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Humble Retreat, as it pleases him to call the
most luxurious, cozy, elegant, and perfectly
appointed mansion of small dimensions to be found
in all Brompton, you will find more masks and
one blank. Mrs. Velvetpaws and the elder two
Miss Velvetpaws will wear the masksthe one
cut into the likeness of a soft, maternal, purring
tabby, the other of two joyous, frisking, not to
say infantile, kittens; but Miss Evelina Amanda
will have a blank. Years agovery many years
ago, for the Misses Velvetpaws, though wearing
their kittenish masks, are well on in the dreary
vale of old maidenhoodyou were unutterably
sweet on Miss Evelina Amanda. You were then
a raw youth from school, and Miss Evelina
constituted herself your social mamma, and
undertook to polish you up to the proper degree of
brilliancy; and naturally you were grateful in
the way of gratitude most affected by young
men with budding whiskers, and thought Miss
Evelina Amanda’s raven tresses and coal-black
eyes the loveliest things to be seen this side of
Paradise. And you told her sobeing a foolish
young owland offered to make them your own
when time and the income-tax allowed; eager
to put a millstone round your neck and gyves
upon your wrists, as are so many young owls in
their first blinking flights through the dazzling
world of womanly seduction. But papa and
mamma, though not averse to substantial
settlements, had a wholesome horror of vague
prospects; and as your share in the world’s
inheritance at that time was nothing better than what
could be got out of hope, youth, a clear brain,
an honest heart, and cleanly fingers, they shook
their headsby no means harshly, but by no
means falteringlyand Miss Evelina Amanda
Velvetpaws was forbidden to your arms. Since
then the wheel of fortune has turned up a few
more spokes, and all with progressively thick
coatings of fine red gold to your side. Steadily
and surely you have risen step by step and round
by round, till now, there is not a father in all
your set, nor a mother, nor a daughter, who
would not think the offer of your hand a piece
of good luck worth praying for. And so old
Velvetpaws invites you to the Humble Retreat,
where you see Miss Evelina Amanda again.
Where you see a blank rather, in the guise of a
human face.

Time, which has been such a fairy godmother
to you, has been a crabbed old witch to Evelina.
The glossy tresses are still there, to be sure,
and the coal-black eyes to match, but the grace,
the aroma, the aureole of the past have gone,
never to return! And you, being now a full-
grown owl, with eyes as sharp as a hawk’s, see
for the first time the full pattern of the millstone
you had once been so anxious to hang
round your neck; and you, too, draw on a mask
when you turn your face radiantly on old Velvetpaws
and the maternal tabby purring softly by
his side; for they think you are, mayhap,
restored to them, while you are thanking them
dumbly for the happy escape they formerly
provided for you. Just so much of sentimental
constancy have you had, that you would not
speak the decisive word to little Susan May up
there at Bayswater, until you had seen Miss
Evelina Amanda again. Old memories are very
sweet, and young delusions very lovely, and you
did not know what stirring of the heart might
not be awakened at the sight of the old love,
once more like a goddess in your eyes than a
mortal woman who added up the washing-book
and ate brown bread for her digestion. But all
passed finally, and for the last time, when you
met her there again; for even old memories and
young delusions cannot survive the death which
lies in the blank. Hope, love, youth, enthusiasm,
the tenderness which softens, the passion
which inflamesall, all have gonewashed out
in the bitter waters of disappointmentrubbed
away by the terrible attrition of the world. The
heart of her is dried up and can never blossom
afresh, though she offers you cambric flowers on
wire stalks, and would fain have you believe
them the daisies and wild-flowers of spring;
and her soul has narrowed and narrowed in her
hardening worship of Mammon, till no image
but that of gold can find reflection there, for all
that she flashes a bit of broken looking-glass
before you, which she wants you to accept as
the divine light illumining her. Ah, poor
creature! cambric flowers on wire stalks, and
bits of broken looking-glasses flashing back the
flare of a will-o'-the-wisp, are but poor substitutes
for the blooming of the tender heart, and
the light of the loving soul; and a blanka dead
hopeless wall of flesh with eyes like curtained
windows, and lips which open into a dead fosse
is but a dreary make-believe for a living
human face, changeful and faithful, rich, rapid,
eager, and true, as the living human face should

The next day little Susan May up at Bayswater
learnt, though she did not understand,
the result of your visit to the Humble Retreat,
and what effect four masks and a blank had
wrought in your heart. But then little Susan
is one of those rare blessed who have a face; and
even when she tries to manufacture for herself
a mask, can never get beyond a veil of gauze or
thinner lace, which it does not require a double-
acting bull’s-eye to see through. And to this
quality, not of universal possession, she owes
the best husband that ever wife adored.

All the passions wear at times stout clay
masks defying scrutiny; but the two most difficult
to hide are love and anger. Hatred, jealousy,
envy, malice, avarice, and even some others of
thicker blood and moister palms, can creep behind
their masks and double-knot the thongs. But
love and anger are hard to constrain, and fight
desperately against disguises. And even when
every other feature has been pinched and pushed
inside the mask, the eyes still rebel, and the living
fire which flashes from them tears the whole of
the flimsy pretence to tatters, or grinds the stony
make-believe to powder. A host of mask-
makers crowd round, attempting to overpower
that turbulent Love struggling to get loose.
On one side Prudence, on the other perhaps
Honourtwo giants in the world of motives