The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter VI

I make great progress in my Studies — am caressed by Everybody — my female Cousins take notice of me-I reject their Invitation-they are incensed, and conspire against me-am left destitute by a Misfortune that befalls my Uncle-Gawky’s Treachery-my Revenge

As I was now capable of reflection, I began to consider my precarious situation; that I was utterly abandoned by those whose duty it was to protect me: and that my sole dependence was on the generosity of one man, who was not only exposed by his profession to continual dangers, which might one day deprive me of him for ever; but also (no doubt) subject to those vicissitudes of disposition which a change of fortune usually creates, or which a better acquaintance with the world might produce; for I always ascribed his benevolence to the dictates of a heart as yet undebauched by a commerce with mankind. Alarmed at these considerations, I resolved to apply myself with great care to my studies, and enjoy the opportunity in my power: this I did with such success that, in the space of three years, I understood Greek very well, was pretty far advanced in the mathematics, and no stranger to moral and natural philosophy: logic I made no account of; but, above all things, I valued myself on my taste in the belles lettres, and a talent for poetry, which had already produced some pieces that had met with a favourable reception. These qualifications, added to a good face and shape, acquired the esteem and acquaintance of the most considerable people in town, and I had the satisfaction to find myself in some degree of favour with the ladies; an intoxicating piece of good fortune to one of my amorous complexion! which I obtained, or at least preserved, by gratifying their propensity to scandal, in lampooning their rivals.

Two of my female cousins lived in this place, with their mother, since the death of their father, who left his whole fortune equally divided between them; so that, if they were not the most beautiful, they were at least the richest toasts in town; and received daily the addresses of all the beaux and cavaliers of the country. Although I had hitherto been looked upon by them with the most supercilious contempt, my character now attracted their notice so much that I was given to understand I might be honoured with their acquaintance, if I pleased.

The reader will easily perceive that this condescension either flowed from the hope of making my poetical capacity subservient to their malice, or at least of screening themselves from the lash of my resentment, which they had effectually provoked. I enjoyed this triumph with great satisfaction, and not only rejected their offer with disdain, but in all my performances, whether satire or panegyric, industriously avoided mentioning their names, even while I celebrated those of their intimates: this neglect mortified their pride exceedingly and incensed them to such a degree that they were resolved to make me repent of my indifference. The first stroke of their revenge consisted in their hiring a poor collegian to write verses against me, the subject of which was my own poverty, and the catastrophe of my unhappy parents; but, besides the badness of the composition (of which they themselves were ashamed), they did not find their account in endeavouring to reproach me with those misfortunes which they and their relations had brought upon me; and which consequently reflected much more dishonour on themselves than on me, who was the innocent victim of their barbarity and avarice.

Finding this plan miscarry, they found means to irritate a young gentleman against me, by telling him I had lampooned his mistress; and so effectually succeeded in the quality of incendiaries that this enraged lover determined to seize me next night as I returned to my lodgings from a friend’s house that I frequented: with this view, he waited in the street, attended by two of his companions, to whom he had imparted his design of carrying me down to the river, in which proposed to have me heartily ducked, notwithstanding the severity of the weather, it being then about the middle of December. But this stratagem did not succeed; for, being apprised of their ambush, I got home another way, and by the help of my landlord’s apprentice, discharged a volley from the garret window, which did great execution upon them, and next day occasioned so much mirth at their expense that they found themselves under a necessity of leaving the town, until the adventure should be entirely forgotten.

My cousins (though twice baffled in their expectation) did not, however, desist from persecuting me, who had now enraged them beyond a possibility of forgiveness by detecting their malice and preventing its effects: neither should I have found them more humane, had I patiently submitted to their rancour, and borne without murmuring the rigour of their unreasonable hate; for I have found by experience, that though small favours may be acknowledged and slight injuries atoned, there is no wretch so ungrateful as he whom you have most generously obliged, and no enemy so implacable as those who have done you the greatest wrong. These good-natured creatures, therefore, had recourse to a scheme which conspired with a piece of bad news I soon after received, to give them all the satisfaction they desired: this plan was to debauch the faith of my companion and confidant, who betrayed the trust I reposed in him, by imparting to them the particulars of my small amours, which they published with such exaggerations that I suffered very much in the opinion of everybody, and was utterly discarded by the dear creatures whose names had been called in question.

While I was busy in tracing out the author of this treachery, that I might not only be revenged on him, but also vindicate my character to my friends, I one day perceived the looks of my landlady much altered, when I went home to my dinner, and inquiring into the cause, she screwed up her mouth, and fixed her eyes on the ground, told me her husband had received a letter from Mr. Bowling, with one inclosed for me. She was very sorry for what had happened, both for my sake and his own — people should be more cautious of their conduct — she was always afraid his brutal behaviour would bring him into some misfortune or other. As for her part, she should be very ready to befriend me; but she had a small family of her own to maintain. The world would do nothing for her if she should come to want — charity begins at home: she wished I had been bound to some substantial handicraft, such as a weaver or a shoemaker, rather than loiter away my time in learning foolish nonsense, that would never bring me in a penny but some folks are wise, and some are otherwise.

I was listening to this mysterious discourse with great amazement, when her husband entered, and, without speaking a syllable, put both the letters into my hand. I received them trembling, and read what follows:

‘To Mr. Roger Potion
‘Sir,
‘This is to let you know that I have quitted the Thunder man of war, being obliged to sheer off for killing my captain, which I did fairly on the beach, at Cape Tiberoon, in the Island of Hispaniola; having received his fire and returned it, which went through his body: and I would serve the best man so that ever stepped between stem and stern, if so be that he struck me, as Captain Oakum did. I am (thank God) safe among the French, who are very civil, thof I don’t understand their lingo; and I hope to be restored in a little time, for all the great friends and parliamentary interest of the captain, for I have sent over to my landlord in Deal an account of the whole affair, with our bearings and distances while we were engaged, whereby I have desired him to lay it before his majesty, who (God bless him) will not suffer an honest tar to be wronged. My love to your spouse, and am your loving friend and servant to command, while
‘Thomas Bowling,’

‘To Roderick Random

‘Dear Rory,
‘Don’t be grieved at my misfortune, but mind your book, my lad. I have got no money to send you, but what of that? Mr. Potion will take care of you for the love he bears to me, and let you want for nothing; and it shall go hard but I will see him one day repaid. No more at present, but rests
‘Your dutiful uncle
‘and servant, till death,
‘Thomas Bowling.’

This letter (which, with the other, was dated from Port Lonis, in Hispaniola) I had no sooner read than the apothecary, shaking his head, began: “I have a very great regard for Mr. Bowling that’s certain; and could be well content — but times are very hard. There’s no such thing as money to be got; I believe ’tis all vanished under ground, for my part. Besides, I have been out of pocket already, having entertained you since the beginning of this month, without receiving a sixpence, and God knows if ever I shall; for I believe it will go hard with your uncle. And more than that, I was thinking of giving you warning, for I want your apartment for a new prentice, whom I expect from the country every hour. So I desire you will this week provide yourself with another lodging.”

The indignation which this harangue inspired gave me spirits to support my reverse of fortune, and to tell him I despised his mean selfish disposition so much that I would rather starve than be beholden to him for one single meal. Upon which, out of my pocket money, I paid him to the last farthing of what I owed, and assured him, I would not sleep another night under his roof.

This said, I sallied out in a transport of rage and sorrow, without knowing whither to fly for shelter, having not one friend in the world capable of relieving me, and only three shillings in my purse. After giving way for a few minutes to the dictates of my rage, I went and hired a small bedroom, at the rate of one shilling and sixpence per week, which I was obliged to pay per advance, before the landlord would receive me: thither I removed my luggage; and next morning got up, with a view of craving the advice and assistance of a person who had on all occasions loaded me with caresses and made frequent offers of friendship, while I was under no necessity of accepting them. He received me with his wonted affability, and insisted on my breakfasting with him, a favour which I did not think fit to refuse. But when I communicated the occasion of my visit, he appeared so disconcerted that I concluded him wonderfully affected with the misery of my condition and looked upon him as a man of the most extensive sympathy and benevolence. He did not leave me long under this mistake; for, recovering himself from his confusion, he told me he was grieved at my misfortune, and desired to know what had passed between my landlord, Mr. Potion, and me. Whereupon I recounted the conversation; and, when I repeated the answer I made to his ungenerous remonstrance with regard to my leaving his house, this pretended friend affected a stare, and exclaimed, “Is it possible you could behave so ill to the man who had treated you so kindly all along?”

My surprise at hearing this was not at all affected, whatever his might be; and I gave to understand with some warmth, that I did not imagine he would so unreasonably espouse the cause of a scoundrel who ought to be expelled from every social community. This heat of mine gave him all the advantage he desired over me, and our discourse, after much altercation, concluded in his desiring never to see me again in that place; to which desire I yielded my consent, assuring him, that, had I been as well acquainted with his principles formerly as I was now, he never should have had an opportunity of making that request. And thus we parted.

On my return, I met my comrade, Squire Gawky, whom his father had sent, some time ago, to town, for his improvement in writing, dancing, fencing, and other modish qualifications. As I had lived with him since his arrival on the footing of our old intimacy, I made no scruple of informing him of the lowness of my circumstances, and asking a small supply of money, to answer my present expense; upon which he pulled out a handful of halfpence with a shilling or two among them, and swore that was all he had to keep his pocket till next quarter-day he having lost the greatest part of his allowance the night before at billiards. Though this assertion might very well be true, I was extremely mortified at his indifference: for he neither expressed any sympathy for my mishap nor desire of alleviating my distress; and accordingly I left him without uttering one word: but, when I afterwards understood that he was the person who had formerly betrayed me to the malice of my cousins, to whom likewise he had carried the tidings of my forlorn situation, which afforded them great matter of triumph and exultation, I determined with myself to call him to a severe account for which purpose I borrowed a sword, and wrote a challenge, desiring him to meet me at a certain time and place, that I might have an opportunity of punishing his perfidy, at the expense of his blood. He accepted the invitation, and I betook myself to the field, though not without feeling considerable repugnance to the combat, which frequently attacked me in cold sweats by the way; but the desire of revenge, the shame of retracting, and hope of conquest, conspired to repel these unmanly symptoms of fear; and I appeared on the plain with a good grace: there I waited an hour beyond the time appointed, and was not ill pleased to find he had no mind to meet me, because I should have an opportunity of exposing his cowardice, displaying my own courage, and of beating him soundly wheresoever I should find, without any dread of the consequence.

Elevated with these suggestions, which entirely banished all thoughts of my deplorable condition, I went directly to Gawky’s lodgings, where I was informed of his precipitate retreat, he having set out for the country in less than an hour after he had received my billet; and I was vain enough to have the whole story inserted in the news, although I was fain to sell a gold laced hat to my landlord for less than half-price, to defray the expenses and contribute to my subsistence.

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