The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XXXIV

An epidemic Fever rages among us — we abandon our Conquests — I am seized with Distemper — write a Petition to the Captain, which is rejected — I am in danger of Suffocation through the Malice of Crampley, and relieved by a Serjeant — my Fever increases — the Chaplain wants to confess me — I obtain a favourable Crisis-Morgan’s Affection for me proved — the Behaviour of Mackshane and Crampley towards me — Captain Oakum is removed into another Ship with his beloved Doctor — our new Captain described — An Adventure of Morgan

The change of the atmosphere, occasioned by this phenomenon, conspired, with the stench that surrounded us, the heat of the climate, our own constitutions, impoverished by bad provisions, and our despair, to introduce the bilious fever among us, which raged with such violence, that three-fourths of those whom it invaded died in a deplorable manner; the colour of their skin being, by the extreme putrefaction of the juices, changed into that of soot.

Our conductors, finding things in this situation, perceived it was high to relinquish our conquests, and this we did, after having rendered their artillery useless, and blown up their walls with gunpowder. Just as we sailed from Bocca Chica, on our return to Jamaica, I found myself threatened with the symptoms of this terrible distemper; and knowing very well that I stood no chance for my life, if I should be obliged to be in the cockpit, which by this time was grown intolerable, even to people in health, by reason of the heat and unwholesome smell of decayed provision, I wrote a petition to the captain, representing my case, and humbly imploring his permission to be among the soldiers in the middle deck, for the benefit of the air: but I might have spared myself the trouble; for this humane commander refused my request, and ordered me to continue in the place allotted for the surgeon’s mates, or else be contented to be in the hospital, which, by the by, was three degrees more offensive and more suffocating than our own berth below. Another, in my condition, perhaps, would have submitted to his fate, and died in a pet; but I could not brook the thought of perishing so pitifully, after I had weathered so many gales of hard fortune: I therefore, without minding Oakum’s injunction, prevailed upon the soldiers (whose good-will I had acquired) to admit my hammock among them; and actually congratulated myself upon my comfortable situation; which Crampley no sooner understood, than he signified to the captain my contempt of his orders, and was invested with power to turn me down again into my proper habitation.

This barbarous piece of revenge incensed me so much against the author, that I vowed, with bitter imprecations, to call him to a severe account, if ever it should be in my power; and the agitation of my spirits increased my fever to a violent degree. While I lay gasping for breath in this infernal abode, I was visited by a sergeant, the bones of whose nose I had reduced and set to rights, after they had been demolished by a splinter during our last engagement; he, being informed of my condition, offered me the use of his berth in the middle deck, which was enclosed with canvas, and well aired by a port-hole that remained open within it. I embraced this proposal with joy, and was immediately conducted to the place, where I was treated, while my illness lasted, with the utmost tenderness and care by this grateful halberdier, who had no other bed for himself than a hencoop during the whole passage. Here I lay and enjoyed the breeze, notwithstanding which my malady gained ground, and at length my life was despaired of, though I never lost hopes of recovery, even when I had the mortification to see, from my cabin-window, six or seven thrown overboard every day, who died of the same distemper. This confidence, I am persuaded, conduced a great deal to the preservation of my life, especially when joined to another resolution I took at the beginning, namely, to refuse all medicine, which I could not help thinking co-operated with the disease, and, instead of resisting putrefaction, promoted a total degeneracy of the vital fluid. When my friend Morgan, therefore, brought his diaphoretic bolases, I put them into my month, ’tis true, but without any intention of swallowing them: and, when he went away, spit them out, and washed my mouth with water-gruel. I seemingly complied in this matter, that I might not affront the blood of Caractacus, by a refusal which might have intimated a diffidence of his physical capacity, for he acted as my physician; Doctor Mackshane never once inquiring about me, or even knowing where I was. When my distemper was at the height, Morgan thought my case desperate, and, after having applied a blister to the nape of my neck, squeezed my hand, bidding me, with a woful countenance, recommend myself to Cot and my Reteemer; then, taking his leave, desired the chaplain to come and administer some spiritual consolation to me; but, before he arrived, I made shift to rid myself of the troublesome application the Welshman had bestowed on my back. The person, having felt my pulse, inquired into the nature of my complaints, hemmed a little, and began thus: “Mr. Random, God out of his infinite mercy has been pleased to visit you with a dreadful distemper, the issue of which no man knows. You may be permitted to recover and live many days on the face of the earth; and, which is more probable, you may be taken away, and cut off in the flower of your youth. It is incumbent on you, therefore, to prepare for the great change, by repenting sincerely of your sins; of this there cannot be a greater sign, than an ingenuous confession, which I conjure you to make without hesitation or mental reservation; and, when I am convinced of your sincerity, I will then give you such comfort as the situation of your soul will admit of. Without doubt, you have been guilty of numberless transgressions to which youth is subject, as swearing, drunkenness, whoredom, and adultery: tell me therefore, without reserve, the particulars of each, especially of the last, that I may be acquainted with the true state of your conscience; for no physician will prescribe for his patient until he knows the circumstances of his disease.”

As I was not under any apprehensions of death, I could not help smiling at the chaplain’s inquisitive remonstrance, which I told him savoured more of the Roman than of the Protestant church, in recommending auricular confession; a thing, in my opinion, not at all necessary to salvation, and which, for that reason, I declined. This reply disconcerted him a little; however, he explained away his meaning, in making learned distinctions between what was absolutely necessary and what was only convenient; then proceeded to ask what religion I professed. I answered, that I had not as yet considered the difference of religions, consequently had not fixed on any one in particular, but that I was bred a Presbyterian. At this word the chaplain expressed great astonishment, and said, he could not comprehend how a presbyterian was entitled to any post under the English government. Then he asked if I had ever received the sacrament, or taken the oaths; to which questions, I replying in the negative, he held up his hands, assured me he could do me no service, wished I might not be in a state of reprobation, and returned to his messmates, who were making merry in the ward-room, round a table well stored with bumbo2 and wine.

2 bumbo is a liquor composed of rum, sugar, water, and nutmeg

This insinuation, terrible as it was, had not such an effect upon me as the fever, which, soon after he had left me, grew outrageous. I began to see strange chimeras and concluded myself upon the point of being delirious; in the meantime, being in great danger of suffocation, I started up in a kind of frantic fit, with an intention to plunge myself into the sea; and, as my friend the sergeant was not present, would certainly have cooled myself to some purpose, had I not perceived a moisture upon my thigh, as I endeavoured to get out of my hammock: the appearance of this revived my hopes, and I had reflection and resolution enough to take the advantage of this favourable symptom, by tearing the shirt from my body, and the sheets from my bed, and wrapping myself in a thick blanket, in which inclosure, for about a quarter of an hour, felt all the pains of hell: but it was not long before I was recompensed for my suffering by a profuse sweat, that, bursting from the whole surface of my skin, in less than two hours, relieved me from all my complaints except that of weakness; and left me as hungry as a kite. I enjoyed a very comfortable nap, after which I was regaling myself with the agreeable reverie of future happiness, when I heard Morgan, on the outside of the curtain, ask the sergeant if I was alive still? “Alive!” cried the other, “God forbid he should be otherwise! he has lain quiet these five hours, and I do not choose to disturb him, for sleep will do him great service.” “Ay,” said my fellow-mate, “he sleeps so sound (look you), that he will not waken till the great trump plows — Cot be merciful to his soul. He has paid his debt like an honest man — ay, and moreover, he is at rest from all persecutions, and troubles, and afflictions, of which, Cot knows, and I know, he had his own share — Ochree! Ochree! he was a promising youth indeed!” So saying he groaned grievously, and began to whine in such a manner, as persuaded me he had a real friendship for me. The sergeant, alarmed at his words, came into the berth, and, while he looked upon me, I smiled, and tipped him the wink: he immediately guessed my meaning and remaining silent, Morgan was confirmed in his opinion of my being dead; whereupon he approached, with tears in his eyes, in order to indulge his grief with a sight of the object: and I counterfeited death so well, by fixing my eyes and dropping my under-jaw, that he said, “There he lies, no petter than a lump of clay, Cot help me!” and observed, by the distortion of my face, that I must have had a strong struggle.

I should not have been able to contain myself much longer, when he began to perform the last duty of a friend, in closing my eyes and my mouth, upon which I suddenly snapped at his fingers and discomposed him so much that he started back, turned pale as ashes, and stared like the picture of horror; although I could not help laughing at his appearance, I was concerned for his situation, and stretched out my hand, telling him I hoped to live and eat some salmagundy of his making in England. It was some time before he could recollect himself so far as to feel my pulse, and inquire into the particulars of my disease; but when he found I had enjoyed a favourable crisis, he congratulated me upon my good fortune; not failing to ascribe it, under Cot, to the blister he had applied to my back, at his last visit; which, by the bye, said he, must now be removed and dressed; he was actually going to fetch dressings, when I, feigning astonishment, said, “Bless me! sure you never applied a blister to me — there is nothing on my back, I assure you.” But he could not be convinced till he had examined it, and then endeavoured to conceal his confusion, by expressing his surprise in finding the skin untouched and the plaster missing. In order to excuse myself for paying so little regard to his prescription, I pretended to have been insensible when it was put on, and to have pulled it off afterwards in a fit of delirium. This apology satisfied my friend, who, on this occasion, abated a good deal of his stiffness in regard to punctilio; and as we were now safely arrived at Jamaica, where I had the benefit of fresh provisions and other refreshments, I recovered strength every day, and, in a short time, my health and vigour were perfectly re-established.

When I got up at first, and was just able to crawl about the deck with a staff in my hand, I met Doctor Mackshane, who passed by me with a disdainful look, and did not vouchsafe to honour me with one word. After him came Crampley, who, strutting up to me with a fierce countenance, pronounced, “Here’s fine discipline on-board, when such lazy, skulking sons of bitches as you are allowed, on pretence of sickness, to lollop at your ease, while your betters are kept to hard duty!” The sight and behaviour of this malicious scoundrel enraged me so much that I could scarce refrain from laying my cudgel across his pate; but when I considered my present feebleness, and the enemies I had in the ship, who wanted only a pretence to ruin me, I restrained my passion, and contented myself with telling him, I had not forgot his insolence and malice, and that I hoped we should meet one day on shore. At this declaration he grinned, shook his fist, and swore he longed for nothing more than such an opportunity. Meanwhile our ship was ordered to be heaved down, victualled, and watered, for her return to England; and our captain, for some reason or other, not thinking it convenient for him to revisit his native country at this time, exchanged with a gentleman, who, on the other hand, wished for nothing so much as to be safe without the tropic: all his care and tenderness of himself being insufficient to preserve his complexion from the injuries of the sun and weather.

Our tyrant having left the ship, and carried his favourite Mackshane along with him, to my inexpressible satisfaction, our new commander came on board in a ten-oared barge, overshadowed with a vast umbrella, and appeared in everything the reverse of Oakum, being a tall, thin young man, dressed in this manner: a white hat, garnished with a red feather, adorned his head, from whence his hair flowed upon his shoulders, in ringlets tied behind with a ribbon. His coat, consisting of pink-coloured silk, lined with white, by the elegance of the cut retired backward, as it were, to discover a white satin waistcoat embroidered with gold, unbuttoned at the upper part to display a brooch set with garnets, that glittered in the breast of his shirt, which was of the finest cambric, edged with right Mechlin: the knees of his crimson velvet breeches scarce descended so low as to meet his silk stockings, which rose without spot or wrinkle on his meagre legs, from shoes of blue Meroquin, studded with diamond buckles that flamed forth rivals to the sun! A steel-hilted sword, inlaid with gold, and decked with a knot of ribbon which fell down in a rich tassel, equipped his side; and an amber-headed cane hung dangling from his wrist. But the most remarkable parts of his furniture were, a mask on his face, and white gloves on his hands, which did not seem to be put on with an intention to be pulled off occasionally, but were fixed with a curious ring on the little finger of each hand.

In this garb, Captain Whiffle, for that was his name, took possession of the ship, surrounded with a crowd of attendants, all of whom, in their different degrees, seemed to be of their patron’s disposition; and the air was so impregnated with perfumes, that one may venture to affirm the climate of Arabia Felix was not half so sweet-scented. My fellow-mate, observing no surgeon among his train, thought he had found an occasion too favourable for himself to be neglected; and, remembering the old proverb, “Spare to speak, and spare to speed,” resolved to solicit the new captain’s interest immediately, before any other surgeon could be appointed for the ship. With this view he repaired to the cabin in his ordinary dress, consisting of a check shirt and trousers, a brown linen waistcoat, and a nightcap of the same (neither of them very clean,) which, for his further misfortune, happened to smell strong of tobacco. Entering without any ceremony into this sacred place, he found Captain Whiffle reposing upon a couch, with a wrapper of fine chintz about his body, and a muslin cap bordered with lace about his head; and after several low congees began in this manner: “Sir, I hope you will forgive, and excuse, and pardon, the presumption of one who has not the honour of being known to you, but who is, nevertheless a shentleman porn and pred, and moreover has had misfortunes, Cot help me, in the world.”

Here he was interrupted by the captain, who, on seeing him, had started up with great amazement, at the novelty of the apparition; and, having recollected himself, pronounced with a look and tone signifying disdain, curiosity and surprise, “Zauns! who art thou?” “I am surgeon’s first mate on board of this ship,” replied Morgan: “and I most vehemently desire and beseech you, with all submission, to be pleased to condescend and vouchsafe to inquire into my character, and my pehaviour, and my deserts, which, under Cot, I hope, will entitle me to the vacancy of surgeon.” As he proceeded in his speech, he continued advancing towards the captain, whose nostrils were no sooner saluted with the aromatic flavour that exhaled from him, than he cried with great emotion, “Heaven preserve me! I am suffocated! Fellow, fellow, away with thee! Curse thee, fellow! Get thee gone! I shall be stunk to death!” At the noise of his outcries, his servants ran into his apartment, and he accosted them thus: “Villains! cut-throats! traitors! I am betrayed! I am sacrificed! Will you not carry that monster away? or must I be stifled with the stench of him? oh, oh!” With these interjections he sank down upon his settee in a fit: his valet-de-chambre plied him with a smelling-bottle, one footman chafed his temples with Hungary water, another sprinkled the floor with spirits of lavender, a third pushed Morgan out of the cabin; who coming to the place where I was, sat down with a demure countenance and, according to his custom, when he received any indignity which he durst not revenge, began to sing a Welsh ditty.

I guessed he was under some agitation of spirits and desired to know the cause; but, instead of answering me directly, he asked with great emotion, if I thought him a monster and a stinkard? “A monster and a stinkard!” said I, with some surprise: “did anybody call you so?” “Cot is my judge,” replied be, “Captain Fifle did call me both; ay, and all the waters in the Tawy will not wash it out of my remembrance. I do affirm and avouch, and maintain, with my soul, and my pody, and my plood, look you, that I have no smells apout me, but such as a Christian ought to have, except the effluvia of tobacco, which is a cephalic, odoriferous, aromatic herb; and he is a son of a mountain goat who says otherwise. As for my being a minister, let that be as it is: I am as Cot was pleased to create me, which, peradventure, is more than I shall ever aver of him who gave me that title; for I will proclaim it before the world, that he is disguised, and transfigured, and transmogrified, with affectation and whimseys; and that he is more like a papoon than of the human race.”

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