CH. II. -- Gil Blas arrives in Madrid, and makes his appearance at court: the king is blessed with a better memory than most of his courtiers, and recommends him to the notice of his prime minister. Consequences of that recommendation.

 

WE got to Madrid in less than eight days, Don Alphonso having given us two of his best horses, that we might lose no time on the road. We alighted at a ready-furnished lodging, where I had lived formerly, kept by Vincent Ferrero, my old landlord, who was uncommonly glad to see me again.

As this man prided himself on being in the secret of whatever was going forward either in court or city, I asked him after the best news. There is plenty of it, whether best or worst, answered he. Since the death of Philip the Third, the friends and partisans of the Cardinal Duke of Lerma have been moving heaven and earth to support his Eminence on the pinnacle of ministerial authority, but their efforts have been ineffectual: the Count of Olivarez has carried the day, in spite of all their industry. It is alleged that Spain will be no loser by the exchange, and that the present premier is possessed of a genius so extensive, a mind so capacious, that he would be competent to wield the machine of universal government. New brooms, they say, sweep clean! But, at all events, you may take this for certain, that the public is fully impressed with a very favourable opinion of his capacity: we shall see by and by whether the Duke of Lerma's situation is well or ill filled up. Ferrero, having got his tongue into the right train for wagging, gave me all the particulars of all the changes which had taken place at court since the Count of Olivarez had taken his seat at the helm of the state vessel.

Two days after my arrival at Madrid, I repaired to the royal palace after my dinner, and threw myself in the king's way as he was crossing the lobby to his closet; but his notice was not at all attracted by my appearance. Next day, I returned to the same place, but with no better success. On the third day he looked me full in the face as he passed by, but the stare was perfectly vacant, as far as my interest or my vanity was concerned. This being the case, I resolved in my own mind what was proper to be done: You see, said I to Scipio, who accompanied me, that the king is grown out of my recollection; or if his memory is not become more frail with the elevation of his circumstances, he has some private reasons for not choosing to renew the acquaintance. I think we cannot do better than make our way back as fast as possible for Valencia. Let us not be in too great a hurry for that, sir, answered my secretary: you know better than myself, having served a long apprenticeship, that there is no getting on at court without patience and perseverance. Be indefatigable in exhibiting your person to the prince's regards: by dint of forcing yourself on his observation, you will oblige him to ask himself the question who this assiduous frequenter of his haunts can possibly be, when memory must come to his aid, and trace the features of his cheapener in the purchase of the lovely Catalina's good graces.

That Scipio might have nothing to reproach me with, I so far lent myself to his wishes as to continue the same proceeding for the space of three weeks; when at length it happened one day that the monarch, noticing the frequency of my appearance, sent for me into his presence. I went into the closet, not without some perturbation of mind at the idea of a private interview with my sovereign. Who are you? said he: your features are not altogether strange to me. Where have I seen you? Please your majesty, answered I trembling, I had the honour of escorting you one night with the Count of Lemos to the house of . . . . Ah! I recollect it perfectly, cried the prince, as if a sudden light had broke in upon him: you were the Duke of Lerma's secretary; and if I am not mistaken, your name is Santillane. I have not forgotten that on the occasion alluded to you served me with a most commendable zeal, but received a left-handed recompense for your exertions. Did you not get into prison at the conclusion of the adventure? Yes, please your majesty, replied I: my confinement in the tower of Segovia lasted six months; but your goodness was exercised in procuring my release. That, replied he, does not cancel my debt to my faithful servant Santillane: it is not enough to have restored him to liberty, for I ought to make him ample amends for the evils which he has suffered on the score of his alacrity in my concerns.

Just as the prince was uttering these words, the Count of Olivarez came into the closet. The nerves of favourites are shaken by every breath, their irritability excited by every trifle: he was as much astonished as any favourite need be at the sight of a stranger in that place, and the king redoubled his wondering propensities by the following recommendation -- Count, I consign this young man to your care, employ him, and let me find that you provide for his advancement. The minister affected to receive this order with the most gracious acquiescence, but looked me over from head to foot, with a glance from the corner of his eye, and was on tenter-hooks to find out who had been so strangely saddled upon him. Go, my friend, added the sovereign, addressing himself to me, and waving his hand for me to withdraw; the count will not fail to avail himself of your services in a manner the most conducive to the interests of my government, and the establishment of your own fortunes.

I immediately went out of the closet and made the best of my way to the son of Coselina, who, being overrun with impatience to inquire what the king had been talking about, fumbled at his fingers' ends, and was all over in an agitation. His first question was, whether we were to return to Valencia or become a part of the court. You shall form your own conclusions, answered I; at the same time delighting him with an account word for word of the little conversation I had just held with the monarch. My dear master, said Scipio at once in the excess of his joy, will you take me for your almanac-maker another time? You must acknowledge that we were not in the wrong! the lords of Leyva and myself have our eye-teeth about us! a journey to Madrid was the only measure to be adopted in such a case. Already I anticipate your appointment to an eminent post: you will turn out to be some time or other a Calderona to the Count of Olivarez. That is by no means the object of my ambition, observed I in return; the employment is placed on too rugged an eminence to excite any longings in my mind. I could wish for a good situation where there could be no inducement to do what might go against my conscience, and where the favours of my prince are not likely to be bartered away for filthy lucre. Having experienced my own unfitness for the possession of patronage, I cannot be sufficiently on my guard against the inroads of avarice and ambition. Never think about that, sir! replied my secretary, the minister will give you some handsome appointment, which you may fill without any impeachment of your integrity or independence.

Induced more by Scipio's importunity than my own curiosity, I repaired the following day before sunrise to the residence of the Count d'Olivarez, having been informed that every morning, whether in summer or winter, he gave audience by candlelight to all comers. I ensconced myself modestly in a corner of the saloon, and from my lurking-place took especial notice of the count when he made his appearance; for I had marked his person but cursorily in the king's closet. He was above the middle stature, and might pass for fat in a country where it is a rarity to see any but lean subjects. His shoulders were so high, as to look exactly as if he was hump-backed, but appearances were slanderous; for his blade-bones, though inelegant, were a pair; his head, which was large enough to he capacious, dropped down upon his chest by the unwieldiness of its own weight; his hair was black and unconscious of a curl, his face lengthened, his complexion olive-coloured, his mouth retiring inwards, with the sharp-pointed, turn-up chin of a pantaloon.

This whole arrangement of structure and symmetry did not exactly make up the complete model of a nobleman according to the ideas of ancient art; nevertheless, as I believed him to be in a temper of mind favourable to the gratification of my wishes, I looked at his defects with an indulgent eye, and found him a man very much to my satisfaction. One of the best points about him was, that he received the public at large with the utmost affability and complacency, holding out his hand for petitions with as much good humour as if he were the person to be obliged, and this was a sufficient set-off against anything untoward in the expression of his countenance. In the mean time, when in my turn I came forward to pay my respects and make myself known to him, he darted at me a glance of rude dislike and frightful menace; then turning his back, without condescending to give me audience, retired into his closet. Then it was that the ugliness of this nobleman's features appeared in all the extravagance of caricature: so that I made the best of my way out of the saloon, thunder-struck at so savage a reception, and quite at a loss how to conjecture what might be the consequence.

Having got back to Scipio, who was waiting for me at the door -- Can you guess at all, said I, what sort of a greeting mine was? No, answered he, not as to the minute particulars; but with respect to the substance, easily enough: the minister, ready upon all occasions to fall in with the fancies of his royal master, must of course have made you a handsome offer of an ostensible and lucrative situation. That is all you know about the matter, replied I; and then went on to acquaint him circumstantially with all that passed. He listened to me with serious attention, and then said -- The count could not have recollected your person; or rather, he must have been deceived by a fortuitous resemblance between you and some impertinent suitor. I would advise you to try another interview; I will lay a wager he will look on you more kindly. I adopted my secretary's suggestion, and stood for a second time in the presence of the minister; but he, behaving to me still worse than at first, puckered up his features the moment my unlucky countenance came within his ken, just as if it was connected with some lodged hate and certain loathing, which of force swayed him to offend, himself being offended; after this significant demonstration, he turned away his glaring eyeballs, and withdrew without uttering a word.

I was stung to the quick by so hostile a treatment, and in a humour to set out immediately on my return to Valencia; but to that project Scipio uniformly opposed his steady objections, not knowing how for the life of him to part with those flattering hopes which fancy had engendered in his brain. Do you not see plainly, said I, that the count wishes to drive me away from court? The monarch has testified in his presence some sort of favourable intention towards me, and is not that enough to draw down upon me the thorough hatred of the monarch's favourite? Let us drive before the wind, my good comrade; let us make up our minds to put quietly into port, and leave the open sea and the honours of the flag in the possession of an enemy with whom we are too feeble to contend. Sir, answered he, in high resentment against the Count of Olivarez, I would not strike so easily. I would go and complain to the king of the contempt in which his minister held his recommendation. Bad advice, indeed, my friend, said I; to take so imprudent a step as that, would soon bring bitter repentance in the train of its consequences. I do not even know whether it is safe for me to remain any longer in this town.

At this hint, my secretary communed a little with his own thoughts; and, considering that in point of fact we had to do with a man who kept the key of the tower of Segovia in his pocket, my fears became naturalized in his breast. He no longer opposed my earnest desire of leaving Madrid, and I determined to take my measures accordingly on the very next day.

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