“‘My petition is to your pity, to remove it.’
“‘And mine to yours, to let it stay where it is,’ she replied.
“’Well, then, at least you will tell me whether you are French or German; you speak both languages so perfectly.’
“’I don’t think I shall tell you that, General; you intend a surprise, and are meditating the particular point of attack.’
“‘At all events, you won’t deny this,’ I said, ’that being honored by your permission to converse, I ought to know how to address you. Shall I say Madame la Comtesse?’
“She laughed, and she would, no doubt, have met me with another evasion—if, indeed, I can treat any occurrence in an interview every circumstance of which was prearranged, as I now believe, with the profoundest cunning, as liable to be modified by accident.
“‘As to that,’ she began; but she was interrupted, almost as she opened her lips, by a gentleman, dressed in black, who looked particularly elegant and distinguished, with this drawback, that his face was the most deadly pale I ever saw, except in death. He was in no masquerade—in the plain evening dress of a gentleman; and he said, without a smile, but with a courtly and unusually low bow:—
“’Will Madame la Comtesse permit me to say a very few words which may interest her?’
“The lady turned quickly to him, and touched her lip in token of silence; she then said to me, ’Keep my place for me, General; I shall return when I have said a few words.’
“And with this injunction, playfully given, she walked a little aside with the gentleman in black, and talked for some minutes, apparently very earnestly. They then walked away slowly together in the crowd, and I lost them for some minutes.
“I spent the interval in cudgeling my brains for a conjecture as to the identity of the lady who seemed to remember me so kindly, and I was thinking of turning about and joining in the conversation between my pretty ward and the Countess’s daughter, and trying whether, by the time she returned, I might not have a surprise in store for her, by having her name, title, chateau, and estates at my fingers’ ends. But at this moment she returned, accompanied by the pale man in black, who said:
“’I shall return and inform Madame la Comtesse when her carriage is at the door.’
“He withdrew with a bow.”
“’Then we are to lose Madame la Comtesse, but I hope only for a few hours,’ I said, with a low bow.
“’It may be that only, or it may be a few weeks. It was very unlucky his speaking to me just now as he did. Do you now know me?’
“I assured her I did not.