The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LXIV

I am seized with a deep Melancholy, and become a Sloven — am relieved by my Uncle — he prevails upon me to engage with his Owners, as a Surgeon of the Ship which he commands — he makes me a considerable Present — entertain Strap as his steward — I take leave of my Friends, and go on Board — the Ship arrives in the Downs

I shall not make any reflection on this story, in the course of which the reader must perceive how egregiously the simplicity and milky disposition of this worthy man had been duped and abused by a set of scoundrels, who were so habituated to falsehood and equivocation, that I verily believed they would have found the utmost difficulty in uttering one syllable of truth, though their lives had depended upon their sincerity. Notwithstanding all I had suffered from the knavery and selfishness of mankind, I was amazed and incensed by the base indifference which suffered such uncommon merit as he possessed to languish in obscurity, and struggle with all the miseries of a loathsome gaol; and should have blessed the occasion that secluded me from such a perfidious world, had not the remembrance of my amiable Narcissa preserved my attachment to a society of which she constituted a part. The picture of that lovely creature was the constant companion of my solitude. How often did I contemplate the resemblance of those enchanting features that first captivated my heart! how often did I weep over those endearing scenes which her image recalled! and how often did I curse my perfidious fate for having robbed me of the fair original! In vain did my imagination flatter me with schemes of future happiness: surly reason always interposed, and in a moment overthrew the unsubstantial fabric, by chastising the extravagance of my hope, and representing my unhappy situation in the right point of view. In vain did I fly for refuge to the amusements of the place, and engage in the parties of Jackson at cards, billiards, nine-pins, and fives; a train of melancholy thoughts took possession of my soul, which even the conversation of Melopoyn could not divert. I ordered Strap to inquire every day at Banter’s lodgings, in expectation of hearing again from my charmer; and my disappointment considerably, augmented my chagrin. My affectionate valet was infected with my sorrow, and often sat with me whole hours without speaking, uttering sigh for sigh, and shedding tear for tear. This fellowship increased our distemper; he became incapable of business, and was discarded by his master; while I, seeing my money melt away without any certainty of deliverance, and, in short, all my hopes frustrated, grew negligent of life, lost all appetite, and degenerated into such a sloven. that during the space of three months I was neither washed, shifted, nor shaved; so that my face, rendered meagre with abstinence, was obscured with dirt, and overshadowed with hair, and my whole appearance squalid and even frightful; when, one day, Strap brought me notice, that there was a man below who wanted to speak with me. Roused at this intelligence, and in full hopes of receiving a letter from the dear object of my love, I ran downstairs with the utmost precipitation. And found to my infinite surprise my generous uncle, Mr. Bowling! Transported at the sight, I sprang forward to embrace him. Upon which he started aside with great agility, drew his hanger, and put himself upon his guard, crying, “Avast, brother, avast! Sheer off. Yo ho! you turnkey, why don’t you keep a better look out? Here’s one of your crazy prisoners broke from his lashings, I suppose.” I could not help laughing heartily at his mistake; but this I soon rectified by my voice, which he instantly recollected, and shook me by the hand with great affection, testifying his concern at seeing me in such a miserable condition.

I conducted him to my apartment, where, in presence of Strap, whom I introduced to him as one of my best friends, he gave me to understand, that he was just arrived from the Coast Of Guinea, after having made a pretty successful voyage, in which he had acted as mate, until the ship was attacked by a French privateer, that the captain being killed during the engagement, he had taken the command, and was so fortunate as to sink the enemy; after which exploit he fell in with a merchant ship from Martinico, laden with sugar, indigo and some silver and by virtue of his letter of marque, attacked, took, and carried her safe into Kinsale in Ireland, where she was condemned as a lawful prize; by which means he had not only got a pretty sum of money, but also acquired the favour of his owners, who had already conferred upon him the command of a large ship, mounted with twenty nine-pounders, ready to sail upon a very advantageous voyage, which he was not at liberty to discover. And he assured me that it was with the greatest difficulty he found me, in consequence of a direction left for him at his lodgings at Wapping.

I was rejoiced beyond measure at this account of his good fortune; and, at his desire, recounted all the adventures that had happened to me since we parted. When he understood the particulars of Strap’s attachment to me, he squeezed his hand very cordially, and promised to make a man of him; then, giving me ten guineas for my present occasion, took a direction for the tailor who arrested me, and went away in order to discharge the debt. telling me at parting, that he would soon fetch up all my leeway with a wet sail.

I was utterly confounded at this sudden transition, which affected me more than any reverse I had formerly felt; and a crowd of incoherent ideas rushed so impetuously upon my imagination, that my reason could neither separate nor connect them; when Strap, whose joy had manifested itself in a thousand fool-cries, came into my room with his shaving utensils, and without any previous intimation, began to lather my beard, whistling with great emotion all the while. I started from my reverie, and, being too well acquainted with Strap to trust myself in his hands while he was under such agitation, desired to be excused, sent for another barber, and suffered myself to be trimmed. Having performed the ceremony of ablution, I shifted, and dressing in my gayest apparel, waited for the return of my uncle, who was agreeably surprised at my sudden transformation.

This beneficent kinsman had satisfied my creditor, and obtained an order for my discharge, so that I was no longer a prisoner; but, as I had some reluctance to part with my friends and fellows in distress, I prevailed upon Mr. Bowling to favour us with his company, and invited Mr. Melopoyn and Jackson to spend the evening at my apartment, where I regaled them with a supper, good wine, and the news of my release, on which they heartily congratulated me, notwithstanding the loss of my company, which, they were pleased to say, they should severely feel. As for Jackson, his misfortune made so little impression on himself, and he was altogether so loose, indifferent, and indiscreet, that I could scarce pity his situation: but I had conceived a veneration and friendship for the poet, who was, in all respects, an object much more worthy of compassion and regard. When our guests withdrew, and my uncle had retired, with an intention of visiting me next morning, I made up a bundle of some linen and other necessaries; and, bidding Strap carry them to Mr. Melopoyn’s lodgings, went thither myself, and pressed it upon his acceptance, with five guineas, which, with much difficulty, he received, assuring me at the same time, that he should never have it in his power to make satisfaction. I then asked if I could serve him in any other way; to which be answered, “You have already done too much;” and, unable to contain the emotions of his soul any longer, burst into tears, and wept aloud. Moved at this spectacle, I left him to his repose, and, when my uncle returned in the morning, represented his character in such a favourable light, that the honest seaman was affected with his distress, and determined to follow my example, in presenting him with five pieces more; upon which, that I might save him some confusion, I advised Mr. Bowling to inclose it in a letter to be delivered by Strap, after we should be gone.

This was accordingly done. I took a formal leave of all my acquaintance in the gaol; and, just as I was about to step into a hackney coach at the gate, Jackson calling me, I returned, and he asked me in a whisper, if I could lend him a shilling! His demand being so moderate, and in all likelihood the last he would make upon me, I slipped a guinea into his hand, which he no sooner perceived, than he cried, “O Jesus, a guinea!” then laying hold of a button of my coat, broke out into laughter; and when his immoderate fit of convulsion was ended, told me I was an honest fellow, and let me go. The coachman was ordered to drive to Mr. Bowling’s lodgings, where, when we arrived, he entered into a serious discourse with me, on the subject of my situation, and proposed that I should sail with him in quality of his surgeon; in which case he would put me in a method of getting a fortune in a few years by my own industry; and assured me, that I might expect to inherit all that he should die possessed of, provided I should survive him. Though I was penetrated with a sense of his generosity, l was startled at a proposal that offered violence to my love, and signified my sentiments on that head, which he did not seem to relish; but observed that love was the fruit of idleness, that when once I should be employed in business, and my mind engaged in making money, I should be no more troubled with these silly notions, which none but your fair-weathered Jacks, who have nothing but their pleasure to mind, ought to entertain. I was piqued at this insinuation, which I looked upon as a reproach, and, without giving myself time to deliberate, accepted his offer. He was overjoyed at my compliance, carried me immediately to his chief owner, with whom a bargain was struck; so that then I could not retract with honour, had I been ever so much averse to the agreement. That I might not have time to cool, he bade me draw out a list of medicines for a complement of five hundred men, adapted to the distempers of hot climates. and sufficient for a voyage of eighteen months; and carry it to a certain wholesale apothecary, who would also provide me in two well-qualified mates. While I was thus employed Strap came in, and looked very blank, when he understood my resolution: however, after a pause of some minutes, he insisted upon going along with me; and at my desire was made ship’s steward by Captain Bowling, who promised to be at the expense of fitting him out, and to lend him two hundred pounds to purchase an adventure.

When I had delivered my list of medicines, chosen a couple of my own countrymen for mates, and bespoke a set of chirurgical instruments, my uncle told me, that by his last voyage he had cleared almost three thousand pounds, one-third of which he would immediately make over and put into my hands; that he would procure for me credit to the value of as much wore in such goods as would turn to best account in the country to which we were bound; and that, although he looked upon my interest as his own, he would keep the remaining part of his fortune in his own disposal, with a view of preserving his independence, and the power of punishing me, in case I should not make a good use of what he had already bestowed.

Without troubling the reader with an account of the effect which this surprising generosity had upon my mind, I shall only say, that his promises were instantly performed, and an invoice of merchandise proper for the voyage presented to me, that I might purchase the goods, and ship them with all expedition. In the midst of this hurry, the remembrance of my charming Narcissa often interposed, and made me the most miserable of all mortals. I was distracted with the thought of being torn from her, perhaps for ever; and though the hope of seeing her again might have supported me under the torments of separation, I could not reflect upon the anguish she must feel at parting with me, and the incessant sorrows to which her tender bosom would be exposed during my absence, without being pierced with the deepest affliction! As my imagination was daily and nightly upon the rack to invent some method of mitigating this cruel stroke, or at least of acquitting my love and honour in the opinion of this gentle creature, I at length stumbled upon an expedient, with which the reader will be made acquainted in due time; and, in consequence of my determination, became less uneasy and disturbed.

My business being finished, and the ship really to sail, I resolved to make my last appearance among my acquaintance at the other end of the town, where I had not been since my imprisonment; and as I had, by the advice of my uncle, taken off some very rich clothes for sale, I put on the gayest suit in my possession, and went in a chair to the coffee-house I used to frequent, where I found my friend Banter so confounded at the magnificence of my dress, that, when I made up to him, he gazed at me with a look of astonishment, without being able, for some minutes, to open his lips; then pulling me aside by the sleeve, and fixing his eyes on mine, accosted me thus: “Random, where the devil have you been! eh? What is the meaning of all this finery? Oho! I understand you. You are just arrived from the country! what, the roads are good, eh? Well, Random, you are a bold fellow, and a lucky fellow! but take care, the pitcher goes often to the well, but is broke at last.” So saying, he pointed to his collar; by which gesture, and the broken hints he had ejaculated, I found he suspected me of having robbed on the highway; and I laughed very heartily at his supposition. Without explaining myself any further, I told him be was mistaken in his conjecture; that I had been for some time past with the relation of whom he had frequently heard me speak; and that, as I should set out next day upon my travels, I had come to take my leave of my friends, and to receive of him the money he had borrowed from me, which, now that I was going abroad, I should certainly have occasion for. He was a little disconcerted at this demand; but, recollecting himself in a moment, swore in an affected passion, that I had used him extremely ill, and he would never forgive me for having, by this short warning, put it out of his power to free himself of an obligation he could no longer bear. I could not help smiling at this pretended delicacy, which I commended highly, telling him he needed not to be uneasy on that score, for I would give him a direction to a merchant in the city, with whom I would leave a discharge on the sum, to be delivered upon payment. He professed much joy at this expedient, and with great eagerness asked the person’s name and place of abode, which he forthwith wrote in his pocket-book, assuring me, that he should not be long in my debt. This affair, which I knew he should never after think of, being settled to his satisfaction, I sent cards to all my friends, desiring the favour of their company at a tavern in the evening, when they honoured my invitation, and I had the pleasure of treating them in a very elegant manner, at which they expressed equal admiration as applause. Having enjoyed ourselves till midnight, I took my leave of them, and was well nigh stifled with caresses: next day, I set out with Strap in a postchaise for Gravesend, where we went on beard; and the wind serving, weighed anchor in less than twelve hours. Without meeting with any accident, we reached the Downs, where we were obliged to come to an anchor, and wait for an easterly wind to carry us out of the Channel.

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