CH. VIII. -- Scipio's first journey to Madrid: its object and success. Gil Blas falls sick. The consequence of his illness.
IF it is a common proverb that our direst enemies are those of our own household, the converse ought equally to be admitted among the saws of a more candid experience. After such incontestable proofs of Scipio's zeal, he became to me like another self. All distinction of place was confounded between Gil Blas and his secretary; all insolence was dropped on the one hand, all cringing on the other. Their lodging, bed, and board were in common.
Scipio's conversation was of a very lively turn; he might have been dubbed the Spanish Momus, without any derogation to the Punch of the Pantheon. But he had a long head, as well as a fanciful brain, combining the characters of counsellor and jester. My friend, said I, one day, what do you think of writing to the Duke of Lerma? It could, methinks, do no harm. Why, as to that, answered he, the great are such chameleons, that there is no knowing where to have them. At all events you may risk it; though I would not lay the postage of your letter on its success. The minister loves you, it is true; but then political love lacks memory, as much as personal love lacks visual discrimination. Out of sight, out of mind! is at once the motto and the stigma of these gentry.
True as this may be in the general, replied I, my patron is a glorious exception. His kindness lives in my recollection. I am persuaded that he suffers for my sufferings, and that they are incessantly preying on his spirits. We must give him credit for only waiting till the king's anger shall pass away. Be it so, resumed he; I wish you may not reckon without your host. Assail his excellency then with an epistle to stir the waters. I will engage to deliver it into his own hands. Pen, ink, and paper being brought, I composed a specimen of eloquence which Scipio declared to be a paragon of pathos, and Tordesillas preferred, for the cant of sermonizing prolixity, to the old archbishop's homilies.
I flattered myself that there would be tears in the Duke of Lerma's eyes, and distraction in his aspect, at the detail of miseries which existed only on paper. In that assurance, I despatched my messenger, who no sooner got to Madrid, than he went to the minister's. Meeting with an old domestic of my acquaintance, he had no difficulty in gaining access to the duke. My lord, said Scipio to his excellency, as he delivered the packet, one of your most devoted servants, lying at his length on straw, in a damp and dreary dungeon at Segovia, most humbly supplicates for the perusal of this letter, which a tender-hearted turnkey has furnished him with the means of writing. The minister opened the letter, and glanced over the contents. But though he found there a motive and a cue for passion, enough to amaze all his faculties at once, far from drowning the floor with briny secretions, he cleaved the ear of his household, and smote the heart of my courier with horrid speech: Friend, tell Santillane that he has a great deal of impudence to address me, after so rank an offence, worthily confronted by the severe sentence of the king. Under that sentence let the wretch drag out his days, nor look to my mediation for a respite.
Scipio, though neither dull nor muddy-mettled, began to be unpregnant of this defeated cause. Yet he was not so pigeon-livered as to retire without an effort in my favour. My lord, replied he, this poor prisoner will give up the ghost with grief, at the recital of your excellency's displeasure. The duke answered like a prime minister, with a supercilious corrugation of features, and a decisive revolution of his front to some more prosperous suitor. This he did, to cover his own share in the shame of pimping; and such treatment must all those hireling scavengers expect, who rake in the filth and ordure of rotten statesmen, courtiers, and politicians.
My secretary came back to Segovia and delivered the result of his mission. And now behold me, sunk deeper than on the first day of my imprisonment, in the gulf of affliction and despair! The Duke of Lerma's turning king's evidence gave a hanging posture to my affairs. My courage was run out; and though they did all they could to keep up my spirits, the agitation and distress of my mind threw me into a fever.
The warden, who took a lively interest in my recovery, fancying in his unmedical head that physicians cured fevers, brought me a double dose of death in two of that doleful deity's most practised executioners. Signor Gil Blas, said he, as he ushered in their grisly forms, here are two godsons of Hippocrates, who are come to feel your pulse, and to augment the number of their trophies in your person. I was so prejudiced against the whole faculty, that I should certainly have given them a very discouraging reception, had life retained its usual charms in my estimation; but being bent on my departure from this vale of tears, I felt obliged to Tordesillas for hastening my journey, by a safer conveyance than the crime of suicide.
My good sir, said one of the pair, your recovery will, under Providence, depend on your entire confidence in our skill. Implicit confidence I answered I: with your assistance, I am fully persuaded that a few days will place me beyond the reach of fever, and all the shocks that flesh is heir to. Yes! with the blessing of Heaven, rejoined he, it is a consummation devoutly to be wished, and easily to be effected. At all events, our best endeavours shall not be wanting. And indeed it was no joke: for they got me into such fine training for the other world, that few of my material particles were left in this. Already had Don Andrew, observing me fumble with the sheets, and smile upon my fingers' ends, and thinking there was but one way, sent for a Franciscan to shew it me: already had the good father, having mumbled over the salvation of my soul, retired to the refection of his own body: and my own opinion leaned to the immediate necessity of making a good end. I beckoned Scipio to my bedside, My dear friend, said I, in the faint accents of a tortured and evacuated patient I give and bequeath to you one of the bags in Gabriel's possession; the other you must carry to my father and mother in the Asturias, who, if still living, must be in narrow circumstances. But, alas! I fear, they have not been able to bear up against my ingratitude. Muscada's report of my unnatural behaviour must have brought their grey hairs with sorrow to the grave. Should Heaven have fortified their tender hearts against my indifference, you will give them the bag of doubloons, with assurances of my dying remorse: and, if they are no more, I charge you to lay out the money in masses for the repose of their souls and of mine. Then did I stretch out my hand, which he bathed in silent tears. It is not always true, that the mourning of an heir is mirth in masquerade.
For some hours I fancied myself outward-bound, and on the point of sailing; but the wind changed. My pilots having quitted the helm, and left the vessel to the steerage of nature, the danger of shipwreck disappeared. The fever, mutinying against its commanding officers, gave all their prognostics the lie, and acted contrary to general orders. I got better by degrees, in mind as well as in body. My consolation was all derived from within. I looked at wealth and honours with the eye of a dying anchorite, and blessed the malady which restored my soul. I abjured courts, politics, and the Duke of Lerma. If ever my prison doors were opened, it was my fixed resolve to buy a cottage, and live like a philosopher.
My bosom friend applauded my design, and to further its execution, under took a second journey to solicit my release, by the intervention of a clever girl about the person of the prince's nurse. He contended that a prison was a prison still, in spite of kind indulgence and good cheer. In this I agreed, and gave him leave to depart, with a fervent prayer to Heaven that we might soon take possession of our hermitage.