"You have been losing, then?"
"Yes, but my brother has won something," said the amiable Q----.
"I hope luck will declare itself on your side also."
"No, we are not lucky."
When their aunt left the room, they asked me if the lieutenant had told me that a lady friend of theirs was coming to the ball with them.
"I know all," I answered, "and I hope you will enjoy yourselves, but you will not do so more than I. I want to speak to the gallant lieutenant to-morrow morning."
"Tell us about our disguises."
"You will be disguised in such a manner that nobody will recognize you."
"But how shall we be dressed?"
"But what costume have you given us?"
"That is my secret, ladies. However much I should like to please you, I shall say nothing till the time for you to dress comes round. Don't ask me anything more, as I have promised myself the enjoyment of your surprise. I am very fond of dramatic situations. You shall know all after supper."
"Are we to have supper, then?"
"Certainly, if you would like it. I am a great eater myself and I hope you will not let me eat alone."
"Then we will have some supper to please you. We will take care not to eat much dinner, so as to be able to vie with you in the evening. The only thing I am sorry about," added Mdlle. Q----, "is that you should be put to such expense."
"It is a pleasure; and when I leave Milan I shall console myself with the thought that I have supped with the two handsomest ladies in the town."
"How is fortune treating you?"
"Canano wins two hundred sequins from me every day."
"But you won two thousand from him in one night."
"You will break his bank on Sunday. We will bring you luck."
"Would you like to look on?"
"We should be delighted, but my brother says you don't want to go with us."
"Quite so, the reason is that I should be recognized. But I believe the gentleman who will accompany you is of the same figure as myself."
"Exactly the same," said the cousin; "except that he is fair."
"All the better," said I, "the fair always conquer the dark with ease."
"Not always," said the other. "But tell us, at any rate, whether we are to wear men's dresses."
"Fie! fie! I should be angry with myself if I had entertained such a thought."
"That's curious; why so?"
"I'll tell you. If the disguise is complete I am disgusted, for the shape of a woman is much more marked than that of a man, and consequently a woman in man's dress, who looks like a man, cannot have a good figure."
"But when a woman skews her shape well?"
"Then I am angry with her for skewing too much, for I like to see the face and the general outlines of the form and to guess the rest."
"But the imagination is often deceptive!"
"Yes, but it is with the face that I always fall in love, and that never deceives me as far as it is concerned. Then if I have the good fortune to see anything more I am always in a lenient mood and disposed to pass over small faults. You are laughing?"
"I am smiling at your impassioned arguments."
"Would you like to be dressed like a man?"
"I was expecting something of the kind, but after you have said we can make no more objections."
"I can imagine what you would say; I should certainly not take you for men, but I will say no more."
They looked at each other, and blushed and smiled as they saw my gaze fixed on two pre-eminences which one would never expect to see in any man. We began to talk of other things, and for two hours I enjoyed their lively and cultured conversation.
When I left them I went off to my apartments, then to the opera, where I lost two hundred sequins, and finally supped with the countess, who had become quite amiable. However, she soon fell back into her old ways when she found that my politeness was merely external, and that I had no intentions whatever of troubling her in her bedroom again.
On the Saturday morning the young officer came to see me, and I told him that there was only one thing that I wanted him to do, but that it must be done exactly according to my instructions.