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The Imp in the Mirror
A Fable for Mary
The discussion having turned upon the eternal comparison between the vanity of men and the vanity of women, the majority were of the opinion that the vainer sex was the masculine. But when the hostess declared, by way of example, that there was not a man living, no matter how old or sedate, capable of passing before a mirror without giving at least one approving glance at his own seductive image, two of her distinguished guests, the judge and the portly general, protested that this was not so, and that masculine vanity revealed itself in other ways. Straightway, a short, shrill peal of laughter echoed through the room. Each of the guests thought that it was the widow who had laughed, while the widow thought that the one who had laughed was the other lady, the Englishwoman. As a matter of fact, the laughter had come from a little imp, one of the sort that are always lying in wait, to tempt people to tell lies and commit sins of vanity. Thereupon the discussion was dropped, partly because midnight was just striking. The two ladies arose, and the hostess with great cordiality invited the entire company to dine with her on the morrow, at six o'clock.
The morrow chancing to be a joyous, balmy April day, the guests all kept their dinner engagement, the ladies arriving by carriage, the gentlemen on foot, and each by himself. The judge and the general resided in the Via Alessandro Mazzoni; of the others, one came from the Via del Monte, another from the Via San Andrea, another from the Borgo Spesso, another from the Borgo Nuovo. In short, the route of everyone lay through the De Cristoforis Gallery, and in spite of the fact that they all passed through there between five forty-five and six o'clock, chance willed it that none of them should encounter any of the others on his way. The De Cristoforis Gallery, you know, has two branches, forming a right angle, with a mirror fitted into the corner, which everyone must pass in turning from one branch into the other, opposite the Trenk beer hall. Behind this mirror the malicious little imp had installed himself, and lay in wait for the guests, in order to put into effect his diabolical little jest. There passed, first of all, the general; and he glanced at himself in the mirror, out of one corner of his eye, and discovered, with a violent start, an ink-stain upon his left cheek. It lacked but five minutes to six; there was no longer time to return home. The general hastened his steps, holding a handkerchief against his face, and no sooner was he within the vestibule of the countess than he asked the butler for a towel and a little water. The butler ushered him into a bedchamber and was in the act of pouring water into a basin, when again there came a ring at the front door. This time it was the judge who entered, holding a handkerchief over his left cheek.
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