The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XXX

We lament the fate of our companion — the Captain offers Morgan his liberty, which he refuses to accept — we are brought before him and examined — Morgan is sent back into custody, whither also I am remanded after a curious trial

The news of this event affected my fellow prisoner and me extremely, as our unfortunate companion had justly acquired by his amiable disposition the love and esteem of us both; and the more we regretted his untimely fate, the greater horror we conceived for the villain who was undoubtedly the occasion of it. This abandoned miscreant did not discover the least symptom of concern for Thompson’s death, although he must have been conscious to himself of having driven him by ill usage to the fatal resolution, but desired the captain to set Morgan at liberty again to look after the patients. Accordingly one of the corporals was sent up to unfetter him, but he protested he would not be released until he should know for what he was confined; nor would he be a tennisball, nor a shuttlecock, nor a trudge, nor a scullion, to any captain under the sun. Oakum, finding him obstinate, and fearing it would not be in his power to exercise his tyranny much longer with impunity, was willing to show some appearance of justice and therefore ordered us both to be brought before him on the quarter-deck, where he sat in state, with his cleric on one side, and his counsellor Mackshane on the other. When we approached, he honoured us with this salutation: “So, gentlemen, d — n my blood! many a captain in the navy would have ordered you both to be tucked up to the yard’s arm, without either judge or jury, for the crimes you have been guilty of; but, d — n my blood, I have too much good nature in allowing such dogs as you to make defence.” “Captain Oakum,” said my fellow-sufferer, “certainly it is in your power (Cot help the while) to tack us all up at your will, desire, and pleasures. And perhaps it would be petter for some of us to be tucked up than to undergo the miseries to which we have been exposed. So may the farmer hang his kids for his diversion, and amusement, and mirth; but there is such a thing as justice, if not upon earth, surely in heaven, that will punish with fire and primstone all those who take away the lives of innocent people out of wantonness, and parparity (look you). In the mean time. I shall be glad to know the crimes laid to my charge, and see the person who accuses me.” “That you shall,” said the captain; “here, doctor, what have you to say?” Mackshane, stepping forward, hemmed a good while, in order to clear his throat, and, before he began, Morgan accosted him thus: “Doctor Mackshane, look in my face — look in the face of an honest man, who abhors a false witness as he abhors the tevil, and Cot be judge between you and me.” The doctor, not minding this conjuration, made the following speech. as near as I can remember: “I’ll tell you what, Mr. Morgan; to be sure what you say is just, in regard to an honest man, and if so be it appears as how you are an honest man, then it is my opinion that you deserve to be acquitted, in relation to that there affair, for I tell you what, Captain Oakum is resolved for to do everybody justice. As for my own part, all that I have to allege is, that I have been informed you have spoken disrespectful words against your captain, who, to be sure, is the most honourable and generous commander in the king’s service, without asparagement or acception of man, woman, or child.”

Having uttered this elegant harangue, on which he seemed to plume himself, Morgan replied, “I do partly guess, and conceive, and understand your meaning, which I wish could be more explicit; but, however, I do suppose, I am not to be condemned upon bare hearsay; or, if I am convicted of speaking disrespectfully of Captain Oakum, I hope there is no treason in my words.” “But there’s mutiny, by G— d, and that’s death by the articles of war!” cried Oakum: “In the meantime, let the witnesses be called.” Hereupon Mackshane’s servant appeared, and the boy of our mess, whom they had seduced and tutored for the purpose. The first declared, that Morgan as he descended the cockpit-ladder one day, cursed the captain, and called him a savage beast, saying, he ought to be hunted down as an enemy to mankind. “This,” said the clerk, “is a strong presumption of a design, formed against the captain’s life. For why? It presupposes malice aforethought, and a criminal intention a priori.” “Right,” said the captain to this miserable grub, who had been an attorney’s boy, “you shall have law enough: here’s Cook and Littlejohn to it.” This evidence was confirmed by the boy, who affirmed, he heard the first mate say, that the captain had no more bowels than a bear, and the surgeon had no more brain than an ass. Then the sentinel, who heard our discourse on the poop was examined, and informed the court that the Welshman assured me, Captain Oakum and Doctor Mackshane would toss upon billows of burning brimstone in bell for their barbarity. The clerk observed, that there was an evident prejudication, which confirmed the former suspicion of a conspiracy against the life of Captain Oakum; for, because, how could Morgan so positively pronounce that the captain and surgeon would d — n’d, unless he had intention to make away with them before they could have time to repent? This sage explanation had great weight with our noble commander, who exclaimed, “What have you to say to this, Taffy? yon seem to be taken all a-back, brother, ha!” Morgan was too much of a gentleman to disown the text, although he absolutely denied the truth of the comment. Upon which the captain, strutting up to him with a ferocious countenance, said, “So Mr. son of a bitch, you confess you honoured me with the names of bear and beast, and pronounced my damnation? D— n my heart! I have a good mind to have you brought to a court-martial and hang’d, you dog.” Here Mackshane, having occasion for an assistant, interposed, and begged the captain to pardon Mr. Morgan with his wonted goodness, upon condition that he the delinquent should make such submission as the nature of his misdemeanour demanded. Upon which the Cambro-Briton, who on this occasion would have made no submission to the Great Mogul, surrounded with his guards, thanked the doctor for his mediation, and acknowledged himself in the wrong for calling the image of Cot a peast. “but,” said he, “I spoke by metaphor, and parable, and comparison, and types; as we signify meekness by a lamb, lechery by a goat, and craftiness by a fox; so we liken ignorance to an ass, and brutality to a bear, and fury to a tiger; therefore I made use of these similes to express my sentiments (look you), and what I said before Cot, I will not unsay before man nor peast neither.”

Oakum was so provoked at this insolence (as he termed it,) that he ordered him forthwith to be carried to the place of his confinement, and his clerk to proceed on the examination of me. The first question put to me was touching the place of my nativity, which I declared to be the north of Scotland. “The north of Ireland more like!” cried the captain; “but we shall bring you up presently.” He then asked what religion I professed; and when I answered “the Protestant,” swore I was an arrant Roman as ever went to mass. “Come, come, clerk,” continued he, “catechise him a little on this subject.” But before I relate the particulars of the clerk’s inquiries, it will not be amiss to inform the reader that our commander himself was an Hibernian, and, if not shrewdly belied, a Roman Catholic to boot. “You say, you are a Protestant,” said the clerk; “make the sign of the cross with your finger, so, and swear upon it to that affirmation.” When I was about to perform the ceremony, the captain cried with some emotion, “No, no, d — me! I’ll have no profanation neither. But go on with your interrogations.” “Well then,” proceeded my examiner, “how many sacraments are there?” To which I replied, “Two.” “What are they?” said he. I answered, “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.” “And so you would explode confirmation and marriage altogether?” said Oakum. “I thought this fellow was a rank Roman.” The clerk, though he was bred under an attorney, could not refrain from blushing at this blunder, which he endeavoured to conceal, by observing, that these decoys would not do with me, who seemed to be an old offender. He went on with asking, if I believed in transubstantiation; but I treated the notion of real presence with such disrespect, that his patron was scandalised at my impiety, and commanded him to proceed to the plot. Whereupon this miserable pettifogger told me, there was great reason to suspect me of being a spy on board, and that I had entered into a conspiracy with Thompson, and others not yet detected, against the life of Captain Oakum, which accusation they pretended to support by the evidence of our boy, who declared he had often heard the deceased Thompson and me whispering together, and could distinguish the words, “Oakum, rascal, poison, pistol;” by which expressions it appeared, we did intend to use sinister means to accomplish his destruction. That the death of Thompson seemed to confirm this conjecture, who, either feeling the stings of remorse for being engaged in such a horrid confederacy, or fearing a discovery, by which he must have infallibly suffered an ignominious death, had put a fatal period to his own existence. But what established the truth of the whole was, a book in cyphers found among my papers, which exactly tallied with one found in his chest, after his disappearance. This, he observed, was a presumption very near positive proof, and would determine any jury in Christendom to find me guilty. In my own defence, I alleged, that I had been dragged on board at first very much against my inclination, as I could prove by the evidence of some people now in the ship, consequently could have no design of becoming spy at that time; and ever since had been entirely out of the reach of any correspondence that could justly entail that suspicion upon me. As for conspiring against my captain’s life, it could not be supposed that any man in his right wits would harbour the least thought of such an undertaking, which he could not possibly perform without certain infamy and ruin to himself, even if he had all the inclination in the world. That, allowing the boy’s evidence to be true (which I affirmed was false and malicious), nothing conclusive could be gathered from a few incoherent words; neither was the fate of Mr. Thompson a circumstance more favourable for the charge; for I had in my pocket a letter which too well explained that mystery, in a very different manner from that which was supposed. With these words, I produced the following letter, which Jack Rattlin brought to me the very day after Thompson disappeared; and told me it was committed to his care by the deceased, who made him promise not to deliver it sooner. The clerk, taking it out of my hand, read aloud the contents, which were these;

‘Dear Friend, — I am so much oppressed with the fatigue I daily and nightly undergo, and the barbarous usage of Doctor Mackshane, who is bent on your destruction as well as mine, that I am resolved to free myself from this miserable life, and, before you receive this, shall be no more. I could have wished to die in your good opinion, which I am afraid I shall forfeit by the last act of my life; but, if you cannot acquit me, I know you will at least preserve some regard for the memory of an unfortunate young man who loved you. I recommend it to you, to beware of Mackshane, whose revenge is implacable. I wish all prosperity to you and Mr. Morgan, to whom pray offer my last respects, and beg to be remembered as your unhappy friend and countryman,
‘William Thompson.’

This letter was no sooner read, than Mackshane, in a transport of rage, snatched it out of the clerk’s hands, and tore it into a thousand pieces, saying, it was a villainous forgery, contrived and executed by myself. The captain and clerk declared themselves of the same opinion, although I insisted of having the remains of it compared with other writings of Thompson, which they had in their possession; and I was ordered to answer the last article of my accusation, namely, the book of ciphers found among my papers. “That is easily done,” said I. “What you are pleased to all ciphers, are no other than the Greek characters, in which, for my amusement, I keep a diary of everything remarkable that has occurred to my observation since the beginning of the voyage, till the day in which I was put in irons; and the same method was practised by Mr. Thompson, who copied mine.” “A very likely story,” cried Mackshane; “what occasion was there for using Greek characters, if you were not afraid of discovering what you had wrote? But what d’ye talk of Greek characters? D’ye think I am so ignorant of the Greek language, as not to distinguish its letters from these, which are no more Greek than Chinese? No, no, I will not give up my knowledge of the Greek for you, nor none that ever came from your country.” So saying, with an unparalleled effrontery, he repeated some gibberish, which by the sound seemed to be Irish, and made it pass for Greek with the captain, who, looking at me with a contemptuous sneer, exclaimed, “Ah, ah! have you caught a tartar?” I could not help smiling at the consummate assurance of this Hibernian, and offered to refer the dispute to anybody on board who understood the Greek alphabet. Upon which Morgan was brought back, and, being made acquainted with the affair, took the book, and read a whole page in English, without hesitation, deciding the controversy in my favour. The doctor was so far from being out of countenance at this detection, that he affirmed Morgan was in the secret, and repeated from his own invention. Oakum said, “Ay, ay, I see they are both in a story;” and dismissed my fellow-mate to his cockloft, although I proposed that he and I should read and translate, separately, any chapter or verse in the Greek Testament in his possession, by which it would appear whether we or the surgeon spoke truth. Not being endued with eloquence enough to convince the captain that there could be no juggle nor confederacy in this expedient, I begged to be examined by some unconcerned person on board, who understood Greek. Accordingly, the whole ship’s company, officers and all, were called upon deck, among whom it was proclaimed that, if anyone of them could speak Greek, he or they so qualified should ascend the quarter-deck immediately. After some pause, two foremast men came up, and professed their skill in that language, which, they said, they acquired during several voyages to the Levant, among the Greeks of the Morea. The captain exulted much in this declaration, and put my journal book into the hands of one of them, who candidly owned he could neither read nor write; the other acknowledged the same degree of ignorance, but pretended to speak the Greek lingo with any man on board; and, addressing himself to me, pronounced some sentences of a barbarous corrupted language, which I did not understand. I asserted that the modern Greek was as different from that spoken and written by the ancients, as the English used now from the old Saxon spoke in the time of Hengist: and, as I had only learned the true original tongue, in which Homer, Pindar, the Evangelists, and other great men of antiquity wrote, it could not be supposed that I should know anything of an imperfect Gothic dialect that rose on the ruins of the former, and scarce retained any traces of the old expression: but, if Doctor Mackshane, who pretended to be master of the Greek language, could maintain a conversation with these seamen, I would retract what I had said, and be content to suffer any punishment be should think proper to inflict. I had no sooner uttered these words than the surgeon, knowing one of the fellows to be his countryman, accosted him in Irish, and was answered in the same brogue; then a dialogue ensued between them, which they affirmed to be in Greek, after having secured the secrecy of the other tar, who had his cue in the language of the Morea, from his companion, before they would venture to assert such an intrepid falsehood. “I thought,” said Oakum, “we should discover the imposture at last. Let the rascal be carried back to his confinement. I find he must dangle.” Having nothing further to urge in my own behalf, before a court so prejudiced with spite, and fortified with ignorance against truth, I suffered myself to be reconducted peaceably to my fellow-prisoner, who, hearing the particulars of my trial, lifted up his hands and eyes to Heaven, and uttered a dreadful groan: and, not daring to disburden his thoughts to me by speech, lest he might be overheard by the sentinel, burst forth into a Welsh song, which he accompanied with a thousand contortions of face and violent gestures of body.

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