CH. VIII. -- An accident, in consequence of which Gil Blas was obliged to look out for another place.
SUCH was Don Pompeyo's story, which Don Alexo's servant and myself over heard, though we were prudently sent away before he began his recital. Instead of withdrawing, we skulked behind the door, which we had left half open, and from that station we did not miss a word. After this, the company went on drinking; but they did not prolong their carousals till the morning, because Don Pompeyo, who was to speak with the prime minister, wished for a little rest beforehand. The Marquis de Zenette and my master took a cordial leave of the stranger, and left him with his kinsman.
We went to bed for once before daybreak; and Don Matthias, when he awoke, invested me with a new office. Gil Blas, said he, take pen, ink, and paper, and write two or three letters as I shall dictate: you shall henceforth be my secretary. Well and good! said I to myself, a plurality of functions. As footman, I follow my master's heels; as valet-de-chambre, I help him to dress; and write for him as his secretary. Heaven be praised for my apotheosis! Like the triple Hecate of the Pantheon, I am to enact three different characters at the same time. Can you guess my intention? continued he. Thus it is: but take care what you are about; your life may depend on it. As I am continually meeting with fellows who boast of their success among the women, I mean, by way of getting the upper hand, to fill my pockets with fictitious love-letters, and read them in company. It will be amusing enough. Happier than my competitors, who make conquests only for the pleasure of the boast, I shall take the credit of intrigue, and spare myself the labour. But vary your writing, so that the manufacture may not be detected by the sameness of the hand.
I then sat down to comply with the commands of Don Matthias, who first dictated a tender epistle to this tune -- You did not keep your promise to-night. Ah! Don Matthias, how will you exculpate yourself? My error was a cruel one! But you punish me deservedly for my vanity, in fancying that business and amusement were all to give way before the pleasure of seeing Donna Clara de Mendoza! After this pretty note, he made me write another, as if from a lady who sacrificed a prince to him; and then a third, whose fair writer offered, if she could rely on his discretion, to embark with him for the shores of Cytherean enchantment. It was not enough to dictate these love-sick strains; he forced me to subscribe them with the most high-flying names in Madrid. I could not forbear hinting at some little hazard in all this, but he begged me to keep my sage counsels till they were called for. I was obliged to hold my tongue, and dispatch his orders out of hand. That done, he got up, and dressed with my assistance. The letters were put into his pocket, and out he went. I followed him to dinner with Don Juan de Moncade, who entertained five or six gentlemen of his acquaintance that day.
There was a grand set-out, and mirth, the best relish, was not wanting to the banquet. All the guests contributed to enliven the conversation, some by wit and humour, others by anecdotes of which the relaters were the heroes. My master would not lose so fine an opportunity of bringing our joint performances to bear. He read them audibly, and with so much assurance, that probably the whole party, with the exception of his secretary, was taken in by the device. Among the company, before whom this trick was so impudently played off, there was one person, by name Don Lope de Velasco. This person, a very grave don, instead of making himself merry like the rest with the fictitious triumphs of the reader, asked him coolly if the conquest of Donna Clara had been achieved with any great difficulty? Less than the least, answered Don Matthias; the advances were all on her side. She saw me in public, and took a fancy to my person. A scout was commissioned to follow me, and thus she got at my name and condition. She wrote to me, and gave me an appointment at an hour of the night when the house was sure to be quiet. I was true as the needle to the pole; her bedchamber was the place . . . . But prudence and delicacy forbid my describing what passed there.
At this instance of tender regard for the lady's character, Signor de Velasco betrayed some very passionate workings in his countenance. It was easy to see the interest he took in the subject. All these letters, said he to my master, looking at him with an eye of indignation and contempt, are infamous forgeries, and above all that which you boast of having received from Donna Clara de Mendoza. There is not in all Spain a more modest young creature than her. self. For these two years, a gentleman, at least your equal in birth and personal merit, has been trying every method of insinuating himself into her heart. Scarcely have his assiduities extorted the slightest encouragement: but yet he may flatter himself that, if anything beyond common civility had been granted at all, it would have been to him only. Well! Who says to the contrary? interrupted Don Matthias in a bantering way. I agree with you, that the lady is a very pretty behaved young lady. On my part, I am a very pretty behaved young gentleman. Ergo, you may rest assured that nothing took place between us but what was pretty and well behaved. Indeed! This is too much, interrupted Don Lope in his turn; let us lay aside this unseasonable jesting. You are an impostor. Donna Clara never gave you an appointment by night. Her reputation shall not be blackened by your ribaldry. But prudence and delicacy forbid my describing what must pass between you and me. With this retort on his lips, he looked contemptuously round, and withdrew with a menacing aspect, which anticipated serious consequences to my judgment. My master, whose courage was better than his cause, held the threats of Don Lope in derision. A blockhead! exclaimed he, bursting into a loud fit of laughter. Our knights-errant used to tilt for the beauty of their mistresses, this fellow would engage in the lists for the forlorn hope of virtue in his; he is more ridiculous than his prototypes.
Velasco's retiring, in vain opposed by Moncade, occasioned no interruption to the merriment. The party, without thinking further about it, kept the ball up briskly, and did not part till they had made free with the next day. We went to bed, that is, my master and myself, about five o'clock in the morning. Sleep sat heavy on my eyelids, and, as I thought, was taking permanent possession thereof; but I reckoned without my host, or rather without our porter, who came and waked me in an hour, to say that there was a lad inquiring for me at the door. Oh! thou infernal porter, muttered I indistinctly, through the interstices of a long yawn, do you consider that I have but now got to bed? Tell the little rascal that I am just asleep; he must come again by-and-by. He insists, replied Cerberus, on speaking with you instantly; his business cannot wait. As that was the case I got up, put on nothing but my breeches and doublet, and went down-stairs, swearing and gaping. My friend, said I, be so good as to let me know what urgent affair procures me the honour of seeing you so early? I have a letter, answered he, to deliver personally into the hands of Signor Don Matthias, to be read by him without loss of time; it is of the last consequence to him -- pray show me into his room. As I thought the matter looked serious, I took the liberty of disturbing my master. Excuse me, said I, for waking you, but the pressing nature . . . . What do you want? interrupted he, just in my style with the porter. Sir, said the lad who was at my elbow, here is a letter from Don Lope de Velasco. Don Matthias looked at the cover, broke it, and after reading the contents, said to the messenger of Don Lope -- My good fellow, I never get up before noon, let the party be ever so agreeable; judge whether I can be expected to be stirring by six in the morning for a small-sword recreation. You may tell your master, that if he chooses to kick his heels at the spot till half-past twelve, we will come and see how he looks there -- carry him that answer. With this flippant speech he plunged down snugly under the bed clothes and fell fast asleep again as if nothing had happened.
Between eleven and twelve he got up and dressed himself with the utmost composure, and went out, telling me that there was no occasion for my attendance: but I was too much on the tenterhooks about the result to mind his orders. I sneaked after him to Saint Jerome's meadow, where I saw Don Lope de Velasco waiting for him. I took my station to watch them; and was an eye-witness to all the circumstances of their rencounter. They saluted, and began their fierce debate without delay. The engagement lasted long. They exchanged thrusts alternately, with equal skill and mettle. The victory, how ever, was on the side of Don Lope: he ran my master through, laid him helpless on the ground, and made his escape, with apparent satisfaction at the severe reprisal. I ran up to the unfortunate Don Matthias, and found him in a most desperate situation. The sight melted me. I could not help weeping at a catastrophe to which I had been an involuntary contributor. Nevertheless, with all sympathy, I had still my little wits about me. Home went I in a hurry, without saying a word. I made up a bundle of my own goods and chattels, inadvertently slipping in some odd articles belonging to my master: and when I had deposited this with the barber, where my dress as a fine gentleman was still lodged, I published the news of the fatal accident. Any gaper might have it for the trouble of listening; and above all, I took care to make Rodriguez acquainted with it. He would have been extremely afflicted, but that his own proceedings in this delicate case required all his attention. He called the servants together, ordered them to follow him, and we went all together to Saint Jerome's meadow. Don Matthias was taken up alive, but he died three hours after he was brought home. Thus ended the life of Signor Don Matthias de Silva, only for having taken a fancy to reading supposititious love-letters unseasonably.