CH. XI. -- A change in his lordship for the worse. The marvellous cause, and melancholy consequences, of his dejection.

 

HIS excellency sometimes amused himself with gardening, by way of variety. One day as I was watching his progress, he said jokingly: You see, Santillane, a fallen minister can turn gardener at last. Nature will prevail, my lord, answered I. You plant and water something useful at Loeches, while Dionysius of Syracuse whipped school-boys at Corinth. My master was not displeased either with the comparison or the compliment

We were all delighted at the castle to see our protector, rising above the cloud of adversity, take pleasure in so novel a mode of life: but we soon perceived an alarming change. He became gloomy, thoughtful, and melancholy. Our parties at play were all given up, and no efforts could succeed to divert his mind. From dinner-time till evening he never left his closet. We thought the dreams of vanished greatness had returned to break his rest; and in this opinion the reverend Dominican gave the rein to his eloquence; but it could not outstrip the course of that hypochondriac malady, which triumphed over all opposition.

It seemed to me there was some deeper cause, which it behoved a sincere friend to fathom. Taking advantage of our being alone together, My lord, said I, in a tone of mingled respect and affection, whence is it that you are no longer so cheerful as heretofore? Has your philosophy lost ground? or has the world recovered its allurements? Surely you would not plunge again into that gulf, where your virtue must inevitably be shipwrecked! No, heaven be praised! replied the minister: my part at court has long faded from my memory, and its trappings from my eyes. Indeed! why then, resumed I, since you have strength enough to banish false regrets, are you so weak as to indulge a melancholy which alarms us all? What is the matter with you, my dear master? continued I, falling at his knees: some secret sorrow preys upon you: can you hide it from Santillane, whose zeal, discretion, and fidelity you have so often experienced? Why am I so unhappy as to have lost your confidence?

You still possess it, said his lordship: but I must own, it is reluctantly that I shall reveal the subject of my distress: yet the importunities of such a friend are irresistible. To no one else could I impart so singular a confidence. Yes, I am the prey of a morbid melancholy which eats inwardly into my vitals: a spectre haunts me every moment, arrayed in the most terrific form of preternatural horror. In vain have I argued with myself that it is a vision of the brain, an unreal mockery: its continual presentments blast my sight, and unseat my reason. Though my understanding teaches me, that in looking on this spectre I stare at vacancy, my spirits are too weak to derive comfort from the conviction. Thus much have you extorted from me: now judge whether the cause of my melancholy is fit to be divulged.

With equal grief and astonishment did I listen to the strange confession, which implied a total derangement of the nervous system. This, my lord, said I, must proceed from injudicious abstinence. So I thought at first, answered he; and to try the experiment, I have been eating more than usual for some days past; but it is all to no purpose, the phantom takes his stand as usual. It will vanish, said I, if your excellency will only divert your mind by your accustomed relaxations with your household. Company and gentle occupation are the best remedies for these affections of the spirits.

In a short time after this conversation, his lordship became seriously indisposed, and sent for two notaries from Madrid, to make his will. Three capital physicians followed in their track, who had the reputation of curing their patients now and then. As soon as it was noised about the castle that these last undertakers were arrived, the case was given up for lost; weeping and gnashing of teeth took place universally, and the family mourning was ordered. They brought with them their usual understrappers, an apothecary and a surgeon*. The notaries were suffered to earn their fee first, after which death's notaries prepared to take a bond of the patient. They practised in the school of Sangrado, and from their very first consultation, ordered bleeding so frequently and freely, that in six days they brought his lordship to the point of death, and on the seventh delivered him from the terror of his sprite.

After the minister's decease, a lively and sincere sorrow reigned in the castle of Loeches. The whole household wept bitterly. Far from deriving consolation from the certainty of being remembered in his will, there was not a dependent who would not willingly have saved his life by the sacrifice of the legacy. As for me, whom he most delighted in, attached to him as I was from disinterested friendship, my grief was more acute than that of the rest. I question whether Antonia cost me more tears.

*Translator's Note:
. . . . Behind him sneaks
Another mortal, not unlike himself,
Of jargon full, with terms obscure o'ercharged,
Apothecary call'd, whose foetid hands
With power mechanic, and with charms arcane,
Apollo, god of medicine, has endued. -- BRAMSTON.

 

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