The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XVI

My new acquaintance breaks an appointment — I proceed, by myself, to the Navy Office — address me to a person there, who assists me with advice — write to the Board, they grant me a letter to the Surgeons at the Hall — am informed of the beau’s name and character — find him — he makes me his confidant in an amour — desires me to pawn my linen for his occasions — recover what I lent him — some curious observations on Strap on that occasion — his vanity.

In the morning I rose and went to the place of rendezvous, where I waited two hours in vain, and was so exasperated against him for breaking his appointment, that I set out for the city by myself, in hope of finding the villain, and being revenged on him for his breach of promise. At length I found myself at the Navy Office, which I entered, and saw crowds of young fellows walking below, many of whom made no better appearance than myself. I consulted the physiognomy of each, and at last made up to one whose countenance I liked, and asked, if he could instruct me in the form of the letter which was to be sent to the Board to obtain an order for examination? He answered me in broad Scotch, that he would show me the copy of what he had writ for himself, by direction of another who know the form, and accordingly pulled it out of his pocket for my perusal; and told me that, if I was expeditious, I might send it into the Board before dinner, for they did no business in the afternoon. He then went with me to coffee-house hard by, where I wrote the letter, which was immediately delivered to the messenger, who told me I might expect an order to-morrow about the same time.

Having transacted this piece of business, my mind was a good deal composed; and as I had met with so much civility from the stranger, I desired further acquaintance with him, fully resolved, however, not to be deceived by him so much to my prejudice as I had been by the beau. He agreed to dine with me at the cook’s shop which I frequented; and on our way thither carried me to ‘Change, where I was in hopes of finding Mr. Jackson (for that was the name of the person who had broke his appointment), I sought him there to no purpose, and on our way towards the other end of the town imparted to my companion his behaviour towards me; upon which he gave me to understand, that he was no stranger to the name of Bean Jackson (so he was called at the Navy Office), although he did not know him personally; that he had the character of a good-natured careless fellow, who made no scruple of borrowing from any that would lend; that most people who knew him believed he had a good principle at bottom, but his extravagance was such, he would probably never have it in his power to manifest the honesty of his intention. This made me sweat for my five shillings, which I nevertheless did not altogether despair of recovering, provided I could find out the debtor.

This young man likewise added another circumstance of Squire Jackson’s history, which was, that being destitute of all means to equip himself for sea, when he received his last warrant, he had been recommended to a person who lent him a little money, after he had signed a will entitling that person to lift his wages when they should become due, as also to inherit his effects in case of his death. That he was still under the tutorage and direction of that gentleman, who advanced him small sums from time to time upon this security, at the rate of fifty per cent. But at present his credit was very low, because his funds would do little more than pay what he had already received, this moderate interest included. After the stranger (whose name was Thompson) had entertained me with this account of Jackson, he informed me that he himself had passed for third mate of a third-rate, about four months ago; since which time he had constantly attended at the Navy Office, in hope of a warrant, having been assured from the beginning, both by a Scotch member, and one of the commissioners to whom the member recommended him, that he should be put into the first vacancy; notwithstanding which promise, he had the mortification to see six or seven appointed in the same station almost every week — that now. being utterly impoverished, his sole hope consisted in the promise of a friend lately come to town, to lend him a small matter, for a present to the secretary; without which he was persuaded he might wait a thousand years to no purpose. I conceived a mighty liking for this young fellow, which (I believe) proceeded from the similitude of our fortunes. We spent the whole day together; and as he lived at Wapping I desired him to take a share of my bed.

Next day we returned to the Navy Office, where, after being called before the Board, and questioned about the place of my nativity and education, they ordered a letter to be made out for me, which, upon paying half-a-crown to the clerk, I received, and delivered into the hands of the clerk at Surgeons’ Hall, together with a shilling for his trouble in registering my name. By this time my whole stock was diminished to two shillings, and I saw not the least prospect of relief, even for present subsistence, much less to enable me to pay the fees at Surgeons’ Hall for my examination, which would come on in a fortnight. In this state of perplexity, I consulted Strap, who assured me he would pawn everything he had in the world, even to his razors, before I should want: but this expedient I absolutely rejected, telling him, I would a thousand times rather list for a soldier, of which I had some thoughts, than be any longer a burden to him. At the word soldier, he grew pale as death, and begged on his knees I would think no more of that scheme. “God preserve us all in our right wits!” cried he, “would you turn soldier, and perhaps be sent abroad against the Spaniards, where you must stand and be shot at like a woodcock? Heaven keep cold lead out of my carcase, and let me die in a bed like a Christian, as all my forefathers have done. What signifies all earthly riches and honour, if one enjoys not content? and, hereafter, there is no respect of persons. Better be a poor honest barber with a good conscience, and time to repent of my sins upon my death-bed, than be cut off (God bless us!) by a musket-shot, as it were in the very flower of one’s age, in the pursuit of riches and fame. What signify riches, my dear friend? do they not make unto themselves wings and fly away? as the wise man saith. I could also mention many other sayings in contempt of riches, both from the Bible and other good books; but I know you are not very fond of those things, I shall only assure you, that if you take on to be a soldier, I will do the same; and then if we should both be slain, you will not only have your own blood to answer for, but mine also: and peradventure the lives of all those whom we shall kill in battle. Therefore I pray you, consider whether you will sit down contented with small things and share the fruits of my industry in peace, till Providence shall send better tidings; or, by your despair, plunge both our souls and bodies into everlasting perdition, which God of his infinite mercy forbid!” I could not help smiling at this harangue, which was delivered with great earnestness, the tears standing in his eyes all the time, and promised to do nothing of that sort without his consent and concurrence. He was much comforted with this declaration; and told me in a few days he should receive a week’s wages, which should be at my service, but advised me in the meantime to go in quest of Jackson, and recover, if possible, what he had borrowed of me. I accordingly trudged about from one end of the town to the other, for several days, without being able to learn anything certain concerning him: and, one day being extremely hungry, and allured by the steams that regaled my nostrils from a boiling cellar, I went down with an intention to gratify my appetite with a twopennyworth of beef; when to my no small surprise found Mr. Jackson sitting at dinner with a footman. He no sooner perceived me than he got up and shook me by the hands saying, he was glad to see me, for he intended to have called at my lodgings in the afternoon. I was so well pleased at this rencounter. and the apologies he made for not keeping his appointment, that I forgot my resentment, and sat down to dinner, with the happy expectation of not only recovering my own money before we should part, but also of reaping the benefit of his promise to lend me wherewithal to pass examination; and this hope my sanguine complexion suggested, though the account Thompson gave me of him ought to have moderated my expectation.

When we had feasted sumptuously, he took his leave of the footman, and adjourned with me to an ale-house hard by, where, after shaking me by the hand again, he began thus: “I suppose you think me a sad dog, Mr. Random, and I do confess that appearances are against me. But I dare say you will forgive me when I tell you, my not coming at the time appointed was owing to a peremptory message I received from a certain lady, whom, harkee! (but this is a great secret) I am to marry very soon. You think this strange, perhaps, but it is not less true for all that — a five thousand pounder, I’ll assure you, besides expectations. For my own part, devil take me if I know what any woman can see engaging about me — but a whim, you know — and then one would not balk one’s good fortune. You saw that footman who dined with us — he’s one of the honestest fellows that ever wore livery. You must know it was by his means I was introduced to her, for he made me first acquainted with her woman, who is his mistress — ay, many a crown has he and his sweetheart had of my money — but what of that? things are now brought to a bearing. I have — (come a little this way) I have proposed marriage, and the day is fixed — she’s a charming creature, and writes like an angel! She can repeat all the English tragedies as well as ever a player in Drury Lane!-and, indeed, is so fond of plays, that to be near the stage she has taken lodgings in a court hard by the theatre; but you shall see — you shall see — here’s the last letter she sent me.” With these words, he put it into my hand, and I read (to the best of my remembrance) as follows:

‘Dear Creeten — As you are the animable hopjack of my contemplayshins, your aydear is infernally skimming before my keymerycal fansee, when Murfy sends his puppies to the heys of slipping mortals; and when Febus shines from his merry dying throne; whereupon I shall canseif old time has lost his pinners, as also cubit his harrows, until thou enjoy sweet propose in the loafseek harms of thy very faithfool to commend,
Clayrender
Wingar Yard, Drury Lane, January 12th.’

While I was reading, he seemed to be in an ecstasy, rubbing his hands, and bursting out into fits of laughter; at last he caught hold of my hand, and squeezing it, cried, “There — a style for you! What do you think of this billet-doux?” I answered, “It might be ablime for aught I knew, for it was altogether above my comprehension.” “Oh, ho!” said he, “I believe it is — both tender and sublime; she’s a divine creature! and so doats upon me! Let me see — what shall I do with this money, when I have once got it into my hands? In the first place, I shall do for you. I’m a man of few words — -but say no more that’s determined; whether would you advise me, to purchase some post, by which I may rise in the state, or lay out my wife’s fortune in land, and retire to the country at once?” I gave my opinion without hesitation, that he could not do better than buy an estate and improve; especially since he had already seen so much of the world. Then I launched out into the praises of a country life, as described by the poets whose works I had read. He seemed to relish my advice, but withal told me, that although he had seen a great deal of the world both at land and sea, having cruised three whole months in the Channel, yet he should not be satisfied until he had visited France, which he proposed to do before he should settle; and to carry his wife along with him. I had nothing to object to his proposal; and asked how soon he hoped to be happy. “As to that,” he replied, “nothing obstructs my happiness but the want of a little ready cash; for you must know, my friend in the city has gone out of town for a week or two, but I unfortunately missed my pay at Broad Street, by being detained too long by the dear charmer — but there will he a recall at Chatham next week, whither the ship’s books are sent, and I have commissioned a friend in that place to receive the money.” “If that be all,” said I, “there’s no great harm in deferring your marriage a few days.” “Yes, faith. but there is,” said he; “you don’t know how many rivals I have, who would take all advantages against me. I would not balk the impatience of her passion for the world — the least appearance of coldness or indifference would ruin all; and such offers don’t occur every day.”

I acquiesced in this observation, and inquired how he intended to proceed. At this question he rubbed his chin, and said, “Why, truly, I must be obliged to some friend or other — do you know nobody that would lend me a small sum for a day or two?” I assured him, I was such an utter stranger in London, that I did not believe I could borrow a guinea if my life depended upon it. “No!” said he, “that’s hard — that’s bard! I wish I had anything to pawn — upon my soul, you have got excellent linen (feeling the sleeve of my shirt); how many shirts of that kind have you got?” I answered, “Six ruffled, and six plain.” At which he testified great surprise, and declared that no gentleman ought to have more than four. “How many d’ye think I have got?” continued he; “but this and another, as I hope to be saved! and I dare say we shall be able to raise a good sum out of your superfluity: let me see — let me see — each of these shirts is worth sixteen shillings at a moderate computation — now, suppose we pawn them for half-price — eight times eight is sixty-four, that’s three pounds four; that will do — give me your hand.” “Softly, softly, Mr. Jackson,” said I; “don’t dispose of my linen without my consent: first pay me the crown you owe me, and then we shall talk of other matters.” He protested that he had not above one shilling in his pocket, but that he would pay me out of the first of the money raised from the shirts. This piece of assurance incensed me so much that I swore I would not part with him until I had received satisfaction for what I had lent him; and as for the shirts, I would not pawn one of them to save him from the gallows.

At this expression he laughed aloud, and then complained it was very hard that I should refuse him a trifle that would infallibly enable him not only to make his own fortune but mine also. “You talk of pawning my shirts,” said I; “suppose you should sell this hanger, Mr. Jackson. I believe it would fetch a good round sum.” “No, hang it!” said he, “I can’t appear decently without my hanger, lest it should go.” However, seeing me inflexible with regard to my linen, he at length unbuckled his hanger, and, showing me the three blue balls, desired me to carry it thither and pawn it for two guineas. This office I would by no means have performed, had I seen any likelihood of having my money otherwise; but not willing, out of a piece of false delicacy, to neglect the only opportunity I should perhaps ever have, I ventured into a pawnbroker’s shop, where I demanded two guineas on the pledge, in the name of Thomas Williams. “Two guineas!” said the pawnbroker, looking at the hanger; “this piece of goods has been here several times before for thirty shillings: however, since I believe the gentleman to whom it belongs will redeem it, he shall have what he wants; and accordingly he paid me the money, which I carried to the house where I had left Jackson; and, calling for change, counted out to him seven and thirty shillings, reserving the other five for myself.” After looking at the money some time, he said, “Well! it don’t signify — this won’t do my business; so you may as well take half-a-guinea, or a whole one, as the five shillings you have kept.” I thanked him kindly, but refused to accept of any more than was my due, because I had no prospect of repaying it. Upon which declaration, he stared in my face, and told me, I was excessively raw or I would not talk in that manner. “Upon my word,” cried he, “I have a very bad opinion of a young fellow who won’t borrow of his friend when he is in want — ’tis the sign of a sneaking spirit. Come, come, Random, give me back the five shillings, and take this half-guinea, and if ever you are able to pay me, I believe you will: if not, I shall never ask it.”

When I reflected upon my present necessity, I suffered myself to be persuaded, and after making my acknowledgments to Mr. Jackson, who offered to treat me with a play, I returned to my lodgings with a much better opinion of this gentleman than I had in the morning; and at night imparted my day’s adventure to Strap, who rejoiced at my good luck, saying, “I told you if he was a Scotchman you was safe enough — and who knows but this marriage may make us all. You have heard, I suppose, as how a countryman of ours, a journeyman baker, ran away with a great lady of this town, and now keeps his coach. I say nothing; but yesterday morning as I was shaving a gentleman at his own house, there was a young lady in the room, and she threw so many sheep’s eyes at a certain person whom I shall not name, that my heart went knock, knock, knock, like a fulling mill, and my hand sh-sh-shook so much that I sliced a piece of skin off the gentleman’s nose; whereby he uttered a deadly oath, and was going to horsewhip me, when she prevented him, and made my peace. Is not a journeyman barber as good as a journeyman baker? The only difference is, the baker uses flour for the belly, and the barber rises it for the head: and as the head is a more noble member than the belly, so is a barber more noble than a baker — for what’s the belly without the head? Besides, I am told, he could neither read nor write; now you know I can do both, and moreover, speak Latin — but I will say no more, for I despise vanity — nothing is more vain than vanity.” With these words, he pulled out of his pocket a wax-candle‘s end, which he applied to his forehead; and upon examination, I found had combed his own hair over the toupee of his wig, and was, indeed, in his whole dress, become a very smart shaver. I congratulated him on his prospect with a satirical smile, which he understood very well; and, shaking his head, observed, I had very little faith, but the truth would come to light in spite of my incredulity.

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