The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LIV

Day breaking, I have the Pleasure of viewing the Person of Miss Snapper, whom I had not seen before — the Soldier is witty upon me — is offended — talks much of his Valour — is reprimanded by a grave Gentlewoman — we are alarmed by the cry of Highwaymen — I get out of the Coach, and stand in my own defence — they ride off without having attacked us — I pursue them — one of them is thrown from his Horse and taken — I return to the Coach — am complimented by Miss Snapper — the Captain’s Behaviour on this Occasion — the Prude reproaches me in a Soliloquy — I upbraid her in the same Manner — the Behaviour of Miss Snapper, at Breakfast, disobliges me — the Lawyer is witty upon the Officer, who threatens him

In the meantime, the day breaking in upon us, discovered to one another the faces of their fellow travellers: and I had the good fortune to find my mistress not quite so deformed nor disagreeable as she had been represented to me. Her head, indeed, bore some resemblance to a hatchet, the edge being represented by her face; but she had a certain delicacy in her complexion, and a great deal of vivacity in her eyes, which were very large and black; and, though the protuberance of her breast, when considered alone, seemed to drag her forwards, it was easy to perceive an equivalent on her back which balanced the other, and kept her body in equilibrio. On the whole, I thought I should have great reason to congratulate myself if it should be my fate to possess twenty thousand pounds encumbered with such a wife. I began therefore to deliberate about the most probable means of acquiring the conquest, and was so much engrossed by this idea, that I scarce took any notice of the rest of the people in the coach, but revolved my project in silence; while the conversation was maintained as before by the object of my hopes, the son of Mars, and the barrister, who by this time recollected himself, and talked in terms as much as ever. At length a dispute happened, which ended in a wager, to be determined by me, who was so much absorbed in contemplation, that I neither heard the reference nor the question which was put to me by each in his turn. Affronted at my supposed contempt, the soldier with great vociferation swore I was either dumb or deaf if not both, and that I looked as if I could not say Bo to a goose. Aroused at this observation, I fixed my eyes upon him, and pronounced with emphasis the interjection Bo! Upon which he cocked his hat in a fierce manner, and cried, “D— me sir” what d’ye mean by that.” Had I intended to answer him, which by the by was not my design, I should have been anticipated by Miss, who told him, my meaning was to show, that I could cry Bo to a goose; and laughed very heartily at my laconic reproof. Her explanation and mirth did not help to appease his wrath, which broke out in several martial insinuations, such as — I do not understand such freedoms, d — me! D— n my blood! I’m a gentleman, and bear the king’s commission. ‘Sblood! some people deserve to have their noses pulled for their impertinence.” I thought to have checked these ejaculations by a frown; because he had talked so much of his valour that I had long ago rated him as an ass in a lion’s skin; but this expedient did not answer my expectation, he took umbrage at the contraction of my brow, swore he did not value my sulky looks a fig’s end, and protested he feared no man breathing. Miss Snapper said, she was very glad to find herself in company with a man of so much courage, who, she did not doubt, would protect her from all the attempts of highwaymen during our journey. “Make yourself perfectly easy on that head, madam,” replied the officer. “I have got a pair of pistols (here they are), which I took from a horse officer at the battle of Dettingen; they are double loaded, and if any highwayman in England robs you of the value of a pin while I have the honour of being in your company, d — n my heart.” When he had expressed himself in this manner, a prim gentlewoman, who had sat silent hitherto, opened her mouth, and said, she wondered how any man could be so rude as to pull out such weapons before ladies. “D— me, madam,” cried the champion, “if you are so much afraid at the sight of a pistol, how d’ye propose to stand fire if there should be occasion?” She then told him that, if she thought he could be so unmannerly as to use fire-arms in her presence, whatever might be the occasion, she would get out of the coach immediately, and walk to the next village, where she might procure a convenience to herself. Before he could make any answer, my Dulcinea interposed, and observed that, far from being offended at a gentleman’s using his arms in his own defence, she thought herself very lucky in being along with one by whose valour she stood a good chance of saving herself from being rifled. The prude cast a disdainful look at Miss, and said that people, who have but little to lose, are sometimes the most solicitous about preserving it. The old lady was affronted at this inuendo, and took notice, that people ought to be very well informed before they speak slightingly of other people’s fortune, lest they discover their own envy, and make themselves ridiculous. The daughter declared, that she did not pretend to vie with anybody in point of riches; and if the lady, who insisted upon non-resistance, would promise to indemnify us all for the loss we should sustain, she would be one of the first to persuade the captain to submission, in case we should be attacked. To this proposal, reasonable as it was, the reserved lady made no other reply than a scornful glance and a toss of her head. I was very well pleased with the spirit of my young mistress, and even wished for an opportunity of distinguishing my courage under her eye, which I believed could not fail of prepossessing her in my favour, when all of a sudden Strap rode up to the coach door, and told us in a great fright, that two men on horseback were crossing the heath (for by this time we had passed Hounslow), and made directly towards us.

This piece of information was no sooner delivered, than Mrs. Snapper began to scream, her daughter grew pale, the old lady pulled out her purse to be in readiness, the lawyer’s teeth chattered, while he pronounced, “’Tis no matter — we’ll sue the county and recover.” The captain gave evident signs of confusion: and I, after having commanded the coachman to stop, opened the door, jumped out, and invited the warrior to follow me. But, finding him backward and astonished, I took his pistols, and, giving them to Strap, who had by this time alighted and trembled very much, I mounted on horseback; and, taking my own (which I could better depend upon) from the holsters, cocked them both, and faced the robbers, who were now very near us. Seeing me ready to oppose them on horseback, and another man armed a-foot, they made a halt at some distance to reconnoitre us: and after having rode round us twice, myself still facing about as they rode, went off the same way they came, at a hand gallop. A gentleman’s servant coming up with a horse at the same time, I offered him a crown to assist me in pursuing them, which he no sooner accepted, than I armed him with the officer’s pistols, and we galloped after the thieves, who, trusting to the swiftness of their horses, stopped till we came within shot of them and then, firing at us, put their nags to the full speed. We followed them as fast as our beasts could carry us; but, not being so well mounted as they, our efforts would have been to little purpose, had not the horse of one of them stumbled, and thrown his rider with such violence over his head, that he lay senseless when we came up, and was taken without the least opposition; while his comrade consulted his own safety in flight, without regarding the distress of his friend. We scarce had time to make ourselves masters of his arms, and tie his hands together, before he recovered his senses, when, learning his situation he affected surprise, demanded to know by what authority we used a gentleman in that manner, and had the impudence to threaten us with a prosecution for robbery. In the meantime, we perceived Strap coming up with a crowd of people, armed up with different kinds of weapons; and among the rest a farmer, who no sooner perceived the thief, whom we had secured, than he cried with great emotion, “There’s the fellow who robbed me an hour ago of twenty pounds, in a canvas bag.” He was immediately searched, and the money found exactly as it had been described; upon which we committed him to the charge of the countryman, who carried him to the town of Hounslow, which, it seems, the farmer had alarmed; and I, having satisfied the footman for his trouble, according to promise, returned with Strap to the coach, where I found the captain and lawyer busy in administering smelling bottles and cordials to the grave lady, who had gone into a fit at the noise of firing.

When I had taken my seat, Miss Snapper, who from the coach had seen everything that happened; made me a compliment on my behaviour, and said she was glad to see me returned without having received any injury; her mother too owned herself obliged to my resolution: the lawyer told me, that I was entitled by act of parliament to a reward of forty pounds, for having apprehended a highwayman. The soldier observed, with a countenance in which impudence and shame struggling, produced some disorder, that if I had not been in such a d — d hurry to get out of the coach, he would have secured the rogues effectually, without all this bustle and loss of time, by a scheme, which my heat and precipitation ruined. “For my own part,” continued he, “I am always extremely cool on these occasions. “So it appeared, by your trembling,” said the young lady. “Death and d — ion!” cried he, your sex protects you, madam; if any man on earth durst tell me so much, I’d send him to hell, d — n my heart! in an instant.” So saying, he fixed his eyes upon me, and asked if I had seen him tremble? I answered without hesitation, “Yes.” “D— me, sir!” said he, “d’ye doubt my courage?” I replied, “Very much.” This declaration quite disconcerted him. He looked blank, and pronounced with a faltering voice, “Oh! it’s very well: d — n my blood! I shall find a time.” I signified my contempt of him, by thrusting my tongue in my cheek, which humbled him so much, that he scarce swore another oath aloud during the whole journey.

The precise lady, having recruited her spirits by the help of some strong waters, began a soliloquy, in which she wondered that any man, who pretended to maintain the character of a gentleman, could, for the sake of a little paltry coin, throw persons of honour into such quandaries as might endanger their lives; and professed her surprise that women were not ashamed to commend such brutality. At the same time vowing that for the future she would never set foot in a stage coach, if a private convenience could be had for love or money.

Nettled at her remarks, I took the same method of conveying my sentiments, and wondered in my turn, that any woman of common sense should be so unreasonable as to expect that people, who had neither acquaintance nor connection with her, would tamely allow themselves to be robbed and maltreated, merely to indulge her capricious humour. I likewise confessed my astonishment at her insolence and ingratitude in taxing a person with brutality, who deserved her approbation and acknowledgment; and vowed that, if ever she should be assaulted again, I would leave her to the mercy of the spoiler, that she might know the value of my protection.

This person of honour did not think fit to carry on the altercation any further, but seemed to chew the cud of her resentment with the crestfallen captain, while I entered into discourse with my charmer, who was the more pleased with my conversation, as she had conceived a very indifferent opinion of my intellects from my former silence. I should have had cause to be equally satisfied with the sprightliness of her genius, could she have curbed her imagination with judgment; but she laboured under such a profusion of talk, that I dreaded her unruly tongue, and felt by anticipation the horrors of an eternal clack! However, when I considered, on the other hand, the joys attending the possession of twenty thousand pounds, I forgot her imperfections, seized occasion by the forelock, and tried to insinuate myself into her affection. The careful mother kept a strict watch over her and though she could not help behaving civilly to me, took frequent opportunities of discouraging our communication, by reprimanding her for being so free with strangers, and telling her she must learn to speak less and think more. Abridged of the use of speech, we conversed with our eyes, and I found the young lady very eloquent in this kind of discourse. In short, I had reason to believe that she was sick of the old gentlewoman’s tuition, and that I should find it no difficult matter to supersede her authority.

When we arrived at the place where we were to breakfast, I alighted, and helped my mistress out of the coach, as well as her mother who called for a private room to which they withdrew in order to eat by themselves. As they retired together, I perceived that Miss had got more twists from nature than I had before observed for she was bent sideways into the figure of an S, so that her progression very much resembled that of a crab. The prude also chose the captain for her messmate, and ordered breakfast for two only, to be brought into another separate room: while the lawyer and I, deserted by the rest of the company, were fain to put up with each other. I was a good deal chagrined at the stately reserve of Mrs. Snapper, who, I thought, did not use me with all the complaisance I deserved; and my companion declared that he had been a traveller for twenty years, and never knew the stage coach rules so much infringed before. As for the honourable gentlewoman I could not conceive the meaning of her attachment to the lieutenant; and asked the lawyer if he knew for which of the soldier’s virtues she admired him? The counsellor facetiously replied, “I suppose the lady knows him to be an able conveyancer, and wants him to make a settlement in tail.” I could not help laughing at the archness of the barrister, who entertained me during breakfast with a great deal of wit of the same kind, at the expense of our fellow travellers; and among other things said, he was sorry to find the young lady saddled with such incumbrances.

When we had made an end of our repast, and paid our reckoning, we went into the coach, took our places, and bribed the driver with sixpence to revenge us on the rest of his fare, by hurrying them away in the midst of their meal. This task he performed to our satisfaction, after he had disturbed their enjoyment with his importunate clamour. The mother and daughter obeyed the summons first, and, coming to the coach door, were obliged to desire the coachman’s assistance to get in, because the lawyer and I had agreed to show our resentment by our neglect. They were no sooner seated, than the captain appeared, as much heated as if he had been pursued a dozen miles by an enemy; and immediately after him came the lady, not without some marks of disorder. Having helped her up, he entered himself, growling a few oaths against the coachman for his impertinent interruption; and the lawyer comforted him by saying, that if he had suffered a nisi prius through the obstinacy of the defendant, he might have an opportunity to join issue at the next stage. This last expression gave offence to the grave gentlewoman, who told him, if she was a man, she would make him repent of such obscenity, and thanked God, he had never been in such company before. At this insinuation the captain thought himself under a necessity of espousing the lady’s cause; and accordingly threatened to cut off the lawyer’s ears, if he should give his tongue any such liberties for the future. The poor counsellor begged pardon, and universal silence ensued.

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