The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LVIII

Tortured with Jealousy, I go Home, and abuse Strap — receive a Message from Narcissa, in Consequence of which I hasten to her Apartment, where her endearing Assurances banish all my Doubts and Apprehensions — in my Retreat discover Somebody in the Dark, whom, suspecting to be a Spy, I resolve to kill, but, to my great Surprise, am convinced of his being no other than Strap — Melinda slanders me — I become acquainted with Lord Quiverwit, who endeavours to sound me with regard to Narcissa — the Squire is introduced to his Lordship, and grows cold towards me — I learn from my Confidante, that this Nobleman professes honourable Love to my Mistress, who continues faithful to me, notwithstanding the scandalous Reports she had heard to my Prejudice — I am mortified with an Assurance that her whole Fortune depends upon the Pleasure of her Brother-Mr. Freeman condoles me on the Decline of my Character, which I vindicate so much to his satisfaction, that he undertakes to combat Fame on my behalf

Having uttered this exclamation, at which she sighed, I went home in the condition of a frantic Bedlamite: and, finding the fire in my apartment almost extinguished, vented my fury upon poor Strap, whose ear I pinched with such violence, that he roared hideously with pain; and, when I quitted my hold, looked so foolishly aghast, that no unconcerned spectator could have seen him without being seized with an immoderate fit of laughter. It is true, I was soon sensible of the injury I had done, and asked pardon for the outrage I had committed; upon which my faithful valet, shaking his head, said, “I forgive you, and may God forgive you!” But he could not help shedding some tears at my unkindness. I felt unspeakable remorse for what I had done, cursed my own ingratitude, and considered his tears as a reproach that my soul, in its present disturbance, could not bear. It set all my passions into a ferment: I swore horrible oaths without meaning or application. I foamed at the mouth, kicked the chairs about the room, and played abundance of mad pranks that frightened my friend almost out of his senses. At length my transport subsided, I became melancholy, and wept insensibly.

During this state of dejection, I was surprised with the appearance of Miss Williams, whom Strap, blubbering all the while, had conducted into the chamber without giving me previous notice of her approach. She was extremely affected with my condition, which she had learned from him, begged me to moderate my passion, suspend my conjectures, and follow her to Narcissa, who desired to see me forthwith. That dear name operated upon me like a charm! I started up, and, without opening my lips, was conducted into her apartment through the garden, which we entered by a private door. I found the adorable creature in tears; I was melted at the sight — we continued silent for some time — my heart was too full to speak — her snowy bosom heaved with fond resentment; at last she sobbing cried, “What have I done to disoblige you?” My heart was pierced with the tender question. I drew near with the utmost reverence of affection. I fell upon my knees before her, and, kissing her hand, exclaimed, “Oh! thou art all goodness and perfection! I am undone by want of merit; I am unworthy to possess thy charms, which heaven bath destined for the arms of some more favourite being.” She guessed the cause of my disquiet, upbraided me gently for my suspicion, and gave me such flattering assurances of her eternal fidelity, that all my doubts and fears forsook me, and peace and satisfaction reigned within my breast.

At midnight I left the fair nymph to her repose, and, being let out by Miss Williams at the garden gate by which I entered, began to explore my way homeward in the dark, when I heard at my back a noise like that of a baboon when he mews and chatters. I turned instantly, and, perceiving something black, concluded I was discovered by some spy, employed to watch for that purpose; aroused at this conjecture, by which the reputation of the virtuous Narcissa appeared in jeopardy, I drew my sword, and would have sacrificed him to her fame, had not the voice of Strap restrained my arm, it was with great difficulty he could pronounce, “D— d — d-do! mum — um — um — murder me if you please.” Such an effect had the cold upon his jaws, that his teeth rattled like a pair of castanets. Pleased to be thus undeceived, I laughed at his consternation, and asked what brought him thither? Upon which he gave me to understand, that his concern for me had induced him to follow me to that place, where the same reason had detained him till now, and he frankly owned, that, in spite of the esteem he had for Miss Williams. he began to be very uneasy about me, considering the disposition in which I went abroad; and, if I had stayed much longer, would certainly have alarmed the neighbourhood in my behalf. The knowledge of this his intention confounded me. I represented to him the mischievous consequences that would have attended such a rash action, and, cautioning him severely against any such design for the future, concluded my admonition with an assurance, that, in case he should ever act so madly, I would, without hesitation, put him to death. “Have a little patience!” cried he, in a lamentable tone; “your displeasure will do the business, without your committing murder.” I was touched with this reproach; and, as soon as we got home, made it my business to appease him, by explaining the cause of that transport during which I had used him so unworthily.

Next day when I went into the Long Room, I observed several whispers circulate all of a sudden, and did not doubt that Melinda had been busy with my character; but I consoled myself with the love of Narcissa, upon which I rested with the most perfect confidence; and going up to the rowly-powly table, won a few pieces from my suspected rival, who, with an easy politeness, entered into conversation with me, and, desiring my company to the coffee-house, treated me with tea and chocolate. I remembered Strutwell, and guarded against his insinuating behaviour; nor was my suspicion wrong placed; he artfully turned the discourse upon Narcissa, and endeavoured by hinting at an intrigue he pretended to be engaged in elsewhere, to learn what connection there was between her and me. But all his finesse was ineffectual, I was convinced of his dissimulation, and gave such general answers to his inquiries, that he was forced to drop the subject, and talk of something else.

While we conversed in this manner, the savage came in with another gentleman, who introduced him to his lordship, and he was received with such peculiar marks of distinction, that I was persuaded the courtier intended to use him in some shape or other; and from thence I drew an unlucky omen. But I had more cause to be dismayed the following day, when I saw the squire in company with Melinda and her mother, who honoured me with several disdainful glances; and when I afterwards threw myself in his way, instead of the cordial shake of the hand, he returned my salute with a cold repetition of “Servant, servant!” which he pronounced with such indifference or rather contempt, that if he had not been Narcissa’s brother, I should have affronted him in public.

These occurrences disturbed me not a little; I foresaw the brooding storm, and armed myself with resolution for the occasion; but Narcissa, being at stake, I was far from being resigned. I could have renounced every other comfort of life with some degree of fortitude, but the prospect of losing her disabled all my philosophy, and tortured my soul into madness.

Miss Williams found me, next morning, full of anxious tumult, which did not abate when she told me that my Lord Quiverwit, having professed honourable intentions, had been introduced to my lovely mistress by her brother, who had, at the same time, from the information of Melinda, spoken of me as an Irish fortune-hunter, without either birth or estate; who supported myself in the appearance of a gentleman by sharping and other infamous practices; and who was of such an obscure origin, that I did not even know my own extraction. Though I expected all this malice, I could not hear it with temper, especially as truth was so blended with falsehood in the assertion, that it would be almost impossible to separate the one from the other in my vindication. But I said nothing on this head, being impatient to know how Narcissa had been affected with the discovery. That generous creature, far from believing these imprecations, was no sooner withdrawn with her confidante, than she inveighed with great warmth against the malevolence of the world, to which only she ascribed the whole of what had been said to my disadvantage, and, calling every circumstance of my behaviour to her into review before her, found everything so polite, honourable, and disinterested, that she could not harbour the least doubt of my being the gentleman I assumed. “I have indeed,” said she, “purposely forborne to ask the particulars of his life, lest the recapitulation of some misfortunes, which he has undergone, should give him pain; and, as to the article of his fortune, I own myself equally afraid of inquiring into it, and of discovering the state of my own, lest we should find ourselves both unhappy in the explanation; for, alas! my provision is conditional, and depends entirely on my marrying with my brother’s consent.”

I was thunderstruck with this intelligence, the light forsook my eyes, the colour vanished from my cheeks, and I remained in a state of universal trepidation! My female friend, perceiving my disorder, encouraged me with assurances of Narcissa’s constancy, and the hope of some accident favourable to our love; and, as a further consolation, gave me to understand, that she had acquainted my mistress with the outlines of my life: and that, although she was no stranger to the present low state of my finances, her love and esteem were rather increased than diminished by the knowledge of my circumstances. I was greatly comforted by this assurance, which saved me a world of confusion and anxiety; for I must have imparted my situation one day to Narcissa, and this task I could not have performed without shame and disorder.

As I did not doubt that by this time the scandalous aspersions of Melinda were diffused all over the town, I resolved to collect my whole strength of assurance, to browbeat the efforts of her malice, and to publish her adventure with the frenchified barber by way of reprisal. In the meantime, having promised to be at the garden-gate about midnight, Miss Williams took her leave, bidding me repose myself entirely on the affection of my dear Narcissa, which was as perfect as inviolable. Before I went abroad, I was visited by Freeman, who came on purpose to inform me of the infamous stories that were raised at my expense. I heard them with great temper, and in my turn disclosed everything that had happened between Melinda and me; and among other circumstances entertained him with the story of the barber, letting him know what share his friend Banter had in that affair. He was convinced of the injury my reputation had suffered; and, no longer doubting the fountain from whence this deluge of slander had flowed upon me, undertook to undeceive the town in my behalf, and roll the stream back upon its source; but in the meantime, cautioned me from appearing in public, while the prepossession was so strong against me, lest I should meet with some affront that might have bad consequences.

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