I was in rather a sulky humour, so she threw her arms round my neck and covered my face with kisses which soon restored me to myself.
While I was explaining the reason of my ill temper, and kissing whatever I could see, Scholastica burst out laughing.
"I was sure that I was in the way," said she; "and if you do not trust me, I warn you that I will not go with you to the opera to-morrow."
"Well, then, embrace him," said Armelline.
"With all my heart."
I did not much care for Armelline's generosity, but I embraced Scholastica as warmly as she deserved. Indeed I would have done so if she had been less pretty, for such kindly consideration deserved a reward. I even kissed her more ardently than I need have done, with the idea of punishing Armelline, but I made a mistake. She was delighted, and kissed her friend affectionately as if in gratitude.
I made them sit down, and tried to pull on their shoes, but I soon found that they were much too small, and that we must get some more.
I called the waiter who attended to us, and told him to go and fetch a bootmaker with an assortment of shoes.
In the meanwhile I would not be contented with merely kissing Armelline. She neither dared to grant nor to refuse; and as if to relieve herself of any responsibility, made Scholastica submit to all the caresses I lavished on her. The latter seconded my efforts with an ardour that would have pleased me exceedingly if I had been in love with her.
She was exceedingly beautiful, and her features were as perfectly chiselled as Armelline's, but Armelline was possessed of a delicate and subtle charm of feature peculiar to herself.
I liked the amusement well enough, but there was a drop of bitterness in all my enjoyment. I thought it was plain that Armelline did not love me, and that Scholastica only encouraged me to encourage her friend.
At last I came to the conclusion that I should do well to attach myself to the one who seemed likely to give me the completest satisfaction.
As soon as I conceived this idea I felt curious to see whether Armelline would discover any jealousy if I shewed myself really in love with Scholastica, and if the latter pronounced me to be too daring, for hitherto my hands had not crossed the Rubicon of their waistbands. I was just going to work when the shoemaker arrived, and in a few minutes the girls were well fitted.
They put on their coats, and I saw two handsome young men before me, while their figures hinted their sex sufficiently to make a third person jealous of my good fortune.
I gave orders for supper to be ready at midnight, and we went to the ball. I would have wagered a hundred to one that no one would recognize me there, as the man who got the tickets had assured me that it was a gathering of small tradesmen. But who can trust to fate or chance?
We went into the hall, and the first person I saw was the Marchioness d'Aout, with her husband and her inseparable abbe.
No doubt I turned a thousand colours, but it was no good going back, for the marchioness had recognized me, so I composed myself and went up to her. We exchanged the usual compliments of polite society, to which she added some good-natured though ironical remarks on my two young friends. Not being accustomed to company, they remained confused and speechless. But the worst of all was to come. A tall young lady who had just finished a minuet came up to Armelline, dropped a curtsy, and asked her to dance.
In this young lady I recognized the Florentine who had disguised himself as a girl, and looked a very beautiful one.
Armelline thought she would not appear a dupe, and said she recognized him.
"You are making a mistake," said he, calmly. "I have a brother who is very like me, just as you have a sister who is your living portrait. My brother had the pleasure of exchanging a few words with her at the Capronica." The Florentine's cleverness made the marchioness laugh, and I had to join in her mirth, though I felt little inclination to do so.
Armelline begged to be excused dancing, so the marchioness made her sit between the handsome Florentine and herself.