CH. III. -- Gil Blas sets out for Valencia, and arrives at Lirias; description of his seat; the particulars of his reception, and the characters of the inhabitants he found there.
We took the road for Leon, afterwards that of Palencia; and, continuing our journey by short stages, arrived on the evening of the tenth day at the town of Segorba, whence early on the morrow we repaired to my seat, at the distance of very little more than three leagues. In proportion as we approached nearer, it was amusing to see with what a longing eye my secretary looked at all the estates which lay in our way, to the right and left of the road. Whenever he caught a glimpse of any which bespoke the rank and opulence of its owner, he never missed pointing at it with his finger, and wishing that were the place of our retreat.
I know not, my good friend, said I, what idea you have formed of our habitation; but if you have taken it into your head that ours is a magnificent house, with the domain of a great landed proprietor, I warn you in time that you are laying much too flattering an unction to your vanity.
If you have no mind to be the dupe of a warm imagination, figure to yourself the little ornamented cottage which Horace fitted up near Tibur in the country of the Sabines, on a small farm, the fee-simple of which was given hint by Maecenas. Don Alphonso has made me just such another present, more as a token of affection than for the value of the thing. Then I must expect to see nothing but a dirty hovel! exclaimed Scipio. Bear in mind, replied I, that I have always given you quite an unvarnished description of my place; and now, even at this moment, you may judge for yourself whether I have not stuck to truth and nature in my representations. Just carry your eye along the course of the Guadalaviar, and observe at a little distance from the further bank, near that hamlet, consisting of nine or ten tenements, a house with four small turrets; that is my mansion.
The deuce and all! stammered out my secretary, short-breathed with sudden admiration: why, that house is one of the prettiest things in nature. Besides the castellated air which those turrets give it, all the beauties of situation and architecture, fertility of soil, and perfection of landscape, combine to rival or excel the immediate neighbourhood of Seville, complimented as it is for its picturesque attractions by the appellation of an earthly paradise. Had we chosen the place of our settlement for ourselves, it could not have been more to my taste: a river meanders through the grounds, distilling plenty and verdure from its fertilizing bosom; the leafy honours of an umbrageous wood invite the mid-day walk, and qualify the temperature of the seasons. What a heavenly abode of solitude and contemplation! Ah! my dear master, we shall act very foolishly if we are in a hurry to run away from our happiness. I am delighted, answered I, that you are so well satisfied with the retreat provided for us, though yet acquainted with only a small part of its attractions.
As we were chatting in this strain, we got nearer and nearer to the house, where the door opened, as by magic, the moment Scipio announced Signor Gil Blas de Santillane, who was coming to take possession of his estate. At the mention of this name, received with reverential homage by the people who had been instructed in the transfer of their obedience, my carriage was admitted into a large court, where I alighted; then leaning with all my weight upon Scipio, as if walking was a derogation from my dignity, and putting on the great man after the most consequential models, I reached the hall, where, on my entrance, seven or eight servants made their obeisances. They told me they were come to welcome their new master with their best loves and duties: that Don Caesar and Don Alphonso de Leyva had chosen them to farm my establishment, one in quality of cook, another as under-cook, a third as scullion, a fourth as porter, and the rest as footmen; with an express injunction to receive no wages or perquisites, as those two noblemen meant to defray all the expenses of my household. The cook, Master Joachim by name, was commander-in-chief of this battalion, and announced to me the whole array of the campaign; he declared that he had laid in a large stock of the choicest wines in Spain, and insinuated that for the solid supply of the table, he flattered himself a person of his education and experience, who had been six years at the head of my Lord Archbishop of Valencia's kitchen, must know how to dish up a dinner so as to meet the ideas of the most fastidious layman in Christendom. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, added he; so I will just go and give you a specimen of my talent. You had better take a walk, my lord, while dinner is getting ready: look about the premises; and see whether you find them in tenantable condition for a person of your lordship's dignity.
The reader may guess whether I did not stir my stumps; and Scipio, still more eager than myself to take a bird's eye inventory of our goods and chattels, dragged me back and fore from room to room. There was not a corner of the house that we did not peep into, from the garret to the cellar: not a closet or a cranny, at least as we supposed, could escape our prying curiosity; and in every fresh room we went into, I had occasion to admire the kindness of Don Caesar and his son towards me. I was struck, among other things, with two apartments, which were as elegantly furnished as they could be, without misplaced magnificence. One of them was hung with tapestry, the celebrated manufacture of the Low Countries; the velvet bed and chairs were still very handsome, though in the fashion of the time when the Moors possessed the kingdom of Valencia. The furniture of the other room was in the same taste; to wit, an old suit of hangings, made of yellow Genoa damask, with a bed and arm-chairs to match, fringed with blue silk. All these effects, which would have furnished but a sorry display in an upholsterer's shop, made no contemptible appearance in their present situation.
After having rummaged over every article of the paraphernalia, my secretary and myself returned to the dining-room, where the cloth was laid for two; we sat down; and in an instant they served up so delicious an olla podrida, that we could not help revolving on the various turns of the fate below which had parted the good Archbishop of Valencia from his cook. We had in truth a most catholic and ravenous appetite; a circumstance which added new zest to our praises and enjoyments. Between every succeeding help my servants, with all the alacrity of fresh and holiday service, filled our large glasses to the brim with wine, the choicest vintage of La Mancha. Scipio, not thinking it genteel to express aloud the inward chucklings of his heart at our dainty fare, winked and nodded his delight, and spoke by signs, which I returned with the like dumb eloquence of overflowing satisfaction. The remove was a dish of roast quails, flanking a little leveret in high order, just kept long enough; for this we left our hash, good as it was, and gorged ourselves to a surfeit on the game. When we had eaten as if we had never eaten before, and pledged one another in due proportion, we rose from table and went into the garden to look out for some cool, pleasant spot, and take our afternoon's nap voluptuously.
If hitherto my secretary had goggled satisfaction at what he had seen, he stared wider and grinned broader at this vista vision of the garden. He scarcely allowed the comparison to be in favour of the Escurial. The reason of its extreme niceness was that Don Caesar, who came backwards and forwards to Lirias, took pleasure in improving and ornamenting it. All the walks well gravelled and lined with orange trees, a large reservoir of white marble, with a lion in bronze spouting water like a dolphin's deputy in the middle, the beauty of the flower borders, the profusion and variety of the fruit trees; such pretty particulars as these made Scipio smack his lips and snuff the air; but his raptures reached their summit at the gradual descent of a long walk, leading to the bailiff's cottage, and over-arched by the interwoven boughs of the trees planted on each side. While eulogizing a place so well adapted for a refuge from the intenseness of the heat, we made a halt, and sat down at the foot of an elm, where sleep required very little cunning to entangle two high-fed, half-tipsy blades, just risen from so voluptuous and voracious a repast.
In about two hours we were startled out of our sleep by the report of musketry, popping so near the head-quarters of our repose that we apprehended the camp to be attacked. On the alert! was the first idea that invaded our dozing minds. That we might procure the most authentic intelligence, in what direction the enemy was approaching, we directed our march towards the bailiff's tenement. There were collected eight or ten clodhoppers, all friends and neighbours, assembled on the green for the purpose of honouring my arrival, just communicated to the vacant senses of the said clodhoppers, by a discharge of fire-arms, whose barrels and furniture might thank me for the unusual favour of a thorough cleaning. The greater part of them were acquainted with my person, having seen me more than once at the castle, while engaged in the business of my stewardship. No sooner did they set eyes on me, than they all shouted in unison: Long life to our new lord and master! welcome to Lirias! Then they loaded once again, and fired another volley in honour of the occasion. My habits and manners were softened down to the most condescending urbanity, though with a decorous infusion of distance, lest any degrading constructions might he put upon too unlimited a freedom of address. With respect to my protection, I promised it according to the customary charter of newly-installed possessors; and went so far as to throw them a purse of twenty pistoles: and this, in my opinion, was the point of all others in my conduct which touched their hearts most nearly. After this benefaction, I left them at liberty to waste as much powder as they pleased, and withdrew with my secretary into the wood, where we walked to and fro till night-fall, without being at all tired of our rural prospect: so many charms had the view of a landscape, heightened by the substantial beauties of ownership in fee-simple, to our elevated and delighted imaginations.
The cook, the under-cook, and the scullion were not resting upon their oars all this time: they were working hard to fit up for us an artifice of belly timber more magnificent that what we had already demolished; so that we were over head and ears in amazement, when on our return to the room where we had dined, we saw on the table a dish of four roast partridges, with a smothered rabbit on one side, and a fricasseed capon on the other. The second course consisted of pigs' ears, jugged game, and chocolate cream. We drank deeply of the most delicious wines, and began to think of going to bed, when it became a matter of doubt whether we could sit up any longer. Then my people, with lighted candles before me, led the way to the best bed-room, where they were all most officious in assisting to undress me: but when they had tendered me my gown and nightcap, I dismissed them with an authoritative undulation of my hand, signifying that their services were dispensed with for the remainder of that night.
Thus I sent them all about their business, keeping Scipio for a little private conference between ourselves; and I led to it by asking him what he thought of my reception, as arranged by order of my noble patrons. Indeed and indeed, answered he, the human heart could not devise anything more delicious. I only wish we may go on as we have begun. I have no wish of the kind, re plied I: it is contrary to my principles to allow that my benefactors should put themselves to so much expense on my account; it would be a downright fraud upon their benevolence. Besides, I could never feel myself at home with servants in the pay of other people; it is just like living in a lodging or an inn. Then it is to be remembered, that I did not come hither to live upon so expensive a scale. What occasion have we for so large an establishment of servants? Our utmost want, with Bertrand, is a cook, a scullion, and a footman. Though my secretary would not have been at all sorry to table for a continuance at the governor of Valencia's expense, he did not oppose his own luxurious taste to my moral delicacy, but conformed at once to my sentiments, and approved the reduction I was meditating to introduce. That point being decided, he left my chamber, and betook himself to his pillow in his own.