CH. II. -- What happened to Gil Blas after his retreat from the castle of Leyva; shewing that those who are crossed in love are not always the most miserable of mankind.
I WAS mounted on a good horse, my own property, and was the bearer of two hundred pistoles, the greater part of which arose from the plunder of the vanquished banditti, and the forfeiture of Samuel Simon by the Inquisition; for Don Alphonso, without requiring me to account for any part of the said forfeiture, had made restitution of the entire sum out of his own funds. Thus, considering my effects, however obtained, as converted into lawful property by a sort of vicarious sponsorship, I took them into my good graces without any remorse of conscience. An estate like this rendered it absurd to throw away any thought about the future; and a certain likelihood of doing well, which always hangs about a young man at my age, held out an additional security against the caprices of fortune. Besides, Toledo offered me a retreat exactly to my mind. There could not be a doubt but the Count de Polan would take a pleasure in giving a kind reception to one of his deliverers, and would insist on his accepting an apartment in his own house. But I only looked upon this nobleman as a very distant resource; and determined, before laying any tax on his grateful recollection, to spend part of my ready cash in travelling over the provinces of Murcia and Grenada, which I had a very particular inclination to see. With this intention I took the Almanza road, and afterwards, following the route chalked out, travelled from town to town as far as the city of Grenada, without stumbling on any sinister occurrence. It should seem as if fortune, wearied out with the school-girl's tricks she had been playing me, was contented at last to leave me as she found me. But she still had her skittish designs upon me, as will be seen in the sequel.
One of the first persons I met in the streets of Grenada was Signor Don Ferdinand de Leyva, son-in-law, as well as Don Alphonso, of the Count de Polan. We were both of us equally surprised at meeting so far from home. How is this, Gil Blas? exclaimed he; to find you in this city! What the devil brings you hither? Sir, said I, if you are astonished at seeing me in this country, you will be ten times more so when you shall know why I have quitted the service of Signor Don Caesar and his son. Then I recounted to him all that had passed between Sephora and myself, without garbling the facts in any particular. He laughed heartily at the recital; then, recovering his gravity, My friend, said he, my mediation is at your service in this affair. I will write to my sister-in-law . . . . No, no, sir, interrupted I, do not write upon the subject, I beseech you. I did not quit the castle of Leyva to go back again. You may, if you please, make another use of the kindness you have expressed for me. If any of your friends should be looking out for a secretary or a steward, I should be much obliged to you to speak a good word in my favour. I will take upon me to assure you that you will never be reproached with recommending an improper object. You have only to command me, answered he: I will do whatever you desire. My business at Grenada is to visit an old aunt in an ill state of health. I shall be here three weeks longer, after which I shall set out on my return to my castle of Lorqui, where I have left Julia. That is my lodging, added he, shewing me a house about a hundred yards from us. Call upon me in a few days; probably I may by that time have hit upon some eligible appointment.
And, in fact, so it was; for the very first time that we came together again, he said to me: My Lord Archbishop of Grenada, my relation and friend, is in want of a young man with some little tinge of literature, who can write a good hand and make fair copies of his manuscripts; for he is a great author. He has composed I know not how many homilies, and still goes on composing more every day, which he delivers to the high edification of his audience. As you seem to be just the thing for him, I have mentioned your name, and he has promised to take you. Go, and make your bow to him as from me; you will judge, by his reception of you, whether my recommendation has been couched in handsome terms.
The situation was, to all appearance, exactly what I should have picked out for myself. That being the case, with such an arrangement of my air and person as seemed most likely to square with the ideas of a reverend prelate, I presented myself one morning before the archbishop. If this were a gorgeous romance, and not a grave history, here might we introduce a pompous description of the episcopal palace, with architectural digressions on the structure of the building: here would be the place to expatiate on the costliness of the furniture like an upholsterer, to criticise the statues and pictures like a connoisseur; and the pictures themselves would be nothing to the uninformed reader, without the stories they represent, till universal history, fabulous and authentic, sacred and profane, should be pressed into the service. But I shall content myself with modestly stating, that the royal palace itself is scarcely superior in magnificence.
Throughout the suite of apartments, there was a complete mob of ecclesiastics and other officers, consisting of chaplains, ushers, upper and menial servants. Those of them who were laymen were most superbly attired; one would sooner have taken them for temporal nobility than for spiritual understrappers. They were as proud as the devil; and gave themselves intolerably consequential airs. I could not help laughing in my sleeve, when I considered who and what they were, and how they behaved. Set a beggar on horseback! said I. These gentry are in luck to carry a pack without feeling the drag of it; for surely if they knew they were beasts of burden, they would not jingle their bells with so high a toss of the head. I ventured just to speak to a grave and portly personage who stood sentinel at the door of the archbishop's closet, to turn it upon its hinges as occasion might require. I asked him civilly if there was no possibility of speaking with my lord archbishop. Stop a little, said he, with a supercilious demeanour and repulsive tone: his grace will shortly come forth, to go and hear mass: you may snatch an audience for a moment as he passes on. I answered not a single syllable. Patience was all I had for it; and it even seemed advisable to try and enter into conversation with some of the jacks in office: but they began conning me over from the sole of my foot to the crown of my head, without condescending to favour me with a single interjection; after which they winked at one another, whispered, and looked out at the corners of their eyes, in derision of the liberty I had assumed, by intruding upon their select society.
I felt more fool that I did so, quite out of countenance at such cavalier treatment from a knot of state footmen. My confusion was but beginning to subside, when the closet door opened. The archbishop made his appearance. A profound silence immediately ensued among his officers, who quitted at once their insolent behaviour, to adopt a more respectful style before their master. That prelate was in his sixty-ninth year, formed nearly on the model of my uncle, Gil Perez the canon, which is as much as to say, as broad as he was long. But the highest dignitaries should always be the most amply gifted; accordingly his legs bowed inwards to the very extremity of the graceful curve, and his bald head retained but a single lock behind: so that he was obliged to ensconce his pericranium in a fine woollen cap with long ears. In spite of all this, I espied the man of quality in his deportment, doubtless, because I knew that he actually happened to be one. We common fellows, the fungous growth of the human dunghill, look up to great lords with a facility of being overawed, which often furnishes them with a Benjamin's mess of importance, when nature has denied even the most scanty and trivial gifts.
The archbishop moved towards me in a minuet step, and kindly inquired what I wanted. I told him I was the young man about whom Signor Don Ferdinand de Leyva had spoken to him. He did not give me a moment to go on with my story. Ah! is it you, exclaimed he, is it you of whom so fine a character has been given me? I take you into my service at once; you are a mine of literary utility to me. You have only to take up your abode here. Talking thus condescendingly, he supported himself between two ushers, and moved onwards after having given audience to some of his clergy, who had ecclesiastical business to communicate. He was scarcely out of the room, when the same officers who had turned upon their heel, were now cap in hand to court my conversation. Here the rascals are, pressing round me, currying favour, and expressing their sincere joy at seeing me become as it were an heir loom of the archbishopric. They had heard what their master had said, and were dying with anxiety to know on what footing I was to be about him; but I had the ill nature not to satisfy their curiosity, in revenge for their contempt.
My lord archbishop was not long before he returned. He took me with him into his closet for a little private conference. I could not but suppose that he meant to fathom the depth of my understanding. I was accordingly on my guard, and prepared to measure out my words most methodically. He questioned me first in the classics. My answers were not amiss; he was convinced that I had more than a schoolboy's acquaintance with the Greek and Latin writers. He examined me next in logic; nor could I but suppose that he would examine me in logic. He found me strong enough there. Your education, said he, with some degree of surprise, has not been neglected. Now let us see your hand-writing. I took a blank piece of paper out of my pocket, which I had brought for the purpose. My ghostly father was not displeased with my performance. I am very well satisfied with the mechanical part of your qualifications, exclaimed he, and still more so with the powers of your mind. I shall thank my nephew, Don Ferdinand, most heartily, for having sent me so fine a lad; it is absolutely a gift from above.
We were interrupted by some of the neighbouring gentry, who were come to dine with the archbishop. I left them together, and withdrew to the second table, where the whole household, with one consent, insisted on giving me the upper hand. Dinner is a busy time at an episcopal ordinary; and yet we snatched a moment to make our observations on each other. What a mortified propriety was painted on the outside of the clergy? They had all the look of a deputation from a better world: strange to think how place and circumstance impose on the deluded sense of men! It never once came into my thoughts that all this sanctity might possibly be a false coin; just as if there could be nothing but what appertained to the kingdom above, among the successors of the apostles on earth.
I was seated by the side of an old valet-de-chambre, by name Melchior de la Ronda. He took care to help me to all the nice bits. His attentions were not lost upon me, and my good manners quite enraptured him. My worthy sir, said he, in a low voice after dinner, I should like to have a little private talk with you. At the same time he led the way to a part of the palace where we could not be overheard, and there addressed me as follows: My son, from the very first instant that I saw you, I felt a certain prepossession in your favour. Of this I will give you a certain proof, by communicating in confidence what will be of great service to you. You are here in a family where true believers and painted hypocrites are playing at cross purposes against each other, It would take an antediluvian age to feel the ground under your feet. I will spare so long and so disgusting a study, by letting you into the characters on both sides. After this, if you do not play your cards, it is your own fault.
I shall begin with his grace. He is a very pious prelate, employed without ceasing in the instruction of the people, whom he brings back to virtue, like sheep gone astray, by sermons full of excellent morality, and written by himself. He has retired from court these twenty years, to watch over his flock with the zeal of an affectionate pastor. He is a very learned person, and a very impressive declaimer: his whole delight is in preaching, and his congregation take care he should know that their whole delight is in hearing him. There may possibly be some little leaven of vanity in all this heavenly-mindedness; but, besides that it is not for human fallibility to search the heart, it would ill become me to rake into the faults of a person whose bread I eat. Were it decent to lay my finger on anything unbecoming in my master, I should discommend his starchness. Instead of exercising forbearance towards frail churchmen, he visits every peccadillo, as if it were a heinous offence. Above all, he prosecutes those with the utmost rigour of the spiritual court, who, wrapping themselves up in their innocence, appeal to the canons for their justification, in bar of his despotic authority. There is besides another awkward trait in his character, common to him with many other people of high rank. Though he is very fond of the people about him, he pays not the least attention to their services, but lets them sink into years without a moment's thought about securing them any provision. If at any time he makes them any little presents, they may thank the goodness of some one who shall have spoken up in their behalf: he would never have his wits enough about him to do the slightest thing for them as a volunteer.
This is just what the old valet-de-chambre told me of his master. Next, he let me into what he thought of the clergymen with whom we had dined. His portraits might be likenesses; but they were too hard-featured to be owned by the originals. It must be admitted, however, that he did not represent them as honest men, but only as very scandalous priests. Nevertheless, he made some exceptions, and was as loud in their praises as in his censure of the others. I was no longer at any loss how to play my part so as to put myself on an equal footing with these gentry. That very evening, at supper, I took a leaf out of their book, and arrayed myself in the convenient vesture of a wise and prudent outside. A clothing of humility and sanctification costs nothing. Indeed it offers such a premium to the wearer, that we are not to wonder if this world abounds in a description of people called hypocrites.