The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter VII

I am entertained by Mr. Crab — a description of him — I acquire the Art of Surgery — consult Crab’s Disposition — become necessary to him — an Accident happens — he advises me to launch out into the world — assists me with Money-I set out for London

The fumes of my resentment being dissipated, as well as the vanity of my success, I found myself deserted to all the horrors of extreme want, and avoided by mankind as a creature of a different species, or rather as a solitary being, noways comprehended within the scheme or protection of Providence. My despair had rendered me almost quite stupified, when I was one day told, that a gentleman desired to see me at a certain public-house, whither immediately I repaired; and was introduced to one Mr. Launcelot Crab, a surgeon in town, who was engaged with two more in drinking a liquor called pop-in, composed by mixing a quartern of brandy with a quart of small beer. Before I relate the occasion of this message, I believe it will not be disagreeable to the reader, if I describe the gentleman who sent for me, and mention some circumstances of his character and conduct which may illustrate what follows, and account for his behaviour to me.

This member of the faculty was aged fifty, about five feet high, and ten round the belly; his face was as capacious as a full moon, and much of the complexion of a mulberry: his nose, resembling a powder-horn, was swelled to an enormous size, and studded all over with carbuncles; and his little gray eyes reflected the rays in such an oblique manner that, while he looked a person full in the face, one would have imagined he was admiring the buckle of his shoe. He had long entertained an implacable resentment against Potion, who, though a younger practitioner, was better employed than he, and once had the assurance to perform a cure, whereby he disappointed and disgraced the prognostic of the said Crab. This quarrel which was at one time upon the point of being made up, by the interposition and mediation of friends, had been lately inflamed beyond a possibility of reconciliation by the respective wives of the opponents, who, chancing to meet at a christening, disagreed about precedence, proceeded from invectives to blows, and were with great difficulty, by the gossips, prevented from converting the occasion of joy into a scene of lamentation.

The difference between these rivals was in the height of rancour, when I received the message of Crab, who received me as civilly as I could have expected from one of his disposition; and, after desiring me to sit, inquired into the particulars of my leaving the house of Potion; which when I had related, he said, with a malicious grin, “There’s a sneaking dog! I always thought him a fellow without a soul, d — n me, a canting scoundrel, who has crept into business by his hypocrisy, and kissing the a — e of every body.” — “Ay, ay,” says another, “one might see with half an eye that the rascal has no honesty in him, by his going so regularly to church.”

This sentence was confirmed by a third, who assured his companions that Potion was never known to be disguised in liquor but once, at a meeting of the godly, where he had distinguished himself by an extempore prayer an hour long. After this preamble, Crab addressed himself to me in these words: “Well, my lad, I have heard a good character of you, and I’ll do for you. You may send your things to my house when you please. I have given orders for your reception. Zounds! What does the booby stare at? If you have no mind to embrace my courteous offer, you may let it alone, and be d — d.” I answered with a submissive bow, that I was far from rejecting his friendly offer, which I would immediately accept, as soon as he should inform me on what footing I was to be entertained. “What footing! D— n my blood,” cried he, “d’ye expect to have a footman and a couple of horses kept for you?” “No, sir,” I replied, “my expectations are not quite so sanguine. That I may be as little burthensome as possible, I would willingly serve in your shop, by which means I may save you the expense of a journeyman, or porter at least, for I understand a little pharmacy, having employed some of my leisure hours in the practice of that art, while I lived with Mr. Potion; neither am I altogether ignorant of surgery, which I have studied with great pleasure and application.” — “Oho! you did,” says Crab. “Gentlemen, here is a complete artist! Studied surgery! What? in books, I suppose. I shall have you disputing with me one of these days on points of my profession. You can already account for muscular motion, I warrant, and explain the mystery of the brain and nerves — ha! You are too learned for me, d — n me. But let’s have no more of this stuff. Can you blood and give a clyster, spread a plaster, and prepare a potion?” Upon my answering in the affirmative, he shock his head, telling me, he believed he should have little good of me, for all my promises; but, however, he would take me in for the sake of charity. I was accordingly that very night admitted to his house, and had an apartment assigned to me in the garret, which I was fain to put up with, notwithstanding the mortification my pride suffered in this change of circumstances.

I was soon convinced of the real motives which induced Crab to receive me in this manner; for, besides the gratification of his revenge, by exposing the selfishness of his antagonist, in opposition to his own generosity, which was all affectation, he had occasion for a young man who understood something of the profession, to fill up the place of his eldest apprentice, lately dead, not without violent suspicion of foul play from his master’s brutality. The knowledge of this circumstance, together with his daily behaviour to his wife and the young apprentice, did not at all contribute to my enjoying my new situation with ease; however, as I did not perceive how I could bestow myself to better advantage, I resolved to study Crab’s temper with all the application, and manage it with all the address in my power. And it was not long before I found out a strange peculiarity of humour which governed his behaviour towards all his dependents. I observed, when he was pleased, he was such a niggard of his satisfaction that, if his wife or servants betrayed the least symptom of participation, he was offended to an insupportable degree of choler and fury, the effects of which they seldom failed to feel. And when his indignation was roused, submission and soothing always exasperated it beyond the bounds of reason and humanity. I therefore pursued a contrary plan; and one day, when he honoured me with the names of ignorant whelp and lazy ragamuffin, I boldly replied, I was neither ignorant nor lazy, since I both understood and performed my business as well as he could do for his soul; neither was it just to call me ragamuffin, for I had a whole coat on my back, and was descended from a better family than any he could boast an alliance with.

He gave tokens of great amazement at this assurance of mine, and shook his cane over my head, regarding me all the time with a countenance truly diabolical. Although I was terribly startled at his menacing looks and posture, I yet had reflection enough left to convince me I had gone too far to retract, and that this was the critical minute which must decide my future lot in his service; I therefore snatched up the pestle of a mortar, and swore, if he offered to strike me without a cause, I should see whether his skull or my weapon was hardest.

He continued silent for some time, and at last broke forth into these ejaculations: “This is fine usage from a servant to his master — very fine! damnation! but no matter, you shall pay for this, you dog, you shall; I’II do your business — yes, yes, I’ll teach you to lift your hand against me.” So saying, he retired, and left me under dreadful apprehensions, which vanished entirely at our next meeting, when he behaved with unusual complacency, and treated me with a glass of punch after dinner.

By this conduct I got the ascendancy over him in a short time, and became so necessary to him, in managing his business while he was engaged at the bottle, that fortune began to wear a kinder aspect; and I consoled myself for the disregard of my former acquaintance, with the knowledge I daily imbibed by a close application to the duties of my employment, in which I succeeded beyond my own expectation. I was on very good terms with my master’s wife, whose esteem I acquired and cultivated, by representing Mrs. Potion in the most ridiculous lights my satirical talents could invent, as well as by rendering her some Christian offices, when she had been too familiar with the dram bottle, to which she had oftentimes recourse for consolation, under the affliction she suffered from a barbarous husband.

In this manner I lived, without hearing the least tidings of my uncle for the space of two years, during which time I kept little or no company, being neither in a humour to relish nor in a capacity to maintain much acquaintance; for the Nabal my master allowed me no wages, and the small perquisites of my station scarcely supplied me with the common necessaries of life. I was no longer a pert unthinking coxcomb, giddy with popular applause, and elevated with the extravagance of hope: my misfortunes had taught me how little the caresses of the world, during a man’s prosperity, are to be valued by him; and how seriously and expeditiously he ought to set about making himself independent of them. My present appearance, therefore, was the least of my care, which was wholly engrossed in laying up a stock of instruction that might secure me against the caprice of fortune for the future. I became such a sloven, and contracted such an air of austerity, that everybody pronounced me crestfallen; and Gawky returned to town without running any risk from my resentment, which was by this time pretty much cooled, and restrained by prudential reasons so effectually that I never so much as thought of obtaining satisfaction for the injuries be had done me.

When I deemed myself sufficiently master of my business I began to cast about for an opportunity of launching into the world, in hope of finding some provision that might make amends for the difficulties I had undergone; but, as this could not be effected without a small sum of money to equip me for the field, I was in the utmost perplexity how to raise it, well knowing that Crab, for his own sake, would never put me in a condition to leave him, when his interest was so much concerned in my stay. But a small accident, which happened about this time, determined him in my favour. This was no other than the pregnancy of his maidservant, who declared her situation to me, assuring me at the same time that I was the occasion of it.

Although I had no reason to question the truth of this imputation, I was not ignorant of the familiarities which had passed between her master and her, taking the advantage of which I represented to her the folly of laying the burden at my door, when she might dispose of it to much better purpose with Mr. Crab. She listened to my advice, and next day acquainted him with the pretended success of their mutual endeavours. He was far from being overjoyed at this proof of his vigour, which he foresaw might have very troublesome consequences; not that he dreaded any domestic grumblings and reproaches from his wife, whom he kept in perfect subjection; but because he knew it would furnish his rival Potion with a handle for insulting and undermining his reputation, there being no scandal equal to that of uncleanness, in the opinion of those who inhabit the part of the island where he lived. He therefore took a resolution worthy of himself, which was, to persuade the girl that she was not with child, but only afflicted with a disorder incidental to young women, which he could easily remove: with this view (as he pretended) he prescribed for her such medicines as he thought would infallibly procure abortion; but in this scheme he was disappointed, for the maid, being advertised by me of his design, and at the same time well acquainted with her own condition, absolutely refused to follow his directions; and threatened to publish her situation to the world if he would not immediately take some method of providing for the important occasion, which she expected in a few months. It was not long before I guessed the result of his deliberation, by his addressing himself to me one day in this manner: “I am surprised that a young fellow like you discovers no inclination to push his fortune in the world. Before I was of your age I was broiling on the coast of Guinea. D— e! what’s to hinder you from profiting by the war which will certainly be declared in a short time against Spain? You may easily get on board of a king’s ship in quality of surgeon’s mate, where you will certainly see a great deal of practice, and stand a good chance of getting prize-money.”

I laid hold of this declaration, which I had long wished for, and assured him I would follow his advice with pleasure, if it were in my power; but that it was impossible for me to embrace an opportunity of that kind, as I had no friend to advance a little money to supply me with what necessaries I should want, and defray the expenses of my journey to London. He told me that few necessaries were required; and, as for the expense of my journey, he would lend me money, sufficient not only for that purpose, but also to maintain me comfortably in London until I should procure a warrant for my provision on board of some ship.

I gave him a thousand thanks for his obliging offer (although I was very well apprised of his motive, which was no other than a design to lay the bastard to my charge after my departure), and accordingly set out in a few weeks for London; my whole fortune consisting of one suit of clothes, half a dozen ruffled shirts, as many plain, two pair of worsted and a like number of threaded stockings; a case of pocket instruments, a small edition of Horace, Wiseman’s Surgery, and ten guineas in cash; for which Crab took my bond, bearing five per cent interest; at the same time giving me a letter to a member of parliament for our town, which he said would do my business effectually.

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