The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter Twenty-Four

He Overlooks the Advances of His Friends, and Smarts Severely for His Neglect.

Steeled with this cautious maxim, he guarded himself from their united endeavours, in sundry subsequent attacks, by which his first conjecture was confirmed, and still came off conqueror, by virtue of his unparalleled finesse and discretion; till at length they seemed to despair of making him their prey, and the count began to drop some hints, importing a desire of seeing him more closely united to the views and interest of their triumvirate. But Ferdinand, who was altogether selfish, and quite solitary in his prospects, discouraged all those advances, being resolved to trade upon his own bottom only, and to avoid all such connexions with any person or society whatever; much more, with a set of raw adventurers whose talents he despised. With these sentiments, he still maintained the dignity and reserve of his first appearance among them, and rather enhanced than diminished that idea of importance which he had inspired at the beginning; because, besides his other qualifications, they gave him credit for the address with which he kept himself superior to their united designs.

While he thus enjoyed his pre-eminence, together with the fruits of his success at play, which he managed so discreetly as never to incur the reputation of an adventurer, he one day chanced to be at the ordinary, when the company was surprised by the entrance of such a figure as had never appeared before in that place. This was no other than a person habited in the exact uniform of an English jockey. His leathern cap, cut bob, fustian frock, flannel waistcoat, buff breeches, hunting-boots and whip, were sufficient of themselves to furnish out a phenomenon for the admiration of all Paris. But these peculiarities were rendered still more conspicuous by the behaviour of the man who owned them. When he crossed the threshold of the outward door, he produced such a sound from the smack of his whip, as equalled the explosion of an ordinary cohorn; and then broke forth into the halloo of a foxhunter, which he uttered with all its variations, in a strain of vociferation that seemed to astonish and confound the whole assembly, to whom he introduced himself and his spaniel, by exclaiming, in a tone something less melodious than the cry of mackerel or live cod, “By your leave, gentlevolks, I hope there’s no offence, in an honest plain Englishman’s coming with money in his pocket, to taste a bit of your Vrench frigasee and ragooze.”

This declaration was made in such a wild, fantastical manner, that the greatest part of the company mistook him for some savage monster or maniac, and consulted their safety by starting up from table, and drawing their swords. The Englishman, seeing such a martial apparatus produced against him, recoiled two or three steps, saying, “Waunds! a believe the people are all bewitched. What, do they take me for a beast of prey? is there nobody here that knows Sir Stentor Stile, or can speak to me in my own lingo?” He had no sooner pronounced these words, than the baronet, with marks of infinite surprise, ran towards him, crying, “Good Heaven! Sir Stentor, who expected to meet with you in Paris?” Upon which, the other eyeing him very earnestly, “Odds heartlikins!” cried he, “my neighbour, Sir Giles Squirrel, as I am a living soul!” With these words he flew upon him like a tiger, kissed him from ear to ear, demolished his periwig, and disordered the whole economy of his dress, to the no small entertainment of the company.

Having well-nigh stifled his countryman with embraces, and besmeared himself with pulville from head to foot, he proceeded in this manner, “Mercy upon thee, knight, thou art so transmographied, and bedaubed, and bedizened, that thou mought rob thy own mother without fear of information. Look ye here now, I will be trussed, if the very bitch that was brought up in thy own bosom knows thee again. Hey, Sweetlips, here hussy, d — n the tuoad, dos’t n’t know thy old measter? Ey, ey, thou may’st smell till Christmas, I’ll be bound to be hanged, knight, if the creature’s nose an’t foundered by the d —— d stinking perfumes you have got among you.”

These compliments being passed, the two knights sat down by one another, and Sir Stentor being asked by his neighbour, upon what errand he had crossed the sea, gave him to understand, that he had come to France, in consequence of a wager with Squire Snaffle, who had laid a thousand pounds, that he, Sir Stentor, would not travel to Paris by himself, and for a whole month appear every day at a certain hour in the public walks, without wearing any other dress than that in which he saw him. “The fellor has got no more stuff in his pate,” continued this polite stranger, “than a jackass, to think I could not find my way hither thof I could not jabber your French lingo. Ecod! the people of this country are sharp enough to find out your meaning, when you want to spend anything among them; and, as for the matter of dress, bodikins! for a thousand pound, I would engage to live in the midst of them, and show myself without any clothes at all. Odds heart! a true-born Englishman needs not be ashamed to show his face, nor his backside neither, with the best Frenchman that ever trod the ground. Thof we Englishmen don’t beplaister our doublets with gold and silver, I believe as how we have our pockets better lined than most of our neighbours; and for all my bit of a fustian frock, that cost me in all but forty shillings, I believe, between you and me, knight, I have more dust in my fob, than all those powdered sparks put together. But the worst of the matter is this; here is no solid belly-timber in this country. One can’t have a slice of delicate sirloin, or nice buttock of beef, for love nor money. A pize upon them! I could get no eatables upon the ruoad, but what they called bully, which looks like the flesh of Pharaoh’s lean kine stewed into rags and tatters; and then their peajohn, peajohn, rabbet them! One would think every old woman of this kingdom hatched pigeons from her own body.”

It is not to be supposed that such an original sat unobserved. The French and other foreigners, who had never been in England, were struck dumb with amazement at the knight’s appearance and deportment; while the English guests were overwhelmed with shame and confusion, and kept a most wary silence, for fear of being recognised by their countryman. As for our adventurer, he was inwardly transported with joy at sight of this curiosity. He considered him as a genuine, rich country booby, of the right English growth, fresh as imported; and his heart throbbed with rapture, when he heard Sir Stentor value himself upon the lining of his pockets. He foresaw, indeed, that the other knight would endeavour to reserve him for his own game; but he was too conscious of his own accomplishments to think he should find great difficulty in superseding the influence of Sir Giles.

Meanwhile, the new-comer was by his friend helped to some ragout, which pleased his palate so well, that he declared he should now make a hearty meal, for the first time since he had crossed the water; and, while his good-humour prevailed, he drank to every individual around the table. Ferdinand seized this opportunity of insinuating himself into his favour, by saying in English, he was glad to find there was anything in France that was agreeable to Sir Stentor. To this compliment the knight replied with an air of surprise: “Waunds! I find here’s another countryman of mine in this here company. Sir, I am proud to see you with all my heart.” So speaking, he thrust out his right hand across the table, and shook our hero by the fist, with such violence of civility, as proved very grievous to a French marquis, who, in helping himself to soup, was jostled in such a manner, as to overturn the dividing-spoon in his own bosom. The Englishman, seeing the mischief he had produced, cried, “No offence, I hope,” in a tone of vociferation, which the marquis in all probability misconstrued; for he began to model his features into a very sublime and peremptory look, when Fathom interpreted the apology, and at the same time informed Sir Stentor, that although he himself had not the honour of being an Englishman, he had always entertained a most particular veneration for the country, and learned the language in consequence of that esteem.

“Blood!” answered the knight, “I think myself the more obliged to you for your kind opinion, than if you was my countryman in good earnest. For there be abundance of we English — no offence, Sir Giles — that seem to be ashamed of their own nation, and leave their homes to come and spend their fortunes abroad, among a parcel of — you understand me, sir — a word to the wise, as the saying is.”— Here he was interrupted by an article of the second course, that seemed to give him great disturbance. This was a roasted leveret, very strong of the fumet, which happened to be placed directly under his nose. His sense of smelling was no sooner encountered by the effluvia of this delicious fare, than he started up from table, exclaiming, “Odd’s my liver! here’s a piece of carrion, that I would not offer to e’er a hound in my kennel; ’tis enough to make any Christian vomit both gut and gall”; and indeed by the wry faces he made while he ran to the door, his stomach seemed ready to justify this last assertion.

The abbe, who concluded, from these symptoms of disgust, that the leveret was not sufficiently stale, began to exhibit marks of discontent, and desired that it might be brought to the other end of the table for his examination. He accordingly hung over it with the most greedy appetite, feasting his nostrils with the steams of animal putrefaction; and at length declared that the morceau was passable, though he owned it would have been highly perfect, had it been kept another week. Nevertheless, mouths were not wanting to discuss it, insipid as it was; for in three minutes there was not a vestige to be seen of that which had offended the organs of Sir Stentor, who now resumed his place, and did justice to the dessert. But what he seemed to relish better than any other part of the entertainment, was the conversation of our adventurer, whom, after dinner, he begged to have the honour of treating with a dish of coffee, to the seeming mortification of his brother knight, over which Fathom exulted in his own heart.

In short, our hero, by his affability and engaging deportment, immediately gained possession of Sir Stentor’s good graces, insomuch, that he desired to crack a bottle with him in the evening, and they repaired to an auberge, whither his fellow-knight accompanied him, not without manifest signs of reluctance. There the stranger gave a loose to jollity; though at first he d —-ed the burgundy as a poor thin liquor, that ran through him in a twinkling, and, instead of warming, cooled his heart and bowels. However, it insensibly seemed to give the lie to his imputation; for his spirits rose to a more elevated pitch of mirth and good-fellowship; he sung, or rather roared, the Early Horn, so as to alarm the whole neighbourhood, and began to slabber his companions with a most bear-like affection. Yet whatever haste he made to the goal of ebriety, he was distanced by his brother baronet, who from the beginning of the party had made little other use of his mouth than to receive the glass, and now sunk down upon the floor, in a state of temporary annihilation.

He was immediately carried to bed by the direction of Ferdinand, who now saw himself in a manner possessor of that mine to which he had made such eager and artful advances. That he might, therefore, carry on the approaches in the same cautious manner, he gradually shook off the trammels of sobriety, gave a loose to that spirit of freedom which good liquor commonly inspires, and, in the familiarity of drunkenness, owned himself head of a noble family of Poland, from which he had been obliged to absent himself on account of an affair of honour, not yet compromised.

Having made this confession, and laid strong injunctions of secrecy upon Sir Stentor, his countenance seemed to acquire from every succeeding glass a new symptom of intoxication. They renewed their embraces, swore eternal friendship from that day, and swallowed fresh bumpers, till both being in all appearance quite overpowered, they began to yawn in concert, and even nod in their chairs. The knight seemed to resent the attacks of slumber, as so many impertinent attempts to interrupt their entertainment; he cursed his own propensity to sleep, imputing it to the d —-ed French climate, and proposed to engage in some pastime that would keep them awake. “Odd’s flesh!” cried the Briton, “when I’m at home, I defy all the devils in hell to fasten my eyelids together, if so be as I’m otherwise inclined. For there’s mother and sister Nan, and brother Numps and I, continue to divert ourselves at all-fours, brag, cribbage, tetotum, husslecap, and chuck-varthing, and, thof I say it, that should n’t say it, I won’t turn my back to e’er a he in England, at any of these pastimes. And so, Count, if you are so disposed, I am your man, that is, in the way of friendship, at which of these you shall please to pitch upon.”

To this proposal Fathom replied, he was quite ignorant of all the games he had mentioned; but, in order to amuse Sir Stentor, he would play with him at lansquenet, for a trifle, as he had laid it down for a maxim, to risk nothing considerable at play. “Waunds!” answered the knight, “I hope you don’t think I come here in quest of money. Thank God! I have a good landed estate worth five thousand a year, and owe no man a halfpenny; and I question whether there be many counts in your nation — no offence, I hope — that can say a bolder word. As for your lambskin net, I know nothing of the matter; but I will toss up with you for a guinea, cross or pile, as the saying is; or, if there’s such a thing in this country as a box and dice, I love to hear the bones rattle sometimes.”

Fathom found some difficulty in concealing his joy at the mention of this last amusement, which had been one of his chief studies, and in which he had made such progress, that he could calculate all the chances with the utmost exactness and certainty. However, he made shift to contain himself within due bounds, and, with seeming indifference, consented to pass away an hour at hazard, provided the implements could be procured. Accordingly, the landlord was consulted, and their desire gratified; the dice were produced, and the table resounded with the effects of their mutual eagerness. Fortune, at first, declared for the Englishman, who was permitted by our adventurer to win twenty broad pieces; and he was so elated with his success, as to accompany every lucky throw with a loud burst of laughter, and other savage and simple manifestations of excessive joy, exclaiming, in a tone something less sweet than the bellowing of a bull, “Now for the main, Count — odd! here they come — here are the seven black stars, i’faith. Come along, my yellow boys — odd’s heart! I never liked the face of Lewis before.”

Fathom drew happy presages from these boyish raptures, and, after having indulged them for some time, began to avail himself of his arithmetic, in consequence of which the knight was obliged to refund the greatest part of his winning. Then he altered his note, and became as intemperate in his chagrin, as he had been before immoderate in his mirth. He cursed himself and his whole generation, d —-ed his bad luck, stamped with his feet upon the floor, and challenged Ferdinand to double stakes. This was a very welcome proposal to our hero, who found Sir Stentor just such a subject as he had long desired to encounter with; the more the Englishman laid, the more he lost, and Fathom took care to inflame his passions, by certain well-timed sarcasms upon his want of judgment, till at length he became quite outrageous, swore the dice were false, and threw them out at the window; pulled off his periwig, and committed it to the flames, spoke with the most rancorous contempt of his adversary’s skill, insisted upon his having stripped many a better man, for all he was a Count, and threatening that, before they parted, he should not only look like a Pole, but also smell like a pole-cat.

This was a spirit which our adventurer industriously kept up, observing that the English were dupes to all the world; and that, in point of genius and address, they were no more than noisy braggadocios. In short, another pair of dice was procured, the stakes were again raised, and, after several vicissitudes, fortune declared so much in favour of the knight, that Fathom lost all the money in his pocket, amounting to a pretty considerable sum. By this time he was warmed into uncommon eagerness and impatience; being equally piqued at the success and provoking exultations of his antagonist, whom he now invited to his lodgings, in order to decide the contest. Sir Stentor complied with this request; the dispute was renewed with various success, till, towards daylight, Ferdinand saw this noisy, raw, inexperienced simpleton, carry off all his ready cash, together with his jewels, and almost everything that was valuable about his person; and, to crown the whole, the victor at parting told him with a most intolerable sneer, that as soon as the Count should receive another remittance from Poland, he would give him his revenge.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59