The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LIX

I receive an extraordinary Message at the Door of the Long Room, which, however, enter, and affront the Squire, who threatens to take the Law of me — Rebuke Melinda for her Malice — she weeps with Vexation — Lord Quiverwit is severe upon me — I retort his Sarcasm — am received with the utmost Tenderness by Narcissa, who desires to hear the Story of my Life — we vow eternal Constancy to other — I retire — am waked by a Messenger, who brings a Challenge from Quiverwit, whom I meet, engage, and vanquish

I thanked him for his advice, which, however, my pride and resentment would not permit me to follow; for he no sooner left me, in order to do justice to my character among his friends and acquaintance, than I sallied out, and went directly to the Long Room. I was met at the door by a servant, who presented a billet to me without a subscription, importing that my presence was disagreeable to the company, and desiring I would take the hint without further disturbance, and bestow myself elsewhere for the future. This peremptory message filled me with indignation. I followed the fellow who delivered it, and, seizing him by the collar in presence of all the company, threatened to put him instantly to death, if he did not discover the scoundrel who had charged him with such an impudent commission, that I might punish him as he deserved. The messenger, affrighted at my menaces and furious looks, fell upon his knees, and told me, that the gentleman who ordered him to deliver the letter was no other than Narcissa’s brother, who, at that time, stood at the other end of the room, talking to Melinda. I went up to him immediately, and in the hearing of his inamorata, accosted him in these words; “Lookee, squire, were it not for one consideration that protects you from my resentment, I would cane you where you stand, for having had the presumption to send me this scurrilous intimation;” which I tore to pieces and threw in his face: at the same time darting an angry regard at his mistress, I told her, I was sorry she had put it out of my power to compliment her upon her invention, but at the expense of her good nature and veracity. Her admirer, whose courage never rose, but in proportion to the wine he had swallowed, instead of resenting my address in what is called an honourable way, threatened to prosecute me for an assault, and took witnesses accordingly: while she, piqued at his pusillanimous behaviour, and enraged at the sarcasm I had uttered against her, endeavoured to make her quarrel a public cause, and wept aloud with spite and vexation.

The tears of a lady could not fail of attracting the notice and concern of the spectators to whom she complained of my rudeness with great bitterness, saying, if she were a man, I durst not use her so. The greatest part of the gentlemen, already prejudiced against me, were offended at the liberty I had taken, as appeared from their looks; though none of them signified their disgust any other way except my Lord Quiverwit, who ventured to say, with a sneer, that I was in the right to establish my own character, of which he had now no longer any doubt. Nettled at this severe equivocation, which raised a laugh at my expense, I replied with some warmth, “I am proud of having in that particular got the start of your lordship.” He made no answer to my repartee, but with a contemptuous smile walked off, leaving me in a very disagreeable situation. In vain did I make up to several people of my acquaintance, whose conversation, I hoped, would banish my confusion; everybody shunned me like a person infected, and I should not have been able to bear my disgrace, had not the idea of the ever faithful and fond Narcissa come to my relief. I quitted the scene of my mortification, and, sauntering about the town, happened to wake from my contemplation, when I found myself just opposite to a toy-shop, which I entered, and purchased a ring set with a ruby in the form of a heart, surrounded by diamond sparks, for which I paid ten guineas, intending it for a present to the charmer of my soul.

I was introduced, at the hour appointed, to this divine creature, who, notwithstanding what she had heard to my disadvantage, received me with the utmost confidence and tenderness; and, having been informed of the general sketches of my life by Miss Williams, expressed a desire, of knowing the particular circumstances, which I related with great candour, omitting, however, some things which I concluded altogether improper for her ear, and which the reader’s reflection will easily suggest. As my story was little else than a recital of misfortunes, the tear of sympathy ceased not to trickle from her enchanting eyes during the whole of the narration, which, when I had finished, she recompensed me for my trouble with the most endearing protestations of eternal love. She bewailed her restricted condition, as it was the means of retarding my happiness; told me that Lord Quiverwit, by her brother’s permission, had been to drink tea with her that very afternoon, and actually proposed marriage; and, seeing me extremely affected with this piece of information, offered to give me a convincing proof of her affection, by espousing me in private, and leaving the rest to fate. I was penetrated with this instance of her regard, but, that I might not be outdone in generosity, resisted the bewitching temptation in consideration of her honour and interest; at the same time I presented my ring as a pledge of my inviolable attachment, and, on my knees, implored Heaven to shower its curses on my head, if ever my heart should entertain one thought unworthy of the passion I then avowed. She received my token, gave me in return her picture in miniature, exquisitely drawn and set in gold; and, in the same posture, called Heaven to witness and to judge her flame. Our vows being thus reciprocally breathed, a confidence of hope ensued, and our mutual fondness becoming as intimate as innocence would allow, I grew insensible of the progress of time, and it was morning before I could tear myself from this darling of my soul! My good angel foresaw what would happen, and permitted me to indulge myself on this occasion, in consideration of the fatal absence I was doomed to suffer.

I went to bed immediately on my return to my lodging, and, having slept about two hours, was waked by Strap, who in great confusion told me there was a footman below with a letter, which he would deliver to nobody but myself. Alarmed at this piece of news, I desired my friend to show him into my chamber, and received the following letter, which, he said, required an immediate answer:

“Sir, —
When any man injures my honour, let the difference of rank between us be ever so great, I am contented to wave the privilege of my quality, and to seek reparation from him on equal terms. The insolence of your reply to me yesterday, in the Long Room, I might have overlooked, had not your presumptive emulation in a much more interesting affair, and which I made this morning, concurred in persuading me to chastise your audacity with my sword. If you therefore have spirit enough to support the character you assume, you will not fail to follow the bearer immediately to a convenient place, where you shall be met by
“Quiverwit.”

Whether I was enervated by the love and favour of Narcissa, or awed by the superior station of my antagonist, I know not, but I never had less inclination to fight than at this time. However, finding there was a necessity for vindicating the reputation of my mistress, as well as for asserting my own honour, I forthwith rose, and, dressing in a hurry, put on my sword, bade Strap attend me, and set out with my conductor, cursing my bad fortune all the way, for having been observed in my return from my angel; for so I interpreted his lordship’s discovery. When I came within sight of my rival, his lacquey told me he had orders to stop; upon which I commanded Strap to halt also, while I walked forward; resolving, if possible, to come to an explanation with my challenger, before we should come to battle. Nor was an opportunity wanting; for I no sooner approached than be asked, with a stern countenance, what business I had in Mr. Topehall’s garden so early in the morning? “I don’t know, my lord,” said I, “how to answer a question put to me with such magisterial haughtiness. If your lordship will please to expostulate calmly, you will have no cause to repent of your condescension; otherwise I am not to be intimated into any confession.” “There is no room for denial,” answered he; “I saw you come out with my own eyes.” “Did any other see me?” said I. “I neither know nor care,” said he; “I want no other evidence than that of my own senses.” Pleased to hear that the suspicion was confined to him alone, I endeavoured to appease his jealousy, by owning an intrigue with the waiting maid: but he had too much discernment to be so easily imposed upon, and told me there was only one way to convince him of the truth of what I alleged, which was no other than renouncing all claim to Narcissa upon oath, and promising, upon honour, never to speak to her for the future. Exasperated at this proposal, I unsheathed my sword, saying, “Heavens! what title have you, or any man on earth, to impose such terms on me?” He did the same, and making towards me with a contracted brow, said I was a villain, and had dishonoured Narcissa. “He’s a villain,” I replied, in a transport of fury, “who brands me with that imputation! She is a thousand times more chaste than the mother that bore you; and I will assert her honour with my heart’s blood!” So saying, I rushed upon him with more eagerness than address, and, endeavouring to get within his point, received a wound in my neck, which redoubled my rage. He excelled me in temper as well as in skill, by which means he parried my thrusts with great calmness, until I had almost exhausted my spirits; and, when he perceived me beginning to flag, attacked me fiercely in his turn. Finding himself, however, better opposed than he expected, he resolved to follow his lounge, and close with me; accordingly, his sword entered my waistcoat, on the side of the breast bone, and, running up between my shirt and skin, appeared over my left shoulder. I imagined that his weapon had perforated my lungs, and of consequence that the wound was mortal; therefore, determined not to die unrevenged, I seized his shell, which was close to my breast, before he could disentangle his point, and, keeping it fast with my left hand, shortened my own sword with my right, intending to run him through the heart; but he received the thrust in the left arm, which penetrated up to the shoulder blade. Disappointed at this expectation, and afraid still that death would frustrate my revenge, I grappled with him, and, being much the stronger, threw him upon the ground, where I wrested his sword out of his hand, and, so great was my confusion, that instead of turning the point upon him, struck out three of his foreteeth with the hilt. In the meantime, our servants, seeing us fall, ran up to separate and assist us; but before their approach I was upon my feet, and had discovered that my supposed mortal wound was only a slight scratch. The knowledge of my own safety disarmed me of a good deal of my resentment, and I began to inquire with soma concern into the situation of my antagonist, who remained on the ground bleeding plentifully at his mouth and arm. I helped his footman to raise him, and, having bound up his wound with my handkerchief, assured it was not dangerous; I likewise restored his sword, and offered to support him to his house. He thanked me with an air of sullen dignity: and whispering that I should hear from him soon, went away, leaning on his servant’s shoulder.

I was surprised at this promise, which I construed into a threat, and resolved, if ever he should call me out again, to use whatever advantage fortune might give me over him in another manner. In the meantime I had leisure to take notice of Strap, who seemed quite stupified with horror: I comforted him with an assurance, that I had received no damage, and explained the nature of this affair as we walked homeward. By the time I had got into my apartment, I found the wound in my neck stiff and uneasy, and a good deal of clotted blood ran down upon my shirt; upon which I pulled off my coat and waistcoat, and unbuttoned my collar, that I might dress it with more ease. My friend no sooner perceived my shirt quite dyed with blood, than, imagining I had got at least twenty thousand wounds, he cried, “O Jesus!” and fell flat on the floor. I stopped the bleeding with a little dry lint, and, applying a plaster over it, cleaned myself from the gore, shifted, and dressed, while he lay senseless at my feet, so that when he recovered, and saw me perfectly well, he could scarce believe his own eyes. Now that the danger was passed, I was very well pleased with what had happened, hoping that it would soon become known, and consequently dignify my character not a little in this place. I was also proud of having shown myself, in some shape, worthy of the love of Narcissa. who, I was persuaded, would. not think the worse of me for what I had done.

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