The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter Fifty-One

Triumphs Over a Medical Rival.

Yet, in the midst of all this attention, his medical capacity seemed to be quite forgot. They respected his good breeding, were charmed with his voice, and admired the fine touches of his hand upon the violin; but in cultivating the fiddler, they utterly neglected the physician; and in vain did he attempt to divide their regard, by taking all opportunities to turn the conversation into a more interesting channel. It was to little purpose he endeavoured to arouse the wonder of his audience with frequent descriptions of portentous maladies and amazing cures he had seen and performed in the course of his study and practice abroad; and to no effect did he publicly busy himself in making experiments on the mineral water, in which he pretended to have made several new and important discoveries. These efforts did not make a lasting impression upon the minds of the company; because they saw nothing surprising in a physician’s being acquainted with all the mysteries of his art; and, as their custom was already bespoke for others of the profession, whom it was their interest to employ, our adventurer might have starved amidst the caresses of his acquaintance, had not he derived considerable advantage from a lucky accident in the course of his expectancy.

A gentlewoman’s daughter, of a weakly constitution, by drinking the waters, had so far recovered her health and complexion, as to allure the affection of a young squire in the neighbourhood, who amused her for some time with his addresses, until his heart was seduced by the charms of another young lady lately arrived at the wells. The forsaken nymph, shocked at this disgrace and mortification, relapsed into her former languishing disorder; and was by her mother put under the management and prescription of a physician, who had been an industrious enemy of Fathom from his first appearance at Tunbridge. The patient, though violently chagrined at the levity of her quondam admirer, was not altogether without hope, that the very same inconstancy which had prompted him to leave her, might in time induce him to return, after the novelty of his new passion should be wore off; and this hope served to support her under the sorrow and disgrace of her disappointment. At length, however, the squire and his new mistress disappeared; and some busybody was officious enough to communicate this piece of news to the forlorn shepherdess, with this additional circumstance, that they were gone to a neighbouring parish to be joined in the bands of wedlock.

These fatal tidings were no sooner imparted to the abandoned Phillis, than she was seized with an hysteric fit; and, what rendered the accident more unfortunate, her physician had been called to the country, and was not expected at Tunbridge till next day. The apothecary was immediately summoned; and, being either puzzled by the symptoms, or afraid of encroaching upon the province of his superiors, advised the old lady to send for Doctor Fathom without delay. She had no other objection to this expedient, but the enmity which she knew subsisted between the two leeches; yet, hearing that her own doctor would not consult with Fathom upon his return but, perhaps renounce the patient, by which means her daughter’s health might be endangered, she would not solicit our hero’s assistance, until the young lady had remained seven hours speechless and insensible; when, her fear prevailing over every other consideration, she implored the advice of our adventurer, who, having made the necessary interrogations, and felt the patient’s pulse, which was regular and distinct, found reason to conclude that the fit would not last much longer, and, after having observed that she was in a very dangerous way, prescribed some medicines for external application; and, to enhance their opinion of his diligence and humanity, resolved to stay in the room and observe their effect.

His judgment did not fail him on this occasion. In less than half an hour after his embrocations had been applied, she recovered the use of her tongue, opened her eyes, and having, in delirious exclamations, upbraided her perfidious lover, became quite sensible and composed, though she continued extremely low and dejected. To remedy these sinkings, certain cordials were immediately administered, according to the prescription of Doctor Fathom, upon whom extraordinary encomiums were bestowed by all present, who believed he had actually rescued her from the jaws of death; and as he was by this time let into the secrets of the family, he found himself in a fair way of being an egregious favourite of the old gentlewoman; when, unluckily, his brother, having dismissed his country patient with uncommon despatch, entered the apartment, and eyed his rival with looks of inexpressible rage; then, surveying the patient, and the phials that stood upon the table, by turns, “What, in the name of God!” cried he, “is the meaning of all this trash!”

“Really, doctor,” replied the mother, a little confounded at being thus taken by surprise, “Biddy has been taken dangerously ill, and lain seven or eight hours in a severe fit, from which I am confident she would never have recovered without the help of a physician; and as you were absent, we had recourse to this gentleman, whose prescription hath had a happy and surprising effect.” “Effect!” cried this offended member of the faculty, “pshaw! — stuff! — who made you judge of effects or causes?” Then advancing to the patient, “What has been the matter, Miss Biddy, that you could not wait till my return?”

Here Fathom interposing, “Sir,” said he, “if you will step into the next room, I will communicate my sentiments of the case, together with the method upon which I have proceeded, that we may deliberate upon the next step that is to be taken.” Instead of complying with this proposal, he seated himself in a chair, with his back to our adventurer, and, while he examined Miss Biddy’s pulse, gave him to understand, that he should not consult with him about the matter.

Fathom, not in the least disconcerted at this uncivil answer, walked round his antagonist, and, placing himself in his front, desired to know his reason for treating him with such supercilious contempt. “I am resolved,” said the other, “never to consult with any physician who has not taken his degrees at either of the English universities.” “Upon the supposition,” replied our adventurer, “that no person can be properly educated for the profession at any other school.” “You are in the right,” answered Doctor Looby; “that is one of many reasons I have to decline the consultation.”

“How far you are in the right,” retorted Fathom, “I leave the world to judge, after I have observed, that, in your English universities, there is no opportunity of studying the art; no, not so much as a lecture given on the subject. Nor is there one physician of note in this kingdom who has not derived the greatest part of his medical knowledge from the instructions of foreigners.”

Looby, incensed at this asseveration, which he was not prepared to refute, exclaimed, in a most infuriate accent, “Who are you? — whence came you? — where was you bred? You are one of those, I believe, who graduate themselves, and commence doctors, the Lord knows how; an interloper, who, without licence or authority, comes hither to take the bread out of the mouths of gentlemen who have been trained to the business in a regular manner, and bestowed great pains and expense to qualify themselves for the profession. For my own part, my education cost me fifteen hundred pounds.”

“Never was money laid out to less purpose,” said Ferdinand; “for it does not appear that you have learned so much as the basis of medical requirements, namely, that decorum and urbanity which ought to distinguish the deportment of every physician. You have even debased the noblest and most beneficial art that ever engaged the study of mankind, which cannot be too much cultivated, and too little restrained, in seeking to limit the practice of it to a set of narrow-minded, illiberal wretches, who, like the lowest handicraftsmen, claim the exclusive privileges of a corporation. Had you doubted my ability, you ought to have satisfied yourself in a manner consistent with decency and candour; but your behaviour on this occasion is such a malicious outrage upon good manners and humanity, that, were it not for my regard to these ladies, I would chastise you for your insolence on the spot. Meanwhile, madam,” addressing himself to the mother, “you must give me leave to insist upon your dismissing either that gentleman, or me, without hesitation.”

This peremptory language had an instantaneous effect upon the hearers. Looby’s face grew pale, and his nether lip began to tremble. The patient was dismayed, and the old gentlewoman concerned and perplexed. She earnestly besought the gentlemen to be reconciled to each other, and enter into a friendly consultation upon her daughter’s distemper; but, finding both equally averse to accommodation, and Fathom becoming more and more importunate in his demand, she presented him with a double fee; and giving him to understand that Doctor Looby had long attended the family, and was intimately acquainted with her own and Biddy’s constitution, said, she hoped he would not take it amiss if she retained her old physician.

Though our hero was much mortified at this triumph of his rival, he made a virtue of necessity, and retired with great complaisance, wishing that Miss Biddy might never again be the subject of such a disagreeable dispute. Whether the patient was frighted at this altercation, or displeased with her mother’s decision against an agreeable young fellow, who had, as it were, recalled her from the grave, and made himself master of the secret that rankled at her heart, or the disease had wound up her nerves for another paroxysm, certain it is, she all of a sudden broke forth into a violent peal of laughter, which was succeeded by the most doleful cries, and other expressions of grief; then she relapsed into a fit, attended with strong convulsions, to the unspeakable terror of the old gentlewoman, who entreated Doctor Looby to be expeditious in his prescription. Accordingly he seized the pen with great confidence, and a whole magazine of antihysteric medicines were, in different forms, externally and internally applied.

Nevertheless, either nature was disturbed in her own efforts by these applications, or the patient was resolved to disgrace the doctor. For the more remedies that were administered, her convulsions became the more violent; and in spite of all his endeavours, he could not overcome the obstinacy of the distemper. Such a miscarriage, upon the back of his rival’s success, could not fail to overwhelm him with confusion; especially as the mother baited him with repeated entreaties to do something for the recovery of her daughter. At length, after having exercised her patience in vain for several hours, this affectionate parent could no longer suppress the suggestions of her concern, but, in an incoherent strain, told him that her duty would not suffer her to be longer silent in an affair on which depended the life of her dear child. That she had seen enough to believe he had mistaken the case of poor Biddy, and he could not justly blame her for recalling Doctor Fathom, whose prescription had operated in a miraculous manner.

Looby, shocked at this proposal, protested against it with great vehemence, as an expedient highly injurious to himself. “My remedies,” said he, “are just beginning to take effect, and, in all probability, the fit will not last much longer; so that, by calling in another person at this juncture, you will defraud me of that credit which is my due, and deck my adversary with trophies to which he has no pretension.” She was prevailed upon, by this remonstrance, to wait another half hour, when perceiving, as yet, no alteration for the better, and being distracted with her fears, which reproached her with want of natural affection, she sent a message to Doctor Fathom, desiring to see him with all possible despatch.

He was not slow in obeying the call, but hastening to the scene of action, was not a little surprised to find Looby still in the apartment. This gentleman, since better might not be, resolved to sacrifice his pride to his interest, and, rather than lose his patient altogether, and run the risk of forfeiting his reputation at the same time, stayed with intention to compromise his difference with Fathom, that he might not be wholly excluded from the honour of the cure, in case it could be effected. But he had reckoned without his host in his calculation of the Count’s placability; for, when he put on his capitulating face, and, after a slight apology for his late behaviour, proposed that all animosity should subside in favour of the young lady, whose life was at stake, our hero rejected his advances with infinite disdain, and assured the mother, in a very solemn tone, that, far from consulting with a man who had treated him so unworthily, he would not stay another minute in the house, unless he should see him discarded; a satisfaction barely sufficient to atone for the affront he himself had suffered by the unjust preference she had before given to his rival.

There was no remedy. Looby was obliged to retreat in his turn; then our adventurer, approaching the bedside, reconnoitred the patient, examined the medicines which had been administered, and lifting up his eyes in expressive silence, detached the footman with a new order to the apothecary. It was well the messenger used expedition, otherwise Doctor Fathom would have been anticipated by the operation of nature; for, the fit having almost run its career, Miss Biddy was on the point of retrieving her senses, when the frontal prescribed by Fathom was applied; to the efficacy of this, therefore, was ascribed her recovery, when she opened her eyes, and began to pour forth unconnected ejaculations; and in a few moments after, she was persuaded to swallow a draught prepared for the purpose, her perception returned, and Ferdinand gained the reputation of having performed a second miracle.

But he was furnished with a piece of intelligence, of much more energy than all she had taken, and so soon as he concluded she was capable to bear the news without any dangerous emotion, he, among other articles of chit-chat culled for her amusement, took the opportunity of telling the company, that Squire Stub (the cause of Miss Biddy’s disorder) had, in his way to matrimony, been robbed of his bride, by a gentleman to whom she had been formerly engaged. He had waited for her on purpose at an inn on the road, where he found means to appease her displeasure, which he had, it seems, incurred, and to supersede her new lover, whom she quitted without ceremony; upon which the squire had returned to Tunbridge, cursing her levity, yet blessing his good stars for having so seasonably prevented his ruin, which would have infallibly been the consequence of his marrying such an adventurer.

It would be superfluous to observe, that these tidings operated like an admirable specific on the spirits of the young lady, who, while she affected to pity the squire, was so much overjoyed at his disappointment, that her eyes began to sparkle with uncommon vivacity, and in less than two hours after the last of those terrible attacks, she was restored to a better state of health than she had enjoyed for many weeks. Fathom was not forgot amidst the rejoicings of the family. Besides an handsome gratuity for the effects of his extraordinary skill, the old lady favoured him with a general invitation to her house, and the daughter not only considered him as the restorer of her health, and angel of her good fortune, but also began to discover an uncommon relish for his conversation; so that he was struck with the prospect of succeeding Squire Stub in her affection. A conquest which, if sanctioned by the approbation of the mother, would console him for all the disappointments he had sustained; for Miss Biddy was entitled to a fortune of ten thousand pounds, provided she should marry with the consent of her parent, who was the sole executrix of the father’s will.

Animated with the hope of such an advantageous match, our adventurer missed no opportunity of improving the lodgment he had made, while the two ladies failed not to extol his medical capacity among all their female acquaintances. By means of this circulation, his advice was demanded in several other cases, which he managed with such an imposing air of sagacity and importance, that his fame began to spread, and before the end of the season, he had ravished more than one half of the business from his competitor. Notwithstanding these fortunate events, he foresaw, that he should find great difficulty in transplanting his reputation, so as to take root in London, which was the only soil in which he could propose to rise to any degree of prosperity and independence; and this reflection was grounded upon a maxim which universally prevails among the English people, namely, to overlook and wholly neglect, on their return to the metropolis, all the connexions they may have chanced to acquire during their residence at any of the medical wells. And this social disposition is so scrupulously maintained, that two persons who lived in the most intimate correspondence at Bath or Tunbridge, shall in four-and-twenty hours so totally forget their friendship, as to meet in St. James’s Park, without betraying the least token of recognition; so that one would imagine these mineral waters were so many streams issuing from the river Lethe, so famed of old for washing away all traces of memory and recollection.

Aware of this oblivious principle, Doctor Fathom collected all his qualifications, in order to make such an impression upon the heart of Miss Biddy, as would resist all her endeavours to shake him from her remembrance; and his efforts succeeded so well, that Squire Stub’s advances to a reconciliation were treated with manifest indifference. In all probability our hero would have made a very advantageous campaign, had not his good fortune been retarded by an obstruction, which, as he did not perceive it, he could not possibly surmount. In displaying his accomplishments to captivate the daughter, he had unwittingly made an absolute conquest of the mother, who superintended the conduct of Miss Biddy with such jealous vigilance, that he could find no opportunity of profiting by the progress he had made in her heart; for the careful matron would never lose sight of her, no, not for one moment.

Had the old lady given the least intimation to our adventurer, of the sentiments she entertained in his behalf, his complaisance was of such a pliable texture, that he would have quitted his other pursuit, and made her the sole object of his attention. But she either depended upon the effect of his own good taste and discernment, or was too proud to disclose a passion which he had hitherto overlooked.

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