Hearts and Masks (Chapter 2, page 1 of 17)


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Chapter 2

After half an hour's wandering about I stumbled across a curio-shop, a
weird, dim and dusty, musty old curio-shop, with stuffed peacocks
hanging from the ceiling, and skulls, and bronzes and marbles,
paintings, tarnished jewelry and ancient armor, rare books in vellum,
small arms, tapestry, pastimes, plaster masks, and musical instruments.
I recalled to mind the shop of the dealer in antiquities in Balzac's
La Peau de Chagrin, and glanced about (not without a shiver) for the
fatal ass's skin. (I forgot that I was wearing it myself that night!)
I was something of a collector of antiquities, of the inanimate kind,
and for a time I became lost in speculation,--speculation rather
agreeable of its kind, I liked to conjure up in fancy the various
scenes through which these curiosities had drifted in their descent to
this demi-pawnshop; the brave men and beautiful women, the clangor of
tocsins, the haze of battles, the glitter of ball-rooms, epochs and
ages. What romance lay behind yon satin slipper? What grande dame
had smiled behind that ivory fan? What meant that tarnished silver
mask?

The old French proprietor was evidently all things from a pawnbroker to
an art collector; for most of the jewelry was in excellent order and
the pictures possessed value far beyond the intrinsic. He was waiting
upon a customer, and the dingy light that shone down on his bald bumpy
head made it look for all the world like an ill-used billiard-ball. He
was exhibiting revolvers.

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