The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter V

The Schoolmaster uses me barbarously — I form a Project of Revenge, in which I am assisted by my Uncle — I leave the Village — am settled at a University by his Generosity

On our way back to the village, my uncle spoke not a word during the space of a whole hour, but whistled with great vehemence the tune of “Why should we quarrel for riches,” etc. his visage being contracted all the while into a most formidable frown. At length his pace increased to such a degree that I was left behind a considerable way: then he waited for me; and when I was almost up with him, called out in a surly tone, “Bear a hand, damme! must I bring to every minute for you, you lazy dog.” Then, laying hold of me by the arm, hauled me along, until his good nature (of which he had a great share) and reflection getting the better of his he said, “Come, my boy, don’t be cast down, — the old rascal is in hell, that’s some satisfaction; you shall go to sea with me, my lad. A light heart and a thin pair of breeches goes through the world, brave boys, as the song goes — eh!” Though this proposal did not at all suit my inclination, I was afraid of discovering my aversion to it, lest I should disoblige the only friend I had in the world; and he was so much a seaman that he never dreamt I could have had any objection to his design; consequently gave himself no trouble in consulting my approbation. But this resolution was soon dropped, by the device of our usher, who assured Mr. Bowling, it would be a thousand pities to balk my genius, which would certainly one day make my fortune on shore, provided it received due cultivation. Upon which, this generous tar determined (though he could ill afford it) to give me university education; and accordingly settled my board and other expenses, at a town not many miles distant, famous for its colleges, whither we repaired in a short time. But, before the day of our departure, the schoolmaster, who no longer had the fear of my grandfather before his eyes, laid aside all decency and restraint, and not only abused me in the grossest language his rancour could suggest, as a wicked, proffigate, dull, beggarly miscreant, whom he had taught out of charity; but also inveighed in the most bitter manner against the memory of the judge (who by the by had procured that settlement for him), hinting, in pretty plain terms, that the old gentleman’s soul was damned to all eternity for his injustice in neglecting to pay for my learning. This brutal behaviour, added to the sufferings I had formerly undergone made me think it high time to be revenged on this insolent pedagogue. Having consulted my adherents, I found them all staunch in their promises to stand by me; and our scheme was this:— In the afternoon preceding to the day of our departure for the University, I resolved to take the advantage of the usher’s going out to make water (which he regularly did at four o’clock), and shut the great door, that he might not come to the assistance of his superior. This being done, the assault was to be begun by my advancing to my master and spitting in his face. I was to be seconded by two of the strongest boys in the school, who were devoted to me; their business was to join me in dragging the tyrant to a bench, over which he was to be laid, and his bare posteriors heartily flogged, with his own birch, which we proposed to wrest from him in his struggle; but if we should find him too many for us all three, we were to demand the assistance of our competitors, who should be ready to enforce us, or oppose anything that might be undertaken for the master’s relief. One of my principal assistants was called Jeremy Gawky, son and heir of a wealthy gentleman in the neighbourhood; and the name of the other, Hugh Strap, the cadet of a family which had given shoemakers to the village time out of mind. I had once saved Gawky’s life, by plunging into a river and dragging him on shore, when he was on the point of being drowned. I had often rescued him from the clutches of those whom his insufferable arrogance had provoked to a resentment he was not able to sustain; and many times saved his reputation and posteriors, by performing his exercises at school; so that it is not to be wondered at, if he had a particular regard for me and my interests. The attachment of Strap flowed from a voluntary, disinterested inclination, which had manifested itself on many occasions in my behalf, he having once rendered me the same service that I had rendered Gawky, by saving my life at the risk of his own; and often fathered offences that I had committed, for which he suffered severely, rather than I should feel the weight of the punishment. These two champions were the more willing to engage in this enterprise, because they intended to leave the school next day, as well as I; the first being ordered by his father to return into the country, and the other being bound apprentice to his barber, at a market town not far off.

In the meantime, my uncle, being informed of my master’s behaviour to me, was enraged at his insolence, and vowed revenge so heartily that I could not refrain from telling him the scheme I had concerted, while he heard with great satisfaction, at every sentence squirting out a mouthful of spittle, tinctured with tobacco, of which he constantly chewed a large quid. At last, pulling up his breeches, he cried, “No, no, z — ds! that won’t do neither; howsoever, ’tis a bold undertaking, my lad, that I must say, i’faith; but lookee, lookee, how do you propose to get clear off — won’t the enemy give chase, my boy? — ay, ay, that he will, I warrant, and alarm the whole coast; ah! God help thee, more sail than ballast, Rory. Let me alone for that — leave the whole to me. I’ll show him the foretopsail, I will. If so be your shipmates are jolly boys, and won’t flinch, you shall see, yon shall see; egad, I’ll play him such a salt-water trick I’ll bring him to the gangway. and anoint him with a cat-and-nine-tails; he shall have a round dozen doubled, my lad, he shall — and be left lashed to his meditations.” We were very proud of our associate, who immediately went to work, and prepared the instrument of his revenge with great skill and expedition; after which, he ordered our baggage to be packed up and sent off, a day before our attempt, and got horses ready to be mounted, as soon as the affair should be over. At length the hour arrived, when our auxiliary, seizing the opportunity of the usher’s absence, bolted in, secured the door, and immediately laid hold of the pedant by his collar who bawled out, “Murder, Thieves.” with the voice of a Stentor. Though I trembled all over like an aspen leaf, I knew there was no time to be lost, and accordingly got up, and summoned our associates to our assistance. Strap, without any hesitation, obeyed the signal, and seeing me leap upon the master’s back, ran immediately to one of his legs, which pulling with all his force, this dreadful adversary was humbled to the ground; upon which Gawky, who had hitherto remained in his place, under the influence of a universal trepidation, hastened to the scene of action, and insulted the fallen tyrant with a loud huzza, in which the whole school joined. The noise alarmed the usher, who, finding himself shut out, endeavoured, partly by threats and partly by entreaties, to procure admission. My uncle bade him have a little patience, and he would let him in presently; but if he pretended to stir from that place, it should fare the worse with the son of a bitch his superior, on whom he intended only to bestow a little wholesome chastisement, for his barbarous usage of Rory, “to which,” said he, “you are no stranger.” By this time we had dragged the criminal to a post, to which Bowling tied him with a rope he had provided on purpose; after having secured his hands and stripped his back. In this ludicrous posture he stood (to the no small entertainment of the boys, who crowded about him, and shouted with great exultation at the novelty of the sight), venting bitter imprecations against the lieutenant, and reproaching his scholars with treachery and rebellion; when the usher was admitted, whom my uncle accosted in this manner: “Harkee, Mr. Syntax, I believe you are an honest man, d’ye see — and I have a respect for you — but for all that, we must, for our own security, d’ye see, belay you for a short time.” With these words, he pulled out some fathoms of cord, which the honest man no sooner saw than he protested with great earnestness he would allow no violence to be offered to him, at the same time accusing me of perfidy and ingratitude. But Bowling representing that it was in vain to resist, and that he did not mean to use him with violence and indecency, but only to hinder him from raising the hue and cry against us before we should be out of their power, he allowed himself to be bound to his own desk, where he sat a spectator of the punishment inflicted on his principal. My uncle, having upbraided this arbitrary wretch with his inhumanity to me, told him, that he proposed to give him a little discipline for the good of his soul, which he immediately put in practice, with great vigour and dexterity. This smart application to the pedant’s withered posteriors gave him such exquisite pain that he roared like a mad bull, danced, cursed, and blasphemed, like a frantic bedlamite. When the lieutenant thought himself sufficiently revenged, he took his leave of him in these words: “Now, friend, you’ll remember me the longest day you have to live; I have given you a lesson that will let you know what flogging is, and teach you to have more sympathy for the future. Shout, boys, shout!”

This ceremony was no sooner over than my uncle proposed they should quit the school, and convey their old comrade Rory to the public-house, about a mile from the village, where he would treat them all. His offer being joyfully embraced, he addressed himself to Mr. Syntax, and begged him to accompany us; but this invitation he refused with great disdain, telling my benefactor he was not the man he took him to be. “Well, well, old surly,” replied my uncle, shaking his hand, “thou art an honest fellow notwithstanding; and if ever I have the command of a ship, thou shalt be our schoolmaster, i’faith.” So saying he dismissed the boys, and locking the door, left the two preceptors to console one another; while we moved forwards on our journey, attended by a numerous retinue, whom he treated according to his promise.

We parted with many tears, and lay that night at an inn on the road, about ten miles short of the town where I was to remain, at which we arrived next day, and I found I had no cause to complain of the accommodations provided for me, in being boarded at the house of an apothecary, who had married a distant relation of my mother. In a few days after, my uncle set out for his ship, having settled the necessary funds for my maintenance and education.

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