He recognised Dysart, glorious in silk and powder, perfectly in his element, and doing his part with eighteenth-century elaboration; Kathleen, tres grande-dame, almost too exquisitely real for counterfeit; Delancy Grandcourt, very red in the face under his mask, wig slightly awry, conscientiously behaving as nearly like a masked gentleman of the period as he knew how; his sister Naida, sweet and gracious; Scott, masked and also spectacled, grotesque and preoccupied, casting patient glances toward the dusky solitudes that he much preferred, and from whence a distant owl fluted at intervals, inviting his investigations.
And there were the Pink ’uns, too, easily identified, having all sorts of a good time with a pair of maskers resembling Doucette Landon and Peter Tappan; and there in powder, paint, and patch capered the Beekmans, Ellises, and Montrosses—all the clans of the great and near-great of the country-side, gathering to join the eternal hunt for happiness where already the clarionets were sounding “Stole Away.”
For the quarry in that hunt is a spectre; sighted, it steals away; and if one remains very, very still and listens, one may hear, far and faint, the undertone of phantom horns mocking the field that rides so gallantly.
“Stole away,” whispered Duane in Kathleen’s ear, as he paused beside her; and she seemed to know what he meant, for she nodded, smiling:
“You mean that what we hunt is doomed to die when we ride it down?”
“Let us be in at the death, anyway,” he said. “Kathleen, you’re charming and masked to perfection. It’s only that white skin of yours that betrays you; it always looks as though it were fragrant. Is that Geraldine surrounded three deep—over there under that oak-tree?”
“Yes; why are you so late, Duane? And I haven’t seen Rosalie, either.”
He did not care to enlighten her, but stood laughing and twirling his sword-knot and looking across the glittering throng, where a daintily masked young girl stood defending herself with fan and bouquet against the persistence of her gallants. Then he shook out the lace at his gilded cuffs, dropped one palm on his sword-hilt, saluted Kathleen’s finger-tips with graceful precision, and sauntered toward Geraldine, dusting his nose with his filmy handkerchief—a most convincing replica of the bland epoch he impersonated.
As for Geraldine, she was certainly a very lovely incarnation of that self-satisfied and frivolous century; her success had already excited her a little; men seemed suddenly to have gone quite mad about her; and this and her own beauty were taking effect on her, producing an effect the more vivid, perhaps, because it was a reaction from the perplexities and tears of yesterday and the passionate tension of the morning.
Within her breast the sense of impending pleasure stirred and fluttered deliciously with every breath of music; the confused happiness of being in love, the relief in relaxation from a sterner problem, the noisy carnival surging, rioting around her, men crowding about her, eager in admiration and rivalry, the knowledge of her own loveliness—all these set the warm blood racing through every vein, and tinted lip and cheek with a colour in brilliant contrast to the velvety masked eyes and the snow of the slender neck.