The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter Sixty-Five

A Retrospective Link, Necessary for the Concatenation of These Memoirs.

“Indulge me with a patient hearing,” proceeded the Hungarian, “and all these riddles soon will be explained. Inflamed with the desire of seeing foreign countries, I disobeyed the will of an indulgent father, from whose house, withdrawing privately, I set out for Italy, in disguise, by the way of Tyrol, visited Venice, Rome, Florence, and, embarking at Naples, in an English ship, arrived at St. Lucar, from whence I repaired to Seville; there, in a few days, was my curiosity engaged by the fame of the fair Serafina, who was justly deemed the most accomplished beauty in that part of Spain. Nay, blush not, gentle creature! for by my hopes of heaven! thy charms were even injured by the cold applause of that report. Nevertheless, I was warmly interested by the uncommon character, and eagerly longed to see this pattern of perfection. As Don Diego did not train her up in that restraint to which the Spanish ladies are subjected, I soon found an opportunity of seeing her at church; and no person here present will, I presume, doubt but that I was instantly captivated by her beauty and deportment. Had I thought that Don Diego’s favour was unengaged, perhaps I should have followed the dictates of vanity and inexperience, and presented myself in my own character, among the crowd of her professed admirers. I knew her father had been an officer of distinguished rank and reputation, and did not doubt that he would have regarded a young soldier of unexceptionable pedigree, and, I will even add, of untainted fame. Nor did I suppose my own father could have objected against such an advantageous match; but, by dint of industrious inquiry, I learned, that the divine Serafina was already betrothed to Don Manuel de Mendoza, and this information overwhelmed me with despair.

“After having revolved a thousand projects for retarding and preventing that detested union, I resolved to avail myself of my talent for drawing, and professed myself a master of that science, in hope of being employed by the father of Serafina, who, I knew, let slip no opportunity of improving his daughter’s education. Accordingly I had the good fortune to attract his notice, was invited to his house, honoured with his approbation, and furnished with unrestricted opportunities of conversing with the dear object of my love. The passion which her beauty had kindled was by the perfections of her mind inflamed to such a degree of transport, as could not be concealed from her penetration. She chanced to relish my conversation; I gradually acquired her friendship; pity was the next passion that she entertained in my favour. I then ventured to disclose myself, and the dear charmer did not disapprove of my presumption. She and her mother had been perplexed with some religious scruples, concerning which they appealed to my opinion; and I was happy enough to set their minds at ease.

“This sort of intercourse naturally created a mutual confidence among us; and, in a word, I was blessed with the daughter’s love and mother’s approbation. Don Diego will pardon these clandestine measures, which we took, from a full persuasion that it was impossible to render him propitious to the views in which our hearts and hands were so deeply interested. I did not then know how little he was addicted to superstition.

“Without entering into a detail of the schemes we projected to delay the happiness of Mendoza, I shall only observe, that, knowing the fatal day was at length unalterably fixed, we determined to elude the purpose of Don Diego by flight; and everything was actually prepared for our escape. When the hour of appointment arrived, I repaired to the place at which I had proposed to enter the house, and stumbled, in the dark, over the body of a man still warm, and bleeding. Alarmed at this occurrence, I darted myself through the window, and rushing to the apartment of the ladies, (immortal powers!) beheld the peerless Serafina, and her virtuous mother, stretched on a couch, and, in all appearance, deprived of life.

“The company will easily conceive what agonies I felt at such a spectacle! I ran towards the spot in a transport of horror! I clasped my lovely mistress in my arms, and, finding her still breathing, endeavoured, but in vain, to wake her from the trance Antonia was overwhelmed with the same lethargic power. My fancy was immediately struck with the apprehension of their being poisoned. Regardless of my own situation, I alarmed the family, called for assistance, and requested the servants to summon Don Diego to the dismal scene. I was informed that their master had rode forth in manifest confusion; and while I pondered on this surprising excursion, an apothecary in the neighbourhood entered the chamber, and having examined the pulses of the ladies, declared that their lives were in no danger, and advised that they should be undressed, and conveyed to bed. While their women were busied in this employment, I went into the court-yard, attended by some of the servants with lights, in order to view the body of the man which I had found at my arrival. His apparel was mean, his countenance ferocious; a long spado was buckled to his thigh, and, in his belt, were stuck a brace of loaded pistols; so that we concluded he was some thief, who had waited for an opportunity, and seeing the casement open, intended to rob the house, but was prevented, and slain by Don Diego himself, whose retreat, however, did not a little confound our conjecture. For my own part, I remained all night in the house, tortured with fear, vexation, and suspense.

“My hope was altogether disappointed by this unhappy accident; and I shuddered at the prospect of losing Serafina for ever, either by this mysterious malady, or by her marriage with Mendoza, which I now despaired of being able to defeat. The major-domo having waited several hours for his lord’s return, without seeing him appear, thought proper to despatch a messenger to Don Manuel, with an account of what had happened; and that nobleman arriving in the morning, took possession of the house. About four o’clock in the afternoon, Serafina began to stir, and, at five, she and her mother were perfectly awake.

“They no sooner recovered the use of reflection, than they gave signs of equal sorrow and amazement, and earnestly called for Isabella, who was privy to our design, and who, after a very minute inquiry, was found in a lone and solitary chamber, where she had been confined. Such was the confusion of the house, that no person ever dreamed of asking how I entered, each domestic, in all probability, supposing I had been introduced by his fellow; so that I tarried unquestioned, on pretence of concern for the distress of a family in which I had been so generously entertained, and, by Isabella, sent my respects and duty to her ladies. She was, therefore, not a little surprised, when, after every other servant had withdrawn, she heard the lovely Serafina exclaim, with all the violence of grief, ‘Ah! Isabella, Orlando is no more!’ But their astonishment was still greater, when she assured them of my being alive, and in the house. They recounted to her the adventure of last night, which she explained, by informing them of the letters which Don Diego had intercepted. And they immediately concluded, that he had, in the precipitation of his wrath, killed, by mistake, the person who was found dead in the court-yard. This conjecture alarmed them on my account; they, by the medium of Isabella, conjured me to leave the house, lest Don Diego should return, and accomplish his resentment; and I was persuaded to withdraw, after I had settled the channel of a correspondence with the confidant.

“Being now obliged to alter our measures, because our former intention was discovered by Don Diego, I secured a retreat for Serafina and her mother, at the house of the English consul in Seville, who was my particular friend; and, next day, understanding from Isabella that her lord had not yet reappeared, and that Don Manuel was very urgent in his addresses, we concerted an assignation in the garden, and that same evening I was fortunate enough to convey my prize to the asylum I had prepared for their reception. Inexpressible was the rage of Mendoza, when he heard of their elopement. He raved like one deprived of reason — swore he would put all the servants of the family to the rack — and, in consequence of the intelligence he obtained by threats and promises, set on foot a very strict inquiry, in order to apprehend the fugitives and Orlando, who had by some means or other incurred his suspicion.

“We eluded his search by the vigilance and caution of our kind host; and, while we remained in concealment, were extremely astonished to hear that the unfortunate Don Diego was proclaimed a traitor, and a price set upon his head. This information overwhelmed us all with the utmost affliction. Antonia lamented, without ceasing, the disgrace of her beloved lord, from whom she never would have withdrawn herself, but with the lively hope of a reconciliation, after the first transports of his ire should have subsided, and the real character of Orlando should have appeared. It was not long before we had reason to believe that Mendoza was the accuser of Don Diego —

“Nay, start not, Signior; Manuel was actually that traitor! This was the turn of his revenge! when he found himself disappointed in the hope of possessing the incomparable Serafina, he took a base advantage of your absence and retreat. He posted to Madrid, impeached you to the secretary of state of having maintained a criminal correspondence with the enemies of Spain, included me in his accusation, as a spy for the house of Austria, and framed such a plausible tale, from the circumstances of your distress, that Don Diego was outlawed, and Mendoza gratified with a grant of his estate.

“These melancholy incidents made a deep impression upon the mind of the virtuous Antonia, who waiving every other consideration, would have personally appeared for the vindication of her husband’s honour, had not we dissuaded her from such a rash undertaking, by demonstrating her inability to contend with such a powerful antagonist; and representing that her appearance would be infallibly attended with the ruin of Serafina, who would certainly fall into the hands of the villain to whom she had been contracted. We exhorted her to wait patiently for some happy revolution of fortune, and encouraged her with the hope of Don Diego’s exerting himself effectually in his own defence.

“Meanwhile our worthy landlord was suddenly cut off by death; and his widow being resolved to retire into her own country, we secretly embarked in the same ship, and arrived in England about eighteen months ago. Antonia still continued to pine over the ruin of her house; as she could hear no tidings of Don Diego, she concluded he was dead, and mourned with unabating sorrow. In vain I assured her, that, soon as my own affairs should be adjusted, I would exert my whole endeavours to find and succour him. She could not imagine that a man of his spirit and disposition would live so long in obscurity. And her affliction derived new force from the death of the consul’s widow, with whom she had lived in the most unbounded intimacy and friendship. From that day, her health evidently declined. She foresaw her dissolution, and comforted herself with the hope of seeing her husband and her friend in a place where no treachery is felt, and no sorrow is known; confident of my integrity, and the purity of my love, she, in the most pathetic terms, recommended Serafina to my care.

“Ha! weepest thou, fair excellence, at the remembrance of that tender scene, when the good Antonia, on the bed of death, joined thy soft hand to mine, and said, ‘Renaldo, I bequeath this orphan to your love; it is a sacred pledge, which, if you cherish with due honour and regard, internal peace and happiness will ever smile within your bosom; but if you treat it with indifference, dishonour, or neglect, just Heaven will punish your breach of trust with everlasting disappointments and disquiet.’

“Signior Don Diego, I see you are moved, and therefore will not dwell on such distressful circumstances. The excellent Antonia exchanged this life for a more happy state; and so exquisite was the sorrow of the tender-hearted Serafina, as to torture me with the apprehension that she would not long survive her pious mother. How I obeyed the injunctions of that departing saint, Monimia (for that name she now assumed) can testify, until that artful serpent Fathom glided into our mutual confidence, abused our ears, poisoned our unsuspected faith, and effected that fatal breach, productive of all the misery and vexation which we have suffered, and which is now so happily expelled.”

“Heaven,” said the Castilian, “hath visited me for the sins and errors of my youth; yet, such mercy hath been mingled with its chastisements, I dare not murmur or repine. The tears of penitence and sorrow shall water my Antonia’s grave; as for Mendoza, I rejoice at his treachery, by which the obligation of my promise is cancelled, and my honour fully acquitted. He shall not triumph in his guilt. My services, my character, and innocence shall soon confront his perfidy, and, I hope, defeat his interest. The King is just and gracious, nor is my family and name unknown.”

Here the Jew interposing, presented to him a letter from a person of consequence at Madrid, whom Joshua had interested in the cause of Don Diego; that nobleman had already found means to represent the case of Zelos to his Majesty, who had actually ordered Don Manuel to be confined, until the injured person should appear to justify himself, and prosecute his accuser according to the terms of law. At the same time Don Diego was summoned to present himself before the King within a limited time, to answer to the charge which Mendoza had brought against him.

The Spaniard’s heart overflowed with gratitude and joy, when he read this intimation; he embraced the Jew, who, before Zelos could give utterance to his thoughts, told him that the Spanish Ambassador at London, having been prepossessed in his favour, craved the honour of seeing Don Diego; and that he, Joshua, was ready to conduct him to the house.

“Then is my heart at rest!” cried the Castilian; “the house of Zelos once more shall lift up its head. I shall again revisit my native country with honour, and abase the villain who hath soiled my fame! O my children! this day is replete with such joy and satisfaction, as I did not think had been in the power of Heaven to grant, without the interposition of a miracle! To you, Renaldo, to you illustrious lady, and to these worthy gentlemen, am I indebted for the restoration of that for which alone I wish to live; and when my heart ceases to retain the obligation, may I forfeit the name of a Castilian, and scorn and dishonour be my portion.”

Perhaps all Europe could not produce another company so happy as that which now sat down to dinner in the house of Madam Clement, whose own benevolent heart was peculiarly adapted for such enjoyment. The lovers feasted their eyes more than their appetite, by a tender intercourse of glances, which needed not the slow interpretation of speech; while the Spaniard regarded them alternately with looks of wonder and paternal joy, and every individual surveyed the all-deserving pair with admiration and esteem.

Serafina taking the advantage of this general satisfaction, when the heart, softened into complacency, deposits every violent thought: “I must now,” said she, “try my interest with Renaldo. The good company shall bear witness to my triumph or repulse. I do not ask you to forgive, but to withhold your vengeance from the wretched Fathom. His fraud, ingratitude, and villany are, I believe, unrivalled; yet his base designs have been defeated; and Heaven perhaps hath made him the involuntary instrument for bringing our constancy and virtue to the test; besides, his perfidy is already punished with the last degree of human misery and disgrace. The doctor, who has traced him in all his conduct and vicissitudes of fortune, will draw a picture of his present wretchedness, which, I doubt not, will move your compassion, as it hath already excited mine.”

The generous hostess was ready to enforce this charitable proposal with all her eloquence, when Melvil, with a look that well expressed his magnanimity of love, replied, “Such a boon becomes the gentle Serafina! O! every moment furnishes me with fresh matter to admire the virtues of thy soul. If thou, whose tender heart hath been so rent with misery and anguish, canst intercede for thy tormentor, who now suffers in his turn, shall I refuse to pardon the miserable wretch! No, let me glory in imitating the great example, and solicit Don Diego in behalf of the same miscreant whose perfidious barbarity cost him such intolerable woe.” “Enough,” cried the Castilian, “I have disclaimed the vindictive principles of a Spaniard; and leave the miserable object to the sting of his own conscience, which, soon or late, will not fail to avenge the wrongs we have sustained from his deceit.”

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