The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XXXVII

We depart for Europe — a misunderstanding arises between the Captain and the Surgeon, through the scandalous aspersions of Crampley — the Captain dies — Crampley tyrannises over the surgeon, who falls a Victim for his Cruelty — I am also ill-used — the Ship strikes — the behaviour of Crampley and the Seamen on that occasion — -I get on shore, challenge the Captain to single combat — am treacherously knocked down, wounded, and robbed

Now that I could return to my native country in a creditable way, I felt excessive pleasure in finding myself out of sight of that fatal island, which has been the grave of so many Europeans: and, as I was accommodated with everything to make the passage agreeable, I resolved to enjoy myself as much as the insolence of Crampley would permit. This insidious slanderer had found means already to cause a misunderstanding between the surgeon and captain, who, by his age and infirmities, was rendered intolerably peevish, his disposition having also been soured by a long course of disappointments. He had a particular aversion to all young men, especially to surgeons, whom he considered unnecessary animals on board of a ship; and, in consequence of these sentiments, never consulted the doctor, notwithstanding his being seized with a violent fit of the gout and gravel, but applied to a cask of Holland gin, which was his sovereign prescription against all distempers: whether he was at this time too sparing, or took an overdose of his cordial, certain it is, he departed in the night, without any ceremony, which indeed was a thing he always despised, and was found stiff next morning, to the no small satisfaction of Crampley, who succeeded to the command of the vessel. For that very reason, Mr. Tomlins and I had no cause to rejoice at this event, fearing that the tyranny of our new commander would now be as unlimited as his power. The first day of his command justified our apprehensions: for, on pretence that the decks were too much crowded, he ordered the surgeon’s hencoops, with all his fowls, to be thrown overboard; and at the same time prohibited him and me from walking on the quarter-deck.

Mr. Tomlins could not help complaining of these injuries, and in the course of his expostulation dropped some hasty words, of which Crampley taking hold, confined him to his cabin, where, in a few days, for want of air he was attacked by a fever, which soon put an end to his life, after he had made his will, by which he bequeathed all his estate, personal and real, to his sister, and left to me his watch and instruments as memorials of his friendship. I was penetrated with grief on this melancholy occasion; the more because there was nobody on board to whom I could communicate my sorrows, or of whom I could receive the least consolation or advice. Crampley was so far from discovering the least remorse for his barbarity, at the news of the surgeon’s death, that he insulted his memory in the most abusive manner, and affirmed he had poisoned himself out of pure fear, dreading to be brought to a court-martial for mutiny; for which reason he would not suffer the service of the dead to be read over his body before it was thrown overboard.

Nothing but a speedy deliverance could have supported me under the brutal sway of this bashaw, who, to render my life more irksome, signified to my messmates a desire that I should be expelled from their society. This was no sooner hinted, than they granted his request; and I was fain to eat in a solitary manner by myself during the rest of the passage, which, however, soon drew to a period.

We had been seven weeks at sea, when the gunner told the captain that, by his reckoning, we must be in soundings, and desired he would order the lead to be heaved. Crampley swore he did not know how to keep the ship’s way, for we were not within a hundred leagues of soundings, and therefore he would not give himself the trouble to cast the lead. Accordingly we continued our course all that afternoon and night, without shortening sail, although the gunner pretended to discover Scilly light; and next morning protested in form against the captain’s conduct, for which he was put in confinement, We discovered no land all that day, and Crampley was still so infatuated as to neglect sounding; but at three o’clock in the morning the ship struck, and remained fast on a sand-bank. This accident alarmed the whole crew; the boat was immediately hoisted out, but as we could not discern which way the shore lay, we were obliged to wait for daylight. In the meantime, the wind increased, and the waves beat against the sloop with such violence, that we expected she would have gone to pieces. The gunner was released and consulted: he advised the captain to cut away the mast, in order to lighten her; this expedient was performed without success: the sailors, seeing things in a desperate situation, according to custom, broke up the chests belonging to the officers, dressed themselves in their clothes, drank their liquors without ceremony, and drunkenness, tumult, and confusion ensued.

In the midst of this uproar, I went below to secure my own effects, and found the carpenter’s mate hewing down the purser’s cabin with his hatchet, whistling all the while with great composure. When I asked his intention in so doing, he replied, very calmly, “I only want to taste the purser’s rum, that’s all, master.” At that instant the purser coming down, and seeing his effects going to wreck, complained bitterly of the injustice done to him, and asked the fellow what occasion he had for liquor when, in all likelihood, he would be in eternity in a few minutes. “All’s one for that,” said plunderer, “let us live while we can.” “Miserable wretch that thou art!” cried the purser, “what must be thy lot in another world, if thou diest in the commission of robbery?” “Why, hell, I suppose,” replied the other, with great deliberation, while the purser fell on his knees, and begged of Heaven that we might not all perish for the sake of Jonas.

During this dialogue I clothed myself in my bed apparel, girded on my hanger, stuck my pistols, loaded, in my belt, disposed of all my valuable moveables about my person, and came upon deck with a resolution of taking the first opportunity to get on shore, which, when the day broke, appeared at the distance of three miles ahead. Crampley, finding his efforts to get the ship off ineffectual, determined to consult his own safety, by going into the boat, which he had no sooner done, than the ship’s company followed so fast, that she would have sunk alongside, had not some one wiser than the rest cut the rope and put off. But before this happened, I had made several attempts to get in, and was always balked by the captain, who was so eager in excluding me, that he did not mind the endeavours of any other body. Enraged at this inhuman partiality, and seeing the rope cut, I pulled one of my pistols from my belt, and cocking it, swore I would shoot any man who would presume to obstruct my entrance. So saying, I leaped with my full exertion, and got on board of the boat with the loss of the skin of my shins. I chanced in my descent to overturn Crampley, who no sooner got up than he struck at me several times with a cutlass, and ordered the men to throw me overboard; but they were too anxious about their own safety to mind what he said. Though the boat was very deeply loaded, and the sea terribly high, we made shift to get upon dry land in less than an hour after we parted from the sloop. As soon as I set my foot on terra firma, my indignation, which bad boiled so long within me, broke out against Crampley, whom I immediately challenged to single combat, presenting my pistols, that he might take his choice: he took one without hesitation, and, before I could cock the other, fired in my face, throwing the pistol after the shot. I felt myself stunned, and imagining the bullet had entered my brain, discharged mine as quick as possible, that I might not die unrevenged: then flying upon my antagonist, knocked out several of his fore-teeth with the butt-end of the piece, and would certainly have made an end of him with that instrument, had he not disengaged himself, and seized his cutlass, which he had given to his servant when he received the pistol. Seeing him armed in this manner, I drew my hanger, and, having flung my pistol at his head, closed with him in a transport of fury, and thrust my weapon into his mouth, which it enlarged on one side to his ear. Whether the smart of this wound disconcerted him, or the unevenness of the ground made him reel, I know not, but he staggered some paces back: I followed close, and with one stroke cut the tendons of the back of his hand, Upon which his cutlass dropped, and he remained defenceless. I know not with what cruelty my rage might have inspired me, if I had not at that instant been felled to the ground by a blow on the back part of my head, which deprived me of all sensation. In this deplorable situation, exposed to the rage of an incensed barbarian, and the rapine of an inhuman crew, I remained for some time; and whether any disputes arose among them during the state of my annihilation, I cannot pretend to determine; but in one particular they seemed to have been unanimous, and acted with equal dexterity and dispatch; for when I recovered the use of my understanding, I found myself alone in a desolate place, stripped of my clothes, money, watch, buckles, and everything but my shoes, stockings, breeches and shirt. What a discovery must this have been to me, who, but an hour before, was worth sixty guineas in cash! I cursed the hour of my birth, the parents that gave me being, the sea that did not swallow me up, the poniard of the enemy, which could not find the way to my heart, the villainy of those who had left me in that miserable condition; and in the ecstacy of despair resolved to be still where I was, and perish.

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