The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XLIX

I receive a Challenge — the Consequence of it — the Quarrel being made up, am put in Arrest by the Care and Affection of Strap — but immediately released upon explaining my Affair — the Behaviour of Mr. Oregan and his two Friends — I visit Melinda, whom I divert with an account of the Duel — propose Marriage — she refers the Matter to her Mother, of whom I make a solemn Demand of her Daughter — the old Lady’s behaviour — I am discarded — -resent their Disdain

When I was ready to go abroad next day, Strap brought me a letter, To Mr. Random, Esq., these; which, upon opening, I found contained a challenge conceived in these very extraordinary terms:

“Sir, — Whereas I am informed that you make love to Miss Melinda Goosetrap, this is to let you know that she is under promise of marriage to me; and that I am at this present waiting at the back of Montague House, with a pair of good pistols in my hand; and if you will keep your appointment, I will make your tongue confess (after the breath is out of your body) that you do not deserve her so well as
Yours, etc.
Rourk Oregan.”

I guessed, from the style and superscription of this billet, that my rival was a true Milesian, and was not a little uneasy at the contents; especially that part, in which he asserted his right to my mistress by promise, a circumstance I did not not know how to reconcile to her good sense and penetration. However, this was no time for me to decline the defiance, because the success of my addresses in a great measure depended upon my behaviour in that affair. I therefore immediately loaded my pistols, and betook myself in a hackney coach to the place appointed, where I found a tall raw-boned man, with a hard-featured countenance and black bushy beard, walking by himself, wrapped up in a shabby green coat, over which his own hair descended in leathern queue from his head, that was covered with a greasy hat trimmed with a tarnished pointe d’Espagne. He had no sooner perceived me advancing than he pulled a pistol from his bosom, and, presenting it at me, snapped it without the least preamble. Alarmed at this rude salutation, I made a stand, and, before he could adjust his other piece, fired one of mine at him, without doing any damage, By this time he was ready with his second, that flashed in the pan without going off; upon which he called, with a true Tipperary cadence, “Fire away, honey!” and began to hammer his flint with great deliberation. But I was resolved to make use of the advantage fortune had given me, and therefore stepped up without throwing away my fire, desiring him to ask his life, or prepare for another world; but this stout Hibernian refused to condescend, and complained bitterly of my having quitted my ground before he could return my shot: saying I ought to go back to my station, and let him have an equal chance with me. I endeavoured to persuade him that I had given him a double chance already: and it was my business to prevent him from enjoying a third; but now, since I had an opportunity, I demanded a parley, and desired to know his condition and reason for calling me to the field, who, to the best of my remembrance, far from having done him any injury, had never before seen him. He told me that he was a gentleman of fortune, who had spent all he had, and, hearing that Melinda had got ten thousand pounds, he intended to make himself master of that sum by espousing her, and he was determined, in an honourable way, to cut the throats of all those who stood between him and his hopes.

I then demanded to know the foundation of his hopes; and now that I had seen him, being more and more astonished at the circumstance of the promise, desired that he would explain that mystery. He gave me to understand, that he trusted entirely to his birth and personal merit; that he had frequently written to Melinda, setting forth his claim and pretensions, but she was never kind enough to send an answer, or even to admit him into her presence; and that the promise he mentioned in his letter was made by his friend Mr. Gahagan, who assured him that no woman could resist a man of his appearance. I could not forbear laughing to excess at the simplicity of my rival, who did not seem to relish my mirth, but began to be very serious: upon which I endeavoured to appease him, by giving him my word and honour that, far from prejudicing his addresses to the lady, I would represent him to her in the most favourable light I could with any regard to truth; but he must not be surprised if she should remain blind to his deserts, for nothing was more capricious than a woman’s mind, and the affection of that sex was seldom purchased with virtue alone. That my declaration might have the better effect, I took notice of his deshabille, and, professing sorrow at seeing a gentleman reduced, slipped two guineas into his hand, at sight of which he threw away his pistols, and hugging me in his arms, cried, “Arrah, by Jasus, now, you are the best friend I have met with these seven long years!” When I had suffered some minutes in his embrace, he quitted me, and picking up his rusty arms, wished the devil might burn him if ever he should give me any further trouble about womankind.

The quarrel being thus amicably composed, I begged leave to look at his pistols, which I found so crazy and so foul, that I believe it was happy for him neither of them was discharged, for one of them would certainly have split in the going off, and he would, in all probability, have lost his hand in the explosion; but what gave me a lively idea of the man’s character was, to find, upon examination, that one of them had been loaded without being primed, and the other primed without a charge.

While we walked home together, I expressed a desire of knowing my new friend’s history; and he informed me of his having served in the German army as a volunteer against the Turks; that for his behaviour at the siege of Belgrade, he had been honoured with an ensign’s commission, and afterwards promoted to the rank of lieutenant, in which station it was his misfortune to affront his captain, who challenged him to the field, and was killed in the duel, upon which he was obliged to retreat; that he had been in England some years soliciting his friends for provision in the British army; but being hitherto unsuccessful, was desired by Mr. Gahagan to turn his thoughts to matrimony, and make his fortune by an advantageous match; in consequence of which advice, he had made up to Melinda: and, having heard by means of an Irish footman in the family, that I was her chief favourite, had called me out in hopes of removing by my death the greatest obstruction to his desires; but now he was convinced of my honour and generosity, he swore by the blessed Virgin, he would think of her no more, if there were not another woman in the world. As a further proof of his veracity, which I did not at all doubt, he opened an old iron snuff-box, and pulled out his commission in the Imperial army, and his captain’s challenge, which he preserved as testimonials of his character. I was so well convinced of this poor man’s honesty and courage, that I determined to speak in his behalf to some of my acquaintance, who might recommend his case to the consideration of those who could provide for him; and in the meantime to accommodate him with a few clothes, by which his appearance would be much mended, and himself enabled to renew his solicitations in person.

As we walked along conversing socially together, we were met by a file of musketeers, and Strap at their head, who no sooner approached than, with a frantic look, he cried, “Seize them! In the name of God seize them!” We were accordingly surrounded, and I put in arrest by the corporal, who was commanding officer; but Captain Oregan disengaged himself, and ran with such speed towards Tottenham Court Road that he was out of sight in a moment. When my arms were delivered up, and myself secured, Strap became a little more composed, and asked pardon for the liberty he had taken, which he hoped I would excuse, as it proceeded from his affection. He then told me that, suspecting the letter (which by the by was brought by the author himself) contained something extraordinary, he had peeped through the keyhole, and seen me load my pistols; upon which he ran down to Whitehall, and applied to the officer on guard for a party to put me in arrest, but before he returned, I was gone in a coach; that he had inquired which way I went, and, having heard that duels were commonly fought at the back of Montague House, he conducted the guard to this place, where he thanked God for having found me safe and sound. I gave him to understand that I forgave his officious concern for once, but cautioned him in pretty severe terms for making me the subject of idle conversation for the future; then turning to the corporal, thanked him for his care, and gave him a crown to drink with his men, assuring him that the rencontre was over long before he came up, and everything compromised, as he might have observed by our behaviour; as a farther proof of which, he would find upon examination that one of my pistols had been discharged: but this civil person, without giving himself or me any farther trouble, received the bounty with a thousand bows and acknowledgments, and, returning the pistols, released me immediately.

He was not gone a hundred yards, when my friend Oregan came up in order to rescue me, with two tatterdemalions, whom he had engaged for that purpose about the purlieus of St. Giles’s. One of them was armed with a musket that wanted a lock, and another with a rusty broadsword, but their dress surpassed all description. When he understood I was already free. he made an apology for his abrupt departure, and introduced me to his two companions: First, to Counsellor Fitzclabber, who, he told me, was then employed in compiling a history of the kings of Minster, from Irish manuscripts; and then to his friend Mr. Gahagan, who was a profound philosopher and politician, and had projected many excellent schemes for the good of his country. But it seems these literati had been very ill rewarded for their ingenious labours; for, between them both, there was but one shirt, and half a pair of breeches. I thanked them very kindly for their readiness to assist me, and, having offered my service in my turn, bade them good morrow, desiring Oregan to accompany me to my lodgings, where he was fitted with decent clothes from my wardrobe, so much to his satisfaction, that he swore eternal gratitude and friendship to me, and, at my request, recounted all the adventures of his life.

In the afternoon, I waited on Melinda, who received me with great kindness and familiarity, and laughed excessively at my adventure with the Irishman, to whose wishes she was no stranger, having more than a dozen letters in her possession, which he had written to her on the subject of love, and which, for my entertainment, she submitted to my perusal. Having made ourselves merry at the expense of this poor admirer, I seized the opportunity of her mother’s going out of the room, and introduced my own passion, which I recommended to her with all the ardour and eloquence I was master of. I flattered, sighed, swore, entreated, and acted a thousand extravagancies, in hopes of making some impression on her heart; but she heard everything I said without discovering the least emotion; and other company came in before she would vouchsafe one serious reply. After tea, the cards were brought in according to custom, and it was my good fortune to have Melinda for my partner; by which means, instead of losing, I came off with five guineas clear gain.

I soon became acquainted with a good many people of fashion, and spent my time in the modish diversions of the town, such as plays, operas, masquerades, drums, assemblies, and muppet-shows; chiefly in company with Melinda, whom I cultivated with all the eagerness and address that my prospect could inspire, and my education afford. I spared neither my person nor my purse to gratify her vanity and pride; my rivals were intimidated, and indeed outshone; and, after all, I began to fear that the dear creature had not a heart to lose.

At last, finding myself unable to support the expense of this amour much longer, I was determined to bring the matter to a crisis; and one evening, while we were together by ourselves, complained of her indifference, described the tortures of suspense to a love-sick mind, and pressed her to disclose her sentiments of matrimony and me with such earnestness, that she could not, with all her art, shift the subject, but was obliged to come to an eclaircissement. She told me, with a careless air, that she had no objection to my person, and if I could satisfy her mother in other particulars, I should not find her averse to the match; but she was resolved to do nothing in such a momentous concern without the advice and consent of her parent. This was no very agreeable declaration to me, whose aim had been to win her inclination first, and then secure my conquest by a private marriage, to which I flattered myself she would express no reluctance. That I might not, however, desert my cause before it was desperate, I waited on her mother; and, with great formality, demanded the daughter in marriage. The good lady, who was a very notable woman, behaved with great state and civility; thanked me for the honour I intended her family; and said, she did not doubt that I was in all respects qualified to make a woman happy; but it concerned her as a parent anxious about the welfare of her child, to inquire into the particulars of my fortune, and know what settlement I proposed to make. To this intimation, which would have utterly disconcerted me if I had not expected it, I replied, without hesitation that, though my fortune was very small, I was a gentleman by birth and education, would maintain her daughter in the sphere of a gentlewoman, and settle her own dowry on her and her heirs for ever. This careful matron did not seem to relish my proposal, but observed, w h a demure countenance, that there was no necessity for settling that upon her child which was her own already; however, if I pleased, her lawyer should confer with mine upon the matter; and, in the meantime, she desired I would favour her with a perusal of my rent-roll. Notwithstanding the vexation I was under, I could scarce forbear laughing in her face at the mention of my rent-roll, which was indeed a severe piece of satire upon my pretensions. I frankly owned I had no landed estate; and told her that I could not exactly specify the sum I was master of, until I had regulated my affairs, which were at present in some disorder; but that I would take an opportunity of satisfying her on that head very soon.

It was not long before I took my leave, and returned to my lodgings in a very melancholy mood, persuaded that I had nothing more to expect from that quarter. I was confirmed in this opinion next day, when I went back with a view of explaining myself more fully to the old gentlewoman; and was told by the footman that his ladies were not at home, although I had seen Melinda through the blinds at a parlour window, as I went up to the door. Incensed at this affront, I quitted the door without saying one word, and as I repassed the parlour, bowed to Miss, who still remained in the same situation, securely screened, as she thought, from my view.

This disappointment gave me more uneasiness on Strap’s account than my own, for I was in no danger of dying for love of Melinda; on the contrary, the remembrance of my charming Narcissa was a continual check upon my conscience during the whole course of my addresses; and perhaps contributed to the bad success of my scheme, by controlling my raptures and condemning my design.

There was a necessity for informing my companion of everything that happened to me and I performed this piece of duty in an affected passion, swearing I would be his pack-horse no longer, and desiring him to take the management of his affairs into his own hands. This finesse had the desired effect, for, instead of grumbling over my miscarriage, Strap was frightened at the passion I feigned, and begged me, for the love of God, to be appeased; observing that, although we had suffered a great loss, it was not irreparable; and if Fortune frowned to day, she might perhaps smile to-morrow. I pretended to acquiesce in his remarks, praise his equanimity, and promised to improve my misfortune. He, on the other hand, pretended to be perfectly well satisfied with my conduct, and conjured me to follow the dictates of my own reflection; but, in spite of all his affectation, I could perceive his inward affliction, and his visage sensibly increased in longitude from that day.

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