CH. VI. -- The attempt of Gil Blas to escape, and its success.

 

AFTER the captain of the banditti had thus apologized for adopting such a line of life, he went to bed. For my part, I returned to the hall, where I cleared the table, and set everything to rights. Then I went to the kitchen, where Domingo, the old negro, and dame Leonarda had been expecting me at supper. Though entirely without appetite, I had the good manners to sit down with them. Not a morsel could I eat; and, as I scarcely felt more miserable than I looked, this pair so justly formed to meet by nature, undertook to give me a little comfort. Why do you take on so, my good lad? said the old dowager: you ought rather to bless your stars for your good luck. You are young, and seem a little soft; you would have a fine kettle of fish of it in the busy world. You might have fallen into bad hands, and then your morals would have been corrupted; whereas here your innocence is insured to its full value. Dame Leonarda is in the right, put in the old negro gravely, the world is but a troublesome place. Be thankful, my friend, for being so early relieved from the dangers, the difficulties, and the afflictions of this miserable life.

I bore this prosing very quietly, because I should have got no good by putting myself in a passion about it. At length Domingo, after playing a good knife and fork, and getting gloriously muddled, took himself off to the stable. Leonarda, by the glimmering of a lamp, showed me the way to a vault which served as a last home to those of the corps who died a natural death. Here I stumbled upon something more like a grave than a bed. This is your room, said she. Your predecessor lay here as long as he was among us, and here he lies to this day. He suffered himself to be hurried out of life in his prime: do not you be so foolish as to follow his example. With this kind advice, she left me with the lamp for my companion and returned to the kitchen. I threw myself on the little bed, not so much for rest as meditation. O heaven! exclaimed I, was there ever a fate so dreadful as mine? it is determined then I am to take my leave of daylight! Beside this, as if it were not enough to be buried alive at eighteen, my misery is to be aggravated by being in the service of a banditti; by passing the day with highwaymen, and the night in a charnelhouse. These reflections, which seemed to me very dismal, and were indeed no better than they seemed, set me crying most bitterly. I could not conceive what cursed maggot my uncle had got in his head to send me to Salamanca; repented running away from Cacabelos, and would have compounded for the torture. But, considering how vain it was to shut the door when the steed was stolen, I determined, instead of lamenting the past, to hit upon some expedient for making my escape. What! thought I, is it impossible to get off? The cut-throats are asleep; cooky and the black will be snoring ere long. Why cannot I, by the help of this lamp, find the passage by which I descended into these infernal regions? I am afraid, indeed, my strength is not equal to lifting the trap at the entrance. However, let us see. Faint heart never won fair lady. Despair will lend me new force, and who knows but I may succeed?

Thus was the train laid for a grand attempt. I got up as soon as Leonarda and Domingo were likely to be asleep. With the lamp in my hand, I stole out of the vault, putting up my prayers to all the spirits in paradise, and ten miles round. It was with no small difficulty that I threaded all the windings of this new labyrinth. At length I found myself at the stable door, and perceived the passage which was the object of my search. Pushing on I made my way towards the trap with a light pair of heels and a beating heart: but, alas! in the middle of my career I ran against a cursed iron grate locked fast, with bars so close as not to admit a hand between them. I looked rather foolish at the occurrence of this new difficulty, which I had not been aware of at my entrance, because the grate was then open. However, I tried what I could do by fumbling at the bars. Then for a peep at the lock; or whether it could not be forced! When all at once my poor shoulders were saluted with five or six good strokes of a bull's pizzle. I set up such a shrill alarum, that the den of Cacus rang with it; when looking round, who should it be but the old negro in his shirt, holding a dark lanthorn in one hand, and the instrument of my punishment in the other. Oh, ho! quoth he, my merry little fellow, you will run away, will you? No, no! you must not think to set your wits against mine. I heard you all the while. You thought you should find the grate open, did not you? You may take it for granted, my friend, that henceforth it will always be shut. When we keep any one here against his will, he must be a cleverer fellow than you to make his escape.

In the mean time, at the howl I had set up two or three of the robbers waked suddenly; and not knowing but the holy brotherhood might be falling upon them, they got up and called their comrades. Without the loss of a moment all were on the alert. Swords and carabines were put in requisition, and the whole posse advanced forward almost in a state of nature to the place where I was parleying with Domingo. But as soon as they learned the cause of the uproar, their alarm resolved itself into a peal of laughter. How now, Gil Blas, said the apostate son of the church, you have not been a good six hours with us, and are you tired of our company already? You must have a great objection to retirement. Why, what would you do if you were a Carthusian friar? Get along with you, and go to bed. This time you shall get off with Domingo's discipline; but if you are ever caught in a second attempt of the same kind, by Saint Bartholomew! we will flay you alive. With this hint he retired, and the rest of the party went back to their rooms. The old negro, taking credit to himself for his vigilance, returned to his stable; and I found my way back to my charnel-house, where I passed the remainder of the night in weeping and wailing.

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