The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter Thirty-Eight

The Biter is Bit.

Yet, he had no sooner committed his effects to the care of this triumvirate, than his fancy was visited with direful warnings, which produced cold sweats and palpitations, and threw him into such agonies of apprehension as he had never known before. He remembered the former desertion of the Tyrolese, the recent villany of the solicitor, and recollected the remarks he had made upon the disposition and character of his valet, which evinced him a fit companion for the other two.

Alarmed at these reflections, he entreated the bailiff to indulge him with a visit to his own lodgings, and even offered one hundred guineas as a gratification for his compliance. But the officer, who had formerly lost a considerable sum by the escape of a prisoner, would not run any risk in an affair of such consequence, and our hero was obliged to submit to the tortures of his own presaging fears. After he had waited five hours in the most racking impatience, he saw the attorney enter with all the marks of hurry, fatigue, and consternation, and heard him exclaim, “Good God, have you seen the gentleman?”

Fathom found his fears realised in this interrogation, to which he answered in a tone of horror and dismay, “What gentleman? I suppose I am robbed. Speak, and keep me no longer in suspense.” “Robbed!” cried the attorney, “the Lord forbid! I hope you can depend upon the person you empowered to receive your jewels and cash? I must own his proceedings are a little extraordinary; for after he had rummaged your scrutoire, from which, in presence of me and your servant, he took one hundred and fifty guineas, a parcel of diamond rings and buckles, according to this here inventory, which I wrote with my own hand, and East India bonds to the tune of five hundred more, we adjourned to Garraway’s, where he left me alone, under pretence of going to a broker of his acquaintance who lived in the neighbourhood, while the valet, as I imagined, waited for us in the alley. Well, sir, he stayed so long, that I began to be uneasy, and at length resolved to send the servant in quest of him, but when I went out for that purpose, deuce a servant was to be found; though I in person inquired for him at every alehouse within half a mile of the place. I then despatched no less than five ticket porters upon the scent after them, and I myself, by a direction from the bar-keeper, went to Signior Ratchcali’s lodgings, where, as they told me, he had not been seen since nine o’clock in the morning. Upon this intimation, I came directly hither, to give you timely notice, that you may without delay take measures for your own security. The best thing you can do, is to take out writs for apprehending him, in the counties of Middlesex, Surrey, Kent, and Essex, and I shall put them in the hands of trusty and diligent officers, who will soon ferret him out of his lurking-place, provided he skulks within ten miles of the bills of mortality. To be sure, the job will be expensive; and all these runners must be paid beforehand. But what then? the defendant is worth powder, and if we can once secure him, I’ll warrant the prosecution will quit cost.”

Fathom was almost choked with concern and resentment at the news of this mischance, so that he could not utter one word until this narrative was finished. Nor was his suspicion confined to the Tyrolese and his own lacquey; he considered the solicitor as their accomplice and director, and was so much provoked at the latter part of his harangue, that his discretion seemed to vanish, and, collaring the attorney, “Villain!” said he, “you yourself have been a principal actor in this robbery.” Then turning to the bystanders, “and I desire in the King’s name that he may be secured, until I can make oath before a magistrate in support of the charge. If you refuse your assistance in detaining him, I will make immediate application to one of the secretaries of state, who is my particular friend, and he will see justice done to all parties.”

At mention of this formidable name, the bailiff and his whole family were in commotion, to obstruct the retreat of the lawyer, who stood aghast and trembled under the grasp of our adventurer. But, soon as he found himself delivered from this embrace, by the interposition of the spectators, and collected his spirits, which had been suddenly dissipated by Fathom’s unexpected assault, he began to display one art of his occupation, which he always reserved for extraordinary occasions. This was the talent of abuse, which he poured forth with such fluency of opprobrious language, that our hero, smarting as he was, and almost desperate with his loss, deviated from that temperance of behaviour which he had hitherto preserved, and snatching up the poker, with one stroke opened a deep trench upon the attorney’s skull, that extended from the hind head almost to the upper part of the nose, upon each side of which it discharged a sanguine stream. Notwithstanding the pain of this application, the solicitor was transported with joy at the sense of the smart, and inwardly congratulated himself upon the appearance of his own blood, which he no sooner perceived, than he exclaimed, “I’m a dead man,” and fell upon the floor at full length.

Immediate recourse was had to a surgeon in the neighbourhood, who, having examined the wound, declared there was a dangerous depression of the first table of the skull, and that, if he could save the patient’s life without the application of the trepan, it would be one of the greatest cures that ever were performed. By this time, Fathom’s first transport being overblown, he summoned up his whole resolution, and reflected upon his own ruin with that fortitude which had never failed him in the emergencies of his fate. Little disturbed at the prognostic of the surgeon, which he considered in the right point of view; “Sir,” said he, “I am not so unacquainted with the resistance of an attorney’s skull, as to believe the chastisement I have bestowed on him will at all endanger his life, which is in much greater jeopardy from the hands of the common executioner. For, notwithstanding this accident, I am determined to prosecute the rascal for robbery with the utmost severity of the law; and, that I may have a sufficient fund left for that prosecution, I shall not at present throw away one farthing in unnecessary expense, but insist upon being conveyed to prison without farther delay.”

This declaration was equally unwelcome to the bailiff, surgeon, and solicitor, who, upon the supposition that the Count was a person of fortune, and would rather part with an immense sum than incur the ignominy of a jail, or involve himself in another disgraceful lawsuit, had resolved to fleece him to the utmost of their power. But, now the attorney finding him determined to set his fate at defiance, and to retort upon him a prosecution, which he had no design to undergo, began to repent heartily of the provocation he had given, and to think seriously on some method to overcome the obstinacy of the incensed foreigner. With this view, while the bailiff conducted him to bed in another apartment, he desired the catchpole to act the part of mediator between him and the Count, and furnished him with proper instructions for that purpose. Accordingly the landlord, on his return, told Fathom that he was sure the solicitor was not a man for this world; for that he had left him deprived of his senses, and praying to God with great devotion for mercy to his murderer. He then exhorted him, with many protestations of friendship, to compromise the unhappy affair by exchanging releases with the attorney before his delirium should be known, otherwise he would bring himself into a most dangerous premunire, whether the plaintiff should die of his wound, or live to prosecute him for assault. “And with regard to your charge of robbery against him,” said he, “as it is no more than a base suspicion, unsupported by the least shadow of evidence, the bill would be thrown out, and then he might sue you for damages. I therefore, out of pure friendship and good-nature, advise you to compromise the affair, and, if you think proper, will endeavour to bring about a mutual release.”

Our hero, whose passion was by this time pretty well cooled, saw reason for assenting to the proposal; upon which the deed was immediately executed, the mediator’s bill was discharged, and Ferdinand conveyed in an hackney-coach to prison, after he had empowered his own landlord to discharge his servants, and convert his effects into ready money. Thus, he saw himself, in the course of a few hours, deprived of his reputation, rank, liberty, and friends; and his fortune reduced from two thousand pounds to something less than two hundred, fifty of which he had carried to jail in his pocket.

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