I think it is wonderful how you could do it."
"I have done it a thousand times. When I lose a paroli of ten sequins I put three fingers into my purse, and am certain to bring up thirty sequins. I would bet I gave you each from thirty-eight to forty sequins."
"Forty exactly. It's wonderful. We shall remember this masqued ball."
"I don't think anybody will imitate us," said the marquis.
"No," said the cousin, "and we would not dare to wear the same dresses again."
We put on our masks, and I was the first to go out. After numerous little jocularities with the harlequins, especially the female ones, I recognized Therese in a domino, and walking up to her as awkwardly as I could I asked her to dance with me.
"You are the Pierrot who broke the bank?" she said.
I answered the question in the affirmative by a nod.
I danced like a madman, always on the point of falling to the ground and never actually doing so.
When the dance was over, I offered her my arm and took her back to her box, where Greppi was sitting by himself. She let me come in, and their surprise was great when I took off my mask. They had thought I was one of the beggars. I gave M. Greppi Canano's cheque, and as soon as he had handed me an acknowledgment I went down to the ball-room again with my mask off, much to the astonishment of the inquisitive, who had made sure that the marquis was I.
Towards the end of the ball I went away in a sedan-chair, which I stopped near the door of an hotel, and a little further on I took another which brought me to the door of the pastry-cook's. I found Zenobia in bed. She said she was sure I would come back by myself. I undressed as quickly as I could, and got into bed with this Venus of a woman. She was absolute perfection. I am sure that if Praxiteles had had her for a model, he would not have required several Greek beauties from which to compose his Venus. What a pity that such an exquisite figure should be the property of a sorry tailor.
I stripped her naked, and after due contemplation I made her feel how much I loved her. She was pleased with my admiration, and gave me back as much as she got. I had her entirely to myself for the first time. When we heard the trot of four horses we rose and put on our clothes in a twinkling.
When the charming beggars came in, I told them that I should be able to help in their toilette as they had not to change their chemises, and they did not make many objections.
My gaze was fixed all the while on Mdlle. Q----. I admired her charms, and I was delighted to see that she was not miserly in their display. After Zenobia had done her hair she left her to me, and went to attend on the others. She allowed me to put on her dress, and did not forbid my eyes wandering towards a large rent in her chemise, which let me see almost the whole of one of her beautiful breasts.
"What are you going to do with this chemise?"
"You will laugh at our silliness. We have determined to keep everything as a memorial of the splendid evening we have had. My brother will bring it all to the house. Are you coming to see us this evening?"
"If I were wise I should avoid you."
"And if I were wise I shouldn't ask you to come."
"That is fairly answered! Of course I will come; but before we part may I ask one kiss?"
Her brother and the marquis left the room, and two sedan-chairs I had summoned took off the cousins.
As soon as the marquis was alone with me he asked me very politely to let him share in the expenses.
"I guessed you were going to humiliate me."
"Such was not my intention, and I do not insist; but then you know I shall be humiliated."
"Not at all; I reckon on your good sense. It really costs me nothing. Besides, I give you my word to let you pay for all the parties of pleasure we enjoy together during the carnival. We will sup here when you like; you shall invite the company, and I will leave you to pay the bill."
"That arrangement will suit me admirably. We must be friends.