The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XIV

We visit Strap’s friend — a description of him — his advice — we go to Mr. Cringer’s house — are denied admittance — an Accident befalls Strap — his behaviour thereupon — an extraordinary adventure occurs, in the course of which I lose all my money

In the afternoon my companion proposed to call at his friend’s house, which, we were informed, was in the neighbourhood, whither we accordingly went, and were so lucky as to find him at home. This gentleman, who had come from Scotland three or four years before, kept a school in town, where he taught the Latin, French, and Italian languages; but what he chiefly professed was the pronunciation of the English tongue, after a method more speedy and uncommon than any practised heretofore, and, indeed, if his scholars spoke like their master, the latter part of his undertaking was certainly performed to a tittle: for although I could easily understand every word of what I had heard hitherto since I entered England, three parts in four of his dialect were as unintelligible to me as if he had spoken in Arabic or Irish. He was a middle-sized man, and stooped very much, though not above the age of forty; his face was frightfully pitted with the small-pox, and his mouth extended from ear to ear. He was dressed in a night-gown of plaid, fastened about his middle with a sergeant’s old sash, and a tie-periwig with a foretop three inches high, in the fashion of King Charles the Second’s reign.

After he had received Strap, who was related to him, very courteously, he inquired of him who I was; and being informed, he took me by the hand, telling me he was at school with my father. When he understood my situation, he assured me that he would do me all the service in his power, both by his advice and otherwise, and while he spoke these words eyed me with great attention, walking round me several times, and muttering, “Oh, dear! Oh, dear! fat a saight is here!” I soon guessed the reason of his ejaculation, and said, “I suppose, sir, you are not pleased with my dress.” “Dress,” answered he, “you may caal it fat you please in your country, but I vow to Gad ’tis a masquerade here. No Christian will admit such a figure into his house. Upon my conscience, I wonder the dogs did not hunt you. Did you pass through St. James’s market? Bless my eyesaight! you are like a cousin-german of an ourangoutang.” I began to be a little serious at this discourse, and asked him, if he thought I should obtain entrance to-morrow at the house of Mr. Cringer, on whom I chiefly depended for an introduction into business? “Mr. Cringer, Mr. Cringer,” replied he, scratching his cheek, “may be a very honest gentleman — I know nothing to the contrary; but is your sole dependence upon him? Who recommended you to him?” I pulled out Mr. Crab’s letter, and told him the foundation of my hopes, at which he stared at me, and repeated “Oh dear! Oh dear!” I began to conceive bad omens from this behaviour of his, and begged he would assist me with his advice, which he promised to give very frankly; and as a specimen, directed us to a periwig warehouse in the neighbourhood, in order to be accommodated; laying strong injunctions on me not to appear before Mr. Cringer till I had parted with my carroty locks, which, he said, were sufficient to beget an antipathy against me in all mankind. And as we were going to pursue this advice, he called me back and bade me be sure to deliver my letter into Mr. Cringer’s own hand.

As we walked along, Strap triumphed greatly in our reception with his friend, who, it seems, had assured him he would in a day or two provide for him with some good master; I and now,” says he, “I you will see how I will fit you with a wig. There’s ne’er a barber in London (and that’s a bold word) can palm a rotten caul, or a pennyweight of dead hair, upon me.” And, indeed, this zealous adherent did wrangle so long with the merchant, that he was desired twenty times to leave the shop, and see if lie could get one cheaper elsewhere. At “length I made choice (if a good handsome bob), for which I paid ten shillings, and returned to our lodging, where Strap in a moment rid me of that hair which had given the schoolmaster so much offence.

We got up next day betimes, having been informed that Mr. Cringer gave audience by candle-light to all his dependents, he himself being obliged to attend the levee of my Lord Terrier at break of day, because his lordship made one at the minister’s between eight and nine o’clock. When we came to Mr. Cringer’s door, Strap, to give me all instance of his politeness. ran to the knocker, which he employed so loud and so long, that he alarmed the whole street; and a window opening in the second story of the next house, a vessel was discharged upon him so successfully, that the poor barber was wet to the skin, while I, being luckily at some distance, escaped the unsavoury deluge. In the meantime, a footman opening the door, and seeing nobody in the street but us, asked, with a stern countenance, if it was I who made such a noise, and what I wanted. I told him I had business with his master, whom I desired to see. Upon which he slapped the door in my face, telling me I must learn better manners before I could have access to his master. Vexed at this disappointment, I turned my resentment against Strap, whom I sharply reprimanded for his presumption; but he, not in the least regarding what I said, wrung the wet out of his periwig, and lifting up a large stone, flung it with such force against the street door of that house from whence he had been bedewed, that the lock giving way, it flew wide open, and he took to his heels, leaving me to follow him as I could. Indeed, there was no time for deliberation; I therefore pursued him with all the speed I could exert, until we found ourselves about the dawn in a street we did not know. Here, as we wandered along gaping about, a very decent sort of a man, passing by me, stopped of a sudden and took up something, which having examined, he turned and presented to me with these words: “Sir, you have dropped half-a-crown.” I was not a little surprised at this instance of honesty, and told him it did not belong to me; but he bade me recollect, and see if all my money was safe; upon which I pulled out my purse, for I had bought one since I came to town, and, reckoning my money in my hand, which was now reduced to five guineas seven shillings and twopence, assured him I had lost nothing. “Well, then, says he, so much the better; this is a godsend, and as you two were present when I picked it up, you are entitled to equal shares with me.” I was astonished at these words, and looked upon this person to be a prodigy of integrity, but absolutely refused to take any part of the sum. “Come, gentlemen,” said he, “you are too modest — I see you are strangers, but you shall give me leave to treat you with a whet this cold raw morning.” I would have declined the invitation, but Strap whispered to me that the gentleman would be affronted, and I complied. “Where shall we go?” said the stranger; “I am quite ignorant of this part of the town.” I informed him that we were in the same situation; upon which he proposed to go into the first public-house we should find open; and as we walked together, he began in this manner: “I find by your tongues you are from Scotland, gentlemen; my grandmother by the father’s side was of your country, and I am so prepossessed in its favour, that I never meet a Scotchman but my heart warms. The Scots are very brave people. There is scarce a great family in the kingdom that cannot boast of some exploits performed by its ancestors many hundred years ago. There’s your Douglasses, Gordons, Campbells, Hamiltons. We have no such ancient families here in England. Then you are all very well educated. I have known a pedlar talk in Greek and Hebrew as well as if they had been his mother-tongue. And for honesty — I once had a servant, his name was Gregor Macgregor, I would have trusted him with untold gold.”

This eulogium of my native country gained my affections so strongly, that I believe I could have gone to death to serve the author; and Strap’s eyes swam in tears. At length, as we passed through a dark narrow lane, we perceived a public-house, which we entered, and found a man sitting by the fire, smoking a pipe, with a pint of purl before him. Our new acquaintance asked us if ever we had drunk egg-flip? To which question we answering in the negative, he assured us of a regale, and ordered a quart to be prepared, calling for pipes and tobacco at the same time. We found this composition very palateable, and drank heartily; the conversation, which was introduced by the gentleman, turning upon the snares that young inexperienced people are exposed to in this metropolis. He described a thousand cheats that are daily practised upon the ignorant and unwary, and warned us of them with so much good nature and concern, that we blessed the opportunity which threw us in his way. After we had put the can about for some time, our new friend began to yawn, telling us he had been up all night with a sick person; and proposed we should have recourse to some diversion to keep him awake. “Suppose,” said he, “we should take a hand at whist for pastime. But let me see: that won’t do, there’s only three of us; and I cannot play at any other game. The truth is, I seldom or never play, but out of complaisance, or at such a time as this, when I am in danger of falling asleep,”

Although I was not much inclined to gaming, I felt no aversion to pass an hour or two at cards with a friend; and knowing that Strap understood as much of the matter as I, made no scruple of saying, “I wish we could find a fourth hand.” While we were in this perplexity the person whom we found in the house at our entrance, overhearing our discourse, took the pipe from his mouth very gravely, and accosted us thus: “Gentlemen, my pipe is out, you see,” shaking the ashes into the fire, “and rather than you should be balked, I don’t care if I take a hand with you for a trifle — but remember I won’t play for anything of consequence.” We accepted his proffer with pleasure. Having cut for partners, it fell to my lot to play with him against our friend and Strap, for threepence a game. We were so successful, that in a short time I was half-a-crown gainer; when the gentleman whom we had met in the street observing he had no luck to-day, proposed to leave off, or change partners. By this time I was inflamed with my good fortune and the expectation of improving it, as I perceived the two strangers played but indifferently; therefore I voted for giving him his revenge: and cutting again, Strap and I, to our mutual satisfaction, happened to be partners. My good fortune attended me still, and in less than an hour we had got thirty shillings of their money, for as they lost they grew the keener, and doubled stakes every time. At last the inconstant goddess began to veer about, and we were very soon stripped of all our gains, and about forty shillings of our own money. This loss mortified me extremely, and had a visible effect on the muscles of Strap’s face, which lengthened apace; but our antagonists perceiving our condition, kindly permitted us to retrieve our loss, and console ourselves with a new acquisition. Then my companion wisely suggested. it was time to be gone; upon which the person who bad joined us in the house began to curse the cards, and muttered that we were indebted to fortune only for what we had got, no part of our success being owing to our good play. This insinuation nettled me so much that I challenged him to a game at piquet for a crown: and he was with difficulty persuaded to accept the invitation. This contest ended in less than an hour to my inexpressible affliction, who lost every shilling of my own money, Strip absolutely refusing to supply me with a sixpence.

The gentleman at whose request we bad come in, perceiving by my disconsolate looks the situation of my heart. which well nigh burst with grief and resentment, when the other stranger got up, and went away with my money, began in this manner:— “I am truly afflicted at your bad luck. and would willingly repair it, were it in my power. But what in the name of goodness could provoke you to tempt your fate so long? It is always a maxim with gamesters to pursue success as far us it will go, and to stop whenever fortune shifts about. You are a young man, and your passions are too impetuous; you must learn to govern them better. However, there is no experience like that which is bought; you will be the better for this the longest day you have to live. As for the fellow who has got your money, I don’t half like him. Did not you see me tip you the wink to leave off in time?” I answered, “No.” “No,” continued he; “you was too eager to mind anything but the game. But, harkee,” said he in a whisper, “are you satisfied of that young man’s honesty? His looks are a little suspicious — but I may be mistaken; he made a great many grimaces while he stood behind you, this is a very wicked town.” I told him I was very well convinced of my comrade’s integrity and, that the grimaces he mentioned were doubtless owing to his anxiety of my loss. “Oh ho! if that be the case, I ask his pardon. Landlord, see what’s to pay.” The reckoning amounted to eighteenpence, which, having discharged, the gentleman shook us both by the hand, and, saying he should be very glad to see us again, departed.

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