The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LIII

I purchase new Clothes — reprimand Strutwell and Straddle — Banter proposes another matrimonial Scheme — I accept of his Terms — set out to Bath in the Stage-coach with the young Lady and her Mother — the Behaviour of an Officer and Lawyer — our fellow Travellers described — a smart dialogue between my Mistress and the Captain

Having finished this affair to my satisfaction, I found myself perfectly at ease; and, looking upon the gaming-table as a certain resource for a gentleman in want, became more gay than ever. Although my clothes were almost as good as new, I grew ashamed of wearing them, because I thought everybody by this time had got an inventory of my wardrobe. For which reason I disposed of a good part of my apparel to a salesman in Monmouth Street for half the value, and bought two new suits with the money. I likewise purchased a plain gold watch, despairing of recovering that which I had so foolishly given to Strutwell, whom, notwithstanding, I still continued to visit at his levee, until the ambassador he had mentioned set out with a secretary of his own choosing. I thought myself then at liberty to expostulate with his lordship, whom I treated with great freedom in a letter, for amusing me with vain hopes, when he neither had the power nor inclination to provide for me. Nor was I less reserved with Straddle, whom I in person reproached for misrepresenting to me the character of Strutwell, which I did not scruple to aver was infamous in every respect. He seemed very much enraged at my freedom, talked a great deal about his quality and honour, and began to make some comparisons which I thought so injurious to mine, that I demanded an explanation with great warmth, and he was mean enough to equivocate, and condescend in such a manner that I left him with a hearty contempt of his behaviour.

About this time, Banter, who had observed a surprising and sudden alteration in my appearance and disposition, began to inquire very minutely into the cause, and, as I did not think fit to let him know the true state of the affair, lest he might make free with my purse, on the strength of having proposed the scheme that filled it, I told him that I had received a small supply from a relation in the country, who at the same time had proffered to use all his interest (which was not small) in soliciting some post for me that should make me easy for life. “If that be the case,” said Banter, “perhaps you won’t care to mortify yourself a little in making your fortune another way. I have a relation who is to set out for Bath next week, with an only daughter, who being sickly and decrepit, intends to drink the waters for the recovery of her health. Her father, who was a rich Turkey merchant, died about a year ago, and left her with a fortune of twenty thousand pounds, under the sole management of her mother, who is my kinswoman. I would have put in for the plate myself, but there is a breach at present between the old woman and me. You must know, that some time ago I borrowed a small sum of her and promised, it seems, to pay it before a certain time; but being disappointed in my expectation of money from the country, the day elapsed without my being able to take up my note; upon which she wrote a peremptory letter, threatening to arrest me, if I did not pay the debt immediately. Nettled at this precise behaviour, I sent a d — d severe answer, which enraged her so much that she actually took out a writ against me. Whereupon, finding the thing grow serious, I got a friend to advance the money for me, discharged the debt, went to her house, and abused her for her unfriendly dealing. She was provoked by my reproaches, and scolded in her turn. The little deformed urchin joined her mother with such virulence and volubility of tongue, that I was fain to make a retreat, after having been honoured with a great many scandalous epithets, which gave me plainly to understand that I had nothing to hope from the esteem of the one, or the affection of the other. As they are both utter strangers to life, it is a thousand to one that the girl will be picked up by some scoundrel or other at Bath, if I don’t provide for her otherwise. You are a well-looking fellow, Random, and can behave as demurely as a quaker. If you will give me an obligation of five hundred pounds, to be paid six months after your marriage, I will put you in a method of carrying her in spite of all opposition.”

This proposal was too advantageous for me to be refused. The writing was immediately drawn up and executed; and Banter, giving me notice of the time when, and the stage coach in which they were to set out, I bespoke a place in the same convenience; and, having hired a horse for Strap, who was chagrined with the prospect, set forward accordingly.

As we embarked before day, I had not the pleasure for some time of seeing Miss Snapper (that was the name of my mistress), nor even of perceiving the number and sex of my fellow travellers, although I guessed that the coach was full, by the difficulty I found in seating myself. The first five minutes passed in a general silence, when, all of a sudden, the coach heeling to one side, a boisterous voice pronounced, “To the right and left, cover your flanks, d — me! whiz!” I easily discovered by the tone and matter of this exclamation that it was uttered by a son of Mars; neither was it hard to conceive the profession of another person who sat opposite to me, and observed that we ought to have been well satisfied of our security before we entered upon the premises. These two sallies had not the desired effect. We continued a good while as mute as before, till at length the gentleman of the sword, impatient of longer silence, made a second effort, by swearing he had got into a meeting of quakers. “I believe so too,” said a shrill female voice at my left hand, “for the spirit of folly begins to move.” “Out with it then, madam!” replied the soldier. “You seem to have no occasion for a midwife,” cried the lady. “D— mn my blood!” exclaimed the other, “a man can’t talk to a woman, but she immediately thinks of a midwife.” “True sir,” said she, “I long to be delivered.” “What of — a mouse, madam?” said lie. “No, Sir,” said she, “of a fool.” “Are you far gone with a fool?” said he. “Little more than two miles,” said she. “By Gad, you’re a wit, madam,” cried the officer, “I wish I could with any justice return the compliment,” said the lady. “Zounds, I have done,” said he. “Your bolt is soon shot, according to the old proverb,” said she. The warrior’s powder was quite spent; the lawyer advised him to drop the prosecution, and a grave matron, who sat on the left hand of the victorious wit, told her she must not let her tongue run so fast among strangers. This reprimand, softened with the appellation of child, convinced me that the satirical lady was no other than Miss Snapper, and I resolved to regulate my conduct accordingly. The champion, finding himself so smartly handled, changed his battery, and began to expatiate on his own exploits. “You talk of shot, madam,” said he; “d — me! I have both given and received some shot in my time — I was wounded in the shoulder by a pistol ball at Dettingen, where — I say nothing — but by G— d! if it had not been for me — all’s one for that — I despise boasting, d-me! whiz!” So saying, he whistled one part and hummed another, of the Black Joke; then, addressing himself to the lawyer, went on thus; “Wouldn’t you think it d — d hard, after having, at the risk of your life, recovered the standard of a regiment that had been lost, to receive no preferment for your pains? I don’t choose to name no names, sink me! but, howsomever, this I will refer, by G— d! and that is this — a musketeer of the French guards, having a standard from a certain cornet of a certain regiment, d — e! was retreating with his prize as fast as his horse’s heels could carry him, sink me! Upon which, I snatched up firelock that belonged to a dead man, d — me! Whiz! and shot his horse under him, d — n my blood! The fellow got upon his feet, and began to repose me, upon which I charged my bayonet breast high, and ran him through the body by G—! One of his comrades, coming to his assistance, shot me in the shoulder, as I told you before; and another gave me a contusion on the head with the butt-end of his carbine; but, d — me, that did not signify. I killed one, put the other to flight, and taking up the standard, carried it off very deliberately. But the best joke of all was the son of a b — ch of a cornet, who had surrendered it in a cowardly manner, seeing it in my possession, demanded it from me in the front of the line. “D— n my blood!” says he, “where did you find my standard?” says he. “D— n my blood!” said I, “where,” said I, “did you lose it?” said I. “That’s nothing to you,” says he, “’tis my standard,” says he” and by G— d I’ll have it,” says he. “D— nation seize me,” says I, “if you shall,” says I, “till I have first delivered it to the general,” says I; and accordingly I went to the headquarters after the battle, and delivered it to my Lord Stair, who promised to do for me. But I am no more than a poor lieutenant still, d — n my blood.”

Having vented this repetition of expletives, the lawyer owned he had not been requited according to his deserts; observed that the labourer is always worthy of his hire, and asked if the promise was made before witnesses, because in that case the law would compel the general to perform it; but understanding that the promise was made over a bottle, without being restricted to time or terms, he pronounced it not valid in law, proceeded to inquire into the particulars of the battle, and affirmed that, although the English had drawn themselves into premunire at first, the French managed their cause so lamely in the course of the dispute, that they would have been utterly nonsuited, had they not obtained a nolli prosequi. In spite of these enlivening touches, the conversation was like to suffer another long interruption, when the lieutenant, unwilling to conceal any of his accomplishments that could be displayed in his present situation, offered to regale the company with a song; and, interpreting our silence into a desire of hearing, began to warble a fashionable air the first stanza of which he pronounced thus:

“Would you task the moon-tide hair,
To yon flagrant beau repair.
Where waving with the poplin vow,
The bantling fine will shelter you,” etc.

The sense of the rest he perverted as he went on with such surprising facility that I could not help thinking he had been at some pains to burlesque the performance. Miss Snapper ascribed it to the true cause, namely ignorance; and, when he asked her how she relished his music, answered that, in her opinion, the music and the words were much of a piece. “Oh, d — n my blood!” said he “I take that as a high compliment; for everybody allows the words are d — able fine.” “They may be so,” replied the lady, “for aught I know, but they are above my comprehension.” “I an’t obliged to find you comprehension, madam, curse me!” cried he. “No, nor to speak sense neither,” said she. “D— n my heart,” said he, “I’ll speak what I please.” Here the lawyer interposed, by telling him, there were some things he must not speak; and upon being defied to give an instance, mentioned treason and defamation. “As for the king,” cried the soldier, “God bless him — I eat his bread, and have lost blood in his cause, therefore I have nothing to say to him — but, by G— d, I dare say anything to any other man.” “No,” said the lawyer, “you dare not call me rogue.” “D— me, for what?” said the other. “Because,” replied the counsellor, “I should have it good action against you, and recover.” “Well, well,” cried the officer, “if I dare not call you rogue, I dare think you one, d — me!” This stroke of wit he accompanied with a loud laugh of self-approbation, which unluckily did not affect the audience, but effectually silenced his antagonist, who did not open his mouth for the space of an hour, except to clear his pipe with three hems, which however, produced nothing.

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