The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XXVI

A disagreeable accident happens to me in the discharge of my office — Morgan’s nose is offended — a dialogue between him and the Ship’s steward-upon examination, I find more causes of complaint than one — my hair is cut off — Morgan’s cookery — the manner of sleeping on board-I am waked in the night by a dreadful noise

Could not comprehend how it was possible for the attendants to come near those who hung on the inside towards the sides of the ship, in order to assist them, as they seemed barricadoed by those who lay on the outside, and entirely out of the reach of all visitation; much less could I conceive how my friend Thompson would be able to administer clysters, that were ordered for some, in that situation; when I saw him thrust his wig in his pocket, and strip himself to his waistcoat in a moment, then creep on all fours under the hammocks of the sick, and, forcing up his bare pate between two, keep them asunder with one shoulder, until he had done his duty. Eager to learn the service, I desired he would give me leave to perform the next operation of that kind; and he consenting, I undressed myself after his example, and crawling along, the ship happened to roll: this motion alarming me, I laid hold of the first thing that came within my grasp with such violence, that I overturned it, and soon found, by the smell that issued upon me, that I had unlocked a box of the most delicious perfume. It was well for me that my nose was none of the most delicate, else I know not how I might have been affected by this vapour, which diffused itself all over the ship, to the utter discomposure of everybody who tarried on the same dock! neither was the consequence of this disgrace confined to my sense of smelling only; for I felt my misfortune more ways than one. That I might not, however, appear altogether disconcerted in this my first essay, I got up, and, pushing my head with great force between two hammocks, towards the middle, where the greatest resistance was, I made an opening indeed, but, not understanding the knack of dexterously turning my shoulder to maintain my advantage, had the mortification to find myself stuck up, as it were, in a pillory, and the weight of three or four people bearing on each side of my neck, so that I was in danger of strangulation. While I remained in this defenceless posture, one of the sick men, rendered peevish by his distemper, was so enraged at the smell I had occasioned and the rude shock he had received from me in my elevation, that, with many bitter reproaches, he seized me by the nose, which he tweaked so unmercifully, that I roared with anguish. Thompson, perceiving my condition, ordered one of the waiters to my assistance, who, with much difficulty, disengaged me from this situation, and hindered me from taking vengeance on the sick man, whose indisposition would not have screened him from the effects of my indignation.

After having made an end of our ministry for that time, we descended to the cockpit, my friend comforting me for what had happened with a homely proverb, which I do not choose to repeat. When we had descended half-way down the ladder, Mr. Morgan, before he saw us, having intelligence by his nose of the approach of something extraordinary, cried, “Cot have mercy upon my senses! I pelieve the enemy has poarded us in a stinkpot!” Then, directing his discourse to the steward, from whence he imagined the odour proceeded, he reprimanded him severely for the freedoms he took among gentlemen of birth, and threatened to smoke him like a padger with sulphur, if ever be should presume to offend his neighbours with such smells for the future. The steward, conscious of his own innocence, replied with some warmth, “I know of no smells but those of your own making.” This repartee introduced a smart dialogue, in which the Welshman undertook to prove, that, though the stench he complained of did not flow from the steward’s own body, he was nevertheless the author of it, by serving out damaged provisions to the ship’s company; and, in particular, putrified cheese, from the use of which only, he affirmed, such unsavoury steams could arise. Then he launched out into the praise of good cheese, of which he gave the analysis; explained the different kinds of that commodity, with the methods practised to make and preserve it, concluded in observing, that, in yielding good cheese, the county of Glamorgan might vie with Cheshire itself, and was much superior to it in the produce of goats and putter.

I gathered from this conversation, that, if I entered in my present pickle, I should be no welcome guest, and therefore desired Mr. Thompson to go before, and represent my calamity; at which the first mate, expressing some concern, went upon deck immediately, taking his way through the cable-tier and the main hatchway, to avoid encountering me; desiring me to clean myself as soon as possible: for he intended to regale himself with a dish of salmagundy and a pipe. Accordingly, I set about this disagreeable business, and soon found I had more causes of complaint than I at first imagined; for I perceived some guests had honoured me with their company, whose visit I did not think seasonable: neither did they seem inclined to leave me in a hurry, for they were in possession of my chief quarters, where they fed without reserve at the expense of my blood. But, considering it would be easier to extirpate the ferocious colony in the infancy of their settlement, than after they should be multiplied and naturalised to the soil, I took the advice of my friend, who, to prevent such misfortunes, went always close shaved, and made the boy of our mess cut off my hair, which had been growing since I left the service of Lavement; and the second mate lent me an old bobwig to supply the loss of that covering. This affair being ended, and everything adjusted in the best manner my circumstances would permit, the descendant of Caractacus returned, and, ordering the boy to bring a piece of salt beef from the brine, cut off a slice, and mixed it with an equal quantity of onions, which seasoning with a moderate proportion of pepper and salt, he brought it to a consistence with oil and vinegar; then, tasting the dish, assured us it was the best salmagundy that ever he made, and recommended it to our palate with such heartiness that I could not help doing honour to his preparation. But I had no sooner swallowed a mouthful, than I thought my entrails were scorched, and endeavoured with a deluge of small-beer to allay the heat it occasioned. Supper being over, Mr. Morgan having smoked a couple of pipes, and supplied the moisture he had expended with as many cans of flip, of which we all partook, a certain yawning began to admonish me that it was high time to repair by sleep the injury I had suffered from want of rest the preceding night; which being perceived by my companions, whose time of repose was now arrived, they proposed we should turn in, or in other words, go to bed. Our hammocks, which hung parallel to one another, on the outside of the berth, were immediately unlashed, and I beheld my messmates spring with great agility into their respective nests, where they seemed to lie concealed, very much at their ease. But it was some time before I could prevail upon myself to trust my carcase at such a distance from the ground, in a narrow bag, out of which, I imagined, I should be apt, on the least motion in my sleep, to tumble down at the hazard of breaking my bones. I suffered myself, however, to be persuaded, and taking a leap to get in, threw myself quite over, with such violence, that had I not luckily got hold of Thompson’s hammock, I should have pitched upon my head on the other side, and in all likelihood fractured my skull.

After some fruitless efforts, I succeeded at last; but the apprehension of the jeopardy in which I believed myself withstood all the attacks of sleep till towards the morning watch, when, in spite of my fears, I was overpowered with slumber, though I did not long enjoy this comfortable situation, being aroused with a noise so loud and shrill, that I thought the drums of my ears were burst by it; this was followed by a dreadful summons pronounced by a hoarse voice, which I could not understand. While I was debating with myself, whether or not I should wake my companion and inquire into the occasion of this disturbance, I was informed by one of the quartermasters who passed by me with a lantern in his hand, that the noise which alarmed me was occasioned by the boatswain’s mates who called up the larboard watch, and that I must lay my account with such an interruption every morning at the same hour. Being now more assured of my safety, I undressed myself again to rest, and slept till eight o’clock, when rising, and breakfasting with my comrades on biscuit and brandy, the sick were visited and assisted as before; after which visitation my good friend Thompson explained and performed another piece of duty, to which I was a stranger. At a certain hour in the morning, the boy of the mess went round all the decks, ringing a small hand-bell, and, in rhymes composed for the occasion, invited all those who had sores to repair before the mast, where one of the doctor’s mates attended, with applications to dress them.

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