CH. XIV. -- Fabricio finds a situation for Gil Blas in the establishment of Count Galiano, a Sicilian nobleman.
I WAS too happy in Fabricio's society, not to bunt him out again early the next morning. Good day to you, Signor Don Fabricio, said I on my first approach; it seems you are the picked and chosen flower, or rather, saving your presence, the nondescript excrescence of the Asturian nobility. This sarcasm had no other effect than to set him laughing heartily. Then the title of Don was not lost upon you! exclaimed he. No, indeed, my noble lord, answered I; and you will give me leave to tell you that when you were recounting your transformations to me yesterday, you forgot the most extraordinary. Exactly so, replied he; but to speak sincerely, if I have taken up that prefix of dignity, it is less to tickle my own vanity, than in tenderness to that of others. You know what stuff the Spaniards are made of; an honest man is no honest man to them, if his honour is not bolstered up with escutcheons, pedigree, and patrimony. I may tell you, moreover, that there are so many gentry, and very queer soft of gentry too, dubbed Don Francisco, Don Pedro, Don What-do-you-call-him, or Don Devil, that if they owe their coats of arms to any herald but their own impudence, modern nobility is a mere drug in the market, so that a plebeian of nature's ennobling confers infinite honour on the upstarts of nn artificial creation, by herding with their order.
But let us change the subject, added he. Last night, supping at the Duke de Medina Sidonia's, with among other company we had Count Galiano, a great Sicilian nobleman, the conversation turned upon the ridiculous effects of self-love. Delighted at having a case in point by way of illustration, I treated them with the story of the homilies. You may well suppose that there was a hearty laugh, and that the archbishop's dignity was not saved in the concussion; but the effect was not amiss for you, since the company felt for your situation; and Count Galiano, after a long string of questions, which of course I answered to your advantage, commissioned me to introduce you. I was just now going to look after you for that purpose. In all probability he means to offer you a situation as one of his secretaries. I advise you not to hang back. The count is rich, and lives away at Madrid, on the scale of an ambassador. He is said to have come to court on a negotiation with the Duke of Lerma, respecting some crown lands which that minister thinks of alienating in Sicily. In one word, Count Galiano, though a Sicilian, has every feature of generosity, fair dealing, and gentlemanly conduct. You cannot do better than get upon that noble man's establishment. In all probability, the flattering prophecy respecting you at Grenada is to be fulfilled in his person.
It was my full determination, said I to Nunez, to take my swing about town and look at men and manners a little, before the harness was buckled on my back again; but you paint your Sicilian nobleman in colours which fascinate my imagination and change my purpose. I should like to close with him at once. You will do so very soon, replied he, or I am much deceived. We sallied forth together immediately, and went to the count's, who resided in the house of his friend, Don Sancho d'Avila, the latter being then in the country.
The court-yard was overrun with pages and footmen in rich and elegant liveries, while the ante-chamber was blockaded by esquires, gentlemen, and various officers of the household. They were all as fine as possible, but with so whimsical an assortment of features, that you might have taken them for a cluster of monkeys dressed up to satirize the Spanish fashions. Do what you will, there is a certain class of men and women in nature, whom no art can trick out into anything human.
At the very name of Don Fabricio, a lane was formed for my patron, and I followed in the rear. The count was in his dressing-gown, sitting on a sofa and taking his chocolate. We made our obeisance in the most respectful manner; while an inclination of the head on his part, accompanied with a condescending smile, won my heart at once. It is very wonderful, and yet very common, how the most trifling notice from the great penetrates the very soul of those who are not accustomed to it! They must have behaved like fiends, before their behaviour will be complained of.
After taking his chocolate, he recreated himself with the humours of a large ape, which underwent the name of Cupid: why the ape was made a god, or the god likened to an ape, the parties concerned can best answer; the only point of resemblance seemed to be mischief. At all events, this hairy brat of the sylvan Venus had so gambolled himself into his master's good graces, had established such a character for wit and humour, that the life of society was extinguished in his absence. As for Nunez and myself, though we had a better turn for drollery, we were cunning enough to chime in with the prevailing taste. The Sicilian was highly delighted with this, and tore himself away for a moment from his favourite pastime, just to tell me: My friend, you have only to say whether you choose to be one of my secretaries. If the situation suits you, the salary is two hundred pistoles a year. If Don Fabricio gives you a character, that is enough. Yes, my lord, cried Nunez, I am not such a cowardly fellow as Plato, who introduced one of his friends to Dionysius the tyrant, and then was afraid to back his own recommendation. But I have no anxiety about being reproached on that head.
I thanked the poet of the Asturias with a low bow, for having so much better an opinion of me than Plato had of his friend. Then addressing my patron, I assured him of my zeal and fidelity. No sooner did this good nobleman perceive his proposal to be acceptable, then he rang for his steward, and after talking to him apart, said to me: Gil Blas, I will explain the nature of your post hereafter. Meanwhile, you have only to follow that right-hand man of mine; he has his orders how to bestow you. I immediately retreated, leaving Fabricio behind with the Count and Cupid.
The steward, who came from Messina, and proved by all his actions that he came thence, led the way to his own room, overwhelming me all the while with the kindness of his reception. He sent the tailor who lived upon the skirts of the household, and ordered him to make me out of hand a suit of equal magnificence with those of the principal officers. The tailor took my measure and withdrew. As to lodging, said the native of Messina, I know a room which will just suit you. But stay! Have you breakfasted? I answered in the negative. Oh! poor shamefaced youth, replied he, why did not you say so? Come this way: I will introduce you where, thank heaven, you have only to ask and have.
So saying, he led me down into the buttery, where we found the clerk of the kitchen, who was a Neapolitan, and of course a complete match for his neighbour on the other side of the water. It might be said of this pair that they were formed to meet by nature. This honest clerk of the kitchen was doing justice to his trade by cramming himself and five or six hangers-on with ham, tongue, sausages, and other savoury compositions, which, besides their own relish, possess the merit of engendering thirst: we made common cause with these jolly fellows, and helped them to toss off some of my lord the count's best wines. While these things were going on in the buttery, kindred exploits were performing in the kitchen. The cook too was regaling three or four tradesmen of his acquaintance, who liked good wine as well as ourselves, nor disdained to stuff their craws with meat pasties and game: the very scullions were at free quarters, and filched whatever they pleased. I fancied myself in a house given up to plunder; and yet what I saw was comparatively fair and honest. These little festivities were laughing matters; but the private transactions of the family were very serious.