CH. IV. -- Gil Blas ingratiates himself with the Count of Olivarez.

 

I DID not fail returning after dinner to the prime minister's house, and asking for his steward, whose name was Don Raymond Caporis. No sooner had I made myself known, than paying his civilities to me in the most respectful manner, Sir, said he, follow me if you please: I am to do myself the honour of shewing you the way to the apartment which is ordered for you in this family. Having spoken thus, he led me up a narrow staircase to a gallery communicating with five or six rooms, which composed the second story belonging to one wing of the house, and were furnished neatly, but without ostentation. You behold, resumed he, the lodging assigned you by his lordship, where you will always have a table of six persons, kept at his expense. You will be waited on by his own servants; and there will always be a carriage at your command. But that is not all: his excellency insisted on it in the most pointed manner, that you should be treated in every respect with the same attention as if you belonged to the house of Guzman.

What the devil is the meaning of all this? said I within myself. What construction ought I to put upon all these honours? Is there not some humorous prank at the bottom of it? and must it not be more in the way of diversion than anything else, that the minister is flattering me up with so imposing an establishment! While I was ruminating in this uncertainty, fluctuating betweea hope and fear, a page came to let me know that the count was asking for me. I waited instantly on his lordship, who was quite alone in his closet. Well! Santillane, said he, are you satisfied with your rooms, and with my orders to Don Raymond? Your excellency's liberality, answered I, seems out of all proportion with its object; so that I receive it with fear and trembling. Why so? replied he. Can I be too lavish of distinction to a man whom the king has committed to my care, and for whose interests he especially commanded me to provide? No, that is impossible; and I do no more than my duty in placing you on a footing of respectability and consequence. No longer, therefore, let what I do for you he a subject of surprise; but rely on it that splendour in the eye of the world, and the solid advantages of accumulating wealth, are equally with in your grasp, if you do but attach yourself as faithfully to me as you did to the Duke of Lerma.

But now that we are on the subject of that nobleman, continued he, it is said that you lived on terms of personal intimacy with him. I have a strong curiosity to lean the circumstances which led to your first acquaintance, as well as in what department you acted under him. Do not disguise or gloss over the slightest particular, for I shall not be satisfied without a full, true, and circumstantial recital. Then it was that I recollected in what an embarrassing predicament I stood with the Duke of Lerma on a similar occasion, and by what line of conduct I extricated myself; that same course I adopted once again with the happiest success; whereby the reader is to understand that throughout my narrative I softened down the passages likely to give umbrage to my patron, and glanced with a superficial delicacy over transactions which would have reflected but little lustre on my own character. I likewise manifested a considerate tenderness for the Duke of Lerma; though by giving that fallen favourite no quarter, I should better have consulted the taste of him whom I wished to please. As for Don Rodrigo de Calderona, there I laid about me with the religious fury of a bishop in a battle. I brought together, and displayed in the most glaring colours, all the anecdotes I had been able to pick up respecting his corrupt practices and underhand dealing in the sale of promotions, military, ecclesiastical, and civil.

What you have told me about Calderona, cried the minister with eagerness, exactly squares with certain memorials which have been presented to me, containing the heads of charges still more seriously affecting his character. He will very soon be put upon his trial, and if you have any wish to glut your revenge by his ruin, I am of opinion that the object of your desire is near at hand. I am far from thirsting after his blood, said I, though had it depended on him, mine might have been shed in the tower of Segovia, where he was the occasion of my taking lodgings for a pretty long term. What! inquired his excellency, was it Don Rodrigo who procured you that sudden journey? this a part of the story of which I was not aware before. Don Balthasar, to whom Navarro gave a summary of your adventures, told me indeed that the late king gave orders for your commitment, as a mark of his indignation against you for having led the Prince of Spain astray, and taken him to a house of suspicious character in the night: but that is all I know of the matter, and cannot for the life of me conjecture what part Calderona could possibly have had to play in that tragicomedy. A principal part, whether on the stage or in real life, answered I that of a jealous lover, taking vengeance for an injury, sustained in the tenderest point. At the same time I related minutely all the facts with which the reader is already acquainted, and touched his risible propensities, difficult as they were of access, so exactly in the right place, that he could not help wagging his under-hung jaw in a paroxysm of humour-stricken ecstasy, and laughing till he cried again. Catalina's double cast in the drama delighted him exceedingly; her sometimes playing the niece and sometimes personating the grand-daughter seemed to tickle his fancy more than anything; nor was he altogether inattentive to the appearance which the Duke of Lerma made in this undignified farce of state. When I had finished my story, the count gave me leave to depart, with an assurance that on the next day he would not fail to make trial of my talents for business. I ran immediately to the family hotel of Zuniga, to thank Don Balthazar for his good offices, and to acquaint my friend Joseph with the favourable dispositions of the prime minister, and my brilliant prospects in con sequence.

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