The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XX

I am assaulted and dangerously wounded-suspect O’Donnell, and am confirmed in my opinion — concert a scheme of revenge, and put it into execution — O’Donnell robs his own servant and disappears — make my addresses to a lady, and am miraculously delivered from her snare

One night, at about twelve o’clock, as I returned from visiting a patient at Chelsea, I received a blow on my head from an unseen hand, that stretched me senseless on the ground; and was left for dead with three stabs of a sword in my body. The groans I uttered when I recovered the use of my reason alarmed the people of a solitary alehouse that stood near the spot where I lay: and they were humane enough to take me in, and send for a surgeon, who dressed my wounds, and assured me they were not mortal. One of them penetrated through the skin and muscles of one side of my belly in such a manner, that doubtless the assassin imagined he had run me through the entrails. The second slanted along one of my ribs; and the last, which was intended for the finishing stroke, having been directed to my heart, the sword snapped upon my breast-bone, and the point remained sticking in the skin. When I reflected upon this event, I could not persuade myself that I had been assaulted by a common footpad, because it is not usual for such people to murder though they rob, especially when they meet with no resistance; and I found my money, and everything else about me but my carcase, safe. I concluded, therefore, that I must either have been mistaken for another, or obliged to the private resentment of some secret enemy for what had happened; and as I could remember nobody who had the least cause of complaint against me, except Captain O’Donnell and my master’s daughter, my suspicion settled upon them, though I took care to conceal it, that I might the sooner arrive at confirmation.

With this view, I went home in the chair about ten o’clock in the morning; and as the chairman supported me into the house, met the captain in the passage, who no sooner saw me than he started back and gave evident signs of guilty confusion, which he would have accounted for from surprise occasioned by the seeing me in such a condition. My master having heard my story, condoled me with a good deal of sympathy, and when he understood my wounds were not dangerous, ordered me to be carried upstairs to bed; though not without some opposition from his wife, who was of opinion that it would be better for me to go to an hospital, where I should be more carefully attended. My meditation was employed in concerting with myself some method of revenge against Squire O’Donnell and his inamorata, whom I looked upon as the author of my misfortune; when miss, who was not at home at my arrival, entered my chamber, and saying she was sorry for the accident that had befallen me, asked if I suspected anybody to be the assassin; upon which I fixed my eyes steadfastly upon her and answered, “Yes.” She discovered no symptom of confusion, but replied hastily, “If that be the case, why don’t you take out a warrant, to have him apprehended? It will cost but a trifle — if you have no money, I’ll lend you.” This frankness not only cured me of my suspicion with respect to her, but even staggered my belief with regard to the captain, of whose guilt I resolved to have further proof before I should enterprise anything in the way of revenge. I thanked her kindly for her generous offer, which, however, I had no occasion to accept, being determined to do nothing rashly: for though I could plainly perceive the person who attacked me to be a soldier, whose face I thought was familiar to me, I could not swear with a safe conscience to any particular man; and, granting I could, my prosecution of him would not much avail.

This uncertainty I pretended, lest the captain, hearing from her that I knew the person who wounded me, might think proper to withdraw before I could be in a condition to requite him. In two days I was up and able to do a little business, so that Mr. Lavement made shift to carry on his practice without hiring another journeyman in my room.

The first thing I attempted towards a certain discovery of my secret enemy, was to get into O’Donnell’s apartment, while he was abroad in an undress, and examine his sword, the point of which being broken off, I applied the fragment that was found sticking in my body, and found it answered the fractured part exactly. There was no room left for doubt; and all that remained was to fix upon a scheme of revenge, which almost solely engrossed my thoughts during the space of eight nights and days. Sometimes I was tempted to fall upon him in the same manner as he had practised upon me, and kill him outright. But this assault my honour opposed as a piece of barbarous cowardice, in which he was not to be imitated. At other times I entertained thoughts of demanding satisfaction in an honourable way; but was diverted from this undertaking by considering the uncertainty of the event, and the nature of the injury he had done me, which did not entitle him to such easy terms. At last I determined to pursue a middle course, and actually put my design in execution after this manner. Having secured the assistance of Strap and two of his acquaintance whom he could depend upon, we provided ourselves with disguises, and I caused the following letter to be delivered to him by one of our associates in livery, one Sunday evening:—

“Sir — If I may be allowed to judge from appearance, it will not be disagreeable for you to hear that my husband is gone to Bagshot to visit a patient, and will not return till to-morrow night; so that, if you have anything to propose to me (as your behaviour on many occasions has seemed to insinuate), you will do well to embrace the present opportunity of seeing, Yours, etc.” This letter was signed with the Dame of an apothecary’s wife who lived in Chelsea, of whom I bad heard O’Donnell was an admirer. Everything succeeded to our wish. The hero hastened towards the place of appointment, and was encountered by us in the very place where he had assaulted me. We rushed upon him all at once, secured his sword, stripped off his clothes even to the skin, which was scourged with nettles till he was blistered from head to foot, notwithstanding all the eloquence of his tears and supplications. When I was satisfied with the stripes I had bestowed, we carried off his clothes, which we hid in a hedge near the place, and left him stark naked to find his way home in the best manner he could, while I took care to be there before him. I afterwards understood that, in his way to the lodgings of a friend, who lived in the skirts of the town, he was picked up by the watch, who carried him to the round-house, from whence he sent for clothes to his lodgings, and next morning arrived at the door in a chair, wrapt up in a blanket he had borrowed; for his body was so sore and swelled, that he could not bear to be confined in his wearing apparel. He was treated with the utmost tenderness by my mistress and her daughter, who vied with each other in their care and attendance of him; but Lavement himself could not forbear expressing his joy, by several malicious grins, while he ordered me to prepare an unguent for his sores. As to myself, nobody can doubt my gratification, when I had every day an opportunity of seeing my revenge protracted on the body of my adversary, by the ulcers of which I had been the cause; and, indeed, I not only enjoyed the satisfaction of having flea’d him alive, but another also which I had not foreseen. The story of his being attacked and stripped in such a place having been inserted in the news, gave information to those who found his clothes next day, whither to bring them; and accordingly he retrieved everything he had lost except a few letters, among which was that which I had writ to him in the name of the apothecary’s wife. This, and the others, which were all on the subject of love (for this Hibernian hero was one of those people who are called fortune-hunters), fell into the hands of a certain female author, famous for the scandal she has published; who, after having embellished them with some ornaments of her own invention, gave them to the to town in print. I was very much shocked on reflection, that I might possibly be the occasion of a whole family’s unhappiness on account of the letter I had written; but was eased of that apprehension, when I understood that the Chelsea apothecary had commenced a lawsuit against the printer for defamation, and looked upon the whole as a piece of forgery committed by the author, who had disappeared. But whatever might he his opinion of the matter, our two ladies seemed to entertain a different idea of it: for as soon as the pamphlet appeared, I could perceive their care of their patient considerably diminish, till at last it ended in a total neglect. It was impossible for him to be ignorant of this change, any more than of the occasion of it; but as he was conscious to himself of having deserved worse than contempt at their hands, he was glad to come off so cheaply, and contented himself with muttering curses and threats against the apothecary, who, as he imagined, having got an inkling of the appointment with his wife, had taken revenge of him in the manner described. By the time he had got a new scarf skin his character was become so notorious, that he thought it high time for him to decamp; and his retreat he performed in one night, without beat of drum, after having robbed his own servant of everything that belonged to him except the clothes he had on his back.

A few days after he disappeared, Mr. Lavement, for his own security, took into his custody a large old trunk which he had left; and as it was very heavy, made no question that the contents were sufficient to indemnify him for what O’Donnell owed in lodging. But a month being elapsed without hearing any tidings of this adventurer, and my master being impatient to know what the trunk contained, he ordered me to break it open in his presence, which task I performed with the pestle of our great mortar, and discovered, to his inexpressible astonishment and mortification, a heap of stones.

About this time, my friend Strap informed me of an offer he had to go abroad with a gentleman in quality of valet de chambre and at the same time assured me that, whatever advantage he might propose to himself from this prospect, he could not bear the thoughts of parting from me, so much was he attached to my fortune. In spite of all the obligations I owed to this poor, honest fellow, ingratitude is so natural to the heart of man, that I began to be tired of his acquaintance: and now that I had contracted other friendships which appeared more creditable, was even ashamed to see a journeyman barber inquiring after me with the familiarity of a companion. I therefore, on pretence of consulting his welfare, insisted upon his accepting the proposal, which he at last determined to embrace, with great reluctance, and in a few days, took his leave of me, shedding a flood of tears, which I could not behold without emotion. I now began to look upon me as of a gentleman in reality; learned to dance, frequented plays during the holidays; became the oracle of an ale-house, where every dispute was referred to my decision; and at length contracted an acquaintance with a young lady, who found means to make a conquest of my heart, and upon whom I prevailed, after much attendance and solicitation, to give me a promise of marriage. As this beautiful creature passed for a rich heiress, I blessed my good fortune, and was actually on the point of crowning all my wishes by matrimony, when I made such a discovery as effectually turned me from my design, and I abandoned all thoughts of marriage for the future.

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