The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XXVIII

The Captain enraged, threatens to put the Madman to death with his own hand — is diverted from that resolution by the arguments and persuasion of the first Lieutenant and Surgeon-we set sail for St. Helen’s, join the fleet under the command of Sir C— O— gle, and proceed for the West Indies — are overtaken by a terrible tempest — my friend Jack Rattlin has his leg broke by a fall from the mainyard — the behaviour of Mr. Mackshane-Jack opposes the amputation of his limb, in which he is seconded by Morgan and me, we undertake the cure and perform it successfully

The captain was carried into his cabin, so enraged with the treatment he had received, that he ordered the fellow to be brought before him, that he might have the pleasure of pistoling him with his own hand; and would certainly have satisfied his revenge in this manner, had not the first lieutenant remonstrated against it, by observing that, in all appearances, the fellow was not mad, but desperate; that he had been hired by some enemy of the captain’s to him, and therefore ought to be kept in irons till he could be brought to a court-martial, which, no doubt, would sift the affair to the bottom (by which means important discoveries might be made), and then sentence the criminal to a death according to his demerits. This suggestion, improbable as it was, had the desired effect upon the captain, being exactly calculated for the meridan of his intellects; more especially as Dr. Mackshane espoused this opinion, in consequence of his previous declaration that the man was not mad. Morgan finding there was no more damage done, could not help discovering by his countenance the pleasure he enjoyed on this occasion; and, while he bathed the doctor’s face with an embrocation, ventured to ask him, whether he thought there were more fools or madmen on board? But he would have been wiser in containing this sally, which his patient carefully laid up in his memory, to be taken notice of at a more fit season. Meanwhile we weighed anchor, and, on our way to the Downs, the madman, who was treated as a prisoner, took an opportunity, while the sentinel attending him was at the head, to leap and frustrate the revenge of the captain. We stayed not long at the Downs, but took the benefit of the first easterly wind to go round to Spithead: where, having received provisions on board for six months, we sailed from St. Helen’s in the grand fleet bound for the West Indies, on the ever-memorable expedition of Carthagena.

It was not without great mortification I saw myself on the point of being transported to such a distant and unhealthy climate, destitute of every convenience that could render such a voyage supportable, and under the dominion of an arbitrary tyrant, whose command was almost intolerable; however, as these complaints were common to a great many on board, I resolved to submit patiently to my fate, and contrive to make myself as easy as the nature of the case would allow. We got out of the channel with a prosperous breeze, which died away, leaving us becalmed about fifty leagues to the westward of the Lizard: but this state of inaction did not last long; for next night our maintop-sail was split by the wind, which, in the morning, increased to a hurricane. I was awakened by a most horrible din, occasioned by the play of the gun carriages upon the decks above, the cracking of cabins, the howling of the wind through the shrouds, the confused noise of the ship’s crew, the pipes of the boatswain and his mates, the trumpets of the lieutenants, and the clanking of the chain pumps. Morgan who had never been at sea before, turned out in a great hurry, crying, “Cot have mercy and compassion upon us! I believe, we have cot upon the confines of Lucifer and the d — n’d!” while poor Thompson lay quaking in his hammock, putting up petitions to heaven for our safety. I rose and joined the Welshman, with whom (after having fortified ourselves with brandy) I went above; but if my sense of hearing was startled before, how must my sight have been apalled in beholding the effects of the storm! The sea was swelled into billows mountain-high, on the top of which our ship sometimes hung as if it were about to be precipitated to the abyss below! Sometimes we sank between two waves that rose on each side higher than our topmast-head, and threatened by dashing together to overwhelm us in a moment! Of all our fleet, consisting of a hundred and fifty sail, scarce twelve appeared, and these driving under their bare poles, at the mercy of the tempest. At length the mast of one of them gave way, and tumbled overboard with a hideous crash! Nor was the prospect in our own ship much more agreeable; a number of officers and sailors ran backward and forward with distraction in their looks, halloaing to one another, and undetermined what they should attend to first. Some clung to the yards, endeavouring to unbend the sails that were split into a thousand pieces flapping in the wind; others tried to furl those which were yet whole, while the masts, at every pitch, bent and quivered like twigs, as if they would have shivered into innumerable splinters! While I considered this scene with equal terror and astonishment, one of the main braces broke, by the shock whereof two sailors were flung from the yard’s arm into the sea, where they perished, and poor Jack Rattlin thrown down upon the deck, at the expense of a broken leg. Morgan and I ran immediately to his assistance, and found a splinter of the shin-bone thrust by the violence of the fall through the skin; as this was a case of too great consequence to be treated without the authority of the doctor I went down to his cabin to inform him of the accident, as well as to bring up dressings which we always kept ready prepared. I entered his apartment without any ceremony, and, by the glimmering of a lamp, perceived him on his knees before something that very much resembled a crucifix; but this I will not insist upon, that I may not seem too much a slave to common report, which indeed assisted my conjecture on this occasion, by representing Dr. Mackshane as a member of the church of Rome. Be this as it will, he got up in a sort of confusion, occasioned (I suppose) by his being disturbed in his devotion, and in a trice snatched the subject of my suspicion from my sight.

After making an apology for my intrusion, I acquainted him with the situation of Rattlin, but could by no means prevail upon him to visit him on deck, where he lay; he bade me desire the boatswain to order some of the men to carry him down to the cockpit, “and in the meantime,” said he, “I will direct Thompson to get ready the dressings.” When I signified to the boatswain the doctor’s desire, he swore a terrible oath, that he could not spare one man from deck, because he expected the mast would go by the board every minute. This piece of information did not at all contribute to my peace of mind; however, as my friend Rattlin complained very much, with the assistance of Morgan I supported him to the lower deck, whither Mr. Mackshane, after much entreaty, ventured to come, attended by Thompson, with a box full of dressings, and his own servant, who carried a whole set of capital instruments. He examined the fracture and the wound, and concluding, from a livid colour extending itself upon the limb, that mortification would ensue, resolved to amputate the leg immediately. This was a dreadful sentence to the patient, who, recruiting himself with a quid of tobacco, pronounced with a woful countenance, “What! is there no remedy, doctor! must I be dock’d? can’t you splice it?” “Assuredly, Doctor Mackshane,” said the first mate, “with submission, and deference, and veneration, to your superior apilities, and opportunities, and stations, look you, I do apprehend, and conjure, and aver, that there is no occasion nor necessity to smite off this poor man’s leg.” “God Almighty bless you, dear Welshman!” cried Rattlin, “may you have fair wind and weather wheresoever you’re bound, and come to an anchor in the road of heaven at last!” Mackshane, very much incensed at his mate’s differing in opinion from him, so openly, answered, that he was not bound to give an account of his practice to him; and in a peremptory tone, ordered him to apply the tourniquet. At the sight of which, Jack, starting up, cried, “Avast, avast! D— n my heart, if you clap your nippers on me, till I know wherefore! Mr. Random, won’t you lend a hand towards saving my precious limb! Odd’s heart, if Lieutenant Bowling was here, he would not suffer Jack Rattlin’s leg to be chopped off like a piece of old junk.”

This pathetic address to me, joined to my inclination to serve my honest friend, and the reasons I had to believe there was no danger in delaying the amputation, induced me to declare myself of the first mate’s opinion, and affirm that the preternatural colour of the skin was owing to an inflammation, occasioned by a contusion, and common in all such cases, without any indication of an approaching gangrene. Morgan, who had a great opinion of my skill, manifestly exulted in my fellowship, and asked Thompson’s sentiments in the matter, in hopes of strengthening our association with him too; but he, being of a meek disposition, and either dreading the enmity of the surgeon, or speaking the dictates of his own judgment, in a modest manner espoused the opinion of Mackshane, who by this time having consulted with himself, determined to act in such a manner as to screen himself from censure, and at the same time revenge himself on us, for our arrogance in contradicting him. With this view, he asked if we would undertake to cure the leg at our peril: that is, be answerable for the consequence. To this question, Morgan replied, that the lives of his creatures are at the hands of Cot alone; and it would be great presumption in him to undertake for an event that was in the power of his Maker, no more than the doctor could promise to cure all the sick to whom he administered his assistance; but if the patient would put himself under our direction, we would do our endeavour to bring his distemper to a favourable issue, to which at present we saw no obstruction.

I signified my concurrence; and Rattlin was so overjoyed that, shaking us both by the hands, he swore nobody else should touch him, and, if he died, his blood should be upon his own head. Mr. Mackshane, flattering himself with the prospect of our miscarriage, went away, and left us to manage it as we should think proper; accordingly, having sawed off part of the splinter that stuck through the skin, we reduced the fracture, dressed the wound, applied the eighteen-tailed bandage, and put the leg in a box, secundam artem. Everything succeeded according to our wish, and we had the satisfaction of not only preserving the poor fellow’s leg, but likewise of rendering the doctor contemptible among the ship’s company, who had all their eyes on us during the course of this cure, which was completed in six weeks.

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