Love in a Mask – Chapter III

Love in a Mask by Honoré de Balzac

Chapter II


THE impatience with which Léon waited for the morrow may be more easily imagined than described. How often did he run up to his rooms to see if the letter had yet arrived! How delighted he was when at last it was handed to him! But what was his astonishment to read these words:

“Here are the conditions on which he may have what he so persistently demanded:

“1. M. de Préval must be in his rooms at midnight tomorrow; a trustworthy man whom he has already seen once will call for him with a hired carriage which will convey him to his destination, only M. de Préval must allow his eyes to be blindfolded.

“2. He must refrain from questioning his guide, and must not attempt to bribe him (this would be quite useless), but he must quietly follow instructions.

“3. He must promise to make no noise, and no scandal; he must not make a fuss about the darkness, and must not attempt to induce the person who will be waiting for him to break the silence she has determined to keep.

“4. Finally, when his guide returns to fetch him, he must follow him out to the carriage and thence homeward, with the same precautions, and afterward, without making vain attempts to discover what is to be done with him, he must patiently await the enlightenment that is faithfully promised to him.

“5. If M. de Préval accepts these conditions he can write on the foot of this sheet that he will keep them, add his signature, and leave it in an envelope at his door to wait till called for.”

When he had read through this extraordinary document Léon, astonished beyond measure, was torn by a thousand conflicting feelings.

How was he to reconcile the elaborate precautions of this strange compact with the enlightenment that was promised? How could he make this appointment agree with the air of lofty distinction and reserve of the stranger?

He told himself over and over again that it would be the height of folly and imprudence to sign such a treaty, and embark on such a wild-goose chase. And yet, as the graceful image of the pretty Mask rose before his mind’s eye, and their animated talk at the ball recurred again to his memory, the contrast between her pride and her weakness, the piquancy of the situation, his now strongly aroused curiosity, and his vanity at stake, all combined to make up an irresistible temptation. For a moment he even fancied there might be a spice of danger in trusting himself to some unknown man to be led to an unknown place, his hands tied by his promise, and his person exposed defenseless to all risks. But this prospect added savor to the rest.

“No, indeed,” he cried, “I shall not draw back now; the precious reward offered is well worth a little folly.”

And, seizing a pen, this wise Cato wrote like any harebrained youth:

“I accept all the conditions imposed, and undertake on my word of honor to fulfil them scrupulously. I only ask permission to wear my sword.


In the course of the evening some one called for his answer, and on the following day he received another note, containing these few words:

“He may wear his sword, but M. de Préval has nothing to fear for either his honor or his safety.”

Never was day so long.

For two hours Léon, ready dressed, had been walking up and down his room when the sound of a carriage drawing up to the door brought his heart into his mouth. Seizing his sword, he ran rapidly downstairs, and found the black servant standing there. The man motioned him to get into the carriage, and then, in his bad French, respectfully asked permission to bandage his eyes.

Léon made no resistance.

After driving a short time the Negro ordered the coachman to stop, and helped Léon to step out on to the pavement. Together they walked a few yards, and then entered a house where they mounted a short staircase. Léon could perceive that he was being led through some large rooms until they reached one that was filled with sweet scents. At this moment his bandage was removed, and, glancing eagerly round, he found himself in a dark apartment, at the end of which was an open door that revealed an elegant boudoir dimly lighted by an alabaster lamp.

The Negro standing beside him with a dark lantern in his hand pointed to the boudoir and in a low tone uttered the words: “Honor and silence.” He then disappeared.

Léon laid aside his sword, and entered swiftly. A woman, his unknown friend, dressed in a simple négligé, her head wrapped in a veil, was half reclining on a sofa.

Léon threw himself at her feet.

“I am a happy man!” he cried. “But what? Are you still hiding your face from me? For pity’s sake make no more mystery; throw off your veil.”

As he spoke he lifted his impatient hand. No obstacle was interposed but at the same instant the lamp went out.

We dare not throw light on the darkness that Léon respected. We will not infringe the order of silence; we will only say that his highest hopes were surpassed by the reality, and in the pleasure of that meeting he had no desire to break his word.

Time passed quickly, and the night was far advanced when a slight sound was heard in the apartment; a secret door had been opened, the stranger disappeared, and Léon found himself alone. The Negro stood again before him, and respectfully requested him to replace the bandage over his eyes and follow him.

“No,” he replied, both pained and vexed, “I will not go until I have seen her–until I have obtained–”

A woman’s voice interrupted him, whispering close beside him, “Honor and silence.”

Léon rushed toward the voice to find only a wall; he groped along it and came upon a small door fastened on the other side, through whose cracks he could distinguish a light that receded rapidly and then disappeared.

“Cruel,” he said, not daring to speak aloud, “stop one moment, only one word–”

“Honor and silence,” said the Negro firmly.

“Yes,” Léon replied sadly. “I am bound to honor, I promised, I submit. I can only hope that others will be as faithful to their word as I am to mine.”

The bandage was replaced, and Léon followed his guide out to the carriage. Soon he was at home again, where, alone with his memories, alternately delicious and sad, happy and anxious, he, now madly in love, wondered if indeed the whole thing were not a dream, and fell asleep in the hope of prolonging it.

Table of Contents

Chapter IV

Love in a Mask – Chapter II

Love in a Mask by Honoré de Balzac

Chapter I


THE whole of the first week was spent in searching the streets, shops, theaters, and pastry-cooks’; in following up every woman who seemed to bear the faintest resemblance to the stranger; committing a thousand blunders, and many impertinences, with no other result than to prove to himself the utter uselessness of his attempt. The second week found him thoroughly disheartened, and in the course of the third he began to wonder how much longer he was going to act as a puppet in the hands of a coquette who was perhaps only concealing herself from his eyes in order to enjoy the sight of his discomfiture. Then one day a missive was left at his door containing these words:

“M. de Préval will of course remember that he is expected on Thursday at the Opera Ball at one A.M., under the clock.”

As he read, his hopes were fired anew. On the day appointed, midnight had scarcely struck when Léon took up his position beneath the clock, consumed with amorous impatience and keen curiosity.

A long hour had slipped away when, at length, the white domino flitted by. She bowed slightly, and, slackening her pace to allow her companions to pass on before her, she accepted the arm that Léon had sprung up to offer her. Delighted to meet her again, beside himself with hope and happiness, he gently pressed her round arm to his side, and described in eloquent terms all the sufferings of the last few days, his vain search, his fears, his impatience. Quietly she listened, then suddenly interrupted him.

“Well, I fared better than you,” she said, “for I found out at once all I wanted to know about you.”

“About me?”

“Yes, indeed; I found all you had told me was strictly true, but I learned in addition that you are popular with your comrades, and that your superior officers think highly of you. They say, moreover, that you are capable of acting honestly by women, and might even be trusted to keep any promise extorted from you.”

“That would be merely my duty; do please let us talk about my happiness. Have you really been thinking about me? Is it possible you were sufficiently interested in me to hope I might be worthy your regard, and to try to find out–”

“But I had to, if I meant to carry out my plans!”

“Ah, those plans of yours! I hope I am now going to hear what they are. Kind Mask, go on; do, I beseech you, trust the fortunate mortal whose heart already beats for you alone, and who is only waiting a word from you to give himself to you forever.”

“I should be very sorry!” she exclaimed hastily.

For a few moments Léon was silenced.

“Oh,” he said at last, “do not play this cruel game with me any longer. Why tease me with alternate kindness and coldness? This is the last of these balls, but do not think to escape me again. I shall dog your footsteps and follow you until you promise to meet me again, and give me an opportunity to lay my heart and my hopes at your feet, and hear from you what these plans can be.”

“Oh, no, no; I must first be quite sure of your reasonableness and prudence. There are certain conditions I shall have to impose, and your word of honor duly signed and sealed, must be my guarantee of their fulfilment.”

“My word of honor! My signature!” said Léon, considerably astonished at her cold-blooded precautions and also at the solemnity she seemed to attach to a treaty made at the Opera Ball.

He looked down at his companion. She was clearly embarrassed and meditative; her bosom heaved with obvious agitation; and he almost fancied he could detect a blush beneath her mask. She on her side was abstractedly watching him, and seemed perplexed and doubtful.

Convinced that the moment had come when with a little pressure she would give way, Léon went on eagerly:

“Charming but inexplicable creature! Well, then, I consent to whatever you ask, and I will renew the vow I made at the last ball to be obedient, docile, and discreet. I accept your conditions beforehand, if you in return will leave me the joy of hoping to meet you again and holding finally in my arms her–”

“It must be so,” she murmured absently, apparently replying rather to some thought in her own mind than to what he was saying.

But Léon noticed only her words, and they completely turned his head.

“Oh, how glad I am!” he cried. “Let us go away, dear, unknown Lady. Perfect my happiness by coming away with me out of this tiresome crowd. Let us go where I can tear off this odious mask and take your commands. Then in greater freedom than is possible here, let me pay love’s debt.”

As he spoke he drew her gently forward; but suddenly she paused, withdrew her arm, and regaining the haughty carriage that seemed natural to her she said in a calm cold voice:

“You are strangely mistaken, M. de Préval. Your rash transports and vain declarations offend and hurt me. Believe me, I am not what you dare to think, and I am entitled to more consideration, greater respect, and more prudence from you. I am going to overlook this offense, however, because I admit that my own odd behavior might well have misled you; but you must do all I tell you. Tomorrow you shall hear from me and I will then let you know exactly what conditions I mean to make. Till then, be patient and resign yourself.”

As she spoke, she moved away into the crowd, intending to give him the slip, but he dashed after her in pursuit.

“No,” he cried, “I am not going to leave you. You shall not run away like this. Cruel creature, you touch my heart, set my imagination on fire and then forsake me.”

“Take me to my carriage,” she said, and in her voice there rang a note of command.

He grasped the hand she offered, and again poured forth his lamentations and prayers, but all to no effect.

The faithful Negro was standing at the door. The stranger quickly entered her carriage, saying to Léon, “Good-bye, till tomorrow. You may rely on my promise.”

“At least permit me to see you home,” he said, his foot on the step.

“Close the door, and drive home,” she said energetically.

Her order was instantly obeyed, and once again Léon saw his hopes vanish with her who had inspired them.

Table of Contents

Chapter III

Love in a Mask – Chapter I

Love in a Mask by Honoré de Balzac

Title Page and A Note


MIDNIGHT was striking, and all Paris was astir; the streets were filled with people bent on merrymaking; it was the eve of Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday).

Léon de Préval, a young cavalry officer, had just made his way into the Opera Ball. There, for over an hour, he wandered aimlessly amid the throng that seethed forward and backward, finding no one he knew, and quite failing to grasp the meaning of the stupid greetings flung at him from time to time by the women he passed. Finally, choked with dust, overcome with heat, dizzy with the ceaseless buzz of all these black-robed specters, he asked himself impatiently whether this were indeed pleasure, and turned to find the door.

At that moment two masked women came down the steps into the ballroom. Both were strikingly graceful, and both were strikingly well dressed. They were accompanied by a genial looking man without a mask. A little murmur of admiration greeted them, and a band of giddy youths fell in behind them, hurling flippant compliments and extravagant gallantries at the two masks.

Léon followed with the rest. At every step the curiosity of the crowd added to the numbers of the little procession; soon, it encountered a group of masqueraders, themselves the center of a cortège, who, coming from the opposite direction, threw such confusion into the ranks that one of the ladies, the younger looking of the two, was separated from her friends. Glancing anxiously around her in search of a protector, her eyes fell on Léon, who was following her movements with a good deal of interest, and, hastily seizing his arm, “Oh, I implore you,” she said nervously, using the familiar thou, “get us out of this and help me find my friends.”

“I am at your service, lovely Mask. Don’t be afraid; trust yourself to me, and come with me.”

And, with the lady clinging to one arm, with the other he cleared a way for her through the press, bringing her safely out at last to the cloak room; there he seated her on a bench, and volunteered to go to find her some refreshments.

“No, stay with me,” she said; “I don’t want anything. I am really ashamed to have given way to such foolish terror.”

“Ah, but I am ready to bless the cause; without it, I should not have known the happiness of being chosen by you to protect you.”

“I am willing to admit that you have rendered me a great service, and I am grateful. I will even implore you to continue to extend your protection until we can find my friends.”

“What! You want to leave me already? Ah, if only from gratitude, grant me a few minutes.”

“Well, then, as a reward, I will stay a few minutes with you.”

They sat down side by side, and the time sped swiftly while they chatted gaily, lightly together.

At last the charming Mask bethought herself once more of her missing party.

“But who are these friends of yours?” said Léon. “Is it your mother, or sister? And, perhaps, a husband?”

“A husband? No, indeed, thank God!”

“You are not married?”

“No, not now.”

“What, already a widow? How sorry I am for you!”

“Pray, why should you suppose that I am to be pitied? Are all husbands so kind? Are all men so tender? Is there, on the contrary, one who deserves to be regretted?”

“Oh, what an anathema! He is a happy fellow who succeeds in inspiring you with juster, milder feelings!”

“Toward men? Heaven forbid!”

“Then you are determined to drive to despair all the troop of admirers who, no doubt–”

“I haven’t one; I have just arrived from the other side of the world, and know nobody here.”

“Nobody, really? Then, fair Mask, I put myself down as your first, and you will see that I shall be ever the most devoted, the most constant–”

“Constant! Bon Dieu! If it is in that strain you are going to talk, I shall leave you forthwith.”

“What, does constancy–?

“Constancy is but a chain that we pretend to wear in order to impose its weight on another. Now that I am free, perfectly free, I intend to remain so; no man living could induce me to forswear myself.”

“There is no more freedom for me, I feel that, but I cannot regret it. The chain shall, however, be for me only; you cannot prevent my loving you, or hoping–”

“Ah, no, no, no, monsieur; I do not want love; I do not want promises; and least of all do I want any one to hope for anything from me.”

“But, cruel Mask, incomprehensible Mask, what then do you want? What must one do to obtain at least your pity?”

“One must neither rave nor deceive; neither exaggerate a feeling of which he is barely conscious, nor fancy it possible to induce a sensible woman to change her plans for a few romantic words, or hypocritical attentions; one must be humble, discreet, patient. I must have time to make up my mind, to find out exactly what I want, and then, perhaps–”

“Then, perhaps, what? Charming Mask, finish the sentence, let me know my fate. I will be obedient; silence, submission, patience, I promise everything.”

As he spoke Léon’s face glowed with love and hope, and he gazed eagerly into the large, black eyes, which, soft and sparkling, appeared to be studying him with calm and close scrutiny.

Entirely disregarding his impassioned tones, she went on with a thoughtful air:

“This gold braid must betoken a grade. You are in the service, no doubt?”

Confounded by her self-possession, Léon could only reply by a gesture of assent.

“In what regiment?”

“I am captain in the Sixth Horse,” he replied, a little hurt.

“You are on furlough, perhaps? Does your family live in this city?”

“No; my people belong to a distant part of the country. They are far from rich, but they are honorable and highly respected. I only came up with my regiment, and, like you, lovely Mask, have been but a few days in the capital; like you, too, I know no one here; like you, I am free, with no attachments and no ties. Fate seems to have brought me here to lose at one blow my heart, my liberty, and my peace of mind.”

“And find in return, of course, nothing but a hard-hearted, ungrateful woman! These are the conventional things that we all say. Now, I am going to do justice to Chance, that is at times kind to us, and I am inclined to believe that it has been so this time in bringing us two together. It may be that I shall have it to thank for the one blessing that was lacking in my life.”

“Adorable and mysterious lady, if only I could fall at your feet, and there swear that henceforth Léon de Préval, grateful and humble, will do all in his power to merit so sweet an avowal!”

“An avowal!” she said. “You call that an avowal? Did one ever see anything to equal the presumption of these men?”

“But how can one help believing a little in what one so fondly hopes? May I not know who is the fascinating creature that takes a pleasure in teasing me? May I not raise the mask that hides the features–”

“Which perhaps are not so very plain!”

“If only I might see them for a moment, if I might but read there!”

“Can’t you read all you need to know in my eyes?”

“They are bewitching, but suppose a sweet smile went with them?”

She rose from her seat, and in a colder, more serious manner she said:

“No, you will never see me, never know me, and never will you learn anything about me.”

Léon stood as though petrified.

“Did one ever hear of such inconceivable caprice? It is useless, madame, for me to trouble you any longer. I see you are anxious to rejoin your friends. We must look for them.”

She interrupted him, not noticing his anger.

“Léon de Préval, that’s your name, isn’t it,” she said dreamily, “captain of the Sixth Horse? Do you expect to stay long in the city?”

“What can that matter to you, cruel one, since you do not mean to see me ever again?”

“But what makes you think I don’t mean to see you again? How little it takes to throw these wiseacres off their balance! I am, on the contrary, so determined to see you again that–”

Mon Dieu, my dear, what ever has become of you?” cried a woman’s voice behind them. “We have been hunting for you these two hours past.”

It was the friend and escort of the pretty Mask. Thus suddenly brought together again, each in turn ran quickly over the incidents of the night.

“I am worn out with fatigue, and bored to death,” said the lady who had just arrived upon the scene. “For pity’s sake, let us go home.”

“With all my heart. There is nothing to keep me here any longer.”

“What, so soon?” exclaimed Léon. “At least, you will not forbid me to accompany you to your carriage?”

This favor was granted, and the pair followed the others out of the hall.

“Be merciful,” said Léon, “and finish the charming sentence you had begun when we were so annoyingly interrupted. We were talking of meeting again. But when? Where? And how? Think that in a minute more I shall have lost everything but the remembrance of you. Will you not leave me a little hope?”

“Ah, then he has got over his fit of temper?”

“Do not play with me now. I am about to lose you. How shall I be able to–”

“Well, there is just the possibility that I may come to the Mi-Carême ball here.”

“Three weeks to wait! Ye gods, three centuries!”

“Yes, three weeks, perhaps, and perhaps never.”

“I shall be dead by that time, dead with impatience and worry.”

“That will entirely upset my plans.”

“Your plans?”

But they had reached the door. A carriage had just drawn up, but in the darkness it was impossible to distinguish either its color or its coat of arms. A black servant was holding the door open.

“May I not at least cherish the hope that you will be sorry for my sufferings?”

“Indeed, I fancy you are going to occupy my mind considerably.”

As she finished speaking, she sprang lightly into the carriage, and the horses dashed rapidly off.

Léon stood and gazed after that coach which was carrying away from him his new conquest, and, caring no more for the ball, he made his way homeward, his brain in confusion, his heart a little troubled; his mind ran upon his adventure, and he reproached himself bitterly for not having found some means of carrying it a little farther.

“Who can she be,” he said to himself, “so attractive and so odd? She cannot be a demi-mondaine, with that noble bearing, at once modest and proud, and with such unmistakable ease of manner. What can she want? And why should she alternately encourage and repel me? She talked of her plans, and wanted to know all sorts of details about me; our meeting might prove a happy thing for her–yet I am never to see her again, and must never know who she is– Was she only playing with me? If I thought that, what a revenge I would take! But pray, how and on whom? She may not come to the next ball; I may have lost all trace of her forever. I should be sorry, for I am convinced that she is charming. What a soft sensuousness there is in her pretty, flexible figure! What beautiful eyes she has, and what an expressive voice! And such a graceful, witty way of talking! These three weeks are going to be endless. I had better spend them in looking for and finding her. It might be as well to get some sleep in the first place!”

But there was no sleep for Léon that night. At an early hour he rose and began at once his search.

Table of Contents

Chapter II

Love in a Mask by Honoré de Balzac




A Hitherto Unpublished Novel



Translated by


Copyright, 1911


Balzac, in gratitude to the Duchesse de Dino for her friendship and unfailing kindness to him, one day presented her with the story of “L’Amour Masque” (Love in a Mask) in his own handwriting. The duchess was one of the few French aristocrats who in Balzac’s time welcomed untitled authors to their salons, and her library boasted many such offerings from the literary men of her day. She placed Balzac’s unpublished book on her shelves by the side of similarly unpublished poems by Alfred de Musset, and stories by Eugene Sue and others. The Balzac manuscript was incased in a finely tooled binding of great richness and beauty, bearing the ex libris of the ducal family. For more than half a century the manuscript remained where the duchess had placed it. Then her son, M. Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, the present Duc de Dino, made it a present to his friend, the learned Lucien Aubanel. By him it was given to M. Gillequin, with the suggestion that it be published, and it accordingly appeared in print for the first time in March, 1911. The Duc de Dino, in a letter written to M. Gillequin on this occasion, guaranteed the history of the volume which for so long had been one of the treasured possessions of his family.


Table of Contents

Chapter I

Anka Muhlstein on Food, Balzac and Flaubert

BalzacsOmeletteSentimentalEduWhen he is invited to dinner at Arnoux’s house, Frédéric, the hero of A Sentimental Education, “had to choose between ten mustards. He ate daspachio, curry, ginger, blackbirds from Corsica, lasagna from Rome.” Arnoux, a porcelain manufacturer, is not in possession of a great fortune but prides himself on being a good host. He “cultivated all the mail coach drivers to secure foodstuffs, and had connections with cooks in grand houses, who gave him recipes for sauces.” Like many Parisians, he has no hesitation in spending a great deal of money both at home and in restaurants. The tyranny of the palate has never been described; as a necessity of life it escapes the criticism of literature; yet no one imagines how many have been ruined by the table. The luxury of the table is indeed, in a sense, the courtesan’s one competitor in Paris,” says Balzac in Cousin Pons.

Balzac’s Omelette by Anka Muhlstein



Fans of Balzac, please visit the collaborative blog La Comedie Humaine.



Honoré de Balzac – August 18, 1850


Honoré de Balzac died on this date in 1850.

Victor Hugo’s The Death of Balzac can be read on the collaborative blog La Comedie Humaine. If you are a fan of Balzac’s books, explore the site for other items of interest. If you’re looking for something in particular and can’t find it, leave a comment about it. One of us might know.

I could not name my favorite book by Balzac. A Top Ten list would be possible, although it probably changes from year to year. Le Père Goriot definitely makes any list and is always my sentimental favorite. It was the first Balzac book I read and the one which started me on the journey of reading the complete Comedie Humaine and more.

All of Balzac’s Comedie Humaine, plays and a few more items are available as free eBooks at Project Gutenberg.

Honoré de Balzac – May 20, 1799



Today is the anniversary of the birth of an author whose works have given me much pleasure over the years, Honoré de Balzac.

I first discovered Balzac around 1977 when a neighbor loaned me her much-used paperback copy of Le Père Goriot. The book was literally falling apart. It was only held together with a rubber band. Yet, my neighbor wanted it returned after I read it. I suspected this meant it was a great read. I was not disappointed.


So began my quest to read more books by this author in the days before online searches. Eventually I was given a complete set as a birthday present by a wonderful person who means the world to me. It is the Saintsbury edition largely translated by Ellen Marriage. Working from this set and with John in New Zealand using the Katherine Prescott Wormeley translations, we made the entire Human Comedy plus five plays available at Project Gutenberg in time for the 200th anniversary of Balzac’s birth.

A number of years ago the small Yahoo group devoted to Balzac read the complete Human Comedy. The discussions can be found in the archives. The La Comedie Humaine blog was started by Lisa and with the aid of Pamela and others, summaries for all the stories and other information are now available to all.


Balzac’s Madame Fontaine

One of my favorite minor characters in La Comedie Humaine by Honoré de Balzac is Madame Fontaine. The above illustration depicts the scene from Cousin Pons when the colorful fortune teller is using her grand jeu (big pack of tarot cards), the black hen named Cleopatra and the giant toad Astaroth for one of her regular customers, Madame Cibot. She also appeared briefly in Les Comédiens sans le savoir.