So the second day of the Carnival was a success, till they turned their backs on the Corso. In the carriage Mrs. Jerrold spoke gently but firmly to Mae. “Be a little more careful, dear; don’t let your spirits carry you quite away during these mad days.” Mae smiled, but was silent.
“What a strangely beautiful girl that was in the gallery opposite,” Edith said, a moment later. “I wonder if she is engaged to that superb man; I fancied I had seen him before. Why, Mae, what in the world are you blushing at?” For Mae’s face was scarlet. “Why, nothing,” replied Mae, redder yet; “nothing at all. What do you mean?”
The same thought occurred to Edith and Albert. The officer was Mae’s chance acquaintance. They both looked grave, and Albert remarked: “It is as well to be careful before getting up too sudden an acquaintance with your Italian girl. Take care of your eyes.”
“Has it come to this?” cried Mae, half jestingly, half bitterly. “Are nor my very eyes my own? I shall feel, Albert, as if you were trying to bind me in that chain you threatened,” and Mae started: her fingers had felt another scrap of paper among the flowers, but she did not drop it from the carriage, as her first impulse was; she held it tight and close in her warm right hand until she was fairly at home and safe in her own room. Then she opened and read in an Italian hand, “To my little Queen of the Carnival.”
Could he have written that as he stood by the wonderful veiled lady, with her white mysterious beauty, with the purple shadows about her dark eyes, while she—and Mae looked in her glass again. What did she see? Certainly a different picture, but a picture for all that. Life and color and youth, a-tremble and a-quiver in every quick movement of her face, in the sudden lifting of the eyelids, the swift turn of the lips, the litheness and carelessness of every motion; above and beyond all, the picture possessed that rare quality which some artist has declared to be the highest beauty, that picturesque charm which shines from within, that magnetic flash and quiver which comes and goes “ere one can say it lightens.”
The veiled lady’s face was stranger, more mysterious, to an artistic or an imaginative mind; but youth, and intense life, and endless variety usually carry the day with a man’s captious heart, and so Bero called Mae
“My little Queen of the Carnival.”
Mae’s good times were greatly dimmed after this by the thought that she was watched. The bouquets which came daily from Bero troubled her also not a little. They were invariably formed of the same flowers, and might easily attract Edith’s attention and possible suspicion. So she stayed home from the Corso one day not long after, when she was in a particularly Corso-Carnival mood. She wandered helplessly about, restless and full of desire to be down at the balcony with the rest. And such a strange thing is the human heart, that it was Norman Mann’s face she saw before her constantly, and she found Miss Rae’s little twinkling sort of eyes far more haunting than those of her veiled friend.