CH. XIII. -- The return of Gil Blas to his seat. His joy at finding his god-daughter Seraphina marriageable; and his own second venture in the lottery of love.
WE were a fortnight on our journey to Lirias, having no occasion to make rapid stages. The sight of my own domain brought melancholy thoughts into my mind, with the image of my lost Antonia; but better topics of reflection came to my aid, with a full purpose to look at things on the brighter side, and the lapse of two-and-twenty years, which had gradually impaired the force of tender regret.
As soon as I entered the castle, Beatrice and her daughter greeted me most cordially, while the family scene was interesting in the extreme. When their mutual transports were over, I looked earnestly at my god-daughter, saying: Can this be the Seraphina whom I left in her cradle? how tall and pretty! we must make a good match for her. What! my dear god-father, cried my little girl with an enchanting blush, you have but just seen me, and do you want to get rid of me at once! No, my lovely child, replied I, we hope not to lose you by marriage, but to find a husband for you in the neighbourhood.
There is one ready to your hands, said Beatrice. Seraphina made a conquest one day at mass. Her suitor has declared his passion, and asked my consent. I told him that his acceptance depended on her father and her god-father; and here you are to determine for yourselves.
What is the character of this village lordling? said Scipio. Is he not, like his fellows, the little tyrant of the soil, and insolent to those who have no pedigree to boast? The furthest from it in the world, answered Beatrice; the young man is gentle in his temper and polished in his manners; handsome withal, and somewhat under thirty. You paint him in flattering colours, said I to Beatrice; what is his name? Don Juan de Jutella, replied Scipio's wife: it is not long since be came to his inheritance: he lives on his own estate, about a mile off, with a younger sister, of whom he takes care. I once knew something of his family, observed I; it is one of the best in Valencia. I care less for lineage, cried Scipio, than for the qualities of the heart and mind; this Don Juan will exactly suit us, if he is a good sort of man. He is belied else, said Seraphina, with a blushing interest in our conversation; the inhabitants of Lirias, who know him well, say all the good of him you can conceive. I smiled at this; and her father, not less quick-sighted, saw plainly that her heart had a share in the testimony of her tongue.
The gentleman soon heard of our arrival, and paid his respects to us within two days. His address was pleasing and manly, so as to prepossess us in his favour. He affected merely to welcome us home as a neighbour. Our reception was such as not to discourage the repetition of his visit; but not a word of Seraphina! When he was gone, Beatrice asked us how we liked him. We could have no objection to make, and gave it as our opinion that Seraphina could not dispose of herself better.
The next day, Scipio and I returned the visit. We took a guide, and luckily; for otherwise it might have puzzled us to find the place. It was not till our actual arrival that it was visible; for the mansion was situated at the foot of a mountain, in the middle of a wood, whose lofty trees hid it from our view. There was an antique and ruinous appearance about it, which spoke more for the descent than the wealth of its proprietor. On our entrance, however, the elegance of the interior arrangement made amends for the dilapidated grandeur of the outer walls.
Don Juan received us in a handsome room, where he introduced his sister Dorothea, a lady between nineteen and twenty years of age. She was a good deal tricked out, as if she had primed and loaded herself for conquest, in expectation of our visit. Thus presenting all her charms in full force, she did by me much as Antonia had done before; but I managed my raptures so discreetly, that even Scipio had no suspicion. Our conversation turned, as on the preceding day, on the mutual pleasure of good neighbourhood. Still he did not open on the subject of Seraphina, nor did we attempt to draw him out. During our interview, I often cast a side glance at Dorothea, though with all the reserve of delicate apprehension; whenever our eyes met, the citadel of my heart was ready to surrender. To describe the object of my love justly, as well as feelingly, her beauty was not of the most perfect kind: her skin was of a dazzling whiteness, and her lips united the colour with the fragrance of the rose; but her features were not so regular and well-proportioned as might have been wished: yet, altogether, she won my heart.
In short, I left the mansion of Jutella a different man from what I was on entering it: so that, returning to Lirias with my whole soul absorbed in Dorothea, I saw and spoke only of her. How is this, master! said Scipio with a look of astonishment: you seem to be very much taken with Don Juan's sister! Can you be in love with her? Yes, my friend, answered I: to my shame be it spoken. Since the death of Antonia, how many lovely females have passed in review before me with indifference: and must my passions be irresistibly kindled at this time of life? Indeed, sir, replied the son of Coselina, you may bless your stars, instead of squabbling with yourself: you are not so old as to make your sacrifice at the shrine of love a by-word; and time has not yet ploughed such furrows on your brow, as to render hopeless the desire of pleasing. When you see Don Juan next, ask him boldly for his sister: he cannot refuse her to you; and besides, if his views in her settlement are ambitious, how can he do better? You have a patent of nobility in your pocket, and upon that your posterity may ride easy; after five generations, when pedigree herself shall be lost in the confusion of her materials, it may exercise the diligence of learned inquiry, to trace the family of the Santillanes to the beginning of its archives, and consecrate the fame of its founder by the indistinctness of his story.