The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter Sixty-Six

The History Draws Near a Period.

Universal was the applause which they acquired by this noble sacrifice of their resentment. The afternoon was spent in the utmost harmony and good-humour; and at the earnest solicitation of Renaldo, whose fancy still harboured the apprehensions of another separation, Don Diego consented that the indissoluble knot should be tied between that young gentleman and Serafina in two days, and the place appointed for the ceremony was the very church where they had been restored to the arms of each other.

The lovely bride, with a silent blush that set her lover’s heart on fire, submitted to this determination, in consequence of which the company was bespoke for that auspicious hour, and the evening being pretty far advanced, they took leave of the ladies, and retired to their respective homes; Don Diego and his future son-in-law being reconducted to their lodgings, in the coach of the Jew, who, taking an opportunity of being alone with Melvil, observed that it would be necessary on this occasion to supply the Castilian with a sum of money, in order to support his dignity and independence, in furnishing Serafina with everything suitable to her rank and merit; and that he would willingly accommodate him, provided he knew how to propose it so as to give no offence to his punctilious disposition.

Renaldo, thanking him for this generous anticipation, advised him to solicit the Spaniard’s correspondence in the way of business, and to put the whole on the footing of his own interest; by which means Don Diego’s delicacy could sustain no affront. Fraught with this instruction, the Israelite desired a private audience of the Castilian, in which, after an apology for the freedom of his demand, “Signior Don Diego,” said he, “as your fortune hath been so long embezzled by your adversary in Spain, and your correspondence with that country entirely cut off, it is not to be supposed that your finances are at present in such a condition as to maintain the splendour of your family. Count de Melvil’s whole fortune is at your command; and had not he been afraid of giving umbrage to the peculiar delicacy of your sentiments, he would have pressed you to use it for your convenience. For my own part, over and above the inclination I have to serve Don Diego, I consult my own private advantage in desiring you to accept my service on this occasion. Money is the chief commodity in which I deal, and, if you honour me with your commands, I shall be a gainer by my obedience.”

Don Diego replied, with a smile that denoted how well he understood the meaning of this address, “Surely, Signior, I am bound by the strongest ties to exert my utmost endeavours for your advantage; and I pray God this your proposal may have that issue. I am well acquainted with the Count’s generosity and refined notions of honour; and too much obliged by him already, to hesitate with punctilious reserve in accepting his future assistance. Nevertheless, since you have contrived a scheme for removing all scruples of that sort, I shall execute it with pleasure; and, in the form of business, you shall have all the security I can give for what shall be necessary to answer my present occasions.”

The preliminaries being thus settled, Joshua advanced for his use a thousand pounds, for which he would take neither bond, note, nor receipt, desiring only that the Castilian would mark it in his own pocket-book, that the debt might appear, in case any accident should befall the borrower. Although the Spaniard had been accustomed to the uncommon generosity of Melvil, he could not help wondering at this nobleness of behaviour, so little to be expected from any merchant, much less from a Jewish broker.

While this affair was on the anvil, Renaldo, who could no longer withhold the communication of his happiness from his sister and relations in Germany, took up the pen, and, in a letter to his brother-in-law, recounted all the circumstances of the surprising turn of fate which he had experienced since his arrival in England. He likewise related the story of Don Diego, informed them of the day appointed for his nuptials, and entreated the Major to make a journey to London with his wife; or, if that should be impracticable, to come as far as Brussels, where they should be met by him and his Serafina. There was now but one day between him and the accomplishment of his dearest wish, and that was spent in procuring a licence, and adjusting the preparations for the grand festival. Don Diego in the forenoon visited Madam Clement, to whom he repeated his warm acknowledgments of her bounty and maternal affection to his daughter, and presented to Serafina bank notes to the amount of five hundred pounds, to defray the necessary expense for her wedding ornaments.

All the previous steps being taken for the solemnisation of this interesting event, and the hour of appointment arrived, the bridegroom, accompanied by his father-in-law, hastened to the place of rendezvous, which was the vestry-room of the church we have already described; where they were received by the good clergyman in his canonicals; and here they had not waited many minutes, when they were joined by Madam Clement and the amiable bride, escorted by the friendly physician, who had all along borne such a share in their concerns. Serafina was dressed in a sack of white satin, and the ornaments of her head were adjusted in the Spanish fashion, which gave a peculiar air to her appearance, and an additional spirit to those attractions which engaged the heart of each beholder. There was nothing remarkable in the habit of Renaldo, who had copied the plainness and elegance of his mistress; but, when she entered the place, his features were animated with a double proportion of vivacity, and their eyes meeting, seemed to kindle a blaze which diffused warmth and joy through the countenances of all present.

After a short pause, her father led her to the altar, and gave her away to the transported Renaldo, before the priest who performed the ceremony, and bestowed the nuptial benediction on this enraptured pair. The sanction of the church being thus obtained, they withdrew into the vestry, where Melvil sealed his title on her rosy lips, and presented his wife to the company, who embraced her in their turns, with fervent wishes for their mutual happiness.

Though the scene of this transaction was remote from any inhabited neighbourhood, the church was surrounded by a crowd of people, who, with uncommon demonstration of surprise and admiration, petitioned Heaven to bless so fair a couple. Such indeed was their eagerness to see them, that some lives were endangered by the pressure of the crowd, which attended them with loud acclamations to the coach, after the bridegroom had deposited in the hands of the minister one hundred pounds for the benefit of the poor of that parish, and thrown several handfuls of money among the multitude. Serafina re-embarked in Madam Clement’s convenience, with that good lady and Don Diego, while Renaldo, with the clergyman and doctor, followed in Joshua’s coach, to a pleasant country-house upon the Thames, at a distance of a few miles from London. This the Jew had borrowed from the owner for a few days, and there they were received by that honest Hebrew, who had provided a very elegant entertainment for the occasion. He had also bespoke a small but excellent band of music, which regaled their ears while they sat at dinner; and the afternoon being calm and serene, he prevailed on them to take the air on the river, in a barge which he had prepared for the purpose.

But, notwithstanding this diversity of amusement, Renaldo would have found it the longest day he had ever passed, had not his imagination been diverted by an incident which employed his attention during the remaining part of the evening. They had drunk tea, and engaged in a party at whist, when they were surprised with a noise of contention from a public-house, that fronted the windows of the apartment in which they sat. Alarmed at this uproar, they forsook their cards, and, throwing up the casement, beheld a hearse surrounded by four men on horseback, who had stopped the carriage, and violently pulled the driver from his seat. This uncommon arrest had engaged the curiosity of the publican’s family, who stood at the door to observe the consequence, when all of a sudden appeared a person in canonicals, well mounted, who, riding up to those who maltreated the driver, bestowed upon one of them such a blow with the butt-end of his whip, as laid him sprawling on the ground; and, springing from his saddle upon the box, took the reins into his own hand, swearing with great vehemence, that he would murder every man who should attempt to obstruct the hearse.

The good priest who had married Renaldo was not a little scandalised at this ferocious behaviour in a clergyman, and could not help saying aloud, he was a disgrace to the cloth when the horseman looking up to the window, replied, “Sir, may I be d — n’d, if any man in England has a greater respect for the cloth than I have; but at present I am quite distracted.” So saying, he whipped up the horses, and had actually disentangled the hearse from those who surrounded it, when he was opposed by another troop, one of whom alighted with great expedition, and cut the harness so as that he could not possibly proceed. Finding himself thus driven to bay, he leaped upon the ground, and exercised his weapon with such amazing strength and agility, that several of his antagonists were left motionless on the field, before he was overpowered and disarmed by dint of numbers, who assailed him on all sides.

The mad parson being thus taken prisoner, an elderly person, of a very prepossessing appearance, went up to the hearse, and, unbolting the door, a young lady sprung out, and shrieking, ran directly to the public-house, to the infinite astonishment and affright of the whole family, who believed it was the spirit of the deceased person, whose body lay in the carriage. Renaldo, who was with difficulty restrained from interposing in behalf of the clergyman against such odds, no sooner perceived this apparition, than, supposing her to be some distressed damsel, his Quixotism awoke, he descended in an instant, and rushed into the house, among those that pursued the fair phantom. Don Diego and the physician took the same road, while the real clergyman and Joshua tarried with the ladies, who were, by this time, very much interested in the event.

Melvil found the young lady in the hands of the old gentleman, who had released her from the hearse, and who now bitterly upbraided her for her folly and disobedience; while she protested with great vivacity, that whatever she might suffer from his severity, she would never submit to the hateful match he had proposed, nor break the promise she had already made to the gentleman who now attempted to rescue her from the tyranny of a cruel father. This declaration was followed by a plentiful shower of tears, which the father could not behold with unmoistened eyes, although he reviled her with marks of uncommon displeasure; and turning to the Count, “I appeal to you, sir,” said he, “whether I have not reason to curse the undutiful obstinacy of that pert baggage, and renounce her for ever as an alien to my blood. She has, for some months, been solicited in marriage by an honest citizen, a thirty thousand pound man; and instead of listening to such an advantageous proposal, she hath bestowed her heart upon a young fellow not worth a groat. Ah! you degenerate hussy, this comes of your plays and romances. If thy mother were not a woman of an unexceptionable life and conversation, I should verily believe thou art no child of mine. Run away with a beggar! for shame!”

“I suppose,” replied Renaldo, “the person to whom your daughter’s affection inclines, is that clergyman who exerted himself so manfully at the door?” “Clergyman!” cried the other, “adad! he has more of the devil than the church about him. A ruffian! he has, for aught I know, murdered the worthy gentleman whom I intended for my son-in-law; and the rogue, if I had not kept out of his way, would, I suppose, have served me with the same sauce. Me! who have been his master for many years, and had resolved to make a man of him. Sir, he was my own clerk, and this is the return I have met with from the serpent which I cherished in my bosom.”

Here he was interrupted by the arrival of the citizen for whom he had expressed such concern; that gentleman had received a contusion upon one eye, by which the sight was altogether obstructed, so that he concluded he should never retrieve the use of that organ, and with great clamour took all the spectators to witness the injury he had sustained; he entered the room with manifest perturbation, demanded satisfaction of the father, and peremptorily declared it should not be a lost eye to him if there was law in England. This unseasonable demand, and the boisterous manner in which it was made, did not at all suit the present humour of the old gentleman, who told him peevishly he owed him no eye, and bade him go and ask reparation of the person who had done him wrong.

The young lady snatching this favourable occasion, earnestly entreated Melvil and his company to intercede with her father in behalf of her lover, who, she assured them, was a young gentleman of a good family, and uncommon merit; and in compliance with her request they invited him and his daughter to the house in which they lodged, where they would be disencumbered of the crowd which this dispute had gathered together, and more at leisure to consult about the measures necessary to be taken. The old gentleman thanked them for their courtesy, which he did not think proper to refuse, and while he led, or rather hauled Mademoiselle over the way, under the auspices of the Castilian, Renaldo set the lover at liberty, made him a tender of his good offices, and advised him to wait at the public-house for an happy issue of their negotiation.

The pseudo-parson was very much affected by this generous proffer, for which he made suitable acknowledgments, and protested before God he would die a thousand deaths rather than part with his dear Charlotte. Her father no sooner entered the apartment, than he was known by Joshua to be a considerable trader in the city of London, and the merchant was glad to find himself among his acquaintance. He was so full of the story which had brought him thither, that he had scarce sat down when he began to complain of his hard fate, in having an only child who was so mean, stubborn, and contumacious; and every sentence was concluded with an apostrophe of reproaches to the delinquent.

The Jew having allowed him to ring out his alarm, condoled his misfortune, and gravely counselled the young lady to wean her affections from such an unworthy object, for he supposed her favourite was a man of no principle, or liberal endowments, otherwise her father would not exclaim so bitterly against her conduct. Charlotte, who wanted neither beauty nor understanding, assured him that her lover’s character was, in all respects, unblemished, for the truth of which assertion she appealed to her papa, who owned, with reluctance, that the young man was a gentleman by birth, that he had served him with remarkable diligence and integrity, and that his accomplishments were far superior to his station in life. “But then,” said he, “the fellow has not a shilling of his own, and would you have me give away my daughter to a beggar?”

“God forbid!” cried the Jew, “I always understood you possessed an ample fortune, and am sorry to find it otherwise.” “Otherwise!” cried the citizen, with some acrimony, “take care what you say, sir; a merchant’s credit is not to be tampered with.” “I beg your pardon,” answered the Hebrew, “I concluded that your circumstances were bad, because you objected to the poverty of the young man after you had owned he was possessed of every other qualification to make your daughter happy; for it is not to be imagined that you would thwart her inclinations, or seek to render an only child miserable on account of an obstacle which you yourself could easily remove. Let us suppose you can afford to give with your daughter ten thousand pounds, which would enable this young man to live with credit and reputation, and engage advantageously in trade, for which you say he is well qualified, the alternative then will be, whether you would rather see her in the arms of a deserving youth whom she loves, enjoying all the comforts of life with a moderate fortune, which it will always be in your own power to improve, or tied for life to a monied man whom she detests, cursing her hard fate, and despising that superfluity of wealth, in spite of which she finds herself so truly wretched.”

The old gentleman seemed to be startled at this observation, which was reinforced by Renaldo’s saying, that he would, moreover, enjoy the unutterable pleasure of giving happiness to a worthy man, whose gratitude would co-operate with his love, in approving himself a dutiful son, as well as an affectionate husband. He then represented the family disquiets and dismal tragedies produced from such mercenary and compulsive matches, and, in conclusion related the story of Don Diego and his daughter, which when the merchant heard, he started up with marks of terror in his countenance, and, throwing up the casement, called upon Valentine with great vociferation. This was the name of his daughter’s admirer, who no sooner heard the summons than he flew to the spot from whence it came, and the merchant, without any further preamble, seizing his hand, joined it with that of Charlotte, saying, with great trepidation, “Here, take her, in the name of God, and thank this honourable company for your good fortune.”

The lovers were transported with exquisite joy at this sudden determination in their favour. Valentine, having kissed the hand of his mistress with all the eagerness of rapture, and acknowledged the merchant’s generosity, paid his respects to the ladies with a very polite address, and with demonstrations of uncommon gratitude and sensibility, thanked the gentlemen, and the Count in particular, for their good offices, to which he attributed the happiness he now enjoyed. While Serafina and Madam Clement caressed the amiable Charlotte, the rest of the company congratulated her admirer upon his choice and success, though the clergyman could not help reprehending him for profaning the sacerdotal habit.

Valentine heartily asked pardon for having given such cause of offence, and hoped he should be forgiven, as it was a disguise which he thought absolutely necessary for the execution of a scheme upon which his happiness depended. He then, at the request of Renaldo, unfolded the mystery of the hearse, by giving them to understand that Charlotte’s father having got inkling of their mutual passion, had dismissed his clerk, and conveyed his daughter to a country-house in the neighbourhood of London, in order to cut off their correspondence; notwithstanding these precautions they had found means to communicate with each other by letters, which were managed by a third person; and his rival being very importunate in his solicitations, they had concerted the expedient of the hearse, which he provided and conducted through a road contiguous to the end of the merchant’s garden, where Charlotte, being apprised of the design, waited for its approach, and embarked in it without hesitation. Valentine thought himself sufficiently screened from discovery by his disguise, but he was unfortunately met by a servant of the family, who recollected his features, and immediately gave the alarm, upon which the father and his friends took horse, and pursued them by two different roads, until they were overtaken at this place.

He had scarce finished this short relation, when his rival, bluntly entering the apartment, with an handkerchief tied round his eye, committed Valentine to the charge of a constable, who attended him, by a warrant from a justice of the peace in that neighbourhood, and threatened to prosecute the merchant on an action of damages for the loss of an eye, which he said he had sustained in his service. The company endeavoured to appease this citizen, by representing that his misfortune was no other than a common inflammation, nor was it owing to malice aforethought, but entirely to the precipitate passion of an incensed young man, who, by the bye, acted in his own defence. At the same time the merchant promised to make any reasonable satisfaction, upon which the other demanded an obligation, importing that he would, in ten days from the date, bestow upon him his daughter in marriage, with a portion of fifteen thousand pounds, or, in case of failure, pay him double the sum.

The merchant, exasperated at this extravagant demand, told him flatly he had already disposed of his daughter to Valentine, who, he believed, was a much more deserving man, and that he was ready to wait upon the magistrate who had granted the warrant, in order to give bail for his future son-in-law. This was a mortifying declaration to the plaintiff, though he condoled himself with the hope of being a gainer by the loss of his eye, and now the pain was over would have been very sorry to find his sight retrieved. The old gentleman, Joshua, and Renaldo accompanied the prisoner to the house of the justice, where he was immediately admitted to bail. Upon their return Valentine shifted his dress, and they supped together with great cordiality and mirth, maintained at the expense of the discarded lover.

After supper Don Diego walked a minuet with Madam Clement; for whom, by this time, he had contracted an extraordinary degree of affection. Valentine had the honour to dance with the incomparable Serafina, whose beauty and attractions dazzled the eyes of the new-comers, and struck her bashful partner with awe and confusion; and Melvil presented his hand to the agreeable Charlotte, who performed so much to the satisfaction of her father, that he could not help expressing his joy and pride. He praised God for throwing him in the way of our company, and engaged the clergyman to unite the young couple, after having appointed a day for the ceremony, and invited all present to the wedding. The evening having been insensibly consumed in these avocations, and the night pretty far advanced, the ladies withdrew without ceremony; and the retreat of Serafina filled Renaldo’s breast with tumult and emotion; his blood began to flow in impetuous tides, his heart to beat with redoubled vigour and velocity, while his eyes seemed to flash with more than human splendour. Now his imagination began to anticipate with the enthusiastic rage of an inspired sibyl; he was instantaneously transported from the conversation, and every nerve was braced to such a degree of impatience, that human nature could not long endure the tension.

He, therefore, having withstood the impulse about a quarter of an hour, at length gave way to his impetuosity, and, springing from his friends, found himself in a dark passage, at the farther end of which he perceived Madam Clement coming out of a chamber with a light, which, at sight of him, she set down, and vanished in a moment. This was the star that pointed to his paradise; he hailed the signal, entered the apartment, and, like a lion, rushing on his prey, approached the nuptial bed, where Serafina, surrounded by all the graces of beauty, softness, sentiment, and truth, lay trembling as a victim at the altar, and strove to hide her blushes from his view — the door was shut, the light extinguished — he owned his lot was more than mortal man could claim.

Here let me draw the decent veil that ought to shade the secret mysteries of Hymen. Away, unhallowed scoffers, who profane, with idle pleasantry or immodest hint, these holy rites; and leave those happy lovers to enjoy, in one another’s arms, unutterable bliss, the well-earned palm of virtue and of constancy, which had undergone the most severe refinement. A more deserving pair night’s curtain shrouds not in its dark extent.

The thoughts of Renaldo’s felicity threw a damp on the spirits of Valentine, who saw the term of his probation protracted a few days longer, and could not help wishing in his heart that he had achieved the adventure which would have abridged his expectation, though at the expense of the old gentleman’s displeasure. He filled a bumper to the health of the bride and bridegroom, and throwing up his eyes with marks of admiration, exclaimed, “How happy is the Count! alas! five days longer must I rein my impatience!” “It is but reasonable, you rogue, that your betters should have the start of you,” said the merchant, who did him justice in the glass, and counselled him to drown his impatience with good claret. The youth followed his advice, and it was late before the company retired to rest.

These citizens, however, resolved to seize an opportunity of rallying the new-married couple, according to custom, and with that view arose early in the morning, on the supposition of finding them still asleep; but they were not a little surprised, when they entered the breakfasting room, to see Renaldo, and his amiable bed-fellow, already dressed, and awaiting to do the honours of the house. The old gentleman would fain have cracked a joke upon their extraordinary despatch, but he was so much overawed by the dignity and tamed by the sweetness of Serafina’s carriage, that he durst not give utterance to his conception; and Valentine stood silent and abashed, as in the presence of a superior being. After breakfast these gentlemen and Charlotte again expressed their sense of the obligations they owed to this happy family, repeated their invitation, and, taking leave, returned to London in a coach that was provided overnight.

Our friends being thus left to themselves, Don Diego turned towards Melvil: “Now,” said he, “that I have yielded to the impatience of your love, as well as to the eagerness of my own desire to make you happy, I must beg leave to interrupt, for a little while, the stream of your mutual pleasure, and propose a melancholy excursion, which, however, will not be wholly void of enjoyment. I have too long delayed the performance of my duty at Antonia’s grave — let us spend the forenoon in that pious pilgrimage — I will drop a few tears to the memory of that excellent woman, and never afterwards shall my friends be troubled with my grief.”

The proposal being universally approved, they set out for the place, which had oft been visited by the gentle Serafina, who conducted her father to a black marble stone, which Renaldo had ordered to be laid over the grave; and, as he kneeled to kiss the monument, he perceived this plain inscription in the Spanish tongue:— Antonia de Zelos primera en todo lo que es ser bueno, y sin segundo en todo lo que fue ser desdichado, quedad con Dios! that is, Antonia de Zelos, unmatched in virtue, and unequalled in misfortune, adieu! “O faithful record!” cried the Castilian, smiting his breast, while his tears distilled upon the marble, “thy goodness was the gift of Heaven, but thy misfortunes were derived from the guilt of Don Diego; yet his sorrow shall expiate his offence, and his penitence find favour in the sight of Heaven! Rest, rest, ill-fated virtue! — eternal peace shall guard thy tomb, and angels minister to thy unspotted shade; nor shall thine ashes lie in dark obscurity here will I raise a monument, more suited to thy excellence and name.” Serafina melted with filial tenderness; nor were the rest unmoved at this affecting scene, which Don Diego did not quit without reluctance.

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