The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter Sixty

He Recompenses the Attachment of His Friend; and Receives a Letter that Reduces Him to the Verge of DEATH AND Distraction.

This step being taken, his mind in some measure retrieved its former tranquillity. He soothed himself with the prospect of a happy reconciliation with the divine Monimia, and his fancy was decoyed from every disagreeable presage by the entertaining conversation of his sister, with whom in two days he set out for Presburg, attended by his friend the Major, who had never quitted him since their meeting at Brussels. Here they found Count Trebasi entirely rid of the fever which had been occasioned by his wound, and in a fair way of doing well; a circumstance that afforded unspeakable pleasure to Melvil, whose manner of thinking was such, as would have made him unhappy, could he have charged himself with the death of his mother’s husband, howsoever criminal he might have been.

The Count’s ferocity did not return with his health. His eyes were opened by the danger he had incurred, and his sentiments turned in a new channel. He heartily asked pardon of Mademoiselle for the rigorous usage she had suffered from the violence of his temper; thanked Renaldo for the seasonable lesson he had administered to him; and not only insisted upon being removed from the castle to a house of his own in Presburg, but proffered to make immediate restitution of all the rents which he had unjustly converted to his own use.

These things being settled in the most amicable manner, to the entire satisfaction of the parties concerned, as well as of the neighbouring noblesse, among whom the house of Melvil was in universal esteem, Renaldo resolved to solicit leave at the Imperial court to return to England, in order to investigate that affair of Monimia, which was more interesting than all the points he had hitherto adjusted. But, before he quitted Presburg, his friend Farrel taking him aside one day, “Count,” said he, “will you give me leave to ask, if, by my zeal and attachment for you, I have had the good fortune to acquire your esteem?” “To doubt that esteem,” replied Renaldo, “were to suspect my gratitude and honour, of which I must be utterly destitute before I lose the sense of those obligations I owe to your gallantry and friendship — obligations which I long for a proper occasion to repay.”

“Well then,” resumed the Major, “I will deal with you like a downright Swiss, and point out a method by which you may shift the load of obligation from your own shoulders to mine. You know my birth, rank, and expectations in the service; but perhaps you do not know, that, as my expense has always unavoidably exceeded my income, I find myself a little out at elbows in my circumstances, and want to piece them up by matrimony. Of those ladies with whom I think I have any chance of succeeding, Mademoiselle de Melvil seems the best qualified to render my situation happy in all respects. Her fortune is more than sufficient to disembarrass my affairs; her good sense will be a seasonable check upon my vivacity; her agreeable accomplishments will engage a continuation of affection and regard. I know my own disposition well enough to think I shall become a most dutiful and tractable husband; and shall deem myself highly honoured in being more closely united to my dear Count de Melvil, the son and representative of that worthy officer under whom my youth was formed. If you will therefore sanction my claim, I will forthwith begin my approaches, and doubt not, under your auspices, to bring the place to a capitulation.”

Renaldo was pleased with the frankness of this declaration, approved of his demand, and desired him to depend upon his good offices with his sister, whom he sounded that same evening upon the subject, recommending the Major to her favour, as a gentleman well worthy of her choice. Mademoiselle, who had never been exercised in the coquetries of her sex, and was now arrived at those years when the vanity of youth ought to yield to discretion, considered the proposal as a philosopher, and after due deliberation candidly owned she had no objection to the match. Farrel was accordingly introduced in the character of a lover, after the permission of the Countess had been obtained; and he carried on his addresses in the usual form, so much to the satisfaction of all concerned in the event, that a day was appointed for the celebration of his nuptials, when he entered into peaceable possession of his prize.

A few days after this joyful occasion, while Renaldo was at Vienna, where he had been indulged with leave of absence for six months, and employed in making preparations for his journey to Britain, he was one evening presented by his servant with a package from London, which he no sooner opened, than he found enclosed a letter directed to him, in the handwriting of Monimia. He was so much affected at sight of those well-known characters, that he stood motionless as a statue, eager to know the contents, yet afraid to peruse the billet. While he hesitated in this suspense, he chanced to cast his eye on the inside of the cover, and perceived the name of his Jewish friend at the bottom of a few lines, importing, that the enclosed was delivered to him by a physician of his acquaintance, who had recommended it in a particular manner to his care. This intimation served only to increase the mystery, and whet his impatience; and as he had the explanation in his hand, he summoned all his resolution to his aid, and, breaking the seal, began to read these words: “Renaldo will not suppose that this address proceeds from interested motives, when he learns, that, before it can be presented to his view, the unfortunate Monimia will be no more.”

Here the light forsook Renaldo’s eyes, his knees knocked together, and he fell at full length insensible on the floor. His valet, hearing the noise, ran into the apartment, lifted him upon a couch, and despatched a messenger for proper assistance, while he himself endeavoured to recall his spirits by such applications as chance afforded. But before the Count exhibited any signs of life, his brother-in-law entered his chamber by accident, and as soon as he recollected himself from the extreme confusion and concern produced by this melancholy spectacle, he perceived the fatal epistle, which Melvil, though insensible, still kept within his grasp; justly suspecting this to be the cause of that severe paroxysm, he drew near the couch, and with difficulty read what is above rehearsed, and the sequel, to this effect:—

“Yes, I have taken such measures as will prevent it from falling into your hands, until after I shall have been released from a being embittered with inexpressible misery and anguish. It is not my intention, once loved, and ah! still too fondly remembered youth, to upbraid you as the source of that unceasing woe which hath been so long the sole inhabitant of my lonely bosom. I will not call you inconstant or unkind. I dare not think you base or dishonourable; yet I was abruptly sacrificed to a triumphant rival, before I had learned to bear such mortification; before I had overcome the prejudices which I had imbibed in my father’s house. I was all at once abandoned to despair, to indigence, and distress, to the vile practices of a villain, who, I fear, hath betrayed us both. What have not I suffered from the insults and vicious designs of that wretch, whom you cherished in your bosom! Yet to these I owe this near approach to that goal of peace, where the canker-worm of sorrow will expire. Beware of that artful traitor; and, oh! endeavour to overcome that levity of disposition, which, if indulged, will not only stain your reputation, but also debauch the good qualities of your heart. I release you, in the sight of Heaven, from all obligations. If I have been injured, let not my wrongs be visited on the head of Renaldo, for whom shall be offered up the last fervent prayers of the hapless Monimia.”

This letter was a clue to the labyrinth of Melvil’s distress. Though the Major had never heard him mention the name of this beauty, he had received such hints from his own wife, as enabled him to comprehend the whole of the Count’s disaster. By the administration of stimulating medicines, Renaldo recovered his perception; but this was a cruel alternative, considering the situation of his thoughts. The first word he pronounced was Monimia, with all the emphasis of the most violent despair. He perused the letter, and poured forth incoherent execrations against Fathom and himself. He exclaimed, in a frantic tone, “She is lost for ever! murdered by my unkindness! We are both undone by the infernal arts of Fathom! execrable monster! Restore her to my arms. If thou art not a fiend in reality, I will tear out thy false heart.”

So saying, he sprung upon his valet, who would have fallen a sacrifice to his undistinguishing fury, had not he been saved by the interposition of Farrel and the family, who disengaged him from his master’s gripe by dint of force; yet, notwithstanding their joint endeavours, he broke from this restraint, leaped upon the floor, and seizing his sword, attempted to plunge it in his own breast. When he was once more overcome by numbers, he cursed himself, and all those who withheld him; swore he would not survive the fair victim who had perished by his credulity and indiscretion; and the agitation of his spirits increased to such a degree, that he was seized with strong convulsions, which nature was scarce able to sustain. Every medical expedient was used to quiet his perturbation, which at length yielded so far as to subside into a continual fever and confirmed delirium, during which he ceased not to pour forth the most pathetic complaints, touching his ruined love, and to rave about the ill-starred Monimia. The Major, half distracted by the calamity of his friend, would have concealed it from the knowledge of his family, had not the physician, by despairing of his life, laid him under the necessity of making them acquainted with his condition.

The Countess and Mrs. Farrel were no sooner informed of his case than they hastened to the melancholy scene, where they found Renaldo deprived of his senses, panting under the rage of an exasperated disease. They saw his face distorted, and his eyes glaring with frenzy; they heard him invoke the name of Monimia with a tenderness of accent which even the impulse of madness could not destroy. Then, with a sudden transition of tone and gesture, he denounced vengeance against her betrayer, and called upon the north wind to cool the fervour of his brain. His hair hung in dishevelled parcels, his cheeks were wan, his looks ghastly, his vigour was fled, and all the glory of his youth faded; the physician hung his head in silence, the attendants wrung their hands in despair, and the countenance of his friend was bathed in tears.

Such a picture would have moved the most obdurate heart; what impression then must it have made upon a parent and sister, melting with all the enthusiasm of affection! The mother was struck dumb, and stupefied with grief; the sister threw herself on the bed in a transport of sorrow, caught her loved Renaldo in her arms, and was, with great difficulty, torn from his embrace. Such was the dismal reverse that overtook the late so happy family of Melvil; such was the extremity to which the treachery of Fathom had reduced his best benefactor!

Three days did nature struggle with surprising efforts, and then the constitution seemed to sink under the victorious fever; yet, as his strength diminished, his delirium abated, and on the fifth morning he looked round, and recognised his weeping friends. Though now exhausted to the lowest ebb of life, he retained the perfect use of speech, and his reason being quite unclouded, spoke to each with equal kindness and composure; he congratulated himself upon the sight of shore after the horrors of such a tempest; called upon the Countess and his sister, who were not permitted to see him at such a conjuncture; and being apprised by the Major of his reason for excluding them from his presence, he applauded his concern, bequeathed them to his future care, and took leave of that gentleman with a cordial embrace. Then he desired to be left in private with a certain clergyman, who regulated the concerns of his soul, and he being dismissed, turned his face from the light, in expectation of his final discharge. In a few minutes all was still and dreary, he was no longer heard to breathe, no more the stream of life was perceived to circulate, he was supposed to be absolved from all his cares, and an universal groan from the bystanders announced the decease of the gallant, generous, and tender-hearted Renaldo.

“Come hither, ye whom the pride of youth and health, of birth and affluence inflames, who tread the flowery maze of pleasure, trusting to the fruition of ever-circling joys; ye who glory in your accomplishments, who indulge the views of ambition, and lay schemes for future happiness and grandeur, contemplate here the vanity of life! behold how low this excellent young man is laid! mowed down even in the blossom of his youth, when fortune seemed to open all her treasures to his worth!”

Such were the reflections of the generous Farrel, who, while he performed the last office of friendship, in closing the eyes of the much-lamented Melvil, perceived a warmth on the skin, which the hand of death seldom leaves unextinguished. This uncommon sensation he reported to the physician, who, though he could feel no pulsation of the heart or arteries, conjectured that life still lingered in some of its interior haunts, and immediately ordered such applications to the extremities and surface of the body, as might help to concentrate and reinforce the natural heat.

By these prescriptions, which for some time produced no sensible effect, the embers were, in all probability, kept glowing, and the vital power revived, for, after a considerable pause, respiration was gradually renewed at long intervals, a languid motion was perceived at the heart, a few feeble and irregular pulsations were felt at the wrist, the clay-coloured livery of death began to vanish from his face, the circulation acquired new force, and he opened his eyes with a sigh, which proclaimed his return from the shades of death.

When he recovered the faculty of swallowing, a cordial was administered, and whether the fever abated, in consequence of the blood’s being cooled and condensed during the recess of action in the solids, or nature, in that agony, had prepared a proper channel for the expulsion of the disease, certain it is, he was from this moment rid of all bodily pain; he retrieved the animal functions, and nothing remained of his malady but an extreme weakness and languor, the effect of nature’s being fatigued in the battle she had won.

Unutterable was the joy that took possession of his mother and sister when Farrel flew into her apartment to intimate this happy turn. Scarce could they be restrained from pouring forth their transports in the presence of Renaldo, who was still too feeble to endure such communication; indeed, he was extremely mortified and dejected at this event, which had diffused such pleasure and satisfaction among his friends, for though his distemper was mastered, the fatal cause of it still rankled at his heart, and he considered this respite from death as a protraction of his misery.

When he was congratulated by the Major on the triumph of his constitution, he replied, with a groan, “I would to heaven it had been otherwise, for I am reserved for all the horrors of the most poignant sorrow and remorse. O Monimia! Monimia! I hoped by this time to have convinced thy gentle shade, that I was, at least intentionally, innocent of that ruthless barbarity which hath brought thee to an untimely grave. Heaven and earth! do I still survive the consciousness of that dire catastrophe! and lives the atrocious villain who hath blasted all our hopes!”

With these last words the fire darted from his eyes, and his brother, snatching this occasional handle for reconciling him to life, joined in his exclamations against the treacherous Fathom, and observed, that he should not, in point of honour, wish to die, until he should have sacrificed that traitor to the manes of the beauteous Monimia. This incitement acted as a spur upon exhausted nature, causing the blood to circulate with fresh vigour, and encouraging him to take such sustenance as would recruit his strength, and repair the damage which his health had sustained.

His sister assiduously attended him in his recovery, flattering his appetite, and amusing his sorrow at the same time; the clergyman assailed his despondence with religious weapons, as well as with arguments drawn from philosophy; and the fury of his passions being already expended, he became so tractable as to listen to his remonstrances. But notwithstanding the joint endeavours of all his friends, a deep fixed melancholy remained after every consequence of his disease had vanished. In vain they essayed to elude his grief by gaiety and diversions, in vain they tried to decoy his heart into some new engagement.

These kind attempts served only to feed and nourish that melancholy which pined within his bosom. Monimia still haunted him in the midst of these amusements, while his reflection whispered to him, “Pleasures like these I might have relished with her participation.” That darling idea mingled in all the female assemblies at which he was present, eclipsing their attractions, and enhancing the bitterness of his loss; for absence, enthusiasm, and even his despair had heightened the charms of the fair orphan into something supernatural and divine.

Time, that commonly weakens the traces of remembrance, seemed to deepen its impressions in his breast; nightly, in his dreams, did he converse with his dear Monimia, sometimes on the verdant bank of a delightful stream, where he breathed, in soft murmurs, the dictates of his love and admiration; sometimes reclined within the tufted grove, his arm encircled and sustained her snowy neck, whilst she, with looks of love ineffable, gazed on his face, invoking Heaven to bless her husband and her lord. Yet, even in these illusions was his fancy oft alarmed for the ill-fated fair. Sometimes he viewed her tottering on the brink of a steep precipice, far distant from his helping hand; at other times she seemed to sail along the boisterous tide, imploring his assistance, then would he start with horror from his sleep, and feel his sorrows more than realised; he deserted his couch, he avoided the society of mankind, he courted sequestered shades where he could indulge his melancholy; there his mind brooded over his calamity until his imagination became familiar with all the ravages of death; it contemplated the gradual decline of Monimia’s health, her tears, her distress, her despair at his imagined cruelty; he saw, through that perspective, every blossom of her beauty wither, every sparkle vanish from her eyes; he beheld her faded lips, her pale cheek, and her inanimated features, the symmetry of which not death itself was able to destroy. His fancy conveyed her breathless corse to the cold grave, o’er which, perhaps, no tear humane was shed, where her delicate limbs were consigned to dust, where she was dished out a delicious banquet to the unsparing worm.

Over these pictures he dwelt with a sort of pleasing anguish, until he became so enamoured of her tomb, that he could no longer resist the desire that compelled him to make a pilgrimage to the dear hallowed spot, where all his once gay hopes lay buried; that he might nightly visit the silent habitation of his ruined love, embrace the sacred earth with which she was now compounded, moisten it with his tears, and bid the turf lie easy on her breast. Besides the prospect of this gloomy enjoyment, he was urged to return to England, by an eager desire of taking vengeance on the perfidious Fathom, as well as of acquitting himself of the obligations he owed in that kingdom, to those who had assisted him in his distress. He therefore communicated his intention to Farrel, who would have insisted upon attending him in the journey, had not he been conjured to stay and manage Renaldo’s affairs in his absence. Every previous step being taken, he took leave of the Countess and his sister, who had, with all their interest and elocution, opposed his design, the execution of which, they justly feared, would, instead of dissipating, augment his chagrin; and now, seeing him determined, they shed a flood of tears at his departure, and he set out from Vienna in a post-chaise, accompanied by a trusty valet-de-chambre on horseback.

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