CH. IX. -- Nuptials of Gil Blas with the fair Antonia; the style and manner of the ceremony; the persons assisting thereat; and the festivities ensuing there upon.
THOUGH there was no occasion to consult with the lords of Leyva about my marriage, yet both Scipio and myself were of opinion that I could not decently do otherwise than communicate to them my purpose of connecting myself with Basil's daughter, and just pay them the compliment of asking their advice, after the act was finally determined on.
I immediately went off for Valencia, where my visit was a matter of surprise, and still more the purport of it Don Caesar and Don Alphonso, who were acquainted with Antonia, having seen her more than once, wished me joy on my good fortune in a wife. Don Caesar, in particular, made his speech upon the occasion with so much youthful fire, that if there had not been reason to suppose his lordship weaned, by that icy moralist, time, from certain naughty propensities, I should have suspected him of going to Lirias now and then, not so much to look after his concerns there, as after his little empress of the dairy. Seraphina, too, with the kindest assurances of a lively interest in whatever might befall me, said that she had heard a very favourable character of Antonia; but, added she, with a malicious fling, as if to taunt me with my supercilious reception of Sephora's amorous advances, even though her beauty had not been so much the talk of the country, I could have depended on your taste, from former experience of its delicacy and fastidiousness.
Don Caesar and his son did not stop at cold approbation of my marriage, but declared that they would defray all the expenses of it. Measure back your steps, said they, to Lirias, and stay quietly there till you hear further from us. Make no preparation for your nuptials, for we shall make that our concern. To meet their kind intentions with becoming gratitude, I returned to my mansion, and acquainted Basil and his daughter with the projected kindness of our patrons. We determined to wait their pleasure with as much patience as falls to the lot of poor human nature under such circumstances. Eight long days dragged out their tedious measure, and brought no tidings of our bliss. But the rewards of self-control are not the less assured for being slow: on the ninth, a coach drawn by four mules drove up, with a cargo of mantua-makers for the bride, and an assortment of rich silks on which to exercise their art. Several livery servants, mounted on mules, accompanied the cavalcade. One of them brought me a letter from Don Alphonso. That nobleman sent me word that he would be at Lirias next day with his father and his wife, and that the marriage ceremony should he performed on the day after that, by the vicar-general of Valencia. And just so it came to pass: Don Caesar, his son, and Seraphina, with that venerable dignitary, were punctual to their appointment; all four of them in a coach and six; none of your mules, like the mantua-makers! preceded by an other coach and four, with Seraphina's women; and the rear was brought up by a company of the governor's guards.
The governor's lady had hardly entered the house before she testified an ardent longing to see Antonia, who on her part no sooner knew that Seraphina was arrived, than she ran forward to bid her welcome, with a respectful kiss upon her hand, so gracefully and modestly impressed, that all the company were enchanted at the action. And now, madam! said Don Caesar to his daughter-in-law, what do you think of Antonia? Could Santillane have made a better choice? No, answered Seraphina, they are worthy each of the other; there can be no doubt but their union will be most happy. In short, every one was lavish in the praise of my intended; and if they felt her beams so powerfully under the eclipse of a stuff gown, what must they not have endured from her brightness, in the meridian sunshine of her wedding finery? One would have fancied she had been clothed in silks, jewels, and fine linen from her cradle, by the dignity of her air and the ease of her deportment.
The happy moment which was to unite two fond lovers in the bands of Hymen being arrived, Don Alphonso took me by the hand and led me to the altar, while Seraphina conferred the like honour on the bride elect. Our procession had marched in fit and decent order through the hamlet to the chapel, where the vicar-general was waiting to go through the service; and the ceremony was performed amidst the heartfelt congratulations of the inhabitants, and of all the wealthy farmers in the neighbourhood, whom Basil had invited to Antonia's wedding. Their daughters too came in their train, tricked out in ribbons and in flowers, and dancing to the music of their own tambourines. We returned to the mansion under the same escort: and there, by the provident attentions of Scipio, who officiated as high steward and master of the ceremonies, we found three tables set out; one for the principals of the party, another for their household, and the third, which was by far the largest, for all invited guests promiscuously. Antonia was at the first, the governor's lady having made a point of it; I did the honours of the second, and Basil was placed at the head of that where the country people dined. As for Scipio, he never sat down, but was here, there, and everywhere, fetching and carrying, changing plates and filling bumpers, urging the company to call freely for what they wanted, and egging them on to mirth and jollity.
The entertainment had been prepared by the governor's cooks; and that is as much as to say, that there were all the delicacies imaginable, in season or out of season. The good wines laid in for me by master Joachim, were set running at a furious rate; the guests were beginning to feel their jovial influence, pleasantry and repartee gave a zest and conviviality, when on a sudden our harmony was interrupted by an alarming occurrence. My secretary, being in the hall where I was dining with Don Alphonso's principal officers and Seraphina's women, suddenly fainted. I started up and ran to his assistance; and while I was employed in bringing him about, one of the women was taken ill also. It was evident to the whole company that this sympathetic malady must involve some mysterious incident, as in effect it turned out almost immediately, that thereby hung a tale; for Scipio soon recovered, and said to me in a low voice, Why must one man's meat be another man's poison, and the most auspicious of your days the curse of mine? But every man bears the bundle of his sins upon his back, and my pack-saddle is once more thrown across my shoulders in the person of my wife.
Powers of mercy! exclaimed I, this can never be; it is all a romance. What! you the husband of that lady whose nerves were so affected by the disturbance? Yes, sir, answered he, I am her husband; and fortune, if you will take the word of a sinner, could not have done me a dirtier office than by conjuring up such a grievance as this. I know not, my friend, replied I, what reasons you may have for thus belabouring your rib with wordy buffets, but however she may be to blame, in mercy keep a bridle on your tongue; if you have any regard for me, do not displace the mirth and spoil the pleasure of this nuptial meeting, by ominous disorder or enraged questions of past injuries. You shall have no reason to complain on that score, rejoined Scipio; but shall see presently whether I am not a very apt dissembler.
With this assurance he went forward to his wife, whom her companions had also brought back to life and recollection; and, embracing her with as much apparent fervour as if his raptures had been real, Ah, my dear Beatrice, said he, heaven has at length united us again after ten years of cruel separation! But this blissful moment is well purchased by whole ages of torturing suspense! I know not, answered his spouse, whether you really are at all the happier for having recovered a part of yourself: but of this at least I am fully certain, that you never had any reason to run away from me as you did. A fine story indeed! You found me one night with Signor Don Ferdinand de Leyva, who was in love with my mistress Julia, and consulted me on the subject of his passion; and only for that, you must take it into your stupid head, that I was caballing with him against your honour and my own: thereupon that poor brain of yours was turned with jealousy; you quitted Toledo in a huff, and ran away from your own flesh and blood as you would from a monster of the deserts, without leaving word why or wherefore. Now which of us two, be so good as to tell me, has most reason to take on and be pettish? Your own dear self, beyond all question, replied Scipio. Beyond all question, re-echoed she, my own ill-used self. Don Ferdinand, very shortly after you had taken yourself off from Toledo, married Julia, with whom I continued as long as she lived; and, after we had lost her by sudden death, I came into my lady her sister's service, who, as well as all her maids, and I would do as much for them, will give me a good character; honest and sober, and a very termagant among the impertinent fellows.
My secretary, having nothing to allege against such a character from my lady and her maids, was determined to make the best of a bad bargain. Once for all, said he to his spouse, I acknowledge my bad behaviour, and beg pardon for it before this honourable assembly. It was now time for me to act the mediator, and to move Beatrice for an act of amnesty, assuring her that her husband from this time forward would make it the great object of his life to play the husband to her satisfaction. She began to see that there was reason in roasting of eggs, and all present were loud in their congratulations, on the triumph of suffering virtue, and the renovated pledge of broken vows. To bind the contract firmer, and make it memorable, they were seated next to one another at table; their healths were drank according to the laws of toasting; wish you joy! many returns of this happy day! rang round on every side: one would have sworn that the dinner was given for their reconciliation, and not on account of my marriage.
The third table was the first to be cleared. The young villagers jumped up in a body; the lads took out their blooming partners; the tambourines struck up a merry beat; spectators flocked from the other tables, and caught the enlivening spirit from the gay bustle of the scene. Every limb and muscle of every individual was in motion: the household of the governor and his lady formed a set, apart from the rustics of the company, while their superiors did not disdain to mingle with the homelier dancers. Don Alphonso danced a saraband with Seraphina, and Don Caesar another with Antonia, who afterwards took me for her partner. She did not perform much amiss, considering that she never got much further than the five positions, in learning which she had her ankles kicked to pieces by a provincial dancing-master at Albarazin, while on a visit to a tradesman's wife, one of her relations. As for me, who, as I have already said, had taken lessons at the Marchioness de Chaves's, I figured away as the principal man in this rural ballet. With regard to Beatrice and Scipio, they preferred a little private conversation to dancing, that they might compare notes on the subject of war and tear during the painful period of separation: but their billing and cooing was interrupted by Seraphina, who, having been informed of this dramatic discovery, sent for them to pay the customary compliments of congratulation. My good people, said she, on this day of general joy, it gives me additional pleasure to see you two restored to one another. My friend Scipio, I return you your wife under a firm belief that she has always conducted herself as became a woman; take up your abode with her here, and be a good husband to her. And you, Beatrice, attach yourself to Antonia, and let her be as much the object of your devoted service as Signor de Santillane is that of your husband. Scipio, who could not possibly, after this, think of Penelope as fit to hold a candle to his own wife, promised to treat her with all the deference due to such a paragon of conjugal fidelity.
The country people, having kept up the dance till late, withdrew to their own homes; but the rejoicings were prolonged by the company in the house. There was a grand supper, and at bed-time the vicar-general pronounced the
blessing of consummation. Seraphina undressed the bride, and the lords of Leyva did me the same honour. The ridiculous part of the business was, that Don Alphonso's officers and his lady's attendants took it into their heads, by way of diverting themselves, to perform the same ceremony: they also undressed Beatrice and Scipio, who, to render the scene supremely farcical, gravely allowed themselves to be untrussed, and put to bed with all nuptial pomp and state.