CH. XVI. -- An accident happens to the Count de Galiano's monkey; his lordship's affliction on that occasion. The illness of Gil Blas, and its consequences.
AT the expiration of the before-mentioned time; the repose of the family was marvellously troubled by an accident, which will appear but a trifle to the reader; and yet it was a very serious matter to the household, especially to me. Cupid, the monkey of whom I was speaking, that animal, so much the idol of our lord and master, attempting to leap from one window to another, performed so ill as to fall into the court and put his leg out of joint. No sooner were the fatal tidings carried to the count, than he sung a dirge which pealed through all the neighbourhood. In the extremity of his sufferings, every inmate without exception was taken to task, and we were all within an inch of being packed off about our business. But the storm only rumbled without falling; he gave us and our negligence to the devil, without being by any means select in the terms of the bequest. The most notorious of the faculty in the line of fractures and dislocations were sent for. They examined the poor dear leg, set, and bound it up. But though they all gave it as their opinion that there was no danger, my master could not be satisfied without retaining the most eminent about the person of the animal, till he could be pronounced to be in a state of convalescence.
It would be a manifest injustice to the family affections of his Sicilian lordship, not to commemorate all the agonizing sensations of his soul during this period of painful suspense. Would it be thought possible that this tender nurse did not stir from his darling Cupid's bedside all the live-long day? The bandages were never altered or adjusted but in his presence, and he got up two or three times in the night to inquire after his patient. The most provoking part of the business was, that all the servants, and myself in particular, were required to be eternally on the alert, to anticipate the slightest wishes of this ridiculous baboon. In short, there was no peace in the house, till the cursed beast, having recovered from the effects of its fall, got back again to his old tricks and whirligigs. After this shall we be mealy-mouthed about believing Suetonius, when he tells us that Caligula cared more for his horse than for all the world besides, that he gave him more than the establishment and attendance of a senator, and that he even wanted to make him consul? Our wise master stopped little short of the emperor in his partiality to the monkey; and had serious thoughts of purchasing for him the place of corregidor.
Mine was the worst luck of any in the family; for I had so topped my part above all the other servants, by way of paying my court to his lordship, and had nursed poor dear Cupid with such assiduity, as to throw myself into a fit of illness. A violent fever seized me, so that I was almost at death's door. They did what they pleased with me for a whole fortnight, without my consciousness; for the physicians and the fates were both conspiring against me. But my youth was more than a match for the fever and the prescriptions united. When I recovered my senses, the first use I made of them was to observe myself removed to another room. I wanted to know why; and asked an old woman who nursed me: but she told me that I must not talk, as the physician had expressly forbidden it. When we are well, we turn up our noses at the doctors; but when we are sick, we are as much like old women as themselves.
It seemed best therefore to keep silence, though with an inveterate longing to hold converse with my attendant I was debating the point in my own mind, when there came in two foppish-looking fellows, dressed in the very extreme of fashion. Nothing less than velvet would serve their turn, with linen and lace to correspond. They looked like men of rank; and I could have sworn that they were some of my master's friends come to see me out of regard for him. Under that impression I attempted to sit up, and flung away my nightcap to look genteel; but the nurse forced me under the bedclothes again, and tucked me up, announcing these gentlemen at the same time, as my physician and apothecary.
The doctor came up to my bedside, felt my pulse, looked in my face; and discovering undeniable symptoms of approaching convalescence, assumed an air of triumph, as if it was all his handiwork; and said there was nothing wanting but to keep the bowels open, and then he flattered himself he might boast of having performed an extraordinary cure. Speaking after this manner, he dictated a prescription to the apothecary, looking in the glass all the time, adjusting the dress of his hair, and twisting his visage into shapes which set me laughing in spite of my debility. At length he took his leave with a slight inclination of the head, and went his way, more taken with the contemplation of his own pretty person, than anxious about the success of his remedies.
After his departure, the apothecary, not to have the trouble of a visit for nothing, made ready to proceed as it is prescribed in certain cases. Whether he was afraid that the old woman's skill was not equal to the exigency, or whether he meant to enhance his own services by assiduity, he chose to operate in person; but in spite of practice and experience, accidents will happen. Haste to return benefits is among the most amiable propensities of our nature; and such was my eagerness not to be behindhand with my benefactor, that his velvet dress bore immediate testimony to the profuseness of my gratitude. This he considered merely as one of those little occurrences which chequer the fortunes of the pharmaceutical profession. A napkin is a resource for everything in a sick room, and least said was soonest mended; so he wiped himself quietly, vowing indemnity and vengeance to himself for the necessity under which he unquestionably laboured of sending his clothes to the scourer.
On the following morning he returned to the attack more modestly equipped, though there was then no risk of my springing a countermine, as he had only to administer the potion which the doctor had prescribed the evening before. Besides that I felt myself getting better every moment, I had taken such a dislike, since the day before, to the pill-dispensing tribe, as to curse the very universities where these graduated cut-throats kept their exercises in the faculty of slaying. In this temper of mind, I declared, with a round oath, that I would not accept of health through such a medium, but would willingly make over Hippocrates and his myrmidons to the devil. The apothecary, who did not care a doit what became of his compound, if it was but paid for, left the phial on the table, and stalked away in Telamonian silence.
I immediately ordered that bitch of a medicine to be thrown out of window, having set myself so doggedly against it, that I would as soon have swallowed arsenic. Having once drawn the sword, I threw away the scabbard; and erecting my tongue into an independent potentate, told my nurse in a determined tone, that she must absolutely inform me what was become of my master. The old lady, fearing lest the development of the mystery might completely overset me, or thinking possibly that her prey might escape out of her clutches for want of a little irritating contradiction, was most provokingly mute; but I was so pressing in my demand to be obeyed, that she at length gave me a decisive answer: Worthy sir, you have no longer any master but your own will. Count Galiano is gone back into Sicily.
I could not believe my ears; and yet it was fatally the fact. That nobleman, on the second day of my indisposition, being afraid of harbouring death under the same roof with him, had the benevolence to send me packing with my little effects to a ready-furnished room, where providence was left to cure, or a nurse to kill me, as it happened. While the alternative was tottering on the balance, he was ordered back into Sicily, and in the headlong haste of his obedience, never thought about me; whether it was that he numbered me already among the death, or that great lords, like great wits, have short memories.
My nurse gave me these particulars, and informed me that it was she who had called in a physician and an apothecary, that I might not die without professional honours. I fell into profound musing at this fine story. Farewell my brilliant establishment in Sicily! Farewell my budding hopes and blushing honours! When any great misfortune shall have befallen you, says a certain pope, look well to your own conduct, and you will find that there is always some thing wrong at the bottom of it. With all reverent submission to his holiness, I cannot help thinking myself in this instance an exception to the infallibility of his maxim. How the deuce was I to blame for being visited by a fever? There was more reason for remorse in the monkey or his master than in me.
When I beheld the flattering chimeras with which my head was filled, all vanishing into air, into thin air, the first thing that worried my poor brain was my portmanteau, which I ordered to be laid upon my bed to examine it. I groaned heavily on discovering that it had been opened. Alas! my dear portmanteau, exclaimed I, my only hope, consolation, and refuge! You have been, to all appearance, a prisoner in an enemy's country. No, no, Signor Gil Blas, said the old woman, make yourself easy on that head; you have not fallen among thieves. Your baggage is as immaculate as my honour.
I found the dress I had on at my first entrance into the count's service; but it was in vain to look for that which my friend from Messina had ordered for me as a member of the household. My master had not thought fit to leave me in possession of it, or else some one had made free with it. All my other little matters were safe, and even a large leather purse with my coin in it, which I counted over twice, not being able to believe at first that there could be only fifty pistoles remaining out of two hundred and sixty, which was the balance of the account before my illness. What is the meaning of all this, my good lady? said I to the nurse. Here is a leak in the vessel. No living soul but myself has touched a farthing, answered the old woman, and I have been as good an economist for you as possible. But illness is very expensive; one must always have one's money in one's hand. Here! added this excellent economist, taking a bundle of papers out of her pocket, this is a statement of debtor and creditor, as exact as a banker's book, and you will see that I have not laid out the veriest trifle in need-nots.
I ran over the account with a hasty glance; for it extended to fifteen or twenty pages. Mercy on us! The poulterers' shops must have been exhausted, while I was in too weak a state to take sustenance! There must have been at least twelve pistoles stewed down into broths. Other articles were much to the same tune. It was incredible what a sum had been lavished in firing, candles, water, brooms, and innumerable articles of housekeeping and house cleaning. After all, extortionate as the bill was, the utmost ingenuity could not raise it above thirty pistoles, and consequently there was a deficiency of a hundred and eighty to make the account even. I just ventured to point that out; but the old woman, with a shew of simplicity and candour, put all the saints in the calendar into requisition to attest that there were no more than eighty pistoles in the purse when the count's steward gave her charge of the wallet. What say you, my good woman, interrupted I with precipitation: was it the steward who placed my effects in your hands? To be sure it was, answered she, the very man, and with this piece of advice: Here, good mother, when Gil Blas shall be numbered with the dead, do not fail to treat him with a handsome funeral; there is in this wallet wherewithal to defray the expenses.
Ah! most pestiferous Neapolitan! exelaimed I in the bitterness of my heart. I am no longer at a loss to conjecture what is become of the deficiency. You have swept it off as an indemnity for a part of the plunder which I have prevented you from making free with. After relieving my mind by exclamations, I returned thanks to heaven that the scoundrel had been so modest as not to take the whole. Yet whatever reason I had for believing the action to be perfectly in character for the person to whom it was imputed, the nurse had not altogether cleared herself from my suspicions. They hovered sometimes over one and sometimes over the other; but let them light where they would, it was all the same to me. I said nothing about the matter to the old woman; not even so much as to haggle about the items of her fine bill. I should not have been an atom the richer for doing so; and we must all live by our trades. The utmost of my malice was to pay her and send her packing three days afterwards.
I am inclined to think that at her departure she gave the apothecary notice of her quitting the premises, and having left me sufficiently in possession of myself to take French leave without acknowledging my obligations to him; for she had not been gone many minutes before he came in puffing and blowing, with his bill in his hand. There, under names which had escaped my conscription, though as arrant a physician as the worst of them, he had set down all the hypothetical remedies which he insisted that I had taken during the time when I could take nothing. This bill might truly be called the epitome of an apothecary's conscience. Such being the case, we had a bustle about the payment. I pleaded for an abatement of one-half. He swore that he would not take a doit less than his just demand. He kept his oath and yet relaxed; for considering that he had to do with a young man who might run away from Madrid within four-and-twenty hours, he preferred my offer of three hundred per cent, on the prime cost of his drugs, though a pitiful profit for an apothecary, to the risk of losing all. I counted out the money with an aching heart, and he withdrew, chuckling over his revenge for the scurvy trick I had played him on the day of evacuation.
The physician made his appearance next; for beasts of prey inhabit the same latitudes. I fee'd him for his visits, which had been quite as frequent as necessary, and his object was answered. But he would not leave me without proving how hardly he had earned his money, for that he had not only expelled the enemy from the interior, but had defended the frontiers from the attack of all the disorders on the army list of the materia medica. He talked very learnedly, with good emphasis and discretion; so much so, that I did not comprehend one word he said. When I had got rid of him, I flattered myself that the destinies had now done their worst. But I was mistaken; for there came a surgeon whose face I had never seen in the whole course of my life. He accosted me very politely, and congratulated me on the imminent danger I had escaped; attributing the happy issue of my complaints to those which he had himself cut, with the profuse application of bleeding, cupping, blistering, and all sorts of torments, consequent and inconsequent. Another feather out of my poor wing! I was obliged to pay toll to the surgeon also. After so many purgatives, my purse was brought to such a state of debility, that it might be considered as dead and gone; a mere skeleton, drained of all its vital juices.
My spirits began to flag, on the contemplation of my wretched case. In the service of my two last masters I had wedded myself to the pomps and vanities of this wicked world; and could no longer, as heretofore, look poverty in the face with the sternness of a cynic. It must be owned, however, that I was in the wrong to give way to melancholy, after experiencing so often that fortune had never cast me down, but for the purpose of raising me up again; so that my pitiful plight at the present moment, if rightly considered, was only to be hailed as the harbinger of approaching prosperity.