CH. X. -- Much such another as the foregoing.
IT was near the time of the doors opening. My mistress told me to attend her to the theatre with Laura. We went into her dressing-room, where she threw off her ordinary attire, and assumed a more splendid costume for the stage. When the performance began, Laura shewed me the way, and seated herself by my side where I could see and hear the actors to advantage. They disgusted me for the most part, doubtless because Don Pompeyo had prejudiced me against them. Several of them were loudly applauded, but the fable of the pig would now and then come across my mind.
Laura told me the names of the actors and actresses as they made their entrances. Nor did she stop there, for the hussy gave some highly seasoned anecdotes into the bargain. Her characters were, crack-brain for this, impertinent fellow for that. That delicate sample of sin, who depends on her wantonness for her attractions, goes by the name of Rosarda: a bad speculation for the company! She ought to be sent with the next cargo to New Spain, she may answer the purpose of the viceroy. Take particular notice of that brilliant star now coming forward; that magnificent setting sun, increasing in bulk as its fires become less vivid. That is Casilda. If from that distant day when she first laid herself open to her lovers, she had required from each of them a brick to build a pyramid, like an ancient Egyptian princess, the edifice by this time would have mounted to the third heaven. In short, Laura tore all character to pieces by her scandal. Heaven forgive her wicked tongue! She blasphemed her own mistress.
And yet I must own my weakness. I was in love with the wench, though her morals were not strictly pure. She scandalized with so winning a malignity that one liked her the better for it. Off went the jill-flirt between the acts, to see if Arsenia wanted her; but instead of coming straight back to her place, she amused herself behind the scenes, in laying herself out for the little flatteries of all the wheedling fellows. I dogged her once, and found that she had a very large acquaintance. No less than three players did I reckon up, who stopped to chat with her one after the other, and they seemed to be on a very improvable footing. This was not quite so well; and for the first time in my life I felt what jealousy was. I returned to my seat so absent and out of spirits, that Laura remarked it as soon as she came back to me. What is the matter, Gil Blas, said she with astonishment; what blue devil has perched upon your shoulder in my absence? You look gloomy and out of temper. My fairy queen, answered I, it is not without reason, you have an ugly kick in your gallop. I have observed you with the players . . . . So, so! An admirable subject for a long face, interrupted she with a laugh. What! That is your trouble, is it? Why really! You are a very silly swain; but you will get better notions among us. You will fall by degrees into our easy manners. No jealousy, my dear creature, you will be completely laughed out of it in the theatrical world. The passion is scarcely known there. Fathers, husbands, brothers, uncles, and cousins, are all upon a liberal plan of community, and often make a strange jumble of relationships.
After having warned me to take no umbrage, but to look at everything like a philosophical spectator, she vowed that I was the happy mortal who had found the way to her heart. She then declared that she should love me always, and only me. On this assurance, which a man might have doubted without criminal scepticism, I promised her not to be alarmed any more, and kept my word. I saw her, on that very evening, whisper and giggle with more men than one. At the end of the play we returned home with our mistress, whither Florimonde came soon after to supper, with three old noblemen and a player. Besides Laura and myself, the establishment consisted of a cook-maid, a coachman, and a little footboy. We all laboured in our respective vocations. The lady of the frying-pan, no less an adept than Dame Jacintha, was assisted in her cookery by the coachman. The waiting-woman and the little footboy laid the cloth, and I set out the sideboard, magnificently furnished with plate, offered up at the shrine of our green-room goddess. There was every variety of wines, and I played the cup-bearer, to show my mistress the versatility of my talents. I sweated at the impudence of the actresses during supper; they gave themselves quality airs, and affected the tone of high life. Far from giving their guests all their style and titles, they did not even vouchsafe a simple "Your lordship," but called them familiarly by their proper names. To be sure, the old fools encouraged their vanity by forgetting their own distance. The player, for his part, in the habits of the heroic cast, lived on equal terms with them; he challenged them to drink, and in every respect took the upper hand. In good truth, said I to myself, while Laura was demonstrating the equality of the Marquis and the comedian during the day, she might have drawn a still stronger inference for the night, since they pass it so merrily in drinking together.
Arsenia and Florimonde were naturally frolicsome. A thousand broad hints escaped them, intermingled with small favours, and then a coquettish revolt at their own freedom, which were all seasoned exactly to the taste of these old sinners. While my mistress was entertaining one of them with a little harmless toying, her friend, between the other elders, had not taken the cue of Susanna. While I was contemplating this picture, which had but too many attractions for a knowing youth like me, the dessert was brought in. Then I set the bottles and glasses on the table, and made my escape to sup with Laura, who was waiting for me. How now! Gil Blas, said she, what do you think of those noblemen above-stairs? Doubtless, answered I, they are deeply smitten with Arsenia and Florimonde. No, replied she, they are old sensualists, who hang about our sex without any particular attachment. All they ask is some little frivolous compliance, and they are generous enough to pay well for the least trifle of amorous endearment. Heaven be praised, Florimonde and my mistress are at present without any serious engagements; I mean that they have no husband-like lovers, who expect to engross all the pleasures of a house, because they stand to the expenses. For my part, I am very glad of it: and maintain that a sensible woman of the world ought to refuse all such monopolies. Why take a master? It is better to support an establishment by retail trade, than to confine one's self to chamber practice on such terms.
When Laura's tongue was wound up, and it was seldom down, words seemed to cost her nothing. What a glorious volubility! She told a thousand stories of the actresses belonging to the prince's company; and I gathered from her whole drift that I could not be better situated to take a scientific view of the cardinal vices. Unfortunately I was at an age when they inspire but little horror; and this abigail had the art of colouring her corruptions so lusciously as to hide their deformities and heighten their meretricious lure. She had not time to open the tenth part of her theatrical budget, for she did not talk more than three hours. The senators and the player went away with Florimonde, whom they saw safe home.
When they were gone, my mistress said to me -- Here, Gil Blas, are ten pistoles to go to market to-morrow. Five or six of our gentlemen and ladies are to dine here, take care that we are well served. Madam, answered I, with this sum there shall be a banquet for the whole troop. My friend, replied Arsenia, correct your phraseology; you must say company, not troop. A troop of robbers, a troop of beggars, a troop of authors; but a company of comedians, especially when you have to mention the actors of Madrid. I begged my mistress's pardon for having used so disrespectful a term, and entreated her to excuse my ignorance. I protested that henceforward, when I spoke collectively of so august a body, I would always say the company.