CH. VII. -- An accidental meeting between Gil Blas and Fabricio. Their last conversation together, and a word to the wise from Nunez.
THE poet of the Asturias, as the reader, if he thought of him, may have remarked, was very negligent in his intercourse with me. It was not to be expected, that my employments would leave me time to go and look after him. I had not seen him since the critical discussion touching the Iphigenia of Euripides, when chance threw me across him, as he came out of a printing-house. I accosted him, saying: So! so! Master Nunez, you have got among the printers: this looks as if we were threatened with some new production.
You may indeed prepare yourselves for such an event, answered he: I have a pamphlet just ready for publication which is likely to make some noise in the literary world. There can be no question about its merit, replied I: but I cannot conceive why you waste your time in writing pamphlets: it should seem as if such squibs and rockets were scarcely worth the powder expended in their manufacture. It is very true, rejoined Fabricio: and I am well aware that none but the most vulgar gazers are caught by such holiday fire-works: however, this single one has escaped me, and I must own that it is a child of necessity. Hunger, as you know, will bring the wolf out of the forest.
What! exclaimed I, is it the author of the "Count of Saldagna" who holds this language? A man with an annuity of two thousand crowns? Gently, my friend, interrupted Nunez: I am no longer a pensioned poet. The affairs of the treasurer Don Bertrand are all at sixes and sevens: he has been at the gaming table, and played with the public money: an extent has issued, and my rent-charge is gone post-haste to the devil. That is a sad affair, said I: but may not matters come round again in that quarter? No chance of it, answered he: Signor Gomez Del Ribero, in plight as destitute as that of his poor bard, is sunk for ever; nor can he, as they say, by any possible contrivance be set afloat again.
In that case, my good friend, replied I, we must look out for some post which may make you amends for the loss of your annuity. I will ease your con science on that score, said he: though you should offer me the wealth of the Indies as a salary in one of your offices, I would reject the boon: clerkships are no object to a partner in the firm of the Muses; a literary berth, or absolute starvation for your humble servant! If you must have it plump, I was born to live and die a poet, and the man whose destiny is hanging, will never be drowned.
But do not suppose, continued he, that we are altogether forlorn and destitute: besides that we accommodate the requisites of independence to our finances, we do not look far beyond our noses in calculating the avenge of our fortunes. It is insinuated that we often dine with the most abstemious orders of the religious; but our sanctity in this particular is too credulously imputed. There is not one of my brother wits, without excepting the calculators of almanacs, who has not a plate laid for him at some substantial table: for my own part, I have the run of two good houses. To the master of one I have dedicated a romance; and he is the first commissioner of taxes who was ever associated with the Muses: the other is a rich tradesman in Madrid, whose lust is to get wits about him; he is not nice in his choice, and this town furnishes abundance to those who value wit more by quantity than quality.
Then I no longer feel for you, said I to the poet of the Asturias, since you are satisfied in your condition. But be that as it may, I assure you once more, that you have a friend in Gil Blas, however you may slight him: if you want my purse, come and take it: it will not fail you at a pinch; and you must not stand between me and my sincere friendship.
By that burst of sentiment, exclaimed Nunez, I know and thank my friend Santillane: in return, let me give you a salutary caution. While my lord duke is in his meridian, and you are all in all with him, reap, bind, and gather is your harvest: when the sun sets, the gleaners are sent home. I asked Fabricio whether his suspicions were surely founded; and he returned me this answer. My information comes from an old knight of Calatrava, who pokes his nose into secrets of all sorts; his authority passes current at Madrid, much as that of the Pythian newsmongers did through Greece; and thus his oracle was pronounced in my hearing: My lord duke has a host of enemies in battle-array against him; he reckons too securely upon his influence with the king; for his majesty, as the report goes, begins to take in hostile representations with patience. I thanked Nunez for his friendly warning, but without much faith in his prediction: my master's authority seemed rooted in the court, like the tempest-scoffing firmness of an oak in the native soil of the forest.
Cu. VIII. -- Gil Blas finds that Fabricio's hint was not without foundation. The king's journey to Saragossa.
THE poet of the Asturias was no bad politician. There was a court plot against the duke, with the queen at the bottom; but their plans were too deeply laid to bubble at the surface. During the space of a whole year, my simplicity was insensible to the brewing of the tempest.
The revolt of the Catalans, with France at their back, and the ill success of the war for their suppression, excited the murmurs of the people, and whetted their tongues against government. A council was held in the royal presence, and the Marquis de Grana, the emperor's ambassador, was specially requested to assist. The subject in debate was whether the king should remain in Castile, or go and take the command of his troops in Arragon. The minister spoke first, and gave it as his opinion that his majesty should not quit the seat of government All the members supported his arguments, with the exception of the Marquis de Grana, whose whole heart was with the house of Austria, and the sentiments of his soul on the tip of his tongue, after the homely honesty of his nation. He argued so forcibly against the minister, that the king embraced his opinion from conviction, though contrary to the vote of council, and fixed the day when he would set out for the army.
This was the first time that ever the sovereign had differed from his favourite, and the latter considered it as an inexpiable affront. Just as the minister was withdrawing to his closet, there to bite upon the bridle, he espied me, called me in; and told me with much discomposure what had passed in debate: Yes, Santillane, observed he, the king, who for the last twenty years has spoken only through my mouth, and seen with my eyes, is now to be wheedled over by Grana; and that on the score of zeal for the house of Austria, as if that German had a more Austrian soul in his body than myself.
Hence it is easy to perceive, continued the minister, that there is a strong party against me, with the queen at the head. Heaven forbid it, said I. Has not the queen for upwards of twelve years been accustomed to your paramount authority, and have you not taught the king the knack of not consulting her? The desire of making a campaign may for once have enlisted his majesty on the side of the Marquis de Grana. Say rather that the king, argued my lord duke, will be surrounded by his principal officers when in camp; and then the disaffected will find their opportunity for poisoning him against my administration. But they overreach themselves; for I shall completely insulate the prince from all their approaches; and so he did, in a manner which, for example, deserves not to be passed over.
The day of the king's departure being arrived, the monarch, leaving the queen regent, proceeded for Saragossa by way of Aranjuez; a delightful residence, where he whiled away three weeks. Cuença was the next stage, where the minister detained him still longer by a succession of amusements. A hunting party was contrived at Molina in Arragon, and hence there was no choice of road but to Saragossa. The army was near at hand, and the king was preparing to review it: but his keeper sickened him of the project, by making him believe that he would be taken by the French, who were in force in the neighbourhood; so that he was cowed by a groundless apprehension, and consented to be a prisoner in his own court. The minister, from an affectionate regard to his safety, secluded him from all approach: so that the principal nobility, who had equipped themselves at enormous charges to be about his person, could not even procure an occasional audience. Philip, weary of bad lodgings and worse recreation at Saragossa, and perhaps feeling himself scarcely his own master, soon returned to Madrid. Thus ended the royal campaign, and the care of maintaining the honour of the Spanish colours was left to the Marquis de los Velez, commander-in-chief.