CH. VI. -- Gil Blas, walking about the streets of Valencia, meets with a man of sanctity, whose pious face he has seen somewhere else. What sort of man this man of sanctity turns out to be.
As I had not been able to complete my view of the city on the preceding day, I got up betimes in the morning with the intention of taking another walk. In the street I remarked a Carthusian friar, who doubtless was thus early in motion to promote the interests of his order, He walked with his eyes fixed on the ground, and a gait so holy and contemplative, as to inspire every passenger with religious awe. His path was in the same direction as mine, I looked at him with more than ordinary curiosity, and could not help fancying it was Don Raphael, that man of shifts and expedients, who has already secured so honourable a niche in the temple of fame. (See Books I. to VI. of my Memoirs.)
I was so utterly astonished, so thrown off my balance by this meeting, that instead of accosting the monk, I remained motionless for some seconds, which gave him time to get the start of me. Just heaven! said I, were there ever two faces more exactly alike? I do not know what to make of it! It seems incredible that Raphael should turn up in such a guise! And yet how is it possible to be any one else! I felt too great a curiosity to get at the truth not to pursue the inquiry. Having ascertained the way to the monastery of the Carthusians, I repaired thither immediately, in the hope of coming across the object of my search on his return, and with the full intent of stopping and parleying with him. But it was quite unnecessary to wait for his arrival to enlighten my mind on the subject: on reaching the convent gate, another physiognomy, such as few persons had read without paying for their lesson, resolved all my doubts into certainty; for the friar who served in the capacity of porter was unquestionably my old and godly-visaged servant, Ambrose de Lamela.
Our surprise was equal on both sides at meeting again in such a place. Is not this a play upon the senses? said I, paying my compliments to him. Is it actually one of my friends who presents himself to my astonished sight? He did not know me again at first, or probably might pretend not to do so; but reflecting within himself that it was in vain to deny his own identity, he assumed the start of a man who all at once hits upon a circumstance which had hitherto escaped his recollection, Ah, Signor Gil Blas! exclaimed he, excuse my not recognizing your person immediately. Since I have lived in this holy place, every faculty of my soul has been absorbed in the performance of the duties prescribed by our rules, so that by degrees I lose the remembrance of all worldly objects and events.
After a separation of ten years, said I, it gives me much pleasure to find you again in so venerable a garb. For my part, answered he, it fills me with shame and confusion to appear in it before a man who has been an eye-witness of my guilty courses. These ghostly weeds are at once the charm of my present life, and the condemnation of my former. Alas! added he, heaving a righteous sigh, to be worthy of wearing it, my earlier years should have been passed in primitive innocence. By this discourse, so rational and edifying, replied I, it is plain, my dear brother, that the finger of the Lord has been upon you, that you are marked out for a vessel of sanctification. I tell you once again, I am delighted at it, and would give the world to know in what miraculous manner you and Raphael were led into the path of the righteous; for I am persuaded that it was his own self whom I met in the town, habited as a Carthusian. I was extremely sorry afterwards not to have stopped and spoken to him in the street; and I am waiting here to apologize for my neglect on his return.
You were not mistaken, said Lamela, it was Don Raphael himself whom you saw; and as for the particulars of our conversion, they are as follow: After parting with you near Segorba, we struck into the Valencia road, with the design of bettering our trade by some new speculation. Chance or destiny one day led our steps into the church of the Carthusians, while service was performing in the choir. The demeanour of the brethren attracted our notice, and we experienced in our own persons the involuntary homage which vice pays to virtue. We admired the fervour with which they poured forth their devotions, their looks of pious mortification, their deadness to the pleasures of the world and the flesh, and in the settled composure of their countenances, the outward sign of an approving conscience within.
While making these observations, we fell into a train of thought which became like manna to the hungry and thirsty soul: we compared our habits of life with the employments of these holy men, and the wide difference between our spiritual conditions filled us with confusion and affright. Lamela, said Don Raphael, as we went out of church, how do you stand affected by what we have just seen? For my part, there is no disguising the truth, my mind is ill at ease. Emotions, new and indescribable, are rushing upon my mind: and, for the first time in my life, I reproach myself with the wickedness of my past actions. I am just in the same temper of soul, answered I; my iniquities are all drawn up in array against me, they beset me, they stare me in the face; my heart, hitherto proof against all the arrows of remorse, is at this moment shot through, torn and disfigured, tormented and destroyed. Ah! my dear Ambrose, resumed my partner, we are two stray sheep, whom our Heavenly Father, in mercy, would lead back gently to the fold. It is he himself, my child, it is he who warms and guides us. Let us not be deaf to the call of his voice; let us abandon all our wicked courses, let us begin from this day to work out our salvation with diligence and in the spirit of repentance: we had better spend the remainder of our days in this convent, and consecrate them to penitence and devotion.
I applauded Raphael's sentiment, continued brother Ambrose; and we formed the glorious resolution of becoming Carthusians. To carry it into effect, we applied to the venerable prior, who was no sooner made acquainted with our purpose, than to ascertain whether our call was front the world above or the world beneath, he appointed us to cells, and all the strictness of monkish discipline, for a whole year. We acted up to the rules with equal regularity and fortitude, and, by way of reward, were admitted among the novices. Our condition was so much what we wished it, and our hearts were so full of religious zeal, that we underwent the toils of our noviciate with unflinching courage. When that was over, we professed; after which, Don Raphael, appearing admirably well qualified, both by natural talent and various experience, for the management of secular concerns, was chosen assistant to an old friar who was at that time proctor. The son of Lucinda would infinitely have preferred dedicating every remaining moment of his existence to prayer; but he found it necessary to sacrifice his taste for devotion, in furtherance of the general prosperity. He entered with so much zeal and knowledge into the interests of the house, that he was considered as the most eligible person to succeed the old proctor, who died three years afterwards. Don Raphael accordingly fills that office at present; and it may be truly said that he discharges his duty to the entire satisfaction of all our fathers, who praise in the highest terms his conduct in the administration of our temporalities. What is most of all miraculous, and shews the hand of heaven in his conversion, is that, with such an accumulation of business rushing in upon him in his bursarial department, his regards are inalienably fixed on the world to come. When business leaves him but a moment to recruit nature, instead of lavishing the short period in indulgence, his thoughts wing their way into the regions of devout and holy meditation. In short, he is the most exemplary member of this body.
At this period of our conversation I interrupted Lamela by an ebullition of joy to which I gave vent at the sight of Raphael coming in. Here he is! exclaimed I: behold that righteous bursar for whom I have been so impatiently waiting. With a leap and a bound did I run to meet and embrace him. He submitted to the hug with his newly-acquired resignation; and, without betraying the slightest shock at meeting with an old companion of his profaner hours, his words were dictated by the spirit of gentleness and humility: The powers above be praised, Signor de Santillane, the powers be praised for this kind providence whereby we meet again. In good truth, my dear Raphael, replied I, your happy destiny pleases me as much as if it had been my own good luck; brother Ambrose has told me the whole story of your conversion, and the tale almost moved me to a similar change. What a glorious lot for you two, my friends, when you have reason to flatter yourselves with being among that picked number of the elect, who have eternal happiness thrust upon them whether they will or no!
Two miserable sinners like ourselves, resumed the son of Lucinda, with an air which marked the extreme of sanctified morality, must not hope that our own merits are of weight enough to save our souls; but even the wicked one who repenteth, findeth grace with the Father of mercies. And you, Signor Gil Blas, added he, is it not time to lay in a claim for pardon of the offences which you have committed? What is your business here in Valencia? Are you not hankering after some office of devil's deputy, and making shipwreck of your voyage to another world? Not so, by the blessing of heaven, answered I; since I turned my back on the court, I have led a very moral sort of life: sometimes enjoying rural recreations on an estate of mine at a few leagues distance from this town, and sometimes coming hither to pass my time with my friend the governor, whom you both of you must know perfectly well.
On this cue I related to them the story of Don Alphonso de Leyva. They heard the particulars with attention; and on my telling them that I had carried to Samuel Simon, on the part of that nobleman, the three thousand ducats of which we had robbed him, Lamela interrupted the thread of my narrative, and addressing his discourse to Raphael, said: Father Hilary, if this be true, the honest vendor of wares has no reason to quarrel with a robbery which has paid him fifty per cent; and our consciences, as far as that indictment goes, may bask in the sunshine of acquitted innocence. Brother Ambrose and I, said the bursar, did actually, on the assumption of the habit, send Samuel Simon fifteen hundred ducats privately, by a pious ecclesiastic who made a pilgrimage to Xelva for the sole purpose of accomplishing this restitution; but it will go hard with Samuel at the general reckoning, if he for filthy lucre could soil his fingers with that sum, after having been reimbursed in full by Signor de Santillane. But, said I, how do you know that your fifteen hundred ducats were faithfully paid into his hands? Unquestionably they were! exclaimed Don Raphael; I would answer for the disinterested purity of that ecclesiastic as soon as for my own. I would be your collateral security, said Lamela; he is a priest of the strictest sanctity, a sort of universal almoner; and though many times cited for sums of money, deposited with him for charitable uses, he has always nonsuited the plaintiff and gone out of court with an augmentation of alms-giving notoriety.
Our conversation continued for some time longer: at length we parted, with many a pious exhortation on their side, always to have the fear of the Lord before my eyes, and with many an earnest intreaty on mine, that they would remember me constantly in their prayers. Don Alphonso was now the first object of my search. You will never guess, said I, with whom I have just had a long conference. I am but now come from two venerable Carthusians of your acquaintance; the name of the one is father Hilary, that of the other, brother Ambrose. You are mistaken, answered Don Alphonso; I am not acquainted with a single Carthusian. Pardon me, replied I; you have seen brother Ambrose at Xelva in the capacity of commissary, and father Hilary as register to the Inquisition. Oh heaven! exclaimed the governor with surprise, can it be within the bounds of possibility that Raphael and Lamela should have turned Carthusians? It is even so, answered I; they professed several years ago. The former is bursar and proctor to the convent; the latter, porter.
The son of Don Caesar rubbed his forehead twice or thrice, then shaking his bead, These worshipful officers of the Inquisition, said he, most assuredly purpose playing over the old farce on a new stage here. You judge of them by prejudice, answered I, from the impression of their characters as men of sin: but had you been edified by their lectures as I have been, you would think more favourably of their holiness. To be sure, it is not for mortal men to fathom the depth of other men's hearts; but to all appearance they are two prodigals returned home. It possibly may be so, replied Don Alphonso: there are many instances of libertines, who hide their heads in cloisters, after having scandalized human nature by their obliquities, to expiate their offences by a severe penance: I heartily wish that our two monks may be such libertines restored.
Well! and why not? said I. They have embraced the monastic life of their own accord, and have squared their conduct for a length of time according to the maxims of their order. You may say what you please, retorted the governor; but I do not like the convent's rents being received by this father Hilary, of whom I cannot help entertaining a very untoward opinion. When the fine story he told us of his adventures comes across my mind, I tremble for the reverend brotherhood. I am willing to believe with you, that he has taken the vow with the pious intention of keeping it; but the blaze of gold may be too much for the weakness of his regenerated eye-sight. It is bad policy to lock up a reformed drunkard in a wine cellar.
In the course of a few days Don Alphonso's misgivings were fully justified; these two official props and stays of the establishment ran away with the year's revenue. This news, which was immediately noised about the town, could not do otherwise than set the tongues of the wits in motion; for they always make themselves merry at the crosses and losses of the well-endowed religious orders. As for the governor and myself, we condoled with the Carthusians, but kept our acquaintance with the apostate pilferers in the background.