The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XLIV

In order to be revenged, I learn the Science of Defence — we join Mareschal Duc de Noailles, are engaged with the Allies of Dettingen, and put to flight — the behaviour of the French soldiers on that occasion — I industriously seek another combat with the old Gascon, and vanquish him in my turn — our regiment is put into Winter Quarters at Rheims, where I find my friend Strap — our Recognition — he supplies me with Money, and procures my Discharge — we take a trip to Paris; from whence, by the way of Flanders, we set out for London; where we safely arrive

He was disconcerted at this declaration, to which he made no reply, but repaired to the dancers, among whom he recounted his victory with many exaggerations and gasconades; while I, taking up my sword, went to my quarters, and examined my wound, which I found was of no consequence. The same day an Irish drummer, having heard of my misfortune, visited me, and after having condoled me on the chance of war, gave me to understand, that he was master of the sword, and would in a very short time instruct me so thoroughly in that noble science, that I should be able to chastise the old Gascon for his insolent boasting at my expense. This friendly office he proffered on pretence of the regard he had for his countrymen; but I afterwards learned the true motive was no other than a jealousy he entertained of a correspondence between the Frenchman and his wife, which he did not think proper to resent in person. Be this as it will, I accepted his offer and practised his lessons with such application, that I soon believed myself a match for my conqueror. In the meantime we continued our march, and arrived at the Camp of Mareschal Noailles the night before the battle at Dettingen: notwithstanding the fatigue we had undergone, our regiment was one of those that were ordered next day to cross the river, under the command of the Duc de Grammont, to take possession of a narrow defile, through which the allies must of necessity have passed at a great disadvantage, or remain where they were, and perish for want of provision, if they would not condescend to surrender at discretion. How they suffered themselves to be pent up in this manner it is not my province to relate; I shall only observe that, when we had taken possession of our ground, I heard an old officer in conversation with another express a surprise at the conduct of Lord Stair, who had the reputation of a good general. But it seems, at this time, that nobleman was overruled, and only acted in an inferior character; so that no part of the blame could be imputed to him, who declared his disapprobation of the step, in consequence of which the whole army was in the utmost danger; but Providence or destiny acted miracles in their behalf, by disposing the Duc de Grammont to quit his advantageous post, pass the defile, and attack the English, who were drawn up in order of battle on the plain, and who handled us so roughly that, after having lost a great number of men, we turned our backs without ceremony, and fled with such precipitation that many hundreds perished in the river through pure fear and confusion: for the enemy were so generous that they did not pursue us one inch of ground; and, if our consternation would have permitted, we might have retreated with great order and deliberation. But, notwithstanding the royal clemency of the king of Great Britain, who headed the allies in person, and, no doubt, put a stop to the carnage, our loss amounted to five thousand men, among whom were many officers of distinction. Our miscarriage opened a passage for the foe to Haynau, whither they immediately marched, leaving their sick and wounded to the care of the French, who next day took possession of the field of battle, buried the dead, and treated the living with humanity.

This circumstance was a great consolation to us, who thence took occasion to claim the victory; and the genius of the French nation never appeared more conspicuous than now, in the rhodomontades they uttered on the subject of their generosity and courage. Every man (by his own account) performed feats that eclipsed all the heroes of antiquity. One compared himself to a lion retiring at leisure from his cowardly pursuers, who keep at a wary distance, and gall him with their darts. Another likened himself to a bear that retreats with his face to the enemy, who dare not assail him; and the third assumed the character of a desperate stag, that turns upon the hounds and keeps them at bay. There was not a private soldier engaged who had not by the prowess of his single arm demolished a whole platoon, or put a squadron of horse to flight; and, among others, the meagre Gascon extolled his exploits above those of Hercules or Charlemagne. As I still retained my resentment for the disgrace I suffered in my last rencontre with him, and, now that I the thought myself qualified, longed for an opportunity to retrieve my honour, I magnified the valour of the English with all the hyperboles I could imagine, and described the pusillanimity of the French in the same style, comparing them to hares flying before greyhounds, or mice pursued by cats; and passed an ironical compliment on the speed he exerted in his flight, which, considering his age and infirmities I said was surprising. He was stung to the quick by this sarcasm, and, with an air of threatening disdain, bade me know myself better, and remember the correction I had already received from him for my insolence; for he might not always be in the humour of sparing a wretch who abused his goodness. To this inuendo I made no reply but by a kick on the breech, which overturned him in an instant. He started up with wonderful agility, and, drawing his sword, attacked me with great fury. Several people interposed, but, when he informed them of its being an affair of honour, they retired, and left us to decide the battle by ourselves. I sustained his onset with little damage, having only received a small scratch on my right shoulder, and, seeing his breath and vigour almost exhausted, assaulted him in my turn, closed with him, and wrested his sword out of his hand in the struggle. Having thus acquired the victory, I desired him to beg his life; to which demand he made no answer, but shrugged up his shoulders to his ears, expanded his hands, elevated the skin on his forehead and eyebrows, and depressed the corners of his mouth in such a manner, that I could scarce refrain from laughing aloud at his grotesque appearance. That I might, however, mortify his vanity, which triumphed without bounds over my misfortune, I thrust his sword up to the hilt in something (it was not a tansy), that lay smoking on the plain, and joined the rest of the soldiers with an air of tranquillity and indifference.

There was nothing more of moment attempted by either of the armies during the remaining part of the campaign, which being ended, the English marched back to the Netherlands; part of our army was detached to French Flanders, and our regiment ordered into winter quarters in Champagne. It was the fate of the grenadier company, to which I now belonged, to lie at Rheims, where I found myself in the utmost want of everything, my pay, which amounted to five sols a day, far from supplying me with necessaries, being scarce sufficient to procure a wretched subsistence to keep soul and body together; so that I was, by hunger and hard duty, brought down to the meagre condition of my fellow-soldiers, and my linen reduced from three tolerable shirts to two pair of sleeves and necks, the bodies having been long ago converted into spatterdaches; and after all, I was better provided than any private man in the regiment. In this urgency of my affairs, I wrote to my uncle in England, though my hopes from that quarter were not at all sanguine, for the reasons I have already explained; and in the meantime had recourse to my old remedy patience, consoling myself with the flattering suggestions of a lively imagination, that never abandoned me in my distress.

One day, while I stood sentinel at the gate of a general officer, a certain nobleman came to the door, followed by a gentleman in mourning, to whom, at parting, I heard him say, “You may depend upon my good offices.” This assurance was answered by a low bow of the person in black, who, turning to go away, discovered to me the individual countenance of my old friend and adherent Strap. I was so much astonished at the sight, that I lost the power of utterance, and, before I could recollect myself, he was gone without taking any notice of me. Indeed, had he stayed, I scarcely should have ventured to accost him; because, though I was perfectly well acquainted with the features of his face, I could not be positively certain as to the rest of his person, which was very much altered for the better since he left me at London, neither could I conceive by which means he was enabled to appear in the sphere of a gentleman, to which, while I knew him, he had not even the ambition to aspire. But I was too much concerned in the affair to neglect further information, and therefore took the first opportunity of asking the porter if he knew the gentleman to whom the marquis spoke. The Swiss told me his name was Monsieur d’Estrapes, that he had been valet-de-chambre to an English gentleman lately deceased, and that he was very much regarded by the marquis for his fidelity to his master, between whom and that nobleman a very intimate friendship had subsisted. Nothing could be more agreeable to me than this piece of intelligence, which banished all doubt of its being my friend, who had found means to frenchify his name as well as his behaviour since we parted. As soon, therefore, as I was relieved, I went to his lodging, according to a direction given me by the Swiss, and had the good fortune to find him at home. That I might surprise him the more, I concealed my name and business, and only desired the servant of the house to tell Monsieur d’Estrapes that I begged the honour of half-an-hour’s conversation with him. He was confounded and dismayed at this message, when he understood it was sent by a soldier; though he was conscious to himself of no crime, all that he had heard of the Bastille appeared to his imagination with aggravated horror, but it was not before I had waited a considerable time that he had resolution enough to bid the servant show me up-stairs.

When I entered his chamber, he returned my bow with great civility, and endeavoured, with forced complaisance, to disguise his fear, which appeared in the paleness of his face, the wildness of his looks, and the shaking of his limbs. I was diverted at his consternation, which redoubled, when I told him in French, I had business for his private ear and demanded a particular audience. The valet being withdrawn, I asked in the same language if his name was d’Estrapes, to which he answered with a faltering tongue, “The same, at your service.” “Are you a Frenchman?” Said I. “I have not the honour of being a Frenchman born,” replied he, “but I have an infinite veneration for the country.” I then desired he would do me the honour to look at me, which he no sooner did than, struck with my appearance, he started back, and cried in English, “O Jesus! — sure it can’t! No ’tis impossible!” I smiled at his interjections, saying, “I suppose you are too much of a gentleman to own your friend in adversity.” When he heard me pronounce these words in our own language, he leaped upon me in a transport of joy, hung about my neck, kissed me from ear to ear, and blubbered like a great schoolboy who had been whipped. Then, observing my dress, he set up his throat, crying, “O Lord! O Lord! that ever I should live to see my dearest friend reduced to the condition of a foot soldier in the French service! Why did you consent to my leaving you? — but I know the reason — you thought you had got more creditable friends, and grew ashamed of my acquaintance. Ah! Lord help us! though I was a little short-sighted, I was not altogether blind: and though I did not complain, I was not the less sensible of your unkindness, which was indeed the only thing that induced me to ramble abroad, the Lord knows whither; but I must own it has been a lucky ramble for me, and so I forgive you, and may God forgive you! O Lord! Lord! is it come to this?” I was nettled at the charge, which, though just, I could not help thinking unseasonable, and told him with some tartness that, whether his suspicions were well or ill grounded, he might have chosen a more convenient opportunity of introducing them; and that the question now was whether or no he found himself disposed to lend me any assistance. “Disposed!” replied he with great emotion; “I thought you had known me so well as to assure yourself without asking, that I, and all that belongs to me, are at your command. In the meantime you shall dine with me, and I will tell you something that, perhaps, will not be displeasing unto you.” Then, wringing my hand, he said, “It makes my heart bleed to see you in that garb!” I thanked him for his invitation, which, I observed, could not be unwelcome to a person who had not eaten a comfortable meal these seven months; but I had another request to make, which I begged he would grant before dinner, and that was the loan of a shirt; for although my back had been many weeks a stranger to any comfort of that kind, my skin was not yet familiarised to the want of it. He stared in my face, with a woful countenance, at this declaration, which he could scarce believe, until I explained it by unbuttoning my coat and disclosing my naked body — a circumstance which shocked the tender-hearted Strap, who, with tears in his eyes, ran to a chest of drawers, and taking out some linen, presented to me a very fine ruffled Holland shirt and cambric neckcloth, assuring me he had three dozen of the same kind at my service.

I was ravished at this piece of good news and, having accommodated myself in a moment, hugged my benefactor for his generous offer, saying, I was overjoyed to find him undebauched by prosperity, which seldom fails to corrupt the heart. He bespoke for dinner some soup and bouilli, a couple of pullets roasted, and a dish of asparagus, and in the interim entertained me with biscuit and Burgundy, after which repast he entreated me to gratify his longing desire of knowing every circumstance of my fortune since his departure from London. This request I complied with, beginning at the adventure of Gawky, and relating every particular event in which I had been concerned from that day to the present hour. During the recital, my friend was strongly affected, according to the various situations described. He stared with surprise, glowed with indignation, gaped with curiosity, smiled with pleasure, trembled with fear, and wept with sorrow, as the vicissitudes of my life inspired these different passions; and, when my story was ended, signified his amazement on the whole, by lifting up his eyes and hands and protesting that, though I was a young man, had suffered more than all the blessed martyrs.

After dinner, I desired in my turn to know the particulars of his peregrination, and he satisfied me in a few words, by giving me to understand that he had lived a year at Paris with his master, who, in that time having acquired the language, as well as the fashionable exercises to perfection, made a tour of France and Holland, during which excursion he was so unfortunate as to meet with three of his own countrymen on their travels, in whose company he committed such excesses, that his constitution failed, and he fell into a consumption; that by the advice of physicians, he went to Montpelier for the benefit of good air, and recovered so well in six weeks, that he returned to Rheims seemingly in good health, where he had not continued above a month, when he was seized with a looseness that carried him off in ten days, to the unspeakable sorrow of all who knew him and especially of Strap, who had been very happy in his service, and given such satisfaction, that his master, on his death-bed recommended him to several persons of distinction for his diligence, sobriety, and affection, and left him by will his wearing apparel, gold watch, sword, rings, ready money, and all the moveables he had in France, to the value of three hundred pounds “which I now,” said he, “in the sight of God and man, surrender to your absolute disposal: here are my keys; take them, I beseech you, and God give you joy of the possession.” My brain was almost turned by this sudden change of fortune, which I could scarce believe real: however, I positively refused this extravagant proffer of my friend, and put him in mind of my being a soldier; at which hint he started, crying, “Odso! that’s true! we must procure your discharge. I have some interest with a nobleman who is able to do me that favour.”

We consulted about this affair, and it was determined that Monsieur d’Estrapes should wait upon the Marquis in the morning, and tell him he had by accident found his brother, whom he had not seen for many years before, a private soldier in the regiment of Picardy, and implore that nobleman’s interest for his discharge. In the meantime, we enjoyed ourselves over a bottle of good Burgundy, and spent the evening in concerting schemes for our future conduct, in case I should be so lucky as to get rid of the army. The business was to make ourselves easy for life by means of his legacy, a task very difficult, and, in the usual methods of laying out money, altogether impracticable, so that, after much canvassing, we could come to no resolution that night, but when we parted, recommended the matter to the serious attention of each other. As for my own part, I puzzled my imagination to no purpose. When I thought of turning merchant, the smallness of our stock, and the risk of seas, enemies, and markets, deterred me from that scheme. If I should settle as a surgeon in my own country, I would find the business already overstocked; or, if I pretended to set up in England, must labour under want of friends and powerful opposition, obstacles insurmountable by the most shining merit: neither should I succeed in my endeavours to rise in the state, inasmuch as I could neither flatter nor pimp for courtiers, nor prostitute my pen in defence of a wicked and contemptible administration. Before I could form any feasible project, I fell asleep, and my fancy was blest with the image of the dear Narcissa, who seemed to smile upon my passion, and offer her hand as a reward for all my toils.

Early in the morning, I went to the lodgings of my friend, whom I found exulting over his happy invention! for I no sooner entered his apartment, than he addressed himself to me in these words, with a smile of self-applause: “Well, Mr. Random, a lucky thought may come into a fool’s head sometimes. I have hit it — I’ll hold you a button my plan is better than yours, for all your learning. But you shall have the preference in this as in all other things; therefore proceed, and let us know the effects of your meditation; and then I will impart my own simple excogitations.” I told him, that not one thought had occurred to me which deserved the least notice, and signified my impatience to be acquainted with the fruits of his reflection. “As we have not,” said he, “money sufficient to maintain us during a tedious expectation, it is my opinion that a bold push must be made; and I see none so likely to succeed as your appearing in the character of a gentleman (which is your due), and making your addresses to some lady of fortune, who can render you independent at once. Nay, don’t stare — I affirm that this scheme is both prudent and honourable; for I would not have you throw yourself away upon an old toothless wheezing dame, whose breath would stink you into a consumption in less than three months, neither would I advise you to assume the character of a wealthy squire, as your common fortune-hunters do, by which means many a poor lady is cheated into matrimony, and instead of enjoying the pomp and grandeur that was promised, sees her dowry seized by her husband’s rapacious creditors, and herself reduced to misery and despair. No, I know you have a soul that disdains such imposition; and are master of qualifications, both of mind and body, which alone entitle you to a match that will set you above the world. I have clothes in my possession that a duke need not be ashamed to wear. I believe they will fit you as they are, if not there are plenty of tailors in France. Let us take a short trip to Paris, and provide ourselves with all other necessaries, then set out for England, where I intend to do myself the honour of attending you in quality of a valet. This expedient will save you the expense of a servant, shaving, and dressing; and I doubt not but, by the blessing of God, we shall bring matters to a speedy and fortunate issue.” Extravagant as this proposal was, I listened to it with pleasure, because it flattered my vanity, and indulged a ridiculous hope I began to entertain of inspiring Narcissa with a mutual flame.

After breakfast, Monsieur d’Estrapes went to pay his devoirs to the marquis, and was so successful in his application, that I obtained a discharge in a few days, upon which we set out for Paris. Here I had time to reflect and congratulate myself upon this sudden transition of fate, which to bear with moderation required some degree of philosophy and self-denial. This truth will be more obvious, if I give a detail of the particulars, to the quiet possession of which I was raised in an instant, from the most abject misery and contempt. My wardrobe consisted of five fashionable coats full mounted, two of which were plain, one of cut velvet, one trimmed with gold, and another with silver lace, two frocks, one of white drab, with large plate buttons, the other of blue with gold binding; one waistcoat of gold brocade; one of blue satin, embroidered with silver; one of green silk, trimmed with figured broad gold lace; one of black silk, with fringes; one of white satin, one of black cloth, and one of scarlet; six pair of cloth breeches; one pair of crimson, and another of black velvet; twelve pair of white silk stockings, as many of black silk, and the same number of white cotton; one hat, laced with gold point d’Espagne, another with silver lace scolloped, a third with gold binding, and a fourth plain; three dozen of fine ruffled shirts, as many neckcloths; one dozen of cambric handkerchiefs, and the like number of silk. The other moveables, which I possessed by the generosity and friendship of Strap, were a gold watch with a chased case, two valuable diamond rings, two mourning swords, one with a silver handle, and a fourth cut steel inlaid with gold, a diamond stock buckle, and a set of stone buckles for the knees and shoes; a pair of silver-mounted pistols with rich housings; a gold-headed cane, and a snuff-box of tortoiseshell, mounted with gold, having the picture of a lady in the top. The gentleman left many other things of value, which my friend had converted into cash before I met with him; so that, over and above these particulars, our stock in ready money amounted to something more than two hundred pounds.

Thus equipped, I put on the gentleman of figure, and, attended by my honest friend, who was contented with the station of my valet, visited the Louvre, examined the gallery of Luxembourg, and appeared at Versailles, where I had the honour of seeing his Most Christian Majesty eat a considerable quantity of olives. During the month I spent at Paris, I went several times to court, the Italian comedy, opera, and playhouse, danced at a masquerade, and, in short, saw everything remarkable in and about that capital. Then we set out for England by the way of Flanders, passed through Brussels, Ghent, and Bruges, and took shipping at Ostend, from whence, in fourteen hours, we arrived at Deal, hired a postchaise, and in twelve hours more got safe to London, having disposed of our heavy baggage in the waggon.

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