The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LII

I attempt to recover my Watch and Jewel, but to no Purpose — resolve to revenge myself on Strutwell by my Importunity — am reduced to my last Guinea — obliged to inform Strap of my Necessity, who is almost distracted with the News, but nevertheless obliged to pawn my best Sword for present Subsistence — that small Supply being exhausted, I am almost stupified with my Misfortunes — go to the Gaming Table by the Advice of Banter, and come off with unexpected Success — Strap’s Ecstacy — Mrs. Gawky waits upon me, professes Remorse for her Perfidy, and implores my Assistance — I do myself a Piece of Justice by her Means, and afterwards reconcile her to her Father

I was so confounded that I could make no reply to Banter, who reproached me with great indignation for having thrown away upon rascals that which, had it been converted into ready money, would have supported the rank of a gentleman for some months, and enabled me, at the same time, to oblige my friends. Stupified as I was, I could easily divine the source of his concern, but sneaked away in a solitary manner, without yielding the least answer to his expostulations; and began to deliberate within myself in what manner I should attempt to retrieve the movables I had so foolishly lost. I should have thought it no robbery to take them again by force, could I have done it without any danger of being detected; but, as I could have no such opportunity, I resolved to work by finesse, and go immediately to the lodgings of Straddle, where I was so fortunate as to find him. “My Lord,” said I, “I have just now recollected, that the diamond I had the honour of presenting to you is loosened a little in the socket, and there is a young fellow just arrived from Paris, who is reckoned the best jeweller in Europe; I knew him in France; and, if your lordship will give me leave, will carry the ring to him to be set to rights.” His lordship was not to be caught in this snare; he thanked me for my offer, and told me, that, having himself observed the defect, he had sent it to his own jeweller to be mended; and, indeed, by this time I believe it was in the jeweller’s hands, though not in order to be mended, for it stood in need of no alteration.

Balked in this piece of politics, I cursed my simplicity; but resolved to play a surer game with the earl, which I thus devised. I did not doubt of being admitted into familiar conversation with him, as before, and hoped by some means to get the watch into my hand; then, on pretence of winding or playing with it, drop it on the floor, when, in all probability, the fall would disorder the work so as to stop its motion; this event would furnish me with an opportunity of insisting upon carrying it away in order to be repaired, and then I should be in no hurry to bring it back. What pity it was I could not find an occasion of putting this fine scheme in execution! When I went to renew my visit to his lordship, my access to the parlour was as free as ever; but after I had waited for some time, the valet-de-chambre came in with his lord’s compliments, and a desire to see me to-morrow at his levee, he being at present so much indisposed that he could not see company. I interpreted this message into a bad omen, and came away muttering curses against his lordship’s politeness, and ready to go to loggerheads with myself for being so egregiously duped. But, that I might have some satisfaction for the loss I had sustained, I besieged him so closely at his levee, and persecuted him with my solicitations; not without faint hopes, indeed, of reaping something more from my industry than the bare pleasure of making him uneasy; though I could never obtain another private hearing the whole course of my attendance; neither had I resolution enough to undeceive Strap, whose looks in a little time were so whetted with impatience, that whenever I came home, his eyes devoured me, as it were, with eagerness of attention.

At length, however, finding myself reduced to my last guinea, I was compelled to disclose my necessity, though I endeavoured to sweeten the discovery by rehearsing to him the daily assurances I received from my patron. But these promises were not of efficacy sufficient to support the spirits of my friend, who no sooner understood the lowness of my finances, than, uttering a dreadful groan, he exclaimed, “In the name of God, what shall we do?” In order to comfort him, I said, that many of my acquaintances, who were in a worse condition than we, supported, notwithstanding, the character of gentlemen; and advising him to thank God that as yet we had incurred no debt, proposed he should pawn my sword of steel, inlaid with gold, and trust to my discretion for the rest. This expedient was wormwood and gall to poor Strap, who, in spite of his invincible affection for me, still retained notions of economy and expense suitable to the narrowness of his education; nevertheless he complied with my request, and raised seven pieces on the sword in a twinkling. This supply, inconsiderable as it was, made me as happy for the present, as if I had kept five hundred pounds in bank; for by this time I was so well skilled in procrastinating every troublesome reflection, that the prospect of want seldom affected me very much, let it be ever so near. And now indeed it was nearer than I imagined. My landlord, having occasion for money, put me in mind of my being indebted to him five guineas in lodging; and, telling me he had a sum to make up, begged I would excuse his importunity, and discharge the debt. Though I could ill spare so much cash, my pride took the resolution of disbursing it. This I did in a cavalier manner, after he had written a discharge, telling him with an air of scorn and resentment, I saw he was resolved that I should not be long in his books; while Strap, who stood by, and knew my circumstances, wrung his hands in secret, gnawed his nether lip, and turned yellow with despair. Whatever appearance of indifference my vanity enabled me to put on, I was thunderstruck with this demand, which I had no sooner satisfied, than I hastened into company, with a view of beguiling my cares with conversation, or drowning them with wine.

After dinner, a party was accordingly made in the coffee-house, from whence we adjourned to the tavern, where, instead of sharing the mirth of the company, I was as much chagrined at their good humour as a damned soul in hell would be at a glimpse of heaven. In vain did I swallow bumper after bumper! the wine had lost its effect upon me, and, far from raising my dejected spirits, could not even lay me asleep. Banter, who was the only intimate I had (Strap excepted), perceived my anxiety, and, when we broke up, reproached me with pusillanimity, for being cast down at my disappointment that such a rascal as Strutwell could be the occasion of. I told him I did not at all see how Strutwell’s being a rascal alleviated my misfortune; and gave him to understand that my present grief did not so much proceed from that disappointment, as from the low ebb of my fortune, which was sunk to something less than two guineas. At this declaration he cried, “Psha! is that all?” and assured me there were a thousand ways of living in town without a fortune, he himself having subsisted many years entirely by his wit. I expressed an eager desire of being acquainted with some of these methods, and he, without farther expostulation, bade me follow him. He conducted me to a house under the piazzas in Covert Garden, which we entered, and having delivered our swords to a grim fellow who demanded them at the foot of the staircase, ascended to the second story, where I saw multitudes of people standing round two gaming-tables, loaded, in a manner, with gold and silver. My conductor told me this was the house of a worthy Scotch lord, who, using the privilege of his peerage, had set up public gaming tables, from the profits of which he drew a comfortable livelihood. He then explained difference the between the sitters and the bettors; characterised the first as old rooks, and the last as bubbles; and advised me to try my fortune at the silver table, by betting a crown at a time. Before I would venture anything, I considered the company more particularly, and there appeared such a group of villanous faces, that I was struck with horror and astonishment at the sight! I signified my surprise to Banter, who whispered in my ear, that the bulk of those present were sharpers, highwaymen, and apprentices, who, having embezzled their master’s cash, made a desperate push in this place to make up their deficiencies. This account did not encourage me to hazard any part of my small pittance: but, at length, being teased by the importunities of my friend, who assured me there was no danger of being ill-used, because people were hired by the owner to see justice done to everybody, I began by risking one shilling, and, in less than an hour, my winning amounted to thirty. Convinced by this time of the fairness of the game, and animated with success, there was no need of further persuasion to continue the play: I lent Banter (who seldom had any money in his pocket) a guinea, which he carried to the gold table, and lost in a moment. He would have borrowed another, but finding me deaf to his arguments, went away in a pet. Meanwhile my gain advanced to six pieces, and my desire of more increased in proportion: so that I moved to the higher table, where I laid half-a-guinea on every throw, and fortune still favouring me, I became a sitter, in which capacity I remained until it was broad day; when I found myself, after many vicissitudes, one hundred and fifty guineas in pocket.

Thinking it now high time to retire with my booty, I asked if anybody would take my place, and made a notion to rise; upon which an old Gascon, who sat opposite to me, and of whom I had won a little money, started up with fury in his looks, crying, “Restez, foutre, restez! il faut donner moi mon ravanchio!” At the same time, a Jew, who sat near the other, insinuated that I was more beholden to art than fortune for what I had got; that he had observed me wipe the table very often, and that some of the divisions appeared to be greasy. This intimation produced a great deal of clamour against me, especially among the losers, who threatened with many oaths and imprecations, to take me up by a warrant as a sharper, unless I would compromise the affair by refunding the greatest part of my winning. Though I was far from being easy under his accusation, I relied upon my innocence, threatened in my turn to prosecute the Jew, for defamation, and boldly offered to submit my cause to the examination of any justice in Westminster; but they knew themselves too well to put their characters on that issue, and finding that I was not to be intimidated into any concession, dropped their plea, and made way for me to withdraw. I would not, however, stir from the table until the Israelite had retracted what he had said to my disadvantage, and asked pardon before the whole assembly.

As I marched out with my prize, I happened to tread on the toes of a tall raw-boned fellow, with a hooked nose, fierce eyes, black thick eyebrows, a pigtail wig of the same colour, and a formidable hat pulled over his forehead, who stood gnawing his fingers in the crowd, and he sooner felt the application of my shoe heel, than he roared out in a tremendous voice, “Blood and wounds! you son of a whore, what’s that for?” I asked pardon with a great deal of submission, and protested I had no intention of hurting him; but the more I humbled myself the more he stormed, and insisted on gentlemanly satisfaction, at the same time provoking me with scandalous names that I could not put up with; so that I gave loose to my passion, returned his Billingsgate, and challenged him down to the piazzas. His indignation cooling as mine warmed, he refused my invitation, saying he would choose his own time, and returned towards the table muttering threats, which I neither dreaded nor distinctly beard; but, descending with great deliberation, received my sword from the door-keeper, whom I gratified with a guinea, according to the custom of the place, and went home in a rapture of joy.

My faithful valet, who had set up all night in the utmost uneasiness on my account, let me in with his face beslubbered with tears, and followed me to my chamber, where he stood silent like a condemned criminal, in expectation of hearing that every shilling was spent, I guessed the situation of his thoughts, and, assuming a sullen look, bade him fetch me some water to wash. He replied, without lifting his eyes from the ground, “In my simple conjecture, you have more occasion for rest, not having (I suppose) slept these four-and-twenty hours.” “Bring me some water!” said I, in a peremptory tone; upon which he sneaked away shrugging his shoulders. Before he returned, I had spread my whole stock on the table in the most ostentatious manner; so that, when it first saluted his view, he stood like one entranced; and, having rubbed his eyes more than once, to assure himself of his being awake, broke out into, “Lord have mercy upon us, what a vast treasure is here!” “’Tis all our own, Strap,” said I; “take what is necessary, and redeem the sword immediately.” He advanced towards the table, stopped short by the way, looked at the money and me by turns, and with a wildness in his countenance, produced from joy checked by distrust, cried, “I dare say it is honestly come by.” To remove his scruples, I made him acquainted with the whole story of my success, which, when he heard, he danced about the room in an ecstacy, crying, “God be praised! — a white stone! — God be praised! — a white stone!” So that I was afraid the change of fortune bad disordered his intellects, and that he was run mad with joy. Extremely concerned at this event, I attempted to reason him out of his frenzy, but to no purpose; for without regarding what I said, he continued to frisk up and down, and repeat his rhapsody, of “God be praised! — a white stone!” At last, I rose in the utmost consternation, and, laying violent hands upon him, put a stop to his extravagance by fixing him down to a settee that was in the room. This constraint banished his delirium; he started as if just awoke, and terrified at my behaviour, cried, “What is the matter!” When he learned the cause of my apprehension, he was ashamed of his transports, and told me, that in mentioning the white stone, he alluded to the Dies fast of the Romans, alibi lapped knotty.

Having no inclination to sleep, I secured my cash, dressed, and was just going abroad, when the servant of the house told me, there was a gentlewoman at the door who wanted to speak with me. Surprised at this information, I made Strap show her up, and in less than a minute, saw a young woman of a shabby decayed appearance enter my room. After half-a-dozen curtsies, she began to sob, and told me her name was Gawky; upon which information I immediately recollected the features of Miss Levement, who had been the first occasion of my misfortunes. Though I had all the reason in the world to resent her treacherous behaviour to me, I was moved at her distress, and professing my sorrow at seeing her so reduced desired her to sit, and inquired into the particulars of her situation. She fell upon her knees and implored my forgiveness for the injuries she had done me, protesting before God, that she was forced, against her inclination, into that hellish conspiracy which had almost deprived me of my life, by the entreaties of her husband, who, having been afterwards renounced by his father on account of his marriage with her, and unable to support a family on his pay, left his wife at her father’s house, and went with the regiment to Germany, where he was broke for misbehaviour at the battle of Dettingen; since which time she had heard no tidings of him. She then gave me to understand, with many symptoms of penitence, that it was her misfortune to bear a child four months after marriage, by which event her parents were so incensed, that she was turned out of doors with the infant, that died soon after: and had hitherto subsisted in a miserable indigent manner, on the extorted charity of a few friends, who were now quite tired of giving; that, not knowing where or how to support herself one day longer, she had fled for succour even to me, who, of all mankind, had the least cause to assist her, relying upon the generosity of my disposition, which, she hoped, would be pleased with this opportunity of avenging itself in the noblest manner on the wretch who had wronged me. I was very much affected with her discourse and, having no cause to suspect the sincerity of her repentance, raised her up, freely pardoned all she had done against me, and promised to befriend her as much as lay in my power.

Since my last arrival in London, I had made no advances to the apothecary, imagining it would be impossible for me to make my innocence appear, so unhappily was my accusation circumstanced: Strap indeed had laboured to justify me to the schoolmaster; but, far from succeeding in his attempt, Mr. Concordance dropped all correspondence with him, because he refused to quit his connection with me. Things being in this situation, I thought a fairer opportunity of vindicating my character could not offer than that which now presented itself; I therefore stipulated with Mrs. Gawky, that before I would yield her the least assistance, she should do me the justice to clear my reputation by explaining upon oath before a magistrate the whole of the conspiracy, as it had been executed against me. When she had given me this satisfaction, I presented her with five guineas, a sum so much above her expectation, that she could scarce believe the evidence of her senses, and was ready to worship me for my benevolence. The declaration, signed with her own hand, I sent to her father, who, upon recollecting and comparing the circumstances of my charge, was convinced of my integrity, and waited on me next day, in company with his friend the schoolmaster, to whom he had communicated my vindication. After mutual salutation, Monsieur Lavement began a long apology for the unjust treatment I had received; but I saved him a good deal of breath by interrupting his harangue, and assuring him that, far from entertaining a resentment against him, I thought myself obliged to his lenity, which allowed me to escape, after such strong assumptions of guilt appeared against me. Mr. Concordance, thinking it now his turn to speak, observed that Mr. Random had too much candour and sagacity to be disobliged at their conduct, which, all things considered, could not have been otherwise with any honesty of intention. “Indeed,” said he, “if the plot had been unravelled to us by any supernatural intelligence; if it had been whispered by a genius, communicated by dream, or revealed by an angel from on high, we should have been to blame in crediting ocular demonstration; but as we were left in the midst of mortality, it cannot be expected we should be incapable of imposition. I must assure you, Mr. Random, no man on earth is more pleased than I am at this triumph of your character: and, as the news of your misfortune panged me to the very entrails, this manifestation of your innocence makes my midriff quiver with joy.” I thanked him for this concern, desired them to undeceive those of their acquaintance who judged harshly of me, and, having treated them with a glass of wine, represented to Lavement the deplorable condition of his daughter, and pleaded her cause so effectually, that he consented to settle a small annuity on her for life: but could not be persuaded to take her home, because her mother was so much incensed, that she would never see her.

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