CH. IV. -- A journey to Valencia, and a visit to the lords of Leyva. The conversation of the gentlemen, and Seraphina's demeanour.

 

I GOT my clothes off as soon as possible, and went to bed, where, finding no great inclination to sleep, I communed with my own thoughts. The mutual attachment between the lords of Leyva and myself was uppermost in the various topics of my contemplation. With my heart full of their late kindness, I determined on setting out for their residence the next day, and quenching my impatience to thank them for their favours. Neither was it a slender gratification to anticipate another interview with Seraphina; though there was somewhat of alloy in that pleasure: it was impossible to reflect without shuddering, that I should at the same time have to encounter the glances of Dame Lorenza Sephora, who might not be greatly delighted at the renewal of our acquaintance, should her memory happen to stumble upon the circumstances connected with a certain box on the ear. With my mind exhausted by all these different suggestions, my eyelids at length closed, and the sun had peeped in at my window long before they turned upon their hinges.

I was soon out of bed; and dressed myself with all possible expedition, in the earnest desire of prosecuting my intended journey. Just as I had finished my hasty operations, my secretary came into the room. Scipio, said I, you behold a man on the point of setting out for Valencia. I ought to lose no time in paying my respects to those noblemen to whom I am indebted for my little independence. Every moment of delay in the performance of this duty throws a new weight of ingratitude on my conscience. As for you, my friend, there is no necessity for your attendance; stay here during my absence; I shall come back to you within the space of a week. Heaven speed you, sir! answered he -- be sure you do not slight Don Alphonso and his father -- they seem to me to thrill with the kindly vibrations of friendship, and to be unbounded in their acknowledgment of obligation: gratitude and benevolence are so uncommon in people of rank, that they deserve to be made the most of where found. I sent a message to Bertrand, to hold himself in readiness for setting out, and took my chocolate while he was harnessing the mules. When all was prepared, I got into my carriage, after having directed my people to consider my secretary as master of the house in my absence, and to obey his orders as if they were my own.

I got to Valencia in less than four hours, and drove at once to the governor's stables, where I alighted and left my equipage. On going to the house, I was informed that Don Caesar and his son were together. I did not wait for an introduction, but went in without ceremony; and addressing myself to both of them, Servants, said I, never send in their names to their masters; here is an old piece of family furniture, not ornamental indeed, but of a fashion when gratitude was neither out of date nor out of countenance. These words were accompanied with an effort to throw myself on my knees; but they anticipated my purpose, and embraced me one after the other with all possible evidence of sincere affection. Well, then, my dear Santillane, said Don Alphonso, you have been at Lirias to take possession of your little property. Yes, my lord, answered I; and my next request is, that you would be pleased to take it back again. What is your reason for that? replied he. Is there anything about it at all offensive to your taste? Not in the place itself, rejoined I: on the contrary, that is everything that my heart can wish; the only fault I have to find with it is, that the kitchen smells too strongly of the hierarchy; a lay Christian should not live like an archbishop; besides that, there are three times as many servants as are necessary, and consequently you are put to an expense at once enormous and useless.

Had you accepted the annuity of two thousand ducats which we offered you at Madrid, said Don Caesar, we should have thought it enough to give you the mansion furnished as it is: but you know, you refused it; and we felt it but right to do what we have done as an equivalent. Your bounty has been too lavish, answered I: the gift of the estate was the utmost limit to which it should have been extended, and that was more than sufficient to crown my largest wishes. But to say nothing about what it has cost you to keep up so great and expensive an establishment, I declare to you most solemnly that these people stand in my way, and are a great annoyance. In one word, gentlemen, either take back your boon, or give me leave to enjoy it in my own way. I pronounced these last words so much as if I was in earnest, that the father and son, not meaning to lay me under any unpleasant restraint, at length gave me their permission to manage my household as it should seem expedient to my better judgment.

I was thanking them very kindly for having granted me that privilege, without which a dukedom would have been but splendid slavery, when Don Alphonso interrupted me by saying: My dear Gil Blas, I will introduce you to a lady who will be extremely happy to see you. Thus preparing me for the interview, he took me by the hand and led the way to Seraphina s apartment, who set up a scream of joy on recognizing me. Madam, said the governor, I flatter myself that the visit of our friend Santillane at Valencia is not less acceptable to you than myself. On that head, answered she, he may rest confidently assured; time has not obliterated the remembrance of the service which he once rendered me and to that must be added a new debt of gratitude incurred on the score of your obligations. I told the governor's lady that I was already too well requited for the danger which I had shared in common with her deliverers, in exposing my life for her sake: compliments to the like effect were bandied about for some time on both sides, when Don Alphonso motioned to quit Seraphina's room. We then went back to Don Caesar, whom we found in the saloon with a fashionable party, who were come to dinner.

All these gentleman were introduced, and paid their compliments to me in the politest manner; nor did their attentions relax in assiduity, when Don Caesar told them that I had been one of the Duke of Lerma's principal secretaries. In all likelihood several of them might not be unacquainted that Don Alphonso had been promoted to the government of Valencia by my interest, for political secrets are seldom kept. However that might be, while we were at table, the conversation principally turned on the new cardinal. Some of the company either were, or affected to be, his unqualified admirers, while others allowed his merit upon the whole, but thought it had been rather overrated. I plainly saw through their design of drawing me on to enlarge on the subject of his eminence, and to gratify their taste for scandal with court anecdotes at his expense. I could have been well enough pleased to have delivered my real sentiments on his character, but I kept my tongue within my teeth, and thereby passed in the estimation of the guests for a close, confidential, politic, trustworthy young statesman.

The party respectively retired home after dinner to take their usual nap, what Don Caesar and his son, yielding to a similar inclination, shut themselves up in their apartments.

For my own part, full of impatience to see a town which I had so often heard extolled for its beauty, I went out of the governor's palace with the intention of walking through the streets. At the gate a man accosted me with the following address: Will Signor de Santillane allow me to take the liberty of paying my respects to him? I asked him who and what he was. I am Don Caesar's valet-de-chambre, answered he, but was one of his ordinary footmen during your stewardship; I used to make my court to you every morning, and you used to take a great deal of notice of me. I regularly gave you intelligence of what was passing in the house. Do you recollect my apprising you one day that the village surgeon of Leyva was privately admitted into Dame Lorenza Sephora's bedchamber? It is a circumstance which I have by no means forgotten, replied I. But now that we are talking of that formidable duenna, what is become of her? Alas! resumed he, the poor creature moped and dwindled after your departure, and at length gave up the ghost, more to the grief of Seraphina than of Don Alphonso, who seemed to consider her death as no great evil.

Don Caesar's valet-de-chambre, having thus acquainted me with Sephora's melancholy end, made an humble apology for having presumed to stop my walk, and then left me to continue my progress. I could not help paying the tribute of a sigh to the memory of that ill-fated duenna; and her decease affected me the more, because I taxed myself with that melancholy catastrophe, though a moment's reflection would have convinced me, that the grave owed its precious prey to the inroads of her cancer rather than to the cruel charms of my person.

I looked with an eye of pleasure upon everything worth notice in the town. The archbishop's marble palace feasted my eyes with all the magnificence of architecture; nor were the piazzas which surrounded the exchange much inferior in commercial grandeur; but a large building at a distance, with a great crowd standing before the doors, attracted all my attention. I went nearer, to ascertain the reason why so great a concourse of both sexes was collected, and was soon let into the secret by reading the following inscription in letters of gold on a tablet of black marble over the door: La Posada de los Representantes [The theatre] . The play-bills announced for that day a new tragedy, never performed, and gave the name of Don Gabriel Triaquero as the author.

Previous Next