CH. IX. -- The meeting of Diego with his family; their circumstances in life; great rejoicings on the occasion; the parting scene between him and Gil Blas.
WE stopped for the night at a little village between Moyados and Valpuesta; I have forgotten the name: and the next morning, about eleven, we reached the plain of Olmédo. Signor Gil Blas, said my companion, behold my native place. So natural are these local attachments, that I can hardly contain myself at the sight of it. Signor Diego, answered I, a man of so patriotic a soul as you profess to be, might, methinks, have been a little more florid in his descriptions. Olmédo looks like a city at this distance, and you called it a village; it cannot be anything less than a corporate town. I beg its township's pardon, replied the barber; but you are to know that after Madrid, Toledo, Saragossa, and all the other large cities I have passed through in my tour of Spain, these little ones are mere villages to me. As we got further on the plain, there appeared to be a great concourse of people about Olmédo: so that, when we were near enough to distinguish objects, we were in no want of food for speculation.
There were three tents pitched at some distance from each other; and hard by, a bevy of cooks and scullions preparing an entertainment. Here a party was laying covers on long tables set out under the tents; there a detachment was crowning the pitchers of Tellus with the gifts of Bacchus. The right wing was making the pots boil, the left was turning the spits and basting the meat. But what caught my attention more than all the rest, was a temporary stage of respectable dimensions. It was furnished with pasteboard scenes, painted in a tawdry style, and the proscenium was decorated with Greek and Latin mottoes. No sooner did the barber spy out these inscriptions, than he said to me -- All these Greek words smell strongly of my uncle Thomas's lamp. I would lay a wager he has a hand in them, for between ourselves, he is a man of parts and learning. He knows all the classics by heart. If he would keep them to himself it would be very well, but he is always quoting them in company, and that people do not like. But then to be sure he has a right, because this uncle of mine has translated ever so many of the Latin poets and hard Greek authors with his own hand and pen. He has got all antiquity at his fingers' ends, as you may know by his ingenious and profound criticisms. If it had not been for him, we might never have learned that the Athenian school boys cried when they were flogged; we owe that fact in the history of education to his fundamental knowledge of the subject.
After my fellow-traveller and myself had looked about us, we had a mind to inquire what these preparations were for. Going about on the hunt, Diego recognized in the manager Signor Thomas de la Fuenta, to whom we made up with great eagerness. The schoolmaster did not recollect the young barber at first, such a difference had ten years made. But when convinced of his being his own flesh and blood, he gave him a cordial embrace, and said with much appearance of kindness -- Ah! here you are, Diego, my dear nephew, here you are, restored after your wanderings to your native land. You come to revisit your household gods, your Penates, and heaven delivers you back safe and sound into the bosom of your family. Oh happy day, happy in all the proportions of arithmetic! A day worthy to be marked with a white stone and inserted among the Fasti! We have annals in abundance for you, my friend; your uncle Pedro, the poetaster, has fallen a sacrifice at the shrine of Pluto: to speak to the comprehension of the vulgar, he has been dead these three months. That miser, in his lifetime, was afraid of wanting necessaries -- Argenti pallebat amore. Though the great were heaping wealth upon his head, his annual expenditure did not amount to ten pistoles. He had but one miserable attendant, and him he starved. This crazy fellow, more wrong-headed than the Grecian Aristippus, who ordered his slaves to leave all their costly baggage in the heart of Lybia, as an incumbrance on their march, heaped up all the gold and silver he could scrape together. And to what end? for those very heirs whom he refused to acknowledge. He died worth thirty thousand ducats, shared between your father, your uncle Bertrand, and myself. We shall be able to do very well for our children. My brother Nicholas has already married off your sister Theresa to the son of a magistrate in this place -- Connubio junxit stabili propriamque dica vit. These very hymeneals, greeted auspiciously by all the nuptial powers, have we been celebrating for these two days with all this pomp and luxury. These tents in the plain are of our pitching. Pedro's three heirs have each a booth of his own, and we defray the expenses of the day alternately. I wish you had come sooner, you might have seen the whole progress of our festivities. The day before yesterday, the wedding-day, your father gave his treat. It was a superb entertainment, succeeded by running at the ring. Your uncle, the mercer, regaled us yesterday with a fête champêtre, and paid the piper handsomely. There were ten of the best grown boys, and ten young girls, dressed out in pastoral weeds; all the frippery in his shop was brought out to prank them up. This assemblage of Ganymedes and Houris ran through all the mazes of the dance, and warbled forth a thousand tender and spirit-stirring lays. And yet, though nothing was ever more genteel, the effect was not thought striking; but that must be owing to the bad taste of the spectators, the simplicity of pastoral is lost upon the present age.
To-day, the wheels are greased by your humble servant, and I mean to pre sent the burgesses of Olmédo with a pageant of my own invention -- Finis coronabit opus. I have got a stage erected, on which, God willing, shall be represented by my scholars a piece of my own composing, entitled and called -- The Amusements of Muley Bugentuf, King of Morocco. It will be played to perfection, for my pupils declaim like the players of Madrid. They are lads of family at Penafiel and Segovia, boarders with me. They know how to touch the passions! To be sure they have rehearsed under my tuition; their emphasis will seem as if struck in the mint of their master -- ut ita dicam. With respect to the piece I shall not say a word about it, you shall be taken by surprise. I shall simply state that it must produce a deep impression on the audience. It is one of those tragic subjects which harrow up the soul, by images of death presented to the senses in all their fearful forms. I am of Aristotle's mind, terror is a principal engine. Oh! if I had written for the stage, I would have introduced none but bloody tyrants, and death-dispensing heroes. Not all the perfumes of Arabia should have sweetened this blood-polluted hand, I would have been up to my elbows in gore. There would have been tragedy with a vengeance; principal characters! ay, guards and attendants, should all have been sprawling together. I would have butchered every man of them, and the prompter into the bargain. In a word, I refine upon Aristotle, and border on the horrible, that is my taste. These plays to tear a cat in, are the only things for popularity; the actors live merrily on their own dying speeches, and the authors roll in luxury on the devastation of mankind.
Just as this harangue was over, we saw a great crowd of both sexes coming out of town into the plain. Who should it be but the new-married couple, attended by their families and friends, with ten or twelve musicians in the van, producing a most obstreperous din of harmony. We went up to them, and Diego introduced himself. Peals of congratulation were immediately rung through the assembly, and every one was eager to shake him by the hand. He had enough upon his shoulders to receive all their fraternal embraces. Relations and strangers all were for having a pull at him. At length his father said -- You are welcome, Diego. You find your kinsmen living upon the fat of the land, my friend. I shall say no more at present, a nod is as good as a wink. Meanwhile the company went forward upon the plain, took their stations under the tents, and sat down to table. I kept close to my companion, and we both dined with the happy couple, who appeared to be suitably matched. The meal was not soon over, for the schoolmaster had the vanity to give three courses, for the purpose of cutting out his brothers, who had not been so magnificent in their hospitalities.
After the banquet, all the guests expressed their longing to see Signor Thomas's play, not doubting but the performance of so extraordinary a genius would deserve all their ears. We came in front of the stage; the musicians had taken possession of the orchestra, for the overture and act-tunes. While every one was waiting in profound silence for the rising of the curtain, the actors appeared on the boards; and the author, with the piece in his hand, sat down at the wing, in the prompter's place. Well might he call it a tragedy, for in the first act the King of Morocco, by way of diversion, shot an hundred Moorish slaves with arrows; in the second he beheaded thirty Portuguese officers, taken prisoners by one of his captains: and in the third and last, this monarch, surfeited with long-indulged libertinism, set fire with his own hands to the seraglio where his wives were confined, and reduced it to ashes with its inhabitants. The Moorish slaves, as well as the Portuguese officers, were puppets on a very curious construction; and the palace, built of pasteboard, looked very naturally in flames by means of an artificial firework. This conflagration, accompanied by a thousand piercing cries, issuing from the ruins, concluded the piece, and the curtain dropped upon this amiable entertainment. The whole plain resounded with the applause of this fine tragedy; which spoke for the good taste of the poet, and proved that he knew where to look out for a subject.
I did not suppose there was anything more to be seen after The Amusements of Muley Bugentuf, but I was mistaken. Kettle-drums and trumpets announced a new exhibition -- the distribution of prizes -- for Thomas de la Fuenta, to give additional solemnity to his olympics, had made all his boys, as well dayscholars as boarders, write exercises; and on this occasion he was to give to those who had succeeded best, books bought at Segovia out of his own pocket. All at once were brought upon the stage two long forms out of the school, with a press full of old worm-eaten books in fine new bindings. At this signal all the actors returned upon the stage, and took their places round Signor Thomas, who looked as big as the head of a college. He had a sheet of paper in his band, with the names of the successful candidates. This he gave to the King of Morocco, who began calling over the list with an authoritative voice. Each scholar, answering to his name, went humbly to receive a book from the hands of the bum-jerker; after this he was crowned with laurel, and seated on one of the two benches to be exposed to the gaze of the admiring company. Yet, desirous as the schoolmaster might be to send the spectators away in good humour, he brought his eggs to a bad market; for, having distributed almost all the prizes to the boarders, according to the usual etiquette of pedagogues, that those who pay most must necessarily be the cleverest fellows, the mammas of certain day-scholars caught fire at this instance of partiality, and fell foul of the disciplinarian thereupon: so that the festival, hitherto so much to the glory of the donor, seemed likely to have ended to the same tune as the carousal of the Lapithae.