The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter Fifty-Nine

He is the Messenger of Happiness to His Sister, who Removes the Film which had Long Obstructed His PENETRATION, WITH Regard to Count Fathom.

As the most endearing affection had always subsisted between Renaldo and his sister, he would not one moment deny himself the pleasure of flying to her embrace, and of being the glad messenger of her deliverance. Soon, therefore, as he understood the place of her retreat, and had obtained a proper order to the abbess, signed by Count Trebasi, he set out post for Vienna, still accompanied by his faithful Hibernian, and, arriving at the convent, found the abbess and the whole house so engrossed in making preparations for the ceremony of giving the veil next day to a young woman who had fulfilled the term of her probation, that he could not possibly see his sister with that leisure and satisfaction which he had flattered himself with enjoying at this meeting; and therefore he was fain to bridle his impatience for two days, and keep his credentials until the hurry should be over, that Mademoiselle might have no intimation of her good fortune, except from his own mouth.

In order to fill up this tedious interval, he visited his friends at court, who were rejoiced to hear the happy issue of his excursion to Presburg; the prince, who was his particular patron, desired he would make himself perfectly easy with regard to the death of Count Trebasi, for he would take care to represent him in such a light to the empress-queen, as would screen him from any danger or prosecution on that account. His highness, moreover, appointed the following day for performing the promise he had made of presenting him to that august princess, and in the meantime prepossessed her so much in his favour, that when he approached her presence, and was announced by his noble introductor, she eyed him with a look of peculiar complacency, saying, “I am glad to see you returned to my dominions. Your father was a gallant officer, who served our house with equal courage and fidelity; and as I understand you tread in his footsteps, you may depend upon my favour and protection.”

He was so much overwhelmed with this gracious reception, that, while he bowed in silence, the drops of gratitude trickled from his eyes; and her imperial majesty was so well pleased with this manifestation of his heart, that she immediately gave directions for promoting him to the command of a troop of horse. Thus fortune seemed willing, and indeed eager to discharge the debt she owed him for the different calamities he had undergone. And as he looked upon the generous Hebrew to be the sole source of his success, he did not fail to make him acquainted with the happy effects of his recommendation and friendship, and to express, in the warmest terms, the deep sense he had of his uncommon benevolence, which, by the bye, was still greater, with regard to Renaldo, than the reader as yet imagines; for he not only furnished him with money for his present occasions, but also gave him an unlimited credit on a banker in Vienna, to whom one of his letters was directed.

The ceremony of the nun’s admission being now performed, and the convent restored to its former quiet, Melvil hastened thither on the wings of brotherly affection, and presented his letter to the abbess, who having perused the contents, by which she learned that the family disquiets of Count Trebasi no longer subsisted, and that the bearer was the brother of Mademoiselle, she received him with great politeness, congratulated him on this happy event, and, begging he would excuse her staying with him in the parlour, on pretence of business, withdrew, saying, she would immediately send in a young lady who would console him for her absence. In a few minutes he was joined by his sister, who, expecting nothing less than to see Renaldo, no sooner distinguished his features, than she shrieked aloud with surprise, and would have sunk upon the floor, had not he supported her in his embrace.

Such a sudden apparition of her brother at any time, or in any place, after their long separation, would have strongly affected this sensible young lady; but to find him so abruptly in a place where she thought herself buried from the knowledge of all her relations, occasioned such commotions in her spirits as had well-nigh endangered her reason. For it was not till after a considerable pause, that she could talk to him with connexion or coherence. However, as those transports subsided, they entered into a more deliberate and agreeable conversation; in the course of which, he gradually informed her of what had passed at the castle; and inexpressible was the pleasure she felt in learning that her mother was released from captivity, herself restored to freedom, and her brother to the possession of his inheritance, by the only means to which she had always prayed these blessings might be owing.

As she had been treated with uncommon humanity by the abbess, she would not consent to leave the convent until he should be ready to set out for Presburg; so that they dined together with that good lady, and passed the afternoon in that mutual communication with which a brother and sister may be supposed to entertain themselves on such an occasion. She gave him a detail of the insults and mortifications she had suffered from the brutality of her father-in-law, and told him, that her confinement in this monastery was owing to Trebasi having intercepted a letter to her from Renaldo, signifying his intention to return to the empire, in order to assert his own right, and redress his grievances. Then turning the discourse upon the incidents of his peregrinations, she in a particular manner inquired about that exquisite beauty who had been the innocent source of all his distresses, and upon whose perfections he had often, in his letters to his sister, expatiated with indications of rapture and delight.

This inquiry in a moment blew up that scorching flame which had been well-nigh stifled by other necessary avocations. His eyes gleamed, his cheeks glowed and grew pale alternately, and his whole frame underwent an immediate agitation; which being perceived by Mademoiselle, she concluded that some new calamity was annexed to the name of Monimia, and, dreading to rip up a wound which she saw was so ineffectually closed, she for the present suppressed her curiosity and concern, and industriously endeavoured to introduce some less affecting subject of conversation. He saw her aim, approved of her discretion, and, joining her endeavours, expressed his surprise at her having omitted to signify the least remembrance of her old favourite, Fathom, whom he had left in England. He had no sooner pronounced this name, than she suffered some confusion in her turn; from which, however, recollecting herself, “Brother,” said she, “you must endeavour to forget that wretch, who is altogether unworthy of retaining the smallest share of your regard.”

Astonished, and indeed angry, at this expression, which he considered as the effect of malicious misrepresentation, he gently chid her for her credulity in believing the envious aspersion of some person, who repined at the superior virtue of Fathom, whom he affirmed to be an honour to the human species.

“Nothing is more easy,” replied the young lady, “than to impose upon a person, who, being himself unconscious of guile, suspects no deceit. You have been a dupe, dear brother, not to the finesse of Fathom, but to the sincerity of your own heart. For my own part, I assume no honour to my own penetration in having comprehended the villany of that impostor, which was discovered, in more than one instance, by accidents I could not possibly foresee.

“You must know, that Teresa, who attended me from my childhood, and in whose honesty I reposed such confidence, having disobliged some of the inferior servants, was so narrowly watched in all her transactions, as to be at last detected in the very act of conveying a piece of plate, which was actually found concealed among her clothes.

“You may guess how much I was astonished when I understood this circumstance. I could not trust to the evidence of my own senses, and should have still believed her innocent, in spite of ocular demonstration, had not she, in the terrors of being tried for felony, promised to make a very material discovery to the Countess, provided she would take such measures as would save her life.

“This request being complied with, she, in my hearing, opened up such an amazing scene of iniquity, baseness, and ingratitude, which had been acted by her and Fathom, in order to defraud the family to which they were so much indebted, that I could not have believed the human mind capable of such degeneracy, or that traitor endowed with such pernicious cunning and dissimulation, had not her tale been congruous, consistent, and distinct, and fraught with circumstances that left no room to doubt the least article of her confession; on consideration of which she was permitted to go into voluntary exile.”

She then explained their combination in all the particulars, as we have already recounted them in their proper place, and finally observed, that the opinion she had hence conceived of Fathom’s character, was confirmed by what she had since learned of his perfidious conduct towards that very nun who had lately taken the veil.

Perceiving her brother struck dumb with astonishment, and gaping with the most eager attention, she proceeded to relate the incidents of his double intrigue with the jeweller’s wife and daughter, as they were communicated to her by the nun, who was no other than the individual Wilhelmina. After those rivals had been forsaken by their gallant, their mutual animosities and chagrin served to whet the attention and invention of each; so that in a little time the whole mystery stood disclosed to both. The mother had discovered the daughter’s correspondence with Fathom, as we have formerly observed, by means of that unfortunate letter which he unwittingly committed to the charge of the old beldame; and, as soon as she understood he was without the reach of all solicitation or prosecution, imparted this billet to her husband, whose fury was so ungovernable, that he had almost sacrificed Wilhelmina with his own hands, especially when, terrified by his threats and imprecations, she owned that she had bestowed the chain on this perfidious lover. However, this dreadful purpose was prevented, partly by the interposition of his wife, whose aim was not the death but immurement of his daughter, and partly by the tears and supplication of the young gentlewoman herself, who protested, that, although the ceremony of the church had not been performed, she was contracted to Fathom by the most solemn vows, to witness which he invoked all the saints in heaven.

The jeweller, upon cooler consideration, was unwilling to lose the last spark of hope that glittered among the ruins of his despair, and resisted all the importunities of his wife, who pressed him to consult the welfare of his daughter’s soul, in the fond expectation of finding some expedient to lure back the chain and its possessor. In the meantime Wilhelmina was daily and hourly exposed to the mortifying animadversions of her mamma, who, with all the insolence of virtue, incessantly upbraided her with the backslidings of her vicious life, and exhorted her to reformation and repentance. This continual triumph lasted for many months, till at length, a quarrel happening between the mother and the gossip at whose house she used to give the rendezvous to her admirers, that incensed confidante, in the precipitation of her anger, promulgated the history of those secret meetings; and, among the rest, her interviews with Fathom were brought to light.

The first people who hear news of this sort are generally those to whom they are most unwelcome. The German was soon apprised of his wife’s frailty, and considered the two females of his house as a couple of devils incarnate, sent from hell to exercise his patience. Yet, in the midst of his displeasure, he found matter of consolation, in being furnished with a sufficient reason for parting with his helpmate, who had for many years kept his family in disquiet. He therefore, without hazarding a personal conference, sent proposals to her by a friend, which she did not think proper to reject; and seeing himself restored to the dominion of his own house, exerted his sway so tyrannically, that Wilhelmina became weary of her life, and had recourse to the comforts of religion, of which she soon became enamoured, and begged her father’s permission to dedicate the rest of her life to the duties of devotion. She was accordingly received in this convent, the regulations of which were so much to her liking, that she performed the task of probation with pleasure, and voluntarily excluded herself from the vanities of this life. It was here she had contracted an acquaintance with Mademoiselle de Melvil, to whom she communicated her complaints of Fathom, on the supposition that he was related to the Count, as he himself had often declared.

While the young lady rehearsed the particulars of this detail, Renaldo sustained a strange vicissitude of different passions. Surprise, sorrow, fear, hope, and indignation raised a most tumultuous conflict in his bosom. Monimia rushed upon his imagination in the character of innocence betrayed by the insinuations of treachery. He with horror viewed her at the mercy of a villain, who had broken all the ties of gratitude and honour.

Affrighted at the prospect, he started from his seat, exclaiming, in the most unconnected strain of distraction and despair, “Have I then nourished a serpent in my bosom! Have I listened to the voice of a traitor, who hath murdered my peace! who hath torn my heart-strings asunder, and perhaps ruined the pattern of all earthly perfection. It cannot be. Heaven would not suffer such infernal artifice to take effect. The thunder would be levelled against the head of the accursed projector.”

From this transport, compared with his agitation when he mentioned Monimia, his sister judged that Fathom had been the occasion of a breach between the two lovers; and this conjecture being confirmed by the disjointed answers he made to her interrogations upon the affair, she endeavoured to calm his apprehensions, by representing that he would soon have an opportunity of returning to England, where the misunderstanding might be easily cleared up; and that, in the meantime, he had nothing to fear on account of the person of his mistress, in a country where individuals were so well protected by the laws and constitution of the realm. At length he suffered himself to be flattered with the fond hope of seeing Monimia’s character triumph in the inquiry, of retrieving that lost jewel, and of renewing that ravishing intercourse and exalted expectation which had been so cruelly cut off. He now wished to find Fathom as black as he had been exhibited, that Monimia’s apostasy might be numbered among the misrepresentations of his treachery and fraud.

His love, which was alike generous and ardent, espoused the cause, and he no longer doubted her constancy and virtue. But when he reflected how her tender heart must have been wrung with anguish at his unkindness and cruelty, in leaving her destitute in a foreign land; how her sensibility must have been tortured in finding herself altogether dependent upon a ruffian, who certainly harboured the most baleful designs upon her honour; how her life must be endangered both by his barbarity and her own despair — I say, when he reflected on these circumstances, he shuddered with horror and dismay; and that very night despatched a letter to his friend the Jew, entreating him, in the most pressing manner, to employ all his intelligence in learning the situation of the fair orphan, that she might be protected from the villany of Fathom, until his return to England.

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