The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LXV

I set out for Sussex — consult Mrs. Sagely — achieve an Interview with Narcissa — return to the Ship — we get clear of the Channel — I learn our Destination — we are chased by a large Ship — the company are dismayed, and encouraged by the Captain’s speech — our pursuer happens to be an English Man of War — we arrive at the Coast of Guinea, purchase four hundred Negroes — sail for Paraguay, get safe into the River of Plate, and sell our Cargo to great Advantage

It was now I put in execution the scheme I had projected at London; and asking leave of the captain for Strap and me to stay on shore till the wind should become favourable, my request was granted, because he had orders to remain in the Downs until he should receive some dispatches from London, which he did not expect in less than a week. Having imparted my resolution to my trusty valet, who (though he endeavoured to dissuade me from such a rash undertaking) would not quit me in the enterprise, I hired horses, and set out immediately for that part of Sussex where my charmer was confined, which was not above thirty miles distant from Deal, where we mounted. As I was perfectly well acquainted with the extent of the squire’s estate and influence, I halted within five miles of his house, where we remained till the twilight, at which time we set forward, and, by the favour of a dark night, reached a copse about half-a-mile from the village where Mrs. Sagely lived. Here we left our horses tied to a tree, and went directly to the house of my old benefactress, Strap trembling all the way, and venting ejaculatory petitions to heaven for our safety. Her habitation being quite solitary, we arrived at the door without being observed, when I ordered my companion. to enter by himself; and, in case there should be company with her, deliver a letter which I had writ for that purpose, and say that a friend of hers in London, understanding that he intended to travel this road, had committed it to his care. He rapped at the door, to which the good old matron coming, told him that, being a lone woman, he must excuse her, if she did not open it, until he had declared his name and business. He answered, that his name was unknown to her, and that his business was to deliver a letter, which (to free her from all apprehension) he would convey to her through the space between the door and threshold. This he instantly performed: and she no sooner read the contents, which specified my being present, than she cried, “If the person who wrote this letter be at hand, let him speak, that I may be assured by his voice whether or not I may safely admit him.” I forthwith applied my mouth to the keyhole, and pronounced, “Dear mother, you need not be afraid, it is I, so much indebted to your goodness, who now crave admittance.” She knew my voice, and opening the door immediately, received me with a truly maternal affection, manifesting, by the tears she let fall, her concern lest I should be discovered, for she had been informed of everything that had happened between Narcissa and me from the dear captive’s own mouth. When I explained the motive of my journey, which was no other than a desire of seeing the object of my love before I should quit the kingdom, that I might in person convince her of the necessity I was under to leave her, reconcile her to that event, by describing the advantages that in all probability would attend it, repeat my vows of eternal constancy, and enjoy the melancholy pleasure of a tender embrace at parting. I say, when I had thus signified my intention, Mrs. Sagely told me, that Narcissa, upon her return from Bath, had been so strictly watched that nobody but one or two of the servants devoted to her brother, was admitted to her presence, that afterwards she had been a little enlarged, and was permitted to see company; during which indulgence, she had been several times at the cottage; but of late she had been betrayed by one of the servants, who discovered to the squire, that he had once carried a letter from her to the post-house directed to me; upon which information she was now more confined than ever, and that I could have no chance of seeing her, unless I would run the risk of getting into the garden, where she and her maid were every day allowed to take the air, and lie hid until I should have an opportunity of speaking to them — an adventure attended with such danger, that no man in his right wits would attempt it. This enterprise, hazardous as it was, I resolved to perform, in spite of all the arguments of Mrs. Sagely, who reasoned, chid, and entreated by turns; and the tears and prayers of Strap, who conjured me on his knees, to have more regard to myself as well as to him, than to attempt my own destruction in such a precipitate manner. I was deaf to but the suggestions of my love; and ordering him to return immediately with the horses to the inn from whence we set out, and wait for my coming in that place, he at first peremptorily refused to leave me, until I persuaded him, that if our horses should remain where they were till daylight, they would certainly be discovered, and the whole country alarmed. On this consideration, he took his leave in a sorrowful plight, kissed my hand, and, weeping, cried “God knows if ever I shall see you again.” My kind landlady, finding me obstinate, gave me her best advice how to behave in the execution of my project: and after having persuaded me to take a little refreshment, accommodated me with a bed, and left me to my repose. Early in the morning I arose, and armed with a couple of loaded pistols and a hanger, went to the back part of the squire’s garden, climbed over the wall, and, according to Mrs. Sagely’s direction, concealed myself in a thicket, hard by an alcove that terminated a walk at a good distance from the house, which (I was told) my mistress mostly frequented. Here I absconded from five o’clock in the morning to six in the evening, without seeing a human creature; at last I perceived two women approaching, whom, by my throbbing heart, I soon recognised to be the adorable Narcissa and Miss Williams. I felt the strongest agitation of soul at the sight; and guessing, that they would repose themselves in the alcove, stopped into it unperceived, and hid upon the stone table a picture of myself in miniature, for which I had sat in London, purposing to leave it with Narcissa before I should go abroad. I exposed it in this manner, as an introduction to my own appearance, which, without some previous intimation, I was afraid might have an unlucky effect upon the delicate nerves of my fair enslaver; and then withdrew into the thicket, where I could hear their discourse, and suit myself to the circumstance of the occasion. As they advanced, I observed an air of melancholy in the countenance of Narcissa, blended with such unspeakable sweetness, that I could scarce refrain from flying into her arms, and kissing away the pearly drop that stood collected in each bewitching eye. According to my expectation, she entered the alcove, and perceiving something on the table, took it up. No sooner did she cast her eye upon the features, than, startled at the resemblance, she cried, “Good God!” and the roses instantly vanished from her cheeks. Her confidante, alarmed at this exclamation, looked at the picture; and, struck with the likeness, exclaimed, “Jesus! the very features of Mr. Random!” Narcissa, having recollected herself a little, said, “Whatever angel brought it hither as a comfort to me in my affliction, I am thankful for the benefit, and will preserve it as the dearest object of my care.” So saying, she kissed it with surprising ardour, shed a flood of tears, and then deposited the lifeless image in her lovely bosom. Transported at these symptoms of her unaltered affection, I was about to throw myself at her feet, when. Miss Williams, whose reflection was less engaged than that of her mistress, observed that the picture could not transport itself hither, and that she could not help thinking I was not far off. The gentle Narcissa, starting at this conjecture, answered, “Heaven forbid! for although nothing in the universe could yield me satisfaction equal to that of his presence for one poor moment, in a proper place, I would rather forfeit his company — almost for ever, than see him here, where his life would be exposed to so much danger.” I could no longer restrain the impulse of my passion, but, breaking from my concealment, stood before her, when she uttered a fearful shriek, and fainted in the arms of her companion. I flew towards the treasure of my soul, clasped her in my embrace, and with the warmth of my kisses, brought her again to life. Oh that I were endowed with the expression of a Raphael, the graces of a Guido, the magic touches of a Titian, that I might represent the fond concern, the chastened rapture and ingenuous blush, that mingled on her beauteous face, when she opened her eyes upon me, and pronounced, “O heavens! is it you?” I am afraid I have already encroached upon the reader’s patience with the particulars of this amour, of which (I own) I cannot help being impertinently circumstantial. I shall therefore omit the less material passages of this interview, during which I convinced her reason, though I could not appease the sad presages of her love, with regard to the long voyage and dangers I must undergo. When we had spent an hour (which was all she could spare from the barbarity of her brother’s vigilance) in lamenting over our hard fate, and in repeating our reciprocal vows, Miss Williams reminded us of the necessity there was for our immediate parting; and, sure, lovers never parted with such sorrow and reluctance as we. But because my words are incapable of doing. justice to this affecting circumstance, I am obliged to draw a veil over it, and observe, that I returned in the dark to the house of Mrs. Sagely, who was overjoyed to hear of my success, and opposed the tumults of my grief with such strength of reason, that my mind regained, in some measure, its tranquillity; and that very night, after having forced upon the good gentlewoman a purse of twenty guineas, as a token of my gratitude and esteem, I took my leave of her, and set out on foot for the inn, where my arrival freed honest Strap from the horrors of unutterable dread.

We took horse immediately, and alighted early next morning at Deal, where I found my uncle in great concern on account of my absence, because he had received his despatches, and must have weighed with the first fair wind, whether I had been on board or not. Next day, a brisk easterly gale springing up, we set sail, and in eight and forty hours got clear of the Channel.

When we were about two hundred leagues to westward of the Land’s End, the captain, taking me apart into the cabin, told me that, now he was permitted by his instructions, he would disclose the intent and destination of our voyage. “The ship,” said he, “which has been fitted out at a great expense, is bound for the coast of Guinea, where we shall exchange part of our cargo for slaves and gold dust, from whence we will transport our negroes to Buenos Ayres in New Spain, where (by virtue of passports, obtained from our own court, and that of Madrid) we will dispose of them and the goods that remain on board for silver, by means of our supercargo, who is perfectly well acquainted with the coast, the lingo, and inhabitants.” Being thus let into the secret of our expedition, I borrowed of the supercargo a Spanish grammar, dictionary, and some other books of the same language, which I studied with such application that, before we arrived in New Spain, I could maintain a conversation with him in that tongue. Being arrived in the warm latitudes, I ordered (with the captain’s consent) the whole ship’s company to be blooded and purged, myself undergoing the same evacuation, in order to prevent those dangerous fevers to which northern constitutions are subject in hot climates; and I have reason to believe, that this precaution was not unserviceable, for we lost but one sailor during our whole passage to the coast.

One day, when we had been about five weeks at sea, we descried to windward a large ship bearing down upon us with all the sail she could carry. Upon which, my uncle ordered the studding-sails to be hoisted and the ship to be cleared for engaging; but, finding that (to use the seaman’s phrase) we were very much wronged by the ship which had us in chase, and by this time had hoisted French colours, he commanded the studding-sails to be taken in, the courses to be clowed up, the main topsail to be backed, the tompions to be taken out of the guns, and every man to repair to his quarters. While every body was busied in the performance of these orders, Strap came upon the quarter-deck, trembling and looking aghast, and, with a voice half-suppressed by fear, asked if I thought we were a match for the vessel in pursuit of us. Observing his consternation, I said, “What! are you afraid, Strap.” “Afraid! (he replied); n-n-no; what should I be afraid of? I thank God I have a clear conscience; but I believe it will be a bloody battle, and I wish you may not have occasion for another hand to assist you in the cockpit.” I immediately perceived his drift, and making the captain acquainted with his situation, desired he might be stationed below with me and my mates. My uncle, incensed at his pusillanimity, bade me send him down instantly, that his fear might not infect the ship’s company; whereupon I told the poor steward that I had begged him for my assistant, and desired him to go down and help my mates to get ready the instruments and dressings. Notwithstanding the satisfaction he must have felt at those tidings, he affected a shyness of quitting the upper deck; and said, he hoped I did not imagine he was afraid to do his duty above board; for he believed himself as well prepared for death as any man in the ship, no disparagement to me or the captain. I was disgusted at this affectation; and, in order to punish his hypocrisy, assured him he might take his choice, either of going down to the cockpit with me, or staying upon deck during the engagement. Alarmed at this indifference, he replied, “Well, to oblige you, I’ll go down, but remember it is more for your sake than my own.” So saying, he disappeared in a twinkling, without waiting for an answer.

By this time, we could observe two tier of guns in the ship which pursued us, and which was now but two short miles astern. This discovery had an evident effect upon the sailors, who did not scruple to say, that we should be torn to pieces, and blown out of the water, and that, if in case any of them should lose their precious limbs, they must go a begging for life, for there was no provision made by the merchants for those poor souls who are maimed in their service. The captain, understanding this, ordered the crew abaft, and spoke to them thus: “My lads, I am told you hang an a — se. I have gone to sea thirty years, a man and a boy, and never saw English sailors afraid before. Mayhap you may think I want to expose you for the lucre of gain. Whosoever thinks so, thinks a d — ned lie, for my whole cargo is insured; so that, in case I should be taken, my loss would not be great. The enemy is stronger than we, to be sure. What then? have we not a chance for carrying away one of her masts, and so get clear of her? If we find her too hard for us, ’tis but striking at last. If any man is hurt in the engagement, I promise on the word of an honest seaman, to make him a recompense according to his loss. So now, you that are lazy, lubberly, cowardly dogs, get away and skulk in the hold and bread-room; and you, that are jolly boys, stand by me, and let us give one broadside for the honour of Old England.” This eloquent harangue was so well adapted to the disposition of his hearers, that one and all of them, pulling off their hats, waved them over their heads, and saluted him with three cheers; upon which he sent his boy for two large case-bottles of brandy: having treated every man with a dram, they repaired to their quarters, and waited impatiently for the word of command. I must do my uncle the justice to say, that in the whole of his disposition, he behaved with the utmost intrepidity, conduct, and deliberation. The enemy being very near, he ordered me to my station, and was just going to give the word for hoisting the colours, and firing, when the supposed Frenchman hauled down his white pennant, jack, and ensign, hoisted English ones, and fired a gun a-head of us. This was a joyful event to Captain Bowling, who immediately showed his colours, and fired a gun to leeward; upon which the other ship ran alongside of us, hailed him, and, giving him to know that she was an English man-of-war of forty guns, ordered him to hoist out his boat and come on board. This command he obeyed with the more alacrity, because, upon inquiry, he found that she was commanded by an old messmate of his, who was overjoyed to see him, detained him to dinner, and sent his barge for the supercargo and me, who were very much caressed on his account. As this commander was destined to cruise upon the French in the latitude of Martinico, his stem and quarters were adorned with white fleurs-de-lis, and the whole shell of the ship so much disguised for a decoy to the enemy, that it was no wonder my uncle did not know her, although he had sailed on board of her many years. We kept company with her four days, during which time the captains were never asunder, and then parted, our course lying different from hers.

In less than fortnight after our separation, we made the land of Guinea, near the mouth of the River Gambia; and trading along the coast as far to the southward of the Line as Angola and Bengula, in less than six months disposed of the greatest part of our cargo, and purchased four hundred negroes, my adventure having been laid out in gold dust.

Our complement being made up, we took our departure from Cape Negroe, and arrived in the Rio de la Plata in six weeks, having met with nothing remarkable in our voyage, except an epidemic fever, not unlike the jail distemper, which broke out among our slaves and carried off a good many of the ship’s company; among whom I lost one of my mates, and poor Strap had well nigh given up the ghost. Having produced our passport to the Spanish governor, we were received with great courtesy, sold our slaves in a very few days, and could have put off five times the number at our own price; though we were obliged to smuggle the rest of our merchandise, consisting of European bale-goods, which however we made shift to dispose of at a great advantage.

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