CH. I. -- Gil Blas scrapes an acquaintance of some value, and finds wherewithal to make him amends for the Count de Galiano's ingratitude. Don Valerio de Luna's story.
IT seemed so strange to have heard not a syllable from Nunez during this long interval, that I concluded he must be in the country. I went to look after him as soon as I could walk, and found the fact to be, that he had gone into Andalusia three weeks ago, with the Duke of Medina Sidonia.
One morning when rubbing my eyes after a sound sleep, Melchior de la Ronda started into my recollection; and that bringing to mind my promise at Grenada, of going to see his nephew, if ever I should return to Madrid, it seemed advisable not to defer fulfilling my promise for a single day. I inquired where Don Balthazar de Zuniga lived, and went thither straightway. On asking if Signor Joseph Navarro was at home, he made his appearance immediately. We exchanged bows with a well-bred coolness on his part, though I had taken care to announce my name audibly. There was no reconciling such a frosty reception with the glowing portrait ascribed to this paragon of the buttery. I was just going to withdraw in the full determination of not coming again, when assuming all at once an open and smiling aspect, he said with considerable earnestness: Ah! Signor Gil Blas de Santillane, pray forgive the formality of your welcome. My memory ill seconded the warmth of my disposition towards you. Your name had escaped me, and was not at the moment identified with the gentleman, of whom mention was made in a letter from Grenada more than four months ago.
How happy I am to see you! added he, shaking hands with me most cordially. My uncle Melchior, whom I love and honour like my natural father, charges me, if by chance I should have the honour of seeing you, to entertain you as his own son, and in case of need, to stretch my own credit and that of my friends to the utmost in your behalf. He extols the qualities of your heart and mind in terms sufficient of themselves to engage me in your service, though his recommendation had not been added to the other motives. Consider me, therefore, I entreat you, as participating in all my uncle's sentiments. You may depend on my friendship; let me hope for an equal share in yours.
I replied to Joseph's polite assurances in suitable terms of acknowledgment; so that being both of us warm-headed and sincere, a close intimacy sprung up without waiting for common forms. I felt no embarassment about laying open the state of my affairs. This I had no sooner done, than he said: I take upon myself the care of finding you a situation; meanwhile, there is a knife and fork for you here every day. You will live rather better than at an ordinary. This offer was sure to be well relished by an invalid just recovering with a fastidious palate and an empty pocket. It could not but be accepted; and I picked up my crumbs so fast that at the end of a fortnight I began to look like a rosy-gilled son of the church. It struck me that Melchior's nephew larded his lean sides to some purpose. But how could it be otherwise? he had three strings to his bow, as holding the undermentioned pluralities: the butler's place, the clerkship of the kitchen, and the stewardship. Furthermore, without meaning to question my friend's honesty, they do say that the comptroller of the household and he looked over each other's hands.
My recovery was entirely confirmed, when my friend Joseph, on my coming in to dinner as usual one day, said with an air of congratulation: Signor Gil Blas, I have a very tolerable situation in view for you. You must know that the Duke of Lerma, first minister of the crown in Spain, giving himself up entirely to state affairs, throws the burden of his own on two confidential persons. Don Diego de Monteser takes the charge of collecting his rents, and Don Rodrigo de Calderona superintends the finances of his household. These two officers are paramount in their departments, having nothing to do with one another. Don Diego has generally two deputies to transact the business; and finding just now that one of them had been discharged, I have been canvassing for you. Signor Monteser having the greatest possible regard for me, granted my request at once, on the strength of my testimony to your morals and capacity. We will pay our respects to him after dinner.
We did not miss our appointment. I was received with every mark of favour, and promoted in the room of the dismissed deputy. My business consisted in visiting the farms, in giving orders for the necessary repairs, in dunning the farmers, and keeping them to time in their payments; in a word, the tenants were all under my thumb, and Don Diego checked my accounts every month with a minuteness which few receivers could have borne. But this was exactly what I wanted. Though my uprightness had been so ill requited by my late master, it was my only inheritance, and I was determined not to sell the reversion.
One day news came that the castle of Lerma had taken fire, and was more than half burnt down. I immediately went thither to estimate the loss. In forming myself to a nicety, and on the spot, respecting all the particulars of the unlucky accident, I drew up a detailed narrative, which Monteser shewed to the Duke of Lerma. That minister, though vexed at the circumstance, was struck with the memorial, and inquired who was the author. Don Diego thought it not enough to answer the question, but spoke of me in such high terms, that his excellency recollected it six months afterwards, on occasion of an incident I shall now relate, had it not been for which I might never, perhaps, have been employed at court. It was as follows: --
There lived at that time in Princes Street an elderly lady, by name Inésilla de Cantarilla. Her birth was a matter of mystery. Some said she was the daughter of a musical instrument-maker, and others gave her a high military extraction. However that might be, she was a very extraordinary personage. Nature had gifted her with the singular talent of winning men's hearts in defiance of time, and in contradiction to her own laws; for she was now entering upon the fourth quarter of her century. She had been the reigning toast of the old court, and levied tribute on the passions of the new. Age, though at daggers drawn with beauty, was completely foiled in its assault upon her charms; they might be somewhat faded, but the touch of sympathy they excited in their decline was more pleasing that the vivid glow of their meridian lustre. An air of dignity, a transporting wit and humour, an unborrowed grace in her deportment, perpetuated the reign of passion, and silenced the suggestions of reason.
Don Valerio de Luna, one of the Duke of Lerma's secretaries, a young fellow of five-and-twenty, meeting with Inésilla, fell violently in love with her. He made his sentiments known, enacted all the mummery of despair, and followed up the usual catastrophe of every amorous drama so much according to the unities and rules, that it was difficult, in the very torrent and whirlwind of his passion, to beget a temperance that might give it smoothness. The lady, who had her reason for not choosing to fall in with his humour, was at a loss how to get out of the difficulty. One day she was in hopes to have found the means by calling the young man into her closet, and there pointing to a clock upon the table. Mark the precise hour, said she; just seventy-five years ago was I brought upon the stage of this fantastical world. In good earnest, would it sit well upon my time of life to be engaged in affairs of gallantry? Betake yourself to reflection, my good child; stifle sentiments so unsuitable to your own circumstances and mine. Sensible as this language was, the spark, no longer bowing to the authority of reason, answered the lady with all the impetuosity of a man racked by the most excruciating torments: Cruel Inésilla, why have you recourse to such frivolous remonstrances? Do you think they can change your charms or my desires? Delude not yourself with so false a hope. As long as your loveliness or my delusion lasts, I shall never cease to adore you. Well, then, rejoined she, since you are obstinate enough to persist in the resolution of wearying me with your importunities, my doors shall henceforth be shut against you. You are banished, and I beg to be no longer troubled with your company.
It may be supposed, perhaps, that after this, Don Valerio, baffled, made good his retreat like a prudent general. Quite the reverse! He became more troublesome than ever. Love is to lovers just what wine is to drunkards. The swain intreated, sighed, looked, and sighed again; when all at once, changing his note from childish treble to the big manly voice of bluster and ravishment, he swore that he would have by foul means what he could not obtain by fair. But the lady, repulsing him courageously, said with a piercing look of strong resentment, Hold, imprudent wretch! I shall put a curb on your mad career. Learn that you are my own son.
Don Valerio was thunderstruck at these words; the tempest of his rage subsided. But, conjecturing that Inesilla had only started this device to rid herself of his solicitations, he answered, That is a mere romance of the moment to steal away from my ardent desires. No, no, said she, interrupting him, I disclose a mystery which should have been for ever buried, had you not reduced me to so painful a necessity. It is six-and-twenty years since I was in love with your father, Don Pedro de Luna, then governor of Segovia; you were the fruit of our mutual passion: he owned you, brought you up with care and tenderness, and having no children born in wedlock, he had nothing to hinder him from distinguishing your good qualities by the gifts of fortune. On my part, I have not forsaken you; as soon as you were of an age to be introduced into the world, I drew you into the circle of my acquaintance, to form your manners to that polish of good company, so necessary for a gentleman, which is only to be gained in female society. I have done more: I have employed all my credit to introduce you to the prime minister. In short, I have interested myself for you as I should have done for my own son. After this confession, take your measures accordingly. If you can purge your affections from their dross, and look on me as a mother, you are not banished from my presence, and I shall treat you with my accustomed tenderness. But if you are not equal to an effort, which nature and reason demand from you, fly instantly, and release me from the horror of beholding you.
Inesilla spoke to this effect. Meanwhile Don Valerio preserved a sudden silence: it might have been interpreted into a virtuous struggle, a conquest over the weakness of his heart. But his purposes were far different; he had another scene to act before his mother. Unable to withstand the total overthrow of all his wild projects, he basely yielded to despair. Drawing his sword, he plunged it in his own bosom. His fate resembled that of Oedipus, with this distinction; that the Theban put out his own eyes from remorse for the crime he had perpetrated, while the Castilian, on the contrary, committed suicide from disappointment at the frustration of his purposes.
The unhappy Don Valerio was not released from his sufferings immediately. He had leisure left for recollection, and for making his peace with heaven, be fore he rushed into the presence of his Maker. As his death vacated one of the secretaryships on the Duke of Lerma's establishment, that minister, not having forgotten my memoir on the subject of the fire, nor the high character he had heard of me, nominated me to succeed to the post in question.