CH. VIII. -- The loves of Gil Blas and the fair Antonia.

 

Two days after my return from Valencia to Lirias, clodpole Basil, my farming man, came at my dressing-time, to beg the favour of introducing his daughter Antonia, who was very desirous, as he said, to have the honour of paying her respects to her new master. I answered that it was very proper, and would be well received. He withdrew, and in a few minutes returned with his peerless Antonia. That epithet, though bold, will not be thought extravagant, in the case of a girl from sixteen to eighteen years of age, uniting to regular features the finest complexion and the brightest eyes in the world. She was dressed in nothing better than a stuff gown; but a stature somewhat above the female standard, a dignified deportment, and such graces as soared higher than the mere freshness and glow of youth, communicated to her rustic attire the simplicity of classical costume. She had no cap on her head; her hair was fastened behind with a knot of flowers, according to the chaste severity of the Spartan fashionables.

When she illumined my chamber with her presence, I was struck as much on a heap by her beauty, as ever were the princes, knights, nobles, and strangers assembled at the solemn feast and tournament of Charlemain, by the personal charms of Angelica. Instead of receiving Antonia with modish indifference, and paying her compliments of course, instead of ringing the changes on her father's happiness in possessing so lovely a daughter, I stood stock still, staring, gaping, stammering: I could not have uttered an articulate sound for the universal world. Scipio, who saw clearly what was the matter with me, took the words out of my mouth, and accepted those bills of admiration which my affairs were in too much disorder to admit of my duly honouring For her part, my figure being shrouded by a dressing-gown and night-cap, like the orb of day by a winter fog, she accosted me without being shame-faced, and paid her duty in terms which fired all the combustibles in my composition, though her words were but the holiday expressions of common-place salutation. In the mean time, while my secretary, Basil, and his daughter, were engaged in reciprocal exchange of civility, I found my senses again; and passed from one extreme of absurdity to another, just as if I had thought that a hare-brained loquacity would be a set-off against the idiotic silence of my first encounter. I exhausted all my stock of well-bred rodomontade; and expressed myself with so unguarded a freedom, as to make Basil look about him: so that he, with his eye upon me as a man who would set every engine at work to seduce Antonia, was in a hurry to get her safely out of my apartment, with a resolved purpose, probably, of withdrawing her for ever from my pursuit.

Scipio finding himself alone with me, said with a smile: Here is another defence for you against the blue devils! I did not know that your farming man had so pretty a daughter; for I had never seen her before, though I have been twice at his house. He must have taken infinite pains to keep her out of the way, and it is impossible to be angry with him for it What the plague! here is a morsel for a liquorish palate! But there seems to be no necessity for blazoning her perfections to you; their very first glance dazzled you out of countenance. I do not deny it, answered I. Ah! my beloved friend, I have surely seen an inhabitant of the realms above; the electrical spark now thrills through all my frame, it scorches like lightning, yet tingles like the vivifying fluid at my heart.

You slight me beyond measure, replied my secretary, by giving me to understand that you have at length fallen in love. Nothing but a mistress was wanting to complete your rural establishment at all points. Thanks to Heaven, you are now likely to be accommodated in every way. I am well aware that we shall have a hard matter to elude Basil's vigilance; but leave that to me, and I will undertake before the end of three days to manage a private meeting for you with Antonia. Master Scipio, said I, it is not so sure that you would be able to keep your word; but at all events, I have not the least desire to make the experiment I will have nothing to do with the ruin of that girl; for she is an angel, and does not deserve to be numbered among the fallen ones. Therefore, instead of laying the guilt upon your soul of assisting me in her dishonour, I have made up my mind to marry her with your kind help, supposing her heart not to be pre-occupied by a prior attachment I had no idea, said he, of your directly plunging headlong into the cold bath of matrimony. The generality of landlords, in your place, would stand upon the ancient tenure of manorial rights: they would not deal with Antonia upon the square of modern law and gospel, till after failure in the establishment of their feudal privileges. But though this may be the way of the world, do not suppose that I am by any means against your honourable passion, or at all wish to dissuade you from your purpose. Your bailiff's daughter deserves the distinction you design for her, if she can give you the first-fruits of her heart, an offering of sensibility and gratitude; that is what I shall ascertain this very day by talking with her father, and possibly with her.

My agent was a man to transact his business according to the letter. He went to see Basil privately, and in the evening came to me in my closet, where I waited for him with impatience, somewhat exasperated by apprehension. There was a slyness in his countenance, whence my prognostic inclined to the brighter side. Judging, said I, by that look of suppressed merriment, you are come to acquaint me that I shall soon be at the summit of human bliss. Yes, my dear master, answered he, the heavens smile upon your vows. I have talked the matter over with Basil and his daughter, declaring your intentions without reserve. The father is delighted at the idea of your asking his blessing as a son-in-law; and you may set your heart at rest about Antonia's taste in a husband. Darts and flames! cried I in an ecstacy of amorous transport; what! am I so happy as to have made myself agreeable to that lovely creature? Never question it, replied he; she loves you already. It is true, she has not owned so much by word of mouth; but my assurance rests on the tale-telling sparkle of her eye, when your proposals were made known to her. And yet you have a rival! A rival! exclaimed I, with a faltering voice, and a cheek blanched with fear. Do not let that give you the least uneasiness, said he; your competitor cannot bid very high, for he is no other than master Joachim your cook. Ah! the hangdog! said I, with an involuntary shout of laughter: this is the reason, then, why he had so great an objection to being turned out of my service. Exactly so, answered Scipio; within these few days he made proposals of marriage to Antonia, who politely declined them. With submission to your better judgment, replied I, it would be expedient, at least so it strikes me, to get rid of that strange fellow, before he is informed of my intended match with Basil's daughter: a cook, as you are aware, is a dangerous rival. You are perfectly in the right, rejoined my trusty counsellor; we must clear the premises of him -- he shall receive his discharge from me to-morrow morning, before he puts a finger in the fricandeaus; thus you will have nothing more to fear either from his poisonous sauces or bewitching tongue. Yet it goes rather against the grain with me to part with so good a cook; but I sacrifice the interests of my own belly to the preservation of your precious person. You need not, said I, take on so for his loss: he had no exclusive patent; and I will send to Valencia for a cook, who shall outcook all his fine cookery. According to my promise I wrote immediately to Don Alphonso, to let him know that our kitchen wanted a prime minister; and on the following day he filled up the vacancy in so worthy a manner, as reconciled Scipio at once to the change in culinary politics.

Though my adroit and active secretary had assured me of Antonia's secret self-congratulation on the conquest of her landlord's heart, I could not venture to rely solely on his report. I was fearful lest he should have been entrapped by false appearances. To be more certain of my bliss, I determined on speaking in person to the fair Antonia. I therefore went to Basil's house, and confirmed to him what my ambassador had announced. This honest peasant, of patriarchal simplicity and golden-aged frankness, after having heard me through, did not hesitate to own that it would be the greatest happiness of his life to give me his daughter; but, added he, you are by no means to suppose that it is because you are lord of the manor. Were you still steward to Don Caesar and Don Alphonso, I should prefer you to all other suitors who might apply: I have always felt a sort of kindness towards you: and nothing vexes me, but that Antonia has not a thumping fortune to bring with her. I want not the vile dross, said I; her person is the only dowry that I covet. Your humble servant for that, cried he; but you will not settle accounts with me after that fashion; I am not a beggar, to marry my daughter upon charity. Basil de Buenotrigo is in circumstances, by the blessing of Providence, to portion her off decently; and I mean that she should set out a little supper, if you are to be at the expense of dinners. In a word, the rental of this estate is only five hundred ducats: I shall raise it to a thousand on the strength of this marriage.

Just as you please, my dear Basil, replied I; we are not likely to have any dispute about money matters. We are both of a mind; all that remains is to get your daughter's consent. You have mine, said he, and that is enough. Not altogether so, answered I; though yours may he absolutely necessary, no business can be done without hers. Hers follows mine of course, replied he; I should like to catch her murmuring against my sovereign commands. Antonia, rejoined I, with dutiful submission to paternal authority, is ready without question to obey your will implicitly in all things; but I know not whether in the present instance she would do so without violence to her own feelings; and should that be the case, I could never forgive myself for being the occasion of unhappiness to her; in short, it is not enough that I obtain her hand from you, if her heart is to heave a sigh at the decision of her destiny. Oh, blessed virgin! said Basil, all these fine doctrines of philosophy are far above my reach; speak to Antonia your own self, and you wilt find, or I am very much mistaken, that she wishes for nothing better than to be your wife. These words were no sooner out of his mouth than he called his daughter, and left me with her for a few short minutes.

Not to trifle with so precious an opportunity, I broke my mind to her at once: Lovely Antonia, said I, it remains with you to fix the colour of my future days. Though I have your father's consent, do not think so meanly of me as to suppose that I would avail myself of it to violate the sacred freedom of your choice. Rapturous as must be the possession of your charms, I waive my pretensions if you but tell me that your duty and not your will complies. It would be affectation to put on such a repugnance, answered she; the honour of your addresses is too flattering to excite any other than agreeable sensations, and I am thankful for my father's tender care of me, instead of demurring to his will. I am not sure whether such an acknowledgment may not be contrary to the rules of female reserve in the polite world; but if you were disagreeable to me, I should be plain-spoken enough to tell you so; why, then, should I not be equally free in owning the kind feelings of my heart?

At sounds like these, which I could not bear without being enraptured, I dropped on my knee before Antonia, and in the excess of my tender emotions, taking one of her fair hands, kissed it with an affectionate and impassioned action. My dear Antonia, said I, your frankness enchants me; go on, let nothing induce you to depart from it; you are conversing with your future husband; let your soul expand itself, and reveal all its inmost emotions in his presence. Thus, then, may I entertain the flattering hope that you will not frown on the union of our destinies! The coming in of Basil at this moment prevented me from giving further vent to the delightful sensations which thrilled through me. Impatient to know how his daughter had behaved, and ready primed for scolding in case she had been perverse or coy, he made up to me immediately. Well, now! said he, are you satisfied with Antonia? So much so, answered I, that I am going this very moment to set forward the preparations for our marriage. So saying, I left the father and daughter, for the purpose of taking counsel with my secretary thereupon.

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