CH. I. -- The arrival of Gil Blas at Madrid. His first place there.
I MADE some stay with the young barber. At my departure, I met with a traveller of Segovia passing through Olmédo. He was returning with four mules from a trading expedition to Valladolid, and took me by way of back carriage. We got acquainted on the road, and he took such a fancy to me that nothing would serve him but I must be his guest at Segovia. He gave me free quarters for two days, and when he found me determined to leave him for Madrid under convoy of a muleteer, he troubled me with a letter, begging me to deliver it in person according to the superscription, without hinting that it was a letter of recommendation. I was punctual in calling on Signor Matheo Melendez. He was a woollen-draper, living at the gate of the Sun, at the corner of Trunkmaker street. No sooner had he broken the cover and read the contents, than he said with an air of complacency -- Signor Gil Blas, my correspondent, Pedro Palacio, has written to me so pressingly in your favour, that I cannot do otherwise than offer you a bed at my house; moreover, he desires me to find you a good master, and I undertake the commission with pleasure. I have no doubt of suiting you to a hair.
I embraced the offer of Melendez the more gratefully because my funds were getting much below par; but I was not long a burden on his hospitality. At the week's end, he told me that he had mentioned my name to a gentleman of his acquaintance, who wanted a valet-de-chambre, and, according to present appearances, the place would not be long vacant. In fact, this gentleman happened to make his appearance in the very nick -- Sir, said Melendez, pushing me forward, you see before you the young man as by former advice. He is a pupil of honour and integrity. I can answer for him as if he was one of my own family. The gentleman looked at me with attention, said that my face was in my favour, and hired me at once. He has nothing to do but to follow me, added he, I will put him into the routine of his employment. At these words he wished the tradesman good morning, and took me into the High-street, directly over against St Philip's church. We went into a very handsome house, of which he occupied one wing; then going up five or six steps, he took me into a room secured by strong double doors, with an iron grate between. From this room we went into another, with a bed and other furniture, rather neat than gaudy.
If my new master had examined me closely, I had all my wits about me as well as he. He was a man on the wrong side of fifty, with a saturnine and serious air. His temper seemed to be even, and I thought no harm of him. He asked me several questions about my family; and liking my answers -- Gil Blas, said he, I take you to be a very sensible lad, and am well pleased to have you in my service. On your part, you shall have no reason to complain. I will give you six rials a day board wages, besides vails. Then I require no great attendance, for I keep no table, but always dine out. You will only have to brush my clothes, and be your own master for the rest of the day. Only take care to be at home early in the evening, and to be in waiting at the door, that is your chief duty. After this lecture, he took six rials out of his purse, and gave them to me as earnest. We then went out, he locked the doors after him, and taking care of the keys -- My friend, said he, you need not go with me, follow the devices of your own heart; but on my return this evening, let me find you on that staircase. With this injunction he left me to dispose of myself as seemed best in my own eyes.
In good sooth, Gil Blas, said I in a soliloquy, you have got a jewel of a master. What! fall in with an employer to give you six rials a day for wiping off the dust from his clothes, and putting his room to rights in the morning, with the liberty of walking about and taking your pleasure like a schoolboy in the holidays! By my troth! it is a place of ten thousand. No wonder I was in a hurry to get to Madrid, it was doubtless some mysterious boding of good fortune prepared for me. I spent the day in the streets, diverting myself with gaping at novelties -- a busy occupation. In the evening, after supping at an ordinary not far from our house, I squatted myself down in the corner pointed out by my master. He came three quarters of an hour after me, and seemed pleased with my punctuality. Very well, said he, this is right, I like attentive servants. At these words, he opened the doors of his apartment, and closed them upon us again as soon as we had got in. As we had no candle, he took his tinder-box and struck a light. I then helped him to undress. When he was in bed, I lighted, by his order, a lamp in his chimney, and carried the wax-light into the antechamber, where I lay in a press-bed without curtains. He got up the next day between nine and ten o'clock; I brushed his clothes. He paid me my six rials, and sent me packing till the evening. My mysterious master went out himself too, not without great caution in fastening the doors, and we parted for the remainder of the day.
Such was our course of life, very agreeable to me. The best of the joke was, that I did not know my master's name. Melendez did not know it himself. The gentleman came to his shop now and then, and bought a piece of cloth. My neighbours were as much at a loss as myself; they all assured me that my master was a perfect stranger, though he had lived two years in the ward. He visited no soul in the neighbourhood, and some of them, a little given to scandal, concluded him to be no better than he should be. Suspicions got to be more rife; he was suspected of being a spy of Portugal, and it was thought but fair play to give a hint for my own good. This intimation troubled me. Thought I to myself, should this turn out to be a fact, I stand a chance for seeing the inside of a prison at Madrid. My innocence will be no security; my past ill-usage makes me look on justice with antipathy. Twice have I experienced that if the innocent are not condemned in a lump with the guilty, at least the rights of hospitality are too little regarded in their persons to make it pleasant to pass a summer in the purlieus of the law.
I consulted Melendez in so delicate a conjuncture. He was at a loss how to advise me. Though he could not bring himself to believe that my master was a spy, he had no reason to be confident on the other side of the question. I determined to watch my employer, and to leave him if he turned out to be an enemy of the state; but then prudence and personal comfort required me to be certain of my fact. I began, therefore, to pry into his actions; and to sound him, Sir, said I one evening while he was undressing, I do not know how one ought to live so as to be secure from reflections. The world is very scurrilous! We, among others, have neighbours not worth a curse. Sad dogs! You have no notion how they talk of us. Do they indeed, Gil Blas? quoth he. Be it so! but what can they say of us, my friend? Ah! truly, replied I, evil tongues never want a whet. Virtue herself furnishes weapons for her own martyrdom. Our neighbours say that we are dangerous people, that we ought to be looked after by government; in a word, you are taken for a spy of Portugal. In throwing out this hint, I looked hard at my master, just as Alexander squinted at his physician, and pursed up all my penetration to remark upon the effect of my intelligence. There seemed to be a hitch in the muscles of my mysterious lord, altogether in unison with the suspicions of the neighbourhood; and he fell into a brown study, which bore no very auspicious interpretation. However, he put a better face on the matter, and said with sufficient composure: Gil Blas, leave our neighbours to discourse as they please, but let not our repose depend on their judgments. Never mind what they think of us, provided our own consciences do not wince.
Hereupon he went to bed, and I did the like, without knowing what course to take. The next day, just as we were on the point of going out in the morning, we heard a violent knocking at the outer door on the staircase. My master opened the inner, and looked through the grate. A well-dressed man said to him: Please your honour, I am an alguazil, come to inform you that Mr Corregidor wishes to speak a word with you. What does he want? answered my pattern of secrecy. That is more than I know, sir, replied the alguazil; but you have only to go and wait on him; you will soon be informed. I am his most obedient, quoth my master; I have no business with him. At the tail of this speech, he banged the inner door; then, after walking up and down a little while, like one who pondered on the discourse of the alguazil, he put my six rials into my hand, and said: Gil Blas, you may go out, my friend; for my part, I shall stay at home a little longer, but have no occasion for you. He made an impression on my mind, by these words, that he was afraid of being taken up, and was therefore obliged to remain in his apartments. I left him there; and, to see how far my suspicions were founded, hid myself in a place whence I could see if he went out. I should have had patience to have staid there all the morning, if he had not saved me the trouble. But an hour after, I saw him walk the street with an ease and confidence which dumb-founded my sagacity. Yet far from yielding to these appearances, I mistrusted them; for my verdict went to condemnation. I considered his easy carriage as put on; and his staying at home as a finesse to secure his gold and jewels, when probably he was going to consult his safety by speedy flight. I had no idea of seeing him again, and doubted whether I should attend at his door in the evening; so persuaded was I, that the day would see him on the outside of the city, as his only refuge from impending danger. Yet I kept my appointment; when, to my extreme surprise, my master returned as usual. He went to bed without betraying the least uneasiness, and got up the next morning with the same composure.
Just as he had finished dressing, another knock at the door! My master looked through the grate His friend the alguazil was there again, and he asked him what he wanted. Open the door, answered the alguazil; here is Mr Corregidor. At this dreadful name, my blood froze in my veins. I had a devilish loathing of those gentry since I had passed through their hands, and could have wished myself at that moment an hundred leagues from Madrid. As for my employer, less startled than myself; he opened the door, and received the magistrate respectfully. You see, said the corregidor, that I do not break in upon you with a whole posse: my maxim is to do business in a quiet way. In spite of the ugly reports circulated about you in the city, I think you deserve some little attention. What is your name, and business at Madrid? Sir, answered my master, I am from New Castile, and my title is Don Bernard de Castil Blazo. With respect to my way of life, I lounge about, frequent public places, and take my daily pleasure in a select circle of polite company. Of course you have a handsome fortune! replied the judge. No, sir, interrupted my Mecaenas, I have neither annuities, nor lands, nor houses. How do you live then? rejoined the corregidor. I will show you, replied Don Bernard. At the same time he lifted up a part of the hangings, before a door I had not observed, opened that and one beyond, then took the magistrate into a closet containing a large chest chuck full of gold.
Sir, said he again, you know that the Spaniards are proverbially indolent; yet, whatever may be their general dislike to labour, I may compliment myself on bettering the example. I have a stock of laziness, which disqualifies me for all exertion. If I had a mind to puff my vices into virtues, I might call this sloth of mine a philosophical indifference, the work of a mind weaned from all that worldlings court with so much ardour; but I will frankly own myself constitutionally lazy, and so lazy, that rather than work for my subsistence, I would lay myself down and starve. Therefore, to lead a life befitting my fancy, not to have the trouble of looking after my affairs, and above all to do without a steward, I have converted all my patrimony, consisting of several considerable estates, into ready money. In this chest there are fifty thousand ducats; more than enough for the remainder of my days, should I live to be an hundred! For I do not spend a thousand a year, and am already more than fifty years old. I have no fears, therefore, for futurity, since I am not addicted, heaven be praised, to any one of the three things which usually ruin men. I care little for the pleasures of the table; I only play for my amusement; and I have given up women. There is no chance of my being reckoned, in my old age, among those libidinous grey-beards to whom jilts sell their favours by troy weight.
You are a happy man! said the corregidor. They are in the wrong to suspect you of being a spy: that office is quite out of character for a man like you. Take your own course, Don Bernard: continue to live as you like. Far from disturbing your peace, I declare myself your protector; I request your friendship, and pledge my own. Ah! sir, exclaimed my master, thrilled with these kind expressions, I accept with equal joy and gratitude your precious offer. In giving me your friendship you augment my wealth, and carry my happiness to its height. After this conversation, which the alguazil and myself heard; from the closet door, the corregidor took his leave of Don Bernard, who could not do enough to express his sense of the obligation. On my part, mimicking thy master in doing the honours of the house, I overburdened the alguazil with civilities. I made him a thousand low bows, though I felt for him in my sleeve the contempt and hatred which every honest man naturally entertains for an alguazil.