The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XIII

Strap and I are terrified by an Apparition — Strap’s Conjecture — the Mystery explained by Joey — we arrive in London-our Dress and Appearance described — we are insulted in the Street — an Adventure in an Alehouse — we are imposed upon by a waggish Footman — set to rights by a Tobacconist — take Lodgings — dive for a Dinner — an Accident at our Ordinary

We arrived at our inn, supped, and went to bed; but Strap’s distemper continuing, he was obliged to rise in the middle of the night, and taking the candle in his hand, which he had left burning for the purpose, he went down to the house of office, whence in a short time he returned in a great hurry, with his hair standing on end, and a look betokening horror and astonishment. Without speaking a word, he set down the light and jumped into bed behind me, where he lay and trembled with great violence. When I asked him what was the matter, he replied, with a broken accent, “God have mercy on us! I have seen the devil!” Though my prejudice was not quite so strong as his, I was not a little alarmed at this exclamation, and much more so when I heard the sound of bells approaching our chamber, and felt my bedfellow cling close to me, uttering these words, “Christ have mercy upon us; there he comes!” At that instance a monstrous overgrown raven entered our chamber, with bells at his feet, and made directly towards our bed. As this creature is reckoned in our country a common vehicle for the devil and witches to play their pranks in, I verily believed we were haunted; and, in a violent fright, shrank under the bedclothes. This terrible apparition leaped upon the bed, and after giving us several severe dabs with its beak. through the blankets, hopped away, and vanished. Strap and I recommended ourselves to the protection of heaven with great devotion, and, when we no longer heard the noise, ventured to peep up and take breath. But we had not been long freed from this phantom, when another appeared, that had well nigh deprived us both of our senses. We perceived an old man enter the room, with a long white beard that reached to his middle; there was a certain wild peculiarity in his eyes and countenance that did not savour of this world; and his dress consisted of a brown stuff coat, buttoned behind and at the wrists, with an odd-fashioned cap of the same stuff upon his head. I was so amazed that I had not power to move my eyes from such a ghastly object, but lay motionless. and saw him come straight up to me: when he reached the bed, he wrung his hands, and cried, with a voice that did not seem to belong to a human creature, “Where is Ralph?” I made no reply: upon which he repeated, in an accent still more preternatural, “Where is Ralpho?” He had no sooner pronounced these words than I heard the sound of the bells at a distance; which the apparition, having listened to, tripped away, and left me almost petrified with fear. It was a good while before I could recover myself so far as to speak; and, when at length I turned to Strap, I found him in a fit, which, however, did not last long. When he came to himself, I asked his opinion of what had happened; and he assured me that the first must certainly be the soul of some person damned, which appeared by the chain about his legs (for his fears had magnified the creature to the bigness of a horse, and the sound of small morice-bells to the clanking of massy chains). As for the old man, he took it to be the spirit of somebody murdered long ago in this place, which had power granted to forment the assassin in the shape of a raven, and that Ralpho was the name of the said murderer. Although I had not much faith in this interpretation, I was too much troubled to enjoy any sleep: and in all my future adventures never passed a night so ill.

In the morning Strap imparted the whole affair to Joey, who, after an immoderate fit of laughter, explained the matter, by telling him that the old man was the landlord’s father, who had been an idiot some years, and diverted himself with a tame raven, which, it seems, had hopped away from his apartment in the night, and induced him to follow it to our chamber, where he had inquired after it under the name of Ralpho.

Nothing remarkable happened during the remaining part of our journey, which continued six or seven days longer: at length we entered the great city, and lodged all night at the inn where the waggon put up. Next morning all the passengers parted different ways, while my companion and I sallied out to inquire for the member of parliament, to whom I had a letter of recommendation from Mr. Crab. As we had discharged our lodging at the inn, Strap took up our baggage and, marched behind me in the street with the knapsack on his back, as usual, so that we made a very whimsical appearance. I had dressed myself to the greatest advantage; that is, put on a clean ruffled shirt, and my best thread stockings: my hair (which was of the deepest red) hung down upon my shoulders, as lank and straight as a pound of candles; and the skirts of my coat reached to the middle of my leg; my waistcoat and breeches were of the same piece, and cut in the same taste; and my hat very much resembled a barber’s basin, in the shallowness of the crown and narrowness of the brim. Strap was habited in a much less awkward manner: but a short crop-eared wig, that very much resembled Scrub’s in the play, and the knapsack on his back, added to what is called a queer phiz, occasioned by a long chin, a hook nose, and high cheek bones, rendered him, on the whole, a very fit subject of mirth and pleasantry. As he walked along, Strap, at my desire, inquired of a carman, whom we met, whereabouts Mr. Cringer lived: and was answered by a stare, accompanied with the word “Anan!” Upon which I came up, in order to explain the question, but had the misfortune to be unintelligible likewise, the carman damning us for a lousy Scotch guard, whipping his horses with a “Gee ho!” which nettled me to the quick, and roused the indignation of Strap so far that, after the fellow was gone a good way, he told me he would fight him for a farthing.

While we were deliberating upon what was to be done, a hackney coachman, driving softly along, and perceiving us standing by the kennel, came up close to us, and calling, “A coach, master!” by a dexterous management of the reins made his horses stumble in the wet, and bedaub us all over with mud. After which exploit he drove on, applauding himself with a hearty laugh, in which several people joined, to my great mortification; but one, more compassionate than the rest, seeing us strangers, advised me to go into an alehouse, and dry myself. I thanked him for his advice, which I immediately complied with; and, going into the house he pointed out, called for a pot of beer, and sat down by a fire in the public room. where we cleaned ourselves as well as we could. In the meantime, a wag, who sat in a box, smoking his pipe, understanding, by our dialect, that we were from Scotland, came up to me. and, with a grave countenance asked how long I had been caught. As I did not know the meaning of this question, I made no answer; and he went on, saying it could not be a great while, for my tail was not yet cut; at the same time taking hold of my hair, and tipping the wink to the rest of the company, who seemed highly entertained with his wit. I was incensed at this usage, but afraid of resenting it, because I happened to be in a strange place, and perceived the person who spoke to me was a brawny fellow, for whom I thought myself by no means a match. However, Strap, having either more courage or less caution, could not put up with the insults I suffered, but told him in a peremptory tone, “He was an uncivil fellow for making so free with his betters.” Then the wit going toward him, asked him what he had got in his knapsack? “Is it oatmeal or brimstone, Sawney?” said he, seizing him by the chin, which he shook, to the inexpressible diversion of all present. My companion, feeling himself assaulted in such an opprobrious manner, disengaged himself in a trice, and lent his antagonist such a box on the ear as made him stagger to the other side of the room; and, in a moment, a ring was formed for the combatants. Seeing Strap beginning to strip, and my blood being heated with indignation, which banished all other thoughts, I undressed myself to the skin in an instant, and declared, that as the affront that occasioned the quarrel was offered to me, I would fight it out myself; upon which one or two cried out, “That’s a brave Scotch boy; you shall have fair play.” His assurance gave me fresh spirits, and, going up to my adversary, who by his pale countenance did not seem much inclined to the battle, I struck him so hard on the stomach, that he reeled over a bench, and fell to the ground. Then I attempted to keep him down, in order to improve my success, according to the manner of my own country, but was restrained by the spectators, one of whom endeavoured to raise up my opponent, but in vain; for he protested he would not fight, for he was not quite recovered of a late illness. I was very well pleased with this excuse, and immediately dressed myself, having acquired the good opinion of the company for my bravery, as well as of my comrade Strap, who shook me by the hand, and wished me joy of the victory.

After having drunk our pot, and dried our clothes, we inquired of the landlord if he knew Mr. Cringer, the member of parliament, and were amazed at his replying in the negative; for we imagined he must be altogether as conspicuous here as in the borough he represented; but he told us we might possibly hear of him as we passed along. We betook ourselves therefore to the street, where seeing a footman standing at the door, we made up to him, and asked if he knew where our patron lived? This member of the particoloured fraternity, surveying us both very minutely, said he knew Mr. Cringer very well, and bade us turn down the first street on our left, then turn to the right, and then to the left again, after which perambulation we would observe a lane, through which we must pass, and at the other end we should find an alley that leads to another street, where we should see the sign of the Thistle and Three Pedlars, and there he lodged. We thanked him for his information, and went forwards, Strap telling me, that he knew this person to be an honest friendly man by his countenance, before he opened his mouth; in which opinion I acquiesced, ascribing his good manners to the company he daily saw in the house where he served.

We followed his directions punctually, in turning to the left, and to the right, and to the left again; but instead of seeing a lane before us, found ourselves at the side of the river, a circumstance that perplexed us not a little; and my fellow-traveller ventured to pronounce, that we bad certainly missed our way. By this time we were pretty much fatigued with our walk, and not knowing how to proceed, I went into a small snuff-shop hard by, encouraged by the sign of the Highlander, where I found, to my inexpressible satisfaction, the shopkeeper was my countryman. He was no sooner informed of our peregrination, and the directions we had received from the footman, than he informed us we had been imposed upon, telling us, Mr. Cringer lived in the other end of the town and that it would be to no purpose for us to go thither to-day, for by that time he was gone to the House. I then asked, if he could recommend us a lodging. He really gave us a line to one of his acquaintance who kept a chandler’s shop not far from St. Martin’s Lane; there we hired a bed-room, up two pair of stairs, at the rate of two shillings per week, so very small, that when the bed was let down, we were obliged to carry out every other piece of furniture that belonged to the apartment, and use the bedstead by way of chairs. About dinner-time, our landlord asked how we proposed to live? to which interrogation we answered, that we would be directed by him. “Well, then,” says he, “there are two ways of eating in this town for people of your condition — the one more creditable and expensive than the other: the first is to dine at an eating-house frequented by well-dressed people only; and the other is called diving, practised by those who are either obliged or inclined to live frugally.” I gave him to understand that, provided the last was not infamous, it would suit much better with our circumstances than the other. “Infamous!” cried he, “not at all; there are many creditable people, rich people, ay, and fine people, that dive every day. I have seen many a pretty gentleman with a laced waistcoat dine in that manner very comfortably for three pence halfpenny, and go afterwards to the coffee-house, where he made a figure with the best lord in the land; but your own eyes shall bear witness — I will go along with you to-day and introduce you.”

He accordingly conducted us to a certain lane, where stopping, he bade us observe him, and do as he did, and, walking a few paces, dived into a cellar and disappeared in an instant. I followed his example, and descending very successfully, found myself in the middle of a cook’s shop, almost suffocated with the steams of boiled beef, and surrounded by a company of hackney coachmen, chairmen, draymen, and a few footmen out of place or on board-wages; who sat eating shin of beef, tripe, cow-heel, or sausages, at separate boards, covered with cloths which turned my stomach. While I stood in amaze, undetermined whether to sit down or walk upwards again, Strap, in his descent, missing one of the stops, tumbled headlong into this infernal ordinary, and overturned the cook as she carried a porringer of soup to one of the guests. In her fall, she dashed the whole mess against the legs of a drummer belonging to the foot-guards, who happened to be in her way, and scalded him so miserably, that he started up, and danced up and down, uttering a volley of execrations that made my hair stand on end.

While he entertained the company in this manner, with an eloquence peculiar to himself, the cook got up, and after a hearty curse on the poor author of this mischance, who lay under the table with a woful countenance, emptied a salt-cellar in her hand, and, stripping down the patient’s stocking, which brought the skin along with it, applied the contents to the sore. This poultice was scarce laid on, when the drummer, who had begun to abate of his exclamations, broke forth into such a hideous yell as made the whole company tremble, then, seizing a pewter pint pot that stood by him, squeezed the sides of it together, as if it had been made of pliant leather, grinding his teeth at the same time with a most horrible grin. Guessing the cause of this violent transport, I bade the woman wash off the salt, and bathe the part with oil, which she did, and procured him immediate ease. But here another difficulty occurred, which was no other than the landlady’s insisting on his paying for the pot he had rendered useless. He said, he would pay for nothing but what he had eaten, and bade her be thankful for his moderation, or else he would prosecute her for damages. Strap, foreseeing the whole affair would lie at his door, promised to satisfy the cook, and called for a dram of gin to treat the drummer, which entirely appeased him, and composed all animosities. After this accommodation, our landlord and we sat down at a board, and dined upon shin of beef most deliciously; our reckoning amounting to twopence halfpenny each, bread and small beer included.

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