Each month the site features a different chapter selected at random from The History of Gil Blas to give you a taste of the novel’s diversity. Don’t worry, the storyline is so diverse that just one chapter won’t spoil the full reading experience!

In which Gil Blas has a surprise on his way to Peñaflor and, on arrival, has company for supper

So there I was, rid of Oviedo, on the road to Peñaflor, in the middle of the countryside, master of my fate, with a rotten mule and forty good ducats as well as a number of reals that I had stolen from my most honoured uncle. The first thing I did was to let the mule walk at its own speed, that is, not very fast. I put the reins down on its neck, and taking my ducats from my pocket started to count and recount them in my hat. I was really happy. I had never seen so much money. I couldn’t stop looking at and handling the coins. I was counting them perhaps for the twentieth time when all of a sudden the mule, raising its head and ears, stopped smack in the middle of the highway. I thought that something had frightened it. I looked to see what it could have been. An upturned hat was lying on the ground. A rosary with large beads was lying on it. At the same time, I heard a sorrowful voice pronounce these words:
“Kind traveller, have pity on a poor wounded soldier! Toss, if you will, a few silver coins into my hat – you’ll be rewarded in the next world!”
I looked to see where the voice was coming from. Beside a bush, twenty or thirty paces from me, a sort of soldier was steadying the barrel of a blunderbuss on two crossed sticks. The barrel seemed longer than a pike and was aimed straight at me. At this, I froze. The sight of him made me despair for the well being of the church. I held onto my ducats, took out a few reals, and approached the hat that awaited the contributions of his petrified victims. I dropped the coins in one by one so the soldier could see the true extent of my generosity. He was satisfied and blessed me as heartily as I kicked the sides of my mule to speed our departure. The cussed beast took no notice of my impatience and would go no faster. A life-long habit of carrying my uncle at a walking pace had destroyed its ability to gallop.

The experience did not augur well for the rest of my journey. I was not yet in Salamanca, and many a worse thing might happen before I got there. It seemed my uncle had been unwise not to have placed me in the care of a muleteer. He must have thought that by giving me his mule, the journey would cost less, and that cost was more important than the dangers I might meet on my way. So to correct his error, I decided, if I was lucky enough to get to Peñaflor, that I would sell the mule there and take the muleteer’s trail as far as Astorga from where I could continue on to Salamanca in the same way. I may have never previously left Oviedo but I was by no means ignorant of the names of the towns through which I had to pass. I had asked the way before I left.

I arrived safe and sound in Peñaflor. I stopped outside an inn that looked reasonably decent. As my foot touched the ground, the landlord rushed out and greeted me effusively. He unloaded my bag himself, hoisted it onto his shoulders and accompanied me to a room while one of his valets led the mule to the stables. This landlord was the greatest blabbermouth in the whole of Asturias, and as quick to give a needless account of his own affairs, as he was curious of those of others. He told me his name was Andrés Corcuelo, that he had long served as a sergeant in the king’s armies, and that he had left the service fifteen months previously to marry a girl from Castropol who, although not particularly dark-skinned, was an asset to the establishment. He told me a whole lot of other things that I could have done without hearing. After these indiscretions, assuming he could now make all sorts of demands of me, he asked where I was coming from, where I was going, and who I was. To which I was obliged to reply point by point since he accompanied each question with a deep bow, begging me so respectfully to forgive his curiosity that I was unable to refuse him. This involved me in a lengthy discussion and made me reveal the why and wherefore of my plan to get rid of my mule and travel with a muleteer. He heartily approved of this, but not with any brevity, for on this subject he described all the unfortunate accidents that could happen on the highway. He told me several horrifying travellers’ tales. I thought he’d never stop. In the end, however, he said that if I wanted to sell my mule he knew an honest horse-dealer who would buy it from me. I told him I’d be happy if he could be sent for, and he went off himself at once in some haste.

He returned shortly accompanied by the man whom he introduced and whose reliability he praised loudly. We went into the courtyard and the mule was brought out. It was made to walk to and fro in front of the dealer who started to inspect it from head to foot. He didn’t hesitate to criticise it. I admit there wasn’t much good to be said, but even if it had been the pope’s mule, this man would have found something wrong with it. He assured me the animal had every shortcoming possible, and by way of convincing me asked the landlord for his opinion. The innkeeper doubtlessly had his own reasons for agreeing.
“Very well,” the dealer said coldly. “And what did you think you could get for such a worthless animal?”

After the sort of praise he had heaped on it, and Señor Corcuelo’s opinion, which I took to be both sincere and informed, I’d have happily given the animal away for nothing. So I told the dealer that I left the matter to his judgment, that he should merely assess it for what it was worth, and I would accept his price. He immediately claimed, acting the man of honour, that since I proposed to trust his word, I was taking advantage of his weaknesses. It could not have been his strength for instead of offering me the ten or twelve pistoles, as my uncle had imagined, he shamelessly fixed the price at three ducats—a sum as tawdry as the satisfaction I got from the deal.

Having been so advantageously separated from my mule, the innkeeper took me to a muleteer who was to leave for Astorga the following day. The mule-driver told me he would be leaving before dawn, and that he would be kind enough to come and wake me up. We agreed on a price both for renting a mule and for my food and when everything was arranged between us, I returned to the inn with Corcuelo who, on the way, told me this muleteer’s story. He told me all the town’s gossip. Indeed he would once again have made my head spin with his persistent chatter had we not had the good fortune to be interrupted by a good-looking fellow who accosted him with a great show of civility. I left them together and continued on my way, without suspecting that I might figure in their conversation.

As soon as I reached the inn, I asked for a meal. It was an off day. They proposed to fix me some eggs. While these were being prepared, I got into a conversation with the innkeeper’s wife whom I had not previously seen. She seemed quite attractive, and I found her so lively that I would have come to the conclusion all by myself, had her husband not already informed me, that it was a very popular place. When the omelette was ready to be served, I sat down alone at a table. I hadn’t taken the first bite when the innkeeper arrived, followed by the man who had stopped him in the street. This gentleman was carrying a long rapier and could well have been in his thirties. He hurried over to me.
“I have just learned, my worthy student,” he said, “that you are none other than Señor Gil Blas of Santillana, the pride of Oviedo, the brightest light in all philosophy! Are you really this wisest of all men, this enormous intellect whose reputation is held so high around here? You don’t realise,” he continued, turning to the landlord and his wife, “you don’t realise what has fallen into your hands. There is treasure in your house! Here, in this young gentleman, is the eighth wonder of the world!” Then turning to me and embracing me warmly, he added: “Forgive my excesses! I can’t tell you how delighted I am to find you here!”

I gave no immediate reply since he was hugging me so tightly I could hardly breathe.
“Señor, I didn’t expect my name to be known in Peñaflor,” I said once I had been able to free myself “Known!” he continued in the same exalted voice. “We keep a register of all the notable people to be found within twenty leagues of here. We know you as a prodigy. And I have no doubt that Spain herself one day will be as proud of you as Greece is of its wise men!”
These words were accompanied by another bear hug that I endured at the risk of being squashed to death. With a little more experience, such effusiveness would not have fooled me. Such outrageous flattery would have told me that I was in the presence of one of those parasites who are found in every town and who, as soon as a stranger sets foot there, introduce themselves so as to fill their stomachs at his expense. Youth and vanity compelled me to see it differently. My admirer struck me as an extremely fine fellow, and I invited him to join me at table.
“With the greatest of pleasure!” he exclaimed. “My debt to fortune is too great not to profit from meeting up with you just as long as I can. I’m not very hungry,” he added. “Let me join you, and I’ll take a bite or two to keep you company.”

With these words, my sweet-talking acquaintance sat down opposite me. A knife and fork were brought. He attacked the omelette with such gusto as if he hadn’t eaten in three days. It was obvious that he would wolf it up so quickly that I ordered a second, and this was made so rapidly that it was served before we finished, or rather before he finished the first. He went at it with the same enthusiasm while, without missing a mouthful, he continued to heap praise on me. This made me enormously pleased with my little self. He also drank a lot—at one moment to my health, then to my father’s, then to my mother’s about whose delight in having a son such as myself he was unable to say enough. He filled my glass at the same time, and encouraged me to agree with him. With the toasts, I gave as good as I got; which, along with all his flattery, put me in such a good mood that, seeing that our omelette was now half gone, I asked the innkeeper if he didn’t have a nice piece of fish for us.
“I’ve an excellent trout,” Señor Corcuelo replied, but he was in all likelihood in league with the leech. “It’ll cost a pretty penny to whoever eats it. It’ll be too dainty for your taste.”
“What d’you mean too dainty?” my companion said indignantly. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. Nothing is too good for Señor Gil Blas of Santillana. You must treat him like a prince!”
I was relieved he had challenged the innkeeper’s last words, and in so doing he had only anticipated me. I felt insulted.
“Bring me your trout, and for the rest, mind your own business!” I told Corcuelo proudly.
Nothing could have pleased the innkeeper more. He started to prepare it, and it was served without delay. The parasite’s eyes twinkled with delight at the sight of this fresh dish. It quickly became a further source of satisfaction, for he laid into the fish with the same enthusiasm as he’d attacked the eggs. Having stuffed himself to the limit, he was soon obliged to pause, for fear of an accident. Finally, having eaten and drunk as much as he could, he decided to put an end to his game.
“Gil Blas,” he said, rising from the table, “This was an excellent meal, but I would be wrong to leave you without giving you some advice you badly need. From now on, beware of praise. Watch out for people you do not know. You may meet others who, like me, will want to take advantage of your credulity and maybe push things even further. Don’t be fooled by them, and don’t believe them when they tell you you’re the eighth wonder of the world.” And with these words, he laughed in my face and departed.

I took this duplicity to heart as seriously as the worse misfortunes that later befell me. I couldn’t forgive myself for having been fooled so grossly that is to have had my self-esteem so humiliated. “So there,” I said to myself, “the rascal made a fool of me. He only hailed the landlord so he could set up his trick. Maybe the two of them were accomplices. Ah, poor Gil Blas, you deserve to die of shame for having let those scoundrels take advantage of you. The story will travel all the way to Oviedo. It will make a flattering portrait of you. Your parents will regret having wasted their advice on such an idiot. Instead of telling me not to deceive others, they should have warned me not to be duped. Mortified by these thoughts, overcome by remorse, I shut myself in my room and went to bed. I could not sleep, and still had not closed my eyes when the muleteer came to say he was ready to leave. I was out of bed in a flash. While I was dressing, Corcuelo arrived with his bill. He had not forgotten the trout. Not only did he overcharge me, but I also had the sad experience, when I gave him his money, of realising that he was quietly chortling at my foolishness. Having paid more than enough for an indigestible meal, I carried my valise to the muleteer’s, cursing the parasite, the innkeeper and his hostelry to the devil!

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