CH. IX. -- Scipio's second journey to Madrid. Gil Blas is set at liberty on certain conditions. Their departure from the tower of Segovia, and conversation on their journey.
WHILE waiting for Scipio's return from Madrid, I began a course of study. Tordesillas furnished me with more books than I wanted. He borrowed them from an old officer who could not read, but had fitted up a magnificent library, that he might pass for a man of learning. Above all, I delighted in moral essays and treatises, because they abounded in common-places according with my antipathy to courts and philosophic relish of solitude.
Three weeks elapsed before I heard a syllable from my negotiator, who returned at length with a cheerful countenance, and news to the following effect: By the intercession of a hundred pistoles with the chambermaid, and her intercession with her mistress, the Prince of Spain has been prevailed with to plead for your enlargement with his royal father. I hastened hither to announce these happy tidings, and must return immediately to put the last hand to my work. With these words, he left me, and went back to court
At the week's end my expeditious agent returned, with the intelligence that the prince had procured my liberty, not without some difficulty. On the same day my generous keeper confirmed the assurance in person, with the kindest congratulations, and the following notice: -- Your prison doors are open, but on two conditions, which I am sorry that my duty obliges me to announce, because they will probably be disagreeable to you. His majesty expressly forbids you to shew your face at court, or to be found within the limits of the two Castiles on this day month. I am extremely sorry that you are interdicted from court. And I am delighted at it, answered I. Witness all the powers above! I asked the king for only one favour; he has granted me two.
With my liberty thus confirmed, I hired a couple of mules, on which we mounted the next day, after taking leave of Cogollos, and thanking Tordesillas a thousand times for all his instances of friendship. We set forward cheerfully on the road to Madrid, to draw our deposit out of Signor Gabriel's hands, amounting to a thousand doubloons. On the road my fellow-traveller observed: If we are not rich enough to purchase a splendid property, we can at least secure ease and competency to ourselves. A cabin, answered I, would be large enough for my most ambitious thoughts. Though scarcely at the middle period of life, the world has lost its charms for me; its hopes, its fears, its cares, its duties, are all absorbed in the selfishness of philosophical retirement. Independently of these principles, I can assure you I have painted for myself a rural landscape, with a foreground of innocent pleasures, and pastoral simplicity in the perspective. Already does the enamel of the meadows glitter under my eyes; already does the river's murmur accord with the winged chorus of the grove: hunting exasperates the manly virtues, and fishing preaches patience. Only figure to yourself; my friend, what a continual round of amusement solitude may furnish, and you will pant to be admitted of her crew. Then for the economy of our table, the simplest will be the cheapest, and of course the best. Unadulterated Ceres shall be our official caterer: when hunger shall have tamed our fastidious appetites into sobriety, a mumbled crust will relish like an ortolan. The supreme delight of eating is not in the thing ate, but in the palate of him who eats; a proposition in culinary philosophy, proved by the frequent loathing of my own stomach, through a long series of ministerial dinners. Abstemiousness is a luxury of the most exquisite refinement, and the best recipe in the materia medica.
With your good leave, Signor Gil Blas, interrupted my secretary, I am not altogether of your mind respecting the luscious treat of abstemiousness. Why should we mess like the bankrupt sages of antiquity? Surely we may indulge the carnal man a little, without any reasonable offence to the spiritual. Since we have, by the blessing of Providence and my forecast, wherewithal to keep the spit and the spigot in exercise, do not let us take up our abode with famine and wretchedness. As soon as we get settled, we must stock our cellar, and establish a respectable larder, like people who know what is what, and do not separate themselves from the vulgar crowd to renounce the good things of this life, but to taste them with a more exquisite relish. As Hesiod says,
Enjoy thy riches with a liberal soul;Plenteous the feast, all smiling be the bowl.
And again,To stint the wine a frugal husband shows,When from the middle of the cask it flows.
What the devil, Master Scipio, interrupted I in my turn, you can cap verses out of the Greek poets! And pray where did you get acquainted with Hesiod? In very learned company, answered he. I lived some time with a walking dictionary at Salamanca, a fellow up to the elbows in quotation and commentary. He could put a large volume together like a house of cards. His library furnished him with a hodge-podge of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin common places, which he translated into buckram Castilian. As I was his transcriber, some tags of verses, stings of epigrams, and sage truisms stuck by the way. With such an apparatus, replied I, your memory must be most philosophically stocked. But, not to lose sight of our future prospects, whereabouts in Spain had we best fix our Socratic abode? My voice is for Arragon, resumed my counsellor. We shall there enjoy all the beauties of nature, and lead the life of Paradise. Well, then, for Arragon! said I. May it teem with all the dear delights that youthful poets fancy when they dream!