The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter Fifty-Seven

Fathom Being Safely Housed, the Reader is Entertained with a Retrospect.

But now it is high time to leave our adventurer to chew the cud of reflection and remorse in this solitary mansion, that we may trace Renaldo in the several steps he took to assert his right, and do justice to his family. Never man indulged a more melancholy train of ideas than that which accompanied him in his journey to the Imperial court. For, notwithstanding the manifold reasons he had to expect a happy issue to his aim, his imagination was incessantly infected with something that chilled his nerves and saddened his heart, recurring, with quick succession, like the unwearied wave that beats upon the bleak, inhospitable Greenland shore. This, the reader will easily suppose, was no other than the remembrance of the forlorn Monimia, whose image appeared to his fancy in different attitudes, according to the prevalence of the passions which raged in his bosom. Sometimes he viewed her in the light of apostasy, and then his soul was maddened with indignation and despair. But these transitory blasts were not able to efface the impressions she had formerly made upon his heart; impressions which he had so often and so long contemplated with inconceivable rapture. These pictures still remained, representing her fair as the most perfect idea of beauty, soft and tender as an angel of mercy and compassion, warmed with every virtue of the heart, and adorned with every accomplishment of human nature. Yet the alarming contrast came still in the rear of this recollection; so that his soul was by turns agitated by the tempests of horror, and overwhelmed by the floods of grief.

He recalled the moment on which he first beheld her, with that pleasing regret which attends the memory of a dear deceased friend. Then he bitterly cursed it, as the source of all his misfortunes and affliction. He thanked Heaven for having blessed him with a friend to detect her perfidy and ingratitude; and then ardently wished he had still continued under the influence of her delusion. In a word, the loneliness of his situation aggravated every horror of his reflection; for, as he found himself without company, his imagination was never solicited, or his attention diverted from these subjects of woe; and he travelled to Brussels in a reverie, fraught with such torments as must have entirely wrecked his reason, had not Providence interposed in his behalf. He was, by his postillion, conducted to one of the best inns of the place, where he understood the cloth was already laid for supper; and as the ordinary is open to strangers in all these houses of entertainment, he introduced himself into the company, with a view to alleviate, in some measure, his sorrow and chagrin, by the conversation of his fellow-guests. Yet he was so ill prepared to obtain the relief which he courted, that he entered the apartment, and sat down to table, without distinguishing either the number or countenances of those who were present, though he himself did not long remain so unregarded. His mien and deportment produced a prepossession in his favour; and the air of affliction, so remarkable in his visage, did not fail to attract their sympathy and observation.

Among the rest, was an Irish officer in the Austrian service, who having eyed Renaldo attentively, “Sir,” said he, rising, “if my eyes and memory do not deceive me, you are the Count de Melvil, with whom I had the honour to serve upon the Rhine during the last war.” The youth, hearing his own name mentioned, lifted up his eyes, and at once recognising the other to be a gentleman who had been a captain in his father’s regiment, ran forwards, and embraced him with great affection.

This was, in divers respects, a fortunate rencontre for young Melvil; as the officer was not only perfectly well acquainted with the situation of the Count’s family, but also resolved, in a few days, to set out for Vienna, whither he promised to accompany Renaldo, as soon as he understood his route lay the same way. Before the day fixed for their departure arrived, this gentleman found means to insinuate himself so far into the confidence of the Count, as to learn the cause of that distress which he had observed in his features at their first meeting; and being a gentleman of uncommon vivacity, as well as sincerely attached to the family of Melvil, to which he had owed his promotion, he exerted all his good-humour and good sense in amusing the fancy, and reasoning down the mortification of the afflicted Hungarian. He in particular endeavoured to wean his attention from the lost Monimia, by engaging it upon his domestic affairs, and upon the wrongs of his mother and sister, who, he gave him to understand, were languishing under the tyranny of his father-in-law.

This was a note that effectually roused him from the lethargy of his sorrow; and the desire of taking vengeance on the oppressor, who had ruined his fortune, and made his nearest relations miserable, so entirely engrossed his thoughts, as to leave no room for other considerations. During their journey to Austria, Major Farrel, (that was the name of his fellow-traveller,) informed him of many circumstances touching his father’s house, to which himself was an utter stranger.

“The conduct of your mother,” said he, “in marrying Count Trebasi, was not at all agreeable either to the friends of the Count de Melvil, or to her own relations, who knew her second husband to be a man of a violent temper, and rapacious disposition, which the nature of his education and employment had served rather to inflame than allay; for you well know he was a partisan during the whole course of the late war. They were, moreover, equally surprised and chagrined, when they found she took no step to prevent his seizing upon that inheritance which of right belonged to you, and which, by the laws of Hungary, is unalienable from the heir of blood. Nevertheless, they are now fully convinced, that she hath more than sufficiently atoned for her indiscretion, by the barbarity of her husband, who hath not only secluded her from all communication with her friends and acquaintance, but even confined her to the west tower of your father’s house, where she is said to be kept close prisoner, and subjected to all sorts of inconvenience and mortification. This severity she is believed to have incurred in consequence of having expostulated to him upon his unjust behaviour to you and Mademoiselle, whom he hath actually shut up in some convent in Vienna, which your relations have not as yet been able to discover. But the memory of your noble father is so dear to all those who were favoured with his friendship, and the sufferings of the Countess and Mademoiselle have raised such a spirit of resentment against her cruel jailor, that nothing is wanted but your presence to begin the prosecution, and give a sanction to the measures of your friends, which will in a little time restore your family to the fruition of its rights and fortune. For my own part, my dear Count, I consider myself as one wholly indebted to your house for the rank and expectation I now enjoy; and my finances, interest, and person, such as they are, I dedicate to your service.”

Renaldo was not slow in making his acknowledgments to this generous Hibernian, whom he informed of his scheme, recounting to him his uncommon transaction with the benevolent Jew, and communicating the letters of recommendation he had received by his means to some of the first noblemen at the Imperial court. Meanwhile, he burned with impatience to chastise Count Trebasi for his perfidious conduct to the widow and the fatherless, and would have taken the road to Presburg, without touching at Vienna, in order to call him to a severe account, had not he been strenuously opposed by Major Farrel, who represented the imprudence of taking such a step before he had secured a proper protection from the consequences with which it might be attended.

“It is not,” said he, “your own life and fortune only which depend upon your behaviour in this emergency, but also the quiet and happiness of those who are most dear to your affection. Not you alone, but likewise your mother and sister, would infallibly suffer by your temerity and precipitation. First of all, deliver your credentials at court, and let us join our endeavours to raise an interest strong enough to counterbalance that of Trebasi. If we succeed, there will be no necessity for having recourse to personal measures. He will be compelled to yield up your inheritance which he unjustly detains, and to restore your sister to your arms; and if he afterwards refuses to do justice to the Countess, you will always have it in your power to evince yourself the son of the brave Count de Melvil.”

These just and salutary representations had a due effect upon Renaldo, who no sooner arrived at the capital of Austria, than he waited upon a certain prince of distinction, to whose patronage he was commended; and from whom he met with a very cordial reception, not only on account of his credentials, but also for the sake of his father, who was well known to his highness. He heard his complaints with great patience and affability, assured him of his assistance and protection, and even undertook to introduce him to the empress-queen, who would not suffer the weakest of her subjects to be oppressed, much less disregard the cause of an injured young nobleman, who, by his own services, and those of his family, was peculiarly entitled to her favour.

Nor was he the only person whose countenance and patronage Melvil solicited upon this occasion; he visited all the friends of his father, and all his mother’s relations, who were easily interested in his behalf; while Major Farrel contributed all his efforts in strengthening the association. So that a lawsuit was immediately commenced against Count Trebasi, who on his side was not idle, but prepared with incredible industry for the assault, resolving to maintain with his whole power the acquisition he had made.

The laws of Hungary, like those of some other countries I could name, afford so many subterfuges for the purposes of perfidy and fraud, that it is no wonder our youth began to complain of the slow progress of his affair; especially as he glowed with the most eager desire of redressing the grievances of his parent and sister, whose sufferings he did not doubt were doubled since the institution of his process against their tormentor. He imparted his sentiments on this head to his friend; and, as his apprehensions every moment increased, plainly told him he could no longer live without making some effort to see those with whom he was so nearly connected in point of blood and affection. He therefore resolved to repair immediately to Presburg; and, according to the intelligence he should procure, essay to see and converse with his mother, though at the hazard of his life.

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