Canano studied me, but I saw he could not make me out. I heard whispers running round the table.
"It isn't Seingalt; he doesn't play like that; besides, he is at the ball."
The luck turned; three deals were in my favour, and brought me back more than I had lost. I continued playing with a heap of gold before me, and on my putting a fistfull of sequins on a card it came out, and I went paroli and pair de paroli. I won again, and seeing that the bank was at a low ebb I stopped playing. Canano paid me, and told his cashier to get a thousand sequins, and as he was shuffling the cards I heard a cry of, "Here come the beggars."
The beggars came in and stood by the table, and Canano, catching the marquis's eye, asked him for a pinch of snuff. My delight may be imagined when I saw him modestly presenting a common horn snuffbox to the banker. I had not thought of this detail, which made everybody laugh immensely. Mdlle. Q---- stretched out her plate to ask an alms of Canano, who said,--
"I don't pity you with that fine hair of yours, and if you like to put it on a card I will allow you a thousand sequins for it."
She gave no answer to this polite speech, and held out her plate to me, and I put a handful of sequins on it, treating the other beggars in the same way.
"Pierrot seems to like beggars," said Canano, with a smile.
The three mendicants bowed gratefully to me and left the room.
The Marquis Triulzi who sat near Canano, said,--
"The beggar in the straw-coloured dress is certainly Casanova."
"I recognized him directly," replied the banker, "but who are the others?"
"We shall find out in due time."
"A dearer costume could not be imagined; all the dresses are quite new."
The thousand sequins came in, and I carried them all off in two deals.
"Would you like to go on playing?" said Canano.
I shook my head, and indicating with a sign of my hand that I would take a cheque, he weighed my winnings and gave me a cheque for twenty-nine pounds of gold, amounting to two thousand, five hundred sequins. I put away the cheque, and after shaking him by the hand, I got up and rolled away in true Pierrot fashion, and after making the tour of the ball-room I went to a box on the third tier of which I had given the key to the young officer, and there I found my beggars.
We took off our masks and congratulated each other on our success, and told our adventures. We had nothing to fear from inquisitive eyes, for the boxes on each side of us were empty. I had taken them myself, and the keys were in my pocket.
The fair beggars talked of returning me the alms I had given them, but I replied in such a way that they said no more about it.
"I am taken for you, sir," said the marquis, "and it may cause some annoyance to our fair friends here."
"I have foreseen that," I replied, "and I shall unmask before the end of the ball. This will falsify all suppositions, and nobody will succeed in identifying you."
"Our pockets are full of sweetmeats," said Mdlle. Q----. "Everybody wanted to fill our plates."
"Yes," said the cousin, "everybody admired us; the ladies came down from their boxes to have a closer view of us, and everyone said that no richer disguise could be imagined."
"You have enjoyed yourselves, then?"
"And I too. I feel quite boastful at having invented a costume which has drawn all eyes upon you, and yet has concealed your identity."
"You have made us all happy," said the lieutenant's little mistress. "I never thought I should have such a pleasant evening."
"Finis coronat opus," I replied, "and I hope the end will be even better than the beginning."
So saying I gave my sweetheart's hand a gentle pressure, and whether she understood me or not I felt her hand tremble in mine.
"We will go down now," said she.
"So will I, for I want to dance, and I am sure I shall make you laugh as Pierrot."
"Do you know how much money you gave each of us?"
"I cannot say precisely, but I believe I gave each an equal share."
"That is so.