CH. IX. -- A new service, after the death of Don Matthias de Silva.
Some days after the funeral, the establishment was paid up and discharged. I fixed my head-quarters with the little barber, in a very close connection with whom I began to live. It seemed to promise more pleasure than with Melendez. As I was in no want of money, it was time enough to think of another place: besides, I had got to be rather nice on that head. I would not go into service any more, but in families above the vulgar. In short, I was determined to inquire very strictly into the character of a new place. The best would not be too good; such high pretensions did the late valet of a young nobleman think himself entitled to assume above the common herd of servants.
Waiting till fortune should throw a situation in my way, worthy to be honoured by my acceptance, I thought I could not do better than to devote my leisure to my charming Laura, whom I had not seen since the pleasant occurrence of our double discovery. I could not venture on dressing as Don Caesar de Ribera; it would have been an act of madness to have assumed that style but as a disguise. Besides that my own suit was not much out of condition, all smaller articles had propagated miraculously in the aforesaid bundle. I made myself up, therefore, with the barber's aid, as a sort of middle man between Don Caesar and Gil Blas. In this demi-character, I knocked at Arsenia's door. Laura was alone in the parlour where we had met last. Ah! is it you? cried she, as soon as she saw me; I thought you were lost. You have had leave to come and see me for this week: but it seems you are modest, and do not presume too much on your license.
I made my apology on the score of my master's death, with my own engagements consequent thereupon; and I added, in the spirit of gallantry, that in my greatest perplexities, my lovely Laura had always been foremost in my thoughts. That being so, said she, I have no more reproaches to make; and I will frankly own that I have thought of you. As soon as I was acquainted with the untimely end of Don Matthias, a plan occurred to me, probably not quite displeasing to you. I have heard my mistress say some time ago, that she wanted a sort of man of business; a good arithmetician, to keep an exact account of our outgoings. I fixed my affections on your lordship; you seem exactly calculated for such an office. I feel myself, answered I, a steward by inspiration. I have read all that Aristotle has written on finance; and as for reducing it to the modern system of book-keeping . . . . But, my dear girl, there is one impediment in the way. What impediment? said Laura. I have sworn, replied I, never again to live with a commoner: I have sworn by Styx, or something else as binding. If Jupiter could not burst the links of such an oath, judge whether a poor servant ought not to be bound by it. What do you mean by a commoner? re joined the impetuous abigail: for what do you take us actresses? Do you take us for the ribs of the limbs of the law? for attorneys' wives? I would have you to know, my friend, that actresses rank with the first nobility; being only common to the uncommon, and therefore, though common, uncommonly illustrious.
On that footing, my uncommon commoner, said I, the post you have destined for me is mine: I shall not lower my dignity by accepting it. No, to be sure, said she: backwards and forwards between a puppy of fashion and a she-wolf of the stage; why, it is exactly preserving an equilibrium of rank in the creation. We are sympathetic animals, just on a level with the people of quality. We have our equipages in the same style; we give our little suppers on the same scale; and on the broad ground we are just of as much use in civil society. In fact, to draw a parallel between a marquis and a player through the space of four and twenty hours, they are just on a par. The marquis, for three-fourths of the time, ranks above the player by political courtesy and sufferance: the player, during his hour on the stage, overtops the marquis in the part of an emperor or a king, which he better knows how to enact. Thus there seems to be a balance between natural and political nobility, which places us at least on a level with the live lumber of the court. Yes, truly, replied I, you are a match for one another, there is no gainsaying it. Bless their dear hearts! the players are not men of straw, as I foolishly believed, and you have made my mouth water to serve such a worshipful fraternity. Well, then! resumed she, you have only to come back again in two days. That time will be sufficient to incline my mistress in your favour; I will speak up for you. She is a little under my influence; I do not fear bringing you under this roof.
I thanked Laura for her good dispositions. My gratitude took the readiest way to prove itself to her comprehension; and my tender thrillings expressed more than words. We had a pretty long conversation together, and it might have lasted till this time, if a little skipping fellow had not come to tell my nymph of the side scenes that Arsenia was inquiring for her. We parted. I left the house, in the sweet hope of soon living there scot-free; and my face was shown up again at the door in two days. I was looking out for you, said my accomplished scout, to assure you that you are a messmate at this house. Come, follow me; I will introduce you to my mistress. At these words, she led me into a suite of five or six rooms on a floor, in a regular gradation of costly furniture and tasteful equipment.
What luxury! What magnificence! I thought myself in presence of a vicequeen, or, to mend the poverty of the comparison, in a fairy palace, where all the riches of the earth were collected. In fact, there were the productions of many people and of many countries, so that one might describe this residence as the temple of a goddess, whither every traveller brought some rare product of his native land, as a votive offering. The divinity was reclining on a voluptuous satin sofa: she was lovely in my eyes, and pampered with the fumes of daily sacrifices. She was in a tempting dishabille, and her polished hands were elegantly busy about a new head-dress for her appearance that evening. Madam, said the abigail, here is that said steward; take my word for it, you will never get one more to your liking. Arsenia looked at me very inquisitively, and did not find me disagreeable. Why, this is something, Laura, cried she; a very smart youth truly: I foresee that we shall do very well together. Then directing her discourse to me, Young man, added she, you suit me to a hair, and I have only one observation to make: you will be pleased with me, if I am so with you. I answered that I should do my utmost to serve her to her heart's content. As I found that the bargain was struck, I went immediately to fetch in my own little accommodations, and returned to take formal possession.