CH. III. -- A great change at Don Vincent's. Aurora's strange resolution.

 

IT happened soon after this adventure that Signor Don Vincent fell sick. Independent of his very advanced age, the symptoms of his disorder appeared in so formidable a shape that a fatal termination was but too probable. From the beginning of his illness he was attended by two of the most eminent physicians in Madrid. One was Doctor Andros, and the other Doctor Oquetos. They considered the case with due solemnity; and both agreed, after a strict investigation, that the humours were in a state of mutiny, but this was the only thing about which they did agree. The proper practice, said Andros, is to purge the humours, though raw, with all possible expedition, while they are in a violent agitation of flux and reflux, for fear of their fixing upon some noble part. Oquetos maintained, on the contrary, that we must wait till the humours were ripened before it would be safe to go upon purgatives. But your method, replied the first speaker, is directly in the teeth of the rules laid down by the prince of medicine. Hippocrates recommends purging in the most burning fever from the very first attack, and says in plain terms that no time is to be lost in purging when the humours are in οργασμος {orgasmos}, that is to say, in a state of fermentation. Ay! there is your mistake, replied Oquetos. Hippocrates by the word οργασμος {orgasmos} does not mean the fermentation, he means rather the concoction of the humours.

Thereupon our doctors got heated. One quotes the Greek text, and cites all the authors who have explained it in his sense; the other, trusting to a Latin translation, takes up the controversy in a still more positive tone. Which of the two to believe? Don Vincent was not the man to decide that question. In the mean time, finding himself obliged to choose, he gave his confidence to the party who had dispatched the greatest number of patients -- I mean the elder of the two. Andros, the younger, immediately withdrew, not without flinging out a few satirical taunts at his senior on the οργασμος {orgasmos}. Here then was Oquetos triumphant. As he was a professor of the Sangrado school, he began by bleeding copiously, waiting till the humours were ripened before he went upon purgatives. But death, fearing, no doubt, lest this reserve of purgatives should turn the fortunes of the day, got the start of the concoction, and secured his victory over my master by a coup-de-main. Such was the final close of Signor Don Vincent, who had lost his life because his physician did not know Greek.

Aurora having buried her father with a pomp suited to the dignity of his birth, administered to his effects. Having the whole arrangement of everything in her own breast, she discharged some of the servants with rewards proportioned to their services, and soon retired to her castle on the Tagus, between Sacedon and Buendia. I was among the number of those whom she kept, and who made part of her country establishment. I had even the good fortune to become a principal agent in the plot. In spite of my faithful report on the subject of Don Lewis, she still harboured a partiality for that bewitching young fellow; or rather, for want of spirit to combat her passion in the first instance, she surrendered at discretion. There was no longer any need of taking precautions to speak with me in private. Gil Blas, said she with a sigh, I can never forget Don Lewis. Let me make what effort I will to banish him from my thoughts, he is present to them without intermission, not as you have described him, plunged in every variety of licentious riot, but just what my fancy would paint him -- tender, loving, constant. She betrayed considerable emotion in uttering these words, and could not help shedding tears. My fountains were very near playing from mere sympathy. There was no better way of paying my court than by appearing sensibly touched at her distress. My friend, continued she, after having wiped her lovely eyes, your nature is evidently cast in a benevolent mould; and I am so well satisfied with your zeal that it shall not go unrewarded. Your assistance, my dear Gil Blas, is more necessary to me than ever. You must be made acquainted with a plan which engrosses all my thoughts, though it will appear strangely eccentric. You are to know that I mean to set out for Salamanca as soon as possible. There my design is to assume the disguise of a fashionable young fellow, and to make acquaintance with Pacheco under the name of Don Felix. I shall endeavour to gain his confidence and friendship, and lead the conversation incidentally to the subject of Aurora de Guzman, for whose cousin I shall pass. He may perhaps express a wish to see her, and there is the point on which I expect the interest to turn. We will have two apartments in Salamanca. In one I shall be Don Felix, in the other, Aurora; and I flatter myself that by presenting my person before Don Lewis, sometimes under the semblance of a man, sometimes in all the natural and artificial attractions of my own sex, I may bring him by little and little to the proposed end of my stratagem. I am perfectly aware that my project is extravagant in the highest degree, but my passion drives me headlong; and the innocence of my intentions renders me insensible to all compunctious feelings of virgin apprehension respecting so hazardous a step.

I was exactly in the same mind with Aurora respecting the extravagance of her scheme. Yet, unseasonable as it might seem to reflecting persons like myself, there was no occasion for me to play the schoolmaster. On the contrary, I began to practise all the arts of a thorough-bred special pleader, and undertook to magnify this hair-brained pursuit into a piece of incomparable wit and spirit, without the least tincture of imprudence. This was highly gratifying to my mistress. Lovers like to have their rampant fancies tickled. We no longer considered this rash enterprise in any other light than as a play, of which the characters were to be properly cast, and the business dramatically arranged. The actors were chosen out of our own domestic establishment, and the parts distributed without secret jealousy or open rupture, but then we were not players by profession. It was determined that Dame Ortiz should personate Aurora's aunt, under the name of Donna Kimena de Guzman, with a valet and waiting-maid by way of attendance; and that Aurora, with the swashing outside of a gay spark, was to take me for her valet-de-chambre, with one of her women disguised as a page, to be more immediately about her person. The drama thus filled up we returned to Madrid, where we understood Don Lewis still to be, though it was not likely to be long till his departure for Salamanca. We got up with all possible haste the dresses and decorations of our wild comedy. When they were in complete order, my mistress had them packed up carefully, that they might come out in all their gloss and newness on the rising of the curtain. Then, leaving the care of her family to her steward, she began her journey in a coach drawn by four mules, and travelled towards the kingdom of Leon, with those of her household who had some part to play in the piece.

We had already crossed Old Castile, when the axle-tree of the coach gave way. The accident happened between Avila and Villaflor, at the distance of three or four hundred yards from a castle near the foot of a mountain. Night was coming on, and the measure of our troubles seemed to be heaped up and overflowing. But there passed accidentally by us a countryman, by whose assistance we were relieved from our difficulties. He acquainted us that the castle yonder belonged to Donna Elvira, widow of Don Pedro de Penarés; at the same time giving us so favourable a character of that lady, that my mistress sent me to the castle with a request of a night's lodging. Elvira did not disgrace the good word of the countryman. She received me with an air of hospitality, and returned such an answer to my compliment as I wished to carry back. We all went to the castle, whither the mules dragged the carriage with considerable difficulty. At the gate we met the widow of Don Pedro, who came out to meet my mistress. I shall pass over in silence the reciprocal civilities which were exchanged on this occasion, in compliance with the usage of the polite world. I shall only say that Elvira was a lady rather advanced in years, but remarkably well bred, with an address superior to that of most women in doing the honours of her house. She led Aurora into a sumptuous apartment, where, leaving her to rest herself for a short time, she looked after everything herself, and left nothing undone which could in the least contribute to our comfort. Afterwards, when supper was ready, she ordered it to be served up in Aurora's chamber, where they sat down to table together. Don Pedro's widow was not of a description to cast a slur on her own hospitalities, by assuming an air of abstraction or sullenness. Her temper was gay, and her conversation lively without levity; for her ideas were dignified, and her expressions select. Nothing could exceed her wit, accompanied by a peculiarly fine turn of thought. Aurora appeared as much to be delighted as myself. They became sworn friends, and mutually engaged in a regular correspondence. As our carriage could not be repaired till the following day, and we should have encountered some perils by setting out late at night, it was determined that we should take up our abode at the castle till the damage was made good. All the arrangements were in the first style of elegance, and our lodgings were correspondent to the magnificence of the establishment in other respects.

The day after, my mistress discovered new charms in Elvira's conversation. They dined in a large hall, where there were several pictures. One among the rest was distinguished for its admirable execution, but the subject was highly tragic. A principal figure was a man of superior mien, lying lifeless on his back, and bathed in his own blood; yet in the very embraces of death he wore a menacing aspect. At a little distance from him you might see a young lady in a different posture, though stretched likewise on the ground. She had a sword plunged in her bosom, and was giving up her last sighs, at the same time casting her dying glances at a young man who seemed to suffer a mortal pang at losing her. The painter had besides charged his picture with a figure which did not escape my notice. It was an old man of a venerable physiognomy, sensibly touched with the objects which struck his sight, and equally alive with the young man to the impressions of the melancholy scene. It might be said that these images of blood and desolation affected both the spectators with the same astonishment and grief, but that the outward demonstrations of their in ward sentiments were different. The old man, sunk in a profound melancholy, looked as if he was bowed down to the ground; while the youth mingled some thing like the extravagance of despair with the tears of affliction. All these circumstances were depicted with touches so characteristic and affecting, that we could not take our eyes off the performance. My mistress desired to know the subject of the piece. Madam, said Elvira, it is a faithful delineation of the misfortunes sustained by my family. This answer excited Aurora's curiosity; and she testified so strong a desire to learn the particulars, that the widow of Don Pedro could do no otherwise than promise her the satisfaction she desired. This promise, made before Ortiz, her two fellow-servants, and myself, rooted us to the spot on which we were listening to their former conversation. My mistress would have sent us away; but Elvira, who saw plainly that we were dying with eagerness to be present at the explanation of the picture, had the goodness to desire us to stay, alleging at the same time that the story she had to relate was not of a nature to enjoin secrecy. After a moment's recollection, she began her recital to the following effect: --

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