The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter II

I grow up — am hated by my Relations — sent to School — neglected by my Grandfather — maltreated by my Master — seasoned to Adversity — I form Cabals against the Pedant — am debarred Access to my Grandfather — hunted by his Heir — I demolish the Teeth of his Tutor

There were not wanting some who suspected my uncles of being concerned in my father’s fate, on the supposition that they would all share in the patrimony destined for him; and this conjecture was strengthened by reflecting that in all his calamities they never discovered the least inclination to serve him; but, on the contrary, by all the artifices in their power, fed his resentment and supported his resolution of leaving him to misery and want. But people of judgment treated this insinuation as an idle chimera; because, had my relations been so wicked as to consult their interest by committing such an atrocious crime, the fate of my father would have extended to me too whose life was another obstacle to their expectation. Meanwhile, I grew apace, and as I strongly resembled my father, who was the darling of the tenants, I wanted nothing which their indigent circumstances could afford: but their favour was a weak resource against the jealous enmity of my cousins; who the more my infancy promised, conceived the more implacable hatred against me: and before I was six years of age, had so effectually blockaded my grandfather that I never saw him but by stealth, when I sometimes made up to his chair as he sat to view his labourers in the field: on which occasion he would stroke my head, bid me be a good boy, and promise to take care of me.

I was soon after sent to school at a village hard by, of which he had been dictator time out of mind; but as he never paid for my board, nor supplied me with clothes, books, and other necessaries I required, my condition was very ragged and contemptible, and the schoolmaster, who, through fear of my grandfather, taught me gratis, gave himself no concern about the progress I made under his instruction. In spite of all these difficulties and disgraces, I became a good proficient in the Latin tongue; and, as soon as I could write tolerably, pestered my grandfather with letters to such a degree that he sent for my master, and chid him severely for bestowing such pains on my education, telling him that, if ever I should be brought to the gallows for forgery, which he had taught me to commit, my blood would lie on his head.

The pedant, who dreaded nothing more than the displeasure of his patron, assured his honour that the boy’s ability was more owing to his own genius and application than to any instruction or encouragement he received; that, although he could not divest him of the knowledge he had already imbibed, unless he would empower him to disable his fingers, he should endeavour, with God’s help, to prevent his future improvement. And, indeed, he punctually performed what he had undertaken; for, on pretence that I had written impertinent letters to my grandfather, he caused a board to be made with five holes in it, through which he thrust the fingers and thumb of my right hand, and fastened it by whipcord to my wrist, in such a manner as effectually debarred me the use of my pen. But this restraint I was freed from in a few days, by an accident which happened in a quarrel between me and another boy; who, taking upon him to insult my poverty, I was so incensed at his ungenerous reproach that with one stroke with my machine I cut him to the skull, to the great terror of myself and schoolfellows, who left him bleeding on the ground, and ran to inform the master of what had happened. I was so severely punished for this trespass that, were I to live to the age of Methusalem, the impression it made on me would not be effaced; the more than the antipathy and horror I conceived for the merciless tyrant who inflicted it. The contempt which my appearance naturally produced in all who saw me, the continual wants to which I was exposed, and my own haughty disposition, impatient of affronts, involved me in a thousand troublesome adventures, by which I was at length inured in adversity, and emboldened to undertakings far above my years. I was often inhumanly scourged for crimes I did not commit, because, having the character of a vagabond in the village, every piece of mischief, whose author lay unknown, was charged upon me. I have been found guilty of robbing orchards I never entered, of killing cats I never hunted, of stealing gingerbread I never touched, and of abusing old women I never saw. Nay, a stammering carpenter had eloquence enough to persuade my master that I fired a pistol loaded with small shot into his window; though my landlady and the whole family bore witness that I was abed fast asleep at the time when this outrage was committed, I was once flogged for having narrowly escaped drowning, by the sinking of a ferry boat in which I was passenger. Another time, for having recovered of a bruise occasioned by a horse and cart running over me. A third time, for being bitten by a baker’s dog. In short, whether I was guilty or unfortunate, the correction and sympathy of this arbitrary pedagogue were the same.

Far from being subdued by this informal usage, my indignation triumphed over that slavish awe which had hitherto enforced my obedience; and the more my years and knowledge increased, the more I perceived the injustice and barbarity of his behaviour. By the help of an uncommon genius, and the advice and direction of our usher, who had served my father in his travels, I made a surprising progress in the classics, writing, and arithmetic; so that, before I was twelve years old, I was allowed by everybody to be the best scholar in the school. This qualification, together with the boldness of temper and strength of make which had subjected almost all my contemporaries, gave me such influence over them that I began to form cabals against my persecutor; and was in hope of, being able to bid him defiance in a very short time. Being at the head of a faction, consisting of thirty boys, most of them of my own age, I was determined to put their mettle to trial, that I might know how far they were to be depended upon, before I put my grand scheme in execution: with this view, we attacked a body of stout apprentices, who bad taken possession of a part of the ground allotted to us for the scheme of our diversions, and who were then playing at ninepins on the spot; but I had the mortification to see my adherents routed in an instant, and a leg of one of them broke in his flight by the bowl, which one of our adversaries had detached in pursuit of us. This discomfiture did not hinder us from engaging them afterwards in frequent skirmishes, which we maintained by throwing stones at a distance, wherein I received many wounds, the scars of which still remain. Our enemies were so harassed and interrupted by these alarms that they at last abandoned their conquest, and left us to the peaceable enjoyment of our own territories.

It would be endless to enumerate the exploits we performed in the course of this confederacy, which became the terror of the whole village; insomuch that, when different interests divided it, one of the parties commonly courted the assistance of Roderick Random (by which name I was known) to cast the balance, and keep the opposite faction in awe. Meanwhile, I took the advantage of every play-day to present myself before my grandfather, to whom I seldom found access, by reason of his being closely besieged by a numerous family of his female grandchildren, who, though they perpetually quarrelled among themselves, never failed to join against me, as the common enemy of all. His heir, who was about the age of eighteen, minded nothing but fox-hunting, and indeed was qualified for nothing else, notwithstanding his grandfather’s indulgence in entertaining a tutor for him at home; who at the same time performed the office of parish clerk. This young Actaeon, who inherited his grandfather’s antipathy to everything in distress, never sat eyes on me without uncoupling his beagles, and hunting me into some cottage or other, whither I generally fled for shelter. In this Christian amusement he was encouraged by his preceptor, who, no doubt, took such opportunities to ingratiate himself with the rising sun, observing, that the old gentleman, according to the course of nature, had not long to live, for he was already on the verge of fourscore.

The behaviour of this rascally sycophant incensed me so much, that one day, when I was beleaguered by him and his hounds in a farmer’s house, where I had found protection, I took aim at him (being an excellent marksman) with a large pebble, which struck out four of his foreteeth, and effectually incapacitated him from doing the office of a clerk.

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