If you like you can make them quite happy by taking them on the last day of the carnival. The ball closes at midnight, so as not to profane Ash Wednesday."
"I shall be happy to oblige you, all the more as your lady mother will not be obliged to wait for us in the carriage."
"You are very kind; but I shall have to introduce you to my aunt; she is so particular. When she knows you, I am sure she will consent, for you have all the air of discretion. Go and see her to-day; she lives in the next street, and over her door you will see a notice that lace is washed within. Tell her that my mother gave you the address. To-morrow morning, after mass, I will see to everything else, and you must come here at noon to agree as to our meeting on the last day of the carnival."
I did all this, and the next day I heard that it was settled.
"I will have the dominos ready at my house," I said, "and you must come in at the back door. We will dine in my room, mask, and go to the ball. The eldest of your cousins must be disguised as a man."
"I won't tell her anything about that, for fear she might think it a sin, but once in your house you will have no difficulty in managing her."
The younger of the two cousins was ugly, but looked like a woman, where as the elder looked like an ugly dressed man in woman's clothes. She made an amusing contrast with Donna Ignazia, who looked most seductive when she laid aside her air of piety.
I took care that everything requisite for our disguises should be at hand in a neighbouring closet, unbeknown to my rascally page. I gave him a piece of money in the morning, and told him to spend the last day of the carnival according to his own taste, as I should not require his services till noon the day after.
I ordered a good dinner, and a waiter to serve it, at the tavern, and got rid of Marazzini by giving him a doubloon. I took great pains over the entertainment I was to give the two cousins and the fair Ignazia, whom I hoped that day to make my mistress. It was all quite a novelty for me; I had to do with three devotees, two hideous and the third ravishingly beautiful, who had already had a foretaste of the joys in store for her.
They came at noon, and for an hour I discoursed to them in a moral and unctuous manner. I had taken care to provide myself with some excellent wine, which did not fail to take effect on the three girls, who were not accustomed to a dinner that lasted two hours. They were not exactly inebriated, but their spirits were worked up to a pitch they had never attained before.
I told the elder cousin, who might be twenty-five years old, that I was going to disguise her as a man; consternation appeared on her features, but I had expected as much, and Donna Ignazia told her she was only too lucky, and her sister observed that she did not think it could be a sin.
"If it were a sin," said I, "do you suppose that I should have suggested it to your virtuous sister."
Donna Ignazia, who knew the Legendarium by heart, corroborated my assertion by saying that the blessed St. Marina had passed her whole life in man's clothes; and this settled the matter.
I then burst into a very high-flown eulogium of her intellectual capacity, so as to enlist her vanity in the good cause.
"Come with me," said I, "and do you ladies wait here; I want to enjoy your surprise when you see her in man's clothes."
The ugly cousin made a supreme effort and followed me, and when she had duly inspected her disguise I told her to take off her boots and to put on white stockings and shoes, of which I had provided several pairs. I sat down before her, and told her that if she suspected me of any dishonourable intentions she would commit a mortal sin, as I was old enough to be her father. She replied that she was a good Christian, but not a fool. I fastened her garters for her, saying that I should never have supposed she had so well-shapen and so white a leg, which compliment made her smile in a satisfied manner.
Although I had a fine view of her thighs, I observed no traces of a blush on her face.