ELEANOR: Each of us sees the world through a fanciful mask, as it in turn views us. I feel 'tis better so, else we'd trample others' feelings underfoot at every turn. (Stands and demonstrates squashing a bug under her foot.) This is the grand masquerade. May the dance begin.
As she speaks, LYDIA dashes onstage, distraught. She wears a fine gown and flutters like a high-strung lady. She also carries a mask.
LYDIA: Oh, what shall I do? My whole life has been upturned before my very eyes. Woe!
ELEANOR helps her to the chair and both raise their masks.
ELEANOR: What has happened, milady?
LYDIA: My father has just promised my hand in marriage to the lord of Devonshire. I know nothing of him, nor what he expects of a wife. I must leave this, the only home I have ever known, as well as all those near and dear to me, and I do not know how I shall bear it.
ELEANOR: (Attempts to calm her mistress.) There, there, Lady Lydia. I will tell you of him and soothe your fears.
LYDIA freezes while ELEANOR has an aside to the audience with her mask lowered. All asides will be accomplished in like manner.
ELEANOR: Soothe her fears I will; swear to the truth of my information I will not. Were she to know the full extent of her predicament, she would do herself ill with fright and still could not escape her fate. This way is best for all.
She raises her mask once more and returns to LYDIA's side. LYDIA unfreezes.
LYDIA: Oh, Eleanor, could you? I would be ever in your debt. (Aside) Although I only come to my maid for advice because I have no older sisters and my mother hasn't the time.
ELEANOR: Certainly, milady. What would you most like to know?
LYDIA: Tell me what he is like--his temperament, his character, his attributes...
ELEANOR: Your father has arranged for you an excellent match--as I should know, for I had been in the employ of a lady in the lord of Devonshire's household before I came to work for you. He is a man of considerable wealth and property, and though he is somewhat your elder, he is quite good looking. (Aside) Yes, good looking in comparison to an ape. He is indeed wealthy, but at the rate he squanders his riches on gambling and drink, 'twould surprise me if he has any left by the end of the decade.
LYDIA: That is wonderful. Please, tell me more. (Aside) Wealth is all very well, but I believe a good heart to be as precious as any jewel, and as for looks, it is the spirit inside that counts.
ELEANOR: He is courageous and proud as a wild lion. His sword arm is strong; he could best any knight in battle. (Aside) Arrogant is the more apt term, and he ought to be good in a fight--he has participated in many a drunken brawl. Not for nothing is he called "Lord Garth the Gargoyle."
LYDIA: He sounds like any woman's dream. (Aside) Any woman save me, that is. The man of my dreams is stron with words and tender of gaze. He fears not to reveal his innermost feelings, and his nobility shines forth from him as from a beacon.
ELEANOR: Is there aught else you wish to hear?
LYDIA: One more matter...and I hesitate to mention it...
ELEANOR: Has it to do with dreams, perchance?
LYDIA: (Awkwardly) Rather, with an activity that replaces dreaming, to speak delicately. I have...slept soundly...all the years of my life, and have no experience with...not dreaming. I would not wish to disappoint him.
ELEANOR: Fret not, milady, that will not concern him. (Aside) Surely it is as I have said--he has had enough practice avoiding dreams for the both of them. Now that I think upon it, I doubt he has had a single dream since the age of thirteen.
A knock is heard at the door. Both women look up in surprise.
A young, handsome man walks in and falls to one knee beside LYDIA. He places his hand over his heart and bows as low as he can.
NATHANIEL: Lord Nathaniel of Devonshire, at your service, milady. Your father arranged your marriage to me this very morning. Long have I gazed upon your gentle countenance from afar, writing poetry in honor of your beauty and grace. It pleases me greatly that I may finally have you as my bride.
LYDIA and ELEANOR: (Aside) He is not at all what I had expected! (They exchange startled glances.)
ELEANOR: I had served at Devonshire Manor some seven years agone, and well was I acquainted with its lord. What fate has befallen Lord Garth?
NATHANIEL: Ah, you speak of my elder brother. he has been--persuaded--to see the error of his ways. He has journeyed to a distant monastery in search of forgiveness, abdicating his claim to the title of lord and becoming a devout monk.
He continues to stare at LYDIA in rapt admiration; he has no mask. LYDIA is smitten by his honesty. He strongly resembles the man of her dreams. Mesmerized, she lowers her mask, and winds up dropping it, forgotten, upon the floor.
LYDIA: I look forward to our wedding day with utmost joy, milord.
ELEANOR watches the entranced couple for a moment longer, then steps toward the audience. She holds up her mask, turning it around slowly for inspection. ELEANOR: It seems I was mistaken. Like all dances, this one, too, must come to an end. I bid you good night. (Bows)
As she speaks, LYDIA and NATHANIEL walk offstage. NATHANIEL looks at the audience and raises a mask.