The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LVI

I become acquainted with Narcissa’s brother, who invites me to his House, where I am introduced to that adorable Creature — after dinner, the Squire retires to take his nap — Freeman, guessing the Situation of my Thought, withdraws likewise, on pretence of Business — I declare my passion for Narcissa — am well-received — charmed with her Conversation — the Squire detains us to Supper — I elude his design by a Stratagem, and get home sober

In the afternoon, I drank tea at the house of Mr. Freeman, to whom I had been recommended by Banter; where I had not sat five minutes, till the foxhunter came in, and by his familiar behaviour appeared to be intimate with my friend. I was, at first, under some concern, lest he should recollect my features; but when I found myself introduced to him as a gentleman from London, without being discovered, I blessed the opportunity that brought me into his company; hoping that, in the course of my acquaintance, he would invite me to his house; nor were my hopes frustrated, for, as we spent the evening together, he grew extremely fond of my conversation, asked a great many childish questions about France and foreign parts; and seemed so highly entertained with my answers, that in his cups he shook me often by the hand, pronounced me an honest fellow, and in fine desired our company at dinner next day, at his civil house. My imagination was so much employed in anticipating the happiness I was to enjoy next day, that I slept very little that night; but, rising early in the morning, went to the place appointed, where I met my she-friend, and imparted to her my success with the squire. She was very much pleased at the occasion, “which,” she said, “could not fail of being agreeable to Narcissa, who, in spite of her passion for me, had mentioned some scruples relating to my true situation and character, which the delicacy of her sentiments suggested, and which she believed I would find it necessary to remove, though she did not know how.” I was a good deal startled at this insinuation, because I foresaw the difficulty I should find in barely doing myself justice: for, although it never was my intention to impose myself upon any woman, much less on Narcissa, I laid claim to the character of a gentleman by birth, education, and behaviour; and yet (so unlucky had the circumstances of my life fallen out) I should find it a very hard matter to make good my pretensions even to these, especially to the last, which was the most essential. Miss Williams was as sensible as I of this my disadvantage, but comforted me with observing that, when once a woman has bestowed her affections on a man, she cannot help judging of him in all respects with a partiality easily influenced in his favour: she remarked that, although some situations of my life had been low, yet none of them had been infamous; that my indigence had been the crime not of me, but of fortune; and that the miseries I had undergone, by improving the faculties both of mind and body, qualified me the more for any dignified station; and would of consequence recommend me to the good graces of any sensible woman: she therefore advised me to be always open and unreserved to the inquiries of my mistress, without unnecessarily betraying the meanest occurrences of my fate; and trust to the strength of her love and reflection for the rest.

The sentiments of this sensible young woman on this, as well as on almost every other subject, perfectly agreed with mine. I thanked her for the care she took of my interests, and, promising to behave myself according to her directions we parted, after she had assured me that I depend upon her best offices with her mistress, and that she would from time to time communicate to me such intelligence as she could procure, relating to my flame. Having dressed myself to the best advantage, I waited for the time of dinner with the most fearful impatience; and, as the hour drew near, my heart beat with such increased velocity, and my spirits contracted such disorder, that I began to suspect my resolution, and even to wish myself disengaged. At last Mr. Freeman called at my lodgings in his way, and I accompanied him to the house where all my happiness was deposited. We were very kindly received by the squire, who sat smoking his pipe in a parlour, and asked if we chose to drink any thing before dinner: though I never had more occasion for a cordial, I was ashamed to accept his offer, which was also refused, by my friend. We sat down, however, entered into conversation, which lasted half-an hour, so that I had time to recollect myself; and (so capricious were my thoughts) even to hope that Narcissa would not appear — when, all of a sudden, a servant coming in, gave us notice that dinner was upon the table, and my perturbation returned with such violence that I could scarcely conceal it from the company, as I ascended the staircase. When I entered the dining-room, the first object that saluted my ravished eyes was the divine Narcissa, blushing like Aurora, adorned with all the graces that meekness, innocence, and beauty can diffuse! I was seized with a giddiness, my knees tottered and I scarce had strength enough to perform the ceremony of salutation, when her brother, slapping me on the shoulder, cried, “Measure Randan, that there is my sister.” I approached her with eagerness and fear; but in the moment of our embrace, my soul was agonized with rapture! It was a lucky circumstance for us both, that my entertainer was not endued with an uncommon stock of penetration; for our mutual confusion was so manifest that Mr. Freeman perceived it, and as we went home together, congratulated me on my good fortune. But so far was Bruin from entertaining the least suspicion, that he encouraged me to begin a conversation with my mistress in a language unknown to him, by telling her, that he had a gentleman who could jabber with her in French and other foreign lingoes as fast as she pleased; then, turning to me, said, “Odds bobs! I wish you would hold discourse with her in your French or Italian, and tell me if she understands it as well as she would be thought to do. There’s her aunt and she will chatter together whole days in it, and I can’t have a mouthful of English for love or money.” I consulted the look of my amiable mistress and found her averse to his proposal, which indeed she declined with a sweetness of denial peculiar to herself, as a piece of disrespect to that part of the company which did not understand the language in question. As I had the happiness of sitting opposite to her, I feasted my eyes much more than my palate which she tempted in vain with the most delicious bits carved by her fair hand, and recommended by her persuasive tongue; but all my other appetites were swallowed up in immensity of my love, which I fed by gazing incessantly on the delightful object. Dinner was scarcely ended, when the squire became very drowsy, and after several dreadful yawns, got up, stretched himself, took two or three turns across the room, begged we would allow him to take a short nap, and, having laid a strong injunction on his sister to detain us till his return, went to his repose without further ceremony. He had not been gone many minutes, when Freeman, guessing the situation of my heart, and thinking he could not do me a greater favour than to leave me alone with Narcissa, pretended to recollect himself all of a sudden, and, starting up, begged the lady pardon for half-an-hour, for he had unluckily remembered an engagement of some consequence, that he must perform at that instant: so saying, he took his leave, promising to come back time enough for tea, leaving my mistress and me in great confusion.

Now that I enjoyed an opportunity of disclosing the paintings of my soul, I had not the power to use it. I studied many pathetic declarations, but, when I attempted to give them utterance, my tongue denied its office and she sat silent with a downcast look full of anxious alarm, her bosom heaving with expectation of some great event. At length I endeavoured to put an end to this solemn pause, and began with, “It is very surprising, madam, madam” — here the sound dying away, I made a full stop; while Narcissa, starting, blushed, and, with a timid accent answered, “Sir?” Confounded at this note of interrogation, I pronounced with the most sheepish bashfulness, “Madam!” To which she replied, “I beg pardon — I thought you had spoken to me.” Another pause ensued — I made another effort, and, though my voice faltered very much at the beginning, made shift to express myself in this manner: “I say, madam, it is very surprising that love should act so inconsistently with itself, as to deprive its votaries of the use of their faculties, when they have most need of them. Since the happy occasion of being alone with you presented itself, I have made many unsuccessful attempts to declare a passion for the loveliest of her sex — a passion which took possession of my soul, while my cruel fate compelled me to wear a servile disguise so unsuitable to my birth, sentiments, and let me add, my deserts; yet favourable in one respect, as it furnished me with opportunities of seeing and adoring your perfections. Yes, madam, it was then your dear idea entered my bosom, where it has lived unimpaired in the midst of numberless cares, and animated me against a thousand dangers and calamities!”

While I spoke thus, she concealed her face with her fan, and when I ceased speaking, recovering herself from the most beautiful confusion, told me she thought herself very much obliged by my favourable opinion of her, and that she was very sorry to hear I had been unfortunate. Encouraged by this gentle reply, I proceeded, owned myself sufficiently recompensed by her kind compassion for what I had undergone, and declared the future happiness of my life depended solely upon her. “Sir,” said she, “I should be very ungrateful, if after the signal protection you once afforded me, I should refuse to contribute towards your happiness in any reasonable condescension.” Transported at this acknowledgment I threw myself at her feet, and begged she would regard my passion with a favourable eye. She was alarmed at my behaviour, entreated me to rise lest her brother should discover me in that posture, and to spare her for the present upon a subject for which she was altogether unprepared. In consequence of this remonstrance, I rose, assuring her I would rather die than disobey her: but in the meantime begged her to consider how precious the minutes of this opportunity were, and what restraint I put upon my inclinations, in sacrificing them to her desire. She smiled with unspeakable sweetness, and said there would be no want of opportunities, provided I could maintain the good opinion her brother had conceived of me, and I, enchanted by her charms, seized her hand, which I well nigh devoured with kisses. But she checked my boldness with a severity of countenance, and desired I would not so far forget myself to her, as to endanger the esteem she had for me; she reminded me of our being almost strangers to each other, and of the necessity there was for her knowing me better, before she could take any resolution in my favour; and, in short, mingled so much good sense and complacency in her reproof, that I became as much enamoured of her understanding as I had been before of her beauty, and asked pardon for my presumption with the utmost reverence of conviction. She forgave my offence with her usual affability, and sealed my pardon with a look so full of bewitching tenderness, that, for some minutes, my senses were lost in ecstacy! I afterwards endeavoured to regulate my behaviour according to her desire, and turn the conversation upon a more indifferent subject; but her presence was an insurmountable obstacle to my design; while I beheld so much excellence, I found it impossible to call my attention from the contemplation of it! I gazed with unutterable fondness! I grew mad with admiration! “My condition is insupportable!” cried I: “I am distracted with passion! Why are you so exquisitely fair? — why are you so enchantingly good? — why has nature dignified you with charms so much above the standard of woman? and, wretch that I am, how dare my unworthiness aspire to the enjoyment of such perfection!”

She was startled at my ravings, reasoned down my transport, and by her irresistible eloquence, soothed my soul into a state of tranquil felicity; but, lest I might suffer a relapse, industriously promoted other subjects to entertain my imagination. She chid me for having omitted to inquire about her aunt who (she assured me), in the midst of all her absence of temper, and detachment from common affairs, often talked of me with uncommon warmth. I professed my veneration for the good lady, excused my omission, by imputing it to the violence of my love, which engrossed my whole soul, and desired to know the situation of her health. Upon which, the amiable Narcissa repeated what I had heard before of her marriage, with all the tenderness for her reputation that the subject would admit of; told me she lived with her husband hard by, and was so much afflicted with the dropsy, and wasted by a consumption, that she had small hopes of her recovery. Having expressed my sorrow for her distemper, I questioned her about my good friend, Mrs, Sagely, who, I learned to my great satisfaction, was in good health, and who had by the encomiums she bestowed upon me after I was gone, confirmed the favourable impression my behaviour at parting had made on Narcissa’s heart. This circumstance introduced an inquiry into the conduct of Sir Timothy Thicket, who (she informed me) had found means to incense her brother so much against me that she found it impossible to undeceive him: but, on the contrary, suffered very much in her own character by his scandalous insinuations; that the whole parish was alarmed, and actually in pursuit of me; so that she had been in the utmost consternation on my account, well knowing how little my own innocence and her testimony would have weighed with the ignorance, prejudice, and brutality of those who must have judged me, had I been apprehended; that Sir Timothy, having been seized with a fit of apoplexy, from which with great difficulty he was recovered, began to be apprehensive of death, and to prepare himself accordingly for that great event; as a step to which he sent for her brother, owned with great contrition the brutal design he had upon her, and in consequence acquitted me of the assault, robbery, and correspondence with her, which he had laid to my charge; after which confession he lived about a month in a languishing condition, and was carried off by a second assault.

Every word that this dear creature spoke, riveted the chains with which she held me enslaved! My mischievous fancy began to work, and the tempest of my passion to wake again, when the return of Freeman destroyed the tempting opportunity, and enabled me to quell the rising tumult. A little while after, the squire staggered into the room, rubbing his eyes, and called for his tea, which he drank out of a small bowl, qualified with brandy; while we took it in the usual way, Narcissa left us in order to visit her aunt; and when Freeman and I proposed to take our leave, the foxhunter insisted on our spending the evening at his house with such obstinacy of affection, that we were obliged to comply. For my own part, I should have been glad of the invitation, by which, in all likelihood, I should be blessed with more of his sisters company, had I not been afraid of risking her esteem, by entering into a debauch of drinking with him, which, from the knowledge of his character, I foresaw would happen: but there was no remedy. I was forced to rely upon the strength of my constitution, which I hoped would resist intoxication longer than the squire’s, and to trust to the good nature and discretion of my mistress for the rest.

Our entertainer, resolving to begin by times, ordered the table to be furnished with liquor and glasses immediately after tea, but we absolutely refused to set in for drinking so soon; and prevailed upon him to pass away an hour or two at whist, in which we engaged as soon as Narcissa returned. The savage and I happened to be partners at first, and, as my thoughts were wholly employed in a more interesting game, I played so ill that he lost all patience, swore bitterly, and threatened to call for wine, if they would not grant him another associate. This desire was gratified, and Narcissa and I were of a side; he won for the same reason that made him lose before; I was satisfied, my lovely partner did not repine, and the time slipped away very agreeably, until we were told that supper was served in another room.

The squire was enraged to find the evening so unprofitably spent, and wreaked his vengeance on the cards, which he tore, and committed to the flames with many execrations; threatening to make us redeem our loss with a large glass and quick circulation; and indeed we had no sooner supped, and my charmer withdrawn, than he began to put his threat in execution. Three bottles of port (for he drank no other sort of wine) were placed before us, with as many water glasses, which were immediately filled to the brim, after his example, by each out of his respective allowance, and emptied in a trice to the best in Christendom. Though I swallowed this, and the next, as fast as the glass could be replenished, without hesitation or show of reluctance, I perceived that my brain would not be able to bear many bumpers of this sort, and dreading the perseverance of a champion who began with such vigour, I determined to make up for the deficiency of my strength by a stratagem, which I actually put in practice when the second course of bottles was called for. The wine being strong and heady, I was already a good deal discomposed by the dispatch we had made. Freeman’s eyes began to reel, and Bruin himself was elevated into a song, which he uttered with great vociferation. When I therefore saw the second round brought in, I assumed a gay air, entertained him with a French catch on the subject of drinking, which, though he did rot understand it, delighted him highly; and, telling him your choice spirits at Paris never troubled themselves with glasses, asked if he had not a bowl or cup in the house that would contain a whole quart of wine. “Odds niggers!” cried he, “I have a silver candle cup that holds just the quantity, for all the world; fetch it hither, Numps.” The vessel being produced, I bade him decant his bottle into it, which he having done, I nodded in a very deliberate manner, and said, “Pledge you.” He stared at me for some time, and crying, “What! all at one pull, Measter Randan?” I answered, “At one pull, Sir, you are no milk-sop — we shall do you justice.” “Shall you?” said he, shaking me by the hand; “odds then, I’ll see it out, an’t were a mile to the bottom: here’s to our better acquaintance, measter Randan,” So saying, he applied it to his lips, and emptied it in a breath. I knew the effect of it would be almost instantaneous; therefore taking the cup, began to discharge my bottle into it, telling him he was now qualified to drink with the Cham of Tartary. I had no sooner pronounced these words than he took umbrage at them, and after several attempts to spit, made shift to stutter, “A f — t for your Chams of T— Tartary! I am a f — f — freeborn Englishman, worth th — three thousand a-year, and v — value no man, d — me.” Then, dropping his jaw, and fixing his eyes, he hiccuped aloud, and fell upon the floor as mute as n flounder. Mr. Freeman, heartily glad at his defeat, assisted me in carrying him to bed, where we left him to the care of his servants, and went home to our respective habitations, congratulating each other on our good fortune.

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