The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XLIII

We lodge at a House near Amiens, where I am robbed by the Capuchin, who escapes while I am asleep — I go to Noyons in search of him, but without Success — make my Condition known to several People, but find no Relief — grow desperate — find a Company of Soldiers — Enlist in the Regiment of Picardy — we are ordered into Germany — I find the Fatigues of the March almost intolerable — Quarrel with my Comrade in a dispute about Politics — he challenges me to the Field — wounds and disarms me

The third night of our pilgrimage we passed at a house near Amiens, where being unknown, we supped upon indifferent fare and sour wine, and were fain to be in a garret upon an old mattress, which, I believe had been in the possession of ten thousand myriads of fleas time out of mind. We did not invade their territory with impunity; in less than a minute we were attacked by stings innumerable, in spite of which, however, I fell fast asleep, being excessively fatigued with our day’s march, and did not wake till nine next morning, when, seeing myself alone, I started up in a terrible fright, and, examining my pockets, found my presaging fear too true! My companion had made free with my cash, and left me to seek my way to Paris by myself! I ran down stairs immediately; and, with a look full of grief and amazement, inquired for the mendicant, who, they gave me to understand, had set out four hours before, after having told them I was a little indisposed, and desired I might not be disturbed, but be informed when I should wake, that he had taken the road to Noyons, where he would wait for my coming, at the Coq d’Or. I spoke not a word, but with a heavy heart directed my course to that place, at which I arrived in the afternoon, fainting with weariness and hunger; but learned to my utter confusion, that no such person had been there! It was happy for me that I had a good deal of resentment in my constitution, which animated me on such occasions against the villainy of mankind, and enabled me to bear misfortunes, otherwise intolerable. Boiling with indignation, I discovered to the host my deplorable condition, and inveighed with great bitterness against the treachery of Balthazar; at which he shrugged up his shoulders, and with a peculiar grimace on his countenance, said, he was sorry for my misfortune, but there was no remedy like patience. At that instant some guests arrived, to whom he hastened to offer his service, leaving me mortified at his indifference, and fully persuaded that an innkeeper is the same sordid animal all the world over.

While I stood in the porch forlorn and undetermined, venting ejaculations of curses against the thief who had robbed me, and the old priest who recommended him to my friendship, a young gentleman richly dressed, attended by a valet de chambre and two servants in livery, arrived at the inn. I thought I perceived a great deal of sweetness and good-nature in his countenance; therefore. he had no sooner alighted than I accosted him, and, in a few words, explained my situation: he listened with great politeness, and, when I made an end of my story, said, “Well, monsieur, what would you have me to do?” I was effectually abashed at this interrogation, which, I believe, no man of common sense or generosity could make, and made no other compliment than a low bow: he returned the compliment still lower, and tripped into an apartment, while the landlord let me know that my standing there to interrupt company gave offence, and might do him infinite prejudice. He had no occasion to repeat his insinuation; I moved from the place immediately, and was so much transported with grief, anger, and disdain, that a torrent of blood gushed from my nostrils. In this ecstacy, I quitted Noyons, and betook myself to the fields, where I wandered about like one distracted, till my spirits were quite exhausted, and I was obliged to throw myself down at the root of a tree, to rest my wearied limbs. Here my rage forsook me: I began to feel the importunate cravings of nature, and relapsed into silent sorrow and melancholy reflection. I revolved all the crimes I had been guilty of and found them too few and venial, that I could not comprehend the justice of that Providence, which, after having exposed me to so much wretchedness and danger, left me a prey to famine at last in a foreign country, where I had not one friend or acquaintance to close my eyes, and do the last offices of humanity to my miserable carcass. A thousand times I wished myself a bear, that I might retreat to woods and deserts, far from the inhospitable haunts of man, where I could live by my own talents, independent of treacherous friends and supercilious scorn.

As I lay in this manner, groaning over my hapless fate, I heard the sound of a violin, and raising my head, perceived a company of men and women dancing on the grass at some distance from me. I looked upon this to be a favourable season for distress to attract compassion, when every selfish thought is banished, and the heart dilated with mirth and social joy; wherefore I got up, and approached those happy people, whom I soon discovered to be a party of soldiers, with their wives and children, unbending and diverting themselves at this rate, after the fatigue of a march. I had never before seen such a parcel of scarecrows together, neither could I reconcile their meagre and gaunt looks, their squalid and ragged attire, and every other external symptom of extreme woe, with this appearance of festivity. I saluted them, however, and was received with great politeness; after which they formed a ring, and danced around me. This jollity had a wonderful effect upon my spirits. I was infected with their gaiety, and in spite of my dismal situation, forgot my cares, and joined in their extravagance. When we had recreated ourselves a good while at this diversion, the ladies spread their manteaus on the ground, upon which they emptied their knapsacks of some onions, coarse bread, and a few flasks of poor wine: being invited to a share of the banquet, I sat down with the rest, and, in the whole course of my life, never made a more comfortable meal. When our repast was ended, we got up again to dance, and, now that I found myself refreshed I behaved to the admiration of everybody; I was loaded with a thousand compliments and professions of friendship: the men commended my person and agility, and the women were loud in the praise of my bonne grace; the sergeant in particular expressed so much regard for me, and described the pleasures of a soldier’s life to me with so much art, that I began to listen to his proposal of enlisting me in the service; and the more I considered my own condition, the more I was convinced of the necessity I was under to come to a speedy determination.

Having, therefore, maturely weighed the circumstances pro and con I signified my consent, and was admitted into the regiment of Picardy, said to be the oldest corps in Europe. The company to which this commander belonged was quartered at a village not far off, whither we marched next day, and I was presented to my captain, who seemed very well pleased with my appearance, gave me a crown to drink, and ordered me to be accommodated with clothes, arms, and accoutrements. Then I sold my livery suit, purchased linen, and, as I was at great pains to learn the exercise, in a very short time became a complete soldier.

It was not long before we received orders to join several more regiments, and march with all expedition into Germany, in order to reinforce Mareschal Duc de Noailles, who was then encamped with his army on the side of the river Mayne, to watch the motions of the English, Hanoverians, Austrians, and Hessians, under the command of the Earl of Stair. We began our march accordingly, and then I became acquainted with that part of a soldier’s life to which I had been hitherto a stranger. It is impossible to describe the hunger and thirst I sustained, and the fatigue I underwent in a march of so many hundred miles; during which, I was so much chafed with the heat and motion of my limbs, that in a very short time the inside of my thighs and legs were deprived of skin, and I proceeded in the utmost torture. This misfortune I owed to the plumpness of my constitution, which I cursed, and envied the withered condition of my comrades, whose bodies could not spare juice enough to supply a common issue, and were indeed proof against all manner of friction. The continual pain I felt made me fretful, and my peevishness was increased by the mortification of my pride in seeing those miserable wretches, whom a hard gale of wind would have scattered through the air like chaff, bear those toils with alacrity under which I was ready to sink.

One day, while we enjoyed a halt, and the soldiers with their wives had gone out to dance, according to custom, my comrade stayed at home with me on pretence of friendship, and insulted me with his pity and consolation! He told me that, though I was young and tender at present, I should soon be seasoned to the service; and he did not doubt but I should have the honour to contribute in some measure to the glory of the king. “Have courage, therefore, my child,” said he, “and pray to the good God, that you may be as happy as I am, who have had the honour of serving Louis the Great, and of receiving many wounds, in helping to establish his glory.” When I looked upon the contemptible object that pronounced these words, I was amazed at the infatuation that possessed him; and could not help expressing my astonishment at the absurdity of a rational who thinks himself highly honoured, in being permitted to encounter abject poverty, oppression, famine, disease, mutilation, and evident death merely to gratify the vicious ambition of a prince, by whom his sufferings were disregarded, and his name utterly unknown. I observed that, if his situation were the consequence of compulsion, I would praise his patience and fortitude in bearing his lot: if he had taken up arms in defence of his injured country, he was to be applauded for his patriotism: or if he had fled to this way of life as a refuge from a greater evil, he was justifiable in his own conscience (though I could have no notion of misery more extreme than he suffered); but to put his condition on the footing of conducing to the glory of his prince, was no more than professing himself a desperate slave, who voluntarily underwent the utmost wretchedness and peril, and committed the most flagrant crimes, to soothe the barbarous pride of a fellow-creature, his superior in nothing but the power he derived from the submission of such wretches as him. The soldier was very much affronted at the liberty I took with his king, which, he said, nothing but my ignorance could excuse: he affirmed that the characters of princes were sacred, and ought not to be profaned by the censure of their subjects, who were bound by their allegiance to obey their commands, of what nature soever, without scruple or repining; and advised me to correct the rebellious principles I had imbibed among the English, who, for their insolence to their kings, were notorious all over the world, even to a proverb.

In vindication of my countrymen, I repeated all the arguments commonly used to prove that every man has a natural right to liberty; that allegiance and protection are reciprocal; that, when the mutual tie is broken by the tyranny of the king, he is accountable to the people for his breach of contract, and subject to the penalties of the law; and that those insurrections of the English, which are branded with the name of rebellion by the slaves of arbitrary power, were no other than glorious efforts to rescue that independence which was their birthright, from the ravenous claws of usurping ambition. The Frenchman, provoked at the little deference I paid to the kingly name, lost all patience, and reproached me in such a manner that my temper forsook me, I clenched my fist, with an intention to give him a hearty box on the ear. Perceiving my design, he started back and demanded a parley; upon which I checked my indignation, and he gave me to understand that a Frenchman never forgave a blow; therefore, if I were not weary of my life, I would do well to spare him that mortification, and do him the honour of measuring his sword with mine, like a gentleman. I took his advice and followed him to a field hard by, where indeed I was ashamed at the pitiful figure of my antagonist, who was a poor little shivering creature, decrepit with age, and blind of one eye. But I soon found the folly of judging from appearances; being at the second pass wounded in the sword hand, and immediately disarmed with such a jerk, that I thought the joint was dislocated. I was no less confounded than enraged at this event, especially as my adversary did not bear his success with all the moderation that might have been expected; for he insisted upon my asking pardon for affronting his king and him. This proposal I would by no means comply with, but told him, it was a mean condescension, which no gentleman in his circumstances ought to propose, nor any in my situation ought to perform; and that, if he persisted in his ungenerous demand, I would in my turn claim satisfaction with my musket, when we should be more upon a par than with the sword, of which he seemed so much master.

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