CH. I. -- The fate of Gil Blas and his Companions after they took leave of the Count de Polan. One of Ambrose's notable contrivances set off by the manner of its execution.
THE Count de Polan, after having exhausted half the night in thanking us, and protesting that we might reckon upon his substantial acknowledgments, sent for the landlord to consult him on the best method of getting safely to Turis, whither it was his intention to go. We had nothing to do with this nobleman's further progress, and therefore left him to take his own measures. Our departure from the inn was now resolved on; and we followed Lamela like sheep after the bell-wether.
After two hours' travelling, the day overtook us near Campillo. We made as expeditiously as possible for the mountains between that hamlet and Requena. There we wore out the day in taking our rest and reckoning up our stock, which the spoil of the robbers had considerably replenished, to the amount of more than three hundred pistoles, the lawful ravage of their pockets. We began our march again with the setting-in of the night; and on the following morning reached the frontier of Valencia in safety. We got quietly into the first wood that offered as a shelter. The inmost recesses of it were best suited to our purpose, and led us on by winding paths to a spot where a rivulet of transparent water was meandering in its slow and silent course, to incorporate with the waters of Guadalaviar. The refreshing shade afforded by the foliage, and the rich pasturage in which our toil-won beasts so much delighted, would have fixed this for the place of our halting, if our resolution had not been previously taken to that effect.
We therefore alighted, and were preparing to pass the day very pleasantly, but a good breakfast was amongst the foremost of our intended pleasures; and we found that there was very little ammunition left. Bread was beginning to be a nonentity; and our bottle was becoming an evidence of the material system, mere carnal leather without a vivifying soul. Gentlemen, said Ambrose, scenery and the picturesque have but hungry charms for me, unless Bacchus and Ceres preside over the landscape. Our provisions must be lengthened out. For this purpose, away post I to Xelva. It is a very pretty town, not more than two leagues off. I shall soon make this little excursion. Speaking after this manner, he slung the bottle and the wallet over a horse's back, leaped merrily into his seat, and shot out of the wood with a rapidity which seemed to bid fair for a speedy return,
He did not, however, come back quite so soon as he had given us reason to expect. More than half the day had elapsed; nay, night herself was already pranking up her dun and gloomy wings, to overshadow the thicket with a denser horror, when we saw our purveyor once again, whose long stay was beginning to give us some uneasiness. Our extreme wishes were lame and impotent, compared with the abundance of his stores. He not only produced the bottle filled with some excellent wine, and the wallet stuffed with game and poultry ready dressed, to say nothing of bread; the horse was laden besides with a large bundle of stuffs, of which we could make neither head nor tail. He took notice of our wonder, and said with a smile: I will lay a wager, neither Don Raphael nor all the colleges of soothsayers upon earth can guess why I have bought these articles. With this fling at our dulness, we untied the bundle, and lectured on the intrinsic value of what we had been considering only as an empty pageant. In the inventory was a cloak and a black gown of trailing dimensions; doublets, breeches, and hose to correspond; an inkstand and writing paper, such as a secretary of state need not be ashamed of; a key, such as a treasurer might carry; a great seal and green wax, such as a chancellor might affix to his decrees. When he had at length exhausted the display of his bargains, Don Raphael observed in a bantering tone -- Faith and troth, Master Ambrose, it must be confessed that you have made a good sensible speculation. But pray, how do you mean to turn the penny on your purchase? Let me alone for that, answered Lamela. All these things cost me only ten pistoles, and it shall go hard but they bring us in above five hundred. The tens in five hundred are fifty; a good improvement of money, my masters! I am not a man to burden myself with a trumpery pedlar's pack; and to prove to you that I have not been making ducks and drakes of our joint stock, I will let you into the secret of a plan which has just taken birth in my pericranium.
After having laid in my stock of bread, I went into a cook's shop, where I ordered a range of partridges, chickens, and young rabbits, half-a-dozen of each, to be put instantly on the spit. While these relishing little articles were roasting, in came a man in a violent passion, open-mouthed against the coarse conduct of a tradesman to his consequential self. This faggot of fury observed to the lord paramount of the dripping-pan: By St James! Samuel Simon is the most wrong-headed retail dealer in the town of Xelva. He has just insulted me in his own shop before his customers. The skinflint would not trust me for six ells of cloth, though he knows very well that my credit is as good as the bank, and that no one could say he ever lost anything by me. Are not you delighted with the outlandish monster? He has no objection to getting people of fashion on his books. He had rather toss up heads or tails with them, than oblige a plain citizen in an honest way, and be paid in full at the time appointed. What a strange whim! But he is an infernal Jew. He will be taken in some day or other! All the merchants on the Exchange are lying in wait to catch him upon the hip; and his disgrace or ruin will be nuts to me.
While this reptile of the warehouse was thus spitting his spite and blurting out many other ill-natured innuendoes, there came over me a sort of astrological anticipation that I should be lord of the ascendant over this Samuel Simon. My friend, said I to the man who was complaining against that hawker of damaged goods, of what character is the strange fellow you are talking about? Of a confoundedly bad character, answered he in a pet, Depend on it, he is one of the most extortionate usurers in existence, though with the affectation of not letting his left hand know what his right gives away in charity. He was a Jew, and has turned Catholic; but rip your way into his heart if he has any, and you will find him still as inveterate a Jew as ever Pilate was. As for his conversion it was all in the way of trade.
I took in with greedy ear the whole invective of the shop-keeping declaimant, and failed not, on coming out of the eating-house, to inquire for Samuel Simon's residence. A person directed me to the part of the town, and there was no difficulty in finding out the house. It was not enough to skim my eye cursorily over his shop. I peered into every hole and corner of it; and my imagination, always on the alert when any profit is to be picked up, has already engendered a rogue's trick, which only waits the period of gestation, when it may turn out a bantling not unworthy to be fathered by the sanctimonious servant of Signor Gil Blas. Straightway went I to the ready-made warehouse, where I bought these dresses, into which we may stuff an inquisitor, a notary, and an alguazil, and play the parts in the spirit of the solemn offices they represent.
Ah! my dear Ambrose, interrupted Don Raphael, transported with rapture at the suggestion, what a wonderful idea! a glorious scheme indeed! I am quite jealous of the contrivance. Willingly would I blot out the proudest quarter from my escutcheon, to have owned an effort of genius so transcendent. Yes, Lamela, I see, my friend, all the rich invention of the design, and you need be at no loss for instruments to carry it into effect. You want two good actors to play up to you; and you have not far to look for them. You have yourself a face that can look sanctified, magisterial, or blood-thirsty at will, and may do very well to represent the inquisition. My character shall be that of the notary; and Signor Gil Blas, if he pleases, may enact the alguazil. Thus are the persons of the drama distributed: to-morrow we will play the piece, and I will pledge myself for its success, bating one of those unlucky chance medleys, which turn awry the currents of the most pithy and momentous enterprises.
As yet Don Raphael's masterpiece of roguery had made but a clumsy impression on my plodding brain; but the argument of the fable was developed at supper-time, and the hinge upon which it turned was, to my mind, of an ingenious contrivance. After having despatched part of our game, and bled our bottle to the last stage of evacuation, we stretched our length upon the grass, and soon fell fast asleep. Up with you! up with you! was the alarum of Signor Ambrose, as the day begun to dawn. People who have a great enterprise on hand ought not to indulge themselves in indolence. A plague upon you, master inquisitor, said Don Raphael, rubbing his eyes, you are confounded early on the move! It is as good as an order for execution to master Samuel Simon. Many a true word is spoken in jest, replied Lamela. Nay, you shall know more, added he with a sarcastic grin. I dreamt last night that I was plucking the hairs out of his beard. Was not that a left-handed dream for him, master secretary? These pleasant hits were followed by a thousand others, which called forth new bursts of merriment. Our breakfast passed off with the utmost gaiety; and when it was over, we made our arrangements for the pageant we had got up. Ambrose arrayed himself in sables, as befitted so ghostly an instrument for the suppression of vice. We also took to our official habits; nor has the dignity of magistracy been often more gravely represented than by Don Raphael and myself. The making up of our persons was rather a tedious operation; for it was later than two o' clock in the afternoon when we sallied from the wood to attend our call at Xelva. It is true, there was no hurry, since the play was not to begin till the setting-in of the evening. That being the case, we jogged on leisurely, and stopped at the gates of the town till the day was closed.
At that eventful hour, we left our horses where they were, to the care of Don Alphonso, who was very well satisfied to have so humble a cast in the distribution. As for Don Raphael, Ambrose, and myself, our first visit was not to Samuel Simon in person, but to a tavern-keeper who lived very near him. His reverence the inquisitor walked foremost. In went he to the bar; and said gravely to the landlord: Master, I want to speak a word with you in private. The obsequious publican shewed us into a room, where Lamela, now that we had got him to ourselves, said: I have the honour to be an unworthy member of the holy office, and am come here on a business of very great importance. At this intimation, the man of liquor turned pale, and answered in a tremulous tone that he was not conscious of having given any umbrage to the holy inquisition. True, replied Ambrose with encouraging affability; neither do we meditate any harm against you. Heaven forbid, that august tribunal, too hasty in its punishments, should make no distinction between guilt and innocence. It is unrelenting, but always just: to become obnoxious to its vengeance, you must have earned its displeasure by wickedness or contumacy. Be satisfied therefore that it is not you who bring me to Xelva, but a certain dealer and chapman, by name Samuel Simon. A very ugly story about him has come round to us. He is still a Jew in his heart, they say; and has only embraced Christianity from sordid and secular motives. I command you, in the name of the tremendous court I represent, to tell me all you know about that man. Beware how you are induced by good neighbourhood, or possibly by close friendship, to gloss over and palliate his errors; for, I warn you authoritatively, if I detect the slightest prevarication in your evidence, you are yourself even as one of the abandoned and accursed. Where is my secretary? pursued he, turning down towards Don Raphael. Sit down and do your duty.
Mr Secretary, with his paper already in his hand and his pen behind his ear, took his seat most pompously, and made ready to take down the landlord's deposition; who promised solemnly on his part not to suppress one tittle of the real fact. So far, so good! said the worshipful commissioner; we have only to proceed in our examination. You will only just answer my questions; but do not interlard your replies with any comments of your own. Do you often see Samuel Simon at church? I never thought of looking for him, said the drawer of corks; but I do not know that I ever saw him there in my life. Very good! cried the inquisitor. Write down that the defendant never goes to church. I do not say so, your worship, answered the landlord, I only say that I never happened to see him there. We may have been at church together and yet not have come across each other. My good friend, replied Lamela, you forget that you are deposing to facts, and not arguing. Remember what I told you; contempt of court is a heinous offence. You are to give a sound and discreet evidence; every iota of what makes against him, and not a word in his favour, if you knew volumes. If that is your practice, O upright and impartial judge, resumed our host, my testimony will scarcely be worth the trouble of taking. I know nothing about the tradesman you are inquiring after; and therefore can tell neither good nor harm of him: but if you wish to examine into the history of his private life, I will run and call Gaspard, his apprentice, whom you may question as much as you please. The lad comes and takes his glass here sometimes with his friends. Bless us, what a tongue! He will rip up all the minutest actions of his master's life, and find employment for your secretary till his wrist aches, take my word for it.
I like your open dealing, said Ambrose with a nod of approbation. To point out a man so capable of speaking to the bad morals of Simon, is an instance of Christian charity as well as of religious zeal. I shall report you very favourably to the inquisition. Make haste, therefore; go and fetch this Gaspard, of whom you speak; but do the thing cautiously, so that his master may have no suspicion of what is going forward. The multiplier of scores acquitted himself of his commission with due diligence and laudable privacy. Our little shopman came along with him. The youth had a tongue with a tang, and was just the sort of fellow that we wanted. Welcome, my good young man! said Lamela, You behold in me an inquisitor, appointed by that venerable body to collect informations against Samuel Simon, on an accusation of still adhering to Judaism in his secret devotions. You are an inmate of his family, consequently you must be an eye-witness to many of his most private transactions. It probably may be unnecessary to warn you, that you are obliged in conscience, and by fear of punishment, to declare all you know about him, notwithstanding any promise to the contrary, when I order you so to do on the part of the holy inquisition. May it please your reverence, answered the plodding little rascal, I am quite ready to satisfy your heart's desire on that head, without being commanded thereto in the name of the holy office. If ever my acquittal was to depend on my master's character of me, I am persuaded that my chance would be a sorry one; and for that reason, I shall serve him as he would serve me. And I may tell you in the first place, that he is a fly-by-night whose proceedings it is no easy matter to take measure of; a man who puts on all the starch formalities of an inveterate religionist, but at bottom has not a spark of principle in his composition. He goes every evening dangling after a little girl no better than she should be. . . . I am vastly glad indeed to find that, interrupted Ambrose, because I plainly perceive, by all you have been telling me, that he is a man of corrupt morals and licentious practices. But answer point by point to the questions I shall put to you. It is above all on the subject of religion that I am commissioned to inquire into his sentiments and conduct. Pray tell me, do you eat much pork at your house? I do not think, answered Gaspard, that we have seen it at table twice in the year that I have lived with him. Better and better! replied the paragon of inquisitors write down in legible characters that they never eat pork in Samuel Simon's family. But as a set-off against that, doubtless a joint of lamb is served up every now and then? Yes, every now and then, rejoined the apprentice; we killed one for our own consumption about last Easter. The season is pat and to the purpose, cried the ecclesiastical commissioner. Come, write down, that Simon keeps the passover: This goes on merrily to a complete conviction; and it seems, we have got a good serviceable information here.
Tell me again, my friend, pursued Lamela, whether you have not often seen your master fondle young children. A thousand times, answered Gaspard. When he sees the little urchins playing about before the shop, if they happen to be pretty, he calls them in and makes much of them. Write that down, be sure you write that down! interrupted the inquisitor. Samuel Simon is very grievously suspected of lying in wait for Christian children, and enticing them into his den to circumcise them. Vastly well! vastly well, indeed, Master Simon! you will have an account to settle with the society for the suppression of Judaism, take my word for it. Do not take it into your savage head that such bloody sacrifices are to be perpetrated with impunity. A pretty use you make of baptism and shaving! Cheer up, religious Gaspard, thou foremost of elect apprentices! Make a full confession of all thy master's sins; complete thine honest testimony by telling us how this simular of a Catholic is more than ever wedded to his Jewish customs and ceremonies. Is it not a fact, that one day in the week he sits with his hands before him, and will not even perform the most necessary offices for himself? No, answered Gaspard, I have not exactly observed that. What comes nearest to it is that on some days he shuts himself up in his closet, and stays there a long time. Ay! now we have it, exclaimed the commissary. He keeps the sabbath, or I am not an inquisitor. Note that particularly, officer; note that he observes the fast of the sabbath most superstitiously! Out upon him! What a shocking fellow! One question more, and his business is done. Is not he always parleying about Jerusalem? Pretty often indeed, replied our informer. He knows the Old Testament by heart, and tells us how the temple of Jerusalem was destroyed. The very thing! resumed Ambrose. Secretary! be sure you do not neglect that feature of the case. Write, in letters of an inch long, that Samuel Simon has contracted with the devil for the rebuilding of the temple, and that he is plotting day and night for the re-establishment of his nation. That is all I want to know; and it is labour in vain to pursue the examination any further. What Gaspard, in the spirit of truth and charity, has deposed, would be sufficient to make a bonfire of all Jewry.
When the august mouth-piece of the holy tribunal had sifted the little scoundrelly apprentice after this manner, he told him he might go about his business; at the same time commanding him, under the severest penalties of the inquisition, not to say a word to his master about what was going forward. Gaspard promised implicit obedience, and marched off. We were not long in coming after him: our procession from the inn was as grave and solemn as our pilgrimage thereunto, till we knocked at Samuel Simon's door. He opened it in person. Three figures such as ours might have dumbfounded a better man; but his face was as long as a lawsuit, when Lamela, our spokesman, said to him in a tone of authority: Master Samuel, I command you in the name of the holy inquisition, whose delegate I have the honour to be, to give me the key of your closet without murmur or delay. I want to see if I cannot find wherewithal to corroborate certain hints which have been communicated to us respecting you.
The son of commerce, aghast at these sounds of melancholy import, reeled two steps backward, just as if some one had given him a blow in the breadbasket. Far from smelling a rat in this pleasant trick of ours, he fancied in good earnest that some secret enemy had made him an object of suspicion to the holy hue-and-cry; and it might possibly have happened that, from being rather clumsy at his new duties as a Christian, he might be conscious of having laid himself open to serious animadversion. However that might be, I never saw a man look more foolish. He did as he was ordered without saying nay; and opened all his lock-up places with the sheepish acquiescence of a man, who stood in awe of an ecclesiastical rap on the knuckles. At least, said Ambrose as he went in, at least you are not a contumacious oppugner of our resistless mandates. But withdraw into another room, and leave me to fulfil the duties of my station without profane observers. Samuel did not set his face against this command any more than against the first: but kept himself quiet in his shop, while we went all three of us into his closet, where, without loss of time, we laid an embargo on his cash. It was no difficult matter to find it; for it lay in an open coffer, and in much larger quantity than we could carry away. There were a great many bags heaped up; but all in silver. Gold would have been more to our mind; but, as robbers must not be choosers any more than beggars, we were obliged to yield to the necessity of the case. Not only did we line our pockets with ducats; but the most unsearchable parts of our dress were made the receptacles of our filchings. Yet was there no outward shew of the heavy burden under which we tottered; thanks to the cunning contrivance of Ambrose and Don Raphael, who proved that there is nothing like being master of one's trade.
We marched out of the closet, after having feathered our nests pretty warmly; and then, for a reason which the reader will have no great difficulty in guessing, the worshipful inquisitor produced his padlock, and fixed it on the door with his own hands: he affixed moreover his own seal, and then said to Simon: Master Samuel, I forbid you, in the name of the holy inquisition, to touch either this padlock or this seal, which it is your bounden duty to hold sacred, since it is the authentic seal of our holy office. I shall return hither this time to-morrow, then and here to open my commission, and provisionally to take off the interdict. With this injunction, he ordered the street door to he opened, and we made our escape after the processional manner, out of our wits with joy. As soon as we had marched about fifty yards, we began to mend our pace into such a quick step, aggravated by degrees into a leap and a bound, that we were almost like vaulters and tumblers, in spite of the weight we carried. We were soon out of town; and mounting our horses once more, pushed forward towards Segorba, with many a pious ejaculation to the God Mercury, on the happy issue of so bold an attempt.