CH. II. -- Gil Blas is introduced to the Duke of Lerma, who admits him among the number of his secretaries, and requires a specimen of his talents, with which he is well satisfied.

 

MONTESER was the person to inform me of this agreeable circumstance, which he did in the following terms: My friend Gil Blas, though I do not lose you without regret, I am too much your well-wisher not to be delighted at your promotion in the room of Don Valerio. You cannot fail to make a princely fortune, provided you act upon two hints which I have to give you: the first, to affect so total a devotion to his excellency's good pleasure, as to leave no room to conceive it possible that you have any other object or interest in life -- the second, to pay your court assiduously to Signor Don Rodrigo de Calderona; for that personage models and remodels, fashions and touches upon the mind of his master, just as if it was clay under the hands of the designer. If you are fortunate enough to chime in with that favourite secretary, you will travel post to wealth and honour, and find relays upon the road.

Sir, said I to Don Diego, returning him thanks at the same time for his good advice, be pleased to give some little opening to Don Rodrigo's character. I have heard a few anecdotes of him. One would suppose him, from some accounts, not to be the best creature in the world; but the people at large are inveterate caricaturists when they draw courtiers at full length; though, after all, the likeness will strike, in spite of the aggravation. Tell me, therefore, I beseech you, what is your own sincere opinion of Signor Calderona. That is rather an awkward question, answered my principal with an ironical smile. I should tell any one but yourself, without flinching, that he was a gentleman of the strictest honour, upon whose fair fame the breath of calumny had never dared to blow; but I really cannot put off such a copy of my countenance upon you. Relying as I do on your discretion, it becomes a duty to deal candidly in the delineation of Don Rodrigo; for without that, it would be playing fast and loose with you to recommend the cultivation of his good-will.

You are to know then, that when his excellency was no more than plain Don Francisco de Sandoval, this man had the humility to serve him as his lackey; since which time he has risen by degrees to the post of principal secretary. A prouder excrescence of the dunghill never sprung into vegetation on a summer's day. He considers himself as the Duke of Lerma's colleague; and in point of fact, he may truly be said to parcel out the loaves and fishes of administration, since he gives away offices and governments at the suggestions of his own caprice. The public grumbles and growls upon occasion; but who cares for the grumbling and growling of the public? Let him steal a pair of gloves from the prostitution of political honour, and the bronze upon his forehead will be proof against the peltings of scandal. What I have said will decide your dealings towards so supercilious a compound of dust and ashes. Yes, to be sure, said I; leave me alone for that It will be strange indeed if I cannot wriggle myself into his good graces. If one can but get on the blind side of a man who is to be made a property, it must be want of skill in the player if the game is lost. Exactly so, replied Monteser; and now I will introduce you to the Duke of Lerma.

We went at once to the minister, whom we found in his audience-chamber. His levee was more crowded than the king's. There were commanders and knights of St James and of Calatrava, making interest for governments and viceroyalties; bishops who, labouring under oppression of the breath and tightness of the chest in their own dioceses, had been recommended the air of an archbishopric by their physicians; while the sounder lungs of lower dignitaries were strong enough to inhale the Theban atmosphere of a suffragan see. I observed besides some reduced officers dancing attendance to Captain Chinchilla's tune, and catching cold in fishing for a pension, which was never likely to pay the doctor for their cure. If the duke did not satisfy their wants, he put a pleasant face upon their importunities; and it struck me that he returned a civil answer to all applicants.

We waited patiently till the routine of ceremony was despatched. Then said Don Diego: My lord, this is Gil Blas de Santillane, the young man appointed by your excellency to succeed Don Valerio. The duke now took more particular notice of me, saying obligingly, that I had already earned my promotion by my services. He then took me to a private conference in his closet, or rather to an examination. My birth, parentage, and course of life were the objects of his inquiry; nor would he be satisfied without the particulars, and those in the spirit of sincerity. What a career to run over before a patron! Yet it was impossible to lie, in the presence of a prime minister. On the other hand, my vanity was concerned in suppressing so many circumstances, that there was no venturing on an unqualified confession. What cunning scene had Roscius then to act? A little painting and tattooing might decently be employed to disguise the nakedness of truth, and spare her unsophisticated blushes. But he had studied her complexion, as well as the beauties of her natural form. Monsieur de Santillane, said he with a smile on the close of my narrative, I perceive that hitherto you have had your principles to choose. My lord, answered I, colouring up to the eyes, your excellency enjoined me to deal sincerely; and I have complied with your orders. I take your doing so in good part, replied he. It is all very well, my good fellow: you have escaped from the snares of this wicked world more by luck than management: it is wonderful that bad example should not have corrupted you irreparably. There are many men of strict virtue and exemplary piety, who would have turned out the greatest rogues in existence, if their destinies had exposed them to but half your trials.

Friend Santillane, continued the minister, ponder no longer on the past; consider yourself as to the very bone and marrow the king's; live henceforth but for his service. Come this way; I will instruct you in the nature of your business. He carried me into a little closet adjoining his own, which contained a score of thick folio registers. This is your workshop, said he. All these registers compose an alphabetical peerage, giving the heraldry and history of all the nobility and gentry in the several kingdoms and principalities of the Spanish monarchy. In these volumes are recorded the services rendered to the state by the present possessors and their ancestors, descending even to the personal animosities and rencounters of the individuals and their houses. Their fortunes, their manners, in a word, all the pros and cons of their character are set down according to the letter of ministerial scrutiny; so that they no sooner enter on the list of court candidates, that my eye catches up the very chapter and verse of their pretensions. To furnish this necessary information, I have pensioned scouts everywhere on the look-out, who send me private notices of their discoveries; but as these documents are for the most part drawn up in a gossiping and provincial style, they require to be translated into gentlemanly language, or the king would not be able to support the perusal of the registers. This task demands the pen of a polite and perspicuous writer; I doubt not but you will justify your claim to the appointment.

After this introduction, he put a memorial into my hand, taken from a large portfolio full of papers, and then withdrew from my closet, that my first specimen might be manufactured in all the freedom of solitude. I read the memorial, which was not only stuffed with a most uncouth jargon, but breathed a brimstone spirit of rancour and personal revenge. This was most foul, strange, and unnatural! for the homily was written by a monk. He hacked and hewed a Catalan family of some note most unmercifully; with what reason or truth, it must be reserved for a more penetrating inquirer to decide. It read for all the world like an infamous libel, and I had some scruples about becoming the publisher of the calumny; nevertheless, young as I was at court, I plunged head foremost, at the risk of sinking and destroying his reverence's soul. The wickedness, if there was any, would be put down to his running account with the recording angel; I therefore had nothing to do but to vilify, in the purest Spanish phraseology, some two or three generations of honest men and loyal subjects.

I had already blackened four or five pages, when the duke, impatient to know how I got on, came back and said -- Santillane, shew me what you have done; I am curious to see it. At the same time, casting his eye over the transcript, he read the beginning with much attention. It seemed to please him; strange that he could be so pleased! Prepossessed as I have been in your favour, observed he, I must own that you have surpassed my expectations. It is not merely the elegance and distinctness of the handwriting! There is something animated and glowing in the composition. You will do ample credit to my choice, and fully make up for the loss of your predecessor. He would not have cut my panegyric so short, if his nephew the Count de Lemos had not interrupted him in the middle of it. By the warmth and frequency of his excellency's welcome, it was evident that they were the best friends in the world. They were immediately closeted together on some family business, of which I shall speak in the sequel. The king's affairs at this time were obliged to play second to those of the minister.

While they were caballing it struck twelve. As I knew that the secretaries and their clerks quitted office at that hour to go and dine wherever their business and desire should point them, I left my prize performance behind me, and went to the gayest tavern at the court end of the town, for I had nothing further to do with Monteser, who had paid my salary, and taken his leave of me. But a common eating-house would have been a very improper place for me to be seen in. "Consider yourself as to the very bone and marrow the king's." This metaphorical expression of the duke had given birth to a real and tangible ambition in my soul, which put forth shoots like a plantation in a fat and unvexed soil.

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