The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XI

We descry the Waggon — get into it — arrive at an inn — our Fellow Travellers described — a Mistake is committed by Strap, which produces strange things

We travelled half-a-mile without exchanging one word; my thoughts being engrossed by the knavery of the world, to which I must be daily exposed, and the contemplation of my finances, which began sensibly to diminish. At length, Strap, who could hold no longer, addressed me thus: “Well, fools and their money are soon parted. If my advice had been taken, that old skin-flint should have been d — n’d before he had got more than the third of his demand. ’Tis a sure sign you came easily by your money, when you squander it away in this manner. Ah! God help you, how many bristly beards must I have mowed before I earned four shillings and threepence-halfpenny, which is all thrown to the dogs! How many days have I sat weaving hair till my toes were numbed by the cold, my fingers cramped, and my nose as blue as the sign of the periwig that hung over the door! What the devil was you afraid of? I would have engaged to box with any one of those fellows who came in for a guinea — I’m sure — I have beat stouter men than either of them.” And, indeed, my companion would have fought anybody when his life was in no danger; but he had a mortal aversion to fire-arms and all instruments of death. In order to appease him, I assured him no part of this extraordinary expense should fall upon his shoulders; at which declaration he was affronted, and told me he would have me to know that, although he was a poor barber’s boy, yet he had a soul to spend big money with the best squire of the land.

Having walked all day at a great pace, without halting for a refreshment, we descried, toward the evening, to our inexpressible joy, the waggon about a quarter of a mile before us; and, by that time we reached it, were both of us so weary that I verily believe it would have been impracticable for us to have walked one mile farther. We, therefore, bargained with the driver, whose name was Joey, to give us a cast to the next stage for a shilling; at which place we should meet the master of the waggon, with whom we might agree for the rest of the journey.

Accordingly the convenience stopped, and Joey having placed the ladder, Strap (being loaded with our baggage) mounted first; but, just as he was getting in, a tremendous voice assailed his ears in these words: “God’s fury! there shall no passengers come here.” The poor shaver was so disconcerted at this exclamation, which both he and I imagined proceeded from the mouth of a giant, that he descended with great velocity and a countenance as white as paper. Joey, perceiving our astonishment, called, with an arch sneer, “Waunds, coptain, whay woant yau sooffer the poor waggoneer to meake a penny? Coom, coom, young man, get oop, get oop, never moind the coptain; I’se not afeard of the coptain.”

This was not encouragement sufficient to Strap, who could not be prevailed upon to venture up again; upon which I attempted, though not without a quaking heart, when I heard the same voice muttering, like distant thunder — “Hell and the devil confound me, if I don’t make you smart for this!” However, I crept in, and by accident got an empty place in the straw, which I immediately took possession of, without being able to discern the faces of my fellow-travellers in the dark. Strap following, with the knapsack on his back, chanced to take the other side, and, by a jolt of the carriage, pitched directly upon the stomach of the captain, who bellowed out, in a most dreadful manner, “Blood and thunder! where’s my sword?” At these words my frighted comrade started up, and, at one spring, bounced against me with such force that I thought he was the supposed son of Anak, who intended to press me to death. In the meantime a female voice cried, “Bless me! what is the matter, my dear?” “The matter,” replied the captain, “d — n my blood! my guts are squeezed into a pancake by that Scotchman’s hump.” Strap, trembling all the while at my back, asked him pardon, and laid the blame of what had happened upon the jolting of the waggon; and the woman who spoke before went on: “Ay, ay, my dear, it is our own fault; we may thank ourselves for all the inconveniences we meet with. I thank God I never travelled so before. I am sure if my lady or Sir John were to know where we are they would not sleep this night for vexation. I wish to God we had writ for the chariot; I know we shall never be forgiven.” “Come, come, my dear,” replied the captain, “it don’t signify fretting now; we shall laugh it over as a frolic; I hope you will not suffer in your health. I shall make my lord very merry with our adventures in this diligence.”

The discourse gave me such a high notion of the captain and his lady that I durst not venture to join in the conversation; but immediately after another female voice began: “Some people give themselves a great many needless airs; better folks than any here have travelled in waggons before now. Some of us have rode in coaches and chariots, with three footmen behind them, without making so much fuss about it. What then? We are now all upon a footing; therefore let us be sociable and merry. What do you say, Isaac? Is not this a good motion, you doting rogue? Speak, you old cent per cent fornicator? What desperate debt are you thinking of? What mortgage are you planning? Well, Isaac, positively you shall never gain my favour till you turn over a new leaf, grow honest, and live like a gentleman. In the meantime give me a kiss, you old fumbler.” These words, accompanied with a hearty smack, enlivened the person to whom they were addressed to such a degree that he cried, in transport, though with a faltering voice, “Ah! you wanton baggage — upon my credit, you are a waggish girl — he, he, he!” This laugh introduced a fit of coughing, which almost suffocated the poor usurer (such we afterwards found was the profession of this our fellow-traveller).

About this time I fell asleep, and enjoyed a comfortable nap till such time as we arrived at the inn where we put up. Here, having alighted from the waggon, I had an opportunity of viewing the passengers in order as they entered. The first who appeared was a brisk, airy girl, about twenty years old, with a silver-laced hat on her head instead of a cap, a blue stuff riding-suit, trimmed with silver very much tarnished, and a whip in her hand. After her came, limping, an old man, with a worsted nightcap buttoned under his chin, and a broad-brimmed hat slouched over it, an old rusty blue cloak tied about his neck, under which appeared a brown surtout, that covered a threadbare coat and waistcoat, and, as he afterwards discerned, a dirty flannel jacket. His eyes were hollow, bleared, and gummy; his face was shrivelled into a thousand wrinkles, his gums were destitute of teeth, his nose sharp and drooping, his chin peaked and prominent, so that, when he mumped or spoke, they approached one another like a pair of nutcrackers: he supported himself on an ivory-headed cane and his whole figure was a just emblem of winter, famine, and avarice. But how was I surprised, when I beheld the formidable captain in the shape of a little thin creature, about the age of forty, with a long withered visage, very much resembling that of a baboon, through the upper part of which two little gray eyes peeped: he wore his own hair in a queue that reached to his rump, which immoderate length, I suppose. was the occasion of a baldness that appeared on the crown of his head when he deigned to take off his hat, which was very much of the size and cock of Pistol’s.

Having laid aside his great-coat, I could not help admiring the extraordinary make of this man of war: he was about five feet and three inches high, sixteen inches of which went to his face and long scraggy neck: his thighs were about six inches in length, his legs resembling spindles or drumsticks, five feet and a half, and his body, which put me in mind of extension without substance, engrossed the remainder: so that on the whole, he appeared like a spider or grasshopper erect, and was almost a vox et praeterea nihil. His dress consisted of a frock of what is called bearskin, the skirts of which were about half a foot long, an hussar waistcoat, scarlet breeches reaching half way down his thighs, worsted stockings rolled up almost to his groin, and shoes with wooden heels at least two inches high; he carried a sword very near as long as himself in one hand, and with the other conducted his lady, who seemed to be a woman of his own age, and still retained some remains of an agreeable person, but so ridiculously affected, that, had I not been a novice in the world, I might have easily perceived in her the deplorable vanity and second-hand airs of a lady’s woman.

We were all assembled in the kitchen, when Captain Weazel (for that was his name) desired a room with a fire for himself and spouse, and told the landlord they would up by themselves. The innkeeper replied that he could not afford them a room by themselves; and as for supping, he had prepared victuals for the passengers in the waggon, without respect of persons, but if he could prevail on the rest to let him have his choice in a separate manner, he should be very well pleased. This was no sooner said than all of us declared against the proposal, and Miss Jenny (our other female passenger), observed that, if Captain Weazel and his lady had a mind to sup by themselves, they might wait until we should have done. At this hint the captain put on a martial frown, and looked very big, without speaking; while his yokefellow, with a disdainful toss of her nose, muttered something about “Creature!” which Miss Jenny overhearing, stepped up to her, saying, “None of your names, good Mrs. Abigail. Creature, quotha — I’ll assure you no such creature as you neither — no ten-pound sneaker — no quality-coupler.” Here the captain interposed, with a “D— e, madam, what do you mean by that?” “D— n you sir, who are you?” replied Miss Jenny, “who made you a captain, you pitiful, trencher-scraping, pimping curler? “Sdeath! the army is come to a fine pass, when such fellows as you get commissions. What, I suppose you think I don’t know you? Egad, you and your helpmate are well met — a cast-off mistress and a bald valet-de-chambre are well yoked together.” “Blood and wounds! cried Weazel, “d’ye question the honour of my wife, madam? Hell and d-ion! No man in England durst say so much — I would flay him, carbonado him! Fury and destruction! I would have his liver for my supper.” So saying, he drew his sword and flourished with it, to the great terror of Strap; while Miss Jenny, snapping her fingers, told him she did not value his resentment a louse.

In the midst of this quarrel the master of the waggon alighted, who, understanding the cause of the disturbance, and fearing the captain and his lady would take umbrage and leave his carriage, was at great pains to have everything made up, which he at last accomplished, and we sat down to supper altogether. At bedtime we were shown to our apartments; the old usurer, Strap, and I, to one room; the captain, his wife, and Miss Jenny, to another. About midnight, my companion’s bowels being disordered, he got up, in order to go backward, but in his return, mistaking one door for another, entered Weazel’s chamber, and without any hesitation went to bed to his wife, who was fast asleep, the captain being at another end of the room groping for some empty vessel, in lieu of his own chamberpot, which was leaky: as he did not perceive Strap coming in, he went towards his own bed, after having found a convenience; but no sooner did he feel a rough head, covered with a cotton nightcap, than it carne into his mind that he had mistaken Miss Jenny’s bed instead of his own, and that the head he felt was that of some gallant, with whom she had made an assignation. Full of his conjecture, and scandalised at the prostitution of his apartment, he snatched up the vessel he had just before filled, and emptied it at once on the astonished barber and his own wife, who waking at that instant, broke forth into lamentable cries, which not only alarmed the husband beyond measure, but frighted poor Strap almost out of his senses; for he verily believed himself bewitched, especially when the incensed captain seized him by the throat, with a volley of oaths, asking him how he durst have the presumption to attempt the chastity of his wife. Poor Strap was so amazed and confounded, that he could say nothing but — “I take God to witness she’s a virgin for me.”

Mrs. Weazel, enraged to find herself in such a pickle through the precipitation of her husband, arose in her shift, and with the heel of her shoe which she found by the bedside, belaboured the captain’s bald pate till he roared “Murder.” “I’ll teach you to empty your stinkpots on me,” cried she, “you pitiful hop-o’-my-thumb coxcomb. What, I warrant you’re jealous, you man of lath. Was it for this I condescended to take you to my bed, you poor, withered, sapless twig?”

The noise occasioned by this adventure had brought the master of the waggon and me to the door, where we overheard all that passed with great satisfaction. In the meantime we were alarmed with the cry of “Rape! Murder! Rape!” which Jenny pronounced with great vociferation. “Oh! You vile abominable old villain,” said she, “would you rob me of my virtue? But I’ll be revenged of you, you old goat! I will! Help! for heaven’s sake! help! I shall be ravished! ruined! help!” Some servants of the inn, hearing this cry, came running upstairs with lights, and such weapons as chance afforded; when we beheld a very diverting scene. In one corner stood the poor captain shivering in his shirt, which was all torn to rags: with a woeful visage, scratched all over by his wife, who had by this time wrapped the counterpane about her, and sat sobbing on the side of her bed. At the other end lay tile old usurer, sprawling on Miss Jenny’s bed, with his flannel jacket over his shirt, and his tawny meagre limbs exposed to the air; while she held him fast by the two ears, and loaded him with execrations. When he asked what was the matter, she affected to weep, told us she was afraid that wicked rogue had ruined her in her sleep, and bade us take notice of what we saw, for she intended to make use of our evidence against him. The poor wretch looked like one more dead than alive, and begged to be released; a favour which he had no sooner obtained than he protested she was no woman, but a devil incarnate — that she had first seduced his flesh to rebel, and then betrayed him. “Yes, cockatrice,” continued he, “you know you laid this snare fur me — but you shan’t succeed — for I will hang myself before you shall get a farthing of me.” So saying, he crawled to his own bed, groaning all the way. We then advanced to the Captain, who told us, “Gentlemen, here has been a d — d mistake; but I’ll be revenged on him who was the cause of it. That Scotchman who carries the knapsack shall not breathe this vital air another day, if my name be Weazel. My dear, I ask you ten thousand pardons; you are sensible, I could mean no harm to you.” “I know not what you meant,” replied she, sighing, “but I know I have got enough to send me to my grave.” At length they were reconciled. The wife was complimented with a share of Miss Jenny’s bed (her own being overflowed), and the master of the waggon invited Weazel to sleep the remaining part of the night with him. I retired to mine, where I found Strap mortally afraid, he having stolen away in the dark while the captain and his lady were at loggerheads.

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