CH. XVI. -- Showing that prosperity will slip through a man's fingers.

 

WE slept at Duengnas the first night, and reached Valladolid on the following day, about four o'clock in the afternoon. We alighted at the inn of the most respectable appearance in the town. I left the care of the mules to my fellow, and went up to a room whither I ordered my portmanteau to be carried by a waiter. As I felt a little weary, I threw myself on a couch in my boots, and fell asleep involuntarily. It was almost night when I awoke. I called for Ambrose. He was not to be found in the house; but made his appearance in a short time. I asked him where he had been: he answered in his godly way, that he was just come from church, whither he went for the purpose of thanksgiving, by reason that we had been graciously preserved from all perils and dangers between Burgos and Valladolid. I commended his piety; and ordered a chicken to be roasted for supper.

At the moment when I was giving this order, my landlord came into my room with a light in his hand. That cursed candle served to introduce a lady, handsome, but not young, and very richly attired. She leant upon an usher, none of the youngest, and a little blackamoor was her train-bearer. I was under no small surprise when this fair incognita, with a profound obeisance, begged to know if my name might happen to be Signor Gil Blas of Santillane? I had no sooner blundered out yes, than she released her sweet hand from the custody of the usher, and embraced me with a transport of joy, of which I knew less and less what to make. Heaven be praised, cried she, for all its mercies! You are he, noble sir, the very man of whom I was in quest. By this introduction I was reminded of my friend the parasite at Pegnaflor, and was on the point of suspecting the lady to be no better than an honest woman should be: but her finale gave me a much higher opinion of her. I am, continued she, first cousin to Donna Mencia de Mosquera, whom you have so greatly befriended. It was but this morning I received a letter from her. She writes me word that having learnt your intention of going to Madrid, she wished me to receive you hospitably on your journey, if you went this way. For these two hours have I been parading the town. From inn to inn have I gone to inform myself what strangers were in the house; and I gathered from the landlord's description that you were most likely to have been my cousin's deliverer. Since then I have found you out, you shall know by experience my gratitude to the friends of my family, and especially to my dear cousin's hero. You will take up your abode, if you please, at my house. Your accommodations will be better. I wished to excuse myself; and told the lady that I could not be so troublesome: but her importunities were more than a match for my modesty. A carriage was waiting at the door of the inn to convey us. She saw my portmanteau taken care of with her own eyes, because, as she justly observed, there were a great many light-fingered gentry about Valladolid -- to be sure there were a great many light-fingered gentry about Valladolid, as she justly observed! In short, I got into the carriage with her and the old usher, and suffered myself to be carried off bodily from the inn, to the great annoyance of the landlord, who saw himself thus weaned from all the little perquisites he had reckoned on from my abode under his roof.

Our carriage, having rolled on some distance, stopped. We alighted at the door of a handsome house, and went up-stairs into a well-furnished apartment, illuminated by twenty or thirty wax candles. Several servants were in waiting, of whom the lady inquired whether Don Raphael was come. They answered, No. She then addressed herself to me: Signor Gil Blas, I am waiting for my brother's return from a country seat of ours, about two leagues distant. What an agreeable surprise will it be to him to find a man under his roof to whom our family is so much indebted! At the very moment she had finished this pretty speech we heard a noise, and were informed at the same time that it was occasioned by the arrival of Don Raphael. This spark soon made his appearance. He was a young man of portly figure and genteel manners. I am in ecstacy to see you back again, brother, said the lady; you will assist me in doing the honours to Signor Gil Blas of Santillane. We can never do enough to show our sense of his kindness to our kinswoman, Donna Mencia. Here, read this letter I have just received. Don Raphael opened the envelope, and read aloud as follows:

My dear Camilla, Signor Gil Blas of Santillane, the saviour of my honour and my life, has just set out for court. He will of course pass through Valladolid. I conjure you by our family connection, and still more by our indissoluble friendship, to give him an hospitable reception, and to detain him for some time as your guest. I flatter myself that you will so far oblige me, and that my deliverer will receive every kind of polite attention from yourself, and my cousin, Don Raphael. Your affectionate cousin,

DONNA MENCIA.

Burgos.

What! cried Don Raphael, casting his eyes again over the letter, is it to this gentleman my kinswoman owes her honour and her life? Then heaven be praised for this happy meeting. With this sort of language, he advanced to wards me; and squeezing me tightly in his arms: What joy to me is it, added he, to have the honour of seeing Signor Gil Blas of Santillane! My cousin the marchioness had no need to press the hospitality. Had she only told us simply that you were passing through Valladolid, that would have been enough. My sister Camilla and I shall be at no loss how to conduct ourselves towards a young gentleman who has conferred an obligation, not to be repaid, on her of all our family most tenderly beloved by us. I made the best answer I could to these speeches, which were followed by many others of the same kind, and interlarded with a thousand bows and scrapes. But Lord bless me, he has his boots on! The servants were ordered in, to take them ofF.

We next went into another room, where the cloth was lain. Down we sat at table, the brother, sister, and myself. They paid me a hundred compliments during supper. Not a word escaped me, but they magnified it into an admirable hit! It was impossible not to observe the assiduity with which they both helped me out of every dish. Don Raphael often pledged me to Donna Mencia's health. I could not refuse the challenge; and it looked a little as if Camilla, who was a very good companion, ogled at me with no questionable meaning. I even thought I could perceive that she watched her opportunity, as if she was afraid of being detected by her brother. An oracle could not have convinced me more firmly that the lady was caught; and I looked forward to a little delicate amusement from the discovery, during the short time I was to stay at Valladolid. That hope was my tempter to comply with the request they made me, of condescending to pass a few days with them. They thanked me kindly for indulging them with my company; and Camilla's restrained, but visible transport, confirmed me in the opinion that I was not altogether disagreeable in her eyes.

Don Raphael, finding I had made up my mind to be his guest for a few days, proposed to take me to his country house. The description of it was magnificent, and the round of amusements he meditated for me was not to be described. At one time, said he, we will take the diversion of the chase, at another that of fishing; and whenever you have a mind for a saunter, we have charming woods and gardens. In addition, we shall have agreeable society. I flatter myself you will not find the time hang heavy on your hands. I accepted the invitation, and it was agreed that we should go to this fine country house the following day. We rose from the table with this pleasant scheme in our mouths. Don Raphael seemed in ecstacy. Signor Gil Blas, said he, embracing me, I leave you with my sister. I am going presently to give the necessary orders, and send invitations round to the families I wish to be of the party. With these words he sallied forth from the room where we were sitting. I went on chatting with the lady, whose topics of discourse did not bely the glances of her expressive eyes. She took me by the hand, and playing with my ring, You have a mighty pretty brilliant there, said she, but it is small. Are you a judge of jewellery? I answered, no! I am sorry for that, resumed she, because I was in hopes you could have told me what this is worth. As she uttered these words, she showed me a large ruby on her finger; and, while I was looking at it, said -- An uncle of mine, who was governor of the Spanish settlements in the Philippine isles, gave me this ruby. The jewellers at Valladolid value it at three hundred pistoles. It cannot be worth less, said I, for it is evidently a very fine stone. Why, then, since you have taken a fancy to it, replied she, an exchange is no robbery. In a twinkling she whisked off my ring, and placed her own on my little finger. After this exchange, a genteel way enough of making a present, Camilla pressed my hand and gazed at me with expressive tenderness; then, all at once breaking off the conversation, wished me good night, and re tired to hide her blushes, as if she had been ready to sink at the indiscreet avowal of her sentiments.

No one hitherto had trod less in the paths of gallantry than myself! Yet I could not shut my eyes to the vista vision opened to me by this precipitate retreat. Under these circumstances, a country excursion might have its charms. Full of this flattering idea, and intoxicated with the prosperous condition of my affairs, I locked myself into my bed-room, after having told my servant to call me betimes in the morning. Instead of going to sleep, I gave myself up to the agreeable reflections which my portmanteau, snug upon the table, and my ruby excited in my breast. Heaven be praised, thought I, though misfortunes have been my lot, I am unfortunate no longer. A thousand ducats here, a ring of three hundred pistoles' value there! I am in cash for a considerable time. In deed Majuelo was no flatterer, I see clearly. The ladies of Madrid will take fire like touchwood, since the green sticks of Valladolid are so inflammable. Then the kind regards of the generous Camilla arrayed themselves in all their charms, and I tasted by anticipation the amusements Don Raphael was preparing for me at his villa. In the mean while, amid so many images of pleasure, sleep was on the watch to strew his poppies on my couch. As soon as I felt myself drowsy, I undressed and went to bed.

The next morning, when I awoke, I found it rather late. It was odd enough that my servant did not make his appearance, after such particular orders. Ambrose, thought I to myself, my devout Ambrose is either at church, or abominably lazy this morning. But I soon let go this opinion of him to take up a worse; for getting out of bed, and seeing no portmanteau, I suspected him to have stolen it during the night. To clear up my suspicions, I opened my chamber door, and called the religious rascal over and over again. An old man answered, saying -- What is your pleasure, sir? All your folks left my house before day-break. Your house! How now! exclaimed I; am I not under Don Raphael's roof? I do not know the gentleman, said he. You are in a ready-furnished lodging, and I am the landlord. Yesterday evening, an hour before your arrival, the lady who supped with you came hither, and engaged this suite of apartments for a nobleman of high rank, travelling incognito, as she called it. She paid me beforehand. I was now in the secret. It was plain enough what sort of people Camilla and Don Raphael were; and I conjectured that my servant, having wormed himself into a complete knowledge of my concerns, had betrayed me to these impostors. Instead of blaming myself for this sad accident, and considering that it could never have happened but for my indiscretion in so unnecessarily betraying my confidence to Majuelo, I gave bad language to the poor harmless dame fortune, and cursed my ill star in a hundred different formularies. The master of the ready-furnished lodging, to whom I related the adventure, which perhaps was as much his as mine, showed some little outward sensibility to my affliction. He lamented over me, and protested he was deeply mortified that such a play should have been acted in his house; but I verily believe, not withstanding his fine words, that he had an equal share in the cheat with mine host at Burgos, to whom I have never denied the merit of so ingenious an invention.

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