CH. I. -- Scipio's scheme of marriage for Gil Blas. The match, a rich goldsmith's daughter. Circumstances connected with this speculation.
ONE evening, on the departure of my supper company, finding myself alone with Scipio, I asked him what he had been doing that day. Striking a masterstroke, answered he. I intend that you should marry. A goldsmith of my acquaintance has an only daughter, and I mean to make up a match between you.
A goldsmith's daughter! exclaimed I with a disdainful air: are you out of your senses? Can you think of tying me up to a trinket-maker? People of a certain character in society, and on a certain footing at court, ought to have much higher views of things. Pardon me, sir! rejoined Scipio, do not take the subject up in that light. Recollect that nobility accrues by the male side, and do not ride a higher horse than a thousand jockeys of quality whom I could name. Do you know that the heiress in question will bring a hundred thousand ducats in her pocket? Is not that a pretty little sprig of jewellery? To the resounding echo of so large a sum, my ears were instantly symphonious. The day is your own, said I to the secretary; the fortune determines the case in the lady's favour. When do you mean to put me in possession? Fair and softly, sir, answered he, the more haste the worse speed. It will be necessary for me first to communicate the affair to the father, and instil the advantage of it into his capacity. Good! rejoined I with a burst of laughter; is it thereabouts you are? The match is far advanced in its progress towards consummation. Much nearer than you suppose, replied he. But one hour's conversation with the goldsmith, and I pledge myself for his consent But, before we go any further, let us come to an agreement, if you please. Supposing that I should transfer a hundred thousand ducats to you, what would my commission be? Twenty thousand! was my answer. Heaven be praised therefore! said he. I guessed your gratitude at ten thousand; so that it doubles mine in a similar case. Come on then! I will set this negotiation on foot to-morrow morning; and you may count upon its success, or I am little better than one of the foolish ones.
In fact, he said to me two days afterwards, I have spoken to Signor Gabriel Salero, my friend the goldsmith. On the loud report of your high desert and credit, he has lent a favourable ear to my offer of you for a son-in-law. You are to have his daughter with a hundred thousand ducats, provided you can make it appear clearly that you are in possession of the minister's good graces. Since that is the case, said I confidently to Scipio, I shall soon be married. But, not entirely to forget the girl, have you seen her? is she pretty? Not quite so pretty as her fortune, answered he. Between ourselves, this heiress's looks are as hard as her cash. Luckily, you are perfectly indifferent about that. Stone blind, by the light of the sun, my good fellow! replied I. As for us whimsical fellows about court, we marry merely for the sake of marrying. When we want beauty, we look for it in our friends' wives; and if, by fates and destinies, the sweets are wasted on our own, their flavour is so mawkish to our palate, that there is some merit in their not carrying the commodity to a foreign market.
This is not all, resumed Scipio: Signor Gabriel hopes for the pleasure of your company to supper this evening. By agreement, there is to be no mention of marriage. He has invited several of his mercantile friends to this entertainment, where you will take your chance with the rest, and to-morrow he means to sup with you on the same terms. By this you will perceive his drift of looking before he leaps. You will do well to be a little on your guard before him. Oh! for the matter of that, interrupted I with an air of confidence, let him scrutinize me as closely as he pleases, the result cannot fail to be in my favour.
All this happened as it was foretold. I was introduced at the goldsmith's, who received me with the familiarity of an old acquaintance. A vulgar dog, but warm; and as troublesome with his civility as a prude with her virtue. He presented me to Signora Eugenia his wife, and the youthful Gabriela his daughter. I opened wide my budget of compliments, without infringing the treaty, and prattled soft nothings to them, in all the vacuity of courtly dialogue.
Gabriela, with submission to my secretary's better taste, was not altogether so repulsive; whether by dint of being outrageously bedizened, or because I looked at her in the raree-shew box of her fortune. A charming house this of Signor Gabriel! There is less silver, I verily believe, in the Peruvian mines, than under his roof. That metal presented itself to the view in all directions, under a thousand different forms. Every room, and especially that where we were entertained, was a fairy palace. What a bird's eye view for a son-in-law! The old codger, to do the thing genteelly, had collected five or six merchants about him, all plodding spirit-wearing personages. Their tongues could only talk of what their hearts were set upon; it was high change all supper-time; but unfortunately wit was at a discount.
Next night, it was my turn to treat the goldsmith. Not being able to dazzle him with my sideboard, I had recourse to another artifice. I invited to supper such of my friends as made the finest figure at court; hangers-on of state noted for the unwieldiness of their ambition. These fellows could not talk on common topics: the brilliant and lucrative posts at which they aimed were all canvassed in detail; this too made its way. Poor counting-house Gabriel, in amazement at the loftiness of their ideas, shrunk into insignificance, in spite of all his hoards, on a comparison with these wonderful men. As for me, in all the plausibility of moderation, I professed to wish for nothing more than a comfortable fortune; a snug box and a competence: whereupon these gluttons of the loaves and fishes cried out with one voice that I was wrong, absolutely criminal; for the prime minister would do anything upon earth for me, and it was an act of duty to anoint my fingers with bird-lime. My honoured papa lost not a word of all this; and seemed, at going away, to take his leave with some complacency.
Scipio went of course the next morning, to ask him how he liked me. Extremely well indeed, answered the knight of the ledger; the lad has won my very heart. But, good master Scipio, I conjure you by our long acquaintance to deal with me as a true friend. We have all our weak side, as you well know. Tell me where Signor de Santillane is fallible. Is he fond of play? does he wench? On what lay are his snug little vices? Do not fight shy, I beset you. It is very unkind, Signor Gabriel, to put such a question, retorted the go-between. Your interest is more to me than my master's. If he had any slippery propensities, likely to make your daughter unhappy, would I ever have proposed him as a son-in-law? The deuce a bit! I am too much at your service. But, between ourselves, he has but one fault; that of being faultless. He is too wise for a young man. So much the better, replied the goldsmith; he is the more like me. You may go, my friend, and tell him he shall have my daughter, and should have her though he knew no more of the minister than I do.
As soon as my secretary had reported this conversation, I flew to thank Salero for his partiality. He had already told his mind to his wife and daughter, who gave me to understand by their reception, that they yielded without disgust. I carried my father-in-law to the Duke of Lerma, whom I had informed the evening before, and presented him with due ceremony. His excellency gave him a most gracious reception, and congratulated him on having chosen a man for his son-in-law, for whom he himself had so great a regard, and meant to do such great things. Then did he expatiate on my good qualities, and, in fact, said so much to my honour, that honest Gabriel thought he had met with the best match in Spain. His joy oozed out at his eyes. On parting, he pressed me in his arms, and said: My son, I am so impatient to see you Gabriela's husband, that the affair shall be finally settled within a week at latest.