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Melinda (1749)

The Covent Garden Calendar - Chapter III.

Chapter III.

            This accident could not make Melinda forsake her habit of gaming, which she still continued; and by thriftiness and good management at home, and luck abroad, she soon recovered her losses; but by being unwary in her conduct, and keeping of late hours, her husband at last became apprised how she spent her evenings. Although he found himself no sufferer by her playing, yet, as he knew full well the dangerous consequences that often attend that vice, when young ladies like her become addicted to it, he forbid her, in the mildest manner possible, to continue that odious diversion, as would thereby certainly incur his utmost displeasure; and did not fail representing to her the evils that often accrue from that diversion, in the most glaring colours.

            She seemed to listen to his documents, and as she dared not contradict his will in so interesting a point, for fear of coming in for her thirds only, at his decease, she pretended to have quite forsook her old pastime; and to make Lorenzo believe that she was about a thorough reformation, she frequented the church as much as she had formerly done assemblies; and seemed as intent, upon her duty at home, as she had been before upon quadrille abroad. Though this agreeable change in her life pleased the old man exceedingly, yet he was not to be so easily weaned from his bottle and company, after taking to it afresh, but still kept on in his old method, seldom returning from the tavern till very late, and fully dozed with wine, upon which he would go to bed, and sleep for six or seven hours without waking. Though Melinda pretended to become such a pious devotee, yet her heart still languished after her forbidden pastime, the temptation to which came so forcibly upon her, that she began to devise some new artifice to deceive her old husband. In order to which, she at first endeavoured to persuade her maid to get into her place in bed, after Lorenzo was fallen asleep, and lie there till she should return from play, which she would be sure to do before the old man waked; alleging that if it should happen otherwise, and that Lorenzo should wake before her pastime was finished, that Aspatia had nothing to do but to counterfeit a deep sleep, and Lorenzo would not perceive the difference; neither need she be under any apprehensions of his meddling with her, as the old gentleman seldom diverted himself that way; and she would, if possible, always take care susficiently to slacken his nerves, and allay his heat again those nights that she designed to ramble abroad in. Aspatia very obediently replied to her mistress, that she was in no fear of whatever, in such a case, her master should attempt, as she did not imagine that anything could happen from the most vigorous of his embraces. But her greatest dread was, that Melinda should stay too long, and either daylight or some other accident, should discover the cheat, which would certainly be of very bad consequence to them both. Her mistress told her, that she would take care for that, and always be home again before Lorenzo waked. "Well, madam," says Aspatia, "look to it that you do, or else you may chance to lose a delicate morsel for your breakfast." "Whatever I happen to lose," says Melinda, "I fancy you'll be no great gainer by it." This project being agreed on, was soon put in execution, and succeeded very well for some time, without Lorenzo's being apprised of his new bedfellow: and as stolen pleasures are sweetest, so Melinda took more delight than ever in the innocent recreation of gaming.

            Lorenzo, whose usual wine was old port, had been one evening engaged with some companions that delighted in rich Champagne and Burgundy. The old gentleman had played his part among them pretty well, and whether it was owing to the generousness of the wine he had drank, or to Melinda's neglect to keep his spirits down, so it happened, that after Aspasia had got to bed to him as usual, and he had taken a nap of about two hours, she found him begin to awake and seem very restless; when turning himself about suddenly, he began to kiss her with great eagerness, and laying his thigh across hers, she found his hand roving very freely about her body; she had no other way but to lie still and counterfeit sleep, submitting herself quietly to the old gentleman's liberties, lest her voice should betray that she was not the person whom he took her for. Though Aspatia's limbs might not be so soft and finely polished as her mistress's, yet did not Lorenzo perceive the difference, but let his hand wander on, till at last it arrived at the summit of Venus's mount, which in Aspatia happened to be more supplied with mossy tufts and shady bowers than in Melinda: whether proceeding from a fuller maturity of years, or a greater excess in the radical moisture of the soil, is submitted to the determination of those virtuosos that are skilled in natural philosophy.

            As Lorenzo had not trespassed for some time past upon the border's of love's territories, he imputed the alteration in the fertility of the ground to the growing ripeness of the soil, and increasing warmth of the climate, the fresh air of which enlivened his vital faculties to such a degree, that he passed on boldly to the temple of Cytherea and performed his rites at love's altar, with more alacrity than was usual with him; insomuch that it in some measure recompensed the submissive Aspatia for the many lingering hours which she had waited in that place for her mistress, who happened to arrive just as Lorenzo was doing his utmost to convince her (as he thought) that his years had not got the better of his natural vigour.

            Melinda was always obliged, at her return, to enter the chamber as softly as she could, for fear of awaking her husband, the door being left open on those nights, for fear it should crack when she entered; but she had scarce set foot in the bedchamber when she thought the heard the old gentleman very busy with his bedfellow; she stood still a little to listen, and soon found that it really was as she imagined; so prudently withdrew herself softly into the next room, leaving Aspatia to make the best of her old fumbler; though not without some vexation at missing that benevolence she had been so long without.

            The old man, thoroughly fatigued with the ardour of the conflict, soon fell asleep again, and Aspatia was beginning to doze, when her mistress, knowing that all was safe by her husband's snoring, re-entered the chamber, and Aspatia rising, she took her place at the back of her exhausted bedfellow.

            Things proceeded in this manner for some time. But as Aspatia and the butler had kept a very intimate correspondence together, either through his skill, or her master's unknown endeavours, it so happened, that she grew more bulky than she chose to be. This her mistress soon perceived, but as she had intrusted her maid so far in the affair with old Lorenzo, she hardly durst take the liberty to enquire who had occasioned that extension of Aspatia's petticoats; for her belly, by this time became so very prominent, that it was judged not safe for her any longer to supply her mistress's place, lest the old man should discover it, which would ruin all. Asptatia being a cunning baggage, assured her mistress that what had happened was occasioned by keeping her place warm; though Melinda could hardly credit that it came purely by that means, otherwise she might have found herself in the same condition long before her maid: however, as matters stood at present, she durst not contradict it.

            Melinda was so intoxicated with the love of gaming, that she was resolved to invent some new method of deceiving her old husband, that she might frequent her nocturnal assemblies as usual, without either his suspicion or discovery. And as Aspatia was too near her time to be trusted any longer in bed with him, they contrived to make a figure of stuffed rags of Melinda's size and stature, which they dressed up with a vizard mask, one of her smocks, and a suit of night-clothes, and laid it in her place every night when Lorenzo was fallen asleep, and when Melinda was returned from play, it was removed up stairs again.

            This cheat succeeded exceeding well for a month or two, when one morning about four o'clock, Melinda being at her usual night work, old Lorenzo happened to awake out of a very dreadful dream of ghosts, spectres and devils, occasioned, it is very likely, from the fumes of the liquor he had drank the foregoing evening. He turned towards his lady in order to acquaint her with what a fright he had been in, and laid his hand directly on the face of his dressed-up bedfellow, where finding a nose and mouth, without any breath or motion, he became exceedingly frightened, but more so, when on pushing, jogging and calling, it returned no answer; so imagining his wife was either in a fit, or dead by his side, he therefore rose hastily and rang the bell for his servants to bring him a light, which being done, he taking the candle in his hand, approached the bed to satisfy himself whether Melinda was alive or dead: but no sooner did he perceive how unlike to her was the figure that lay in her place, than he dropt the light through fear; and having been prepossessed from his infancy, with a strong opinion of witches, fiends and hobgoblings, instantly imagined that it must be no other than some devil could have made such a transformation. He immediately went down stairs and raised all the servants with his noise, but being in the dark, could not get them together before Melinda, who was luckily got into the house as Lorenzo was inspecting the frightful visage of his bedfellow, was got into her confidant's apartment, and taking the opportunity while the old gentleman was crawling down stairs, they instantly removed the figure that had caused such an alarm, and she slipped into its place; where her husband, on his return to the chamber with his servants and lights, found her, to his great surprise, when he expected to have met with some fiend. He had somehow procured an old sword below stairs, with which he would have inslantly dispatched his wife, had not his attendants prevented it, who were as much surprised at their master's madness, as he was with the surprising metamorphosis of his partner. "What!" cried he, "Thou sorceress! Thou witch! Thou fiend! Thou infernal succubus! Have I detected thee at last?" Melinda, surprised at his language, was just going to reply in her own justification; but he being too much in a passion to hear a word of reason, went on raving like a a bedlamite. "Thou witch," cried he, "be gone instantly to thy hellish nocturnal sacrifices, and quit my bed from this moment for ever! If these hands be mine," said he, addressing himself to his servants, "it was not she that laid in this place till now, but the grand devil himself, or one of his imps, was foisted in her room. I think certainly I am able to distinguish flesh when I feel it. Be gone, thou hag, I conjure thee, or thou instantly diest." Saying this, he quitted the room in a violent rage: and Melinda fearing to trust too far to the effects of his madness and passion, soon slipped on her clothes and quitted the house.

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