CH. III. -- All is not gold that glitters. Some uneasiness resulting from the discovery of that principle in philosophy, and its practical application to existing circumstances.
I TOOK especial care, on my first entrance, to instil into the tavern-keeper's conception that I was secretary to the prime minister; nor was it easy, in that view of my rank and consequence, to order anything sufficiently sumptuous for dinner. To have selected from the bill of fare, might have looked as if I descended to the meanness of calculation; I therefore told him to send up the best the house afforded. My orders were punctually obeyed; and the anxious assiduity of the attendance pampered my fancy as much as the dishes did my palate. As to the bill, I had nothing to do with it but to pay it. Down went a pistole upon the table, and the waiters pocketed the difference, which was somewhat more than a quarter. After this display of grandeur I strutted out, practising those obstreperous clearings of the throat which announce, by empty sound, the approach of a substantial coxcomb.
There was at the distance of twenty yards a large house with lodgings to let, principally frequented by foreign nobility. I rented at once a suite of apartments, consisting of five or six rooms elegantly furnished. From my style of living, any one would have thought I had two or three thousand ducats of yearly income. The first month was paid in advance. Afterwards I returned to business, and employed the whole afternoon in going on with what I had begun in the morning. In a closet adjoining mine there were two other secretaries; but their office was only to copy out fair. I got acquainted with them as we were shutting up for the evening; and, by way of smoothing the first overtures towards friendship, invited them home with me to my tavern, where I ordered the choicest delicacies of the season, with a profusion of the most exquisite wines.
We sat down to table, and began bandying about more merriment than wit; for with all due deference to my guests, it was but too visible that they owed their official situations to any circumstance rather than to their abilities. They were adepts, it must be confessed, in all the history and mystery of scrivening and clerkship; but as for polite literature and university education, there was not even a suspicion of it in all their talk.
To make amends for that defect, they had a keen eye to the main chance; and though sensible how high an honour it was to be on the prime minister's establishment, there were some dashes of acid in the cup of good fortune. It is now full five months, said one of them, that we have been serving at our own cost. We do not touch one farthing of salary; and, what is worst of all, our very board wages are shamefully in arrear. There is no knowing what footing we are upon. As for me, said the other, I would willingly be tied up to the halbert, and receive a percentage in lashes, for the liberty of changing my berth; but I dare not either take myself off or petition for my discharge, after having transcribed such state secrets as have passed under my inspection. I might chance to become too well acquainted with the tower of Segovia or the castle of Alicant.
How do you manage for a subsistence, then? said I. You must of course have means of your own. These they represented as very slender; but that, fortunately for them, they lodged with a kind-hearted widow, who boarded them on tick, at the rate of a hundred pistoles a year for each These anecdotes of a court life, not one of which escaped me, completely ventilated all the rising fumes of pride. It could not be supposed that more consideration would be shewn to me than to others, and consequently there was nothing to be so puffed up with in my post; there seemed to be much cry and little wool, a discovery which rendered it expedient to husband my finances with a narrower economy. A picture like this was enough to cure my taste for treating. I repented not having left these secretaries to find their own supper; for they played a most cruel knife and fork at mine! and, when the bill was brought, I squabbled with the landlord about the charges.
We parted at midnight; and the early breaking up was to be laid at my door; for I did not propose another bottle. They went home to their widow, and I withdrew to my magnificent lodgings, which I was now mad with myself for having taken, and was fully determined to give up at the month's end. My bed of down was now converted into a couch of thorns; sleep had abandoned his narcotic tenement, and sold the fee-simple of my repose to the demon of eternal wakefulness. The remainder of the night was passed in contriving not to serve the state too patriotically. For that purpose I bethought me of Monteser's good counsel. I got up with the intention of making my bow to Don Rodrigo de Calderona. My present temper was just pat to the purpose of ingratiating myself with so high and mighty a gentleman; whose patronage was indispensable to my existence. I therefore presented my person in that secretary's ante-chamber.
His apartments communicated with the duke's, and rivalled them in the lustre of their decorations. The field officer could scarcely be distinguished from the subaltern by any outward distinction in his paraphernalia. I sent in my name as Don Valerio's successor; but that did not hinder me from being kept kicking my heels for a good hour. Trusty, but novice officer of the king, said I, while ruminating on court manners, lean a lesson of patience, if so please you. You must begin with shewing paces yourself, and afterwards make others bite the bridle.
At length the door of the inner room opened. I went in, and advanced towards Don Rodrigo, who had just been writing an amorous epistle to his charming Siren, and was giving it to Pedrillo at that very moment. I had never manufactured my face and air into such a counterfeit of reverence before the Archbishop of Grenada, nor on my introduction to the Count de Galiano, nor even in presence of the prime minister himself: the crisis of my fawning was reserved for Signor de Calderona. I paid my respects to him with my body bent down to the very ground, as if crouching under the ken of a superior intelligence; and solicited his protection in strains of humble hypocrisy, at which my cheek now burns with shame, to think that man can so debase himself before his fellow-man. My servility would have recoiled to my own undoing, had it been practised towards a compound of any manly and independent ingredients. As for this fellow, he swallowed flattery by the lump without mastication; and assured me, just as if he meant what he said, that he would leave no stone unturned to do me service.
Hereupon, thanking him with unlimited expressions of attachment for his kind and generous sentiments, I sold my very soul and all my little stock of conscience to his free disposal. But as this farce might be tiresome if prolonged, I took my leave, apologizing for having broken in upon his more serious avocations. As soon as I had finished this abominable scene, I slunk back to my desk, where I finished my prescribed task. The duke was at my elbow the next morning. The end of my performance was not less to his mind than the beginning; and he praised it accordingly: This is extremely well indeed! Copy this abridgment in your best hand into the register of Catalonia. You shall not want employment of this kind. I had a very long conversation with his excellency, and was delighted at his mild and familiar deportment. What a contrast to Calderona! They might have sat to a painter for Pan and Apollo.
To-day I dined at a cheap ordinary, and sunk the secretary upon my messmates, till I should ascertain what solid profit might accrue from all my bows and scrapes. I had funds for three months, or thereabouts. That interval I allowed myself for casting my bread upon the waters. But as the shortest speculations are the safest, if my salary was not paid by that time, a long farewell to the court, its frippery, and its falsehood! Thus were my plans arranged. For two months I laboured hard and fast to stand well with Calderona: but his senses were so callous to all my assiduity, that it seemed labour in vain to build on so hopeless a foundation. This idea produced a change in my conduct. I left some greener fool to fumigate the nostrils of this idol; and placed all my own dependence on making my ground sure with the duke, by the benefit of our frequent conferences.