CH. VIII. -- The reception of Gil Blas among the players at Grenada; and another old acquaintance picked up in the green-room.
JUST as Laura was finishing her story, there came in an old actress who lived in her neighbourhood, and was come to take her to the theatre as she passed by. This venerable tutelary of the stage was admirably fitted to play some superannuated strumpet among the heathen goddesses in a pantomime. My sister was not remiss in introducing her brother to that stale old harridan, whereupon a profusion of compliments were bandied about on both sides.
I left them together, telling the steward's relict that I would join her again at the playhouse, as soon as I had sent my baggage to the Marquis de Marialva's, to whose residence she directed me. First I went to the room I had hired, whence, after having settled with my landlady, I repaired with a porter who carried my luggage to a large ready-furnished house, where my new master was quartered. At the door I met his steward, who asked me if I was not the lady Estella's brother. I answered in the affirmative. Then you are welcome, Signor cavalier, replied he. The Marquis de Marialva, whose steward I have the honour to be, has commissioned me to receive you properly. There is a room got ready for you; I will shew you the way to it, if you please, that you may be quite at home. He took me up to the top of the house, and thrust me into so small a room, that a very narrow bed, a chest of drawers, and two chairs completely filled it. This was my apartment. You will not have much spare room, said my conductor, but as a set-off, I promise you that you shall be superbly lodged at Lisbon. I locked up my portmanteau in the wardrobe and put the key in my pocket, asking at the same time what was the hour of supper. The answer was, that his lordship seldom supped at home, but allowed each servant a monthly sum for board wages. I put several other questions, and learnt that the Marquis's people were a happy set of idle fellows. After a conversation short and sweet, I left the steward to go and look for Laura, reflecting much to my own satisfaction on the happy omens I drew from the opening of my new situation.
As soon as I got to the playhouse door, and mentioned my name as Estella's brother, there was free admission at once. You might have observed the forwardness of the guards to make way for me, just as if I had been one of the most considerable noblemen in Grenada. All the supernumeraries, door-keepers, and receivers of checks whom I encountered in my progress, made me their very best bows. But what I should like best to give the reader an idea of, is the serious reception which the merry vagrants gave me in the green-room, where I found the whole dramatis persona ready dressed, and on the point of drawing up the curtain. The actors and actresses, to whom Laura introduced me, fell upon me without mercy. The men were quite troublesome with their greetings; and the women, not to be outdone, laid their plastered faces alongside of mine, till they covered it with a villanous compound of red and white. No one choosing to be the last in making me welcome, they all paid their compliments in a breath. AEolus himself, answering from all the points of the compass at once, would not have been a match for them: but my sister was; for the loan of her tongue was always at the service of a friend, and she brought me completely out of debt.
But I did not get clear off with the squeezes of the principal performers. The civilities of the scene-painters, the band, the prompter, the candle-snuffer, and the call-boy were to be endured with patience; all the understrappers in the theatre came to see me run the gauntlet. One would have supposed one's self in a foundling hospital, and that they had none of them ever known what sort of animals brothers and sisters were.
In the mean time the play began. Some gentlemen who were behind the scenes, then ran to get seats in the front of the house; for my part, feeling myself quite at home, I continued in conversation with those of the actors who were waiting to go on. Among the number there was one whom they called Melchior. The name struck me. I looked hard at the person who answered to it, and thought I had seen him somewhere. At last I recollected that it was Melchior Zapata, a poor strolling player, who has been described in the first volume of this true history, as soaking his crusts in the pure element.
I immediately took him aside, and said: I am much mistaken if you are not that Signor Melchior with whom I had the honour of breakfasting one day by the margin of a clear fountain, between Valladolid and Segovia. I was with a journeyman barber. We had some provisions with us which we clubbed with yours, and all three partook of a little rural feast, to which wit and anecdote gave additional relish. Zapata bethought him for a minute or two, and then answered: You tell me of a circumstance which often since came across my mind. I had then just been trying my fortune at Madrid, and was returning to Zamora. I recollect perfectly that my affairs were a little out at elbows. I recollect it too, replied I, by the token of a doublet which you wore, lined with play-bills. Neither have I forgotten that you complained of having a wife cursed with incorruptible chastity. Oh! that misfortune has found its remedy long ago, said Zapata, shaking his ears. By all the powers of womanhood, the jade has effectually reformed that virtue, and given me a warmer lining to my doublet.
I was going to congratulate him on his wife's having shewn so much sense, when he was obliged to leave me and go on the stage. Being curious to know what sort of an animal his wife was, I went up to an actor and desired him to point her out. He did so, saying at the same time: There she is, it is Narcissa; the prettiest of all our women except your sister. I concluded that this must be the actress in whose favour the Marquis de Marialva had declared before meeting with his Estella; and my conjecture was but too correct. After the play I attended Laura home, where I saw several cooks preparing a handsome entertainment. You may sup here, said she. I will do no such thing, answered I; the marquis perhaps will like to be alone with you. Not at all, replied she; he is coming with two of his own friends and one of our gentlemen; you will just make the sixth, You know that in our free and easy way there is no impropriety in secretaries sitting down at table with their masters. Very true, said I: but it is rather too soon to assume the privilege of a favourite. I must first get employed in some confidential commission, and then lay in my claim to that honourable distinction. Judging it to be so best, I went out of Laura's house, and got back to my inn, whither I reckoned on repairing every day, since my master had no regular establishment.