CH. VII. -- Gil Blas returns to his seat at Lirias. Scipio's agreeable intelligence, and a reform in the domestic arrangements.

 

I PASSED a week at Valencia in the first company, living on equal terms with the best of the nobility. Plays, balls, concerts, grand dinners, ladies' parties, all things that heart could wish or vanity grow tall upon, were provided for me by the governor and his lady, to whom I paid my court so dexterously, that they were heartily sorry to see me set out on my return to Lirias. They even obliged me, before they would let me go, to engage for a division of my time between them and my hermitage. It was determined that I should spend the winter in Valencia, and the summer at my seat. After this bargain, my benefactors left me at liberty to tear myself from them, and go where their kindness would be always staring me in the face.

Scipio, who was waiting impatiently for my return, was ready to jump out of his skin for joy at the sight of me; and his ecstasies were doubled at my circumstantial account of the journey. And now for your history, my friend, said I, taking breath: to what moral uses have you turned the solitary period of my absence? Has the time passed agreeably? As well, answered he, as it could with a servant to whom nothing is so dear as the presence of his master. I have walked over our little domain, circuitously and diagonally: sometimes seated on the margin of a fountain in our wood, I have taken pleasure in be holding the transparency of its waters, which are as pellucid as those of the sacred spring, whose projection from the rock made the vast forest of Albunea to resound with the roar of the cascade: sometimes lying at the foot of a tree, I have listened to the song of the linnet or the nightingale. At other times I have hunted or fished; and, what has given me more rational delight than all these pastimes, I have whiled away many a profitable hour in the improvement of my mind.

I interrupted my secretary in a tone of eager inquiry, to ask where he had procured books. I found them, said he, in an elegant library here in the house, whither master Joachim took me. Heyday! in what corner, resumed I, can this said library be? Did we not go over the whole building on the day of our arrival? You fancied so, rejoined he; but you are to know that we only explored three sides of the square, and forgot the fourth. It was there that Don Caesar, when he came to Lirias, employed part of his time in reading. There are in this library some very good books, left as a never-failing phylactery against the blue devils, when our gardens despoiled of Flora's treasure, and our woods of their leafy honours, shall no longer challenge those miscreant invaders to combat in the forest or the bower. The lords of Lena have not done things by halves, but have catered for the mind as well as for the body.

This intelligence filled me with sincere rapture. I was shewn to the fourth side of the square, and feasted with an intellectual banquet Don Caesar's room I immediately determined to make my own. That nobleman's bed was still there, with correspondent furniture, consisting of historical tapestry, representing the rape of the Sabine women by the Romans. From the bed-chamber, I went into a closet fitted up with low bookcases well filled, and over them the portraits of the Spanish kings. Near a window whence you command a prospect of a most bewitching country, there was an ebony writing-desk and a large sofa, covered with black morocco. But I gave my attention principally to the library. It was composed of philosophers, poets, historians; and abounded in romances. Don Caesar seemed to give the preference to that light reading, if one might judge by the profusion of supply. I must own, to my shame, that my taste was not at all above the level of those productions, notwithstanding the extravagances they delight in stringing together; whether it was owing to my not being a very critical reader at that time, or because the Spaniards are naturally addicted to the marvellous. I must nevertheless plead in my own justification, that I was alive to the charms of a sprightly and popular morality, and that Lucian, Horace, and Erasmus became my favourite and standard authors.

My friend, said I to Scipio, when my eyes had coursed over my library, here is wherewithal to feed and pamper our minds; but our present business is to reform our household. On that subject I can spare you a great deal of trouble, answered he. During your absence I have sifted your people thoroughly, and flatter myself it is no empty boast to say that I know them. Let us begin with master Joachim: I take him to be as great a scoundrel as ever breathed, and have no doubt but he was turned away from the archbishop's for errors which were too great to be excepted in the passing of his accounts. Yet we must keep him for two reasons: the first, because he is a good cook; and the second, because I shall always have an eye over him; I shall peep into his actions like a jackdaw into a marrow-bone, and he must be a more cunning fellow than I take him for, to evade my vigilance. I have already told him that you intended discharging three-fourths of your establishment. This declaration stuck in his stomach; and he assured me that, owing to his extreme desire of living with you, he would be satisfied with half his present wages rather than be turned off, which made me suspect that he was tied to the string of some petticoat in the hamlet, and did not like to break up his quarters. As for the under-cook, he is a drunkard, and the porter a foul-mouthed Cerberus, of whose guardianship our gates are in no want; neither is the gamekeeper a necessary evil. I shall take the latter office myself, as you may see to-morrow, when we have got our fowling-pieces in order, and are provided with powder and shot. With regard to the footmen, one of them is an Arragonese, and to my mind a very good sort of fellow. We will keep him; but all the rest are such rapscallions, that I would not advise you to harbour one of them, if you wanted an army of attendants.

After having fully debated the point, we resolved to keep well with the cook, the scullion, the Arragonese, and to get rid of the remainder as decently as we could: all which was planned and executed on the same day, mollifying the bitter dose by the application of a few pistoles, which Scipio took from our strong box, and distributed among them as from me. When we had carried this reform into effect, order was soon established in our mansion; we divided the business fairly among our remaining people, and began to look into our expenses. I could willingly have been contented with very frugal commons; but my secretary, loving high dishes and relishing bits, was not a man who would suffer master Joachim to hold his place as a sinecure. He kept his talents in such constant play, working double tides at dinner and at supper, that any one would have thought we had been converted by father Hilary, and were working out the term of our probation.

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