CH. XV. -- The employment of Gil Blas in Don Galiano's household.

 

I WENT away to fetch my moveables to my new residence. On my return the count was at table with several noblemen and the poet Nunez, who called about him as if perfectly at home, and took a principal share in the conversation. Indeed, he never opened his lips without applause. So much for wit! with that commodity at market, a man may pay his way in any company.

It was my lot to dine with the gentlemen of the household, who were served nearly as well as their employer. After meal-time I withdrew to ruminate on my lot. So far so good, Gil Blas! said I to myself: here you are in the family of a Sicilian count, of whose character you know nothing. To judge by appearances, you will be as much in your element as a duck upon the water. But do not make too sure! you ought to look askew at your horoscope, whose unkindly position you have too often experienced with a vengeance. Independent of that, it is not easy to conjecture what he means you to do. There are secretaries and a steward already: where can your post be? In all likelihood you are intended to manage his little private affairs. Well and good! There is no better luck about the house of a great nobleman, if you would travel post haste to make your fortune. In the performance of more honourable services, a man gets on only step by step, and even at that pace often sticks by the way.

While these philosophical reflections were revolving in my mind, a servant came to tell me that all the company was gone home, and that my lord the count was inquiring for me. I flew immediately to his apartment, where I found him lolling on the sofa, ready to take his afternoon's nap, with his monkey by his side.

Come nearer, Gil Blas, said he; take a chair, and hear me attentively. I placed myself in an attitude of profound listening, when he addressed me as follows. Don Fabricio has informed me that, among other good qualities, you have that of sincere attachment to your masters, and incorruptible integrity. These are my inducements for proposing to take you into my service. I stand in need of a friend in a domestic, to espouse my interests and apply his whole heart and soul to the reform of my establishment. My fortune is large, it must be confessed, but my expenditure far exceeds my income every year. And how happens that? Because they rob, ransack, and devour me. I might as well be in a forest infested by banditti, as an inhabitant of my own house. I suspect the clerk of the kitchen and my steward of playing into one another's hands; and unless my thoughts are unjust as well as uncharitable, they are pushing forward as fast as they can to ruin me beyond redemption. You will ask me what I have to do but send them packing, if I think them scoundrels. But then where are others to be got of a better breed? It will be sufficient to place them under the eye of a man who shall be invested with the right of control over their conduct; and you have I chosen to execute this commission. If you discharge it well, be assured that your services will not be repaid with ingratitude. I shall take care to provide you with a very comfortable settlement in Sicily.

With this he dismissed me; and that very evening, in the presence of the whole household, I was proclaimed principal manager and surveyor-general of the family. Our gentlemen of Messina and Naples expressed no particular chagrin at first, because they considered me as a spark of mettle like their own, and took it for granted, that though the loaf was to be shared with a third, there would always be cut and come again for the triumvirate. But they looked inexpressibly foolish the next day, when I declared myself in serious terms a decided enemy to all peculation and underhand dealing. From the clerk of the kitchen I required the buttery accounts without varnish or concealment. I went down into the cellar. The furniture of the butler's pantry underwent a strict examination, particularly in the articles of plate and linen. Next I read them a serious lecture on the duty of acting for their employer as they would for themselves; exhorted them to adopt a system of economy in their expenditure; and wound up my harangue with a protestation, that his lordship should be acquainted with the very first instance of any unfair tricks that I should discover in the exercise of my office.

But I had not yet got to the length of my tether. There was still wanting a scout to ascertain whether they had any private understanding. I fixed upon a scullion, who, won over by my promises, told me that I could not have applied to a better person to be informed of all that was passing in the family; that the clerk of the kitchen and the steward were one as good as the other, and agreed to burn the candle at both ends; that half the provisions bought for the table were made perquisites by these gentlemen; that the Neapolitan kept a lady who lives opposite St. Thomas's college, and his colleague, not to be outdone, provided another next door to the Sungate; that these two nymphs had their larder regularly supplied every morning, while the cook, following a good example, sent a few little nice things to a widow of his acquaintance in the neighbourhood: but as he winked at the table arrangements of his dear and confidential friends, it was but fair that he should draw whenever he pleased upon the wine-cellar: in short, by the practices of these three bloodsuckers, a most horrible system of extravagance had found its way into my lord the count's establishment. If you doubt my veracity, added the scullion, only take the trouble of going to-morrow morning about seven o'clock into the neighbourhood of St Thomas's college, and you will see me with a load upon my back, which will convert your suspicions into certainty. Then you, said I, are in the confidence of these honest purveyors! I am factor to the clerk of the kitchen, answered he; and one of my comrades runs on errands for the steward.

I had the curiosity the next day to loiter about St. Thomas's college at the appointed hour. My informer was punctual to time and place. He brought with him a large tray full of butcher's meat, poultry, and game. I took an account of every article; and drew out the bill of fare in my memorandum book, for the purpose of shewing it to my master: at the same time telling my little turnspit to execute his commission as usual.

His Sicilian lordship, naturally warm in his temper, would have turned his countryman and the Italian out of doors together, in the first fury of his anger; but after cooling upon it, he got rid of the former only, and gave me his vacant place. Thus my office of supervisor was suppressed very shortly after its creation; nor did I relinquish it with any reluctance. To define it strictly and properly, it was nothing better than that of a spy with a sounding title; there was nothing substantial in the nature of the appointment: whereas to the stewardship was tied the key of the strong box, and with that goes the mastery of the whole family. There are so many little perquisites and so much patronage attached to that department of administration, that a man must inevitably get rich, almost in spite of his own honesty.

But our Neapolitan was not so easily to be driven from his strongholds. Observing to what a pitch of savage zeal I carried my integrity, and that I was up every morning time enough to enter in my books the exact quantity of meat that came from market, he abandoned the practice of sending it off by wholesale: yet the plunderer did not therefore contract the scale of his demands on the animal creation. He was cunning enough to make it as broad as it was long, by arranging the services with so much the more profusion. Thus, what was sent down again untouched being his property by culinary common law, he had nothing to do but to pamper up his pet with victuals ready dressed, instead of giving her the trouble of cooking for herself. The devil will levy his due out of every transaction; so that the count was very little the better for his paragon of a steward. The unbounded prodigality in our style of setting out a table, even to a surfeiting degree, was a plain hint to me of what was going forward; I therefore took upon myself to retrench the superfluities of every course. This, however, was done with so judicious a hand, that there was no thing like parsimony to be discovered. No one would ever have missed what was taken away; and yet the expense was reduced very considerably by a well-regulated economy. That was just what my employer wanted; good housewifery, but a magnificent establishment. There was a love of saving at the bottom; but a taste for grandeur was the ostensible passion.

Abuses seldom exist alone. The wine flowed too freely. If, for instance, there were a dozen gentlemen at his lordship's table, the consumption was seldom less than fifty, sometimes sixty bottles, This was strange; and looked as if there was more in it than met the lips of the guests. Hereupon I consulted my oracle of the scullery, whence I derived most of my wisdom: for he brought me a faithful account of all that was said and done in the kitchen, where they had not the least suspicion of him. It seemed that the havoc of which I complained proceeded from a new confederacy between the clerk of the kitchen, the cook, and the under butler. The latter carried off the bottles half full, and shared their contents with his allies, I spoke to him on the subject, threatening to turn him and all the footmen under him out of doors at a minute's warning, if ever they did the like again. The hint was understood, and the evil remedied. I took especial care lest the slightest of my services should be lost upon my master, who overwhelmed me with commendations, and took a greater liking to me every day. On my part, as a reward to the scullion, he was promoted to the situation next under the cook.

The Neapolitan was furious at encountering me in every direction. The most aggravating circumstance of the whole was the overhauling of his accounts; for, to pare his nails the closer, I had gone into the market, and informed myself of the prices. I followed him through all his doublings, and always took off the market penny which he wanted to add. He must have cursed me a hundred times a day; but the curses of the wicked fall in blessings on the good. I wonder how he could stay in his place under such discipline; but probably something still stuck by the fingers.

Fabricio, whom I saw occasionally, rather blamed my conduct than otherwise. Heaven grant, said he, one day, that all this virtue may meet with its reward! But between ourselves you might as well be a little more practicable with the clerk of the kitchen. What! answered I, shall this freebooter put a bold face upon the matter, and charge a fish at ten pistoles in his bill, which costs only four, and would you have me pass the articles in my accounts? Why not? replied he, coolly. He has only to let you go snacks in the commission, and the books will be balanced in your favour by the customary rule of stewardship arithmetic. Upon my word, my friend, you are enough to overturn all regular systems of housekeeping; and you are likely to end your days in a livery, if you let the eel slip through your fingers without skinning it. You are to learn that fortune is a very woman; ready and eager to surrender, but expecting the formality of a summons.

I only laughed at this doctrine; and Nunez laughed at it too, when he found that bad advice was thrown away upon an incorrigibly honest subject. He then wished to make me believe it was all a mere joke. At all events, nothing could shake my resolution to act for my employer as for myself. Indeed my actions corresponded with my words on that subject; for I may venture to say that in four months my master saved at least three thousand ducats by my thrift.

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