The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XXVII

I acquire the friendship of the Surgeon, who procures a warrant for me, and makes me a present of clothes — a battle between a Midshipman and me — the Surgeon leaves the ship — the Captain comes on board with another Surgeon — a dialogue between the Captain and Morgan — the sick are ordered to be brought upon the Quarter-deck and examined — the consequences of that order — a Madman accuses Morgan, and is set at liberty by command of the Captain, whom he instantly attacks, and pummels without mercy

While I was busied with my friend in the practice. The doctor chanced to pass by the place where we were, and stopping to observe me appeared very well satisfied with my application; and afterwards sent for me to his cabin, where, having examined me touching my skill in surgery, and the particulars of my fortune, he interested himself so far in my behalf, as to promise his assistance in procuring a warrant for me, seeing I had already been found qualified at Surgeons’ Hall for the station I filled on board; and in this good office he the more cordially engaged when he understood I was nephew to lieutenant Bowling, for whom he expressed a particular regard. In the meantime, I could learn from his discourse that he did not intend to go to sea again with Captain Oakum, having, as he thought, been indifferently used by him during the last voyage.

While I lived tolerably easy, in expectation of preferment, I was not altogether without mortifications, which I not only suffered from the rude insults of the sailors and petty officers, among whom I was known by the name of Loblolly Boy, but also from the disposition of Morgan, who, though friendly in the main, was often very troublesome with his pride, which expected a good deal of submission from me, and delighted in recapitulating the favours I had received at his hands.

About six weeks after my arrival on board, the surgeon, bidding me to follow him into his cabin, presented a warrant to me, by which I was appointed surgeon’s third mate on board the Thunder. This he had procured by his interest at the Navy Office; as also another for himself, by virtue of which he was removed into a second-rate. I acknowledged his kindness in the strongest terms my gratitude could suggest, and professed my sorrow at the prospect of losing so valuable a friend, to whom I hoped to have recommended myself still further, by my respectful and diligent behaviour. But his generosity rested not here; for before he left the ship he made me a present of a chest and some clothes that enabled me to support the rank to which he had raised me.

I found my spirit revive with my good fortune; and, now I was an officer, resolved to maintain the dignity of my station, against all opposition or affronts; nor was it long before I had occasion to exert my resolution. My old enemy, the midshipman (whose name was Crampley), entertaining an implacable animosity against me for the disgrace he had suffered on my account, had since that time taken all opportunities of reviling and ridiculing me, when I was not entitled to retort this bad usage; and, even after I had been rated on the books, and mustered as surgeon’s mate, did not think fit to restrain his insolence. In particular, being one day present while I dressed a wound in a sailor’s leg, he began to sing a song, which I thought highly injurious to the honour of my country, and therefore signified my resentment, by observing that the Scots always laid their account with finding enemies among the ignorant, insignificant, and malicious. This unexpected piece of assurance enraged him to such a degree, that he lent me a blow on the face, which I verily thought had demolished my cheek-bone. I was not slow in returning the obligation, and the affair began to be very serious, when by accident Mr. Morgan, and one of the master’s mates, coming that way, interposed, and, inquiring into the cause, endeavoured to promote a reconciliation; but, finding us both exasperated to the uttermost, and bent against accommodation, they advised us either to leave our difference undecided, till we should have an opportunity of terminating it on shore, like gentlemen, or else choose a proper place on board, and bring it to an issue by boxing. The last expedient was greedily embraced by us both; and, being forthwith conducted to the ground proposed, we stripped in a moment, and began a furious contest, in which I soon found myself inferior to my antagonist, not so much in strength and agility, as in skill, which he had acquired in the school of Hockley-in-the-Hole at Tottenham-court. Many cross buttocks did I sustain, and pegs on the stomach without number, till at last my breath being quite gone, as well as my vigour wasted, I grew desperate, and collecting all my strength in one effort, threw in at once, head, hands, and feet, with such violence, that I drove my antagonist three paces backward into the main hatchway, down which he fell, and pitching upon his head and right shoulder, remained without sense and motion. Morgan, looking down, and seeing him lie in that condition, cried, “Upon my conscience, as I am a Christian sinner, (look you,) I believe his pattles are all ofer; but I take you all to witness that there was no treachery in the case, and that he has suffered by the chance of war.” So saying he descended to the deck below, to examine into the situation of my adversary, and left me very little pleased with my victory, as I found myself not only terribly bruised, but likewise in danger of being called to account for the death of Crampley; but this fear vanished when my fellow-mate having, by bleeding him in the jugular, brought him to himself, and inquired into the state of his body, called up to me to be under no concern, for the midshipman had received no other damage than as pretty a luxation of the os humeri as one would desire to see on a summer’s day. Upon this information I crawled down to the cock-pit, and acquainted Thompson with the affair, who, providing himself with bandages, etc, necessary for the occasion, went up to assist Mr. Morgan in the reduction of the dislocation. When this was successfully performed, they wished me joy of the event of the combat; and the Welshman, after observing, that, in ail likelihood, the ancient Scots and Britons were the same people, bade me “praise Cot for putting mettle in my pelly, and strength in my limbs to support it.” I acquired such reputation by this rencontre, which lasted twenty minutes, that everybody became more cautious in behaviour towards me; though Crampley, with his arm in a sling, talked very high, and threatened to seize the first opportunity of retrieving on shore the honour he had lost by an accident, from which I could justly claim no merit.

About this time, Captain Oakum, having received sailing orders, came on board, and brought along with him a surgeon of his own country, who soon made us sensible of the loss we suffered in the departure of Doctor Atkins; for he was grossly ignorant, and intolerably assuming, false, vindictive, and unforgiving; a merciless tyrant to his inferiors, an abject sycophant to those above him. In the morning after the captain came on board, our first mate, according to custom, went to wait on him with a sick list, which, when this grim commander had perused, he cried with a stern countenance, “Blood and cons! sixty-one sick people on board of my ship! Harkee, you sir, I’ll have no sick in my ship, by G— d.” The Welshman replied, “he should be very glad to find no sick people on board: but, while it was otherwise, he did no more than his duty in presenting him with a list.” “You and your list may be d — n’d,” said the captain, throwing it at him; “I say, there shall be no sick in this ship while I have the command of her.” Mr. Morgan, being nettled at this treatment, told him his indignation ought to be directed to Cot Almighty, who visited his people with distempers, and not to him, who contributed all in his power towards their cure. The bashaw, not being used to such behaviour in any of his officers, was enraged to fury at this satirical insinuation, and, stamping with his foot, called him insolent scoundrel, threatening to have him pinioned to the deck, if he should presume to utter another syllable. But the blood of Caractacus being thoroughly heated, disdained to be restricted by such a command, and began to manifest itself in, “Captain Oakum, I am a shentleman of birth and parentage (look you), and peradventure I am moreover.” Here his harangue was broken off by the captain’s steward, who, being Morgan’s countryman, hurried him out of the cabin before he had time to exasperate his master to a greater degree, and this would certainly have been the case; for the indignant Welshman could hardly be hindered by his friend’s arguments and entreaties from re-entering the presence-chamber, and defying Captain Oakum to his teeth. He was, however appeased at length, and came down to the berth, where, finding Thompson and me at work preparing medicines, he bade us leave off our lapour to go to play, for the captain, by his sole word, and power, and command, had driven sickness a pegging to the tevil, and there was no more malady on board. So saying, he drank off a gill of brandy sighed grievously three times, poured fort an ejaculation of “Cot pless my heart, liver, and lungs!” and then began to sing a Welsh song with great earnestness of visage, voice, and gesture. I could not conceive the meaning of this singular phenomenon, and saw by the looks of Thompson, who at the same time shook his head, that he suspected poor Cadwallader’s brains were unsettled. He, perceiving our amazement, told us he would explain the mystery; but at the same time bade us take notice, that he had lived poy, patchelor, married man, and widower, almost forty years, and in all that time there was no man, nor mother’s son in the whole world who durst use him so ill as Captain Oakum had done. Then he acquainted us with the dialogue that passed between them, as I have already related it: and had no sooner finished this narration than he received a message from the surgeon, to bring the sick-list to the quarter-deck, for the captain had ordered all the patients thither to be reviewed.

This inhuman order shocked us extremely, as we knew it would be impossible to carry some of them on the deck, without imminent danger of their lives: but, as we likewise knew it would be to no purpose for us to remonstrate against it, we repaired to the quarter-deck in a body, to see this extraordinary muster; Morgan observing by the way, that the captain was going to send to the other world a great many evidences to testify against himself. When we appeared upon deck, the captain bade the doctor, who stood bowing at his right hand, look at these lazy lubberly sons of bitches, who were good for nothing on board but to eat the king’s provision, and encourage idleness in the skulkers. The surgeon grinned approbation, and, taking the list, began to examine the complaints of each as they could crawl to the place appointed. The first who came under his cognizance was a poor fellow just freed of a fever, which bad weakened him so much that he could hardly stand. Mr. Mackshane (for that was the doctor’s name), having felt his pulse, protested he was as well as any man in the world; and the captain delivered him over to the boatswain’s mate, with orders that be should receive a round dozen at the gangway immediately, for counterfeiting himself sick; but, before the discipline could be executed, the man dropped down on the deck, and had well nigh perished under the hands of the executioner. The next patient to be considered, laboured under a quartan ague, and, being then in his interval of health, discovered no other symptoms of distemper than a pale meagre countenance and emaciated body; upon which he was declared fit for duty, and turned over to the boatswain; but, being resolved to disgrace the doctor, died upon the forecastle next day, during his cold fit. The third complained of a pleuritic stitch, and spitting of blood, for which Doctor Mackshane prescribed exercise at the pump to promote expectoration! but whether this was improper for one in his situation, or that it was used to excess, I know not, but in less than half-an-hour he was suffocated with a deluge of blood that issued from his lungs. A fourth, with much difficulty, climbed to the quarter-deck, being loaded with a monstrous ascites, or dropsy, that invaded his chest so much, he could scarce fetch his breath; but his disease being interpreted into fat, occasioned by idleness and excess of eating, he was ordered, with a view to promote perspiration and enlarge his chest, to go aloft immediately. It was in vain for this unwieldy wretch to allege his utter incapacity; the boatswain’s driver was commanded to whip him up with the cat-and-nine-tails; the smart of this application made him exert himself so much, that he actually arrived at the puttock shrouds; but when the enormous weight of his body had nothing else to support than his weakened arms, either out of spite or necessity, he quitted his hold, and plunged into the sea, where he must have been drowned, had not a sailor, who was in a boat alongside, saved his life, by keeping him afloat till he was hoisted on board by a tackle.

It would be tedious and disagreeable to describe the fate of every miserable object that suffered by the inhumanity and ignorance of the captain and surgeon, who so wantonly sacrificed the lives of their fellow-creatures. Many were brought up in the height of fevers, and rendered delirious by the injuries they received in the way. Some gave up the ghost in the presence of their inspectors; and others, who were ordered to their duties, languished a few days at work among their fellows, and then departed without any ceremony. On the whole, the number of the sick was reduced to less than a dozen; and the authors of this reduction were applauding themselves for the services they had done to their king and country, when the boatswain’s mate informed his honour, that there was a man below lashed to his hammock, by direction of the doctor’s mate, and that he begged hard to be released; affirming, he had been so maltreated only for a grudge Mr. Morgan bore him, and that he was as much in his senses as any man aboard. The captain hearing this, darted a severe look at the Welshman, and ordered the man to be brought up immediately; upon which, Morgan protested with great fervency, that the person in question was as mad as a March hare; and begged for the love of Cot, they would at least keep his arms pinioned during his examination, to prevent him from doing mischief. This request the commander granted for his own sake, and the patient was produced, who insisted upon his being in his right wits with such calmness and strength of argument, that everybody present was inclined to believe him, except Morgan, who affirmed there was no trusting to appearances; for he himself had been so much imposed upon by his behaviour two days before, that he had actually unbound him with his own hands, and had well nigh been murdered for his pains: this was confirmed by the evidence of one of the waiters, who declared he had pulled this patient from the doctor’s mate, whom he had gotten down, and almost strangled. To this the man answered, that the witness was a creature of Morgan’s, and suborned to give his testimony against him by the malice of the mate, whom the defendant had affronted, by discovering to the people on board, that Mr. Morgan’s wife kept a gin-shop in Ragfair. This anecdote produced a laugh at the expense of the Welshman, who, shaking his head with some emotion, said, “Ay, ay, ’tis no matter. Cot knows, it is an arrant falsehood.” Captain Oakum, without any farther hesitation, ordered the fellow to be unfettered; at the same time, threatening to make Morgan exchange situations with him for his spite; but the Briton no sooner heard the decision in favour of the madman, than he got up to the mizen-shrouds, crying to Thompson and me to get out of his reach, for we should see him play the devil with a vengeance. We did not think fit to disregard his caution, and accordingly got up on the poop, whence we beheld the maniac (as soon as he was released) fly at the captain like a fury, crying, “I’ll let you know, you scoundrel, that I am commander of this vessel,” and pummel him without mercy. The surgeon, who went to the assistance of his patron, shared the same fate; and it was with the utmost difficulty that he was mastered at last, after having done great execution among those who opposed him.

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