CH. VIII. -- Gil Blas gets forward progressively in his master's affections. Scipio's return to Madrid, and account of his journey.
THE Count of Olivarez, whom I shall henceforward call my lord duke, because the king was pleased to confer that dignity on him about this time, was infested with a weakness which I did not suffer to pass without taking toll: it was a furious desire of being beloved. The moment he fancied that any one really liked him, his heart was caught in a trap. This was not lost upon my keen sense of character. It was not enough to do precisely as he ordered; I superadded a zeal in the execution which made him mine. I laid myself out to his liking in everything, and provided beforehand for his most eccentric wishes.
By conduct like this, which almost always answers, I became by degrees my master's favourite; and he, on the other hand, as if he had got round to my blind side also, wormed himself into my affections, by giving me his own. So forward did I get into his good graces, as to halve his confidence with Signor Carnero, his principal secretary.
Carnero had played my game; and that so successfully, as to be intrusted with the greater mysteries. We two therefore were the keepers of the prime minister's conscience, and held the keys of all his secrets: with this difference, that Carnero was consulted on state affairs, myself about his private concerns, dividing the business into two separate departments; and we were each of us equally pleased with our own. We lived together without jealousy, and certainly without attachment. I had every reason to be satisfied with my quarters, where continual intercourse gave me an opportunity of prying into the duke's inmost soul, which was a masked battery to all mankind beside, but plain as a pikestaff to me, when he no longer questioned the sincerity of my attachment to hint.
Santillane, said he one day, you were witness to the Duke of Lerma's possession of an authority, more like that of an absolute monarch than a favourite minister; and yet I am still happier than he was at the very summit of his good fortune. He had two formidable enemies in his own son, the Duke of Uzeda, and in the confessor of Philip the Third: but there is no one now about the king who has credit enough to stand in my way, or even, as I am aware, the slightest inclination to do me mischief.
It is true, continued he, that on my accession to the ministry, it was my first care to remove all hangers-on from about the prince but those of my own family or connections. By means of viceroyalties or embassies I got rid of all the nobility who, by their personal merit, could have interfered with me in the good graces of the sovereign, whom I mean to engross entirely to myself; in that I may say at the present moment, no statesman of the time holds me in check by the ascendancy of his personal influence. You see, Gil Blas, I open my mind to you. As I have reason to think that you are mine heart and soul, I have chosen to put you in possession of everything. You are a clever youth; with reflection, penetration, and discretion: in short, you are just the very creature to acquit yourself of all possible little offices in all possible directions; you are also a young fellow of very promising parts, and must in the nature of things be in my interests.
There was no standing the attack which these flattering representations were calculated to make upon the weakly defended fortress of my philosophy. Unauthorized whims of avarice and ambition mounted suddenly into my head, and brought forward certain sentiments of political speculation which were supposed to have been in abeyance. I gave the minister an assurance that I should fulfil his intentions to the utmost of my power, and held myself in readiness to execute without examination or inference all the orders it might be his pleasure to give me.
While I was thus disposed to take fortune in her affable fit, Scipio returned from his peregrination. I have no long story for you, said he. The lords of Leyva were delighted at your reception from the king, and at the manner in which the Count of Olivarez and you came to understand one another.
My friend, said I, you would have delighted them still more, had you been able to tell them on what a footing I am now with my lord. My advances since your departure have been prodigious. Happy man be his dole, my dear master, answered he: my mind forebodes that we shall cut a figure.
Let us change the subject, said I, and talk of Oviedo. You have been in the Asturias. How did you leave my mother? Ah, sir! replied he, with an undertaker's decency of countenance, I have a melancholy tale to tell you from that quarter. O heaven! exclaimed I, my mother then is dead! Six months since, said my secretary, did the good lady pay the debt of nature, and your uncle, Signor Gil Perez, about the same period.
My mother's death preyed upon my susceptible nature, though in my childhood I had not received from her those little fondling indications of maternal love, so necessary to amalgamate with the more serious convictions of filial duty. The good canon, too, came in for his share in bringing me up according to the rules of godliness and honesty. My serious grief was not lasting: but I never lost sight of a certain tender recollection, whenever the idea of my dear relations shot across my mind.