The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XXXI

I discover a subornation against me, by means of a quarrel between two of the evidences; in consequence of which I am set at liberty, and prevail upon Morgan to accept of his freedom on the same terms — Mackshane’s malice — we arrive at Jamaica, from whence in a short time we beat up to Hispaniola, in conjunction with the West India squadron — we take in water, sail again, and arrive at Carthagena — Reflections on our conduct there

Meanwhile, a quarrel happening between the two modern Greeks, the one, to be revenged of the other, came and discovered to us the mystery of Mackshane’s dialogue, as I have explained it above. This detection coming to the ears of the doctor, who was sensible that (now we were in sight of Jamaica) we should have an opportunity of clearing ourselves before a court-martial, and, at the same time, of making his malice and ignorance conspicuous, he interceded for us with the captain so effectually, that in a few hours we were set at liberty, and ordered to return to our duty. This was a happy event for me, my whole body being blistered by the sun, and my limbs benumbed by want of motion: but I could scarce persuade the Welshman to accept of this indulgence, he persisted in his obstinacy to remain in irons, until he should be discharged by a court-martial, which, he believed. would also do him justice on his enemies. At length I represented to him the precarious issue of a trial, the power and interest of his adversaries, and flattered his revenge with the hope of wreaking his resentment with his own hands upon Mackshane after our return to England. This last argument had more weight with him than all the rest, and prevailed upon him to repair with me to the cockpit, which I no sooner entered, than the idea of my departed friend presented itself to my remembrance, and filled my eyes with tears. We discharged from our mess the boy who had acted so perfidiously, notwithstanding his tears, intreaties, and of penitence for what he had done; but not before he had confessed that the surgeon had bribed him to give evidence against us, with a pair of stockings and a couple of old check shirts, of which his servant had since plundered him.

The keys of our chests and lockers being sent to us by the doctor, we detained the messenger until we had examined the contents; and my fellow-mate, finding all his Cheshire cheese consumed to a crust, his brandy exhausted, and his onions gone, was seized with a fit of choler, which he discharged on Mackshane’s man in oaths and execrations, threatening to prosecute him as a thief. The fellow swore in his turn, that he never had the keys in his possession till that time, when he received them from his master with orders to deliver them to us. “As Cot is my judge,” cried Morgan, “and my salfation, and my witness; whosoever has pilfered my provisions is a lousy, peggarly, rascally knave! and by the soul of my grandsire, I will impeach, and accuse, and indict him, of a roppery, if I did but know who he is.” Had this misfortune happened at see, where we could not repair the loss, in all probability this descendant of Caractacus would have lost his wits entirely; but, when I observed how easy it would be to remedy this paltry mischance, he became more calm, and reconciled himself to the occasion.

A little while after this transport the surgeon came into the birth, under pretence of taking something out of the medicine chest, and, with a smiling aspect, wished us joy of our deliverance, which, he said, he had been at great pains to obtain of the captain, who was very justly incensed at our behaviour; but he, the doctor, had passed his word for our future conduct, and he hoped we should give him no cause to repent of his kindness. He expected, no doubt, an acknowledgment from us for this pretended piece of service, as well as a general amnesty of what was past; but he had to do with people who were not quite so apt to forgive injuries as he imagined, or to forget that, if our deliverance was owing to his mediation, our calamity was occasioned by his malice; I therefore sat silent, while my companion answered, “Ay, ay, ’tis no matter, Cot knows the heart; there is a time for all things, as the wise man saith; there is a time for throwing away stones, and to gather them up.” He seemed to be disconcerted at this reply, and went away in a pet, muttering something about “Ingratitude,” and “Fellows,” of which we did not think fit to take any notice.

Our fleet, having joined another that waited for us, lay at anchor about a month in the harbour of Port Royal in Jamaica, during which time something of consequence was certainly transacted; notwithstanding the insinuations of some, who affirmed we had no business at all in that place; that, in order to take the advantage of the season proper for our enterprise, the West India squadron, which had previous notice of our coming, ought to have joined us at the west end of Hispaniola, with necessary stores and refreshments, from whence we could have sailed directly for Carthagena, before the enemy could put themselves in a good posture of defence, or, indeed, have an inkling of our design. Be this as it will, we sailed from Jamaica, and, in ten days or a fortnight, beat up against the wind as far as the Isle of Vache, with an intention, as was said, to attack the French fleet, then supposed to be lying near that place; but before we arrived, they had sailed for Europe, having first dispatched an advice-boat to Carthagena, with an account of our being in those seas, as also of our strength and destination. We loitered here some days longer, taking in wood and brackish water, in the use whereof, however, our admiral seemed to consult the health of the men, by restricting each to a quart a day.

At length we set sail, and arrived in a bay to the windward of Carthagena, where we came to an anchor, and lay at our ease ten days longer. Here, again, certain malicious people took occasion to blame the conduct of their superiors, by saying, that in so doing they not only unprofitably wasted time, which was very precious, considering the approach of the rainy season, but also allowed the Spaniards to recollect themselves from a terror occasioned by the approach of an English fleet, at least three times as numerous as ever appeared in that part of the world before. But if I might be allowed to give my opinion of the matter, I would ascribe this delay to the generosity of our chiefs, who scorned to take any advantage that fortune might give them even over an enemy. At last, however, we weighed, and anchored again somewhat nearer the harbour’s mouth, where we made shift to land our marines, who encamped on the beach, in despite of the enemy’s shot, which knocked a good many of them on the head. This piece of conduct, in choosing a camp under the walls of an enemy’s fortification, which I believe never happened before, was practised, I presume, with a view of accustoming the soldiers to stand fire, who were not as yet much used to discipline, most of them having been taken from the plough-tail a few months before. This expedient, again, has furnished matter for censure against the ministry, for sending a few raw recruits on such an important enterprise, while so many veteran regiments lay inactive at home. But surely our governors had their reasons for so doing, which possibly may be disclosed with other secrets of the deep. Perhaps they were loth to risk their best troops on such desperate service, or the colonel and the field officers of the old corps, who, generally speaking, enjoyed their commissions as sinecures or pensions, for some domestic services rendered to the court, refused to embark in such a dangerous and precarious undertaking; for which refusal, no doubt, they are to be much commended.

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