CH. VI. -- Scipio's return from New Spain. Gil Blas places him about Don Henry's person. That young nobleman's course of study. His career of honour, and his father's matrimonial speculation on his behalf. A patent of nobility conferred on Gil Blas against his will.
I HAD not yet half arranged Don Henry's household, when Scipio returned from Mexico. He brought with him three thousand ducats in cash, and merchandise to double the amount. I wish you joy, said I; the foundation of your fortune is laid; and if you prefer a snug berth at Madrid to the risk of going back, you have only to tell me so. There is no question about that, said the son of Coselina: a genteel situation at home is far preferable to a second voyage.
After relating the birth and adventures of the little adopted Guzman, and my own appointment as tutor, I offered him the situation of upper servant to this babe of chance: Scipio, who could have devised nothing better for himself, readily accepted the office, and within the small space of three or four days got the length of his new master's foot.
I had taken it for granted that that the verb-grinders and concord-manufacturers to whom I had given the plant of this Genoese bastard would lose stock and block, under the idea that he was of an intractable and profitless age; but my forebodings were completely reversed. He not only comprehended, but easily retained the lessons of his masters, and they were very well satisfied with him. I was in an enormous hurry to greet the ears of my lord duke with this intelligence, and he received, it with abundant joy. Santillane, exclaimed he with delight, you give me new life by the assurance of Don Henry's capacity and application: it runs in the blood of the Guzmans; and I am the more confirmed in his being unquestionably my own, because I am just as fond of him as if Madame d' Olivarez herself had lain in of the brat in due form under this very roof. The voice of nature, you perceive, will make itself heard. I thought it unnecessary to give his lordship any opinion on that subject; but with a delicate deference to his credulity, left him to enjoy his fancied paternity in peace, whether well or ill founded.
Though all the Guzmans held this clod of newly turned up nobility in utter scorn, they were politic enough to smooth over the corrugations of their contempt; nay, some of them even affected to languish for his good opinion: the ambassadors and principal nobility then at Madrid waited on him, with all the ceremony appertaining to the rank of a legitimate son. The minister, intoxicated with the fumes of incense offered to his idol, began to build a temple worthy of the worship. The cross of Alcantara was the foundation, with a commandery of ten thousand crowns. The next step was to a high office in the royal household, and the completion of the whole was matrimony. Wishing to connect him with a family of the first rank, he picked out Donna Johanna de Velasco, daughter to the Duke of Castile, and had influence enough to accomplish the alliance, though against the will of the duke and of all his kindred.
Some days before the nuptial ceremony, his lordship put some papers into my hand, saying: Here, Gil Blas, is a patent of nobility which I have procured as the reward of your services. My lord, answered I, in much astonishment, your excellency knows very well that I am the son of an usher and a duenna: it would be caricaturing the peerage to confer it on me; and besides, of all the boons in his majesty's power to bestow, it is that which I deserve and desire the least. Your birth, replied the minister, is a slight objection. You have been employed on affairs of state under the Duke of Lerma's administration and under mine: besides, added he with a smile, have you not rendered some things to Caesar, which Caesar is bound, on the honour of a prince, to render back in another shape? To deal candidly, Santillane, you will make just as good a lord as the best of them; nay, more than that, your high office about my son is incompatible with plebeian rank, and therefore have I procured you to be created. Since your excellency will have it so, replied I, there is no more to be said. So, saying no more, I put my new-blown honours in my pocket, and walked off.
Now can I make any Joan a lady! said I to myself when I had got into the street: but it was not the handy-work of my parents that made me a gentle man. I may add a foot of honour to my name whenever I please; and if any of my acquaintance should snuff or snigger when they call me Don, I may suck my teeth, lean upon my elbow, and draw out my credentials of heraldry. But let us see what they contain; and how the corporeal particles, which have accrued during my artificial contact with the court, are distinguished by genealogical metaphysics from the native clay of my original extraction. The instrument ran thus in substance: That the king in acknowledgment of my zeal in more than one instance for his service and the good of the state, had been graciously pleased to confer this mark of distinction on me. I may safely say that the recollection of the act for which I was promoted effectually kept down my pride. Neither did the bashfulness of low birth ever forsake me; so that nobility to me was like a hair shirt to a penitent: I determined therefore to lock up the evidences of my shame in a private drawer, instead of blazoning them to dazzle the eyes of the foolish and corrupt.