The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter Twenty-Five

He Bears His Fate Like a Philosopher; and Contracts Acquaintance with a Very Remarkable Personage.

This was a proper subject for our hero to moralise upon; and accordingly it did not pass without his remarks; he found himself fairly foiled at his own weapons, reduced to indigence in a foreign land, and, what he chiefly regretted, robbed of all those gay expectations he had indulged from his own supposed excellence in the wiles of fraud; for, upon a little recollection, he plainly perceived he had fallen a sacrifice to the confederacy he had refused to join; and did not at all doubt that the dice were loaded for his destruction. But, instead of beating his head against the wall, tearing his hair, imprecating vain curses upon himself, or betraying other frantic symptoms of despair, he resolved to accommodate himself to his fate, and profit by the lesson he had so dearly bought.

With this intention, he immediately dismissed his valet, quitted his lodgings, retired to an obscure street on the other side of the river, and, covering one eye with a large patch of black silk, presented himself in quality of a musician to the director of the opera, who, upon hearing a trial of his skill, received him into the band without further question. While he continued in this situation, he not only improved his taste and execution in music, but likewise found frequent opportunities to extend his knowledge of mankind; for, besides the employment he exercised in public, he was often concerned in private concerts that were given in the hotels of noblemen; by which means he became more and more acquainted with the persons, manners, and characters of high life, which he contemplated with the most industrious attention, as a spectator, who, being altogether unconcerned in the performance, is at more liberty to observe and enjoy the particulars of the entertainment.

It was in one of those assemblies he had the pleasure of seeing his friend Sir Stentor, dressed in the most fashionable manner, and behaving with all the overstrained politesse of a native Frenchman. He was accompanied by his brother knight and the abbe; and this triumvirate, even in Fathom’s hearing, gave a most ludicrous detail of the finesse they had practised upon the Polish Count, to their entertainer, who was ambassador from a certain court, and made himself extremely merry with the particulars of the relation. Indeed, they made shift to describe some of the circumstances in such a ridiculous light, that our adventurer himself, smarting as he was with the disgrace, could not help laughing in secret at the account. He afterwards made it his business to inquire into the characters of the two British knights, and understood they were notorious sharpers, who had come abroad for the good of their country, and now hunted in couple among a French pack, that dispersed themselves through the public ordinaries, walks, and spectacles, in order to make a prey of incautious strangers.

The pride of Ferdinand was piqued at this information; and he was even animated with the desire of making reprisals upon this fraternity, from which he ardently longed to retrieve his honour and effects. But the issue of his last adventure had reinforced his caution; and, for the present, he found means to suppress the dictates of his avarice and ambition; resolving to employ his whole penetration in reconnoitring the ground, before he should venture to take the field again. He therefore continued to act the part of a one-eyed fiddler, under the name of Fadini, and lived with incredible frugality, that he might save a purse for his future operations. In this manner had he proceeded for the space of ten months, during which he acquired a competent knowledge of the city of Paris, when his curiosity was attracted by certain peculiarities in the appearance of a man who lived in one of the upper apartments belonging to the house in which he himself had fixed his habitation.

This was a tall, thin, meagre figure, with a long black beard, an aquiline nose, a brown complexion, and a most piercing vivacity in his eyes. He seemed to be about the age of fifty, wore the Persian habit, and there was a remarkable severity in his aspect and demeanour. He and our adventurer had been fellow-lodgers for some time, and, according to the laudable custom in these days, had hitherto remained as much estranged to one another, as if they had lived on opposite sides of the globe; but of late the Persian seemed to regard our hero with particular attention; when they chanced to meet on the staircase, or elsewhere, he bowed to Ferdinand with great solemnity, and complimented him with the pas. He even proceeded, in the course of this communication, to open his mouth, and salute him with a good-morrow, and sometimes made the common remarks upon the weather. Fathom, who was naturally complaisant, did not discourage these advances. On the contrary, he behaved to him with marks of particular respect, and one day desired the favour of his company to breakfast.

This invitation the stranger declined with due acknowledgment, on pretence of being out of order; and, in the meantime, our adventurer bethought himself of questioning the landlord concerning his outlandish guest. His curiosity was rather inflamed than satisfied with the information he could obtain from this quarter; for all he learned was, that the Persian went by the name of Ali Beker, and that he had lived in the house for the space of four months, in a most solitary and parsimonious manner, without being visited by one living soul; that, for some time after his arrival, he had been often heard to groan dismally in the night, and even to exclaim in an unknown language, as if he had laboured under some grievous affliction; and though the first transports of his grief had subsided, it was easy to perceive he still indulged a deep-rooted melancholy; for the tears were frequently observed to trickle down his beard. The commissaire of the quarter had at first ordered this Oriental to be watched in his outgoings, according to the maxims of the French police; but his life was found so regular and inoffensive, that this precaution was soon set aside.

Any man of humane sentiments, from the knowledge of these particulars, would have been prompted to offer his services to the forlorn stranger; but as our hero was devoid of all these infirmities of human nature, it was necessary that other motives should produce the same effect. His curiosity, therefore, joined with the hopes of converting the confidence of Ali to his own emolument, effectually impelled him towards his acquaintance; and, in a little time, they began to relish the conversation of each other. For, as the reader may have already observed, Fathom possessed all the arts of insinuation, and had discernment enough to perceive an air of dignity in the Persian, which the humility of his circumstances could not conceal. He was, moreover, a man of good understanding, not without a tincture of letters, perfectly well bred, though in a ceremonious style, extremely moral in his discourse, and scrupulously nice in his notions of honour.

Our hero conformed himself in all respects to the other’s opinions, and managed his discretion so as to pass upon him for a gentleman reduced by misfortunes to the exercise of an employment which was altogether unsuitable to his birth and quality. He made earnest and repeated tenders of his good offices to the stranger, and pressed him to make use of his purse with such cordial perseverance, that, at length, Ali’s reserve was overcome, and he condescended to borrow of him a small sum, which in all probability, saved his life; for he had been driven to the utmost extremity of want before he would accept of this assistance.

Fathom, having gradually stole into his good graces, began to take notice of many piteous sighs that escaped him in the moments of their intercourse, and seemed to denote an heart fraught with woe; and, on pretence of administering consolation and counsel, begged leave to know the cause of his distress, observing, that his mind would be disburdened by such communication, and, perhaps, his grief alleviated by some means which they might jointly concert and execute in his behalf.

Ali, thus solicited, would often shake his head, with marks of extreme sorrow and despondence, and, while the tears gushed from his eyes, declared that his distress was beyond the power of any remedy but death, and that, by making our hero his confidant, he should only extend his unhappiness to a friend, without feeling the least remission of his own torture. Notwithstanding these repeated declarations, Ferdinand, who was well enough acquainted with the mind of man to know that such importunity is seldom or never disagreeable, redoubled his instances, together with his expressions of sympathy and esteem, until the stranger was prevailed upon to gratify his curiosity and benevolence. Having, therefore, secured the chamber door one night, while all the rest of the family were asleep, the unfortunate Ali disclosed himself in these words.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30