CH. IX. -- Gil Blas makes a large fortune in a short time, and behaves like other wealthy upstarts.
THIS affair gave me a relish for my trade; and ten pistoles to Scipio by way of brokerage, whetted his eagerness to start more game of the same sort. I have already done justice to his talents that way; he might as modestly have appended "the great" to the tail of his name, as the most noted scoundrel of antiquity. The second customer he brought me was a printer, who manufactured books of chivalry, and had made his fortune by waging war against common sense. This printer had pirated a work belonging to a brother printer, and his edition had been seized. For three hundred ducats I rescued his copies out of jeopardy, and saved him from a heavy fine. Though this was a transaction beneath the prime minister's notice, his excellency condescended at my request to interpose his authority. After the printer, a merchant passed through my hands; the occasion was thus: A Portuguese vessel had been taken by a Barbary corsair, and re-taken by a privateer from Cadiz. Two-thirds of the cargo belonged to a merchant at Lisbon, who, having claimed his due to no purpose, came to the court of Spain in search of a protector, with sufficient credit to procure him restitution. I took up his cause, and he recovered his property, deducting the sum of four hundred pistoles, paid to me in consideration of my disinterested zeal for justice.
And now most surely the reader will call out to me at this place: Well said, good master Santillane! Make hay while the sun shines. You are on the high road to fortune; push forward, and outstrip your rivals. Oh! let me alone for that. I spy, or my eyes deceive me, my servant coming in with a new gull that he has just caught. Even so! It is my very Scipio. Let us hear what he has to say. Sir, quoth he, give me leave to introduce this eminent practitioner. He wants a licence to sell his drugs during the term of ten years in all the towns of the Spanish monarchy, to the exclusion of all other quacks; in short, a monopoly of poisons. In gratitude for this patent to thin mankind, he will present the donor with a gratuity of two hundred pistoles. I looked superciliously, like a patron, at the mountebank, and told him that his business should be done. As lameness and leprosy would have it, in the course of a few days I sent him on his progress through Spain, invested with full powers to make the world his oyster, and leave nothing but the shell to his unpatented competitors.
Besides that my avarice outran my accumulating wealth, I had obtained the four boons just specified so easily from his grace, as not to be mealy mouthed about asking for a fifth. The town of Vera, on the coast of Grenada, wanted a governor; and a knight of Calatrava wanted the government, for which he was willing to pay me one thousand pistoles. The minister was ready to burst with laughing, to see me so eager after the scut. By all the powers! my friend Gil Blas, said he, you go to work tooth and nail! You have a most inveterate itch to do as you would be done by. But mark me! When mere trifles stand between us, I shall not stand upon trifles; but when governments or other places of real value are in question, you will have the modesty to be content with half the fee for yourself and will account to me for the other half. It is inconceivable at what expense I stand, and how it presses on my finances to support the dignity of my station; for though disinterestedness looks vastly well in the eyes of the world, you are to understand between ourselves that I have made a solemn vow against dipping into my private fortune. On this hint, arrange your future plans.
My master, by this discourse, relieving me from the fear of being troublesome, or rather egging me on to run at the ring for every prize, made me still more worldly-minded than ever I had been before. I should not have objected to circulating hand-bills, with an invitation to all candidates for places to apply on certain terms at the secretary's office. My functions were here, Scipio's were there; and we met at the receipt of custom. My client got the government of Vera for his thousand pistoles; and as our price was fixed, a knight of St James met his brother of Calatrava in the market on an equal footing. But mere governors were paltry fish to fry; I distributed orders of knighthood, and converted some good stupid burgesses into most insufferable gentry by one stroke of the pen, and a lacing across the shoulders with a broad-sword. The clergy, too, were not forgotten in my charities. Lesser preferments were in my gift; everything up to prebendal stalls and collegiate dignities. With regard to bishoprics and archbishoprics, Don Rodrigo de Calderona had the charge of our holy religion. As church and state must always go together, supreme magistracies, commanderies, and viceroyalties were all in his gift; whence the reader will naturally infer, that the upper offices were little better tenanted than the lower ones; since the subjects on whom our election fell, establishing their pretensions on a certain palpable criterion, were not necessarily and unavoidably either the cleverest or the best-principled people in the world. We knew very well that the wits and lampooners of Madrid made themselves merry at our expense; but we borrowed our philosophy from misers, who hug themselves under the hootings of the people, when they count over the accumulation of their pelf.
Isocrates was in the right to insinuate, in his elegant Greek expression, that what is got over the devil's back is spent under his belly. When I saw myself master of thirty thousand ducats, and in a fair way to gain perhaps ten times as much, it seemed to be a necessary of office to make such a figure as became the right hand of a prime minister. I took a house to myself, and furnished it in the immediate taste. I bought an attorney's carriage at second hand: he had set it up at the suggestion of vanity, and laid it down at the suggestion of his banker. I hired a coachman and three footmen. Justice demands that old and faithful servants should be promoted; I therefore invested Scipio with the threefold honour of valet-de-chambre, private secretary, and steward. But the minister raised my pride to its highest pitch, for he was pleased to allow my people to wear his livery. My poor little wits were now completely turned. I was little more in my senses than the disciples of Porcius Latro, who, by dint of drinking cummin, having made themselves as pale as their master, thought themselves every whit as learned; so I could scarcely refrain from fancying myself next of kin and presumptive heir to the Duke of Lerma himself. The populace might take me for his cousin, and people who knew better, for one of his bastards; a suspicion most flattering to my pride of blood.
Add to this, that after the example of his excellency, who kept a public table, I determined to give parties of my own. Pursuant thereunto, I commissioned Scipio to find me out a professed cook, and he stumbled upon one who might have dished up a dinner for Nomentanus, of dripping-pan notoriety. My cellar was well stored with the choicest wines. My establishment being now complete, I gave my house-warming. Every evening some of the clerks in the public offices came to sup with me, and affected a sort of political high life be low-stairs. I did the honours hospitably, and always sent them home half seas over. Like master like man! Scipio, too, had his parties in the servants' hall, where he treated all his chums at my expense. But besides that I felt a real kindness for that lad, he contributed to grease the wheels of my establishment, and was entitled to have a finger in the dissipation. As a young man, some little licence was allowable; and the ruinous consequences did not strike me at the time. Another reason, too, prevented me from taking notice of it; incessant vacancies, ecclesiastical and secular, paid me amply in meal and in malt. My surplus was increasing every day. Fortune's curricle seemed to have driven to my door, there to have broken down, and the driver to have taken shelter with me.
One thing more was wanting to my complete intoxication, that Fabricio might be witness to my pomp. He was most probably come back from Andalusia. For the fun of surprising him, I sent an anonymous note, importing that a Sicilian nobleman of his acquaintance would be glad of his company to supper, with the day, hour, and place of appointment, which was at my house. Nunez came, and was most inordinately astonished to recognize me in the Sicilian nobleman. Yes, my friend, said I, behold the master of this family. I have a retinue, a good table, and a strong box besides. Is it possible, exclaimed he with vivacity, that all this opulence should be yours? It was well done in me to have placed you with Count Galiano. I told you beforehand that he was a generous nobleman, and would not be long before he set you at your ease. Of course you followed my wise advice, in giving the rein a little more freely to your servants; you find the benefit of it. It is only by a little mutual accommodation, that the principal officers in great houses feather their nests so comfortably.
I suffered Fabricio to go on as long as he liked, complimenting himself for having introduced me to Count Galiano. When he had done, to chastise his ecstasies at having procured me so good a post, I stated at full length the returns of gratitude with which that nobleman had recompensed my services. But, perceiving how ready my poet was to string his lyre to satire at my recital, I said to him -- The Sicilian's contemptible conduct I readily forgive. Between ourselves, it is more a subject of congratulation than of regret. If the count had dealt honourably by me, I should have followed him into Sicily, where I should still be in a subordinate capacity, waiting for dead men's shoes. In a word, I should not now have been hand in glove with the Duke of Lerma.
Nunez felt so strange a sensation at these last words, that he was tongue-tied for some seconds. Then gulping. up his stammering accents like harlequin, Did I hear aright? said he. What! you hand in glove with the prime minister. I on one side, and Don Rodrigo de Calderona on the other, answered I; and according to all appearance, my fortunes will move higher. Truly, replied he, this is admirable. You are cut out for every occasion. What an universal genius! To borrow an expression from the tennis-court, you have a racket for every ball; nothing comes amiss to you. At all events, my lord, I am sincerely rejoiced at your lordship's prosperity. The deuce and all, Master Nunez! interrupted I; good now, dispense with your lords and lordships. Let us banish such formalities, and live on equal terms together. You are in the right, replied he; altered circumstances should not make strange faces. I will own my weakness; when you announced your elevation you took away my breath; but the chill and the shudder are over, and I see only my old friend Gil Blas.
Our conversation was interrupted by the arrival of four or five clerks. Gentlemen, said I, introducing Nunez, you are to sup with Signor Don Fabricio, who writes verses of impenetrable sublimity, and such prose as would not know itself in the glass. Unluckily I was talking to gentry who would have had more fellow-feeling with an Oran Outang than with a poet They scarcely condescended to look at him. In vain did he pun, parody, rally, or rail to hit their fancies, for they had none. He was so nettled at their indifference, that he assumed the poetic licence, and made his escape. Our clerks never missed him, but forgot at once that he had been there.
Just as I was going out the next morning, the poet of the Asturias came into my room. I beg pardon, said he, for having cut your clerks so abruptly last night; but, to deal freely, I was so much out of my element, that I should soon have played old chaos with them. Proud puppies, with their starch and self-important air! I cannot conceive how a clever fellow like you can sit it out with such loutish guests. To-day I will bring you some of more life and spirit. I shall be very much obliged to you, answered I; your introduction is sufficient. Exactly so, replied he. You shall have the feast of reason and the flow of soul. I will go forthwith and invite them, for fear they should engage themselves elsewhere; for happy man be his dole who can get them to dinner or supper; they are such excellent company!
Away went he; and in the evening, at supper-time, returned with six authors in his train, whom he presented one after another with a set speech in their praise. According to his account, the wits of Greece and Italy were nothing in comparison of these, whose works ought to be printed in letters of gold. I received this deputation from the tuneful sisters very politely. My behaviour was even in the extravagance of good breeding; for the republic of authors is a little monarchical in its demands upon our flattery. Though I had given Scipio no express direction respecting the number of covers at this entertainment, yet knowing what a hungry and voluptnous race were to be crammed, he had mustered the courses in more than their full complement.
At length supper was announced, and we fell to merrily. My poets began talking of their poems and themselves. One fellow, with the most lyrical assurance, numbered up whole hosts of first-rate nobility and high-flying dames, who were quite enraptured with his muse. Another, though it was not for him to arraign the choice which a learned society had lately made of two new members, could not help saying that it was strange they should not have elected him. All the rest were much in the same story. Amid the clatter of knives and forks, my ears were more discordantly dinned with verses and harangues. They each took it by turns to give me a specimen of their composition. One languishes out a sonnet; another mouths a scene in a tragedy; and a third reads a melancholy criticism on the province of comedy. The next in turn spouts an ode of Anacreon, translated into most un-anacreontic Spanish verse. One of his brethren interrupts him, to point out the unclassical use of a particular phrase. The author of the version by no means acquiesces in the remark; hence arises an argument, in which all the literati take one side or the other. Opinions are nearly balanced; the disputants are nearly in a passion; as argument weakens, invective grows stronger; they get from bad to worse; over goes the table, and up jump they to fisty-cuffs. Fabricio, Scipio, my coachman, my footman, and myself, have scarcely lungs or strength to bring them to their senses. The moment the battle was over, off scampered they as if my house had been a tavern, without the slightest apology for their ill behaviour.
Nunez, on whose word I had anticipated a very pleasant party, looked rather blue at this conclusion. Well, my friend, said I, what do you think of your literary acquaintance now? As sure as Apollo is on Parnassus, you brought me a most blackguard set. I will stick to my clerks; so talk no more to me about authors. I shall take care, answered he, not to invite any of them to a gentleman's house again; for these are the most select and well-mannered of the tribe.