CH. XIII. -- Gil Blas meets Don Gaston de Cogollos and Don Andrew de Tordesillas at the drawing-room, and adjourns with them to a more convenient place. The story of Don Gaston and Donna Helena de Galisteo concluded. Santillane renders some service to Tordesillas.
I WAS up to the hilts in joy at having so marvellously metamorphosed an ex-governor into a viceroy; the Lords of Leyva themselves were not primed and loaded so near to bursting. But very soon I had another opportunity of employing my credit in the beaten track of friendship; and there is the more occasion to quote these instances, that my readers may clearly discern with how different a man they are in company, from that graceless Gil Blas who, under the former ministry, carried on a shameless traffic in the honours and emoluments of the state.
One day I was waiting in the king's ante-chamber, in conversation with some noblemen, who, knowing me to stand well with the prime minister, were not ashamed of taking me by the hand. In the crowd was Don Gaston de Cogollos, whom I had left a prisoner in the tower of Segovia. He was with Don Andrew de Tordesillas, the warden. I readily quitted my company to go and renew my acquaintance with my two friends. If they were astonished at the sight of me, I was no less so to find them here. After mutual greetings, Don Gaston said: Signor de Santillane, we have many inquiries to make of each other, and this place affords little opportunity for private intercourse; allow me to request your company where we may open our hearts freely. I made no objection; we pushed our way through the crowd, and left the palace. Don Gaston's carriage was ready waiting in the street; we all three got into it, and drove to the great market-place, where the bull-fights are exhibited. There Cogollos lived in a very handsome house.
Signor Gil Blas, said Don Andrew on our entrance, at your departure from Segovia you seemed to have conceived a thorough hatred against the court, and to have formed a settled purpose of abandoning it for ever. Such was, in fact, my design, answered I; nor were my sentiments at all changed during the lifetime of the late king; but when the prince his son came to the throne, I had a mind to see whether the new monarch would know me again. He did so, and received me favourably, with a strong recommendation to the prime minister, who admitted me to his friendship, and took me more into his confidence than ever did the Duke of Lerma. This, Signor Don Andrew, is my story. And now tell me whether you still hold your office in the tower of Segovia. No, indeed! answered he; my lord duke has removed me, and put another in my room. He probably considered me as entirely devoted to his predecessor. And I, said Don Gaston, was set at liberty for the contrary reason; the prime minister was no sooner informed that my imprisonment was by the Duke of Lerma's order, than he ordered me to be released. The present business, Signor Gil Blas, is to relate the subsequent particulars of my adventures.
The first thing I did, continued he, after thanking Don Andrew for his kind attentions during my confinement, was to repair to Madrid. I presented myself before the Count Duke of Olivarez, who said: You need not be apprehensive of any blemish on your character in consequence of your late misfortune; you are honourably acquitted: nay, your innocence is so much the more satisfactorily established, as the Marquis of Villareal, with whom you were supposed to be implicated, was not guilty. Though a Portuguese, and related to the Duke of Braganza, he is less in his interests than in those of the king my master. That connection, therefore, ought not to have been imputed to you as a crime; but, to repair your wrongs, the king has given you a lieutenant's commission in the Spanish guards. This I accepted, begging it as a favour of his excellency to allow me, before I joined my regiment, to go and see my aunt, Donna Eleonora de Laxarilla, at Coria. The minister gave me leave of absence for a month, and I departed with only one servant
We had got beyond Colmenar, and were threading a narrow pass between two mountains, when we came within sight of a gentleman defending himself bravely against three men, who all fell upon him together. I did not hesitate about going to his aid; but hastened forward and planted myself by his side. I remarked while we were fighting, that our enemies were masked, and that we had to do with expert swordsmen. But we triumphed over the united advantages of their skill and disparity. I ran one of the three through the body; he fell from his horse, and the two others immediately betook themselves to flight. The victory indeed was scarcely less fatal to us than to the wretch whom I had killed, for we were both dangerously wounded. But conceive my surprise, when I discovered the gentleman to be Combados, the husband of Donna Helena. He was no less astonished at recognizing me as his defender. Ah, Don Gaston! exclaimed he, was it you, then, who came to my assistance? When you took my part so generously, you little thought it was the person who had snatched your mistress from you. I really did not know it, answered I; but though I had, do you think I could have wavered about doing as I have done? Can you entertain so ill an opinion of me, as to believe my soul so sordid? No, no, replied he; I think better of you; and should I die of my wounds, it will be my prayer that yours may not disable you from profiting by my death. Combados, said I, though I have not yet forgotten Donna Helena, know that I do not pant after the possession of her charms at the expense of your life; so far from it, that I congratulate myself on having contributed to your rescue from assassination, since by so doing I have performed an acceptable service to your wife
While we were communing together, my servant dismounted; and drawing near to the gentleman stretched at his length, took off his mask, when Combados, with sensations of gratitude for his deliverance, distinctly traced the features. It is Caprara, exclaimed he; that treacherous cousin who, in mere disgust at having missed a rich inheritance which he had unjustly disputed with me, has long since cherished a murderous design against my life, and fixed on this day to put it in execution; but heaven has turned him over to its determined vengeance, and made him the victim of his own attempt.
While this conversation was going on, our blood was flowing at the same rate, and we were becoming more exhausted every minute. Nevertheless, disabled as we were, we had strength enough to reach the town of Villaréjo, which lies within gun-shot or two from the field of battle. At the very first house of call we sent for surgeons. The most expert came at our summons. He examined our wounds, and reported them as dangerous. After taking off the bandages and dressing them a second time, he pronounced those of Don Blas to be mortal. Of mine he thought more favourably, and the event corresponded with his prognostic.
Combados, finding himself consigned to the grave, thought only of due preparation for a most serious event. He sent an express to his wife, with an account for what had happened, particularizing his present sad condition. Donna Helena soon arrived at Villaréjo. Her mind was drawn different ways by two opposite occasions of distress; the hazard of her husband's life, and the fear of feeling the revival of a half-extinguished flame at the sight of me. This sight occasioned her to experience a terrible agitation. Madam, said Don Blas, when she appeared in his presence, you are come just in time to receive my farewell. I am at the point of death, and I consider my fate as a punishment from heaven for having taken you from Don Gaston by a feint: far from murmuring at it, I exhort you with my last breath to restore to him a heart which I had stolen from him. Donna Helena answered him only by her tears: and indeed it was the best answer she could make; for she had neither forgotten her first love, nor the artifices whereby she had been influenced to renounce her plighted faith.
It happened as the surgeon had anticipated, that in less than three days Combados died of his wounds, while mine on the contrary wore the appearance of convalescence. The young widow, whom no earthly considerations could detach from the care of transporting her late husband's remains to Coria, that they might be deposited with due honours in the family vault, left Villaréjo on her return, after inquiring, merely as a matter of course, how I was going on. As soon as I was well enough to be removed, I bent my course to Coria, where my recovery was soon ascertained. My aunt, Donna Eleonora, and Don George de Galisteo, were determined that my marriage with Helena should take place forthwith, lest some new caprice of fortune should part us once more. The ceremony was privately performed, on account of the late melancholy event, and within a few days I returned to Madrid with Donna Helena. As my leave of absence had expired, I was afraid lest the minister should have superseded me in my lieutenancy; but he had not filled up the vacancy, and received my apologies very graciously.
Thus am I, continued Cogollos, lieutenant of the Spanish guards, and my situation is exactly to my mind. The circle of my friends is respectable and pleasant, and I live at my ease among them. Would I could say as much! exclaimed Don Andrew: but I am very far from being satisfied with my lot; I have lost my appointment, which was not without its advantages, and have no friends of sufficient interest to procure me a better berth. Excuse me, Signor Don Andrew, cried I, with a sort of upbraiding smile, you have a friend in me who may chance to be better than no friend at all. I have told you already that I am a greater favourite with my lord duke than with the Duke of Lerma; and will you tell me to my face that you have no interest at court? Have you not already experienced the contrary? Recollect that, through the archbishop of Grenada's powerful recommendation, I procured you a nomination for Mexico, where you would have made your fortune, if love had not stepped in and marred it at Alicant. My means are now more extensive, since I have the ear of the prime minister. I give myself up to you then, replied Tordesillas; but do not send me into New Spain, though the first appointment in the colonies were at your disposal.
Here we were interrupted by Donna Helena, who came into the room, and improved even upon the visions of my fancy by the reality of her charms. Cogollos introduced me as the companion who had solaced the tedious hours of his imprisonment. Yes, madam, said I to Donna Helena, my conversation did indeed soothe his sorrows, for it turned on you. The compliment was not thrown away, and I took my leave with repeated congratulations. With respect to Tordesillas, I assured him that within a week he should know how far my power as well as will extended.
Nor were these mere words. On the very next day, the opportunity occurred. Santillane, said his excellency, the place of governor in the royal prison of Valladolid is vacant: it is worth more than three hundred pistoles a year; and is yours if you will accept of it. Not if it were worth ten thousand ducats, answered I, for it would carry me away from your lordship. But, replied the minister, you may fill it by deputy, and only visit occasionally. That is as it may be, rejoined I; but I shall only accept it on condition of resigning in favour of Don Andrew de Tordesillas, a brave and loyal gentleman; I should like to give him this place in acknowledgment of his kindness to me in the tower of Segovia.
This plea made the minister laugh heartily, and say: As far as I see, Gil Blas, you mean to make yourself a general patron. Even so be it, my friend; the vacancy is yours for Tordesillas; but tell me unfeignedly what fellow-feeling you have in the business, for you are not such a fool as to throw away your interest for nothing. My lord, answered I, Don Andrew charged me nothing for all his acts of friendship, and should not a man repay his obligations? You are become highly moral and self-mortified, replied his excellency; rather more so than under the last administration. Precisely so, rejoined I; then evil communication corrupted my principles; bargain and sale were the order of the day, and I conformed to the established practice: now, all preferment is allotted on the footing of a meritorious free gift, and my integrity shall not be the last to fall in with the fashion.