CH. X. -- The honey-moon (a very dull time for the reader as a third person) enlivened by the commencement of Scipio's story.
"'Tis heaven itself, 'tis ecstacy of bliss,
Uninterrupted joy, untired excess;
Mirth following mirth, the moments dance away;
Love claims the night, and friendship rules the day."
ON the day after the wedding the lords of Leyva returned to Valencia, after having lavished on me a thousand marks of friendship. There was such a general clearance, that my secretary and myself, with our respective wives, and our usual establishment, were left in undisturbed possession of our own home.
The efforts which we both made to please our ladies were not thrown away: I breathed by degrees into the partner of my joys and sorrows as much love for me as I entertained for her; and Scipio made his better part forget the woes and privations he had occasioned her. Beatrice, who had very winning ways with her, and was all things to all women, had no difficulty about worming herself into the good graces of her new mistress, and gaining her complete confidence. In short, we all four agreed admirably well together, and began to enjoy a bliss above the common lot of humanity. Every day rolled along more delightfully than the last. Antonia was pensive and demure; but Beatrice and myself were enlisted in the crew of mirth; and even though we had been constitutionally sedate, Scipio was among us, and he was of himself a pill to purge melancholy. The best creature in the world for a snug little party! one of those merry drolls who have only to shew their comical faces, and set the table in a roar of inextinguishable laughter.
One day, when we had taken a fancy to go after dinner, and doze away the usual interval in the most sequestered spot about the grounds, my secretary got into such exuberant spirits, as to chase away the drowsy god by his exhilarating sallies. Do hold your tongue, my loquacious friend, said I: or else, if you are determined to wage war against this lazy custom of our afternoons, at least tell us something which we shall he the wiser for hearing. With all my heart and soul, sir, answered he. Would you have me go through all fabulous histories of wandering knights, distressed damsels, giants, enchanted castles, and the whole train of legendary adventures? I had much rather hear your own true history, replied I; but that is a pleasure which you have not thought fit to give me so long as we have lived together, and I seem likely to go without it to the end of the chapter. How happens that? said he. If I have not told you my own story, it is because you never expressed the slightest wish to be troubled with the recital: therefore it is not my fault if you are in the dark about my past life; but if you are really at all curious to be let into the secret, my loquacity is very much at your service on the occasion. Antonia, Beatrice, and myself, unanimously took him at his word, and arranged ourselves for listening like an attentive audience. The speculation was a safe one on our parts; for the tale was sure to answer, either as a stimulant or a soporific.
I certainly ought to have been descended, said Scipio, from some family of the highest rank and earliest antiquity; or in default of such parentage, from the most distinguished orders of personal merit, such as that of St James or Alcantara, if a man may be permitted to decide on the fittest circumstances his own birth: but as it is not among the privileges of human nature to elect one's own father, you are to know that mine, by name Torribio Scipio, was a subaltern myrmidon of the Holy Brotherhood. As he was going back and fore on the king's highway, and looking after business in his own line, he met once on a time, between Cuença and Toledo, with a young Bohemian babe of chance, who appeared very pretty in his eyes. She was alone, on foot, and carried her whole patrimony at her back in a kind of knapsack. Whither are you going, my little darling? said he in a philandering tone of voice, unlike the natural hoarseness of his accents. Good worthy gentleman, answered she, I am going to Toledo, where I hope to gain an honest livelihood by hook or by crook. Your intentions are highly commendable, retorted he; and I doubt not but you have many a hook and many a crook among the implements of your trade. Yes, with a blessing on my endeavours, rejoined she: I have several little ways of doing for myself: I know how to make washes and creams for the ladies' faces, perfumes for their noses and their chambers; then I can tell fortunes, can search for things lost with a sieve and shears, and erect figures for the taking in of shadows with a glass.
Torribio, concluding that so well-provided a girl would be a very advantageous match for a man like himself, who could scarcely scrape wherewithal to support life by his own profession, though he was as good a thief-taker as the best of them, made her an offer of marriage, and she was nothing loth, nor prudishly coy. They flew on the wings of inclination and convenience to Toledo, where they were joined together; and you behold in me the happy pledge of holy and lawful matrimony. They fixed themselves in a shop on the outskirts of the town, where my mother commenced her career by selling the said washes, creams, tapes, laces, silk, thread, toys, and pedlar's ware; but trade not being brisk enough to live comfortably by it, she turned fortune-teller. This drew her customers, got her countenance, credit, crowns, and pistoles: a thousand dupes of either sex soon trumpeted up the reputation of Coselina; for so my gipsy mamma had the honour to be named. Some one or other came every day to bargain for the exercise of her skill in the black art: at one time a nephew at his wit's and purse's end, wanting to know how soon his uncle was to set off post for the other world, and leave behind him wherewithal to piece his worn-out fortunes: at another, some yielding, love-sick girl, to inquire whether the swain who kept her company, and had promised to marry her, would keep his word or be false-hearted.
You will take notice, if you please, that my mother always sold good luck for good money; if the accomplishment trod on the heels of the prediction, well and good; if it was fulfilled according to the rule of contraries, she was always cool, though the parties were ever so violently in a passion, and told them plainly that it was her familiar's fault, not hers; for though she paid him the highest wages, and bound him by potent spells to stir up the cauldron of futurity from the bottom, like earthly cooks, he would sometimes be careless or out of humour, and apportion the ingredients wrongly.
When my mother thought the conjuncture momentous enough to raise the devil without cheapening him in the eyes of the vulgar, Torribio Scipio enacted his infernal majesty, and played the part just as if he had been born to it, humouring the hideous features of the character by a very small aggravation of his own natural face, and practising the pandemonian note of elocution in the lower octave of his voice. A person in the slightest degree superstitious would
be scared out of his senses at my father's figure. But one day, as his satanic prototype would have it, there came a savage rascal of a captain, who asked to see the devil, for no earthly purpose but to run him clean through the body. The Inquisition, having received notice of the devil's death, sent to take charge of his widow, and administer to his effects; as for poor little me, just seven years old at the time, I was sent to the foundling hospital. There were some charitable ecclesiastics on that establishment, who, being liberally paid for the education of the poor orphans, were so zealous in their office as to teach them reading and writing. They fancied there was something particularly promising about me, which made them pick me out from all the rest, and send me on their errands. I was letter-carrier, messenger, and chapel clerk. As a token of their gratitude, they undertook to teach me Latin; but their mode of tuition was so harsh, and their discipline so severe, though I was a sort of pet with them, that, not being able to stand it any longer, I ran away one morning while out on an errand; and, so far from returning to the hospital, got out of Toledo through the suburbs on the Seville side.
Though I had not then completed my ninth year, I already felt the pleasure of being free, and master of my own actions. I was without money and without food; no matter! I had no lessons to say by heart, no themes to hammer out. After having pushed on for two hours, my little legs began to refuse their office. I had never before made so long a trip. It became necessary to stop and take some rest. I sat myself down at the foot of a tree close by the high. way; there, by way of amusement, I took my grammar out of my pocket, and began conning it over by way of a joke; but at length, coming to recollect the raps on the knuckles, and the castigations on the more classical seat of punishment which it had cost me, I tore it leaf by leaf with an apostrophe of angry import. Ah! you odious thing of a book! you shall never make me shed tears any more. While I was assuaging my vindictive spirit, by strewing the ground about me with declensions and conjugations, there passed that way a hermit with a white beard, with a large pair of spectacles on his nose, and altogether an outside of much sanctity. He came up to me; and, if I was an object of speculation to him, he was no less so to me. My little man, said he with a smile, it should seem as if we had both taken a sudden liking to each other, and in that case we cannot do better than to live together in my hermitage, which is not two hundred yards distant. Your most obedient for that, answered I pertly enough; I have not the least desire to turn hermit. At this answer, the good old man set up a roar of laughter, and said with a kind embrace: You must not be frightened at my dress; if it is not becoming, it is useful; it gives me my title to a charming retreat, and to the good-will of the neighbouring villages, whose inhabitants love or rather idolize me. Come this way, and I will clothe you in a jacket of the same stuff as mine. If you think well of it, you shall share with me the pleasures of the life I lead; and, if it does not hit your fancy, you shall not only be at liberty to leave me, but you may depend on it that in the event of our parting, I shall not fail to do something handsome by you.
I suffered myself to be persuaded, and followed the old hermit, who put several questions to me, which I answered with a truth-telling simplicity, not always to be found in a more advanced stage of morality. On our arrival at the hermitage he set some fruit before me, which I devoured, having eaten nothing all day but a slice of dry bread, on which I had breakfasted at the hospital in the morning. The recluse, seeing me play so good a part with my jaws, said: Courage, my good boy, do not spare my fruit; there is plenty of it, Heaven be praised. I have not brought you hither to starve you. And indeed that was true enough; for an hour after our coming in, he kindled a fire, put a leg of mutton down to roast; and while I turned the spit, laid a small table for himself and me, with a very dirty napkin upon it.
When the meat was done enough he took it up, and cut some slices for our supper, which was no dry bargain, since we quaffed a delicious wine, of which he had laid in ample store. Well! my chicken, said he, as he rose from table, are you satisfied with my style of living? You see how we shall fare every day, if you fix your quarters here. Then with respect to liberty, you shall do just as you please in this hermitage. All I require of you is to accompany me whenever I go begging to the neighbouring villages; you will be of use in driving an ass laden with two panniers, which the charitable peasants usually fill with eggs, bread, meat, and fish. I ask no more than that. I will do, said I, whatever you desire, provided you will not oblige me to learn Latin. Friar Chrysostom, for that was the old hermit's name, could not help smiling at my school-boy frowardness, and assured me once more that he should not pretend to interfere either with my studies or my inclinations.
On the very next day we went on a foraging party with the donkey, which I led by the halter. We made a profitable gleaning; for all the farmers took a pleasure in throwing somewhat into our panniers. One chucked in an uncut loaf; another a large piece of bacon; here a goose, there a pair of giblets, and a partridge to crown the whole. But without entering further into particulars, we carried home provender enough for a week; and hence you may infer the esteem and friendship in which the country people held the holy man. It is true that he was a great blessing to the neighbourhood: his advice was always at their service when they came to consult him: he restored peace where discord had reigned in families, and made up matches for the daughters; he had a nostrum for almost any disease you could mention, with an assortment of pious rituals, to avert the curse of barrenness.
Hence you perceive that I was in no danger of starving in my hermitage. My lodging, too, was none of the worst: stretched on good fresh straw, with a cushion of ratteen under my head, and a coverlet over me of the same stuff I made but one nap of it all night. Brother Chrysostom, who had promised me a hermit's dress, made up an old gown of his own for me, and called me little brother Scipio. No sooner did I appear in my religious uniform, than the ass's back suffered for my genteel appearance in the eyes of the villagers. It was who should give most to the little brother! so much were they delighted with his spruce figure.
The easy, slothful life I led with the old hermit could not be very revolting to a boy of my age. On the contrary, it suited my taste so exactly, that I should have continued it to this time, but that the fates and destinies were weaving a more complicated tissue for my future years. It was cast in the figure of my nativity, early to rouse myself from the effeminacy of a religious life, and to take leave of brother Chrysostom after the following manner.
I often observed the old man at work upon his pillow, unsewing and sewing it up again; and one day, I saw him put in some money. This circumstance excited a tingling curiosity, which I promised myself to satisfy the first time he went to Toledo, as he generally did once a week. I waited impatiently for the day, but as yet, without any other motive than the mere desire of prying. At last the good man went his way, and I unpicked his pillow, where I found, among the stuffing, the amount of about fifty crowns in all sorts of coin.
This treasure must have accumulated from the gratitude of the peasantry, whom the hermit had cured by his nostrums, and of their wives, who had be come pregnant by virtue of his spiritual interference. But however it got there, I no sooner set my eyes on the money, which might be mine without any one near me to say nay, than the gipsy voice of nature and pedigree spoke within me. An inextinguishable itch of pilfering tingled in my veins, and proved that we come into the world with the mark of our descent, and with our characters about us. I yielded to the temptation without a struggle; tied up my booty in a canvas bag where we kept our combs and night-caps: then, having laid aside the hermit's and resumed my foundling's dress, got clear off from the hermitage, and hugged my bag as though it had contained the boundless treasure of the Indies.
You have heard my first exploit, continued Scipio; and I doubt not but you will expect a succession of similar practices. Your anticipations will not be disappointed; for there are many such evidences of genius behind, before I come to those of my actions which prove me good as well as clever; but I shall come to them, and you will be convinced by the sequel, that a scoundrel born may be licked into virtue, as the cub of a bear into shape.
Child as I was, I knew better than to take the Toledo road; it would have been exposing myself to the hazard of meeting friar Chrysostom, who would have balanced accounts with me on a very thriftless principle. I therefore travelled in another direction leading to the village of Galves, where I stopped at an inn, kept by a landlady who was a widow of forty, and hung out the bunch of grapes to a very good purpose. This good woman no sooner kenned me, than, judging by my dress that I must be a truant from the orphan school, she asked who I was and whither I was going. I answered that, having lost my father and mother, I was looking for a place. Can you read, my dear? said she. I assured her that I could read, and write too, with the best of them. In point of fact, I could just form my letters, and join them so as to look a little like writing; and that was clerkship enough for a village pothouse. Then I will take you into my service, replied the hostess. You may earn your board easily enough, by scoring up the customers, and keeping my ledger. I shall give you no wages, because this inn is frequented by very genteel company, who never forget the waiters. You may reckon upon very considerable perquisites.
I clenched the bargain, reserving to myself, as you may suppose, the right of emigration whenever my abode at Galves should cease to be pleasant. No sooner was I settled in my place, than a weight lay heavy on my mind. I did not wish it to be known that I had money; and it was no easy matter to devise where it could be hidden, so as that what was sauce for the goose should not be sauce for the gander. I was not yet well enough acquainted with the house to trust the places obviously most proper for such a deposit. What a source of embarrassment is great wealth! I determined, however, on a corner of our granary under some straw; and believing it to be safer there than anywhere else, made myself as easy about it as I well could.
The household consisted of three servants: a lubberly ostler, a young Galician chambermaid, and myself. Each of us spunged what we could upon travellers, whether on foot or on horseback. I always came in for some small change, when the bill was paid. Then the equestrians gave something to the ostler, for taking care of their beasts: but as for our female fellow-servant, the muleteers who passed that way chucked her under the chin, and gave her more crowns than we got farthings. I had no sooner realized a penny, than away it went to the granary, and slept with its precursors; so that the higher rose my heap, the more greedy did my little heart become. Sometimes would I kiss the hallowed images of my idolatry, and look at them with a devotional glow, which few worshippers feel, but those whose religion is their gold.
This inordinate passion sent me back and fore to gratify it, at least thirty times a day. I often met the landlady on the staircase. She, being naturally of a suspicious temper, had a mind to find out one day what could carry me every minute to the corn-loft. She therefore went up and began rummaging about everywhere, supposing perhaps that it was my receptacle for articles purloined in the house. Of course she did not forget to pull the straw about; and behold, there was my bag! Two hands in a dish and one in a purse, was not one of her proverbs; so that finding the contents in crowns and pistoles, she thought, or seemed to think, that the money was lawfully and honestly hers. At least she had possession, and that is nine points of the law, though scarcely one of honesty. But to do the thing decently, after calling me little wretch, little rascal, and so forth, she ordered the ostler, a fellow without any will but hers, to give me a hearty flogging; and then turn me out of doors, with this salt eel for my breakfast, and a lady-like oath that no light-fingered gentry should ever darken her doors. In vain did I protest and vow that I never wronged my mistress: she affirmed the direct contrary, and her word would go further than mine at any time. Thus were friar Chrysostom's savings transferred from one thief to a greater thief in the thief-taker.
I wept over the loss of my money, as a father over the death of his only son: and though my tears could not bring back what I had lost, they at least answered the purpose of exciting pity in some people, who saw how bitterly they flowed, and among others in the parson, who was accidentally going by. He seemed affected by my sad plight, and took me home with him. There, to gain my confidence, or rather to pump me, he began soothing my sorrows. How much this poor child is to be pitied! said he. Is it any wonder if, thrown upon the wide world at so tender an age, he has committed a bad action? Grown up men are not always proof against the flesh or the devil. Then, addressing me, Child, added he, front what part of Spain do you come, and who are your parents? You have the look of family about you. Open your heart to me confidentially, and depend upon it, I never will desert you.
His reverence, by this kind and insinuating language, engaged me by degrees to tell him all my history, without falsification or reserve. I owned everything; and thus he moralized on the leading article of my confession: My little friend, though hermits ought to lay up such treasures as neither force nor fraud can wrest from them, that was no excuse for your taking the measure of punishment into your own hands: by robbing brother Chrysostom, you nevertheless sinned against that article of the decalogue, which tells you not to steal; but I will engage to make the hostess return the money, and will punctually remit it to the reverend friar at his hermitage: you may therefore make your conscience perfectly easy on that score. Now, between ourselves, my conscience was perfectly callous to everything like compunction with respect to the crime in question. The parson, who had his own ends to answer, had not done with me yet. My lad, pursued he, I mean to take you by the hand, and find a good berth for you. I shall send you to-morrow morning, by the carrier, to my nephew, a canon of Toledo. He will not refuse, at my request, to admit you upon his establishment, where they live like so many sons of the church, rosily, merrily, and fatly, upon the rents of his prebendal stall: you will be perfectly comfortable there, take my word for it.
Patronage like this gave me so much encouragement, that I did not throw away another thought either upon my bag or my whipping. My mind was wholly occupied with the idea of living rosily, merrily, and fatly, like a son of the church. The following day, at breakfast-time, there came, according to orders, a muleteer to the parsonage, with two mules saddled and bridled. They helped me to mount one, the muleteer flung his leg over the other, and we trotted on for Toledo. My fellow-traveller was a good, pleasant companion, arid desired nothing better than to indulge his humour at the expense of his neighbour. My little volunteer, said he, you have a good friend in his reverence, the minister of Galves. He could not give you a better proof of his kindness, than by placing you with his nephew the canon, whom I have the honour of knowing, far beyond all question or comparison, to be the cock of the chapter, and a hearty one he is. None of your lantern-jawed saints, with Lent in his face, a cat-of-nine-tails on his back, and a cholera morbus in his belly. No such thing! Our doctor is rubicund in the jowl, efflorescent on the nose, with a wicked eye at a bumper or a girl militant against no earthly pleasure, but most addicted to the good things of the table. You will be as snug there as a bug in a blanket.
This hangman of a muleteer, perceiving with what exquisite satisfaction I took in all this, went on tantalizing me with the joys of an ecclesiastical life. He never dropped the subject till we got to the village of Obisa, and stopped there to refresh our mules. Then, while bustling about the inn, he accidentally dropped a paper from his pocket, which I was cunning enough to pick up without his seeing me, and took an opportunity of reading while he was in the stable. It was a letter addressed to the governors and superintendents of the orphan school, conceived in these terms: "Gentlemen, I consider it as an act at once of charity and of duty, to send you back a little truant; he seems a shrewd lad enough, and may do very well with good looking after. By dint of hard and frequent chastisement, I doubt not but you will ultimately bring him to a sense of his own unworthiness and your benevolence. May a blessing be vouchsafed on your pious and charitable labours, for the early extirpation of sin and wickedness! (Signed) "THE MINISTER OF GALVES."
When I had finished reading this pleasant letter, which let me into the good intentions of his reverence the rector, it required little deliberation to determine what I was to do: from the inn to the banks of the Tagus, a space of three good miles, was but a hop, step, and jump. Fear lent me wings to escape from the governors of the foundling hospital, whither I was absolutely resolved never to return, having formed principles of taste diametrically opposite to their method of teaching the classics. I went into Toledo with as light a heart as if I had known where to get my daily bread. To be sure, it is a town of ways and means, where a man who can live by his wits need never die of hunger. Scarcely had I reached the high street, when a well-dressed gentleman by whom I brushed, caught me by the arm, saying: My little fellow, do you want a place? You are just such a smart lad as I was looking for. And you are just the master for my money, answered I. Since that is the case, rejoined he, you are mine from this moment, and have only to follow me, which I did without asking any more questions.
This spark, about the age of thirty, and bearing the name of Don Abel, lodged in very handsome ready-furnished apartments. He was by profession a blacklegs; and the following was the nature of our engagement. In the morning I got him as much tobacco as would smoke five or six pipes; brushed his clothes, and ran for a barber to shave him and trim his whiskers; after which he made the circle of the tennis-courts, whence he never returned home till eleven or twelve at night. But every morning, at going out, he gave me three reals for the expenses of the day, leaving me master of my own time till ten o'clock in the evening; and provided I was within-doors by his return, all was well. He gave me a livery besides, in which I looked like a little lackey of illicit love. I took very kindly to my condition, and certainly could not have met with any more congenial with my temper.
Such and so happy had been my way of life for nearly a month, when my employer inquired whether I liked his service; and on my answer in the affirmative, Well, then, resumed he, to-morrow we shall set out for Seville, whither my concerns call me. You will not be sorry to see the capital of Andalusia. "He that hath not Seville seen," says the proverb. "Is no traveller I ween." I engaged at once to follow him all over the world. On that very day, the Seville carrier fetched away a large trunk with my master's wardrobe, and on the next morning we were on the road for Andalusia.
Signor Don Abel was so lucky at play, that he never lost but when it was convenient; but then it was seldom convenient to stay long in a place, because those who are always losers find out at last, that though chance is a dangerous antagonist, certainly it is a desperate one; and that accounted for our journey. On our arrival at Seville, we took lodgings near the Cordova gate, and resumed the same mode of life as at Toledo. But my master found some difference between the two towns. The Seville tennis-courts could produce players equally in fortune's good graces with himself; so that he sometimes came home a good deal out of humour. One morning, when he was biting the bridle for the loss of a hundred pistoles the day before, he asked why I had not carried his linen to the laundress. I pleaded forgetfulness. Thereupon, flying into a passion, be gave me half-a-dozen boxes on the ear, in such a style, as to kindle an illumination in my blinking eyes, to which the glories of Solomon's temple were no more to be compared, than the torches in a Candlemas procession to a rushlight. There is for you, you little scoundrel! said he; take that, and learn to mind your business. Must I be eternally at your heels to remind you of what you are to do? Are your brains in your belly, and all your wits in your grinders? You are not a downright idiot! Then why not prevent my wants and anticipate my orders? After this experimental lecture, he went out for the day, leaving me in high dudgeon, at a reprimand so much in the manner of my friend the ostler, for such a trifle as not getting up his things for the wash.
I could never learn what happened to him a short time after at a tennis-court; but one evening he came home in a terrible heat. Scipio, said he, I am bent on going to Italy, and must embark the day after to-morrow on board a vessel bound for Genoa. I have my reasons for making this little excursion; of course you will be glad to attend me, and to profit by so fine an opportunity of seeing the loveliest country on the face of the earth. My tongue gave consent; but with a salvo in my heart and a bargain with my revenge, to give him the slip just at the moment of embarkation. This was so delightful a scheme, that I could not help imparting it to a bully by profession, whom I met in the street. During my abode in Seville, I had picked up some awkward acquaintance, and this was one of the most ungainly. I told him how and why my ears had been boxed, and then communicated my project of running away from Don Abel just before the ship was to sail, begging to know what he thought of the plan.
My bluff adviser puckered his eyebrows while he listened, and fiddled with his fingers about his whiskers: then, blaming my master very seriously, My little hero, said he, you are eternally disgraced, can never shew your face again, if you sit down quietly with so paltry a satisfaction as what you propose. To let Don Abel go off by himself, would be a poor revenge for wrongs like yours; the punishment should be proportioned to his crime. Let us fine him to the full amount of his purse and effects, which we will share like brothers after he is gone. Now it is to be noted, that though thieving fell in very naturally with the bent of my genius, the proposal rather startled me, as the robbery was upon a large scale for so young an apprentice.
And yet the arch deceiver of my innocence found the means of working me up to the perpetration, so that the result of our enterprise was as follows. This glorious ruffian, a tall, brawny fellow, came in the evening about twilight to our lodging. I shewed my master's travelling trunk ready packed, and asked him whether he could carry so heavy a load upon his shoulders. So heavy as that! said he: shew me where a transfer of property is to be made in my favour, and I could run with Noah's ark to the top of Mount Ararat. To prove his words, he felt the trunk, flung it carelessly over his back, and scampered down-stairs, I followed nimbly; and we had just got to the street door, when Don Abel, brought home in the nick of time by the ascendancy of his lucky stars, stood like an apparition, to appal our guilty souls.
Whither are you going with that trunk? said he. I was so taken by surprise that my assurance failed me; and broad-shoulders, finding that he had drawn a blank in the lottery, threw down his booty, and took to his heels, rather than be troubled for an explanation. Once more, whither are you going with that trunk? said my master. Sir, answered I, with all the honest simplicity of a criminal, pleading in arrest of judgment, I was going to put it on board the vessel, that we might have the less to do to-morrow, before we embark ourselves. Indeed! Then you know, retorted he, in what ship I have taken my passage? No, sir, replied I! but those who can talk Latin may always find their way to Rome: I should have inquired at the port, and somebody would have informed me. At this explanation, which left his opinion where it found it, he darted a furious glance at me. I thought for all the world, he was going to cuff me again about the head. Who ordered you, cried he, to take my trunk out of this house? You, your own self; said I. Can you possibly have forgotten how you rated me but a few days ago? Did you not tell me, with a flea in my ear, that you would have me prevent your wants, and do beforehand from my own head whatever your service might require? Now, not to be threshed a second time for want of forethought, I was seeing your trunk safe and soon enough on board. On this the gamester, finding that I had cut my teeth of wisdom sooner than suited his purpose, turned me off very coolly, saying: Go about your business, master Scipio, and speed as you may deserve. I do not like to play with folks who are in the habit of revoking. Get out of my sight, or I shall set your solfeggio in a crying key.
I spared him the trouble of telling me to go twice. Off I shot like an arrow, for fear he should unfledge me, by taking away my livery. When distant enough to slacken my pace, I walked along in the streets, musing whither I might betake myself for a night's lodging, with only two reals in my pocket. The gate of the archbishop's palace at length stared me in the face; and, as his grace's supper was then dressing, a savoury odour exhaled from the kitchens, impregnating the gale with soup and sauce for a mile round. Ods haricots and cutlets! thought I, it would be no hard matter for me to dispense with one of those little side dishes, which will be of no use to the archbishop but to make out the figure of his table: nay, I would be contented only just to dip in my four fingers and thumb, and then to sup like a bear upon suckings. But how to accomplish it! Is there no way of bringing these choice morsels to a better test than that of smell? And why not? Hunger, they say, will break through stone walls. On this idea did I set my wits to work; and, by dint of conning over the subject, a stratagem struck me, which set my lungs as well as appetite in motion, just as the old carpenter kept bawling, "I have found it," like a madman, when he had hit the right nail of his proposition on the head. I ran into the court of the palace, and made the best of my way to the kitchens, calling out with all my might, "Help! help!" as if some assassin had been at my heels.
At my reiterated cries master Diego, the archbishop's cook, ran with three or four kitchen drudges to learn what was the matter; and seeing only me, asked why I roared so loud. Ah! good sir, answered I, with every token of exquisite distress, for mercy's sake and for St Polycarp's! save me, I beseech you, from the fury of a blusterer, who swears he will kill me. But where is this disturber of the public peace? cried Diego. You have no one to quarrel with but yourself; for I do not see so much as a cat to spit at you. Go your ways, my little man, and do not be afraid; it is evidently some wag who has been playing upon your cowardice for his diversion; but he knew better than to follow you within these walls, for we would have cut his ears off at the least. No, no, said I, it was for no laughing matter that he ran after me. He is a noted footpad, and meant to rob me; I am certain that he is now waiting for me at the corner of the street. Then he may wait long enough, replied the knight of the iron spit; for you shall stay here till to-morrow. You shall sup with us, and we will give you a bed.
I was out of my little wits with joy at the mention of these last tidings; and it was like the turnpike road to paradise after crossing an Arabian desert, when being led by master Diego through the kitchens, I there saw my lord archbishop's supper, and the stew-pans in the last throes of parturition. There were fifteen accountable souls, for I reckoned them up, in attendance on the labour; but the litter of dishes far out-numbered the fecundity of nature in her most prolific mood: so much more gracious and bountiful is providence to the heads of the church in the indulgence of their appetites, than mindful of the worthless brute creation in the propagation of its kind. Here it was, at the fountain-head of prelacy, inhaling an atmosphere of gravy, instead of just snuffing the scent as it lay upon the breeze, that I first shook hands with sensuality. I had the honour of supping with the scullions, and of sleeping in their room; an initiation of friendship so sincere and strong, that on the following day, when I went to thank master Diego for his goodness in vouchsafing me a refuge, he said: Our kitchen lads have been with me in a body, to declare how excessively delighted they are with your manners, and to propose having you among them as a fellow-servant. How should you, on your part, like to make one of the society? I answered that, with such a feather in my cap, I should be the vainest and the happiest of mortals. Then so be it, my friend, replied he; consider yourself henceforth as a buttress of the hierarchy. With this invitation, he introduced me to the major-domo, who thought he saw talent enough in me for a turnspit.
No sooner was I in possession of so honourable an office, than master Diego, following the practice of cooks in great houses, who pamper up their pretty dears in private with all sorts of good things, selected me to supply a lady in the neighbourhood with a regular table of butcher's meat, poultry, and game. This good friend of his was a widow on the right side of thirty, very pretty, very lively, and to all appearance contenting herself with cupboard love for her cook. His generous passion was not confined to furnishing her with bread, meat, and garnish; she drank her wine too, and the archbishop was her wine-merchant.
The improvement of my parts kept pace with that of my carnal condition in his grace's palace: where I gave a specimen of rising genius, still ringing on the trump of fame at Seville. The pages and some others of the household had a mind to get up a play on my lord archbishop's birthday. They chose a popular Spanish tragedy; and wanting a boy about my age to personate the young King of Leon, cast me for the part. The major-domo, a great spouter, undertook to train me for the stage; and after a few lessons, pronounced that I should not be the worst actor of the company. His grace not wishing to starve so handsome a compliment to himself, no expense was spared in getting it up magnificently. The largest hall in the palace was fitted up as a theatre, with appropriate decorations. At the side scene there was a bed of turf, on which I was to be discovered asleep, when the Moors were to rush in and take me prisoner. When we had got so forward with our rehearsals as to be sure of being ready by the time fixed, the archbishop sent out cards of invitation to all the principal families in the city.
At length the great, the important day arrived; and each performer was big with the contrivance and adjustment of his dress. Mine was brought by a tailor, accompanied by our major-domo, who, after taking the trouble of drilling me at rehearsal, wished to see justice done to my outward appearance. The tailor put me on a rich robe of blue velvet, with hanging sleeves, gold lace, fringe, and buttons: the major-domo himself crowned me with a pasteboard crown, studded with false diamonds and real pearls. Moreover, they gave me a sash of pink silk worked in silver; so that every new ornament was like a quill-feather in the wing of a bird. At last, about dusk, the play began. The curtain drew up for my soliloquy; the purport of which was to express, in a roundabout, poetical way, that not being able to defend myself from the influence of sleep, I was going to lie down and take it as it came. To suit the action to the word, I sidled off to the corner between the flat and the wings, and squatted down on my bed of turf, but instead of going to sleep, according to promise, I was hammering upon the means of getting into the street, and running away with my coronation finery. A little private staircase, leading under the theatre into the lower saloon, seemed to furnish the probability of success. I slid away slily, while the audience were considering some necessary question of the play, and ran down the staircase, through the saloon, to the door, calling out, "Make way! make way! I must change my dress, and run up again in a moment!" They all made a lane, for fear of hindering me; so that in less than two minutes I got clear out of the palace, under cover of the darkness, and scampered to the house of my friend who saw gentlemen's trunks safe on board.
He stared like a stuck pig at my equipment l But when I let him into the why and the wherefore, he laughed ready to split his sides. Then, shaking hands in the sincerity of his heart, because he flattered himself with the hope of a pension on the King of Leon's civil list, he wished me joy of so successful a first appearance, and joined issue with the major-domo in the prognostic, that with encouragement and practice I should turn out a first-rate actor, and make no little noise in the world. After we had diverted ourselves for some time at the expense of my manager and audience, I said to the bully -- What shall we do with this magnificent dress? Do not make yourself uneasy about that, answered he. I know an honest broker, without an atom of curiosity in his composition, who will buy or sell anything with any person, provided that he gets the turn of the market upon the transaction. I will fetch him to you to-morrow morning. The knowing fellow was as good as his word; for he went out early the next day, leaving me in bed, and returned two hours afterwards with the broker, carrying a yellow bundle under his arm. My friend, said he, give me leave to introduce Signor Ybagnez of Segovia, who, in spite of the bad example set him by the trade in general, trusts to fair dealing and small profits for a moderate pittance and an unblemished character. He will tell you to a fraction what the dress you want to part with is really worth, and you may take his calculation as the balance of justice, between, man and man. Oh yes I to a nicety, said the broker. Else wherefore live I in a Christian land, but to appraise for my neighbour as for myself? To take a mean advantage never was, thank heaven! and at these years never shall be, imputed to Ybagnez of Segovia. Let us look a little at those articles! You are the seller; I am the buyer! We have only to agree upon an equitable price. Here they are, said the bully, pulling them out: now own the truth, was there ever anything more magnificent? You do not often see such velvet: and then the trimming! You cannot say too much of it, answered the salesman, examining the suit with the prying eye of a dealer, it is of the very first quality. And what think you of the pearls upon this crown? resumed my friend. A little rounder, observed Ybagnez, and there would be no setting a price upon them! however, take them as they are, it is a very fine set, and I do not want to find fault about trifles. Now your common run of appraisers, under my circumstances, would affect to disparage the goods for the sake of getting them cheaper; one of those fellows would have the conscience to offer twenty pistoles; but there is nothing like bargaining with an upright, downright man! I will give forty at a word; take them or leave them!
Had Ybagnez ventured up to a hundred, he would not have burned his fingers; for the pearls alone would have fetched two hundred anywhere. The bully, who went snacks, then said -- Now only look! what a mercy it is, to fall into the hands of a man not of this world. Signor Ybagnez estimates money as dross, in comparison of his principles and his soul. He may die to-night, and yet not be taken unprepared! That is too much! You make me blush, said the salesman of principle and soul; but so far is true, that my price is always fixed. Well, now, is it a bargain? The money down upon the nail too! Stop a moment! answered the bully; my little friend must first try on the clothes you have brought for him by my order: I am very much mistaken if they will not just fit him. The salesman then, untying his bundle, shewed me a second-hand suit of dark cloth with silver buttons. I got up, and got into it; too big for me every way! but these gentlemen could have sworn it had been made to my measure. Ybagnez put it at ten pistoles; and as he was an upright, downright man, of fixed principle and soul, estimating money as dross in comparison of integrity, his first price was of course his last. He therefore took out his purse, and counted down thirty pistoles upon a table; after which he packed up the King of Leon's regalia, and went his way.
When he was gone, the bully said -- I am very well satisfied with that broker. And so he well might be; for I am certain he must have received at least a hundred pistoles as hush-money. But there was no reason why the broker's benevolence should pay the debts of my gratitude: so he took half the money on the table, without saying with your leave or by your leave, and suffered me to pocket the remainder, with the following advice: My dear Scipio, with that balance of fifteen pistoles, I would have you get out of this town as fast as you can; for you may suppose that my lord archbishop will ferret you out if you are above-ground. It would grieve me to the heart if, after having risen so superior to the prejudice of honesty, you had the weakness to fall foul of what alone keeps it afloat, the house of correction. I answered that it was my fixed purpose to make myself scarce at Seville, and accordingly, after buying a hat and some shirts, I travelled through vineyards and olive groves to the ancient city of Carmona; and in three days afterwards arrived at Cordova.
I put up at an inn close by the market-place, giving myself out for the heir of a good family at Toledo, travelling for his pleasure. My appearance did not belie the story, and a few pistoles, which I contrived carelessly to chink within the landlord's hearing, pinned his faith upon my veracity. Probably my unfledged youth might lead him to take me for some graceless little truant who had robbed his parents and run away. But that was no concern of his: he took the thing just as I gave it him, for fear lest his curiosity should clash with my continuance at his house. For six reals a day one could live like a gentleman at this inn, where there was generally a considerable concourse of company. About a dozen people sat down at supper. It was whimsical enough; but the whole party plied their knives and forks without speaking a word, except one man, who talked incessantly, right or wrong, and made up for the silence of the rest by his eternal babble. He affected to be a wit, to tell a good story, and took great pains to make the good folks merry by his puns; and accordingly they did laugh most inextinguishably; but it was at him, not with him.
For my part, I paid so little attention to the talk of this rattle, that I should have got up from table without knowing what it was all about, if he had not brought it home to my business and my bosom. Gentlemen, cried he, just as supper was over, I have kept my best story for the last; a very droll thing happened within these few days at the archbishop of Seville's palace. I had it from a young fellow of my acquaintance, who assures me that he was present at the time. These words made my heart jump up into my throat, for I had no doubt of this being my exploit -- and so it turned out This pleasant gentle man related the facts as they actually happened, and even carried the adventure to its conclusion, of which I was as yet ignorant: but now you shall be made as wise as myself.
No sooner had I absconded, than the Moors, who were, according to the progress of the fable and the rising of the interest, to lay violent hands on me, appeared upon the stage, for the fell purpose of surprising me on my bed of turf, where the author had given them reason to expect me fast asleep; but when they thought they were just going to capot the King of Leon, they found, to their surprise, that both the king and the knave made a trick against them. Here was a hole in the ballad! The actors all lost their cue; some of them called me by name, others ran to look for me; here is a fellow bawling as though his bellows would burst, there stands another, muttering to himself about the devil, just as if that reptile could stand upright in such a presence! The archbishop, perceiving trouble and confusion to lord it behind the scenes, asked what was the matter. At the sound of the prelate's voice, a page, who was the fiddle of the piece, came to the front and spoke thus: My lord archbishop, ladies, and gentlemen! We are extremely sorry to inform you, as players, but extremely glad, as men and Christians, that the King of Leon is at present in no danger whatever of being taken prisoner by the Moors: he has adopted effectual measures for the security of his royal person; and to the royal person, as liberty avails little without property, he has irrevocably attached the crown, insignia, and robes. And a happy deliverance for himself and Christendom! exclaimed the archbishop. He has done perfectly right to escape from the enemies of our religion, and to burst from the bonds in which their malice would have laid him. By this time, probably, he has reached the confines of his kingdom, or may have entered the capital. May no unlucky accident have retarded him on his journey! And that the sin of none such may lie heavy on my conscience, I beg leave very positively to make my pleasure known, that he may proceed unmolested by any interruption from this quarter; I should be highly mortified indeed, if his majesty's pious endeavours were to be frustrated by the slightest indignity from the ministers of that religion in whose cause he labours and suffers. The prelate, having thus declared his acquiescence in the motives of my flight, ordered my part to be read, and the play to be resumed.