The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter Sixty-Three

He Renews the Rites of Sorrow, and is Entranced.

While they amused themselves with this sort of conversation, the physician returned with the coach, and accompanied them back to their inn, where he left them to their repose, after having promised to call again at noon, and conduct Renaldo to the house of Madam Clement, the benefactress of Monimia, to whom he eagerly desired to be introduced.

The appointment was observed with all imaginable punctuality on both sides. Melvil had arrayed himself in a suit of deep mourning, and he found the good lady in the like habit, assumed upon the same occasion. The goodness of her heart was manifest in her countenance; the sensibility of the youth discovered itself in a flood of tears, which he shed at her appearance. His sensations were too full for utterance; nor was she, for some time, able to give him welcome. While she led him by the hand to a seat, the drops of sympathy rushed into either eye; and at length she broke silence, saying, “Count, we must acquiesce in the dispensations of Providence; and quiet the transports of our grief, with a full assurance that Monimia is happy.”

This name was the key that unlocked the faculty of his speech. “I must strive,” said he, “to ease the anguish of my heart with that consolation. But say, humane, benevolent lady, to whose compassion and generosity that hapless orphan was indebted for the last peaceful moment she enjoyed upon earth; say, in all your acquaintance with human nature, in all your intercourse with the daughters of men, in all the exercise of your charity and beneficence, did you ever observe such sweetness, purity, and truth; such beauty, sense, and perfection, as that which was the inheritance of her whose fate I shall for ever deplore?”—“She was, indeed,” replied the lady, “the best and fairest of our sex.”

This was the beginning of a conversation touching that lovely victim, in the course of which he explained those wicked arts which Fathom practised to alienate his affections from the adorable Monimia; and she described the cunning hints and false insinuations by which that traitor had aspersed the unsuspecting lover, and soiled his character in the opinion of the virtuous orphan. The intelligence he obtained on this occasion added indignation to his grief. The whole mystery of Monimia’s behaviour, which he could not before explain, now stood disclosed before him. He saw the gradual progress of that infernal plan which had been laid for their mutual ruin; and his soul was inflamed with such desire of vengeance, that he would have taken his leave abruptly, in order to set on foot an immediate inquiry about the perfidious author of his wrongs, that he might exterminate such a monster of iniquity from the face of the earth. But he was restrained by Madam Clement, who gave him to understand, that Fathom was already overtaken by the vengeance of Heaven; for she had traced him in all the course of his fortune, from his first appearance in the medical sphere to his total eclipse. She represented the villain as a wretch altogether unworthy of his attention. She said, he was so covered with infamy, that no person could enter the lists against him, without bearing away some stain of dishonour; that he was, at present, peculiarly protected by the law, and sheltered from the resentment of Renaldo, in the cavern of his disgrace.

Melvil, glowing with rage, replied, that he was a venomous serpent, which it was incumbent on every foot to crush; that it was the duty of every man to contribute his whole power in freeing society from such a pernicious hypocrite; and that, if such instances of perfidy and ingratitude were suffered to pass with impunity, virtue and plain-dealing would soon be expelled from the habitations of men. “Over and above these motives,” said he, “I own myself so vitiated with the alloy of human passion and infirmity, that I desire — I eagerly pant for an occasion of meeting him hand to hand, where I may upbraid him with his treachery, and shower down vengeance and destruction on his perfidious head.”

Then he recounted the anecdotes of our adventurer which he had learned in Germany and Flanders, and concluded with declaring his unalterable resolution of releasing him from jail, that he might have an opportunity of sacrificing him, with his own hand, to the manes of Monimia. The discreet lady, perceiving the perturbation of his mind, would not further combat the impetuosity of his passion; contenting herself with exacting a promise, that he would not execute his purpose, until he should have deliberated three days upon the consequences by which a step of that kind might be attended. Before the expiration of that term, she thought measures might be taken to prevent the young gentleman from exposing his life or reputation to unnecessary hazard.

Having complied with her request in this particular, he took his leave, after he had, by repeated entreaties, prevailed upon her to accept a jewel, in token of his veneration for the kind benefactress of the deceased Monimia; nor could his generous heart be satisfied, until he had forced a considerable present on the humane physician who had attended her in her last moments, and now discovered a particular sympathy and concern for her desponding lover. This gentleman attended him to the house of the benevolent Joshua, where they dined, and where Don Diego was recommended, in the most fervid terms of friendship, to the good offices of their host. Not that this duty was performed in presence of the stranger — Renaldo’s delicacy would not expose his friend to such a situation. While the physician, before dinner, entertained that stranger in one apartment, Melvil withdrew into another, with the Jew, to whom he disclosed the affair of the Castilian, with certain circumstances, which shall, in due time, be revealed.

Joshua’s curiosity being whetted by this information, he could not help eyeing the Spaniard at table with such a particular stare, that Don Diego perceived his attention, and took umbrage at the freedom of his regard. Being unable to conceal his displeasure, he addressed himself to the Hebrew, with great solemnity, in the Spanish tongue, saving, “Signior, is there any singularity in my appearance? or, do you recollect the features of Don Diego de Zelos?”

“Signior Don Diego,” replied the other in pure Castilian, “I crave your pardon for the rudeness of my curiosity, which prompted me to survey a nobleman, whose character I revere, and to whose misfortunes I am no stranger. Indeed, were curiosity alone concerned, I should be without excuse; but as I am heartily inclined to serve you, as far as my weak abilities extend, I hope your generosity will not impute any little involuntary trespass of punctilio to my want of cordiality or esteem.”

The Spaniard was not only appeased by this apology, but also affected with the compliment, and the language in which it was conveyed. He thanked the Jew for his kind declaration, entreated him to bear, with the peevishness of a disposition sore with the galling hand of affliction; and, turning up his eyes to Heaven, “Were it possible,” cried he, “for fate to reconcile contradictions, and recall the irremediable current of events, I would now believe that there was happiness still in reserve for the forlorn Zelos, now that I tread the land of freedom and humanity, now that I find myself befriended by the most generous of men. Alas! I ask not happiness! If, by the kind endeavours of the gallant Count de Melvil, to whom I am already indebted for my life, and by the efforts of his friends, the honour of my name shall be purified and cleared from the poisonous stains of malice by which it is at present spotted, I shall then enjoy all that satisfaction which destiny can bestow upon a wretch whose woes are incurable.”

Renaldo comforted him with the assurance of his being on the eve of triumphing over his adversaries; and Joshua confirmed the consolation, by giving him to understand, that he had correspondents in Spain of some influence in the state; that he had already written to them on the subject of Don Diego, in consequence of a letter which he had received from Melvil while he tarried at Mons, and that he, every post, expected a favourable answer on that subject.

After dinner, the physician took his leave, though not before he had promised to meet Renaldo at night, and accompany him in the repetition of his midnight visit to Monimia’s tomb; for this pilgrimage the unfortunate youth resolved nightly to perform during the whole time of his residence in England. It was, indeed, a sort of pleasure, the prospect of which enabled him to bear the toil of living through the day, though his patience was almost quite exhausted before the hour of assignation arrived.

When the doctor appeared with the coach, he leaped into it with great eagerness, after he had, with much difficulty, prevailed with Don Diego to stay at home, on account of his health, which was not yet perfectly established. The Castilian, however, would not comply with his request, until he had obtained the Count’s promise, that he should be permitted to accompany him next night, and take that duty alternately with the physician.

About midnight, they reached the place, where they found the sexton in waiting, according to the orders he had received. The door was opened, the mourner conducted to the tomb, and left, as before, to the gloom of his own meditations. Again he laid himself on the cold ground; again he renewed his lamentable strain; his imagination began to be heated into an ecstasy of enthusiasm, during which he again fervently invoked the spirit of his deceased Monimia.

In the midst of these invocations, his ear was suddenly invaded with the sound of some few solemn notes issuing from the organ, which seemed to feel the impulse of an invisible hand.

At this awful salutation, Melvil was roused to the keenest sense of surprise and attention. Reason shrunk before the thronging ideas of his fancy, which represented this music as the prelude to something strange and supernatural; and, while he waited for the sequel, the place was suddenly illuminated, and each surrounding object brought under the cognisance of his eye.

What passed within his mind on this occasion is not easy to be described. All his faculties were swallowed up by those of seeing and hearing. He had mechanically raised himself upon one knee, with his body advancing forwards; and in this attitude he gazed with a look through which his soul seemed eager to escape. To his view, thus strained upon vacant space, in a few minutes appeared the figure of a woman arrayed in white, with a veil that covered her face, and flowed down upon her back and shoulders. The phantom approached him with an easy step, and, lifting up her veil, discovered (believe it, O reader!) the individual countenance of Monimia.

At sight of these well-known features, seemingly improved with new celestial graces, the youth became a statue, expressing amazement, love, and awful adoration. He saw the apparition smile with meek benevolence, divine compassion, warm and intendered by that fond pure flame which death could not extinguish. He heard the voice of his Monimia call Renaldo! Thrice he essayed to answer; as oft his tongue denied its office. His hair stood upright, and a cold vapour seemed to thrill through every nerve. This was not fear, but the infirmity of human nature, oppressed by the presence of a superior being.

At length his agony was overcome. He recollected all his resolution, and, in a strain of awestruck rapture, thus addressed the heavenly visitant: “Hast thou then heard, pure spirit! the wailings of my grief? hast thou descended from the realms of bliss, in pity to my woe? and art thou come to speak the words of peace to my desponding soul? To bid the wretched smile, to lift the load of misery and care from the afflicted breast; to fill thy lover’s heart with joy and pleasing hope, was still the darling task of my Monimia, ere yet refined to that perfection which mortality can never attain. No wonder then, blessed shade, that now, when reunited to thy native heaven, thou art still kind, propitious, and beneficent to us, who groan in this inhospitable vale of sorrow thou hast left. Tell me, ah! tell me, dost thou still remember those fond hours we passed together? Doth that enlightened bosom feel a pang of soft regret, when thou recallest our fatal separation? Sure that meekened glance bespeaks thy sympathy! Ah! how that tender look o’erpowers me! Sacred Heaven! the pearly drops of pity trickle down thy cheeks! Such are the tears that angels shed o’er man’s distress! — Turn not away — Thou beckonest me to follow. Yes, I will follow thee, ethereal spirit, as far as these weak limbs, encumbered with mortality, will bear my weight; and, would to Heaven! I could, with ease, put off these vile corporeal shackles, and attend thy flight.”

So saying, he started from the ground, and, in a transport of eager expectation, at awful distance, traced the footsteps of the apparition, which, entering a detached apartment, sunk down upon a chair, and with a sigh exclaimed, “Indeed, this is too much!” What was the disorder of Renaldo’s mind, when he perceived this phenomenon! Before reflection could perform its office, moved by a sudden impulse, he sprung forwards, crying, “If it be death to touch thee, let me die!” and caught in his arms, not the shadow, but the warm substance of the all-accomplished Monimia. “Mysterious powers of Providence! this is no phantom! this is no shade! this is the life! the panting bosom of her whom I have so long, so bitterly deplored! I fold her in my arms! I press her glowing breast to mine! I see her blush with virtuous pleasure and ingenuous love! She smiles upon me with enchanting tenderness! O let me gaze on that transcendent beauty, which, the more I view it, ravishes the more! These charms are too intense; I sicken while I gaze! Merciful Heaven! is not this a mere illusion of the brain? Was she not fled for ever? Had not the cold hand of death divorced her from my hope? This must be some flattering vision of my distempered fancy! perhaps some soothing dream — If such it be, grant, O ye heavenly powers! that I may never wake.”

“O gentle youth!” replied the beauteous orphan, still clasped in his embrace, “what joy now fills the bosom of Monimia, at this triumph of thy virtue and thy love? When I see these transports of thy affection, when I find thee restored to that place in my esteem and admiration, which thou hadst lost by the arts of calumny and malice — this is a meeting which my most sanguine hopes durst not presage!”

So entirely were the faculties of Renaldo engrossed in the contemplation of his restored Monimia, that he saw not the rest of the company, who wept with transport over this affecting scene. He was therefore amazed at the interposition of Madam Clement, who, while the shower of sympathetic pleasure bedewed her cheeks, congratulated the lovers upon this happy event, crying, “These are the joys which virtue calls her own.” They also received the compliments of a reverend clergyman, who told Monimia, she had reaped, at last, the fruits of that pious resignation to the will of Heaven, which she had so devoutly practised during the term of her affliction. And, lastly, they were accosted by the physician, who was not quite so hackneyed in the ways of death, or so callous to the finer sensations of the soul, but that he blubbered plentifully, wile he petitioned Heaven in behalf of such an accomplished and deserving pair.

Monimia taking Madam Clement by the hand, “Whatever joy,” said she, “Renaldo derives from this occasion, is owing to the bounty, the compassion, and maternal care of this incomparable lady, together with the kind admonitions and humanity of those two worthy gentlemen.”

Melvil, whose passions were still in agitation, and whose mind could not yet digest the incidents that occurred, embraced them all by turns; but, like the faithful needle, which, though shaken for an instant from its poise, immediately regains its true direction, and points invariably to the pole, he soon returned to his Monimia; again he held her in his arms, again he drank enchantment from her eyes, and thus poured forth the effusions of his soul:—“Can I then trust the evidence of sense? And art thou really to my wish restored? Never, O never did thy beauty shine with such bewitching grace, as that which now confounds and captivates my view! Sure there is something more than mortal in thy looks! — Where hast thou lived? — where borrowed this perfection? — whence art thou now descended? — Oh! I am all amazement, joy, and fear! — Thou wilt not leave me! — No! we must not part again. By this warm kiss! a thousand times more sweet than all the fragrance of the East! we nevermore will part. O! this is rapture, ecstasy, and what no language can explain!”

In the midst of these ejaculations, he ravished a banquet from her glowing lips, that kindled in his heart a flame which rushed through every vein, and glided to his marrow. This was a privilege he had never claimed before, and now permitted as a recompense for all the penance he had suffered. Nevertheless, the cheeks of Monimia, who was altogether unaccustomed to such familiarities, underwent a total suffusion; and Madam Clement discreetly relieved her from the anxiety of her situation, by interfering in the discourse, and rallying the Count upon his endeavours to monopolise such a branch of happiness.

“O my dear lady!” replied Renaldo, who by this time had, in some measure, recovered his recollection, “forgive the wild transports of a fond lover, who hath so unexpectedly retrieved the jewel of his soul! Yet, far from wishing to hoard up his treasure, he means to communicate and diffuse his happiness to all his friends. O my Monimia! how will the pleasure of this hour be propagated! As yet thou knowest not all the bliss that is reserved for thy enjoyment! — Meanwhile, I long to learn by what contrivance this happy interview hath been effected. Still am I ignorant how I was transported into this apartment, from the lonely vault in which I mourned over my supposed misfortune!”

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