It’s Christmas Day, in Nice, France. While strolling up the Promenade des Anglais, Laurie unexpectedly runs into Amy, who’s driving a little carriage. She’s overjoyed to see him, and Laurie climbs into the carriage. They drive out into the country. As they talk Amy realizes that something is different about Laurie, though she can’t quite figure out what it is. Laurie agrees to return that night for the Christmas dance.
Now that she’s abroad, Amy is able to act as if she’s from the upper class. Her sisterly bond with Laurie affords her some insight into his character, which is why she’s able to sense a change in his person.
Amy primps for the ball. She wears her cousin’s old white silk dress and freshens it up with swaths of tulle “illusion,” which is inexpensive in Nice. She adorns the dress simply with vines and azalea. “If I only had a classical nose and mouth I should be perfectly happy,” she thinks as she gazes at her reflection.
Amy, being an artist, is able to adorn herself cunningly using the simplest, most down to earth accessories. It’s no surprise, then, that she adorns herself with flowers, which are symbolic of ideal natural beauty. Still, Amy longs (sinfully) for a better nose.
Amy sweeps into the ball and greets Laurie, who has brought her flowers. The ball is filled with minor aristocrats (including a Russian prince), and Amy is pleased to with the knowledge that she looks attractive and that she dances well.
Thanks to her beauty, Amy is able to transcend her social class and move among minor royalty. For women in a patriarchal society, beauty is equal to power.
Laurie and Amy flirt – they dance together, and then Amy coquettishly pushes him away in lieu of dancing with a Polish count. Laurie decides that Amy is growing into a charming young woman. When she stops dancing, he asks her where she learned to act this way. Amy is puzzled. “Well – the general air, the style, the self-possession, the – the- illusion – you know,” he explains. Amy reveals that foreign life “polishes one in spite of one’s self” and that she’s learned to make the most of her inexpensive luxuries. Laurie finds himself with newfound admiration for Amy.
“Illusion” here has a double meaning. Amy literally swaths herself in mesh, giving herself the illusion of having a more expensive dress. On a figurative level, Amy swathes herself with the illusion of being in the upper class. It is this illusion, in part, that causes Laurie to see her in a new light.