The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LV

I resolve to ingratiate myself with the Mother, and am favoured by accident — the Precise Lady finds her husband, and quit the Coach — the Captain is disappointed of his dinner — we arrive at Bath — I accompany Miss Snapper to the Long-room, where she is attacked by beau Nash, and, turns the Laugh against him — I make love to her, and receive a check — Squire her to an Assembly, where I am blessed with a Sight of my dear Narcissa, which discomposes me so much, that Miss Snapper, observing my disorder, is at pains to discover the Cause — is piqued at the Occasion, and, in our way home, pays me a sarcastic Compliment — I am met by Miss Williams, who is the maid and Confidante of Narcissa — she acquaints me with her Lady’s regard for me while under the disguise of a Servant, and describes the Transports of Narcissa on seeing me at the Assembly, in the Character of a Gentleman — I am surprised with an Account of her Aunt’s Marriage, and make an Appointment to meet Miss Williams the next day

During this unsocial interval, my pride and interest maintained a severe conflict on the subject of Miss Snapper, whom the one represented as unworthy of notice, and the other proposed as the object of my whole attention: the advantages and disadvantages of such a match were opposed to one another by my imagination; and, at length, my judgment gave it so much in favour of the first, that I resolved to prosecute my scheme with all the address in my power. I thought I perceived some concern in her countenance, occasioned by my silence, which she, no doubt, imputed to my disgust at her mother’s behaviour; and, as I believed the old woman could not fail of ascribing my muteness to the same motive, I determined to continue that sullen conduct towards her, and fall upon some other method of manifesting my esteem for the daughter, nor was it difficult for me to make her acquainted with my sentiments by the expression of my looks, which I modelled into the character of humanity and love; and which were answered by her with all the sympathy and approbation I could desire. But when I began to consider, that, without further opportunities of improving my success, all the progress I had hitherto made would not much avail, and that such opportunities could not be enjoyed without the mother’s permission, I concluded it would be requisite to vanquish her coldness and suspicion by my assiduities and respectful behaviour on the road; and she would, in all likelihood, invite me to visit her at Bath, where I did not fear of being able to cultivate her acquaintance as much as would be necessary to the accomplishment of my purpose. And indeed accident furnished me with an opportunity of obliging her so much that she could not, with any appearance of good manners, forbear to gratify my inclination.

When we arrived at our dining-place, we found all the eatables at the inn bespoke by a certain nobleman, who bad got the start of us and, in all likelihood, my mistress and her mother must have dined with Duke Humphrey, had I not exerted myself in their behalf, and bribed the landlord with a glass of wine to curtail his lordship’s entertainment of a couple of fowls and some bacon, which I sent with my compliments to the ladies. They accepted my treat with a great many thanks, and desired I would favour them with my company at dinner, where I amused the old gentlewoman so successfully, by maintaining a seemingly disinterested ease in the midst of my civility, that she signified a desire of being better acquainted, and hoped I would be so kind as to see her sometimes at Bath. While I enjoyed myself in this manner, the precise lady had the good fortune to meet with her husband, who was no other than gentleman, or, in other words, valet-de-chambre, to the very nobleman whose coach stood at the door. Proud of the interest she had in the house, she affected to show her power by introducing the captain to her spouse as a person who had treated her with great civility upon which he was invited to a share of their dinner; while the poor lawyer, finding himself utterly abandoned, made application to me, and was through my intercession admitted into our company. Having satisfied our appetites, and made ourselves merry at the expense of the person of honour, the civil captain, and complaisant husband, I did myself the pleasure of discharging the bill by stealth, for which I received a great many apologies and acknowledgments from my guests, and we re-embarked at the first warning. The officer was obliged, at last, to appease his hunger with a luncheon of bread and cheese, and a pint bottle of brandy, which he dispatched in the coach, cursing the inappetence of his lordship, who had ordered dinner to be put back a whole hour.

Nothing remarkable happened during the remaining part of our journey, which was finished next day, when I waited on the ladies to the house of a relation, in which they intended to lodge, and, passing that night at the inn, took lodgings in the morning for myself.

The forenoon was spent in visiting everything that was worth seeing in the place, in company with a gentleman to whom Banter had given me a letter of introduction; and in the afternoon I waited on the ladies, and found Miss a good deal indisposed with the fatigue of their journey. As they foresaw they should have occasion for a male acquaintance to squire them at all public places, I was received with great cordiality, and had the mother’s permission to conduct them next day to the Long Room, which we no sooner entered, than the eyes of everybody present were turned upon us, and, when we had suffered the martyrdom of their looks for some time, a whisper circulated at our expense, which was accompanied with many contemptuous smiles and tittering observations, to my utter shame and confusion. I did not so much conduct as follow my charge to a place where she seated her mother and herself with astonishing composure notwithstanding the unmannerly behaviour of the whole company, which seemed to be assumed merely to put her out of countenance. The celebrated Mr. Nash, who commonly attends in this place, as master of the ceremonies, perceiving the disposition of the assembly, took upon himself the task of gratifying their ill-nature further, by exposing my mistress to the edge of his wit. With this view he approached us, with many bows and grimaces, and, after having welcomed Miss Snapper to the place, asked her in the hearing of all present, if she could inform him of the name of Tobit’s dog. Miss was so much incensed at his insolence, that I should certainly have kicked him where he stood without ceremony, had not the young lady prevented the effects of my indignation, by replying with the utmost vivacity, “His name was Nash, and an impudent dog he was.” This repartee so unexpected and just, raised such a universal laugh at the aggressor, that all his assurance was insufficient to support him under their derision; so that, after he had endeavoured to compose himself by taking snuff and forcing a smile, he was obliged to sneak off in a ludicrous attitude, while my Dulcinea was applauded to the skies for the brilliancy of her wit, and her acquaintance immediately courted by the best people of both sexes in the room.

This event, with which I was indefinitely pleased at first, did not fail of alarming me, upon further reflection, when I considered, that the more she was caressed by persons of distinction, the more her pride would be inflamed, and consequently, the obstacles to my success multiplied and enlarged. Nor were my presaging fears untrue. That very night I perceived her a little intoxicated with the incense she had received, and, though, she still behaved with a particular civility to me, I foresaw, that, as soon as her fortune should be known, she would be surrounded with a swarm of admirers, some of whom might possibly, by excelling me on point of wealth, or in the arts of flattery and scandal, supplant me in her esteem, and find means to make the mother of his party. I resolved therefore to lose no time, and, being invited to spend the evening with them, found an opportunity, in spite of the old gentlewoman’s vigilance, to explain the meaning of my glances in the coach, by paying homage to her wit, and professing myself enamoured of her person. She blushed at my declaration and in a favourable manner disapproved of the liberty I had taken, putting me in mind of our being strangers to each other, and desiring I would not be the means of interrupting our acquaintance, by any such unseasonable strokes of gallantry for the future. My ardour was effectually checked by this reprimand, which was, however, delivered in a gentle manner, that I had no cause to be disobliged; and the arrival of her mother relieved me from a dilemma in which I should not have known how to demean myself a minute longer. Neither could I resume the easiness of carriage with which I came in; my mistress acted on the reserve, and the conversation beginning to flag, the old lady introduced her kinswoman of the house, and proposed a hand at whist.

While we amused ourselves at this diversion, I understood from the gentlewoman, that there was to be an assembly next night at which I begged to have the honour of dancing with Miss. She thanked me for the favour I intended her, assured me she never did dance, but signified a desire of seeing the company, when I offered my service, which was accepted, not a little proud of being exempted from appearing with her in a situation, that, notwithstanding my profession to the contrary, was not at all agreeable to my inclination.

Having supped, and continued the game, till such time as the successive yawns of the mother warned me to be gone, I took my leave, and went home, where I made Strap very happy with an account of my progress. Next day I put on my gayest apparel, and went to drink tea at Mrs. Snapper’s, according to appointment, when I found, to my inexpressible satisfaction, that she was laid up with the toothache, and that Miss was to be intrusted to my care. Accordingly, we set out for the ball-room pretty early in the evening, and took possession of a commodious place, where we had not sat longer than a quarter of an hour, when a gentleman, dressed in a green frock, came in, leading a young lady, whom I immediately discovered to be the adorable Narcissa! Good heaven! what were the thrillings of my soul at that instant! my reflection was overwhelmed with a torrent of agitation! my heart throbbed with surprising violence! a sudden mist overspread my eyes, my ears were invaded with a dreadful sound! I panted for want of breath, and, in short, was for some moments entranced! This first tumult subsiding, a crowd of flattering ideas rushed upon my imagination. Everything, that was soft, sensible, and engaging, in the character of that dear creature recurred to my remembrance, and every favourable circumstance of my own qualifications appeared in all the aggravation of self-conceit, to heighten my expectation! Neither was this transport of long duration. The dread of her being already disposed of intervened, and overcast my enchanting reverie! My presaging apprehension represented her encircled in the arms of some happy rival, and in consequence for ever lost to me. I was stung with this suggestion, and, believing the person who conducted her to be the husband of this amiable young lady, already devoted him to my fury, and stood up to mark him for my vengeance, when I recollected, to my unspeakable joy, her brother the fox-hunter, in the person of her gallant.

Undeceived so much to my satisfaction in this particular, I gazed in a frenzy of delight on the irresistible charms of his sister, who no sooner distinguished me in the crowd, than her evident confusion afforded a happy omen to my flame. At sight of me she started, the roses instantly vanished from her polished cheeks, and returned in a moment with a double glow, that overspread her lovely neck, while her enchanting bosom heaved with strong emotion. I hailed these favourable symptoms, and, lying in wait for her looks, did homage with my eyes. She seemed to approve my declaration, by the complacency of her aspect; and I was so transported with the discovery, that more than once I was on the point of making up to her, to disclose the throbbings of my heart in person, had not that profound veneration, which her presence always inspired, restrained the unseasonable impulse. All my powers being engrossed in this manner, it may easily be imagined how ill I entertained Miss Snapper on whom I could not now turn my eyes, without making comparisons very little to her advantage. It was not even in my power to return distinct answers to the questions she asked from time to time, so that she could not help observing my absence of mind; and having a turn for observation, watched my glances, and, tracing them to the divine object, discovered the cause of my disorder. That she might, however, be convinced of the truth of her conjecture, she began to interrogate me with regard to Narcissa, and, notwithstanding all my endeavours to disguise my sentiments, perceived my attachment by my confusion: upon which, she assumed a stateliness of behaviour, and sat silent during the remaining part of the entertainment. At any other time, her suspicion would have alarmed me: but now I was elevated by my passion above every other consideration. The mistress of my soul having retired with her brother, I discovered so much uneasiness at my situation, that Miss Snapper proposed to go home; and, while I conducted her to a chair, told me she had too great a regard for me to keep me any longer in torment. I feigned ignorance of her meaning, and having seen her safely at her lodgings, took my leave, and went home in an ecstasy, where I disclosed everything that had happened to my confidant and humble servant, Strap, who did not relish the accident so well as I expected; and observed, that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. “But, however,” said he, “you know best — you know best.” Next day, as, I went to the Pump Room, in hopes of seeing or hearing some tidings of my fair enslaver, I was met by a gentlewoman, who, having looked hard at me, cried, “O Christ, Mr. Random!” Surprised at this exclamation, I examined the countenance of the person who spoke, and immediately recognised my old sweetheart and fellow sufferer, Miss Williams.

I was mightily pleased to find this unfortunate woman under such a decent appearance, professed my joy at seeing her so well, and desired to know where I should have the pleasure of her conversation. She was as heartily rejoiced at the apparent easiness of my fortune, and gave me to know that she, as yet, had no habitation that she could properly call her own; but would wait on me at any place I should please to appoint. Understanding that she was unengaged for the present, I showed her the way to my lodgings, where, after a very affectionate salutation, she informed me of her being very happy in the service of a young lady to whom she was recommended by a former mistress deceased, into whose family she had recommended herself by the honest deceit she had concerted, while she lived with me in the garret at London. She then expressed a vehement desire to be acquainted with the vicissitudes of my life since we parted, and excused her curiosity on account of the concern she had for my interest. I forthwith gratified her request, and, when I described my situation in Sussex, perceived her to attend to my story with particular eagerness. She interrupted me, when I had finished that period, with, “Good God! is it possible?” and then begged I would be so good as to continue my relation; which I did as briefly as I could, burning with impatience to know the cause of her surprise, about which I had already formed a very interesting conjecture.

When I had brought my adventures down to the present day, who seemed very much affected with the different circumstances of my fortune; and saying, with a smile, she believed my distresses were now at a period, proceeded to inform me that the lady whom she served was no other than the charming Narcissa, who had honoured her with her confidence for some time; in consequence of which trust, she had often repeated the story of John Brown with great admiration and regard; that she loved to dwell upon the particulars of his character, and did not scruple to own a tender approbation of his flame. I became delirious at this piece of intelligence, strained Miss Williams in my embrace, called her the angel of my happiness, and acted such extravagances, that she might have been convinced of my sincerity, had she not been satisfied of my honour before. As soon as was in condition to yield attention, she described the present situation of her mistress, who had no sooner reached her lodgings the night before, than she closeted her, and in a rapture of joy gave her to know that she had seen me at the ball, where I appeared in the character which she always thought my due, with such advantage of transformation that, unless my image had been engraven on her heart, it would have been impossible to know me for the person who had worn her aunt’s livery; that by the language of my eyes, she was assured of the continuance of my passion for her, and consequently of my being unengaged to any other; and that, though she did not doubt I would speedily fall upon some method of being introduced, she was so impatient to hear of me, that she (Miss Williams) had been sent abroad this very morning, on purpose to learn the name and character I at present bore. My bosom had been hitherto a stranger to such a flood of joy as now rushed upon it; my faculties were overborne by the tide; it was some time before I could open my mouth, and much longer ere I could utter a coherent sentence. At length, I fervently requested her to lead me immediately to the object of my adoration; but she resisted my importunity, and explained the danger of such premature conduct. “How favourable soever,” said she, “my lady’s inclination towards you may be, you may depend upon it, she will not commit the smallest trespass on decorum, either in disclosing her own, or in receiving a declaration of your passion: and, although the great veneration I have for you has prompted me to reveal what she communicated to me in confidence, I know so well the severity of her sentiments with respect to the punctilios of her sex that, if she should learn the least surmise of it, she would not only dismiss me as a wretch unworthy of her benevolence, but also for ever shun the efforts of your love.” I assented to the justness of her remonstrance, and desired she would assist me with her advice and direction: upon which it was concerted between us, that for the present I should be contented with her telling Narcissa that, in the course of her inquiries, she could only learn my name: and that, if, in a day or two, I could fall upon no other method of being introduced to her mistress, she would deliver a letter from me, on pretence of consulting her happiness: and say that I met her in the streets, and bribed her to this piece of service. Matters being thus adjusted, I kept my old acquaintance to breakfast, and learned from her conversation, that my rival Sir Timothy had drunk himself into an apoplexy, of which he died five months ago; that the savage was still unmarried and that his aunt had been seized with a whim which he little expected, and chosen the schoolmaster of the parish for her lord and husband: but matrimony not agreeing with her constitution she had been hectic and dropsical a good while, and was now at Bath, in order to drink the waters for the recovery of her health; that her niece had accompanied her thither at her request, and attended her with the same affection as before, notwithstanding the mistake she had committed: and that the nephew, who had been exasperated at the loss of her fortune, did not give his attendance out of good will, but purely to have an eye on his sister, lest she should likewise throw herself away without his consent or approbation. Having enjoyed ourselves in this manner, and made an assignation to meet next day at a certain place, Miss Williams took her leave; and Strap’s looks being very inquisitive about the nature of the communication subsisting between us, I made him acquainted with the whole affair, to his great astonishment and satisfaction.

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