The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XLII

He takes his passage in a cutter for Deal — we are accosted by a Priest, who proves to be a Scotchman — his profession on friendship — he is affronted by the Lieutenant, who afterwards appeases him by submission — my uncle embarks — I am introduced by a Priest to a Capuchin, in whose company I set out for Paris — the character of my fellow traveller — on adventure on the road — I am shocked at his behaviour

When our repast was ended, we walked down to the harbour, where we found a cutter that was to sail for Deal in the evening, and Mr. Bowling agreed for his passage. In the meantime, we sauntered about the town to satisfy our curiosity, our conversation turning on the subject of my designs, which were not as yet fixed: neither can it be supposed that my mind was at case, when I found myself reduced almost to extreme poverty, in the midst of foreigners, among whom I had not one acquaintance to advise or befriend me. My uncle was sensible of my forlorn condition, and pressed me to accompany him to England, where he did not doubt of finding some sort of provision for me; but besides the other reasons I had for avoiding that kingdom, I looked upon it, at this time, as the worst country in the universe for a poor honest man to live in; and therefore determined to remain in France, at all events.

I was confirmed in this resolution by a reverend priest, who, passing by at this time, and overhearing us speak English, accosted us in the same language, telling us he was our countryman, and wishing it might be in his power to do us any service. We thanked this grave person for his courteous offer, and invited him to drink a glass with us, which he did not think proper to refuse, and we went altogether into a tavern of his recommending. After having drunk to our healths in a bumper of good Burgundy, he began to inquire into our situation, particularly the place of our nativity, which we no sooner named than he started up, and, wringing our hands with great fervour, shed a flood of tears, crying, “I come from the same part of the country! perhaps you are my own relations.” I was on my guard against his caresses, which I suspected very much, when I remembered the adventure of the money-dropper; but, without any appearance of diffidence, observed, that, as he was born in that part of the country, he must certainly know our families, which (howsoever mean our present appearance might be) were none of the most obscure or inconsiderable. Then I discovered our names, to which I found he was no stranger; he had known my grandfather personally; and, notwithstanding an absence of fifty years from Scotland, recounted so many particulars of the families in the neighbourhood, that my scruples were entirely removed, and I thought myself happy in his acquaintance. In the course of our conversation, I disclosed my condition without reserve, and displayed my talents to such advantage, that the old father looked upon me with admiration, and assured me, that, if I stayed in France, and listened to reason, I could not fail of making my fortune, to which he would contribute all in his power.

My uncle began to be jealous of the Priest’s insinuation, and very abruptly declared, that if ever I should renounce my religion, he would break off all connection and correspondence with me; for it was his opinion, that no honest man would swerve from his principles in which he was bred, whether Turkish, Protestant, or Roman. The father, affronted at this declaration, with great vehemence began a long discourse, setting forth the danger of obstinacy, and shutting one’s eyes against the light. He said, that ignorance would be no plea towards justification, when we had opportunities of being better informed; and, that, if the minds of people had not been open to conviction, the Christian religion could not have been propagated in the world, and we should now be in a state of Pagan darkness and barbarity: he endeavoured to prove, by some texts of Scripture and many quotations from the Fathers, that the Pope was the successor of St. Peter, and vicar of Jesus Christ; that the church of Rome was the true, holy, catholic church; and that the Protestant faith was an impious heresy and damnable schism, by which many millions of souls would suffer everlasting perdition. When he had finished his sermon, which I thought he pronounced with more zeal than discretion, he addressed himself to my uncle, desired to know his objections to what had been said. The lieutenant, whose attention had been wholly engrossed by his own affairs, took the pipe out of his mouth, and replied, “As for me, friend, d’ye see, I have no objection to what you say; it may be either truth or false, for what I know; I meddle with nobody’s affairs but my own; the gunner to his linstock, and the steersman to the helm, as the saying is. I trust to no creed but the compass, and do unto every man as I would be done by; so that I defy the Pope, the Devil, and the Pretender; and hope to be saved as well as another.” This association of persons gave great offence to the friar, who protested, in a mighty passion, that if Mr. Bowling had not been his countryman, he would have caused him to be imprisoned for his insolence; I ventured to disapprove of my uncle’s rashness, and appeased the old gentleman, by assuring him there was no offence intended by my kinsman, who, by this time sensible of his error, shook the injured party by the hand, and asked pardon for the freedom he had taken. Matters being amicably compromised, he invited us to come and see him in the afternoon at the convent to which he belonged, and took his leave for the present; when my uncle recommended it strongly to me to persevere in the religion of my forefathers, whatever advantages might propose to myself by a change, which could not fail of disgracing myself, and dishonouring my family. I assured him no consideration would induce me to forfeit his friendship and good opinion on that score; at which assurance he discovered great satisfaction, and put me in mind of dinner, which we immediately bespoke, and when it was ready, ate together.

I imagined my acquaintance with the Scottish priest if properly managed, might turn out to my advantage, and therefore resolved to cultivate it as much as I could. With this view we visited him at his convent, according to his invitation, where he treated us with wine and sweetmeats, and showed us everything that was remarkable in the monastery. Having been thus entertained, we took our leave, though not before I had promised to see him next day, and the time fixed for my uncle’s embarking being come, I accompanied him to the harbour, and saw him on board. We parted not without tears, after we had embraced and wished one another all manner of prosperity: and he entreated me to write to him often, directing to Lieutenant Bowling, at the sign of the Union Flag, near the Hermitage, London.

I returned to the house in which we had met, where I passed the night in a very solitary manner, reflecting on the severity of my fate, and endeavouring to project some likely scheme of life for the future; but my invention failed me; I saw nothing but insurmountable difficulties in my way, and was ready to despair at the miserable prospect! That I might not, however, neglect any probable reason, I got up in the morning, and went directly to the father, whose advice and assistance I implored. He received me very kindly, and gave me to understand, that there was one way of life in which a person of my talents could not fail of making a great figure. I guessed his meaning, and told him, once for all, I was fully determined against any alteration in point of religion; therefore if his proposal regarded the church, he might save himself the trouble of explaining it. He shook his head and sighed, saying, “Ah! son, son, what a glorious prospect is here spoiled by your stubborn prejudice! Suffer yourself to be persuaded by reason, and consult your temporal welfare, as well as the concerns of your eternal soul. I can, by my interest procure your admission as a noviciate to this convent, where I will superintend and direct you with a truly paternal affection.” Then he launched out into the praises of a monastic life, which no noise disturbs, no cares molest, and no danger invades — where the heart is weaned from carnal attachments, the grosser appetite subdued and chastised, and the soul wafted to divine regions of philosophy and truth, on the wing of studious contemplation. But his eloquence was lost upon me, whom two considerations enabled to withstand his temptation; namely, my promise to my uncle, and my aversion to an ecclesiastical life; for as to the difference of religion, I looked upon it as a thing of too small moment to come in competition with a man’s fortune. Finding me immovable on this head, he told me, he was more sorry than offended at my noncompliance, and still ready to employ his good offices in my behalf. “The same erroneous maxims,” said he, ” that obstruct your promotion in the church, will infallibly prevent your advancement in the army; but, if you can brook the condition of a servant, I am acquainted with some people of rank at Versailles, to whom I can give you letters of recommendation, that you may be entertained by some one of them in quality of maitre d’hotel; and I do not doubt that your qualifications will soon entitle you to a better provision.” I embraced his offer with great eagerness, and he appointed me to come back in the afternoon, when he would not only give me letters, but likewise introduce me to a capuchin of his acquaintance, who intended to set out for Paris next morning in whose company I might travel, without being at the expense of one livre during the whole journey. This piece of good news gave me infinite pleasure; I acknowledged my obligation to the benevolent father in the most grateful expressions; and he performed his promise to a tittle, in delivering the letters, and making me acquainted with the capuchin, with whom I departed next morning by break of day.

It was not long before I discovered my fellow traveller to be a merry facetious fellow, who, notwithstanding his profession and appearance of mortification, loved good eating and drinking better than his rosary, and paid more adoration to a pretty girl than to the Virgin Mary, or St. Genevieve. He was a thick brawny young man, with red eyebrows, a hook nose, a face covered with freckles; and his name was Frere Balthazar. His order did not permit him to wear linen, so that, having little occasion to undress himself, he was none of the cleanliest animals in the world; and his constitution was naturally so strongly scented that I always thought it convenient to keep to the windward of him in our march. As he was perfectly well known on the road, we fared sumptuously without any cost, and the fatigue of our journey was much alleviated by the good humour of my companion, who sang an infinite number of catches on the subjects of love and wine. We took up our lodging the first night at a peasant’s house not far from Abbeville, where we were entertained with an excellent ragout, cooked by our landlord’s daughters, one of whom was very handsome. After having eaten heartily and drank a sufficient quantity of small wine, we were conducted to a barn, where we found a couple of carpets spread upon clean straw for our reception. We had not lain in this situation above half-an-hour, when we heard somebody knock softly at the door, upon which Balthazar got up, and let in our host’s two daughters, who wanted to have some private conversation with him in the dark. When they had whispered together some time, the capuchin came to me, and asked if I was insensible to love, and so hard-hearted as to refuse a share of my bed to a pretty maid who had a tendre for me? I must own to my shame, that I suffered myself to be overcome by my passion, and with great eagerness seized the occasion, when I understood that the amiable Nanette was to be my bedfellow. In vain did my reason suggest the respect that I owed to my dear mistress Narcissa; the idea of that lovely charmer rather increased than allayed the ferment of my spirits; and the young paysanne had no reason to complain of my remembrance. Early in the morning, the kind creatures left us to our repose, which lasted till eight o’clock when we got up, and were treated at breakfast with chocolate and l’eau-de-vie by our paramours, of whom we took a tender leave, after my companion had confessed and given them absolution.

While we proceeded on our journey, the conversation turned upon the night’s adventure, being introduced by the capuchin, who asked me how I liked my lodging; I declared my satisfaction, and talked in rapture of the agreeable Nanette, at which he shook his head, and smiling said, she was a morceau pour la bonne bouche. “I never valued myself,” continued he, “upon anything so much as the conquest of Nanette; and, vanity apart, I have been pretty fortunate in my amours.” This information shocked me not a little, as I was well convinced of his intimacy with her sister; and though I did not care to tax him with downright incest, I professed my astonishment at his last night’s choice, when, I supposed, the other was at his devotion. To this hint he answered that, besides his natural complaisance to the sex, he had another reason to distribute his favours equally between them, namely, to preserve peace in the family, which could not otherwise be maintained; that, moreover, Nanette had conceived an affection for me, and he loved her too well to balk her inclination; more especially, when he had an opportunity of obliging his friend at the same time. I thanked him for this instance of his friendship, though I was extremely disgusted at his want of delicacy, and cursed the occasion that threw me in his way. Libertine as I was, I could not bear to see a man behave so wide of the character he assumed. I looked upon him as a person of very little worth or honesty, and should even have kept a wary eye upon my pocket, if I had thought he could have had any temptation to steal. But I could not conceive the use of money to a capuchin, who is obliged, by the rules of his order, to appear like a beggar, and enjoy all other necessaries of life gratis; besides, my fellow traveller seemed to be of a complexion too careless and sanguine to give me any apprehension on that score; so that I proceeded with great confidence, in expectation of being soon at my journey’s end.

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