CH. XII. -- Conclusion of Scipio's story.
BAD example sometimes produces the converse of itself. The behaviour of young Velasquez made me think seriously on my own predicament. I began to wrestle with my thievish propensities, and to live like one of the better sort. A confirmed habit of pouncing upon money wherever I could get it, had been contracted by such a long succession of individual acts, that it was no easy matter to say where it should stop. And yet I was in hopes to accomplish my own reformation, under the idea that to become virtuous a man had nothing to do but to contract the desire of being so. I therefore undertook this great work, and heaven seemed to smile upon my efforts: I left off eyeing the old draper's strong box with the carnal regard of avaricious longing: nay, I verily believe, that if it had depended on my own will and pleasure to have turned over the contents to my own use, I should have abstained from the crime of picking and stealing. It must, however, be admitted, that it would have been an unadvisable measure to tempt my new-born integrity with meats too strong for its stomach: and Velasquez was nurse enough to keep me on a proper diet.
Don Manriquez de Medrano, a young gentleman, knight of Alcantara, was in the habit of coming backwards and forwards to our house. He was a customer, one of our principal in point of rank, if not punctual in point of pay. I had the happiness to find favour with this knight, who never met me without that sort of notice which encouraged conversation, and with that conversation he appeared always to be very much pleased. Scipio, said he, one day, if I had a footman of your kidney, it would be as good as a fortune to me, and if you were not in the service of a man who stands so high in my regards, I should make no scruple about enticing you away. Sir, answered I, you would have very little trouble in succeeding; for I am distractedly partial to people of fashion; it is my weak side; their free and easy manners fascinate me to the extreme of folly. That being the case, replied Don Manriquez, I will at once beg Signor Balthasar to turn you over from his household to mine: he will scarcely refuse me such a request. Accordingly Velasquez was kind and complying, with so much the less violence to his own private feelings, as there seemed no reason to think, that if a man parted with one knavish servant, he might not easily get another in his place. To me the change was all for the better, since a tradesman's service appeared but a beggarly condition in comparison with the office of own man to a knight of Alcantara.
To draw a faithful likeness of my new master, I must describe him as a gentleman possessing every requisite of person, figure, manners, and disposition. Nor was that all; for his courage and honour were equal to his other qualities: the goods of fortune were the only good things he wanted, but being the younger son of a family more distinguished by descent than opulence, he was obliged to draw for his expenses on an old aunt living at Toledo, who loved him as her own child, and administered to his occasions with affectionate liberality. He was always well dressed, and everywhere well received. He visited the principal ladies in the city, and among others the Marchioness of Almenara. She was a widow of seventy-two, but the centre of attraction to all the fashionable society of Cordova, by the elegance of her manners and the sprightliness of her conversation: men as well as women laid themselves out for an introduction, because her parties conferred at once on the frequenters the patent of good company.
My master was one of that lady's most assiduous courtiers. After leaving her one evening, his spirits seemed to be more elevated than was natural to him. Sir, said I, you are evidently in a good deal of agitation; may your faithful servant ask on what account? Has anything happened out of the common way? The young gallant smiled at so home a question, and owned candidly that he had just been engaged in a serious conversation with the Marchioness of Almenara. I will lay a wage; said I, laughing outright, that this moppet of threescore and ten, this girl in her second childhood, has been unfolding to you all the secret movements of a tender, susceptible heart. Do not make a jest of it, answered he; for the fact is, my friend, that the Marchioness is seriously in love with me. She told me that the narrowness of my circumstances was as well known to her as the nobility of my birth; that she had taken a liking to me, and was determined to place me at my ease by marriage, since she could not decently lay her fortune at my feet on any other terms. That this marriage would expose her to public ridicule, she professed to have considered; that scandal would be busy at her expense; in short, that she should pass for an old fool with an ambitious eye and a liquorish constitution. No matter for that! She was not to be awed from the career of her humour by quips and sentences: her only alarm was, lest I should either make sport of her intentions, or torment her more grievously by my aversion.
Such, continued the knight, was the substance of the Marchioness's declaration, and I am the more astonished at it, because she is the most prudent and sensible woman in Cordova; wherefore I answered by expressing my surprise at her honouring me with the offer of her hand, since she had hitherto persisted in her resolution of remaining in a state of widowhood. To this she replied, that having a considerable fortune, it would give her pleasure to share it in her life-time with a man of honour to whom she was attached. To all appearance then, rejoined I, you have made up your mind to take a lover's leap. Can you doubt about that? answered he. The Marchioness is immensely rich, with excellent qualities both of head and heart. It would be the extreme of folly and fastidiousness to let so advantageous a settlement slip through my fingers.
I entirely approved my master's purpose of profiting by so fine an opportunity to make his fortune, and even advised him to bring the matter to a short issue, for fear of a change in the wind. Happily the lady had the business more at heart than myself; her orders were given so effectually, that the necessary forms and ceremonies were soon got over. When it became known in Cordova that the old Marchioness of Almenara was getting herself ready to be the bride of young Don Manriquez de Medrano, the wits began breaking their odd quirks and remnants in derision of the widow; but though she heard her own detractions, she did not put them to mending; the town might talk as they pleased; for when she said she would die a widow, she did not think to live till she were married. The wedding was solemnized with a publicity and splendour which furnished fresh food for evil tongues. The bride, said they, might at least have had the modesty to dispense with noise and ostentation, so unbecoming in an old widow who marries a young husband.
The Marchioness, far enough from yielding to the suggestions of shame at her own inconsistency, or the disparity of their ages, yielded herself up without constraint to the expression of the most lively joy. She gave a grand concert and supper, with a ball afterwards, and invited all the principal families in Cordova. Just before the close of the ball, the new-married couple disappeared, and were shewn to an apartment, where, with no other witnesses but her own maid and myself she spoke to my master in these terms: -- Don Manriquez, this is your apartment; mine is in another part of the house: we will pass the night in separate rooms, and will live together by day like mother and son. At first the knight did not know what to make of this; he thought that the lady was only trying his temper, as if her coldness must be wooed to kindness, and her love, like her pardon, not unsought, be won. Imagining, therefore, that good manners required, at least, the shew of passion, he made his advances, and offered, according to the laws of amorous suit enacted in such cases, to assist in the disencumbering duties of her toilet; but, so far from allowing him to interfere with the province of her servant, she pushed him back with a serious air, saying: Hold, Don Manriquez; if you take me for one of those sweet-toothed old women who marry a second time from mere incontinence, you do me a manifest injustice: my proposals were not fraught with conditions of hard service as the tenure of our nuptial contract; the gift of my heart was unmixed with sensual dross, and your gratitude is only drawn upon for returns of pure and platonic friendship. After this explanation, she left my master and me in our apartment, and withdrew to her own with her attendant, forbidding the bridegroom, in the most positive manner, to attempt retiring with her.
After her departure, it was some time before we recovered from our surprise at what we had just heard. Scipio, said my master, could you ever have believed that the Marchioness would have talked in such a strain? What think you of so philosophic a bride? I think, sir, answered I, that she is a phoenix among the brood of Hymen. It is for all the world like a good living without parochial duties. For my part, replied Don Manriquez, there is nothing so much to my taste as a wife of modest pretensions; and I mean to make her amends for the trophy she has raised to unadulterated esteem, by all the delicate attentions in my power to pay. We kept up the subject of the lady's moderation till it was full time to separate. My quarters were fixed in an ante room with a book-case bedstead; my master's in an elegant bed-chamber with every appurtenance except one: but however necessary it might be to play the disappointed bridegroom, I am much mistaken if in the bottom of his soul he was half so much afraid of sleeping by himself as of being encumbered with a bed-fellow.
The rejoicings began again on the following day, and the bride was so jocund on the occasion, that the bolts of the fools among her visitors were not soon shot. She was the first to laugh at all their pointless jokes; nay, she even set the little wits to work, by giving them an example of pleasantry, which they were very little able to follow. The happy man, on his part, seemed to be very little less happy than his partner; and one would have sworn, judging by the glance of satisfaction which accompanied his language and deportment, that he liked mutton better than lamb. This well-matched pair had a second conversation in the evening; and then it was decided that without interfering in the least with one another, they should live together just on the same footing as they had lived before marriage. At all events, much credit must be given to Don Manriquez on one account: he did, from delicate consideration towards his wife, what few husbands would have done under his circumstances, for he discarded a little sempstress of whom he was very fond, and who was very fond of him, because he did not choose to keep up a connection insulting to the feelings of a lady so studious of his.
While he was furnishing such unusual testimonies of gratitude to his elderly benefactress, she overpaid and doubly paid her debt of obligation, even without diving into its nature or extent. She gave him the master key of her strong box, which was better provided than that of Velasquez. Though she had reduced her establishment during widowhood, it was now replaced upon the same footing as in the lifetime of her first husband; the complement of household servants was enlarged, the stud and equipages were in the very first style; in a word, by her generosity and kindness, the most beggarly knight belonging to the order of Alcantara became the most monied member of the fraternity. You may perhaps be disposed to ask me, how much I was in pocket by all that; and my answer is, fifty pistoles from my mistress, and a hundred from my master, who, moreover, appointed me his secretary, with a salary of four hundred crowns; nay, his confidence was so unbounded, that I was fixed on to fill the office of treasurer.
Treasurer! cried I, interrupting Scipio at the very idea, and bursting into an immoderate fit of laughter. Yes, sir, replied he, with a cool, unflinching seriousness; you are perfectly right, treasurer was the word; and I may venture to say that the duties of the office were executed without the slightest occasion for a committee of inquiry. True it is that the balance may be somewhat against me, for I was always in the habit of overdrawing my wages; and as the firm was dissolved somewhat suddenly, it is by no means impossible that the balance of my cash account might be on the wrong side: but, at all events, it was my last slip; and since that time my ways have been ways of uprightness and honesty.
Thus was I, continued this son of a gipsy, secretary and treasurer to Don Manriquez, who, to all appearance, was as happy in me as I in him, when he received a letter from Toledo, announcing that his aunt, Donna Theodora Moscoso, was on her last legs. He was so much affected by the news, as to set out instantly and pay his duty to that lady, who had been more than a mother to him for several years. I attended him on the journey with only two under-servants; we were all mounted on the best horses in the stable, and reached Toledo without loss of time, where we found Donna Theodora in a state to warrant our hopes that she would not, at present, weigh anchor on her outward bound voyage; and, in fact, our judgment on her case, though point blank in contradiction to that of an old physician who attended her, proved by the event that we knew at least as much of the matter as he did.
While the health of our venerable relative was improving from day to day, less, perhaps, from the effect of the prescriptions than in consequence of her dear nephew's presence, your worthy friend the treasurer passed his time in the pleasantest manner possible, with some young people whose acquaintance was admirably calculated to ventilate the confined cash in his pocket. Sometimes they enticed me to the tennis-court, and took me in for a game: on those occasions, not being quite so steady a player as my master, Don Abel, I lost much oftener than I won. By degrees play became a passion with me; and if the taste had been suffered to gain complete possession, it would doubtless have laid me under the necessity of drawing bills of accommodation on the family bank; but happily love stepped in, and saved the credit both of the bank and of my principles. One day, passing along near the church of the Epiphany, I espied through a lattice with the drapery drawn up, a young girl who might well be called a thing divine, for nothing natural was ever seen so lovely. I would lay on my compliment still thicker, if words were not wanting to express the effect of her first appearance upon my mind. I set my wits to work, and by dint of diligent inquiry, learned that her name was Beatrice, and that she was waiting-maid to Donna Julia, younger daughter of the Count de Polan.
Beatrice broke in upon the thread of Scipio's story by laughing immoderately: then, directing her speech to my wife, Charming Antonia, said she, do but just look at me, I beseech you, and then say truly, whether I could be likened to a thing divine. You might at that time, to my enamoured sight, said Scipio; and, since your conjugal faith is no longer under a cloud, my visual appetite increases by what it feeds on. It was a pretty compliment! and my secretary, having fired it off, pursued his narrative as follows.
This intelligence kindled the flame of passion within me; but not, it must be confessed, a flame which could be acknowledged without a blush. I took it for granted that my triumph over her scruples would be easy if my biddings were high enough to command the ordinary market of female chastity; but Beatrice was a pearl beyond price. In vain did I solicit her, through the channel of some intriguing gossips, with the offer of my purse and of my most tender attentions; she rejected all my proposals with disdain. I had recourse to the lover's last remedy, and offered her my hand, which she deigned to accept on the strength of my being secretary and treasurer to Don Manriquez. As it seemed expedient to keep our marriage secret for some time, the ceremony was performed privately, in presence of Dame Lorenza Sephora, Seraphina's governess, and before some others of the Count de Polan's household. After our happy union, Beatrice contrived the means of our meeting by day, and passing some part of every night together in the garden, whither I repaired through a little gate of which she gave me a key. Never were man and wife better pleased with each other than Beatrice and myself: with equal impatience did we watch for the hour of our appointment; with congenial emotions of eager sensibility did we hasten to the spot, and the moments which we passed together, though countless from their number in the calendar of cold indifference, to us were few and fleeting, in comparison with that eternity of mutual bliss for which we panted.
One night, a night which should be expunged from the almanac, a night of darkness and despair, contrasted with the brightness of all our former nights, I was surprised on approaching the garden, to find the little gate open. This unusual circumstance alarmed me; for it seemed to augur something inauspicious to my happiness: I turned pale and trembled, as if with a foreknowledge of what was going to happen. Advancing in the dark towards a bower, where our private meetings had usually taken place, I heard a man's voice. I stopped on the instant to listen, when the following words struck like the sound of death upon my ear: Do not keep me languishing in suspense, my dear Beatrice; make my happiness complete, and consider that your own fortunes are closely connected with mine. Instead of having patience to hear further, it seemed as if more had been said than blood could expiate; that devil, jealousy, took possession of my soul; I drew my sword, and breathing only vengeance, rushed into the bower. Ah! base seducer, cried I, whoever you are, you shall tear this heart from out my breast, rather than touch my honour on its tenderest point. With these words on my lips, I attacked the gentleman who was talking with Beatrice. He stood upon his guard without more ado, like a man much better acquainted with the science of arms than myself, who had only received a few lessons from a fencing-master at Cordova. And yet, strong as his sword-arm was, I made a thrust which he could not parry, or what is more likely, his foot slipped: I saw him fall; and fancying that I had wounded him mortally, ran away as hard as my legs could carry me, without deigning to answer Beatrice, who would have called me back.
Yes, indeed! said Scipio's wife, resolved to have her share in the development of the story; I called out for the purpose of undeceiving him. The gentleman conversing with me in the arbour was Don Ferdinand de Leyva. This nobleman, who was in love with my mistress Julia, had laid a plan for running away with her, from despair of being able to obtain her hand by any other means; and I had myself made this assignation with him in the garden, to concert measures for the elopement, and with his fortune he assured me that my own was closely linked; but it was in vain that I screamed after my husband; he darted from me as if my very touch were contamination.
In such a state of mind, resumed Scipio, I was capable of anything. Those who know by experience what jealousy is, into what extravagance it drives the best-regulated spirits, will be at no loss to conceive the disorder it must have produced in my weak brain. I passed in a moment from one extreme to an other: emotions of hatred succeeded instantaneously to all my former sentiments of affection for my wife. I took an oath never to see her more, and to banish her for ever from my memory. Besides, the supposed death of a man lay upon my conscience; and under that idea, I was afraid of falling into the hands of justice; so that every torment which could be accumulated on the head of guilt and misery by the fury of despair and the demon of remorse, was the remediless companion of my wretched flight In this dreadful situation, thinking only of my escape, I returned home no more, but immediately quitted Toledo, with no other provision for my journey but the clothes on my back. It is true, I had about sixty pistoles in my pocket; a tolerable supply for a young man, whose views in life pointed no higher than a good service.
I walked forward all night, or rather ran, for the phantom of an alguazil always dogging me at the heels made me perform wonders of pedestrian activity. The dawn overtook me between Rodillas and Maqueda. When I was at the latter town, finding myself a little weary, I went into the church which was just opened, and having put up a short prayer, sat down on a bench to rest. I began musing on the state of my affairs, which were sufficiently out at elbows to require all my skill in patch-work, but the time for reflection as well as for repentance were cut short. The church echoed on a sudden with three or four smacks of a whip, which made me conclude that some carrier was on the road. I immediately got up to go and see whether I was right or wrong. At the door I found a man, mounted on a mule, leading two others by the halter. Stop, my friend, said I, whither are those two mules going? To Madrid, answered he. I came hither with two good Dominicans, and am now setting out on my return.
Such an opportunity of going to Madrid gave me an itching desire for the expedition: I made my bargain with the muleteer, jumped upon one of his mules, and away we scampered towards Ilescas, where we were to put up for the night. Scarcely were we out of Maqueda before the muleteer, a man from five-and-thirty to forty, began chanting the church service with a most collegiate twang. This trial of his lungs began with matins, in the drowsy tone of a canon between asleep and awake; then he roared out the Belief; alternately in contralto, tenor, and bass, in all the harmonious confusion of high mass; and not content with that, he rang the bell for vespers, without sparing me a single petition or so much as a bar of the magnificat. Though the scoundrel almost cracked the drum of my ear, I could not help laughing heartily; and even egged him on to make the welkin reverberate with his hallelujahs, when the anthem was suspended a few rests, for the necessary purpose of supplying wind to the organ. Courage, my friend! said I; go on and prosper. If heaven has given you a good capacious throat, you are neither a niggard nor a perverter of its precious boon. Oh! certainly not for the matter of that, cried he; happily for my immortal soul, I am not like carriers in general, who sing nothing but profane songs about love or drinking: I do not even defile my lips with ballads on our wars against the Moors: such subjects are at least light and unedifying, if not licentious and impure. You have, replied I, an evangelical purity of heart which belongs only to the elect among muleteers. With this excessive squeamishness of yours about the choice of your music, have you also taken a vow of continence, wherever there is a young bar-maid to be picked up at an inn? Assuredly, rejoined he, chastity is also a virtue by which it is my pride to ward off the temptations of the road, where my only business is to look after my mules. I was in no small degree astonished at such pious sentiments from this prodigy of psalm-singing mule-drivers; so that looking upon him as a man above the vanities and corruptions of this nether world, I fell into chat with him after he had gone the length of his tether in singing.
We got to Ilescas late in the day. On entering the inn-yard, I left the care of the mules to my companion, and went into the kitchen, where I ordered the landlord to get us a good supper, which he promised to perform so much to my satisfaction, as to make me remember all the days of my life what usage travellers meet with at his house As, added he, now only ask your carrier what sort of a man I am. By all the powers of seasoning! I would defy the best cook in Madrid or Toledo to make an olio at all to be compared to mine. I shall treat you this evening with some stewed rabbit after a receipt of my own; you will then see whether it is any boast to say that I know how to send up a supper. Thereupon, shewing me a stew-pan with a young rabbit, as he said, cut up into pieces: There, continued he, is what I mean to favour you with. When I shall have thrown in a little pepper, some salt, wine, a handful of sweet herbs, and a few other ingredients which I keep for my own sauces, you may depend on sitting down to such a dish as would not disgrace the table of a chancellor or an archbishop.
The landlord, having thus done justice to his own merits, began to work upon the materials he had prepared. While he was labouring in his vocation, I went into a room, where lying down on a sort of couch, I fell fast asleep through fatigue, having taken no rest the night before, in the space of about two hours, the muleteer came and awakened me, with the information that supper was ready, and a pressing request to take my place at table. The cloth was laid for two, and we sat down to the hashed rabbit. I played my knife and fork most manfully, finding the flavour delicious, whether from the force of hunger in communicating a candid mode of interpretation to my palate, or from the natural effect of the ingredients compounded by the cook. A joint of roast mutton was next served up. It was remarkable that the carrier only paid his respects to this last article; and I asked him why he had not taken his share of the other. He answered with a suppressed smile, that he was not fond of made dishes. This reason, or rather the turn of countenance with which it was alleged, seemed to imply more than was expressed. You have not told me, said I, the real meaning of your not eating the fricassee: do have the goodness to explain it at once. Since you are so curious to be made acquainted with it, replied he, I must own that I have an insuperable aversion to cramming my stomach with meats in masquerade, since one evening at an inn on the road between Toledo and Cuença, they served me up, instead of a wild rabbit, a hash of tame cat; enough, of all conscience, ever after to set my intestines in battle-array against all minces, stews, and force-meats.
No sooner had the muleteer let me into this secret, than in spite of the hunger which raged within me, my appetite left me completely in the lurch. I conceived, in all the horrors of extreme loathing, that I had been eating a cat dressed up as the double of a rabbit; and the fricassee had no longer any power over my senses, except by producing a strong inclination to retch. My companion did not lessen my tendency that way, by telling me that the inn-keepers in Spain, as well as the pastry-cooks, were very much in the habit of making that substitution. The drift of the conversation was, as you may perceive, very much in the nature of a lenitive to my stomach; so much so, that I had no mind to meddle any more with the dish of undefinables, nor even to make an attack upon the roast meat, for fear the mutton should have performed its duty by deputy as well as the rabbit. I jumped up from table, cursing the cookery, the cook, and the whole establishment; then, throwing myself down upon the sofa, I passed the night with less nausea than might reasonably have been expected. The day following with the dawn, after having paid the reckoning with as princely an air as if we had been treated like princes, away went I from Ilescas, bearing my faculties so strongly impregnated with fricassee, that I took every animal which crossed the road, of whatever species or dimensions, for a cat.
We got to Madrid betimes, where I had no sooner settled with my carrier than I hired a ready-furnished lodging near the Sun-gate. My eyes, though accustomed to the great world, were nevertheless dazzled by the concourse of nobility which was ordinarily seen in the quarter of the court. I admired the prodigious number of carriages, and the countless list of gentlemen, pages, gentlemen's gentlemen, and plain, downright footmen in the train of the grandees. My admiration exceeded all bounds, on going to the king's levee, and beholding the monarch in the midst of his court. The effect of the scene was enchanting, and I said to myself, It is no wonder they should say that one must see the court of Madrid to form an adequate idea of its magnificence: I am delighted to have directed my course hither, and feel a sort of prescience within me that I shall not come away without taking fortune by surprise. I caught nothing napping, however, but my own prudence, in making some thriftless, expensive acquaintance. My money oozed away in the rapid thaw of my propriety and better judgment, so that it became a measure of expedient degradation to throw away my transcendent merit on a pedagogue of Salamanca, whom some family lawsuit or other concern had brought to Madrid, where he was born, and where chance, more whimsical than wise, thrust me within the horizon of his knowledge. I became his right hand, his prime principal agent; and dogged him at the heels to the university when he returned thither.
My new employer went by the name of Don Ignacio de Ipigna. He furnished himself with the handle of don, inasmuch as he had been tutor to a nobleman of the first rank, who had recompensed his early services with an annuity for life: he likewise derived a snug little salary from his professorship in the university; and in addition to all this, laid the public under a yearly contribution of two or three hundred pistoles for books of uninstructive morality, which he protruded from the press periodically by weight and measure. The manner in which he worked up the shreds and patches of his composition de serves a notice somewhat more than cursory. The heavy hours of the forenoon were spent in muzzing over Hebrew, Greek, and Latin authors, and in writing down upon little squares of card every pithy sentence or striking thought which occurred in the morning's reading. According to the progress of this literary Pam, in winning tricks from the ancients, he employed me to score up his honours in the form of an Apollo's wreath: these metaphysical garlands were strung upon wire, and each garland made a pocket volume. What an execrable hash of wholesome viands did we cook up! The commandments set at loggerheads with an utter confusion of tables; Epicurean conclusions grafted on stoical premises! Tully quoting Epictetus, and Seneca supporting his antitheses on the authority of monkish rhyme! Scarcely a month elapsed without our putting forth at least two volumes, so that the press was kept continually groaning under the weight of our transgressions. What seemed most extraordinary of all, was that these literary larcenies were palmed upon the purchasers for spick and span new wares, and if, by any strange and improbable chance, a thick-headed critic should stumble with his noddle smack against some palpable plagiarism, the author would plead guilty to the indictment, and make a merit of serving up at second-hand
What Gellius or Stobaeus hash'd before,
Though chewed by blind old scholiasts o'er and o'er.
He was also a great commentator; and filled his notes chuck full of so much erudition, as to multiply whole pages of discussion upon what homely common-sense would have consigned to the brief alternative of a query:
Disputes of Me or Te, or Aut at At,
To sound or sink in cano O or A,
Or give up Cicero to C or K.
As almost every author, ethical and didactic, from Hesiod down to himself, took his turn to dangle on some one or other of our manuscript garlands, it was impossible for me not to suck in somewhat of sage nurture from so copious a stream of philosophy: it would be rank ingratitude to shift off my obligation. My hand-writing also became strictly and decidedly legible, by dint of continual transcription; my estate was more that of a pupil than of a servant, and my morals were not neglected, while my mind was polished, and my faculties raised above their former level. Scipio, he used to say, when he chanced to hear of any serving lad with more cunning than honesty in his dealings, beware, my good boy, how you take after the evil example of that graceless villain. "The honour of a servant is his fidelity; his highest virtues are submission and obedience. Be studious of thy master's interests, be diligent in his affairs, and faithful to the trust which he reposeth in thee. Thy time and thy labour belong unto him. Defraud him not thereof; for he payeth thee for them." To sum up all, Don Ignacio lost no opportunity of leading me on in the path of virtue, and his prudent counsels sank so deep into my heart, as to keep under anything like even the slightest wish of playing him a rogue's trick during the fifteen months which I spent in his service.
I have already mentioned that Doctor de Ipigna was a native of Madrid. He had a relation there, by name Catalina, waiting-maid to the lady who officiated as nurse to the heir-apparent. This abigail, the same through whose intervention I got Signor de Santillane released from the tower of Segovia, intent on rendering a service to Don Ignacio, prevailed with her mistress to petition the Duke of Lerma for some preferment. The minister named him for the archdeaconry of Grenada, which, as a conquered country, is in the king's gift. We repaired immediately to Madrid on receiving the intelligence, as the doctor wished to thank his patronesses before he took possession of his benefice. I had more than one opportunity of seeing Catalina, and conversing with her. The cheerful turn of my temper and a certain easy air of good company were altogether to her taste; for my part, I found her so much to my liking, that I could not help saying yes to the little advances of partiality which she made in my favour: in short, we got to feel very kindly towards each other. You must not write a comment with your nails, my dear Beatrice, on this episode in the romance of my amours, because I was firmly persuaded of your inconstancy, and you will allow that heresy, though impious, being also blind, my penance may reasonably be remitted on sincere conversion.
In the mean time Doctor Ignacio was making ready to set out for Grenada. His relation and myself, out of our wits at the impending separation, had recourse to an expedient which rescued us from its horrors: I shammed illness, complained of my head, complained of my chest, and made a characteristic wry face for every pain and ache in the catalogue of human infirmities. My master called in a physician, who told me with a grave face, after putting his questions in the usual course, that my complaint was of a much more serious nature than might appear to unprofessional observation, and that, according to all present likelihood, I should keep my chamber a long time. The doctor, impatient to take possession of his preferment, did not think it quite so well to delay his departure, but chose rather to hire another boy; he therefore contented himself with handing me over to the care of a nurse, with whom he left a sum of money to bury me if I should die, or to remunerate me for my services if I should recover. As soon as I knew Don Ignacio to be safe on the road for Grenada, I was cured of all my maladies. I got up, made my final bow to the physician who had evinced so thorough a knowledge of my ease, and fairly turned my nurse out of doors, who made her retreat good with baggage and ammunition, to the amount of more than half the sum for which she ought to have accounted with me. While I was enacting the sick man, Catalina was playing another part about the person of her mistress, Donna Anna de Guévra, into whose conception having by dint of many a wordy process inserted the notion, that I was the man of all others ready cut and dry for an intrigue, she induced her to choose me for one of her agents. The royal and most catholic nurse, whose genius for great undertakings was either produced or exasperated by the love of great possessions, having occasion for suitable ministers, received me among her hangers-on, and lost no opportunity of ascertaining how far I was for her purpose. She confided some commissions to my ear; which, vanity apart, called for no little address, and what they called for was ready at hand: accordingly, she gave me all possible credit for the diligent execution of my office, while my discontent swelled high against her for fobbing me off with the cold recompense of approbation. The good lady was so abominably avaricious, as not to give me a working partner's share in the profits of my industry, nor to allow for the wear and tear of my conscience. She seemed inclined to consider, that by paying me my wages, all the requisitions of Christian charity were made good between us. This excess of illiberal economy would soon have parted us, had it not been for the fascination of Catalina's gentle virtues, who became more desperately in love with me from day to day, and completed the paroxysm by a formal proposal of marriage.
Fair and softly, my pretty friend, said I: we must look before we leap into that bottomless gulf: the first point to be settled is to ascertain the death of a young woman, who obtained the refusal before you, and made me supremely happy, for no other purpose but to anticipate the purgatory of an intermediate state in the present. All a mere sham, a put off! answered Catalina: you swear you are married only by way of throwing a genteel veil over your abhorrence of my person and manners. In vain did I call all the powers to witness, that what I said was solemnly true: my sincere avowal was considered as a mere copy of my countenance; the lady was grievously offended, and changed her whole behaviour in regard to me. There was no downright quarrel; but our tender intercourse became visibly more rigid and unaccommodating, so that nothing further took place between us but cold formality and common-place attentions.
Just at the nick of time, I heard that Signor Gil Blas de Santillane, secretary to the prime minister of the Spanish monarchy, wanted a servant; and the situation was the more flattering, as it bore the bell among all the vacancies of the court register office. Signor de Santillane, they told me, was one of the first men, high in favour with the Duke of Lerma, and consequently in the direct road to fortune: his heart, too, was cast in the mould of generosity: by doing his business, you most assuredly did your own. The opportunity was too good to be neglected I went and offered myself to Signor Gil Blas, to whom I felt my heart grow from the first; for my sentiments were fixed by the turn of his physiognomy. There could be no question about leaving the royal and most catholic nurse for him; and it is to be hoped, I shall never have any other master.
Here ended Scipio's story. But he continued speaking, and addressed himself to me. Signor de Santillane, do me the favour to assure those ladies that you have always known me for a faithful and zealous servant. Your testimony will stand me in good stead, and vouch for a sincere reformation in the son of Coselina.
Yes, ladies, said I, it is even so. Though Scipio in his childhood was a very scape-grace, he has been born anew, and is now the exact model of a trusty domestic. Far from having any complaints to make against him, my debt is infinite. On the fatal night when I was earned off to the tower of Segovia, he saved my effects from pillage, and refunded what he might have taken to himself with impunity: not contented with rescuing my worldly pelf, he came out of pure friendship and shut himself up with me in my prison, preferring the melancholy sympathies of adverse fortune to all the charms of lusty, buoyant liberty.