The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter VIII

I arrive at Newcastle — meet with my old Schoolfellow Strap — we determine to walk together to London — set out on our Journey — put up at a solitary Alehouse — are disturbed by a strange Adventure in the Night

There is no such convenience as a waggon in this country, and my finances were too weak to support the expense of hiring a horse: I determined therefore to set out with the carriers, who transport goods from one place to another on horseback; and this scheme I accordingly put in execution on the 1st day of September, 1739, sitting upon a pack-saddle between two baskets, one of which contained my goods in a knapsack. But by the time we arrived at Newcastle-upon-Tyne I was so fatigued with the tediousness of the carriage, and benumbed with the coldness of the weather, that I resolved to travel the rest of my journey on foot, rather than proceed in such a disagreeable manner.

The ostler of the inn at which we put up, understanding I was bound for London, advised me to take my passage in a collier which would be both cheap and expeditious and withal much easier than to walk upwards of three hundred miles through deep roads in the winter time, a journey which he believed I had not strength enough to perform. I was almost persuaded to take his advice, when one day, stepping into a barber’s shop to be shaved, the young man, while he lathered my face, accosted me thus: “Sir, I presume you are a Scotchman.” I answered in the affirmative. “Pray,” continued he, “from what part of Scotland?” I no sooner told him, than he discovered great emotion, and not confining his operation to my chin and upper lip, besmeared my whole face with great agitation. I was so offended at this profusion that starting up, I asked him what the d — l he meant by using me so? He begged pardon, telling me his joy at meeting with a countryman had occasioned some confusion in him, and craved my name. But, when I declared my name was Random, he exclaimed in rapture, “How! Rory Random?” “The same,” I replied, looking at him with astonishment. “What!” cried he, “don’t you know your old schoolfellow, Hugh Strap?”

At that instant recollecting his face, I flew into his arms, and in the transport of my joy, gave him back one-half of the suds he had so lavishly bestowed on my countenance; so that we made a very ludicrous appearance, and furnished a great deal of mirth for his master and shopmates, who were witnesses of this scene. When our mutual caresses were over I sat down again to be shaved, but the poor fellow’s nerves were so discomposed by this unexpected meeting that his hand could scarcely hold the razor, with which, nevertheless, he found means to cut me in three places in as many strokes. His master, perceiving his disorder, bade another supply his place, and after the operation was performed, gave Strap leave to pass the rest of the day with me.

We retired immediately to my lodgings, where, calling for some beer, I desired to be informed of his adventures, which contained nothing more than that his master dying before his time was out, he had come to Newcastle about a year ago, in expectation of journeywork, along with three young fellows of his acquaintance who worked in the keels; that he had the good fortune of being employed by a very civil master, with whom he intended to stay till the spring, at which time he proposed to go to London, where he did not doubt of finding encouragement. When I communicated to him my situation and design, he did not approve of my taking a passage by sea, by reason of the danger of a winter voyage, which is very hazardous along that coast, as well as the precariousness of the wind, which might possibly detain me a great while, to the no small detriment of my fortune; whereas, if I would venture by land, he would bear me company, carry my baggage all the way, and if we should be fatigued before we could perform the journey it would be no hard matter for us to find on the road either return horses or waggons, of which we might take the advantage for a very trifling expense.

I was so ravished at this proposal that I embraced him affectionately, and assured him he might command my purse to the last farthing; but he gave me to understand he had saved money sufficient to answer his own occasions; and that he had a friend in London who would soon introduce him into business in that capital, and possibly have it in his power to serve me also.

Having concerted the plan and settled our affairs that night, we departed next morning by daybreak, armed with a good cudgel each (my companion being charged with the furniture of us both crammed into one knapsack), and our money sewed between the linings and waistbands of our breeches, except some loose silver for our immediate expenses on the road, We travelled all day at a round pace, but, being ignorant of the proper stages, were benighted at a good distance from any inn, so that we were compelled to take up our lodging at a small hedge alehouse, that stood on a byroad, about half-a-mile from the highway: there we found a pedlar of our own country, in whose company we regaled ourselves with bacon and eggs, and a glass of good ale, before a comfortable fire, conversing all the while very sociably with the landlord and his daughter, a hale buxom lass, who entertained us with great good humour, and in whose affection I was vain enough to believe I had made some progress. About eight o’clock we were all three, at our own desire, shown into an apartment furnished with two beds, in one of which Strap and I betook ourselves to rest, and the pedlar occupied the other, though not before he had prayed a considerable time extempore, searched into every corner of the room, and fastened the door on the inside with a strong iron screw, which he carried about with him for that use.

I slept very sound till midnight when I was disturbed by a violent motion of the bed, which shook under me with a continual tremor. Alarmed at this phenomenon, I jogged my companion, whom, to my no small amazement, I found drenched in sweat, and quaking through every limb; he told me, with a low faltering voice, that we were undone; for there was a bloody highwayman, loaded with pistols, in the next room; then, bidding me make as little noise as possible, he directed me to a small chink in the board partition through which I could see a thick-set brawny fellow, with a fierce countenance, sitting at a table with our young landlady, having a bottle of ale and a brace of pistols before him.

I listened with great attention, and heard him say, in a terrible tone, “D— n that son of a b — h, Smack. the coachman; he has served me a fine trick, indeed! but d — ion seize me, if I don’t make him repent it! I’ll teach the scoundrel to give intelligence to others while he is under articles with me.”

Our landlady endeavoured to appease this exasperated robber, by saying he might be mistaken in Smack, who perhaps kept no correspondence with the other gentleman that robbed his coach; and that, if an accident had disappointed him to-day, he might soon find opportunities enough to atone for his lost trouble. “I’ll tell thee what, my clear Bet,” replied he, “I never had, nor ever shall, while my name is Rifle, have such a glorious booty as I missed to-day. Z— s! there was £400 in cash to recruit men for the king’s service, besides the jewels, watches, swords, and money belonging to the passengers. Had it been my fortune to have got clear off with so much treasure, I would have purchased a commission in the army, and made you an officer’s lady, you jade, I would.” “Well, well,” cries Betty, “we must trust to Providence for that. But did you find nothing worth taking which escaped the other gentlemen of the road?” “Not much, faith,” said the lover; “I gleaned a few things, such as a pair of pops, silver mounted (here they are): I took them loaded from the captain who had the charge of the money, together with a gold watch which he had concealed in his breeches. I likewise found ten Portugal pieces in the shoes of a quaker, whom the spirit moved to revile me with great bitterness and devotion; but what I value myself mostly for is, this here purchase, a gold snuffbox, my girl, with a picture on the inside of the lid; which I untied out of the tail of a pretty lady’s smock.”

Here, as the devil would have it, the pedlar snored so loud, that the highwayman, snatching his pistols, started up, crying, “Hell and d-n-n! I am betrayed! Who’s that in the next room?” Mrs. Betty told him he need not be uneasy: there were only three poor travellers, who, missing the road, had taken up their lodgings in the house, and were asleep long ago. “Travellers,” says he, “spies, you b — ch! But no matter; I’ll send them all to hell in an instant!” He accordingly ran towards our door; when his sweetheart interposing, assured him, there was only a couple of poor young Scotchmen, who were too raw and ignorant to give him the least cause of suspicion; and the third was a presbyterian pedlar of the same nation, who had often lodged in the house before.

This declaration satisfied the thief, who swore he was glad there was a pedlar, for he wanted some linen. Then, in a jovial manner, he put about the glass, mingling his discourse to Betty with caresses and familiarities, that spoke him very happy in his amours. During that part of the conversation which regarded this, Strap had crept under the bed, where he lay in the agonies of fear; so that it was with great difficulty I persuaded him our danger was over, and prevailed on him to awake the pedlar, and inform him of what he had seen and heard.

The itinerant merchant no sooner felt somebody shaking him by the shoulder, than he started up, called, as loud as he could, “Thieves, thieves! Lord have mercy upon us!” And Rifle, alarmed at this exclamation, jumped up, cocked one of his pistols, and turned towards the door to kill the first man that should enter; for he verily believed himself beset: when his Dulcinea, after an immoderate fit of laughter, persuaded him that the poor pedlar, dreaming of thieves, had only cried out in his sleep.

Meanwhile, my comrade had undeceived our fellow-lodger, and informed him of his reason for disturbing him; upon which, getting up softly, he peeped through the hole, and was so terrified with what he saw, that, falling down on his bare knees, he put up a long petition to Heaven to deliver him from the hands of that ruffian, and promised never to defraud a customer for the future of the value of a pin’s point, provided he might be rescued from the present danger. Whether or not his disburthening his conscience afforded him any ease I knew not, but he slipped into bed again, and lay very quiet until the robber and his mistress were asleep, and snored in concert; then, rising softly, he untied a rope that was round his pack, which making fast to one end of it, he opened the window with as little noise as possible, and lowered his goods into the yard with great dexterity: then he moved gently to our bedside and bade us farewell, telling us that, as we ran no risk we might take our rest with great confidence, and in the morning assure the landlord that we knew nothing of his escape, and, lastly, shaking us by the hands, and wishing us all manner of success, he let himself drop from the window without any danger, for the ground was not above a yard from his feet as he hung on the outside.

Although I did not think proper to accompany him in his flight, I was not at all free from apprehension when I reflected on what might be the effect of the highwayman’s disappointment; as he certainly intended to make free with the pedlar’s ware. Neither was my companion at more ease in his mind. but on the contrary, so possessed with the dreadful idea of Rifle, that he solicited me strongly to follow our countryman’s example, and so elude the fatal resentment of that terrible adventurer, who would certainly wreak his vengeance on us as accomplices of the pedlar’s elopement. But I represented to him the danger of giving Rifle cause to think we know his profession, and suggested that, if ever he should meet us again on the road, he would look upon us as dangerous acquaintance, and find it his interest to put us out of the way. I told him, withal, my confidence in Betty’s good nature, in which he acquiesced; and during the remaining part of the night we concerted a proper method of behaviour, to render us unsuspected in the morning.

It was no sooner day than Betty, entering our chamber, and perceiving our window open, cried out, “Odds-bobs! sure you Scotchmen must have hot constitutions to lie all night with the window open in such cold weather.” I feigned to start out of sleep, and, withdrawing the curtain, called, “What’s the matter?” When she showed me, I affected surprise, and said, “Bless me! the window was shut when we went to bed.” “I’ll be hanged, said she, “if Sawney Waddle, the pedlar, has not got up in a dream and done it, for I heard him very obstropulous in his sleep, Sure I put a chamberpot under his bed!

With these words she advanced to the bed, in which he lay, and, finding the sheets cold, exclaimed, “Good lackadaisy! The rogue is fled.” “Fled,” cried I, with feigned amazement, “God forbid! Sure he has not robbed us!” Then, springing up, I laid hold of my breeches, and emptied all my loose money into my hand; which having reckoned, I said, “Heaven be praised, our money is all safe! Strap, look to the knapsack.” He did so, and found all was right. Upon which we asked, with seeming concern, if he had stolen nothing belonging to the house. “No, no,” replied she, “he has stole nothing but his reckoning;” which, it seems, this pious pedlar had forgot to discharge in the midst of his devotion.

Betty, after a moment’s pause withdrew, and immediately we could hear her waken Rifle, who no sooner heard of Waddle’s flight than he jumped out of bed and dressed, venting a thousand execrations, and vowing to murder the pedlar if ever he should set eyes on him again: “For,” said he “the scoundrel has by this time raised the hue and cry against me.”

Having dressed himself in a hurry, he mounted his horse, and for that time rid us of his company and a thousand fears that were the consequence of it.

While we were at breakfast, Betty endeavoured, by all the cunning she was mistress of, to learn whether or no we suspected our fellow-lodger, whom we saw take horse; but, as we were on our guard, we answered her sly questions with a simplicity she could not distrust; when, all of a sudden, we heard the trampling of a horse’s feet at the door. This noise alarmed Strap so much, whose imagination was wholly engrossed by the image of Rifle, that, with a countenance as pale as milk, he cried, “O Lord! there is the highwayman returned!”

Our landlady, staring at these words, said, “What highwayman, young man? Do you think any highwaymen harbour here?”

Though I was very much disconcerted at this piece of indiscretion in Strap, I had presence of mind enough to tell her we had met a horseman the day before, whom Strap had foolishly supposed to be a highwayman, because he rode with pistols; and that he had been terrified at the sound of a horse’s feet ever since.

She forced a smile at the ignorance and timidity of my comrade; but I could perceive, not without great concern, that this account was not at all satisfactory to her.

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