The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XXIX

Mackshane’s malice — I am taken up and imprisoned for a spy — Morgan meets with the same fate — Thompson is tampered with to turn evidence against us — disdains the proposal, and is maltreated for his integrity — Morgan is released to assist the Surgeon during an engagement with some French ships-of-war — I remain fettered on the poop, exposed to the enemy’s shot, and grow delirious with fear — am comforted after the battle by Morgan, who speaks freely of the captain, is overheard by the sentinel, who informs against him, and again imprisoned — Thompson grows desperate, and, notwithstanding the remonstrances of Morgan and me, goes overboard in the night

In the meantime the storm subsided into a brisk gale, that carried us into the warm latitudes, where the weather became intolerable, and the crew very sickly. The doctor left nothing unattempted towards the completion of his vengeance against the Welshman and me. He went among the sick under pretence of inquiring into their grievances, with a view of picking up complaints to our prejudice; but, finding himself frustrated in that expectation by the goodwill we bad procured from the patients by our diligence and humanity, he took the resolution of listening to our conversation, by hiding himself behind the canvas that surrounded our berth; here too he was detected by the boy of our mess, who acquainted us with this piece of behaviour, and one night, while we were picking a large bone of salt beef, Morgan discerned something stir on the outside of our hangings, which immediately interpreting to be the doctor, he tipped me the wink, and pointed to the place, where I could perceive somebody standing; upon which, I snatched up the bone, and levelled it with all my force at him, saying, “Whoever you are, take that for your curiosity.” It had the desired effect, for we heard the listener tumble down, and afterwards crawl to his own cabin. I applauded myself much for this feat, which turned out one of the most unlucky exploits of my life, Mackshane, from that time, marking me out for destruction.

About a week after this exploit, as I was going my rounds among the sick, I was taken prisoner, and carried to the poop by the master-at-arms, where I was loaded with irons, and stapled to the deck, on pretence that I was a spy on board, and had conspired against the captain’s life. How ridiculous soever this imputation was, I did not fail to suffer by it all the rigour that could be shown to the worst of criminals, being exposed in this miserable condition to the scorching heat of the sun by day, and the unwholesome damps by night, during the space of twelve days, in which I was neither brought to trial, nor examined touching the probability of the charge. I had no sooner recovered the use of my reflection, which had been quite overthrown by this accident, than I sent for Thompson, who, after condoling me on the occasion, hinted, that I owed this misfortune to the hatred of the doctor, who had given an information against me to the captain, in consequence of which I was arrested, and all my papers seized. While I was cursing my capricious fate, I saw Morgan ascend the poop, guarded by two corporals, who made him sit down by me, that he might be pinioned in the same machine. Notwithstanding my situation, I could scarce refrain from laughing at the countenance of my fellow prisoner, who, without speaking one word, allowed his feet to be inclosed in the rings provided for that purpose; but, when they pretended to fasten him on his back he grew outrageous, and drawing a large couteau from his side-pocket, threatened to rip up the belly of the first man that should approach him, in order to treat him in such an unworthy manner. They were prepared to use him very roughly, when the lieutenant on the quarter-deck called up to them to let him remain as he was. He then crept towards me, and, taking me by the hand, bade me “put my trust in Cot.” And looking at Thompson, who sat by us trembling, with a pale visage; told him there were two more rings for his feet, and he should be glad to find him in such good company. But it was not the intention of our adversary to include the second mate in our fate: him he expected to be his drudge in attending the sick and, if possible, his evidence against us: with this view he sounded him afar off, but, finding his integrity incorruptible, harrassed him so much out of spite, that in a short time this mild creature grew weary of his life.

While I and my fellow prisoner comforted each other in our tribulation, the admiral discovered four sail to leeward and made signal for our ship and four more to chase: hereupon everything was cleared for an engagement, and Mackshane, foreseeing he should have occasion for more assistants than one obtained Morgan’s liberty, while I was let in this deplorable posture to the chance of battle. It was almost dark when we came up with the sternmost chase, which we hailed, and inquired who they were. They gave us to understand they were French men-of-war, upon which Captain Oakum commanded them to send their boat on board of him! but they refused, telling him, if he had any business with them, to come on board of their ship: he then threatened to pour in a broadside upon them, which they promised to retain. Both sides were as good as their word, and the engagement began with great fury. The reader may guess how I passed my time, lying in this helpless situation, amidst the terrors of a sea-fight; expecting every moment to be cut asunder, or dashed in pieces by the enemy’s shot! I endeavoured to compose myself as much as possible, by reflecting that I was not a whit more exposed than those who were stationed about me; but, when I beheld them employed without intermission in annoying the foe, and encouraged by the society and behaviour of one another, I could easily perceive a wide difference between their condition and mine: however, I concealed my agitation as well as I could till the head of the officer of marines who stood near me, being shot off, bounced from the deck athwart my face, leaving me well nigh blinded with brains. I could contain myself no longer, but began to bellow with all the strength of my lungs; when a drummer, coming towards me asked if I was wounded, and, before I could answer, received a great shot in his belly, which tore out his entrails, and he fell flat on my breast. This accident entirely bereft me of all discretion; I redoubled my cries, which were drowned in the noise of the battle; and, finding myself disregarded, lost all patience, and. became frantic. I vented my rage in oaths and execrations, till my spirits, being quite exhausted, I remained quiet, as insensible of the load that oppressed me.

The engagement lasted till broad day, when Captain Oakum, finding he was like to gain neither honour nor advantage by the affair, pretended to be undeceived by seeing their colours; and, hailing the ship whom he had fought all night, protested he believed them Spaniards; and the guns being silenced on each side, ordered the barge to be hoisted out, and went on board the French commodore. Our loss amounted to ten killed, and eighteen wounded, most part of whom afterwards died. My fellow-mates bad no sooner despatched their business in the cock-pit, than, full of friendly concern, they came to visit me. Morgan, ascending first, and seeing my face almost covered with brains and blood, concluded I was no longer a man for this world; and, calling to Thompson with great emotion, bade him come up, and take his last farewell of his comrade and countryman, who was posted to a better place, where there were no Mackshanes nor Oakums to asperse and torment him. “No,” said he, taking me by the hand, “you are going to a country where there is more respect sown to unfortunate shentlemen, and where you will have the satisfaction of peholding your adversaries tossing upon pillows of purning primstone.” Thompson, alarmed at this apostrophe, made haste to the place where I lay, and sitting down by me, with tears in his eyes inquired into the nature of my calamity. By this time I had recollected myself so far as to be able to converse rationally with my friends, whom, to their great satisfaction, I immediately undeceived with regard to their apprehension of my being mortally wounded.

After I had got myself disengaged from the carnage in which I wallowed, and partaken of a refreshment which my friends brought along with them, we entered into discourse upon the hardships we sustained, and spoke very freely of the author of our misery; but our discourse being overheard by the sentinel who guarded me, he was no sooner relieved than he reported to the captain every syllable of our conversation, according to the orders he had received. The effect of this information soon appeared in the arrival of the master-at-arms, who replaced Morgan in his former station, and gave the second mate a caution to keep a strict guard over his tongue, if he did not choose to accompany us in our confinement. Thompson, foreseeing that the whole slavery of attending the sick and wounded, as well as the cruelty of Mackshane, must now fall upon his shoulders, grew desperate at the prospect, and, though I never heard him swear before, imprecated dreadful curses on the heads of his oppressors, declaring that he would rather quit life altogether than be much longer under the power of such barbarians. I was not a little startled at his vivacity, and endeavoured to alleviate his complaints, by representing the subject of my own, with as much aggravation as it would bear, by which comparison he might see the balance of misfortune lay on my side, and take an example from me of fortitude and submission, till such time as we could procure redress, which I hoped was not far off, considering that we should probably be in a harbour in less than three days, where we should have an opportunity of preferring our complaints to the admiral. The Welshman joined in my remonstrance, and was at great pains to demonstrate that it was every man’s duty as well as interest to resign himself to the divine will, and look upon himself as n sentinel upon duty, who is by no means at liberty to leave his post before he is relieved. Thompson listened attentively to what he said, and at last, shedding a flood of tears, shook his hand, and left us without making any reply. About eleven at night he came to see us again with a settled gloom on his countenance, and gave us to understand that he had undergone excessive toil since he saw us, and in recompense had been grossly abused by the doctor, who taxed him with being confederate with us, in a design of taking away his life and that of the captain. After some time spent in mutual exhortation, he got up, and squeezing me by the hand with uncommon fervour, cried, “God bless you both!” and left us to wonder at his singular manner of parting with us, which did not fail to make a deep impression on us both.

Next morning, when the hour of visitation came round, the unhappy young man was missing, and, after strict search, supposed to have gone overboard in the night; and this was certainly the case.

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