CH. I. -- Containing the subject of the greatest joy that Gil Blas ever felt, followed up, as our greatest pleasures too generally are, by the most melancholy event of his life. Great changes at court, producing, among other important revolutions, the return of Santillane.
I HAVE observed already that Antonia and Beatrice understood one another perfectly well; the latter falling meekly and modestly into the trammels of an humble attendant on her lady, and the former taking very kindly to the rank of a mistress and superior. Scipio and myself were husbands too rich in nature's gifts and in the affections of our spouses, not very soon to have the satisfaction of becoming fathers: our lasses were as women wish to be who love their lords, almost at the same moment. Beatrice's time was up first: she was safely delivered of a daughter; and in a few days afterwards Antonia completed the general joy, by presenting me with a son. I sent my secretary to Valencia with the welcome tidings: the governor came to Lirias with Seraphina and the Marchioness de Pliego, to be present at the baptismal ceremony; for he made it his pleasure to add this testimony of affection to all his former kindnesses. As that nobleman stood godfather, and the Marchioness godmother to my son, he was named Alphonse; and the governor's lady, wishing to draw the bonds of sponsorship still closer in this friendly party, stood for Scipio's daughter, to whom we gave the name of Seraphina.
The rejoicings at the birth of my son were not confined to the mansion-house; the villagers of Lirias celebrated the event by festivities, which were meant as a grateful token, to prove how much the little neighbourhood partook in all the satisfactions of their landlord. But, alas! our carousals were of short continuance; or, to speak more suitably to the subject, they were turned into weeping, wailing, and lamentation, by a catastrophe which more than twenty years have not been sufficient to blot from my memory, nor will future time, however distant, make me think of it but with the bitterest retrospect. My son died; and his mother, though perfectly recovered from her confinement, very soon followed him: a violent fever carried off my dear wife, after we had been married fourteen months. Let the reader conceive, if he is equal to the task, the grief with which I was overwhelmed: I fell into a stupid insensibility; and felt my loss so severely, as to seem not to feel it at all. I remained in this condition for five or six days, in an obstinate determination to take no nourishment; and I verily believe that, had it not been for Scipio, I should either have starved myself, or my heart would have burst; but my secretary, well knowing how to accommodate himself to the turnings and windings of the human heart, contrived to cheat my sorrows by fitting in with their tone and tenor: he was artful enough to reconcile me to the duty of taking food, by serving up soups and lighter fare with so disconsolate an arrangement of features that it looked as if he urged me to the revolting employment, not so much to preserve my life, as to perpetuate and render immortal my affliction.
This affectionate servant wrote to Don Alphonso, to let him know of the misfortune which had happened to me, and my lamentable condition in consequence. That tender-hearted and compassionate nobleman, that generous friend, very soon repaired to Lirias. I cannot recall the moment when he first presented himself to my view without even now being sensibly affected. My dear Santillane, said he, embracing me, I am not come to offer you impertinent consolation; but to weep over Antonia with you, as you would have wept with me over Seraphina, had the hand of death snatched her from me. In good truth, his tears bore testimony to his sincerity, and his sighs were blended with mine in the most friendly sympathy. Though overwhelmed with my affliction, I felt in the most lively manner the kindness of Don Alphonso.
The governor had a long conversation with Scipio respecting the measures to be taken for overcoming my despair. They judged it best to remove me for some time from Lirias, where every object incessantly brought back to my mind the image of Antonia. On this account the son of Don Caesar proposed carrying me back with him to Valencia; and my secretary seconded the plan with so many unanswerable arguments, that I made no further opposition. I left Scipio and his wife on my estate, where my longer stay could have produced no other effect but that of aggravating and enhancing all my sorrows, and took my own departure with the governor. On my arrival at Valencia, Don Caesar and his daughter-in-law spared no exertions to divert my sorrows from perpetual brooding; they plied me alternately with every sort of amusement, the most proper to turn the current of my thoughts to passing objects; but, in spite of all their pains, I remained plunged in melancholy, whence they were incompetent to draw me out. Nor was it for want of Scipio's kind attentions that my peace of mind was still so hopeless: he was continually going back and fore between Lirias and Valencia to inquire after me; and his journey home was cheerful or gloomy, in proportion as he found more or less disposition in me to listen to the words of comfort, and to reward the affectionate solicitude of my friends.
He came one morning into my room. Sir, said he, with a great deal of agitation in his manner, a report is current about town, in which the whole monarchy is deeply interested it is said that Philip the Third has departed this life, and that the prince, his son, is actually seated on the throne. To this it is added, that the cardinal Duke of Lerma has lost the premiership, that he is even forbidden to appear at court, and that Don Gaspard de Guzman, Count of Olivarez, is actually at the head of the administration. I felt a little agitated by this sudden change, without knowing why. Scipio caught at this manifestation, and asked whether the veering of the wind in the political horizon might not blow me some good. How is that possible? What good can it blow me, my worthy friend? answered I. The court and I have shaken hands once for all: the revolutions which may take place there are all alike indifferent to me.
For a man at your time of life, replied that cunning son of a diviner, you are uncommonly mortified to all the uses of this world. Under your circumstances my curiosity would be all alive; I should go to Madrid and show my face to the young monarch, just to see whether he would recollect it, merely for the amusement of the thing. I understand you, said I; you would have me return to court and try my fortune again, or rather you would plunge me back into the gulf of avarice and ambition. Why should such baleful passions any more take possession of your breast? rejoined Scipio. Do not so much play the calumniator on your own virtue. I will answer for your firmness to yourself. The sound moral reflections which your disgrace has occasioned you to make on the vanities of a court life, are a sufficient security against all the dangers to be feared from that quarter. Embark boldly once again upon an ocean where are acquainted with every shoal and rock in the dangerous navigation. Hold your tongue, you flatterer, said I, with a smile of no very positive discouragement; are you weary of seeing me lead a retired and tranquil life? I thought my repose had been more dear to you.
Just at this period of our conversation, Don Caesar and his son came in. They confirmed the news of the king's death, as well as the Duke of Lerma's misfortune. It appeared, moreover, that this minister, having requested permission to retire to Rome, had not been able to obtain it, but was ordered to confine himself to his marquisate at Denia. On this, as if they had been in league with my secretary, they advised me to go to Madrid and offer my congratulations to the new king, as one of his former acquaintances, with the merit of having rendered him even such services, as the great are apt to reward more willingly than some which are performed with cleaner hands. For my part, said Don Alphonso, I have no doubt but they will be liberally acknowledged. Philip the Fourth is bound in honour to pay the Prince of Spain's debts. I consider the affair just in the same light as you do, said Don Caesar; and Santillane's visit to court will doubtless prove the occasion of his arriving at the very first employments.
In good truth, my noble friends, exclaimed I, you do not consider what you are talking about. It should seem, were one to give ear to the soothing words of you both, as if I had nothing to do but to shew my face at Madrid, and receive the key of office, or some foreign government for my pains; but you are egregiously mistaken. I am, on the contrary, well persuaded that the king would pass me over as a stranger, were I to throw myself in his way. I will make the experiment if you wish it, merely for the sake of undeceiving you. The lords of Leyva took me at my word, so that I could not help promising them to set out without loss of time for Madrid. No sooner did my secretary perceive my mind fully made up to the prosecution of this journey, than his ecstasies were wound up to the highest pitch: he was satisfied within himself that if I did but present my excellent person before the new monarch, he would immediately single me out from the crowd of political candidates, and weigh me down under a load of dignities and emoluments. On the strength of these conjectures, puffing himself out and amusing his fancy with the most splendid extravagances of device, he raised me up to the first offices of the state, and pushed forward his own preferment in the path of my exaltation.
I therefore made my arrangements for returning to court, without the most distant intention of again sacrificing at the shrine of fortune, but merely to convince Don Caesar and his son of their error, in imagining that I was at all likely to ingratiate myself with the sovereign. It is true that there was some little lurking vanity at the bottom of all my philosophy, sprouting up in the shape of a desire to ascertain whether my royal master would throw away a thought on me, now in the spring time of his new and blushing honours. Led out of that course solely by that tempter, curiosity, without a dream of hope, or any practical contrivance for tuning the new reign to my own individual advantage, I set out for Madrid with Scipio, consigning the management of my household to Beatrice, who was well skilled in all the arts of domestic economy.