CH. X. -- Their doings at Madrid. The rencounter of Gil Blas in the street, and its consequences.

 

ON our arrival in Madrid, we alighted at a little public-house where Scipio had been accustomed to put up, whence our first visit was to my banker, Salero. He received us very cordially, and expressed the highest satisfaction at my release. Indeed, added he, your untoward fate touched me so nearly as to change my views of a political alliance. The fortunes of courtiers are like castles in the air: so I have married my daughter Gabriela to a wealthy trader. You have acted very wisely, answered I; for besides that a bird in the hand is worth two in a bush, when a plodding citizen aspires to the honour of bringing a man of fashion into his family, he very often has an impertinent puppy for his son-in-law.

Then changing the topic, and coming to the point: Signor Gabriel, pursued I, we came to talk a little about the two thousand pistoles which. . . . Your money is all ready, said the goldsmith, interrupting me. He then took us into his closet, and delivered the two bags, carefully labelled with my name on them.

I thanked Salero for his exactness, and heaven in my sleeve for my escape from his daughter. At our inn we counted over the money, and found it right, deducting fifty doubloons for the expenses of my enlargement. Our thoughts were now wholly bent upon Arragon. My secretary undertook to buy a carriage and two mules. It was my office to provide household and body linen. During my peregrinations for that purpose, I met Baron Steinbach, the officer in the German Guards with whom Don Alphonso had been brought up.

I touched my hat to him; he knew me again, and returned my greeting warmly. My joy is extreme, said I, at seeing your lordship in such fine health, to say nothing of my wish to inquire after Don Caesar and Don Alphonso de Leyva. They are both in Madrid, answered he, and staying at my house. They came to town about three months ago, to be presented on occasion of Don Alphonso's promotion. He has been appointed Governor of Valencia, on the score of old family claims, without having in any shape pushed his interest at court. Nothing could be more grateful to his feelings, or prove more strongly our royal master's goodness, who delights to recognize the merits of ancestry in the persons of their descendants.

Though I knew more of this matter than Steinbach, I kept my knowledge in the background. Yet so lively was my impatience to hail my old masters, that he would not damp my ardour by delay. I had a mind to try Don Alphonso, whether he still retained his regard for me. He was playing at chess with Baroness Steinbach, On my entrance, he started up from his game, ran towards me, and squeezing me tight in his embrace: Santillane, said he, with demonstrations of the sincerest joy, at length, then, you are restored to my heart. I am delighted at it! It was not my fault that we ever parted. You may remember how strongly I urged you not to withdraw from the Castle of Leyva. You were deaf to my entreaties. But I must not chide your obstinacy, because its motive was the peace of the family. Yet you ought to have let me hear from you, and to have spared my fruitless inquiries at Grenada, where my brother-in-law, Don Ferdinand, sent me word that you were. And now tell me what you are doing at Madrid. Of course you have some situation here. Be assured that I shall always take a lively interest in your concerns. Sir, answered I, it is but four months since I occupied a considerable post at court. I had the honour of being the Duke of Lerma's confidential secretary. Can it be possible? exclaimed Don Alphonso, as if he could scarcely believe his ears. What, were you so near the person of the prime minister? I then related how I had gained and lost his favour, and ended with avowing my determination to buy a cottage and garden with the wreck of my shattered fortunes.

The son of Don Caesar heard me attentively, and made this answer: My dear Gil Blas, you know how I have always loved you; nor shall you longer be fortune's puppet I will set you above her vagaries, by securing you an independence. Since you declare for a country life, a little estate of ours near Lirias, about four leagues from Valencia, shall be settled on you. You are acquainted with the spot. Such a present we can make, without putting ourselves to the least inconvenience. I can answer for my father's joining in the act, and for Seraphina's entire approbation.

I threw myself at Don Alphonso's feet, who raised me immediately. More penetrated by his affection than by his bounty, I pressed his hand and said, Sir, your conduct charms me. Your noble gift is the more welcome, as it precedes the knowledge of a service it has been in my power to render you; and I had rather owe it to your generosity, than to your gratitude. This governor of my making did not know what to understand by the hint, and pressed for an explanation. I gave it in full, to his utter astonishment. Neither he nor Baron Steinbach could ever have the slightest suspicion that the government of Valencia was owing to my interest at court. Yet having no reason to doubt the fact, my friend proposed to grant me an annuity of two thousand ducats, in addition to the little farm at Lirias.

Hold your hand, Signor Don Alphonso! exclaimed I at this offer. You must not set my avarice afloat again. I am myself a living witness, that fortune may give superfluities to her favourites, but has no competence to bestow. With pleasure will I accept of the estate at Lirias, where my present property will be sufficient for all my wants. Rather than increase my cares with my possessions, I would build a hospital out of my existing funds. Riches are a burden: and it must be a foolish animal that would bear fardels in the manger or the field.

While we were talking after this fashion, Den Caesar came in. His joy was not less than his son's at the sight of me; and being informed of the family obligations, he again pressed me to accept of the annuity, which I again refused. When the writings were drawn, the father and son made the assignment their joint act and deed, transferring to me the fee simple, and putting me in immediate possession. My secretary half stared the eyes out of his head, when I told him we lad a landed estate of our own, and how we came by it. What is the value of this little freehold? said he. Five hundred ducats per annum, answered I, and the farm in high cultivation, within a ring fence. I have often been there during my stewardship. There is a small house on the banks of the Guadalaviar, in a little hamlet, surrounded by a charming country.

What pleases me better than all, cried Scipio, is that we shall have plenty of sporting, rare living, and excellent wine. Come, master, let us leave this crowded city, and hasten to our hermitage. I long to be there as much as you can do, answered I; but I must first go to the Asturias. My father and mother are not in comfortable circumstances. They shall therefore end their days with me at Lirias. Heaven, perhaps, has thrown this windfall in my way to try my filial duty, and would punish me for the neglect of it Scipio approved my purpose, and urged its speedy execution. Yes, my friend, said I, we will set out as soon as possible. I shall consider it as my dear delight to share the gifts of fortune with the authors of my existence. We shall soon be settled in our country retreat; and then will I write these two Latin verses over the door of my farm-house, in letters of gold, for the pious edification of my rustic neighbours:

Inveni portum. Spes et fortuna, valete.
Sat me lusistis; ludite nunc alios.

 

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