The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XIX

The character of Mr. Lavement, his wife and daughter — some anecdotes of the family — the mother and daughter rivals — I am guilty of a mistake that gives me present satisfaction, but is attended with troublesome consequences

Next day. while I was at work in the shop, a bouncing damsel well dressed came on pretence of finding a vial for some use or other; and taking an opportunity, when she thought I did not mind her, of observing me narrowly, went away with a silent look of disdain. I easily guessed her sentiments, and my pride took the resolution of entertaining the same indifference and neglect towards her. At dinner the maids, with whom I dined in the kitchen, gave me to understand that this was my master’s only daughter, who would have a very handsome fortune, on account of which, and her beauty, a great many young gentlemen made their addresses to her — that she had been twice on the brink of marriage, but disappointed by the stinginess of her father, who refused to part with a shilling to promote the match; for which reason the young lady did not behave to her father with all the filial veneration that might be expected. In particular she harboured the most perfect hatred for his countrymen; in which disposition she resembled her mother, who was an English-woman; and, by the hints they dropped, I learned the gray mare was the better horse — that she was a matron of a high spirit, which was often manifested at the expense of her dependents; that she loved diversions, and looked upon miss as her rival in all parties — which was indeed the true cause of her disappointments; for had the mother been hearty in her interest, the father would not have ventured to refuse her demands. Over and above this intelligence, I, of myself, soon made more discoveries. Mr. Lavement’s significant grins at his wife, while she looked another way, convinced me that he was not at all content with his lot; and his behaviour in presence of the captain made me believe his chief torment was jealousy. As for my own part, I was considered in no other light than that of a menial servant, and had been already six days in the house without being honoured with one word from either mother or daughter; the latter (as I understood from the maids) having at table one day expressed some surprise that her papa should entertain such an awkward mean-looking journeyman. I was nettled at this piece of information, and next Sunday (it being my turn to take my diversion) dressed myself in my new clothes to the greatest advantage, and, vanity apart, made no contemptible figure.

After having spent most part of the day in company with Strap and some of his acquaintance, I came home in the afternoon, and was let in by miss, who not knowing me, dropped a low curtsey as I advanced, which I returned with a profound bow, and shut the door. By the time I had turned about, she had perceived her mistake, and changed colour, but did not withdraw. The passage being narrow, I could not get away without jolting her; so I was forced to remain where I was with my eyes fixed to the ground, and my face glowing with blushes. At length, her vanity coming to her assistance, she went away tittering, and I could hear her pronounce the word ‘creature!’ From this day forward, she came into the shop fifty times, every day upon various pretences, and put in practice so many ridiculous airs, that I could easily perceive her opinion of me was changed, and that she did not think me altogether an unworthy conquest. But my heart was so steeled against her charms by pride and resentment, which were two chief ingredients in my disposition, that I remained insensible to all her arts; and notwithstanding some advances she made, could not be prevailed upon to yield her the least attention. This neglect soon banished all the favourable impressions she felt for me, and the rage of a slighted woman took place in her heart; this she manifested not only in all the suggestions her malice could invent to my prejudice with her father, but also in procuring for me such servile employments as she hoped would sufficiently humble my spirit. One day in particular, she ordered me to brush my master’s coat; but I refusing, a smart dialogue ensued, which ended in her bursting into tears of rage; when her mother interposing, and examining into the merits of the cause, determined it in my favour: and this good office I owed not to any esteem or consideration she had for me, but solely to the desire of mortifying her daughter, who on this occasion observed, that let people be never so much in the right, there were some folks who would never do them justice, but, to be sure, they had their reasons for it, which some people were ignorant of, although they despised their little arts. This insinuation of some people and some folks put me upon observing the behaviour of my mistress more narrowly for the future: and it was not long before I had reason to believe that she looked upon her daughter as a rival in the affections of Captain O’Donnell, who lodged in the house.

In the meantime, my industry and knowledge gained me the goodwill of my master, who would often say in French, “Mardy! c’est un bon garcon.” He had a great deal of business; but he was mostly employed among his fellow refugees, his profits were small. However, his expense for medicines was not great; for he was the most expert man at a succedaneum of any apothecary in London, so that I have been sometimes amazed to see him, without the least hesitation, make up a physician’s prescription, though he had not in his shop one medicine mentioned in it. Oyster-shells he could convert into crab’s eyes; common oil into oil of sweet almonds; syrup of sugar into balsamic syrup; Thames water into aqua cinnamoni; and a hundred more costly preparations were produced in an instant, from the cheapest and coarsest drugs of the materia medica: and when any common thing was ordered for a patient, he always took care to disguise it in colour or taste, or both, in such a manner that it could not possibly be known; for which purpose cochineal and oil of cloves were of great service. Mr. Lavement had attempted more than once to introduce a vegetable diet into his family, by launching out into the praise of roots and greens, and decrying the use of flesh, both as a physician and philosopher; but all his rhetoric could not make one proselyte to his opinion, and even the wife of his bosom declared against the proposal.

One afternoon, when her husband was abroad. and his daughter gone to visit, this lady ordered me to call a hackney-coach, in which she and the captain drove towards Covent Garden. Miss came home in the evening, and, supping at her usual hour, went to bed. About eleven o’clock my master entered, and asked if his wife was gone to sleep: upon which I told him, my mistress went out in the afternoon, and was not yet returned. This was like a clap of thunder to the poor apothecary, who starting back, cried, “Mort de ma vie! vat you tell a me? My vife not at home!” At that instant a patient’s servant arrived with a prescription for a draught, which my master taking, went into the shop to make it up with his own hand. While he rubbed the ingredients in a glass mortar, he inquired of me, whether or no his wife went out alone; and no sooner heard that she was in company with the captain, than with one blow he split the mortar into a thousand pieces, and grinning like the head of a bass viol, exclaimed, “Ah, traitresse!” It would have been impossible for me to have preserved my gravity a minute longer, when I was happily relieved by a rap at the door, which I opened, and perceived my mistress coming out of the coach. She flounced immediately into the shop, and addressed her husband thus: “I suppose you thought I was lost, my dear. Captain O’Donnell has been so good as to treat me with a play.” The reply, it may be supposed, was anything but courteous but the captain, who had been all the time at the door discharging the coach, entered, and Mr. Lavement, changing his tone, saluted him with all the usual politesse of a Frenchman.

Shortly after this event, by the knowledge which I acquired of the family secrets, my life became much more agreeable; and as I every day improved in my knowledge of the town I shook off my awkward air by degrees, and acquired the character of a polite journeyman apothecary.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00