The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter IX

We proceed on our Journey — are overtaken by a Highwayman who fires at Strap — is prevented from shooting me by a Company of Horsemen, who ride in pursuit of him — Strap is put to Bed at an Inn — Adventures at that Inn

After having paid our score and taken leave of our hostess, who embraced me tenderly at parting, we proceeded on our journey, blessing ourselves that we had come off so well. We bad not walked above five miles, when we observed a man on horseback galloping after us, whom we in a short time recognised to be no other than this formidable hero who had already given us so much vexation. He stopped hard by me, and asked if I knew who he was? My astonishment had disconcerted me so much that I did not hear his question, which he repeated with a volley of oaths and threats; but I remained as mute as before.

Strap, seeing my discomposure, fell upon his knees in the mud, uttering, with a lamentable voice, these words: “For Christ’s sake, have mercy upon us, Mr. Rifle! we know you very well.” “Oho!” cried the thief, “you do! But you never shall be evidence against me in this world, you dog!” So saying, he drew a pistol, and fired it at the unfortunate shaver, who fell flat upon the ground without speaking one word.

My comrade’s fate and my own situation riveted me to the place where I stood, deprived of all sense and reflection; so that I did not make the least attempt either to run away or deprecate the wrath of this barbarian, who snapped a second pistol at me; but, before he had time to prime again, perceiving a company of horsemen coming up, he rode off, and left me standing motionless as a statue, in which posture I was found by those whose appearance had saved my life. This company consisted of three men in livery, well armed, with an officer, who (as I afterwards learned,) was the person from whom Rifle had taken the pocket pistols the day before; and who, making known his misfortune to a nobleman he met on the road, and assuring him his non-resistance was altogether owing to his consideration for the ladies in the coach, procured the assistance of his lordship’s servants to go in quest of the plunderer. This holiday captain scampered up to me with great address, and asked who fired the pistol which he had heard.

As I had not yet recovered my reason, he, before I could answer, observed a body lying on the ground, at which sight his colour changed, and he pronounced, with a faltering tongue, “Gentlemen, here’s murder committed! Let us alight.” “No, no,” said one of his followers, “let us rather pursue the murderer. Which way went he, young man?”

By this time I had recollected myself so far as to tell them that he could not be a quarter of a mile before; and to beg one of them to assist me in conveying the corpse of my friend to the next house, in order to it being interred. The captain, foreseeing that, in case he should pursue, he must soon come to action, began to curb his horse, and gave him the spur at the same time, which treatment making the creature rear up and snort, he called out, his horse was frightened, and would not proceed; at the same time wheeling him round and round, stroking his neck, whistling and wheedling him with “Sirrah, sirrah — gently, gently.” etc. “Z— ds!”, cried one of the servants, “sure my lord’s Sorrel is not resty!”

With these words he bestowed a lash on his buttocks, and Sorrel, disdaining the rein sprang forward with the captain at a pace that would have soon brought him up with the robber, had not the girtle (happily for him) given way, by which means he landed in the dirt; and two of his attendants continued their pursuit, without minding his situation. Meanwhile one of the three who remained at my desire, turning the body of Strap, in order to see the wound which had killed him, found him still warm and breathing: upon which, I immediately let him blood, and saw him, with inexpressible joy, recover; he having received no other wound than what his fear had inflicted. Having raised him upon his legs, we walked together to an inn, about half a mile from the place, where Strap, who was not quite recovered, went to bed; and in a little time the third servant returned with the captain’s horse and furniture, leaving him to crawl after as well as he could.

This gentleman of the sword, upon his arrival, complained grievously of the bruise occasioned by his fall; and, on the recommendation of the servant, who warranted my ability, I was employed to bleed him, for which service he rewarded me with half-a-crown.

The time between this event and dinner I passed in observing a game at cards between two farmers, an exciseman, and a young fellow in a rusty gown and cassock, who, as I afterwards understood, was curate of a neighbouring parish. It was easy to perceive that the match was not equal; and that the two farmers, who were partners, had to do with a couple of sharpers, who stripped them of all their cash in a very short time. But what surprised me very mach, was to hear this clergyman reply to one of the countrymen, who seemed to suspect foul play, in these words: “D— n me, friend, d’ye question my honour?”

I did not at all wonder to find a cheat in canonicals, this being a character frequent in my own country; but I was scandalised at the indecency of his behaviour, which appeared in the oaths he swore, and the bawdy songs which he sung. At last, to make amends in some sort, for the damage he had done to the unwary boors, he pulled out a fiddle from the lining of his gown, and, promising to treat them at dinner, began to play most melodiously, singing in concert all the while. This good humour of this parson inspired the company with so much glee that the farmers soon forgot their losses, and all present went to dancing in the yard.

While we were agreeably amused in this manner, our musician, spying a horseman a riding towards the inn, stopped all of a sudden, crying out, “Gad so! gentlemen, I beg your pardon, there’s our dog of a doctor coming into the inn.” He immediately commended his instrument, and ran towards the gate, where he took hold of the vicar’s bridle, and helped him off, inquiring very cordially into the state of his health.

This rosy son of the church, who might be about the age of fifty. having alighted and entrusted the curate with his horse, stalked with great solemnity, into the kitchen, where sitting down by the fire, he called for a bottle of ale and a pipe; scarce deigning an answer to the submissive questions of those who inquired about the welfare of his family. While he indulged himself in this state, amidst a profound silence, the curate, approaching him with great reverence, asked him if he would not be pleased to honour him with his company at dinner? To which interrogation he answered in the negative, saying, he had been to visit Squire Bumpkin, who had drank himself into a high fever at the last assizes; and that he had, on leaving his own house, told Betty he should dine at home. Accordingly where be had made an end of his bottle and pipe, he rose, and moved with prelatical dignity to the door, where his journeyman stood ready with his nag. He had no sooner mounted than the facetious curate, coming into the kitchen, held forth in this manner: “There the old rascal goes, and the d — l go with him. You see how the world wags, gentlemen. By gad, this rogue of a vicar does not deserve to live; and yet he has two livings worth four hundred pounds per annum, while poor I am fain to do all his drudgery, and ride twenty miles every Sunday to preach — for what? why, truly, for twenty pounds a year. I scorn to boast of my own qualifications but — comparisons are odious. I should be glad to know how this wag-bellied doctor deserves to be more at ease than me. He can loll in his elbow chair at home, indulge himself in the best of victuals and wine and enjoy the conversation of Betty, his housekeeper. You understand me, gentlemen. Betty is the doctor’s poor kinswoman, and a pretty girl she is; but no matter for that; ay, and dutiful girl to her parents, whom she visits regularly every year, though I must own I could never learn in what county they live, My service t’ye, gentlemen.”

By this time dinner being ready, I waked my companion, and we ate altogether with great cheerfulness. When our meal was ended, and every man’s share of the reckoning adjusted, the curate went out on pretence of some necessary occasion, and, mounting his house, left the two farmers to satisfy the host in the best manner they could. We were no sooner informed of this piece of finesse, than the exciseman, who had been silent hitherto, began to open with a malicious grin: “Ay, ay this is an old trick of Shuffle; I could not help smiling when he talked of treating. Yon must know this is a very curious fellow. He picked up some scraps of learning while he served young Lord Trifte at the university. But what he most excels in is pimping. No one knows his talents better than I, for I was valet-de-chambre to Squire Tattle an intimate companion of Shuffle’s lord. He got him self into a scrape by pawning some of his lordship’s clothes on which account he was turned away; but, as he was acquainted with some particular circumstances of my lord’s conduct, he did not care to exasperate him too much, and so made interest for his receiving orders, and afterwards recommended him to the curacy which he now enjoys. However, the fellow cannot be too much admired for his dexterity in making a comfortable livelihood, in spite of such a small allowance. You hear he plays a good stick, and is really diverting company; these qualifications make him agreeable wherever he goes; and, as for playing at cards there is not a man within three counties for him. The truth is, he is a d — able cheat, and can shift a card with such address that it is impossible to discover him.”

Here he was interrupted by one of the farmers, who asked, why he had not justice enough to acquaint them with these particulars before they engaged in play. The exciseman replied, without any hesitation, that it was none of his business to intermeddle between man and man; besides, he did not know they were ignorant of Shuffle’s character, which was notorious to the whole country. This did not satisfy the other, who taxed him with abetting and assisting the curate’s knavery, and insisted on having his share of the winnings returned; this demand the exciseman as positively refused affirming that, whatever sleights Shuffle might practise on other occasions, he was very certain that he had played on the square with them, and would answer it before any bench in Christendom; so saying, he got up and, having paid his reckoning, sneaked off.

The Landlord, thrusting his neck into the passage to see if he was gone, shook his head, saying, “Ah! Lord help us! if every sinner was to have his deserts. Well, we victuallers must not disoblige the excisemen. But I know what; if parson Shuffle and he were weighed together, a straw thrown into either scale would make the balance kick the beam. But, masters, this is under the rose,” continued Boniface with a whisper.

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