CH. XI. -- A thunderbolt to Gil Blas.

 

I REPAIRED to my inn, where meeting with two men of companionable talents, I dined and sat at table with them till the play began. We parted; they as their business and desire pointed them; and, for my own part, my bent was towards the theatre. It may be proper to observe by the way, that I had all possible reason to be in a good humour. The conversation with my chance companions had been joyous in the extreme; the colour of my fortune was gay and animating; yet for all that I could not help giving way to melancholy, without either knowing why, or being able to reason myself out of it. It was doubtless a prophetic warning of the misfortune which threatened me.

As I entered the green-room, Melchior Zapata came up, and told me in a low voice to follow him. He led me to an unfrequented part of the house, and opened his business thus -- Worthy sir, I make it a point of conscience to give you a very serious warning. You are aware that the Marquis de Marialva had at first taken a fancy to Narcissa, my wife; he had even gone so far as to fix a day for trying the relish of my rib, when that cockatrice Estella contrived to flyblow the bill of fare, and transfer the banquet to her own untainted charms. Judge then, whether an actress can be gulled instead of gulling, and preserve the sweetness of her temper. My wife has taken it deeply to heart, and there is no species of revenge to which she would not have recourse. A fine opportunity has offered. Yesterday, if you recollect, all our supernumeraries were crowding together to see you. The deputy candle-snuffer told some of the inferior comedians that he recollected you perfectly well, and that you might be anything but Estella's brother.

This report, added Melchior, came to Narcissa's ears to-day: she lost no time in questioning the author; and that grub of the interior stood to the whole story. He says that he knew you as Arsenia's servant, when Estella waited on her at Madrid under the name of Laura. My wife, full of glee at this discovery, means to acquaint the Marquis de Marialva with it, when he comes to the play this evening; so take your measures accordingly. If you are not Estella's brother in good earnest, I would advise you as a friend, and on the score of old acquaintance, to make your escape while your skin is whole. Narcissa, satisfied in her tender mercy with only one victim, and that of her own sex, has allowed me to give you this notice, that you may outrun your ill luck.

It would have been waste of words to press the subject farther. I returned thanks for the caution to this fretter of his hour, who saw by my terrified aspect that I was not the man to give the deputy candle-snuffer the lie. I did not feel the least temptation to carry my dangerous valour such a length. I had not even the heart to go and bid farewell to Laura, for fear she should insist on me keeping up the farce. I could easily conceive that so excellent an actress might get out of the scrape with flying colours; but there seemed to be nothing for me short of a swingeing castigation; and I was not so far gone in love as to stand by my sweetheart at the risk of my own person. I thought of nothing but a precipitate retreat with my household gods, or rather goods, if such a trumpery collection of individual property might be called so. I disappeared from the playhouse in the twinkling of an eye; and in less time than it would have taken to confess my sins, was my portmanteau carried off and safely lodged with a muleteer who was to set out for Toledo at three o'clock next morning. I could have wished myself already with the Count de Polan, whose hospitable roof seemed my only safe asylum. But I was not there yet; and it was impossible to think without dread of the time remaining to be passed in a town where I was afraid they would hunt me out without giving me a night's law.

The smell of supper drew me to my inn notwithstanding; though I was as uneasy as a debtor who knows that a writ is out against him. My stomach, I believe, was not sufficiently well knit that evening for my supper to play its part as it should do. The miserable sport of fear, I watched all the people who came into the coffee-room, and whenever by chance they carried a gallows in their physiognomy, which is no uncommon ensign in such places of resort, I shuddered with horrid forebodings. After having supped the supper of the damned, I got up from table and returned to my carrier's house, where I threw myself on some clean straw till it was time to set out.

My patience was well tried during that interval; for a thousand unpleasant thoughts attacked me in all directions. If I dozed now and then, the enraged marquis stood before me, pounding Laura's fair face to a jelly with his fist, and turning her whole house out at window; or to come nearer home, I heard him giving directions for my death under the operation of a cudgel. At such a vision I started out of my sleep, and waking, which is usually so pleasant after a frightful dream, inspired me with more horror than even the fictions of my entranced fancy.

Happily the muleteer delivered me from so dire a purgatory, by coming to acquaint me that his mules were ready. I was immediately on my legs, and set out radically cured, for which heaven has my best thanks, of Laura and the occult sciences. As we got farther from Grenada, my mind recovered its tone. I began chatting with the muleteer, laughed at his droll stories, and insensibly lost all my apprehensions. I slept undisturbed at Ubeda, where we lay the first night, and on the fourth day we got to Toledo. My first care was to inform myself of the Count de Polan's residence, whither I repaired under the full persuasion that he would not suffer me to lodge elsewhere. But I reckoned without my host. There was no one at home but a person to take care of the house, who told me that his master was just gone to the castle of Leyva, having been sent for on account of Seraphina's dangerous illness.

The count's absence was altogether unexpected: here was no longer any inducement to stay at Toledo, and all my plans were changed at once. Finding myself so near Madrid, I resolved to go thither. It came into my head that I might make my way at court, where talents of the first order, as I had heard, were not absolutely necessary to fill situations of the first consequence. On the very next morning I took advantage of back carriage, to be set down in the renowned capital of Spain. Fortune took me kindly by the hand, and introduced me to a higher cast of parts than those I had hitherto filled.

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