The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter Forty-Two

An Unexpected Rencontre, and a Happy Revolution in the Affairs of Our Adventurer.

As she did not lodge within the precincts of this garrison, she was one day, after tea, conducted to the gate by the captain and the Count, and just as they approached the turnkey’s lodge, our hero’s eyes were struck with the apparition of his old companion Renaldo, son of his benefactor and patron, the Count de Melvil. What were the emotions of his soul, when he saw that young gentleman enter the prison, and advance towards him, after having spoke to the jailor! He never doubted that, being informed of his confinement, he was come to upbraid him with his villany and ingratitude, and he in vain endeavoured to recollect himself from that terror and guilty confusion which his appearance had inspired; when the stranger, lifting up his eyes, started back with signs of extreme amazement, and, after a considerable pause, exclaimed, “Heaven and earth! Sure my eyes do not deceive me! is not your name Fathom? It is, it must be my old friend and companion, the loss of whom I have so long regretted!” With these words he ran towards our adventurer, and, while he clasped him in his arms with all the eagerness of affection, protested that this was one of the happiest days he had ever seen.

Ferdinand, who, from this salutation, concluded himself still in possession of Renaldo’s good opinion, was not deficient in expressions of tenderness and joy; he returned his embraces with equal ardour, the tears trickled down his cheeks, and that perturbation which proceeded from conscious perfidy and fear, was mistaken by the unsuspecting Hungarian for the sheer effects of love, gratitude, and surprise. These first transports having subsided, they adjourned to the lodgings of Fathom, who soon recollected his spirits and invention so well as to amuse the other with a feigned tale of his having been taken by the French, sent prisoner into Champagne, from whence he had written many letters to Count Melvil and his son, of whom he could hear no tidings; of his having contracted an intimacy with a young nobleman of France, who died in the flower of his age, after having, in token of his friendship, bequeathed to him a considerable legacy; by this he had been enabled to visit the land of his forefathers in the character of a gentleman, which he had supported with some figure, until he was betrayed into a misfortune that exhausted his funds, and drove him to the spot where he was now found. And he solemnly declared, that, far from forgetting the obligation he owed to Count Melvil, or renouncing the friendship of Renaldo, he had actually resolved to set out for Germany on his return to the house of his patron in the beginning of the week posterior to that in which he had been arrested.

Young Melvil, whose own heart had never known the instigations of fraud, implicitly believed the story and protestations of Fathom; and though he would not justify that part of his conduct by which the term of his good fortune was abridged, he could not help excusing an indiscretion into which he had been hurried by the precipitancy of youth, and the allurements of an artful woman. Nay, with the utmost warmth of friendship, he undertook to wait upon Trapwell, and endeavour to soften him into some reasonable terms of composition.

Fathom seemed to be quite overwhelmed with a deep sense of all this goodness, and affected the most eager impatience to know the particulars of Renaldo’s fate, since their unhappy separation, more especially his errand to this uncomfortable place, which he should henceforth revere as the providential scene of their reunion. Nor did he forget to inquire, in the most affectionate and dutiful manner, about the situation of his noble parents and amiable sister.

At mention of these names, Renaldo, fetching a deep sigh, “Alas! my friend,” said he, “the Count is no more; and, what aggravates my affliction for the loss of such a father, it was my misfortune to be under his displeasure at the time of his death. Had I been present on that melancholy occasion, so well I knew his generosity and paternal tenderness, that, sure I am, he would in his last moments have forgiven an only son, whose life had been a continual effort to render himself worthy of such a parent, and whose crime was no other than an honourable passion for the most meritorious of her sex. But I was removed at a fatal distance from him, and doubtless my conduct must have been invidiously misrepresented. Be that as it will, my mother has again given her hand in wedlock to Count Trebasi; by whom I have the mortification to be informed that I am totally excluded from my father’s succession; and I learn from other quarters, that my sister is barbarously treated by this inhuman father-in-law. Grant, Heaven, I may soon have an opportunity of expostulating with the tyrant upon that subject.”

So saying, his cheeks glowed, and his eyes lightened with resentment. Then he thus proceeded: “My coming hither to-day was with a view to visit a poor female relation, from whom I yesterday received a letter, describing her most deplorable situation, and soliciting my assistance; but the turnkey affirms that there is no such person in the jail, and I was on my way to consult the keeper, when I was agreeably surprised with the sight of my dear Fathom.”

Our adventurer having wiped from his eyes the tears which were produced by the news of his worthy patron’s death, desired to know the name of that afflicted prisoner, in whose behalf he interested himself so much, and Renaldo produced the letter, subscribed, “Your unfortunate cousin, Helen Melvil.” This pretended relation, after having explained the degree of consanguinity which she and the Count stood in to each other, and occasionally mentioned some anecdotes of the family in Scotland, gave him to understand that she had married a merchant of London, who, by repeated losses in trade, had been reduced to indigence, and afterwards confined to prison, where he then lay a breathless corpse, having left her in the utmost extremity of wretchedness and want, with two young children in the smallpox, and an incurable cancer in one of her own breasts. Indeed, the picture she drew was so moving, and her expressions so sensibly pathetic, that no person, whose heart was not altogether callous, could peruse it without emotion. Renaldo had sent two guineas by the messenger, whom she had represented as a trusty servant, whose fidelity had been proof against all the distress of her mistress; and he was now arrived in order to reinforce his bounty.

Fathom, in the consciousness of his own practices, immediately comprehended the scheme of this letter, and confidently assured him that no such person resided in the prison or in any other place. And when his friend applied for information to the keeper, these assurances were confirmed; and that stern janitor told him he had been imposed upon by a stale trick, which was often practised upon strangers by a set of sharpers, who make it their business to pick up hints of intelligence relating to private families, upon which they build such superstructures of fraud and imposition.

However piqued the young Hungarian might be to find himself duped in this manner, he rejoiced at the occasion which had thrown Fathom in his way; and, after having made him a tender of his purse, took his leave, on purpose to wait upon Trapwell, who was not quite so untractable as an enraged cuckold commonly is; for, by this time, he had accomplished the best part of his aim, which was to be divorced from his wife, and was fully convinced that the defendant was no more than a needy adventurer, who, in all probability, would be released by an act of parliament for the benefit of insolvent debtors; in which case, he, the plaintiff, would reap no solid advantage from his imprisonment.

He, therefore, listened to the remonstrances of the mediator, and, after much canvassing, agreed to discharge the defendant, in consideration of two hundred pounds, which were immediately paid by Count Melvil, who, by this deduction, was reduced to somewhat less than thirty.

Nevertheless, he cheerfully beggared himself in behalf of his friend, for whose release he forthwith obtained an order; and, next day, our adventurer, having bid a formal adieu to his fellows in distress, and, in particular, to his majesty, for whose restoration his prayers were preferred, he quitted the jail, and accompanied his deliverer, with all the outward marks of unutterable gratitude and esteem.

Surely, if his heart had been made of penetrable stuff, it would have been touched by the circumstances of this redemption; but had not his soul been invincible to all such attacks, these memoirs would possibly never have seen the light.

When they arrived at Renaldo’s lodgings, that young gentleman honoured him with other proofs of confidence and friendship, by giving him a circumstantial detail of all the adventures in which he had been engaged after Fathom’s desertion from the imperial camp. He told him, that, immediately after the war was finished, his father had pressed him to a very advantageous match, with which he would have complied, though his heart was not at all concerned, had not he been inflamed with the desire of seeing the world before he could take any step towards a settlement for life. That he had signified his sentiments on this head to the Count, who opposed them with unusual obstinacy, as productive of a delay which might be fatal to his proposal; for which reason he had retired incognito from his family, and travelled through sundry states and countries, in a disguise by which he eluded the inquiries of his parents.

That, in the course of these peregrinations, he was captivated by the irresistible charms of a young lady, on whose heart he had the good fortune to make a tender impression. That their mutual love had subjected both to many dangers and difficulties, during which they suffered a cruel separation; after the torments of which, he had happily found her in England, where she now lived entirely cut off from her native country and connexions, and destitute of every other resource but his honour, love, and protection. And, finally, that he was determined to combat his own desires, how violent soever they might be, until he should have made some suitable provision for the consequences of a stricter union with the mistress of his soul, that he might not, by a precipitate marriage, ruin the person whom he adored.

This end he proposed to attain, by an application to the court of Vienna, which he did not doubt would have some regard to his own service, and that of his father; and thither he resolved to repair, with the first opportunity, now that he had found a friend with whom he could intrust the inestimable jewel of his heart.

He likewise gave our hero to understand, that he had been eight months in England, during which he had lived in a frugal manner, that he might not unnecessarily exhaust the money he had been able to raise upon his own credit; that, hitherto, he had been obliged to defer his departure for Germany on account of his attendance upon the mother of his mistress, who was lately dead of sorrow and chagrin; and that, since he resided in London, he had often heard of the celebrated Count Fathom, though he never imagined that his friend Ferdinand could be distinguished by that appellation.

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