The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter Thirty-One

He by Accident Encounters His Old Friend, with Whom he Holds a Conference, and Renews a Treaty.

Our hero, having thus provided himself with a proper subject for his hours of dalliance, thought it was now high time to study the ground which he had pitched upon for the scene of his exploits, and with that view made several excursions to different parts of the town, where there was aught of entertainment or instruction to be found. Yet he always, on these occasions, appeared in an obscure ordinary dress, in order to avoid singularity, and never went twice to the same coffee-house, that his person might not be afterwards known, in case he should shine forth to the public in a superior sphere. On his return from one of those expeditions, while he was passing through Ludgate, his eyes were suddenly encountered by the apparition of his old friend the Tyrolese, who, perceiving himself fairly caught in the toil, made a virtue of necessity, and, running up to our adventurer with an aspect of eagerness and joy, clasped him in his arms, as some dear friend, whom he had casually found after a most tedious and disagreeable separation.

Fathom, whose genius never failed him in such emergencies, far from receiving these advances with the threats and reproaches which the other had deserved at his hands, returned the salute with equal warmth, and was really overjoyed at meeting with a person who might one way or other make amends for the perfidy of his former conduct. The Tyrolese, whose name was Ratchcali, pleased with his reception, proposed they should adjourn to the next tavern, in which they had no sooner taken possession of an apartment, than he addressed himself to his old companion in these words:—

“Mr. Fathom, by your frank and obliging manner of treating a man who hath done you wrong, I am more and more confirmed in my opinion of your sagacity, which I have often considered with admiration; I will not therefore attempt to make an apology for my conduct at our last parting; but only assure you that this meeting may turn out to our mutual advantage, if we now re-enter into an unreserved union, the ties of which we will soon find it our interest and inclination to preserve. For my own part, as my judgment is ripened by experience, so are my sentiments changed since our last association. I have seen many a rich harvest lost, for want of a fellow-labourer in the vineyard; and I have more than once fallen a sacrifice to a combination, which I could have resisted with the help of one able auxiliary. Indeed, I might prove what I allege by mathematical demonstration; and I believe nobody will pretend to deny, that two heads are better than one, in all cases that require discernment and deliberation.”

Ferdinand could not help owning the sanity of his observations, and forthwith acquiesced in his proposal of the new alliance; desiring to know the character in which he acted on the English stage, and the scheme he would offer for their mutual emolument. At the same time he resolved within himself to keep such a strict eye over his future actions, as would frustrate any design he might hereafter harbour, of repeating the prank he had so successfully played upon him, in their journey from the banks of the Rhine.

“Having quitted you at Bar-le-duc,” resumed the Tyrolese, “I travelled without ceasing, until I arrived at Frankfort upon the Maine, where I assumed the character of a French chevalier, and struck some masterly strokes, which you yourself would not have deemed unworthy of your invention; and my success was the more agreeable, as my operations were chiefly carried on against the enemies of our religion. But my prosperity was not of long duration. Seeing they could not foil me at my own weapons, they formed a damned conspiracy, by which I not only lost all the fruits of my industry, but likewise ran the most imminent hazard of my life. I had ordered some of those jewels which I had borrowed of my good friend Fathom to be new set in a fashionable taste, and soon after had an opportunity to sell one of these, at a great advantage, to one of the fraternity, who offered an extraordinary price for the stone, on purpose to effect my ruin. In less than four-and-twenty hours after this bargain, I was arrested by the officers of justice upon the oath of the purchaser, who undertook to prove me guilty of a fraud, in selling a Saxon pebble for a real diamond; and this accusation was actually true; for the change had been artfully put upon me by the jeweller, who was himself engaged in the conspiracy.

“Had my conscience been clear of any other impeachment, perhaps I should have rested my cause upon the equity and protection of the law; but I foresaw that the trial would introduce an inquiry, to which I was not at all ambitious of submitting, and therefore was fain to compromise the affair, at the price of almost my whole fortune. Yet this accommodation was not made so secretly, but that my character was blasted, and my credit overthrown; so that I was fain to relinquish my occasional equipage, and hire myself as journeyman to a lapidary, an employment which I had exercised in my youth. In this obscure station, I laboured with great assiduity, until I made myself perfect in the knowledge of stones, as well as in the different methods of setting them off to the best advantage; and having, by dint of industry and address, got possession of a small parcel, set out for this kingdom, in which I happily arrived about four months ago; and surely England is the paradise of artists of our profession.

“One would imagine that nature had created the inhabitants for the support and enjoyment of adventurers like you and me. Not that these islanders open the arms of hospitality to all foreigners without distinction. On the contrary, they inherit from their fathers an unreasonable prejudice against all nations under the sun; and when an Englishman happens to quarrel with a stranger, the first term of reproach he uses is the name of his antagonist’s country, characterised by some opprobrious epithet, such as a chattering Frenchman, an Italian ape, a German hog, and a beastly Dutchman; nay, their national prepossession is maintained even against those people with whom they are united under the same laws and government; for nothing is more common than to hear them exclaim against their fellow-subjects, in the expressions of a beggarly Scot, and an impudent Irish bog-trotter. Yet this very prejudice will never fail to turn to the account of every stranger possessed of ordinary talents; for he will always find opportunities of conversing with them in coffee-houses and places of public resort, in spite of their professed reserve, which, by the bye, is so extraordinary, that I know some people who have lived twenty years in the same house without exchanging one word with their next-door neighbours; yet, provided he can talk sensibly, and preserve the deportment of a sober gentleman, in those occasional conversations, his behaviour will be the more remarkably pleasing, as it will agreeably disappoint the expectation of the person who had entertained notions to his prejudice. When a foreigner has once crossed this bar, which perpetually occurs, he sails without further difficulty into the harbour of an Englishman’s goodwill; for the pique is neither personal nor rancorous, but rather contemptuous and national; so that, while he despises a people in the lump, an individual of that very community may be one of his chief favourites.

“The English are in general upright and honest, therefore unsuspecting and credulous. They are too much engrossed with their own business to pry into the conduct of their neighbours, and too indifferent, in point of disposition, to interest themselves in what they conceive to be foreign to their own concerns. They are wealthy and mercantile, of consequence liberal and adventurous, and so well disposed to take a man’s own word for his importance, that they suffer themselves to be preyed upon by such a bungling set of impostors, as would starve for lack of address in any other country under the sun. This being a true sketch of the British character, so far as I have been able to observe and learn, you will easily comprehend the profits that may be extracted from it, by virtue of those arts by which you so eminently excel; — the great, the unbounded prospect lies before me! Indeed, I look upon this opulent kingdom as a wide and fertile common, on which we adventurers may range for prey, without let or molestation. For so jealous are the natives of their liberties, that they will not bear the restraint of necessary police, and an able artist may enrich himself with their spoils, without running any risk of attracting the magistrate, or incurring the least penalty of the law.

“In a word, this metropolis is a vast masquerade, in which a man of stratagem may wear a thousand different disguises, without danger of detection. There is a variety of shapes in which we the knights of industry make our appearance in London. One glides into a nobleman’s house in the capacity of a valet-de-chambre, and in a few months leads the whole family by the nose. Another exhibits himself to the public, as an empiric or operator for the teeth; and by dint of assurance and affidavits, bearing testimony to wonderful cures that never were performed, whirls himself into his chariot, and lays the town under contribution. A third professes the composition of music, as well as the performance, and by means of a few capriciosos on the violin, properly introduced, wriggles himself into the management of private and public concerts. And a fourth breaks forth at once in all the splendour of a gay equipage, under the title and denomination of a foreign count. Not to mention those inferior projectors, who assume the characters of dancers, fencing-masters, and French ushers, or, by renouncing their religion, seek to obtain a provision for life.

“Either of these parts will turn to the account of an able actor; and, as you are equally qualified for all, you may choose that which is most suitable to your own inclination. Though, in my opinion, you was designed by nature to shine in the great world, which, after all, is the most ample field for men of genius; because the game is deeper, and people of fashion being, for the most part, more ignorant, indolent, vain, and capricious, than their inferiors, are of consequence more easily deceived; besides, their morals sit generally so loose about them, that, when a gentleman of our fraternity is discovered in the exercise of his profession, their contempt of his skill is the only disgrace he incurs.”

Our hero was so well pleased with this picture, that he longed to peruse the original, and, before these two friends parted, they settled all the operations of the campaign. Ratchcali, that same evening, hired magnificent lodgings for Count Fathom, in the court end of the town, and furnished his wardrobe and liveries from the spoils of Monmouth Street; he likewise enlisted another footman and valet-de-chambre into his service, and sent to the apartments divers large trunks, supposed to be filled with the baggage of this foreign nobleman, though, in reality, they contained little else than common lumber.

Next day, our adventurer took possession of his new habitation, after having left to his friend and associate the task of dismissing the unfortunate Elenor, who was so shocked at the unexpected message, that she fainted away; and when she recovered the use of her senses so well as to reflect upon her forlorn condition, she was seized with the most violent transports of grief and dismay, by which her brain was disordered to such a degree, that she grew furious and distracted, and was, by the advice and assistance of the Tyrolese, conveyed into the hospital of Bethlem; where we shall leave her for the present, happily bereft of her reason.

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