CH. X. -- The Marquis de Marialva gives a commission to Gil Blas. That faithful secretary acquits himself of it as shall be related.
THE marquis was not yet returned from his theatrical party, and I found his upper servants playing at cards in his apartment while they were waiting for his arrival. I got to be sociable with them; and we amused ourselves with jocular conversation till two o'clock in the morning, when our master arrived. He was a little surprised at seeing me, and said with an air of kindness which made me conclude that he came home very well satisfied with his evening: How is this, Gil Blas? Are you not gone to bed yet? I answered that I wished to know first whether he had any commands for me. Probably, replied he, I may have a commission to give you to-morrow morning; but it will be time enough then to acquaint you with my wishes. Go to your own room; and henceforward remember that I dispense with your attendance at bed-time; my other servants are sufficient for that occasion.
After this hint, which was much to my satisfaction in the main, since it spared me a slavery which I should have felt very unpleasantly at times, I left the marquis in his apartment, and withdrew to my garret. I went to bed. Not being able to sleep, it seemed good to follow the counsel of Pythagoras, and to examine all the actions of the day by the test of reason; to reprimand severely what had been done amiss, and if anything had been done well, to rejoice in it.
On looking into the day-book of my conscience, the balance was not sufficiently in my favour to keep me in good humour with myself. I felt remorse at having lent myself to Laura's imposition. It was in vain to urge, in self defence, that I could not, with any decency, give the lie to a girl who had no object in view but to do me a pleasure, and that I was in some sort under the necessity of becoming an accomplice in the fraud. This was a paltry excuse in the darkness of the night, for I pleaded against myself that at all events the matter should be pushed no further, and that it was the summit of impudence to remain upon the establishment of a nobleman whose confidence I so ill repaid. In short, after a severe trial, it was agreed in my own breast, that I was very little short of an arrant knave.
But to have done with the morality of the act, and pass on to the probable issue, it was evidently playing a desperate game, to cozen a man of consequence who might be enabled, as an instrument for the visitation of my sins perhaps, to detect the imposture in its very infancy. A reflection at once so prudent and so virtuous acted as a refrigerator on my spirits; but visions of pleasure and of interest soon raised them again above the freezing point. Besides, the prophecy of the man with the elixir would have been enough to put me in heart once more. I therefore gave myself up to the indulgence of the most agreeable fancies. All the rules of arithmetic from simple addition to compound interest were set in array, to cast up what sum my salary would amount to at the end of ten years' service. Then there was a large allowance for presents and gratuities from my master, whose liberal disposition according admirably with my liberal desires, my imagination grew quite fantastical, and extended the landmarks of my fortune over innumerable acres of unsubstantial territory. Sleep overtook me in the calculation, and raised a magnificent aerial mansion on the estate where a new race of grandees was to originate.
I got up the next morning about eight o'clock to go and receive my patron's orders; but as I was opening my door to go out, what was my surprise at meeting him in his wrapping-gown and night-cap. He was quite alone. Gil Blas, said he, on parting with your sister last night, I promised to pass this morning with her; but an affair of consequence will not admit of my keeping my word. Go and assure her from me that I am deeply mortified at the disappointment, but that I shall certainly sup with her to-night. That is not all, added he, putting a purse into my hands and a little shagreen case set round with diamonds; carry her my portrait, and keep this purse of fifty pistoles, which I give you as a mark of my early-conceived friendship. I took the picture in one hand, and in the other the purse to which I was so little entitled. I put my best leg foremost in my way to Laura, muttering to myself in the transports of excessive joy: Good! the prophecy is accomplished in the twinkling of an eye. What a windfall to be the brother of a girl so full of beauty and attraction! It is a pity the credit attached to the relationship is not commensurate with the lucre and the comfort.
Laura, unlike most women in her profession, had a habit of early rising. I caught her at her toilette, where, while waiting for her illustrious foreigner, she was engrafting on her natural beauty all the adventitious charms which the cosmetic art could supply. Lovely Estella, said I, on accosting her, thou absolute lodestone of the tramontanes, I may now sit down at table with my master, since he has honoured me with a commission which gives me that prerogative, and which I am just come to fulfil. He cannot have the pleasure of waiting on you this morning, as he had purposed; but to make you amends for the disappointment, he will sup here this evening, and sends you his picture; which to all appearance is enclosed in something more valuable than itself.
I put the box into her hand at once; and the lively sparkling of the brilliants which encompassed it made her eyes sparkle and her mouth water. She opened it out of mere curiosity, looked carelessly at the painting as people perform a duty for which they have little relish, then shut it, and once more fell greedily on the jewellery. Their beauty made her eloquent; and she said to me with the smile of a satirist -- These are copies which those mercenary things called actresses value much more highly than originals.
I next acquainted her that the generous Portuguese, when giving me charge of the portrait, recommended it to my care by a purse of fifty pistoles. I beg you will accept of my congratulations, said she; this nobleman begins where it is even uncommon for others to leave off. It is to you, my divine creature, answered I, that this present is owing; the marquis only made it on the score of natural affection. I could be well pleased, replied she, that he were to make you a score such presents every day. I cannot express in what extravagance you are dear to me. From the first moment of our meeting, I became attached to you by so strong a tie, as time has not been able to dissolve. When I lost you at Madrid, I did not despair of finding you again; and yesterday, on your sudden appearance, I received you like a deodand. In a word, my friend, heaven has created us for one another. You shall be my husband, but we must get plenty of money in the first instance. I shall just lend myself out to three or four silly fellows more, and then you may live like a gentleman on your means.
I thanked her in the most appropriate terms for such an instance of extreme condescension on my behalf, and we got insensibly into a conversation which lasted till noon. At that hour I withdrew, to go and give my master an account of the manner in which his present was received. Though Laura had given me no instructions thereupon, I was not remiss in composing a fine compliment on my way, with which I meant to launch out on her pan; but it was just so much flash in the pan. For, when I got home the marquis was gone out; and the fates had decreed that I should never see him more, for reasons which will be methodically stated in the succeeding chapter.