CH. V. -- The joys, the honours, and the miseries of a court life, in the person of Gil Blas.

 

THE minister's growing partiality towards me was soon noticed. He displayed it ostentatiously, by committing his portfolio to my custody, which it was his habit to carry in his own hand when he went to council. This novelty causing me to be looked upon as a rising favourite, excited the envy of certain persons, so that I was preciously sprinkled with the hellish dew of court malevolence. My two neighbours the secretaries were not the last to compliment me on my budding honours, and invited me to supper at the widow's, not so much by way of returning my hospitality, as with an eye to business in the cultivation of my acquaintance. Parties were made for me everywhere. Even the haughty Don Rodrigo was cap-in-hand to me. He now called me nothing less than Signor de Santillane, though the moon had scarcely changed her face since he thee'd and thou'd me, without ever bethinking him that he was talking to something above a pauper. He heaped me up and pressed me down with civilities, especially within eyeshot of our common patron. But the fool was wiser than to be caught with chaff. The good breeding of my returns was nicely proportioned to my thorough detestation of my humble servant: a rascal who had lived in court all his life could not have played the rascal better than I did.

I likewise accompanied my lord duke when he had an audience of the king, which was usually three times a day. In the morning he went into his majesty's chamber as soon as he was awake. There he dropped down on his marrow bones by the bed-side, talked over what was to be done in the course of the day, and put into the royal mouth the speeches the royal tongue was to make. He then withdrew. After dinner he came back again; not for state affairs, but for what, what? and a little gossip. He was well instructed in all the tittle-tattle of Madrid, which was sold to him at the earliest of the season. Lastly, in the evening he saw the king again for the third time, put whatever colour he pleased on the transactions of the day, and, as a matter of course, requested his instructions for the morrow. While he was with the king, I kept in the ante-chamber, where people of the first quality, sinking that they might rise, threw themselves in the way of my observation, and thought the day not lost if I had deigned to exchange a few words of common civility with them. Was it to be wondered at, if myself-importance fattened upon such food? There are many folks at court, who stalk about on stilts of much frailer materials.

One day my vanity was still more highly pampered. The king, to whom the duke had puffed off my style, was curious to see a sample of it. His excellency made me bring the register of Catalonia and myself into the royal presence; telling me to read the first memorial I had digested. If so catholic a critic overpowered my modesty at first, the minister's encouragement recalled my scattered spirits, and I read with good tone and emphasis what his majesty deigned to hear with some symptoms of approbation. He spoke handsomely of my performance, and recommended my fortunes to the special care of his minister. My humility was not the greater for the augmentation of my consequence; and a particular conversation some days afterwards with the Count de Lemos swelled high the spring tide of all my ambitious anticipations.

I waited on that nobleman from his uncle at the Prince of Spain's court, and presented credentials from the duke, directing him to deal unreservedly with me, as with a man who was embarked in their design and selected by himself exclusively as their go-between. The count then took me to a room, where he locked the door, and then spoke as follows: Since you are confidential with the Duke of Lerma, I doubt not you deserve to be so, and shall unbosom myself to you without hesitation. You are to know that matters go on just as we could wish. The Prince of Spain distinguishes me above the most assiduous of his courtiers. I had a private conversation with him this morning, wherein he expressed some disgust at being restrained by the king's avarice from following the inclinations of his liberal heart, and living on a scale befitting his august rank. On this head I chimed in with his regrets; and taking advantage of the opportunity, promised to carry him a thousand pistoles early to-morrow morning, as an earnest of larger sums with which I have engaged to feed his necessities forthwith. He was in ecstasy at my promises; and I am certain of securing his grace and favour in tail, if I can but fulfil my engagement Acquaint my uncle with these particulars, and come back in the evening with his sentiments on the subject.

I left the Count de Lemos with the last words still quivering on his lips, and went back to the Duke of Lerma, who, on my report, sent to ask Calderona for a thousand pistoles, which he charged me to carry to the count in the evening. Away went I on my errand, muttering to myself -- So, so! now I have discovered the minister's infallible receipt for the cure of all evils. Faith and troth, he is in the right; and to all appearance he may draw as copiously as he pleases from the spring, without exhausting the source. I can easily guess what bag those pistoles come from; but after all, is it not the order of nature that the parent should nurture and maintain the child! The Count de Lemos, at our parting, said to me in a low voice -- Farewell, my good and worthy friend. The Prince of Spain has a little hankering after the women; we must have a little conversation on that subject one of these days; I foresee that your agency will be very applicable on that head. I returned with my head full of this last hint, which it was impossible to misinterpret. Neither did I wish to do so, for it suited my talents to a nicety. What the devil is to happen next? said I. Behold me on the point of becoming pimp to the heir of the monarchy. Whether pimping was a virtue or a vice, I did not stop to inquire: the coarse surtout of morality would have worn but shabbily while the passions of so exalted a gallant were in the glare and glow of all their newest gloss. What a promotion for me to be the provider of pleasure to a great prince! Fair and softly, Master Gil Blas, some one may say: after all, you will be but second minister. May be so; but at bottom the honour of both these posts is equal; the difference lies in the profit only.

While executing these honourable commissions, and getting forward daily in the good graces of the prime minister, what a happy being should I have been, if statesmen were born with a set of intestines to turn the chameleon's diet into chyle! It was more than two months since I had got rid of my grand lodging, and had taken up my quarters in a little room scarcely good enough for a banker's clerk. Though this was not quite as it should be, yet since I went out betimes in the morning, and never returned at night before bed-time, there was not much to quarrel about on that score. All day I was the hero of my own stage, or rather of the duke's. It was a principal part that I was playing. But when I retired from this brilliant theatre to my own cockloft, the great lord vanished, and poor Gil Blas was left behind, without a royal image in his pocket, and what was worse, without the means of conjuring up his glorious resemblance. Besides that it would have wounded my pride to have divulged my necessities, there was not a creature of my acquaintance who could have assisted me but Navarro, and him I had too palpably neglected since my introduction at court, to venture on soliciting his benevolence. I had been obliged to sell my wardrobe article by article. There was nothing more left than was absolutely necessary to make a decent appearance. I no longer went to the ordinary, because I had no longer wherewithal to pay my score. How then did I make shift to keep body and soul together? There was every morning, in our offices, a scanty breakfast set out, consisting of a little bread and wine; this was the whole of our commons on the minister's establishment. I never knew what it was to exceed this stint during the day, and at night I most frequently went supperless to bed.

Such was the fare of a man who made a splendid figure at court; but his illustrious fortunes, like those of other courtiers, were more a subject of pity than of grudge. I could no longer resist the pressure of my circumstances, and ultimately resolved on their disclosure at a seasonable opportunity. By good luck such an occasion offered at the Escurial, whither the king and the Prince of Spain removed some days afterwards.

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