The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter Sixty-Four

The Mystery Unfolded — Another Recognition, Which, it is to Be Hoped, the Reader Could Not Foresee.

The French lady then explained the whole mystery of Monimia’s death, as a stratagem she had concerted with the clergyman and doctor, in order to defeat the pernicious designs of Fathom, who seemed determined to support his false pretensions by dint of perjury and fraud, which they would have found it very difficult to elude. She observed, that the physician had actually despaired of Monimia’s life, and it was not till after she herself was made acquainted with the prognostic, that she wrote the letter to Renaldo, which she committed to the care of Madam Clement, with an earnest entreaty, that it should not be sent till after her decease. But that lady, believing the Count had been certainly abused by his treacherous confidant, despatched the billet without the knowledge of Monimia, whose health was restored by the indefatigable care of the physician, and the sage exhortations of the clergyman, by which she was reconciled to life. In a word, the villany of Fathom had inspired her with some faint hope that Renaldo might still be innocent; and that notion contributed not a little to her cure.

The letter having so effectually answered their warmest hopes, in bringing back Renaldo such a pattern of constancy and love, the confederates, in consequence of his enthusiastic sorrow, had planned this meeting, as the most interesting way of restoring two virtuous lovers to the arms of each other; for which purpose the good clergyman had pitched upon his own church, and indulged them with the use of the vestry, in which they now were presented with a small but elegant collation.

Melvil heard this succinct detail with equal joy and admiration. He poured forth the dictates of his gratitude to the preservers of his happiness. —“This church,” said he, “shall henceforth possess a double share of my veneration; this holy man will, I hope, finish the charitable work he has begun, by tying those bands of our happiness, which nought but death shall have power to unbind.” Then turning to that object which was the star of his regard, “Do I not overrate,” said he, “my interest with the fair Monimia?” She made no verbal reply; but answered by an emphatic glance, more eloquent than all the power of rhetoric and speech. This language, which is universal in the world of love, he perfectly well understood, and, in token of that faculty, sealed the assent which she had smiled, with a kiss imprinted on her polished forehead.

In order to dissipate these interesting ideas, which, by being too long indulged, might have endangered his reason, Madam Clement entreated him to entertain the company with a detail of what had happened to him in his last journey to the empire, and Monimia expressed a desire of knowing, in particular, the issue of his contest with Count Trebasi, who, she knew, had usurped the succession of his father.

Thus solicited, he could not refuse to gratify their curiosity and concern. He explained his obligations to the benevolent Jew; related the steps he had taken at Vienna for the recovery of his inheritance; informed them of his happy rencontre with his father-in-law; of his sister’s deliverance, and marriage; of the danger into which his life had been precipitated by the news of Monimia’s death; and, lastly, of his adventure with the banditti, in favour of a gentleman, who, he afterwards understood, had been robbed in the most base and barbarous manner by Fathom. He likewise, to the astonishment of all present, and of his mistress in particular, communicated some circumstances, which shall appear in due season.

Monimia’s tender frame being quite fatigued with the scene she had acted, and her mind overwhelmed with the prosperous tidings she had heard, after having joined the congratulations of the company, on the good fortune of her Renaldo, begged leave to retire, that she might by repose recruit her exhausted spirits; and the night being pretty far spent, she was conducted by her lover to Madam Clement’s coach, that stood in waiting, in which also the rest of the company made shift to embark, and were carried to the house of that good lady, where, after they were invited to dine, and Melvil entreated to bring Don Diego and the Jew along with them, they took leave of one another, and retired to their respective lodgings in a transport of joy and satisfaction.

As for Renaldo, his rapture was still mixed with apprehension, that all he had seen and heard was no more than an unsubstantial vision, raised by some gay delirium of a disordered imagination. While his breast underwent those violent, though blissful emotions of joy and admiration, his friend the Castilian spent the night in ruminating over his own calamities, and in a serious and severe review of his own conduct. He compared his own behaviour with that of the young Hungarian, and found himself so light in the scale, that he smote his breast with violence, exclaiming in an agony of remorse:

“Count Melvil has reason to grieve; Don Diego to despair. His misfortunes flow from the villany of mankind; mine are the fruit of my own madness. He laments the loss of a mistress, who fell a sacrifice to the perfidious arts of a crafty traitor. She was beautiful, virtuous, accomplished, and affectionate; he was fraught with sensibility and love. Doubtless his heart must have deeply suffered; his behaviour denotes the keenness of his woe; his eyes are everflowing fountains of tears; his bosom the habitation of sighs; five hundred leagues hath he measured in a pilgrimage to her tomb; nightly he visits the dreary vault where she now lies at rest; her solitary grave is his couch; he converses with darkness and the dead, until each lonely aisle re-echoes his distress. What would be his penance, had he my cause! were he conscious of having murdered a beloved wife and darling daughter! Ah wretch! — ah cruel homicide! — what had those dear victims done to merit such a fate? Were they not ever gentle and obedient, ever aiming to give thee satisfaction and delight? Say, that Serafina was enamoured of a peasant; say, that she had degenerated from the honour of her race. The inclinations are involuntary; perhaps that stranger was her equal in pedigree and worth. Had they been fairly questioned, they might have justified, at least excused, that conduct which appeared so criminal; or had they owned the offence, and supplicated pardon — O barbarous monster that I am! was all the husband — was all the father extinguished in my heart? How shall my own errors be forgiven, if I refused to pardon the frailties of my own blood — of those who are most dear to my affection? Yet nature pleaded strongly in their behalf! — My heart was bursting while I dismissed them to the shades of death. I was maddened with revenge! I was guided by that savage principle which falsely we call honour.

“Accursed phantom! that assumes the specious title, and misleads our wretched nation! Is it then honourable to skulk like an assassin, and plunge the secret dagger in the heart of some unhappy man, who hath incurred my groundless jealousy or suspicion, without indulging him with that opportunity which the worst criminal enjoys? Or is it honourable to poison two defenceless women, a tender wife, an amiable daughter, whom even a frown would almost have destroyed? — O! this is cowardice, brutality, hell-born fury and revenge! Heaven hath not mercy to forgive such execrable guilt. Who gave thee power, abandoned ruffian! over the lives of those whom God hath stationed as thy fellows of probation; — over those whom he had sent to comfort and assist thee; to sweeten all thy cares, and smooth the rough uneven paths of life? O! I am doomed to never-ceasing horror and remorse! If misery can atone for such enormous guilt, I have felt it in the extreme. Like an undying vulture it preys upon my heart; — to sorrow I am wedded; I hug that teeming consort to my soul; — never, ah! never shall we part; for soon as my fame shall shine unclouded by the charge of treason that now hangs over it, I will devote myself to penitence and woe. A cold, damp pavement shall be my bed; my raiment shall be sackcloth; the fields shall furnish herbage for my food; the stream shall quench my thirst; the minutes shall be numbered by my groans; the night be privy to my strains of sorrow, till Heaven, in pity to my sufferings, release me from the penance I endure. Perhaps the saints whom I have murdered will intercede for my remission.”

Such was the exercise of grief, in which the hapless Castilian consumed the night; he had not yet consigned himself to rest, when Renaldo entering his chamber, displayed such a gleam of wildness and rapture on his countenance, as overwhelmed him with amazement; for, till that moment, he had never seen his visage unobscured with woe. “Pardon this abrupt intrusion, my friend,” cried Melvil, “I could no longer withhold from your participation, the great, the unexpected turn, which hath this night dispelled all my sorrows, and restored me to the fruition of ineffable joy. Monimia lives! — the fair, the tender, the virtuous Monimia lives, and smiles upon my vows! This night I retrieved her from the grave. I held her in these arms; I pressed her warm delicious lips to mine! Oh, I am giddy with intolerable pleasure!”

Don Diego was confounded at this declaration, which he considered as the effects of a disordered brain. He never doubted that Renaldo’s grief had at length overpowered his reason, and that his words were the effects of mere frenzy. While he mused on this melancholy subject, the Count composed his features, and, in a succinct and well-connected detail, explained the whole mystery of his happiness, to the inexpressible astonishment of the Spaniard, who shed tears of satisfaction, and straining the Hungarian to his breast, “O my son,” said he, “you see what recompense Heaven hath in store for those who pursue the paths of real virtue; those paths from which I myself have been fatally misled by a faithless vapour, which hath seduced my steps, and left me darkling in the abyss of wretchedness. Such as you describe this happy fair, was once my Serafina, rich in every grace of mind and body which nature could bestow. Had it pleased Heaven to bless her with a lover like Renaldo! but no more, the irrevocable shaft is fled. I will not taint your enjoyment with my unavailing sighs!”

Melvil assured this disconsolate father, that no pleasure, no avocation should ever so entirely engross his mind, but that he should still find an hour for sympathy and friendship. He communicated the invitation of Madam Clement, and insisted upon his compliance, that he might have an opportunity of seeing and approving the object of his passion. “I can refuse nothing to the request of Count de Melvil,” replied the Spaniard, “and it were ungrateful in me to decline the honour you propose. I own myself inflamed with a desire of beholding a young lady, whose perfections I have seen reflected in your sorrow; my curiosity is, moreover, interested on account of that humane gentlewoman, whose uncommon generosity sheltered such virtue in distress; but my disposition is infectious, and will, I am afraid, hang like a damp upon the general festivity of your friends.”

Melvil would take no denial, and having obtained his consent, repaired to the house of Joshua, whose countenance seemed to unbend gradually into a total expression of joy and surprise, as he learned the circumstances of this amazing event. He faithfully promised to attend the Count at the appointed hour, and, in the meantime, earnestly exhorted him to take some repose, in order to quiet the agitation of his spirits, which must have been violently hurried on this occasion. The advice was salutary, and Renaldo resolved to follow it.

He returned to his lodgings, and laid himself down; but, notwithstanding the fatigue he had undergone, sleep refused to visit his eyelids, all his faculties being kept in motion by the ideas that crowded so fast upon his imagination. Nevertheless, though his mind continued in agitation, his body was refreshed, and he arose in the forenoon with more serenity and vigour than he had enjoyed for many months. Every moment his heart throbbed with new rapture, when he found himself on the brink of possessing all that his soul held dear and amiable; he put on his gayest looks and apparel; insisted upon the Castilian’s doing the same honour to the occasion; and the alteration of dress produced such an advantageous change in the appearance of Don Diego, that when Joshua arrived at the appointed hour, he could scarce recognise his features, and complimented him very politely on the improvement of his looks.

True it is, the Spaniard was a personage of a very prepossessing mien and noble deportment; and had not grief, by increasing his native gravity, in some measure discomposed the symmetry of his countenance, he would have passed for a man of a very amiable and engaging physiognomy. They set out in the Jew’s coach for the house of Madam Clement, and were ushered into an apartment, where they found the clergyman and physician with that lady, to whom Don Diego and the Hebrew were by Melvil introduced.

Before they had seated themselves, Renaldo inquired about the health of Monimia, and was directed to the next room by Madam Clement, who permitted him to go thither, and conduct her to the company. He was not slow of availing himself of this permission. He disappeared in an instant, and, during his short absence, Don Diego was strangely disturbed The blood flushed and forsook his cheeks by turns; a cold vapour seemed to shiver through his nerves; and at his breast he felt uncommon palpitation. Madam Clement observed his discomposure, and kindly inquired into the cause; when he replied, “I have such an interest in what concerns the Count de Melvil, and my imagination is so much prepossessed with the perfections of Monimia, that I am, as it were, agonised with expectation; yet never did my curiosity before raise such tumults as those that now agitate my bosom.”

He had scarce pronounced these words, when the door, reopening, Renaldo led in this mirror of elegance and beauty, at sight of whom the Israelite’s countenance was distorted into a stare of admiration. But if such was the astonishment of Joshua, what were the emotions of the Castilian, when, in the beauteous orphan, he beheld the individual features of his long-lost Serafina!

His feelings are not to be described. The fond parent, whose affection shoots even to a sense of pain, feels not half such transport, when he unexpectedly retrieves a darling child from the engulfing billows or devouring flame. The hope of Zelos had been totally extinguished. His heart had been incessantly torn with anguish and remorse, upbraiding him as the murderer of Serafina. His, therefore, were the additional transports of a father disburdened of the guilt of such enormous homicide. His nerves were too much overpowered by this sudden recognition, to manifest the sensation of his soul by external signs. He started not, nor did he lift an hand in token of surprise; he moved not from the spot on which he stood; but, riveting his eyes to those of the lovely phantom, remained without motion, until she, approaching with her lover, fell at his feet, and clasping his knees, exclaimed, “May I yet call you father?”

This powerful shock aroused his faculties; a cold sweat bedewed his forehead; his knees began to totter; he dropped upon the floor, and throwing his arms around her, cried, “O nature! O Serafina! Merciful Providence! thy ways are past finding out.” So saying, he fell upon her neck, and wept aloud. The tears of sympathetic joy trickled down her snowy bosom, that heaved with rapture inexpressible. Renaldo’s eyes poured forth the briny stream. The cheeks of Madam Clement were not dry in this conjuncture; she kneeled by Serafina, kissed her with all the eagerness of maternal affection, and with uplifted hands adored the Power that preordained this blessed event. The clergyman and doctor intimately shared the general transport; and as for Joshua, the drops of true benevolence flowed from his eyes, like the oil on Aaron’s beard, while he skipped about the room in an awkward ecstasy, and in a voice resembling the hoarse notes of the long-eared tribe, cried, “O father Abraham! such a moving scene hath not been acted since Joseph disclosed himself unto his brethren in Egypt.”

Don Diego having found utterance to his passion, proceeded in this strain: “O my dear child! to find thee thus again, after our last unhappy parting, is wonderful! miraculous! Blessed be the all-good, my conscience. I am not then the dire assassin, who sacrificed his wife and daughter to an infernal motive, falsely titled honour? though I am more and more involved in a mystery, which I long to hear explained.”

“That shall be my task,” cried Renaldo, “but first permit me to implore your sanction to my passion for the incomparable Serafina. You already know our mutual sentiments; and though I own the possession of such inestimable worth and beauty would be a recompense that infinitely transcends the merit I can plead, yet, as it hath been my good fortune to inspire her with a mutual flame, I hope to reap from your indulgence here, what I could not expect from my own desert; and we present ourselves, in hope of your paternal assent and benediction.”

“Were she more fair and good and gentle than she is,” answered the Castilian, “and to my partial observation nought e’er appeared on earth more beauteous and engaging, I would approve your title to her heart, and recommend you to her smiles, with all a father’s influence and power. Yes, my daughter! my joy on this occasion is infinitely augmented by the knowledge of those tender ties of love that bind thee to this amiable youth; a youth to whose uncommon courage and generosity I owe my life and my subsistence, together with the inexpressible delight that now revels in my bosom. Enjoy, my children, the happy fruits of your reciprocal attachment. May Heaven, which hath graciously conducted you through a labyrinth of perplexity and woe, to this transporting view of blissful days, indulge you with that uninterrupted stream of pure felicity, which is the hope, and ought to be the boon of virtue, such as yours!”

So saying, he joined their hands, and embraced them with the most cordial love and satisfaction, which diffused itself to every individual of the company, who fervently invoked the Almighty Power, in behalf of this enraptured pair. The tumult of these emotions having a little subsided, and the Castilian being seated betwixt Renaldo and his beauteous bride, he politely bespoke the indulgence of Madam Clement, begging she would permit him to demand the performance of the Count’s promise, that he might be forthwith made acquainted with those circumstances of his own fate which he was so impatient to learn.

The lady having assured him, that she and all the company would take pleasure in hearing the recapitulation, the Spaniard, addressing himself to Melvil, “In the name of Heaven!” said he, “how could you supplant that rival, who fell a sacrifice to my resentment, after he had bewitched the heart of Serafina? for, sure, the affection he had kindled in her breast must have long survived his death,” “That rival,” replied the Count, “who incurred your displeasure, was no other than Renaldo.” With these words, he applied to one eye a patch of black silk provided for the purpose, and turning his face towards Don Diego, that gentleman started with astonishment, crying, “Good Heaven! the very countenance of Orlando, whom I slew! this is still more amazing!”

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