The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XLVI

Wagtail introduces me to set of fine Gentlemen with whom I spend the Evening at a Tavern — our Conversation — the Characters of my new Companions — the Doctor is roasted — our Issue of our Debauch

I accepted his offer with pleasure, and we went thither in a hackney coach where I saw a great number of gay figures fluttering about, most of whom spoke to the doctor with great familiarity. Among the rest stood a group of them round the fire whom I immediately knew to be the very persons who had the night before, by their laughing, alarmed my suspicion of the lady who had put herself under my protection. They no sooner perceived me enter with Dr. Wagtail (for that was my companion’s name) than they tittered and whispered one to another, and I was not a little surprised to find that they were the gentlemen to whose acquaintance he designed to recommend me; for, when he observed them together, he to told me who they were, and desired to know by what name he should introduce me. I satisfied him in that particular, and he advanced with great gravity, saying, “Gentlemen, your most obedient servant:— give me leave to introduce my friend Mr. Random to your society.” Then, turning to me, “Mr. Random, this is Mr. Bragwell — Mr. Banter, sir — Mr. Chatter — my friend Mr. Slyboot, and Mr. Ranter sir.” I saluted each of then in order, and when I came to take Mr. Slyboot by the hand, I perceived him thrust his tongue in his cheek, to the no small entertainment of the company; but I did not think proper to take any notice of it on this occasion. Mr. Ranter too (who I afterwards learned was a player) displayed his talents, by mimicking my air, features, and voice, while he returned my compliment: this feat I should not have been so sensible of, had I not seen him behave in the same manner to my friend Wagtail, when he made up to them at first. But for once I let him enjoy the fruits of his dexterity without question or control, resolved however to chastise his insolence at a more convenient opportunity. Mr. Slyboot, guessing I was a stranger, asked if I had been lately in France? and when I answered in the affirmative, inquired if I had seen the Luxembourg Gallery? I told him I had considered it more than once with great attention: upon this a conversion ensued, in which I discovered him to be a painter.

While we were discoursing upon the particulars of this famous performance, I overheard Banter ask Dr. Wagtail, where he had picked up this Mr. Random. To which question the physician answered, “Upon my word, a mighty pretty sort of a gentleman — a man of fortune, sir — he has made the grand tour, and seen the best company in Europe, air.” “What, he told you so, I suppose?” said the other: “I take him to be neither more nor less than a French valet-de-chambre.” “O barbarous, barbarous!” cried the doctor; “this is actually, upon my word, altogether unaccountable. I know all his family perfectly well, sir; he is of the Randoms of the north — a very ancient house sir, and a distant relation of mine.” I was extremely nettled at the conjecture of Mr. Banter, and began to entertain a very indifferent opinion of my company in general; but, as I might possibly by their means acquire a more extensive and agreeable acquaintance, I determined to bear these little mortifications as long as I could without injuring the dignity of my character. After having talked for some time on the weather, plays, politics, and other coffee-house subjects, it was proposed that we should spend the evening at a noted tavern in the neighbourhood, whither we repaired in a body.

Having taken possession of a room, called for French wine, and bespoke supper, the glass went about pretty freely, and the characters of my associates opened upon me more and more. It soon appeared that the doctor was entertained as butt for the painter and player to exercise their wit upon, for the diversion of the company. Mr. Ranter began the game by asking him what was good for a hoarseness, lowness of spirits, and in digestion, for he was troubled with all these complaints to a very great degree. Wagtail immediately undertook to explain the nature of his case, and in a very prolix manner harangued upon prognostics, diagnostics, symptomatics, therapeutics, inanition, and repletion; then calculated the force of the stomach and lungs in their respective operations; ascribed the player’s malady to a disorder in these organs, proceeding from hard drinkings and vociferations, and prescribed a course of stomachics, with abstinence from venery, wine, loud speaking, laughing, singing, coughing, sneezing, or hallooing. “Pah, pah!” cried Ranter, interrupting him, “the remedy is worse than the disease — I wish I knew where to find some tinder water.” “Tinder water!” said the doctor; “Upon my word, I don’t apprehend you, Mr. Ranter.” “Water extracted from tinder,” replied the other, “a universal specific for all distempers incident to man. It was invented by a learned German monk, who, for a valuable consideration, imparted the secret to Paracelsus.” “Pardon me,” cried the painter, “it was first used by Solomon, as appears by a Greek manuscript in his civil handwriting, lately found at the foot of Mount Lebanon, by a peasant who was digging for potatoes — ” “Well,” said Wagtail, “in all my vast reading, I never met with such a preparation! neither did I know till this minute, that Solomon understood Greek, or that potatoes grew in Palestine.”

Here Banter interposed, saying, he was surprised that Dr. Wagtail should make the least doubt of Solomon’s understanding Greek, when he is represented to us as the wisest and best-educated prince in the world; and as for potatoes, they were transplanted thither from Ireland, in the time of the Crusade, by some knights of that country. “I profess,” said the doctor, “there is nothing more likely. I would actually give a vast sum for a sight of that manuscript, which must be inestimable; and, if I understood the process, would set about it immediately.” The player assured him the process was very simple — that he must cram a hundred-weight of dry tinder into a glass retort, and, distilling it by the force of animal heat, it would yield half a scruple of insipid water, one drop of which is a full dose. “Upon my integrity!” exclaimed the incredulous doctor, “this is very amazing and extraordinary! that a caput mortuum should yield any water at all. I must own I have always been an enemy to specifics which I thought inconsistent with the nature of the animal economy; but certainly the authority of Solomon is not to be questioned. I wonder where I shall find a glass retort large enough to contain such a vast quantity of tinder, the consumption of which must, undoubtedly, raise the price of paper, or where shall I find animal heat sufficient even to warm such a mass?” Slyboot informed him, that he might have a retort blown for him as big as a church: and, that the easiest method of raising the vapour by animal heat, would be to place it in the middle of an infirmary for feverish patients, who might he upon mattresses around and in contact with it. He had he sooner pronounced these words, than Wagtail exclaimed in a rapture, “An admirable expedient, as I hope to be saved! I will positively put it in practice.”

This simplicity of the physician furnished excellent diversion for the company, who, in their turns, sneered at him in ironical compliments, which his vanity swallowed as the genuine sentiments of their hearts. Mr. Chatter, impatient of so long a silence, now broke out and entertained us with a catalogue of all the people who danced at the last Hampstead assembly, with a most circumstantial account of the dress and ornaments of each, from the lappets of the ladies to the shoe-buckles of the men; concluding with telling Bragwell, that his mistress Melinda was there, and seemed to miss him: and soliciting his company at the next occasion of that kind.

“No, d — mm,” said Bragwell, “I have something else to mind than dangling after a parcel of giddy-headed girls; besides. you know my temper is so unruly, that I am apt to involve myself in scrapes when a woman is concerned. The last time I was there, I had an affair with Tom Trippit.” “Oh! I remember that!” cried Banter; “You lugged out before the ladies; and I commend you for so doing, because you had an opportunity of showing your manhood without running any risk. “Risk!” said the other with a fierce countenance, d — n my blood! I fear no risks. I an’t afraid of lugging out against any man that wears a head, d-me! ’Tis well known that I have drawn blood more than once, and lost some too; but what does that signify?” The player begged this champion to employ him as his second the next time he intended to kill, for he wanted to see a man die of a stab, that he might know how to act such an art the more naturally on the stage. “Die!” replied the hero: “No, by G—! I know better things than to incur the verdict of a Middlesex jury — I should look upon my fencing-master to be an ignorant son of a b — h, if he had not taught me to prick any of my antagonist’s body that I please to disable.” “Oho!” cried Slyboot, “if that be the case, I have a favour to ask. You must know I am employed to paint a Jesus on the cross; and my purpose is to represent him at that point of time when the spear is thrust into his side. Now I should be glad if you would, in my presence, pink some impertinent fellow into convulsions, without endangering his life, that I may have an opportunity of taking a good clever agony from nature: the doctor will direct you where to enter and how far to go, but pray let it be as near the left side as possible.” Wagtail, who took this proposal seriously, observed, that it would be a very difficult matter to penetrate into the left side of the thorax without hurting the heart, and in consequence killing the patient; but he believed it was possible for a man of a very nice hand and exact knowledge of anatomy, to wound the diaphragma somewhere about the skirts, which might induce a singultus, without being attended with death: that he was ready to demonstrate the insertion of that muscle to Mr. Bragwell; but desired to have no concern with the experiment, which might essentially prejudice his reputation, in case of a miscarriage. Bragwell was as much imposed upon by the painter’s waggery as the doctor, and declined engaging in the affair, saying he held a very great regard for Mr, Slyboot, but had laid it down as a maxim, never to fight except when his honour was engaged. A thousand jokes of this kind were uttered; the wine circulated, supper was served in, we ate heartily, returned to the bottle, Bragwell became noisy and troublesome, Banter grew more and more severe, Ranter rehearsed, Slyboot made faces at the whole company, I sang French catches, and Chatter kissed me with great affection; while the doctor, with a wofull countenance, sat silent like a disciple of Pythagoras. At length, it was proposed by Bragwell, that we should scour the hundreds, sweat the constable, maul the watch, and then reel soberly to bed.

While we deliberated upon this expedition, the waiter came into the room, and asked for Doctor Wagtail: when he understood he was present, he told him there was a lady below to inquire for him, at which message the physician started from his melancholy contemplation, and, with a look of extreme confusion, assured the company he could not possibly be the person wanted, for he bad no connection with any lady whatever, and bade the drawer tell her so. “For shame!” cried Banter; “would you be so impolite as to refuse a lady a hearing? perhaps she comes for a consultation. It must be some extraordinary affair that brings a lady to a tavern at this time of night. Mr. Ranter, pray do the doctor’s base-mains to the lady, and squire her hither.” The player immediately staggered out, and returned, leading in with much ceremony, a tall strapping wench, whose appearance proclaimed her occupation. We received her with the utmost solemnity, and with a good deal of entreaty she was persuaded to sit, when a profound silence ensued, during which she fixed her eyes, with a disconsolate look, upon the doctor, who was utterly confounded at her behaviour, and returned her melancholy fourfold; at length, after a good many piteous sighs, she wiped her eyes, and accosted him thus: “What! not one word of comfort? Will nothing soften that stony heart of thine? Not all my tears! not all my affliction! not the inevitable ruin thou hast brought upon me! Where are thy vows, thou faithless, perjured man? Hast thou no honour — no conscience — no remorse for thy perfidious conduct towards me? Answer me, wilt thou at last do me justice, or must I have recourse to heaven or hell for my revenge?” If poor Wagtail was amazed before she spoke, what must his confusion be on hearing this address! His natural paleness changed into a ghastly clay colour, his eyes rolled, his lip trembled, and he answered in an accent not to be described, “Upon my word, honour, and salvation, madam, you are actually mistaken in my person. I have a most particular veneration for your sex, and, am actually incapable of injuring any lady in the smallest degree, madam; besides, madam, to the best of my recollection, I never had the honour of seeing you before, as I hope to be saved, madam!” “How, traitor!” cried she, “dost thou disown me then? Mistaken! no, too well I know that fair bewitching face! too well I know that false enchanting tongue! Alas! gentlemen, since the villain compels me by his unkindness, to expose myself and him, know that this betrayer, under the specious pretence of honourable addresses, won my heart, and taking advantage of his conquest, robbed me of my virgin treasure, and afterwards abandoned me to my fate! I am now four months gone with child by him, turned out of doors by my relations, and left a prey to misery and want! Yes, thou barbarian,” said she, turning to Wagtail, “thou tiger, thou succubus! too well thou knowest my situation. But I will tear out thy faithless heart, and deliver the world from such a monster.” So saying, she sprang forward at the doctor, who with incredible agility, jumped over the table, and ran behind Bragwell, while the rest of us endeavoured to appease the furious heroine. Although everybody in the company affected the utmost surprise, I could easily perceive it was a scheme concerted among them to produce diversion at the doctor’s expense, and being under no concern about the consequence, I entered into the confederacy, and enjoyed the distress of Wagtail, who with tears in his eyes begged the protection of the company, declaring himself as innocent of the crime laid to his charge as the foetus in utero; and hinting at the same time, that nature had not put it in his power to be guilty of such a trespass. “Nature!” cried the lady, “there was no nature in the case; he abused me by the help of charms and spells; else how is it possible that any woman could have listened to the addresses of such a scarecrow? Were these owlish eyes made for ogling; that carrion complexion to be admired; or that mouth, like a horse-shoe, to be kissed? No, no, you owe your success to your philtres, to your drugs and incantations; and not to your natural talents, which are, in every respect, mean and contemptible.”

The doctor thought he had got an opportunity of vindicating himself effectually; and desired the complainant to compose herself but for half-an-hour, in which he undertook to prove the absurdity of believing in the power of incantations, which were only idle dreams of ignorance and superstition. He accordingly pronounced a very learned discourse upon the nature of ideas, the power and independence of the mind, the properties of stimulating medicines, the difference between a proneness to venery, which many simples would create, and a passion limited to one object, which can only be the result of sense and reflection; and concluded with a pathetic remonstrance, setting forth his unhappiness in being persecuted with the resentment of a lady whom he had never injured, nor even seen before that occasion, and whose faculties were, in all likelihood, so much impaired by her misfortunes that an innocent person was in danger of being ruined by her disorder. He had no sooner finished his harangue, than the forlorn princess renewed her lamentations, and cautioned the company against his eloquence, which, she said, was able to bias the most impartial bench in Christendom. Ranter advised him to espouse her immediately, as the only means to save his reputation, and offered to accompany him to the Fleet for that purpose; but Slyboot proposed that a father should be purchased for the child, and a comfortable alimony settled on the mother. Ranter promised to adopt the infant gratis. Wagtail was ready to worship him for his generosity, and, though he persisted in protesting his innocence, condescended to everything rather than his unblemished character should be called into question. The lady rejected the proposal, and insisted on matrimony. Bragwell took up the cudgels for the doctor, and undertook to rid him of her importunity for half-a-guinea; upon which Wagtail, with great eagerness, pulled out his purse, and put it into the hand of his friend, who, taking half a piece out of it, gave it to the plaintiff, and bade her thank God for her good fortune. When she had received this bounty, she affected to weep, and begged, since the physician had renounced her, he would at least vouchsafe her a parting kiss; this he was prevailed upon to grant with great reluctance, and went up with his usual solemnity to salute her, when she laid hold of his cheek with her teeth, and held fast, while he roared with anguish, to the unspeakable diversion of all present. When she thought proper to release him, she dropped a low courtesy to the company, and quitted the room, leaving the doctor in the utmost horror, not so much on account of the pain, as the apprehension of the consequence of the bite; for, by this time, he was convinced of her being mad. Banter prescribed the actual cautery, and put the poker in the fire to be heated, in order to sear the place. The player was of opinion that Bragwell should scoop out the part affected. with the point of his sword; but the painter prevented both these dreadful operations by recommending a balsam he had in his pocket, which never failed to cure the bite of a mad dog; so saying, he pulled out a small bladder of black paint, with which he instantly anointed not only the sore, but the greatest part of the patient’s face, and left it in a frightful condition. In short, the poor creature was so harassed with fear and vexation, that I pitied him extremely, and sent him home in a chair, contrary to the inclination of everybody present.

This freedom of mine gave umbrage to Bragwell, who testified his displeasure by swearing a few threats, without making any application; which, being perceived by Slyboot, who sat by me, he, with a view of promoting a quarrel, whispered to me, that he thought Bragwell used me very ill, but every man was the best judge of his own affairs. I answered aloud, that I would neither suffer Mr. Bragwell nor him to use me ill with impunity; and that I stood in no need of his counsel in regard to the regulation of my conduct. He thought proper to ask a thousand pardons, and assure me he meant no offence; while Bragwell feigned himself asleep, that he might not be obliged to take notice of what passed. But the player, who had more animal spirits and less discretion than Slyboot, unwilling to let the affair rest where he had dropped it, jogged Mr. Bragwell and told him softly that I had called him names, and threatened to cudgel him. This particular I understood by his starting, up and crying, “Blood. and wounds, you lie! No man durst treat me so ignominiously. Mr. Random, did you call me names, and threaten to drub me?” I denied the imputation, and proposed to punish the scoundrel who endeavoured to foment disturbance in the company. Bragwell signified his approbation, and drew his sword; I did the same, and accosted the actor in these words: “Lookee, Mr. Ranter; I know you possess all the mimicry and mischievous qualities of an ape, because I have observed you put them all in practice more than once to-night, on me and others; now I want to see if you resemble one in nimbleness also; therefore, I desire you leap over this sword without hesitation.” So saying, I held it parallel to the horizon, at the distance of about three feet from the floor, and called, “ Once-twice-thrice — and away!” but, instead of complying with my demand, he snatched his hat and hanger, and, assuming the looks, swagger, and phrase of Pistol, burst out into the following exclamation, “Ha! must I then perform inglorious prank of sylvan ape in mountain forest caught! Death rock me asleep, abridge my doleful days, and lay my head in fury’s lap — Have we not Hiren here?” This buffoonery did not answer his expectation, for, by this time, the company was bent on seeing him in a new character. Mr. Banter desired me to hold my sword a foot or two higher, that he might have the better opportunity of exerting himself. The painter told him, if he performed well, he would recommend him as a vaulter to the proprietors of Sadler’s Wells; and Bragwell crying, “Leap for the King!” applied the point of his sword to the player’s posteriors with such success, that he sprang over in a trice, and, finding the door unguarded, vanished in a twinkling; glad, no doubt, of having paid his share of the reckoning so easily.

It being now near two o’clock in the morning, we discharged the bill, and sallied out into the street. The painter slunk away without taking his leave. Billy Chatter, being unable to speak or stand, was sent to a bagnio; and Banter and I accompanied Bragwell to Moll King’s coffee-house, where after he had kicked half a dozen hungry whores, we left him asleep on a bench, and directed our course towards Charing-cross, near which place both he and I lodged.

The natural dryness of my companion being overcome by liquor, he honoured me by the way with many compliments and professions, of friendship, for which I made suitable acknowledgments, and told him I thought myself happy in having, by my behaviour, removed the unfavourable opinion he entertained of me at first sight. He was surprised at this declaration, and begged me to explain myself; upon which I mentioned what I had overheard him say of me to Wagtail in the coffee-house. He laughed, and made an apology for his freedom, assuring me, that my appearance had very much prepossessed him in my favour; and what he said was only intended as a joke on the doctor’s solemnity. I was highly pleased at being undeceived in this particular, and not a little proud of the good opinion of this wit, who shook me by the hand at parting, and promised to meet me the next day at the ordinary.

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