again, Elinor found her solitude unbearable; the happiness she had lately tasted could henceforth alone satisfy her heart. Her one thought now was to hasten to rejoin her friend and the man whom she already regarded as her husband.

A week after their departure found her with her little daughter back in her town house. Mme. de Gernancé was the only person who had been informed of her arrival.

After a long talk, in which she explained to her friend the way–a trifle romantic withal–in which she intended to make herself known to Léon, she succeeded in inducing her friend to help her carry out the scheme that pleased her fancy, and the pair separated, having arranged all the details agreed upon.

The season of the Opera Balls had opened, and Mme. de Gernancé invited Léon one night to accompany her to one. He declined at first, with a hot haste she had not anticipated; the scene of the adventure that was to have such an influence upon his life had become hateful to him, and he had sworn never to set foot there again. But Mme. de Gernancé insisted; she asked him only to lend her his arm until she could find a stranger who had promised to come, and whom she wanted to puzzle.

Léon, unable to refuse anything to Mme. de Roselis’ friend, at last consented, though with inward repugnance, and they set off together.

His entrance into the ballroom was a painful moment for him; a tumult of memories surged up in his mind.

Mme. de Gernancé made a few turns round the hall with him, and then, pretending to have discovered the person she was seeking, she set him at liberty and said good-bye. Scarcely had she left his arm when a voice, in spite of the slight affectation of manner inseparable from a masked ball, made his every pulse leap, uttered close beside him the words:

“Ah ha, I have caught you, faithless one! It is not for me you are looking, this time, at the Opera ball!”

He turned and saw before him– Who was it? His unknown lady herself. The white domino, the mask, even the diamond buckle that fastened her belt which he had noticed on that other occasion,–all were there.

“It is she!” he exclaimed, seizing her arm and slipping it beneath his own. “Have I found you again? Is it you I am looking at, is it you I hold? By what inconceivable miracle–”

“Is it really so astonishing? You know my talent for miracles.”

“It is true. It is the only thing I do know about you.”

“But what is past is nothing; there is much more to come. Now that you have fallen again in my power, you may expect the most extraordinary consequences. Your fate is sealed, your destiny is about to be fulfilled.”

But while she talked a growing disappointment damped the sudden joy that Léon had experienced at the first sight of her. He was bitterly wounded by the light, imperious tone she had adopted after those three years of total forgetfulness, added to her other wrongs. All the hard thoughts he had harbored of her in the long interval crowded back now upon his mind.

He stopped short.

“Well, madame,” he said coldly, “what is it you want of me? What fresh scheme are you devising? What new way of taking me in?”

“Oh, what a change three years can work in a man! Is this the tender, gentle, attentive Léon, who in this very room so fervently vowed to be wholly constant and submissive?”

“Ah, if I am changed, whose is the fault, cruel one? Is it not your own? For you devoted to my undoing all the charm that has most power over the heart of man, and having betrayed my faith, you cast me off, without remorse as without pity. Did you not take a pleasure in teaching me the value of what you cheated me out of, and then leave me for three years to my regrets, to forget you as best I could?”

“Léon, you are too severe. Here I am with you again. I have come back to atone for the wrong I did you, and restore to you all you pined for.”

“Ah, how can I put any faith in your words now? Perhaps, in a minute or two, you will once more disappear from my view, leaving no trace behind you but the pain you cause me. You are possibly already contriving some fresh ruse–”

Here she interrupted him, saying in a softened voice:

“No, no more ruses, no more secrets. Ah, Léon, I too have suffered. But let us forget the folly and pain that are over now. You may know and claim your wife now.”

“You did not want to be my wife–”

“True, but I was wrong; now I have come back to surrender to your love.”

“Once you disdained it–a pure and lasting love that filled my heart for you. What new caprice prompts you now to claim it? Are you sure it still exists for you? Was I to foster an insane passion for an invisible woman who had forsaken me? What makes you suppose me unchanged? Why should I not in my turn reject a chain once hateful to yourself? Why should not I too now cherish my independence? To me its cost is less than it is to you.”

These terrible words smote Elinor to the core. All the gaiety and fond hope that she had brought with her to the ball were gone now. She admitted the justice of the unexpected reproaches with which he had met her advances, and in her humiliation, her courage and her strength both deserted her.

Léon saw that she could scarcely stand, and he led her to a bench away from the crowd, seating himself beside her. Fortunately, the pain she was enduring found relief in tears.

“Ah, forgive me,” said Léon, touched at the spectacle of her genuine grief, “forgive me, O you whom I cannot understand. I am angry now with myself for my misplaced harshness! Only, having received so many marks of your indifference, could I expect to find you vulnerable?”

Then he pressed her to drop her mask, and allow him to see her home. At first she was tempted to comply, and to reveal the face that would instantly have disarmed him; but she dreaded a scene that might attract all eyes to them, and a wish to put him to one more proof restrained her. Drawing her hood down over her eyes, and disguising her voice more carefully than ever, she said sadly:

“No, why take me home? The hour is late, and you have taught me circumspection. Why remove my mask? Of what use to know a woman you can no longer love? I can see why you are so cold. I know where you spent your convalescence, and whose hands nursed you.”

“Well, then, madame,” said Léon, seriously, “you know also that my gratitude could not possibly be too warm, or my admiration too high. Yes, I do not deny it. In three months of the most endearing intimacy, tended by a woman whose beauty was the least of her charms, a woman sympathetic and reasonable, who unites the dignity proper to her sex with that kindness of heart that is an ornament the more–could I fail to appreciate so many lovable qualities? Could I ever forget her?”

Elinor, beside herself with joy at his words, felt that if she stayed another moment she would betray herself in spite of her efforts. She rose at once.

“Be happy then,” she said. “Your happiness will be mine. I say no more about myself. I ask nothing; you are free. But would you care to see your daughter?”

“Would I, indeed! You cannot doubt it!”

“Then come and lunch with me tomorrow and you shall.”

She gave him her address, but without adding her name.

“My people will know,” she said. “They will show you in.”

She left, deeply affected by what had passed.

“What would have become of me,” she said to herself in terror, “what should I have done, if I had never had the opportunity of winning his esteem and his love in another aspect?

Table of Contents

Chapter XII

Love in a Mask – Chapter X

Love in a Mask by Honoré de Balzac

Chapter IX


MEANTIME, poor little Léonie was the only person who had a right to feel aggrieved by the arrival of the new guest, for she was carefully excluded from his room, where her high spirits might have appeared too boisterous. Elinor had a feeling of shame about showing her to Léon, as if she feared that he might guess his own interest in her; but the child, having been accustomed to be always with her mother, was constantly running after her.

Finding the sick man’s door ajar, one day, she softly pushed it, and put her pretty head through to look in. Her eyes, both timid and inquisitive, fell on the stranger whom she had never yet seen.

Léon was the first to catch sight of her. He called out in surprise.

“Where does that beautiful baby come from?” he exclaimed.

She had already fled, but her mother, with beating heart and flushed cheeks, called her back, took her in her arms, and placed her on Léon’s knees.

He was conscious of a sudden rush of memory, and in an inexplicable tide of feeling he gazed fondly at her, covered her with caresses, and then inquired her age in a voice that betrayed great emotion.

Elinor, confused and now convinced that he had guessed the truth, added a year.

“I should have taken her to be younger,” said Léon, with a sign and fell into a muse.

The little girl, having forgotten her fears, now refused to leave the lap of her new friend; nor could he bear to set her down.

“But I must part you,” said Elinor, smiling; “when I see you so distressed, I regret having brought her in.”

“Ah, madame, if you knew of what she reminds me!”

“But if I may take you to be the hero of an interesting anecdote that I have by no means forgotten, I can easily guess–”

“Well, yes, madame, it was I, and though she has betrayed and cast me off, after apparently choosing me, I have remained in spite of myself faithful to her memory, ever regretting a shadow, and pursuing a vain chimera, unable to die, or to live happy any longer.”

Elinor could hardly keep back her tears.

“Then,” she said timidly, “you love her still?”

“I scarcely know if I do, if I am weak enough to love her still; but our meetings, the moments spent in her presence, her grace, even her capriciousness,–all are graven on my memory. She has bruised my soul, and taken the glamour from life for me.”

“Oh,” cried Elinor in a heartbroken voice, “such constancy deserves reward. You may be sure that the day will come when she will return, humbled in her turn, softened, to heal the wounds she has caused and to win your pardon.”

“Never! For three years that proud, unfeeling woman has never condescended to send me as much as a word of remembrance. She has probably gone back to her own land, to India, America, or where not. She has triumphed, and must be laughing at my credulity, and I should like to forget her. Lately I have almost thought it might be possible, and perhaps, indeed,” he added, in an altered voice, “I shall succeed only too soon.”

“You will forget her, Léon?”

The words had been spoken in a voice of such tender reproach that Léon gazed at her. He saw that her eyes were full of tears.

“Ah, madame,” he said, after a moment’s pause, “your sympathy is very dear to me! If only she had your nature, your responsive sensitiveness, I should be a happy man today. My own child, perhaps as pretty as yours, would be now sitting on my knee.”

Then, turning on Elinor his still languid eyes:

“And her mother–close beside me–loving–”

“These recollections only sadden you, and do you no good at all” said Elinor, shaking all over, and picking up her child. “Decidedly, I shall have to part you.”

“Forgive me, madame; I have been dreaming. But why wake me so soon?”

Not daring to listen to another word, Elinor fled with her child to tell Mme. de Gernancé all that had passed between them.

From that day, little Léonie was as assiduous as her mother in her attentions to the convalescent. He continually asked for her, and became passionately attached to her.

The child, for her part, called him her friend, heaped kisses on him, and insisted on being always between him and her mother. Her artless affection for them both gave rise to many an embarrassing scene that was fraught with pleasure for Elinor, but left Léon ever more depressed and pensive.

Meantime, he was growing visibly stronger; his wound was making progress; time, which passes so swiftly in the happy days of a budding friendship, had brought winter back again with the month of December.

Mme. de Gernancé had for some time talked of leaving them; she now declared she could no longer postpone her departure. Then, all at once, in a voice that showed the effort the words cost him, Léon begged permission to accompany her.

Greatly surprised at so sudden a decision, Mme. de Roselis opposed the plan.

“Ah, madame,” he answered quickly, “pray let me go; I have but too long reveled in a happiness that is full of danger, since it is not for me. Let me flee from you and your child, from the spell of your kind care, and these happy days that fly so fast. Let me return to the solitude that must ever be my lot.”

“But at least, wait till we can ask the doctor if you are fit to–”

“There are dangers from which the doctor with his science is powerless to preserve me. My destiny is to flee all that is lovable, all that might captivate and charm. I cannot get away from this place too soon–”

“Well, my dear,” said Elinor, turning to her friend, “I must then trust my wounded knight to your care. You will answer to me for his safety, at all events.”

A little taken aback, perhaps, at her letting him go so easily, Léon went out to give the necessary orders for his departure. Elinor followed him with her eyes, a smile on her face.

“Well, perhaps you will be kind enough to explain this new comedy to me,” said Mme. de Gernancé in much vexation. “it is clear that he is running away because he is afraid he might love you. Then what are you waiting for? Why not reveal yourself, and end this folly that has lasted already far too long? Can you find any pleasure in this new way of tormenting him?”

“Ah, dear, how fascinating it is to be your own rival, to win him twice under such different guises! He is true to me even in his inconstancy; he has so much delicacy and honor that he runs from me so as not to betray me. He loved me once; he loves no one but me. How happy I am!”

“But Léon, poor Léon! When are you going to begin to think about his happiness? Say what you have to say to him, Elinor, and let us all go to Paris together, where you can make a marriage that will, I suppose, have no terrors for you.

“No, I have a plan in my head. You go with him, and I will follow you very shortly.”

“Elinor, Elinor, still romantic, still imagining wild schemes!”

“Dear friend only this once. It shall be the very last time, I swear!”

At that moment, Léon returned. He seemed disturbed and excited. Everything was being got ready for his journey.

Mme. de Gernancé, displeased with her friend, but forced to yield to her, went off to make her own preparations. But when the time came to say good-bye, every one broke down; Elinor, in tears, handed her patient over to Mme. de Gernancé, who promised to take him home with her and to look after him carefully; Léon, white and grave, stood beside the carriage, thanking her over and over again in impassioned tones. He constantly left and then returned to the child, who cried aloud when she saw her friend going away.

Mme. de Gernancé came close to Elinor.

“There is still time,” she said in a whisper.

Wavering for a moment, Mme. de Roselis at last replied:

“No, there is only one way in which I can make that difficult confession.”

Then Mme. de Gernancé drew Léon away, took her seat in the carriage with him, and the horses started at once, bearing both out of sight.

Table of Contents

Chapter XI

Love in a Mask – Chapter IX

Love in a Mask by Honoré de Balzac

Chapter VIII


WHEN he once more opened his eyes Léon found himself in bed with a surgeon seated beside him. His wound had been redressed, and everything done for him that kindness could suggest. His servant, whom he tried to question, was eager to tell him, in a few words, what had happened, but the surgeon interrupted him and ordered silence and rest.

To Mme. de Roselis, who was anxiously awaiting news of the sick man, it was a shock to learn that he was extremely weak from loss of blood and that, in the event of fever setting in, he could hardly be expected to resist it. Perfect quiet was ordered. It was decided that the ladies must not go into his room, but should content themselves with seeing that he had everything he needed.

Next morning, Elinor rang her bell before dawn, and was terrified to learn that fever had set in during the night, to be followed by delirium. It was only then, in the surprise she felt at her own despair, that she realized how dear Léon had become to her, and she now admitted to herself that she could never be happy without him. Of her pride and futile prejudices nothing remained; her whole being was engrossed by the thought of his danger. Mme. de Gernancé was so afraid her agitation would betray her that she took great trouble throughout the day to keep her out of the patient’s room; but the next night, when her household was in bed, and she was once more alone and sleepless in the solemn silence which intensifies suffering and renders fear unbearable, Elinor, unable any longer to wrestle with her anxiety, rose and slipped out into the corridor to listen at the door of Léon’s room and find out how he was. He was still evidently delirious, and the distressed accents of his trembling voice came brokenly to her ear. Forgetting everything but her grief, she opened the door softly and went in.

The nurse had fallen asleep. By the dim light of the lamp she recognized the pleasant features that were so deeply graven on her memory; but the eyes were now fixed, the face bright with fever; his labored breathing could scarcely lift the sheet that seemed to weigh all too heavily on his chest. Elinor dropped into an arm-chair that was close to the door and hid her face and her tears in her two hands.

The slight noise she made roused Léon from his momentary stupor.

“Is that she?” he said. “Will she come? I am going to die. Let me see her at last. Tell her I am dying. But where is she to be found? I have lost her–lost her forever.”

He paused, and then began again.

“My daughter–bring her to me. Can they refuse to let me see my child when I am dying? Poor little thing! Don’t try to find your father. You have none. He was not able even to give you his blessing in his last moments.”

This was too much for Elinor, and she burst out sobbing.

Léon started and turned his head slightly, but his eyes, still fixed, saw nothing.

“Where is this mysterious hiding place? What do I see on the sofa? It is you, you whom I adore, you whom I sought. I hold you in my arms. But your mask–take off your mask, do take it off. What! You still want to run away? No, no, you shall not escape me again.”

As he spoke, he made an effort to raise himself.

“Léon,” cried Elinor, rushing to the bedside, “Léon, stop!”

He looked up at her, startled, uncertain; then, after an instant’s silence, he began again more calmly:

“It is too much. Lift my head. Ah! if I could but sleep!”

By this time the nurse, roused by Elinor’s cry, had come forward to support him, but he turned from her, and let his head drop on Elinor’s bosom. By degrees, a more tranquil sleep seemed to steal over his senses.

A little later Mme. de Gernancé joined them, looking anxiously for her friend. She too had risen before daybreak and, not finding Elinor in her own apartments, had hastened to the sick room, where the spectacle before her eyes arrested her at the door. Léon was asleep, supported on Elinor’s shoulder, while she, seated motionless on the edge of the bed with her head bent over her lover’s, was vainly endeavoring to check the tears that streamed from her eyes.

Mme. de Gernancé hastened up to the bed.

“What are you doing here, Elinor?” she said in a low whisper. “How imprudent you are!”

“Leave me alone,” her friend rejoined. “Nothing will induce me to leave this bed until this unfortunate man is either dead or saved. I don’t care who knows that I love him and that I am his; it is a just punishment for my offenses. If only he might live! Nothing else matters.”

Fear of disturbing the patient kept them both silent after that, and Léon’s sleep continued as calm as it was sound.

He had slept several hours when, half opening his eyes, and making an effort to lift the heavy lids, his first glance fell on the trembling Elinor, who was trying gently to put him back on the pillows.

He closed his eyes again. Then, once more opening them, “Where am I?” he said in a weak voice.

Then, seeing that he was almost in the arms of a woman who did not look like a nurse, he made a movement to try to help her to set down her burden. His eyes, wild no longer, but filled with surprise and doubt, followed Elinor behind the curtain, where she was attempting to conceal herself.

“Is it a dream?” he said, speaking with difficulty. “I seem to have seen that face before. Ah, madame, am I to believe–”

“He has recognized me,” she said to herself in a fright and blushing crimson.

“Once, I think, at Mme. de B.’s house, but once is sufficient. One could never forget you,” and his large languid eyes were still riveted on her.

“Be quiet! Be quiet! No more talking. You are ordered the strictest silence. Keep still, and do not even think. Hope and sleep.”

The doctor arrived shortly. He declared that the long sleep had done the patient a world of good, that the fever had gone down, and if the temperature now remained steady through the coming night he might be considered to be saved.

Elinor listened, holding her breath, and drinking in the reassuring words. Her joy, too great to be repressed, brought back a charming color to her pale, wet cheeks.

When night fell she insisted on taking her place in a corner of Léon’s room, to await the dreaded attack of fever. It did not come, however, and the night proved a good one. The following day the doctor announced that there was no longer any danger, but he thought it his duty to warm Mme. de Roselis that convalescence would probably be slow, and that it would be dangerous to move the patient until the wound was thoroughly healed.

Elinor, making a great effort to show only a cool compassion, trembled with joy at the prospect of the long days to come, when, in sweet intimacy, she would be able to devote herself to Léon and restore him to happiness as she had already restored him to life.

It was not long before he was able to express his gratitude to the kind chatelaine, whom, as he believed, he had seen but once before, but whose beauty, indulgence, and sensitiveness had made the deepest impression on him.

The two friends hardly left his room. They amused him, read to him, played soft music to him. It was the story over again of Bayard nursed by the two sisters; nay, it was more. Elinor, ever watchful, seemed to guess and forestall his every want; she always knew how to find for him the easiest position, and she surrounded him with those thousand and one little attentions which add to your comfort without attracting your attention.

It was then that Léon told them how, wounded severely in a hot fight in Spain, and left on the field of battle, he had been dragged from the jaws of death by a woman, who, touched by his youth and condition, had taken him home with her and nursed him tenderly. He was recovering when a troop of guerillas arrived at the place and he was forced to flee from his benefactress’ house in order to escape from their hands. After many narrow escapes he had finally reached Bayonne, where he had been too restless to stay long enough to be entirely cured, and the fatigues of the journey had brought about the accident to which he owed her generous hospitality. This was his story, and it explained to Elinor the uncertainty that had for so long hung about his fate.

Table of Contents

Chapter X

Love in a Mask – Chapter VIII

Love in a Mask by Honoré de Balzac

Chapter VII


SHE sat one evening in a corner of the park, watching the child at play and musing idly on the man whose image Léonie always called up before her mind.

Presently there reached her ear confused voices, coming from the servants, who seemed to be searching for her.

“Madame must be somewhere in the park with her daughter,” she heard one say.

“With her daughter!” exclaimed a voice that she recognized as Mme. de Gernancé’s.

At the same moment that lady came in sight, and the two friends fell into each other’s arms.

“Dear Elinor,” said her visitor affectionately, “my anxiety about you gave me no peace. Your letters have been so few and far between, and were so sad, that I felt I must come and see for myself how you really were. I have come to share and, if possible, enliven your solitude for a little time.”

But while her friend was uttering her earnest thanks for this mark of friendship, Mme. de Gernancé had fixed her eyes on the child in much surprise and curiosity, for she saw that she was treated by the servants as the daughter of the house, and in her baby talk she constantly called out to her mother.

When they had gone back to the house Mme. de Roselis said, smiling:

“I see your astonishment, and I can guess your curiosity. Yes, dear friend, I have been keeping a secret from you, a secret that I could not bring myself to confide in you. But now, tomorrow, you shall hear all about it, and my story will at the same time explain my sadness.”

Notwithstanding the fatigue of her journey, Mme. de Gernancé scarcely slept that night, so great was her anxiety to hear the explanation of what was a mystery to her.

She was up early in the morning, and hastened to find Elinor, and together the two wandered out into the park to have their talk alone. Mme. de Roselis walked in silence by her friend’s side, a little shy of making this confidence that she had promised.

At last, hesitating slightly, she thus began:

“It is too late now, dear friend, to attempt to hide from you a secret that I have always wanted to tell you, and which I only delayed because I knew you would not approve. However, since I must confess, the baby who has so excited your curiosity is my daughter. I had so longed for a child, but I could not bear to place my neck a second time under the yoke that had weighed so heavy on me before.”

Mme. de Gernancé could not refrain from showing the surprise she felt; but without giving her time to speak, Elinor went on to tell her about the rash scheme she had formed on the voyage, and the means she had adopted for carrying it out.

She came at last to the birth of the child, but here she was interrupted impetuously by her friend.

“What precautions and prudence to bestow on an act of sheer madness! How much you risked! How could you compromise in such a way your reputation, and indeed your very life! And why all these sacrifices? Just to grasp an imperfect happiness you are obliged to hide, and dare not show! So this is to what your excessive caution has brought you! Carried away by your imagination, you have hugged a chimera which led you to refuse the real blessings of life in favor of the hollow satisfaction of following a caprice! Oh, take my advice, lose no time in recalling the father of that dear child. Do not any longer deprive yourself of the pleasures of natural affection and the sweetest of home ties.”

“Ah, it is no longer in my power,” exclaimed Mme. de Roselis. “Listen a moment, and you shall see how I have been punished for the error you so severely condemn.”

Then she reminded her of the young aide-de-camp who had been so much talked about at Mme. de B.’s, and who had been so keenly regretted by everybody.

“What!” cried Mme. de Gernancé, “was it he? Oh, what have you done, Elinor? How I pity you! Now you see how your folly has destroyed your peace of mind and happiness, and by a punishment that you richly deserve, it is not even possible for you to make any amends. Henceforth you will be a wife without a right to bear the name, and a mother, though you scarcely dare to have it known. You will spend your life blushing for the most natural and honorable of feelings, and you, so beautiful, so brilliant, so richly gifted by nature and fortune, have by your own perverse act deprived yourself of the happiness the meanest of women is entitled to enjoy, the happiness of having husband and child, the sweetest of all! But there is more in it even than that. I can read your heart; it is useless for your pride to try to conceal the fact from your friend and from yourself. Your heart is no longer in your own keeping; you love, you have given it–”

At this, Mme. de Roselis hid her face in her hands; the tears flowed from her eyes.

“Dear Elinor,” said Mme. de Gernancé kindly, drawing nearer to her and taking her in her arms, “when I see you weep, I realize I love you too well to be your judge. Don’t grieve any more for an evil that may be remedied. Let us hope that Léon is still alive, and that all may yet be condoned.”

But at that word Elinor’s tears ceased.

“Condoned!” she said proudly. “No, my dear, I do not think I should easily consent to what you call condoning it. I have done wrong, it is true, but not from weakness. I did it on purpose, after long consideration of the troubles I had borne. It is true I grieve over the fate of a man who does interest me, and whose life I have disturbed and perhaps shortened. I cannot be happy again until I know he is not dead; but as for giving up my independence, and by this change of mind letting people think I had been either weak or inconsequent this I shall never consent to.”

Mme. de Gernancé saw that it was not the moment to attack either the prejudices or the pride of her friend; from that moment, however, Léon became their one subject of conversation, and by thus constantly talking about him, Elinor unconsciously strengthened the inclination she already felt for him.

For her part Mme. de Gernancé would draw an attractive picture of the happiness she herself enjoyed, and which she assured her friend might easily be hers as well. Elinor, now touched, and somewhat shaken in her resolution, would smile at her friend’s advice, and anon, returning to her cherished chimera of liberty, would wax indignant at the suggestion that she should give it up, after the sacrifices she had made in its name. Still, on one point the two friends were ever agreed, and that was in wishing that Léon might return.

Elinor and Mme. de Gernancé were one day together, discussing their favorite subject, when a messenger came to tell them that the servant of a traveler, who was passing along the high road, was imploring help for his master, who, ill and in great pain, had just fainted away in his carriage.

Mme. de Roselis at once gave orders that everything possible should be done for him, and urged by compassion, so natural to women, went herself, accompanied by her friend, to see the sick man. He had been lifted out of the carriage and was lying on the grass, pale, unconscious, and covered with blood; his frightened servant was declaring that the wound had opened and his master was lost.

It was at this moment that Mme. de Roselis arrived on the scene; but scarcely had her eyes fallen on the inanimate form before her when she screamed, and, hiding her face on her friend’s shoulder, she said, in a stifled voice:

“It is he! He is going to die before my very eyes!”

“In Heaven’s name,” replied Mme. de Gernancé in a whisper, “take courage! Don’t betray yourself!”

Those few words were enough to bring Elinor to her senses; feeling the danger of the situation, she summoned all her strength and ordered the interesting invalid to be carried, still fainting, into the chateau.

Table of Contents

Chapter IX

Love in a Mask – Chapter VII

Love in a Mask by Honoré de Balzac

Chapter VI


FROM that moment Mme. de Roselis (for she, of course, it was) lost the tranquil ease and proud indifference she had flattered herself she would be able to preserve. She now measured the gravity and danger of her act by the severity with which the women had judged it, while the light comments of the men revealed to her the magnitude of the debt she owed to Léon’s rare delicacy of conduct.

This consideration increased her regard for him. By degrees the idea that she had injured a man who worshiped her and whom she could not help liking, the peril and glory that hung around him lending him the glamour that women love, and, finally, the element of anxiety about him,–the food on which both love and memory thrive,–all these things helped to waken in her heart a feeling that was new to her.

She was seized with a longing to see her daughter again, and regain her solitude, and her one thought was to get away as quickly as possible.

While paying her farewell visit to Mme. de B. she heard that General X. and his pleasant young aide-de-camp were on their way to Spain, where hostilities had already begun. Her heart smote her. She cut her call short; an almost painful restlessness impelled her homewards to hasten the preparations for departure.

What a difference there was between her present state of mind and that in which she had arrived at the beginning of the winter, when on Mme. de Gernancé’s pressing invitation she had agreed to spend that season in Paris. Cheerful, contented, in the flower of her youth, looking forward to every kind of enjoyment, such was Mme. de Roselis then, and it may be imagined with what favor the beautiful and wealthy widow was received in a society where happiness constitutes a great merit. Mme. de B. was one of the first persons to whom Elinor was introduced. M. de Gernancé was an intimate friend of that lady’s husband and when the first rumors of war had begun to circulate in the city the idea had struck Elinor to utilize this friendship to procure a better and less dangerous post for Léon. She had given M. de Gernancé to understand that the young man had been recommended to her by his family, and she only requested that her name might not be mentioned in the transaction.

Her intervention was crowned with success, and then by a coincidence the meeting between the two had taken place and the whole course of her life was suddenly changed.

Mme. de Roselis then wended her way back to Touraine, worried, anxious, vexed with herself for the folly that had brought about such unlooked for results. Her lively imagination painted as imminent all the most terrible disasters that could possibly befall, and her heart melted at the contemplation of misfortunes that she was inventing for herself. She left her black servant in Paris to collect and forward all the news that came in from Spain, for she was beginning to take a keen interest in the events that were passing there.

At the sight of her daughter she felt her dearer to her than ever; she detected a likeness hitherto unnoticed, and new kisses, fonder than the first, were the result of this discovery.

More lonely now than she had ever been, Mme. de Roselis spent the summer watching the daily progress of her darling babe; every month it grew in beauty and in intelligence. Elinor was charmed; yet frequently she would have been glad to find at her side some one who could share her maternal enthusiasm.

“It is sad, after all,” she said to herself, “to have nobody with me who can enter into my happiness and share it with me. I suppose,” she went on, with a sigh that her pride promptly stifled, “only a father could take pleasure in these childish things. And even so, who knows, but afterwards, a despotic lord and master might hinder my plans for bringing her up, and his rigid strictness– Ah, but Léon would never be despotic. He has a very gentle expression and a tender smile. He would make a good father.”

Then she remembered that he was far away, and exposed to all the dangers of war; that he sought death, was perhaps already dead.

And Mme. de Roselis wrote for tidings from Spain, only regaining her cheerful and proud mien when she learned that M. de Préval was in such or such a town, and in good health.

As winter approached, her friends, unable to conceive what was the attraction that kept her away alone, wrote urging her to come up to town and stay with them again. But she could not make up her mind as yet to leave her little Léonie again, for she loved her more passionately every day, and, not caring to inform Mme. de Gernancé of the child’s existence, she made various excuses for postponing her departure.

It was not until January that she finally went up to Paris. But all the brilliant gaiety and pleasant parties that had so delighted her the previous year now failed to interest her at all; they seemed tedious and insipid. She returned home worn out, and discontented; felt lonely when she got there, and began to wonder whether the independence that she worshiped was not too frequently purchased at the price of an empty heart and the dullness it involves.

Wearied by the persistent attentions of a crowd of triflers, who were encouraged by her position, she told herself that she would have done better to attach to her side one who would have rid her of the rest; that in society an attractive and beautiful woman needs a protector who will compel all others to respect her; and imperceptibly, the memory of Léon became less indifferent to her.

Then, suddenly, there came tidings of fierce fighting in Spain.

In great alarm Elinor, filled with the gloomiest presentiments, hastened to call on Mme. de B. She found her friends already occupied with the subject that filled her thoughts, but what was her emotion when, after mentioning the names of several officers who had perished in the engagement, Mme. de B., turning to her, said:

“Do you remember, madame, that nice young aide-de-camp of General X.’s who told us that strange story? Well, he has disappeared since the battle. He is not to be found among either the living or the dead.”

Elinor’s only reply was a cry of surprise. Fortunately for her, all those present broke into an eager discussion of the news. She listened in silence to conjectures each more dismal than the last, and then hastily took her leave. She knew at last that, notwithstanding all her precautions, a man had the power to disturb her happiness and influence the course of her life.

She remained in Paris a month longer, hoping always to obtain reliable information, but as no news came to throw light on the darkness hanging over the fate of Léon, she decided to return to Touraine.

In vain Mme. de Gernancé, who could not understand her low spirits, tried to dissuade her from leaving them, fearing, in her uneasiness about her friend’s health, lest loneliness might be prejudicial to her. Elinor departed, carrying with her the anxiety and regret that she could not shake off. The sight of her child only increased her sorrow.

“She has only me now,” she said. “He who might one day have taken my place is gone.”

She watched the post impatiently, but nearly two months passed, and still no news came of Léon’s fate.

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Chapter VIII