They saw what a rich disguise I had provided for them, and they could not find it in their hearts to say, "What a pity!"
"Here, gentlemen, are your beggar-clothes. I forgot to lacerate your beaver hats, but that is soon done. Well, what do you think of the costume?"
"Now, ladies, we must leave you; shut the door fast, for it is a case of changing your shifts. Now, gentlemen, leave the room."
The marquis was enthusiastic.
"What a sensation we shall create!" said he, "nothing could be better."
In half an hour we were ready. The stockings in holes, the worn- out shoes, the lace in rags, the straggling hair, the sad masks, the notched plates--all made a picture of sumptuous misery hard to be described.
The ladies took more time on account of their hair, which floated on their shoulders in fine disorder. Mdlle. Q----'s hair was especially fine, it extended almost to her knees.
When they were ready the door was opened, and we saw everything which could excite desire without wounding decency. I admired Zenobia's adroitness. The rents in dresses and chemises disclosed parts of their shoulders, their breasts, and their arms, and their white legs shone through the holes in the stockings.
I shewed them how to walk, and to sway their heads to and fro, to excite compassion, and yet be graceful, and how to use their handkerchiefs to shew people the tears in them and the fineness of the lace. They were delighted, and longed to be at the ball, but I wanted to be there first to have the pleasure of seeing them come in. I put on my mask, told Zenobia to go to bed, as we would not be back till daybreak, and set out on my way.
I entered the ball-room, and as there were a score of Pierrots nobody noticed me. Five minutes after there was a rush to see some maskers who were coming in, and I stood so as to have a good view. The marquis came in first between the two cousins. Their slow, pitiful step matched the part wonderfully. Mdlle. Q---- with her flame-coloured dress, her splendid hair, and her fine shape, drew all eyes towards her. The astonished and inquisitive crowd kept silence for a quarter of an hour after they had come in, and then I heard on every side, "What a disguise!" "It's wonderful!" "Who are they?" "Who can they be?" "I don't know." "I'll find out."
I enjoyed the results of my inventiveness.
The music struck up, and three fine dominos went up to the three beggar-girls to ask them to dance a minuet, but they excused themselves by pointing to their dilapidated shoes. I was delighted; it shewed that they had entered into the spirit of the part.
I followed them about for a quarter of an hour, and the curiosity about them only increased, and then I paid a visit to Canano's table, where play was running high. A masquer dressed in the Venetian style was punting on a single card, going fifty sequins paroli and paix de paroli, in my fashion. He lost three hundred sequins, and as he was a man of about the same size as myself people said it was Casanova, but Canano would not agree. In order that I might be able to stay at the table, I took up the cards and punted three or four ducats like a beginner. The next deal the Venetian masquer had a run of luck, and going paroli, paix de paroli and the va, won back all the money he had lost.
The next deal was also in his favour, and he collected his winnings and left the table.
I sat down in the chair he had occupied, and a lady said,--
"That's the Chevalier de Seingalt."
"No," said another. "I saw him a little while ago in the ball- room disguised as a beggar, with four other masquers whom nobody knows."
"How do you mean, dressed as a beggar?" said Canano.
"Why, in rags, and the four others, too; but in spite of that the dresses are splendid and the effect is very good. They are asking for alms."
"They ought to be turned out," said another.
I was delighted to have attained my object, for the recognition of me was a mere guess. I began putting sequins on one card, and I lost five or six times running.