The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XV

Strap moralises — presents his purse to me — we inform our landlord of our misfortune — he unravels the mystery — I present myself to Cringer — he recommends and turns me over to Mr. Staytape — I become acquainted with a fellow dependent, who explains the character of Cringer and Staytape — and informs me of the method to be pursued at the Navy Office and Surgeons’ Hall — Strap is employed

In our way to our lodging, after a profound silence on both sides, Strap, with a hideous groan, observed that we had brought our pigs to a fine market. To this observation I made no reply, and he went on: “God send us well out of this place; we have not been in London eight and forty hours, and I believe we have met with eight and forty thousand misfortunes. We have been jeered, reproached, buffeted, and at last stript of our money; and I suppose by and bye we shall be stript of our skins. Indeed as to the money part of it, that was owing to our own folly. — Solomon says, ‘Bray a fool in a mortar, and he will never be wise.’ Ah! God help us, an ounce of prudence is worth a pound of gold.” This was no time for him to tamper with my disposition, already mad with my loss, and inflamed with resentment against him for having refused me a little money to attempt to retrieve it. I therefore turned towards him with a stern countenance, and asked, who he called fool? Being altogether unaccustomed to such looks from me, he stood still, and stared in my face for some time; then, with some confusion, uttered, “Fool! I called nobody fool but myself; I am sure I am the greatest fool of the two, for being so much concerned at other people’s misfortunes; but ‘Nemo omnibus horis sapit’ — that’s all, that’s all.” Upon which a silence ensued, which brought us to our lodging, where I threw myself upon the bed in an agony of despair, resolved to perish rather than apply to my companion, or any other body, for relief; but Strap, who knew my temper, and whose heart bled within him for my distress, after some pause came to the bedside, and, putting a leathern purse into my hand, burst into tears, crying, “I know what you think, but I scorn your thought. There’s all I have in the world, take it, and I’ll perhaps get more for you before that be done. If not, I’ll beg for you, steal for you, go through the wide world with you, and stay with you; for though I be a poor cobbler’s son, I am no scout.” I was so much touched with the generous passion of this poor creature, that I could not refrain from weeping also, and we mingled our tears together for some time. Upon examining the purse, I found in it two half-guineas and half-a-crown, which I would have returned to him, saying, he knew better than I how to manage it, but he, absolutely refused my proposal and told me it was more reasonable and decent that he should depend upon me, who was a gentleman, than that I should be controlled by him.

After this friendly contest was over, and our minds more at ease, we informed our landlord of what had happened to us, taking care to conceal the extremity to which we were reduced. He no sooner heard the story, than he assured us we had been grievously imposed upon by a couple of sharpers, who were associates; and that this polite, honest, friendly, humane person, who had treated us so civilly, was no other than a rascally money-dropper, we made it his business to decoy strangers in that manner to one of his own haunts, where an accomplice or two were always waiting to assist in pillaging the prey he had run down. Here the good man recounted a great many stories of people who has been seduced, cheated, pilfered, beat — nay, even murdered by such villains. I was confounded at the artifice and wickedness of mankind; and Strap, lifting up his eyes and hands to heaven, prayed that God would deliver him from such scenes of iniquity, for surely the devil had set up his throne in London. Our landlord being curious to know what reception we had met with at Mr. Cringer’s, we acquainted him with the particulars, at which he shook his head, and told us we had not gone the right way to work; that there was nothing to be done with a member of parliament without a bribe; that the servant was commonly infected with the master’s disease, and expected to be paid for his work, as well as his betters. He therefore advised me to give the footman a shilling the next time I should desire admittance to my patron, or else I should scarce find an opportunity to deliver my letter. Accordingly, next morning, when the door was opened, I slipped a shilling into his hand, and told him I had a letter for his master. I found the good effect of my liberality; for the fellow let me in immediately, and, taking the letter out of my hand, desired me to wait in a kind of passage for an answer. In this place I continued standing for three-quarters-of-an-hour, during which time I saw a great many young fellows whom I formerly knew in Scotland pass and repass, with an air of familiarity, in their way to and from the audience-chamber; while I was fain to stand shivering in the cold, and turn my back to them that they might not perceive the lowness of my condition, At length, Mr. Cringer came out to see a young gentleman to the door, who was no other than Squire Gawky, dressed in a very gay suit of clothes; at parting Mr. Cringer shook him by the hand and told him he hoped to have the pleasure of his company at dinner. Then turning about towards me, asked what were my commands? When he understood I was the person who had brought the letter from Mr. Crab, he affected to recollect my name, which, however, he pretended he could not do till he had consulted the letter again; to save him the trouble, I told him my name was Random. Upon which he went on, “Ay, ay, Random, Random, Random — I think I remember the name:” and very well he might, for this very individual, Mr. Cringer, had many a time rode before my grandfather’s cloak-bag, in quality of a footman. “Well,” says he, “you propose to go on board a man-of-war as surgeon’s mate.” I replied by a low bow. “I believe it will be a difficult matter,” continued he, “to procure a warrant, there being already such a swarm of Scotch surgeons at the Navy Office, in expectation of the next vacancy, that the commissioners are afraid of being torn to pieces, and have actually applied for a guard to protect them. However, some ships will soon be put in commission, and then we shall see what’s to be done.” So saying, he left me, exceedingly mortified at the different reception Mr. Gawky and I had met with from this upstart, proud, mean member, who, I imagined, would have been glad of an opportunity to be grateful for the obligations he owed to my family.

At my return, I was surprised with the agreeable news of Strap’s being employed, on the recommendation of his friend, the schoolmaster, by a periwig-maker in the neighbourhood, who allowed him five shillings per week besides bed and board. I continued to dance attendance every other morning at the levee of Mr. Cringer, during a fortnight; in which time I became acquainted with a young fellow of my own country and profession, who also depended on the member’s interest, but was treated with much more respect than I, both by the servants and master, and often admitted into a parlour, where there was a fire for the convenience of the better sort of those who waited for him. Thither I was never permitted to penetrate, on account of my appearance, which was not at all fashionable; but was obliged to stand blowing my fingers in a cold lobby, and take the first opportunity of Mr. Cringer’s going to the door to speak with him.

One day, while I enjoyed this occasion a person was introduced, whom Mr. Cringer no sooner saw, than, running towards him, he saluted him with a low bow to the very ground, and afterwards shaking him by the hand with great heartiness and familiarity, called him his good friend, and asked very kindly after Mrs. Staytape and the young ladies; then, after a whisper, which continued some minutes, wherein I overheard the word ‘honour’ repeated several times with great emphasis, Mr. Cringer introduced me to this gentleman, as to a person whose advice and assistance I might depend upon; and having given me his direction, followed me to the door, where he told me I need not give myself the trouble to call at his house any more, for Mr. Staytape would do my business. At that instant. my fellow-dependent, coming out after me, overheard the discourse of Mr. Cringer, and, making up to me in the street, accosted me very civilly: this address I looked upon as no small honour, considering the figure he made, for he was dressed in a blue frock with a button, a green silk waistcoat, trimmed with gold, black velvet breeches, white silk stockings, silver buckles, a gold-laced hat, a spencer-wig, and a silver-hilted hanger, with a fine clouded can in his hand. “I perceive,” says he, “you are but lately come from Scotland; pray what may your business with Mr. Cringer be? I suppose it is no secret and I may possibly give you some advice that will be serviceable, for I have been surgeon’s second mate on board of a seventy-gun ship, and consequently know a good deal of the world.”

I made no scruple to disclose my situation, which, when he had learned, he shook his head, and told me he had been pretty much, in the same circumstances about a year ago: that he had relied on Cringer’s promises, until his money (which was considerable) as well as his credit, was quite exhausted; and when he wrote to his relations for a fresh supply, instead of money he received nothing but reproaches, and the epithets of idle, debauched fellow. That after he had waited at the Navy Office many months for a warrant to no purpose, he was fain to pawn some of his clothes, which raised a small sum wherewith he bribed the secretary, who soon procured a warrant for him, notwithstanding he had affirmed the same day, that there vas not one vacancy. That he had gone on board, where he remained nine months, at the end of which the ship was put out of commission, and he said the company were to be paid off in Broad Street the very next day. That relations being reconciled to him, had charged him to pay his devoirs regularly to Mr. Cringer, who had informed them by letter that his interest alone had procured the warrant; in obedience to which command he came to his levee every morning; as I saw, though he looked upon him to be a very pitiful scoundrel. In conclusion, he asked me if I had yet passed at Surgeons’ Hall? To which question I answered, I did not so much as know it was necessary. “Necessary:” cried he, “Oh then I find I must instruct you: come along with me, and I’ll give you information about that matter.” So Saying, he carried me into an ale-house, where I called for some beer, and bread and cheese, on which we breakfasted. While we sat in this place, he told me I must first go to the Navy Office, and write to the Board, desiring them to order a letter for me to Surgeon’s Hall, that I might be examined, touching my skill in surgery. That the surgeons, after having examined me, would give me my qualification sealed up in form of a letter directed to the commissioners, which qualification I must deliver to the secretary of the Board, who would open it in my presence, and read the contents; after which I must employ my interest to be provided for as soon as possible. That the expense of his qualification for second mate of a third-rate, amounted to thirteen shillings, exclusive of the warrant, which cost him half-a-guinea and half-a-crown, besides a present to the secretary, which consisted of a three-pound twelve piece. This calculation was like a thunderbolt to me, whose whole fortune did not amount to twelve shillings. I accordingly made him acquainted with this part of my distress, after having thanked him for his information and advice. He condoled me on this occasion; but bade me be of good cheer, for he had conceived a friendship for me, and would make all things easy. He was ran out at present, but to-morrow or next day, he was certain of receiving a considerable sum; of which he would lend me what would be sufficient to answer my exigencies. This frank declaration pleased me so much, that I pulled out my purse, and emptied it before him, begging him to take what he pleased for pocket-expense, until he should receive his own money. With a good deal of pressing, he was prevailed upon to take five shillings telling me that he might have what money he wanted at any time for the trouble of going into the city; but as he had met with me, he would defer his going thither till tomorrow, when I should go along with him, and he would put me in the way of acting for myself, without a servile dependence on that rascal Cringer, much less on the tailor to whom he heard him turn me over. “How!” cried I, “is Mr. Staytape a tailor.” “No less, I assure you,” answered he, “and, I confess, more likely to serve you than the member; for, provided you can entertain him with politics and conundrums, you may have credit with him for as many and as rich clothes as you please.” I told him, I was utterly ignorant of both, and so incensed at Cringer’s usage, that I would never set foot within his door again.

After a good deal more conversation, my new acquaintance and I parted, having made an appointment to meet next day at the same place; in order to set out for the city. I went immediately to Strap and related everything which had happened, but he did not at all approve of my being so forward to lend money to a stranger, especially as we had already been so much imposed upon by appearances. “However,” said he, “if you are sure he is a Scotchman, I believe you are safe.”

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