The nature of this visit had softened every heart, and saddened every countenance; and they walked in solemn silence to the other side of the church-yard, in order to regain their carriages; when, at the turning of the stile, they saw a young woman, in wretched attire, running out of a poor habitation, wringing her hands in all the agony of despair. Notwithstanding the distraction in her countenance, and the meanness of her apparel, she discovered a regularity of features, and a delicacy of air, which did not at all correspond with the misery of her equipage. These exhibitions of extreme distress soon attracted the notice and compassion of our company, and Melvil’s beauteous help-mate, accosting this forlorn damsel with a pity-breathing aspect, asked the cause of her disorder.
“Alas! dear lady,” cried the other, with all the emphasis of woe, “an unhappy gentleman now breathes his last within this inhospitable hovel, amidst such excess of misery as would melt the most flinty bosom. What then must I feel, who am connected with him by the strongest ties of love and conjugal affection?” “Who is the unfortunate object?” said the physician. “He was once well known in the gay world,” replied the young woman; “his name is Fathom.” Every individual of the company started at mention of that detested name. Serafina began to tremble with emotion; and Renaldo, after a short pause, declared he would go in, not with a view to exult over his misery, but in order to contemplate the catastrophe of such a wicked life, that the moral might be the more deeply engraved on his remembrance. The young Countess, whose tender heart could not bear the shock of such a spectacle, retired to the coach with Madam Clement and the Jew, while Renaldo, accompanied by the rest, entered a dismal apartment, altogether void of furniture and convenience, where they beheld the wretched hero of these memoirs stretched almost naked upon straw, insensible, convulsed, and seemingly in the grasp of death. He was worn to the bone either by famine or distemper; his face was overshadowed with hair and filth; his eyes were sunk, glazed, and distorted; his nostrils dilated; his lips covered with a black slough; and his complexion faded into a pale clay-colour, tending to a yellow hue. In a word, the extremity of indigence, squalor, and distress could not be more feelingly represented.
While Melvil perused this melancholy lesson, and groaning, cried, “Behold the fate of man!” he perceived a letter in the right hand of the unfortunate Fathom, which lay fast clenched across his breast. Curious to know the contents of this paper, which the young woman said he had kept in that position for several days, he drew nearer the wretched couch, and was not a little surprised to see it addressed to the Right Honourable Renaldo Count de Melvil, to the care of Mr. Joshua Manesseh, merchant in London. When he attempted to disengage this billet from the author’s hand, the sorrowing female fell upon her knees, entreating him to desist, and telling him, she had promised, upon oath, to communicate the contents to no person upon earth, but to carry the letter, upon her husband’s decease, to the gentleman to whose care it was directed.
Renaldo assured her, upon his honour, that he was the very Renaldo Count de Melvil, for whom it was intended; and the young creature was so much confounded at this information, that, before she could recollect herself, Melvil had opened the billet, and read these words: “If this paper should fall into the hands of the noble Renaldo, he will understand, that Fathom was the most execrable traitor that ever imposed upon unsuspecting benevolence, or attempted to betray a generous benefactor. His whole life was a series of fraud, perfidy, and the most abominable ingratitude. But, of all the crimes that lay heavy upon his soul, his being accessory to the death of the incomparable Serafina, whose father he had also robbed, was that for which he despaired of Heaven’s forgiveness, notwithstanding the dreadful compunction and remorse which have long preyed upon his heart, together with the incredible misery and deplorable death which by this time he hath undergone. Though these sufferings and sorrows cannot atone for his enormous guilt, perhaps they will excite the compassion of the humane Count de Melvil; at least, this confession, which my conscience dictates under all the terrors of death and futurity, may be a warning for him to avoid henceforth a smiling villain, like the execrable Fathom, upon whose miserable soul Almighty God have mercy.”
Renaldo was deeply affected with the contents of this scroll, which denoted such horror and despair. He saw there could be no dissimulation or sinister design in this profession of penitence. He beheld the condition of the writer, which put all his humane passions in commotion; so that he remembered nothing of Fathom but his present distress. He could scarce maintain those indications which might have been justly deemed the effect of weakness and infirmity; and having desired the physician and clergyman to contribute their assistance for the benefit of that wretch’s soul and body, he ran to the coach, and communicated the letter to the ladies; at the same time drawing a picture of the object he had seen, which brought tears into the eyes of the gentle Serafina, who earnestly entreated her lord to use his endeavours for the relief and recovery of the unhappy man, that he might, if possible, live to enjoy the benefit of mature repentance, and not die in that dreadful despair which he manifested in the letter.
Renaldo, returning to the house, found the pious clergyman reading prayers with great fervency, while Don Diego stood with his right hand upon his breast, looking steadfastly upon the agonising Fathom, and the young woman kneeled, with her streaming eyes lifted up to heaven, in an ecstasy of grief and devotion. The physician had run to an apothecary’s shop in the neighbourhood, from whence he soon returned with an assistant, who applied a large blister to the back of the miserable patient, while the female, by the doctor’s direction, moistened his mouth with a cordial which he had prescribed.
These charitable steps being taken, Count de Melvil entreated the apothecary’s servant to procure a tent-bed for the accommodation of the sick person with all imaginable despatch; and, in less than an hour, one was actually pitched, and Fathom lifted into it, after he had been shifted, and in some measure purified from the dregs of his indigence. During this transaction the ladies were conducted to a tavern not far off, where dinner was bespoke, that they might be at hand to see the effect of their charity, which was not confined to what we have already described, but extended so far, that, in a little time, the apartment was comfortably furnished, and the young creature provided with change of apparel, and money to procure the necessaries of subsistence.
Notwithstanding all their care, the wretched Fathom still remained insensible, and the doctor pronounced a very unfavourable prognostic, while he ordered a pair of additional vesicatories to be laid upon his arms, and other proper medicines to be administered. After dinner, the ladies ventured to visit the place, and when Serafina crossed the threshold, the weeping female fell at her feet, and, kissing her robe, exclaimed, “Sure you are an angel from heaven.”
The alteration in her dress had made a very agreeable change in her appearance, so that the Countess could now look upon her without shuddering at her distress. And, as Fathom was not in a condition to be disturbed, she took this opportunity of inquiring by what steps that unfortunate wretch was conveyed from the prison, in which she knew he had been confined, to the place where he now lay in such extremity; and by what occurrence he had found a wife in such an abyss of misfortune. Here the other’s tears began to flow afresh. “I am ashamed,” said she, “to reveal my own folly; yet I dare not refuse a satisfaction of this kind to a person who has laid me under such signal obligations.”
She then proceeded to relate her story, by which it appeared, she was no other than the fair and unhappy Elenor, whom the artful Fathom had debauched upon his first arrival in town, in the manner already described in these memoirs. “Heaven,” continued she, “was pleased to restore the use of my reason, which I had lost when I found myself abandoned by the Count; but, all my connexion with my own family being entirely cut off, and every door shut against a poor creature who could procure no recommendation, except the certificate signed by the physician of Bedlam, which, instead of introducing me to service, was an insurmountable objection to my character, I found myself destitute of all means of subsisting, unless I would condescend to live the infamous and wretched life of a courtezan, an expedient rendered palatable by the terrors of want, cooperating with the reflection of the irretrievable loss I had already sustained. I ask pardon for offending your chaste ears with this impure confession of my guilt, which, Heaven knows, I then did, and now do look upon with abhorrence and detestation. I had already forfeited my innocence, and wanted resolution to encounter misery and death. Nevertheless, before I could determine to embrace the condition of a prostitute, I was one day accosted in the Park by an elderly gentleman who sat down by me upon a bench, and, taking notice of the despondence which was evident in my countenance, pressed me to make him acquainted with the nature of my misfortune. So much sympathy and good sense appeared in his deportment and conversation, that I gratified his request, and he, in return for my confidence, saved me from the most horrible part of my prospect, by taking me into his protection, and reserving me for his own appetite. In this situation I lived a whole year, until I was deprived of my keeper by an apoplectic fit, and turned out of doors by his relations, who did not, however, strip me of the clothes and moveables which I owed to his bounty. Far from being as yet reconciled to a vicious life, I resolved to renounce the paths of shame, and, converting my effects into ready money, hired a small shop, and furnished it with haberdashery ware, intending to earn an honest livelihood by the sale of these commodities, together with the plain work in which I hoped to be employed so soon as my talents should be known. But this scheme did not answer my expectation. The goods spoiled upon my hands, and, as I was a stranger in the neighbourhood, nobody would intrust me with any other business. So that, notwithstanding the most parsimonious economy, I ran in debt to my landlord, who seized my effects; and an hosier, from whom I had received some parcels upon credit, took out a writ against me, by virtue of which I was arrested and imprisoned in the Marshalsea, where I found my first seducer. Good Heaven! what did I feel at this unexpected meeting, overwhelmed as I was before with my own distress! I with a loud scream fainted away, and, when I recovered, found myself in the arms of Mr. Fathom, who wept over me with great affliction. All his prospects of gaiety had now vanished, and his heart was softened by his own misfortunes, to a feeling of another’s woe, as well as to a due sense of his own guilt. He expressed the deepest sorrow for having been the occasion of my ruin, endeavoured to comfort me with a promise of assistance, and indeed, by practising medicine among the prisoners, made shift to keep us both from starving. But surely no sinner underwent such severe remorse as that which he suffered during his imprisonment. From the day of our meeting, I never once saw him smile; a melancholy cloud continually overhung his countenance. He numbered the minutes by his groans, he used to start with horror from his sleep, and, striking his breast, would exclaim, ‘O Elenor! I am the worst of villains!’ Sometimes he seemed disordered in his brain, and raved about Renaldo and Monimia. In a word, his mind was in a dreadful situation, and all his agonies were communicated to me, whom by this time he had married, in order to make some atonement for my wrongs. Wretched as he then was, I remembered the accomplished youth who had captivated my virgin heart, the old impressions still remained, I saw his penitence, pitied his misfortune, and his wife being dead, consented to join his fate, the ceremony having been performed by a fellow-prisoner, who was in orders. Though his hard-hearted creditor had no other chance of being paid, than that of setting him at liberty, he lent a deaf ear to all our supplications; and this cruelty conspiring with the anguish of my husband’s own reflection, affected his health and spirits to such a degree, that he could no longer earn the miserable pittance which had hitherto supported our lives. Then our calamities began to multiply. Indigence and famine stared us in the face; and it was with the utmost difficulty that we resisted their attacks, by selling or pledging our wearing apparel, until we were left almost quite naked, when we found ourselves discharged by an act passed for the relief of insolvent debtors. This charitable law, which was intended for a consolation to the wretched, proved to us the most severe disaster; for we were turned out into the streets, utterly destitute of food, raiment, and lodging, at a time when Mr. Fathom was so weakened by his distemper, that he could not stand alone. I supported him from door to door, imploring the compassion of charitable Christians, and was at length permitted to shelter him in this miserable place, where his disease gaining ground, he lay three days in that deplorable condition, from which he hath now been rescued, though I fear too late, by your humanity and benevolence.”
She shed a flood of tears at the conclusion of this mournful tale, which did not fail to affect the whole audience, especially Serafina, who assured her, that, whatever should happen to her husband, she might depend upon finding favour and protection, provided her conduct should correspond with her professions. While this grateful creature kissed the hand of her kind benefactress, Fathom uttered a groan, began to stir in the bed, and with a languid voice called upon Elenor, who, instantly withdrawing the curtain, presented the whole company to his view. He had now retrieved the use of his perception by the operation of the blisters, which began to torture him severely; he looked around him with amazement and affright, and distinguishing the three persons against whom the chief arrows of his fraud and treachery had been levelled, he concluded that he was now arrived at the land of departed souls, and that the shades of those whom he had so grievously injured were come to see him tormented according to his demerits.
Fraught with this notion, which was confirmed by the bodily pain which he felt, and the appearance of the clergyman and Joshua, whom he mistook for the ministers of vengeance, he cried in a tone replete with horror, “Is there no mercy then for penitence? Is there no pity due to the miseries I suffered upon earth? Save me, O bountiful Heaven! from the terrors of everlasting woe; hide me from these dreadful executioners, whose looks are torture. Forgive me, generous Castilian. O Renaldo! thou hadst once a tender heart. I dare not lift my eyes to Serafina! that pattern of human excellence, who fell a victim to my atrocious guilt; yet her aspect is all mildness and compassion. Hah! are not these the drops of pity? Yes, they are the tears of mercy. They fall like refreshing showers upon my drooping soul! Ah, murdered innocence! wilt thou not intercede for thy betrayer at the throne of grace!”
Here he was interrupted by Melvil, who with a grave and solemn air pronounced, “Great hath been thy guilt, unhappy Ferdinand, and great have been thy sufferings. Yet we come not to insult, but to alleviate thy distress. Providence hath kindly defeated thy dire intentions, which we therefore now forgive and transmit to oblivion, whether it be thy lot to yield up thy spirit immediately, or to survive the dangerous malady with which thou art at present overwhelmed. Suffer not thyself to despair; for the mercy of Heaven is infinite; and submit to the directions of this worthy gentleman, who will employ his skill for thy recovery, while we shall take care to furnish thee with necessary attendance. As too much speaking may be prejudicial to thy health, I dispense with thy reply, and exhort thee to compose thyself to rest.” So saying, he drew the curtain, and the company retired, leaving Fathom entranced with wonder.
The next step which Renaldo took for the benefit of this wretched penitent, was to send for the apothecary, with whom he left a sum of money to be expended for the convenience of Fathom and his wife; then he laid injunctions upon the physician to repeat his visits; and that gentleman, together with the clergyman and Joshua, taking leave of the others till next day, the Count set out with the ladies and his father-in-law to the house where they had lodged the preceding night.
The reader may well imagine the conversation of the evening turned wholly upon the strange occurrence of the day, which seemed to have been concerted by supernatural prescience, in order to satisfy the vengeance, and afford matter of triumph to the generosity of those who had been so grievously injured by the guilty Fathom. Though not one of them would say that such a miscreant ought to live, yet all concurred in approving the offices of humanity which had been performed, and even endeavoured to find specious pretext for vindicating their compassion. Don Diego said, it would ill become a transgressor like him to withhold his forgiveness from a sinner who had wronged him. Madam Clement appealed to the approbation of Heaven, which had undoubtedly directed them that way, for the purpose they had fulfilled. Serafina observed, that the crimes of the delinquent were obliterated by his sorrow, misery, and repentance. Renaldo honestly owned, that, exclusive of other reasons, he could not deny himself the luxurious enjoyment of communicating happiness to his fellow-creatures in distress; and each fervently prayed, that their charity might not be disappointed by the death of the object.
While they amused themselves in these discussions, Fathom, after having lain some hours silent, in consequence of Renaldo’s advice, could no longer suppress the astonishment of his mind, but, addressing himself to his wife, “O Elenor!” said he, “my delirium is now past; though I still remember the phantasies of my distempered brain. Among other reveries, my imagination was regaled with a vision so perfect and distinct, as to emulate truth and reality. Methought Count de Melvil, Don Diego de Zelos, and the divine Serafina, the very persons who are now crying before the throne of Heaven for vengeance against the guilty Fathom, stood by my bedside, with looks of pity and forgiveness; and that Renaldo spoke peace to my despairing soul. I heard the words distinctly. I retain them in my memory. I saw the tears trickle from Serafina’s eyes. I heard her father utter a compassionate sigh; and should actually believe that they were personally present, had not I long ago seen with my own eyes the funeral procession of that young lady, whose wrongs God pardon; and were I not convinced that such a meeting could not be effected without the immediate and miraculous interposition of Heaven. Yet everything I now see corresponds with the words of Renaldo, which still sound in my ears. When my perception forsook me, I lay in the most abject misery, among straw; and thou, poor injured innocence, wast naked and forlorn. Now, I find myself reposed in a warm, easy, comfortable bed. I see around me the marks of human charity and care, and the favourable change in thy appearance glads my poor dejected heart. Say, whence this happy alteration? Do I really awake from that dream of misery in which we have continued so long? or do I still utter the extravagant ravings of a distempered brain?”
Elenor was afraid of imparting at once all the particulars of the happy change he had undergone, lest they might leave a dangerous impression upon his fancy, which was not yet duly composed. She contented herself, therefore, with telling him, that he had been obliged to the humanity of a gentleman and lady, who chanced to pass that way by accident, and who, understanding his deplorable case, had furnished him with the conveniences which he now enjoyed. She then presented to him what the doctor had directed her to administer, and, admonishing him to commit his head to the pillow, he was favoured with a breathing sweat, fell fast asleep, and in a few hours waked again altogether cool and undisturbed.
It was upon this occasion that his wife explained the circumstances of that visit which had redeemed him from extremity of wretchedness and the jaws of death; upon which he started up, and throwing himself upon his knees, exclaimed, “All-gracious Power! this was the work of thy own bounteous hand; the voice of my sorrow and repentance hath been heard. Thou hast inspired my benefactors with more than mortal goodness in my behalf; how shall I praise thy name! how shall I requite their generosity! Oh, I am bankrupt to both! yet let me not perish until I shall have convinced them of my reformation, and seen them enjoying that felicity which ought to be reserved for such consummate virtue.”
Next day, in the forenoon, he was visited by the physician, whom he now recollected to have seen at the house of Madam Clement; and, after having thanked that gentleman for his humanity and care, he earnestly begged to know by what means Serafina had been preserved. When he was satisfied in this particular, and given to understand that she was now happy in the arms of Renaldo, “Blessed be God!” he cried, “for having defeated the villany of him who sought to part such lovers. Dear sir, will you add one circumstance to your charity, and bear to that happy couple, and the noble Don Diego, the respects and the remorse of a sincere penitent, whom their compassion hath raised to life? I have been such a traitor to them, that my words deserve no regard. I will not therefore use professions. I dare not hope to be admitted into their presence. I am indeed ashamed to see the light of the sun. How then could I bear the looks of that injured family? ah, no! let me hide myself in some obscure retreat, where I may work out my salvation with fear and trembling, and pray incessantly to Heaven for their prosperity.”
The physician promised to represent his contrition to the Count and his lady, and accordingly proceeded to their habitation, where he repeated these expressions, and pronounced his patient out of danger. So that their thoughts were now employed in concerting a scheme for his future subsistence, that he might not be exposed by indigence to a relapse in point of morals. Renaldo being still averse to any personal intercourse with such a wretch, until he should give some undoubted proofs of amendment, and, as yet afraid of intrusting him with any office that required integrity, resolved, with the approbation of all present, to settle him in a cheap county in the north of England, where he and his wife could live comfortably on an annuity of sixty pounds, until his behaviour should entitle him to a better provision.
This resolution was just taken, when Joshua arrived with a gentleman whom he introduced to Don Diego as the secretary of the Spanish ambassador. After the first compliments, the stranger told the Castilian, that he waited upon him at the desire of his Excellency, who would have come in person, had he not been confined by the gout. Then he put into his hand a letter from the court of Madrid, written by a nobleman of Diego’s acquaintance, who informed him, that Don Manuel de Mendoza having made away with himself by poison, in order to avoid the disgrace of a legal conviction, his Catholic Majesty was now convinced of Don Diego’s innocence, and granted him leave to return and take possession of his honours and estate. This information was confirmed by the secretary, who assured him that the ambassador had orders to make him acquainted with this favourable decision of the King. The Castilian having first acquitted himself in the most polite terms to the secretary and the Jew, who, he said, had always been a messenger of glad tidings, communicated his happiness to the company; and this evening concluded the third day of their rejoicing.
Next morning Don Diego went to visit the ambassador, accompanied by Joshua and the secretary; while the physician, repairing to the habitation of Fathom, signified, by Renaldo’s direction, the resolution which had been taken in his behalf; and the patient no sooner heard his doom, than, lifting up his hands, he cried, “I am unworthy of such tenderness and benevolence.” While Elenor shed a flood of tears in silence, unable to give utterance to her grateful thought; Melvil’s bounty having so far transcended her most sanguine hope.
The Spaniard having paid his devoirs to his Excellency, returned before dinner; and, in the afternoon, desiring a private conference with Serafina, they retired into another apartment, and he expressed himself to this effect: “You have contracted, my dear child, an habit of calling Madam Clement your mother, and doubtless, by her maternal tenderness and regard, she hath acquired a just title to the appellation. Yet I own I would fain strengthen it by a legal claim. I no sooner retrieved my daughter than I gave her away to the most deserving youth that ever sighed with love. — I rejoice in the gift which secured your happiness. But I left myself in a solitary situation, which even the return of my good fortune cannot render easy and supportable. When I revisit the Castle of Zelos, every well-known object will recall the memory of my Antonia, and I shall want a companion to fill her place, and to sympathise with me in that sorrow which will be derived from my remembrance. Who is there so worthy to succeed your mother in the affection of Don Diego, as she who interests her love for Serafina, and resembles her so strongly in every virtue of the sex? Similar attractions will produce similar effects. My heart is already attached to that good lady; and, provided Serafina shall approve of my choice, I will lay myself and fortune at her feet.”
The fair Countess replied, with an enchanting smile, that, before this declaration, she had with pleasure perceived the progress which Madam Clement had made in his heart; and that she did not believe there was a person upon earth better qualified to repair the loss he had sustained; though she foresaw one obstacle to his happiness, which she was afraid would not be easily surmounted. “You mean,” answered the Castilian, “the difference of religion, which I am resolved to remove by adopting the Protestant faith; though I am fully satisfied that real goodness is of no particular persuasion, and that salvation cannot depend upon belief, over which the will has no influence. I invest you, therefore, with the charge of declaring my passion and proposal, and empower you to satisfy her scruples with regard to the religion which I now profess, and which I shall not openly relinquish, until I shall have secured, in this country, effects sufficient to screen me from the ill consequences of my King’s displeasure.”
Serafina undertook this office with pleasure, because she had reason to think his addresses would not be disagreeable to Madam Clement; and that same night made the Count acquainted with the nature of her commission. Nor was her expectation disappointed. The French lady, with that frankness which is peculiar to virtue and good breeding, confessed that Don Diego was not indifferent to her choice, and did not hesitate in receiving him upon the footing of a lover. — As we have already dwelt circumstantially on the passion of love, so as perhaps even to have tired our readers, we shall not repeat the dialogue that passed, when the Spaniard was indulged with an opportunity to explain his sentiments. Suffice it to observe, that the lady’s days of coquetry were now over, and that she was too wise to trifle with the time, which every moment became more and more precious. It was agreed then, that Don Diego should settle his affairs in Spain, and return to England, in order to espouse Madam Clement, with a view to fix his residence in this island, where Renaldo likewise proposed to enjoy the sweets of his fortune, provided he could draw hither his interests and connexions.
Meanwhile, having for some days enjoyed his bliss with all the fulness of rapture amidst this small but agreeable society, he shifted the scene, and conducted his dear partner to a ready-furnished house in town, which, together with an occasional equipage, his friend Joshua had hired for the accommodation of him and his father-in-law, who, during his stay in England, failed not to cultivate the mistress of his heart with the most punctual assiduity. Hitherto Serafina had been as a precious jewel locked up in a casket, which the owner alone had an opportunity to contemplate. But now the Count, who was proud of such a prize, resolved to let her shine forth to the admiration of the whole world. With this view he bespoke such ornaments as befitted her quality, and, while the mantua-makers were employed in her service, made a tour among his former acquaintance, and discharged the obligations under which he lay to some who had assisted him in his distress. He did not, however, introduce them to his charming Serafina; because not one of them had formerly treated her with that delicacy of regard which he thought her due; and some of them were much mortified at their neglect, when they saw what a dazzling figure she made in the beau monde.
She was visited by the Spanish and Imperial ambassadors, and divers other foreigners of distinction, to whom Melvil had letters of recommendation. But her first public appearance was in a box at the opera, accompanied by Madam Clement, the Count, and Don Diego. The entertainment was already begun, so that her entrance had the greater effect upon the audience, whose attention was soon detached from the performance, and riveted upon this amiable apparition, which seemed to be some bright being of another world dropped from the clouds among them. Then did the spirit of curiosity play its part. A thousand whispers circulated; as many glasses were exalted to reconnoitre this box of foreigners; for such they concluded them to be from their appearance. Every male spectator acknowledged Serafina to be the paragon of beauty; and every female confessed, that Melvil was the model of a fine gentleman. The charms of the young Countess did not escape the eye and approbation of royalty itself; and when her rank was known, from the information of the ambassadors and other people of condition who were seen saluting her at a distance, that same evening a thousand bumpers were swallowed in honour of the Countess de Melvil. The fame of her beauty was immediately extended over this immense metropolis, and different schemes were concerted for bringing her into life. These, however, she resisted with unwearied obstinacy. Her happiness centred in Renaldo, and the cultivation of a few friends within the shade of domestic quiet. She did not even forget the concerns of the wretched Fathom and his faithful Elenor, who daily enjoyed fresh instances of her humanity and care. When his fever forsook him, he was supplied with nourishing food for the recovery of his health; and as soon as he found himself in a condition to travel, he gave notice to his benefactor, who desired Joshua to settle with him the manner in which he was to receive his allowance, and to pay the first half-year’s salary per advance.
This affair being adjusted, and the place of his retreat signified, the Jew told Elenor, that she might wait upon the Countess before their departure; and she did not fail to make use of this permission. After they had made the necessary preparations for their journey, and taken places in the York stage-coach, Mrs. Fathom, clothing herself in decent apparel, went to the house of Count Melvil, and was immediately admitted to the presence of Serafina, who received her with her usual complacency, enriched her with salutary advice, comforted her with the hope of better things, provided her conduct and that of her husband should henceforth be found irreproachable; and, wishing her peace and happiness, presented her with a box of linen, and twenty guineas in a purse. Such excessive goodness overpowered this sensible young woman to such a degree, that she stood before her in speechless awe and veneration; and the Countess, in order to relieve her from the confusion under which she suffered, quitted the room, leaving her to the care of her woman. It was not long, however, before her gratitude broke out in loud exclamations and a violent passion of tears, which all her efforts could not, for a while, overcome. By this time the coach was brought up to the gate for the reception of Serafina, who took an airing every day at the same hour; when Renaldo, leading her to the vehicle, beheld a man plainly dressed standing within the court, with his head and body bent towards the earth, so that his countenance could not be perceived.
Melvil, who supposed him to be some unfortunate man come to implore his charity, turned towards him, and asked with a humane accent, if he wanted to speak with any person in the house? To this interrogation the stranger replied, without lifting up his head, “Overwhelmed as I am with Count Melvil’s generosity, together with a consciousness of my own unworthiness, it ill becomes a wretch like me to importune him for further favour; yet I could not bear the thought of withdrawing, perhaps for ever, from the presence of my benefactor, without soliciting his permission to see his face in mercy, to acknowledge my atrocious crimes, to hear my pardon confirmed by his voice, and that of his accomplished Countess, whom I dare not even at a distance behold; and to express my fervent wish for their prosperity.”
Melvil, whose heart was but too tender, could not hear this address without emotion. He recognised the companion of his infancy and youth; he remembered the happy scenes he had enjoyed with Fathom, whose voice had always such an effect upon his ear, as to excite the ideas of friendship and esteem; and he was disturbed by this unexpected meeting, which also discomposed the beauteous Serafina. Renaldo having paused a little, “It is with pain,” said he, “I recollect anything to the prejudice of Fathom, whose future behaviour will, I hope, erase the memory of his offences, and justify what other steps I may take in his favour. Meanwhile, I heartily forgive what is past; and, in token of my sincerity, present my hand;” which our adventurer bathed with his tears. The Countess, whose mind was in unison with her husband, repeated her assurances of pardon and protection; at which the penitent rejoiced in silence, while he raised his head and took a parting view of those charms which had formerly enslaved his heart.
Having thus obeyed the dictates of his duty and inclination, he next morning embarked in the stage-coach, with his faithful Elenor, and in six days arrived at the place of his retreat, which he found extremely well adapted to the circumstances of his mind and fortune. For all his vice and ambition was now quite mortified within him, and his whole attention engrossed in atoning for his former crimes, by a sober and penitent life, by which alone he could deserve the uncommon generosity of his patrons.
While he thus accommodated himself to his new system, Renaldo received letters of congratulation from his sister, who with the Major had come to Brussels, in order to meet her brother and Serafina, according to his proposal. This intimation being communicated to Don Diego, he resolved to accompany them to Flanders, on his way to Spain. Preparations were made for their departure; the clergyman and physician were honoured with valuable marks of friendship and esteem from the Countess, Renaldo, and the Castilian, who were convoyed to Deal by Madam Clement, to whom, at parting, Don Diego presented a diamond ring, as a pledge of his inviolable love.
Here the travellers hired a vessel for Ostend, which they reached in a few hours; in two days more they arrived at Brussels, where Mrs. Farrel and her husband were struck with admiration at the surprising beauty and accomplishment of their sister-in-law, whom they caressed with equal tenderness and joy. — In a word, all parties were as happy as good fortune could make them; and Don Diego set out for Spain, after they had agreed to reside in the Low Countries till his return.
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