CH. IV. -- Gil Blas goes on practising physic with equal success and ability. Adventure of the recovered ring.
I WAS no sooner at home than Doctor Sangrado came in. I talked to him about the patients I had seen, and paid into his hands eight remaining rials of the twelve I had received for my prescriptions. Eight rials! said he, as he counted them, mighty little for two visits! But we must take things as we find them. In the spirit of taking things as he found them, he laid violent hands on six, giving me the other two -- Here, Gil Blas, continued he, see what a foundation to build upon. I make over to you the fourth of all you may bring me. You will soon feather your nest, my friend; for, by the blessing of Providence, there will be a great deal of ill health this year.
I had reason to be content with my dividend; since, having determined to keep back the third part of what I received in my rounds, and afterwards touching another fourth of the remainder, half of the whole, if arithmetic is anything more than a deception, would become my perquisite. This inspired me with new zeal for my profession. The next day, as soon as I had dined, I resumed my medical paraphernalia, and took the field once more. I visited several patients on the list, and treated their several complaints in one invariable routine. Hitherto things went on under the rose, and no individual, thank heaven, had risen up in rebellion against my prescriptions. But let a physician's cures be as
extraordinary as they will, some quack or other is always ready to rip up his reputation. I was called in to a grocer's son in a dropsy. Whom should I find there before me but a little black-looking physician, by name Doctor Cuchillo, introduced by a relation of the family. I bowed round most profoundly, but dipped lowest to the personage whom I took to have been invited to a consultation with me. He returned my compliment with a distant air; then, having stared me in the face for a few seconds -- Signor Doctor, said he, I beg pardon for being inquisitive, I thought I had been acquainted with all my brethren in Valladolid, but I confess your physiognomy is altogether new. You must have been settled but a short time in town. I avowed myself a young practitioner, acting as yet under the direction of Doctor Sangrado. I wish you joy, replied he politely, you are studying under a great man. You must doubtless have seen a vast deal of sound practice, young as you appear to be, He spoke this with so easy an assurance, that I was at a loss whether he meant it seriously, or was laughing at me. While I was conning over my reply, the grocer, seizing on the opportunity, said -- Gentlemen, I am persuaded of your both being perfectly competent in your art; have the goodness without ado to take the case in hand, and devise some effectual means for the restoration of my son's health.
Thereupon the little pulse-counter set himself about reviewing the patient's situation; and after having dilated to me on all the symptoms, asked me what I thought the fittest method of treatment. I am of opinion, replied I, that he should be bled once a day, and drink as much warm water as he can swallow. At these words, our diminutive doctor said to me with a malicious simper -- And so you think such a course will save the patient? Never doubt it, exclaimed I in a confident tone; it must produce that effect, because it is a certain method of cure for all distempers. Ask Signor Sangrado. At that rate, retorted he, Celsus is altogether in the wrong; for he contends that the readiest way to cure a dropsical subject is to let him almost die of hunger and thirst. Oh! as for Celsus, interrupted I, he is no oracle of mine, as fallible as the meanest of us; I often have occasion to bless myself for going contrary to his dogmas. I discover by your language, said Cuchillo, the safe and sure method of practice Doctor Sangrado instils into his pupils. Bleeding and drenching are the extent of his resources. No wonder so many worthy people are cut off under his direction . . . . No defamation! interrupted I with some acrimony; a member of the faculty had better not begin throwing stones. Come, come, my learned doctor, patients can get to the other world without bleeding and warm water; and I question whether the most deadly of us has ever signed more passports than yourself. If you have any crow to pluck with Signor Sangrado, write against him, he will answer you, and we shall soon see who will have the best of the battle. By all the saints in the calendar! swore he, in a transport of passion, you little know whom you are talking to. I have a tongue and a fist, my friend; and am not afraid of Sangrado, who, with all his arrogance and affectation, is but a ninny. The size of the little death-dealer made me hold his anger cheap. I gave him a sharp retort; he sent back as good as I brought, till at last we came to cuffs. We had pulled a few handfuls of hair from each other's heads before the grocer and his kinsman could part us. When they had brought this about, they feed me for my attendance, and retained my antagonist, whom they thought the more skilful of the two.
Another adventure succeeded close on the heels of this. I went to see a huge chanter in a fever. As soon as he heard me talk of warm water, he showed himself so averse to this specific, as to fall into a fit of swearing. He abused me in all possible shapes, and threatened to throw me out at window. I was in a greater hurry to get out of his house than to get in. I did not choose to see any more patients that day, and repaired to the inn where I had agreed to meet Fabricio. He was there first. As we found ourselves in a tippling humour, we drank hard, and returned to our employers in a pretty pickle, that is to say, so-so in the upper story. Signor Sangrado was not aware of my being drunk, because he took the lively gestures which accompanied the relation of my quarrel with the little doctor, for an effect of the agitation not yet subsided after the battle. Besides, he came in for his share in my report; and feeling himself nettled by Cuchillo -- You have done well, Gil Blas, said he, to defend the character of our practice against this little abortion of the faculty. So he takes upon him to set his face against watery drenches in dropsical cases? An ignorant fellow! I maintain, I do, in my own person, that the use of them may be reconciled to the best theories. Yes, water is a cure for all sorts of dropsies, just as it is good for rheumatisms and the green sickness. It is excellent, too, in those fevers where the effect is at once to parch and to chill, and even miraculous in those disorders ascribed to cold, thin, phlegmatic, and pituitous humours. This opinion may seem strange to young practitioners like Cuchillo; but it is right orthodox in the best and soundest systems: so that if persons of that description were capable of taking a philosophical view, instead of crying me down, they would become my most zealous advocates.
In his rage, he never suspected me of drinking: for, to exasperate him still more against the little doctor, I had thrown into my recital some circumstances of my own addition. Yet, engrossed as he was by what I had told him, he could not help taking notice that I drank more water than usual that evening.
In fact, the wine had made me very thirsty. Any one but Sangrado would have distrusted my being so very dry, as to swallow down glass after glass: but as for him, he took it for granted, in the simplicity of his heart, that I began to acquire a relish for aqueous potations. Apparently, Gil Blas, said he with a gracious smile, you have no longer such a dislike to water. As heaven is my judge! you quaff it off like nectar. It is no wonder, my friend, I was certain you would take a liking to that liquor. Sir, replied I, there is a tide in the affairs of men: with my present lights, I would give all the wine in Valladolid for a pint of water. This answer delighted the doctor, who would not lose so fine an opportunity of expatiating on the excellence of water. He undertook to ring the changes once more in its praise, not like a hireling pleader, but as an enthusiast in the cause. A thousand times, exclaimed he, a thousand and a thousand times of greater value, as being more innocent than our modern taverns, were those baths of ages past, whither the people went not shamefully to squander their fortunes and expose their lives, by swilling themselves with wine, but assembled there for the decent and economical amusement of drinking warm water. It is difficult enough to admire the patriotic forecast of those ancient politicians, who established places of public resort, where water was dealt out gratis to all comers, and who confined wine to the shops of the apothecaries, that its use might be prohibited but under the direction of physicians. What a stroke of wisdom! It is doubtless to preserve the seeds of that antique frugality, emblematic of the golden age, that persons are found to this day, like you and me, who drink nothing but water, and are persuaded they possess a prevention or a cure for every ailment, provided our warm water has never boiled; for I have observed that water, when it has boiled, is heavier, and sits less easily on the stomach.
While he was holding forth thus eloquently, I was in danger more than once of splitting my sides with laughing. But I contrived to keep my countenance: nay, more; to chime in with the doctor's theory. I found fault with the use of wine, and pitied mankind for having contracted an untoward relish to so pernicious a beverage. Then, finding my thirst not sufficiently allayed, I filled a large goblet with water, and after having swilled it like a horse: Come, sir, said I to my master, let us drink plentifully of this beneficial liquor. Let us make those early establishments of dilution you so much regret, to live again in your house. He clapped his hands in ecstacy at these words, and preached to me for a whole hour about suffering no liquid but water to pass my lips. To confirm the habit, I promised to drink a large quantity every evening; and, to keep my word with less violence to my private inclinations, I went to bed with a determined purpose of going to the tavern every day.
The trouble I had got into at the grocer's did not discourage me from phlebotomizing and prescribing warm water in the usual course. Coming out of a house where I had been visiting a poet in a phrenzy, I was accosted in the street by an old woman who came up and asked me if I was a physician. I said yes. As that is the case, replied she, I entreat you with all humility to go along with me. My niece has been ill since yesterday, and I cannot conceive what is the matter with her. I followed the old lady to her house, where I was shown into a very decent room, occupied by a female who kept her bed. I went near, to consider her case. Her features struck me from the first; and I discovered beyond the possibility of a mistake, after having looked at her some little time, the she-adventurer who had played the part of Camilla so adroitly. For her part, she did not seem to recollect me at all, whether from the oppression of her disorder, or from my dress as a physician rendering me not easy to be known again. I took her by the hand, to feel her pulse; and saw my ring upon her finger. I was all in a twitter at the discovery of a valuable, on which I had a claim both in law and equity. Great was my longing to make a snatch at it; but considering that these fair ones would set up a great scream, and that Don Raphael or some other defender of injured innocence might rush in to their rescue, I laid an embargo on my privateering. I thought it best to come by my own in an honest way, and to consult Fabricio about the means. To this last course I stuck. In the mean time the old woman urged me to inform her with what disease her niece was troubled. I was not fool enough to own my ignorance; on the contrary, I took upon myself as a man of science, and after my master's example, pronounced solemnly that the disorder accrued to the patient from the defect of natural perspiration; that consequently she must lose blood as soon as possible, because if we could not open one pore, we always open another: and I finished my prescription with warm water, to do the thing methodically.
I shortened my visit as much as possible, and ran to the son of Nunez, whom I met just as he was going out on an errand for his master. I told him my new adventure, and asked his advice about laying an information against Camilla. Pooh! Nonsense! replied he; that would not be the way to get your ring again. Those gentry think restitution double trouble. Call to mind your imprisonment at Astorga; your horse, your money, your very clothes, did not they all centre in the hands of justice? We must rather set our wits to work for the recovery of your diamond. I take on myself the charge of inventing some stratagem for that purpose. I will deliberate it in my way to the hospital, where I have to say but two words from my master to the purveyor. Do you wait for me at our house of call, and do not be on the fret: I will be with you shortly.
I had waited, however, more than three hours at the appointed place, when he arrived. I did not know him again at first. Besides that he had changed his dress and platted his hair, a pair of false whiskers covered half his face. He wore an immense sword with a hilt of at least three feet in circumference, and marched at the head of five men of as swaggering an air as himself, with bushy whiskers and long rapiers. Good day to you, Signor Gil Blas, said he by way of salutation; behold an alguazil upon a new construction, and marshalmen of like materials in these brave fellows my companions. We have only to be shown where the woman lodges who purloined the diamond, and we will obtain restitution, take my word for it. I hugged Fabricio at this discourse, which let me into the plot, and testified loudly my approval of the expedient. I paid my respects also to the masquerading marshalmen. They were three servants and two journeymen barbers of his acquaintance, whom he had engaged to act this farce. I ordered wine to be served round to the detachment, and we all went together at night-fall to Camilla's residence. The door was shut, and we knocked. The old woman, taking my companions to be on the scent of justice, and knowing they would not come into that neighbourhood for nothing, was terribly frightened. Cheer up again, good mother, said Fabricio; we are only come here upon a little business which will be soon settled. At these words we made our entry, and found our way to the sick chamber, under the guidance of the old dowager who walked before us, and by favour of a wax taper which she carried in a silver candlestick. I took the light, went to the bed-side, and, making Camilla take particular notice of my features, Traitress, said I, call to mind the too credulous Gil Blas whom you have deceived Ah! thou wickedness personified, at last I have caught thee. The corregidor has taken down my deposition, and ordered this alguazil to arrest you. Come, officer, said I to Fabricio, do your duty. There is no need, replied he, swelling his voice, to inflame my severity. The face of that wretch is not new to me: she has long been marked with red letters in my pocket-book. Get up, my princess, dress your royal person with all possible dispatch. I will be your squire, and lodge you in durance vile, if you have no objection.
At these words, Camilla, ill as she was, observing two marshalmen with large whiskers ready to drag her out of bed by main force, sat up of herself, clasped her hands in an attitude of supplication; and looking at me ruefully, said, Signor Gil Blas, have compassion on me: I call as a witness to my entreaties the chaste mother whose virtues you inherit. Guilty as I am, my misfortunes are greater than my crimes. I will give you back your diamond, so do not be my ruin. Speaking to this effect, she drew my ring from her finger, and gave it me back. But I told her my diamond was not enough, and that she must refund the thousand ducats they had embezzled in the ready-furnished lodging. Oh! as for your ducats, replied she, ask me not about them. That false-hearted deceiver, Don Raphael, whom I have not seen from that time to this, carried them off the very same night. O ho! my little darling, said Fabricio in his turn, that will not do, you had a hand in the robbery, whether you went snacks in the profit or no. You will not come off so cheaply. Your having been accessory to Don Raphael's manoeuvres is enough to render you liable to an examination. Your past life is very equivocal; and you must have a good deal upon your conscience. You will have the goodness, if you please, just to step into the town jail, and there unburden yourself by a general confession. This good old lady shall keep you company; it is hard if she cannot tell a world of curious stories, such as Mr Corregidor will be delighted to hear.
The two women, at these words, brought every engine of pity into play to soften us. They filled the air with cries, complaints, and lamentations. While the old woman on her knees, sometimes to the alguazil and sometimes to his attendants, endeavoured. to melt their stubborn hearts, Camilla implored me, in the most touching terms, to save her from the hands of justice. I pretended to relent. Officer, said I to the son of Nunez, since I have got my diamond, I do not much care about anything else. It would be no pleasure to me to be the means of pain to that poor woman; I want not the death of a sinner. Out upon you, answered he, you set up for humanity! you would make a bad tipstaff. I must do my errand. My positive orders are to arrest these virgins of the sun; his honour the corregidor means to make an example of them. Nay! for mercy's sake, replied I, pay some little deference to my wishes, and slacken a little of your severity, on the ground of the present these ladies are on the point of offering to your acceptance. Oh! that is another matter, rejoined he; that is what you may call a figure of rhetoric suited to all capacities and all occasions. Well, then, let us see, what have they to give me? I have a pearl necklace, said Camilla, and drop ear-rings of considerable value. Yes; but, interrupted he roughly, if these articles are the produce of the Philippine Isles, I will have none of them. You may take them in perfect safety, replied she: I warrant them real. At the same time she made the old woman bring a little box, whence she took out the necklace and ear-rings, which she put within the grasp of this incorruptible minister. Though he was much such a judge of jewellery as myself, he had no doubt of the drops being real, as well as the pearls. These trinkets, said he, after having looked at them minutely, seem to be of good quality and fashion: and if the silver candlestick is thrown into the bargain, I would not answer for my own honesty. You had better not, said I in my turn to Camilla, for a trifle, reject so moderate and fair a composition. While uttering these words, I returned the taper to the old woman, and handed the candlestick over to Fabricio, who, stopping there because perhaps he espied nothing else that was portable in the room, said to the two women: Farewell, my dainty misses, set your hearts at rest, I will report you to his worship the corregidor, as purer than unsmutched snow. We can turn him round our finger; and never tell him the truth, but when we are not paid for our lies.