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Melinda (1749)

The Covent Garden Calendar - Chapter II.

Chapter II.

Melinda's youth, beauty, gaiety, and sprightliness, could not pass undistinguished in public company; and several persons of the first rank, that frequented the assemblies where she used to visit, began to pay their compliments to her, on account of her wonderful charms and brilliant conversation; their pretensions being the more encouraged by her having old Lorenzo for a husband. Amongst these was the Earl of 末, whose passion for play and the fair sex is well known, Lord 末, and a gentleman named Marcus.

Though fortune favoured the young Melinda at first setting out, yet, being one night at my Lady B末's, in company with the famous sharper Captain 末, whose success at gaming is too well known to cause any doubt of his manner of play, she happened to lose such a large sum as was nearly double to all her former winnings and not having a sufficiency of bills or cash about her to discharge the debt, was obliged to promise him payment the next night, when they were to meet at the same lady's house, in order to play out another party. This disaster plunged Melinda into the greatest affliction. She durst not ask old Lorenzo for such a large sum of money at once, without giving him some more plausible account of the use it was destined for, than she could at present invent: and she had been obliged before to pledge several of her jewels, to make up some losses that she was met with, though but trifling in comparison to the last, which even the remainder of her brilliants would not fetch money enough to satisfy.

The old gentleman knew nothing of his wife's taking so much delight in play, nor did he in the least mistrust it, as she seldom took a card in hand when at home or in his company. And as he usually spent his evening with some bottle companions at the tavern, he seldom came home either soon or sober enough to be apprised of what hours she kept, who generally had dexterity enough to quit her company so as to get home before him; but if, at any time, it happened otherwise; she had always some plausible excuse ready at hand to make him easy.

Melinda had a trusty waiting-maid called Aspatia, who being much older than herself, had seen more of the world, and consequently was the fittest person she could make a confidant of in this intricate affair of making up ths sum, that was to enable her to keep her honour the next night with the Captain. She immediately communicated the melancholy news of her loss to Aspatia, who could not for the present think of any other expedient, whereby to satisfy it, otherwise than by pledging the remainder of her jewels, which, she alleged, though they would not amount to the total sum wanted, yet perhaps they might be less at a loss in contriving means to obtain the rest, than they should be for the whole.

This was instantly agreed upon, and Aspatia took the first opportunity of carrying all her lady's jewels and ornaments to a person whom she was acquainted with, that was accustomed to furnish ladies with money, that were distressed, on such occasions, on the like security, with the greatest secrecy, but he would lend no more upon them than what would not pay Melinda's debt by forty guineas; which she was obliged to take, or go without; though what to do for the remaining forty pieces puzzled them as much as the want of the whole sum.

After canvassing many projects, that offered to their inventions on this occasion, and finding none to answer their purpose completely, it struck into Aspatia's head, to persuade her mistress to make trial of some of her admirers, that had so often made protestations of their devotion to her service, which Aspatia could not be ignorant of, as several of them had been tampering with her, in order to obtain her assistance in forwarding them in her lady's good graces. In fine, this was the dernier resort of their consultation; and as my Lord was the person whom either Aspatia was best acquainted with, or to whom Melinda rather chose to be obligated for such a favour, he was the man fixed upon to apply to.

Aspatia did not in the least want that necessary qualification of a waiting-maid called assurance; and having had several amorous adventures herself, in her younger days, she was not in the least afraid to venture herself with any gentleman in private now, when years and experience had taught her how to play her cards with the male sex, so as to come off no loser by any rencounter. In a word, she readily undertook the message, and waited on Lord 末 at his lodgings, from whom she had before received a piece or two for secret-service money, to engage her lady's affection to him, with a promise of a handsome recompense, if she could bring matters so to bear between them, that his lordship might have an opportunity of cornuting old Lorenzo. But, with all her skill and dexterity, she could not as hitherto bring Melinda to hearken to any such proposals; whether it was owing to the virtuous principles she had imbibed with her education, or from a dread that the unlucky miscarriage of such an amour might for ever discard her from her husband's favour, and end all her hopes of one day becoming a rich widow, in view of which only she had consented to marry.

Neither would she have come into this project of her woman's, for borrowing the forty pieces of any of her professed humble servants, could she possibly have hit on any other method to obtain it: but the case was very necessitous, and she was in hopes, by some turn of luck, some trick upon her spouse, or good economy in her housekeeping and expenses, to be able to discharge the obligation in a short time.

Though Melinda was thus firm and resolute against all the undermining attacks of her maid to overthrow her virtue, yet Aspatia had cunning enough to keep her mistress's invincible purity to herself, and continued to flatter her benefactors with hopes of one day enjoying Melinda's favours, and by this means kept herself constantly in fee with them; managing the affair with to much dexterity, that her lady could not perceive her servant to be bribed to the intersts of her admirers; nor could the lovers, who, by Aspatia's artifice and cunning, interpreted every little look, action, or word of Melinda's in their own favour, think their money thrown away upon her woman.

Aspiatia no sooner arrived at Lord 末's in a hackney coach, but she was introduced to his lordship; he being at that time alone, and perhaps in expectation of some lady coming in that manner to visit, which was very frequent. The first entrance of Aspatia put his spirits in the highest emotion of joy, as he imagined that she was come to bring him tidings of this being the destined hour that she had so long promised him to arrive, when he was to possess the charming Melinda; 肪ut, how did his countenance change, his tongue falter, his limbs tremble! when she apprised him of Melinda's ill luck at play having rendered her under the necessity of borrowing forty guineas of his lordship, which she promised to return as soon as ever it lay in her power.

Though Lord 末 loves play to excess, yet such is his natural and, it may be said, hereditary covetousness, that he grudges every shilling which he expends on any other occasion; nor did he think the enjoyment of Melinda worth forty guineas, much less the honour of obliging her, for which perhaps he should only receive thanks.

However, he refused her in as civil a manner as he possibly could, desiring Aspatia to assure her lady, that nothing could give him greater uneasiness than to be almost destitute of money himself, at the time when she wanted any for her service; keenly protesting that he had been obliged to pay several large bills that morning, otherwise he should have had it in his power. But that if it would be of any use to her in a month's time, when he expected some cash from his steward in the country, then she might certainly depend upon commanding him. A month's time his lordship well knew was an age for a debt of honour to wait for payment, unless some equivalent was deposited for security. Nevertheless, Aspatia had the courage, or rather impudence, term it which you please, to demand whether his lordship could not borrow such a small sum of some of his friends, at so critical a juncture.

"Alack, my dear!" says he to her, "those that I could have made free with are all out of town, and you know a man of my rank must not run himself under obligations to every one for trifles." Aspatia retired back to her hackney coach, and returned home to Melinda with a sorrowful account of her ill success.

My Lord 末's covetousness quite disheartened Melinda from any further application on this score to her admirers; but though Aspatia had stood the rebuff, yet she was not so soon dejected as her mistress; and therefore proposed that Melinda should write a line to the Earl of 末, and she would be the bearer of it. This Melinda would by no means consent to, as she knew not into whose hands the letter might chance to fall, either by wilfulness, or neglect; but agreed to send a verbal message to him, as she had done before to Lord 末, if Aspatia would comply to carry it, but as for anything of this nature being transacted under her own hand, she would by no means consent to. After much debate upon this affair, one being for the letter, the other for the message, Aspatia at last submitted to her lady's commands, and undertook the embassy.

She hastened away to the Earl of 末's house, and had the fortune to find him at home and alone; which latter he seldom used to be, as he was a man of much business, though greatly addicted to pleasure. Aspatia, who was not so well acquainted with the Earl as with the former peer, delivered the message to him in as handsome a manner as she could dress it up; and went further than her lady's commission, by assuring him, that in return for this obligation, he might expect all the favours that lay in her power, as soon as an opportunity should serve. The Earl was not at all discontented or displeased with her message, but made answer, that Melinda might command that, or anything else of him, whensoever she pleased; and should be glad to know where he was to wait on her with the money, or whether she would do him the honour to call at his house in the evening before she went to Lady B末's, where she might come, if she pleased, unknown to any one, and he should be ready at home to obey her commands. The cunning Aspatia told the earl that her lady had too much regard for her reputation to make any appointment of meeting his lordship, neither would the watchfulness of her old husband permit her the liberty of doing it, had she ever so much inclination; and as to coming incog. to his house, it was impracticable, as his lordship kept so many servants; to some or other of whom she must be exposed, and might perhaps be known. Therefore she desired of him to let her be the bearer of the money to Melinda; and that his Lordship would have the patience to wait till a favourable opportunity offered, when her mistress might pay him her acknowledgments without incurring the danger of any scandal.

"Madam," replied the earl, "I should be proud of the honour of obliging such a fine lady as Melinda, but as I am not so well certified as I could wish, of the reality of your commission from her, having never before seen your person, to my remembrance, you must therefore excuse my complying with your request, until I receive further credentials from your lady, that the money which she expects me to deposit, is for her use, and will safely conveyed to her, through your hands. I am very sorry that I can't so well rely on your message as I could wish to do, but there are so many tricks played with people of fashion now-a-days, that it behoves us to look well at forty guineas before we part with it."

Aspatia returned home to her lady, very much disconcerted at the earl's distrust, and her mistress's disappointment. While they were laying their heads together again how to procure the money, behold Marcus passed through the street, as they perceived from the window of Melinda's apartment. Him they knew to be a man every way fit for their purpose, as he was rich, generous, and good-natured, yet loved play, women, and wine; was intimate with old Lorenzo, and sometimes spent the evening with him over a bottle, for want of better company. It was immediately agreed, that Aspatia should follow him and seek an opportunity of opening the affair to him. She was not long before she overtook Marcus, just as he was crossing a square, out of the reach of all hearers, where she made her addresses to him, and informed him of her lady's distress. He received her message with his usual complaisance, but protested that it was entirely out of his power to assist Melinda at that instant, as he had the misfortune himself to lose confiderably at play, the night before, but told Aspatia, that he would take a turn into the city in the afternoon, and try what could be done to procure the money, and would certainly be back again early in the evening, when he did not doubt but to wait on Melinda with the money, time enough for her to save her honour with the sharping Captain at Lady B末's. And to prevent any notice being taken, he would contrive to send old Lorenzo an appointment to meet and crack a bottle at the tavern, where he should be sure to fix him before the hour of his return from the city.

Aspatia flew back to her mistress overjoyed with the comfortable promise of the money, and though Melinda could willingly have excused his waiting on her with it personally, as it certainly must put her to some confusion, and occasion many blushes, yet, as she found, it was to be had by no other means, she rested contented, and the more so as Marcus was well acquainted with her husband, had often addressed her in private, and she believed him to be too much a man of honour to betray her, on this or any other occasion. However, she gave Aspatia a strict charge to stay with her till the time of his arrival, and even then not to stir out of the room till Marcus left it.

It was winter time, and six in the evening was the appointed hour for Marcus's return; who took care, according to his promise, to send Lorenzo an invitation to meet him at the Bedford Head, and spend the evening. Melinda and he dined together about three, and the old gentleman being always punctual to such engagements, went to the tavern immediately after dinner. While she and Aspatia sat down to picquet together, in order to pass the time away. But six o'clock came, and no Marcus being returned, they flung up the cards, and sat fretting about an hour longer, when they heard a rap at the door, and judged rightly that it was him.

Marcus had been obliged to dine in the city along with some of his acquaintance, who were pretty free drinkers, and being overjoyed at the opportunity of obliging Melinda with the money, whom he mightily admired, had taken a bottle too much after dinner, in order to exhilarate his spirits against the hour of rendezvous; so that he appeared very much flustered with drinking.

He immediately begged her pardon for making her wait so long, but assured her, that he could not possibly complete the business sooner; and laying the forty guineas, in a rich worked purse, which he had bought on purpose, at her feet, told her, on his knees, that his whole fortune was at her devotion, begged that the would be no longer cruel to one that had long endured so much for her and rising up haftily to take her in his arms, they heard a knocking at the street-door, which she immediately guessed to be her husband, and so it happened.

They were then in her woman's apartment, which was just over Lorenzo's bed-chamber, and Aspatia had stayed there all the time, as her mistress commanded. So whipping up the candle, the begged of Marcus to stay there in the dark, till she could either come, or send Aspatia to release him; who immediately followed her mistress downstairs, having too much caution to trust herself in a room with a gentleman in liquor. Old Lorenzo having waited so long at the tavern, and not finding Marcus come, grew out of patience; so, having drank his bottle, and meeting with no other company to his mind, was returned home sooner than be designed, or his lady and Aspatia desired; and he being somewhat vexed at his disappointment, resolved to betake himself to bed. As for Melinda, she took a book in her hand as though she would sit down to reading.

Marcus in the mean time, had laid himself down on a couch that was in, the room, above stairs, and the fumes of the liquor he had drank soon laid him asleep, when somehow or other, endeavouring to turn himself, he fell down on the floor, just as Old Lorenzo was getting into bed; and not immediately recollecting the place where he was, fell to knocking and thundering against the floor, calling out for his man William, imagining that he had fallen out of his own bed.

Old Lorenzo was pretty thick of hearing, as is usual for people of his years to he, so that he was not apprised of the first noise made by Marcus's fall; though it much alarmed and exceedingly frightned Melinda, who was with her woman in the dining-room, which was on the same floor with her husband's bed-chamber; and Marcus still continuing knocking and calling, she could not imagine why he should make such a noise in such an improper place, unless he was subject to fits, and taken in one. While she was thus terrified, Marcus not as yet come to his sober senses, wondering his man Will did not come to him, fell to knocking and bawling louder than ever, insomuch that his noise reached old Lorenzo's dunny ears; and it being a time of much robbing and house-breaking the old man could conjecture no otherwise from the noise, but that thieves had broke into the house, and were knocking down the things in the room over his head: therefore he endeavoured to rise and call for his servants, and examine what the matter was.

Melinda hearing her spouse, ran to him exceedingly frightened, as well she might, and clinging round his old carcass, begs of him, for her sake and his own, not to expose himself to danger, for that the villains which were got into the house would certainly kill them all, if they offered to stir, Marcus still kept knocking and bawling, Aspatia sat trembling in the dining-room, and the old man striving to get up and ring the bell for his servants, who were, happily, so loudly diverting themselves at romps with the maids in the kitchen, that they heard not the least of the uproar above. Melinda, by the closeness of her embraces, and violence of her fears, kept old Lorenzo fast down in his bed, till growing rather too obstreperous, she called aloud for her maid Aspatia, and bid her go see what the matter was above stairs.

Aspatia, knowing too well how things went to need much instruction, catches up the candle, which she immediately let fall again, runs out, and shutting the bedchamber door, either from a pretended or real confusion, double locks it upon her master and lady, by which address neither of them could stir out; so, getting another candle, she runs up stairs to Marcus and tells him what disturbance he had made, and the mischief that was likely to come of it. The amaze at seeing Aspatia, and finding where he was, soon brought him sober, and made him begin to think of withdrawing thence; which he happily effected, before the servants were alarmed.

Aspatia had the thought to fling open the room-window which joined to some adjacent leads, and conveying some few small utensils out of the room, she called up all the footmen, ran down to Melinda's bedchamber, opened the door, acquainted her and Lorenzo, that there were thieves in the house, who had plundered the apartment overhead. The whole family was alarmed, the house searched all over, the things missed, but no thieves found, only the window that looked out upon the leads being wide open, they all wisely conjectured, that the rogues had taken that way to make their escape. So two of the stoutest of the footmen being ordered to sit up all night to watch, the rest of the family went to bed, and slept the remainder of the night very quietly, except Melinda and her maid, who were too much frightened with the adventure; and the former could get no rest, from this night's accident having prevented her going to Lady B末's, to pay her debt of honour to the biting Captain. However, she went the next evening a-visiting to Lady's that loved play, and where she expected to meet with him; who coming, as she guessed, after having excused herself by a sudden disorder, (as it really was) from not meeting him the night before, she paid him his winnings, and so got clear of this adventure, which otherwise might have cost her very dear.

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