They looked three young pages minus their impudence, for though they endeavoured to seem quite at their ease they were rather confused.
We advanced with the modesty of the fair sex, and imitating the air of shy reserve which the part demanded. The girls of course thought themselves obliged to mimic the airs of men, and they did not accost us like young men accustomed to behave respectfully to ladies. They were dressed as running footmen, with tight breeches, well-fitting waistcoats, open throats, garters with a silver fringe, laced waistbands, and pretty caps trimmed with silver lace, and a coat of arms emblazoned in gold. Their lace shirts were ornamented with an immense frill of Alencon point. In this dress, which displayed their beautiful shapes under a veil which was almost transparent, they would have stirred the sense of a paralytic, and we had no symptoms of that disease. However, we loved them too well to frighten them.
After the silly remarks usual on such occasions had been passed, we began to talk naturally while we were waiting for supper. The ladies said that as this was the first time they had dressed as men they were afraid of being recognized.
"Supposing somebody knew us," cried the cousin, "we should be undone!"
They were right; but our part was to reassure them, though I at any rate would have preferred to stay where we were. We sat down to supper, each next to his sweetheart, and to my surprise the lieutenant's mistress was the first to begin the fun. Thinking that she could not pretend to be a man without being impudent, she began to toy with the lady-lieutenant, who defended himself like a prudish miss. The two cousins, not to be outdone, began to caress us in a manner that was rather free. Zenobia, who was waiting on us at table could not help laughing when Mdlle. Q--- reproached her for having made my dress too tight in the neck. She stretched out her hand as if to toy with me, whereupon I gave her a slight box on the ear, and imitating the manner of a repentant cavalier she kissed my hand and begged my pardon.
The marquis said he felt cold, and his mistress asked him if he had his breeches on, and put her hand under his dress to see, but she speedily drew it back with a blush. We all burst out laughing, and she joined in, and proceeded with her part of hardy lover.
The supper was admirable; everything was choice and abundant. Warm with love and wine, we rose from the table at which we had been for two hours, but as we got up sadness disfigured the faces of the two pretty cousins. They did not dare to go to the ball in a costume that would put them at the mercy of all the libertines there. The marquis and I felt that they were right.
"We must make up our minds," said the lieutenant, "shall we go to the ball or go home?"
"Neither," said the marquis, "we will dance here."
"Where are the violins" asked his mistress, "you could not get them to-night for their weight in gold."
"Well," said I, "we will do without them. We will have some punch, laugh, and be merry, and we shall enjoy ourselves better than at the ball, and when we are tired we can go to sleep. We have three beds here."
"Two would be enough," said the cousin.
"True, but we can't have too much of a good thing."
Zenobia had gone to sup with the pastrycook's wife, but she was ready to come up again when she should be summoned.
After two hours spent in amorous trifling, the lieutenant's mistress, feeling a little dizzy, went into an adjoining room and lay down on the bed. Her lover was soon beside her.
Mdlle. Q----, who was in the same case, told me that she would like to rest, so I took her into a room where she could sleep the night, and advised her to do so.
"I don't think I need fear its going any farther," I said, "we will leave the marquis with your cousin then, and I will watch over you while you sleep."
"No, no, you shall sleep too." So saying, she went into the dressing-room, and asked me to get her cloak. I brought it to her, and when she came in she said,--
"I breathe again.