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A Little Masquerade
by [?]

“Oh, nothing matters,” she said, with a soft, ironical smile, as she tossed a bit of sugar to the cockatoo.

“Quite so,” was his reply, and he carefully gathered in a loose leaf of his cigar. Then, after a pause: “And yet, why so? It’s a very pretty world one way and another.”

“Yes, it’s a pretty world at times.”

At that moment they were both looking out over a part of the world known as the Nindobar Plains, and it was handsome to the eye. As far as could be seen was a carpet of flowers under a soft sunset. The homestead by which they sat was in a wilderness of blossoms. To the left was a high rose-coloured hill, solemn and mysterious; to the right–afar off–a forest of gum-trees, pink and purple against the horizon. At their feet, beyond the veranda, was a garden joyously brilliant, and bright-plumaged birds flitted here and there.

The two looked out for a long time, then, as if by a mutual impulse, suddenly turned their eyes on each other. They smiled, and, somehow, that smile was not delightful to see. The girl said presently: “It is all on the surface.”

Jack Sherman gave a little click of the tongue peculiar to him, and said: “You mean that the beautiful birds have dreadful voices; that the flowers are scentless; that the leaves of the trees are all on edge and give no shade; that where that beautiful carpet of blossoms is there was a blazing quartz plain six months ago, and there’s likely to be the same again; that, in brief, it’s pretty, but hollow.” He made a slight fantastic gesture, as though mocking himself for so long a speech, and added: “Really, I didn’t prepare this little oration.”

She nodded, and then said: “Oh, it’s not so hollow,–you would not call it that exactly, but it’s unsatisfactory.”

“You have lost your illusions.”

“And before that occurred you had lost yours.”

“Do I betray it, then?” He laughed, not at all bitterly, yet not with cheerfulness.

“And do you think that you have such acuteness, then, and I–” Nellie Hayden paused, raised her eyebrows a little coldly, and let the cockatoo bite her finger.

“I did not mean to be egotistical. The fact is I live my life alone, and I was interested for the moment to know how I appeared to others. You and I have been tolerably candid with each other since we met, for the first time, three days ago; I knew you would not hesitate to say what was in your mind, and I asked out of honest curiosity. One fancies one hides one’s self, and yet–you see!”

“Do you find it pleasant, then, to be candid and free with some one?… Why with me?” She looked him frankly in the eyes.

“Well, to be more candid. You and I know the world very well, I fancy. You were educated in Europe, travelled, enjoyed–and suffered.” The girl did not even blink, but went on looking at him steadily. “We have both had our hour with the world; have learned many sides of the game. We haven’t come out of it without scars of one kind or another. Knowledge of the kind is expensive.”

“You wanted to say all that to me the first evening we met, didn’t you?” There was a smile of gentle amusement on her face.

“I did. From the moment I saw you I knew that we could say many things to each other ‘without pre liminaries.’ To be able to do that is a great deal.”

“It is a relief to say things, isn’t it?”

“It is better than writing them, though that is pleasant, after its kind.”

“I have never tried writing–as we talk. There’s a good deal of vanity at the bottom of it though, I believe.”

“Of course. But vanity is a kind of virtue, too.” He leaned over towards her, dropping his arms on his knees and holding her look. “I am very glad that I met you. I intended only staying here over night, but–“