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THE BLACK MASK;

OR,

THE LOTTERY OF JEWELS.

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THE BLACK MASK;

OR,

THE LOTTERY OF JEWELS.

CHAPTER I.

I have seen the day.
When I could wear a mask, and tell a tale.

SHAKSPEARE. In the confusion which prevailed during the minority of Louis XIV. many families, as is customary in such cases, rose from obscurity to distinction, and a corresponding number sunk from distinction to obscurity. Among the greatest sufferers from the capricious tyranny of Cardinal Mazarin was the Chevalier de Belcour, a gentleman of great expectations and apparent influence. His patrimony was small, but his friends numerous. He had lately married for love ; and was in the immediate prospect of a lucrative post about the court, and an heir to inherit his winnings.

At this interesting moment, the ministerial thunder fell, scarcely preceded by a single flash to warn or terrify; and he lost his place, and was banished from the precincts of royalty. Madame de Belcour was more faithful to her promise ; for in due time she brought forth the heir, after the inheritance had ceased to exist even in the parents' dreams. Their court friends fled, according to the instinct of courtiers, from the falling house. The affairs of the chevalier, when obligingly examined by his creditors, were found to be in confusion. The family retired from Paris, growing poorer and poorer every day, till at length death put an end to the sorrows of the father and mother; and the boy who had been expected to make his appearance amid the pomp of the court, and the welcoming of the gay and the fair, was only too happy to be afforded an asylum by an old dependant of his family, who was a small farmer, with a stock consisting chiefly of a few goats. By the time Frederic de Belcour had reached the age of fifteen, his mind had so far accommodated itself to the circumstances in which he was placed, that a casual observer would scarcely have discovered, even in his air and manner, any superiority to his situation. The remembrance of his parentswas gradually lost in the monotonous hardships by which he was beset; and the life of a goatherd seeming to be his fate, would gradually have become so, but for one of those circumstances which, although insignificant in themselves, when exaggerated by the magical imagination of youth, become not only the omens but the agents of destiny.

At a little distance from his abode there lived an elderly lady, a Madame de Neuillant, who held a farm of some magnitude, and was generally supposed to be in easy circumstances. There was a good deal of eccentricity in this lady's manner, who, with all the desire in the world to appear amiable, was yet withheld by pride, avarice, and a naturally bad temper, from acting in the only way calculated to secure the reputation she coveted. She had no children, and few visiters; and notwithstanding its flourishing condition, there were few establishments in the country-side of less living interest than Madame de Neuillant's farm.

Frederic had sometimes occasion to pass near the boundary of the farm, at which there was a line of fields extending to the house ; and one morņing very early, he saw a peasant girl, or woman, within the enclosure, sitting under a tree, watching poultry. Her drešs was exceedingly coarse, and by no means. new ; and a basket was beside her, which appeared to contain her breakfast. There was nothing very interesting in this discovery ;, and after a listless look, Frederic passed on.

The next morning, however, he saw her again. On the one after, she was still at her post; and by degrees, Frederic, as he passed, began to think of her as a part of the landscape. He had not yet seen her face, for she always sat with her back towards the hedge, and without moving her position. But young or old, handsome cr.ugly, after some time had elapsed, he could not look without a feeling of interest upon one whose lonely and desolate condition appeared to resemble his own. One morning, therefore, arming himself with a little basket of wild fruit, which grew in plenty on the goat-farm, he leaped the hedge, and went forward to pay his respects to his companion.

The poultry-watcher did not turn her head at the noise he made, nor even when his morning salutation had been pronounced; and Frederic, half ashamed of the adventure, as the

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