CH. XII. -- Catalina's real condition a worry and alarm to Gil Blas. His precautions for his own ease and quiet.

 

ON coming home, I heard a devil of a noise, and inquired what was the meaning of it. They told me that Scipio was giving a supper to half-a-dozen of his friends. They were singing as loud as their kings could roar, and threatening the stability of the house with their protracted peals of laughter. This meal was not in all respects the banquet of the seven wise men.

The founder of the feast, informed of my arrival, said to his company: Sit still, gentlemen, it is only the master of the house come home, but that need not disturb you. Go on with your merry-making; I will but just whisper a word in his ear, and be back again in a moment. He came to me accordingly. What an infernal din! said I. What sort of company do you keep below? Have you, too, got in among the poets? Thank you for nothing! answered he. Your wine is too good to be given to such gentry; I turn it to better account. There is a young man of large property in my party, who wishes to lay out your credit and his own money in the purchase of a place. This little festivity is all for him. For every glass he fills, I put on ten pistoles, in addition to the regular fee. He shall drink till he is under the table. If that is the case, replied I, go to your presidentship, and do not spare the cellar.

Then was no proper time to talk about Catalina; but the next morning I opened the business thus: Friend Scipio, the terms we are upon entitle me to fair dealing. I have treated you more like an equal than a servant, consequently you would be much to blame to cheat me on the footing of a master. Let us, therefore, have no secrets towards each other. I am going to tell you what will surprise you; and you on your part shall give me your sincere opinion about the two women with whom you have brought me acquainted. Between ourselves, I suspect them to be no better than they should be; with so much the more of the knave in their composition, because they affect the simpleton. If my conjecture be right, the Prince of Spain has no great reason to be delighted with my activity; for I will own to you frankly, that it was for him I spoke to you about a mistress. I brought him to see Catalina, and he is over head and ears in love with her. Sir, answered Scipio, you have dealt so handsomely by me, that I shall act upon the square with you. I had yesterday a private inter view with the abigail, and she gave me a most entertaining history of the family. You shall have it briefly, though it did not come briefly to me.

Catalina was daughter to a sort of gentleman in Arragon. An orphan at fifteen, with no fortune but a pretty face, she lent a complying ear to an officer who carried her off to Toledo, where he died in six months, having been more like a father than a husband to her. She collected his effects together, consisting of their joint wardrobe and three hundred pistoles in ready money, and then went to housekeeping with Signora Mencia, who was still in fashion, though a little on the wane. These sisters, every way but in blood, began at length to attract the attention of the police. The ladies took umbrage at this, and decamped in dudgeon for Madrid, where they have been living for these two years, without making any acquaintance in the neighbourhood. But now comes the best of the joke: they have taken two small houses adjoining each other, with a passage of communication through the cellars. Signora Mencia lives with a servant girl in one of these houses, and the officer's widow inhabits the other, with an old duenna, whom she passes off for her grandmother, so that her versatile child of nature is sometimes a niece brought up by her aunt, and sometimes an orphan under her grandam's fostering wing. When she enacts the niece, her name is Catalina; and when she personates the grand-daughter, she calls herself Sirena.

At the grating sound of Sirena I turned pale, and interrupted Scipio, saying -- What do you tell me? Alas! it must be so: This cursed imp of Arragon is Calderona's charming Siren. To be sure she is, answered he, the very same! I thought you would be delighted at the news. Quite the reverse, replied I. It portends more sorrow than laughter; do not you anticipate the consequences? None of any ill omen, rejoined Scipio. What is there to be afraid of? It is not certain that Don Rodrigo will rub his forehead; and in case any good-natured friend should show it him in the glass, you had better let the minister into the secret beforehand. Tell him all the circumstances straightforward as they happened; he will see that there has been no trick on your part; and if after that Calderona should attempt to do you an ill office with his excellency, it will be as clear as daylight that he is only actuated by a spirit of revenge.

Scipio removed all my apprehensions by this advice, which I followed, in acquainting the Duke of Lerma at once with this unlucky discovery. My aspect, while telling my tale, was sorrowful, and my tone faltering, in evidence of my contrition for having unadvisedly brought the prince and Don Rodrigo into such close quarters; but the minister was more disposed to roast his favourite than to pity him. Indeed, he ordered me to let the matter take its own course, considering it as a feather in Calderona's cap to dispute the empire of love with so illustrious a rival, and not to be worse used than his lawful prince. The Count de Lemos, too, was informed how things stood, and promised me his protection, if the first secretary should come at the knowledge of the intrigue, and attempt to undermine me with the duke.

Trusting to have secured the frail bark of my fortunes by this notable contrivance from the rocks and quicksands that threatened it, my mind was once more at rest. I continued attending the prince on his visits to Catalina, sirenlike in nature as in nickname, who was fertile in quaint devices to keep Don Rodrigo away from next door, whenever the course of business required her to devote her nights to his royal competitor.

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